The Twins yet rise fair and tall,
‘bove valley deep and river swell,
there stand astride great Avrale,
named for queens each first and last,
we shall not falter – they shall not pass,
so doth endure good Avrale.
– The Twins Stand, 20 B.E.
The Twins Pass
The sun hung low in the west, kissing the peak of Mount Navi, and the day was lost. Laurel’s horse trod laboriously through the orchard grounds that buffered his destination from the wider world. The cloister complex he sought was at last in sight, nestled at the end of one of the many branching twisting valleys from which Avrale took her name.
Stained glass set above the main entry shone like a glimmering beacon in the setting sun. Mount Saeah loomed large above in the south, its glaciers a pale orange, stark against the dusky blue of a darkening sky. Highvale was a secluded place, and while this isolation served its denizens well, it had done nothing to simplify Laurel’s troubles.
Laurel nodded politely to two women, and a young man that were walking in from the outer grounds. He expected to pass them by, but his horse chose to slow. He avoided their further glances, not wishing to give the impression his keeping pace was at all intended. The ever slowing strides of his horse meant that soon the residents began to outpace him.
The last mile had been frustrating, and he knew the poor animal had little left to give. Another thirty miles, some of it at frightened gallop for a horse that had already been asked twenty that same day. Laurel himself was haggard, sore, and drained in more ways that he cared to think upon. His right arm cradled a dangerous infant protectively, and hurt terribly. He dared not simply imbue the arm with more life carelessly, less the child simply take that power.
He hoped the Sisters would be able to help the horse that evening, or he would be stranded until other arrangements could be made. He considered Horence would be far more inconvenienced should this course of events come to pass, and under the circumstances he had limited pity left to spare the man – though a touch nonetheless.
The horse finally gave up, and refused to take another step. Laurel slid from the beasts bareback, discovering new discomforts he had managed to remain oblivious to, as he tried somewhat haltingly to walk. Those who had gotten just ahead of him considered their visitor with renewed interest. The young man in their midst moved to greet Laurel, and he thrust the reins into young man’s hand. He then switched the arm that cradled Wren, to the effect of noticeable relief. “See the horse is cared for,” he commanded sternly, “it has seen a very bad day.”
He walked on then without a breath of hesitation, though he plainly struggled to find a comfortable gait. He ignored the confused murmurs of those he left in his wake, and was quite ready to be done with the whole affair. He sought the one practical solution he could imagine, to his most immediate problem. The Sisterhood would not care about the boy’s linage – they were, after all, far more open minded by nature than the world at large. Furthermore they could handle his care, and condition better than anyone.
Three young women who had been near the main door of the cloister gathered, and watched as Laurel marched purposely forward. “I will speak to Matron Somavera,” he commanded, approaching in the best approximation of a stately manner he could muster.
Laurel was never much for pomp or posturing, but under the circumstances he did not want to convey an air that invited questions. Two of the Sisters opened the doors wide for him, and the third rushed off in search of the Matron.
The foyer of the cloister’s front building was lined with benches, and trellises covered in flowering vines. The last light cresting the mountains behind him streamed through intricate stained glass, casting a thousand points of light across the room. Two young Brothers crossed the far end of the foyer, and looked to Laurel curiously as they passed.
“Sir,” the eldest of the two Sisters waiting with him spoke hesitantly, “might I inquire as to the reason for your sudden visit?”
Laurel resisted the urge to sigh, and maintained an aloof air as best he could. “I’ll discuss my business with the Matron, if you’ll pardon me,” he said in a measured, harsh tone. “I have no desire to be repeating myself after this long day.”
“Very…well,” the Sister stammered momentarily at a loss. “I’ll go see if Caitlen has found Renae.” She headed down the same hall the younger Sister had hurried into before.
One Sister remained, holding open the door absently, and considered Laurel shrewdly. “I’ll wager you’re not the father,” the girl said, boldly striking up conversation that Laurel had just expressed he did not want. “There’s magic about both of you,” the girl continued, “but it’s quite different in that little one there. Odd really, I’ve not seen the like of it. Then again we don’t see that many different kinds around here.”
Laurel considered the impertinent, but astute girl silently – though her choice of words displeased him. It wasn’t worth fussing over. All the same it was easy to forget what it was like to be around others who could sense, or even see auras with any great aptitude.
“No,” the girl continued trying to provoke some kind of response, “I’ll wager you are not the father at all.”
Laurel grumbled to himself, and looked the girl up and down. She seemed about sixteen, with tousled red hair, a typical olive complexion for the region, and an air of absolute trouble about her that reflected plainly in her amber eyes, and in a presence that had some property of fire about it. Not entirely wild, well tended, like a hearth freshly stirred. He decided that if she so desired to pester him, he would avail her of the useful – if unwanted – distraction. “You’d win your wager. I am no one’s father.”
“Are you sure of that?” the girl prodded playfully. “Men don’t always know.”
“I know,” Laurel said flatly, but with wry personal amusement. He watched the girl wrinkle her nose at that thought curiously, and he was less amused.
“And how do you know?” she asked.
“We mages have our ways,” he laughed uncomfortably.
“As do we,” the girl said with a knowing smile, and gave him a curiously predatory once over. This put him decidedly on edge. However much younger he might have appeared than he truly was, Laurel looked well more than old enough to be her father. Surely this stretched even the Sisterhood’s limits. It was flattering on some small level – perhaps – but none the less disquieting.
“As for this one,” Laurel said changing the subject, “I know almost nothing of his father,” he paused for effect, “less still of the mother, for that matter.”
“That seems a right strange state of affairs,” the girl said inquisitively, shifting her weight.
“A strange state of affairs indeed,” he responded with practiced calm, “to pull me so far from my intended course.”
“And what course might that have been?” she asked crossing her arms.
“To Nohrook, by Minterbrook, where it was that everything turned quite sideways. Even then I’d not yet expected to find myself half way back to Brokhal, or here amongst Lycian Sisters,” Laurel said with an honest touch of frustration in his voice. He took a deep breath as the baby in his arms stirred, and the pull nagged at his attention.
Laurel guessed the girl saw something of the nature of what transpired, even if the meaning was hopefully obtuse to her. He looked down at Wren, and the quiet little boy fussed, but did not cry even as he surely hungered by then more physically than in less mundane ways. He soothed him with care, it seemed a questionable use of gift under the circumstances, but he had no want for fuss to become a piercing wail.
“It does seem quite the detour, what could bring you back so far?” the girl asked her interest obviously caught even more, and began to approach slowly, with what seemed a meticulously practiced sway in her hips, and a shift in her presence. It seemed an extension of her attitude, and intended to inspire something.
The intent was uncomfortably clear, and entirely ineffective for any number of reasons. Oddly the most distracting of which was how much it felt like the weaving of a spell in some ways. Living magic, some learned in the delicate practice called it. Perhaps something spell like fell out of it all at times, but it was not magic, not the practice of mages. Even if most mages learned to work such power well enough in a pinch. Semantics. Yet semantics were more comfortable than other things.
Life makes magic, not the other way around. It was a barb of his father’s on the topic, a man with an almost singular loathing for the very order that claimed the cloister where he stood. It wasn’t true though, not by scurrilous rumor at any rate. Their founder, some great aunt many generations removed had reversed the process, or so some books claimed. She was such an affront to the Grey family name. That insult perhaps mostly that the world remembered her better than the rest of them combined. It was almost enough to inspire a young man to run away, and make a useful nuisance of himself in the world. He’d had other reasons though.
The girl was more than a bit too close.
“Unexpected deaths have a way of changing one’s plans,” Laurel said tersely, pulling himself from his train of thought. “The death of someone you’ve never met is an altogether more unexpected than most ways for plans to change,” he added with a stony expression. He noted the look on the girl as she was suddenly at a loss for words. She stopped where she stood, and was stuck somewhere between shock and embarrassment. Whatever he thought of the path the conversation had taken, it seemed to have been effective at shutting the nosey girl up.
A long awkward silence hung between them, and before the girl could quite regain her composure to press curiosity further, the sound of footsteps pulled both of their attentions to the hallway. The eldest of the three Sisters had returned with two older women in tow. She addressed Laurel as soon as the other two were fully in the foyer, “Matron Renae Somavera, as you requested.”
She was a sharp featured woman with light skin, and white hair. She was notably taller than her more tan companion, almost as tall as Laurel himself. One could tell that both women were not young, if only by their hair, yet they did not look as old as Laurel knew them to be. The gifts of healers in this regard exceeded that of mages, Laurel was reminded poignantly. She had a presence not unlike a gentle ocean by the moonlight, and were she a mage might have almost felt imposing, rather than oddly comfortable and elegant.
“We’ve met,” Renae said with a raised eyebrow. “I was not informed who my insistent visitor was, nor that you were coming.” Her gaze fixed firmly on the infant bundled in Laurel’s arms.
“Even our first acquaintance may have passed under better circumstances,” Laurel said his expression softening from aloof to sad, “and to be fair I had not announced myself properly when I arrived. I would have sent word, but I had not started this day with any intention to arrive here. It is only grave matters that have brought me to your doorstep, and I would prefer to discuss them in private.”
Laurel examined the expression that crossed Renae’s well aged features and blue eyes. She barely looked older than when he’d first met her, save that her once peppered hair was now gossamer. He had known the woman on but three occasions, never well, but amiably. The royal mess with which their first association had ended had changed the path of Laurel’s life dramatically. He wondered if it had been a factor in Renae’s rise in position as well. Since then they had met only in passing through their official capacities.
“It would seem you have something troubling on your hands,” Renae said nodding her understanding. “Come, my office is upstairs,” she said gesturing for her companion, and Laurel to go ahead of her. She eyed the two younger sisters still present. The elder left promptly, but the younger did not. “Move along Sasha,” Renae commanded with a sigh, and was obeyed reluctantly.
At the top of the stairs Renae and Laurel entered as the other woman held the door, then closed it behind herself. The light was growing dim through the windows that looked out toward Mt. Navi, rimlit in her early autumn glory. With a brush of her finger up its wick Renae lit a candle at her large oak desk. It was a clever technique, filaments dragged harshly, a friction approaching absolute, and then they broke off, themselves igniting, and becoming flame. It was less conjuring fire than striking the candle itself like a match. With the first candle she lit several others around the room.
“You’ll forgive me if I have Andria stay – there is nothing that happens here we do not share.” She glanced at Laurel to ensure her point had been made. Satisfied that it was when he perked a brow, she continued. “So please, tell me of this infant that has brought you here. The aura is unsettlingly brilliant, and I can feel the testing pulls even from here. I recognize the sensation, but I can’t say that I have ever felt it quite like this.”
Laurel nodded somberly. “I’d expect it’s not an altogether unusual phenomena, infants with the gift are often enough born weak, flawed, or otherwise in need of aid. I do not doubt that ever so often one might keep trying to draw in more.”
“Yes,” Renae said with a troubled frown, “normally it stops at the slightest resistance. Though this one isn’t pulling with any great force, it hasn’t completely given up either. This worries me.”
“So it should,” Laurel sighed, “the mother I fear ended poorly. She gave too much, perhaps was too weak to begin with, and then the boy took all that was left.”
Renae furrowed her brow. “I’ve heard of such a thing – incredibly rare, a matter of bad circumstance, and poor training. Horrible tragedy, and leaving another problem in its wake.” She walked over to examine the infant’s face. “What I’ve read,” she continued, “tells me that the child can be cured of this hunger in a few months, perhaps a year. However he must not be given into, it will take vigilance. Once the door is closed, it will remain such. When he is older he will need to be trained to control his gift – he will be exceptionally powerful, particularly with the living magic.”
Renae pause and touched the child’s cheek, “There may also be traces… Yes I can…I can feel them, bit’s that don’t seem to belong. Fragments of his mother will haunt this one all his life. We will take him, there is no doubt in this. Though from what you say, I gather he has not been fed since birth?”
“No,” Laurel said.
“And yet he is not crying?” Renae said shaking her head, her worry deepening. “Andria, run to the nursery, find a willing mother to help. Be discreet on the details, but warn her nonetheless.”
“Of course,” Andria said, and left swiftly.
“I’ve had some hand in his quiet to this point,” Laurel said, but there was no confidence behind it. “I doubt however that is any explanation.”
“No,” Renae said taking the bundle from Laurel, who gave a deep breath of relief. His features noticeably softened as the strain was taken away. He began almost immediately tending to his aching arms.
“This has been simpler to resolve than I could have hoped,” Laurel said as he worked. “There are other things you should know…” he started, but paused as Renae held up her hand for silence.
“I can already see one. Those eyes…” she trailed off staring down at the strange blue eyed child in her arms. Wren looked up at her with an unnerving quiet gaze, he was wide awake, yet barely fussed under such distressed circumstances.
“Yes, not quite right are they, the oval shape of the pupils – the intensity of the color. It’s far more noticeable in bright light. I’m fairly certain of the meaning.” Laurel picked up his former train of thought, “it is a trait he shares with his two sisters. I had been headed to Nohrook when one of those sisters lead me to a farm very near the forest border. I have no doubt the father was Sylvan.”
A sickened expression suddenly crossed Renae’s face. Laurel paused a moment considering Renae’s reaction. Was he wrong that Sisterhood had no bias against the Sylvans?
Renae seemed to recover her composure through force of will, and asked calmly, “On what farm?”
“The girls did not mention a family name I am afraid,” Laurel said as he searched his memory, “there wasn’t much remarkable about the farm save how far out it was.” He hesitated, something seemingly unimportant came to mind. “There was an ash tree along the road that seemed out of place. They are rare in the north.”
Renae sat down in a nearby chair. “Sisters, you say?”
“Yes, identical twins,” Laurel continued, “Fascinating and seemingly quite intelligent little girls. They spoke very well for their obvious age.” He considered the change in Renae’s poise. “Is everything alright, does this change anything?”
Renae looked out the window, and stared at the darkening sky. “No, it is fine. I will see to his care, I will raise him as my own even. Does he have a name yet?” Renae asked rocking him softly.
“I understand his mother called him Wren before she passed,” Laurel said distantly, and considered Renae’s words for a moment, before following her gaze into the distance.
“Like the bird,” Renae offered, more than asked.
“Presumably,” Laurel said, and stroked his beard. “One of the girls said their mother loved the little birds.” He returned to the point that had bothered him all afternoon. “Decades without one sighting, one single interaction with any kingdom I know of. Save of course a few long exiled travelers on the roads…and suddenly we have three little half blood children, and a dead mother to tell no tales.”
“What will you do with the other two?” Renae inquired pointedly.
“I’ve had a long, and tiring ride to think on that. It seems best I take them in, bring them to court, and train them as mages. Their auras are unnervingly strong, particularly for such young children. Not so much as that little one’s poor blended soul, but it’s hard to imagine their potential. I will have failed them utterly if they do not one day surpass me.”
“I’m glad to hear you will not send them off to that council of yours,” Renae said with distinct relief in her voice. “I would have had to beg you bring them here as well before that.”
“I’m not the biggest fan of the Council’s ways, even if I aspire to fill my role in their grand design. I’ll abide their rules, and do their bidding to a point, as is my sworn duty, but there are more rampant politics in their ranks than in all the kingdoms we shepherd combined. It’s no place to grow up, I should know. So no, I’ll do all I can to keep these girls from under the prying eyes of the oh so well meaning Council.”
“You are a good man Laurel,” Renae added, and looked down to the infant in her arms.
Laurel turned to consider Renae again. “And I suppose I can offer you the same in kind. I may not have been raised to think much of the Sisterhood, but you do good work with your lives, and take in strays such as this little one without hesitation.”
Renae looked up at Laurel curiously for a moment. “Do you think I might meet the other two?” she asked.
“It certainly could be arranged, after I introduce them at court,” Laurel said stroking his beard. “That introduction shall be awkward given I will also be asking forgiveness for my deviation from plans.”
“I will announce my intention to visit soon,” Renae said distantly. “You will be staying here the night I assume?” she asked almost as an afterthought.
“It seems I must,” Laurel said with some displeasure. “I fear I have worked the horse that bore me here near to death, and I do not know what care it has yet received.”
“When Andria returns I will have her find Sister Charis, she has spent more years with caravans than I. I’m sure she can attend to the poor creature,” Renae offered taking a long deep breath. “With luck it will be ready for the morning, if not, perhaps we could offer you one of ours.“
“That is gracious of you,” Laurel said kindly.
“I have my guesses as to what business you have been pulled from,” Renae said firmly. “I’ve only just heard the whispers myself.”
“Yes, of course,” Laurel said with only moderate surprise. “Prudence over real urgency of course, whatever has transpired we will not feel consequences soon, surely.”
“No, I would not expect.” Renae sighed. “Dinner will be served shortly,” she said dropping the topic, “and though I am sure you are capable of attending to your self, do not hesitate to avail us of our services. I can only imagine the strain this has been on you.”
“I will consider it,” Laurel said hesitantly, but reconsidered his tone. He knew better, or he thought he did, that she had meant nothing dubious, and yet the look the young redhead had given him still nagged at him. He was not one to read into such things, but he had found it unmistakable, and distantly familiar. Finally he remembered where he had seen that look before. He was made no more comfortable by the memory.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Dinner had been a simple affair, run like clockwork to feed well over a hundred standing residents, and guests in procession, with a dining hall that held only about sixty at a time. The food was less fine than Laurel had grown accustomed to in recent years, but infinitely better than what he had eaten for over two decades traveling with trade caravans. He had done as he had seen most do, and taken his dish to the kitchen. It seemed the least courtesy an unexpected guest could offer.
It was a courtesy he regretted when he found himself beside the nosey girl from before. He shifted uncomfortably trying to avoid being so close to Sasha, and winced, which she clearly saw, and adopted an exaggerated pout over. Laurel was unamused by the antic, and turned to leave, heading into the courtyard. He found a bench, and sat down with some care. He looked up at the stars, which he always found soothing.
After several minutes a young woman he had not met approached him. “Are you well sir?” she asked in a kind, and courteous tone. He considered her coldly, but felt bad for it, she’d done him no wrong. She seemed in her early twenties, with short dark hair, and shifted uncomfortably in his agitated gaze, which he softened slowly. Her robe was of red, and this gave him some further hesitance.
“I’ve had better days,” Laurel finally replied, “but I’m fine.” He looked back to the stars, but could not help but grab his neck as a twinge caught him off guard.
“May I?” the woman asked.
Laurel considered saying no, he could attend to it himself well enough, but the idea of simply relaxing won him over. “Yes,” he said, and considered that some politeness was appropriate to add. He settled on, “Thank you.”
Her touch was expert, and her gift gentle as it flowed into stiff, abused, and delicate muscles. Her presence was soft, liquid, not the flame like presence of Sasha. It wasn’t an insistent thing, merely there. It had been a rare thing in his life to feel the power of another kindly, and rarer still with such frivolity. His neck cared for, she moved out his shoulders, and he did not protest as she worked down his sore tired back. Water he considered could wear away even stone, the flame was only suitable for lighting dry tinder. The thought gave him wry amusement. It would take some time to get past that resistance.
He was more relaxed than he had been in weeks when a now familiar voice undid half the good the woman had managed. “Who do you have there, Ann?” Sasha asked rhetorically. Laurel had no doubt she knew exactly who.
“A visitor,” Ann said straightening up in surprise.
“I’m jealous,” Sasha said in a tone that Laurel clearly read as playful, but he was not sure if the other woman did.
“Really?” Ann asked in a perplexed tone.
“Of you, not over you silly.” Sasha laughed, stepped up to Ann, and kissed the other woman on the tip of her nose playfully. Laurel could tell what had just transpired, but still turned his head out of an odd curiosity.
“May I join?” Sasha asked pleadingly.
Laurel stood, stretched, and with a laugh offered, “By all means. I was just leaving.”
“You don’t have to go,” Sasha said leaning up against Ann.
“Sash!” Ann proclaimed reprovingly, but with clear mirth that said there was nothing inaccurate in the younger woman’s assertion.
“That’s quite alright,” Laurel said. “Thank you miss Ann,” he said with a bow, “you’ve been more help that you know.” With that he walked off, to enquire where he might sleep – alone.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Horence’s experience with animals effectively began, and ended with horses. Though he had some memory of his father’s old dog when he was a small boy, he was hardly responsible for its care. His experience with children was less. Not even with siblings, as his sister had not survived birth, and taken his poor mother’s heart with her, literally, and figuratively.
The Clarion healers had tried, but she had lost the will to live they said, he had always taken that with a touch of disdain, believing more that they had been incompetent. In that regard he figured he was a kindred spirit to the twins left to his care. Yet all he really knew at the end of the day was the work ethic of a soldier, and that the best cure for your sorrows, short of a stiff drink, was the distraction of routine.
Routine – for him at least – was beyond reach, but the sorrow was not his to bury. He endeavored to give the girls what vestige of routine he could. They fussed, but in the end walked him through the motions, such as they knew, of caring for the animals, and gathering food from a small garden, that seemed the only tilled soil on the farm – more fertile than it seemed anything in the blighted land had reason to be.
It seemed to him a good life, a respectable one, one that the northerners had been blessed with for generations, and by the whims of nature had lost in those years. The King had been kind, and good, and given them work in the south. Yet he worried for the cost, for he had been witness on occasion to the thinly veiled whining of the barons of South Rook. If the drought did not end, there would be turmoil, or worse.
What Horence did not know of animals or farming, he made up for marginally with cooking. He would of course have been booted from the royal kitchen on charges of sacrilege, but he had learned to cook well enough after his mother passed. Even to follow through with recipes, thought the chicken scratch in the ratty old cook book he found in the pantry was beyond him. The first afternoon, and evening was hard, messy, haphazard, but at it’s end, the girls slept with full bellies, and Horence slept with the satisfaction of hard work, and passable success.
The second day was easier, it already felt like a semblance of routine, though he had no intention for it to become such. At noon he made a cursory attempt to rig the harness for a single horse – which seemed unwise. He then attempted to discern if the old donkey could be harnessed to the coach as well, but the mismatch seemed utterly absurd. Failing that he checked on the decrepit farm cart in the barn, which it seemed had lost a wheel.
The girls had pestered him about the coach, claiming to see faint blue lines, and asked him what they were. Horence had looked closely where they insisted, and once – just once – he thought he saw something, but passed it off as a trick of the light. He assured them there was nothing there, and they gave him funny looks. He went on with that day, and into the night, quite anxious for Laurel’s return.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Jovan 8th, 636 E.R.
Horence watched the two little girls asleep by the hearth, bathed in flickering firelight. He couldn’t help but feel relief on their behalf that they were away from the horrors of the last two days. He looked at the way the two had curled up together – ‘At least,’ he thought to himself, ‘they have each other.’
He picked at an extra ear of corn he had cooked, and allowed the melancholy of it all to wash over him for a bit. He wondered how long he would be waiting for Laurel – he hadn’t said where he was going, or when he would return. Horence did not mind the thought of another day of farm life so much, but he did fear the growing severity of any reprimand.
Horence looked around the room as warm firelight danced on the walls – it felt more like the home it had obviously been for generations, now that the dead had been laid to rest outside its walls, and a proper full day had passed. He shivered at the eerie feeling that had been present when he first arrived. There was warmth there again, if only a little. Three children it seemed were all that was left of the family. The house would soon sit abandoned, as all the surrounding farms already were.
He again considered the odd mix of rustic, and merely antique. Though the place was small, there were still well more rooms than Ashtons, and the rafters fitted for sleeping. The loft of the barn showed signs of this as well. Perhaps accommodations for migrant farm hands, but some of it showed signs of use to recent to make sense in the drought.
The sound of hooves drew Horence to sit upright, and quickly move to a window. A tiny glimmer of blue light bobbed up the hill from the main road. He couldn’t tell if it was Laurel, but he suspect – hoped perhaps more so. If it wasn’t Laurel, there would likely be much more explaining, and far less leaving.
Horrence opened the door as the horse approached, and watched as Laurel swung down from a saddled horse he did not recognize, a blue orb of light drifting at his side, and reins still grasped in his hand.
“You were gone for more than a day,” Horence said with clear displeasure, “where have you been?”
“I had to take the infant to Highvale – I fear the time involved couldn’t be helped. They worked miracles on the horse, but even miracles take time,” Laurel grumbled. “The Matron was kind enough to arrange a temporary exchange instead. I took my time on the return, as this horse is not of the same caliber, and will need it’s strength to pull the coach tomorrow.”
“The Sisterhood?” Horence asked with some surprise, “that seems a bit extreme.”
“The boy’s condition left no other real option. His mother’s death left him a danger to those not competent with living energies, and would you have had me subject the poor boy to Clarions?” Laurel asked as he stopped before the door step.
“I suppose not,” Horence agreed. He stepped out, and closed the door less their continued conversation wake the girls. “The mother’s name was Meliae Ashton,” he said pointedly, “their grandmother was something of a hero.”
“So I learned – after a fashion – on my way back up through Minterbrook.” Laurel nodded. “Are all matters attended to here? I wish to leave at first light.”
“Everything is fine,” Horence reported, “the girls are fed, and asleep, and the animals have been tended to.”
“Good,” Laurel said reaching up, and grabbing hold of the light that hovered near him, he held it out before him, and spoke a bit distractedly for a moment. “I’ve no illusions we will make it back before the morning after next, but we’ll see how we fair by Silverbrook.” He let the light go, and it drifted to hover close to Horence instead. “Now if you would,” he asked kindly, but with more than a hint of an order, “find a place to tie the horse for the night, and give it some feed. I see there is a warm fire in there, and I can only assume some where I might lay down.”
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Jovan 9th, 636 E.R.
With the morning light, and scarcely after a rooster’s crow Horence and Laurel ushered two small girls into a coach, still wrapped in blankets. They fit the harness to the new horse, and began the trek south. They stopped in Minterbrook for breakfast, supplies, and to see if anything else had been remembered. The account Laurel had heard the previous day was the extent anyone had to say on the girls.
From Minterbrook it was ten miles up the Senal Valley to the Midrook, and the expansive sight of its ruined wall. This prompted what felt like hours of questions from the twins. After this they insisted on sitting at the front of the coach for a better view. Very little of Midrook was seen closely, for as Laurel explained it was once the largest city of Avrale, and in a terrible war the wall fell, and the central city was razed.
Though centuries had crept the edges of of the divided townships back towards the road, only a few buildings dotted the main course, and were mainly for the benefit of travelers. Midrook tower had been spared in the war, but was a spec above the western end of the wall. Horence explained that the slow recovery of the central city was partly superstition – that there was something tainted about the obsidian left by dragon fire. This spawned even more questions about dragons.
The Twin Sisters, the high peaks that framed the main pass caused a stir, particularly by their title. Kiannae claimed the eastern peak Saeah, and Katrisha the western peak of Navi. Laurel found it curious how easily they came to the arrangement with no argument on the point. Something struck him, like a notion of things yet to be, and he frowned, and set all further thought of it aside.
They made good time to an inn that stood by itself at a crossroads in the high pass, not far down the southern slope. It was well before night fall, but the second horse showed signs of exhaustion, and with little debate it was decided to stay the night.
Late that evening the twins were restless, and full of questions they continually pressed any moment they were not sulking. Eventually Laurel retired to his own room in frustration, leaving Horence to finish explaining the name Silvercreek. It seemed easy enough at first, that the town was named for the creek, and the creek for flecks of silver found in the water.
Where the whole process of explaining began to go sideways was the revelation that the flecks of silver were from the glacier scraping away at silver veins beneath. A bit of trivia Horence was somewhat surprised he recalled, but he did not particularly understand the mechanics of glaciers, and managed to deflect further questions with the detail that Silvercreek proper was built around the mines, and as such was an entire town beneath a glacier. Which required explaining how that worked, if glaciers moved, and the wards that melted the oncoming ice, and a number of other things he did not grasp any better than how glaciers operated in the first place.
Horence fell asleep in the end before the twins, who eventually curled up to him, and slept as well. He had been quietly plotting some form of revenge when he drifted off. Something to do to Laurel for abandoning him to the fate of designated explainer. He failed to think of any that he would be able to get away with, but relished the thought of a number of the ones he couldn’t before letting them go.