Eris brought herself back to the present and looked up to where Orrin was a few paces ahead between the trees. He’d paused to let her catch up, the city-voln surprisingly moving faster than the woods-voln girl as they headed northwards. But Eris’ head was full of ivy, tangling her mind up in recent dreams. She shook her head. Where they were going would be dangerous, and even with their stealthy vanguard passing through the thick woods ahead of them, there was still no guarantee that Eris and her companion were safe. She should wary. Instead she found herself on a long road south, or on the rain slicked cobblestones of Bara.
“What ails you sweetest and strongest daughter of the green woods through which we walk?”
It often amused Eris when Orrin spoke floridly in the way of a Bara poet, and he knew it was a sure way to coax a smile from her. Which only encouraged his flowery language.
“Perhaps what knits your brow is the contemplation of the divine mysteries only a great being such as yourself could comprehend? Why the sun rises and why it sets? I assure you, the sun merely arrives to see your godliness and then departs in shame for his light is weak compare’ed to yours.”
Eris laughed despite herself, especially at the strange way he stretched out the word ‘compared’. “You are a fool, my priest.”
“Certainly. But now you are smiling at least. Eris, what’s wrong? Is it the envoy from the Diarnilys?”
Two days ago, a Diarnilys had approached camp, seeking word of Verla. They’d welcomed him and set Orrin to tell the tale of Verla Poisoner. For once he’d told a story with calm gravitas, making an impact on the envoy and setting him off back to his people with a fair account of the judgement that had been made on the old woman. But still… that tale was no guarantee that the Diarnilys would not seek vengeance. What Verla had done had been wrong to the bone for woods-voln. Poison was for fairly shot arrows. The greening should give sign enough of the family so all would know. Tipping a weak poison into a man’s ale to incapacitate him so that a mad city-voln might stab a woods-voln… that was cowardly work and not at all their way. But the envoy’s message to the Diarnilys was not what tightened about her mind and stole her thoughts.
“Dreams, Orrin. I have had such strong dreams.”
“Sometimes.” Even she was surprised at the sadness in her voice.
Orrin was thoughtful. All the time they’d been walking one of his hands had held onto his bow, the other on the hilt of a new city-voln blade at his hip. It was a treasure taken from the road in one of Pierson’s orchestrated robberies, the short sword had the wicked point and broadened middle of a city-voln steel weapon. It was a leaf like shape she recalled from when the Gyreblack boy had taken her foot. But now Orrin slowly let go of the sword’s hilt to walk closer and reach out for her hand with his. She let him take it, half expecting more florid compliments. But he just held it softly and looked deep into her eyes. Eris fought the red that threatened to flush her cheeks.
“Eris. Jayk made his decision to leave us. You should not feel guilty.”
She shook her head slightly. “No, it is not guilt. I want him back with us, but as you say, he made his choice.”
“And he is still wearing a button man’s coat?”
“Yes. And he still walks to the south across barren lands. But now there is a city in the distance with high black walls all around it.”
Orrin started then. “Garre?! Have you ever seen Garre?”
“My mother travelled us through the woods and mountains. The South was always too dangerous.”
“But you heard of its black stone walls? Somehow?!”
“No… no, I’d not heard that about the city. I know very little about it at all, just the name and that it is in the South”
Orrin nodded. “This is no normal dream. Do you dream of any others?”
“Yes… but when I dream it is more that I am them. I wear the button man’s coat and walk the dusty road to the south while lions prowl. And sometimes I am walking the streets of Bara… but I am a small child and I walk even worse than I do with my wyrd foot!” She smiled wryly, but Orrin was serious looking.
“Do you dream of me?”
Red flushed her cheeks again, and she was extremely aware of his hand holding hers. “What do you m-mean?”
“Or Nem maybe? I’m just thinking it through. You dream of Jayk, and I think you are dreaming of the girl you healed in Bara. And you’ve healed me, and Nem, before…? There might be a connection there.”
“I don’t think so… I don’t remember. But I think that it’s just been Jayk and the girl.”
Orrin nodded, and took his hand from hers. She was half about to ask him if he dreaming of Jayk bothered him when the more sensible part of herself commanded that she focus on their task. But Orrin continued.
“Perhaps there is no pattern at all.” Orrin said half to himself, and she could something of the scholar he’d been forced to be in the temple, a mask he’d worn that maybe he’d ended up enjoying anyway. It was a different life that he’d found here in the woods and perhaps he still needed to be a scholar sometimes.
“If I dream of any others I will let you know.” She offered.
Orrin nodded, and then smiled. “But if we think it is indeed prophecy and you do dream of me, don’t let me know what you see! I do not want to know my path before I walk it. Unless it involves a number of beautiful ladies-” He stopped himself quickly, and help his hands out wide at his sides in the sign for peace. “Forgive me…”
“Oh Orrin, I’m not that young I can’t hear about your daydreams! I’m nearly to your shoulder in height now, and I’ve certainly proven to be wiser than you in the past!”
“You have grown in the past year, true. A lot in fact.” Suspicion flashed on his face, but it passed. “But that doesn’t mean your ears need to hear everything!”
“Well, if I do begin to dream of you, perhaps I won’t need you to tell me about it anyway!”
It was Orrin’s turn to seem embarrassed. “Aye, well. Perhaps there are dreams you are too young for too!”
Eris felt indignant and was willing to argue for her right to know, then realised the ridiculousness of that! The man had a right to his privacy. She let her hands fall to her sides as well, palls towards him, the same symbol of peace. The two of them stood facing each other in the same pose for a moment before both laughed a little. The sound was strange in the shadows of the trees and Eris watched Orrin’s hand return to his sword hilt. They were in the territory of the silent greening that had watched Eris’ progress north, before she’d reached the dead camp. Eris hoped to make contact with the watchers and walked boldly with Orrin to get their attention again. Pierson, Callia, Sarai, some Attavine, Ireblade and street-voln made up her stealthy guard amongst the trees. But Eris truly hoped that they were not needed.
The first sign that the silent watchers had spotted them came hours later, while Eris and Orrin shared a meal over a small campfire. The ebony squirrel she’d caught was small and hardly worth the fire she’d built for it, but the fire and smoke was another signal of their presence to the quiet greening. As they were just lounging against the roots of trees and chatting about nothing of importance a rustle in the bushes caught Eris’ sharp ears. Too careless not to be intentional, Eris stood and walked towards the noise, ignoring Orring concerned gesturing.
A tall woods-voln man with grey streaking his russet hair finally emerged after Eris had stood a long time, listening to the sound of her own breath and waiting for the whistle of attacking arrows. She met his eyes and saw the scars of pox across his brow and cheeks. The scars were old but still red. She held her hands out in the sign for peace and was relieved to see him do the same.
“Siall Rixakyde.” He said bluntly. Now he was nearer their fire she could make out city-voln spoils among his clothes. A fine lady’s brooch. A shred of gold cloth from a priest’s robes. A gold button hanging from his right ear lobe. Under his leathers a black silk shirt from some gentleman.
“Eris Atta-Sutith.” She answered, worrying as his eyes went to Orrin. The city-voln. The Rizakyde held his own bow tightly in his left hand.
“This is Orrin Storyteller. Betrayer of Lios.” She said boldly.
“He worships the bastard gods now.”
“Is that so?”
Orrin stood quickly and came to her side. “Yes, sir. I assure you-”
The Rexakyde cut him off with a gesture. “These are out woods, and you have brought many through them. You, walking alone, we allowed. This many is too many.”
“We came looking for you.”
“The Rixakyde are none of your business. Neither were the Lastleaf.”
Ah, thought Eris, so he knows about the dead camp, and the bodies I dealt with there.
“The evil deeds of the button men concern all of us.”
“You believe the button men were behind the pox?” Siall said carefully.
She looked again at the city-voln treasures he had about his leathers. “You do too. The Rixakyde are far from the king’s roads. Yet, you’ve gone out of your way to gather their treasures.”
Siall pointed at Orrin. “This one. Perhaps I’ll take this one’s weapon as a treasure too. Or just his life.”
“I will not allow that.” She said coldly.
“You are woods-voln, why would you stop me? They brought the pox to the greenings. The Lastleaf all died. Many of my own people died. I bear the scars. Why would we not kill him?”
Eris drew herself up. “I am Eris Atta-Sutith and I will not allow it!”
“You are a child.”
She drew her dagger quickly and before he could react she had spat Lastleaf onto the blade and held it forward for him to see the thick fluid there. He carefully took her blade and looked closely at it, sniffing it carefully but not daring to taste it.
“Lastleaf?” He asked.
“I tasted it in the dead camp. I have brought it back.”
He nodded and passed her back the dagger before making a strange hooting whistling noise that brought out a small number of Rexakyde, including small children. Even altogether they would be outnumbered by her guard. Was this all that was left after the pox?
A tall thin woods-voln woman approached Siall, walking gracefully in leathers a little too big for her. Her face was beautiful but pale, dusted over with the remains of some whiteness that merged up into the roots of her hair, knotted and twisted into thick braids from her forehead. She walked with a long staff rather than a bow, and Eris saw a leather pouch hanging from a cord about her neck, something with points and angles inside it. She came close to Siall and whispered to him, and he nodded.
“Aril would speak with you.”
The woman nodded and looked intently at Eris.
“I came here to meet you Eris Atta-Sutith. The bastard gods told me your path would bring you here and showed me talking to you now.”
“You are a prophet?” Eris asked cautiously. “I don’t care much for prophets since one stabbed me…”
“I was called a Mouth of Lios, but only the bastard gods have ever spoken through me. And before that I was a whore in Bara. And before that a stupid child full of nomad-fever who left her people. But I have found them again, as my path brought me to you.”
Eris nodded, but she could feel Orrin’s annoyance.
“A Mouth of Lios? And now you spew words for the bastard gods?”
“And you were a priest of Lios. And now you adore your lady?”
Orrin stuttered, “H-how could you know that?”
“In my dreams I have walked your road with you. Some time ago I saw us speaking in a clearing like this one while the Rexakyde listened. My time as a prophet is coming to an end. I have had to space out my dreamings more and more. And in a moment of clear thinking I found a way to leave Bara and come to you.”
Some of what the woman was saying made little sense to Eris. But if she could dream of Jayk and the little girl in Bara, perhaps there were others who could do the same. “And what do the bastard gods want to tell me through their mouth, Aril Rexakyde?”
“They want me to remind you of when you inhaled the dust of their blood and spit in the lost temple in Bara.”
Eris recalled Orrin leading them down the dark tunnel, and the gods on the walls who seemed to multiply and resist counting. She’d licked the dust of the paint that had been used to outline their shapes on the ancient walls. And she’d fallen into dreams.
“They want me to dream again?”
“They want you to see, as I have seen.”
Eris smiled, a little ruefully. “Already I dream of people and places, even without the dust of their blood and their spit. Tell them to find me in those dreams.”
“Eris Atta-Sutith…” She began.
“No. I’ll not surrender to dreams just yet. There is too much to be done. We came to find the Rexakyde because we seek more allies. There will be a battle to come against the god-king and already the Attavine, Ireblade, street-voln are with us. We would have the Rexakyde as friends. Including any prophets among them.”
“You have come with warriors at arms. And we are meant to think you come in peace?” Siall said bitterly.
“Ask your prophet. She knows why we are here.”
“She speaks the truth. There will be no bloodshed on either side today.”
“Good. Since that is not guaranteed, perhaps we can camp with you this night, and see where we might be able to help you?” She looked at the youngest of the Rexakyde, a brave boy holding his boy in a traitorously shaking hand. Livid pox scars twisted his face. “I can remove your scars even if I can not remove the memories of your losses.”
Orrin whispered to her urgently. “Surely there are too many to heal in one go? You will exhaust yourself!”
She remembered Jayk, and the time she’d sat by a campfire with him and sent healing to smooth the skin of his face. His gratitude had turned to something after that, something that she had not wanted. But here was a chance to heal her own scars as well. She whispered back to Orrin, as close to his ear as she could to avoid the sharp ears of the Rexakyde. “Surely you are not doubting your god, Orrin Priest? For shame!”
Her gentle mocking of his ‘blasphemy’ brought a smile to his face. In another time, another life, such thoughts of Lios would have meant his death. They both turned back to Aril and Siall Rexakyde.
“I will do what I can. Perhaps my other people can join us now?”
“They have been watching all the while from a distance.” Said Aril, smiling, her powder whitened face making the gesture eerie. “Call them and they will come.”
Eris nodded, and made her own high pitched whistle through her lips and fingers. Soon the clearing was full of Rexakyde, Attavine, Ireblade, Diarnilys, city-voln and street-voln. Some watched each other warily, but Eris still watched Aril, the prophetess.
“This is as it should be, Atta-Sutith.” She said in response to the girl’s scrutiny. “The bastard gods know. They have known since you lost your foot to the Gyreblack boy.”
Before Eris could question the woman more about what she knew of that Siall called for all to follow the Rexakyde back to their campsite. She lost the tall pale woman in the march of all the people through the woods, her angular frame seeming to move behind someone else and disappear.
I’ll certainly talk to you later, Mouth of the bastard gods! Eris thought sharply, I promise it!