We did not see the old man again. Tunic woke me far earlier than we normally arose. We dressed hurriedly and then were gone.
It was not yet dawn when we exited the barn. I felt regretful that we had left the old man on such a bitter note, but I supposed it could not be helped. We had to destroy the monster and he would not listen to our reasons. Perhaps there would be some day to return and make amends, but for now, we had a task to complete.
The farmhouse had been a detour, so Tunic had to redirect our course. Nevertheless, we would reach the next faerie’s fountain by mid afternoon.
We stopped for breakfast half an hour after departing and Tunic used the time to summon his horse. Not surprisingly, the beast had remained a short distance from its master.
“How did you train her to follow you?” I inquired as we ate.
“I didn’t train her,” he shrugged. “I suppose she enjoys my company.”
“But, what about the song you play?”
“Oh,” Tunic smiled, “That was a coincidence. Grandfather made me the flute and I was learning by rehearsing the same notes. She became accustomed to the song and would prance around when I played it. Eventually, if I played the song she would search me out.”
“You really are an enigma Tunic,” I commented. “I don’t know how I ever thought you were dull.”
Unlike Imena’s fountain, the next faerie’s was located in the open air. The sun was high in the sky as we sighted the faerie spring, but you would never have been able to tell from the reflection. As we drew nearer the pool, I could see the stars and moon in the water. It was as though the night sky was being reflected. A star shot across the pool, startling me.
I waited a while, but no faerie appeared. “Do you think we have to do something to get this faerie’s attention?” I asked. “Imena appeared immediately.”
When I received no response, I looked to my companion. Tunic was studying something on the ground. He gestured for me to draw nearer. I jogged to his position.
Along the pool’s bank was a slab of stone with peculiar designs. It was, to my sight, an ugly design. Lines jutting in all directions as though they were meant to be patterned, yet there were only a few duplicated sketches – not enough to consider them repetitive. “What do you think it is?” I asked with a disgusted tone.
Tunic gestured for me to step back a number of paces and I obeyed. Then he knelt on the ground before the slab. It was curious behaviour.
What happened next was difficult to describe. Tunic began mumbling something incomprehensible. His voice grew in strength and the pool began to ripple. I squinted as a pair of effulgent comets shot from the edge of the pool towards the center. They rose up, spinning in a double helix. When they had reached thrice Tunic’s height, they exploded in a rain of stars.
From within that brightness emerged a faerie. She was ebony in skin, but had glistening pearl hair. Though it was midday, the world seemed dark around her. It was a peculiar notion considering the deep dark of her ebony skin.
The faerie opened her mouth and from it came a garbled nonsense that had a faintly musical quality.
Tunic responded with sounds of his own.
Tunic and the faerie continued in their back and forth of sound making until a dozen sprites ascended from the pool. They circled Tunic’s quiver. He pulled two arrows from it and held them before himself. The sprites coalesced over the arrow tips and then exploded in a wave of energy. Tunic stumbled back, shielding his eyes. When his vision cleared, he held the arrows aloft, evaluating their newfound luminescence.
The faerie warbled to him and he returned the arrows to his quiver. He bowed his head and she faded from sight. As the faerie disappeared, the darkness lifted and it was day again.
Finally free of the petrifying sense of wonderment, I stumbled forward. “What was that?” I queried. “How did you summon her?”
Tunic gestured to the slab in front of him as if the answer should be obvious.
“What is it? How did you do it?” I rephrased my question.
“It says here,” Tunic reiterated. “Layla welcomes the humble. Speak your greeting and she will answer.”
I could see no such writing anywhere. “Where does it say that?” I pressed. I thought that perhaps it was written quite small below the peculiar line art. I squinted and moved close to the lines trying to find the message.
Tunic frowned, perceiving my inadequacy. He gestured to the line art.
I crinkled my nose. “Are you saying that is writing?”
Tunic nodded. “Did you not know that? It is written on your map and etched on the walls of the teacher’s home.”
Now that he said it, the art seemed vaguely familiar. I pulled out my map and compared it to the pictographs on the slab. I had thought those symbols were merely artistry. “But, how can you read that?” I asked.
“The language is not in Andra,” he replied. “It is in my native tongue.”
“Andra, the language you speak, is not the first language I was educated in,” he reiterated. I could see from the smirk on his face that my surprise amused him.
I had heard that other people spoke differently than Kennbridge, but I had never encountered any people who had. I certainly did not think they wrote such funny symbols for their language. “You mean those noises you were making were words?”
Tunic chuckled. Apparently, my description of his language as “noises” was amusing. I was not amused.
“Well,” I tapped my foot impatiently. It was not my fault I was not aware of my friend’s bilingual nature when he rarely even spoke my language. Rather than continue to reveal my ignorance about other tongues, I pressed onto the subject matter of the dialogue. “What did the faerie say? What did you say? And what happened to your arrows?”
Tunic gestured for me to resume our journey and his face seemed to say, “Perhaps we should continue this conversation while travelling.”
I supposed it made sense not to linger so I pulled out the map and determined our next direction. Tunic followed me without question. “So,” I reminded him of our conversation. “What happened?”
Tunic made me wait a miserably long time until he gave something of an explanation. It is a pity too, for the scenery was quite beautiful. I missed it all though, for I was intent on learning about the faerie’s conversation.
Tunic selected his words with care. “Layla was pleased to be awakened,” Tunic eventually continued. “None have disturbed her pool in years.”
It made sense to me. Did anyone, aside from the enigmatic Tunic, know this other language? Even if they did, there were few polyglots around this part of the world. We spoke Andra and always had. Or, at least, that was what I understood.
“I told her that I sought wisdom concerning the monster. She lamented that a faerie should cause so much grief to humans,” Tunic explained.
“What about the arrows?” I hastened him on.
He waved me away, as if to incite my patience.
Then I noticed his eyes flicking from shadow to shadow.
My heart quickened. Was there another dire wolf? I gulped and also searched the dark spaces around us. My eyes flicked from left to right. My ears strained to hear something abnormal, aside from the irregularity of my breathing, that is.
When nothing happened after many moments, I decided that Tunic was just being paranoid. “You shall be the death of me…” I muttered as I relaxed. It occurred to me that perhaps this was a stalling technique. Well, no matter how uncomfortable Tunic was with speaking, I would get answers from him.
I stomped over to him and placed my hands on my hips. I was about to stamp down an insistence that he answer my questions when Tunic grabbed my wrist and tugged me out of the way.
As he stepped in front of me, something dropped from the trees. Something large. I ducked to the ground. Tunic had his bow loaded and drawn before I had completed my descent.
Though I imagined a monster had found us, a dire wolf or some other fiend, it was only a woman. She was clothed in earthen tones and had skin fairer than even Addie.
“At last we find you,” the woman clucked.
Another voice startled me. “We were worried we had missed you,” a male voice called out.
I turned to the opposite direction and sighted another figure. I turned from one to the other. They appeared identical.
Tunic’s foot nudged me, so I rose. He shuffled back and I followed. We moved until the twins no longer surrounded us, but, rather, were both before us. They moved to join each other, making it easier for Tunic to train his arrow on them. Catlike, was their grace.
“You are Nari, are you not?” the woman called out to me. The pair seemed not at all concerned about Tunic’s weapon.
“We were sent this way by a friend,” her brother added.
“A man by the name of Weston.”
“He said you were going to fight the monster.”
“We wanted to find you.”
I stopped their sentence trading. “Weston sent you?”
“We met him at an inn,” the man replied.
“He told us he had just travelled with a brave lass,” the woman added.
“He told us you were headed to see the Dinsmore Faerie.”
“We figured we could not catch you there.”
“So we went to find another faerie.”
“In hopes that you would show up.”
Their sentences were so quickly spoken that they seemed almost rehearsed. I am sure familiarity could eventually breed the level of anticipation, but it was odd. “Why did you want to find me?” I called out.
“To help you find the monster,” the man smiled.
“We like your plan,” the woman joined his smile.
“What plan?” I called back.
“To seek out the monster,” the woman clarified.
“Something needs to be done to end this evil,” the man agreed.
I studied them, searching for danger. They were difficult to read but they might have insight into the monster that we lacked. Perhaps they would know the key to destroying it. If so, I could not simply let them go.
I put my hand on Tunic’s arm, gently pushing his bow down. “We should talk with them,” I whispered.
He flashed me a scornful look, but loosened the tension on his string. I stepped forward, only to find him match my pace exactly. We approached in unison.
“Who are you?” I asked the twins.
“Felina,” the woman curtsied.
“Felan,” the man bowed.
“What do you know of the monster?” I asked.
“She is a faerie,” Felina answered.
“Whose pool resides in Keegan Heights,” Felan added.
So, they had some knowledge of our foe.
“Who is your companion?” Felan gestured to Tunic.
“We had not heard you had a companion,” Felina commented.
I expected Tunic to answer on his own, but he did not. He nodded for me to speak on his behalf. “This is Bram,” I introduced. His hesitance to speak led me to conceal his full name.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Felina smiled.
“No need to be tense, good fellow,” Felan remarked.
“Be at ease.”
This, of course, only caused Tunic to stress further. I could see he wished to depart, but I wondered if Tunic had correctly read the situation. I wished he would share what he was thinking.
“Perhaps you would allow us to guide you,” Felan suggested.
“We have seen the monster’s lair,” Felina informed us.
“You survived?” I queried.
“We descended in the dark of night,” Felan explained.
“And we saw it from afar,” Felina elaborated.
This did not seem likely. “You could see it at night?”
“It is lit by faerie magic,” Felina replied.
“Come this way,” Felan ushered us.
“We will help you find the monster.”
“No, not yet,” I halted them. “I have to gather more information first.”
Felina and Felan exchanged a look I could not decipher. Was it frustration? Or, perhaps, just confusion.
“What information?” Felan asked.
Tunic grabbed my arm, silencing my answer.
Felina nodded to Felan and then he spoke, “Very well, we will come with you.”
“Even though you do not trust us,” Felina added.
It seemed fair enough; they would allow me to lead after all. Perhaps a mite bit too hasty for Tunic’s liking, but I was willing to add to our allies. “This way,” I guided the twins. I was careful not to refer to the faerie map or give hints as to our intelligence. If this pair were what they claimed to be, it would cause no harm to keep them ignorant. But, if they were what Tunic suspected, then we needed to protect our knowledge.
Tunic stayed so near me that our forearms brushed against each other frequently. If that did not betray his anxiety about the twins, his refusal to stow his bow did. He did not even remove the arrow from its nocked position.
Felan and Felina separated as we travelled. They moved to our left and right flank giving an impression of protection, or, perhaps, entrapment. I watched them out of the corner of my eyes for they moved with such grace that I could not look away. That instinctive desire to gaze at beauty had my eyes flicking back and forth between the twins. Friend or foe, there was an enigma about them. They were powerful; that sort of grace is only known by those who understand their sway over the minds of others. This also meant they were dangerous. But were they dangerous to us or to the monster?
I could think of no reason why anyone could desire any civilization to be smote. Thus, I had trouble understanding why Tunic would think these beings against us. Why would any being ally with the monster in its dark purpose? But subterfuge was not my strength. Therefore, as we travelled, I attempted to derive the motives of our travelling companions in the method I knew best. My questions rained down like the arrows of an army. If the twins had further information, I would draw it from their lips.
Through the afternoon meal and the evening I continued. Nary had a minute gone without question or answer. Yet, throughout Tunic spoke not a syllable. When I finally relinquished our companions to rest, my throat was parched.
Felan offered to keep the first watch and I thanked him, knowing full well that Tunic would not rest anyways. I snuggled into my cloak to sleep with Tunic seated beside me, bow in hand. He made a pretence of rest, leaning his back against a tree and tilting his head down as though in sleep, but his breathing never changed. I’d not ask him to trust the others so I offered to wake early so he might rest some in the morning.
Morning came without incident and Tunic received, perhaps, two hours of sleep. He had lasted the night without dozing and seemed reluctant to take even those couple of hours of rest. By breakfast, I had a whole line of questions prepared to begin my interrogation.
In the end, Felina and Felan were quite accurate in their description of Weston and I hoped their report of his well-being was true. Additionally, they seemed well versed about this territory. They guessed our destination, but I did not confirm their suspicion.
I suppose they began to understand my meaning after so many questions, for they began to ask me many in return.
“Did you get to see Imena?” Felina asked.
“I did,” I responded. I saw no harm in admitting it.
“Did she tell you how to get rid of the monster?” Felina continued.
“Not really,” I replied though I should have answered in a firm negative. My hesitance made them pry further. I suppose they had just as much a right to be suspicious of us as we them.
“What did she say then?” Felan asked.
I bit my lip, trying to come up with a fair answer. I still clung to the hope that this furtive behaviour was nothing sinister. I desperately wanted allies. “Imena said that we humans cannot actually kill the monster,” I relinquished.
“Did you believe her?” Felina asked.
It had never occurred to me to doubt Imena. She had healed me and given me a map. And, more importantly, she seemed genuinely distraught about the chaos the monster was unleashing. It was quite unlike the interest these two seemed to have in destroying the fiend. “Of course I believed her,” I replied. “Why would she lie?”
“What if her weakness was humans?” Felina supplied.
“Then she would not want you to know it,” Felan agreed.
That did not make any sense to me. What would it matter if Imena’s weakness were humans? I was not about to harm her. She wasn’t the one destroying villages.
“We think you should be prepared to fight,” Felina announced.
“Perhaps your friend will lend you his bow,” Felan suggested.
“No,” I shook my head. “Tunic is the archer.” I was quite insistent on that. There was no force in the world that could get me to try using a bow again.
“Perhaps you could learn,” Felan responded.
“It is almost certain the faerie’s weakness is you,” Felina agreed.
“Otherwise Imena would not have said it,” Felan finished.
Their insistence I use the bow was getting infuriating. I decided to put an end to all the talk using my chief talent. I sucked in my breath, ready for a classic conversation dominating speech. “Oh,” I began, “You have no concept of how poorly I perform with weapons. Why, when I was being taught the bow I could not even grip it correctly. It took at least half an hour for me to comprehend the proper handhold. When I eventually got the proper grip on the bow, I could not nock the arrow. I attempted to pull it back and had not the strength to draw properly. The arrow skittered forward in a failure.” By this time, they were seeking to intervene, but I would not let them. I continued, speaking without breaks. “I tried again and again. It was miserable. Arrows were flying this way and that. I could hit everything but the target. The closest I ever came was to hit the post, but the arrow did not even penetrate. It bounced off as though I had thrown it, rather than launched it. It was horribly embarrassing and I vowed never to do it again.”
For whatever reason, my unwillingness to take Tunic’s bow was a point of contention. I certainly did not understand why, but they insisted I learn the bow. When they could see their instructions were not being heeded, the twins split us up. Felina grabbed Tunic and pulled him back a number of paces. While Felan skittered me forward. He edged us around a tree, moving too close for my comfort. I stepped back and I felt the bark grate against my back.
He looked around the tree, ensuring we were out of earshot and then placed his arms on the tree on either side of my head. He leaned forward and whispered into my left ear. “We do not mean to alarm you. But we thought it prudent to warn you. How well do you know this Bram?”
I could honestly say, “Not very well.”
Felan nodded. This was what he wanted to hear. “We were not the only ones looking for you,” he told me. “There was another man, with the description of your Bram.”
“Is that so?” I asked.
“Indeed, it is. Except, this fellow did not wish to aid your quest. He sought to bring you to the monster to be killed by it.”
“Oh?” I gasped in mock horror. Their intentions suddenly became transparent. I continued in my display of ignorance though. “What will he do?” I inquired.
“He will bring you to the monster’s lair and attempt to wake it.”
“How will he do that?”
“I do not know. But you must not let him. You must seize his bow and attempt to kill him yourself.”
“But what if he fights back? He is stronger than I.”
“You must try regardless.” So that was their plan, whatever it was. They wanted to turn me against Tunic so he would out-power me. Or perhaps they feared Tunic would be able to defeat the faerie monster… No, that could not be. Tunic was human too and Imena had specifically said we could not defeat it. It also did not make sense because they had not known Tunic would be with me. There was something special about me. They wanted me to try to fight the monster or to fight in general.
“What about you?” I asked. “I thought you were going to accompany us.”
“It is my hope that you will let us.”
“Then why are you giving me this warning. Cannot the three of us defeat Bram?” As I spoke, I ducked under his left arm, moving out of his reach. My gaze flicked to Tunic and Felina and then back to Felan.
I had intended to focus on Felan, just looking for assurance that Tunic was still near, but my brain was slow in processing his position. I looked back towards them as I realised what was happening. Felina had pinned Tunic against a tree also, but her hands lingered on his face. She stroked his chin in a too familiar way. Then her hand ran up the side of his face, combing through his hair. He grabbed her wrist to halt her. The motion caused his hat to fall.
Felan demanded my attention again. “We needed to warn you… in case something should separate us,” he hesitated in his lie. The intimacy of the other couple had been just as distracting to him.
I heard the sound of a flute. It was not the usual summoning song, though that tune was buried in the new melody. I smiled. Tunic had something planned.
Felan seemed to sense that our departure was imminent as well. He hastened to give me one more instruction. “You are likely going to learn something about that fellow soon,” he told me. “And it will seem harmless at first, but when you learn more about the monster, you will understand why we warned you.”
I snickered inwardly. I had been learning all sorts of things about Tunic and not one caused me to doubt him. These two, however, were flashing brighter warning signs the more they spoke.
I could hear Tunic’s horse by then. It charged at its master using full speed. I didn’t turn to see it, but clearly, he managed to mount it without the beast slowing for the hoof beats did not change rhythm as they reached me. His hands caught me and I was ripped onto the back of the horse.
He held me securely, but it was not a comfortable ride. He had turned himself so he rode backward. With his legs firmly holding him in place, he had reached over to grab me. Because we could not slow yet, he had basically just thrown me over the horses’ rump. Each time the horse leapt forward, I bounced up on my stomach and came colliding down again. I hoped he would allow us to readjust this soon, for it was most painful. And knowing this particular horse, it was making my ride that much worse. I swear it extended effort into making my ride painful.
I watched as Felan disappeared in the distance. Neither he nor his sister gave chase. When they were out of sight, Tunic clicked his tongue and his horse slowed. He helped me guide my leg around the horse so I could mount it properly. When I was seated, he swung himself around so he faced forward. I wrapped my arms around his waist and, with the click of his tongue, the horse sped away.