Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Episode 5: Who trusts his heart

Abruptly, the battle was done. The chittering turned to a high-pitched wail and the iccubata fled like leaves before a gust of autumn wind, leaving their fetid dead behind.

"What happened?" Gundar gasped, barely daring to trust his senses.

"Reinforcements." Arestasis turned to face Gundar, pointing his yellow-smeared glassy blade at the sky. Lexa and Orestes had been joined by two other eagle riders in hot pursuit of the scattering horde, which had lost all will to work together as a group.

"Nothing more to fear," Arestasis said off-handedly, wiping his dagger on his sleeve and slipping it back into his belt. "Sit down before you collapse." Gundar's knees began to shake uncontrollably. Arestatis grasped his elbow and helped him sit. Gundar suppressed a moan. He had never been so tired in his life.

"Here -- drink." Arestasis held a wineskin to Gundar's parched lips. The liquid was cool and bracing, neither wine nor water but somehow both. Energy coursed through Gundar's limbs, and he knew that he would live.

"You did well," Arestasis said softly. "Very well indeed. You were weakened from thirst and loss of blood, but you did not falter once."

Gundar looked up into the sea-green eyes and saw understanding and respect. "I thought of giving up," he whispered. "There were so many of them . . . too many . . ." To his horror, his long-repressed tears made their appearance, burning his mangled face. Now that his fighting frenzy was abating, he could feel every one of the wounds that covered his body. Even his double-layered leather leggings had not been able to withstand the relentless teeth and claws.

Arestasis put away his sword and passed his hands before Gundar's eyes in a mystic gesture. "Sleep," he intoned. "Sleep."

Before he had time to protest, the young warrior fell into black oblivion. When he came to himself again, he was in a dank gray tunnel, his skin unblemished and his clothing miraculously repaired. All was dark behind him, but there was light somewhere ahead. Gundar felt at his belt, and found nothing -- no weapon, no treasure, not even a flint and steel. He had no choice but to follow the light. He moved ahead into the unknown, stumbling over the rocks.


He stopped, electrified. Lili's voice.

"Gundar!" the voice called again. "Come."

The voice seemed to come from the right. Gundar turned and looked, and saw nothing but water dripping down the rockface.

"Where are you?" he called.

"Come," the voice called again. "Do not trust your eyes, but come to me."

Gundar heard his own heart pounding in his chest. A fragment from the Saga of Skeddeswyr surfaced in his memory:
Who trusts his eyes will never see,
Who trusts his ears will never hear.
Who trusts his heart and follows true
Will always know when love is near.

Those words had stirred him strangely when he first heard them. He had tried to dismiss them as romantic claptrap, but they seemed uncannily appropriate now.

I'm most likely dreaming, he told himself, and in dreams all things are possible. There was little that he would scorn to risk for the sake of seeing Lili again, even if her countenance was no more than a fleeting image born of exhaustion. He closed his eyes and walked towards the sound, bracing himself for his inevitable collision with the wall.

He encountered no obstacle. After a few steps, the ground under his feet became level, like pavement. He became unsure and held his trembling hands out in front of him, feeling for some clue to his whereabouts.

"Silly!" Lili's voice teased him. "Open your eyes!"