We're here in chapter six and finally we get introduced to the third and final main character in the novel--Ilendia. She's one of my favorite characters I've ever written, and I hope you love her (and feel bad for her) as much as I do. As always, here's the Google Doc version. Thanks for reading!
Ilendia tensed, waiting for the inevitable blow to land. It always came to this. Her father would bluster and scream, working himself up into a fit of rage while she kept her head down, trying not to respond to his angry questions in a way that would make the beating worse. And then he would hit her. Sometimes only once. Sometimes several blows in rapid succession. The bruises never really went away, they were just replaced with new ones.
The sun's rays filtered in through the window behind her father, casting a golden light over the entire room. A table sat to one side surrounded by chairs, its surface covered with maps and documents. One of the chairs lay broken next to the wall it had been smashed against. Mother was going to be furious. Ilendia was just glad that her father hadn't decided to use it on her.
"You ungrateful child," her father said. They still called her child, even if she was almost eighteen years old. "Will you ever grow up? The world is not a place for a girl who can't keep her head where it belongs." He raised his fist, and Ilendia flinched away. "Look at me when I'm speaking to you!" The veins in his neck were standing out, and he gritted his teeth as he struck Ilendia across the face. She cried out and fell to the floor, a tangled mass of matted hair, ripped gown, and broken body. The satchel she'd had strung across her shoulder was knocked to the ground, spilling out the journals and other books hidden within.
Ilendia? Azair said from inside her mind. Ilendia, are you alright? Why does your father keep hurting you? She ignored him for now, pushing herself up as much as she could. Her arms still ached from last week. Her father had taken a belt and whipped it across her arms until they had bled. That time she had even cried.
Her father raised his fist again, and Ilendia winced and pulled back, wishing it would just be over. No blows came, and she looked up at him. "Do you even understand, Ilendia?" he said, glaring at her. He had lowered his hand, but his face was still livid with rage. "You try to escape me, to run off and isolate yourself from everyone, but you can't! You are a part of this family, and so you will do as you are told."
“Yes, father,” Ilendia struggled to say, trying to placate him. He reached down and grabbed her by the throat, pinning her to the ground.
"You will marry anyone I tell you to," her father shouted, almost frothing at the mouth with fury. "You will do anything I tell you to. You are my daughter, and I demand respect."
“I promise, I will!” Ilendia coughed. “I’ll marry him, I’m sorry--please, just stop!”
“I will not stop until you understand, girl. This city is my responsibility, you are my responsibility, I have to do what is best.” He lifted her up and threw her against the wall drawing back and raising his fist high in the air for a final strike. “Don’t you understand?” His last words were almost a plea, and Ilendia could see that he was on the verge of breaking. It was almost over.
Ilendia bowed her head in submission, trying to look as innocent as possible. "Yes, father," she said, a tear rolling down her cheek before she could stop it. "I'm sorry."
He lowered his fist, and his rage seemed to subside. She sighed in relief and started to rise, her entire body shaking. He brought up his foot and kicked her in the head. She collapsed to the floor again, clutching her throbbing skull. "Father, please!" she yelled, her voice at once a tremble and a roar.
"Shut up!" he said, kicking her again. "Shut up!"
She began to grow dizzy, and curled into a ball on the floor, trying to protect her head. This might be a bad one. At least he wasn't drunk. It was always worse when he was drunk.
Ilendia? Azair said again. I do not want you to be hurt. Please, feel better.
"I can't," Ilendia answered aloud without thinking. "He won't stop."
Her father paused in between kicks. "What did you say?" The words were almost a whisper, and carried with them a malice that always frightened Ilendia. When she didn't answer, her father kicked her again. "I told you to stop talking. You will obey me!"
Ilendia, do something! the voice was almost pleading. Her friend didn't understand. There was nothing she could do. Her father was stronger than she was, and she couldn't escape him. No matter where she ran, he would always find her. And if he didn't, Mother did. There was no where she could go. She was stuck here until they sent her off to Argosson to share a bed with a man she had never met.
Ilendia didn't say anything. She just lay on the floor, pleading with any god that would listen to her to make her father stop. Around her, there was silence. Whether or not her father was still angry, she couldn't tell. She didn't dare look up to find out.
Eventually, she heard sobbing. She glanced up ever so slightly through her curled fingers, and saw her father crying. He was holding his face, and his shoulders heaved spasmodically. With a bitter sigh, he wiped at his tears and looked at her. His face was red, and his expression had softened to the point of seeming almost regretful. "I'm so sorry, Ilendia," he said, shaking his head. "I didn't mean it. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"
She nodded, a wave of relief washing over her. He always apologized, and when he did, she knew that the beating and the screams were over, at least for a little while. She would be safe now.
"Please, forget this ever happened," her father said, waving her away. "Go, leave me."
She got to her feet, though it took a tremendous effort, and gathered up the books she had dropped, replacing them in her satchel and fleeing out of the study into the hallway beyond. Her legs weren't hurt, and so she ran, ignoring the banging of her satchel of books against her bruised body, rushing through the mansion and towards the front door. Once, she stumbled dizzily into the wall, but she got back up and kept moving, desperately wanting to just be outside. She reached the grey stone entrance room and pushed opened the large wooden door, revealing the beautiful morning sky. She didn't stop, but kept running as fast as her legs would carry her, through the garden surrounding the mansion and down the steps leading away from the estate. Her satchel of books bounced along with her as she ran, but the contents were kept safe inside, the cover tied tightly to prevent spills. Anillend hung in the blue expanse and added its own glow to the sun's rays, creating a beautiful mixture of gold and emerald that cascaded down over the terraces of Isthus. The light touched her face as she continued to run down the steps towards the lower terraces, seeming to caress her with its warmth.
She passed building upon building as she half-ran, half-stumbled down the great stone stairway that connected all of Isthus' terraces, some occupied with families, others used as storage sheds or workshops. Fields filled with great, green shoots of spirath covered the lower terraces, and she breathed in the earthy scent of the plants, smiling for the first time today.
You are happier now, Azair said, sounding pleased. You always like to feel the sun and the wind.
Yes, I do, she said back, smiling even wider. Azair had always been there with her, for as long as she could remember. Neither of them really knew where he came from, or even who he really was, but it didn't really matter. It was enough that he was her friend. She desperately needed one.
She skidded to a stop at one of the last terraces, and looked back up the great staircase, taking in the town of Isthus in a single glance. It was built on an enormous hill, with terraces carved from the earth all up the slope. The workers tended fields of spirath on the lowest of the terraces, and the craftsmen practiced their trades nearer to the top. It all culminated in the governor's mansion built at the highest point, overlooking the rest of the settlement. It was ironic, really. Ilendia's ancestors had gone to all of the trouble of throwing off the shackles of their oppressors to just turn around and use the same social system simply because it was familiar to them. There were no Speakers, of course, but the result was nearly the same.
Ilendia took her gaze away from the mansion atop the hill and set it on one of the fields of spirath. The plants were tall, and seemed to spiral in green undulations towards the warmth of the sun. When it was ripe, spirath produced a grain that could be used for baking bread, and their leaves, though chewy, could be boiled and eaten, making it a staple food in both Isthus and its neighboring Argosson. Ilendia caught a flash of movement from among the stalks, and walked towards them curiously. As she reached the wall of green, a cluster of young girls scurried out from the spirath and ran directly into her, almost knocking her over.
The girls tumbled over each other, squealing and giggling with delight, and the first of their number, a dark-haired, olive-skinned girl with a sober face, got to her feet and looked gravely at Ilendia. "Sorry, m'lady," she said, curtsying awkwardly. The girl was maybe a little over ten years, and wore a plain brown dress and no shoes.
"It's alright," Ilendia said, smiling. She knelt down to speak to the girl at her level, and winced in the process, her body still aching. "Were you playing a game?"
"Yes, m'lady. We were chasing each other through the spirath. Don't tell my uncle, he'll be mad." The girl frowned and reached out to touch Ilendia's face. "You're hurt. Do you need help? My mother can help you feel better."
Ilendia took the girl's hand in her own and lowered it from her bruises, trying to maintain her smile. "No, thank you. I'm fine."
The girl didn't look convinced, but she shrugged. Ilendia's satchel of books caught her eye, and she pointed at it. "What's in that?" she asked bluntly.
"Books," Ilendia said. "Journals for me to write in, and other books that were written by different people. Some of them are stories, some of them teach you things."
"That sounds boring to me," the girl said, sticking out her tongue. "I'd rather play."
"Do you know how to read?"
The girl shook her head. "My mother and my father can't read either, so they can't teach me."
"Oh, well that's too bad," Ilendia said. "I've always thought it was rather enjoyable."
The girl shrugged again and turned back to her group of friends. "Ready?" They nodded and giggled again. The leader of the girls glanced at Ilendia once more. "Would you like to play with us? If you're not too busy with your books, I mean."
For a moment, Ilendia almost decided to join them. But... No. She was still bruised, and in her mad dash to get away from the mansion, she had worn herself out completely. Besides, she really wanted to be alone just now. She shook her head. "Thank you, though. I'm kind of tired. Books sound better right now." On a whim, Ilendia reached down and pulled off her silk slippers, holding them out to the girl. "Here, take them. As a gift."
The girl looked confused. "But..." She looked down at her dirty, shoeless feet, and then to Ilendia's own cleaner, but no more less calloused feet. "They're so nice. I would just get them dirty."
"You can wear them on special occasions, then," Ilendia said, thrusting them out more eagerly.
The girl smiled and took the slippers. "Thank you, m'lady. You're nice." Then she tucked the slippers under one arm, turned to her friends, and ran off with them into the spirath. Ilendia watched them until they were out of sight.
Why did you give away your shoes? Azair said, sounding confused.
"I didn't need them," Ilendia said aloud, as she usually did to Azair. It felt more natural somehow, to speak with her voice instead of her head, and he heard her all the same. "To be honest, I didn't even want them." She turned and kept walking down the terraces, whistling tunelessly to herself.
But won't your father be angry?
"He never has to know," Ilenda said. "I have six more pairs of slippers waiting for me back at the estate. I doubt he'll even notice. He never seems to care when I ruin dresses while we're exploring." The town gate stood before her, only two terraces down, and she hurried toward it with as much fervor as she could muster in her weary condition. A great palisade wall circled the bottom of the hill Isthus was built on, and was used to keep unwanted creatures out of the city. It was also supposed to keep an Argo army out if the neighboring city decided to attack them, but everyone knew that if Argosson wanted Isthus destroyed, there was nothing anyone could do.
I suppose, Azair said, though he still sounded skeptical. Where are you off to today, Ilendia?
"Anywhere but here," she said as she reached the gate, which was tended by a pair of guards with spears and shields bearing the crest of Isthus, the jagged face of a kanshell, one of the more fearsome reptiles that roamed the lower reaches of the mountains. "Do you want to keep exploring the valleys on the south side?"
The guards glanced at each other as she spoke, and one of them raised his eyebrow at his fellow. They were new, barely older than Ilendia and just out of training. She had only seen them once before at the gate, and so they'd never had a chance to hear her talking to Azair. They'd probably heard the rumors, though--namely, the ones that said she was crazy. Because of her habit of talking to Azair out loud, and because no one seemed to believe that he even existed, she had developed a reputation for mental instability. Not that she really cared. She knew that she wasn't insane, and that was enough for her.
"Going outside, m'lady?" One of the guards said, a skinny young man with a slight mustache and a nervous twitch of his leg.
"Yes," she said, nodding. "I'm going for a walk along the southern reaches, in case my father asks."
"Um, is that entirely safe?" the second guard said, twisting his spear's pole back and forth. He was more muscular than his companion, clean shaven, and altogether quite a bit more handsome. "Er, m'lady."
"I know what I'm doing," she said, smiling at him. "Don't worry about me."
The two glanced at each other again, and then the second man shrugged and they pushed open the gate. Ilendia stepped out of the restrictive walls and into an entirely new world. The sun continued to rise, and she made her way down a narrow ravine that led into the dense forest below. This was her true home--the wilderness, where she could be herself without fear of reprisal or punishment, and roam to her heart's content without someone watching her every move. Except Azair, of course, but she didn't really count him as a "person". People were confusing and sometimes horrible, and Ilendia didn't truly understand them, in the way that others did. She had always been isolated, aloof. She would enter the world of people against her wishes and be hurt, and then flee back to her own to heal.
The vegetation grew thicker the further she traveled down the ravine path, first small ferns and bushes, then vines creeping across the stones like millions of hands, and finally, pelia trees that seemed to defy gravity itself, yearning towards the sky with abandon to tower of the heads of any other living creature. They cracked rock as they grew, driving their probing roots deep into the earth to gather the nutrients that would nourish them. Ilendia had always had a special connection with trees. She loved to climb among the huge branches of the pelias, which often dipped low to the ground at their base as if to welcome any creature to join them in the sky. And the small saplings that struggled to gain a foothold in the crowded earth seemed to speak to her on an altogether different level. She understood that kind of pain--to struggle, to look skyward with yearning towards the wonders of the great expanse, yet be denied by those who had already reached it. She had lived that life for longer than she could remember. Maybe it had always been that way. Maybe it always would be.
She reached the end of the ravine and came to a long forest path twisting and turning with the lay of the broken ground ahead, making its way towards the normal hunting grounds to the west. She turned south, climbing up a tor covered in flowered bushes and then picking her way among the trees and rocks as easily as any other denizen of the forest. She caught sight of a few lao-mene foraging as she went along, and made sure not to disturb the busy crustaceans as she pattered by on bare feet.
The sky was clear and the breeze carried with it the hope of a new day unfettered by the burdens of her family or society. She scampered over moss-covered boulders and balanced on fallen logs, sometimes talking to Azair, but mostly just enjoying his company as he experienced the same things she did, seeing the forest floor through her eyes as she wandered southward. Hours passed, and the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, though she could only see it vaguely through the forest canopy. Though she did have responsibilities back in Isthus, such as her studies, she had quickly learned that after one of her father's fits, he did not want to see her around the estate, or even be near her. If he did, it ended very badly. So she had started coming out into the forests and hills surrounding Isthus and exploring for several hours after every one of the arguments, to let her father cool down. Later, she would return and find him as surly as usual, demanding that she stop avoiding responsibility and start acting like an adult. And everything would go back to normal.
Eventually, they reached a stretch of the south valley that they had yet to explore. Ilendia walked out from a copse of trees to stand atop a steep, rocky incline covered in scraggly bushes and vines looking out over a lake surrounded by huge boulders on all sides. She smiled, thinking of the possibilities. It was probably nice enough to swim. The more she contemplated that idea, the more it appealed to her. She started clambering down the rocks, using vines and bushes as hand and footholds. A proper lady, the kind of person her parents were determined to force her to be, would never have gone down the treacherous slope, particularly not in a dress. The more her parents tried to make her that way, however, the more Ilendia went out of her way to act directly opposite. She would probably even rip holes in this dress, though that would make her mother furious. At the moment, she was having too much fun to care.
One foot touched the soil at the bottom of the incline, and Ilendia wobbled slightly as she struggled to free her other foot from the small pocket in the rock she had used to stabilize herself a moment before. She grunted as her foot came loose, tumbling backward into a bush. "Ow," she said as she pulled herself out of the leaves. Azair laughed. He didn't really generate sound, but the words were there, or even the feeling. Somehow she always knew what he was trying to say to her, even if he wasn't really talking.
"Oh, it's funny, is it?" Ilendia said as she pulled herself from the bush, wincing. "You really know how to charm a girl, don't you?"
It was sort of funny, Ilendia. Aren't you supposed to be really good at this sort of thing?
She rolled her eyes and started walking towards the lake, climbing over boulders as she came to them, even if they weren't really in her way. She had always enjoyed heights, even when she was a little girl. She seemed to remember a time when her family hadn't been completely set on destroying each other, and they would go off together to their favorite spot, a shaded hill to the north of Isthus, and have lunch. Ilendia would run and play with her brothers, even if she wasn't quite old enough or big enough to be a serious competitor. That had been before her brothers had started pretending that she didn't exist. When she had asked them why they were avoiding her, they said that she didn't need them, she had her own friend. Her imaginary friend. It had been childish--stupid even--but it had been the beginning of the end of any sort of relationship, healthy or otherwise, that she'd had with her siblings.
Soon after, her family had stopped going to the hill.
Ilendia got to the top of one of the largest boulders, looking over the rest of valley and the lake ahead. It was large, beautiful, and clear, and seemed incredibly deep. She grinned.
You really want to go swimming, don't you? Azair said.
“I really do,” she said. She set her satchel of books on the boulder, slid off and began to sprint as soon as she hit the ground. Her dress flew around her like wings, and she scurried over the rest of the stones lying on the ground surrounding the lake. She was almost to the gravel shore, ducking around a boulder and getting ready to plunge in, dress and all, when she spotted someone else moving by the water.
She breathed in sharply and skidded to a stop beside a boulder, trying to process what she had just seen. It had looked like an old man of some sort, busy making a campsite along the lakeside. She tried to listen to hear if the man had seen or heard her and was coming this way, but the sound of her breathing overpowered anything else. Who else would be down here? It could be someone from Isthus, she supposed, but there wasn't much reason for it. Most of the citizens of Isthus worked and lived entirely inside the town, and didn't have the time or leisure to go spend the night in the woods for fun. Or it could be someone from Argosson--the member of a hunting party? Almost everyone who traveled far from their home did not do so alone, however, and it had looked like there was only one person. The only reason Ilendia hadn't seen him from the top of the incline or one of the boulders was because the man had been backed up against a large rock right by the edge of the water. Ilendia was suddenly very glad she hadn't decided to take off her dress to go swimming.
Who was that? Azair said, as tense as she was. You should be careful, Ilendia. He might be dangerous.
I know, Azair, Ilendia thought back. I know. I'll be careful. She began to inch around the boulder, careful not to make too much sound on the gravel. Maybe if she took a quick peek, she could get more of a bearing on who the man was and whether or not she should avoid him. He didn't seem to be coming any closer, and didn't give any sign that he had even heard her. How could he not have heard her? She had been running full speed towards the lake until she had spotted him, not caring how much noise she made. All she heard, however, was a quiet shuffling--movement on the gravel--and it didn't seem to be getting closer.
She took a peek around the boulder and didn't see anything. She frowned and leaned further out, trying to see where the man had gone to. She saw the fire pit he had been building, but still no sign of the man himself. And she didn't even hear him anymore. She stepped forward tentatively, ready to flee at the slightest sound or movement. The man wasn't there. There were a few packs holding tools and clothing, and the half-made fire pit, but no sign that the stranger had even been there. Not even a scuffing of the gravel. She glanced behind her, making sure that he hadn't doubled back. There was no one there.
Where is he? Azair said, as confused as she was. Wasn't he just there?
"Yes..." she said, shaking her head. "He was..."
Ilendia caught movement from the corner of her eye and turned back to see the entire lake shifting and undulating as huge bubbles rose from the depths to hiss on the surface of the water. She continued to watch, too shocked to move, as a great gush of water started erupting from the center of the lake. Moments later, a massive shell covered in aquatic plants and barnacles rose from the surface, liquid streaming off the sides like a circular waterfall. An enormous head emerged next, its features jagged and scaly, and its protruding jaw open wide in a silent roar.
They were rare, especially this close to Isthus, mostly because of the food they required, and were equally at home in the water or on land. Although they were herbivores, they were extraordinarily mean-tempered, and there were many stories of unlucky hunting parties that had been killed by raging kanshells. And now one was floating a stone's throw away from Ilendia.
That's big, Azair said, though he didn't seem half as stunned as she was. More concerned than anything. Don't make it angry.
I wasn't planning on it, Ilendia thought, backing away with her hands before her as if to somehow keep the great beast in the lake. It was looking directly at her, its eyes ablaze with a kind of unthinking anger that sent a shiver down Ilendia's spine. It growled, a deep, hollow sound, and lifted one bowed limb up out of the water and on to the gravel. The noise of that great, scaly foot hitting the ground was earthshaking, and Ilendia began to sweat, beads of perspiration running down her forehead and on to her nose. She knew that she should run. She knew it. But her legs refused to move, and she stood there, frozen in mute terror.
Then someone was beside her. A strong hand, deeply tanned and beginning to wrinkle with age, touched her shoulder, and she jerked her head up to see the face of the man she had seen by the lake. He was watching the kanshell with a look that bespoke concern, even sadness, and his features were broad and handsome, with skin that almost looked a deep red. He glanced down at her and nodded. "Do not move," he said, his voice deep and rich. "He is waiting for us to challenge him. We have entered his territory, and anything we do might be seen as an intention of fighting him.”
Ilendia’s eyes widened, and her breathing was heavy as her eyes danced back and forth between the kanshell and the man’s face. “Would he really feel threatened by me? I couldn’t do anything to hurt him.”
“Kanshells can be belligerent. They don’t want anything sharing the same range as them, and are particularly prideful of their lairs. Normally, they would simply bluster and bellow until we fled, but they have been growing more dangerous as of late. We are one step away from being attacked.”
Ilendia kept herself as still as possible, growing more nervous and tense with each passing second as she and the man stared down the creature. The kanshell took one more step out of the lake, hissing softly, and then lifted its head and took in a deep breath. Then it bellowed a deep bass note, reverberating throughout the entire valley and shaking the huge boulders around them. A few of the more precariously placed rocks began to roll, clattering and bouncing into their fellows. When the roar finally died, after what seemed like an endless repetition of echoes, Ilendia let out the breath she had been holding. This creature terrified her, but somehow it also fascinated her. It was an undeniably ugly creature, but when it spoke, it did so with music, a deep almost-bell like tone that boomed and echoed and shimmered all at the same time.
She glanced back up at the man beside her. A tear was slowly making its way down his cheek, and he had a look of such regret on his face that it caught at Ilendia’s heart. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he whispered, wiping away the tear. “I hate to see them like this, though.”
“Like what?” Ilendia whispered back, trying to use the words to push back her terror.
“So angry,” he said, shaking his head. “Their music once spoke of the peace and serenity of the wilds. Now it only echoes of their loneliness and bitterness.”
Ilendia did not really understand what the man was trying to say, but the words were so poignant that she felt a tear sliding down her own cheek, and she brushed it away absently, glancing back at the great kanshell glaring. It was still glaring at them with that same fierce intensity, growling and taking another ground-shaking step. Ilendia started to gasp, but the sound caught in her throat as the tall man beside her tightened his grip on her shoulder.
“Hold, young one,” he said, still watching the kanshell. “Let it come.” Then he left her and stepped forward to meet the massive creature, eyes narrowing. “Come, child!” he shouted, and Ilendia jumped despite herself. At first she thought he had been talking to her, and took a step of her own, but then she realized that all of the man’s attention was on the kanshell, which had half of its massive body pulled out of the lake.
The kanshell gave a little lurch, and made a hesitant hissing sound that sounded like the glistening of chimes. Its eyes bored into the man before it, and it leaned down, mouth seeming ready at any moment to snap him in two. Ilendia felt a spike of terror as she realized how close the man was from dying. Hadn’t he told her not to make it seem like they were challenging the thing? Why was he walking towards it and shouting, then? She glanced backwards, getting ready to run if the kanshell decided to attack. Maybe she could outrun it--maybe the boulders would slow it down.
Wait, Ilendia, he’s trying to calm it, Azair said, sounding slightly awed. Listen.
She had noticed it too. The slight changing of the notes in the kanshell’s shimmering song from a minor to a major key, a sort of wary and reluctant shift that almost seemed to ask a question. She looked back towards the lake. The man was holding out his hand in supplication, gaze still firmly locked on the massive beast before him. Then he began to sing along, a deep, rhythmic bass to accompany the kanshell’s hissing chime. The song started off simple, a selection of four notes from the man that set the foundation, followed by a repeating selection of counterpoint notes from the kanshell. Then the musical shimmering of the beast became more complex, slowly turning into an entire symphony of intricate, perfectly harmonized notes that flowed like water itself. The man continued his rhythmic bass, and somehow it was not overpowered by the kanshell’s own part of the song, despite the obvious volume differences between the two. Finally, as the song reached its crescendo, the kanshell lifted its head again and bellowed a pure note so strong and moving that Ilendia fell to her hands and knees in its wake. She stared at the ground, so utterly touched by that magnificent song that she lost all sense of time and location. When she looked back up, the kanshell was returning to the lake, water gushing around it in foamy waves.
The man stood watching, his posture straighter and more alive than it had been before, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from him. He turned to her and smiled, a smile so rich and genuine that Ilendia couldn’t help but smile back. He came over to where she knelt and held out his hand. She grasped it gratefully, and he helped her to her feet.
“That...was amazing.” Ilendia shook her head, as if waking from a dream. “I’ve never seen a kanshell before, or heard how beautiful its song could be. The stories never seem to mention that part.”
The man nodded, his face growing slightly melancholy once more. “They are misunderstood creatures, and the anger is not their fault. Things are changing, and they cannot help but be swept along with the tide.”
Ilendia frowned at the unfamiliar word. What was a tide?
What’s a tide? Azair echoed.
The man glanced back at the lake, obviously not noticing her change of expression. “We should probably leave, however,” he said. “The creature will not remain calm forever. Things have progressed too far to be reversed with one song.” He turned back to her. “Where are you from, young one?”
“Isthus,” she replied, acting on her hunch that she should trust this tall, strange man. “It's a town back that way.” She pointed northward.
He followed her outstretched arm with his eyes and looked out over the wilderness to where Isthus lay, hidden behind hills and trees. “How far away is it? I do not live in this area, and so I am unfamiliar with its layout. I have been traveling for quite a while, and I am in need of supplies.”
She looked at the man curiously, noting the strange way he spoke, so articulate and drawn out. “It’s only a few miles--you just can’t see it because of the way the land rises and falls between here and there.”
“I’ve noticed that the land rises and falls quite dramatically no matter where you go,” the man said, smiling. “And your view of things is almost always blocked by one obstruction or another. Would you mind leading me to Isthus, child? Though I do have a very good sense of direction, and could probably find the settlement without aid, I would enjoy company.”
Ilendia smiled in spite of herself. This friendly, gentle man seemed to radiate kindness, and the warm way he spoke to her almost made tears come to her eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had shown genuine interest in her company. “I would love to,” she said, though she did feel a momentary pang at the fact that she wouldn’t be able to continue exploring. “My name is Ilendia, by the way.”
“And I am called Axohin, in this particular time and place,” he said. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Ilendia.” He gestured forward. “Shall we go?”
And so they started walking towards Isthus, neither one saying anything, just enjoying the beauty of their surroundings and each other’s company.