Taura rose before dawn the next morning, and set out for the stable. Ziliena's plan better work, she thought to herself as she saddled Illiz. "All set, girl?" Illiz nodded in response. Taura mounted the horse and took the reins. "Let's go home and get Aria. You know the way!"
Aria was surprised when Aerodar announced Taura was spotted on her way home. "That was fast," she muttered.
She would have sent word if anything was wrong, he rationalized.
"Yes, she probably would. Unless she couldn't."
Illiz isn't running for her life. I can assure you, they're fine, and almost here in fact.
"Thank you Dar. I guess I'll get some food ready for them both."
Aria was almost finished in the stable when Taura and Illiz arrived. "Welcome home, you two. Did you forget something?"
Taura slid out of the saddle and down Illiz's side. "No, I missed you and had to come right back."
"Now I know something's amiss." Aria started unbuckling Illiz's saddle. "Ziliena wasn't able to translate it?"
"No. Well, not yet, exactly." She whispered, "Thank you," in Illiz's ear. Let's go inside and talk. I'm starving.
Taura started mopping up the last of her soup with chunks of bread. "That was delicious, Sis. Thanks."
"Your welcome. Now, will you tell me what's going on? Where's the journal?"
"Relax, Aria. The journal is still with Ziliena, she's still working on it." Taura took a deep breath, and sighed. "We realized it's going to take longer than we thought to make sense of it, and that you might be able to help provide some insight here and there to-"
"Ah, I see now," Aria interrupted. "You want me to go back with you. Right?"
"Yes, I do."
"We've already been over this a thousand times, Taura." Aria threw her hands up in frustration. "I do not want to go back to Iselos. At. All." She stormed into the common room, and started pacing around in thought.
Taura gave her a moment before following. “Nearly a year has passed, Aria. You can’t believe Mother and Father intended for us to wither away here, all alone.”
Aria stopped pacing around the common room, spinning on her heel to face Taura. “Fine, dear little sister, fine." She'd grown tired of this argument. "If moving to Iselos so you can find a suitor is what you wish,” she bowed at the waist, brushing the floor with her right hand, “it is what you shall have.”
“This has nothing to do with men!" Taura shot back, exasperated. "Though now that you bring it up, Mother did hint at something for awhile before they left. Something about us, well, you in particular, coming to a certain age...”
“Remind me again, what book defines such an ‘age’ where we're to find a man and join with him?” Aria scoffed.
Taura ignored the jab. “Look, I just think that some contact with other PEOPLE would do you some good. You’re too isolated; you haven’t even gone into Iselos once since-”
“I know exactly how long it's been." She clenched her fists at the thought. "I don’t like dealing with people, Taura, you know that. Crennas are straightforward; I always know where I stand. Even good people lie with the best of intentions." She sighed. "I grew tired of hearing one thing come out of their mouths while something else is coming out of their brains rapidly.”
“So don’t listen.”
“So easy for you to say.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I can’t turn it off anymore, Taura. At least not with Keepers. It’s been that way for two years now. Maybe three. That’s why I stopped going.”
“Well, don't you think you need to learn how to block them out?”
Aria shrugged. “Besides, IF I go, who will protect the Cernaah? And the crennas?”
"Crennas protect themselves in the wild each day, Aria."
"But ours have become accustomed to our intervention."
"They also have each other to count on. And, there hasn't been an attack here since, oh - I can barely remember it. Before you were old enough to fight? They don't know where this place is now, and they'll have less chance of finding it with us in Iselos."
"Or, they will discover we're there, and trace our scent right back here."
“Now, those chances are almost none, and you know it. Besides, you can talk to Hunter.”
“Not from that far.”
“Yet. Ugh!" Taura smacked her forehead with her palm. "It’s not like we’re never coming back. Think of it as an extended stay. Like we used to do in Brookvale.”
“And, what are we supposed to do there?”
“Ziliena said they're looking for help at the learning hall, and she knows of a couple of rooms for boarding.”
“Well, the learning hall may work for you, but you know I don’t have the patience for that sort of thing.”
“Ah, but what town isn’t in need of Malorian Hunters to bring in meat for the butchers, and furs and skins for the trades?” With her hands on her sister’s shoulders, Taura massaged Aria’s ego as well as her muscles. “Ziliena also said the annual hunting competition is coming up soon."
"What competition? I've never heard of it."
"Well, neither had I, but she said it's become a big thing in Iselos. Hunters from all across Terressan travel to participate. Ziliena thinks you could win."
"Me? I, well, I mean, with all of your experience, you’re sure to be one of the best they’ve seen.”
“I’m already one of the best they’ve seen. They just don’t know it was me who tracked and killed most of the pelts Corvin brought in.” Aria pulled away and turned to face Taura again, but this time there was a spark in her eyes. “Like I said, we’ll go.”
Over the next two days they made their preparations and said their good-byes. Aria sensed that Taura was having a more difficult time than she expected, but also knew her sister was right; they needed some time around other people.
On the third morning, they rose at dawn and saddled Romburr and Iliitz.
I hate that you must stay behind, Taura rubbed Liia between the eyes while resting her forehead on the horse’s neck.
You know I can’t go back there. Liia was owned by a man in Iselos who used crops and whips, forcing her to pull carts too heavily laden for one horse. After five years of laboring under his cruel hand, she escaped to the forest, seeking refuge in a safe haven a sparrow once sang of - the Cernaah.
I know, they would recognize you, and ... I don't want to think of it. But, it's already settled. I’ll see you in two weeks.
If you haven’t forgotten me by then.
Smiling, she patted the horse’s neck. Impossible.
“E’sareona!” exclaimed Aria. ”The way you two go on. Hunter’s staying behind, too, you know.”
“For now,” Taura shot back, locking eyes with her sister.
“This was your idea.”
None yet. Ask me later.
The bright morning and warm breeze did little to improve Aria’s disposition. She found herself fighting the urge to turn back to the Cernaah, though she reluctantly allowed Romburr to continue following Taura and Iliitz on the course to their new home. Aside from the crackle, crunch, clomp of the forest floor beneath eight hooves traveling at various gaits, they rode in silence, each keeping her thoughts private.
From the edge of the largest clearing, Iselos unfolded before them and Aria felt as though she was waking from a dream. Directly before them lay the marketplace, full of people hustling about from tent to brightly colored tent, reminding her of insects swarming in and about their nest. Market Faire days were held the sixth, seventh and eighth days of each week in Iselos, and Aria groaned audibly as she realized that if they had waited two more days they could have avoided the events and quietly slipped into town.
The multi-hued flags and tent tops flapped gently in the breeze, giving off a sense of gaiety. Two groups of musicians played, each at either end other grounds. Between them gathered the whole town, plus travelers, all chattering and bartering. Their voices mixed with the music, creating a chaotically harmonic resonance.
As they approached the west end of the activity, it seemed to Aria that Iselos was as she had left it – bustling with activity and full of Keepers. Keepers who did not trust Siyens, which is why their family had always kept their lineage a secret from the few friends they had here.
To her sister, Taura appeared free of any reservations about their decision. The truth was, despite the feigned expression of excitement she wore, she too was frightened by leaving everything she knew. But, she also knew neither she nor her sister would keep their minds in tact much longer in the confines of the Cernaah.
They dismounted outside of the grounds, and tied off the horses in the one of the designated areas. Taura pulled a sixth-piece from the small leather pouch tied to her belt, handing it to one of the boys hanging around. “There’ll be another for you if my horses have been fed and watered when I return.”
The boy’s face lit up. "Yes, miss." He eagerly scampered off to fill the troughs.
Continue to Chapter Six