Ilitz carefully made her way through the dense forest protecting the Cernaah. When they came to the road to Isleos, the horse quickened her pace to canter. They reached a stream an hour or so later, and Taura gave a tug on the reins. "Whoa, girl." Taura dismounted and Ilitz turned her head to look at her for instruction.
"Oh, yes, we'll rest for a few minutes, Ilitz. Thank you," Taura patted the horse's neck. "Go on, drink, please." She stepped back and let the horse drink. "I'm sorry, I'm no good at this. I'm spoiled, being able to talk to Liia; I guess I forgot you can't hear me."
Ilitz threw her head back with a laughing snort, and turned to nuzzle Taura's arm with her head. You don't have to apologize.
"I can't hear you either, so show me 'yes.'" The horse bobbed her muzzle straight up and down. "And, 'no'?" Ilitz rolled her head from side to side, ears flopping, then struck at the ground with her left foreleg. "Good. That's a start." Taura patted her neck again. "Drink up, graze a little. I'm going to eat." Ilitz nodded again, and turned back to the stream.
The last time Aria was in Iselos, she went with her father to sell some skins and purchase some provisions. It was about a year before he and Serranna set sail on their last quest.
As they walked along the main road, she started hearing the whispers. They began quietly, in the back of her mind, but grew louder as she and Corvin passed buildings. When she opened the door at the tanner's shop, the voices of all six men inside reached full volume, though only one was actually speaking. The thoughts in his head diverted from the words on his lips the moment he looked in her direction. It was the first time she ever thought of her ability to hear the minds of others as a disability.
She swore she would never return.
Aria busied herself the rest of the morning in the garden, harvesting vegetables and preparing new rows for planting. She could sense the crennas unease around her - they didn't know if they should leave her alone, or stay close by. Except Hunter, for he, as always, knew just what to do.
He worked alongside her, running the baskets Aria filled back to the cabin and returning with empty ones to be filled again. He left her to her own thoughts just long enough. Returning from the cabin for at least the twentieth time, he said, Aria, you would have told Taura to call it a day an hour ago.
She'd been so focused on what she was doing, she hadn't realized how sore and stained her fingers were. I suppose I might do something like that.
That's it, he shoved her with his head, making her lose her balance and land on her rear in the dirt. Time to go for a swim. Cool off. Wash up.
"Alright, old man. You talked me into it." She scratched affectionately behind his ears. "Last one in finishes stacking the firewood!" She took off, the yellow dog letting her get a few strides out before racing after and passing her.
As she caught the first glimpses of Iselos peeking through the trees, Taura told Ilitz her plan. "With any luck, Zilinea will be able to make some sense of this, and we'll be headed home in a few days. If it's going to take her longer, we're going to go back and convince Aria to come to Iselos to help." The horse stopped, signaling to Taura she knew her rider was holding something back. "Yes, Ilitz. I'm planning to convince her anyway I can to come, at least for a few weeks. She needs - I don't know what, but I know she isn't well."
Illitz nodded in agreement, and resumed trotting along the trail.
Taura left Illiz in the care of the stable boy, and went straight to Ziliena's home. Aria sent Aerodar ahead with a message to let Ziliena know to expect her. She smiled when she found her friend knelt down, tending her garden. "Looks like you could use a break."
"Taura! You startled me!" Ziliena jumped up and hugged her fiercely. "You're earlier than I thought you'd be...which is the perfect excuse to stop in the garden for the day."
"Oh, we could keep working out here, if you'd like. I don't want your garden to fall into disrepair."
"Ha! No, it's too warm out by now, ahnacerae. Come, show me this journal your sister wrote about. We have the place to ourselves for now."
Zilena shared her small tidy house with her grandmother, father and three brothers, and it was only on rare occasions they were all out at the same time. "I'm glad you brought this to me, Taura. I've missed your visits." She buzzed around the kitchen, putting a pot of stew on the fire.
"I know, I'm sorry it's been so long. I- well, I don't like leaving Aria alone. She refuses to come here, and I can't understand why."
Setting two mugs of sweetwater on the table, Ziliena motioned for Taura to lay the journal on the table. "Now let's see what we have here."
Together, they pondered a single page for hours, making very little sense of it along the way. "I'm sorry, Taura. I suppose I should have known if you had trouble with it, it wouldn't be easy."
"We made far more progress than I would have on my own." Taura sat back and ran both hands through her hair. "What I don't understand is all of their secrecy. Why would our parents go to such lengths as to devise this code? To keep what ever is written here from us?"
"Maybe they weren't trying to keep it from you and Aria."
"Who else was going to find that journal?"
"That's probably exactly what they were thinking."
Taura paced around the room for a minute, muttering to herself. Then, she stopped. "Yes, I think you might be right." She started pacing again. "So, now I have an even bigger problem."
"Trying to convince Aria to join us here while we figure this out. She really doesn't want to leave the Cernaah."
They both thought in silence for a moment, and just as they looked at each other again, Ziliena's eyes grew wide. "Dahnasarae, Taura! I think I have the perfect solution."
Continue to Chapter Five