She awoke with a start, her eyes wide with panic as they flitted nervously about, half expecting to find Kolth and his Hounds creeping up or, worse, looming over her. Her heart was pounding in her chest, her breath came in short, quick gasps, and every instinct she had was screaming at her to either run or hide. As her feet scrabbled for purchase and her fingers sought a hold to pull herself up, though, the heavy blanket she had been covered in fell away and, as it tumbled from the edge of the low-slung cot, Rose realized that she had been chased into wakefulness by a nightmare rather than by the approach of any true danger. Trembling, she bit down on her lip to stop the scream that had been poised to explode from her lungs and reached for the corner of the blanket that still clung to the edge of the bunk.
“Are you all right, m’lady?”
She blinked, hastily snatching the blanket up and pulling it to her as her eyes searched the shadows beyond the soft glow of the lantern. She felt her cheeks flush as she realized that this made the second time that that same voice had startled her. When her gaze, at last, picked the ranger from the shadows, Rose was almost surprised to find him sitting in a chair not more than six paces away. “Yes,” she whispered, “Just a bad dream, I think.
Have I slept long?”
“An hour, perhaps,” the shadow-cloaked form of the ranger called Farseer replied, “Not long.” His voice sounded as if he were somehow distracted, though he answered quickly enough. “You should try to rest more, m’lady,” he suggested, “dawn is hours away, yet, and we’ll not be leaving this shelter before then.”
Rose heard a sharp gasp issue from the penumbra – the kind of sound that often accompanies a sudden, unexpected pain – followed by what might have been a muttered curse, though she didn’t understand the language in which it was spoken.
“You’ll need to be well rested for the journey tomorrow,” Farseer’s voice continued after a moment, “Tis a long walk from here to the Fëanáro and the weather promises to turn foul before midday.”
She shook her head, wrapping herself in the blanket as she uncurled her legs and sat on the edge of the cot. “I couldn’t go back to sleep right now if I truly wanted to,” she said softly, her eyes tracing from Farseer’s silhouette to the hooded lantern atop the rough hewn table at her bedside, “it’s a bit… dark… there for my liking.”
Rose saw the shadow nod; the ranger’s head lifting from whatever it was that had his attention to, presumably, look in her direction. “You may draw up the lantern’s hood if you’d like some more light, then, m’lady,” the silhouette gestured toward the bedside table, “Not too much, mind you; a band of troggies passed by here not long ago and I’d not like to invite them back.”
Rose’s hand froze, stilled by the mention of troggies, and hovered near the lantern for a moment. Though the colloquialism was still a fairly new addition to her vocabulary, she had heard enough – from Silver, mostly, but also from other conversations overheard since she had set foot on Rilshen’s shores – to know that the term ‘trog’ or ‘troggy’ was the generic term applied to any number of evil creatures that might be known elsewhere as goblins, orcs, or even trolls. “Not too much, then,” she cautioned herself before lifting the hood, “but enough, at least, to draw you into the light with me, I think.” Her fingers closed on the pitted, iron ring and drew the lantern’s hood up a bit and the soft, dancing sphere of light expanded outward to chase looming shadows toward the far corners of the room. As the glow spilled from the lantern and pushed the clinging darkness away, Rose, for the first time, was actually able to get a clear look at her liberator.
As she had surmised, the light revealed the ranger to be sitting not too far from the cot, perched on a chair crafted from carefully bent and lashed saplings and rushes. His features were obscured, at first, as his eyes were intent on the bone needle that he was using to suture a long, sharp gash in his side; the incline of his head caused the uneven mop of his dark hair to spill down and hide much of his face. Denied a view of the ranger’s visage, for the moment, and not wishing to distract him from tending his injuries in order to be afforded a glimpse, Rose allowed her gaze to travel along the lean, sleekly muscled torso of this elf that she had heard called Farseer. It also appeared, now that the lantern’s glow had better illuminated the small cabin, that the cut along his ribcage that he presently tended to was not the only wound he had incurred while saving her from Tildren and his men. Though his hands were constantly moving – poking the needle through the skin and, stitch-by-stitch, drawing the wound closed with some sort of fine thread that she could barely see – Rose was able to pick out at least two more freshly sutured cuts and a broad smattering of lesser bruises and abrasions. Despite the fact that it appeared, judging from the scars and scratches that cross-hatched his skin in several spots, that he was no stranger to either combat or injury she still couldn’t fathom exactly why he would have done what he had… for someone he did not even know…
She felt the tears begin to well in her eyes again as her gaze fell to the small bowl that rested on the floor between his feet and the handful of blood-soaked rags that steeped in the steaming water that filled the bowl. It seemed to Rose that Farseer must have certainly lost quite a bit of blood and had, by the looks of it, been tending to his wounds ever since they had arrived at the cabin.
“How long ago was that,” she wondered, suddenly aware that she couldn’t quite recall ever actually leaving Tildren’s camp behind. Rose’s brow furrowed as she wrapped herself in the blanket and pulled her legs up to her chest, curling up with her thoughts as she tried to recall. “It was scarcely dusk when the caravan stopped,” she thought, “Had night fallen by the time Tildren had…” She blinked again; “No. Don’t remember that.” She hugged her legs tighter, forcing those horrible memories into the darkest corners of her mind.
“Had night fallen by the time Farseer had arrived?
The fire was burning by then and the trees were so thick that I could hardly see the sky.
But there was an owl, wasn’t there? Aren’t owls only active at night? I’ve heard that somewhere, haven’t I?
Yes, the owl. Tildren was…” she shuddered, shaking those thoughts away, again, “…and then there was the owl, and then there was Farseer.
But what after that?”
The memories from that point were hazy at best. She could call to mind brief glimpses of the ranger moving silently through the forest ahead of her but no one memory that lasted long enough to be coherent. “Like catching something in the corner of your eye only to discover that it’s not there when you turn to look,” her gaze lifted, at last, from the bowl full of bloody rags and traveled upwards until she caught sight of Farseer’s fingers pulling a final stitch taut and knotting the end of the near-invisible thread. She watched as his fingers snapped the string from the eye of the needle and as he secreted the needle away in the top of one of his boots. Then, when the ranger’s hand dipped to the bowl and lifted a bit of cloth from it to press to the reddened flesh, she realized that he was watching her.
“Are you all right, m’lady,” he asked after a long moment.
She felt herself nod but found that she was unable to vocalize a response; it was as if looking into his eyes had snatched the need for words from her lips. Even hooded as they were by the broad, green cloth that he wore about his head, Farseer’s eyes were striking; sparkling gold and amber in color and as clear and deep as the most pristine pools that the hidden valleys and secret glades of her own home could offer. “Yes,” she finally affirmed in a tone that bordered on a whisper, “I was just trying to remember…”
The corners of the ranger’s mouth turned up slightly, something akin to a smile playing on his lips as Rose fell silent again. She hadn’t realized that she had done so – she had found herself lost in his eyes again – until his smile broadened a bit, his eyes glinted with an almost amused light, and he asked; “Trying to remember what, m’lady?”
She felt her cheeks warm, a sheepish smile starting to form on her own lips, and she forced herself to look away lest she get swept forever into the depths of his gaze. “Oh, gosh,” she breathed, “I’m sorry… I… I just… I was trying to remember how long ago it was that you… that you…”
“That I found you,” he offered.
She smiled at his choice of words. It seemed an almost obscene understatement. “Yes,” Rose replied, daring to seek out his eyes again, pushing a long tendril of hair from her face as she tentatively met his gaze, “and how we got from there to here,” she admitted. “I can’t seem to recall much. In fact, I really don’t remember leaving the caravan.”
Farseer nodded then and lifted a hand to rub at the back of his neck. “Tis understandable, m’lady,” he said, wincing a little as if the motion of his arm had perhaps tugged a little uncomfortably at the row of stitches that angled across his side, “You had been through quite an ordeal and likely, by the time we left that place behind, your mind had succumb to the stress.”
He reached down, dropping the cloth back into the bowl with the others before scooping up the entire vessel and then rising out of the chair. “You slept for a time,” he continued, crossing the room to open the door and drain the water from the bowl, “half an hour or less, perhaps, beneath the pine tree, while I cleaned the site.
I woke you when I had finished,” he said, his tone a bit softer and perhaps distant as his gaze swept the nighted world on the other side of the portal, “and we arrived here perhaps an hour or two later.” He pushed the door closed again and returned to the chair, depositing the now emptied bowl on a simple shelf nearby. “I thought you seemed a bit distant as we traveled, m’lady,” his eyes had turned in her direction again and his features were a mixture of curiosity and, perhaps, just a bit of sadness, “as I said, however, you have been through quite a lot and such things do often tend to still the tongue and the mind. At least for a time.”
Rose offered a faint nod and, while Farseer’s words seemed to make sense on some level, she wondered if the missing pieces of her memory were entirely stress induced. She had been through more traumatic situations in the past – each time the Hounds got close, for instance, and the sheer terror of their proximity had sent her fleeing in whatever direction seemed reasonable at the time – and while the overwhelming sense of those memories were laden with panic, fear, and uncertainty, she still was able to recall even the most frantic of those flights in horrific detail. “So,” she whispered, her gaze flitting to the places single, small window and then back to the ranger as he returned to his seat, “it has been a while since we left the caravan, then?”
As he reclaimed his vest from the back of the chair and slipped the thing over his shoulders, Farseer’s own eyes turned to the window and seemed to study the darkness beyond with great scrutiny before answering; “Several hours, at least, m’lady.”
“And you’re still leading me to Bella Moon?”
“Aye,” he seemed perplexed as to why she might even ask the question and both the tone of his response and the aspect of his features belied that confusion, “is that not where you wish to go, m’lady?”
She couldn’t be certain as to why but the sincerity in the underlying sentiment of his reply struck a chord of guilt in the pit of her stomach and she felt terrible for even having questioned his intent. “Why should I, though,” her inner voice queried, “no one I have trusted since before Beligath has lived up to that trust. Even those who offered help after I had escaped that horrible tower haven’t had anything in mind but their own wants and needs…
Except for the Singer,” she reminded herself, a glimpse of the woman named Silver’s face flashing before her mind’s eye.
“…Yes… Except for the Singer. There was something different about her, as well, but not like this one.”
Rose’s gaze drifted across the ranger’s features, still a mask of puzzlement and expectation. “Y-yes,” she answered, feeling the first of the tears that had thus far been dammed behind her lashes trickle down her cheek, “at least, I think so… I was told that I would be… I would be safe there.”
“Safe, m’lady,” Farseer asked, leaning forward a bit and resting his elbows on his knees, “From Kolth and his men, you mean?”
A sharp gasp, the sound of it almost more like a scream caught and halted at its impetus, issued from her lips and cut through the hush of the small room. At the mention of the hounds, the stream of tears that trickled down her cheeks swelled into rivers and she instinctively bolted backwards, pressing herself into the corner and curling herself even tighter. “Who are you,” she sobbed, her mind reeling again and the urge to flee this place suddenly overwhelming her, “who…”
The sudden outburst had caught him off guard and Farseer nearly jumped out of his seat when the little woman had suddenly scampered across the small cot, wedged herself tightly into the corner of the room, and – if such a thing was possible – had become even smaller. His reaction, of course, tugged uncomfortably at the freshly sewn lacerations in his side and, as he reached a hand towards her to offer apology and comfort he, at the same time, grimaced and stifled a curse of surprise. Only the Earthmother could have known exactly what must have been going through the woman’s mind at the time but, in the same instant as it had happened, Farseer realized that his reactions – both to her expression of surprise and to the sudden pain shooting through his torso – must have only frightened her all the more.
“No,” she squealed, cowering away from the ranger’s extended hand, “No! Don’t touch me!”
“Please, m’lady,” Farseer implored, the words unintentionally issuing through gritted teeth as he tried to will away the dull twinge in his ribcage. He lowered his hand and, as the chair he had occupied had been toppled over, crouched where he was rather than make any further gestures that she might find intimidating. His gaze dropped to the floor as he cradled his ribs, waited out the pain, and found the courage to look upon her face again. He had seen many people, of all races, cry, of course – he could even recall crying tears of his own on occasion – and while he felt sympathy for most of them, something about seeing this tiny, beautiful woman wracked by sadness and despair truly tore at his soul and he found it difficult to watch her hurt so. “I’m sorry,” he intoned in a softer voice after a moment, “I did not mean to…”
Rose, too, seemed to have subdued her own pain to some extent as her sobs had begun to diminish. “Who… are…” she managed to interrupt his apology between a few shuddering gasps for air, not wanting to hear anything else until he answered the question, “…who are you?”
The ranger’s gaze lifted from the floor and found her, once again, peering guardedly at him from behind the cascading copper spill of her hair. She was still nestled securely into the crook where two of the rough-hewn log walls came together and, even through the veil of her tresses, still wet tears could be seen streaming down her cheeks but she was looking at him, now, and not turning her eyes away when he dared to seek them out with his own. “I am Eöl Fëfalás, m’lady,” he answered softly, “known as Farseer. I am a Ghost Ranger of Adíroën and a warden of the Taur’Forenya…”
“Stop,” she whispered; one slender hand released its embrace of her legs as she raised a finger to gesture for his silence, “please.” She had heard these words before, though she didn’t recall him offering a name when he had first spoken them. She had heard him addressed as Farseer, she knew, though he had never referred to himself by that name, but the bit about being a Ghost Ranger and a warden of the Taur’Forenya…
The clearing in which Tildren’s caravan had made camp was suddenly crystal clear in her memory. She could feel the rough bark of the pine tree pressing against her back and shoulders, hear the moans of the dying, and smell the smoke from the fire that burnt in the midst of the clearing. She heard, again, the conversation between her rescuer and the two wagon drivers whom he had let depart with an ominously stern warning. She also recalled seeing past the ranger as he hovered close to her, then, and seeing the carnage that had been left in the wake of his arrival at the camp. “How could I not, my lady,” she remembered him saying when she had asked him why he would have done such a thing, “I am a Ghost Ranger of Adíroën. I am sworn to safeguard the passage of all those who travel these lands…”
“Eöl,” she repeated the name he had offered; it felt as strange on her tongue as it sounded to her ears, “Fay… Faifa…lass?”
“Fëfalás, m’lady,” the ranger repeated, helping her to pronounce the last name, “Eöl Fëfalás.”
“Eöl Fëfalás,” she repeated, still slightly missing the true pronunciation but mimicking the sounds closely enough.
“You may find Farseer a bit easier, m’lady” the ranger smiled hesitantly.
Rose smiled, too, if only a bit. It seemed that Farseer was doing all he could to put her at ease. In fact, since he had upset the chair and, at her rebuke, crouched on the floor where the primitive seat had been, the ranger had not moved other than lifting his head to meet her gaze. His voice, too, had become softer in tone and he seemed almost eager to answer any question she might ask of him. “The Taur’Forenya,” she continued, loosening the embrace that her other arm still had on her legs and relaxing just a bit, “that is what you call this place… where we are?”
“Aye, m’lady. In my tongue, this forest is called the Taur’Forenya – those who have difficulties with the Adír tongue simply call it The Northwood, the Great Misted Forest, or Adíroën.”
“And you say that you’re a warden of this wood?”
Eöl nodded, the hint of a smile still dancing on his lips; “Aye, m’lady.”
“This means that you’re a guardian of the forest, then, right?”
Again the ranger nodded, adding; “And of those who travel its paths.”
“So, what you did,” Rose asked, at last moving a hand to draw the tumble of her hair away from her face and daubing the drying tears from her cheeks with the sleeve of her blouse, “to Tildren and his men. You did that because it’s… your job? This is what you do?”
Eöl blinked, his gaze ticking first to the small window and the night-cloaked forest beyond, then, uncertainly back to meet her eyes for an instant, and finally, as if he could find no other spot to look, his eyes returned to the small spot of planked flooring between his feet. “In part, m’lady,” he whispered, “I suppose… aye… this is… what I do.” There was much more to it than that, of course, and his duties as a Ghost Ranger were, quite possibly, far from the first of reasons that he did what he had done. In fact, had he been concerned about his duties at all, he would have been well on his way to the council with the High Druid rather than here.
“And what do you know of Kolth and the others, then,” she asked. It seemed to her, especially given the almost hesitant nature of his reply to her last query, that there was more of an answer than what he had offered. Though she had been traveling this land for only a short time, Rose had heard of these Ghost Rangers – first, in conversations overheard along the docks at Moonbow Bay where she had first set foot on Rilshen’s shores, and later in her own conversations with Kareitha during the nights she had spent in the Singer’s glade – and, it was her understanding that while these enigmatic woodsmen were, indeed, bound by some oath to protect outsiders who traveled the sylvan domains in this part of the world, they were also quite secretive; tending to carry out their duties from the depths of the wood when possible and were not wont to expose themselves to those they protected any more than they were to those who incurred their wrath – “Hence the term Ghost,” the singer had informed her. Also, this particular ranger had not saved her from the Hounds, either. Neither, as far as she had been able to discern, had Kolth and his men been in the vicinity when Eöl had freed her from the perverse clutches of the portly merchant and his cadre of caravaners. How, then, could he have possibly known about Beligath’s dark-garbed hunters in any fashion, let alone know the very name of their captain?
“In truth,” Eöl replied, abandoning his study of the floor to fix his gaze to hers again, “little more than the name and that he searches for a woman whom, he claims, has escaped from his master’s stronghold. I know, too, that he travels with and likely leads a small group of others who aid him in his search and that he is determined to find this woman no matter the cost. Who this master of his might be and for what reasons he seeks to reclaim this woman I do not know nor can I yet so much as venture even a guess.
Aside from this, m’lady,” he continued, “I cannot profess any true knowledge of the man.” His eyes searched hers for a long while before he said anything else. Should he reveal more to her? Would revealing to her that he had actually confronted Kolth and his men at the Mossy Oak and had, in fact, been tracking them until their trail had vanished into the sickly, black tree that had no place in this land and that it was at this same tree that he had first “seen” her and been alerted to her plight soothe her or would it terrify her all the more?
Rose had fallen silent and, though she was still curled up in the corner of the room, seemed to be slightly less guarded than she had moments ago. Rather than being pressed tightly into the nook where the two walls met, she now leaned forward slightly and appeared to be intently focused on both Eöl’s face and the words that passed his lips. Taking this as a sign that the panic he had induced in her by his mention of the foreigner’s name had been assuaged for the time, the ranger, at last, allowed himself to rise from his crouched position. “I do believe, however,” he carried on softly as he turned to right the toppled chair, “that the quarry that Kolth and his troupe pursue may have more to fear than the man, himself.”
Rose wondered if Eöl heard her swallow the lump that had risen into her throat as he offered up this bit of insight. Again, in a flicker of memory, she heard his voice whisper in her head; “I see much more than you might think, m’lady…”
((Aaaaand that's where I've left off as of the last "update," folks. Muuuuch more to come, of course, Rose and Eol are just getting to know each other, after all, and Bella Moon is a long journey from even the northern fringes of the Taur'Forenya... Will they traverse the crags of the Angelspine alone? Will they even make the Faenaro safely? We'll see... ...Stay tuned.))
I'm working away on the next installment, folks. Hope to have it ready in the next couple of days. In the meantime, though, I've stumbled across some artwork related to the Tale that I thought I'd toss up here just for kicks.
First up is a pic of Eol and his owl companion, Gwindor. This is actually a composite image that I used this as a wallpaper for a while. Eol and Gwindor, themselves, were done "old school" (colored pencils and a sketch pad) then scanned and Photoshoped over a map of the Rilshen continent I created. Not a bad picture, I don't think... gives a decent idea of what the Eol character looks like... I have "thinned him down" a bit in later pics, though. The Adir are "bulkier" than "traditional elves" but this went a little far.
More pics to come... got a really lovely one of Rose that I still need to scan.
...I did the pic of Eol and Gwindor before we even left TOCO to go over and do ATOMS - so that's been, what, 3 or 4 years, now? - around the time that I first came to the Inn and originally began posting the Tale, anyway. I didn't composite it with the map until a year or two ago, though.
I knew I had this one hanging out in a folder somewhere! Considering that it was supposed to be little more than a "rough sketch" whe I started it, this is probably one of my favorite pics of ol' Farseer. Inspired by Eol's entrance into Tildren's camp.
And... just cuz I found it... here's the "unobstructed" Map of Rilshen.