I have been waiting a nice long time to introduce a new character. SPOILER: Eiir has been affected by the Great Awakening wind. This causes him to slowly lose the ability to sleep. In its final stages, this lack of sleep causes people to become to desperate that they may do anything to feel some relief. Stay in the loop to know more about our mysterious Eiir, and let me know if you think he will be an ally that Emeline can trust, or another person weighing her down.
The Journey of Emeline: Chapter Nine
Bitter, frozen wind swept through the mountains. It bit at Emeline’s fingers as she tried to sleep, rolling over every few seconds, feeling the frigid temperature on her back, then her stomach. It wasn’t long before Emeline gave up altogether, sitting up against the inside of an abandoned den she found alongside one of the cliffs. She was too angry to cry, too furious at herself for not having cracked the code. She had studied the map for miles as she made her ascent from Gazdag. At times, she would nearly trip over roots and other things in the road just because she felt she was getting close to where she needed to be. The mountain path was well traveled, but the map had been drawn years and years ago, which meant that the same paths traveled then, were not the same today. Regardless, she ended up lost and even more confused than before. Emeline met very few people on the road, and when she did, they kept their heads low, passing her by with a nod. There were mostly merchants and hunters who traveled the paths, but every so often, Mazas People would walk the paths at night. They were people that Emeline avoided, they would know she didn’t belong here, and they knew more about the mountains than she ever would. The Mazas People lived deep in caves, never filtering between Low and High, but always staying in between. There were a few Mazas People who actually left, and some made their way to Boldog, others went further South to the warmer areas.
They did not bother travelers, because they hardly stepped into their territory, but Emeline had no intention of staying on the trodden way. It was time for her to make her continuing ascent, and the only reason she hadn’t done it sooner was the weather. Ice and cool mist stung her eyes and cut right through her. Is some places off the path, snow could reach a minimum of 5 feet. Many times Emeline turned around, having to backtrack different ways, finally settling on staying put until the storm passed.
It was times like these where she felt so desperate, and so hopeless that she longed for the advice of her parents. In the cave, only lit by a small fire that kept blowing out by the wind, she reached into her pack to find the Box of Recollection. She was long overdue to have checked in on them, before she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Emeline’s fingers were numb and she was blindly searching and coming up empty. Soon she became alarmed, and frantically emptied the pack onto the icy floor. Nothing. Emptying her pockets and reaching around the cave floor she searched. It was just gone. She screamed and beat her frozen fists against she legs. Her commotion echoed out into the darkness. Finally exhausted from misery and regret, Emeline slumped against the cave and fell asleep.
Morning didn’t come soon enough, but when it did, something unfamiliar happened. The Sun warmed up the mountain, and ice turned into water that soaked into her clothes. It began to creep further and further into the cave, small streams spiraling back towards her. Slowly, Emeline’s feet and hands began to twitch. Her eyes darted under her lids, but she remained asleep. Her forehead began to sweat, and her hair stuck against her temples as the Sun steadily melted everything She could touch. Abruptly, Emeline sat up and her body lurched onto the floor. She made a splashing sound as she landed, her hands slipping forward as they made contact with the wet stone. She laid there for a few moments, her cheek against the slick surface, staring out past the cave entrance. What she was seeing was almost unbelievable: green leaves were appearing in the distance, coming closer as the Sun beat down. The sky was as blue as a Robin’s egg in the Spring. But this was not Spring. It should be colder than it was when she was in the Mazas the first time. Instead, streams of melted snow were flowing down the side of the mountain, sometimes veering off into her camp. The curls on her head that were previously frozen in matted coils, were floating softly in the muddy pool behind her. Pushing up with her left hand, Emeline sat up, still in shock, dripping, tired.
Still dazed, she got up and quickly picked up her pack. The bottom was soaked, but the map was bound in leather, and stayed dry although the edges had some water damage. Ducking down to exit the cave and now outside, she truly felt the heat of the morning. There was a group of trees nearby that she felt had most definitely not been there when she first made camp, but by taking a bit of rope from her belongings, she was able to make a clothesline. Taking off her cloak, boots and stockings first, she began hanging them over the line, allowing them to practically bake in the hot sun. Emeline moved everything else from the cave and laid some of it out on the line, others on nearby rocks. Down to her kirtle, dress and underclothes, Emeline truly felt the mud begin to cake to her skin and harden in her hair. Normally, when she felt the need to rinse herself she would simply warm up snow and cleanse herself in the privacy of her own temporary cave. Now, however, there was nothing but mud in sight. In her bare feet, bow and arrows slung over her back, she went off to find a water source. She decided to go South, since that was where all the water had been going to. She figured somewhere along the way she’d find some options. About a mile from her camp, sweat now pouring down her face, Emeline was rounding a turn in the path when she heard a magical sound. It was the rush and roar of a waterfall. She had heard it once before in Paraqoi, a local town in the deep Lowlands. It had been a long trip that her family made for the death of her Grandmother. It was a somber day, but on the way back, they made a stop deep in the forest. Lush leaves blocked their view, but when their mother pulled back the fronds, the girls squealed and rushed towards the waters, splashing and wading in.
Emeline would never have guessed that this would be how she saw her second waterfall. Alone, hungry, homeless, in a once snow-covered mountain region. Regardless, Emeline welcomed it. She picked up the pace and began hurrying towards the sound. Off to the left, down in a small ravine, the waterfall was dropping in, almost twinkling in silver streams. There wasn’t much cover of trees, but lots of rocks and worn down paths. Emeline had to shuffle herself down the side of the small cliff. There was a landbridge that connected over the ravine, and she could see the water rising and becoming deeper and deeper as more snow melted. Almost to the bottom, there was a small cliff that jutted out over the large pool of water. She set her weapons down, and pulled off her kirtle and dress, standing in just her underclothes. A warm breeze hit her legs, and Emeline felt each calming wind as it blew past her. Sweat was slipping down her back and the undergown stuck to her. Stepping towards the edge of the jutting rock, Emeline curled her toes over the edge. The water was sparkling and ripples sprung up every so often as fish sprung to the surface. She couldn’t believe it. Somehow there were already fish here, in a place that must’ve never had water in it before.
Looking down, there was no way to tell how deep the water was. Or how cold it was. Emeline had learned how to swim in a river off of Boldog, deep in the woods. Her father took the girls out when they were younger and they practiced in the shallow end, pretending to be fish. There wasn’t much of a need or an option to swim, but in the end, it was a skill that Emeline was trusting on. Taking a deep breath, Emeline lept from the small cliff into the crystal, snow water. In an instant she hit the water and sunk into the ravine, never hitting the bottom. She opened her eyes and saw nearly 15 feet away, what appeared to be the tops of trees, swaying in the current. Somehow, Emeline had managed to jump into the deepest part of the whole pool, and she began kicking her legs. She gasped as her head finally breached the water’s surface and it was then that she realized that the water was a perfect temperature, not freezing like she imagined. She swam 20 strokes towards another little cliff landing that was level with the water. There was finally dirt underneath her feet, and the water was around her knees. Emeline sat on the rock and began scrubbing her legs and her feet. She bent over washed her face, running her hands through her long curly knots, trying to get out as much dirt as possible.
It was so peaceful in the ravine, and the sound of birds and other small creatures echoed from above. After sitting for awhile, Emeline dried quickly and began sweating yet again. Deciding to take one last swim, Emeline waded in, and made her way towards the small waterfall. It was no bigger than a 15 to 20 foot drop, but it made a glorious noise, and it kept filling the canyon at a steady pace. She assumed that in another few minutes, she wouldn’t have to climb too far to make it back to her clothes. When she reached the waterfall, she dove under the water to see if there was anything behind it. She opened her eyes under the water and noticed that there was what appeared to be a small cavern just behind that opened up into a bigger space. It was hard to see, so she began to return to the surface. As she was swimming up, a large crash came a few feet in front of her, and when the bubbles cleared she saw it was a horse, kicking its legs. Seconds later, another crash, but smaller, appeared to her left. A scream left her lungs and she began choking, hurrying to the surface.
Emeline had a hard time clearing the water from her lungs, and she struggled to stay above water. She had accidentally swam under the waterfall, and it was now on top of her. Water poured onto her head and pushed her under. She cleared the fall and began swimming towards the two intruders. The only thing in site was the horse, and the fall had left it confused and struggling to gain traction on the rocky shore. The saddle was tangling up in it’s left leg, and Emeline noticed and quickly approached it, trying to unbuckle what she could. The horse lunged backwards and neighed at her, grunted and swung a hoof her way. Emeline cooed at the horse, raising her hand and trying to calm it down. The horse settled, and she was able to unbuckle the saddle fully, and grab the reins. She tried to lead the horse up to the landing, but the horse kept jerking it’s head. She realized that the rider must still be somewhere. Leaving the horse still halfway in the shallow end, Emeline dove down into the water, she saw a young man 10 feet down, his side bag was tightly wrapped around his torso and had also caught on a tree branch. Kicking her feet and propelling her arms forward, Emeline reached him. His eyes were full of terror but she saw the life fading quickly from them. On the side of his boot Emeline saw a knife attached to his ankle in a leather holder. She reached for it, sliced the pack strap that was wrapped tightly around his torso and grabbed the bag, his arm, and kicked for her life. Both of their lives.
They reached the surface. The sun was still shining. The birds were still singing and the water was still falling. Emeline coughed up water, and she kept swimming, holding tightly to the man’s arm, dragging them towards the rocky shore. The horse had managed to climb up onto the rock and was standing on all fours. A good sign. When Emeline looked at the man, she noticed he was lying still, and she couldn’t see his chest rise. Laying him on his back, she began hitting his chest with both her fists, nearly exhausting herself. After 4 hits his eyes opened and he too coughed water out onto his chest. Emeline’s head leaned back and she closed her eyes, catching her breath. Looking down at her white underclothes, she saw blood. She moved the fabric from her thigh and noticed a 5 inch cut but luckily it wasn’t very deep.
Emeline groaned and pressed her hand hard against her leg, trying to keep the wound from continuing to bleed. That’s when she noticed that the man had a cut too, on his torso. It must’ve been where she pulled the knife, and the motion of the cut must’ve nicked both of them.
“Miss, are you hurt?” The stranger was looking at her, arms propped up, wincing as he tried to move towards her. Emeline studied him, his light brown eyes were bloodshot, and his black hair was curly, but pressed against his head still wet. The man was tall and so half of his body was still lying in the water. In reality, there shouldn’t have been anyone up this way. It was far from a travelers path, and since he came from above her, she just couldn’t understand where such a common man was going. Maybe he wasn’t common.
“Well, I’m not the one who fell from the sky. It’s just a cut. You have got one too.” Emeline got up, wrapping one arm around herself, the other still pressed to her thigh.
“Oh, would you look at that?” He pressed his hand against the cut and determined it wasn’t life threatening. They smiled at each other, but Emeline was getting nervous, the water wasn’t leaving them with much room anymore, and her feet were standing in a pool of water.
“We shouldn’t stay here any longer, the water will be up to our knees soon.” The two searched for a footpath that would allow for two injured bodies and a horse to travel, and finally they found one. It led straight past Emeline’s clothes, and she grabbed them quickly, pulling them over herself, and pulling the bow over her shoulder. The stranger looked inquisitively at her choice of weapon, but seemed impressed. Once they made it to the landbridge, Emeline stopped. She was going to lead them back to her camp, but she didn’t know him. He wasn’t the first stranger she’d encountered, but there was bound to be a bad one in the mix. The stranger could tell she was worried and he didn’t press her.
“Us two will be going now, don’t you worry. I wish I had something to give you.” He rummaged through his soggy pack, and pulled out ruined food, some supplies, and a few silver coins. His eyes sunk as he pulled apart a water logged loaf of bread. Reaching out his hand, he gave to her the three coins. Emeline shook her head, no; she refused the money for saving his life.
“I won’t be needing that. But I do need some help getting back to my camp, do you think your horse is up to the mile trip North?” The stranger stood there still holding the coins, but smiled and put them back in his pack, and walked to the front of his horse. He checked her over and made sure each leg was without injury.
“She seems good enough, but her saddles long gone I assume.” The man got up first, and tested her walk. The mare did fine, and he reached out his hand to help Emeline up. She grabbed his hand, but before climbing up she asked him,
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Eiir.” He replied.
Eiir was all patched up, his cut was deeper, but it wasn’t as wide. It had only been a few hours, but the two had talked for most of it, and Eiir told the story of how him and his horse, Mai were riding when a fast-moving water swiped the two into a river. The river apparently ended in a waterfall, that Emeline was under. Things could’ve been much worse for the three of them. Mai was tied up loosely in the shade of the trees that Emeline had tied the clothesline to. Eiir’s clothes were hung to dry, and he sat at the entrance of the cave, his chest bare, and a bandage that wrapped around his torso. Other than a few other cuts, he was surprisingly uninjured. Emeline’s leg stung, and her thick dress made her legs hot and uncomfortable in the heat. If she had known it was going to be all sunshine and waterfalls in the Mazas she would’ve packed Hadrian’s sisters dress. The thought of Hadrian brought her back to reality, and she pushed him and the dress away.
“Where are you coming from?” They finally managed to find fresh berries and Emeline caught a rabbit that she cooked for the two. There were enough berries left that Emeline made some tea. It had been awhile, but it soothed her as it went down, the berries leaving a sweet taste in her mouth. She even made tea for Eiir, who had his own cup that he brought along. Eiir took a long drink from his tea.
“I came from near Bitzostan. Do you know where that is?” Emeline could hardly believe it.
“Yes I know where that is! I traveled through there just a few months ago. The Wind hadn’t made it there yet and I was hoping the people there would be safe. You know, since you’re all so close to the mountains.”
Eiir nodded and smiled, finishing his tea and walking back over to check on his horse. Emeline was left again with a stranger she barely knew, and an injury that would hold her back. This time though, there was no chance of her riding off into the sunset with him. She wondered how long this Faux Summer would last. The two discussed the strange weather patterns, and Eiir had mentioned that this was something that he had heard of before, but never in the mountains. Emeline was convinced that anything could happen nowadays, and she didn’t question it anymore. The evening was a little colder, and even though a fire wasn’t necessary, the light it gave off comforted her. Eiir insisted on sleeping outside near Mai, and Emeline didn’t object. Maybe the stranger and his horse would be gone in the morning, she didn’t know.
Earlier in the evening she had brought everything back into the cave, laying it out fresh, on a dry spot nearby. There were still some pools of water and a soft dripping sound that came from further back in the den. With the fire at a small roar, Emeline snuggled in and opened the leather bound map again. Every night she would look at the map before she fell asleep. Tonight, she couldn’t believe that she had never noticed that her box disappeared. If she felt that it mattered at all, she might feel heartbroken. Instead she just felt like sleeping forever. What a feeling to have. Especially when there are so many without it. Emelien scoffed at herself and began putting the map away when she noticed the edges of the map that had taken on some water damage. The lines on the map no longer connected on the edges, which was different than before. She knew this map from top to bottom, and she had never noticed anything mismatching. Up from her bedding, Emeline walked to the corner of the cave, where there was still some small pools of water. She placed the map down on the surface of the water and watched it float. As water infiltrated the worn map, Emeline stared in disbelief as the entire path changed in front of her eyes.
Outside the cave
Eiir sat against the trunk of a tree near the horse. She was asleep, pacing every so often as she woke up to a sound of an owl. He watched the moon dance across the sky, as the stars flickered like a million tiny candles. The trunk was hard against his back, and the cut on his side stung from the way he was sitting, but this gave him purpose. Many nights like this he would sit, and feel nothing. An overwhelming feeling to sleep, but nothing more. It was getting worse, he could feel it. Two nights ago he slept almost the whole night, but tonight, nothing. He didn’t try to fight it anymore. The Wind had reached Biztosan, it had reached everywhere. It had reached him. It was only a matter of time before there would be no more nights. Just really long days that stretched out forever. Emeline didn’t need to know this. She seemed like she had a bigger purpose than to worry about Eiir. In a few hours he would leave again, trying to make it towards the Mazas People. It was quite possibly his last hope. Luckily for Eiir, it was his last thought before sleep hit him like a pile of rocks, and he slumped over, resting for the first time in days. Mai stirred, digging her hoof into the soft ground, pulling up chunks of dirt. She felt uneasy and her tail flung back and forth as the leaves rustled from a nearby bush. In the darkness, an even darker presence emerged. It was a large, black fox. It’s body was low to the ground, it’s sharp eyes on the horse and Eiir. The fox slunk around the horse, slowly coming near Eiir and sniffing him, growling a little as he did. The horse rose on its hind legs and made a loud grunting noise. The fox ran off again, but stayed close enough near the camp, it’s eyes always watching, never sleeping.
Emeline woke up early in the morning, the birds weren’t even singing yet. It was just her and the ancient mountains that for centuries had remained covered by the White Ash, as her mother would tell her. Now, there was no white to be seen. Just a dark green, before the Sun changed the grasses color. Packing up her bedding, and folding up her heavy clothes, Emeline ducked out of the cave. The air was chill enough, but once she got moving the blood would begin to rush in her veins. Slowly walking towards where Eiir had set up, she saw him still sleeping. His arms were crossed over his chest and his head resting against the trunk of a large tree. His hair had dried and his wavy curls were thick and dark against his bronzed skin. Setting down her pack and other belongings, Emeline walked over and brushed against Mai’s behind, letting her know she was there. She then stooped down and set a mixture of tea leaves and berries near the rest of his things. Alongside those, she placed a small canister of a healing concoction. She stood and studied him one last time before she continued on her way. He was handsome, even sleeping. There was something about him though, that made her feel disconnected and eerie. In the end, they were just two strangers. Just like how her and Hadrian had been two strangers. Nothing ever comes from these things anyway, she rationalized this in her head. By tomorrow they would forget about each other and that’s how it should be.
With that, she turned, never looking back at her sleeping stranger.
“Eiir.” She said his name one last time as if to memorialize their time together. It rolled off her tongue and fell into the distance, the world swallowing up the sound. All that was left was her footsteps pounding up the mountain path, dust trailing her boots. The sun began to rise and kick the moon from the sky. Sometimes there just wasn’t room for two.