Deverell had already left for the training grounds by the time I awoke next morning. I gathered my things and went to find her there, my thoughts on the conversation we would have later that day. A cold breeze was on the air, brisk and strong, more like a late Autumnal wind heralding the coming of Winter than something felt in late Spring.
I decided against fetching my cloak and pressed on, finding her in short order. She had more duties to see to today, so I told her I would take a walk outside the village for a bit, and we made plans to meet a bit past midday.
I feared what I might find outside the gates, but I knew my homecoming would not be complete until I went to see our farm. Deverell had said that area was no longer settled anymore, but I still wished to see it.
The day was simply gorgeous, sky clad in pale blue, with the white of the clouds moving past so quickly, pushed by the winds, giving life to the vision above. If only the tranquility of the realm above was mirrored by our realm below in these days…
Perhaps, one day, it will be. Perhaps, one day, the words we share, singular breaths on the air, will come together and form a breeze. When we join hands, singular flutters will become a flurry.
We have it within us to summon mistrals, to chase these things away.
I have to believe…
I returned to the village, where I found Deverell packing away her things in a stall near the training grounds. She had her back turned, so I stole up behind her and reached past her into one of the bags. She jumped and turned quickly. “Still a sneaky one, I see” she said finally, when she had caught her breath once again.
“Usually, I only employ such tricks when facing dangerous foes in perilous lands, but I was curious of what all you had in your kit,” I laughed, hoping to soften things with a smile.
“I am out of calming draughts. Pity, as I have just come into quite a use for them,” she said with a smirk.
I took hold of her hand and squeezed it, “Are you free yet? There is something we need to discuss,” I said, looking away toward the gate as I finished.
“No more tricks, then. You will tell me why you have come,” she stated, more than she asked.
I nodded, “We should take a turn outside the village. It is a lovely day, and we have hours before the sun sets.
She smiled, placing her hand upon my arm reassuringly. “I just need to bring some things home, and then I will meet you here.” She gathered up her bags, slinging them over her shoulder as she turned to leave.
“You may wish to fetch a cloak. The winds are strong outside the village walls,” I called out to her as she was walking away.
She stopped and turned. “I’ve always been fond of breezes,” she said, before turning to start on her way again. I smiled as I watched her go.
I hope so, my friend. All depends upon it…
Once she had returned, we made our way through the gate and into the fields beyond. We chatted about many things as we walked. I realized she was not going to press me about things but rather let me get to them in my own time, for which I was grateful.
The hours we shared, walking in step amidst the breezes and the wilds was like a balm, one of the very best my friend could ever conjure, even with all her skill. But the day was wearing on, and the time had finally come.
“And what has kept you busy these days?” I asked, as we turned from the road and into the fields once again.
“Much the same as before,” she replied. “I travel about with my remedies, seeking to aid the sick and injured, wherever I might find them. Some cannot travel so well, of course.”
I nodded. “And how far do your travels take you?” I asked. I could see her mind working, trying to glean anything she could from my questions, and I smiled in spite of myself.
“Well, I stay mainly in Archet, of course. But I travel to Combe, and Staddle, and even to Bree-town often enough. I have been as far as Trestlebridge, but very rarely.” She smiled at me, “That all must seem very mundane and boring to you, though.” She hesitated for a moment, and then mused, “From where had you returned before coming home? Some place far beyond where my path takes me, I am sure.”
I looked to her as we walked, “I am returned from the plains of Rohan, on the other side of the Misties, south of the Golden Wood. That was two months ago. Since then, I have spent my time in Bree-town or my home just south of there.”
“That must have been quite a journey,” she said, “and the time since was spent well to rest and recover, no?”
I shook my head, “To be honest, aside from that journey to Rohan, I have done very little for quite a while now.” She looked to me inquisitively, so I explained, “Much is happening in the lands east and south of here. Surely you must have heard, at least a little.”
She frowned a bit and nodded. “Many have found their way into armies and larger forces, and they go to make the war that we have fought from afar until now. There is precious little that Scouts can bring to bear upon open fields amidst open war. The time may have come for me to stand aside and find another path.”
We walked on silently for a bit. “Is that something you will be able to choose and have peace with?” she asked.
I smiled pensively, “I am not sure the choice will be mine to make, in the end.”
The two of us came to a halt in the fields to look about. “We should find someplace to sit and rest for a bit,” I suggested.
Deverell looked around for a moment and then nodded, “I know of a place. Follow me.”
She led us further away from the road and up a rise, weaving through brush and thicket. After a time, I no longer remembered the places we walked from my youth, but I made sure to watch as we went.
We finally came to a parting in the thicket and gazed upon a field of wildflowers underneath the shade of an old tree, a sentinel keeping watch over a sacred place.
I looked around and marveled, “Oh, Deverell. This place is…” I trailed off.
Deverell smiled and nodded as she took my hand. “I know,” she said, as she led us into the clearing.
We twirled about while taking it all in. Portions of the sky had turned to rose, the sun on her path to find her rest, yet the rest remained pale blue, with vessels of white sailing swiftly along her currents and winds. At our feet were wildflowers of purple, rose, and white, amidst a field of greens, from pale to deep.
It meant so much to see, to know, that there are still places, still moments such as these, even in the places and moments that weigh upon your heart.
I put my arm around Deverell’s shoulders, hugging her to me before turning to find a place to settle amongst the wildflowers. She remained standing where she was for the moment, and we both stared into the part of the sky still reluctant to give up the day.
“Omens bode well today,” I heard her say from behind me.
I looked down to the flowers, picking a dandelion from the grass. I gazed upon it, twirling it by its stem, as I heard her move through the field toward me. “I hope they do,” I said softly.
She came to stand before me, watching me spin the flower in my hand, a ball of feathery spores all with the hope of taking flight.
“Dandelion. That was your father’s pet name for you, wasn’t it?” she asked.
I slowly nodded, my eyes still on the twirling flower.
I looked up as she moved to stand before me and smiled. “Yes, it was. He said it was because I was always getting into places I was not supposed to,” I said.
We both laughed as she settled down in the flowers before me. I looked off in the distance, “I would hear him call me, and there was at least an equal chance I would run away from him as I would to him.”
She smiled and nodded, “I remember.”
“I wish I had run to him more often now,” I said. I closed my eyes for a moment and lowered my head, as I took in a breath of the fragrant air about us before releasing it again. “Silly whims and capricious winds were all I knew back then.”
Deverell laid her hand on my arm, and I put my hand over hers and looked to her, “It is fine. Speaking of those who have been parted from us makes that distance seem a little smaller. It is as if they have returned to visit, for a time.”
We sat silently for a while, lost to our own thoughts. Then I reached out my hand with the dandelion toward her, which she accepted with a smile. I found another for myself, as I reached into a pocket in my leathers, “I must away again, very soon.”
She watched, as I withdrew the scroll that one of the way-watchers had given to me in Bree. I handed it to her to read.
I watched her as she read the scroll, nervously twirling the dandelion in my hand.
She rose to her feet, still looking over the scroll. “Well, this Halbarad seems to think this opportunity is not to be missed,” she said finally.
I nodded to her when she looked to me. She came to sit before me again, “And it sounds like something from which you may very well not return.”
“We have to try. Actions now, in the moment before lines are drawn, might be worth their weight tenfold, once the battle truly begins. One lost leader leaves a great many leaderless. One intercepted message leaves a great many in the dark. Soon, there will be no more chances, no more opportunities for measures such as these, and the time for each side to make their final play upon the field will be at hand.” When she looked to me, I nodded and touched her hand, “This is how I do my part.”
“But haven’t you done enough?” she pleaded. “Whatever wrongs you may have done in the past, whatever blame you lay upon yourself for your mother, and your father and Beckham, you have made up for them, made up for it all, many times over.”
I rose to my feet and walked around her, kneeling behind her, embracing her about her shoulders, pressing my cheek to hers, “I have not done enough, just as you have not made your last journey to Bree-town, or even to Trestlebridge. Those of noble heart have a way of surfacing when and where they are needed most, to do what good they can in that moment. How can I do less, knowing so many who have gone before did not stop with what they felt might be enough?”
I held my dandelion before us, “It is not about doing what is enough. It is about doing what we are able, in each moment, and knowing what we do will make a difference, both near and far.”
I took in a breath of the fragrant air and sent it along Deverell’s cheek, into the dandelion I twirled in my fingers before us. We watched as its spores broke free to be carried upon the strong breeze that swept over us that day.
Up until that moment, I was not sure, not truly sure, whether my reasons for accepting Halbarad’s task were right and true. I was not even sure whether I would make the journey at all.
Sometimes, what is true, even our own truths, can be hidden from us. Sometimes, it takes another to confide in, another to bare our hearts to, in order to see truths within ourselves…
I started to let her go and stand, but she placed her hand upon my arms, “Wait…” she whispered.
She shifted slightly, so she could turn her face to mine. She held the dandelion I had given her between us, “I will not let you go alone.”
She turned about again, holding her dandelion before us.
Together, we sent it upon the wind.
The Spirit Gauntlet Saga
Also, the entire saga, with full-sized renderings, can be found here!
(The full renderings make for a completely different experience!)