Our reticence from the day before was gone. We had found our resolve with the dawn of the new day, and our spirits were high with the promise of the journey we were beginning together…
I turned in my saddle to make sure that Deverell and Dancer were coming along, “Make haste, slowpokes! The morning is getting away!”
They finally were free of the stables and on their way. Deverell made a face at me I could make out across the square.
I laughed and then turned back to watch the cobblestones, as we made our way down the hill from the Pony and toward the west.
…my mind returned to the day of my return two months before…
…the dark, the rain, and the cold… the rivulets of water flowing past, as though they were trying to escape their fate. It was as if opposing palms had narrowly missed one another, the thin barrier of time keeping each on its own course…
We turned northward, onto the path leading to the north gate, and left Bree-town behind us, for how long we could not know.
I stopped to let Deverell catch up to me. “We should probably ride a bit apart most of the time, so that we can both better keep our eye on things. I will go ahead first.”
“Very well,” she nodded. She looked around us for a moment, at the fields unbounded by town walls and gates. “It will be like when we were young, Kaleigh. Even then, our wanderings sometimes were a bit adventurous,” she said, smiling.
There were no words to express how grateful I was to her, for taking this road with me. I reached over and lay my hand on arm. She looked at me and smiled, reaching to put her hand on mine.
“You can buy the mead when we are next in town,” she offered.
“Done! Quick, Dandi, walk on before she changes her mind,” I said, turning Dandi back onto the road leading away from town.
We had been blessed by the most beautiful Summer days of late, and this day began true to it as well.
The morning sun rose to claim its dominion over the eastern sky, gifting its light to all.
We made our way toward the small brook that flowed from the Everclear lakes…
…turning north onto the road that ran alongside, heading toward Trestlebridge.
After a time, we came to a fork in the road, with an eastward path leading toward a copse of trees growing within a depression in the land, and the graveyard I knew to be to its north.
I waited for Deverell to come up along side me. “Let us turn this way for a bit,” I suggested. She nodded her assent, and we turned from the main road and onto the other.
The trees aligning the path to the graveyard acted as a corridor, making the air cool and vision narrow. A breeze swept through, pushing us forward, and I shivered in the brisk, hiemal air.
Once we reached the small cobblestone wall that bounded the graveyard, we left the horses to graze while we went to look around.
We wandered about silently, whispering wishes for those who had been laid to rest and for those who cared for them. Eventually, we came to the graveyard’s heart, where we lingered for a spell.
“What is it that is troubling you, Kaleigh?” Deverell asked, after a time. “Why have we come here?”
I looked up and went over to stand beside her, taking her hand in mine. “Nothing, really. I just thought that we might want to stop here for a moment before continuing on our way, to remember.”
She nodded and squeezed my hand as we slowly turned in place, seeing what we could see before turning once more.
…I reached down to the dirt before me, spreading it about to wipe the slate clean. It felt as though my fingers threaded through a bed of ashes…
…I traced upon it the names of those for whom I still grieved…
…the wind from the corridor, caught by the stone walls which surrounded the graveyard, swirled about us. As I traced my fingers in the dust, wisps of ash arose, like ashen spirits. They swirled about, clinging to me rather than escaping into the air rising over the walls…
Deverell knelt behind me and embraced me. “It is time to leave the dead to their rest and move on,” she whispered. I leaned my head back onto her shoulder for a moment before nodding. We made ready to leave.
We went back through the tree-lined path and onto the main road, turning northward once more.
In the afternoon, as we continued on the road, we came upon Saeradan’s old cabin, where he once lived and kept watch over these lands.
…my friend, my mentor, who somehow tamed and began to shape a lost and frightened girl into the Scout I would become… Would that you were here, that I might seek your counsel…
…yet know that which you taught stays with me, on every road I walk, whether we share the same path or not…
In the late afternoon, a light rain began to fall. We looked about for a place to take shelter and rest for night.
We found a small copse of trees not far off the road, near an old ruin. I went off on my own to search for a better place but to no avail. “This is as good a place as we are going to find,” I told Deverell upon my return.
“Very well. Let’s find the horses a place they can stay dry and make camp,” she replied. We set to work, getting Dandi and Dancer settled away from where we meant to make a fire, leaving them to graze under some trees that would hopefully keep them somewhat dry.
We made camp and got a fire going. The drizzle of the rain sounded above us, but we were able to keep mostly dry while under the canopy of leaves and branches that the trees provided.
We settled before the fire as twilight approached, reliving the past through the telling of stories and remembrances of times long ago…
“So, how is Francis?” I asked, during a lull in the conversation. “I did not see him while we were in town, and you have not spoken of him.”
She flushed a bit before saying, “I… I think he is away for the summer, helping his aunt and uncle down in Staddle.”
I nodded, a bit sorry I had brought it up.
“We are not courting anymore, Kaleigh. But after a time, we were able to set aside differences and be friend to one another once again, as we were before. Do not feel badly about bringing him up. Honestly, I am a bit surprised you had not asked about us before.”
I looked down to the grasses beneath us, and then to the fire. Its crackling and the pattering of rain was all that broke the silence for a spell. I leaned back against one of the trees that sheltered us and watched the smoke from the fire rise toward its leaves.
“What about you?” she asked after a bit. “Is there anyone?”
I tried to answer, but there was a tightness in my chest. I struggled for a moment before leaning back against the tree with a sigh.
Deverell came over to sit beside me, putting her arm around my shoulders and hugging me to her. “It must be difficult, after what happened to Beckham,” she whispered.
I nodded, squeezing her hand. “We always thought…” I started but could say no more. I looked away, wiping tears from my eyes.
We sat together until the darkness came.
Deverell let me have my rest first while she kept watch over us. She woke me for my turn, but nothing disturbed us that night. In the morning we broke camp and set out on our way once again.
We meant to reach Trestlebridge before darkness fell that day, so we pushed hard to keep up our pace…
…but the beauty of the northern lands made it difficult to maintain.
Rather than stop for a rest and a bit to snack on mid-day, we walked the horses side by side for a spell, that we might look around and take in some of that beauty, to have something to remember in darker places we might soon find ourselves in.
Just as the daylight was beginning to fade, Trestlebridge came into view over the rise.
I guided Dandi and Dancer to the stables, while Deverell brought some of her curatives to one of the healers she knew in town.
“Where d’ja steal these fine horses from, lass?” asked the stablehand with a laugh, as he began to see to Dandi and Dancer.
“Never you mind” I said with a smile, handing him some coin. I remembered Hal from when I passed through often a while back. “How are things in town? I asked.
“Same old, same old,” he said with a grimace, as Deverell walked over to us, “fightin’ just to keep what we have. Nellie can tell ya better.”
I looked over my shoulder to Deverell, as she finished fetching her things from Dancer, “We can have a look around until dark, if you like.”
“I think we should,” she said.
We wandered about, but much of what we saw was not new to us, sadly. Trestlebridge, like Archet, remained caught in a struggle for its own existence, with no days of rest, or of peace, for its people.
The guards keeping watch over the northern end of the Trestlespan were harassed and harried by orcs most every day, with encampments too entrenched to be rooted out with the meager forces they had left.
We listened to those willing to tell us of the trials they suffered, and we did our best to console, to offer encouragement, but there was little more we could do in the moment. My heart broke for these people, for what they suffered…
“But what we go to do will make a difference, both near and far, even as what those of you do here lends aid to those who are far-distant as well. It may take a little time for the mistrals to carry it all that way, but they will in time,” Deverell said.
As we all turned to look at her, she looked to me, “Like dandelions on the wind. Right, Kaleigh?”
…I was never so grateful to my friend, for taking this road with me…
Afterward, as we made our way over to Nellie’s home, I put my arm through Deverell’s and said, “Remind me to thank you everyday for coming with me, okay?”
Captain Trotter was just leaving Nellie’s as we approached her home. “Good to see you again, sir!” I called out to him and waved. “Do you think Nellie would be willing to see us?” I asked him.
He knocked on the door and went inside to speak with her, while we waited at the foot of the stair. After a minute or two, he came back out and beckoned us to him.
“Go easy with her,” he whispered to us, as we met him on the step. “It does not go well for us here.”
“I wish you all the best with things,” I offered, knowing what little else to say. He left us as we knocked on the door and went inside when Nellie called for us to enter.
We visited with Nellie Boskins, the Mayor of Trestlebridge, into the early morning hours, offering our ear and our shoulder, even as she lent us her own…
…but those are no small things, when offered in earnest and with sincerity. Sometimes, just speaking with someone outside a shared circle of troubles can give one someone to confide in, to lean on, without the guilt of weighing upon those who are close, sharing those burdens with you everyday.
We promised to speak with the way-watchers on her behalf, to see if there was more that could be done. Each of us knew that it was not likely they could lend much aid, as nearly all of them had left these parts for far-distant lands, but it gave her something in which to have hope.
Nellie let us rest in her home for the few hours left before the dawn. When morning had come, we parted with well wishes for each other in our endeavors.
In the early morning, we mounted up and were away once again.
As we approached the Trestlespan, Deverell rode up alongside me and said, “I have never crossed the span into the northern downs before.”
I lay my hand on her arm as we began to move across the span, “Be alert. These lands are treacherous and far more untamed than the lands of Bree.”
She nodded, looking forward once again. I noticed the tension in her face, and how her grip tightened around the reins she held.
“But go easy as well. You have traveled dangerous roads before. We will be fine.” I smiled, putting my hand on her shoulder.
She relaxed a bit and smiled at me. “I will ride ahead. Call out if you see anything.” I said, letting Dandi go out in front again.
We crossed the span and rode the Greenway, heading down into the lowlands.
As we continued our descent, I spied what appeared to be a campfire on the outskirts of the fields of Fornost.
The men at the camp let us share their fire with them, and we all sat down for a mid-day meal. When I asked if they had word of the way-watcher, Mincham, who used to keep watch over the fields to the north, they said that they had heard he had left with most of his kin, headed for far-distant lands to the south and east.
…return soon, men of valor, for these lands wither without your touch. Return to us soon, men of wisdom, while the signs of your presence still linger…
We wished the men well with their endeavors once it was time to set out again and went to fetch Dandi and Dancer, where we had left them to graze in the grasses to the south.
We had to chase them down for quite a ways, as they did not care for the northern fields at all. When Deverell asked about them, I only said that we should hope that we will not be sent there.
We made for Amon Raith as the sun began to set in the west.
It was to here that many who live in these parts fled when bands of orcs began to appear, raiding their homes, setting alight crops, and hopes, and the lives of many who only wished for peace.
…it was here that I met the way-watcher, Amarion, whose concern for those in his care moved me both to tears and to action, and to a vow that I have tried ever since to keep…
I looked up to what was left of the ruined tower as Deverell got Dancer settled with some of the people in the camp. I lit out for the tower, with the hope that perhaps Amarion had remained behind, still to see to those under his care, even now.
“Kaleigh, wait!” Deverell cried, as she chased after me, but I could not.
…in that moment, I needed to know…
I reached the top of the stair, but Amarion was not to be found. He had left with his brothers, to aid in endeavors far away.
I told Deverell of my time with Amarion before we took our rest for the night. “He may not be here, Kaleigh, but the good of what he did remains,” she said, sweeping her arm in an arc to indicate the whole of the camp, where many took refuge and were safe.
I held her to me for a long while before I was willing to let go. Her wisdom had humbled me yet again.
We took our rest with the rest in camp and made ready to leave the next morning.
…dearest friend, who opened both my eyes and my heart to the wonders that compassion can bring…
…know that your deeds have taken root in fertile ground, both in the lands that you hold dear, and in the hearts of those whom you nurtured…
…the day I received the summons returning me to these lands seemed so long ago…
…together we had traveled many roads. Roads of friendships renewed, of visions past and of those perhaps yet to come…
…of joyful times and of times more difficult…so many roads in such a short time…
…but the one that bound them all was now coming to its end…
Together, Deverell and I walked the horses toward the Way-watchers’ encampment, sheltered within a rift in the Kingsfell mountains, to learn where our next road might take us…
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!)