I don’t know how I’d make sense of things if I didn’t have these books to lay it all out on paper. Would I remember everything differently? Or start misremembering? On days like today, though, what I’m most grateful for is how writing forces me to look at events…not dispassionately, or critically, but at enough of a distance that I can learn from them and not simply be overwhelmed by whatever emotion is attached to them. I don’t know if that’s good or not. Maybe it makes me too distant from my own life. But I don’t think so. This is me putting it all down in a way I hope will still make sense to me when I come back to it, months or even years from now.
We came upon a village just as we’d eaten the last of our stores, as if we’d timed it that way. It was the town I remembered, the one on the Royal Road that caters to hunters and trappers who ply their trades in The Forest. We were cautious in approaching it, since we had no idea if they’d had contact with their new Castaviran neighbors or what that contact might have been like. At the time, my fear was that they’d react the way the people in Jeddan’s village did. I had no way of guessing what we’d actually find.
It’s a sprawling little town, with farms on the outskirts, and we passed a lot of stubbly, harvested fields without seeing anyone. That wasn’t so odd, since no one would be working the fields at this time of year. What was odd was how the place continued empty even as we came nearer to the town proper. There were houses with tiny yards and thatched roofs with their doors hanging ajar or completely open, and not a single person in sight. It was as if everyone had simply walked away. We were the only living things on the road.
I moved closer to Jeddan and said, “I don’t like this.”
“Me either,” he said. “But we need food. If the whole town really is empty, maybe they’ve left supplies behind. It wouldn’t be looting.”
“Not exactly looting,” I said. Then I saw movement up ahead, and I grabbed Jeddan’s arm and pointed. “There.”
“I don’t see—wait.” We both stopped and stared at the corner of a house where we’d seen something run past and behind the building. I scanned our surroundings—tidy little houses, and a widening street, and up ahead there were buildings that didn’t look like houses, despite being as low to the ground, maybe shops. Still no other movement.
“Let’s see what it is,” Jeddan said.
“It could be dangerous,” I said.
“An even better reason not to leave it at our backs,” he said, and I had to agree with his logic.
We went slowly toward the house, wary, trying to look in all directions at once. The house was, like the others, a single-story building with white plastered walls and a thatched roof and two windows flanking the door that made the house appear startled, as if we’d succeeded in sneaking up on it. Still no movement.
We went around the side, turned the corner, and something growled at us, making us both take a few steps backward. It was just a dog, crouched against a shed; it looked like it was favoring its front paw, and it continued to snarl at us even though we’d stopped advancing on it.
Jeddan began to hold out his hand, and I said, “Don’t. It’s in pain; who knows what it might do?”
“You’re right,” Jeddan said, but he looked regretful as we turned and left the animal to its solitude. We came out from between the house and its neighbor, and suddenly I was picked up off my feet and thrown against the side of the house, pinned there by some unseen force. I couldn’t even turn my head to see what had happened to Jeddan, but I could hear him cursing nearby, and I guessed he was in the same predicament as me.
“There’s no point in fighting,” a man said, and then he came to stand where I could see him. He was younger than me, maybe twenty, and he had a lean face that looked as if it had gotten that way through malnutrition rather than nature and, not at all to my surprise, green-gray eyes set deep in his face. “We’re prepared this time.”
“No point talking, Baltan, she don’t speak our language,” said a woman.
“I do speak Balaenic,” I said, or tried to say; my jaw was as fast held as the rest of me. Jeddan said, in a somewhat muffled voice, “We’re Balaenic, you idiots. Let us go.”
“Could be those bandits,” Baltan said, “sending people in to suss out what we got.”
“We’re not bandits either,” Jeddan said, sounding more annoyed by the minute. I was fairly irritated myself at that point, and not thinking very clearly, because it hadn’t connected that these were mages like us (I realize that makes me sound stupid, but it all happened much faster than it takes me to write it). So I retaliated with fire, looping it around his body in a thick rope the size of my wrist. He screamed, and I fell as his mind-moving pouvra released me. I got up quickly and said—this was when it all fell into place—“We’re Balaenic, and we’re mages like you, so let Jeddan go so we can talk!”
to be continued…