Chapter 8:

Brief Grief and Moving On

A Woeful Melody

Shadows mold and refoldBookmark here

Creating shapes half-formedBookmark here

Rushing water washing the silence away.Bookmark here

The darkness spreads, tightening around meBookmark here

Holding me down, they coalesceBookmark here

An alcove, a howl, an arm.Bookmark here

Kyne falls onto the bank, and Tef follows behind. His body lands facing me. His eyes are empty, a maniacal grin plastered on his face. Laughter chills my spine.Bookmark here

I can’t move Bookmark here

I can’t speakBookmark here

I can’t avert my eyes. My heart slams against my chest. Even now I’m scared… and not for those lying dead in front of me. My fear is reserved for my own safety, my tears borne of the same. The shadows hold me fast, as the river widens. It engulfs Kyne and Tef quickly. I can only watch, terror absolute as it washes over me, consuming me. I hold my breath and strain against the binds to no avail. I pull harder, but still nothing budges. Bookmark here

I suppose it’s only fair. I expel my held breath. When I inhale, rather than a lungful of water, I draw a breath of air. Opening my eyes, I see nothing.Bookmark here

A humming fills my ears as I come into consciousness. Fingers run through my hair gently, and though I don’t know who it is, I’m set with ease. Eventually, I decide to open my eyes. Maven is above me, her eyes closed. I wait patiently for her song to end, not wanting to disturb her. The last note sounds and she opens her eyes, meeting mine. She flashes a warm smile that serves to calm me further.Bookmark here

“Was my humming so poor that it woke you?” Bookmark here

“On the contrary, it made me want to rest longer.” Bookmark here

“Ahh, so it bored you then.” She says, still wearing a pleasant grin.Bookmark here

“It would be more accurate to say it relaxed me.” I respond, a slight smile touching my lips. It surprises me how easy the conversation flows. Most of the time I’m tense and awkward when I speak with people; however, this is different. Her smile, her tone of voice, even her presence is tender and kind. Bookmark here

Is this what having a mother would be like? I stare at Maven in silence. She arches an eyebrow and smirks. Bookmark here

“What’s wrong? Am I so beautiful that you need to stare?”
I blush furiously. “No, no.” I stammer. “It’s just that I was thinking…” I trail off, unsure how to finish the thought. Maven laughs heartily. Bookmark here

“Good. I’m far too old for you.” Then, she looks at me seriously, “Don’t hesitate to speak your mind though. I’m here to listen.” I swallow the lump in my throat and look away from her. Bookmark here

“I was just wondering…” my blush, if possible, deepens, “if this is what it would be like to have a mother...” I trail off, but she laughs lightly. Bookmark here

“In some ways it is.” I relax and compose my thoughts for several seconds before speaking again. Bookmark here

“Thank you for taking care of me.” Bookmark here

“Don’t mention it. It’s what I’m here for.” It’s strange being treated so kindly after everything that happened. Bookmark here

“Think you can stand?” Maven asks. I sit up, and feel surprisingly good. I stand up slowly, feeling my muscles ache with the stress. Bookmark here

“How long have I been unconscious?”Bookmark here

“About a day. You stumbled into the clearing sometime yesterday afternoon.” I put a hand to my head as a wave of nausea hits me, but I’m able to shake it off. Bookmark here

“I don’t remember much, not after…” I trail off. Maven looks at me, concerned, but doesn’t mention it. Instead, she places a hand on my shoulder and squeezes. Bookmark here

‘Come on. Some fresh air should do you some good.” I nod and allow myself to be lead from the tent. The sun blinds me for a few seconds, but eventually I’m able to see. A firepit is between two tents, a few logs placed around it for seating. Gwynn sits on one of them and watches me. I raise my hand in greeting and smile shyly. She doesn’t return the greeting, instead glancing between me and the sword in her hands. Kyne’s sword. I realize. I drop my hand and my smile breaks. I half walk, half limp over to where she sits, my muscles hurting every time they flex. Maven follows close to my side, I’m sure in case I need support. I make it without fault and take a seat across from Gwynn. Bookmark here

“How are you feeling?” She asks after I’m seated.Bookmark here

“Better. It still hurts a bit to move is all.” Bookmark here

“That’s good. I feared the worst. You looked near death when you arrived.” Bookmark here

“So I heard.” My responses seem terse, even to me, but I can’t help it. My thoughts are distracted, my eyes locked on Kyne’s sword. Gwynn seems to notice where I’m looking. She puts the sword back in the scabbard and places it beside her and I avert my eyes to the firepit of ashes. Bookmark here

“Diqan, if you’re able to, would you mind sharing what happened out there?” Gwynn asks, leaning forward. Her eyes hold mine. Bookmark here

“Gwynn, I told you not to push him.” I see Maven glaring at her out of the corner of my eye, but I don’t look away from Gwynn. Bookmark here

“It’s alright.” I say, then take a deep breath. Slowly, I tell them about the attack on the riverside. Gwynn’s eyes show nothing as she listens, and I’m glad because if she pitied me, I don’t know if I could keep my composure. I don’t mention the bear, instead ending with me leaving the bank. I finish and wait for a response. Bookmark here

“You did well, making it here by yourself.” Maven says. Bookmark here

“She’s right.” Gwynn says. “And I’m sorry. I can’t imagine the horror you must have went through.” I look away from Gwynn, swallowing a lump in my throat. Bookmark here

“Did...did he have a family?” I ask hesitantly. Maven and Gwynn glance at each other. Bookmark here

“No. At least, not as of recently.” Maven says. “It’s horrible what happened, but take some solace in knowing that he’s reunited with them in heaven now.” I stare at the ashes again. Bookmark here

He died protecting me. I allowed him to die without even trying to help him. I don’t deserve any consoling. He was the one who suffered for my faults. I feel no tears welling, and no true sadness. Instead, guilt washes over me, and a deep-seated anger. Bookmark here

Damn my fear. Damn the church. Damn Saint Loriana, if she even exists. Bookmark here

“Diqan, are you alright?” Maven asks. I realize that my fists are balled and I’m clenching my jaw tightly. My heart is beating powerfully and glancing down, I see my veins are lit up from the inside. Slowly, I calm myself down. Bookmark here

“I’m sorry. I got worked up is all.” Silences washes over the three of us then, each thinking our own private thoughts. Bookmark here

“Here.” Gwynn says finally, holding out Kyne’s sword. I reach out for it, then stop.Bookmark here

“Are you sure? Why give it to me when I can’t use it?” Gwynn stretches out to place it into my palm. Bookmark here

“I think it’s only fitting. You were the last person he was training. Also, I don’t doubt that you’ll learn how to use it quick enough.” I accept it, laying it across my lap. It’s a simple two-handed sword, with a leather wrapped hilt and long blade, too light to be steel. There is nothing adorning it, but still, it’s significance weighs on me. Bookmark here

The sun has lowered in the sky now, and Gwynn goes about checking traps and the barrier, while Maven gathers more berries and medical supplies. I sit by the ashes, cradling the sword, as there isn’t anything else for me to do. Bookmark here

The next day, I wake early. When I stand up, I notice the soreness from yesterday has diminished. I barely feel any pain now. I help gather up the tents, and once everything’s packed, we head out. Bookmark here

We only move at a brisk walk, whether that’s for me or Maven, I’m uncertain. We move through the woods single file with Gwynn in the lead, Maven following her, and me in the back. I have questions, but I hold onto them. Instead, I listen to the forest. Its tranquility infects me, despite all my uncertainties. The day passes uneventfully and I revert into a mindless trance, thinking no significant thoughts. Bookmark here

“Diqan, I’m sure you have questions. Feel free to ask away.” Maven looks back at me as we walk. I slowly rouse myself from my reverie. Bookmark here

“What?” I say stupidly. Maven smiles- it's only now that I realize how haggard she looks. “Are you alright?” I ask.Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” She responds, her brow furrowed in confusion.Bookmark here

“You look tired today.” I say simply. Gwynn interjects from the front before Maven can respond. Bookmark here

“That’s because Maven neglects her own health in favor of others.” Her voice is even, but the words are just sharp enough to reflect irritation. Maven’s smile doesn’t falter.Bookmark here

“It is my choice dear, and I hope you’ll respect that.” There’s a finality to her words that Gwynn seems to accept. Bookmark here

“Do as you wish...I just wish you would be more mindful of your health. You’re valuable to our community,” she says after a few moments of silence. We walk quietly for a few minutes before Maven steers the conversation back.Bookmark here

“Do you have any questions? At this pace, we may reach our destination by nightfall.” I have many, but start out with the most obvious. Bookmark here

“Where is our destination?”Bookmark here

“It’s our main camp for now, set into a series of caves.” Maven smiles wistfully. “It’s a beautiful place.” Bookmark here

“Beautiful or not, it’s still a prison.” Gwynn calls out from ahead. I see Maven’s shoulders slump slightly, but her voice stays steady. Bookmark here

“Prison or not, it’s the only reason we’ve survived for so long.” Gwynn grunts indiscernibly, and nature’s quiet permeates our conversation for several long minutes. With time, the tension fades and I feel comfortable enough to break the silence. Bookmark here

“How many people are at the camp?” Maven looks thoughtful, and slows down to walk beside me. Bookmark here

“If I had to estimate, I’d say maybe four hundred. We’re split between two groups. One led by Cerc and the other led by Joff. The caves are connected underground and we rotate camp between various sites every couple weeks.” Bookmark here

“How do you know which site to move to and when?” Bookmark here

“We have a rotation set up in advance, but if anything changes, we have people who volunteer to be couriers. They transport supplies and information through the tunnels.” Bookmark here

“So it’s actually safe there?” Maven hesitates.Bookmark here

“Yes. I would say it’s the safest place we can be.” Gwynn stops abruptly and turns sharply to face us, startling me. She fixes Maven with a hard glare. Bookmark here

“Don’t lie to him. Stop making our way of life sound easy.” Gwynn turns to me, holding me fast with her stare. “We struggle each day to survive. We go out to hunt, we make dangerous runs to take supplies from the church, and each day people get injured, people die. Then, the next day we have to go back out, regardless of what happened the day before. There isn’t much time to grieve and even less for hesitation. I say this so you know: you have to be resilient if you want to keep living.” Her words are sharp, but I accept them easily, as they speak to a truth I’ve come to realize myself. I brazenly meet her eyes.Bookmark here

“I understand.” I say firmly. We remain frozen for several seconds before Gwynn nods her head and begins walking again. Maven and I follow silently.Bookmark here

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