A Woeful Melody
Gwynn takes my arm and pulls me towards the throng of people, where she introduces me to many of them. I try my hardest in remembering their names, but there’s too many and soon the faces begin to blend together. Thankfully, the meetings come to an end, and I find myself alone with Gwynn, Maven having slipped away sometime during the commotions. We say nothing at first, both looking out at the camp, still bustling with activity, as people set about taking down tents and gathering supplies together.
“Thank you.” Gwynn says. I look at her, my confusion clear on my face. She laughs. “Truly. You may not realize what you’ve done, but turning to me with that offer, gave me an appearance of greater power, and the illusion of power can translate into reality with ease.”
“Is that so?” I ask, simply glad that I was able to help her in some way.
“It is. Soon, Cerc won’t have any strength left to speak of. Then, hopefully, we can take an actual stand against the church, rather than the hit-and-run tactics we’ve been employing.” I hesitate before speaking.
“That would be nice. My only concern is that these people may be too scared to openly fight.” I say slowly.
“It may appear that way, but, when blades meet, they’re stronger than you think. I know that when the opportunity arrives, they’ll be ready to strike.” Gwynn says resolutely. I nod, inclined to believe her when she speaks so decisively. We stand around for a few more minutes, before Gwynn gestures for me to follow her.
“Come on. We need to get you equipped with some armor.” She says, leading me towards the circle of men and women sharpening swords. When we get close, a man raises a hand in greeting.
“How goes it, Gwynn? Come to retrieve your armor? We just finished repairing it.” He says, sheathing the sword in his hands and rising from his seat.
“Aye, glad to hear. But, that’s not the only reason I came.” Gwynn gestures to me. “Here’s our newest recruit, Diqan. Diqan, this is our main armourer, Ric.” I step forward and extend my hand, which the man takes gruffly,
“I heard your story, and all I can say is welcome. It’s always good to have more allies.” He says, squeezing tightly. I match his grip.
“Good to meet you, Ric.” I say quietly, not quite meeting his eyes. He lets go of my hand, then turns to several canvas bags resting on the ground next to the fire. He grabs one and hands it to Gwynn.
“Thanks.” She says, slinging it over her shoulder. The man nods, then eyes me for a moment before picking up a different bag and handing it to me.
“Try this on.” He says. I open the bag and pull out the contents, a thick leather chest piece, bracers, and even a pair of boots, all a uniform dark brown. The boots I pull on first, then Ric and Gwynn teach me how to put on the armor.
“A perfect fit.” The man says once it’s all on, seeming pleased that he sized me up correctly. It does fit well, I can barely feel the straps holding it in place, although wearing it makes me feel like a child playing soldier, especially when I know nothing of fighting.
“A great job as usual, Ric.” Gwynn says. Ric grunts at the compliment. He hands me a bottle of oil and a whetstone and teaches me to care for Kyne’s sword, then we say our goodbyes, and I follow Gwynn as she leads us to an open section of the camp.
“We can set our tents up here.” She says, already pulling her bag off her back. I follow her lead, and we work in silence for a bit.
“What’s the plan now?” I ask.
“We have to keep traveling to reach the settlement.” Gwynn replies.
“You mean, this is still only a portion of the group?” I ask.
“Yes. This is only our scouting group. We needed enough people to spread out and cover multiple towns, to keep track of all the church’s actions.”
“The church has influence across multiple towns?”
“Of course. They have power over every town and city in this country. You didn’t think it was only in your city, did you?” The news is hard to digest at first, because it means that their power is much greater than I originally anticipated.
“I didn’t know, and it’s certainly a discomforting thing to know.” I say, reserved in my reaction.
‘That it is.” Gwynn says quietly. Once our tents are set up, we wordlessly gather some of the blue moss and build a small fire next to some low sitting rocks. I sit heavily next to the dim blue flames.
“Are you doing well?” Gwynn asks, watching me closely.
“I’m alright. I just need more time to recover from my run through the forest.” I say, massaging the muscles in my right thigh.
“Come on.” Gwynn says, standing. I look at her in confusion. “Kyne taught you the stretches, right?” At the mention of his name, my throat tightens somewhat, but I nod. “Good. You should make it a habit to do them any morning or night you can. Most fall out of the practice, and it’s the reason they suffer muscle strains.” I nod, and follow along as she leads me through the routine. I feel limber afterwards, though my muscles are still in pain. We sit back down next to the fire and share some bread and cheese.
“You should know that it’s not entirely safe down here.” Gwynn says through a mouthful of bread. “Safer than the surface for sure, but not completely free of danger.” She swallows, then passes a piece of cheese between her fingers not saying anything for a while. I bite into the bread, chewing it slowly, waiting for her to elaborate.
“There are certain...creatures that live in the caves. Not many, especially since we’ve hunted their populations down, but..there is the possibility that we run into some of them on our way to the settlement. I mention it not to scare you, but to prepare you. Should we run into them, it’s best if you don't try to fight them, unless there isn’t another choice.” Gwynn says. She’s right. Though, I hate knowing that I’m still a liability.
“I’ll do my best to stay out of danger.” I say.
“Good.” Gwynn says, standing and brushing bread crumbs from her pants. “I’m heading to bed now. You should try to get some rest as well. We’ll be leaving in a few hours.” I stand, feeling the weariness in my body. I head to my tent and lay down, not bothering to take my armor off. I cradle the sword while I sleep, and pass into a fitful slumber.
It feels like minutes later, when Gwynn shakes me awake. I hear the clamor of voices all around me, and once I exit the tent, I see what the commotion is. People hurry about, taking down tents, packing equipment, and pulling on armor and cleaning weapons. I say nothing while I take down my tent, and pack it away. I go through my morning stretches, then combine the contents of mine and Kyne’s bag and bundle it with the tent. I put it on my back by the straps of the tent where it sits over Kyne’s sheathed sword. I look around, lost as to what I should be doing, when I spot Gwynn striding through the throng of people, stopping to help people pack things, or to talk to them. Instead of going to see her, I wander aimlessly through the camp. Most of the people don’t notice me as they’re too wrapped up in preparations, but those that do simply nod and return to their work. Eventually, I spot Maven, standing by her daughter Nan. They already have their packs on, and are having a quiet discussion. Cautiously, I approach the two head on. Maven notices me first, meeting me with a tired smile as I draw near. I give her a quick half-smile in return.
“How goes it? Sorry I left so suddenly yesterday. I wanted to find my daughter right away.” Maven says. Nan looks on in silence, a neutral expression betraying nothing.
“It’s going well, I think. Though, I don’t quite know what to do now.” I say. Maven gathers her gray-black hair and ties it back with a piece of twine.
“For now, we wait until everyone is ready. Then, we’ll send a scouting party ahead about a mile or so, before the rest of us follow.” Maven says.
“So, you don’t have to do anything. However, I must be going, mother. Cerc will want us to go ahead soon.” Nan says curtly, and shoulders past me. Maven glares angrily at her back, but doesn’t say anything until she’s out of hearing.
“I apologize. She’s part of the scouting party, and harbors an unhealthy apprehension for strangers, even ones who have clear loyalties.” Maven sighs, then continues, “I fear it may be a long while before I’ll convince her that you can be trusted.” It seems less like apprehension, and more like hatred. I keep the opinion to myself, instead choosing to ask: “Is it a sentiment that many others share?” Maven looks thoughtful for a moment.
“No. Not to that degree in the least. The others are going to be kind enough, they just won’t treat you like family until either enough time passes or you garner their respect in another way.” She says.
“And why are you different?” I ask, genuinely curious. Gwynn knew me from before, which I can accept as reason enough, but Maven has no connection to me, yet she treats me kindly.
“I would rather trust someone whole-heartedly and be betrayed, then to live loving no one…” Maven says seriously, then smiles. “..also Gwynn believes in you, and I truly share that belief.” I smile, flushing slightly at the thought of the confidence that her and Gwynn confide in me. At the same time, my stomach somersaults once as I allow a thread of fear enter my mind. Let’s hope their confidence isn’t misplaced.
“Well thank you,” I manage to say. I hear the steady stream of conversation carried by a large group, pass behind me. I turn and see that almost everyone is packed, and is heading towards where Cerc stands, on the far edge of the camp, leading deeper into the cavern.
“We should go as well.” Maven says, and we follow the group. People mill about, as everyone gathers together. They form thin columns in front of Cerc. Gwynn spots the two of us, and Maven waves her over.
“Hello, how are you feeling today Maven?” Gwynn asks, eyeing her critically.
“I’m fine. All it took was some food and a good night’s rest to recover most of my vitality.” Gwynn stares at her for a few more moments before seemingly believing her. She turns to me.
“And how about you?” She asks. I shake my legs out, and feel minimal pain from the exertions the last few days. I shrug.
“Well enough.” I say simply.
“Good. I want both of you to stay in the middle of the columns.” Gwynn says. Though her face doesn’t betray anything, the tone of her voice makes me think something is wrong.
“How come? Did the scouting party find anything?” Maven asks seriously.
“Not... really. Nothing that should pose a threat.” Gwynn says. When she doesn’t elaborate any further, it only adds to my unease, however Maven lets it go.
“Alright, I trust your judgement.” She says.
“Thank you.” Gwynn says.
“Always.” I relax somewhat with the knowledge that Maven isn’t overly concerned with things.
“Attention!” Cerc’s voice yells from the front. Everyone quits speaking and settles into their positions. Maven and I take up spots in the center of the group, while Gwynn heads towards the front. Cerc scans the crowd once we’re in position.
“Alright, move out.” Cerc calls. The front of the group heads out and we follow, leaving several steps between us and the people in front. We head towards the far end of the cave, where the moss ends it’s creep partway down a tunnel, ending in darkness.