“It was a vast burning field
where no flowers grew
blood covered the embers
where no bodies were strewn
Who could do this to a land
that committed no crime
a place that had peace
In a time before time”
the devastation Arajuan
caused through out
That morning Ayana awoke with the sun peeking into her tent. With the darkness gone the sun beamed the brightest she had ever seen. Only a slight trace of sulphur was on the wind much to her relief. She sat up, her stomach had a dull ache but her legs were healed except for
scars on the back of them. Her shoulder where Arajuan gripped her had no wound at all. She had fallen asleep in her travel armour so she did not need to dress. She left her tent, found Tarnink was already up and had prepared a fire.
Tarnink pulled out a pack of food and handed it to her. She tried to eat but her stomach felt numb. The food just sat and rotted. She tossed the food away from her in frustration.
“Arajuan, that vile beast, he is trying to starve me to death,” she exclaimed.
“Do not worry Ayana, when we reach the town we will find help. If Arajuan has not destroyed it. Now come here and help me pack.”
Ayana packed up her food and meagre supplies in her small travel pack. She watched in awe as Tarnink placed both tents and everything else he had back into a travel pack that was smaller than the items he placed inside.
“Tarnink the bag you carry, how does it hold so much?” Ayana asked.
“Magic, Ayana, magic,” He said laughing, “This is a holding bag. It can fit near anything you want inside it. Let’s get going. We need to reach Wong before tomorrow. He needs to know of our encounter with Arajuan.”
“So where do we go now?” she inquired.
“We head straight to Stockholm, the town I mentioned last night; it is a mile or so from here. I have a friend in Stockholm who might help us. In the second town, Myradal, is where Master Wong keeps a shop,” Tarnink replied.
As they walked into the woods, Ayana noticed the charred and dismal look of the trees. The more she looked the stranger things seemed. There was blood dripping off some of the leaves. The bark on the trees surrounding the area appeared charred by lightning and fire as if a
storm had hit the forest. There was no sound in the forest, not even the chirping of a single morning bird. The silence broken only by their soft padded footsteps.
They walked for most the day through this desolate forest. After some time, they saw the edge. They stepped out from the woods and found themselves in a vast meadow. Ayana gasped at what she saw in front of her. It was unlike anything she ever had seen in the village. The field of grass was charred and burning. There were puddles of bright blood all over as if it rained down the night before.
Ayana could not contain her shock as she walked through the meadow her eyes scanning the area. In the distance, she could see Stockholm. Smoke rose in billows from the town.
Ayana started to speak when Tarnink raised a single finger to his lips. They remained silent as they walked through the decaying grassland where flowers had grown. There were no flowers now, Ayana noted, no sign of life in the field. It was a bodiless battlefield. The sky that seemed so bright earlier now seemed bleak and heavy with smoke. Burnt grass and buildings wafted through the air burning Ayana’s nose.
Ayana and Tarnink observed the destruction in silence. The shock had worn away by the time she reached the town walls. She observed the iron gate; it was open and on its hinges and charred like the rest of this new empty world Ayana had stepped into. It swung back and forth in the breeze. The town itself seemed vacant except a few here and there dressed in rags and suffering burns. With wary glances the two entered the town.
As they entered the gate, they passed an old man wearing a brown cloak that stank of ale; she gave a sad smile at the man as they looked around. The buildings of the town smoldered, the fires having not died yet. Ayana looked around as she stepped over the charred body of a horse.
“What happened here?” she whispered
“Arajuan did this,” Tarnink replied, “every town he goes through he destroys. I am going to go speak to the man at the gate. Try to find out if the inn is open. They might have information there.”
“Yes, sir.” Ayana answered.
Ayana ambled through looking for an inn while stepping to avoid the puddles of blood. A woman sat by a fire pit wailing in grief. The woman threw herself at a pile of ashes. Ayana approached her and placed a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder. She noticed the bones of a small child in the pit. She shook her head of the thought; no one could be that cruel.
He couldn’t have, Arajuan was not the cause of all this, she thought. She had heard the stories, but she’d seen his eyes. They were not the eyes of a man who would kill children. She knew he had a child of his own. He wouldn’t have done this. No, not the man she linked to the scent of her protector, but the evidence was everywhere. Her stomach turned and her heart dropped as she passed the burnt buildings.
Ayana became startled by a gentle tug on her cloak. She turned around with a cautious hand on her hunting knife. Standing behind her was a young boy his pale face covered in dark ash. His short messy hair was jet black and his hands were small and dirty. His black eyes looked at her sad and dark. He peered through them and into her soul. Ayana smiled down on the boy taking her hand back off the knife.
“Well hello child, do you know where I might find an inn?” Ayana asked
“No inn, you must leave immediately. Do not stop in this town,” the child commanded.
The child’s voice was soft and ominous. He looked to the darkened skies, his black eyes wide. Large drops of blood rain fell on them. Now Ayana understood why everything dripped with blood. At that moment, Tarnink headed back toward her and she lurched forward as her stomach cramped again.
“What do you mean, child?” Ayana asked confused.
The look this child gave her was strange as if he was ancient. She never had seen the sky rain blood before.
“They will come and taking prisoners from this town. The men will be forced to serve Gori’s army and the women will become his slaves. You must leave,” The boy urged. “I can’t allow Gori to capture you.”
Tarnink sighed, “Why should we believe you, tell us who you are?”
“The rain is his warning, she must heed him. I was given something to give her. It might help her stomach and there is also this, maybe then you will trust me.”
The boy searched his pants and found a small vial of a silver-blue liquid. He showed this to her along with the arrow tip that Arajuan broke off the day before. Ayana’s eyes widened at the familiar object. Arajuan sent this child, she drew a breath, the sulfur was in the rain. Tarnink broke through her thoughts.
“How can we trust you?” Tarnink asked his voice stern, “You obviously know Arajuan met with us. Don’t you serve him?”
“I might. Even if I was working for Arajuan that does not change our situation, you are in danger. She must drink this,” the boy shoved the potion into Ayana’s hand.
“I will trust you, how soon do we have to leave,” she replied.
“Ayana,” Tarnink tested, “are you going to accept help from someone who tried to kill you?”
“Tarnink trust me, if he were to kill us, you and I would be dead already.” Ayana sighed “Well child?”
“I am Socrates. The command is to make sure you are safe. Now is the time to leave.”
The boy shoved the items into Ayana’s hands. He then shocked her by transforming into a raven and lifting off into the air. They could hear him cawing and then they heard drums.
“Hurry, the gate keeper gave me a similar warning,” Tarnink said.
Ayana and Tarnink ran through the town and escaped back into the woods. She sighed as they reached the small patch of forest. She looked over at Tarnink, despite him being older he had kept up with her speed. That was the benefit of being elven, you might age but the body does not.
Just as Ayana made this observation, her stomach twisted inside her. Ayana fell to the ground in pain. She still held the potion in her hand.
“Princess!” Tarnink cried out as he ran to her side taking the potion from her, “Are you all right?”
Ayana gripped her stomach curling into a ball. She grasped her knees to her chest. What magic did Arajuan use on her? Wracked with spasms her stomach had turned against her. He had not spared her; it felt like death. She vomited up a disgusting black substance as her body tried to purge itself.
Tarnink poured the vial that Socrates gave him into her mouth. As she drank, it down, and the pain vanished to her surprise. So, he did not intend for her to die. Maybe, she thought, he just wished for her to suffer. What he had done did not make sense, not if Arajuan was an enemy.
Tarnink unpacked once more in the shady spot they fled to. It was not too far from the burnt ruins which made it a risk, one they had to take. He set up the campsite while Ayana sat down on a tree stump consumed. Arajuan had let her live twice now. He sent the child to warn her about the soldiers returning to the city. She sat by the fire Tarnink had started as hard as she tried the pieces did not fit.
“Tarnink, you once knew Arajuan well right?” she asked.
“Yes, why do you ask?” He replied as he poked at the fire.
“Who is Socrates?” Ayana inquired.
“Socrates is Arajuan’s familiar, and it is good you trusted his word. I admit I did not know he could take on a child’s face. You think well and are quick to act, this will be vital for our success. As for Socrates, he is wise like his namesake. When Arajuan was alive.”
Ayana interrupted, “When he was alive? So he’s dead?”
“Some think he is undead, but no I’d say he is simply very ill, but it is hard to tell. As I was saying when he was alive he was a fierce warrior in another world called Gaia or Earth. He was a Spartan soldier, they were a warrior people. His father ordered him to murder his family and so he did. He slaughtered his children and his young wife Ilisia was found dead. She was murdered by her own beloved’s hand. He then went out to battle with his father’s blessing.” Tarnink told her as he heated his food.
“What does Ilisia have to do with Socrates?” She huffed.
“I am getting to that. When he reached the battlefield, his heart ached for his baby son and young daughter. He lost his stomach for war and begged a fellow soldier to kill him handing the soldier his own sword. The other Spartan ran the blade into Arajuan’s back killing him. Socrates flew down where Arajuan’s body laid upon the field and ate his left eye after which the bird never left his side.” Tarnink said, “Anything else you want to know?”
Ayana took this in, so Elewyn was not the first time he raised a family. The image of the dead child’s bones came to her. She gasped, if he slain his own children then he had to have killed that mother’s infant. How cruel, still most important was that she was told to trust Socrates. How could she trust him if he works for Arajuan?
“So, if Socrates is Arajuan’s familiar then he works for Arajuan. Why would Arajuan wish for us to be safe? Why would he have a bird protect us? And what makes him think I want his protection? I can protect myself.” Ayana said all at once.
Tarnink chuckled, “I do not know if Arajuan is behind the command Socrates mentioned, but if so I wonder the motive. Whatever his intentions it is not out of love but because he has use for you somehow. As for you not needing protection then may I ask why I am here?”
“Oh, I am so sorry Tarnink,” Ayana blushed, “I meant nothing against you.”
“No harm taken, little princess, now it is time to sleep.”
Tarnink stood up and went into his tent. Ayana felt so overwhelmed by the day; maybe if she slept it, all would be clearer. She looked up into one tree and thought for a moment she saw a raven. She shook her head and looked again and there was nothing there. Maybe she was seeing things due to stress. She ate a slice of jerky and went into her tent to sleep.