The ring of eman vath, p.8
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       The Ring of Eman Vath, p.8

           Hal Emerson
She woke with a start the next morning, groggy and completely unable to comprehend why she was laying in a huge, messy pile of hay.

  When she tried to move, her body creaked, groaned, and popped like a warped wooden deck ill-fitted. Sunlight danced in through the cracks of the old loft wall, and a single beam had filtered through the dusty air to fall across her face and wake her. She groaned and rolled onto her stomach; her lower back gave out a particularly loud crack of protest. She started to rub the sleep from her eyes but then thought of the straw and decided against it. She glanced across the hayloft –

  The Sorev Ael was gone.

  Shocked, she shot to her feet and began examining the space from different angles, trying to peer into the shadowed corners to find him. But despite her frantic searching, there was no escaping the fact that Valinor was simply gone. Cursing to try to make herself feel braver, she raced down the ladder to the floor of the stable, already expecting the worst. Maybe he had made off with the horse and all their provisions – a horse like Col would fetch a good price anywhere, and –

  Col looked up at her as she landed painfully on the packed-dirt floor, her legs not quite working properly yet. He stopped chewing his hay long enough to toss his head and eye her with an air of effrontery before turning away. He, at least, looked much refreshed.

  “You could have slept longer,” said the steady voice of the Sorev Ael.

  She spun and saw him slipping back through the door of the stable with a loaf of bread and an earthenware pitcher. He did not seem to notice her fear, but instead tore off half the loaf and tossed it to her with a casual motion, then turned around where he stood and sat on the floor. He eyed his bread critically, seemed to confirm that yes, it was indeed bread, and then attacked it with gusto.

  He looked different this morning. His eyes were no longer sunk back in their sockets, and his skin was cleaner and tighter, without the grime and sweat of several days’ exertion. His black hair with the graying temples looked less tangled and dirty, as though he had at least attempted to pull a comb through it, and his movements were sharper and lighter.

  He looked up and caught her watching him.

  “Aren’t you going to eat?”

  After an awkward moment wherein she wondered if she should apologize for staring and then thought better of it, she came forward and sat down across from him. She glanced at the half loaf of bread in her hand and realized she was ravenous. Her stomach growled at her and pinched inward to further emphasize its point, and so she bit into the bread, which she found out was warm and freshly buttered. Within seconds, the whole half loaf was gone. She chewed the butt thickly, swallowed it down, and then grabbed up the earthenware pitcher and tipped it back, gulping its contents: clear, cool water that tasted sweeter than honey.

  “You look better,” she said abruptly, trying to start a conversation. She did not want to admit it, but she was incredibly relieved he hadn’t left her, and she felt like celebrating by pushing her luck from the night before.

  He grunted vaguely but otherwise made no reply. He was still focused on the remaining heel of his half of the loaf. His pace had slowed, and he was chewing it thoughtfully as he contemplated the dwindling remainder.

  “How long has it been since the last time you slept?” she asked.

  He glanced at her and arched an eyebrow, then smirked and turned back to his heel of bread, looking it over once more before taking a final bite. He spoke out of the corners of his mouth around the edges of the chunk:

  “Five days.”

  Her eyebrows ascended her forehead and her mouth dropped open.

  “But that’s not possible!” she said.

  “How do you know?”

  “Because I’ve tried it!”

  It was his turn to look surprised. For the first time that morning, he turned his full attention to her and seemed startled by what he found. His gaze intensified, and her heart palpitated nervously in her chest. His burnt-black eyes combed through her and picked her apart as a strange heat grew in the pit of her stomach.

  He barked a laugh and spun to his feet, wiping his hands on his trousers.

  “I believe you have,” he said with a grin. The smile had an amazing effect on him – whole years dropped off, and he looked almost youthful. “But Sorev Ael can do what most people cannot. I needed to be awake until such time as we reached Londor – I was prepared to go for the rest of the week if necessary.”

  She found herself watching him carefully for any hint of a lie, but she did not see one. He was acting as though this was nothing more interesting or involved than taking a long walk.

  “But how?” she insisted. “Do you just try? Or is it magic? Or do you need – ”

  “There is no such thing as magic,” he interrupted, and the chastisement was clear in his voice. The smile was gone, and he was frowning. “Remember what you’re told; I will not repeat myself again. There is only knowledge. I understand the world, and myself, and so I can do what most cannot. Eventually you’ll understand. In Var Athel they will give you the schooling you need.”

  He moved to his roan horse and began rummaging around in the saddlebags. Anger rose up in her, hot and sharp. How was she supposed to remember what he’d told her when she was dead tired? And why did that little detail matter?

  “Why was Dunlow attacked?” she asked, crossing her arms across her chest just as her mother did when she was upset. She had not planned the question, but the indignant tone in which she asked it fit her mood perfectly.

  He paused in the middle of his action, and she saw his shoulders tense briefly before he continued on rummaging. He did not respond, but instead leaned down and lifted the unconscious body of the raider into the saddle and began to tie him in place once more.

  “What were they trying to get?” she pressed, her frustration pushing her. “That man said that they were looking for people. Why would they want people? And why would they go all the way over the Windy Mountains to get them?”

  “I’m not sure,” he evaded, still tying the raider in place, though the knots looked perfectly tight already.

  “No – you do know,” she accused him, suddenly bursting out in a huge rush of words. “You came into Dunlow and you left with half of it burned. And you told me I can be a Sorev Ael and you just took me away, and you have a man who looks like he’s dead on your horse, and you don’t say a single word to me the whole time we’re traveling and all of that means you don’t know? I’m thirteen – I’m not stupid!”

  Valinor had finally stopped fiddling and turned to look at her, and his eyes grew narrower with every word. When she fell silent, he shook his head.

  “There are some things of which I cannot speak.”

  “They came for my family!” she said, almost shouting now, her whole body rigid with anger.

  He did not respond to the outburst. Instead, he just watched her, with such intensity that he seemed to be memorizing her face. There were thoughts going on beneath the surface of his mind – she could see them, like shadows of movement beneath a still pond, but she couldn’t read them. What was he thinking?

  “Then go back to your family and see if they care that you’re throwing a tantrum,” he said brusquely. She felt her cheeks warm until she was sure they were glowing, and she tried to sputter out a response, but he gave her no time. “Otherwise, get on your horse, act your age, and follow me.”

  He untied his roan from the hitching post, mounted in a single fluid motion, and heeled the horse out of the stable, all before she could say a thing.

  She rushed to the door and saw him already heading for the PenRo.

  He’ll stop and wait for me, she thought. He will.

  He showed no sign of slowing, though. In fact, as she watched, his horse picked up speed until it was trotting along at a decent clip, bouncing the sleeping brigand up and down ridiculously as it went.

  With the begins of panic, she rushed for Col and mounted as quickly as she could, throwing the saddle over his back, pulling the s
traps tight, vaulting herself up into the seat, and then wheeling him about. The gelding let loose a whinny of protest at such ill treatment, but she cursed at him, then apologized, and finally managed to maneuver him out of the barn. With a burst of speed, she raced after the Sorev Ael, her cheeks still red with a combination of fury and mortification.

  Fine. If he won’t talk to me, then I won’t talk to him. Let’s see how he likes it.

  The next few days passed in total silence, and Valinor seemed to find this a vast improvement.

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