Willow woke drained and dispirited after a fitful night’s sleep. Looking around the small room, she confirmed her fears that Devon did not return sometime late in the night.
By all accounts, they were to continue their quest that morning. They had tickets for the eight o’clock ferry that would take them to South Port. Were they supposed to get on the ferry without Devon? It was a two and a half day, seventy-five mile journey to the Valley of Weeping from South Port. How long could they wait there before they must head out? Every day was precious; every day they waited, the world of Tutis remained unprotected.
“Willow?” Rohan yawned rolling over to face her.
“Morning. Still no Devon, huh?”
“What do you think we should do?”
really don’t know.”
“I think we should stick to the plan. Devon knows it, and he will know where to find us.”
“I guess you’re right. But I don’t feel right about leaving him behind.”
“Willow, he left us. Not the other way around. Besides, we can leave a note with Mr. Cenwig. He can pass it on to Devon if he comes back here looking for us.”
They walked downstairs to get some breakfast and check out. Thankfully, the seamen were sleeping off their stupor from last night’s festivities, and Willow and Rohan ate in peace. They ordered hot coffee, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Willow ate slowly, chewing each bite excessively. Some part of her idly believed that if she ate slow enough Devon would burst through the door.
Rohan guessed her game, “Willow, if he’s not here by now, we have to assume we are on our own, for today at least. Besides if you keep chewing that slowly, we’ll miss the ferry.”
“I know. This is just not how I saw things playing out.”
“Everything will work out for the best. I’m going to run up the street and stock up on some supplies for the rest of our trip -- we are in dire need of blankets for one thing. Promise me you’ll have finished chewing by the time I’m back.”
Willow rolled her eyes but agreed, “I promise.”
Willow watched Rohan walk out the door, but could not bring herself to eat another bite. She was only eating for Rohan’s benefit after all. She woke up without an appetite, and the smell of bacon and eggs did nothing to stir it that morning. She idly pushed her food around her plate for a few more minutes and then slowly rose from the table.
She decided to get their bill squared away with Mr. Cenwig while Rohan was shopping. Mr. Cenwig was behind the bar cleaning glasses in preparation for the morning rush.
“Problem with the eggs, dear?” he asked, eying her barely touched plate.
“Oh, no. They were great, thanks. I was not very hungry. I just want to settle our bill. We are headed out this morning, remember?”
A look of disappointment flashed across his face as he said, “I was hoping you three could stay a few days longer. You deserve to take it easy after yesterday’s adventure. You’re sure you can’t postpone your trip a few more days -- on the house, of course?”
“No. I’m sorry. I really appreciate it though. That’s very generous of you, but we have urgent business in the Ploratus Alps.”
“Let me guess. The Valley of Weeping?”
“Yes, sir,” Willow said, nodding.
“You three are gluttons for punishment, you are. The Valley of Weeping is no place for child’s play. Though you proved us all wrong with the Leviathan, that’s for sure,” he said shaking his head in disbelief.
Willow handed him the note saying, “Would you mind terribly passing this on to Devon Riley when you see him? Rohan and I are getting a head start.”
“Right-o, anything for you, Missy. I’ll pass it on, the first opportunity I get,” he obliged.
“Thank you kindly.”
She squared the bill to much protest; Mr. Cenwig insisted that they owed him nothing on account of all the business their escapade brought in.
attempted to pay for a few extra carrots, apples, and sugar lumps for Apollo
and Bellefire, but he refused pointblank saying, “Absolutely not. Take as many
as you’d like, free of charge.”
As she walked out the door, he called out, “You and your friends have a room here anytime you’re in town. Don’t be strangers now.”
Willow gave a friendly wave and said, “Thank you sir. You have been so kind!”
Willow walked out to the stable to prepare the horses. With the help of a mounting block, she was able to saddle both horses with ease. As she was adjusting Bellefire’s stirrups, Rohan met up with her with a canvas sac full of goods dangling from his wrist. Devon took nothing with him when he left, so they still had his bow and other personal articles.
They loaded the saddle bags with their restored rations and secured the Shield of Faith before leading the horses out to the dock where they would catch the ferry. The ferry was moored at the far end of the dock, the gangplank lowered and ready for boarding. It was a wood vessel powered by oarsmen below deck, who shifted out at each port. The main deck was lined with wooden benches, and several stalls for horses and cattle were located at the stern. The ferry captain was posted at the tiller on the poop deck, greeting his guests as they boarded.
It was a short thirty minute ride across the Strait of Veritas to South Port. They secured the horses in the stalls and then found seats along the wooden benches. Willow looked back toward North Port. The morning sun dazzled her eyes as it danced upon the water’s surface.
She could not fully appreciate the beauty of it, worrying about Devon. Rohan seemed to sense that and left her to her thoughts. He all but danced aboard the ferry that morning, a bounce in every step. He undeniably could not have been happier with the way things had turned out.
They disembarked in South Port, a perfect mirror of it’s northern counterpart. As they walked down the gangplank onto the dock leading their horses, Willow noticed that everyone was starring at them in awed wonder. Apparently word of yesterday’s adventure had made its way across the strait. No one seemed brave enough to approach them, so Willow and Rohan ignored their gazes and mounted their horses.
“Which way is the Valley of Weeping?” Rohan asked.
“It’s about seventy five miles northwest of here.”
They left the road, cutting through an alleyway between two shops and made their way into the woods that surrounded the port.
“You know I’m not very good with directions so maybe you should lead,” Willow said to Rohan.
“I’m no Devon Riley, but I’ll do my best,” Rohan said, through a huge grin.
Willow knew he was just trying to be funny, but found no humor in his words. Rohan caught her mood and concentrated on pinpointing their direction.
Devon seemed to be able to navigate expertly, his sole dependence on the signs of nature. But navigation was not Rohan’s area of expertise. He pulled out his wand and opened the map.
He pointed the tip of the wand at the map and said the word “Contemplor.”
Two tiny black dots appeared marking their current location. He studied their course for a moment before folding up the map and storing it within reach for easy access. He turned Apollo in the appropriate direction and dug in his heels, Willow following on Bellefire.
About midday the woods opened up to vast lawns scattered with rocks, heather, and the occasional tree. They traveled quickly across the level ground, sheltered from the southwest wind by a high wooded ridge.
Willow found Rohan’s high spirits infectious and after awhile could not resist smiling and laughing along with him.
“Can you imagine everyone’s faces when we get back to Speratus? Just think of all the things we’ve seen and done! We were the talk of North Port after one day; we’ll be the royalty of Credo!” Rohan said.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Willow said, smiling at the idea despite herself.
The dynamic between Willow and Rohan quickly settled into comfortable familiarity now that they were alone. Willow marveled at how different the journey might have been if Devon had not shown up at Credo. She had often thought that they would have been lost without him, but watching Rohan in that moment, so self-assured and carefree and leading her with confidence, she questioned herself.
Rohan seemed like he was capable of anything, even mastering his previously inept riding skills. For there was no longer any doubt, he was a man – no longer a boy. In his presence Willow felt childlike awe. It seemed that as he was finding himself, she was finding him.
Willow could not reconcile her conflicting emotions. With Devon she felt an inexplicable magnetism, and so often in his presence she was a giddy school girl striving for his attentions. However, for the first time in ten years, she felt like she was really seeing Rohan and had a deep desire to be worthy of his love.
“Did you hear what I said, Willow? Willow!”
“Hm, oh sorry, what?”
“Do you think things will ever be the same after this?”
As she said the words, she was struck by the weight of their truth.
There was not much shelter from the cold breeze that night as the wind had shifted course, but they managed to make do behind some shrubs. Rohan had bought some dried jerky while in North Port, and they chewed on it, savoring the salty juices as the horses grazed in the dim light.
As they bent over their newly lit fire to warm their hands, Willow heard a splash in the creek behind them. Rohan stiffened, a strip of jerky still clenched between his teeth.
Willow called out into the night, “Who’s there?” as Rohan fumbled for his wand.
“It’s just me, Devon Riley,” Devon said, walking around the shrubs, arms held aloft before Rohan’s drawn wand.
Relief flooded through Willow’s features. Rohan grudgingly lowered his wand.
A smile a mile wide spread across Willow's face. “Oh, thank goodness! You gave us a fright, but I’m so glad you’re here! We were so worried.”
Rohan coughed loudly. Willow took in his crestfallen expression. The three stood awkwardly, saying nothing. Willow was dying to ask where he had been and what he had been doing but wasn't able to bring herself to do so. It did not appear that Devon was going to volunteer the information. She hoped Rohan would ask for her, but a glance in his direction told her he was too disappointed to be interested.
Willow decided to ask a safer question: “How did you find us?”
“I’m Devon Riley, of course. Was there ever any doubt?”
Rohan scowled, muttering incoherently under his breath.
“Actually, I just missed the eight o’clock ferry. I thought I would make it back in time, but I was five minutes late. I made it to the docks in time to see it make its way out of the bay. I caught the nine o’clock ferry and followed your trail from South Port, tracking you to here. With your head start and the horses to speed things along, I fell behind. But as you can plainly see, I have caught up.”
“We’re so glad. Are you hungry? We have some jerky,” Willow offered.
Rohan roughly passed some jerky to Devon without saying a word. The trio fell into another awkward silence.
Devon broke it after several minutes. “So I’ve been thinking...what do we really know about this Salvador fellow? How do we know he is really on our side?”
“Well, he saved us for one thing!” Rohan said, a little too loudly, before Willow could ask about the journal entry.
“Yes, but why? Everyone has an angle. What if he wants the armor for himself and is only helping us until he can get his hands on it.”
“That’s rubbish, and you know it! If he wants it, he can have it. After all, his father was the one who gave it to the people of Tutis in the first place.”
“So he says. How do we know he really is who he says he is? Where’s the proof?”
“He calmed the seas and tamed the Leviathan for goodness sake! How’s that for proof? What more do you need?” Rohan shouted, going red in the face.
“Simple magic. It can all be explained. You are a wizard, are you not? Maybe he is just a more powerful one. Just because you aren’t capable of such magic, doesn’t mean it is not possible.”
“My parents seemed to recognize the truth, as you well know. I read through the rest of the journal last night. Why didn’t you tell me?” Willow broke in, trying her best not to sound accusatory.
“I knew you would ask me that eventually. It was the one point of contention -- the one thing we didn’t see eye to eye about -- between your parents and me. I avoided bringing it up because I didn’t want to taint my memory of them in any way,” Devon said as his eyes welled over with tears.
Willow’s heart broke for him, and compassion and sympathy won over her anger at being lied to. It was clear that he cared for her parents much more than she could have guessed. Maybe he saw them as second parents -- he was an orphan after all.
That word seemed like a poor description for this strong young man. In her mind, the word orphan conjured up a much different picture. She imagined a little child, barefoot and dressed in filthy rags, scouring the streets in the dead of winter for food and a warm place to sleep. She understood now, how narrow minded that idea was.
With a start, Willow realized that she was an orphan, too. Since learning of her parents’ deaths, she had never once put things in that perspective. Looking at things in that light, only made her feel that much more alone.
“Besides, I thought it would be best for you to form your own opinions,” he continued. “Your parents were wise but very trusting. If the situation was reversed, I don’t know if I would have been able to confide in them.”
Willow’s eyes widened in shock at his admission.
“Please, don’t get me wrong -- I am so glad that they felt that they could trust me. But I tend to be a tad more skeptical than they were -- you never know who you can really trust. In fact, I often wonder if it wasn’t their very trust in this man, Salvador, that led to their destruction. It wasn’t until they began to have faith in him that their position was compromised.”
“I guess I can understand why you would have shied away from discussing this, but why do you have such doubts about Salvador?”
“Why do you have such trust in him?” he countered.
“It’s more of a feeling,” Willow said. Trying to explain the complexities of her heart was difficult. How did one describe the indescribable?
“I know it in my heart -- my very core. It's...it’s faith, I guess,” she concluded, feeling less than profound.
“Faith? But what is faith compared to facts? I’m telling you, the facts don’t add up. Take the warning about the Fire Snakes, for instance. Its pure foolishness. I told you, they can’t bite humans. And the warning about someone coming into our camp -- that’s a crock if ever I heard one. How many days have we been camping out in the wilderness now? And the only one -- well human, anyway -- that we have ever run across that has posed any kind of threat is him! Just think it over and in the meantime I’ll take first watch,” Devon said abruptly ending the conversation before Willow and Rohan could even digest his words or form a rebuttal.
Willow and Rohan laid out by the fire, exchanging stares of confusion. Willow wondered how Devon could feel so much distrust towards the man who had saved them more than once.
Rohan whispered, “Psst...psst,” to Willow, but Devon turned his head.
Apparently Rohan wanted to discuss Devon’s take on things as badly as Willow did, but Devon was sitting only a few feet away from where they lay. Rohan seemed to think better of having this conversation in Devon’s hearing and said, “Goodnight, Willow,” as he rolled over onto his side.
“Night, Rohan,” she said. Willow took several minutes to reign in her thoughts, as her mind worked over the mystery of Devon’s absence and his jaded take on Salvador’s aid.