The air was cool and fresh, the sky clear and cloudless. Darting dragonflies flitted in every direction, stirring the air with the rhythmic beating of their wings, looking more like winged jewels than insects. Rabbits scurried away into hidden burrows and a herd of fallow deer sprinted towards the high wooded ridge in the distance.
The day would be lovely, but the awkward tension from the night hung in the air. After allowing the horses a breakfast of grass and a hearty drink, the group prepared them for the day’s journey in near silence.
Willow took the reins of Bellefire and Rohan mounted behind her. Devon took his usual seat upon Apollo. Willow was grateful to Rohan for finally breaking the silence.
“So, Devon, what are you going to do when we get back to Speratus?”
“I haven’t really planned that far ahead. I’m more of a by the cuff kind of guy. Maybe I’ll speak to Professor Edgar about taking on a position on the Germanitas Council. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind housing me at Credo until I get settled. Who knows, maybe we will be roommates?” Devon added with a laugh.
“Wouldn’t that be something? So you’re not going back to your hometown then?” Rohan asked, his loathing thinly veiled.
“There is nothing left for me there.”
So much of Devon’s history was clouded in mystery. He had carefully constructed walls to protect the fortress that was Devon Riley.
Instead of being put off by these walls, Willow was intrigued by the mystery, and secretly wished to learn more. She knew, in part, that the commonality of tragedy in their short lives made her feel that way. If anyone could understand how she felt, it was that young man whose parents met the same fate as her own. As Willow reflected upon the events that brought him into her life, she was struck by a curious thought:
“You know what doesn’t make any sense?”
“What?” Rohan asked.
“Well, the night before last,” -- the night Devon disappeared, she thought privately -- “I stayed up and listened to my parents’ journal to the end. And in almost every entry the Angels Grim is a common theme. My parents were constantly tailed by the Grim, always on the run from some trap or beast that they set upon them.”
“And?” Rohan asked.
“And, Devon, you told us countless tales of close calls and narrow escapes during your time with my parents.”
that’s all true.”
“Willow, where are you going with this?” Rohan asked evidently confused.
“Well, where are they -- the Grim, I mean? They murder my parents for attempting to track down the same armor that they are letting us take without contention. It doesn’t make any sense. If this armor is important enough to kill for, why let a few kids walk off with it?”
Rohan agreed. “You’re spot on. It really doesn’t make much sense.”
“It’s a good point, but can you really say without a doubt that the Grim has not been present?” Devon countered. “This is exactly what I meant last night. The Angels Grim has obviously shifted tactics. They are no longer out in plain view and fear and violence seem to be absent in their plan, but for how long one can only speculate. What if their new plan is to gain our trust until an opportune time? Salvador could very well be one of them!”
Willow could finally understand what he had tried to explain the night before. But she was not swayed. Everything in her heart and soul told her that Salvador was precisely who he claimed to be.
She opened her mouth to explain, but Rohan cut her off, “Using that logic – how do we know we can trust you, you ungrateful pretentious prig! We know as little about you as we do about Salvador! In fact, I feel like I know him more! You show up at Credo demanding to join our quest, disappear without explanation, and are bent on corrupting our view of the one person who has saved our skins! What’s your game??”
“Rohan, that’s enough!” Willow said, embarrassed by his outburst. As much as she disagreed with Devon’s suspicions, she could not doubt his sincere concern. “He is just looking out for us.”
“It’s okay, Willow,” Devon said. “He is right.”
“I knew it! I told you!” Rohan shouted, drawing his wand.
“What do you mean?” Willow asked anxiously, restraining Rohan’s outstretched arm. “He’s right about what part?”
“What do you really know about me? Until I showed up at Credo, you were ignorant of my very existence. And I readily admit I have been guarded. But that is a product of my parents’ murders, not some ploy to overthrow your quest. There is a flaw in Rohan’s logic, however-”
“Oh, yeah? And what’s that?” Rohan said, shaking with near uncontrollable rage.
“Mr. and Mrs. Payton trusted me entirely. They led me to the journal, and I in turn brought it to Willow. If I was a member of the Angels Grim and had come across the journal, wouldn’t I have gone straight to Abaddon? It would be a death wish to give it to anyone but him. So why would I willingly seek out and give it to a Torchbearer, a member of the very race he is trying to destroy? I’m a walking dead man if he is my master.”
Rohan continued to glare at him, seething, but Willow knew he was defeated. What possible retort was there to such an iron clad defense? Rohan slowly lowered his wand, and stewed in livid silence.
The low hills were gradually steepening, rising in higher pine clad ridges. In the distance, frowning cliffs cast deep shadows darkening the pine forest. Beyond the cliffs, a range of deep blue peaks punctuated the horizon as the sun made its slow decent.
The travelers came across a small trickle of fresh water that eventually became a proud stream which finally broadened into a wide river cascading down from a far away cliff. They bivouacked in the soft grass edging the river and fell into their old routines -- Devon headed up stream to catch dinner, while Willow and Rohan started a fire and tended to the horses.
In Devon’s absence, Willow could no longer contain herself:
“What is your problem? Attacking Devon like that?”
“What’s yours? How can you continue to trust him? He is so shady. We still don’t know where he disappeared to or why, for that matter. And you know Salvador is the Lord Protector’s son, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. There's no doubt.”
“So how come both of us understand it so wholeheartedly, but Devon seems so blind? Explain that to me.”
“I don’t have to...Salvador already did.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“After Salvador calmed the seas, he explained that everyone finds truth in their own time. Not everyone opens their eyes at the same moment. I had a feeling he was talking to one of us specifically, and it has become apparent that he was addressing Devon.”
“He also said that some people never open their eyes. How do you know he wasn’t talking about Devon then, too?”
“Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. But that isn’t our call to make. Who are we to make judgments like that?”
“I’m telling you, Devon is bad news! I can feel it in every fiber of my being. If you keep putting your trust in him, this is going to end badly.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re jealous!” Willow shouted before she could stop herself.
obviously stung, flushed scarlet. He tightened his hands into fists. The skin
at his knuckles was white.
“What if I am! Would that be so terrible? You’ll never see me that way, will you? Open your eyes, Willow! I don’t even know why we’re friends anymore. You obviously think so little of me,” Rohan said fighting back tears as he stalked off into the pine forest.
Willow was left stunned. How did their conversation end up there? She knew her feelings toward Rohan were changing but never dreamed that they would have been reciprocated. It certainly explained Rohan’s constant animosity towards Devon. How long had he felt this way about her? Could this have been the secret he had been keeping for ten years? Could she really have been so morosely disillusioned for that long? And where did that leave them now?
As long as both their feelings had remained unsaid, they were able to continue on the same path that had been ten years in the making. Now that Rohan’s feelings were out in the open, there was no taking them back. They could no longer continue straight ahead -- they were at a crossroads. They could turn to the right or the left, but the path ahead was forever barred to them.
They could either explore those new feelings and see where it took them, possibly risking their friendship in the process, or ignore them and pray that the bitterness of unrequited love would not corrode their friendship. Each choice had equally harsh yet different consequences. There was a give and a take to either decision -- a sacrifice and a reward.
Willow internally cursed herself for bringing the word “jealous” into their fight. She had broken her own rule of maintaining an airy and carefree relationship with Rohan, and now she had to pay the consequences -- whatever they might be. And what of her feelings for Devon? How was she to handle them?
Then something clicked. It was with Rohan she would receive true and lasting happiness. The second she was about to receive what she had always needed but never knew she wanted, she had sabotaged it. . All she knew was that she might have just lost the best thing that could have ever happened to her.
Willow’s thoughts were interrupted by Devon, returning with a string of freshly caught fish.
“Where’s Rohan?” he asked, appraising Willow’s dejection. “He’s not still upset about earlier is he?”
“No, it’s me he’s mad at.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course. I’m always here if you change your mind though. How about you help me cook the fish?”
“Sure,” Willow said, grateful for the distraction.
The fish cooked quickly over the hot fire, and there was really not much to be done. Willow could not keep herself from scanning the woods every few minutes.
“They’re ready,” Devon said pulling at the hot fish. “We’ll save some for Rohan. There’s plenty. But it’s better hot.”
Devon handed her a tin plate. Willow picked idly at the steaming fish, burning the tips of her fingers. She could not find her appetite and after a few minutes she set the plate down. She was truly worried. The woods were a deep black, and there was no sign of Rohan.
“He’ll be fine,” Devon said following her gaze. “He has his wand. He’s probably just blowing off some steam. I think he is a bit threatened by the idea of us. He’ll be back soon enough. Why don’t you get some rest? I’ll wait up for him.”
“Alright,” Willow said, stunned by Devon’s wording. What did he mean exactly by his phrasing, threatened by the idea of us? She was too worried to dwell on it though, and her mind quickly settled back to her fears for Rohan. She stretched out reluctantly beside the fire. She closed her eyes, but sleep failed her.
Willow opened her eyes into infinitesimal slits and watched as Rohan sulked into camp. She was concerned that he was going to have another confrontation with Devon, and held her breath as she continued to feign sleep.
“Hey, there. We saved you some fish,” Devon offered.
Rohan spoke without emotion. “Thanks.”
He plucked at the fish, for once not seeming hungry.
“I found this while I was fishing,” Devon said, holding out his open palm.
Willow opened her eyes a bit wider to see what he was showing Rohan. It appeared to be a smooth round marbled stone. Emerald and sapphire light swirled on its surface. Devon flipped his hand, letting the stone dangle from its leather cord.
“I turned it into a necklace,” he said.
“What is it?”
“It’s a Unicorn’s eye.”
“It’s not an actual eye. It’s just a stone that resembles the eye of a Unicorn. It is said to bring the wearer great luck.”
“Do you mind if I take a closer look at it?”
“Actually, you can have it. Consider it a peace offering.”
“Really?” Rohan asked warily.
“I’m really not as bad as you make me out to be, you know.”
“Thanks, mate. And I know; it’s just that it’s always been just Willow and me for as long as I can remember. I can’t lose her.”
“Hey, I get it. But I really am just trying to help. I have a feeling you’ll always be friends, no matter what happens down the road with us.”
“Yeah, friends,” Rohan said glumly. He examined the beautiful stone before letting it hang from his neck. “Thanks again, mate. You want me to take the first watch?”
“Sure,” Devon said, stretching out next to Willow. “Goodnight.”
Before closing her eyes, Willow caught a sinister red gleam in Rohan’s eye as he watched Devon scoot closer to her and drape his arm around her. She assumed the fire was playing tricks on her. Rohan knew they slept that way for warmth. In a few hours it would be his arm around her, and even he could not deny the kindness in Devon’s gift.
But she was haunted by his expression nevertheless.