Knowledge and Death
“Alright Voren! Today is the day!” Ihloden announced flinging open the door to Voren room. Voren groaned and pulled the covers back over his head.
“Please leave me alone,” he said, “The sun hasn’t even come up yet Ihloden.”
“I know. We have to get started early boy, or else the game will be too frisky to catch. Come on Voren,”
Ihloden said the last part with a grunt pulling the covers off the young man. Voren let out an anguished cry and launched himself at Ihloden to get the covers. They both had a short wrestling match in which Ihloden succeeded in tying up Voren’s hands and Voren succeeded in kicking the legs out from under Ihloden. Ihloden lay on the floor, still holding the covers that bound Voren.
“Now that you are all up and nicely warmed too, we can head over to Nurilah’s for breakfast,” he said grinning.
Voren snarled at him, “Let me get my clothes on.”
They both made the long walk to Nurilah’s house in the dawn-dark. Voren walked still a bit grumpily, hugging his arms around his body. Ihloden chuckled and poked him till he put down his hands.
“Lighten up,” he said, “It will get better. You have been waiting to go hunting for a long time now. And I also put off getting game so we can have a nice long hunt today.”
Voren sighed and then smiled, “Well that is true. Thanks for this Ihloden.”
Ihloden stood stock still in the road. “What was that? The great Voren saying thank you. You must be getting a fever, for sure. You sure you able to go hunting to day?”
Voren laughed and pushing him gently, “Quit playing around, or else we will never reach Nurilah’s house.”
They reached Nurilah’s house just as the sky was moving from the inky black of the night to the gentle blue for the morning. Nurilah was waiting for them when they arrived. She ushered them in and they both went gratefully to the fire. Ihloden got his usual hunting gear.
“Oh by the way Voren,” Nurilah said coming from the kitchen with bread and cheese and hot drinks, “I have something for you.”
Voren sat up straight, “What is it?” he asked. She handed him a large roughly bound package. Voren stared at it for a moment and then opened it to reveal hunting clothes, a bow and arrows, a small knife and a pair of boots. He swallowed and then shook his head.
“I…,” he paused and swallowed again, “Thanks.”
Nurilah nodded knowingly and then clapped him on the head, “Well go and see if it fits,” she said.
Voren disappeared hurriedly into one of the bedrooms. Ihloden smiled at Nurilah, “Thanks for giving him that. He really appreciates it.”
“I know,” she said, “His eyes say it all.”
“How are you doing?” she said. The smile dropped off his face and Ihloden let all the worry and guilt that he had been feeling for the past five days show on his face.
“I don’t know,” he said his voice thick with depression, “I am not sure what I did was right. I made my choice and now I know they will never make that offer back again. But suppose I am wrong. Suppose because of what I did Lyficen rules over us forever and that he is never defeated.”
Nurilah took Ihloden’s hands in hers, “We all make decisions that we are never sure of, Ihloden. But what we can always be sure of is our beliefs. If we make decisions based on what we believe then things will always turn out right.” Ihloden swallowed hard then nodded.
“I hope so,” he said softly.
“Hope is all that we have,” she said equally softly. Then on an impulse, Ihloden grabbed Nurilah in a tight hug. She hugged him back just as fiercely. Just then Voren came into the kitchen.
“Am I disturbing something?” he said quietly. They both released and looked at him.
“Well, well, well,” Nurilah said, “You do look like a hunter now.”
Ihloden nodded along with her putting back up his happy face. Ihloden and Voren both ate quickly while listening to various bits of advice from Nurilah. Ihloden brushed off the last of the crumbs from his short jacket and pants.
“Well time to go. You ready Voren?” Voren nodded and got up as well.
Nurilah hugged both of them around their shoulders, “Have a fun time boys.” They both nodded and then went out into the now twilight morning.
Ihloden and Voren slipped into the forest, they slung out the bows and arrows and began moving deeper in.
“Settle here,” Ihloden whispered, “And watch this.”
Voren settled in the brush beside Ihloden. Ihloden glanced at the sky and then held up his hand. He began dropping his fingers slowly; from five to four to three to two. He held them at two for a little longer then to one finger then in swung his hand as if to usher in something. Just at that moment the sun burst over the horizon and struck into the forest. Voren gasped as the sunlight sprung the world in to life and the birds burst into song immediately. Ihloden grinned at him.
“It is amazing,” Voren said, “I mean I did hate it for a while. But it is truly amazing.”
“You hated the forest?” Ihloden said incredulously.
“Well the last time I was in it I was hanging from my horse by my leg and being dragged through it. And then I got attacked and carried off by a huge orange cat beast.”
Ihloden shrugged, “Oh right. Well we hopefully won’t meet any Fangor here today.”
“Hopefully not,” Voren agreed.
For the next hour or so they both searched and tacked game in the wood. Ihloden showed Voren how to notice the signs of game and how to not get confused with crossed trails. He showed him how to track the movement of game as they ran and when to time a shot. By noon day they had had five wild birds between them. Ihloden was still tracking the path of some deer. He would have gotten them long ago but Voren was noisy in the wood and the deer were being warned of their presence and so was going into hiding before they even got sight of them. But he was not worried. The trees had tactfully stayed silent while they were hunting as well. He also had led Voren far away from the Griffin’s living area, not wanting to even risk a chance of Voren seeing the Griffin. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the guy or trust him; but that trust did not run deeply. And despite all Voren had told him, he still did not know him that well. They sat under a tree next to a small trickle of a stream to eat lunch. They had just finished when a wave a horror washed over him. Ihloden recoiled from the unexpected link with the Griffin.
“Ihloden what is wrong?” Voren said reaching out to him. The horror was still affecting him and as Voren reached out to him, he screamed as if all his worst nightmares came to life. “Ihloden!” Voren said grabbing, “What is it?”
He felt the Griffin searching for him and he pulled away from Voren calling for it to come. He heard Voren asking him who was Arvad. The emotion changed to a sick, anxious feeling. The feeling sank into his stomach and lodged there until he felt like throwing up.
“Arvad,” he whispered, “what is going on?” Voren was standing over him, halfway reaching to him, his face wrinkled with worry. Ihloden looked up at him, barely able to see straight, the intensity of the Griffin’s emotions made the world spin around him. He then felt the Griffin send a wave of summoning, so powerful and intense that he gasped for air. He spun around to get the general direction, and then took off.
He heard Voren running after him, but soon Voren’s voice that was calling after him stopped and all that was heard was the sound their feet and their panting. Ihloden followed the summoning like a hound on a scent dodging through trees, jumping over bushes and scattering wild animals. Then out of the trees the Griffin burst out, its sides heaving with effort. It skidded to a stop, wings splaying out and mouth open. They were somewhere near the village. The Griffin screeched at him. Behind the Griffin three figures burst out as well. Ihloden saw the milk white skin and the metal gliding out of their skin as the creatures stopped as well. It was the Kaarvahs. He screamed for the Griffin to come to him. Arvad sprang over to him just as Voren pulled up next to him. The Kaarvahs spread out to form a rough semi-circle but for some reason seemed un-sure of how to act. Voren flashed a quick look at the Kaarvahs then an even longer look at the Griffin. The Kaarvahs lunged toward them.
Ihloden could not remember much what happened. All he knew was that he jumped to climb onto Arvad. He heard Voren scream beside him. Somehow he reached onto the Griffin’s back and the weird link sealed them into their own little world. The Griffin screamed at the Kaarvahs and lunged at them. There was a blur of fighting. A Kaarvah leapt high into the air only to be struck down by the Griffin’s claws. The claws sank deep into the Kaarvah’s body. The thing actually had a surprised look on its face.
The second one had dived under the Griffin. Ihloden actually felt the pain of the strike as the Kaarvah sliced the Griffin’s foreleg. He saw Voren dive for one of the Kaarvahs. He screamed for him to stop. The Griffin reared up and with one flap raised into the air enough to see the Kaarvah then it fell like a stone onto the creature, holding onto the arms and the beak snapped about the head. The grim joy of the kill coursed through Ihloden. He then frantically looked for Voren and saw him standing up, swaying a bit drunken over the dead body of the Kaarvah. He turned to face Ihloden and began saying something. But Ihloden could not hear him. Then he realized that he could not hear anything at all. The trees about him were shaking but he could not hear the noise. The Griffin looked back at him and he saw the realization in its eyes. He slipped off the Griffin and began running towards the village.
Ihloden ran in the unnatural silence. He knew he was too far to see the blue fire that accompanied the silence. He ran faster, willing his legs to move. He stumbled many times. He ignored the whipping of the branches across his face and arms as well as the trickles of blood that followed. His breath began to come ragged and his throat and chest burned, but he dared not stop. He pushed himself faster and harder, until he realized that he could hear again. He paused long enough to get his bearings. He was still about half an hour from the village. He took a breath that came like out a half cry; half scream and then began running again. His legs were feeling numb and he could not remember what it was like to breathe by the time be burst out of the tree line that faced Molvn. He bent over double and fell to his knees. He heard the Griffin come up behind him and then after a while Voren’s footsteps. He watched the grass bend beneath his breath as he sucked in air. He felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Voren. Voren took a deep shuddering breath.
“Ihloden,” he whispered. Ihloden followed his gaze and screamed. It was man, tied onto a pole, by his hands and feet. The flesh on the man hung in burnt threads. Ihloden got to his feet.
“Mother. Shila,” he said quietly and began half stumbling down the streets.
All the houses were the same. The buildings were perfectly intact but with the inhabitants strung up and torn apart on poles in front of the houses. The stench hit them while they walked, making them gag. Ihloden paused as he came to the bend that led up to his house. Then he made a quick sprint up the road. He stopped in front of his house. Two poles stood there. Two bodies hung on them. He took a step forward, then with a cry he flung back away from the poles. He took deep breaths, not caring about the stench that filled his lungs. He then turned back to see his mother and sister, hanging, barely recognizable. Their bodies were stripped away, their blood and flesh flecked on the house walls. He began to scream. He felt to his knees, clawing his way to the poles, reaching up to touch their mangled bodies, the fleshing falling away from under his fingers. He felt the screams sliding into crying. Hot tears and the crying screams shook his body as he fell back from the poles.
“Ihloden,” Voren screamed and ran to pick him up. He grabbed onto Voren. The young man took him roughly into his arms, “I’m sorry Ihloden,” he said his voice betraying his tears, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”
Ihloden sat a long time crying in Voren’s arms. When his tears had subsided, he said brokenly, “We have to get to Nurilah.” The Griffin came with them as they ran to her house. There was no pole there. Ihloden felt a glimmer of hope as the rushed inside. “Nurilah!” he screamed, “Nurilah!” There was silence.
Then he saw a small movement by the tables. He rushed toward it and recoiled. Nurilah laid there, one of her arms severed beside her. Her legs were little more than bloody burnt pulp and her stomach had huge gashes in it; the dark blue of her intestines showing through. He swallowed the bile and knelt gently beside her. Voren came in and he gasped and recoiled out the room. He heard Voren being sick outside the house.
“I am so sorry,” he said his tears breaking out afresh. She stirred and moved her arm. Ihloden cried out in surprise and held her hand.
“Nurilah,” he said then stopped, unable to go on. She moved her lips to say something. He bent near to her, enough that her lips touched his ear. “I didn’t say anything about you and Griffin. Lyficen’s men tried to make me talk, but I protected you. I protected you Ihloden. They could not make me.”
Ihloden stifled his sobs, “Oh Nurilah,” he said.
“You have to go now my boy. You have to get to safety. Take the Griffin and go.”
“I will Nurilah,” Ihloden said, his crying muddling his words, “I will stop Lyficen too. I promise you.”
Nurilah took a strangled breath, “I know you will. Ihloden, do not blame yourself.” Her voice grew softer, Ihloden strained to hear her words, “I love you, Ihloden” she said, her breathing coming more labored and shallow, “Never lose hope, Ihloden. Hope is all we have.”
He heard her take her last breath. He felt the tears fall fresh and hot down his face. He looked at her, saw the same twinkle in her eye, that she always had when she was trying to make him feel better, then it was gone. Her last breathe touched his face gently then his skin was cold.
Ihloden kissed the bloody face and closed her eyes. He got up, his legs feeling like wood. He didn’t know how he made it outside. He knew the tears wanted to burst out of him but they couldn’t come out. Instead they sat in him like a heavy weight that he knew would not go away. Voren sat on the grass, looking pale, his face streaked with tears. The Griffin sat beside Voren. It looked at him and gave a soft screech.
“She’s gone,” he said. The Griffin stood up and sent him such a sorrowful feeling that he felt the tears begin to fall from his eyes again. He whipped his eyes vigorously and several deep breaths. He held his hand to Voren who took it and Ihloden pulled him up. “We have to bury them,” Ihloden said, “All of them.”
It was a horrible task. Ihloden, Voren and the Griffin, cut down the people and dug graves for each one. Ihloden and Voren, using shovels that they picked up and the Griffin used its claws. It was the Griffin however that laid each body in the graves and then they all pitched in to the cover them. It was late night when they were finally over. Ihloden sat in his house at the dinner table with Voren sitting opposite him. The Griffin sat at the door outside, within hearing range. They were all still covered in dirt and bits of the dead.
“Nurilah told me to get to safety,” Ihloden said his voice sounding hollow and dull, “But I promised her that I would find a way to destroy Lyficen.” He swallowed hard then continued, “There is only way I can think of to fulfill both her wish and my promise.” He looked up at Voren, then out towards the Griffin, “We have to go to the Ecvenegen.”
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