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Search & Scrutiny VI

Nannade woke up when it was already dark outside. She lay next to Benny in the wagon. Outside, she could hear a campfire. She checked on it and saw Clara, alone, sitting with her back to the wagon, looking in the distance where the town was. She noticed Nannade and turned around.

“Oh, you’re awake, good.” Sleepiness and exhaustion were audible in her voice. “How are you feeling?”
“Rather good, I think I will recuperate within a dozen of da-” That’s when she noticed Clara had moved the wagon quite some distance away from where they were attacked. A thought shot into her mind. “AAKA! We have to get back to get Aaka, I put her under the wagon! Did you roll ov-”
“IT’S ALRIGHT! It’s alright.” Clara interrupted her. “You were so worried about the spider that I put it in a jar, she’s still with us.”

Nannade hadn’t entirely calmed down yet. “Where? I have to see her.”
Clara went inside the wagon and got out a glass jar with a big cork. Small holes had been poked into the cork and fresh grass was stuffed inside. After searching for a bit, Clara was able to show her Aaka, sitting between the blades of grass. She still looked badly hurt, but her body seemed to already regenerate somewhat. “My boy used these jars all the time for grasshoppers and spiders and mantis and many other crawling things when he was little. I noticed how concerned you were about that spider and when I saw it still moving after being stomped on so many times, I figured, it can’t be a normal spider.”
Nannade sighed in relief. “Thank you so much. Without her, my entire journey is bust.” She might just have said too much. But it’s not like she could hide much anymore. “I am sorry you had to see this side of me. I’ll leave you two tonight if you wish so.”
Clara’s face spoke of fear. “Stop it! Yes, it was frightening to see. Especially that last man. I don’t fault you for never saying anything. But don’t worry, we’ll tell no one, and we’ll not chase you out after inviting you along.”
“It is better for you to not remember me. Forget my name, forget you ever saw me. Before we enter Kaloniz, I will leave you.”
A bittersweet smile appeared on Clara’s face. “Oh child. How I wish I could cradle you and take you back with me.” She reached out and stroked Nannade’s cheek.
“Are you not afraid of me?”
“Yes, I sort of am. But just because people lash out and do violent things to protect themselves, doesn’t mean they’re bad people. I now know that you are merciless to those that hurt us. I would prefer a gracious and merciful saviour. But someone who can calm horses like that and cares for others’ health, even that of a little spider, in the face of her own death, cannot be lusting for blood. You saved my son. You could have let us die and take the wagon on your long journey, but you saved us.”
“I got you into trouble to begin with. Because of me, you went into the forest, which was dangerous enough. Because of me you were attacked. And I fear you will get into trouble because of me again soon.”
Clara rolled her eyes. “I told you it was fine. I insisted on looking for someone who knew something about the deep woods. And you said you know everything you need because of that. Let me help a girl I thought was helpless and alone.”
“You look tired.” Nannade said to Clara.
“I feel lightheaded. Maybe because I lost some blood, carried all the cargo back into the wagon and kept lookout until now. Although I didn’t find the last crate. I don’t care about that one, it was just all scraps anyway.”
“I am awake now, let me hold lookout. Lie down.” Nannade put a hand on Clara’s shoulder.
“Should we move the wagon to the town? I don’t feel safe.”
Nannade nodded and they got to packing the last bits into the wagon and set out.

The light vial Clara had couldn’t cast its light very far, but Nannade didn’t need it anyway. Ever since the pact, she could see different things than what the light touched. The temperature of people, fires, animals, were revealed to her. Like a beacon they glowed in the cold dark night. She could see where warm things had touched the cold ground recently, and even the trees gave of a slight shine in the pitch blackness. It was a different form of sight. Certainly useful. Maybe, like her venomous fangs, it was a gift from the serpent. She still didn’t know how to feel about those things. The black blood in the vial around her neck reminded her that she was no longer truly crolachan. Should she embrace these gifts? Was these all she received or would the serpent keep on giving, until she was a serpent herself? The harsh events in the last two days had felt too close to the skin to question what she did. Survival had turned from a game Garetas had played with her into a very real thing. None of Elissa’s spirits were out here with her to call for help in case things went awry. She felt naked, sliding and falling from event to event without much agency. She would have to learn how to run.

They arrived back in the town and parked the wagon in the open space in the centre. They took care of the horses and then Clara laid down to rest next to her son. Nannade couldn’t rest yet. Many things were still going on inside her head. She took the light vial and got out her note book. She needed to write some things down anyway. She opened it and began writing.

Killed again today. Seven men. They jumped us after the witch’s woods. Managed to fight them off, mostly, but Benny & Aaka got badly hurt. One stabbed my side, Clara patched me up. It will leave a scar.

How dumb to be jumped and tied up two days in a row, but I got better at getting out of it. They did a better job than Bronislaw, too.

Last one died slowly. The serpent demanded it. His face was frightened as I did it. Ssil made me look, made it pass into my heart. The pain & death she lusts to inflict are justice, not cruelty. I am not allowed to be merciful. Garetas always said he gives them one chance to get out alive & then kills quickly. Feel sorry for not being able to follow. Maybe I can make arrangements with Ssil. Until then, no one better crosses my path like that again.

The witch asked an old & far-travelled spirit for some hefty coin. Gave me a hint where the forest of dreams might be, but need more information.

Those that travel from west to North & South want to cut through a corner. Those that don’t, arrive at North, those that do, arrive nowhere and never,where trees speak & humans flow into the forest. A weak mind cannot enter without falling asleep. A strong mind cannot stay without dreaming. No one can leave without waking up.

North & South refers to Northbridge & Southbridge, I think. Don’t know about anything else. Why can’t spirits ever be concise?

Earlier on the road, we passed a wagon with slaves on it. They wore iron collars; don’t think they had glyphs like me. They didn’t seem valuable enough for that. Still, the scars on my neck itched when I saw them.

Nannade was thinking about the other things she wanted to note down and mindlessly turned pages. Then, towards the middle, she noticed a page that was slightly thicker and heavier than the others. The light vial had almost died down, so Nannade refreshed it with a bit of her own flux oil. She moved the bright vial closer and saw in one corner, that the page consisted of two pages stuck together. She got out her knife and very carefully pried the pages apart. They came apart without ripping and between them was a small note.

If you can’t make it, stay away. Don’t worry about us. A dozen before the year runs out, I’ll grab E and get out of there. Meet up at the place. - G

Nannade shook her head. Now she had twelve days less to return before Garetas did something stupid that just got everyone into more trouble. He had written the note in infused ink. She took the note and the serpent ignited it in her hand.

The night had dragged on and she decided to get some rest too.

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