The tale went like this:
There was once a man who decided to farm in the Weald.
No man farms the Weald. That is madness.
Yes, that is what the others said. But this man was determined. And so he took with him his plough and his axe, his seeds and his horse and he left to the Weald. His sons were wont to join him but he would not let them, he said: the Nameless One has but one eye and I will be the other, stay children, grow old and farm this rich land, but remember me and remember my ambition.
And what happened then? We do not know, for the man went alone into the Weald and never did he return. His sons did not go looking for him, nor did their sons. Though we always remember the tale. At times there are other men who decide to go to the Weald to see what has become of him, whether he has tamed the wild lands and survived or if he did not. To see if they can succeed where possibly he failed. But none return.
“That is a stupid story,” Bessas, a large man of yellow hair and beard stated as he finished dressing the horse. He slapped the creatures rump affectionately and Ethamyn and Cairbre jumped upon its back as he did. He grinned at them.
The sun had arisen not long before and the men of the Blue were preparing them for the journey ahead. They had kindly provided a horse and supplies, though they’d had no spare footwear and could only wrap the children and Mag’s feet in rough linen. Mag, still trapped in her swoon, at least appeared to be breathing now. Sometimes Banus thought he saw a glow of light around her, but he could not be sure. She, too, was strapped to the horse, and the men of the Blue did not question her state.
“Shutup, Bessas,” Adelbern said with a grin. “I think you are too old to understand.”
“Too old, am I?” Bessas replied. “Well, if I am too old, young one, perhaps you care to explain? What have I missed that makes this story so wonderful?”
“It is not that the story is wonderful, it is that it is true,” Adelbern said. “Often men go away from their families on some wild whim and are never heard from again. It is a reminder that we cannot know everything. And a warning to young men to stay with their families. Is that not so Brother Banus?”
Banus, snug in an old wool cloak, nodded. “You have the right of it, Adelbern.”
“Bessas response should not be ignored though, my son,” Hunulf stated. “For we must remember that not all see things the same way.” He smiled at his son and then turned his smile to Banus.
“I wish you luck, Brother. It is not easy to raise children on your own. Are you sure you will not join with us?”
Banus shook his head. “It is a kind offer, but we will not be alone. My brothers await our arrival.” It was not necessarily true. Though perhaps some of the monks of the Eye awaited his return, as the boys in the story awaited their father’s return.
“Be well then,” Hunulf said. “Perhaps we will chase the storms together another time.”
“Perhaps,” Banus replied. “And thank you once again.”
“It is what any man would do for his brother. Do you remember my instructions?”
Banus took his leave of the strange men of the Blue, leading the horse off to the east. It would not be a long journey to the monastery, they would likely make it before nightfall, even though the horse was heavily burdened and Banus himself walked. They had eaten and drank until they felt ready to burst, and then drifted to sleep to the voices of the men around them. The men of the Blue joked and sang them to sleep and only very quietly in the night did Bessas question Hunulf about the strangers. Hunulf’s response was, of course: His many eyes see many things.
Now the day was a dull grey, with the heavy clouds still clinging to the tops of the trees. This high in the mountains, there was little chance the clouds would drift away. Perhaps they would relieve themselves of the snow they held, but even then they would remain, obscuring the sky. The sun was a brighter patch upon the cloud.
He caught his first glimpse of the monastery late in the day. It was a magnificent building, made of a deep red wood and tucked safely in the lee of the mountain. Sometimes he wondered if it was not actually a part of the mountain itself, not made of wood at all. Then it was obscured by trees and the rocky mountainside itself and he did not see it again until they mounted the rise on which it sat. But something was not right. It was too quiet. There came no smoke from the chimneys.
As they came to the great doors he could see a mess of footprints in the snow, coming from the opposite direction, and leading away the same. The doors were open, pushed inward slightly and the wet, snowy footprints marred the cleanliness of the front hall. But footprints were not the only thing to despoil the once pristine monastery.
Banus stopped, looked up at the boys on the horse. They were tired and sore from sitting all day. They all needed to rest and eat, but now this.
“Come down,” he said, lifting first one boy and then the other off the horse.
“What’s happened?” Cairbre asked.
“Stay beside me,” Banus replied and he drew his sword. They stepped into the monastery, whose front hall was once magnificent, clean and full of a deep peace. Now the simple wooden benches were smashed, the railings busted and the peace broken. There was a quiet, too. The quiet of emptiness.
First he moved to the kitchens and found the long tables broken and burnt, the stink of smoke profound. The fire had not leapt from the hearth of its own accord, it had been spread about intentionally. The cupboards had been ransacked, but most of the food had simply been tossed upon the floor to spoil. He moved throughout the rest of the monastery. There was a heavy odour of death, blood, smoke and something more foul, something he had hoped never to have to smell again. Every room seemed to have been ransacked. And there were corpses. He found many of the monks he had known dead from blade wounds. One of them, Brother Jentieve, had his throat slashed. Everywhere it stank of Kobalos and his heart grew heavy.
The children followed him in silence as he moved to the back of the building and out the door. The orchard was in ruins, the grass and most of the trees burnt. The bee hives had been pushed over and smashed. The trees themselves still smoked, though there was plenty of snow about the edges of the orchard so the fire had not gone far. The rest of the yard was filled with the raucous cawing and fluttering of crows and ravens. Their black wings hid the corpses of chickens, goats, sheep, all had been slaughtered and left to rot. In the sheep pen he found the remains of one of the monks. He had been run through with a blade, had likely died trying to protect the animals. His eyes had been plucked out already, so Banus could only speak a quiet prayer.
What would he do now? He had thought his journey almost at an end. He should have known the gods would not let him off so easily. The question was: who would do such a thing? And why? These monks had never harmed a soul, they did not own weapons, except those for everyday living, such as the axe and butcher knife. They had been peaceful and kind and so far removed from society that he wasn’t certain there were others that knew of them, but for the men of the Blue. He held back his tears and his raging; for the prince’s faces were pale and fearful.
He led them back inside, determined to leave this place and make camp elsewhere. He could not stay in this desecration. He would have liked to make one massive pyre of it all, but whomever had been here, whomever had done this, had already failed in their attempt to burn the place down. Perhaps it really was built of stone, rather than wood. Or perhaps the Nameless One would not let the place turn to ashes and vague memory. Upon their return to the main hall, he found the sorceress awake, standing in the midst of the damage, surveying. Her skin was pale but her hair and eyes were dark. She turned to them and spoke the one word that Banus did not want to hear.