Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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When she woke up, Brillar did take soup but only as broth then slept again. She came awake at intervals without regard for day or night. A Sister was always with her and the kitchen kept broth ready at all hours. Sometimes Alliana would sit with her, holding her hand quietly. Darwallen was in such distress whenever she came from the sickroom that Prendar finally asked her to stay away. Rodenis supported the idea then refused Prendar entry. “The distress you feel when you see her affects your daughter as it does you and your wife. Alliana seems the only presence that is calming. From her there is only light girlish chatter. Girlish chatter from Alliana! She hides her concern very well with her chatter. First time I have ever heard anything like it from her. Always a quiet one, that girl, serious about study, and never any chatter.”

In the next few days, the family received numerous visitors all concerned about Brillar’s health. Some left small gifts, soups, sweets, flowers that brightened her room, a music box, wind chimes, a soft scarf. Most, those who had been unable to hear the story of her homecoming also wanted to know that more of what had happened.

To escape the visitors, Elden often took Jez out in the mornings, sometimes accompanied by Prendar, sometimes by Terol on Bright. Prendar insisted on taking him through Laurenfell with Brolin as added company. The town was beautifully laid out with wide streets in a grid pattern that stretched to the west.

“The seat of the Sisterhood is here,” Brolin explained when he walked with them. “It’s an old town but was well-planned first in wood and now in stone. No need for the old wall now that the town has grown. The healing hall, dormitories, guest houses; it was natural for there to be a clean and organized town here.”

“I was brought here for healing after the Coastal Raids.” Prendar put in and Brolin was silent. His father seldom talked about his time in the raids but he seemed willing to tell Elden what happened. “We called it that so that people wouldn’t be alarmed.” He glanced at his son. “I’m sure you heard the stories while you were in service. Shall we sit?” They took seats outside a tavern and called for cider.

“More than twenty-five years ago King Danyar called for soldiers to defend the coast. Sea raiders had landed in force, thousands of them and more coming. They had taken Lands-end and Tramka Shores before there could be any real defense. You’ve been at war, Elden.”

Elden nodded. “Across the sea and against orcs, not men.”

“Then you have some idea of it. I led the attack to take back Lands-end. We succeeded but at such a loss in soldiers and people from the town.” He stopped and called for cider to be replaced by ale. “I was in the healing hall for some time recovering. That, Brolin, is how I met your mother.” He clapped his son on the shoulder. “She led me on quite the chase too before she agreed to marry me.” He smiled at the memory. “And I would chase her again, if it came to that but back to the story. Danyar was generous. The owner of Laurenfell House was widowed in the fighting and childless. She was glad to part with the house so she could move back to Auden Shore. I bought the house and miles of land around it then expanded the house for my bride. Of course I was an only son and inherited money and land from my family, all invested in trade.” He smiled at Brolin. “You, my boy, will have a good start in life.”

Brolin nudged his father and pointed. Across the plaza was a group of students, all brightly dressed. Their teacher had gone into a shop, telling them to wait for her.

“Like beautiful birds aren’t they? ‘Little Sisters,’ students of the Sisterhood from the healing hall and Life Sisterhood,” he told Elden.

The students were huddled together and seemed to be whispering excitedly. One left the group and headed toward the table, glancing back at her friends nervously.

“Here we go,” Brolin said smiling into his ale.

The girl, in her early teens and dressed in pale yellow, approached and dropped a curtsey at their table.

“Lord Prendar?” She looked nervously back at her friends.

Prendar pretended severity.

“Speak up child, speak up,” eyes wide, she looked from him to Elden.

“And are you Brother Garnelden?” He nodded at her, trying to hide a smile.

“I… we…,” she looked over her shoulder again.

“Child?” Prendar insisted.

She took a deep breath. “We just wanted to say we’re glad that the Lady Brillar is back and thank you, Brother Garnelden, for bringing her home.” She dropped another curtsey and fled. Their teacher came out of the shop, scolding and herded them away.

Elden turned to his friends, eyes laughing. “Perhaps we should only come out at night when they are well tucked away.”

Brolin laughed. “Then you’d have to contend with the other students, older students, and their teachers.”

“You never seemed to mind having them around, did you boy?” his father laughed and Brolin flushed. “A bold one, that little one in yellow; something for your brother to think about. They all want to get a look at you Elden, so be careful. But you son, now that you’re back, the elder students will have an eye for you so you take care as well.”

“You were away?” Elden asked.

“Service with the king for two years. Nothing really. A few bandits here and there, aiding the sheriff’s men when they needed it. Now that I’m back, da has given me land of my own and I mean to settle down properly.”

“And who have you settled on?” his father wanted to know, but Brolin just smiled.

“Wouldn’t be fair to tell you before she was asked, now would it.”

“Hmmm,” Prendar started. “I know one who was asked while you were away,” that got his father a sharp look, “and said ‘no’ to a handsome offer. Better be quick.”

Brolin had walked out with several young women students at the Sisterhood and from the town, for years. Now that he was back he seemed to have settled on the quiet, intelligent daughter of a local merchant. She was well-known to the family, a slender serious woman with brown hair and blue eyes who smiled a great deal but laughed little. Both families were waiting for word of a proposal.

“Ride out with me to my farm?” Brolin asked Elden in order to change the subject; marriage was on his mind, but not ready to be discussed. “Tomorrow perhaps? And we’d better go, I see another flock of students.” The men settled the bill and headed out of the town.

Except for his first short visit with Brillar, Elden had also been banned from the sickroom even though his apprentice asked for him. Everyone now had to content themselves with reports from Alliana, the Sisters who sat with her and the cooks who reported how much broth she drank when she was awake.

Broth was all Brillar was permitted for nearly a week but it was fortified more each day and she regained strength on it quickly, although her waking and sleeping confused her. When she asked her sister about why her other family members and Elden never visited, an excuse was always given. There had been a visit, but she had been sleeping or the family had taken Elden to the village, everyone was asleep or her mother had been called away to attend a birth. Because she was weak and easily confused, she would sleep again and ask the same questions when she woke. Finally, she was alert enough to see that were lies being told to her and insisted that someone, anyone else come visit her. It was her mother who finally came in with a fine soup rich with minced linic and ground tubers.

After that, Elden was also allowed to visit her and watched strength return quickly. Two more days passed until he entered her room with two bowls of hearty stew. She sat plumped up on pillows and made short work of the stew he had brought complaining that there was no wine.

“Neither Rodenis nor my mother will allow me anything to drink but teas well brewed with herbs, water and juices,” she fussed.

“I have juice here,” he said, “if you’re thirsty.” She made a face at him but accepted the glass.

“It seems I am always thirsty,” she said peevishly.

He gathered the bowls and empty glass. “So soon?” she asked.

“The good Sisters and your mother are very strict with me,” he smiled and took his leave. It seemed to him that she was asleep before he closed the door.

Two days later found Brillar insisting that fresh air and sun would be revitalizing. When told to wait, she threatened to go outside without help even if she had to crawl so her brother solved the matter by carrying her to a bench on a terrace. She was there, surrounded by blankets and pillows, sipping yet another glass of fruit juice, when Elden and her father returned from an early ride. They were greeted with a wave.

Darwa appeared with a tray of fruit and more juice; she had seen the riders approach. She set them on a low table near her daughter.

“Is this a good idea?” asked her father, jumping down from his horse. Elden followed suit.

“She threatened to make her own way so Brolin carried her out before going to visit his young lady,” answered his wife. “In fact, the sun will do her good.”

“Really? ’In fact the sun will do her good?’ To listen to anyone here, people would think me an aged grandmother,” Brill remarked tartly. Elden hid a smile.

“Now you will all sit down, have something to eat and give me all the news,” she took a piece of fruit and they all settled down to enjoy her outing. The tall doors to the house were open and the sun was bright on its light grey and white stones.

“So, are you sure you want to hear everything?” laughed her father.

The news was delivered over fruit and juices. Crops were doing well in the south fields. The new bull was ready to prove his strength when the cows were ready. Yes, someone was exercising Bright for her. Bread and meat were brought out by servants so the group could continue to enjoy the sun. Before they were half finished with lunch, Brillar leaned back and closed her eyes.

“I’ll stay with her,” said Darwallen seeing Sister Rodenis come up the walk. “You men take the rest of your meal indoors, and quietly.”

“Insisted didn’t she,” Rodenis sniffed as she joined Darwallen. “Headstrong. Always was and her walkabout hasn’t changed her.” She examined Brillar by eye. “Well then, she should spend more time out of doors now. Fresh air, good food and rest.”

Darwallen pushed a plate toward her friend and they enjoyed the sun and food together.

The days settled into a routine and Elden was accepted as part of the family. He visited the healing house where he learned that a young man named Warick had arrived in time to say goodbye to his father and comfort his mother. She lived nearby and he paid his condolences but found her well-attended by her daughter and son-in-law. He spent more time in the town, taking a glass at the tavern with Prendar several times, but always late in the evening. The older students and even some of the Sisters had suddenly taken an interest in a glass of cider at the tavern in the evening. Fortunately, they were required to be back in their dormitories quite early. Prendar found their interest in Elden amusing.

“A tavern does a man good,” he was told, “especially after the students have gone away,” he joked. Elden and Brillar’s father had become easy in each other’s company. There were jokes at the tavern and sometimes a fiddler in the evening. Elden began to feel more comfortable than he had in years. Brolin went with them once, but had other things to attend to; Terol often went with them but was only allowed cider.

Rides with Prendar were both energetic and soothing. He enjoyed a hunt and the dun jumped very well but he also enjoyed the quiet shady lanes. He had stopped pointing out prime land much to Elden’s relief. On days when Prendar was busy, Terol would sometimes insist on riding with him.

Terol, at sixteen, was a likeable youth and Elden began to tell him stories of his travels to keep from asking constant questions. Questions did come, of course, but they were more directed. As best he could, Elden influenced him toward the settled life. Terol was too old to train in any serious Power but had a deft way with horses and other animals. He had an idea for taming linic and keeping them as food birds that Prendar had dismissed. Now Elden spoke with the boy’s father who began to see it as a way to keep the lad close to home.

The best part of the day came after the rides. After weeks of convalescence, Brillar was walking daily and had been out to see Bright. When she was told of the treasure that had been in the cart, she was shocked.

“The gold in the cart must belong to someone else,” she insisted, but he shook his head and took her to sit on a bench.

“When we left Lands-end, the lieutenant told me a cart had been prepared for you. I’d forgotten what he said. I think Harrolen meant it for any…” he stopped aware of her distress. He put his arm around her, comforting her and she leaned against him, then straightened.

“Then it’s ours, yours and mine equally,” she said. “I said once that blood money didn’t interest me. It is truer now. Sister Rodenis will have a bar, my siblings a bar each when they come of age or marry and a bar to my father for some of that fine blood stock he always talks about but never buys. There I’m done with what is mine.” She would hear no more about it.

Brillar was very pleased when told she could leave the sickroom and move to her own room on the second floor but insisted that the room be cleaned of childhood things first leaving that to Alliana and her mother. They cleaned the room but left her books. That night, Brillar slept in her own bed, well aware that Elden was just down the hall.

After the move, Brillar’s health improved rapidly. In days, she was insisting on long, not short, walks which grew longer every day. She also began to swim in the lake on warm days, usually in the company of Terol and her sister often joined by Elden. Even Darwa and Prendar swam with them; she was a graceful swimmer but Prendar tended to lumber through the water. Elden’s swimming improved to “acceptable” and he enjoyed the time with all of them. Sometimes Brillar received old friends. Young women she had grown up with often cast admiring glances at Elden and there was good natured speculation about the pair.

One morning after exercising Jez, Elden returned to the house to find her outside with a new bow, longer than the one she usually carried. Terol had set up a target for them and was practicing with her. Leaving Jez at the stable, he strode up behind them tight-faced, as she let fly.

“Exactly what are you doing?” he insisted taking her by the arm.

“Elden, I’m sorry,” Terol began, but he waved the lad aside.

“This is none of your doing,” he said but Terol quickly took himself away.

“I said what are you doing?” he asked Brillar roughly.

“Why, I’m just breaking in this fine new bow, or was until you interrupted us,” she replied evenly enough although there was a flash of warning in the green eyes. “My muscles need strengthening; Rodenis had no quarrel with it.”

“Was she even asked?” he growled in reply.

“She told me to gain the strength I needed. She made no mention of how. And my brother needs some instruction. Didn’t I tell you I could outshoot all the archers at the spring games?”

Something seemed to shift around him and Elden closed his eyes a moment, sensing defeat. “Do I fetch the arrows that miss the target for you or should I get Terol for that,” he sighed, resignedly.

“Garnelden!” she responded, pretending shock, “do you think for a moment that I will miss the target?” She nocked and loosed another arrow which hit with a satisfying, ‘thunk.’

Looking at the target, he shook his head. “You do need practice. You won’t hit a linic that way.” She only laughed and nocked again.

Seeing Terol close, but not too close, Elden waved him over. “If you have a third bow, perhaps we can all practice.”

The morning went pleasantly for them. Noon under the trees found Sister Rodenis at the house for lunch. She sat herself next to Brillar.

“Not here to check on me I hope?” Brillar asked, reaching for another roasted tuber.

“Hmph, not with that appetite. I hear you’ve taken up the bow again?” Rodenis took a sip of fruit juice.

“Well, it does keep me standing in one place,” she said with a smile, “unless you want me to practice for the races at the spring tournament?”

“No, I think that can wait for a while,” Rodenis looked piercingly at her student, smiled then turned to speak to a neighbor who had joined them for lunch.

“I wonder what that’s all about,” Brillar thought as she took more fruit juice.

Rodenis was at the house daily and not just to see her patient. She and Brillar’s mother were good friends and they often had long talks as they walked through the grounds. There was a great deal of activity at the Great House and in the town. Guest houses had been opened and Sisters were arriving from the teaching houses. Elden saw several Brothers he knew in the tavern one evening, called for a conference they told him. Some had brought wives and older children “to give them a holiday,” was all they would tell him. He was suspicious but was occupied with other things.

Laurenfell House was not just the family home it included cottages for servants, stables, storage houses for trade goods, barns, and a mill. Now that she was stronger, Brillar insisted on visiting everything and everyone; Elden wanted to be with her to make sure she rested when she was tired. He was also helping Terol with his idea of taming linic. Terol had quickly discovered that snares and traps often left the birds in such a panic that they died but that a mage could call and sooth the birds so that they were easily gathered. He now had a small flock of the more easily tamed birds and Elden was sometimes called on for assistance.

The days went by pleasantly until Rodenis appeared one afternoon just after lunch as Brillar and her mother were relaxing near the lake.

“Not come to check on me again,” Brillar smiled as Rodenis joined them. The woman looked very serious.

“Younger Sister,” Rodenis began, and Brillar straightened at her tone, “Younger Sister,” she went on formally, “I have come to ask a favor of you as a member of the Sisterhood, although one who should have stayed and learned more.”

Glancing at her mother, who seemed tense, she composed herself, replying formally, “What I am asked, I shall do if I can.”

“You have the dimlock collar in your possession?” Rodenis asked quietly.

“The dimlock? I have it and it’s safe.” Now she knew why her mother was tense and felt apprehensive.

“Then, as your teacher and head of the Order, I have this formal request. I want you to bring the dimlock to the Great House where you will display it for everyone. You will bring everything you used to remove it and explain in detail how it was done. All this you will do as reward for the training you had and as your duty to the House that trained you.”

Brillar sat back in her chair and looked at her mother.

“She told me what she was going to ask.” Darwa stared at the grass. “I wanted to forbid it. You’ve come back to health so well and the strain of the telling…” she let her words hang in the air.

“I am Brillar’s healer. Would I have asked if I didn’t already feel that she was ready? No, no, I would never have asked,” Rodenis insisted. “And the Sisterhood must know, the Brothers as well. I have searched all the records. There are certain and sound references to the use of the dimlock collar, and all of those refer to someone on whom it was justly used. Someone who was later executed for crimes of some sort.”

Seeing shock in their faces, she went on, “Not in more than 200 years has there been such a need or such a use. It was believed that all the dimlock collars had been destroyed and no more made. We must know if this is one from former years or something newly made. If one survived or if someone new has found the making of such an evil thing then we must be made aware. A dimlock was never to be owned by an individual only by a Great House. How did one man come into possession of one? Was it recently made?” She shook her head. “Too many questions remain.”

Brillar drew a deep breath and exhaled in a sigh. “Then of course I’ll come. When have you planned for this?”

“Tomorrow, after everyone has had lunch.”

“So soon?” her voice held a hint of panic but Rodenis only nodded. She had known the answer would be ‘yes’ and knew that the answer should be followed by action quickly.

“Yes, tomorrow. Only the older students will be allowed at the assembly. Sisters have been arriving for several days from other houses, Brothers as well.”

Brillar looked up sharply. Elden had told her there were Brothers in Laurenfell for a “conference” now she knew what the meeting was really about.

A sound, half laugh and half choke came from Brillar. “I am well and truly trapped. If you will excuse me, I’ll begin to prepare. Elder Sister,” she said to her mother formally, “if you will assist me?”

“A word with your father and brother first? I think Elden should be far away from us this afternoon. There’s a three day horse market at Mevrin that I know your father wants to visit to see if he can find something there with your generous gift. A good distance and it will keep them all occupied.”

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