Stone Hill village was much farther than Luke could travel at this point. He was too exhausted to keep moving. With the blood-stained map under his hand, he lay there in the road on his stomach, the blade still protruding from his side. He feared removing it would cause much worse pain and for him to bleed out quicker. He hoped to the gods another traveler would come along and save him, and take him to Stone Hill. If that didn’t happen, he hoped he could’ve gotten there before it was too late. Well, it seemed that was not going to happen.
There was a fairly large tree nearby that he blinked slowly at, a light breeze blowing through his hair. It reminded him of home, and Gianna. He was hardly able to feel anything and afraid to shut his eyes, fearing death would come to claim him. He imagined the only reason why he was still alive was because of his deep determination to save his parents, and his strong will. It wouldn’t be much longer now before he’d pass over.
His gaze rose to the top of the tree as it started to sway with the wind. The sky was darkening and small raindrops began to pepper him. He breathed in through his mouth and weakly lifted his head, almost relishing the feeling of the cool tiny splashes on his forehead. He stuck his tongue out for a taste of the water.
The wind was starting to howl a bit, and he thought he heard a man’s voice laced within it. It sounded like his father calling to him... calling him home. He watched the rain coming down and began to fade. His eyes were closing, and a small worried frown gradually grew on his face as he felt his life slipping away. He wanted to be released from this agony, but he wasn’t done here. There was so much to do. He couldn’t fail his family.
He heard a horse coming up and the man’s voice was louder. “Ahh, don’t die yet!” the man frustratedly sighed. Luke slowly opened his eyes and saw a figure in a blue cloak jump down from his horse and quickly walk over to him. The boy squinted as he tried to understand what he was seeing.
The man had eyes as blue as the ocean, a short brown beard and strong features. His lips moved but Luke couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He kneeled beside him and yanked the dagger out of Luke’s side, making the teen scream out in great pain. The man then raised his hands over the wound and Luke blinked hurtfully at his face. He was blurring out. “Don’t worry my friend... I’ve got you.” The stranger said as Luke faded away.
Luke breathed in deeply, a fresh breath of air, and could feel warmth and crackling sounds of a fire close by. Was this real? He wondered if he’d died and gone home. Was he relieving his childhood on the other side? Was this the heaven everyone spoke of? He opened his eyes and saw an almost translucent bubble over him. It was raining still, and the bubble was shielding him. It was nighttime. The surroundings were the same. He didn’t feel any pain. In fact, he felt completely normal.
He looked over and saw that cloaked man sitting by the fire and the horse was sitting next to him. Luke watched him eat a piece of bread and then give some to his horse. Who was this man? Why did he dress like that? Was he an adventurer too? Luke thought about Daniel and grimaced. After that whole ordeal, he knew he shouldn’t trust anyone so easily. He wondered then, what would be the best thing to say to this stranger?
He opened his mouth and eventually spoke; “Why did you save me?” The man leaned forward and pushed the burning logs around with his hand. “Well, good evening to you. I hope you slept well.” Luke’s expression immediately switched to surprised. The man turned around to him with a small smile. Luke quickly looked up to his face. “I saved you because I didn’t think you wanted to die. I’m sure that stab wound wasn’t self-inflicted and intentional.” Luke gave him an odd look for that. “Well... no.” he said.
“Would you like something to eat? I have fairy bread here.”
Luke’s gaze lit up. “Fairy? Fairy bread?”
The man nodded.
Luke sat up and glanced at the fire, then at him again. “What are you? I saw you put your hand in that fire.” The man lifted his hands, “Easy now! First thing’s first.”
Luke blinked, then closed his mouth and sat back slightly. The man smiled again and bowed his head. “Have some.” He reached a slice of the bread out to him. Luke looked at it for a moment and gently took it. “...Thank you... You know, I’m... human...”
“That’s fine! Fairy bread is replenishing for all races.”
Luke kept looking at it and thought of Esmé. She did speak of fairy food a lot. She’d be the first to try it. Luke was always a bit paranoid about things like this. But he was starving.
He took a small bite and chewed it slowly, his eyes meeting the man’s. The man started eating again and said, “My name is Brim. I’m the son of a fairy and an elf.” Again, Luke was stunned.
“You’re... half?” he said.
“Yes... which gives me the ability to resist fire. I’m more fairy than elf. And I’m a sorcerer.” Brim replied, and pulled his cloak down a little to show a strange black mark on his neck, near his collarbone. It looked like a spinning star. “What is that?” Luke asked, also realizing how sweet and tasty the bread was. It sure did make him feel different the moment he swallowed it. He imagined what it would be like once he was done eating!
“That is the mark of the sorcerer. There is a myth that long ago, there lived a fairy/elf hybrid who mastered all arts of magic, spiritualism and awareness of the most complex laws of nature. Things no one could ever understand, yet still exist. The Herec were very pleased with her, and were to grant her entrance into their eternal kingdom, but she was slain by a rogue ‘god’ as she transitioned from this life to the next. Now her soul wanders forever, lost.” Brim said, “It was said she had this very birthmark. The Herec mourn her to this day, and for whoever is born a sorcerer, they are graced with this.”
“Wow...” Luke stared at him, “That’s sad... You must be... very powerful.”
“Well, at least a little bit. So... young man... what brings you out here? Without a horse?” Luke breathed in deeply. Brim could see he was becoming hesitant, struggling between wanting to tell him and keeping the answer to himself. He softened his features and waited patiently with a smile.
“...I was on my way to Stone Hill village.” Luke said.
“If you went a little farther, you would’ve been there. It’s a good thing you didn’t though. The condition you were in? They wouldn’t have been able to save you.”
Luke briefly grimaced at that. “I thank you for what you did...”
“The one who did it to me was also an adventurer; a man named Daniel. He stole everything I had and my horse left me. I don’t know why he ran away... other than to save his own life. He looked at me like he was assuring me he had a plan... There was something about the way he looked at me. I’m not crazy. I really mean what I say. And then... he just ran away.”
“Hmm... I’m sorry to hear that... It is a little strange of your companion to behave that way, I agree.” Brim rubbed his chin and stared down at the fire.
Luke sighed, “Luke... That is my name. I’m Luke Pane.” Brim looked at him again and a smile flashed on his face. “Well, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance Mr. Pane.” He reached his hand out. Luke observed him. He was much different than Daniel. He had more manners and seemed to be friendlier. He faintly smiled back and shook his hand. “Likewise, Brim.”
He then glanced up at the sky and frowned slightly. “I was out for a long time... and you stayed here with me? Didn’t you have somewhere to go?”
“Oh please...” Brim scoffed, “I’m not expected to be anywhere. I’ve been roaming these parts for quite a long time.”
“About fifteen years.”
“That’s not a real long time.” Luke started to laugh.
“Sometimes I feel old.” Brim shrugged and poured red lily powder on the fire, making it grow.
“I’m an oddity in this world. The Herec don’t really like me.”
“Yes... ‘the gods’, as you humans call them.”
“...Why don’t they like you? Because of what you are?”
Brim looked at him with a coy smirk. “If I were part human and part fairy, or elf, I wouldn’t be here right now. They’re very strict about that. They work in mysterious ways.” Luke’s eyebrows knitted. “So I have to be careful.” Brim said.
Luke then looked at the fire. “...How old are you?”
“I’m thirty nine.”
“Do you have a family?”
“What—a wife and some children?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose.”
Brim inhaled deeply and then sighed. “No. I have no one. How about you?” Luke blinked a couple times, and then finally looked at Brim again. “I’m nineteen... I have a sister. I’m out to retrieve medicine for her... She’s very ill. And I have to hurry back before...”
“I understand. You have my sympathy...” Brim sadly said, “I couldn’t imagine losing someone so close... You are set for Stone Hill village to retrieve the medicine?”
“Thanks...” Luke replied, then thought for a moment. The more they were talking, the more Brim seemed trustworthy... decent... but the boy couldn’t help his skepticism of him. Truth of it was though, he knew Brim wasn’t going anywhere and he was the one with a horse.
He sighed softly, “No.” He supposed he would have to tell the truth. A person with such power didn’t kill, or take anything from him—yet. Did he have an ulterior motive? Or was he actually kind at heart? Was he a friend? Maybe...?
Luke said, “What I need... is in Tanimil.”
“Tanimil?” Brim sounded surprised. “Fairies don’t use medicine...” Luke watched the look on his face for a little while, never saying a word. The sorcerer came to a sort of realization. “I see... you need magic. This could be difficult for you, do you know that?”
“Yes... but... I was told this is what I have to do.”
Brim leaned forward, eyes narrowing, “Who told you?”
“...She... she’s the elder of my village.”
“I have to meet someone there. He... is an enchanter.”
“Johann...?” Brim started to grin. Luke quickly looked at him, shocked.
Brim sat back, the kind gentleness returning to his face, “I have heard of him. He is famous among my people. But he is a man. That is extremely rare.” As the sorcerer looked at him, Luke’s mind briefly wandered off into remembering what Gianna said about anomalies. He didn’t want Brim to know he understood this.
He nodded slowly, “That is strange...”
“Would you like some assistance in getting to Tanimil? After all, that is my home and it’s the least I could do for a friend.” Luke thought about his question. It was quite an offer. He did need help with transportation for one. He really needed to hurry.
“You know... I would greatly appreciate that Brim.”
Brim bowed his head with a smile. “Then let’s ride on!” He finished his bread and clicked his teeth to get his horse up. “Come on Fallamere, boy—up you go.” The horse, Fallamere, stood and shook his head. Luke looked at the two for a second before quickly finishing his bread and got to his feet.
As soon as he stood up, he felt a great head rush and tripped over himself, almost falling in the fire. He put his hand on his head with widening eyes. Brim grabbed his shoulders, “Luke, slow down. Let the fairy bread settle.” Luke blinked a few times at him, and calmed his breathing. He was still for a moment and then Brim let off him. “Good.” The sorcerer then put the fire out and waved his hand upwards. The bubble started to lift. Luke’s eyebrows furrowed as he observed it.
Getting on Fallamere, Brim said, “I don’t think you will want to walk.” Luke glanced at him, then patted his pocket to make sure the map was still there. “You’re right.” He walked over and climbed up onto the horse. Though, when he was on, he felt a little strange about holding onto Brim. “Um...”
“It’s fine.” Brim sounded a bit amused.
“Alright...” Luke hesitantly held onto him.
As they rode on, Luke saw the bubble stayed with them, floating just barely above the ground. The rain bounced right off it. It was so strange, though magnificent, and... beautiful. Quiet too.
Luke then steadied his gaze on the path. “What is it like to be a sorcerer?”
“It is a higher level of wizardry. What you do with your talents is what makes you a true sorcerer. You have to open yourself completely to the forces of nature, and remain that way. It’s quite a powerful thing to harvest for so long. Unfortunately though, I lost many of my abilities when a spell backfired on me.”
“That’s unfortunate... How will you get them back...?”
“I’m not entirely certain. It’s my current quest to find out.”
“Well, I thank you very much for spending some of your time on me...”
“It’s a pleasure Mr. Pane.”
The rain was starting to lighten up to only a few drops every once and a while. And there were some lights in the distance. Luke couldn’t understand what he was seeing, but he hoped it was the village. “Ah! Look there!” Brim pointed.
“What’s all that?”
“Ah yes, I forgot your human eyes. The village! It’s up ahead. The lights are coming from the Rivers’ tavern just outside the village gates. We will stay there tonight.”
“What? No! We can’t stop!”
“Mr. Pane... there is a scent coming from that place; it smells like your horse.”
“My hors- Alarich? What? How...?”
Brim grinned, turning his head a little, “Being half elf, my sense of smell is greater than that of any human. Elves are natural born hunters. And if Alarich gave you such a look, maybe there is something more for you here than you realize. Calm yourself Mr. Pane—allow me to buy you a drink.” Brim snapped the reins of his horse and walked on toward the tavern. Luke stared at the back of his head for a good minute, thinking about what he said. Alarich was special. Maybe Brim was right. Maybe he was there waiting for him. Was he indicating Daniel might be there too? The thought churned hate in his gut.
When they were getting closer to the tavern, Luke gazed at how friendly the place looked; it was a two-story building, all lit up, horses in the stable behind the place, and he could hear people talking and laughing. Cheerful music was being played too. He then noticed a man in a straw hat walking away from the stable with a grim face. Luke looked everywhere for Alarich and Daniel. They were nowhere in sight.
Brim dismounted Fallamere and led him over to the stables, all the while looking around with his nose slightly in the air. He seemed to be suspicious of something. Luke followed his actions soon after and frowned when he couldn’t see Alarich or Daniel anywhere. Brim motioned him to come along inside the tavern, whispering, “This is odd... Come on.” Luke glanced back as they walked to the front door. “He’s not here, is he?” Brim shook his head, “No... no, he’s close by. I can smell him. Trust me.”
The moment they stepped inside, Brim locked eyes with the owner behind the counter. The man’s daughter was there too and had grown quite a bit since the sorcerer last saw her.
“Mr. Rivers! You’re still alive!” Brim said. Luke watched the old man’s widening smile. Brim went over to a table, gesturing Luke to follow, and he sat down, “Come—join me.”
Luke thought to himself ‘this is one of the strangest nights I have ever had’. He also considered the sorcerer a little too relaxed. But then again, maybe he knew precisely what he was doing. He still questioned his motives though...
Mr. Rivers came to the table and asked what they would like to have. Brim smiled up at him, “We will have some roast beast and the finest ale you have please!” His order put a big grin on the man’s face. Perhaps it was a rare thing for anyone to ask for those things. They must have been expensive. And apparently, Brim had plenty of coin. Mr. Rivers said, “Coming right up!” he left and went back into the kitchen area. Brim seemed to be quite comfortable and at home here. Luke couldn’t help slowly loosening up.
They heard a woman suddenly scream and quickly looked over at the kitchen again. She had a rag in her hands, chasing after a skeletal rat on two legs. It was carrying an empty cup, breathing fast. Luke jerked in his seat at first, but then he knew what it was and only watched with big eyes. It scurried up and jumped on their table. Brim sat back in his chair, raising an eyebrow as it began to talk. “More juice with bubbles, yes please! Ehehe! Bubbles with juice! More for me, yes?” it hiccupped. Luke slapped his forehead. Brim turned and looked back at the counter at Mr. River’s daughter, “Who let a mimicker in here?”
“Who let a mimicker in here? I came here with my partner! He’s outside!” it said, “And I have a name! It’s Tommy, or Joe, or Clara... I have a name!” Luke saw the scene it was making and worried it would distract Brim. There was something he had to do. The poor thing slightly reminded him of Joby. The only way Luke knew how to get it to stop was to scare it.
He snatched the mimicker by its head and turned it around to him, “You’re drunk and disturbing everyone. Get out.” It began to shake in fear. He dropped it and the little creature raced out the door as more people came in. Brim then crossed his arms on the table and looked at the teen with a ‘well then’ expression, then he checked the kitchen doorway again where the woman was panting. She returned to the kitchen and he smirked.
A few minutes later, Mr. Rivers and a male cook came to the table with their food and the old man sighed with a shake of the head, “If we didn’t have that problem moments ago, you would have already been digging into this. Sorry boys. Please enjoy.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Brim said with a smile. They smiled back and went away. Luke could feel his mouth watering. It looked and smelled great. That bread filled him up, but he couldn’t help wanting to devour this food. It was just amazing. They got right to it.
While eating, Luke glanced over and noticed that man with the straw hat sitting back in the corner drinking from a large mug. He also saw another man approach the counter and start talking with Mr. Rivers’ daughter. He was wearing a black cavalier hat and suspenders with a black striped shirt. He had a long scar across his cheek and his eyes were close to black from what he could tell. There really was something he didn’t like about those two men. He wondered if they could’ve possibly been involved with Daniel.
“Brim, do you think those two men there and there have something to do with Daniel?” he whispered to him. The sorcerer kept his nose down as he ate. Luke knew he heard him. If he wasn’t answering, something was wrong. Common sense told him that. The rest of their meal was like this. Luke made sure those men never left his sight.
When they were finishing up, Brim said, “Luke, I believe it’s time we retire for the evening.” He put his mug down and stood up from the table, giving Mr. Rivers a warm smile as he reached into his cloak and took out a small bag of coin. Luke looked up at him in a questioning, almost disturbed way. But then he saw a familiar secretive glint in the sorcerer’s eye. Mr. Rivers took the coin and pointed upstairs with his chin, “You fellows have a fine night.” Luke eyed those men as he slowly stood up. Brim put his hand on his shoulder with a ‘they are not our concern’ look and motioned toward the stairs. Luke understood his actions were hinting their target was upstairs. Brim patted him on the shoulder and walked on.
As they went up the steps and down the hall, Luke leaned close, whispering, “Daniel is here, isn’t he?”
“You want your horse back?” Brim peered out of the corner of his eye at him. The boy watched and slowly nodded, then looked ahead again at a few people passing by. They all looked shady and dirty. Such grave faces. Even the women were that way.
Brim stopped at a door that was partially opened and pushed it the rest of the way. It was a vacant room with two small beds and a table with a bowl of fruit in the center. Luke glanced at him. “...What are we doing?” Brim pointed in, “Go. I have a plan.” Luke’s eyebrows knitted a little and he went inside. Brim shut the door and flipped his hood back as he went over to face the window. Luke examined his behavior as the sorcerer peered outside and watched the two men leaving the building.
Brim said, “Your thief is here—in the room next to us. The men downstairs are not involved in this at all.” Luke’s heart leapt. He quickly unsheathed his sword. “No.” Brim raised his hand, “Don’t use that. Put it on the table.” Luke made a confused look at his back. Brim lowered his head slightly, turning around to him, “You’re too quick to act. He will go to sleep tonight and never wake up.” Luke stared at him, trying to understand what he meant. Brim smiled softly, “We don’t need blood to be spilt to get justice. There is another way.”
“I can’t just let Daniel get away! I need my stuff back! He has something very important of mine and I need Alarich back now!” Brim raised his hand at him, “Calm yourself young adventurer. This will be taken care of shortly. Everyone knows me here and I don’t want either of us getting into any sort of trouble, do you understand?” Luke started glaring at him. “Why can’t we just go in and stop this now?”
“Because... there will be too much noise.” Brim said, then he turned to the window again. “Wait until everything is calm.” Luke stood completely still with his icy gaze locked on the sorcerer. But then he looked down and away slightly as he thought it over. Esmé would probably think the same way as Brim...
He walked over and sat on one of the beds. Brim folded his arms and Luke looked at him again. He was beginning to get lost in his thoughts again about his sister. What she would think of Brim, how she would feel about this situation and what she would say... He wasn’t sure if she would be scolding him for being so trusting of Daniel, or if she would be over that by now. She would still take the leading role in this. She’s a real leader. He yawned and frowned a little. He was starting to feel his eyes getting heavy and his arms and legs were becoming weak. He tried to shake the feeling off and breathed out deeply. “I need to hurry. I need those things back and I need my horse.” His tone was sharp.
“...You will, don’t worry.” Brim spoke in a soft voice, very quiet. Luke raised his hand slightly, and he grimaced a little. He gently placed it at the side of his head, uttering a pained, “Ow... where did that come from...?”
“What’s the matter?”
“My head. It hurts. It’s getting worse.”
“Maybe you should lie down.”
Luke squinted and winced, slowly tipping over onto the bed. Squeezing the sheet, his worried eyes stared ahead at the wall.
While he looked at it, his imagination took him far off from this place and back home, firmly planted in his parents’ room. The migraine was pecking away at him so painfully as he watched his mom and dad fading away. Why was he so tired all of the sudden? Why did it hurt so bad? His attention darted back over to Brim who stood so still with his arms crossed, back turned to him.
He shut his eyes every once in a while, but he tried so hard to stay awake. Every time he shut his eyes, the pain would lessen a great deal. He could barely resist it anymore. He really did not want to go to sleep. But finally... he closed his eyes long enough sleep claimed him.