Tothelea: Chapter 17

Trevor awoke, hearing Harmony snoring softly beside him.  He sat up, rubbing
his eyes.

"Hoa, isentoloa," a voice said.  Trevor startled nearly out of his skin.  He
scrambled clumsily to his feet, picking up his staff as he rose.  Harmony woke
at the disturbance, and began to move.

Trevor held the staff defensively.  He circled round, ready to fend off an
attack.  Half a dozen men stood around them.  No, not men.  Well, maybe men.
Trevor wasn't sure.  Very unusual looking men, anyway.  Wearing strange
clothes.  They carried a variety of weapons.  Several bows and arrows, a
spear, a wooden staff.  One had something that looked like rocks held together
with short ropes, dangling from his hand.

"Get back!" he barked, brandishing his staff.

One of the strange men held up his palm, saying "Vo shoetu chisira luna."  He
seemed concerned.

Harmony stood up.  "Trev!  Fair folk!"

Fair folk.  Yes, she was right.  These had to be Fair folk.  There hadn't been
any living in White Sands.  Trevor couldn't remember having ever met one,
either.  But certainly he'd heard as much about them as anybody else.
Supposedly you could find a few of them in the cities.  Maybe if they'd been
in Merlon longer they would have met some.

"Hoa, isentolea," the one said to her.

"Listen," Trevor said, "I don't know if you can understand me, but I don't
want any trouble.  Please, just leave us alone and we'll be on our way.  I
will fight you if you force me."  He prayed his bravado was convincing.
Prayed they understood a word of what he was saying.

"Masa lun vatun isib?" the leader demanded.

"Please," Trevor pleaded, "I don't know the speech of the Fair folk.  I'm
sorry.  I hope you can understand me.  Please just let us go."

The leader made a motion to his fellows, and they brandished their weapons.
Harmony stepped close to Trevor.  They huddled together in the center of the
circle.  The leader crouched slowly down, motioning to Trevor and Harmony to
sit as well.

Trevor shook his head no, his jaw clenched.  I might not have much of a chance
against six of them, he thought, but I'll bet I can make an opening in this
circle.  Keep them occupied long enough for Harmony to disappear.

"Harmony, get ready to run and hide," he whispered to her.

"Vo daetetu, isentoloa.  Vo daetetu."  The leader resumed his standing
posture, but continued to motion for them to sit.

"Trev, put down your staff."

"No, I can knock at least one of them down.  You can get through and hide
while I keep them busy!"

"No, Trev, no," She said, a pleading tone edging into her voice.  "Listen to
him!  Put it down."

Trevor shook his head.  His knuckles were pale over the dark iron staff.

Harmony stepped slowly in front of Trevor.  She looked at the leader.  His
eyes narrowed, returning her gaze.

"I will not run," she said, sitting down.  Is she talking to me, or him,
Trevor wondered.  She turned her head, awkwardly, to look up at him.  She had
that look in her eyes.  Well.  We've gotten this far trusting each other.
Trevor sat beside his sister, cross legged, with his staff across his lap.

The leader motioned to the others, who lowered their weapons.

"What do you think they want?" Trevor asked.

"Not sure," Harmony replied.  "Not to fight, though."

The leader turned to Harmony and asked "Barabaturu mar lun?"

She shook her head in reply.  To Trevor she said "I think he thinks I'm your

"What?"  Trevor eyed his sister.  "Can you understand what he's saying?"

"No.  Only, some of his meaning."

"Well, can you talk to him?"  He was almost beyond being surprised by her.
But, she shook her head no again.

The leader posed a question to the others.  They responded rapidly in their
strange, babbling speech.  Harmony whispered "I think they're deciding what to
do with us."

That can't be good, Trevor thought.  Well, if she can understand some of their
meaning, maybe they can understand some of ours.

"Wait, please	!" he blurted out.  The conversation stopped, as all eyes
turned to him.  He carried on quickly, before the moment was lost.  "My sister
and I, we're looking for someone.  We need to find him.  We're being pursued
by a bad, bad man.  He caught up to us back at the river.  I hurt him, and we
got away, but he is probably healed by now and after us again.  The man we're
looking for, we were told he could help us.  His name's Belden and he knows--"

The leader interrupted him. "Beleden?" he asked.  "Lu sentoturu Beleden?  Ol
momom e tholoa?"

Harmony gasped, and nodded furiously.  She grabbed Trevor's arm, saying "They
know Belden!"

No one spoke for a moment, while the leader pondered, eyeing Trevor and
Harmony both, very carefully.  Then he motioned for them to rise.  They stood
while he barked some short orders to the others.  Four of them turned away and

"Daetel?" the leader asked Trevor.  He held out one arm, palm facing upward.
Trevor turned to Harmony for guidance.

Harmony nodded to the leader, and extended her arm in the same way.  The
leader took her hand, helping her with the gesture, and turned her arm over to
meet his so they were clasping wrists.  He smiled.

"Rul," he pronounced, with a quick nod of his head.  "Vo ultaratun." He
turned, and motioned for them to follow.

They hastily grabbed their packs and blankets, and followed.  They walked, the
two Fair folk on either side of Trevor and Harmony.  Trevor could not help but
notice that the other one who had stayed with the leader, the one walking by
his side, was the one who carried a staff.

It was not long before they reached the lip of a valley, secluded within the
mountains.  It was very pretty, really.  A modest lake lay in the eastern end,
which had steep walls.  The walls, and a bit of the sky, reflected in the
placid water.  To the west, as near as Trevor could make out the directions,
the valley sloped more gently upward.  Forest intruded into the valley on that
end, but stopped well before the lake.

"Genam pelal," said the leader, with a sweeping gesture to the valley.  Then
he pointed down to the lake.  "Ibireton."

Trevor looked closer, and saw small houses, in little clusters of fours and
fives, near the lake's edge.  A stream ran down the valley, through the Fair
folk's village, and into the lake.  Above the village, toward the forest, were
areas that looked like gardens.

The leader motioned them on, and began the descent into the valley.

There was much excitement in the village when they arrived.  The village elder
was summoned, and had a long discussion with their escort.  "He's telling him
we're not dangerous," Harmony ventured.  At length, another of the Fair folk,
an elderly woman, was summoned.  There was more explaining.  Then the woman
approached them.

"I greet youn--you," she said.

"He- hello," Trevor stammered.  Harmony nodded her hello to the woman.

"I speak your speech," she said.  "I am bid ask youn--you--things.  You must
answer true."

"Yes, of course," Trevor said.  Despite the utterly strange circumstance,
Trevor had to admit that he didn't feel threatened.  These Fair folk seemed,
well, more curious than anything.

"You have come in search of Beleden?"

Trevor paused a moment, wondering about the slight difference in the name.
Had he heard Garron correctly, way back in Merlon?  He had said 'Belden,'
right?  Am I remembering wrong?

"Yes," he answered.  "A holy man, Garron, a Pious of the Aran, told us to seek
for"--Trevor made a quick decision to use the woman's version--"Beleden in these

The woman nodded.  She was clearly unaccustomed to speaking in Hardalese.
Trevor wondered if he had spoken slowly enough.  Of if he would offend her by
speaking too slowly.

"Where--you--are from?" she asked, not making that particular mistake a third

"Far away.  South, and also west.  We have traveled two months, almost."

She relayed this information to the elder, who seemed concerned.

"Elder Galembrion would know, is our valley, our home, known so far away?"

"No," Trevor said.  "Wait, I'll show you."  He unslung his pack, careful to be
slow about his movements, and hunted through it for the necklace.  "Pious
Garron gave this to me.  It once belonged to Beleden, and has an enchantment
on it that led us here."

He held out the necklace for inspection.  The woman reached out a finger.  She
touched it, and hissed as she pulled it back quickly, as though she had been
pricked by a thorn.  What was that about, Trevor wondered, as the woman
relayed this new information to the elder.  The elder issued a command to
someone standing nearby, who went quickly off.

"A moment, we wait.  Beleden will come."

Trevor and Harmony smiled at each other.  It was hard to believe, really.
After all this time, to have finally reached this place.  But hadn't Belden
come here seeking seclusion?  Why would he live here, with these Fair folk?
That, for a change, was a question he could probably get an answer to, soon

They waited several long minutes, as it turned out, surrounded by villagers
wanting to get a look at the strangers.  Trevor was uncomfortable being the
center of so much attention.  I wonder, he thought to himself, if that's
because we've spent so long now trying to stay hidden.  And here we are,
anything but hidden.

At last, the crowd parted and an old man slowly approached.  He was stooped
over, much shorter than Trevor, with thin white hair, and a hunched back.  He
walked with a well-worn cane for support.

"What's this then?" he asked, when he reached them.  "Strangers, they tell me,
and strangers I see!"  He seemed excited to see them.  Trevor wondered how
long it had been since he had seen another human face.

"You're Belden?" Trevor asked.

"I am, lad, I am!  Hee!" he chuckled his answer.  "But that's a name I've not
heard for a long time.  Please, call me Beleden.  It's what they call me here,
and I rather prefer the way it sounds.  More... musical, wouldn't you say?"
Trevor was about to answer that he didn't know but would be happy to oblige,
when Beleden continued.

"Who would you be, then?"

"I'm Trevor Arkenstone, and this is my sister Harmony.  We've come a long way
to find you."

"Have you now?"

"Yes.  From White Sands."  Beleden scratched at his chin.  The name didn't
seem to register with him.  "It's near the end of the Trade Road, past Merlon.
Not that you would have ever heard of it," he added.

"Merlon... Oooh, yes, yes!  Past Merlon, you say?  Goodness, you have come a
long way, haven't you!  Hee!  And all this way just to see me?"  Trevor
nodded.  "Well, come come.  You must tell me all about it.  But let us not
keep an old man standing here in the sun.  Come, be my guests, for midday
meal, at least."

He exchanged brief words with Galembrion, who seemed to agree with whatever
Beleden had said.  Then Beleden turned slowly around, pivoting on his cane,
and motioned for them to follow.  Step by slow step, they walked with him back
to his home.

Beleden's home was really more of a hut, as it turned out.  A small wooden
building of roughly hewn timber, but elegant in design.  Beleden shooed the
crowd of villagers, many who had followed them, away.  "You must forgive them
their curiosity.  You are perhaps the second and third humans to come to this
valley within the memories of any of them.  I, of course, am the first.  Hee!"

He ushered them in, and bade them to sit down.  The hut was sparsely
furnished.  A low bed lay on the floor.  There were a few shelves, with a very
few books on them, and one shelf that had been made into a small shrine, with
carved wooden figurines of the Aravolir.  Trevor suspected Beleden had carved
them himself.  Near the door, stood a large pack, looking laden and heavy.
Trevor asked about it.

"Excuse me, Belden--Beleden, sorry--are you going on a trip?"

"I was, lad, yes.  Every year, when the weather warms enough for these old
bones of mine, I set out into the mountains.  Spent a month, sometimes longer,
by myself.  The quiet does me good.  I medidate, pray."  He busied himself
with cups and a bottle while he talked.

"I learn things in the silence that I would never hear if I stayed around
here.  In fact, it's a good thing you got here when you did.  I was fixing to
leave tomorrow morning, or possibly this afternoon if I felt up to it.  Maybe
get as far as Aldost before nightfall.  You'd have had to explain to these
fine Fair folk, and then you'd have had to chase me down some more.  Hee!"

"Yes, very fortunate," Trevor agreed.

"Now then," he said, after everyone was settled and an unfamiliar--but
pleasant--wine had been poured, "You'd best start from the beginning."

Trevor had rehearsed, many times, what he would tell Beleden when they finally
found him.  He launched into the tale, leaving nothing out.  Any detail might
be important.  Beleden interrupted often, questioned him on many points,
Trevor and Harmony both providing what details they could remember.

When he got to the temple in Merlon, Beleden interrupted again.  "Garron's
still there, is he?  Well bless me.  And he's a Pious now!  Hee!  Well good
for him.  He was a good student, he was.  Perhaps if you see him again, you
can tell him to come visit me.  I'd like that."

"I will."  Trevor handed the necklace to Beleden.  "Garron gave us this, to
help find you."  The sight of it clearly brought memories back to the old man,
and his eyes misted over a bit.  "But, I'm getting ahead of the story," Trevor

"Oh, yes, of course.  Do carry on."

Trevor continued, finishing up their stay at the temple, and going into their
passage to the Spine.  After a while, a woman came in bearing a platter of
food.  It was the same woman who had questioned Trevor earlier.

"Emathane, I believe, you have met before," said Beleden.  "She looks after my
wrinkly hide, and has learned enough Hardalan to help me with some of my

"Pleased to meet you," Trevor said.

"Hoa," she replied.

Harmony nodded to the old woman, and took the platter from her.  "Thank you,"
she said, setting the food down in the middle of the room.

"Yes, thank you, Em," Beleden said.

"Luam adanin," she replied, turning to leave.  When she had gone, Beleden
urged Trevor to continue while they ate.

When Trevor got to their misadventures in the abandoned village, Beleden was
particularly inquisitive, taking perhaps an hour to get through that part of
the story.  The rest, then, went fairly quickly.

When at last they finished, Beleden refilled Trevor's cup--for his throat was
dry with talk--and paced about his hut.  "That's quite a tale, lad.  Quite a

"Well, it's all true."

"Oh indeed, lad.  Indeed!  I didn't mean to imply otherwise.  Only, it gives
much to ponder."

There was silence for a moment, then Trevor asked "Where do you think he is
now?  Aramathokoa, I mean."

"That is an excellent question lad.  An excellent question.  Let us see if we
cannot figure it out!  Now then.  Let us imagine that we are Aramathokoa,
unpleasant as I know the notion is.  An impetuous boy has prevented us, once
again, from delivering vengeance upon this lovely and innocent lass."  He
indicated Harmony with a sweep of his hand.  Harmony blushed at the

"We lie, furious, in great discomfort on the floor, bound hand and foot.  What
can we do?"

"Use our magic?" Trevor ventured.

"To be honest, Trevor, I do not believe that we have any magic.  That is to
say, not in the way that normal men can."

"But--" Trevor began.

Beleden held up a hand to silence him.  He broke the train of imagination,
saying "Yes, I don't doubt what you experienced, particularly at your
unfortunate father's funeral.  Only, I don't think it was magic, as such.
Another kind of power.  Of the Aran, but weakened.  Faded, as it were, with
his fall from Ararsel, like a colorful rug that has lost its hues to too much

"Well his powers, then.  Whatever they are.  He probably used them to get

"That is certainly possible.  Let us presume that this is correct.  Having
escaped our bonds, what do we do then?"

"Heal our leg?"

Harmony shook her head no, disagreeing.

"I think, in this case, that she is right, Trevor.  Aramathokoa's powers--his
original powers--were to help him in his duty, to collect the souls of those
whose time had passed and convey them to Aramanamoa.  Healing powers would be
uncalled for in his particular line of work."

The thought that Aramathokoa couldn't just heal himself gave Trevor much hope
indeed.  It was, he allowed, obvious.  Why hadn't he thought of that long ago?
And yet, Harmony had said that killing him wouldn't do any good.

"So," Beleden continued, before Trevor could ask about that discrepancy, "let
us imagine that we have struggled mightily, and have free ourselves of your
ropes, but can do nothing about our injuries.  We are exhausted, and greatly
pained.  We lay upon the floor, to rest.  It was early morning, you said, when
you defeated him?"

"Yes.  I had just gotten up when I heard his horse.  And we heard him yelling
before we were clear of the village, so I didn't knock him out for long."

"Then having rested to gather some strength, by now it is, let us say, perhaps
mid-day.  We are probably hungry and thirsty.  Ah, but there is food and water
in our saddlebags!"

"No," Trevor interjected, "we took those."

"As you have said.  But we, having been unconscious at the time, do not know
that, do we?"  Trevor shook his head.  Whose story was this, anyway?  "We drag
ourselves, on hands and elbows, outside.  Alas!  Our horse lies dead,
saddlebags gone!"

"Serves him right," Trevor opined.

"No doubt, no doubt.  But, hungry and thirsty we remain.  Hunger, while
uncomfortable, is at least not dire.  Thirst, on the other hand, can be.
Particularly here, in a deserted village, where there is not and will not be
anyone to help us.  What do we do?"

Trevor said nothing, waiting for Beleden, who was clearly enjoying this, to
continue.  It was certainly engaging to listen to him talk and think out loud.
As Beleden paced in the small hut, guiding them towards and answer, Trevor
could understand why Garron had called him one of the best teachers he'd ever

"We go to the river, lad!," Beleden said, excitedly.  "To the river!  We drag
ourselves, yard by agonizing yard, to the river.  We drink the water along the
banks, even though it is muddy."

"Then we sleep," Harmony added.

"Yes, lass, I expect we do.  It has been arduous, coming to the river.  We
sleep.  We awake later, from the pain in our leg.  It is probably evening.  We
contemplate what to do.  Sooner or later, a boat or a raft or something will
come along.  We could call out for help, then.  Should we wait that long, do
you think?"

Beleden looked at them expectantly.  When Trevor realized the question wasn't
rhetorical, he considered, and then shook his head.  "Maybe.  He wouldn't want
to wait, though.  He would want to get after us as soon as possible.  While
our trail was still fresh."

"Exactly right!  Of course we would.  But it is evening!  There will probably
not be a boat coming by until tomorrow, and even then, perhaps not until hours
into the day.  Intolerable!  And besides, we are in great agony.  Our leg has
swollen now, and grown stiff.  It throbs and stabs us anew with every motion
we make.

"We look around.  What is here, on the side of the bank?"

"Um, bushes?"

"Think lad, think!"

"Door," Harmony chimed in.

Yes.  The door they had floated their gear across the river with.  They had
left it there on the bank.  Why bother to drag it back up to the village?
Trevor nodded.

"We drag the door into the water, clambor up onto it, and start floating down
river."  Trevor cursed himself for having left the door there.  Aramathokoa
could have been stranded, for a long time!  But, how could he have known?

"Right again, lad.  Right again.  Let me see that map of yours, eh?"  Trevor
withdrew it from his pack and handed it over.  Beleden brought it close to his
face--perhaps his eyesight was going with age--and examined it at some length.

"That village could not, I think, have been more than four days walk from
Church.  And floating downstream is much faster than walking up.  So, we would
float.  Perhaps a day, perhaps a day and a half, and reach Church."

"And in Church, there would be plenty of help," Trevor finished the thought.
"And his boat."

"And from there, let's see, we avail ourselves of a healer, get a new horse,
and so on and so on, and proceed as quickly as we can back to the village."
Beleden ticked off days on his fingers.  "Perhaps a week, at the most, and he
would be back on your trail.  Well, that could be a problem."

"You think he'll come here, then?"  Trevor hated the thought, not only of
encountering Aramathokoa again, but of who in this pleasant little village
would end up suffering, or dead, because of it.  "We should go, then,

"Now, let's not be so hasty, lad!  Consider.  Aramathokoa was clearly waiting
for you in Church, right?"  Trevor nodded.  "The only reason he would come all
the way into the Spine would be if he knew this was your destination.  He
could only have learned that from Garron--er, Pious Garron, excuse me--and if he
had, then why would he have waited for you in Church?  Why not come here,
quickly and on horseback, find me first, and then wait where he would be
certain you would come?  No, he must have waited in Church because he expected
Church, or perhaps Olanton, were your destinations, and it only made sense
that you'd travel up the Trade Road."

Trevor nodded.  It made sense.  But then, when he got word that we'd been seen
on the river--for surely he'd had people all over Church looking for signs of
us--would that change his ideas about our destination?  Trevor voiced his

"Possibly, lad, possibly."  Beleden thought for a moment, then added, "but in
this instance, I don't think so.  After all, he sailed to Merlon ahead of you,
and at some point he must have realized that you'd found out about that,
because you left there so fast.  He would thus expect you to be wary that he
would do the same thing at Church, which indeed he did.  So to find you where
he did would suggest that you were attempting to go around Church, to bypass
it entirely, because you suspected he would be there and because your ultimate
destination was Olanton.  

"He would, to be sure, return to the village and attempt to track you down.
But the trail would be cold.  This time of year, a week's wind, rain, and new
growth would do much to obscure any trail you had left.  He might possibly
track you to the Mountain Loop Road, but from there, the obvious conclusion
would be that you were headed for Olanton.

"If I were him, I would return to Church and send riders along the road to
look for you, find you, and capture you, while I sailed to Olanton to wait
there for your delivery.  I cannot be sure, of course, but I believe we will
be safe here, for at least a little while."

Trevor was glad to hear it.  Still, it worked both ways.  If Aramathokoa lost
their trail, then they, too, lost his.  They couldn't stay here
forever--right?--so at some point they would have to venture out again.  And
always stay wary of meeting him again.

Having arrived at an answer, Beleden slipped into quiet thought.  He continued
to pace for a few minutes, muttering bits and pieces of thoughts which, try as
he might, Trevor couldn't follow along with.  Beleden stopped abruptly, coming
to some sort of decision.

"Well.  I need to talk with Galembrion for a bit.  Let me find Emathane.  She
can show you around the village, and find someplace comfortable for you to
stay.  I assume you will be staying with us, yes?  We have much to discuss."

Trevor and Harmony both nodded enthusiastically.  Trevor wasn't sure what
Harmony's reasons were, but for himself, anyway, the thought of staying
somewhere and not having to be on constant guard was a wonderful relief.