The Heartblood Horn: Chapter 2

Introduction: A chapter from the serial novel "The Heartblood Horn" appears every Sunday.


Chapter 2 : Apprentice’s Warning

The deer trail passed underfoot as Galen ran through the silent forest. He was not sure how long he had been running, but the shadows of evening had unfurled into the moonlit darkness of night. Galen cursed at the thought of his brother’s foolishness. The Huntress would kill Boren on the spot if he revealed his ability to call upon the Ether to her – and Boren was foolish enough to do just that. 
The remains of Hollow Parish rose above the glow of the Wayfarer’s camp on the ridge as Galen broke free of the trees. The spongy earth was steeped in mist that could be traced to the distance marsh. Nothing good ever comes from that cursed place, he thought with displeasure. Burnt-out huts rose from the vapors as Galen pressed towards the ridge. The young smith stepped quietly through the wounded ground, releasing his breath once he had begun his ascent.
At the crest of the ridge, he looked upon the Wayfarers’ camp with unease. They were not Valefolk and could not be trusted. A strange group, these travelers without homes. The field swarmed with the colorfully dressed folk, their song-like voices seeming to ring with mischief. Four carts were nestled in a broad circle, the center of which a healthy bonfire crackled. Smaller campfires glowed around the bonfire like stray stars, dim reflections of the greater blaze.
Galen stepped rapidly into the circle of carts, his eyes scanning the gathered folk for the Mederi. The merrymaking faded to a hushed whisper as the burn of stares fell upon him.
The shadow of a tall man stepped in Galen’s path. “What brings you here, lander?”

“I – I  am looking for Morain.”
“The Mederi has done all she can for your family.”
“And I grateful for what she did for my father. But I am not here to ask for her services again. I come with a message.”
“Wait here.”
Galen backed into the shadows and the sounds of the camp resumed, but in a subdued manner. The Tall Wayfarer disappeared into a tent and was gone several minutes. Galen prepared to follow after him when the Medri emerged. Her face was flushed, her dark hair drawn back leaving a few curly strands to fall past her eyes. She searched the darkness for a moment and then spotted him. She motioned with her hand for him to follow and headed towards the crest of the hill. With the feeling of the eyes upon him again, Galen approached the shadows where she stood beyond the light of the camp. She was barefoot in the grass, her gaze suspicious.
“Can we speak?” His heart beat wildly as the words slipped from his tongue, but his words were firm.
Morain looked hard at Galen. “I saw how you looked at me when I first came to your cottage to treat your father. It was touching… in an innocent sort of way. But you never should have come here.”
Galen blushed. He did not realize his gawking had been as obvious as that. “I am not here for that reason.” He rushed to speak at her doubtful gaze. “You did a great service for my father. He would have suffered terribly if it were not for you.”
“And my people were paid.”
“It was not enough.”
Morain’s voice hardened. “Your father’s payment was sufficient. I require nothing else from him, or from you – and I suggest you go now,” she glanced over her shoulder at the camp. “Go while you still can.”
 Galen felt her slipping away from him and the words jumped from his lips. “Morain…I – I am an Ether-born.” He was as surprised as she was by his confession.
“You? But I sense nothing of the sort.”
“My connection is still transparent. I have never touched the Ether…never answered the voices, though I know the call all too well.”
“You came to tell me that?”
“No –”
“Morain.” The voice of the Tall Wayfarer startled them both. The man’s silver eyes shined down on Galen as one of his large hands fell onto his shoulder. But it was not only the Tall Wayfarer that caught Galen’s attention. A golden-haired woman in white robes stood behind him, a blade with a silver pommel at her side. Her voice was cold. “You stray too far from the light, Morain. There is something astir in the darkness tonight.”
The Tall Wayfarer pointed towards the fire, around which many of the wayfarers had gathered. “It is time to return, Morain. You, lander – “ he gave Galen a hard stare as he pushed him back. “Must leave us.”
“But I must tell Morain something. I must tell you all – ”
“Go, now.” The Tall Wayfarer’s voice left no room for argument.
Galen hesitated a moment before complying. He turned and began to walk away,  the eyes of the Wayfarers boring into his back. A voice at his shoulder startled him, and he turned to see Morain at his side.
She grabbed him by the sleeve. “You would go that easily?”
“I should not have. I am – I am –”
“You need to learn courage, lander.”
Galen’s face flushed at the remark.
“What did you come here for?” she asked.
He looked past her to the Tall Wayfarer and the robed woman who were just out of earshot. “We must speak more, but not here. Can you meet me in the thicket by the deer pond?”
Morain’s face clouded over. “You want me alone.”
“It is not what you think…Morain, there is a Huntress after you. She is at my father’s forge as we speak.”
The skepticism in Morain’s gaze faded as she stared deep into his eyes. “You speak true.”
“Please, for your sake, meet me at the pond.”
Morain glanced over her shoulder at the Tall Wayfarer. “I will be there by the silvering of the moon.”
“Until then.” Galen departed with a brisk step and was soon descending the ridge, leaving the stares of the Wayfarers behind him. Reaching the edge of the forest, he turned to face the ridge one last time and saw the shadow of the Tall Wayfarer silhouetted against the moon, his silver eyes reflecting off the moonlight. Shuddering, Galen slipped into the wood and did not look back.
The stars cast a pale light off the unbroken surface of the pond, illuminating the bank where Galen kneeled in wait. He shivered in his damp clothing and was thankful the sudden rainstorm had been brief. But there was no sign of Morain, and the possibility that she had changed her mind did not sit well with him.
 “Where are you?” he murmured impatiently. The undergrowth shifted and crackled as if in response, startling him. Silver eyes stared out upon the glowing bank, followed by a pair of powerful-looking antlers.
The buck moved like a ghost onto the bank, lifting its nose hesitantly and surveying the darkened surroundings with a careful eye. The muscles of the creature moved fluidly with each cautious step as it made its way to the water to wet its lips. Galen watched in awe, afraid the sudden intensity of his beating heart would betray him. The buck drank deeply and the mirror of stars at its mouth blurred into a twinkling smear. Galen released a breath and the buck’s head shot up, spraying water from its hooves as it stepped backwards up the bank. Its silver gaze fell upon Galen and he felt a shimmer within the Ether as their eyes met. The muscles of the buck’s body tensed and the great creature sprung into the forest’s embrace, disappearing the way it had come.
 A voice broke from the darkness. “Come forth, Galen.” Morain stepped from the brush, the hood of her cloak pulled back so that her face was visible in the moonlight.
Galen looked at her in surprise. Slowly he stood and let the light spill over him. “Did you see that?”
“I do not have much time.”
Galen shook his head. “The buck. It was magnificent –”
She shook her head. “Please, speak to me of this Huntress.”
Galen heard the urgency in her voice and suddenly felt foolish about his excitement over the buck. He spoke quickly to amend for it. “You must depart from these parts at first light. The Huntress will be after you by then.”
“What does this Huntress want?”
Galen shook his head. “You know the answer to that better than I.”
Morain sighed. “Her presence puts us all in danger.”
“She did not come for them –”
“But they will be in danger nonetheless. It is the reason we came to this lonely vale in the first place - to escape the likes of her.”
Morain was about to continue when her brows suddenly knitted. She had sensed something. Galen knew it without her saying a word, for he had sensed it as well. A pulse in his body, as if his heart had skipped a beat. And a voice, tiny and far away, but drawing closer the more he paid attention to it. Something had occurred in the Ether.
“She has found my brother out!” Galen exclaimed.
Morain paled. “You sensed it as well?”
“Yes! It was Boren. The fool must have tried to use his powers on her.” Galen slapped his hands to his head.
Morain stepped up to him and grabbed his wrist. Lowering his hand gently into hers, she spoke. “It is my fault. The Huntress is after me.”
Her hand felt warm in his. “No. It is his fault. He has always been brash. There is no doubt that he has called upon the Ether to face her because of his own desire to wield the power.”
“I pray it is not so. He will be...” Her voice trailed away, but the unspoken word hung in the air as clearly as if it had been shouted: killed.
“I will not let that happen,” Galen growled.
“Are you planning to reveal yourself as well? You cannot defeat a Huntress.”
“I will be forced to face her one way or the other. She will know of my powers now that Boren has revealed his. I would rather face her with my brother at my side then flee and be hunted my entire life!” He bit his lip as soon as he had spoken the words, realizing he had just described Morain’s situation. The Mederi remained silent.
“It is different for you,” he added quickly.
Morain faced him with a forced smile. “No, it is not. Even here, passing through this little wayside village, the Huntress marks my trail.”
“But you must flee…your service as a Mederi is invaluable to those you help. Your arrival here cured my father. That was nothing short of a miracle.”
“Miracles are reserved for powers greater than I, Galen.” There was a glimmer in Morain’s eye as she looked back towards the towering ridge where her camp was. “I must leave you. If Tasarin catches me out here, I will have more than a Huntress to face.”
“The tall one? With the iron-like grip?”
The hint of a smile appeared on Morain’s face. “He was a little rough with you. But it is his duty to watch after us – which is why it will not take him long to realize I am gone.”
“I understand. What is your course from here?” Galen’s heart began to race at the thought of separating from her.
“I do not know yet. But I must return to the camp.” She pressed her hand into his. “Tell me, can you describe the Huntress? Does she have a name?”
Galen shivered as he conjured the vision of the Huntress in his mind. “She has a face like the winter – cold and beautiful. Her eyes are chestnut, and she is adorned in wolf-fur and a black cape. She carries a bow and a sword, both of which I am sure she is quite versed in. And she rides a midnight stallion, the strength and size of which I have never seen matched.”
“My sister, Vensla….she had a dream of a woman like that.”
The comment caught Galen by surprise. He had heard of Wielders called Foretellers whose dreams sometimes told the future. “You mean, dreams that came true?”
“Yes. What is the name of this Huntress?”
Galen thought for a moment before it came to him. “Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn Ravenmane.”
“Gwendolyn,” Morain said, and for a moment there was a glimmer of recognition in her voice. She quickly dropped her eyes. “Thank you, Galen.”
“I am simply returning a favor.” The two stood in silence for several long moments before Galen spoke again. “The moon has moved far along.”
“The night flees quickly.” She pressed her hands tightly in his. Galen’s blood warmed at her touch. He looked away but she turned his face to hers with a soft caress of her fingers and kissed him lightly on the lips.
“May the Colors shine in your favor.” She released him and spoke no more, disappearing into the fold of the dark forest. Galen stood for a long time before moving, the world deep and silent around him. Finally, finding the will to move his legs once again, he headed for home.