Chapter Four: A Tale From His Youth

A grey cloak trudged between the wagons of the Travelers’ caravan, the tails of tattered fabric whispering, a thousand runes woven into the very threads. A silver chain clasped about the figure’s neck, and a ring strung upon it thudded with each step. From her tent, Léln caught sight of him as a glint of moonlight caught in the band and flickered out of sight. She cupped her child closer to her chest. The warmth of him seeped into her skin. His little fists strained against the swathes of fabric, and she took a moment to wrap them once more about her son.

With an effort, she tugged her gaze from the tent flaps to the figure huddled behind her. A beard burgeoned from his hood, rolling down to his waist, and he coiled strands about his thumb as he studied the child. A hum emanated from deep in his chest—a reverberation that reminded Léln of a great bell, high in a steeple, long after it had gone silent to the untrained ear. He pushed the folds of his cloak aside and pressed the back of his palm to the boy’s forehead. He is ashen cold, he thought. But can I be the one to give him warmth? He needs his mother.

“You will keep him safe?” she said. “Promise me you can keep him safe.”

“He will be safer with us, that much I swear to you,” the figure said. “I know this cannot be easy, but his gift is not the sort of thing that will earn him a comfortable life. My brother and I—we were once like him ourselves. Without someone to guide him, this gift will devour him.”

“Where will you take him?”

“Theryn knows a place, up north,” the man said. He drew his hand back beneath his robes. In such darkness, Léln could just make out the cyan folds of his cloak, though little more than his eyes could be seen amidst the shadows of his hood. “We will take him to the Holy Archive in the Hinterlands. There are others there. A haven.”

Léln searched the figure’s eyes, wondering whether there was truth within the slivers of his irises illuminated by the light of the candle between them. Its warmth waxed and waned, easing and pronouncing the creases upon his cheeks in time with his breaths.

Léln pulled her son closer. “Perhaps I should—”

“You would not make it.” His words held a certainty that shot a pang of dread through her chest. “The Hinterlands are a barren land. You would starve amongst the stones, and your son would die with you. I promise you, he will be safer with us. If something should happen—” But he must have seen the flicker in her gaze, for he shook his head. “No, nothing will happen. Please, give him to me. It is for your safety as much as his.”

“That figure…” Léln glanced back to the tent flap. “He is here to kill us.”

“He is.” The man made a gesture and held it to his chest. “If lady luck is with us, he will be distracted by your husband and we can make our escape, but you need to give me the boy. If you do not…”

Léln nestled her child in a swathe of blankets between them, then beckoned for the man’s hands. He brought them forth, and she took them up, tracing over the crags in the skin and the scars riddling his fingers.

“Luin,” she said, “you are a good man. I need you to know this.”

“Thank you.” He moved to take up the child, but she held her grip.

“Not yet.” Léln clenched her jaw. Something clawed up her throat—a gasp or a sob or maybe a wail, but she swallowed it down, then pressed her eyes shut and let go of Luin’s hands. She wrapped her arms about herself and sat there, unmoving.

“Léln?” Luin reached to touch her shoulder, but she shook her head.

Luin waited several moments, watching her kneel with her arms about herself, until it became obvious that this was all she could do to allow what she knew needed to be done. He eased his hands beneath the child and lifted him up, enwrapping the boy in the folds of his cloak, then eased past Léln and brushed aside the tent flap. The air outside kissed his cheeks with frigid lips, and beads of dew dribbled down onto his hood, wetting his hair through the fabric. Luin looked back to Léln, still kneeling, her arms trembling tight about her legs.

Before he could step out into the dark, Léln’s voice came after him, muffled as she spoke through her sleeves. “Tell him I did this because I love him. Tell him to come find us. Promise me, Luin.”

“You will see him again,” Luin said, then hurried out into the night.