A Question of Trust
Willow trudged diligently and dutifully behind Poppy and Heyrah into the forest, slightly dazed and her muscles still aching with the tension of fear and some adrenaline. Was she really about to take on some unknown person or creature back there on the bridge? she wondered. It was so unlike her, but it had seemed a reflexive response — survival over the other option; she could barely bring herself to consider the idea let alone say the word. She focused on Poppy’s back, the way her brown hair cascaded almost like a waterfall down to the middle of her back and the way her rucksack padded against her side as she walked, trying to match Heyrah’s longer stride. Every other moment, she glanced over her shoulder back toward the bridge, wondering if the black-clad figure still lurked about in the shadows of the bridge or if it had made off elsewhere. Or if it even existed at all.
At last they came to a stop by a small stream and a wider space within the gathering of trees around them. A perfect place to set camp for the night, Heyrah said as he disappeared into the trees. Without hesitation, Poppy dropped her bag and began evening the ground around them as Willow stood and stared, not quite sure if she trusted Heyrah. She pulled Poppy toward her and leaned in close, so that her mouth was only inches from Poppy’s ear.
“Do you trust him?” she asked.
Poppy turned to look at her. “Heyrah? Absolutely.”
“What gives you such confidence in this trust you have?” Willow pressed.
“From our talk. He knows much and advises wisely,” Poppy replied. She rubbed Willow’s arm reassuringly and noticed the gash by her shoulder. “Willow, what is this?”
Willow winced as her friend ran her fingertips over the spot where the creature had grabbed her and cut her blanket, clothes and shoulder. Before she could answer, Heyrah reappeared from the trees followed by a smaller figure who trailed several feet behind Heyrah’s flowing brown cloak.
“We should see to your wound,” Heyrah said, approaching her and Willow fell back a couple of steps, unsure, her eyes still on the smaller figure behind him. “This,” said Heyrah, “is Belac, an assistant to me for many years now. He will help us in the setting up of camp, especially in the collecting of firewood. These woods can bring unseen danger if you are unfamiliar with them as you girls are.”
Beside her, Poppy sighed as if in relief. Willow remained guarded as she watched Belac begin gathering wood along the edge of the small clearing. “Belac, I can help at least right around here,” Poppy said. She moved off to help the small character who looked a bit strange to Willow.
Heyrah appeared beside her. “Yes, that’s right. He is one from the Outer Realms. But I’ve known him for some years and I trust him with my life, so you can, too, young Willow.”
Willow faced him boldly. “How do I know I can trust even you?” she said.
“You are wise as well as a warrior,” he said and she flinched.
“As I’ve told you already, I am not a warrior. I do not wish to accept the declaration of the Fates that I am to be a warrior.”
“Ah, not only a warrior, but a protector of truth,” Heyrah said.
“Why is it that you chose to separate us on the bridge?” Willow asked.
“What I need to speak to each of you is for you alone, young Willow.”
“But Poppy and I tell each other everything,” Willow said.
“Do you?” His voice held now judgment but intimated that she was perhaps not being entirely truthful with him.
“Yes,” she said.
“And your dream? Poppy knows about your dream?” His gaze was fixed on her and his blue eyes pierced hers with the demand for truth.
She looked away. “No. Not in its entirety,” she admitted.
“As it should be,” Heyrah said. “Some things are for you alone.”
Willow looked at his face and saw the barest hint of a smile there. “I suppose you are correct.”
“Come,” he said, “let us take a look at that shoulder.” He led her to where Belac and Poppy had dragged a log and invited her to sit. “What do you know about the creature that did this?” he asked.
“I could not see it for the darkness,” Willow told him. “What do you know about the creature that did this?”
“I fear not enough to be of help to you,” he replied and said no more. For the next several minutes he tended to the wound, dabbing a salve from his bag on it and wrapping it loosely with a bandage. “That should do for now.”
By that point Poppy returned, sitting beside her on the log as Belac disappeared into the trees to fetch additional wood for the fire. “How do you feel?” Poppy asked her.
“Cold and tired and quite hungry,” Willow said.
“Me, too,” Poppy said.
“I will have Belac get the fire started momentarily and we will warm some things to eat in the fire. Perhaps then, while we are eating, we can talk a bit more before we rest for the evening.” With that, Heyrah rose and moved off in the direction that Belac had gone, leaving the girls to themselves.
“I don’t suppose you’re supposed to tell me what you talked about,” Willow said.
Poppy shook her head and then smiled. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t,” she said and winked at her friend. “So, care to tell me about this wound and these?” Poppy held up the sheathed sword and the shield.
“I will, but can it maybe wait upon the light of the day?” Willow replied.
“At first light,” Poppy said, “as soon as my eye catches the dawning of the sun’s rays, you should know that I will rouse you from your dreams.”
Given the dream she’d had earlier that day and the encounter on the bridge, Willow smiled, believing that to be a much finer way to wake from her dreams. “It’s a deal indeed,” she said.
Belac and Heyrah returned from the forest each with a load of wood and Belac carrying what looked to be some small game. Without a word, he set to work getting a fire started and preparing the game on a rotating spit that he rigged from branches and vines and a couple of items he retrieved from the satchel he kept always on his person. Soon, the smell of roasting meat filled the clearing and Willow’s stomach growled with the anticipation of the savory game. She handed what little food she’d brought to Poppy, who was working alongside Belac though the two did not appear to speak. As for Heyrah, he seemed content to sit a little ways from the group of them, staring into the fire as if watching a vision rather than the fire, his expression rapt, his eyes heavy-lidded but locked on the flames before him.
Willow sat on the ground leaning her back against the log where Heyrah had checked her shoulder. As the chill and the darkness grew thicker, her shoulder ached and she took care to wrap her blanket around the wounded area. With nothing to do but wait, she picked up the sword and the shield, letting her fingers trace the intricate designs etched into the shining silver. She marveled at the fine craftsmanship of both pieces, the beauty of them, actually, for she had never seen such weapons before, except for the makeshift ones the Elders had proffered her at the Ceremony of the Fates. There was writing along one edge of the sword, but she could not read its language. Instead, she traced the letters and the words, feeling the deep groove and feeling almost as if she drew strength from the mysterious words. She shook her head, allowing that it must be her weariness and her wound that influenced such sensations.
Finally, she turned her attention to the shield, turning it round in her hands, feeling its strength, its weight in her hand and considered how its weight and its shape seemed designed as if for her form. When she held it and handled it, it felt an extension of her being and her movement. On its front it had an intricate scene, as if an illustration for a story and Willow couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of familiarity with it though she could not say what was pictured. As with the sword, she traced the groves with her fingers, letting the design seep into her skin with each stroke and again, sensing a strength traveling from the shield into her. Her thoughts were interrupted by the low buoyant cadence of Belac’s voice, indicating that there was food enough for all to eat their fill. She caught his eye, just for a moment, and he smiled, or so she thought, for before she could determine whether it was a smile that she saw, he was back to tending to the fire and the meal. Carefully, she tucked the sword and the shield beside her rucksack and joined the others by the fire.
Belac is an interesting new addition to Willow and Poppy’s quest. If you were Willow, would you trust him? And what do you make of the sword and shield that seems made especially for Willow?
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