Krio: Di Os fɔ di Sɛvin Minuet
“It could be that the scouts have news about Nikolai,” Evander said. He glanced towards the door that led to the main hall, but did not let his eyes linger. I think he was trying not to seem nervous, but somewhere between his naturally friendly and kind nature, and knowing that I would not tolerate being lied to, he wasn’t doing that very well.
“Evander, I need to know: you’ve talked about me being safe in Tierney Ríocht, but are there things out there that would want to hurt Nikolai?”
Evander’s expression changed to show that he was thinking deeply about how to answer my question. He didn’t seem fearful, but was genuinely considering things. “It is generally considered a known fact that our world would not exist without music and magic,” he began, “and also that something happened in a long-forgotten age that… damaged our world. It would be as though there were an ever-present threat that science might stop working in your world. The beings of Tierney Ríocht know that the musicians are here to help sustain it, and that they are to be respected.”
“If that were universally true, Brielle and Maël would not be missing,” I pointed out. “So what are the exceptions?”
He gave me a long look. He wasn’t exasperated or upset or disappointed that he couldn’t hide the nuances I’d seen through. It was more like he respected that I had my fair share of logic as much as he was worried about how I’d react.
“It may be that Nikolai has caused some sort of stirring,” he finally told me. “He may be older than Brom, but he lacks the refinement that you’ve seen in him and Jean-Marc.”
“Oh, he’s a trouble-maker?”
“He has a spirit that can hardly be contained,” Evander said, smiling despite himself.
“But Brielle wasn’t so wild, was she?”
“You, milady, are what some might call as quick as a whip. No, Brielle is a gentlewoman; she is not defenseless, though, and I should point out that she is considered missing, not stolen from us.”
“Are you trying to say she might have left on her own?” I asked.
Evander spent another moment thinking, then nodded. “Though I must admit, I cannot imagine whether it was of her own volition, or if she’d been lured somewhere questionable.”
“And what about Sir Maël?” I wanted to know.
“Ah, our dearest knight,” Evander said, warmth flowing over him once again. “He is just and dutiful, and he is also well-trained. He’d been sent to search for miss Brielle by His Majesty, but as you can imagine, we know not whether he fell to her same fate, or if a different trouble overtook him.”
I must have looked incredulous just then. I’m sure my expression had him worried; I know that I myself was unnerved. “This is all a wonderful plot for a book or video game,” I told him, pushing my hair back out of my face, “but I’ll say it again: I’m not trained for adventuring. I can’t find them if none of–”
There was a clattering outside, and I stood up to face the door. Evander followed suit, possibly because he felt that he could not remain seated if I was standing.
“That sounded like a sword hitting the floor,” I pointed out.
“Why would they need to get out weapons?” I demanded more firmly. “What trouble could be out there?”
“Dearest Lady Moss,” Evander began, “you are perfectly safe with me.”
I noticed that he was clutching his walking stick.
“Safe from what?”
I heard doors slamming in the distance. Then far-off shouting. Evander still didn’t tell me. I ran over a few things in my head, and decided to try an experiment of sorts. Looking back, I know that many would have considered such an experiment to be an unnecessary risk, but at least I can say that I wasn’t just running blindly towards the danger.
It may seem strange, but my stance was that if I were truly in mortal danger, Evander would have put aside propriety and whisked be off to a safe location– even if it meant picking me up and carrying me there. He was certainly big enough to do just that, and I had a feeling that he was much stronger than his demeanor suggested. So I headed for the door. And I ignored him when he called my name. And I went out into the hall.
The main hall of the manor house was already empty, though. It made sense, I suppose; everyone was already out front. And that’s where I went, too. I opened the front doors and stepped out into the cool evening air of Tierney Ríocht. I was taken by how fresh the air was; it was like finding somewhere pure, somewhere never touched by man. It was better than leaving the city and heading up into the mountains.
I didn’t have time to be distracted by the fresh air, though, no matter how lush and rich it was. Jean-Marc was outside, and Brom was handing him his rapier; his own broadsword was strapped to his back.
“What’s going on?” I asked as I descended the stairs from the front doors to the cobblestone rode that curved around the front.
A little further down, Aubré cursed under his breath, then shouted, “Jean-Marc, I warned you about her!”
Jean-Marc looked to him, then turned around and realized I was there. He shook his head and looked past me. “You were to look after her safety, Evander.” He did not sound pleased. “How could you let her come out here?”
Evander stepped up to my side, and I looked up at him. He didn’t look as upset as Aubré and the others did, but I also think he was putting a certain amount of effort into appearing stoic.
“Perhaps it is best that we both know what she needs to be kept safe from,” he replied. “As I’ve informed you before, it is exceedingly important to her that we are both honest and forthright.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Aubré snapped. “It would be like allowing a child to put their hand into fire so that they can learn how hot it is. She needs to–“
“What I need is to not be compared to a child,” I told him. “If you want my help, you won’t keep me in the dark like a puppet waiting in a box. I’m not your pawn, and I want to know why all of you left in the middle of dinner and now you have your weapons.”
Brom gave the others a knowing look. “I told you that she is a spirited young woman.” Then to Evander, “Nikolai has been sighted making his approach, but trouble follows him. It should not take long to dispatch the beasts and bring Nikolai here.”
“Go back to dinner,” Aubré said. “We’ll have a new guest soon.”
I glared at him. “No.”
“What did you say?” he asked me.
“You can’t just tell me to go inside like I’m a little girl,” I told him. “If it’s so easy to get Nikolai out of whatever pickle he’s gotten into, I’ll be fine waiting here to meet him.”
“Aubré,” Evander interrupted him, maintaining an even yet firm tone, “do be careful how you address our dear Lady Moss.”
Aubré looked ready to give Evander a piece of his mind, but he was distracted by the sound of hoof-beats. Lots of them. They were approaching fast and coming down hard. I glanced further down the road to see what was coming. Then I gripped Evander’s hand tightly.
“Centaurs,” Evander finished for me. “They are our allies, milady, I assure you.”
I watched as three centaurs charged up to the manor house, the foremost among them larger and bleeding from several wounds. He reminded me of a Clydesdale; he was robust and muscular, the fur around his hooves longer, and his coat was a russet sort of red.
“Gentlemen, Tobias cannot hold them on his own for much longer,” the first centaur said.
“We’re ready,” Brom told him. He reached up an arm and climbed onto his back, Then waited for the others.
Jean-Marc was taken by a centaur whose off-white coat seemed to shimmer a faint blue; he was smaller than the one Brom rode, but no less capable. Meanwhile, Aubré mounted one with a tan coat freckled with white, much like a deer. They didn’t wait to exchange any pleasantries, but turned around immediately and raced back the way they’d come. All I could do was stand there and watch them go.
“So… I guess it makes sense that centaurs are friendly enough to be allies. I mean, why wouldn’t they be?” I said, sort of thinking out loud.
“There are many of them in the region Nikolai hails from,” Evander informed me. “They love to sing and play lyre or flute.”
“That’s great,” I told him, “but more importantly… what is there to ally against?”
“Milady?” he queried.
“The world has been in danger for a few centuries, right? Shouldn’t everyone– every single creature– be allied together to make sure the music and magic are sustained?”
“Perhaps they would,” he replied, “if they had half the wit and sensibility that you do.”
His comment made me smirk. “Cutting words,” I chuckled. “At least you agree that there should be only one side in all this. Do tell, though: what motivates some creatures to harm the ones trying to keep the world safe?”
“Some cannot help their nature,” he sighed. “They cannot be reasoned with. “There are a few, though, whose greed overrides their wisdom. The threats to our world are not so imminent that they would compromise their desires.”
“That’s a start,” I replied. “But what do they want so badly that they can’t even stop to think about their homes?”
“Every beast’s answer would be different from the last,” he said. “Some want to rule, and others seek vengeance. Some believe in a different telling of the way to safeguard Tierney Ríocht. There are more answers than I can recount, Lady Moss, and perhaps some to which even I am not privy.”
I didn’t respond to his answer. I couldn’t. There were noises in the distance, far down the road, where the tree line began. Hoof-beats. The shouts of men and women. And once those got closer, growling, snarling, and howling.
“There’s a saying where I come from,” I said as I peered into the dim distance. “If you hear hoof-beats, think horses, not zebras. But this time it was centaurs.”
“Indeed it was, milady,” Evander agreed.
“So when I hear that kind of growling… I don’t know whether to expect wolves or coyotes or something else. And I really hope that something else isn’t Cerberus!”
“It couldn’t be Cerberus,” Evander replied. “Not here.”
I looked up at him again. I’d sort of been joking about Cerberus, as I hadn’t expected specifically-named mythological beasts to exist in Tierney Ríocht; just the more general creature-types. Now I hope that he was right about it not being able to come all the way here from wherever the fiery pit it called home was.
My words faltered when I heard a canine cry closer to us. It sounded a lot more like a wolf– one that had been gravely wounded and knew that its chances of escape or survival were slim. There were more hoof-beats, and then I saw a massive steed ride up through the shadows onto its hind legs, whinnying across the field as it kicked its front legs. It was hard to see; its dark coat blended in with the evening like it was part of the night sky, too. It came down hard, snorted, and shook its head.
“Oh my–” I breathed as I watched it, trying to make out what I was looking at, trying to make sure I really did see what I thought I saw. “Evander, that’s…”
“Milady, it put an end to that werewolf,” Evander said, clearly having no time for wonder in that moment, “but there are more coming.”
He was right. The centaurs were riding back, chasing a pair of– had he really said werewolves?!– with another following them despite its limp. Actually, there were more centaurs than before. And Tobias was flying above them, he spear poised for another strike.
“Milady, far be it from me to beseech anything from you,” Evander said, “but it is for your safety that I think best that you not follow me for a short time.”
“What?” I gasped, clutching his arm. “You can’t take on werewolves, Evander!”
His silver-gray eyes met mine, and I could feel the calm surrounding him. “I know that in your heart you trust magic, my dearest Lady Moss,” he all but whispered. Then he ran the backs of his fingers down my cheek. “Do you trust in me just the same?”
“Evander…” My voice trembled. But his eyes told me that he was certain. He wasn’t afraid. He knew something that I didn’t. “You promise that you’re not throwing your life away by facing werewolves? My god– actual werewolves!”
“I would lay down my life in order to protect yours, milady,” he replied, bowing slightly, “but such extremes will not be necessary this evening. Now, if you’ll excuse me…?”
I nodded. It was stiff, and I could barely move, but I was trusting him not to face something beyond his means. He gave me a smile, then turned to walk down the road towards the fracas. I looked more carefully at his walking stick and could see that he wasn’t relying on it; it was more of an accessory for him, not a cane. He wasn’t hobbled. Besides, I had hardly gotten to know him yet.
Then I noticed his feet. When they touched the ground, light rippled around just as a shallow puddle might. Was the road here enchanted? I took a step forward, but the same thing did not happen under my feet. How odd… I watched him go further, wondering whether his ripples of light were a faun trait or some sort of magic.
The immense horse glanced in my direction. It nickered a little, then turned around restlessly; it didn’t like the presence of the werewolves at all. The horse made several more sounds as it turned and searched the area. I realized then that the werewolf who’d been limping and lagging behind a few moments ago was no longer on that part of the road. He hadn’t joined the fray, either. I looked right, and then left, and then I saw it.
“Look out!” I shouted to Evander. The werewolf was charging towards his side; somehow it had snuck around the group and was trying to sneak in an attack.
Evander slowed his pace and turned slightly towards the charging beast. The horse started making panicked noises. It reared up again and gave a fierce cry. I was so transfixed on the steed that I didn’t noticed the werewolf changing direction. As it got closer, I noticed how rank it smelled; the beast was unwashed and filthy, and I wondered if it wasn’t sick as well. It slobbered as it snarled at me.
The werewolf leaped, only to be knocked out of the air by a blast of green light. It whimpered as it fell, exacerbating the wounds it already had. Evander approached it as it tried to right itself.
“You’ve gone wild with corruption,” Evander told it, almost as though he pitied it. I wonder if he realized I could hear him. “You would harm the one person who can save us all.”
The beast growled in reply. It was on all fours. It looked past him and glared at me. I was only a few paces behind Evander.
“There is only one way forward for our world,” Evander went on, as though he’d heard something from the werewolf that I couldn’t, “and your petty desire for vengeance gets in the way of that.”
The wolf howled. Further down the road, one of the other werewolves leaped out of the fray and came running towards us, bleeding as it ran but approaching all the same. It snapped at Evander, who gave it a taste of his walking stick. It bit down on it, growling in a twisted version of a dog with a stick. A green aura glowed around the walking stick, and it expanded to try to encompass the werewolf.
The group of centaurs, presumably having defeated the other werewolf, made their way over to assist us. They spread out, preparing an attack that would close in around both remaining beasts. The werewolf on all fours panicked, and it decided to take its one last opportunity to accomplish what it wanted. It snarled and dashed towards me. It got within inches of me, its foul breath filling my senses, when it stumbled and cried. There was now a spear stuck in its hind leg.
“Get back in the house!” Tobias screamed at me.
I was frozen though. These creatures were determined. The one on the ground forced itself to continue inching towards me, and I was worried that Evander wouldn’t be able to hold the other one for much longer. Finally, a centaur rode up behind it and Brom leaped from him onto the werewolf’s back, where he wrapped and arm around its neck and pressed his broadsword against its throat.
“Get her to safety!” Brom ordered Evander.
Evander nodded. He backed away, starting to turn just as the speared werewolf made one last desperate attempt to pounce me. Evander blocked it when it was just inches away from me, wrestling with it as green energy exuded from his body. The werewolf was furious, snarling and scratching at the air with all of its limbs. I felt a sort of stinging burn in my left arm, and I looked down to see three gashes already oozing with blood.
“How dare you harm her!” Aubré screamed, an arrow already loosed from his bow. It found the werewolf’s belly, but the beast still squirmed, wanting more than just the sight of blood.
That was when the night-black stallion slammed its body into the werewolf. It screeched and rose up, then came down harder than it had the last one. I cannot put into words the gore that it made of that monster: I would rather forget that entire terrible scene.
What’s more important is that I could see the stallion more clearly now. I was right about what I’d thought I’d seen earlier: it was an eight-legged horse, huge and dark. It silvery mane shone in the light of the full moon. Well, one of the moons, for there were three in the sky, each at a different phase. I couldn’t let that distract me, though.
Because Sleipnir was staring directly at me.