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Tendrils of smoke slithered around the giant trees like snakes, squeezing them toward an inescapable death. Leaves cringed in their upper folds, the bark below trying in vain to fend off the intruder. The air was stained with the unmistakable scent of fire, and no breeze was present to ease the foul air. Any light from above was swallowed whole in the hanging haze of smoke, the wooded scene now hardly negotiable.
A hooded figure emerged from between the tree trunks only to disappear back into the smoke which swirled over the ground. The man appeared again, the haze parting as the man strode into a small clearing and looked above. He was of lean build, draped in a green cloak, and carried a rowan staff.
“Great God of Athera, lead me now.” His eyes burned in the smoke as he fought to draw a breath devoid of the foul air and regain his sense of direction. But neither was possible. “I am in need of your direction, as I ever have been.”
His next breath burned worse than the previous, and he hardly thought his prayer had been heard, let alone answered. His eyes watered, and nostrils roared with pain. A deep cough issued up, and he doubled over, wiping the spittle from the corners of his mouth with his sleeve. He knew that he must accomplish his task soon or else be included in the numbers of the silent massacre to come, his remains forever burned to ash. That, and the subject of his searching was surely on the brink of death as well, if not already dead. He was so close.
I can’t fail now.
Too much was at stake. Luik had left Tontha days ago for Somahguard. With any help from the Mighty Father he would be returning to Mt. Dakka within the week. But somehow he doubted it. Anondo and his brothers had been sent to Ligeon; there was surely trouble brewing in the West. He could see it in the sky. And what of Gorn and Anorra in Mt. Dakka? Morgui would not be so brash as to march against the Mountain Stronghold! But somehow his heart told him differently. There was trouble stirring across the realm, and he knew it would be many days before he would see light again. If ever.
Resolved that he must again try the secret words, he gathered his strength and stood erect for a last time. Still, doubt filled his heart. He had already beckoned the covering protection earlier, but to no avail. He would not last much longer in the woods without it.
It was his only hope.
With staff held high, the vile fog seemed to sense the man’s mounting power and surged around him ever thicker; clearly the smoke lived, set by a most wicked mind. But ignoring the violent pressure to take his last breath, the man shut his eyes and spoke the command skyward.
“Ieyth ne fora ou reenhe miyne.”1 He felt as if his words were sucked into the smoke-ridden atmosphere, unheard by the Spirit. Eyes watered, throat burned. All lay still. Even the swirling smoke seemed to await the next moment, wondering if the chant would avail its said purpose. The man stood motionless.
Silence filled the wood.
Suddenly a low tone—felt more then heard—filled the air. No sense of direction was betrayed to the listener. The hum gained in presence, and soon the man’s cloak trembled with the volume. The smoke ebbed and looked for a place of retreat.
A slight smile took up into the space of the man’s cheeks, and his eyes opened. He grasped his staff with both hands and then drove the end into the ground.
With the sound of a lightning bolt striking but an arm’s breadth away, a wall of wavering light encircled the man. Within this protective layer it was as broad day, pure and bright. He drew in a fresh breath of air within the security of the shimmering bubble. The tongue of the Mosfar yet held strength despite the increasing presence of Morgui.
All is not lost.
He rubbed the sweat from his face and then pointed his staff forward, producing a shaft of light. It dispersed the thick smoke and cleared a path ahead. Wasting no time, the cloaked man was off at once, striding down the path with renewed resolve.
I must find him.
He passed row after row of the ancient trees, shadowed by the enormous sleeping giants he had so grown to love. He grieved inwardly for them, knowing their pending fate, one he could not delay. But they were unimportant now; the lives of the Sons and Daughters of Ad and Eva were on the brink of annihilation. And the one in particular he sought must be brought back alive. The High King’s life depended upon it; his life depended upon it.
He walked more quickly now, the smoke growing denser in the particular direction he headed. And the extent of his sight grew shorter for it. The power of Creation was diminishing.
Hold out for me a little longer.
His eyes darted from left to right, searching the underbrush. He knew he must be getting close.
A dark shape clung to the base of a tree. His heart quickened.
Can it be?
He ran and began calling out, but the shape, now clearly that of a collapsed man, did not move in the slightest.
I am too late.
Still clinging to his staff, he knelt beside the crumpled heap and pulled the shoulder around. To his utter relief, the second man groaned and tried to raise his head, squinting against the foreign light.
“Rest easy, my friend. All is well.”
Safe within the inclusive realm of the protective wall, the man smelled fresh air and gasped. Soot covered his mouth; his eyes were red and swollen. The air filled his lungs too quickly, and they purged themselves in a violent series of coughs. He doubled over in pain, blood and saliva oozing onto the forest floor.
“Your strength will return shortly, Jadak son of Jadain.”
Jadak winced and resisted looking up.
“How—how did you know my name?” Jadak shook again, racked with deep coughing. Then a gentle hand rested upon his chest, and his body suddenly was at ease.
“Because I know your son.”
Jadak’s weary eyes widened.
Just then a massive tremor surged deep beneath them.
“Dionia is restless. Come, we must part with great haste.”
Still holding his rowan staff, the cloaked man bent over and lifted Jadak into his arms much like one would carry a small child across the chest. He turned and walked back the way he had come, with Jadak resting in his arms.
The action seemed effortless. Jadak wondered inwardly at the man’s strength, for he did not appear to be a man of great stature.
“As you might think, the strength is not mine,” the man said.
“Ah—aye, I was wondering,” Jadak replied. Did I say something?
“Aye, but be at rest, son of Jadain. You are safe, at least for now. Let me do the rest of the work.”
“And if they should ask me who my rescuer is?”
“Fane, son of Fadner. I should think you know my father.”
“Young Fane? Is it really you?”
“’Tis I indeed, in flesh and spirit.”
Jadak was at a loss. With everything he had just been through, an ordeal that no one could imagine, suddenly now the Light of the Most High was showering upon him full and bright. Though in his darkest moment, he was not forgotten; though in his deepest lament, he was not forsaken.
“When I crawled up on the roots of that tree, I knew it would be my grave.”
“Yet the High King had another plan for you.”
“Aye, this is clear,” Jadak said, his eyes building with tears. His body was spent and his spirit worn; he had been wounded deeply, and still his heart had trouble receiving the grace that carried him.
“Why is it you rescue me?” Jadak finally asked.
“Many reasons, I should think, don’t you?”
Jadak did not offer any.
“Come now, Jadak,” Fane said as he walked briskly through the wood. “Are you not as coveted by the Most High as any?”
“Well, put your doubts to rest. It should be evident.”
“And with all the souls in need of saving at this dark hour, you would journey into the bowels of this wood for an old man?”
“The Mighty King wishes that none should perish.”
“And still, I would ask you of the other reasons.”
Another tremor surged through the ground, rustling the branches above. But Fane did not lose a step and continued through the forest. The smoke was increasing, and both men knew that the fires were drawing nearer.
“There is another reason.”
“And a truthful man would share it despite the feelings he knows it would call up.”
Fane eyed him knowingly.
“You see, young Fane, I know a man’s thoughts, too, though not as certainly as you.”
“Very well,” Fane relented. “I need you to help stop a mouse from whispering in the lion’s ear.”
Fane walked on in silence as Jadak contemplated his riddle; he didn’t need long.
“He is in Mt. Dakka?”
“And he’s been given audience with the King?”
“The King is not there now, but they have held company together before his departure.”
“I should think him in the council of the Dibor and any number of the royal families.”
“The new King, the Dibor—you assume I know much, Fane,” Jadak admitted.
“And am I wrong?”
Jadak shook his head. “Nay, you are right as ever.” He took a deep breath, knowing what was to come. “Then let us stop this banter and allow you to use every breath for walking until I can do the same. We have much to do and a deceitful mouse to silence. But if I may ask you, how did you know I was not utterly lost? That I was not taken?”
“Because your son said you were forever lost.”
Jadak paused in thought.
“I—I’m not sure I follow.”
“Your son is a liar.”
1 Ieyth ne fora ou reenhe miyne (ee-ETH Neh FOO-ruh oo REE-neh MEEN-eh): Language of the Mosfar; literally translated “from sky to soil bring covering guard.”
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