I have conned Dream of Fire (Fairies and Finds) into creating another beautiful piece of art for me to create a story around! Her work is always amazing and I am honored to be given full reign in creating a story for it!
Erasyl Cynwrig was supposed to be the stuff of legends. His mother, Anh Bellatrix, was secretly an exiled princess who had overcome a vile curse put on her by her stepmother. His father, Heron Cynwrig, was a hero of great renown who had freed the kingdom of Misrin from a sorcerer’s dragon.
The two had met while both were on a quest to find the Oracle of Tineren Forest to learn what fates awaited them. Of course, it had been love at first sight for the two and they settled down to their happily ever after in a large castle given to them after they had cured King Conri of a mysterious sleeping sickness that had already taken his husband. The King, grateful and having no heirs of his own, took the pair as his adopted children to rule the kingdom after his death.
It was no surprise that when Anh found herself to be expecting her first child, much was made of this future child’s chances at changing the world. King Conri celebrated the child as if it were truly his grandchild, such had his love for Anh and Heron had grown. Many oracles and Seers were brought to ponder over Anh’s growing belly.
Though many of the wise ones gave great fortunes for the child, many seemed uneasy. Only one, after asking for a private audience with the royal family, gave voice to the unease.
“Would it be such a great loss if this child was not made for a grand future?” The woman smoothed the beads in her hair nervously. “Would you not still love this child?
A great laughter went through the men but Anh could only frown at the woman in front of her.
“How could this child be destined for anything but greatness?” Conri waved his hand to indicate the expectant couple. “With such parents and being born as a prince!”
“Our child is schedule be born under the blue star!” Heron pointed out. “It comes only once every thousand years and always heralds the birth of great men and women!”
The Seer looked more nervous than ever. She began twisting the edge of her shawl, causing a small rip to develop.
“Please, be at ease.” Anh stood and walked towards the Seer. “What future do you see for my child?”
The Seer sighed and released her hold on her shawl. She stared into the princess’ eyes. She saw only concern for the child she was carrying.
“The babe,” the Seer took a deep breath. “will be healthy and mostly happy but…”
She took the princess’ hand in her own.
“Your child will not seek the life you have lived.” The Seer spoke only to Anh. “Please be kind and know that not all are born to be great. Some are born to be…well, to just be.”
Despite the Seer’s advice, the babe was celebrated across the land. Tales were already being told of what the child would do once it was old enough to lead adventures. After all, didn’t his mother single-handedly defeat the Bog Witch of Hynari? Didn’t his father once climb to the very top of volcanic Mount Destunales to find a flower which grew only there so he could save a dying elf he met on his adventures?
The night Princess Anh went into labor, she was assisted by the best physicians and midwives in the kingdom and at precisely midnight, a baby boy was born. His name, Erasyl Cynwrig, weighed more than the child did.
Erasyl did not have his mother’s glistening black hair, flawless brown skin or dark brown eyes. He did not have his father’s blonde hair, unblemished pale skin or crystal clear blue eyes. If Erasyl could be described in one word, it would have been dun. His nose was too large compared to his eyes. His ears, even at birth, stuck out from his crop of unruly and wiry hair. In short, Erasyl was not a beautiful baby.
Despite this, he was much loved by the kingdom. As the year’s passed, Erasyl was liked, not for his outstanding intellect or bravery, neither or which he possessed in abundance, but for his gentle nature and loving ways. It was hard not to love a child that so genuinely took pleasure in the world around him.
Erasyl loved nothing more than to help his father in his flourishing garden to brush down the yearlings while his mother cared for her horses in the stable. If anyone needed a hand, a kind word, or a listening ear, Erasyl was there.
If the boy had any skill, it was in his abilities to aid the sick and injured. He knew about healing herbs from his father and had a spirit that soothed both animals and people, much like his mother. Erasyl made his own small store of potent medicines and salves he gave away for the asking.
If a puzzling case came about, physicians sometimes consulted the child and came away more knowledgeable. The village children often brought him small woodland creatures to patch up. Erasyl always seemed to have a forest animal around him that he was nursing back to health.
It still worried his parents that he did not seem to take very easily to sword fighting, horseback riding, curse recognition, forest folk identification or any of the varied and necessary skills needed to become a proper adventurer. He tried his very best to please his parents and studied his lessons until his dull brown eyes crossed and his already frayed hair tangled from Erasyl’s fingers constantly running through it. Still, it was obvious the princeling would never been more than average.
When Anh gave birth to the twins, Aslan and Brava, Erasyl’s shortcomings as one who would make a name for himself became evident. His younger brother and sister were born with the best of his parents’ physical qualities.
When Brava was only four, she learned to see and speak to the sprites in her father’s garden. Sprites, not known for their civility or kindness towards humans, whispered secrets to Brava and treated her as one of their kin. From then on, she glowed with the special light known only to the fairy-folk and could do her own small magics that promised to grow as she did. Coupled with her black hair and pale complexion, she seemed otherworldly.
Aslan, with his father’s eyes and his mother’s complexion, did not know fear. When the brave knights of the kingdom brought in horse named Ruh, gifted to them from a minor deity who crafted it from the winds of a hurricane, the young Aslan walked right up to it. The magnificent beast who had injured more than one knight during the journey, bowed right down to the small child and allowed him to climb on his back. Everyone watch amazed as the toddler laughed while riding the steed bareback.
It was clear the twins were destined for greatness. It was only a matter of time before the pair were out in the world making names for themselves and bringing honor to their kingdom and family.
Though they seemed better than Erasyl in every way, the twins adored their older brother, who, in turn, delighted in his siblings. He was always there to encourage them in their latest pursuits or listen to stories of their newest triumphs. He never envied his younger siblings and never felt he was loved less than they, despite his obvious shortcomings.
If there was one area Erasyl could show skill in, it was his ability to help the sick and injured
When Erasyl was 18, his parents and grandfather sat him down to have a talk about his future. Seated together at the large table usually reserved for meetings of state, Erasyl couldn’t help feeling nervous.
“We feel,” his grandfather began, “that is, we three have been speaking about you. Specifically what you might want to do with your life.”
Erasyl blinked in confusion at his family.
“What I want to do?” Erasyl didn’t know what he was supposed to say.
Heron cleared his throat.
“With your life.” Heron supplied. “What are your goals in life, son? What do you want to do, to be?”
“I want to be here.” Erasyl said. “With my family. As for what I want to be…I honestly haven’t given much thought to it. I know…”
Erasyl used his index finger to trace an outline on the wooden table. He couldn’t look any of this family members in the face.
“I know I’m the eldest but,” Erasyl sighed. “I know I won’t be the king. Grandfather is still very healthy. I know mother and father will take over after. Then…in years to come, either Aslan or Brava will be next in line. I don’t have the brains to rule nor the desire.”
Erasyl risked a glance up. All three were looking at the boy with a loving sadness. It had never been said expressly that he would never succeed to the throne but no one could deny that one of the younger siblings would make a better ruler than eldest.
“I…I could go to the Order of the Terrene.” Erasyl suggested. “I could perhaps become one of their number. They might welcome my herbal concoctions and offer a bit of their own to expand my knowledge. They are doing good work in offering their services to those who have contracted the plague in other kingdoms.”
A small chirrup came from his tunic pocket and no one was surprised to see the head of a baby squirrel pop out. Erasyl absently nuzzled the baby’s head until it relaxed enough to sleep again.
“Is that what you want, Era?” Anh’s voice was kind. She, more than Heron or Conri, had accepted the Seer’s prediction of her eldest son’s life. It didn’t stop her from wishing she could better understand her kind but shy child.
Erasyl didn’t look up.
“It would be a starting place.” Conri said. “Perhaps leaving the kingdom and joining the Order may give the boy a better understanding of his path and place in life.”
“But working with this ever-spreading plague?” Anh asked. “Let’s us not hide behind niceties. Those afflicted do not often recover. Should Era take this path, he may never return to us. So, I ask again, is this what you want Era?”
Erasyl looked into his mother’s worried face.
“Did not the Seer say before my birth that I would never be destined for great things?” Erasyl said this without bitterness. He had long ago accepted this prophecy with more relief than his parents. “Surely dying of the plague in a foreign land in which I would give aid would be too great a story for even one such as me.”
So settled, Erasyl had, within the week, packed those few things he found most precious and was set to head off into the world for the first time in his life. His family gathered to say their farewells.
The six-year-old twins wrapped their arms around Erasyl in a familiar locking hug. Instead of pushing them away, he squatted down so his head was even with his brother and sister.
“Don’t go!” They cried in unison.
Erasyl hugged both to him, trying harder than ever to show bravery for their sakes.
“I must.” He said. “One has to make their way in the world. I need to find my place in it.”
“But your place is with us!” Aslan gripped his sister’s arms tighter in a effort to lock Erasyl in. “We need you here!”
Erasyl unlocked his siblings’ hands and pulled them both to face him.
“One day you will both enter the world to do great things.” He said. “I cannot say I will ever do anything that will live up to what you may one day accomplish, but I should still try to do something to make the world better.”
The twins hung their heads and Erasyl’s heart felt it might explode from the love he felt for them. He would have done anything to keep them from having a moment’s pain.
“You should take Ruh.” Aslan said, wiping tears from his eyes. “He will take you anywhere faster than the wind.”
Erasyl smiled and put a hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“While it is indeed a grand gesture, I cannot accept.” Erasyl said. “Ruh will be needed when you make your mark on the world. Would you be a grand adventurer on a donkey? What a sight you would be!”
As he hoped, this image made the twins laugh. In reality, Erasyl had never gotten the hang of horseback riding and would never take on a horse as powerful and unpredictable as the wind horse. While Ruh would allow Erasyl to care for him, he only ever really loved Aslan.
“Could you go in a week’s time?” Brava turned her dark eyes on Erasyl. “The fairies are worried about the forest. There is a spirit they fear but they will not say what it is.”
Erasyl pushed a lock of his sister’s hair behind her shoulder. Her face was serious and her eyes dreamy. He knew she was even now speaking to the fey he could not see.
“If I wait a week, I will need to wait a season.” Erasyl said what Brava already knew. The days were growing shorter and the first snowfall would soon be upon them. “I must travel while I still have the weather on my side.”
Brava focused on Erasyl.
“They really are afraid.” She said earnestly. “And so I fear too.”
Erasyl shook his head.
“Your friends will do what they can to protect me.” Erasyl said. “And I will be swift as I can. I promise to be as careful as I can, but I cannot stay.”
The twins, while not fully appeased, were resigned. Erasyl gave them tight hugs and bade them to behave.
Anh gave her son a smaller dagger that had once helped her hack through an enchanted bunch of creeping plants that had once imprisoned an heir to a throne. Heron passed along a bottle of supposedly magic seeds he had once been given by a grateful gnome he saved from a hunter’s trap. Conri gave Erasyl a pouch of gold rumored to never leave the owner broke.
Goodbyes said, Erasyl began his trip into the world.
In true fashion, Erasyl passed through the kingdom of his childhood without incident. He met neither friend nor foe as he walked along his path. Erasyl may have walked the entire week long trip without incident, were it not for the spirit who followed him. This was the spirit Brava had warned him about. The one the fairy-folk feared.
Erasyl may not have been able to do much, but his one skill of healing had intrigued this spirit. This spirit had decided to test Erasyl, both his heart and his mind. He may not have realized it, but his very future hung in the balance.
Early on his third morning, Erasyl was awakened before dawn by a heartbreaking cry. He sat up, listening with his heart beating hard in his chest. Without thought to his safety, Erasyl grabbed his backpack and followed the sound.
He walked off the forest trail and towards the crying. After twenty minutes of walking, Erasyl found the source.
A young woman, perhaps his own age, lay on her side. From his vantage point slightly above her, Erasyl could tell she was hurt. Her clothing was torn, and a myriad of cuts and bruises covered every patch of bare skin. He could even see her right ankle was swollen and bruised.
“Miss?” Erasyl called out, hoping not to startle her. “Are you alright?”
The young woman turned to look up at Erasyl. Her golden-brown hair, even tangled, framed her lovely face with a halo effect. Her pale skin was streaked with dirt and her dark green eyes were full of tears.
Erasyl carefully slid down the embankment towards the young woman. He knelt in front of her, his hands open to show he meant no harm.
“My name is Erasyl and I want to help.” He said, pointing to his backpack. “May I?”
The young woman attempted to back away from Erasyl but cried out when she moved her swollen ankle in the wrong direction.
“Please, miss!” Erasyl was alarmed and backed away from her to prevent further movement.
The young woman did stop moving. She looked at Erasyl with fear and pain fighting for dominance in her eyes.
“Are they with you?” She whispered the words. “The bad men?”
“As far as I am aware, miss.” He still kept his distance. “We are alone. Did men chase you?”
The girl wiped away a tear.
“A group of robbers.” She said, nodding towards the road. “They ran my family’s carriage off the road. My uncle bade me run, so I did. I fell here two nights ago and have been unable to move since. I have been terrified they would find me.”
Erasyl risked taking off his backpack. The young woman flinched but did not try to move. Erasyl took out several bottles and a roll of linen. He showed these to the woman in front of him.
“I saw no carriage on the path.” He said. “I slept very near here last night and saw no robbers. I would like to help you if you would let me.”
The young woman nodded in ascent and Erasyl moved closer. He used a piece of linen to clean the worst of the cuts he could see. When he wiped away the dirt on her face, he could see she had a dusting of freckles on her cheeks. Erasyl blushed and busied himself with her swollen ankle.
She gasped when he lifted her foot but did not cry out. Erasyl carefully moved her ankle, relived when he did not feel or hear grating bone.
“It’s not broken.” He said. “It will be very sore for some time and you shouldn’t do much walking on it.”
Erasyl wrapped her ankle with a practiced care. Soon the young woman was salved and wrapped to the best of his supplies and ability. Her immediate care taken care of, Erasyl sat back and offered the green-eyed young woman food and drink.
The grabbed the crust of bread he offered and shoved it in her mouth. It was her turn to blush.
“Please excuse my manners.” She said once she had washed the bread down with a long drink of water.
Erasyl smiled and waved off the apology.
“You must be famished.” He said. “I’m only happy I could be here to help.”
The young woman smiled back. Erasyl felt his heart thump painfully.
“Morana.” She said, still smiling at him.
Erasyl tried to call up what she had just said but the word made no sense to him.
“Morana?” He repeated.
She laughed. Erasyl felt he had never heard a more beautiful sound in his life.
“My name is Morana Luljeta.” She said. “I know yours already.”
Erasyl felt confused again.
“How?” He asked.
Morana laughed once more.
“You told me!” She smiled kindly at Erasyl.
He felt his entire face blush. He had told her his name in an effort to put her at ease. In all the excitement afterwards, he had honestly forgotten.
“I do thank you for helping me.” Morana said. She was not laughing but he could still hear the amusement in her voice. “I don’t know what I would have done had you not happened along.”
“I only did what anyone would have.” Erasyl said. “But I still have to get you out of these woods. My salves can only do so much. You need bedrest and clean water.”
Erasyl looked around. He stood, pulling out the dagger his mother had given him. Morana gasped and shrank in on herself.
Feeling horrid for scaring her, Erasyl sheathed the dagger.
“I need to find you a proper walking stick.” He said by way of an apology. “I truly mean you no harm but you do need help walking out of here and I’m afraid my own strength will not get us both to the nearest town.”
Morana smiled, still wary, and nodded at Erasyl. He left his backpack with her and began looking at the young trees nearby. He did have to walk out of her sight, but within moments Erasyl found a sapling that would suit his purposes extraordinarily well. He trimmed it and stripped the bark before going back to Morana.
He found her taking out the various bottles of medicines in his backpack. She smiled at his return.
“Are you an herbalist?” She asked, waving a bottle towards him.
“Not quite.” Erasyl said. “I only tinker.”
Erasyl handed Morana the stick and began repacking his medicines.
“I hope to learn more with the Order of the Terrene.” He said. “That is where I’m going.”
Morana’s face lit up with a big smile.
“It must be fate!” She said. “That was where my uncle and I had been traveling from!”
“Were you there to join the Order?” Erasyl had never truly believed in fate, but he couldn’t help feeling there was more to this than coincidence.
Morana shook her head as she began to get to her knees in preparation for standing.
“We were there delivering…supplies.” Morana said. “The Order are hoping to travel to an outer kingdom to offer their healing services to those afflicted by the plague.”
Erasyl nodded and helped Morana stand and balance on the new stick. When she wobbled, he held out his arm to steady her. Morana took the proffered arm but did not let go once she was able to walk a few steps forward.
“You were going in the opposite direction from my travels.” Erasyl said. “It will be closer to continue in my direction than to try and walk back to my kingdom.”
Morana smiled at Erasyl and his heart did the hard thudding again.
“I will trust you to get me to safety.” She said. “Should my uncle return for me, I will travel with him. Until then, I am content to go with you back in the direction I came.”
Together they walked out of the woods and back onto the woodland trail, not speaking as the going was difficult for Morana. Once clear of the undergrowth, Erasyl helped Morana to sit on the path. She didn’t seem as breathless as he imagined she would be, but he knew the nearest town was over a day’s walk. If she tired now, there would be no way they could cover any good distance before nightfall.
“Has your kingdom been afflicted yet?” Morana asked after taking a drink of water from the flask Erasyl had offered. “By the plague?”
Erasyl shook his head and stared down the road.
“The last news we’ve had of it, it was still many leagues away.” Erasyl said. “It’s not spoken about except in passing. No one believes it will reach our kingdom.”
Morana looked at Erasyl curiously.
“You believe your kingdom to be immune?” She asked. Her voice was grave. “When you believe you need do nothing and bad things will not happen, you will be unprepared for when they do strike. You must always prepare for the worst, even while hoping for the best.”
Erasyl gave this some thought but said nothing.
“The same is true with many aspects of life.” Morana continued. “Powerful people usually become evil when no one opposes them. You must always strive to find the cause of evil or disease and stop it at its source instead of hoping that staying quiet it will pass you over.”
Morana’s voice had become impassioned and Erasyl couldn’t help but stare while she spoke. Her green eyes seemed lit from within and, though he was sure it was his own imagination, Erasyl would have sworn Morana seemed toshimmer around the edges. The effect stopped as soon as Morana became aware of Erasyl’s intense stare.
“I will not apologize for my words.” Morana said as she struggled to stand again. “But I do invite your opinions on this.”
Erasyl raced to help her up, but Morana was standing before he was able to offer a hand. He shouldered his pack and kept at her side, ensuring his arm was there if she needed it.
“I do agree with you.” Erasyl said once it was clear Morana would continue this part of the journey on her own. “It can become difficult to know where to start when things go wrong. I believe some feel helpless in the face of something that seems so much bigger than they.”
“Everyone has the power to do something.” She said. “Even if it seems inconsequential, it is a blow for good. If you get many people doing small things, you can move mountains one stone at a time. Too often people have the idea that they are alone, so they do nothing. If everyone who felt alone reached out to one other, they would form strong bonds.”
Morana looked over at Erasyl.
“We have this idea that individuals who do great things are more deserving of praise and song than those who constantly practice giving all they can even if it seems of no import on a large scale.” Erasyl had the feeling she was speaking directly of him. “We would all do well to remember that the world runs due to everyday tasks of those who will never be sung about.”
Erasyl could think of nothing to say. He had never been strong in debate, though his mother had tried with her lessons over the years when they had hoped Erasyl might take to politics and oration. Morana reminded him of his mother’s spirit of passion and fairness.
“The farmer and bread maker.” Erasyl offered after it was clear Morana would not go on. “Do indeed do more for life on a daily basis but we need the great people to protect us from dragons and sorcerer’s spells. Still, I suppose without the farmers, the heroes would have no one to save.”
Morana smiled at Erasyl and reached her hand out to take his arm. He knew she did not need it to steady herself, but he left it there just the same. He felt if she wanted his arm for whatever reason, why should he not give it? Comforting others had always been his way.
They walked in silence for two miles before Erasyl noticed Morana’s limp had grown worse. They sat and ate food from Erasyl’s pack, both listening to the comforting forest noises around them. He gave Morana a small bottle of his own concoction to help with her injury. Though she said nothing, Erasyl could see the pain in her face. She took a sip without questioning him and Erasyl felt gratified she trusted him after such a short acquaintance.
When Erasyl had given the medicine enough time to work and was gratified to see her ankle’s swelling had gone down, he began packing again. He noticed for the first time a small chain around her neck that ended in a heart-shaped pendant. He was trying to understand how it had escaped his attention earlier when a squealing cry came from just off the path, making Erasyl jump and stand in front of Morana, putting himself between his new friend and noise.
Once the initial fear wore off, Erasyl’s attuned ears heard the cry for what it was, a cry of pain. He walked softly in the direction of the cry.
“Where are you going?” Morana called after him, struggling to stand. “At least unsheathe your dagger!”
Erasyl shook his head.
“Something is hurt.” He said. “Pulling out a weapon will not help.”
Erasyl had forgotten about the dagger until Morana mentioned it. He had not used weapons in his daily life. His work with knives had been restricted to cutting plants and removing unwanted items from wounds. He had never killed in his life and Erasyl felt he would not do so out of fear.
The squealing intensified as Erasyl came towards a bush just off the path. Rounding behind it, he saw what creature was making the noise and this time he did pull the dagger. He ducked from Morana’s site and the squealing stopped. When Erasyl stood again, the dagger was put away and he was holding a young rabbit in his arms. The creature quivered but did not attempt to spring away from the young man.
“There was a trap here.” He said in answer to Morana’s questioning face. “It’s very common along well traveled paths. This little one is sore but uninjured.”
Morana smiled at the rabbit in his arms.
“I noticed your food stores were getting low.” She said. “Since you are now responsible for two mouths, a meal of fresh rabbit may add to your supplies.”
Erasyl put his arms around the brown furry rabbit a bit tighter and turned his torso away from Morana.
“I will not.” Erasyl knew his words came out more shocked than he had intended but he was startled by Morana’s suggestion. “I…I do not eat animal flesh.” He admitted.
He expected Morana to laugh, but when the sound didn’t come, he turned back towards her. She was smiling at him, but Erasyl felt this smile was understanding.
“I know it’s not common.” He said, massaging the leg of the rabbit that had so recently been caught in a rope noose. “I just have not been able to do so since I first helped an injured animal. It’s…I cannot.”
Morana came over to Erasyl and the rabbit and reached out a hand. The rabbit shied away from her, pushing its head deeper into Erasyl’s tunic.
“It will be alright, little one.” Morana soothed. “I will not hurt you.”
As if understanding her words, the rabbit unborrowed its face to sniff Morana’s hand. She gently ran her fingers over the small creature’s head and back. Erasyl could feel the rabbit shiver in his arms but it did not move.
“It’s a very lucky bunny.” Morana said after petting the rabbit twice more. “I’m sure it is grateful to you for its life.”
Erasyl shook his head.
“This rabbit owes me nothing, not even gratitude.” He said. "I don't believe one should help with the goal of a reward, not even thanks."
He was surprised to find the animal squirming in his arms. He put it down, unsure if its back leg was ready for full weight. To his relief, the injury had not been as great as he feared and the rabbit ran quickly back into the forest.
Erasyl looked down to see Morana following the rabbit’s path. His eyes were drawn to the necklace she wore and he noticed not one but two heart shaped stones. The second one extended down from the first on a chain similar to the one around her neck. He looked quickly away when he realized it would appear he was staring at Morana’s chest and not her jewelry.
The rest of their walk was pleasant, with conversation mostly about Erasyl’s family and kingdom. Morana offered little about her own life but seemed interested in all Erasyl had to say. They also spoke about deeper topics that left Erasyl’s head swimming. He could only listen as Morana told him about her views on a person’s place in the world and how one should offer help in any way they could.
From what he gathered, it appeared she had traveled far in her life, possibly with her uncle, though he could not draw her out on the topic more. He did not push her as he did not want to bring up the question of why her uncle had not returned for her if he were still alive. He was too enthralled with the odd shimmer he would swear he saw every time she began to speak passionately about a topic. He could not understand what he was seeing, much less how to ask about the phenomena.
As evening drew near, Erasyl made camp a little off the road. He was thankful when he found a stream where he would get fresh water for drinking and for bathing Morana’s ankle. He helped her settle on the stream bank with her injured foot in the water while he set about making a suitable sleeping surface for them and building up a small fire. The weather was holding but he could already feel a chill in the air.
They ate a small dinner, supplemented with sweet pink berries Erasyl had found and known to be edible. They didn’t talk during the meal, nor when it was finally time to sleep. As Erasyl was drifting off, he heard Morana begin to sing in a low voice. He struggled to wake up further to hear the words, but he found he was simply too tired and fell asleep to her tune.
When dawn rose, Erasyl saw Morana coming back from the stream. She still used the stick, but she seemed fresher. Her injuries seemed to have been healing and most of the bruises were barely visible. Erasyl blushed when he noticed her hair was wet. She had been bathing in the stream. He was thankful he had slept through it and not caused her any embarrassment.
He rose to tend to his own ablutions and came back to find Morana had already damped the last embers of their fire and had food for Erasyl laid out.
“We should get an early start.” Morana said, popping a berry into her mouth. “We may reach the next village if I am able to move further or faster today.”
Erasyl knelt to begin eating.
“We should only move as fast as you’re comfortably able.” He said sagely. “Your ankle is healing very well but I would not want to cause a permanent injury.”
“You are not responsible for me.” Morana said. Erasyl looked up at her tone. She was frowning at him for the first time since they had met.
Erasyl gulped down his bite of food.
“No, I’m not responsible for you.” He agreed. “But I do feel I should do my best to help you until we reach a place of safety. I will not make you do anything you do not wish to, nor will I insist you follow any advice I give. I do believe if you are not careful, you will need that stick the rest of your life and I wish to prevent that, if possible.”
Morana’s frown lessened at Erasyl’s words. She used her walking stick to stand and began walking back onto the main road. Erasyl grabbed his pack and what remained of his breakfast to follow her.
They continued in silence, Erasyl unsure of Morana’s sudden coolness against him. It continued until they had the first break, Morana nearly collapsing onto the hard-packed dirt.
Erasyl said nothing but sat beside her and handed her the flask to drink from.
“Thank you.” Morana said after taking a long drink. “I do appreciate your help.”
After taking a drink himself, Erasyl produced the medicine bottle and offered it to Morana as well. She waved it off.
“I’m not hurting.” She said. “It’s just been a very long time since I’ve walked this far under my own power.”
Seeing Erasyl’s confused face, Morana laughed.
“I am used to traveling by horse.” She said. “My uncle owns a beautiful white stallion. It is on this that we normally travel. Walking far distances is just not part of my daily life.”
“Do you believe your uncle is safe?” Erasyl finally decided to broach the subject.
Morana smiled but did not look at Erasyl.
“Uncle will always be safe.” She said, her smile turned in to a smirk. “If you are worried about the robbers we met, please do not be concerned for my uncle.”
“If…if you believe him to be safe, why has he not returned for you?” Erasyl didn’t want to pry, but it seemed to him that had one of his family been chased off by cutthroats, he would have searched for them with his last breath.
“He had an appointment to keep.” Morana’s smirk fell away. “He will be back for me, but…he has to keep that appointment. He knows I can take care of myself.”
Erasyl was confused by her words. He couldn’t imagine what would have happened to Morana had he not stumbled across her. To think that her own uncle would have left her alone and injured in an unfamiliar wood for the sake of an appointment astonished to him to no end. It also gave him a very low opinion of Morana’s uncle.
“Besides,” Morana stood again. “had he not left me, how would I have met you?”
Her smile made any further questions vanish from Erasyl’s mind. He knew he had fallen in love with Morana but he also knew he would say nothing. A young woman as beautiful as she would never fall back in love with one like him. Erasyl had long ago known his looks did not inspire that kind of love in others. He was loved by many, he understood, but no one would ever be in love with him.
Erasyl gave a small smile back to her and they continued on their journey. He knew if they kept the same pace, they would reach the village before nightfall. He had traveled to it with his family and knew it to be a friendly village that would welcome them. Since many there knew him by sight, he would immediately receive whatever help he would need.
It then dawned on him that the villagers knew him as a prince of his kingdom. While he had told Morana all about his family, he had never explained his royal title. For some reason, he felt Morana might see him differently should she know he had left this seemingly important detail. Had she not said over and over that she felt the great deeds were less than the common ones? Would she see him as less important if she learned he was a prince?
The thought made Erasyl sad. Part of him didn’t believe Morana would be the type of person who would judge anyone based on such a thing, but the other part of him felt he had kept it a secret from her. Perhaps she would see this as him being ashamed of his own title?
Erasyl pushed the thought from his mind. Come what may, Morana would most likely not be a part of his life once they reached the village. He would seek out the herbalist, who he had learned much from over the years, and pay for Morana’s care until her uncle came for her. Erasyl would then continue to join the Order. He had less than a day’s time, Morana may only be a memory unless they met again when she and her uncle delivered supplies to the Order.
Their conversation was pleasant during the walk. They mostly spoke about medicinal herbs. Erasyl was always pleasantly surprised to find someone more knowledgeable than himself on the topic. Morana mentioned several plants Erasyl had been unaware could be useful and she told him unknown uses for plants he did know about.
“You should be part of the Order.” Erasyl said after Morana explained how to best make a draught able to soothe those with persistent lung trouble. “How did you come by so much knowledge? Your uncle?”
Morana frowned and shook her head.
“My uncle does not care for medicinal plants.” She said. “He does not worry himself with anything that might be able to cure or heal.”
It was Erasyl’s turn to frown.
“He seems a hard man.” Erasyl said.
“Not hard.” Morana said. “He may be the fairest man you ever did meet. He has never cared for title, privilege, age or wealth. He keeps appointments with all.”
“What does he do?” Erasyl was confused as to what man could possible have appointments with so broad a swath of humanity.
“He keeps appointments.” Morana said again. “That is all I can explain right now, but I can tell you who taught me my herbal knowledge.”
Erasyl waited patiently.
“It was my aunt.” Morana’s smile lit up and her shimmer seemed to come back. “She loves all things growing and living. She knows much more than I do. She…she is the greatest person I have ever met.”
It seemed odd to Erasyl how two such different people could be married. His own parents may have looked as different as night and day, but they were very similar people. They love of adventure and great deeds were one of the things that brought them together.
“What of your parents?” Erasyl asked. “You mention only your aunt and uncle. Do you have no other family?”
Morana walked a few steps, seeming to think about how to answer.
“I do not know my parents.” She said. “I have many brothers and sisters, but we have always lived with our aunt and uncle. It’s how it always will be.”
“Did they die when you were young?” Erasyl asked. “Your parents, I mean."
Morana shrugged as best she could with her walking stick.
“I can only say I do not know them.” She said simply. Erasyl knew she would say no more on that topic.
Night had not yet fallen when Morana and Erasyl reached the village he knew as Farsen. To his surprise, the town seemed diminished. Fires burned in only a few houses and everything seemed quieter than he was used to. Though he knew many would be at their evening meal, he had been in the town enough to understand this stillness was not usual.
Erasyl lead Morana through the town and to the door of the biljana, a common term given to an herbalist. This biljana, known to Erasyl as Wilmera, had been old Erasyl’s entire life. She never seemed to get older, though he would have guessed her to be well past his own grandfather’s age.
He was surprised to find her door open and many hovering in or near her doorway. There were muffled cries and a general unease. The villagers, upon seeing Erasyl, moved aside to allow the prince to enter. Morana kept to the back of the crowd while Erasyl went in.
He found Wilmera over a large bubbling pot, which was being stirred by a young and very tired looking girl. Wilmera was using a ladle to spoon a dark green liquid into waiting containers. As fast as she would fill one container, that villager would move to be replaced by another. It seemed to Erasyl that no one cared what was being filled. He saw jugs, yes, but also pots, clay bowls and one he was sure must have been a chamber pot at one point.
The crowd around the pot moved to allow Erasyl to approach but none completely left the biljana’s side until they received their portion of whatever had been brewing.
“Wilmera!” He was shocked to see how tired and drawn the woman before him appeared. “What is happening?”
The biljana looked up but did not pause in her ladling.
“You should not be here, boy.” The woman said this kindly, but he heard the iron behind the words. “The plague has come to Farsen not two days ago. Please tell me your family has not traveled with you to this place.”
Erasyl could not have been more surprised by Wilmera’s news.
“They are not.” He answered. “I was on my way to join the Order of Terrene to offer my services.”
Wilmera shook her head.
“What is left of the Order is scattered.” The biljana said. “Their own herbs did not save them once the plague came to them. I am doing what I can, but I fear Death will soon be visiting us to take away the first of the sick.”
“How can I help?” Erasyl asked, moving closer to peer in the pot. “What herbs can I gather? What have you made?”
Wilmera shook her head and used a free hand to wave Erasyl away.
“You must go.” Wilmera said. “You are not safe from the plague, princeling or not.”
“It may already be too late for me.” Erasyl said. “Just by coming through the village and the crowd at your door, I may already be infected. I will not flee and possibly spread the disease. I will stay and do what I can to ease the suffering of those here.”
The biljana smiled kindly at Erasyl. She knew of the boy’s kind heart. She also knew she would not be able to turn him away.
She told him of the concoction she was brewing, what herbs she had added and the hopes for the elixir. Erasyl listened and made suggestions, some from the conversations he had with Morana that day. Before long, Erasyl had a list of ingredients he would search for at first light. Until then, he was resolved that Wilmera should eat and rest while he continued to give the medicine she already had.
Erasyl looked to find Morana and was surprised to find she was now stirring the pot. The girl who’s job she had taken over was already asleep under Wilmera’s table, too tired to even search for a proper bed.
The pair continued to supply medicine until it seemed the entire village had passed through the door. When the last had gone away, Erasyl sat at Wilmera’s table, careful not to touch the sleeping child underneath.
“We should get you somewhere safe as soon as possible.” Erasyl told Morana as she joined him at the table.
“Is there a safe place you would send me?” The young woman’s green eyes were not looking at Erasyl but at a point far away. “What if I am infected? Would you send me to your family’s door knowing I may kill them all?”
Erasyl frowned down at the table. Without knowing how the plague spread, she was right. Both of them could be infected and moving to unsuspecting villages would only make things worse.
“I must stay here.” Erasyl said. “I must help Wilmera and the people of Farsen.”
Morana sighed but did not take her focus from her far point.
“In a week’s time,” she said. “if you do not show symptoms, you will not need to worry about the plague.”
“You know this to be true?” Morana knew of the plague, but Erasyl had not thought to question how much knowledge she had.
“Yes.” Morana said, resting her cheek on her hand. “One week is all it takes to know if you will live or die by the plague. Once afflicted, the person will either recover or die in a week’s time. Those who show no symptoms after a week, even once they have contact with an afflicted person, will not contract it.”
Morana’s head slowly began to droop down towards the table.
“One week.” Her voice came out slowly as she began to fall asleep. “To live or die.”
With this knowledge, Erasyl threw himself headlong into caring for the villagers. He helped brew new medicines and even saw to its administration in people who were showing the worst symptoms of the plague. He gave his magical coin purse to Wilmera to ensure no one went without food or necessities. All would have money once the worst had passed. He did not shy away from any duty or give all he could.
On his fifth day of administering to the sick, Erasyl found the painful and hot lumps on either side of his throat. The first symptom of the plague was the same for all. He told no one and began keeping his distance from all but the already infected.
He saw Morana only at a distance and quickly left whenever she approached. By now her ankle had healed but she kept the walking stick Erasyl had given her. She seemed to be in full health, even as those around here were falling ill. It made Erasyl glad to see that she would be spared.
The medicines he had created seemed to help many. There were a small number who worsened no matter the doses or variations he tried.
Erasyl was at the bedside of one such case when he heard a commotion outside. He left his patient to see what was happening. He was greeted by the sight of a large man in black upon a stunningly white horse. The horses’ eyes were red, and its mane was a pale yellow. Erasyl had never seen such a creature. It hit him at once that this must be Morana’s uncle.
He understood at once that Morana had been correct in saying this was not a hard man. While his features were rough and weathered, his eyes were kind. He towered over most villagers, but he gave off an air of peace. People came to his sides almost without thought. He was gentle in his touch as spoke to those around him.
Two or three pointed off in the direction of the biljana’s hut and the man strode towards it. He left his horse untethered but the beast seemed content to remain where he was.
The man in black stopped near the doorway of the hut Erasyl was in. He turned his dark eyes on Erasyl and gave a sad smile. Erasyl backed into the building, not wanting to get within infection range of the man. The stranger looked past Erasyl at the bed where the old woman was resting. Erasyl felt something move through him, out towards Morana’s uncle. The man moved on without a word.
Erasyl watched him go before turning back to his patient. While not unexpected, Erasyl was heartbroken to see the woman had died in the few moments he had been looking at the stranger. Erasyl spent several moments cleaning the woman’s face and hands before pulling her thin sheet over her. He had no words to say to the dead woman and was too tired to remember any prayers this kingdom would find appropriate.
It was as he walked out of the house that his weariness and ill health hit him full force. Erasyl swayed and gripped the doorway for support. If Morana was right about the week timeframe, Erasyl had less than one full day left before he knew if he would live or die. The way he felt, he did not believe he would be one of the lucky few.
He closed his eyes and leaned his fevered head against the coolness of the building. He was not sure how much time had passed before he felt the shadow fall over him.
“We leave tomorrow.” Morana’s voice came from over Erasyl’s shoulder. He nearly fell in his effort to back away from her. He stumbled but a large hand caught him.
“Please,” Erasyl’s voice came out pained from dehydration and his illness. “stay away from me. I could not bear it if I got you sick.”
The hand pulled Erasyl up more and moved him into the house of the dead woman. He tried to fight back, but he could not break the grip of Morana’s uncle. When the larger man had maneuvered him into a chair he finally let go.
“This is a house of death!” Erasyl opened his fevered eyes to see the pair in front of him. “You should leave before you become infected.”
“He’s very ill.” The dark stranger said to Morana. “Did you not say he was a healer of great renown?”
“He will be one day.” Morana said. “As it stands, you will only have five appointments with these villagers due to his ministrations.”
Erasyl tried to follow the conversation but felt his head swim with the ever-growing fever. Both Morana and her uncle shimmered in front of him.
“Only five?” The man’s rough black clothes seemed to flow out from him in a robe. His pale skin seemed bone white to Erasyl’s eyes.
“Only five.” Morana said. She too, had changed in Erasyl’s eyes. The her hair gleamed as if it contained strands of real gold. On top of her gleaming head sat a skull with a dark socket that shifted over as a horn curled from her scalp and curled around the right side. A bird of impossible colors flew toward gilt edged roses that began to sprout and bloom from the back side of her head. She seemed solid and ephemeral in turns.
“Then we will ride on to the next kingdom.” The man said. “There is more you must see.”
Morana shook her head but looked towards Erasyl. She removed the necklace from under her clothes and Erasyl could see her chain contained three hearts, each one slightly smaller than the one on top.
“I will leave tomorrow.” She said. “But I will leave with him. We will go back to his kingdom, but I will be less than I am now.”
The man seemed surprised by this. He then smiled through bloodless lips.
“You were always more partial to your aunt than me.” He seemed amused by the young woman in front of him.
“I will not be the last.” She said. “There are many of my siblings waiting their turn to ride with you. I belong with him.”
The pale man looked down at the fevered prince. He seemed to be deciding something. Erasyl felt the man was weighing him somehow.
The man knelt before Erasyl.
“Do you know me?” He asked. Erasyl could feel the man’s voice in his own soul.
He did know who the man was but he could only weakly nod.
“Do you fear me?” He asked.
“Not for myself.” Erasyl croaked out. “I do not fear my own death, but only the death of those I love.”
The man nodded and stood.
“You do not fear me.” The man chuckled. “You are one of the very few willing to put themselves in my way if it means others are spared a few more years. You are very unique, my boy."
Erasyl tried to shake his head but the movement was too much for him.
“And you love him?” The dark man asked Morana.
“I do.” She said. “I have tested him three times and each time he has proven his worth. He will do great things. With my help, he will thwart you many times over the years.”
The man nodded again.
“I have appointments to keep.” Death said to Morana. “These will be the last caused by the plague, I assume?”
Morana nodded and fingered the hearts on her chain.
“The plague has ended in this village.” She agreed. “I will pass on no more.”
These were the last words Erasyl said before the darkness took him.
When Erasyl finally awoke, he saw the worried faces of his mother and father standing over him. It took him several moments to realize he was back in his own room at the castle.
“He’s finally awake!” His father’s voice cracked with emotion.
Erasyl tried to sit up but found he was too weak. His parents helped prop him up in a comfortable position and offered him broth and fortified wine. Erasyl took both gratefully.
“How did I get here?” He tried to recall his last memory but it made no sense. He was sure what he thought were memories were simply dreams brought on by his fever.
“Villagers from Farsen brought you along with Biljana Wilmera.” His mother wiped his brow. “They told us you stayed to help with the plague and became infected yourself. They say you worked to help others until it seemed Death would come for you too.”
Both of his parents looked at each other then back at him. Their eyes were wet with unshed tears.
“But you survived.” A voice from behind his parents said. “Many survived because of you and you have single-handedly stopped the plague from spreading further.”
Anh and Heron moved aside for Erasyl to see Morana in the doorway. She smiled at him and he knew what he had seen was not a dream. He had met Death and had traveled with Plague herself.
Before Erasyl could say anything, Aslan and Brava burst into the rooms with squeals of delight. They jumped on Erasyl’s bed to cover him with hugs, kisses and words he could not understand for the speed of their speech.
“And we feared you were lost too!” Aslan’s words finally became clear when Brava took a breath.
“We missed Grandpa terribly but the messengers were turned away when they tried to tell you!” Brava said.
The twins continued to talk but Erasyl stopped listening. He looked at Morana, who, for once, would not meet his eyes. He remembered she had told him her uncle had an appointment he could not miss.
“Grandfather?” He said this to no one in particular, but Heron reached out to grip Erasyl’s shoulder.
“I’m afraid he was taken in his sleep not long after you left.” Heron said. “We knew his heart had been failing but he wished us not to tell in case it would keep you from leaving to seek your destiny.”
Erasyl was saddened by the news. His grandfather had been right. Nothing would have made him leave the castle had he known his grandfather was so close to death.
Had I not gone. Erasyl shuddered at his own thought. He knew what would have happened had he not gone. He would not have met Morana until she had ridden in with her uncle. Plague and Death would have visited his kingdom and maybe taken more from him than he could bear to lose.
He looked again to Morana, who seemed to know his thoughts. She gave him a sad smile and toyed with the gold chain around her neck. The three hearts were in plain view, each one a magnificent red ruby.
“And Morana told us all about how brave you were!” Aslan and Brava were still babbling, not quite in unison. “She told us such stories!”
Erasyl smiled at his siblings then at his parents. He saved his final smile for Morana, the woman he had grown to love, the one who would help him fulfill his destiny.
Erasyl never had songs about his life, but he create memories as he traveled the wold with Morana, helping the sick and giving his knowledge to all who wished it. Their lives were ones of love and devotion and Erasyl felt he would wish nothing more.
He lived to see Aslan and Brava grow into the heroes they were destined to be. After the death of their parents, both of them, along with their wives, ruled the kingdom and made it prosper as never before. Erasyl and Morana were always warmly welcomed whenever they visited.
But no man lives forever. By the time Death came for Erasyl, he was a very old man. He welcomed the pale stranger into his home as friend though Erasyl knew he had probably kept Death from many appointments.
“Are you ready to go?” Death held out his ageless hand but Erasyl hesitated.
Death smiled warmly at the man who lived only to help others. The man who was not afraid of him and who he knew wanted only one thing.
“She has already made her decision.” Death said as he gestured behind him to where Morana was standing. She was as Erasyl had first seen her all those years ago. She smiled at Erasyl and nodded.
Erasyl reached out and took Death’s hand. He felt a warm breath of air and then nothing. The pains of age were gone. Erasyl looked down at his body, which now appeared in sleep. When he looked down at himself, he was as young as Morana.
He went to the love of his life and they embraced before walking out, hand in hand, to Death’s pale horse and on to their reward.
My lofty dreams of being a famous & brilliant writer were literally smacked out of my head. Now I plan to fill the void with copious amounts of subpar writing!