Throughout November I’ll be concentrating my posts on Welcome to the Valleys in honor of NaNoWriMo. If you’d like to catch up on this story, the first post of this series can be found at this link
The man in the doorway bit his lip in confusion. “Sheilak, of course. Your guardian.”
“Your guardian.” The man enunciated “guardian” in exaggerated fashion, as though Walter was having difficulty understanding the word.
“I know what you said, Talum. What I don’t understand what you mean. What is a ‘guardian?’”
Talum began absent-mindedly chewing is fingernails as he contemplated how to answer. “A guardian. You know, likes to swirl around in evertorches, doesn’t talk a whole lot.”
“The shadow?” Walter his frustration level was clearly growing. Ama, on the other hand could barely conceal her laughter. Michael shook his head in amusement.
“Well, yes, I supposed they accept that term. But ‘guardian’ is their preferred nomenclature, you know. Sheilak has been following you since Watergap. I would have thought you might have made contact by now.”
Walter opened and closed his mouth so many times he looked as though he was about to hyperventilate. “Well, it has talked with us a bit.”
“‘She,’ not ‘it.’ Your guardian is definitely a ‘she.’ You can tell by the patterns they make as they swirl in the evertorches. She has two trailing tails, marking her as female.”
Walter opened his mouth to speak, but ended up thinking better and closed it again. Instead, he cocked his head and stared at the eccentric healer in confusion. Tears were now pouring from Ama’s eyes. Jeremy stared at the scene in dumbfounded wonder. In his travels with Walter, he’d never seen anyone who was able to lead Walter to speechlessness.
“Oh, but where are my manners? You really must come in. You’ll stay here, of course. The inn is closed for some reason and my neighbors are pretending not to stare out the window at you all. Hospitality has been a bit lax around here as of late, I’m sorry to say. I keep reminding myself to look into it, but something keeps coming up.”
“Thank you, Talum, your hospitality is all we require.”
The odd healer seemed to notice Ama for the first time. “Healer Ama! Sheilak said you were with Walter, of course, but I dared not hope to actually see you. It’s been, what, four months?”
“Talum, it’s been four years,” said Ama as she entered the house.
“Four years? Really? Well, that certainly is interesting. Time flies when you’re in the midst of an fascinating project, it seems. Yes, come in Jeremy, don’t forget to wipe your feet.”
Walter, who was following Jeremy into the house, placed his hand on the youth’s shoulder and caused him to stop. He started Talum in the eye as Ama reemerged in the hallway, a look for concern on her face.
“How did you know the lad’s name, Talum?”
“Well I would have thought that was obvious. Sheilak told me.” He looked at Jeremy with his strangely kind eyes. “She’s very taken with you, young man, if you don’t mind my saying.”
Walter’s grasp of Jeremy loosened somewhere. “You mean our shadow, the one that’s been following us since the tunnel, told you about Jeremy?”
Talum noted. “Yes, that’s right. Well, not totally. She’s been tagging along since Watergap. I thought I mentioned that.”
“And why would… Sheiok.”
“Fine. Why would Sheilak tell you about Jeremy?”
“Because I’m supposed to speak with him. Isn’t that why you’re here?”
A nearby evertorch began to fluctuate and, to Jeremy’s surprise, Talum actually chuckled. “Oh, you did. That was most well thought-out, I’m impressed.”
Talum moved aside and waved Jeremy in to his home, but Jeremy paused, “Mr. Talum?”
“Yes, my boy?”
“Did Sheilak just speak with you?”
He chuckled. “Oh no, At least, not as she’s spoken to you. I’ve just trained myself to interpret what Guardians are saying when they cause their flickers.”
“So what did she say to you just then?”
“Ah. Well, Sheilak told me how she manifested in your Bath Room in Shelter in order to spur Ama on in my direction. I thought the ice cold bathwater was a nice touch.”
Jeremy’s eyes opened in amazement. “You got all that just from the swirls?”
“Oh yes. The swirls and flickers are an amazing form of communication. I could teach you if you like!” With that he turned and headed back into the home, apparently expecting Jeremy and his friends to follow. Jeremy found Talum’s home to be warm and well-lit. It was a comfortable space, if perhaps a bit cluttered. As the four men turned into the dining room they found Ama already seated at a large table. A mug to her right was being filled by someone Jeremy assumed was Talum’s apprentice, as he wore similar robes. The green glad healer took a seat at the table next to Ama and motioned for the others to do likewise.
“Come and sit, I’ve recently cultivated a new blend of tea which has amazing medicinal qualities. It’s quite fascinating, really. I’ve been using it as a headache treatment.”
“Really?” Ama smiled. “Talum, that is fascinating!”
“I thought you’d appreciate it, Ama. There are some wonderful leaves which grow on the side of Seldwyn gorge. The Am healers really should come out to investigate it.”
“I’m sure they would, if you sent the invite.”
“Yes, well, that does seem to be the problem, doesn’t it? I can’t make myself remember to write out my invitation to the Am healers in The Ravine. There’s just so much to do.”
Ama reached out and patted Talum’s hand. “It’s all right, Talum, I understand.”
“Thank you, Ama. I don’t know if you know this, but I have a bit of a reputation for being a tad bit scatter brained.” At this, Walter nearly choked on a cookie he had been nibbling, but Talum seemed not to notice.
“At any rate, I am glad you are here so we can talk.”
Walter swallowed his cookie and managed to blurt out. “Yes, Talum, so are we. What can you tell us about Merkot’s plans?”
“Senator Merkot? What plans does he have?”
“Oh, you know, buying land, training his guard to be his personal vendetta squad, preventing those from Outer Valley settlements from coming to Meadowrun.”
“Really? He’s done all that?”
Once again, Wallter’s mouth opened and closed several times before he managed to speak. “You mean you haven’t noticed?”
“Well, as you might imagine, I’ve been quite busy. I haven’t been to market myself in several weeks. Though, come to think of it, I do believe my apprentice had mentioned something about ‘foreigners’ being kept out of town. I thought it must be a silly rumor. People are always coming up with things like that, you know.”
“Fine. Do you know why that shad… guardian wants us to speak with you?”
“Oh, I’m sure I don’t know. I don’t like to get involved in their affairs. After all I have to keep a bit of experimental objectivity for my study.”
“Of course.” Replied Walter, though it sounded to Jeremy as though he was biting his tongue.
“But I do know a few things about the Guardians themselves which you might find useful.”
“Well, ok then. How about telling us why they’ve got one following us?”
“Oh, you haven’t figured that out yet? I would have thought you and Ama might have seen it.”
“We’ve been a bit busy, Talum, I apologize for not being completely aware of every detail of your research.”
“Oh that’s quite all right, Walter. Think nothing of it.”
Walter sighed and shook his head. “So, if you don’t mind, why is Sheilak following us?”
“Ah, yes, of course.” He turned away from Walter, who looked as though he had begun grinding his teeth, and turned toward Jeremy. “Young Jeremy, may I ask you to spell your name?”
Ama’s eyes widened, Michael whistled in shock, and Walter rubbed his temples as Talum beamed with glee.
“There, you see?”
Walter groaned with dawning realization. He turned to Jeremy wearing a grieved expression, “We’ve been with him a week, and not once did I think to ask him to spell his name.”