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 story can be found at this link
The friends enjoyed a simple, yet enjoyable, meal around Talum’s table. Dosum acted as both chef and server before retiring to the kitchen for his own meal. After the party finished eating they turned in for the night, though Talum muttered rather loudly about what to pack for the journey. This kept the friends awake for a considerable time after they climbed into their beds, until Walter had finally had enough.
“Talum, that’s enough. We’re trying to sleep!”
“Oh? Oh yes, I’m sorry!”
After that his muttering became significantly quieter, though it did not cease entirely. Walter covered his ears with a pillow, accompanied with a sign of frustration, but was soon fast asleep. Jeremy lay away for a who;e after Walter nodded off, pouring his thoughts over the events of the day. More and more it looked as though his identity was important for the future of The Valleys, and he still could not make himself understand why it was necessary to hide his past from himself. Sheilak has said there was danger associated with him remembering, but what danger? And why? He was wrestling with these thoughts until he finally drifted over into a restless sleep.
It felt like only a moment before he found himself being poked away by Walter.
“Lad, get up. We have to move, now.”
Jeremy rubbed the sleep from his eyes, but jolted awake. “Walter? What’s wrong?”
“It appears the few guards left here in Meadowrun are a bit more resourceful than Talum gave them credit for. They somehow got ahold of their troop, and a party is on their way to Meadowrun.”
Jeremy sat up and immediately began to dress. “How did he manage that? I thought Dosum said there was no way to signal the First Run guards while the machine was broken!”
Walter talked over his shoulder as he stuffed his personal items into his pack. “Apparently when we were seen coming into town carrying the Sergeant they sent a runner to ask for instructions.”
Jeremy completed dressing and began shoving his few personal items into his own pack. “How did we find out about it?”
“One of the guard tipped off Terrin, and he ran to tell us.”
Jeremy peered out the window and, given what he knew of Valley sensibilities, noticed something shocking. It was still night.
“They’re coming now? I thought people didn’t like traveling at night.”
“They don’t, lad, but there are so many evertorches lining the roads in the Inner Valleys people will do it. Especially in larger groups. Now, come on, we have to go.”
As they came down the stairs Jeremy heard Michael’s voice. “Are you certain your family will be all right?”
“Yes sir. I sent them to Riverside with a few retired guards who knew my father. They’ll stay with my wife’s sister until things settle down.” Responded Terrin’s voice.
Jeremy entered into Talum’s dining room and discovered Terrin was not attired in his guard uniform, but instead wore a simple travel cloak and plain clothes. He nodded a greeting to the youth as he entered.
“You could go with them, Terrin. There’s no need for you to join us right now.”
Terrin crossed his arms and shook his head. “With all due respect, sir, Senator Merkot intends to put me under arrest. I would like very much to bring my case before the Senate.”
“It will be good to have you Terrin,” Walter broke in. “As long as your family is safe, we could probably use you.” He paused for a moment and listened. Then he asked “Where are Ama and Talum?”
“They are preparing the horses with Dosum, we are to meet them by the stables.”
Walter nodded to Michael and the four friends exited the house in search of their other companions. They were, as Micael had said, by Talum’s stables.
Ama reached out and hugged Jeremy, the comfort of her touch helped ease the tension of stress which had been rising since he was awakened. She then turned to Walter, “I’m glad you’re here. If Terrin’s friend was correct, the group sent to arrest us are likely less than an hour away. We need to be over the Great Bridge before they catch up with us.”
“Don’t worry, Meddle, we’ll be long over the bridge before they reach us.”
“What I don’t understand is why they aren’t trying to arrest us already. There’s already guards here, after all.”
Walter smiled. “Well, lad, they already tried that tactic with that poor excuse for a sergeant and our friend Terrin here. It didn’t work out too well. Did it?”
“No, I suppose not,” said Jeremy as he shouldered his pack and patted a nearby horse.
“Besides,” interjected Dosum, his lips curling in to a mischievous smile. “They know better than to force their way into the home of an Um healer if they have less than a full squad.”
“Why is that?”
“Oh you know, Jeremy, a little of this and a little of that,” said Talum. Turning to his apprentice he added, “Dosum, you will watch over our charge while I am away.”
The apprentice bowed. “Of course, sir, all will be in order upon your return.”
“Good. Very good. Well,” he shifted uncomfortably. “I suppose we best be off.” Without looking to see if any of the other companions were following, Talum began walking down the road. He walked for some distance, not taking notice that the others were doing final checks on their gear as he walked away. Finally noticing his lack of companions, the healer turned and called back, “Oh, I’m sorry. Was I supposed to wait for a signal?”
“We’ll be along momentarily, Talum, thank for you waiting,” called Ama.
Walter grabbed the reigns of the lead horse and muttered, “Oh yes, what a wonderful time I’m having being back in the Inner Valleys. First I get to spend an evening being lectured by Tollen, now I get to travel on the road with my absolute favorite healer while being chased like a common criminal.”
Ama smiled. “Welcome back, Old Fox.”
Walter grumbled and led the party down the walk to Talum’s home. as they passed Healer, he fell in line next to Jeremy. At the end of Talum’s walk they turned South along First Run, away from the town of Meadow Run and toward the fields which separated it from Riverside. The sky in the East was just beginning to lighten somewhat as they set out, and the darkness beyond the evertorches loomed grimly over the group.
“Oh, Jeremy,” said Talum as he patted his robes. “I have something for you, if I could just find which pocket… Oh yes, here it is!” He reached into a hidden pocked on his right sleeve and pulled out a small crystal, which radiated the same honey-glow of an evertorch. He offered it to Jeremy, who extended his hand and took it. It was beautifully polished, and he admired it for a moment before speaking.
“What is it?”
“Oh, well, that’s a single evertorch crystal. I thought it might come in useful.”
Jeremy’s brow creased. “For what?”
“To keep Sheilak near by, of course. I did say she is quite taken with you.”
While Jeremy had grown accustomed to the shadow’s presence, he wasn’t sure he wanted the Guardian that close to his person. Sensing is struggle, Talum added, “Oh no need to be concerned, Jeremy. Sheilak is bound to protect you. This crystal will allow her to speak with you without darkening surrounding torches. It will also make her speech seem less draining to you. I had one myself, but Beklow told me he couldn’t come with me to The Ravine so I left it at home. The Guardian council near Meadowrun is in a bit of an uproar at the moment, unfortunately.”
“So I won’t get so cold or tired when Sheilak speaks as long as I have this?”
Talum nodded, “That is, essentially, correct. The reality is, if Sheilak agrees, she will be dwelling in that crystal while traveling with you. She may not want to, but Guardians find it stressful to keep jumping from evertorch to evertorch and, as I said, she is quite taken with you.”
Lowering the crystal, Jeremy turned to Talum as they walked. “I have noticed it being much less draining the more Sheilak speaks with me.”
“Oh yes, you’ve all travelled with her for some time now and are developing an affinity for her presence. The more your minds accept her, the less they will fight against her invasion into our space.”
“Invasion? What to you mean?”
“Oh,” Talum paused in thought. “Guardians live in a state of existence far beyond our comprehension. In their natural state time, space, distance, and even identity hold almost no meaning. Yet, somehow they are bound to The Valleys and here they become aware of these concepts – but they are still alien to them. Our minds sense this different intelligence and… rebel against them. This is why it’s so exhausting to speak with a Guardian. Throughout out history some Senators have not even been able to be in the presence of a manifesting Guardian without immediately fainting. Fascinating, don’t you think?”
Talum’s seeming obliviousness toward the real-life experiences felt by those he studied was beginning to grate on Jeremy, who grunted noncommittally.
“Oh. I’m appearing callous again, aren’t I? It’s all right, you can tell me.”
To his surprise, Jeremy blushed slightly. “Well, maybe a little. It’s just that, well, you speak of your studies as though they never actually touch people. I’m not sure a person who faints in the presence of a Guardian, which I’m told is part of a senator’s job description, would find it ‘fascinating’” He paused for a moment before adding quietly, “And I don’t think I like being an object of ‘research’ either.”
“Yes. Yes, I’m often told I come off that way. I don’t mean to, but I do.” His face softened, and his eyes became more “present” than Jeremy could remember seeing them. “I do feel for people, Jeremy. I want what is best for us all, I am a healer, after all.”
Jeremy shrugged. “I guess.”
“But I can’t help it. I find life so fascinating. It’s so varied, and surprising, and different. And my fascination with it does help others. Did you know there are twenty-four types of wheat grown in the Inner Valleys?”
“Umm, no,” answered Jeremy, who vaguely remembered what wheat looked like.
Talum nodded. “There are. But no one knew this until Dosum and I spent four years moving throughout The Inner Valleys cataloging the differences. Each grows best in a specific type of soil, as well as differing amounts of moisture, but we found farmers using seed in soils which didn’t match. We eventually came up with a plan to match soil-type with the best type of wheat seed, and the Um council presented our plan to the Senate. Not everyone has jumped on to our idea, but those who have participated in our plan have increased their productivity.”
Jeremy couldn’t help but be impressed. “That… that is interesting.”
“It is, isn’t it? But I found out after my study was completed that some of the Meadowrun residents spent those four years complaining. They worried I was needlessly running about and not paying attention to my charges. Worse, they were afraid I was passing on my uncaring attitude to my apprentice! Can you imagine that?”
“But you were helping.”
“I was, but it didn’t look like I was. To most it appeared I was simply fascinated by the different shapes of wheat seed. Which, of course, I am. They couldn’t see my long-term goal which has benefitted so many.”
“So why didn’t you tell them?”
He smiled sheepishly. “I meant to. In fact, I thought I had, but Dosum later told me the conversations I remember having were all in my head. I do that, you know. I imagine conversations I’m planning to have, and then forget to actually have them! Isn’t that odd?”
Jeremy tiled his head. “Well, probably a little.”
Talum, far from being offended, smiled brightly. “Yes it is. And so now you have your crystal, and I hope you know I want to help. And, I’m going to go talk to Ama now, we haven’t seen each other in months and it will be good to catch up.”
“I think Ama said it’s been years, sir.”
“Hmm, now that I think about it I believe it has been years. Oh well, more to chat about!”
The healer then wandered over to Ama and struck up a conversation. She smiled graciously as Talum jumped in to whatever topic was on his mind, but Jeremy notices her exchange a mildly pained look with Walter as he began his attempt at conversation.
Jeremy held up the crystal to examine it a second time. As he did so, he noticed a streak of shadow running underneath it’s surface.
“Grateful,” said a voice inside his head. “Now can travel close.”