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 voice Sheilak was unlike Jeremy’s earlier encounters with the Guardian. Previous thoughts which came from the Guardian had seemed to be sent directly to his mind, rather than enter audibly through his ears, but they still felt as though they came from some other location. The word the Guardian had just spoken, however, felt as though it had emerged from within Jeremy’s mind. Pondering this, he tried an experiment.
“Can you hear me?” He thought. This was followed by a breath of silence in which Jeremy, slightly relieved, concluded that the Guardian could not, indeed, hear his thoughts. And then, quietly, he heard a single word in his mind.
Now slightly unnerved, Jeremy had to fight the urge to throw away the crystal he held in his hand. Instead, he dared to speak a thought in his mind a second time, “Is this what you meant by traveling close?”
The shadow in the crystal danced happily as the guardian replied in Jeremy’s head, “Yes. Worry, not. I do not swim in memory. Only in speaking, only converse.”
“So you hear me when I try to speak, but that’s it?”
“Sheilak, why are you so interested in me? What is going on?”
To Jeremy’s surprise the crystal warmed slightly. He blurted out “ow!” more due to shock than actual pain. The others looked at him and, embarrassed, Jeremy muttered, “Sorry, I stubbed my toe.”
Jeremy switched back to thinking his words. “Happy about what?”
“Used my name, companions.”
He pondered this for a moment before responding to the message. “Are you saying you feel like you’re part of the group because I used your name?”
The warmth in the crystal returned. “Yes. Happy.”
“OK then. I guess that makes me happy, too.” He thought for a moment as he pondered how to phrase his next question. “Do others in The Valleys have these crystals?”
The crystal grew cold. “No. Only Talum. Friend. Trust.”
“And now I do as well?”
“Yes. You are friend. Trust.”
“You brought warning.”
“The treaty. Suspected. Feared. Inconclusive. Now, we move.”
“Move to do what?”
“To save all. You will help.”
“How? I can’t even remember who I am. And you keep saying I mustn’t remember.”
“When time comes, you will remember.”
“How will I know when the time has come?”
“You will feel the pull.”
“The pull of what?”
“Must rest now. Happy.”
With that, the sense of presence which had filled Jeremy’s mind faded to the background. It wasn’t gone completely. It lurked in a corner of his conscious thought, like someone standing by in silence waiting to be acknowledged.
Ama sided over to Jeremy. “I see you’ve been having a chat.”
He turned toward the healer in shock, but Ama only smiled at his alarm.
“Talum told us about the crystal as we prepared the horses, Jeremy. It is a remarkable gift he has given you, I hope you feel honored.”
He shrugged. “I suppose. It’s just…”
“Just what, Jeremy?”
“Well, ever since Walter woke me up it feels like I’ve been running toward something, but I’m doing it blind. First I’m a pathfinder, then I see colors so I must be a healer, and now I find out I’m some ancient story come to life. Oh, and there’s an ancient monster, who is really a friend, that seems to have taken a liking to me.”
Ama nodded. “It’s quite a bit to take in. In fact, you forgot to mention that we are currently fleeing from the authorities in this area.”
“Oh yes, I’d forgotten about that, thanks.”
She smiled, “You sounded so much like Walter, just then.”
Jeremy returned the grin. “I guess he rubs off on you.”
“The Old Fox certainly does indeed, Jeremy.” She patted him on the back and shifted back to walk next to Walter.
They travelled in relative silence for some time after that. The Sun continued to rise in the East, causing the darkness to flee and their fears to subside. At such an early hour the roads were relative empty. A few farmers were awake and moving out towards their fields, but most people hadn’t yet risen with the dawn. Soon, they arrived at a small hamlet, where another road branched off to the West.
Walter stopped and pointed to the new road. “OK, we made it this far with no problems. We’re not too many miles from the Great Bridge at this point. If we keep moving I doubt the guards will be able to catch up with us. They’ve been traveling all night, after all.”
“Then lead on, Walter,” called Michael from behind. He and Terrin had lagged back from the group to act as lookouts and were just catching up as Walter spoke. “We are ready to follow,” he continued.
Walter nodded and led the group onward. Terrin and Michael remained near the rest of the group, in case trouble appeared in the small settlement. They were just about to make the turn West, on to a road Talum called “First Way,” when a voice called out from their right.
“Terrin? Terrin, is that you?”
The party halted. Michael squared his shoulders and unsheathed his baton in alarm, but Terrin placed his hand on the older guard’s arm and forced it to lower.
“Easy, Michael! This is a friend! What news do you have for me, David?”
A man in simple clothing stepped out from a nearby building. “It is you! I didn’t recognize you out of uniform!”
“Things have grown a bit tense in the guards lately, David.”
The stranger nodded. “Yes, so your wife told me. She wanted me to tell you she passed through this junction unmolested and expects to be in Riverside by noon. She also wishes you well and hopes for your safe return.”
“David, I’m grateful. Thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure, friend. I hope you make it to The Ravine safely.” His smiled faded as he added, “These are strange times.”
“They are that, friend. Thank you again.”
David nodded and reentered his home, and the group continued on their way. While everyone was relieved they had passed through the town with out confrontation, Walter was agitated.
“I cannot believe I’m being forced to walk though the Inner Valleys like some sort of fugitive dodging an arrest!”
“Well, Old Fox, you had intended on marching to The Ravine in disguise. It’s almost like you’re getting your wish.”
“Meddle, sometimes your wit is even over my head.”
“It’s what keeps us friends.”
Walter grunted, but smiled nevertheless. The group lapsed into silence once more as the miles rolled on in their wake. They dared not stop for morning meal, which became particularly noticeable once the ovens of the Inner Valleys began to be stoked to cook breakfast. Smells of frying bacon, fresh bread, and even brewed coffee wafted over the road, causing more than one of the companion’s stomaches to growl in protest. They each ate some dried fruit and bread as they walked, but that didn’t stave off grumbles of protest from greedy appetites. Finally, as Noon approached and Jeremy began to hope for a more satisfying lunch, Ama’s face brightened and she beckoned the youth forward to join her and Walter at the head of their party.
“Jeremy, quick, come here and see this!”
He hurried up to Ama’s position, and gasped. During his time in The Valleys he’d seen a great many wonders. The massive tunnel through the mountains, the marvel of Shelter, and even the first his glimpse of the Inner Valleys were memories he savored. Nothing, however, had prepared him for what now filled his vision. A bridge, over four times wider than the road upon which they now travelled, reached out across a river. The bridge itself was not high, but the river it spanned was so wide it disappeared into the mists ahead of them. Beautifully carved pillars of stone supported the span as it thrust out into the air, and the deck shifted from cobbled stone to grooved bricks. Evertorches lined the deck, as they did every road in The Valleys, but these were placed upon decorated stands at even intervals, connected by a exquisitely carved railings which kept travelers from falling into the river below. Off in the distance toward the South, obscured somewhat by the mists, Jeremy could just make out the shape of a gleaming white city.
Ama placed her arm around Jeremy’s shoulders. “This is the Great Bridge, Jeremy. Welcome to the very heart of the Valleys.”