It was a hard trek through the woods at night. Even with the lucien’s help and her tracker’s skills, Elliera was exhausted and spent. Senior Tevkin, for his part, kept up with the pace not uttering a single word of agony. It was because of him that Elliera did not complain. He had been her mentor and now was her savior. Whatever the Council of Nights had been planning, it probably did not involve just the pale man, but her and Senior Tevkin as well. She shuttered remembering the nail scrapping screech that split the air and the single white feather that had been left. What did it all mean?
Senior Tevkin was negotiating passage with a ferryman on the Ostram river, keeping his voice low. With the position of the stars and moon, it looked to be about two in the morning, a time most would consider strange. But he seemed satisfied enough with their explanation even though they had roused him from sleep. It was a wonder that someone who possibly was the epicenter of gossip could be so secretive and understanding. She watched as the conversation finally broke and Senior Tevkin made his way back to where Elliera and the lucien sat patiently by the river’s side.
“He said he’ll gladly give us passage, no questions asked. We’ll be dropped off at Schaporf, about ten kilometers south of Daverne. After that, the river gets too wide and unruly for ferries to navigate. Gave him a couple dubs, though he tried to push them away.”
“Nice fellow,” Elliera added, “Did he say how long it would take?”
Senior Tevkin rubbed his eyes, “Oh, a few hours. We’ll be there after sunrise. Good timing, too, because we’ll have a ways to travel and I don’t want to be completing that journey at night.”
The ferryman gave them a soft smile as they boarded. She wondered if he could see the weariness and fear behind their expressions. She immediately attempted to veil her concerns and focus her thoughts elsewhere. As the ferry began to move, she found comfort in the rolling, midnight waves of the river. Like black velvet, she thought. It was beautiful, a sweet lullaby of visual richness accompanied by the lap lap of the gentle waves.
Her eyelids began to droop.
“Wish I had a need for that.”
Elliera jumped, practically falling into the river. She hurriedly glanced around. Behind her was standing a dark figure silhouetted by the moon. Oddly, the eyes dimly glowed as if they had a life of their own.
The figure stepped away from the light and came to crouch next to her. Only then did she realize who it was.
“Y-you’re the man from the river.”
He dipped his head in acknowledgement, “Indeed. And I thank you for tending to my wounds. Though, I would have to say your council was not as readily helpful to me.”
Elliera shook her head, “I’m sorry. I should have never brought you back there. I…I didn’t know…”
He sat down next to the lucien and stroked his fur. There was a long pause before he spoke again.
“I do not blame you for what has happened, Elliera, you are merely the fly stuck in the spider’s web. And a gluttonous spider it is too-”
“Then, do you know the Council of Nights?” She interjected.
“No, but I do suspect they are in league with some other people I am trying to avoid.”
The lucien gave a loud sigh and Elliera peered down at it, “Why did it follow me?”
The pale man smiled, “Because it believes you are worth protecting. Creatures like this do not throw around their allegiance lightly, and it seems it has felt a bond with you.”
Elliera’s heart soared with that news, her eyes sparkling. Before she could hide her excitement, the pale man continued, “I do suppose that is good news for one such as yourself, as a Gardein.”
“How do you know so much about us?” She frowned, and then added, “And how do you know my name?”
“I overheard it in the courtroom didn’t I?” He chuckled and Elliera smiled uneasily. “Like your Senior Tevkin, I study scripts and such as well.”
At the mention of her Senior, Elliera quickly glanced around for his presence. In the shock of facing the pale man, she had forgotten about the ferryman and Tevkin. She found him snugged underneath blankets at the helm, fast asleep and the ferryman was busy navigating.
“No, not all,” she commented, feeling abashed that she might have offended him. She finally asked the question that had been bothering her, “What brings you here?”
The pale man looked long at her. He sighed, “I do not think that is an answer I can yet give you, Elliera Gardein. However, I can give you my name so that you may stop thinking of me as the pale man. You may call me Varen’ka.”
She blinked. She was about to open her mouth to apologize when the pale-Varen’ka interrupted her, “No need for that, I take no offense. It is merely the way I am and natural for you to take note of it. It is the very first judgement we pass, is it not, what we see with the eyes?”