by Zentara Shadowsoul
We sat in the small bedchamber where I was to sleep that night. Darkness had fallen long ago and I was tired, but the meal and the pleasure of seeing Grunthrin and Isolda had revived me enough for me to tell my story, albeit glossing over much so that it was a skeleton tale. But one that included all the main events of what had happened since I’d entered Whittan Forest.
Both Isolda and Grunthrin had listened intently. Despite Isolda obviously being intrigued by my meeting with Ferantu and wanting to know more, neither of them had interrupted. They had told me that they wanted to hear the whole tale first and would consider the implications later. I had deliberately refrained from telling them my thoughts as I’d travelled to Skarlton, wanting to hear if their own conclusions concurred with mine. Neither had I told them that I believed I’d been under Yasmina’s power, just saying that I’d felt a growing sense of danger and unease about going through the portal without further knowledge.
Grunthrin now held the key in his hands, examining it closely.
“This is such a valuable find. We lost the originals many years ago,” he commented, his voice as gruff as I remembered.
“Then the Pathways are known?”
“Oh yes. The one at Tadhi Hallim still hums and is guarded, just in case someone works out how to use it.”
“So I would have been safe if I had gone there?”
Grunthrin grunted. “Possibly. Not sure they would have taken kindly to a non-Targ arriving on their own, though. You were right not to risk it. Plus as it is I’m not sure this key would work, with all the cracks and charring. But I could make a copy,” he muttered thoughtfully. “Shouldn’t be difficult. In fact, I think I should make at least two. Then we have a spare in case it proves difficult to recover once we pass through the portal.”
“You’re sure a copy will work?” I asked, noting the ‘we’ with some pleasure. From what he said he would be coming with me. “Isn’t it imbued with magic somehow?”
Grunthrin shook his head. “No, the magic is in the Pillars of the Pathways, not in the key. At least, that’s how I understand it. As for these symbols, I think there must be books or scrolls in the Guild library that could help us decipher at least some of them. Others we can learn about in the citadel. Although I think Thorne was probably right – this one is, I believe, Shianti Island. There are two ancient towers there, y’know. One in ruins, the other still standing. It’s more than possible they were linked to us in the past. Always have wondered about them.”
Nodding wearily, I glanced at Isolda. She seemed older yet more relaxed than when I’d last seen her.
“You still haven’t told me how you came to be here,” I remarked, unable to contain my curiosity any longer.
She smiled. “I’m no longer chief,” Isolda announced, putting up her hand to still my gasp. “It’s no surprise to me. Had been coming for months. I think that telling you my secrets cleared my mind, sorted my thoughts and made it easier for me to finally part from the clan. We got as far as Whitmuth before Carney finally made his move. He declared that we should deviate from our normal route, travel down to Avonlea and Cobalton, winter there. Argued that there were new markets to explore. He had mapped it all out. No more, he said, should we stick to the old ways. The younger clan members all agreed. Even a couple of the Elders were swayed by his arguments. I think he’d expected me to object. Instead I told him that was fine by me, but I’d no longer be chief. It was his turn. I was too old and too tired. That surprised everyone, I can tell you.” She grinned broadly, her teeth flashing in the firelight. “I left the next day, headed back to the Guild. Knew I’d be welcomed there. And I was, of course.”
“You look relieved,” I said softly.
Isolda took my hands, nodded. “I am. A weight was lifted from my shoulders that night. Should have made my move years ago. And I have you to thank.”
I didn’t know what to say. Yawned instead. Grunthrin harumphed. “We still have much to discuss. Not least being to consider what you’ve told us – raises questions with me, I can tell you. Need to work out what to do next. But all that, I think, can wait until morning. If we sit here any longer you’re going to nod off!”
And so we went to our beds and I slept, long and deep, safe and secure in the knowledge that my grandmother and mentor were close by, protecting me from danger.