For a seven day Mikel and his companions had crossed the plains traveling from dawn until dusk. Though their journey to the lake in the center of Easren wasn’t the longest the sooner they reached the site the more time they would have for Bran to examine the remains of the drowned henge for clues about how Dom Senet and his underlings had warped the elements.
Mikel drew a deep breath and stared at the rushing water marking the border between the plains and Easren. He turned to his companions. “Today we cross into Easren.” He stared at the torrential rain on the other side.
Dyna nodded. “We can cross here. The rock bed is solid and there’s not much mud.”
“Water’s about three or four feet deep,” Bran said.
“Then we go,” Mikel said.
“Let me take the lead.” Tamlia met his gaze. “If there is trouble I can use my ability to control the coursers.” She urged her steed into the water.
Mikel and Dyna followed. When they reached the
turned his head to
watch Bran’s slow progress. He seemed to have difficulty controlling his mount.
Mikel reached the opposite bank. He heard a shout and jerked around. Bran’s
courser shied. Bran tumbled into the chill water. Mikel jumped from his mount
and pulled Bran to shore. Tamlia raced her courser after Bran’s. mid-point
“What happened?” Dyna asked.
“Something in the water startled him.” Bran bent over and coughed.
Tamlia returned with Bran’s steed. Streams of water ran from the panniers. “We need a place to build a fire.”
Mikel moved through the misting rain. He mounted his courser and quickly read the winds. “Not here. There’s a group of doms and domas headed this way. If we’re quick they won’t see us.”
Bran grasped the reins of his steed and pulled himself into the saddle. “Which way do we go?”
Mikel pointed east. “Will you be all right?”
“I’ll have to be. Once we’re safely away we can look for shelter.”
Hours of riding through the rain that changed from light to heave wind-driven gusts of chill air passed before they found a sagging barn for their camp. Tamlia kindled a fire from broken pieces of wood from the stalls. Bran’s panniers were unloaded. Using his affinity he pulled water from the clothing and food sacks. Tamlia added heat from her flame sword to dry them.
Mikel drew a deep breath and opened himself to the winds. After scenting the vicinity and finding only a farm family worried about the weather and the need to use their seed grain as food, he closed the link and directed his quest to find the others with his affinity. All except Ash’s group experienced the miserable weather and had little to report. Mikel felt a sharp stab at the edge of his thoughts and slammed his barriers tight. Could this be the seeker Ash had mentioned? Had Dom Senet stumbled on the search? Mikel had no desire for that one to gain an inkling of the plans.
In the morning under a pewter sky they left the barn and rode for several hours. A roll of thunder caused Mikel’s courser to rear. He gripped the reins and brought his steed under control.
Bran pointed at the sky. “We’re in for a downpour. We need shelter.” He sneezed.
“Ahead,” Dyna said. “There’s a cave large enough for us and the steeds.”
“Lead the way.” Tamlia shouted above the booming thunder.
Before they reached the cave the storm arrived and thoroughly soaked them. Fortunately Tamlia was able to start a fire using some black rock Dyna found. The smoke sent Bran into a fit of coughing. He retreated to sit near the cave mouth.
The quartet remained in the cave for the remainder of the day. Mikel watched the storm’s fury build. A small stream of water flowed through the mouth but by using rocks Dyna turned the flow from the fire. By morning the rain ceased but clouds remained to darken the sky.
For three days they followed a narrow road. Mikel worried about Bran. His friend was quieter than usual. Though Bran tried to hide the deep coughs that exploded with growing frequency he failed. Mikel feared his companion was ill. What would they do if he was too sick to aid the quartet in healing Easren? Mikel believed Bran’s aid was essential to the process.
At the end of a seven day after entering Easren Mikel paused his steed at the top of a rolling hill. Ahead he saw water. Beneath the leaden sky the lake appeared dark gray. Was that their destination? He glanced at the sky. Were those birds circling under the clouds? The shapes plunged toward the lake. “Look, there’s a dark and a light bird.”
Bran laughed and waved. “The henge is there. We must follow the birds to the site of what was the Easren henge. “The lake is larger than I remember.” He gasped for breath and covered his mouth to muffle a cough.
Mikel frowned. “Can I help you?”
“I’ll be fine. Let’s ride.”
By late afternoon they neared the body of water. A gray stone rose from the lake’s center. “What’s that?” Mikel asked.
“The remainder of the henge that was.” Bran coughed until his face turned scarlet and he gasped for air.
Mikel rode to his side. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
Bran shook his head. “Not. Throat hurts.”
Mikel gestured to Tamlia and Dyna. “We need to find shelter.” He pointed to the distant trees. “Do you think there?”
Tamlia urged her courser closer to Bran. “Are you sure this is where we should be?”
He nodded. Another bout of coughing began.
Geni grabbed the reins of his courser. “Hang on.”
Tamlia pointed to a dark structure part way around the lake between the water and the forest. “Might be a building. Check for people. If there are none we can camp there while we wait for the other quartets to reach their destinations. Hot food and dry clothes would be welcome.”
Mikel stared into the distance. “Building is empty. There are no people even near.” He urged his courser into a walk. When he reached the stone building he dismounted. A shed at the side held a few bales of hay. “Coursers can be stabled here.”
Tamlia and Dyna helped Bran inside. Mikel removed the panniers and saddle from Bran’s steed and carried them inside. Long stone tables lined one of the walls. Dyna came outside to help. “Tamlia’s starting a fire.” She set two pots to catch rainwater.
Mikel placed another set of panniers on the table. He looked into two smaller rooms and frowned. Definitely not sleeping chambers. Hooks hung from the ceiling. Each room had a central fire circle. He stepped back into the main room and found the necessary behind the main room. A large bathing tub with no pipes to allow hot and cold water to fill the tub sat at one end of the room. At least there were drains for all the facilities.
Bran sat beside the fireplace. He held his scrying cup and opened the medicinal pouch. With shaking fingers he put a selection of herbs into the cup.
“Sitting and waiting for the water to heat is foolish.” Mikel extended a hand to help Bran to his feet. “You need to change into dry clothes.” Mikel carried clothes dried by Tamlia’s sword into the necessary. Once they changed they returned to the main room.
Bran dipped water from one of the steaming pots into the scrying cup. He poured the liquid into a mug and drank. Mikel unrolled a sleep saque. “Rest. We’ll care for the coursers.”
Mikel went with Tamlia and Dyna outside to groom and feed the steeds. When they returned they found Bran asleep. “I’m worried about him.” Mikel dropped dried meat and vegetables into a pot.
“So am I,” Dyna said.
“Speak to Doma Jandia,” Tamlia suggested. “She’ll know what to do.”
Mikel handed the stirring spoon to her. He moved away from the fire and settled against a wall. He found the winds of the keep. Doma Jandia, Bran is ill. He has a cough and he’s fevered.
Mix healal and feverfage with honey and have him take a spoonful every time he coughs. If he has trouble breathing burn eucala in a dish close to his head. When he wakes bathe him in cool water. Have him drink broth and willah tea.
Mikel relayed the instructions to the others. Dyna set about making the honey syrup and the willah tea. Tamlia gathered pots of rain water to fill the bathing tub. Once all was ready Mikel woke Bran and told him what the doma had suggested.
Bran sat. A bout of coughing racked through his body. Dyna handed him a spoon and the syrup plus a cup of willah tea.
Tamlia helped him stand. “Are you sure you don’t have fire throat?”
He shook his head. “Just ague.”
Mikel aided him to the necessary and waited until Bran was in the tub. He returned with drying cloths. After the soak Bran dressed and returned to the main room where he alternated sips of broth with tea,
Tamlia curled her arms around her knees. “How do we reach that spire?”
“By boat,” Bran rasped.
“What if we don’t find one?” Mikel asked.
Dyna grinned. “We build a raft.”
Mikel walked to one of the small rooms. “I’ve been puzzling over the purpose of these rooms. I believe this was a fishing camp and these rooms are for smoking fish. There should be a boat on the shore.”
Tamlia groaned. “So we go looking.”
“Not tonight.” Mikel yawned and opened his sleep saque.
For the next two days Mikel fretted. Bran remained feverish. Mikel feared they would all become ill. The rain continued until the morning of the third day. Though no rain fell there was no break in the cloud cover. He left the house and took the coursers to the grassy area near the trees where Dyna had used her staff to rejuvenate the growth.
Instead of returning to the house he decided to walk along the shore. As he moved forward he stared at the spire. He stumbled and fell to the ground. When he groped for the obstacle he freed an oar. A few yards ahead he found a metal ring and a boat fastened by a metal chain to the ring.
Rain had filled the craft. Was it sound? He ran to the house for ropes and then to the meadow for two of the coursers. After fastening the rope to the steeds and the boat he urged them to pull the craft from the water. Dyan and Tamlia helped empty the water. Using the ropes they carried the rowboat to the house to dry.
Bran sat up. “Good.”
Dyna laughed. “Better than a raft.”
“What now?” Tamlia asked.
“We learn how close the others are to their destination,” Bran said.
“My job.” Mikel sat near Bran. “We should use a circle when speaking to our friends. Last night Dom Senet or someone else tried to read my thoughts again. We don’t want to give the enemy any hint of our plan.”