“Tylvanor?” The three syllables give Stellia no trouble. But they are decidedly foreign. “What kind of name is that?”
The filthy youth raises an eyebrow. “You can’t tell?”
“I’ve never heard its like. Wait. Baramond? Is that where you’re from?”
“Baramond it is,” he says. “Now you know too much about me, I think.”
“Nothing that will help capture you, alas.”
He ignores the remark. “What are you doing in these woods, anyway, a young girl, all by herself? And why did you pretend to leave by the South Road, only to double back through the woods, as if you didn’t want anyone to know where you’re really headed?”
“What’s it to you? You have your bread, and my horse. Don’t you want to be on your way?”
He remains silent for a long time. “I don’t need your horse,” he finally says. “My own is waiting in a clearing not far from here.” He casts a glance at Phylia, who is still chomping on the tender fern shoots. “I may sell her, though. One can never have too much coin.”
Desperation lays a cold finger on Stellia’s heart. Less than an hour earlier she was riding freely, only a day or so behind Sedwin and Garroth, whose trail she had picked up against all odds. Now it seems she will be walking back to her uncle’s house, to be returned to Phoros, to her parents, to be imprisoned again and to lose all hope of finding Till.
“Don’t,” she sobs. “Please. Don’t take my horse.”
The young man looks up in horror at this new and very different tone from his victim.
“Do not take her from me, Tylvanor.”
He takes a deep breath and mutters something in his own language. Stellia doesn’t understand the words; hopefully, he is cursing his heart for softening at the sight of her tears.
“Calm down.” He swallows, twice. “Calm down, or I swear—” He jumps to his feet and pulls the dagger out of its scabbard.
Stellia doesn’t care. She’d rather die than be forced to abandon her quest.
Tylvanor waves the dagger around in exasperation, shifts it from one hand to the other and back. Suddenly, with a tormented groan, he hurls it at her. It hits the tree above Stellia’s head, and remains stuck in the bark, its blade quivering.
Tylvanor drops himself down on the fallen trunk again, rolls his eyes, and waits until her sobs subside. “Tell me what you are doing here.”
“My brother was taken from my home,” Stellia says. “No one told us the reason. My parents won’t do anything about it, and can’t. So I ran away, to try to find him. He’s only six years old!”
“Who took him?”
“A high lord by the name of Osdath,” she says. “He’s the leader of the Council of Twelve, and the Guardian’s lieutenant.”
“The Guardian’s lieutenant?” Tylvanor makes a hissing sound. “What do you hope to accomplish against such a man? Where’s he taking your brother, anyway?”
“I don’t know for certain. The Sundrance of Silence, most likely.”
“The Great Sundrance? How strange. You’ve got one in Taronnis, too, don’t you? On the shores of Lake Tolganos? If your brother’s to be made a novice—”
“But he’s not,” Stellia says. “He’s too young for that. It’s something else they mean to do with him, but they wouldn’t say what. And it scares me not to know!”
Tylvanor considers this. “I can’t say I’d blame you for not trusting a clergyman. What’s your brother’s name, anyway?”
“Till.” Everything pours out of her. She tells him of the raid on Phoros, of her abduction by the brigands and her near disgrace in their camp, her rescue at the hands of two mysterious strangers—nameless, of course—and her imprisonment in her own home, her escape by night. It is a relief to tell someone, anyone. What does it matter if he knows all of this? He’s a complete stranger, and probably doesn’t care one whit.
When she is done, Tylvanor looks as though he was just beaten over the head with a stick. “These two men you mean to follow. You are certain they were from Hestia?”
“And spying on this clergyman, this Lord Osdath?”
Again, she nods. Snot drips from her nose onto her shirt. Tylvanor squats before her and wipes it away with his stained sleeve. With a sigh, he pulls the dagger out of the tree and cuts her ties. He sits down on his fallen tree again.
“I was hungry,” he says.
Stellia rubs her sore wrists. “What?”
“Do you know what it’s like, to be really hungry? Not just for dinner, after too many hours out of the house. Hungry, like you think you can eat rats or grubs, and you will, or earth if you find nothing else.”
“I know nothing of that,” Stellia says. “Food has never been scarce, in my home. My family is blessed in that regard.”
“So was mine.”
He lifts up the knapsack full of bread, gives it a woebegone look, and tosses it to her. It lands at Stellia’s feet.
“Thanks for the rolls.”
He turns to walk away into the forest. He’s so slight, so thin, it’s a wonder he ever managed to pin her down and tie her up, even with his blade at her throat.
Stellia gets up, takes a step forward. He legs are still numb from her prolonged crouch among the tree roots. “Wait. What are you doing?”
Tylvanor turns around. “Getting away while I can.”
“I won’t tell anyone in the village about you,” she says.
He smiles. “I know.”
With that, he disappears into the trees.
Phylia has stopped grazing and stands quietly in the bright green patch of ferns. Flies buzz about her in the midday sun like winged specks of gold. The mare swats at them lazily with her tail. So peaceful is the sight, Stellia could bring herself to believe Tylvanor never really dropped out of the trees to rob her.
And after all, he did not. Unless she wants to count a few sugared rolls missing from her knapsack.
She does not.
For a while, Stellia remains sitting in a patch of sunlight on the forest floor, rubbing her legs and wondering what to make of Tylvanor’s last remark.
NEXT: Forest Night