99. What Till Saw

Brother Frithil pours himself another mug of honeyed milk and takes a great swig from it.

“The boy arrived here five days ago, late in the evening, in the company of Osdath the Seeker, who traveled with a regiment of spearmen under the command of Hayrolf Bloodgirt. The Abbot himself received them.”

“Were you told who the boy was?”

“I don’t think anyone here knew, not even the Abbot himself.” Frithil takes another sip of the warm milk. “It was a strange thing to witness. Upon his arrival here the boy was at once whisked out of sight, to take his supper in the company of Lord Osdath and the Abbot. Clearly, he was of some importance. Whatever Osdath was looking for in all those boys he sought out over the years, I suspect he found it in this one, this—Till, was it?”

Stellia nods.

The friar’s big, round eyes fill with warmth and sadness. “It must have been hard, to see him taken away from you, without an inkling of what his fate might be.”

“How long did they stay here, my brother and Lord Osdath?”

“Not long at all,” Frithil says. “The next morning, the Guardian arrived. She must have traveled like the wind. I imagine Lord Osdath had word sent to her as soon as he found the boy.”

“You told me she was alone with Till,” Garroth says. “Did anyone learn what her interest in him might be?”

“That’s the real question, and also the great secret. She spent some time with him in the morning. In fact, she sat up by his bed since the small hours, I am told, though I can’t say what passed between them. I was called upon by Lord Osdath to procure traveling clothes for Till, in case the Guardian decided to take him with her that day. I brought the boy to the refectory, where he took his breakfast in Her Holiness’s presence. And indeed, once she was done speaking with him, Lord Osdath told me to prepare him for an immediate departure. He was to accompany the Guardian to her residence on the Forbidden Isle.”

“You must have spoken to my brother, then,” Stellia says. “Did you not ask him what the Guardian wanted of him?”

“He didn’t know,” Frithil says. “He kept saying that the Guardian required some special service of him. But apparently she did not tell him just what it was.”

Stellia is close to tears, and she struggles to retain control of her voice; the thought of Till, of her little brother, taken away by strangers for who knows what purposes, is hard to bear, all the more so in this place, where she feels she can see him behind every corner. “Was he frightened?”

Frithil gives her a sorrowful look. With visible reluctance, he nods. “He told me something very strange. He said that while he was taking his breakfast with Her Holiness, he suddenly fell asleep where he sat, though he insisted that he was wide awake a mere moment before. He thought that—” The friar hesitates. “That the Guardian had given him a dream.”

“Given him a dream?” Stellia asks. “What did he mean? What kind of a dream?”

“He could not remember. Except for one thing. He said that he saw stars, thousands and thousands of them, and that they moved and wheeled about him like huge swarms of birds.”

“That doesn’t sound so frightening,” Nevynne says. “It sounds beautiful, rather.”

The remark does little to assuage Stellia’s dismay. “Do you think she did him some harm?”

“The way the boy described his experience, it did not feel like he went to sleep, but rather as though the room suddenly went away, and as if he was in some other place. But when he was, as he put it, back in the refectory, he could not remember any of it. Only later, as he was speaking of this to me, did the memory of the stars come back to him, and it seemed to me that he recalled it only with difficulty. He clearly felt that something unnatural had happened to him, and that the Guardian had brought it about.”

“Brought it about?” Garroth speaks slowly, deliberately, as though to ascertain he has heard correctly. “How could that be?”

“That he did not know,” Frithil says. “But the boy was clearly frightened by this experience. When he related it to me, he wept and said he did not wish to go with the Guardian. He had no choice in the matter, of course.”

Stellia feels another pang of grief as she imagines Till being forced to accompany the Guardian in spite of his fear. “What did you tell him? Were you able to comfort him, at least?”

“I did not wish to send him off so filled with fear, of course,” the friar tells her. “So I told him he should not be afraid, and that if the Guardian said he’d fallen asleep at table, then it was probably just so.”

“As I am sure it was.” Garroth pours himself another mugful of honeyed goat milk. Traveling is not easy for children, and they are prone to imagining things, especially when they are exhausted. Till was over-excited and frightened, alone in a strange place. No doubt the Guardian inspired great awe in him, and so his fancy was quick to endow her with extraordinary powers.” He drains his cup and wipes drops of milk from his beard with the back of his hand. “You chose the right words to tell the boy, Frithil.”

“I did, insofar as I sought to allay his distress. But I fear that I did not tell him the truth, any more than the Guardian did.”

Garroth’s eyes narrow. “Why would you say that?”

Brother Frithil takes a deep breath. His voice wavers a little, perhaps under Garroth’s questioning gaze.

“Because I, too, saw what the boy described.”

NEXT: The Guardian’s Spell


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