134. A Riderless Horse

The moment of veneration passes quickly.

Osdath and Hayrolf rise, and upon a gesture from the tall warrior, six soldiers detach themselves from the others. Together with Hayrolf, they escort the Prince aboard the ferry. The others mount their horses and wait. Lord Osdath is the last to go aboard, followed by the stout man who helped moor the ferry. The two soldiers who arrived to sound the horn unmoor the vessel, and the rowers use their oars to push off from the pier.

And still no sign of Nevynne.

“They are leaving,” Stellia whispers. “What do we do?”

“What can we do?” Frithil says. “We wait.”

Someone shouts a command, and the remaining soldiers ride off southwards whence they came.

“We can’t just do nothing.” Stellia stands up. Her legs tingle from crouching for so long.

“What are you doing?” Frithil tries to grab her coat, but he is too slow. “Are you mad?”

Stellia races down the hillside toward the pier. She must reach the boat, what other way is there? She slips and skids a good distance over grass and sod on her behind, only to jump up and continue running, running; her only thought is that the must jump onto the ferry. What the soldiers will do, what will happen then, to that she cannot give a thought. She does not stop until she reaches the end of the pier, her momentum nearly carrying her over the edge, into the black water.

The ferry has already receded once more into the fog out of which it first appeared, a ghostly shadow swiftly dissolving. Stellia has a wild impulse to jump into the water and swim after it. But this brief madness passes quickly. She knows the limits of her strength. The lake in its vastness would force her to turn back, or else become her grave. The water’s edge is a final border, one that she cannot breach.

Not without a boat.

She stifles an anguished scream.

“Nevynne,” she murmurs. “Where are you?”

Moments later, she hears Frithil’s footsteps. He arrives next to her as the first tendrils of the fog reach out to the pier and into the thicket of reeds, muffling the soft whispers of the stalks as they sway in the cool air.

“She will come,” the friar wheezes.

“We must follow the ferry soon, if we want to see where they are taking the Prince. Unless you know where that will be.”

Frithil bends over, hands on his knees, still fighting to catch his breath. “Alas, I do not. I have read descriptions of some of the places and buildings on the Forbidden Isle, but as for the details of their exact locations, or maps—none exist, as far as I know.”

“Then we have little time. Once we reach the island, we cannot ask for directions, nor can we wander around looking for the right building. We’d no doubt be captured. We need a boat.”

Once more, a loon’s call rises from the water somewhere, distant and keening like pain recalled in unbidden remembrance. How fitting, that the shores of this lake should be populated by birds capable of such heart-rending calls.

Another sound comes from the direction of the road—very different, and fast growing louder.

Hoofbeats!

“That must be her!” Stellia spins around, her eyes fixed on the gap between the rushes where the road runs past the pier. The hoofbeats come closer, closer.

It is the third black steed, Nevynne’s mount. But it carries no rider.

NEXT: Motes of Dust

 

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