Forward To The Sunrise I: The Fourth Summer
Four years had passed.
He had seen the trees change from white to green to red to black and all over again four times. He couldn’t believe how long it had been since the day the Yīnyǐng had separated them all. He had seen the change of what parts of the world they had travelled together, thoroughly worried by it all. Things changed so drastically wherever they turned that he was sure he woke up in a different world every morning.
The blossoms shedded and the fruits of the trees were ripe for the picking. The fourth Summer. While the two vagabonds wandered the world, set on returning home in Destrea, they had enjoyed the trees and what they had to offer: shelter, food, and aromas. Shade was needed in the arid points of southern Venéra, which was at the tip of the Themaikosite Peninsula, where the sun never seemed to set. Since a few months ago, one could say that the two had lost hope of leaving, as their leads kept them walking in circles.
The world was a large place, and there was little probability that they would find Caislín, Chance, and the others. Aloysius and Wynne had been alone against the land and they were growing tired of it.
The tavern in the slums of Venéra was the best place to look for information.
The twilight was ruined by the deafening thunder and the blinding lightning, and the silvery sheets of rain that dumped on the civilians was a weight on everyone’s shoulders. The Summer day created an undesirable, horribly miserable humidity that hung over the men and women attempting to walk here to there.
Inside that tavern, the many patrons rested and idly puffed smoke from their pipes. One groups heartily guzzled down their ale in a warmly lit corner, and at the tending counter, the mustached innkeeper and one grizzly patron had at it in a spirited game of speculation. A fire roared in the hearth opposite of the counter, where a spindly minstrel tuned his fiddle. Sofas and cushions drowned the area.
The one-eyed elder hobbled into the tavern and fearfully scanned the scene. It was usually his atmosphere, but something was very important and the gravitas of a certain figure, solitarily hunched in a darker corner, sipping his coffee, spoke a quiet urgency. He drank at his leisure, but the glint in his green eyes under his dark hood showed he wasn’t one to wait.
The stranger certainly wasn’t a Venéran. He wore a generic black tunic with buckskin lacing, a leather jerkin, belts aplenty on his waist, and a hooded jacket. A waterproof cloak sheltered him, even though he was safe indoors. It meant he wasn’t going to stay for very long. His jaw shifted and the fire had shown a red sheen in his brown beard.
He was the man to whom the Údaen woman told him to relay the information.
The lady he had met outside undid her cloak and pulled back her hood, letting luscious black hair tumble to her slim waist, and her violet eyes twinkled with intelligence. Her dark lips were plush and were swept over with a dab of simple gloss. She was tall and lean with deep brown skin, and she was dressed in black leather pants, high boots, and a flowing grey blouse with wide sleeves. A simple golden chain adorned her neck, displaying that she was unmarried in the Údaen culture. Her gaze was one to melt under, but her eyes showed that she was a dangerous one.
The lady pointed with her chin to the man in the corner, daring him to defy her.
The one-eyed man scuttled to the corner, and the woman followed, and stopped beside the one in the cloak, a hand on his shoulder.
“Signor Episcopo,” the stranger said with a nod, “where is the real map?”
The elder frowned. “Introductions go both ways, Master…”
The stranger shook his head, smirking. “Answer the question.”
Signor Episcopo stammered out a protest, but shut his lips as the stranger no longer looked humored and the woman raised a hateful eyebrow. “What map?”
“You sold us a map, but it’s awry,” the woman said, with a Destrean accent. His blood ran cold at her deep, heavenly, but dangerous voice.
Episcopo squinted at the hooded stranger, who looked up and allowed his face to be illuminated by the dancing light of the flames.
“You’re the Destrean couple from months back,” breathed Episcopo. “Don’t ask me about that map.”
He stood to leave, his heart thumping profusely, but the lady closed him off and the man sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Here’s to annoying you, then,” he said as he leaned in. “Who told you to sell us an awry map?”
Episcopo gulped and sat back down, feeling imprisoned.
“Who told you to give us a voluntarily wrong and forged map?” growled the man, coming close to Episcopo’s face. “It’s important that we know and now. We have to get back to Destrea.”
The old merchant looked up, fear in his one eye. “Don’t set foot in Destrea!” he exclaimed, though the rest of the tavern refused to listen. “It’s cursed!”
The woman scoffed. “We’ve heard the shepherd’s lore a thousand times over, Episcopo,” she grumbled, “about Crofton, about the Údaen merce-”
“It’s not lore,” confessed the man with pain on his scarred face. “I should know, I- I was one of the Destreans to flee.”
Both the woman and her companion halted any thoughts of replying and awaited, quietly with hints of horrified surprise, an elaboration.
“That Lord Crofton,” Episcopo said shakily. “After the fall of Vårthjem, it seemed he was ready. He came in with an army and an Údaen mercenary led them. No one stood a good chance. Now, he rules as the Eye. His soldiers are always watching. No one goes in or out. I was lucky, because I risked all life in me and every limb on me to leave his tyrannic rule. I got out miraculously, though my eye stayed in Destrea.” He pointed at his empty socket. “Heh. You’d have to be crazy to go back there.” He shook his head. “Look,” he sighed, “that awry map was my own doing. You’re a lovely couple-”
“We’re not a couple,” interjected the man in the hood.
Episcopo’s brow shot up. “Why, I assumed-” As the woman gave him that glare again, he knew they were off subject. “By your accents I knew you were Destrean. You told your vagabondish episode and I knew you’d be safer if you kept it that way. Never go back to Destrea, y’hear? Not until someone ejects Crofton.”
The stranger and the woman exchanged glances, and the hooded figure slowly nodded. “The rumors were all true,” he breathed, as if he had to catch his breath. “All of them.”
The woman put a soft hand on his shoulder.
“Here’s for your troubles.” The man in the hood stood to full height, an impressive height, and dropped ten silver viecciate on the table. “Thank you.”
Episcopo scooped up the coins and scrambled out as quickly as his two feet would take him.
Aloysius Carmody pulled off his hood, and Wynne O’Úda noticed his hazel eyes sparkled with a thin film of tears. After they had evacuated Vårthjem, he had changed.
They hadn’t seen their companions, being Nóe, Caislín, Chance, Boniface, Anson, Briscoe, Ignatius, Cahir, and Iolo since they were all so violently torn from each other in the panic four years ago. They doubted Cahir, Nóe, or Boniface had survived, as they were so forcefully pushed by the explosions that brought the proud city to rubble and a wispy smoking desecration. They wished with all their hearts that Caislín, their queen, had survived. Since that night, Aloysius had blamed himself. He thought that he had been able to do something, but he was so set on getting himself and Wynne away from all of it that he made himself too late. The former captain of the Destrean army had seemed to grow older, and as he did, farther away.
“So it’s true,” he repeated weakly. “Every bend, every stranger… they all told us.”
Wynne let out a sigh through her nose. “We’re too late.”
Aloysius looked down at her, then they made for the exit. As she clasped her cloak around her shoulders and pulled the hood over her head, he said, “Wynny, I didn’t befriend you for your optimism, but it was something I had held onto so dearly for twelve years.”
Wynne smiled ever so weakly as they braved the rain. “Well, my optimism has since been crippled, and I hope you still love me despite it.”
Aloysius helped her onto his stallion and mounted behind her. “You know me, Wynne,” he whispered. “Now, Sebastian and Seren must be wondering what’s taking us so long.” He looked out into the storm and blew out a shrill whistle. “Hartley! Come here!”
Their red setter hound bounded through the rain, happily attempting to catch drops on his big, red tongue.
“Let’s head back to camp.”
Their camp was humble and only three tents were in their small caravan. As the two rode on and out of town, the rain stopped, and the trees lazily shifted in the breeze that chased away the humidity. The night turned into something that could have been peaceful if they hadn’t received such horrible news about their country.
As the stallion conquered the hill, they saw Sebastian, a small twelve year old, calmly tuning his lute by the fire he had tended. Hartley yipped and jumped into him, and Sebastian smiled and scratched his ears.
“How’s the food?” Aloysius asked, helping Wynne down off the horse. “Passable?”
Bash rolled his brown eyes. “I happen to be a better cook than you, Sius.” He took the pot from the fire and dumped a ladle in the stew he had put together. “You’re just in time.”
Wynne kissed his forehead and sat beside him. “It smells good,” she said lightly, despite her dazed expression. “Thank you, Bash.”
“Where’s Starry?” asked the man, putting his cloak up to dry.
Starry was the nickname of his daughter, Seren Carmody. It seemed to be a miracle, an action carried on by the Hand of Protector, that four years ago, Master Pritchard Dacey had evacuated Baric-Tref to escape Crofton, and Seren had stowed away with him. While Seren was still with them, Pritchard had went off in his own way towards the east. The ten year old had flourished and had grown so much.
Sebastian’s eyes widened. “Sius, I promise I kept her inside your tent while it was raining! I promise!”
Aloysius halted him and chuckled. “I didn’t reprimand you, Bash. Where’s Starry?”
He obeyed, and saw his daughter hop down from the trees. Wynne yelped as Seren landed perfectly on her feet, though she did her best to hide the tear in her blue smock. Her curly, deep brown hair was pinned up messily and smudges of dirt covered all the precious freckles that dotted her suntanned face.
Aloysius crouched in front of her, a brow raised. “Why are you covered in dirt, fy merch?” /my daughter/
Seren fidgeted under her father’s gaze. “I snuck out while Sebastian said he was watching me. I promise I didn’t catch cold, I just tripped in the mud.”
Bash gave an indignant start. “Oi!”
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Aye, aye, aye,” Aloysius halted them. “Starry, why’d you disobey Bash and I?”
She sighed. “I disobeyed Bash because he was such a stick in the mud and a puss and I disobeyed you because the apples looked so shiny.” She presented her hands, which were hidden behind her back until then, displaying two fat, juicy, red apples. “Don’t they look delicious?”
Aloysius gently took the apples and kissed her cheek. “Thanks, Starry. Now go wash up, aye? You’re going to bed early for your disobedience and, in the morning, you’ll mend your smock.”
Seren let out a protesting start. “Dadi!” she complained, “I'm not a little girl in need of a nap!”
“My word is final,” Aloysius said firmly, if not tiredly. He handed Wynne the apples and prodded his daughter towards the wash bowl.
Seren grumbled and disappeared behind the tent, where the washbowl sat. She snuck another face at Bash.
Sebastian smiled at her and looked up at Aloysius, and his expression turned serious. “Destrea?”
The boy had been born in Destrea, to a Sábháiltean father and an Alpenien mother. He grew up on the road, performing with his parents in their circus. He was a gifted acrobat and a minstrel of unsurpassable prowess.
That was before the fire.
Aloysius still saw the fear in his big brown eyes. After their tent was sent to the stars in acrid smoke, Wynne had saved the young boy. It had been three years, and Bash seemed to be recovered. He brought Hartley with him, and the hound found his heart in the two adults.
Aloysius sighed and shook his head. “Our home’s gone, Bash,” he mumbled.
There wasn’t much other than memories still in Destrea for him, for his daughter, Seren, or Wynne. He didn’t know what Sebastian wanted in returning, but if it was hopeless, Aloysius didn’t have a clue as to where they were headed next.