I had some real life issues, so I couldn’t get much writing for the last couple of days, but things are back to normal now. Enjoy the chapter
Bran kept silent on the road. As more time passed after the earlier exertion, his body gradually got colder. The wind blowing from the sea didn’t get any warmer, even with the sun already high. The icy air whistled around his ears, causing his skin to tingle and sting. Fingers and toes were numb. It should have been a good feeling, reminding him of sweet mindless days of childhood, if not for it accentuating the pain in his leg. With each step the horse took, he felt an agonizing pain in his leg. He was indeed used to pain, but that didn’t make it less. He was already struggling a bit to keep his demeanor normal. He didn’t want to worry Elea.
Every step the horse took left a fresh, crisp footprint in the red soil, as if they were the only people to have ever been here. The airs smelled pure and fresh. Everything seemed quieter, almost muffled, compared to the noise of the Bourg. There was a sense of serenity in the atmosphere.
He looked at her. She was looking down, still brooding over the earlier conversation. This added to the eeriness and quietness. Her free hand was clutching her cloak tightly. He envied her for the cloak. His leg was already numb from the pain and the cold. He would start shivering at any moment. He hoped not. He couldn’t show such a sight to the girl.
He tightened his muscles, trying to gather as much heat as possible while distracting his mind. The movement didn’t escape Elea’s attention though. She was quite attentive, and he didn’t know whether to be happy or annoyed about it in this situation. She frowned while looking at him and asked:
“Is there anything wrong?”
He hid all traces of the agony he was feeling. Schooling his face, he responded with a smile:
“I’m fine, no problems here”
Elea bit her lower lip. She was getting frustrated with his stubbornness. He needed rest. She caught his arm with her outstretched hand, stopping him. Her voice came out authoritative, almost ordering him.
“Bran, stop acting tough”. Her glare met his eyes. “If you’re hurt so much, why didn’t you ask to stay in the Bourg and call Celek over?”
He glared back at her. This was her usual self. She may have been acting meek because of the last events, but she was never such a person. She always asserted her control on him whenever she could. He wouldn’t mind it most of the time, but once he was in a serious situation, it would get annoying. Just like now.
He couldn’t let that continue. He was already in a dire situation, and he couldn’t let her be like this while things were this dangerous. His voice that has already lost all signs of childhood had a slight vibe of cold in it as he said:
“Stop it. We’re already close to the house, no use thinking about it anymore”
Their eyes kept locked together for some moments. He could see some anger building up in her, but he didn’t back down. His body was shivering, and he did his best to let nothing show on his face.
She bit her lip, and then with scoffed at him, turning around. Her voice came out full of anger and annoyance as she said:
“Fine, do as you want, but don’t you dare complain later!”
His eyes slightly widened in surprise. She had let him have it his way this once, and he couldn’t believe that. She looked forward, not bothering to look at him. He had managed to anger her a lot though. He exhaled the air he had held without noticing. This was more exhausting than fighting.
His eyes became alert again, as they scanned his surroundings for any sign of danger. He was taking no chances. They were already close to the cottage, but with his luck, who knew what may happen.
The main road they were taking was a road in name only. It was nothing more than a path trampled by horses’ hoofs dozens of times. For him in this state, it was pure torture. He could see rocks and bumps everywhere, and struggled to avoid them.
They were currently taking a huge detour around the forest. It was a bit farther now, but he could still see it. The trees weren’t as high as in other forests he had seen. The soil of this land wasn’t fertile enough to make such trees grow.
They continued forward in silence. He sometimes glanced at Elea, but she thoroughly ignored him.
He tightened his grip on the handle of the sword. He hated this feeling of weakness. A sigh escaped his lips, as his breath formed a white mist. A snowflake fell on his noise. He frowned, it was too early for snow.
Elea seemed uninterested in that. He looked high up. The snowflakes seemed tentative and awkward at first, then in a hastening host a whole brief army fell, white militia paratrooping out of the close sky over various textures, making them one. He leaked a hint of a smile. At least he got to see snow one last time.
Snow was white and gray, part and whole, infinitely various yet infinitely repetitious, soft and hard, frozen and melting, a creaking underfoot and a soundlessness. His eyes became reminiscent. But first of all it was the reversion of many into one. It was substance, almost the idea of substance, that turned grass, hayfield, old garden, log pile, collapsed barn, and stonewall into the one white.
He shook his head. Now wasn’t the time for poetry.
He heard a sigh from Elea. As he looked up, he could see the house a little bit farther. She pushed her mare faster, still ignoring him. He sighed in turn. She would definitively keep acting that way for a long while.
He tapped his horse’s neck, urging him forward. He had a lot to say to his uncle. He couldn’t spot anyone in front of the house. Celek must be behind it. It wasn’t actually a house. It was merely enough land to hold two beds, covered with a roof. He and his uncle both preferred to live this way, at least for now. They always cooked outside, and they spent all their time training.
He remembered the first time Elea had seen his house. His lips that had turned blue from the cold morphed into a wry smile. It had happened two years ago. She was visiting with her father and the knight, and seemed quite shocked about the state of the house. She had asked him later to come live in the Bourg at her expense. She must have thought they were too poor to afford building a proper house. Contrarily to her assumptions, his uncle had more money than anyone could imagine. They had chosen to live in such a house because they were both uninterested in a luxury life, and preferred to concentrate on training.
He had been bewildered at that time, as he couldn’t find out why she would help him without compensation. Now he had finally understood. She always wanted people around her to be happy. It was a beautiful way of living, albeit a bit naïve. She was very different from him. He was extremely selfish. He had dragged his uncle into his mess, and now he was dragging her too into it. He knew that if he forced her to stay, something will break forever in their bond, as he already stretching the trust between them very thinly by never telling her anything. He could only hope his uncle would find a way to send her back to her father.
Elea had reached the house, and after settling her mare and the other horses in a makeshift stable they had put before, she had started looking around. He sighed. She wouldn’t find Celek there. As his footsteps got closer to the house, he went around it. Snow was falling more intensely now, almost a horizontal blur. The soil had a red hue due to the density of copper in this place. He could see some red erratic huge boulders lying around. This was where they trained, and where you’ll find Celek if he was alone. White cold snow will cover the whole place soon. He started trudging forward slowly, making sure to not trip on anything.
Elea must have probably checked the house and found nobody in it, as he could hear her light footsteps a bit farther behind him.
After walking for some moments, he felt odd, as if he was about to forget something. He looked up.
His breath came to a stop.
The huge red capped mountains, they weren’t there. He blinked and turned his head around. He couldn’t see them anywhere. They were the biggest mountains in the whole region. Confusion and slight panic budded in his mind, as he tried to understand. The snow was fierce, but it wouldn’t hide the mountains, not in this short amount of time. He looked behind and found Elea, a pained expression on her face. He asked in a hesitant voice:
“The red capped mountains… Do you see them?”
She furrowed her brow in confusion, as she asked in a pained voice:
“Red capped mountains? What is that?”
His eyes widened and his hand went to her shoulder. She was in pain. He discarded all other thoughts as he asked:
“Are you fine?”
She grimaced and responded:
“Yeah, just a sudden headache”.
He felt something shift. He didn’t know what it was. It was a new feeling he never experienced before. Elea’s expression relaxed as she said in a relieved tone :
“It’s gone now. I was unable to focus earlier”. She gazed behind him and added: “Why did you want me to look at the red capped mountains? It looks the same as ever”
He whirled around at her words. Certainly, he could see the mountains standing majestically as though nothing was different. Did he hallucinate earlier? His instincts screamed at him that he didn’t. He whispered in a low voice, yet strong enough for her to decipher her words:
“No, it’s nothing”
His sensitive ears picked up faint footsteps sounds on his right. He turned his head.
As expected, Celek was standing there.
His uncle was wearing a long plain coat that was billowing in the cold wind. Underneath, he could see brown wool pants, similar to his own. His slightly long white hair was fluttering freely.
His face held a certain manliness and ferocity that made him stand out. He had white stubble on his chin, and a few wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, even though he was only in his thirties. He still had a wild handsomeness though, which was further accentuated by the billowing wind and snow around him. On his left cheek, he had a long brown trail on his skin, stretching from the corner of his mouth to his left ear. It was one of the scars he had gotten three years ago to protect Bran. None of the wounds he had gotten that day had healed properly, even with the use of magic. They all became scars.
His uncle had his brows furrowed like usual, which meant he was deep in thinking. Celek was always brooding on something.
And yet Bran knew it was different this time. He could see alarm in his uncle’s blue eyes, which were transfixed on the red capped mountains. Bran’s blood went cold. He hadn’t been hallucinating. His uncle too had noticed.
Celek’s gaze slowly turned cold, as a violet hue appeared in his eyes, making them two colored similarly to Bran’s own. The color slowly gained in intensity. The boy caught his breath, as he felt an otherworldly pressure pinning him down in place. Fear rose inside, and screamed at him to run, urged him to hide somewhere far away, yet he couldn’t even control his own body anymore. He was nothing but an ant. He felt Elea stiffen behind him, as she tried to talk, yet only stammering incomprehensibly. His words were caught in his throat, and his mind spun, unable to focus, now urging him to kneel in deference.
The pressure disappeared as suddenly as it had come. Bran, disoriented, took several uncontrolled breaths to calm down, sweat pouring off his forehead. He knew he hadn’t been in any danger, and yet it felt like he had just skirted death. Elea outright fell on the soil, gasping for air.
This was new. He had never seen his uncle like this.
As his breathing steadied down, his uncle came to a stop in front of them. As Bran was about to say something, his uncle’s voice, quiet yet steady, rang out, obviously trying to stop a smile from forming on his lips:
“I remember sending you in one piece this morning” Amusement started to seep into his uncle’s voice “I believe only Sir Hadrin Rulf could give you a beating. What did you do to anger him?”
Bran wanted to ask his uncle about the red capped mountains, but it wasn’t the right time. Celek wouldn’t talk in front of Elea. They had to be alone first.
Bran sighed though. The limp in his gait was noticeable enough for his uncle to notice it. Celek may find this amusing now, but he definitively wouldn’t, after knowing he couldn’t heal. Celek, as if noticing the boy’s mood, started showing a more serious expression.
Taking it as cue to talk, Bran started to roughly tell his uncle about the spar, and about his inability to heal. Celek’s face betrayed a slight confusion at the beginning, before frowning. His expression was grim.
As Bran finished his story, Celek remained silent and pensive. The boy hoped his uncle would find a way. Anything, as long as it could heal him, or help him. He held on this hope tightly. After some moments, Celek said:
“I think…” His uncle closed his mouth, thinking a bit more. His gaze settled on Elea, who didn’t participate in the conversation, still catching her breath. Bran understood him. He couldn’t talk freely in front of her. There were some things that she mustn’t know. Celek opened his mouth again “I think there is a way to heal you. I’m not sure about your case, but there is a different method, and it will probably work”
Bran widened his eyes. He could heal. It was unusual for him to get luck on his side. He felt a violent wave of emotion trying to burst out of him, but he pushed it down. He tried asking Celek about more details, but his uncle said:
“It can’t be done here. You’ll only be able to meet the person that will heal you in the capital, and it is lucky that we were going to visit him anyway” Celek’s gaze settled again on the girl for a brief moment. Bran, following his eyes, made a slight nod. His uncle was stopping him from talking because of Elea. They couldn’t reveal too much in front of her. They would discuss this once they were on their own. Bran calmed down the feelings storming inside of him.
He remembered the talk he had with the lord, and the war with the tribes came up to his mind. It was a major issue. He had to talk about it with his uncle, but with Elea here, they wouldn’t be able to converse properly without revealing too many things. He again had to wait till they were alone. He hoped it would be soon.
Celek’s gaze sharpened as it settled on the boy’s sword. With his usual quiet voice, he asked:
“Is that the sword the knight gave you?”
Leaning on a boulder with his hand, Bran gave his sword to Celek, who unsheathed it in one flowing motion. He looked at the blade, nostalgia appearing in his eyes for a moment, before disappearing. He gave back the sword to the boy, and then said:
“It is a good sword, but it is lacking in its cutting ability compared to similar ones of its kind. Are you sure you want to use it? I’m not sure I can teach you everything about it in the time left”
Bran smiled. His words came easily as he responded:
“I’m sure about it, Celek” the boy locked eyes with his uncle. The mixture of color was certainly disconcerting to look at “Everything you’ll teach me about it will be much welcome”
Hearing those words, Celek only smiled back, and then His gaze settled on the girl. She had had enough time to regain her composure, and her eyes were burning with bright fervor as she looked at Celek. Bran sighed. The earlier ambient pressure must have showed her how far they were from true strength.
His uncle bowed his head slightly, and his right hand went to his heart. It was merely a slight movement, and and only a few would think of it as a sign of respect. Nonetheless, Bran knew his uncle would never give much respect to nobles. This act of courtesy was merely his acknowledgement of her as his nephew’s lover.
“Lady Eleanor, it is a great pleasure to see you again” Celek’s voice rang out. Elea tried to respond, but he continued, giving her no time to talk “It is sad that we’ll send you back so fast, but we got a long trip ahead of us, so I would be happy if you could forgive our lack of hospitality”
Bran perfectly hid the joy in his heart. Even though Celek didn’t know she was planning on going with them, he was already sending her back to the Bourg. Elea looked lost for a second, before looking at Bran, seeking his help. The boy only shrugged back, making her frown at him. He wasn’t going to help her explaining things, and wasn’t she angry at him?
Giving up on his help, she looked at Celek and responded, her voice a bit nervous:
“Um… I was thinking of going with you to the capital… Bran already agreed, and my lord father also gave his permission…”
She left her words unfinished, giving a pleading look to Bran. The boy almost thought of helping her because of the unusual look she was giving him, but he steeled his mind. He couldn’t let her come with them. She would be a lot safer if she didn’t go with them, and he didn’t want her to know about what was awaiting him.
Surprisingly, after thinking for some moments, Celek easily agreed to let her come. Elea’s face showed happiness, and Bran’s mind came to a halt. No matter how he thought about it, he couldn’t understand. Why would his uncle let her come? Wasn’t it dangerous? He sent a panicking look toward his uncle, but he calmed down once he saw a furtive nod from Celek.
He was definitively planning something.