Rhainyr lay awake watching the stars as wisps of fog made them blink in and out of sight. Sleep rarely came easy for him and when it did it was broken as simple as the breeze. His senses drank in the piping frogs and the cooing night birds from the swamp. His skin felt the damp fog drift in tendrils over him. The tops of the trees glowed white where the moonlight grazed their dank leaves. The moon hovered over them in this waiting place. Rhainyr reminded himself that the wait meant you were vigilant. When you lose that sense of the slow passage of time, the enemy sneaks in, is on you and by then you are already at its whim.
A song trickled into his senses. As the tune entered it echoed and grew. The song had no words, only a string of sorrowful notes that stuck like nettles to his spirit before dissolving in warm comfort. The chanting frogs all stopped their calls. The night birds ceased their warbles. The bog was not silenced in fear but in anticipation of the next note to ring anew.
Rhainyr rose over the wasting embers of the campfire. All of his companions still slept. He was glad to see their faces so peaceful. They were just a day’s ride away from their final destination of Kildain. Soon they'd be fighting for their lives. The entire bog of nocturnal fauna was alert with him. Any danger in the neighboring leagues would break that tranced silence. With the security this silence delivered Rhainyr left the camp to seek the origin of the song. The song brought a warmth to him that the night’s fire couldn’t compare to in its completeness.
The moon lit his path well enough to see where he placed his feet. He kept the direction of the camp always in his mind and vowed not to venture farther than a hearty sprint could carry him back.
The song turned to trills of excitement and accomplishment with a sense of adoration. In a clearing by a pond, moonlit swirling mists surrounded the singer. The mist was so faint that the silver light they bled was like the ghosting streams of an aurora. She was turned away from Rhainyr. She sat sidesaddle on the peat moss caressing a massive battle scarred wolf. Strangely Rhainyr felt linked with that wolf. He felt as if he were the one next to her being soothed. The link was broken when the wolf growled upon scenting him. The woman halted her song. The wildlife began their own calls again once their rapture broke.
“I too stood at the glade’s edge when I first stumbled upon him. Come. He won’t hurt you. I’m sure he’ll enjoy your music as well. Once he sees...” She turned to look at Rhainyr. Then surprise filled her face in revelation that he was not who she expected.
The wolf looked as though it were about to spring into a charge as his lips curled away from his old teeth. But she combed the wolf’s hair with her slim fingers again and gave him more soothing trills. “If you mean me harm step back exactly the way you came.” She said to the wolf for Rhainyr’s benefit.
Rhainyr had never been so enthralled by anyone before. Her hair was long and lively with braids at the temple tied to a larger one at the back. It was the color of pale honey, but shone almost white in the moonlight. Her eyes were large like a doe’s. Her nose was small and pixieish. Her lashes were a trap of dark spider’s web.
Rhainyr stood stunned at the edge of the glade. She started her song again as Rhainyr looked on. This tone was different. It was sweet and enchanting. It echoed over the pond and made Rhainyr grin dissolving a fragment of his own tension. He stepped closer as if beckoned.
“You look like a young man hammered since the cradle. Furrows remain between your eyes even when you smile. It’s almost a devilish look.” She said.
His brow pinched together in momentary incredulity. He turned around to head back to camp, but found nothing looked familiar. At some point the internal direction he had set for camp had been erased and he had no way to reclaim it.
Rhainyr turned back to her. He looked over the treeline of the glade to see if he could make out a landmark from Valbone over its tips. He noticed the moon had turned and was not where he remembered. “I seem to be lost. Which way to Valbone?”
“Valbone? Oh, the village. Is that where you are from?”
“No.” Rhainyr replied. “Just passing through.”
“You travel alone at night?” Her face twisted in doubt.
“I head out in the morning.”
“I didn’t see you at the inn. Not many faces to sift through there.” She seemed to be trying to tease lie from the truth.
“May I escort you back to the inn?” Rhainyr said.
She tilted her head to look at him down her nose, weighing the offer. “This gentleman here won’t take kindly to you laying your hands on me. Mark his great jaw and remember my warning. Then yes. You may accompany me back to the inn.”
Satisfied she agreed, Rhainyr could find his way to camp once in Valbone. This young woman didn’t appear to be a threat, just an unfortunate distraction. He noted she carried herself with a blithe confidence. She piqued his curiosity. Only blind gulls were so carefree. Her accent was foreign, she dressed in simple knitted wools, and seemed at home with wild beasts.
As they walked through the leafy curtains of a grove she mentioned, “That song was not meant for man. Strange that it drew you from wherever you came. Could you be part wolf too?” She giggled to herself. “You don’t laugh much, huh? Wolves don’t either…” she grinned a disarming and genuine smile in her jests.
Rhainyr lifted a switch of branches for her to duck through, “Is it wise for an innocent young woman to be alone out in the swamp at night?”
“That's why you are escorting me isn't it?" She pranced doe footed about stones and over puddles, “Did you know innocence is what sheep are bred for? Some think it's their wool others their meat, but really it's that innocence. They go wherever they are lead. They trust until the butcher block. Do you think me a sheep, wolf?” She spun walking backwards to talk face to face, “If you did you might be right and my shepherd should be more feared than the gentleman back there.” This close in the moonlight Rhainyr spotted freckles dappled on her nose and cheeks.
“I can discern who to avoid on my own. Your father, husband or whoever you call shepherd has nothing to fear from me.” Rhainyr looked up at the moon wondering if he had not only gotten lost, but had also lost time.
“He is none of those. And if he plans to take me to the slaughter pens . . . does he still have nothing to fear from you.” She peeked over her shoulder this time to weigh his reaction.
Rhainyr stopped short. “What nonsense are you trying to rope me into?”
Her silhouette looked hurt beneath the veil of shadows the trees cast. “I see. I thought I had seen something else in you. Let's not tary.”
She walked on while Rhainyr stood still. Once she saw he wasn’t going to follow her any longer she paused. “Do you believe in sacrifice?”
“Speak plainly or we part ways.”
“You said you were lost. I'll stay silent if it suits you better. Perhaps we both have things we shouldn't share.” She turned to continue on expecting him to follow.
“I will travel no further with you until you explain yourself. And I will stand here til dawn if that is what it takes to find my bearings.”
“Very well. I must be getting back. I hope you find your way without too much trouble. But know the way I head is straight as an arrow.” She gave several glances back along her way to check his resolve before she disappeared in the press of night.