Chapter 16

Ayalah stared after the old wizard in disbelief for some time after he’d left. The sun was indeed beginning to rise, and their fireside chat already felt like a strange dream.

“What’s in the bag?” Greyson asked, snapping her back to the present.

She untied the knot and peered in the cloth bag the wizard had given her—but then immediately pulled back and resealed the bag, clamping her mouth shut and breathing slowly through her nose to keep from vomiting. “It’s… a head.”

“A head?”

“The head of a warrior of the Crown who went missing some months ago.” She swallowed. Ordinarily a sight like this wouldn’t bother her, but… “It—it’s a bit mangled.”

Greyson raised his eyebrows. “Why don’t we leave that bag closed until we get to the palace?”

She nodded and rose. “Good idea.”

 

It took them only a few days to reach the edge of the forest where they’d entered—Ayalah wondered if, in fact, the trees really had been moving that whole time—and, as she had expected, her horse was nowhere to be seen. She sighed. She was now properly attired once more in her warrior leathers (cleaned of all bloodstains), and the thought of wading through the tall grass in the heat of the sun, with no trees for shade, was not an appealing one. The only alternative would be to walk to the main road and then hitch a ride on a wagon, but the northern road was used so infrequently these days—merchants from Bolladoth came only once per week, typically—there was no guarantee they’d see even a single rider.

She sighed again and set out into the field of tall grass. It would be the shortest route, and hopefully a quick one. She contented herself with the thought that, if nothing else, she would soon be rid of the smithy. He had proven himself to be an unnecessary burden, constantly arguing with her and not even holding a piece of the prophecy. She was more than ready to move on to try to find the real man her piece of the prophecy had spoken about.

Greyson, for his part, followed behind her merrily enough, not seeming to mind the tall grass now that they were both on equal footing. He began to whistle.

Ayalah tried to be patient—she really did. But already she was feeling irritable: the sun, the grass, the need to walk because her horse had run off. She wheeled on him.

“Stop it.”

“The whistling?”

“Yes. The whistling.”

He rolled his eyes but obeyed. She nodded and began walking again.

“You know,” he said, “you are the most negative, angry—”

She spun around again to face him. “Enough. I don’t care if you like me. I was trying to help you because I thought you had a part of the prophecy, but apparently you don’t. My mistake: I uprooted you for nothing, and I wasted my own time and effort. Let’s just deal with each other—in silence—for another few days, and then we’ll get back to Miltinoth and never have to see each other again. Okay?”

She turned without waiting for a response and walked quickly, not slowing down until his silhouette was barely visible through the tall grass.

 

It took almost a week of complete silence and passive-aggressive body language for Ayalah to begin to soften again toward the smithy. For one thing, there was no point in staying angry with him: after all, she would soon be rid of him for good and could continue with her quest to find the next prophecy holder. But for another thing, he never seemed to return her sidelong looks, and he really was helping her by carrying all of their bags. Somehow the heat out in the grass didn’t seem as oppressive as the heat in the forest, though the sun still blazed and burned her cheeks; and since she wasn’t as irritable and short-tempered, she felt a little more forgiving.

Still, it took another couple of days before she was willing to have a conversation again, and even then it took her the entire day of walking to come up with something to say that sounded friendly and yet wasn’t an apology.

They settled for the night on the edge of the grass, just another day’s walk from the city. A few lights twinkled in the distance, though no other sign of life could be seen. She had captured a field hare earlier in the day, and it was with real enthusiasm that Greyson built up a small fire for them to have a hot meal for the first time since their run-in with Swynn the wizard in the forest.

They were out in the open now, with no trees for protection, but somehow she felt safer than ever. After all, she reasoned, if they were totally exposed, that would mean anyone else in the area would be exposed as well, so they couldn’t sneak up on her. She sat beside the smithy and let go of her sword pommel—she hadn’t even realized she’d been gripping it pensively as she had surveyed the scene. “Thanks for building the fire,” she said. It had taken her all day to think of the nicety; it was a phrase, in fact, she had never uttered in her life.

Greyson barely glanced at her. “Sure.” He speared the rabbit on a stick he’d picked up somewhere and began to rotate it over the flames.

A long moment of silence elapsed. Ayalah didn’t know what else to say.

“You know,” Greyson said finally, “when I was a child, my parents used to get into fights a lot. I would get upset, and my mother would sit me in front of the fire and sing to me.”

“I barely remember my parents,” Ayalah said. “What kinds of songs did your mother sing?”

At this, Greyson looked up. He searched her face for a long time, as if suspicious of something. Finally, he shook his head. “I don’t know. Lullabies. There was this one…” He trailed off and shook his head again.

“Yes?” she prompted.

“For some reason, it stands out in my mind.” He began to sing softly, rotating the hare over the fire as he sang:

Go along, my child, sail the lonely blue
The land of friends and myst’ries has long awaited you.

He smiled shyly when he finished. “I never was much able to hold a tune.”

Ayalah shook her head. “Don’t be silly. Was that a popular song where you grew up?”

“No. At least, I never heard anyone else singing it. Maybe that’s why it stands out.”

“Maybe.” Ayalah smiled and accepted her portion of the hare from Greyson’s outstretched hand, but her mind was whirling. Could this be the second part of the prophecy? Something embedded so deep in Greyson’s mind, he didn’t even recognize it for anything more than a nursery rhyme? Yes, it must be: her own part of prophecy told her that A seed you’ll find within his mind that I have planted deep—surely, she hadn’t been mistaken, then, and Greyson was, in fact, the one she was meant to find.

Sail the lonely blue: Well, she thought, that narrowed it down, at least. That meant the next piece of the prophecy would be in one of three places: the Naral Isles, Olekoth, or Hodaroth. Myst’ries could refer to either the unexplored islands of the Naral Isles or to the unexplored top half of the continent of Olekoth, so that eliminated Hodaroth. But friends: that could only refer to Olekoth, to the ancient alliance between Miltinoth and Olekoth.

“What are you thinking about?” Greyson asked.

“Nothing,” Ayalah said, shaking her head. She took a bite of the roasted rabbit and chewed until Greyson shrugged and looked away.

Perfect. Now all she needed to do was report to the king, get rid of the smithy, and find an excuse to visit Olekoth and search for the next piece of the prophecy.

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