The Way Through the Wastes
Zacharion and Yearling left the lair of the Witch and travelled for some days through the Wildlands, following paths that the Lunar Nation blazed generations ago that kept the youths far from prying eyes and malevolent hands. Across thick forests, wide lakes, tall grasses and rolling hills filled with game full and fair did they travel. In some places, they noticed traces of settlement long past—a bit of foundation, a scrap of rusted iron, a ruined piece of wall with unknown script written on it—and in so noticing these traces they became aware that someone else was within a day of them. This unknown apparently seemed to be attempting to contact them.
The boys talked briefly, agreeing that they ought to see who this unknown is, and so camped on the bank of a river. That night, as the boys enjoyed the bounty of an evening spent fishing and foraging, they heard the approach of a solitary figure- one not trying to be stealthy. Yet this figure did not come into view, not of them. It kept its distance. It seemed to watch, to wait, to stalk like a predatory beast and not come forward like a man.
Neither of the boys felt any fear. Thinking that this was someone seeking advantage, they saw to it that one would feign fatigue and bed down while the other remained awake and alert. Zacharion bedded down, Yearling stood watch, and there began their game. Some time passed, and Yearling got up to relieve himself, conveniently leaving Zacharion open. As the boys expected, the figure crept into their camp and moved next to Zacharion, and pulled back the blanket to see his face. When the figure, hearing Yearling’s return, tried to flee it suddenly found itself held fast as a bare foot whipped out from underneath the blanket and struck the figure in the small of the back, inducing paralysis instantly.
Yearling sauntered into the camp and roughly removed the figure’s cloak, revealing a girl underneath. Zacharion got up and took a look at this girl, obvious from the first as being nearly his own age, and sensed that something else so common to the living mythic cycle had again occurred. Without ever looking at her face to be certain, he struck again in the small of the back and removed the paralysis.
“Princess Sihaya, allow me to introduce Yearling of the Lunar Nation, apprentice to the Witch.” Zacharion said, “Yearling, please clear a place for our companion.”
Yearling chuckled, and then he complied. Indeed, it was Sihaya, come a great long way, with naught but a blade and a ring to show her true status. Before Sihaya could ask, Zacharion answered her question: “No one else would come so as if to kill me, yet pause to admire me, before either acting or fleeing. I apologize for my action, but I did so to satisfy any suspicion that I was wrong, and I knew as soon as we touched that I was right.”
Sihaya looked at him, stunned, and it took a moment for his words to make sense. Yearling then sat her down by the fire, and Zacharion continued.
“If you are here, then I can only conclude—given your behavior—that your parents are at war and that this war has so embroiled Solland that it would be safer for you to be with me than to be with them or one of their followers.”
“Zacharion, is this the one that Mistress mentioned?” Yearling said, curious.
“Indeed, she is, and if she made it here on her own then she is even tougher than I previously thought.”
Sihaya looked at Zacharion, her eyes asking another obvious silent question.
“Yes, Your Highness, you may stay with us. If you got this far, there’s no going back- a fact that I think all three of us can live with.”
Sihaya kissed Zacharion on the cheek and cuddled up to him.
“You two can stay up a while now as I sleep.” Yearling said, taking advantage of a clear opportunity before him, “I am certain that you have much to talk about.”
Which they did, starting with the civil war in Solland and the incursion by the mutants, which in turn led to a series of crisis and revolts by remaining traitorous opportunists that all hit at once- starting with a second assassination that resulted in many of Zebulon and Keela’s followers falling under knives meant for them instead. She didn’t witness much more, but during her flight she learned from the few men guarding her that long-standing pressures burst forth and generations of suppressed resentment and hated held in abeyance by Ilker now washed like successive tidal waves.
Soon word came that similar eruptions occurred amongst the Sea Princes, rendering aid to or from them impossible as the isolation solidified. Hostile riders then closed in on her and her party, a group of men she had to leave behind at a critical crossing out of the realm. She’d been on her own since she crossed into the wilderness, being careful to avoid contact with anyone, yet she couldn’t avoid feeling as if she was being watched, guided, herded in a desired direction.
“That sounds like the Witch.” Zacharion said, “You were in her domain, and known to her, so I have no doubt that she quickly deduced the matter and saw fit to help you catch up to me.”
“I felt certain that I would find you, as if my love for you would be enough.”
He kissed her forehead. “It was, and tonight that is all you need to know. Sleep now, my warrior woman, for tomorrow I have much more to teach to you- and it will not be at all easy for you to hear.”