Journey to Ábrelyn (a tale of Emélrenè) - Part IV - High Ábrelyn
Kélroth ran and ran. He ran till his lungs burned, his legs ached and he felt his heart would near give out.
He ran from the cries, the deep-dark-falling-pit of horror that lay behind him. On and on, up and up, along the narrow winding trail, around stands of rocks, down vale and up over ridges.
Until. Until he could run no more.
He came to rest beneath an outcrop. Silence.
Blood pulsed through his ears, drowning out all hearing, his breath was ragged, he could scarcely stand.
He listened. Nothing.
The silence was, if anything, worse than the horror and cries.
The sense of darkness, of deep ageless-hatred, of falling-beyond-hope, was gone. What was left was… nothing.
He slumped down on the trail, and a ragged sob rose up.
He knew not how long he sat there, stunned, but then he heard footsteps, hurried, running footfalls on the path behind him. He pushed himself upwards, wiped away his tears, and tensely waited.
Around the rock-face came a figure, dark-green-clad, haggard, dusty, blackened…
Kélroth stared. The figure before him was… aged…. horribly aged… terribly torn, a limb hanging uselessly… but despite this he knew… it was Lerélyn.
She looked up at him, and he could see nothing but horror, despair, fear and …. emptiness. All her proud bearing was stripped away, as rent as her arm and her bloody, aged face…
She slumped forward, falling into his arms… she was frail, weak, and an odor of death, deep and dank, rose off her. She tried to lift her head, as if to speak, but nothing more than a pitiful croak passed her lips. Despite this, she seemed to recognise the young man who now held her, and from somewhere new purpose rose in her.
“Go,” she gurgled, “you must… go”. She shoved him forward, but nearly fell.
Kélroth glanced back behind her, seeking others. She saw him look, but simply hung her head and shaking, push him onward. She tried to walk forward, but stumbled and fell, sprawling on the trail.
“On…. go…. on,” she whispered.
“No.” The young man was insistent. He bent down, and lifted her up, holding her undamaged arm over his shoulder, and pushing forward up the trail. She attempted to shrug him off, but she was far too weak, and he was determined.
He looked up at the mountain ridges before him, and felt a surge of determination. He would ensure that her sacrifice, and indeed what he assumed was the loss of all his companions, would not be in vain. He would make it to Ábrelyn, so that someone, anyone, would know what had occured…
So, with some difficulty, he pushed forward along the trail. Lerélyn was not heavy; but she was weak, and seemed to lack any drive. Progress was slow. The trail was difficult, often narrow, and he was weary into the bargain. Still, step by step, they made progress.
Worrying about Lerélyn, keeping her moving, was in fact, a blessing. It kept his mind off what had occured, and off what appeared to have been the awful fate of his guide and fellow fosterlings.
He pushed on for hours, climbing higher and higher, resting only occasionally. He heard nothing behind them; in fact apart from the wind, there was very little sound this high above the treeline.
He was out of drinking water, and had no food, but somehow found the strength to keep on. He lost track of how long they had struggled up the high trail, but eventually saw that the shadows of the day were lengthening. The sun was hidden high above the clouds, but dusk was settling in. He shivered, not so much from cold, as from a wretched fear of what further darkness might bring. His fear, however, only spurred him on, faster yet; as fast as his injured companion could sustain.
As the darkening gloom began to make the trail hard to see, his heart lept when he saw a twinkling of lights up ahead of them. He guessed these must be the windows or towers of Ábrelyn, the high mountain fastness of the spiritual leader of all Eméla, and of the émhlèn in particular.
At last, with a final effort, they came to a place where the trail widened out to a broad swath of tussock and low bushes, before high dark walls. Above the walls, and across the face of the mountainside beyond, sprang several towers of varying height, including one which soared high up into the dark night sky. Here and there in the towers, light shone forth, and there were torches at regular intervals along the wall.
He saw shaddowy figures arround the entrance to a great gatehouse, which seemed fashioned of stones so large only a seeming giant could have moved them.
He called out to the figures, nearly at the end of his strength as he was.
“Help… help me! Please…! this woman is gravely injured and ill!”.
He struggled forward across the open ground, and several of the figures hastily made their way towards him. Everything became a blur, as relief and enormous weariness both washed over him. Many hands reached out to help him, and to take Lerélyn from him. He and the warden were helped across the sward, with several robed persons running ahead, then momentarily returning with others, and with a stretcher for Lerélyn. She was quickly carried away, through the gatehouse and into the complex.
A tall, strong man assisted Kélroth to make his way through the same gate, and out into a wide area before a great mountain wall. There were many buildings in the bailey, and a good many people. Squarely beyond this open area rose up a nearly shear mountain wall; but it was pierced by a great triangular stone gate or entrance, which ran straight into the mountain. Numerous windows and openings also looked out from the mountain wall.
The gate was massive; Kélroth estimated perhaps sixty or seventy feet high. There seemed to be no doors, just the huge triangular openning. Inside, running away on a gentle slope up into the mountain, was a wide corridor, well lit and seemingly cut smooth and true. As tired as he was, Kélroth could not but be overcome by the imensity and majesty of the sight.
The man assisting him notice the impression the site of the entrance and surrounding area was having on the young man.
“Impressive, isn't it?” he chuckled lightly. “Wait till you see inside…”
His new companion looked up at a small group of people making their way towards them.
“But first, the Doorward will have some questions for you. Are you up to that?”
Kélroth simply nodded.
An elderly, but very spry man, accompanied by two others drew up to them. He was dressed in flowing robes of white and blue, and reminded Kélroth of Erynos, particularly in the manner he simply stood and observed the young man with out speaking for several minutes.
“Young man, I can see that you have seen and experienced terrible things; and even worse has befallen your companion, Lerélyn, who is known to me. You are one of the fosterlings due here for initiation, are you not? If my guess is correct, you are Kélroth al Ámelar, is that so?”
Kélroth again, simply nodded.
“You must be exhausted… but I must ask… is there danger at your heels?” His gaze was now so intense that Kélroth almost felt the need to look away.
Instead, he mustered his courage, and answered.
“I cannot be sure, elder. I do believe that something most terrible has happened to those who were travelling here with me. ” He hestitated a moment, but the Doorward nodded for him to continue.
“I am ashamed to say it, elder, but I know nothing of what it was that happened to them, other than it was something that even our guide, Erýnos, and the wardens who found us were afraid of.”
“Go on”, the Doorward said, encouraging him to continue.
“All I can say, is that - whatever it was - I have not seen or heard anything of it since the warden told me too run; and that was at the break of day.” Kélroth shook his head; he felt utterly at a loss to find words to describe the events of the last two days.
“That is enough, for now, young man. Precautions will be taken, but it seems the danger is not imminent.”
“Ohláren,” he said, indicating the man already assisting Kélroth, “take him to the halls of rest, see that he is well cared for.” He focussed on Kélroth. “Rest now, young man. But others will want to speak with you more. It is clear that something gravely wrong has occured.”
With that, the elderly doorward stepped aside, and Ohláren assited Kélroth across the bailey and on towards the great gate of Ábrelyn. They passed inside, and up along the long and wide corridor, which was not only well lit, but carved with many ancient symbols, devices and images, some of geometric patterns, others seemingly depicting strange beasts and beings. Kélroth did not have time to see any of them well, but it was clear that they were ancient, and as they made further progress into the mountain, he felt the weight of ages and the thousands of tons of rock far above them begin to press down upon him.
As they walked slowly up the great corridor, they passed other people, coming and going. At regular intervals, corridors branched off the main hall, heading either up or downwards. Finally, they reached a great circular room, the roof of which was lost high, high above them. Five other corridors branched out from the room, and Ohláren led Kélroth into one of them. It sloped gently upwards, and then curved round, coming eventually to a long room with many windows that seemed to look out over the valley. The room was filled with several beds, and a woman walked up to meet them.
Ohláren whispered something to her, which Kélroth could not hear. Together the woman and Ohláren helped him to a bed, and he lay down, utterly exhausted. She brought him a warm drink, which he quickly drank, and very soon after, felt an inescapable weariness fall upon him. He lay back and fell into a dreamless sleep.