Journey to Ábrelyn - Part III

Journey to Ábrelyn (a tale of Emélrenè) - Part III - the Maw of Ages

Kélroth woke with a start. It was cool, clear morning, and the first rays of sunlight were breaking over the upper Gadén valley. He had slept poorly, his sleep disturbed by visions of endless, aching darkness, deep within the bones of the earth.

He rubbed his eyes and shook himself awake. As he sat up, he noticed a figure nearby was watching him intently. She was dressed in dark green, from head to foot, but her hood was thrown back, exposing her dark short hair.

Kélroth waited for her to speak, but she did not. Rather she seemed to be waiting for him to talk. He felt more than a little uncomfortable under her inspection.

“Last night,” Kélroth asked, hesitantly, “was that… you?”

“Yes, youngster, I was the one who … found you last night.” Her voice was remarkably soft, certainly softer than her looks, which were rugged and hardy.

“You were,” she paused, contemplating,”… most lucky, last night.”

Kélroth hesitated, once more, before he spoke again.

“What… was it?” he finally asked.

Her eyes narrowed, and she stared at him, intently, as if judging him. He shifted uncomfortably, unnerved by the silence as he waited for her to respond.

“I suppose you will need to know – eventually.” She looked out over the valley, through the morning mists rising to greet the sun.

“A glorious day, youngster! Let us rise to join it…” She stood up, brushed herself down, and turned to join the growing number of their group that were about their morning duties.

Kélroth's mind raced, but he was too much in awe of the émhlèn-aínara to press his question. He tidied his bed-roll, and joined the group as they broke their fast. He noticed, however, that both Erýnos and the strange woman seemed to watch him quite intently during the meal, occasionally speaking to each other in low voices he could not hear.

When the group were done with their preparations, and were assembling to depart, Erýnos gathered them together.

“Last night, you saw some part of the dangers that exist in these mountains. We were lucky - some of us very lucky,” he said, looking at Kélroth, “that these wardens were nearby, or things could have been much worse.”

“This is Lerélyn. She is chief warden of this part of the range. In light of last night's events, she and her companions will accompany us the rest of our journey to the halls of Ábrelyn.”

“Come,” he said. “Let us go. We must travel quickly,” he added, as the group set off.

As they travelled, the group was sombre, chasened by the previous night's events. Their easy companionship was replaced by watchfullness. Although it was a bright, sunlight day, the shadows in the hills and beneath the trees now seemed something to fear. The addition of the émhlèn wardens only added to the sense of the seriousness of their journey.

They travelled with few rests, at a pace determined by the wardens - faster even than that which Erynos had set. By mid-day they had made their way over a series of ridges, and down into the upper reaches of the Gadén river valley, where the river itself rushed downward, full of snow-melt, and eager as the group to be away.

Where their trail met the river, a rope bridge streched across the rushing waters, connecting to a trail on the eastern bank, but they continued onwards, on a well worn track, ever higher towards the soaring peaks before them.

They ended their day just as the trail broke through the tree-line. Here they made camp under the eaves of the trees, for even though it was summer, a night above the trees would be cold indeed. Kélroth was careful to keep with the rest of his companions, and the wardens kept a strict watch upon them all. Several times in the night, he awoke, his sleep troubled, and several times he would have sworn he heard or at least 'felt' something dark, menacing and oh-so-deep pass either through his dreams or in the valley below. But the wardens, who seemed to need little sleep, did not stir, and he forced himself back to rest.

The next day broke, but was overcast, clouds hugging the tops of the peaks above them, obscuring both mount Herélym to the east, but also the smaller peaks to the west.

Kélroth had wanted to talk more with Lerélyn, but she left early the last night with one of the wardens, and had only returned just as the group were assembling once more for the day's journey. But now she came quickly up to him and, nodding at their guide, Erýnos, spoke quietly to Kélroth.

“Youngster. Last night was … troubled; once again.” She looked at him intently. “Did you sense… anything?”

Kélroth looked at Erýnos, who nodded slowly.

“I … yes… something was… out there…” he finished, inconclusively.

A look of concern flashed across her face, but she quickly mastered herself.

“It seems I have underestimated you, young man. It seems, indeed, I have misread a good many things.”

She turned sharply to Erýnos.

“We must go, now, swiftly, ahead of the group. Something, I am not clear what, is afoot. I must get this young man to the elders as soon as possible. I will leave you the rest of my wardens; Geran and I will go on alone with Kélroth.”

With no further explaination, she placed her hand on Kélroth's back, and gently pushed him up the slope.

“Don't worry about your companions, young man. We are leaving… now.” Her last words were so final that Kélroth did not hesitate to question her, and hurried up the trail, followed rapidly by Lerélyn and her fellow warden. After several yards, he went to turn to bid his companions farewell, but she pushed him onwards, brooking no pause.

They had scarcely passed over a rocky outcropping and along a spur when he heard an awful, hiddeous screaming sound, which instantly drew him back to the horror of the night before last. He 'felt' the pit of his stomach fall, and 'sensed' a rushing, devouring, falling darkness rising up behind them.

He glanced back, almost without thought, and saw, to his horror, that the valley behind them was black, darkened, drained of light. He heard yet more cries, this time all too human, and felt a rending of the very fabric of world.

Lerélyn cried out, although he could scarcely hear her words - but her intent was clear. She pushed him onwards, and then finally he heard her words. “Run! boy, run! Run for you life!”

Kélroth needed no more encouragement. The cries of his companions, of his guide, and of Lerélyn rang in his ears, his heart pounded, and a gapping horror rose up behind him, pushing him onwards and upwards.