Another Hero's Journey: Part Seven
The next morning, the rain showed signs of letting up, but Olivia still had her doubts.
“The clouds can only bring so much rain and scatter so much of themselves throughout Meridell,” said the purple Lupe airily, waving her right paw as though trying to reach for something in thin air. “All storms come to an end. There are rainbows after rain. Rainbows are nature’s way of telling us it still cares for us, even when sometimes it just can’t stand us taking its gifts for granted.
“But I cannot tell for sure if this is truly the end of this storm.”
Reuben gritted his teeth as a sharp lance of pain blazed through his head. He had not gotten much sleep last night, staying up and pondering several options at once. In fact, the white Blumaroo felt as though he had not slept at all.
“So you’re hunting for your younger brother again, is that right?” asked Devin as he passed around a wooden bowl of bread and a handful of pastries. “Even when...”
“You still know you may not succeed?” Olivia finished for him.
Reuben shrugged. “Whether it’s my destiny or not, I still have to try. Who knows, maybe destiny might change its mind. It always does.”
“Despite the grave danger you may face along the way, dangers that not a few Meridellians would prefer not to speak of?”
“Are you trying to scare me out of this?”
Omar gripped Reuben’s shoulder instead of flaring up to defend his mother. “Calm down; she just cares about you. We all do,” whispered the brown Lupe cautiously. “Don’t spark another row.”
The Blumaroo glanced at him, and then at Devin the Kacheek, who was busy spreading leftover cheese on his bread but who looked up instantly when he saw Reuben’s eyes hover over him, and lastly at Andrea and Olivia. Reuben took a deep breath, and clenched the fist that wasn’t holding a piece of muffin.
“I’m sorry,” he croaked in apology. “It’s just that...”
“My child, my child, we are not scaring you. We are merely warning you,” said the purple Lupe, adjusting the bracelets on one of her arms. “Nature is also warning you, through me. But only you can shape your destiny. We can talk to you about it, tell you things about it, but it is only you who is in control, as I have stated before.”
“Well...” Reuben shoved the last of his meager breakfast into his mouth and reached out for his bag and cloak. “I’m going to find my brother no matter what happens. Who knows what Rohane’s facing right now, besides the unpredictable weather?”
“Plains Lupes, for one,” said Andrea tonelessly, reaching out for a piece of paper that had something written on it. “And wild Bearogs, and...”
The Blumaroo tried his best to think positive. “Okay, okay, so maybe he really is facing much more than unpredictable weather.” He stood up, brushing crumbs off his front and the dust off the back of his trousers. “But it has been fun being with you guys... I mean, you taking me in, even though it would mean another mouth to feed and another obstinate voice to listen to...”
“Softies, that’s what we are,” said Devin, chuckling. His smile faded as he caught sight of the storm outside their cave. “Are you really sure you want to leave this nice, dry cave now? We’ve only known each other for... oh, this is the fourth day already?”
“No more waiting,” declared Reuben. “Especially now that the storm’s very nearly done.”
Andrea took a deep breath and reached down her back. The red Kyrii unclasped the silver chain that held a small turquoise stone, and she placed it around the Blumaroo’s neck. At first he could say nothing, and merely touched the little stone that barely gleamed. Olivia, Devin and Omar stared at her in disbelief.
“You’re giving him that?” asked Omar.
“I once had a little brother, remember?” asked the Kyrii. “But... well, one time, we were out adventuring in the woods, and we went too far from our parents. He... he never came back. Just before those last moments with him, he had gone to a small shop and bought me this and the earring for my birthday.”
Reuben’s eyes widened as he continued fingering the stone. “Really? What was your brother’s name?”
Andrea looked at him from beneath her long, dark lashes. “His name was Ruben.” She extracted a separate sheet of paper and pointed out the name.
* * *
“Nothing? No signs?”
“None, Tala, we didn’t find anything that would lead us to Melissa’s boy. But...”
The Aisha grabbed the Ixi by the shoulders and shook him, as though trying to wake him up. “What?” she pleaded. “I can’t take this anymore! I can’t live seeing one of my closest friends slowly die inside as her family falls into pieces. I don’t want to wake up and find Melissa sitting bleakly in one corner sobbing her eyes out and damaging a good handkerchief, Jovan!”
Jovan the blue Ixi nodded, catching his breath and unrolling a map on Tala’s dining table. “I know, Tala, but...”
“But what?” she asked, her voice rising steadily.
He gasped and cowered at her piercing, adamant gaze. Drawing a folded piece of paper from his pocket, he thrust it towards the Aisha.
“Read the outside, Tala. I found a strange messenger hanging around Melissa’s house a while ago. I took him in for a while, as he looked extremely exhausted and probably ran into a tussle or two on the way. Then there was the storm. You might want to take a look at him, if he’s got anything serious, unless he’s decided to leave early.”
She did as she was told, taking the thin, weathered parchment from the blue Ixi, and saw, scribbled in small yet precise script:
To: Mother and Reuben:
Written from White River
Sent to Trestin, Kingdom of Meridell
This entire message is in code.
“That’s from –”
“But why didn’t he write his name?” wondered Jovan.
“Maybe Ramtor would get suspicious if they caught him sending coded messages, and he didn’t write the complete address either for the same reason – then they might go for his family instead. But this messenger fellow knew the place?” The Aisha paused for a moment, turning the letter over in her paws. “I remember Rohane and Reuben inventing a secret code a year ago. I’m guessing they’re the only ones who can read this message. Look here.”
It was Jovan’s turn to look, as they saw the other side.
A3 PK2DI BD M51 35K E47 M51 MEIL21
“Should we try to –”
“No, Jovan... this may only be for the recipients’ eyes only,” said Tala. “Let’s try not to pry. Now I can see that we need to find Reuben more than ever. Rohane’s letter may hold something for my daughter and his family.”
He nodded solemnly. “Should we show this to Melissa?”
“I don’t want her to worry,” said Tala. “She’s already too worried about Reuben running out on her, even though he left a note to show for it. If I show her this...” She waved the message before pocketing it. “I don’t know what to expect.”
Jovan frowned, and gripped her arm, the one she had plunged into her robe pocket. “No, Tala,” he countered. “She deserves a right to know that Rohane’s fine and at least one of her sons is doing okay out there. If he wasn’t, how would he be able to send letters, let alone be able to write them in code?”
“Unless that happens to be his last will and testament,” said the Aisha, shuddering.
“Be an optimist,” sighed the Ixi, clapping her on her back. “Why would it be in code, then? There’s nothing suspicious about a last will and testament, unless of course it’s actually a code for something much more optimistic than that...”
Tala shrugged. “You do have a point. I’ll show it to her... but when’s the best time?”
Her friend stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Hmm... now that I don’t really know. Guess it’s for you to find out. Care to check on our precious messenger before I send him on his way?”
“Let me just get my healer’s kit, in case he’s going to need it,” she answered, walking up the stairs and onto the second landing, peering down at Jovan from above. “But I’ll try to do it as fast as I can. I promised to spend the day with Melissa and help her keep her sanity.” Tala disappeared into one of the rooms and returned a few seconds later with her things.
She and Jovan walked out of the house and went to a large yet humble house a stone’s throw away from Tala’s. The blue Ixi raised a hoof and rapped sharply on the door, and after a mere second or so of waiting, the two of them were greeted by a young Ixi, albeit orange, unlike Jovan.
“Father, he’s still in the guest room. He’s up, though, reading a book,” said the smaller Ixi, wiping her hooves on her apron and tossing back her reddish-brown hair, which fell into graceful curls onto her shoulders and was controlled by a green headband. “He says he’s fine, he doesn’t need your help...”
“Joan, you can go to the market. I’m here, and I’ve got Tala. She’s a healer, if you remember.”
“Thank you, Father,” said Joan, bowing and running off.
The Aisha glanced at the blue Ixi and held up her kit. “So... where is he?”
Jovan led Tala through the living room, past the dining hall and the kitchen, and into the guest quarters. Jovan pushed the door so gently that not a single hinge squeaked.
The first thing Tala saw, besides a modestly-furnished bedroom, was a shadow Shoyru with a long scratch on his right cheek. His eyes blinked rapidly at the sight of the visitor, and he put the book he was reading aside, on a small table beside a half-full glass of water, a lamp and a bottle of what looked like a vial of healing potion.
“Tala, we don’t know his real name, but he goes by the code name Dark Hope. He brought the letter from Rohane. Dark, this is Tala, a healer who lives in my village. She’s friends with Rohane’s mother and brother.”
“I gave him an alias too,” said Dark in a hoarse, low voice. “But when I got here, I struck it out and wrote his real name so that nobody would get confused.” The Shoyru smiled the crooked smile of a spy who had done his job well. “I ran into a few fights with Ramtor’s spies, though.”
He opened the drawer of the bedside table and showed them a collection of knives in all shapes and sizes. There were thin, flat knives for picking locks, and large, sharper blades for self-defense.
“So how’s Reynold’s son?” asked Jovan, as Tala sat down beside Dark and began checking him over.
“He was at an inn... tired, and a little scratched, but still in good shape. I don’t know how a kid of his age actually managed to get that far, calculating the distance from here to where I came from. But his family should be glad to hear that he’s doing well.”
All the more reason for Reuben to come home, thought the Aisha, now examining the Shoyru’s scratch.
To be continued...