Second Sun Horizon – Chapter One – Part Two
A knock at the door permeated her dreams. At first, she ignored it, assuming one of the children were playing games or perhaps someone was mistaken.
“Ilenia?” questioned a familiar voice. Helaia. Groaning and stretching, Ilenia covered her mouth to stymie a yawn. “What is it?”
“Can we talk?”
“Is it so important that I must avoid sleep?”
A lull in the conversation, then, “I’ve brought fresh bread from the guard and some poultry.”
As if on cue, Ilenia’s stomach growled in answer. Not able to deny her body’s wishes, she rose from the mat and strode to invite Helaia in. They sat together on the wood floor. As they gorged on steaming chicken, a long silence encompassed the interlude between their brief exchanges. Ilenia thought Helaia beautiful with her naturally tan skin, though paler than most in Keloh Rah. A trait passed down by her father. Her eyes were a striking green hue, bright but deep like fresh grass. For the evening, she tucked her wavy brown hair into a bun. She wore a tunic that shaped to her curves, of which there were many. Others teased her for her size, but despite the insults and comments made when gossip sprang forth, her kindness and steadfast optimism was something to which one could aspire.
Helaia looked up from her meal and caught Ilenia staring. The hunter blushed.
“Did you enjoy the chicken? I thought you’d be hungry after your journey.”
“You realize that I hunt, yes?” Ilenia cleared her throat and, trying to stave off further embarrassment, distracted herself with the bread.
Helaia beamed. “Of course, but I figured someone could take care of you for a change.”
Ilenia paused mid-chew. “Is that… is that why you’re here?”
Helaia’s smile faltered, and she tilted her head down, staring at the floor. Her shoulders slumped. Something bothered her, but Ilenia was not one to press.
“I wanted to ask you… regarding Elren…” mumbled Helaia, tracing the wood panels with her index finger. Ilenia raised a brow. Helaia had never given any indication that she favored anyone, let alone one of the guardsmen from the city. Elren was a regular, a kind-hearted and generous man. On more than a few occasions, he paid coin beyond the merchandise’s worth. Ilenia knew nothing of him save for those encounters. What advice could she possibly offer? If she pondered on it too long, Helaia could mistake the delayed response for something else.
Helaia opened her mouth to speak, but Ilenia stopped her with a question. “What about him?”
“I think I fancy him, but I don’t believe the feeling is mutual.”
Ilenia returned to eating her slice of bread. She chewed with slow deliberation and made a show of pondering that statement. But she wanted to be a good friend more than anything, so she said, “Why not just ask him how he feels?”
Helaia’s cheeks flushed. Confrontation for better or worse was not her strongest attribute. Ilenia sighed. Of all her numerous redeeming qualities, her closest friend was as coy as they come. She often set these notions aside, bottled them up until the cork burst. Then Ilenia would be her shoulder to lean on as she cried. She would bemoan her size and self-deprecate to the point of madness. A solution had to be reached. Then an idea wormed its way into Ilenia’s mind, and the corner of her lips twitched upward.
“Invite him to the celebration tonight,” she said, swallowing the last of her bread. Helaia perked. She shot Ilenia a wide-eyed stare. Full of hope. The promise of a love she so deserved. There was a glow to her now, like the brilliant glare of a sunrise.
“Do you think he’ll agree?”
“I don’t see why not.” Ilenia paused. She mulled over a decision. White hot agony burned in the pit of her stomach as she said, “If you wish, I can accompany you.”
Helaia’s smile hurt, but a reluctant joy for her friend’s happiness tempered it. Ilenia could feel the painful tug on her heart, and for a moment, she glanced away.
“Will you truly come with me?” asked Helaia, no louder than a whisper.
Battling a wave of mixed emotions, Ilenia gave her a curt nod. “Hurry and get changed. I’ll meet you outside the village near nightfall.”
They rode the same horse with Helaia’s arms locked around Ilenia’s waist. A warmth sprung from her belly and spread like a hearth emanates heat throughout a home. She breathed out slow as they navigated the woodland. Luna En broke over the treeline in the shape of a sickle’s edge. The city sparkled under the pervasive light of the moon and stars.
Both women wore grey tunics that formed to their person and a pair of black leggings. Habitual paranoia did not allow for Ilenia to travel unarmed, however. She kept a knife tucked away in one of her boots. Released from the forest, they trotted down the open-ended path that led from Keloh Rah to Luna En. Wild grasses cropped up on either side of the worn road. A gentle breeze played with their hair. The rushing gurgle of a river could be heard nearby, and thirst suddenly occupied Ilenia’s mind.
The flicker of a dozen torches ahead slowed their pace. Ilenia pulled on the reins to coerce the horse to stay put. The torches and the men who brandished them hastened in their direction. Helaia slid down first. Her curiosity was, at times, insatiable, noted Ilenia with a shake of her head as she joined her companion. Armor clanked as the troop ran. Their breathing came heavy. They must have been jogging for quite some time. While the rest of them ran past without a moment’s hesitation, one brought up the rear. Upon his back was the body of a man whose face was horribly scarred.
“Elren?” started Helaia. “What… what happened?”
Elren huffed. Sweat swam down his pale face, so pale, in fact, that he seemed quite sickly. His fiery hair stuck to his forehead in damp clumps. Grey eyes sunk deep, he looked from one woman to the other in a daze.
“We found something in the caves. Is your healer in the village?”
Ilenia answered, “Yes. Here, take my roan, and get there as quick as you can. Helaia and I will manage.”
“Thank you, Ilenia,” he muttered, grunting as he slung the body on the back of the horse and climbed atop himself. The two women watched in apt confusion as he sped off and kicked up a cloud of dust.