Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen)(5)

By: Jeff Wheeler

Phae knelt by the bedside and rumpled the covers. She slipped the necklace underneath her pillow. Then, rising, she hugged Rachael one last time and unbolted the window. With a hard push, it opened outward on the hinges. The sky was black, dotted with shimmering stars. The smell wafting in was the one she had smelled earlier coming from the vineyard. Planting her boot on the edge of the bed rail, she gracefully climbed up and swung herself out the window. She dropped to the ground outside with only a little puff of dirt. Rachael handed her the pack and shut the window behind. Pressing her face against the glass, she waved goodbye.

Fear and anguish were Phae’s companions. She did not want to leave the homestead. But the cabin was not so very far. Perhaps this would all be nothing. Perhaps the danger wasn’t real.

Perhaps it was.

Head down, Phae walked to the barn. She was so grateful that Trasen was going with her. It would make everything so much easier. What an adventure they would have together. Hopefully, by the time his fortnight of leave was over, it would all be resolved.

Trasen saw her approach and met her from the shadows of the barn. He was equipped with the items Winemiller had suggested and handed her another bow to carry. She saw the dagger in his belt.

She bit her lip, glancing back at the house. “Can I borrow your knife?” she asked.

He looked at her curiously. “Why?”

Her heart was suddenly very heavy. “You said there were rumors the Plague was coming. If it is, I want to do what I can for the family. I’d like to leave a little blood on the lintel. Just in case.”

He stared at her for a long time, weighing her words. In other parts of Stonehollow, a girl like Phae would have been publicly executed at the outbreak of another Plague. Her blood was the property of all and it was no crime to kill someone with the fireblood. She had no idea why that was, but it was commonly believed that their blood, spread on the lintel, protected a household from the Plague.

Trasen nodded and handed the knife to her.

“A great poet from ancient times put it this way: Love is the beauty of the soul.”

—Possidius Adeodat, Archivist of Kenatos

It was a small cabin, pockmarked from woodpecker drilling and dusty from lack of use. The sun was just beginning to set behind the massive range of mountains, causing a shadow to fall over the dwelling hidden in a copse of evergreens. There was always snow in the winter, and so the cabin had a steeply slanted roof to prevent too much from accumulating. Phae and Trasen were both exhausted from the arduous hike into the mountains and since neither had slept the night before, they reached the door grim-faced and weary.

Trasen hefted a short axe and motioned for her to stay back. “I’ll go on ahead. Wait here.”

The windows were covered in dust and the curtains drawn. He opened the door—there was no lock—and warily pushed it. A lizard scuttled out near his boot, and a plume of dust came as well. He paused in the doorway, listening intently, letting the fading light from outside reveal the small interior. Trasen gave her a warning look and then ventured inside.

A few moments later, he returned and beckoned to her.

The cabin was deserted. Winemiller stocked no provisions because of the bears that roamed the mountains. They had to eat what they brought. The meal was silent, for both were exhausted, and then Trasen used some wooden wedges to seal the door shut.

“No fire tonight,” he said. “Even though someone can’t see the smoke, they can smell it. I’m so tired I can barely stand. But I will keep first watch tonight and wake you later.” He yawned.

Phae nodded greedily, thanking him with a grateful smile, and then nestled in a blanket on the floor on the far side of the room.


“Yes, Phae.”

“Why do you want to buy a homestead in Wayland?” She stared at him, her eyes growing heavy.

“I would be content to get one in Stonehollow. With all the abandoned ones, you would think the Council would give them away.”

Phae smiled. She admired Trasen for his work ethic, his sense of humor, and his friendship. He was growing up, though. The responsibilities of being an adult were starting to weigh on him.

She lifted her head and rested her cheek on her palm. “Have you ever thought about coming back to the vineyard? You could work there. Perhaps Master Winemiller would give you part of the land someday.”

Trasen lowered himself sluggishly and leaned back against the door. “I want my own place. My own family.”

“Are you going to collect orphans too? You need help running a homestead, Trasen. One person cannot do all the work alone.”

“I know.” He looked down at his boots and then used his dagger to pry loose a pebble. “Maybe you could help me.” He glanced at her.

A warm feeling shivered in her skin. She blinked at him, trying to stay awake. What did he mean by that? The thought was delicious. Working side by side with him. Having their own homestead. Being with him day after day. It sounded wonderful. Did he mean something more, though? Did he look at her as more than a friend or a sister?

“Look at you,” he chuckled. “You can hardly keep your eyes open. Don’t answer me tonight, Phae. Just think about it. Get some sleep.”

When her head rested on her forearm, she fell asleep instantly.

The sound of jackdaws awoke her in the morning, just before sunrise. Grayish light filtered through the dusty windows. She heard the birds flittering along the roofline and slowly shook her head. She sat up and saw Trasen leaning against the front door, his jaw slightly open, deeply asleep. Part of her wanted to laugh at the expression on his face, but her stomach was raw with hunger and her feelings were all tangled with anxiety. There was little to laugh at in their circumstance, fleeing from the homestead and hunted by the Arch-Rike of Kenatos. But Trasen’s presence did make her feel safe—even though he had fallen asleep himself and forgotten to wake her.

Rising quietly, she rubbed her arms for warmth and went to the window facing the slope of the hill they had ascended when climbing the mountain. She parted the curtain and rubbed a small square panel in the corner with the back of her fist to clear the glass.

Dawn was just beginning to peek through the tangle of bristlecone pine and cedar. She waited patiently, watching the horizon light up. It was a clear view to the foothills below. There was a speck on the horizon, a blot of black against the pale long grass mingled with boulders. Her heart started to pound feverishly. The blot was moving.

“Trasen,” she whispered, staring in shock. “Trasen!”

He was awake instantly, cursing himself for falling asleep. He rubbed his hand over his face and scratched the curly tangle of hair on his head. “I’m sorry.”

“Look!” She pointed, her mouth suddenly dry.

Trasen rushed to the window and squinted into the dawn. His countenance fell. “So quickly? That must be Winemiller.”

“If he’s come already, it must be worse than he thought.” She rubbed her hands together, a growing dread in her heart.

Trasen kicked the wedges away from the door and opened it, welcoming the morning air with its chill. Puffs of mist came from their mouths as they emerged on the porch. Squirrels chased one another into the trees nearby, chattering at each other playfully.

The person was still a ways off and it took time to draw near. Phae studied the shape, watching the relentless way he walked. It gnawed at her suddenly. She had expected Winemiller to go to Stonehollow first and learn what he could. That would have taken time to go there and return before venturing west into the mountains. Two days. That trip should have taken two days. How could he have come so soon?