As the new morning cast aside night’s robes, Alyxandra, Aranaytha, Aveyna, Yvellen, Luan and Telthar’rion stood outside the door of The Hooded Mage, having prepared for their return to Thornhurst. Aranaytha consulted the map for what must have been the twentieth time.
“We should head west from here, until we reach Westbridge, before heading north to Thornhurst.” The others nodded and, fixing upon the western road, began to walk, leaving Raiholt and her inhabitants to their peace. Their feet continued to meet with the ground as the sun continued on course through the sky, pummeling the ground with heat and causing beads of sweat to form upon their tired brows.
Breathing became laboured, each breath louder and more raucous. Luan began to pant, his pink tongue visible in his gaping mouth. The six of them slowed in their walking, their legs weakened and eyes strained by the harsh sunlight. They continued in their slow pace along the road, when they came across a circle of large oak trees. Smiling, stifling gasps for air, they stumbled into the shade and lay there a while, drinking long of their water and slowing their breathing beneath natures’ awning, a calming silence between them.
Alyxandra lay with her eyes closed, her hands clutched together over her heart, her mind wandering and her mouth touched with a gentle smile. Aranaytha and Yvellen, energised by the shade, continued to pester each other fondly, while Luan lay beneath the shade upon his golden belly, his eyes closed in contentment. Aveyna looked over her maps and continued to scan the landscape, ensuring that they were on track. As she did so, she heard a voice behind her.
“Enjoy this rest while you can, Aveyna.” She turned to see Telthar’rion smiling, his face kind and his eyes calm. Aveyna smiled, and turned to roll away her maps, when another voice said,
“I have already done the navigation for this leg of the journey anyway.” Aveyna turned to see Aranaytha speaking to her. In the most confident voice she could manage, she said,
“I understand, Aranaytha, I was simply ensuring for myself that-” She was broken off by Aranaytha.
“Do you not trust me? Or is this another of your attempts to outperform me?” Aveyna, as a general rule, was slow to anger, but when Aranaytha was the irritation, her temper was significantly shorter. She stood quickly, and turned to face Aranaytha, the both of them thunder-faced, their fists clenched.
“I am not trying to outperform you, Aranaytha, I just wanted to be sure.”
“Of course, Aveyna,” she replied, her voice coated with an overtly saccharine tone, “I cannot help it if your confidence in yourself is so low that you have to have these strange competitions with me.” Aveyna frowned, knocked by each word that left Aranaytha’s ruby lips, and crushed by each moment that Aranaytha stared at her with her sparkling eyes. It was then that she delivered the final blow. “Ah, well. Perhaps I shall let you have this,” she paused a moment, “victory. I suppose that I pity you, standing there in your plainness. Of course, there is no empathy.”
At this, Aveyna unclenched her fists, a sole tear rolling down her pale cheek, as she closed her eyes. This was the one insult that always scarred her; she had never become used to it. In all her time training alongside Aranaytha, she had never adjusted to her slicing words and cold nature. However, her cold cruelty did not go unnoticed, and Yvellen, who normally admired Aranaytha, gave her a look of disapproval, and turned away.
Telthar’rion rose out of his usual apathy and tentatively placed a hand upon Aveyna’s shoulder, gently turning her away from Aranaytha. As he did so, he glared at Aranaytha and, for perhaps the first time in a long time, she felt a twinge, a small wave of guilt. It was as though the words had been turned on herself. That coldness in her heart, like a single, sharp fragment of ice, began to melt as it met with that guilt, beginning a process within her that would change her forever.
Telthar’rion sat by Aveyna as the last tears died upon her cheeks, as she wiped them away with the back of her hand. She knew that her reaction had revealed much to rest of the group, and it was something that ashamed her. She felt weakened by Aranaytha’s words, a weakness she wished she did not have. However, her heart did not wear the same armour as her body, and thus, such things did not glance off its tender skin easily; instead, she found herself pierced, pricked with arrows and painful memories.
As she thought on these things, Telthar’rion said nothing, only holding her shoulder gently, reminding her that he was there, listening out for the low cries of her heart and to hold her steady as the temporary healing process began.
Aveyna smiled. She was glad of Telthar’rion’s presence, glad of the quiet company he provided. And yet, she still knew little about him as he sat, enigmatically, the the silence. She closed her eyes a moment, providing her tired eyes with a moment of respite, a respite that she must have required, as she soon sat, in a deep, silent sleep, against the tree.
Telthar’rion, unsure of how she found such a position could be comfortable, and fearing that she would be in pain when she awoke, gently lifted her head from the tree trunk, his hand at her neck, and used his other hand to brush a few flakes of bark from her hair, before placing it upon her shoulder and lowering her gently to the soft grass below. Subconsciously, he stroked her cheek a moment, before he laughed quietly to himself, stood up slowly and walked away, leaving her to peace beneath the leaves.