“Well, that’s not a very happy story,” Ghillie said. You don’t know the half of it, Oliana thought. She had left Roth out of her recounting entirely, afraid of how upset she would be to talk about him so soon.
“What are you going to do now?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Oliana said, looking down. “I don’t have a place to go. I’m not sure what I could do.”
“Well…” Ghillie paused. “Perhaps you’d like to come with me to see that healing spring we talked about? It’s very beautiful, and I’ve never had the pleasure of showing it to anyone before.”
Oliana took a moment to consider her utter lack of alternatives. “That sounds nice,” she said sullenly.
“You know what? Healing springs are naturally very warm. The pools surrounding it are excellent for swimming this time of year. But if you take the water away from the spring, it cools within a few days and loses its magical benefits.”
“I was surprised at how warm it was,” Oliana said. “It’s a good thing you had it.”
“Well, being a faerie, I don’t have much of anything better to do, either. I try to make friends with the children I meet, but they always have to leave so quickly, and they’re adults if I ever see them again. It’s like dying again and again. They can’t see you. They’ve put you out of mind, grown up, and moved on.” His wide eyes stared intently at nothing in particular as he walked.
“I won’t forget you, Ghillie,” Oliana promised, resting her hand on his shoulder. She thought it best to change the subject. “How far is this spring?”
“It’s the better part of a day’s walk, I’m afraid. It’s a good thing we’d be starting so early. Are you up to it?”
“I’ve never felt stronger,” she answered honestly. Physically stronger, anyway, she thought.
They hiked along the base of the ravine, and a powerful river met them, running beside their path. Ghillie Dhu would stop on occasion to point out a fallow deer or a hare in the distance. There were almost no signs of snow here at a lower elevation, and Oliana felt warm enough to remove her cloak, which Ghillie insisted on carrying for her. He was a chatty fellow, though it seemed more for a lack of having had people to talk to than for a surplus of things to say. Most of what he spoke of had to do with the forest. The woodland creatures, the beautiful landscape, and especially the passing of the seasons seemed to encompass his entire life.
“Exactly how old are you?” Oliana found herself wondering.
“Well, I’m a faerie, which makes me a spirit, which makes me quite old in human terms. I’ve lived long enough to have had a good number of lifetimes according to your perspective. Time operates on our kind quite differently.”
Oliana became fascinated. “Are there other faeries you know?”
“Other faeries, yes. Other faeries that I have met? Very few. We tend to stay away from one another. We’re all quite different in personality, and we do not like to clash. I guess you could say we tend to cover separate territories.”
The sun began its earthward descent as the two neared the spring. Ghillie stopped in his tracks and held out his arm to stop Oliana. “There’s someone here,” he said. “Listen.”
Oliana could hear it: a soft crunching of leaves that reminded her of the general’s steps. Her heart began to race. They’re still hunting for me, she thought. Louder still, the person grew very near, but remained out of sight. “Should I hide?” Oliana whispered.
“I don’t think so,” Ghillie said. “Just wait.”
Out from the bush emerged a small, frail figure. It coughed weakly, and its pale eyes lifted to meet Oliana’s.
“Jarrah!” she cried.
He coughed again. "Oliana," he said. "I have something very important to tell you. Something your parents and I kept a secret for far too long. It's my fault, really," regret filled his eyes. "You need to know the truth," he said. "Where is your brother?"
Pain shot up from Oliana's heart and manifested itself in her eyes.
"I see," Jarrah said. "No need to tell me further, child." Another cough. "We have much to discuss."