Friday, 9 December 2016

Artel 17 - That's Good

He visited daily, and neither man spoke of the conversation they both knew was inevitable. Millon could feel Artel's brown eyes drilling into him curiously as the days passed, he fancied he could even feel the knights questions poking at his skin, wanting to know why he was there, what he had been doing, why he had left him in the forest.
In reality Artel was thinking none of that, instead he was marvelling at the fact that he seemed to be in some kind of decent civilisation, and that Millon seemed to have somehow become an entirely different person. The Millon who came to his bedside and helped to bring him back to health was not the man that he had lost in the forest. Though he still looked much the same, apart from having grown a small beard, he seemed much more relaxed. Gone was the timid stoop, gone was the tendency to avert his eyes to the floor whenever someone began a conversation with him, gone was the stutter he had started almost every sentence with, and gone was the fear that had always lurked just behind his eyes. Artel had never seen the man so happy, and were it not for the fact that Millon knew him he may have wondered if it were a different man altogether. He wondered too at what lay beyond the hut that seemed to have become his home. If he had to hazard a guess he would have said some sort of small village or town, but whether it was housed within the forest or outside of it he could not be sure.
As the days drifted by he could feel himself growing stronger, and when he finally managed the short walk to the door of the hut he found that the bright sun dazzled him and he was forced to blink into a canvas of sparkling white until his eyes adjusted. He still felt weak, terribly weak, and he had to lean heavily on Millon's shoulder as he made his way down the steps and round to the little herb garden at the back of hut. He could feel the villagers eyeing him up, curiosity driving them to be braver than they normally would. None of them were quite brave enough to come up and talk to him though, and when he looked their way they looked away quickly, as if to pretend they hadn't been staring.

The two men sat quietly in the herb garden behind Nanuka's small hut for several long minutes. The smells of the various herbs drifted on the warm currents of air and the buzzing of insects filled the silence. The sun hung hot and full in the cloudless sky, warming the earth below it.
"Where is this?"
Artel had turned to look at Millon, his face was expressionless but his eyes were questioning.
"This is Mele, it's a small town, I found it after wandering out of the forest, which is back that way." Millon pointed roughly behind them. Artel raised an eyebrow.
"How did you get out?"
"Of the forest? I don't know, I walked, I stumbled... I looked for you for days but you were nowhere, one minute you were there, the next... it was as if the ground itself had eaten you."
Artel turned away, "it may as well have."
Millon fought back the urge to ask what had happened, settling instead for the silence that fell between them again. It was not an awkward silence, in fact it was quite companionable, but he could tell that both men had questions burning in the back of their minds.
It was Artel that broke the silence again.
"How long have I been here?"
"Just a little over three weeks."
"Hm, how did I get here?"
"They, the hunting party that is, found you collapsed on the edge of the plains between here and the forest."
"Ah, that'll be why I don't remember getting here then," he paused, "so how long have you been here?"
The question was full and heavy, covering the real question that lay beneath it; How long was I lost? Millon hesitated for a moment too long and Artel's brown eyes found his.
"Nearly three months now, I think."
He could see Artel doing the calculations in his head, he'd been lost for around two months, suffering in whatever hell hole he'd found himself, no wonder he'd been so far gone. He wanted to say something else, something that would comfort the Knight, something that would bring him out of his reverie, but all he could think of was 'it will be alright,' and somehow he didn't think that would quite cut it. Instead he opted to keep quiet, letting the normal sounds of the world wash over them and hoping that his companionship did more to heal the wounds than any words could.

It was four days later when they finally had the inevitable conversation. Artel had improved greatly, as if once he had gotten up the first time he had found the willpower to force his body to get better. There was a gleam in his soft brown eyes again, he'd had Millon cut away the straggly ends to his hair, and there was a soft pink glow to his cheeks. He was beginning to look healthy again.
They had sat in Nanuka's herb garden every day since Artel had first stepped out of the hut, but now they walked onwards, Artel no longer needing to lean on Millon to support his weight. The two men passed the herb garden and walked slowly down through the bustling village towards the open plains beyond. The villagers watched as they passed, still wary yet curious of the stranger in their midst. They turned off the main track and onto a smaller one, at the end of which lay Millon's simple hut, a fact which Millon kept to himself, he wasn't ready for Artel to know how ingrained he had become into his new life in Mele. They passed the hut and kept walking, leaving the track and stepping out through the short stubbly grass of the plains. It was mid afternoon and the sun was high in a cloud streaked sky, casting it's hot rays towards the figures walking unprotected beneath it. In the distance mountains loomed like a strange jagged blot on the horizon, as if they were trapped creatures reaching towards the sky. For a time the two men walked on and said nothing, both lost in their own thoughts. It was, of course, Artel who broke the silence first.
"That is where we need to go isn't it?"
Millon looked at the Knight, caught the slight nod of his head towards the mountains in the distance. For a second he thought about lying, it would be so easy to tell him that they were in fact somehow on the far side of the forest and the mountains they were seeing were far from the ones they had been seeking. But that was wrong, and he had been silent for a moment too long, Artel would know if he lied, and if he did believe him then he would most likely go off in the wrong direction searching for the mountains he could already see. He nodded.
"Yes, yes it is."
"We ought to go as soon as possible."
"Yes, yes I suppose so."
"I'm nearly well enough to travel, as soon as I am we should trade whatever you've got for a couple of horses, some provisions, and whatever weapons we can muster, that'll get us across the plains and hopefully to another village where we can restock. I don't suppose you have anything let from your pack? I imagine it all got lost in the forest."
"Actually, I have my whole pack left, it's been sitting in the corner of my hut since I got here, I haven't really known what to do with it, I haven't even unpacked it."
Artel looked at Millon and raised an eyebrow.
"That's great, that'll be really helpful."
"Yeah, I figured it would probably come in handy at some point."
Silence fell between them again and Millon wondered how he was going to break it to Artel that he didn't want to continue on their quest, that he wanted to stay there in the village he had begun to call his home.
"You want to stay don't you?"
Millon nearly choked on his own tongue as he fought to find the words that would form an answer, any answer. "What?" Was all he could manage.
"You want to stay here in the village don't you?"
"Yeah, yeah I do, I like it here, the people... they accept me, I feel at home here, for the first time in my life I feel like I really have a home."
"Good, that's really good, I'm really pleased for you." Artel's voice was calm, and when Millon sneaked a peak at the Knight out of the corner of his eye he didn't look angry. "Do you know what else is good?"
He hardly dared to hope. "What?"
"Deserting your mission, that's good, and leaving the people at home, your real home, to rot in a war that will ravage the lands you were born in and destroy the people you have sworn to protect, that's good. It's also good to abandon the Knight that you have sworn to accompany, leaving him to face possibly the hardest part of the quest that you pledged both your life and your allegiance to, on his own. And it's especially good to go on living your simple, peaceful village life, being happy and thankful that you finally have a home while back in our own land an enemy far more powerful than we would dare imagine slaughters our women and children, enslaves our men and imprisons our Queen, that's very good."
Artel's voice was still calm, and he wasn't looking at Millon, he wasn't raging or shouting or spitting venomous insults, instead his voice and his words seemed ill matched, and somehow that had all the more effect. Millon felt like crying, which was a stupid baby thing to feel, but Artel had said all the right things and hit all the right buttons. And he was right. He was horribly, irrevocably right. How could Millon abandon their quest and leave the lives of so many to be extinguished like flickering candle flames snuffed out by a great dark hand, how could he ever then live with himself? He had no words, there were no words to say, nothing to break the silence, nothing to add to Artel's words. He would know what the silence meant anyway.

Artel gazed out at the mountains in the distance, his keen eyes roving across the land, wondering what surprises lay between him and his destination.
"We must continue as soon as I am well again."

No comments:

Post a Comment