It was not quite a mile from the town proper where Nine Trees spied the woman running toward them, her hair unbound and flying out behind her, her boots muddied and her cloak flapping about her ankles as she reached out her hands, almost laughing.
Dismounting, he signalled to Laila that she should wait for him, but once his feet touched the ground, he knew well that it was Medowin, and ran to meet her, to gather her into his arms and hold her tightly. “You’re trembling,” he murmurs. “And have you run all this way simply to greet me?” he wonders, almost laughing, but at the look upon her face, his own expression was grave, and he moved to put her upon his horse.
“Who is your companion?” she wondered of him, eyeing Laila with bewilderment. She had not expected Nine Trees to be travelling with anyone, and it rankled her that this stranger was witness to their dealings.
“She is the one you have sought, Medowin,” Nine Trees said with no small amount of pride.
“…she?” Medowin began, laughter in her voice and something very akin to mocking scorn in her eyes, but it was extinguished as she saw the look in Nine Tree’s gaze, and for a moment, Medowin, mother of song, was actually silent.
“She, yes,” Nine Trees whispered. “This is Laila, and what I tell you is Truth, Medowin. She is rightly the one that will usher in the next age.”
At Nine Trees’ words, Medowin felt a horrible crawling chill reach up from the pit of her belly, and she heard again the words of the wretched old woman on the street. Witchwoman. Thief. May you lose him, and may you be unable to forget. “That cannot be,” she heard herself say, though she never quite remembered forming the words. “It cannot be, my Nine Trees. I am so sorry, but you must be mistaken.”
“Well that’s a relief,” Laila laughed, and it was music.
The sound of it brought agony and ecstasy to Medowin’s ears. She knew, at once, that her search was over, but that such loss was coming as she had never known. Still in Nine Tree’s arms, she all but fainted, her legs buckling.
Nine Trees held her and lifted her to his horse, crawling back upon the beast. He looked to Laila with bewilderment and fear, and then back to Medowin with a growing unease.
She trembled, closing her eyes, and resigned herself to the Truth. In that knowledge came an unutterable heartache: Medowin knew not how she would be robbed, she only knew she would be.
Part One — Part Two — Part Three — Part Four — Part Five — Part Six — Part Seven — Part Eight — Part Nine — Part Ten — Part Eleven
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