Second Battle of Jent
At first, the vacillating gusts of wind sweeping down the mountainside reminded Findian of the violent air around Spirit, but as she approached the broken stone pillars that marked the start of a steep winding trail, she sensed something quite different. Triumon did not control the wind here, and in fact, she sensed the opposite. This wind carried an old voice, a voice as old as the rocks that scarred the mountainside, their gray jagged shards laid bare to crumble and fall against the wind’s powerful command; it was a voice quite unaccustomed to serving.
Avanian had halted her ascent, and stood beside one of the stone pillars, her hand resting on the rough worn stone. This had been the first time the girl had stopped since they’d started their steady climb under an early morning fog, a fog that had lingered throughout the day, darkening an already gray and stormy sky. They had left the village of Behliden three days ago, and had abandoned all pretenses of the hunt during this trek, the girl saying nothing regarding their need to make this excursion up this desolate mountainside. Findian had stayed silent as well, letting her own curiosity follow the girl’s lead.
Findian paused, and looking at Avanian, she knew, as she had begun to suspect a few days ago, that making this climb had been the real reason Avanian had left Spirit. She also knew the girl would never have been allowed to come here, and in fact, just knowing of this place would have brought a death sentence, even for the granddaughter of Triumon Ealder. Strangely, she felt no resentment at being used as the girl’s unwitting companion, and becoming enmeshed in this dark Triumon secret excited her rather than causing alarm as it might once have done. Once she had donned the hunting garb and left Spirit with a bow slung across her back, she had crossed a formidable threshold by stepping into the intimacies of Triumon, their hermetic machinations now linking her to the House in a way that the marriage to Altan might never have done. The portent of this quite different union between the House of Northmon and the House of Triumon was not lost on her.
Musing on this new revelation, she walked to the stone pillars, unwilling to remove this knowing look from her face. Avanian was perceptive enough to read this knowledge in her eyes, but she was also quick enough to hide its implications from her own face. She knew better than anyone the deep crime she had committed by allowing an outsider into the fold of Triumon secrets, especially one such as this.
“It is fortunate that few paths exist into these mountains,” the girl said. “The long difficult road between Behliden and the Jent Pass is well guarded by the Wardens of Triumon. Even Fayersae would be shunted from those high valleys and narrow paths.”
Findian let her eyes climb the steep slope in front of them.
“Knowledge of a place need not accompany the ability to reach a place in order to use its power,” Findian answered. “Knowing is often enough, as you well know.”
Findian met Avanian’s surprised look, and for the first time she saw uncertainty bred by miscalculation color the girl’s face. She was still very young, and had not hidden her emotions quickly enough; she had forgotten that others besides Triumon could play this game. She had also forgotten that Findian was a Lady of Bruchmon, a leading member of that great house who was now wed to the head of the House of Northmon; Triumon’s reputation did not grant them monopoly on intrigue and manipulation.
“Without the knowledge to find this place,” Avanian answered, quickly regaining her composure, “this place is just a rumor, unverifiable by fact.”
“Take the single road from Behliden,” Findian said. “Leave the road, taking the path between the twin lakes. After crossing the third stream, begin the climb into the inner range of these mountains. Exit the fourth valley and climb up to the pass. Begin the descent after skirting five cliff faces, and continue to the west until six mountain peaks are visible in a circle around you. Turn north up the near mountainside, passing the seven stone cairns, the last of which is this set of pillars.”
Avanian’s cold stare was her only answer to this litany.
“You forget that I am a hunter trained,” Findian said. “You could not help but give yourself away as you concentrated on each demarcation. Your steps were calculated and hesitant at each boundary. And the sequence was obvious after you turned at the third stream. I needed no extraordinary instinct to deduce that you were seeking an exacting route through these mountains.”
“Triumon will go to any length to preserve this secret,” Avanian said.
Findian heard the threat, but she had expected nothing less. Despite the girl’s earlier uncontrolled surprise, Findian was reminded of the young girl’s maturity as she had made her pronouncement; she was Triumon, a fact that Findian could not allow herself to forget. This secret bound them both, but it was still a Triumon secret. She had no doubts regarding the veracity of Avanian’s threat.
“We should finish this,” Findian said into a fresh gust that seemed to channel its burst between the two pillars. “This mountainside is wary and would not welcome overnight guests.”
Avanian’s hand slid off the stone pillar, and she began climbing the steep winding path after one last cold stare. Findian followed, easily matching the girl’s pace up the snow-covered path. The wind renewed its swirling gusts, reminding the climbers who reigned on this mountainside.
They didn’t climb long, and after a few twists and turns around bare protruding rock pock-marking the mountainside, they stepped onto a wide flat ledge and immediately knew they had reached their destination as the wind suddenly stopped, its sudden calming more powerful than the mighty gusts they knew it could summon at will.
The dark wall of a sheer cliff-face enclosing the area on their left had not yet thrown its shadow over the area, and they could see a similar drop-off circling the other half of the round clearing. The snow had been blown clear, leaving the ledge swept clean, seemingly adding to the power of the wind that would not even allow the long arm of winter to touch this place.
Seven stone markers in varying heights, round and worn perfectly smooth, encircled the middle area of the ledge, and Findian immediately saw that they cast no shadows on the hard gray stone. Warily, she took a step forward, approaching Avanian who had become rooted in front of her. When she reached the girl, she felt her own ability to proceed halted by the power of this place.
“I presume I have interpreted the writings in the old tongue correctly,” Avanian said in a low honorific voice. “If so, very few would have the strength to make the climb from the last stone marker below us. Even fewer would be able to make the final approach to the inner circle. Bringing you here has not been an accident.”
Findian again felt the old power of the rock, and sensed an even stronger power lingering within the calm air. She knew this place was old, as old as the land itself. She watched the girl raise her foot with effort, and after a few hesitant heartbeats, place it on the hard rock in front of her. The girl’s next step came easier, and she slowly crossed the distance to the stone markers, the wind blowing ever so slightly in response to her steps.
Touched by that same breeze, Findian felt her own legs become free of the lock; if she willed it, and exerted a greater portion of her strength, she could approach as well; however, she sensed the fatigue that would follow, and was again reminded that they could not tarry here once the shadows consumed the clearing come nightfall.
“To proceed would leave me without the power to retreat,” she said, a light breeze carrying her voice to Avanian.
Avanian had reached out to touch the stone nearest her, the wind greeting her touch with a slight vigor.
“And if I proceed into the inner circle, I will not have the strength to leave,” the girl said, her own voice carried clearly on the air. “Even now, it will very hard to retrace my steps. We have come, but we have not come with the ability to explore this place.”
Feeling the old power, Findian suddenly knew the simple truth that would allow them to proceed unhindered.
“Speak the name of this place,” Findian said to Avanian.
Avanian turned over her shoulder with a hard look, but her face quickly took on the resigned look that she must reveal that secret if they were to exert any mastery over this place.
“Windraes,” the girl said reverently in the old tongue, and Findian immediately felt the strength return to her legs on a friendlier gust of wind.
For information on Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, please visit www.heartofhauden.com.