Chapter 02 – Under the Shade of a Traveling Tree, Part 01

Boruin tossed the bones of his dinner back into the fire and looked in disbelief at his companion. “An Aiemer flow?”

“That’s right,” answered Wraethe.

“You’re saying that the man, after he was dead, somehow drew upon a fable to destroy his valley?” Boruin said.

“No. That is impossible,” said Wraethe.

Boruin raised his hands in exasperation. “Exactly!” He opened his mouth to continue, then stopped, confused. “Then what are you saying?”

Pile pulled a brand from the fire and held it above their cooking stone. “She’s saying the valley was torn apart by the Aiemer after the old fellow died.” He dashed the ember against the rocks and let the rising sparks of the dead coal serve as example.

“When you know more about any subject than I do, I’ll ask your opinion,” Boruin said, giving Pile a sidelong sneer.

Pile saw an opening, and his teeth shone in the firelight. “Like who your mother is?”

“Or where you were born?” Wraethe added. Her rare smile matched Pile’s in its eagerness.

“Like why every time we drink, you slip into some northern sailor’s accent?” asked Pile.

“And why, for as long as you and I have traveled together, neither of us remember where we started or anything before,” said Wraethe, her right eye cocking upward. Boruin knew that look.

He didn’t remember any more of his past than she of hers, and now was not the time to get back into that saga. They had the best of him, and it was either time to storm off or to give in. Boruin leaned back against the high tree root and sighed.

“Fine, so what do you know about the Aiemer?” he asked.

Pile played stubborn, his lips just twitching to turn up into one of his wide, lop-sided grins. “Nothing.”

“Pile, what do you want to enlighten us about?” Wraethe asked. Pile held back his smile at her firm tone.

“You know, your good moods are too short lived,” Pile replied. He waved off her sour look and continued. “I know some, just a few things from back when I worked the old mah’saiid ruins with Graemer. He knew a little of the old glyphs and told me some of what he’d read,” said Pile.

“Like what?” Boruin asked.

Pile poked around in the fire, uncomfortable as Boruin and Wraethe turned their full attention to him. “Here’s how I understand it. Maybe some of it is bedtime tale, maybe not. The Aiemer comes from the second realm of Baeg Tobar. Though the two realms of this world are split, the Dying and the Dreaming, the Aiemer can move freely between both. In the Dreaming Lands, the Aiemer saturates the land like it’s a sponge. It is part of everything and everything exists because of it.”

“All things in the Dreaming Lands originate in Aiemer?” asked Boruin.

Pile leaned forward as if giving his mind a push before it stalled out. “No, and don’t stop me – I’ll lose my train of thought. In our mortal realm – the Duine Lands, as the mah’saiid called them – the Aiemer is untouchable; unseen, unsmelled, untasted, unheard. That’s really the main thing. I mean, it still touches things, influences them, but mostly it is very subtle, and we don’t see it. Here Aiemer moves of its own accord, like tides in an unseen sea. Where it does slow and pool, it saturates the ground and changes it. Maybe in the image of the Dreaming Lands. I don’t know.”

“That’s the children’s story part,” said Boruin.

“Fingle and the Floating Mountain of Emeralds,” offered Wraethe.

“Imber’s Ocean of Glass,” added Boruin.

Pile waved his finger in agreement, but kept his eye in the fire as if the flames were spelling out his tale. “There is little that affects the Aiemer, and even less that can harness it. Graemer thought though that the Aiemer was where all magic rises from. The sorcerers, the priests, the bards – they all draw from the same source. It seemed to him that the Aiemer must touch everything, and those that make magic use the Aiemer that has touched and settled in their bodies as fuel. We Duine, then, are limited in power, as we can only draw from the Aiemer inside us. It’s not like the fables and the Fae’s direct control of the Aiemer turning mountains into emeralds.” His glazed eyes rose from the fire, and the return of his smile told them he’d reached the end of his speech.

“But again, the guy was dead. There is no controlling anything after you’ve gone under,” said Boruin.

“Right,” Pile agreed. “So the Aiemer didn’t destroy the valley after his death. It was the valley. He held it in place, controlled the Aiemer until his death. That’s the problem, and that’s big.” There was no trace of humor now left on his face.

“Give me your idea of big,” Boruin said.

“That kind of power could have brought down the whole nation of Nefazo, turned them all into goats and their shit into gold. But instead it was providing a safe place for a boy, a mute, near-mindless kid,” said Pile, digging around in the coals of the fire. He held up the glowing brand and pointed it at Boruin.

“What is with this kid?”

Boruin stood up from the dirt and looked around. “Where is the kid?”

Wraethe pointed off into the darkness to some hidden spot in the murky gloom. “Keeping watch with Toaaho.”

“Well, he can keep him. The boy has been nothing but trouble. I’m going to sleep,” Boruin said.

“He does make a nice bouquet of flowers,” Pile offered, regaining his humor. Boruin ignored this and lay down with his back to the fire. They would begin moving again in six hours, and he needed to sleep. He was sure it wouldn’t happen, but he could lie still and think. Pile was right about the boy; there was more to him than there should be.

Boruin wondered why Belok had offered them this job. The man had a habit of profiting well on a contract and Boruin wondered who was behind this one. He turned the events of the day over in his head. Pile was close about the Aiemer – he had to be. He knew of no magical crafts that would bring down that valley. Certainly no mortal ones.

The boy was special.

Belok had passed it off as a retrieval and escort, but this job was more than that. His mind kept working, but Boruin slipped away from it and fell into the darker field of sleep. He slept lightly, still bothered by Pile’s reminder that the details of his own life were more of a mystery than any of this mess.

End chapter 02 part 01.

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