Recap: The Connarii are suddenly transported to a land of featureless mist in the middle of the night. Younger princess and seer Aislynn identifies this land as the Otherworld, a gateway of sorts, predicting great danger, but recommending journeying through it to seek new lands. Her older sister, Edana, in typical combative fashion, would rather look for a way back and fight their oppressors to regain their lands in Cornwall. Her rival, Camlin, seizes on this idea as a way to advance his own ambitions, but King Toryn overrules the youths and rallies the people and sets off on a quest for a new homeland.
“Father?” Edana moved up the line to whisper into Toryn’s ear. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? Be reasonable. How can you make decisions about our future when you don’t even know where we are?”
“If you’d spent more time with your sister, listening to the elders instead of running off to the woods and mucking around with swords all the time…” Toryn shot a reproving glance at his eldest. “Better than sitting around all day with those shriveled oldies.” Edana hated being compared to her sister, and she especially despised any form of inactivity. Sitting and listening to tales was well enough for the infants, but once a child could walk, why should they be made to sit and listen when they could be out discovering the world for themselves?
“Aislynn? Explain, will you? I haven’t the energy.” Toryn waved his younger daughter over wearily, hardly helping matters. He stumped away, and Edana made to chase him, but Aislynn called her back.
“You remember Bronwyn Maugh?”
“’Course I do. I’m surprised that you remember her at all. She died years ago, back when you were just a mucky little brat.”
“Just because you’re a mere two years older than me…”
“Anyways-” Edana spoke over her sister’s retort. “She was really going off, there at the end; her stories never made much sense – always so vague and strange. Gave me the creeps; mostly stayed far away as I could.”
“And do you not find the place that we are in somewhat ‘vague’ and ‘strange’?” Aislynn smiled, regaining the upper hand in the conversation. “Creepy, even? Her stories never made much sense because they came from the Outside. They came from this place; you just had no frame for comparison.”
“But what is this place? You can’t seriously think that-”
“Don’t you remember? Think back to the stories. Remember how they always started? The traveller finds suddenly that the world around him is fading. Fog and mists raise themselves around him until the world that he knows is blotted out, hidden by blank, shapeless clouds. He continues on through these blank lands, and at last the mists begin to clear. Through the sinking fog, he glimpses a bright land, glowing and brilliant with life and happiness… Now do you remember? The Midlands, the boundary lands between us and the Otherworld- it follows all the stories; we have been cast out of our own world and are now in the borders of the Otherworld. If we travel on, we should come to the land of the stories. Except…”
“Except what, all-knowing one? Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out, huh ‘Lynnie? Where’s the catch? Where’s that “Time of Darkness” you were going on about earlier in all this?” Edana shifted her weight, rolling her eyes at Aislynn’s portentous tone.
“Oh, stop your pestering, ‘Dana. It’s just this; in some stories, it is true that the wanderer came to the bright-lands, but that does not account for all the tales. It seems that in some, the fabled land was not so… utopic. Some stories indicate a land that would be somewhat less than ideal. The descriptions have differences that could not be accounted for by one land alone. I believe that it is possible that there are many different lands that may be reached once a traveler enters the edges of the Otherworld. I also fear that many of them may not be such good places to set up house in…”
“Hush, Aislynn.” Toryn had rejoined the girls after making a circuit of the tribe, and now glanced anxiously at the nearest family, but they showed no signs of having heard Aislynn’s comments. Toryn’s brow seemed permanently furrowed.
“Really, father! How can you believe these tales?” Edana glared at her father and sister. “Our people are depending on us, and what do we do? Sit back and speculate about some fairytale dreamland. That’s just not good enough. We need real answers, real solutions to this… this… well, whatever it is, it needs a concrete, logical solution. The last thing we should be doing is wandering off into this bizarre fog.”
“Since when have you been worried about our people?” Aislynn said sweetly, but with an edge of warning to her voice. “And for that matter, now that I think of it, you have never been much of a friend to logic and reason.”
“You little-” Edana started, angling forward aggressively.
“Look around you, Edana!” Toryn hissed through his teeth, trying to avoid catching the attention of a family walking directly behind him. “What exactly do you propose would get us out of this mess? Aislynn’s right-”
“Aislynn’s always right!” Edana muttered under her breath. Her father pointedly ignored the comment as he continued.
“All that we have are your sister’s interpretation of the stories and the hope that there could be a good place ahead – and of course, the Message of Connar. That is not to be discounted.”
“Oh no? Even if there’s some ‘spirit’ contacting us, who’s to say it’s a helpful one? It is foolish to head off into uncharted territory, looking for a land that probably doesn’t exist. We should go back. We should return and fight for our lands. We had a good life; why should we abandon it for an uncertain future and probable danger?”
“You forget, daughter, that we simply can’t return. It is not a matter of fighting to regain what we have lost. It is gone. Do you see an enemy for us to defeat, a force to fight against for the return of our homes? Think, Edana! There is no path back! We are here, for good or ill. I at least have hope to turn this misfortune around. Look to the future. Open your eyes to the possibility of light in the darkness. Expect good to come of this, and then work to make it so…”
Edana tossed her shining head and scowled.
“Spare me. I’m too old for sermons. I know what’s going on here, and I will not accept your idealistic lies. Speak the truth to me, at least, even if you will rinse it out of your speech with your precious subjects. People are stronger than you think. They can take the truth. I can take the truth, so stop muffling it under heaps of hopeful drivel!”
Toryn stared at his daughter. Such an outburst he had not expected from her. Edana was not the type of girl who broke down immediately from stress. Not that she took pains to hide her mood, or restrain her opinion, but at the very least, he’d thought that she had a higher tolerance for emergencies. For her to say such things, well, the subject must have been bothering her for quite a while.
Toryn sighed. Children did not come with a set of instructions, and Edana was growing into a strong, rather opinionated young woman. She was quick, too smart for the taste of most; too strong to submit to a man less than her equal. Emotionally immature, perhaps… but strong nonetheless, and with good instincts for dealing with people, when the mood suited her. But what was the world coming to, when a daughter could challenge her father so boldly? He smiled faintly as he thought this.
Toryn alone was responsible for Edana’s behaviour; he had brought her up as a son and heir to the rule of the Connarii; it was he who had taught her to challenge the whole world for the truth of every matter, and allowed her to train with the men in combat. Too bad her mother hadn’t lived, though. She would have taught Edana a little tact; she would have taught her daughter how to argue as a woman, with subtlety and often far greater success. A woman’s magic, now that was something Edana could use. She was getting a little old to learn new tactics, though.
Toryn glanced sidelong at his daughter, studying her profile as she marched, fuming, alongside him. Edana was fiercely beautiful, a fact that had been conveniently overlooked by her peers as she trained and grew alongside them, but which Toryn feared would soon rise to frustrate her. Of a reasonable height for a Connarii woman, slim and strong, she scorned the modest clothing of her female peers and opted instead for a distinctive costume all her own. Booted leggings tightly laced with rawhide strips to mid-thigh. A sleeveless leather tunic belted at the waist with wide leather straps crisscrossing from shoulders to belt.
Edana was only carrying a small portion of her personal arsenal at the moment, favoring mobility. Besides the ever-present dagger at her waist (and several smaller, concealed knives), she carried a long tapered sword on her back, with a smooth staff strapped beside it. Tightly braided cords coiled along her arms, fastened at the shoulders of her tunic and caught up in metal-studded wristbands. Long red-gold hair was bound by a band that encircled her forehead, though it sprung out of the curiously woven braid at every opportunity. The touches of gold scattered among the tawny leather made her glow softly in the silver mists, but her blue eyes burned with a fierce, uncompromising green light.
Except for the eyes, Edana and Aislynn were polar opposites. If seventeen-year-old Edana shone with the sun’s hue and fierceness, Aislynn had the muted, silvery wonder of a star about her. Her eyes tended to take on a silver or violet hue, and while they could hold an iron determination, at the moment they radiated only a calm peace. Aislynn was her mother’s daughter, just as Edana followed her father in appearance, and to some degree, manner. Toryn smiled nostalgically, wishing for earlier days when his daughters were easier to understand, and to handle, and indulged in a few moments of loneliness before turning to look behind.
The chattering families spread out in clumps, clans for the most part gravitating towards each other in the untidy horde that stretched back into the mist. Toryn examined their faces, noting the signs of worry, fear, and already on some, exhaustion, as well as the brief sparks of excitement and hope that glanced back and forth across the ranks. They had been marching through a featureless, shifting grey mass for most of the day, hauling as many of their possessions as they could carry, drag or push, and the young ones were tiring.
Toryn called a halt, and the families quickly bunched into small groups, huddling together to sort out simple cold meals with their limited rations. For the moment, there was enough to eat, though it was largely uninspiring fare. Soon, however, the food would run out. The Connarii hadn’t seen a single creature throughout the days march. Actually, they hadn’t seen anything at all, except mist and their own neighbours. The excitement of adventure had quickly worn out, as had the inspiring effect of Toryn’s earlier speech.
They had better find that land soon, Toryn reflected, or he’d be dealing with mutiny, as well as starvation. People can abandon trust and commonsense alike pretty quickly when their stomachs are empty and their families in danger.
Toryn put a halt to his musing and spent the next hour moving among the clans, soothing and encouraging each family, doing his best to put fears to rest and rally their hopes. Then he returned to his daughters, to snatch a couple of hours of rest in the misty eternal twilight. Camlin, unfortunately, had other plans for that evening. He was waiting with Edana, the two of them arguing in hushed tones when Toryn returned to his camp.
“My king,” Camlin broke off his whispered fight with Edana to kneel to Toryn, the image of respect and deference. Toryn started to worry.
“I have come to request that you place a guard around the camp, and station the warriors around the tribe as they travel tomorrow. I have spoken to many of the young men who had been training under Corwin, and they would be happy to serve the tribe in this way. I would like to volunteer to-”
“I think that would be an excellent idea, father.” Edana interrupted, brushing past Camlin before he could finish his sentence. “It will make the people feel safe, and we will be prepared against any enemies lurking in this cursed mist. I will assemble the men and position them around the camp immediately.”
“What?” Camlin nearly overbalanced, putting out a hand to catch himself as he whipped around to glare at Edana, while Toryn worked to keep his face stern. Edana looked genuinely surprised. Had he not been the responsible one in the situation, Toryn would have laughed at her exaggerated and clearly feigned innocence, and been no less amused at Camlin’s attempts at smooth and sophisticated maneuvering. They both really were still so young…
“What’s the matter?” She asked. “I’ll just collect the rest of my weapons and-”
“Are you out of your mind?” Camlin howled, aggressively towering over Edana, who refused to back down.
Aislynn, who had been making the rounds of the camp, emerged out of the mists and frowned at Camlin.
“You’re too loud.” She said, making a shushing motion with her hands. The feathers on her cloak rustled soothingly. “Stop getting so worked up over nothing.”
“Nothing!” Camlin was nearly screaming now, his face flushing an alarming and decidedly unattractive purplish colour. “Nothing? Your sister just laid claim to the post of battle-chief!”
“So? Is that any reason to wake everyone?”
“She, she’s a girl!” Camlin sputtered, irritated that no one else seemed to be as concerned.
“Girls shouldn’t even be fighting, much less leading the tribe’s warriors!”
“You’ve known that I could fight for years, Camlin.” Edana said. Her eyes glinted, warning that her short temper wouldn’t hold forever.
“Yes, but… you can’t, I mean – I, I naturally assumed that I would…”
“Oh calm down, Camlin.” Toryn finally interrupted, his amusement ebbing as exhaustion took hold. Bed seemed further and further off all the time. “I’ll admit that it is a valid point you have. I’ll look into setting up a guard immediately – but neither of you is going to be leading it, so off you go to bed.”
“Father!” Edana complained, while Camlin turned a darker shade of red as he struggled for the words to express his indignation.
“Oh come off it.” Toryn told them. “You’re both too young. The battle-chief must not only excel in combat, but also be experienced in battle, and be able to lead. I will choose someone more suitable, and in the meantime, the two of you will cease this unholy racket and allow the rest of us some peace.”
“Father?” Aislynn said softly, drawing Toryn aside, just out of range of the seething pair’s hearing.
“There isn’t really anyone else; they have a point, you know. The more experienced warriors were all with Corwin when the Connarii were cursed. They are the two most advanced trainees. They don’t have the experience, and I won’t speak to their leadership capabilities, but it seems to me that Edana and Camlin are the only ones even close to qualified for this position. Furthermore, for Edana… This may be a good opportunity…”
Toryn stared at Aislynn. Then he shrugged.
“Be that as it may, I’m making no decisions tonight. We’ll talk about this later.”
“But the security of the camp!” Camlin insisted, as he saw Toryn step away. Toryn frowned at him.
“Fine, fine. What do you kids have against sleep? Camlin – south and east side. Edana, north and west.” Toryn pointed as he gave the instructions, indicating the supposed directions in the suffocating, muted landscape that frustrated all attempts at classification.
“Have all the trainees assembled first thing in the morning and I’ll allocate you each the appropriate number of guards. Until then, I will retain the responsibility for this camp’s security. Now – good night!”
Toryn had to stand and glare at Camlin for a couple of minutes, before the young man snapped his jaw shut, turned on his heel, and stalked back into the mists towards his campsite, clearly realizing that he was in no position to push his luck. Edana wouldn’t even look at her father. She spoke in his general direction while glowering after Camlin.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell him to stand down, father. I should be the one to-”
“Good night!” Toryn said. Edana huffed and went to her bedroll.
“Good night.” Aislynn said brightly to no one in particular.