After filling her stomach to its absolute limit with chicken pie, Eryn set down her fork with a pleased sigh, then wiped her gravy-covered lips with the napkin on hand, “Mmmmhm! Delicious as always, Ms. Gorit. You really are a marvelous cook.”
“Oh, it’s just something I threw together, but I’m glad you liked it, dear. No, no, I can get the dishes. You just sit and rest yourself. I’ve got a nice bit of pie cooling in the window, I’ll go cut us all some.”
“ That’s all right, Ms. Gorit, I’m really quite full…” But the kind, bustling lady had already disappeared into the kitchen—firmly intent on her pie-serving mission.
Mr. Gorit chuckled quietly, “I hope you have room for it, Elf. Wouldn’t want to disappoint the missus. Now that you’re here again, she’ll want to stuff as much in you as she can.”
“She doesn’t have to, as wonderful as all her food is. I can take care of myself.”
“I know, Elf, I’m sure you can. But she enjoys being the mother hen, so let’s indulge her, eh?”
Eryn smiled and nodded. He reached out and ruffled her lose bangs with his rough, calloused fingers before leaning his compact bulk back into his chair with a sigh of comfort. The chair creaked in well-rehearsed protest.
“So, what brings you here, Elf? What great event brings you to the city, or is that all a great secret?”
“It won’t be for much longer, the way things are going up in the East Mountains. The golems have started invading the Fields of Urr.”
“Heading south, then, towards us, towards Mindondelu.”
“It would seem so, yes. I’ve just come from telling your soup-eating city council about it. Merlin knows what they’ll actually do about it.”
“Probably nothing until they absolutely have to, that’s more or less how they run things here. But I know what you’re thinking,” he raised an amused eyebrow at the indignant expression now on her face, ‘And they aren’t negligent, just a bit lazy, as politicians are apt to become when they govern a city that’s been at peace with all its neighbors for the better part of a century.”
He leaned across the table and took her hand, “I know you’re an impatient little thing, Elf, but the last time Mindondelu rushed forward to deter invaders we were rushing into the beginning of The Great War. Any elder worth his or her salt is right to be cautious, lest they start another horrific slaughter.”
“I suppose… I just… I just wish people could make the right decisions quickly, that’s all.”
Mt. Gorit laughed, “Oh, don’t we all, Elf, don’t we all!” Ms. Gorit came bustling back into the room with three plates and a delicious looking blueberry pie, “Do you have any idea how long it took me to decide to propose to Bertha, here? Almost a full year!”
“It took you fifteen months you great lump,” she retorted cheerfully, placing two generous pieces of pie in front of Eryn and her husband, “I was almost tempted to propose to you myself!”
They all laughed, and then tucked into their respective slices. The pie, as always in the Gorit household, was delicious, and Eryn found herself forcefully ignoring the protests of her already-crammed stomach in order to savor every last tangy bite.
“By the way,” Eryn finished chewing her final mouthful of pie before continuing, “I forgot to ask earlier, but, how’s Drystan? Is he still working up at the mill?”
Ms. Gorit froze, spoon halfway to her mouth, while Mr. Gorit slowly lowered his back to his plate. The air suddenly felt thick and awkward, and Eryn found herself wishing—for one of the few times in her life—that she’d kept her mouth shut. Clearly the subject of their only son and her childhood playmate had become a sensitive subject.
Mr. Gorit cleared his throat uncomfortably, “We don’t know how he is, Eryn, we don’t even actually know where he is… he…er… he’s been missing for the better part of a year now.”
Eryn was shocked, ‘What? How? I mean, was he travelling somewhere, or…?”
A shake of the head, “No, no, he was just… just walking home from the mill. They all saw him leave, and Mrs. Bryant swore blind she saw him walking past her cottage on the edge of the woods up by the creek. But he never made it here.”
“And he couldn’t have gotten lost,” added Ms. Gorit, “He knew that wood like the back of his hand did our Drystan.”
Eryn had to admit that was true. When they’d been younger, she’d learnt all the best hiding spots in the woods from him.
“So, what could have happened?” she asked.
Mr. Gorit shrugged sadly, “We don’t know. We honestly don’t know… the whole village got together and went out looking for him… four days we all searched…but he’d vanished. Completely vanished… I just hope that whatever it was happened he’s come through alright… that he’s safe and sound somewhere…”
Ms. Gorit started to cry.
“I’m sorry,” said Eryn, getting up quickly to wrap her arms around her adoptive aunt, “I didn’t mean to ruin such a lovely lunch… I just…”
“You weren’t to know, Elf,” Mr. Gorit said kindly, “And we don’t really mind you mentioning him, it’s just we’re… we’re worried about him, is all, and what might have happened.”
After a making a few more apologies—with several more reassurances on Mr. Gorit’s part, and many sodden tissues on Ms. Gorit’s part—Eryn prepared to leave.
“Oh surely you’re not going now, said Ms. Gorit, concern in her voice, “It’s getting dark, surely you can spend the night and head off tomorrow morning?”
Not wishing to distress her dear Aunt Bertha any more than she already had that evening, Eryn put down her satchel and agreed that, yes, she could certainly spend one night sleeping in her old room before traveling back north through the woods to Mottlewood.
After being stuffed with a hearty Gorit-cooked breakfast and getting squashed by tremendously enthusiastic hugs, Eryn left Mindondelu just dafter dawn. It was her favourite part of the day: all the creatures and birds were waking and chattering, the air was chilled and the sun was warm and the damp grass and pine branches smelled wonderful.
She strode past the outlying cottages and farms of Mindondelu, and into the fringes of the southern edges of the Forests of Hadryn. Even one night in the city had been uncomfortable for her, and she was eager to get the three-day journey back to Mottlewood over with as quickly as possible. Mainly, though she wanted to talk to the Elves about Drystan’s disappearance. There wasn’t a single part of the Forests unknown to them. She hoped maybe one of them had heard or seen something that the humans from Mindondelu hadn’t.
Her thoughts were interrupted, however, by a familiarly obnoxious cackling laugh.
Eryn sped up, “Leave me alone Éleglan. I don’t want to deal with you right now.”
“You’re going the wrong way, silly girl. Turn around.”
“Seriously. Go away. Go away and bother someone else.”
“I can’t. You need me.”
“The hell I do Éleglan!” she shouted, “you’re nothing but trouble, I’ve got absolutely no reason to listen to you—you’ll probably just lure me somewhere and try to kill me.”
“Oh no, silly girl, I wouldn’t do that. I need to help you save him.”
Eyrn stopped walking, “What? Who? Who do you have to help me save? What are you talking about Éleglan?”
“It’s simple. I owe my friend a favour. A life debt. He saved my life. Now he’s in trouble. So now I’m going to help you find him, and help you rescue him.”
“Why would I go out of my way to save a friend of yours.. Can’t you rescue him yourself?”
“No.” there was a definite pout to the invisible Nymph’s voice, “And you’re a friend of his as well, although what he ever saw in a thing like you when he could have had me, I never understood. Well, silly human girl? You’re still headed the wrong way, aren’t you going to help your friend?”
Eryn was confused, “What friend? Who? Who are you talking about?”
The nymph clicked her tongue in annoyance, “Drystan Gorit, of course. The human from Mindondelu that the Golems kidnapped and took back with them to their stronghold at Lyenta in the Great Mountains of East Kirtiana.”