“I miss Thissraelle.” Illariel said as she walked along the muddy bank of a stream. She climbed over the root crown of a large tree. I remember chasing the high elf patrols through the forest with her. It was kinda scary, but kinda fun, too.
The snow hadn’t yet melted completely in this part of Umbrawood Forest. It was almost noon, and the air was chilly, but not frigid like the harsh dead of winter had been. The sun streamed down between the canopy of branches, casting a strange matrix of shadows on the travelers and the ground. The smell of dead wet leaves and mossy trunks wafted through the wood.
“I miss her, too.” Eddiwarth mumbled, following behind her.
Parith chimed in from further back, “You do? I wouldn’t have guessed.” Illariel laughed and Parith went on, “It’s not like you don’t ever talk to her.”
“You talk to her? How?” Illariel asked.
While Eddiwarth stepped over a fallen branch, Parith responded, “He’s got this oculus link that they share. Every night before sleep, he settles into his blankets and they ‘think’ at each other. Then we have to listen to him moping and sighing until he finally dozes off.” Illariel glanced back at Eddiwarth with a grin. Parith finished, “He’s like some dreamy little teenage girl.”
Illariel’s face wrinkled and she frowned. “Hey! I’m a little teenage girl, and I don’t mope!” An odd smell drifted past them, and the spider at their side chittered. “Oh, Ari, be quiet. I do not! You just don’t know what it means.”
“Can she actually understand us?” Korr asked. He had been walking ahead of them all.
“Better than she lets on, I think. She’s really smart, especially for only being a year old, or so. She can’t talk, though. No lips.”
“She seems to be a very smart friend. I have never seen anything like her before.” Korr mused. “I feel bad having such a companion carrying our bags like a pack mule, though.”
Illariel slipped over to the spider and scratched her head. “I know, right? But it was her idea. I think most arachins would be really miffed at the notion, but she said she wants to help.” She’s sure helped me. She’s my best friend right now.
Eddiwarth turned to consider the spider as they walked then nodded a bow to her. “Well, thank you, friend. We are well met.”
Ari let out a few chitters and Illariel laughed, shaking her head.
“What?” Eddiwarth’s face flushed, “What’s she saying?”
“She thinks you’re the cute one!” Illariel giggled, “for a hominid, that is.”
They trudged on in silence for a while longer, then stopped to rest on a fallen tree trunk and snack on some of their stored crusts. Eddiwarth offered some to Ari, but Illariel laughed. “She doesn’t eat very often but she catches her own dinner. And it’s not bread.”
“What does she eat?”
“Usually rabbits. Once I saw her snag a bird off a branch with her webs. It was so… amazing! But then, watching her eat it was kinda… weird.” She sighed. “Oh, well, everyone’s gotta live, right? So, where are we going?”
The three companions looked at each other. “Weren’t you leading us to Treehaven?” Parith asked.
“Treehaven? I was following you!”
Parith shot her an annoyed look while Eddiwarth laughed.
“What? What?” Illariel shrugged. “Well, it’s not like you want to go there anyway.”
Parith took another bite and muffled, “Why not?”
Illariel sat back against the short upturned roots of the trunk. “Everyone there thinks you’re spies, sent from the high elves.”
Illariel rolled her eyes. “I dunno. I guess they think that since you were traveling with high elves, and going to Emberfire, you must be spies. And now that you’re coming back from there, that’ll be even worse.” She tugged her cloak a little tighter against the wind.
“Spies?” Eddiwarth wondered.
Illariel continued, “There have been a lot of fights with high elf patrols in the forest in the last few months. The soldiers and leaders think they’re testing our defenses. Some of them think it was all because of you guys.” She dropped her head and hesitated. “But I know you’re not spies. At least, I hope not. Thissraelle wouldn’t do that to me, would she?”
Eddiwarth reached over and put his hand on her shoulder. “No, she wouldn’t. We wouldn’t. And we’re not spies. Parith just wanted to see his family before we moved on, and we thought Treehaven would be a good resting point. Then we’re off to the southern forest to deliver Korr to his master at the Academy. Finally, we’ll sweep back to Twynne Rivers to find our friends.”
“The southern forest? I’ve always wanted to go there! My teacher says there are so many wonderful herbs and trees and fungus-es there! Can I take you?”
Eddiwarth leaned away, surprised. “Ah… I…” he stuttered, “Won’t’ your family be upset?”
“Probably, but they’ll get over it!” She jumped up, excited. “They’re mostly worried about me here in the northern reaches while there’s high elves all over. No offense to you, but they have been attacking…”
Illariel didn’t even slow down. “I can guide you! We should get going right away! Come on!” She started walking into the forest.
“But what about Treehaven?” Parith asked.
“Didn’t you hear me? If you go there, you’ll be arrested. And you’d be chained away like prisoners, not housed like guests, like you were last time. I wouldn’t recommend it.” She made a sweeping gesture with her arm. “Come on!” Ari jumped up beside her, and spun around to face the men. She chittered.
Eddiwarth stood and gestured to Parith and Korr. “Creator bless our steps.”
Parith shrugged in resignation and they all fell in behind her.