Ramune the elder Huntress sat at one of the brown boulders rising above the sea of dewy grass. Her cloak was thick enough to prevent the stone from stealing her warmth; the quiet place she chose seemed perfect for her morning meditation.
Her hair, silvered with old age, looked like wheat under snow; a thick braid of yellow and white strands rested on her shoulder. Her eyes, grey in the dim light, contemplated the play of colours in the morning sky: the crimson flashes of the dawn upon the stormy greyness of the clouds heavy with rain.
The Huntress’s boots, soft-padded for silent walking, glistened with dew as did her mage staff, similar to Sereg’s but lighter, made to her size.
Ramune enjoyed every detail around her, every breath of air, every passing thought. She felt like writing a poem or a song but couldn’t yet catch the idea. She didn’t hurry. Why would she? Vitryaniks cause no trouble in the daytime. Also, catching ideas is like catching butterflies. You do better by sitting still and letting them land on your shoulders that chasing them around. She knew that well.
A sudden appearance of a swarthy boy in the middle of Ramune’s meditation spot took the Huntress by surprise. The intruder, now standing against the gloomy, crimson-patched sky in front of her, wore a grey mage’s cloak but wasn’t one of her brethren; the cold obsidian he wore above the clothes gave him away. Kangassk, her boss’s new apprentice. He removed the cowl and looked at Ramune with his bright, outlandishly green eyes.
“What do you want, Kangassk?” asked Ramune. She decided that calling him by name would be better than referring to his brand new title or humiliating him by calling him “boy” or something like that. Sure, he was just a boy yet, but being chosen by the worldholders does lift a person’s status a bit, doesn’t it?
“Prepare your Hunters to raise the shield in the daytime,” Kangassk said in a hollow voice.
“Why would I? I got no such order,” replied Ramune, giving the Apprentice a suspicious look. He averted his eyes.
“I know,” he said. “It’s not an order. I ask you to believe me: the demon will raise the winds today, soon.”
“How do you know?” There was scorn and a little bit of irritation in the Huntress’s voice now. The strange boy kept her from her poems and meditation with his nonsense, after all.
“I…” he stumbled. “I’m a soothsayer. So I just know.” He lifted his eyes again; there was fear in them. “This message must be also sent to Kossel, Devalla, and Danka. All people must be returned to their homes and all shields must be prepared in advance. Otherwise, everyone will die.”
Kangassk said no more. He turned around on his heels and ran away, leaving Ramune the Huntress alone, puzzled and worried. Suddenly, she wished that boy were worthy of a song or at least a poem…
She didn’t have much time to think about that, though, for in ten minutes her elder, Ragvard the Hunter, called in an emergency council. As the common battlemages were peacefully resting in their tents, patrolling the area, and cooking breakfast, their elders gathered in Ragvard’s tent. There were five segments in the shield the Hunters raised every night, five groups of mages responsible for keeping them up, and five commanders for making the important decisions. Ramune was one of them.
She was the last one to arrive. When she joined the others at the round table, Ragvard declared the council open.
“I gather, the Apprentice has paid every one of you a visit, right?” he said. The other four Hunters nodded. “I tried to contact Sereg or Vlada to verify the information but couldn’t reach them. That means we will have to make our own decision on the matter. What say you, sisters and brothers?”
“I say that the little soothsayer didn’t lie. His cold obsidian must’ve told him something,” said Ramune, recalling the genuine fear in the boy’s eyes. “We can’t ignore such a warning.”
“And where is he now?” asked Harald, the third segment’s commander, angrily. “Did he just put chestnuts in the fire and ran away? What kind of game is he playing at?”
“He has no right to give us orders! And I don’t care if he’s Sereg’s apprentice!” That was Solef, the second segment’s commander. Her face was red with fury.
“All right, I heard you all. Now, listen to me.” Vestren the Hunter raised his thin, wiry hand. “Just imagine for a moment that the boy is right.” The simple phrase said by the old man in a weak voice made everyone in the tent hush up. “I was the last Hunter who spoke to the Apprentice, his last chance, his only hope. He told me everything. I know what game he is playing at, Harald. And I think it’s time we step on our pride’s throat, Solef. As to the worldholders, we have no time to wait for their opinion on the situation, right, Ragvard?” He met the chief commander’s eyes.
Vestren stood up to his full height.
“Never before have I used the Elder’s Right but this is what I’m going to do now,” he said. “By the Elder’s Right, I temporarily suspend you from your duties, Ragvard, and assume full control of the magical defences of the perimeter. I will hold full responsibility for my actions. If our little Kan is wrong, I will answer for everything I did to Sereg the Grey Inquisitor. By the Elder’s Right, I order you to prepare the magical shield and contact the grey camps of Danka, Kossel, and Devalla so they would do the same. I want every civilian to be returned to their home by the noon. Send patrols to the forest and to the fields to search for stragglers but don’t send anyone to the unnamed rivulet. Proceed.”
Shocked by the unexpected turn on events, the commanders walked out of the tent leaving Vestren alone. The frail old mage hunched over the empty table. He had never thought of himself as a brave man, a reckless man, yet here he was, ready to confront the northern lord himself.
After a while, Ramune paid him a visit.
“Master Vestren, I just wanted you to know: I’m with you, always,” she said in a whisper, took his hands in hers and looked him in the eye.
“As always, child, as always…” he smiled. “Do you want to know what the boy is up to?”
“Yes. You can trust me with any secret, master.”
“He wants to exile the vitryanik and save the host’s life at the same time. He is risking his own life there… He was so scared, so desperate when he came to me. He told me everything. How could I betray his trust? I promised to help.”
“Then I was right about him, master Vestren,” Ramune beamed; as she did so, for a brief moment, the old Hunter saw her as a young girl again, his apprentice. “That boy, he is worthy of a song! I wish him luck with all my heart.”
“Yes, he is worthy of a song, that boy,” Vestren gently stroked his former apprentice’s grey hair. “Whether he wins or loses, whether he lives or dies today, he is worthy of a song. Come, child. Let us do our part. Little Kan needs all the help he can get.”