DC/RH BK II, CH 30: Hazel Eyes, Dark Truths

Chapter Thirty: Hazel Eyes, Dark Truths

A river in the sky. For the first time since they stepped into the dungeon, Ulak felt like he was truly in a faerie land. He hadn’t seen sights like this since that time they were forced to take a shortcut, a path through the faerie realms, just so they could catch up with their quarry. Except, that place had been slightly more unbelievable with its dancing trees and pink elephants, but the same wonder that struck him then came on him now. 

Imagine it, mountains in the sky. A river between them like a road in the sky. A waterfall that discharged its waters so high that the water turned to mist long before it hit the ground, and more birds than were healthy. It was like a painting, but then again, everything in this dungeon looked like something out of legend. 

Though the dwarven general was far from being beset by the sky fear that struck some of the deep born, he grew queasy as he stared at the floating sights. 

‘We are going to have to fly up there, aren’t we?’ he realised.   

Bringing his thoughts closer to the ground, he approached his friend, a question burning on his lips.

“Any reason why the boy is acting like his Da doesn’t exist?” Ulak asked Thorn, keeping his voice low. 

His old friend stiffened in an endearingly familiar way, reminding him of the time he found him hiding in a barrel after all the milk in the caravan spontaneously curdled. If he had a mind to, he’d chuckle. So much had changed, and still, some things remained the same. Truthfully, when he heard about Thorn’s metamorphosis, he grew concerned. Fae handled promotions differently. Sparing a glance at once-sprite’s new size and features and then dragging his eyes over to the not-phoenix flying ahead of them, he nodded silently to himself. Very differently. 

It was a relief to find that not much had changed. He carried himself with more purpose, with an assurance that came with his newfound power and authority. It was a far cry from the faerie he remembered, the one afraid of his powers. Ulak liked it. But he was also harder, tempered by his experiences. Not so different there. The old Thorn always looked a hairsbreadth from lashing out. This one looked much the same. Only the dark light in his eyes made it clear that he would do so happily, enjoying it with glee. Different flavours of the same thing. 

Then again, Thorn had straddled the seelie-unseelie divide for so long it seemed like forever, and he had been so worried about his options. So desperate to preserve some aspect of the light he once held that he often failed to see the good he did. The things that would never have been possible if he was a regular wee sprite. In the end… Again, Ulak would laugh if he had half a mind to and if it was not so insulting to his friend’s efforts. However, to take so many meandering routes through the mountain only to end up in the same cavern you tried so hard to avoid? The irony of that was not lost on him.

 “It is complicated”, the dungeon knight began, struggling with his words. 

“Hazel left home to chase his fortune”, he explained. “Back then, our commune would get visitors every so often, missives offering me chances to serve at court or invites to go on hunts with greater fae who wanted to be at the height of the season by having a hero in their retinue. I would always refuse. He never understood my desire for obscurity, and I could never explain it to him to his satisfaction.”

Ulak nodded but said nothing, seeing where the story was going. 

“Eventually, he left. He wanted more than the life we had to offer. Hazel wanted his own legend. He wanted to be me!” Thorn forced out. 

“I see!” he didn’t, but he wanted to keep the conversation going. 

“His mother and I woke up one day to find that he had left with one of the messengers, off to prove himself to some faerie all too happy to have, if not Thorn Clearwing, then his son.”

“What happened?” the dwarf asked, shooting his fiercest glare at the druid. He thought he was so bright, creeping over slowly to eavesdrop on their conversation. 

“To this day, I do not know”, the dark fae admitted. “All I know was contained in the letter that arrived with Echo. Hazel wrote that the child’s mother had passed, so he needed someone to take him. The rest of the letter went on to say that he had been offered a post with a greater fae and that things were looking up. We sent messages after him, but after a few exchanges, he cut us off. We have heard neither chirp nor peep from him in decades.” 

“Ah!” this Ulak understood. He shot another look at the fiery faerie chatting with his grandchildren. “The boy knows this, does he?”

Thorn nodded. “Echo was young, too young to understand what had happened but not so young he cannot remember. It left its mark.”

As well it would. Ulak stared at his grandchildren. He couldn’t imagine it, feeling that unwanted, nor could he stomach the thought of letting his grandchildren grow with such a burden. He wondered what he would do if were him. A small turn let him see the huntsman where he walked on the outskirts of the group. He had half a mind to go over and drag him over to explain himself. He didn’t. This was Thorn’s business, so he’d wait until he was asked, but he was sure to keep an eye on him from now. 

A loud cry rent the air as the biggest eagle Ulak had ever seen flew overhead, diving at something in the distance. The thing had to be five metres tall with a wingspan so wide it seemed to fill his sight. It was at least 12 metres wide by his reckoning, and the gale that followed in its wake had everyone seeking something to grab on to lest they be thrown by the buffeting winds. 

“Atur! Sybeatr! Are you okay?” he yelled once the danger passed, eyes locked onto the head of their procession.

Before he could get an answer, a second shrill call rent the air as the eagle rose back into the air with not one but two huge elk caught helplessly in its talons. Its eyes seemed to survey the area before coming to rest on their little party before dismissing them and flying away. If asked, Ulak would deny it, but right then, with the creature’s eyes on them and caught in the open plains, the old dwarf had never felt more like a mouse in his life. The primal fear that gripped him came and went so quickly that only the goosebumps on his skin remained as evidence of its existence. 

“By the spirits!” the druid exclaimed. 

Close by, he heard Umur, chief of his guard, curse in dwarvish. He agreed. Things like this were why their people lived underground. 

Author’s Note:

Ulak is often half a mind, isn’t he?

Humans have certain primal fears, alarm bells that go off in our minds when confronted with things that greatly affected the survival of our ancestors. Snakes and spiders are among such fears, and that’s why we instinctively notice them when they are around, even when our minds haven’t caught on to that fact yet. However, so too are birds since they preyed on our evolutionary ancestors. The only reason they still don’t hunt us is due to the disparity in our weights. Even so, golden eagles are believed to snatch and carry off young children when opportunity strikes. 

If you’ve ever seen a video of an eagle snatching a monkey/ape from the trees, you’d understand why myths of predatory birds carrying off people exist in every single culture in the world. 

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