Nightvoid Chapter 3: A Spy on the River Orso

Nightvoid Chapter 3: A Spy on the River Orso
Photo by Tengyart / Unsplash

The bed was warm and soft. A little cove of protection against the threat of wakefulness. It was a losing battle, but it was one Elwyn was determined to fight to the very end.

The sound of a door closing jogged Elwyn’s eyes open for a moment. A glance about the room revealed that every other bed was empty. The sun was brightly shining through the unshuttered window. A beam climbed down towards his bed as the sun rose. Elwyn lifted the blanket up over his head, and closed his eyes again. Sleep had won the skirmish.

In the end, the deciding blow was struck as the door banged open and the blanket was ripped off of him.

“Elwyn!” Mother stood over him, arms crossed. “What are you still doing here? Your father already woke you. Up, now!” She grabbed him by the breast of his shirt, and hoisted him up to his feet. “Off to work with you!”

“I’m too tired. Please, mom, can I sleep?” He put on his best pout.

Mother placed her hands on her hips and raised a hostile eyebrow.

“Your father is working. You are not. See the problem with this arrangement?”

Truth be told, he did see the problem. But the thought of getting up and helping Father with the animals made all his aches from the night before feel sore.

“I… I can’t.” It was a weak attempt, but it was all he could think to say. He didn’t want to get up, and he didn't want to work with Father.

“Well,” Mother said softly, “I need you to try.”

She pushed him out the door, and into the summer sun.

Elwyn crawled through the tall grass in a place he was certain Father wouldn’t look. He didn’t think of it as hiding, but more as exploration. He wasn’t running from work. He was just thinking and playing games.

Mother had asked him to try, and he had.

“Clear out the stables,” Father had said, handing him a pitchfork. The pitchfork was one of the heavy ones.

“Dad?” He’d asked, “can I use the small one instead?”

It had been broken, apparently due to his own foolishness. He’d left it out when he’d snuck away the day before, and it had been walked over by cattle. The head of the pitchfork had been bent out of any kind of useful shape.

So this time, he’d been sure to leave the tool upright in the stall when he had found the work too hard, and abandoned it.

He didn’t feel he could go back to that secret place between the outhouse and the compost pile. Didn’t feel right yet. So, through no small amount of trial and error, he found the perfect place to spy on people.

They weren’t important people, like kings and generals making battle plans, but they were what he had. And he could imagine they were anything.

The river Orso was a fast-flowing river, but it pooled in places near the Halgyr. Nearby were rocks that grew hot in the sun, making it the perfect place to wash clothing. The townswomen gathered here to wash. And more importantly, to gossip.

Not that Elwyn could have heard any such gossip from his hiding place. But it helped him to feel that he really was gathering information to bring back to his masters.

Among the women, Elwyn spotted Tyarsa, the miller’s daughter. She had a gentle face. She was older than Elwyn, though he wasn’t sure how much older. Tyarsa was nice to him. She even seemed to like him most days, unlike his friends.

He snuck down to where he could speak to her.

Despite the loud conversation around her, she seemed as focused as if she were alone. It was easy for him to sneak up close behind her in the tall grass. He was close enough he could smell her sweat. He reached out a hand and gently tapped her shoulder.

Tyarsa only waved her hand as if shooing away a fly.

She had not looked away from her work.

Elwyn smiled, and tried not to laugh as an idea came to him. He stepped as silently as churchmouse onto the rock she was seated on, and whispered softly into her ear.

“Run.”

She whirled, knocking Elwyn backward into the water.

Elwyn stood, laughing.

He saw her fear turn to anger, he fell back into the water laughing even harder.

When Tyarsa pulled him up onto his feet she was laughing too.

“You scared me!” She said punching him in the shoulder. It did not hurt. They were laughing too hard for that. “I thought you were an evil spirit.”

She paused a moment, eyes flicking down at her skirt, which she had hiked up in order to work without getting it wet. She blushed, and straightened it.

This was one thing Elwyn had yet to understand about girls. They were always so careful not to get dirty when they played in the dirt, not to let their clothes get at all ruffled.

But Tyarsa was not like other girls. He could talk to her.

“I’ve been spying. Come on!” He jumped out of the water, pulling her with him.

They played a game that was a favorite of Elwyn’s. He was Exilis, the legendary hero from the Northland wars, ancestor to the current king, Dorith. Elwyn didn't know much about Dorith, except that Father called him a good king. Elwyn knew that the king was very old, but that was about the extent of his knowledge of the man. To Elwyn, all that mattered about him was that he proved the stories of Exilis to be true. He was willing to argue the point with anyone who denied it, if only in his own mind.

Elwyn played the part of Exilis a lot in the days that followed. In those times, he held a sword of shimmering yellow.

The games were always great fun, and Tyarsa was a good partner in them. As she went home, Elwyn realized how hungry he was, and began to regret how he’d spent his day.

Moon high, higher than it had been last night, and just a little bit fuller, Elwyn pushed open the front door, and stepped out from under the watchful gaze of the moon. Inside was warm, and smelled like dinner.

A lump formed in his throat as he thought of the work unfinished. It would mean he couldn’t partake of dinner, just like the last time.

He didn’t even try to get something, though his stomach revolted as he walked, quick as he could will his feet to go, to his bed. He was so hungry it hurt, but facing Father and being sent away would be worse.

It was often like that. Elwyn, coming in from the cold, tired and hungry, being sent to his room by Father. Most often, Mother came in next, to try and talk to him.

He could hear them talking in the next room, about him. Their words were little more than murmurs, but he could feel the meaning in them. Like fire and hissing steam, the two argued fast and hot. Then Mother was next to his bed.

“Elwyn?” her voice was full of forgiveness. “Why don’t you come eat?”

Elwyn gave no sign he heard her. The covers were pulled up over his ear, his back toward her. If he weren’t so hungry, he might have pretended to sleep. Instead, he pretended he hadn’t noticed her.

The bed sagged in the middle as she sat on the edge of it. Her hand caressed his head, straightening his hair with her fingers.

The empty place inside turned red hot. His eyes burned with tears. He needed her. He wanted more than anything. But he couldn’t make himself turn toward her. Mother would see his face, and the tears. She would try to make it better. And he would feel better, at least for a little while. And then he would go with her to face the dragon. But he would have to let go of the red hot empty place.

Elwyn lay still until Mother relented. As he lay alone in the dark, accompanied by only the chirp of insects outside and the hushed conversation of his posts in the next room, his mind wandered far. Like a hungry beggar lost in a place unknown to him. Hunger was a familiar pain, only for Elwyn, it was not a hunger of desperation. If he would only apologize, it would end. But hunger was a familiar pain, and it was one he knew he could handle, even if the smell of food made him regret the choice.

He cried in silence until he finally slept.

When he woke, his arms were still clutched around his waist as if to protect himself from the pain.

Jordan Hawes

Jordan Hawes

Spokane, WA