The Dark Times; Part 12
Having slept with one eye open, Aituár got up as soon as the black darkness started shifting into a grey dusk. She squatted by the water's edge and washed her hands and face before pulling out the leather pouch from inside her tunic. Opening it, she noticed that the dragonling was already awake, sniffing curiously, nostrils widened.
'Good morning, Déomarr!' she whispered.
Carefully Aituár put the pouch down on the ground, watching Déomarr crawl out, while she digged in her shoulder bag for the jar of honey. Unscrewing the cork of her water flask, she filled it with honey and placed it on the ground in front of the dragonling. Déomarr seemed to have no trouble recognizing it as food by now, and eagerly started lapping honey.
Meanwhile, Aituár carved a long, slim string of leather from the shoulder strap of her bag, intending to make a collar for Déomarr. It turned out as a harness instead, after much struggling and wriggling to get it on the dragonling, who seemed very annoyed. It soon calmed down however, when she cuddled it. After having rinsed the cork, Aituár filled it again, with water this time. The dragonling stuck its long, thin snout into it, but did not seem to be very thirsty. Instead it amused itself by blowing bubbles in the water.
Suddenly Aituár stiffened, having a feeling of being watched. As she turned around, she discovered that Wotan had arrived and was standing right behind her, winking at her with is only eye.
'Early bird, eh?' he said, smiling at the dragonling playing with the water.
'Make yourself ready - me will go and wake up the others!'
Hastily Aituár stuffed away the flask and the jar, turned the leather pouch inside out and emptied it of what was left of the thistle. Déomarr was most unwilling to return into it, until she cut a thin slice from an apple and placed it inside. Sniffing greedily, the dragonling dived into the pouch after it. Aituár quickly closed the pouch and tucked it inside her tunic, hoping that the apple slice would be enough to keep the dragonling busy until it fell asleep.
She returned to the others and joined them in a frugal breakfast. The children seemed to have taken a liking to Wotan, and were happily chatting with him, fascinated by the two black ravens riding on his shoulder. Aituár shot him a glance when she thought he was not looking - instead, it was one of the ravens who turned and stared intently back at her. Lowering her eyes, Aituár was wondering yet again who he might be, and if he could be trusted.
'Time to go!' boomed Wotan, and disappeared. Hastily, they packed what was left of the food and followed him.
It seemed to Aituár that they were travelling eastwards, and it felt reassuring though also slightly worrying to see that Wotan chose to walk beside the path rather than on it. Every now and then he would send his ravens ahead, and as they returned they landed on his shoulder and seemed to be whispering into his ear.
At one point, Wotan pulled back further away from the path, instructing the others to lie down flat underneath some bushes - not a moment too soon it seemed, because the twigs had barely stopped swaying when they heard hoof beats approaching.
The sound stopped quite abruptly, and Aituár was horrified when she felt the now familiar black, cold darkness reaching out for her mind. She closed her eyes, held her breath, and touched the leather pouch gently with her finger tips while trying her best to sink down into the ground.
The bushes swayed and twigs cracked as Wotan rose and bellowed 'Who goes there?!'
For some reason, this seemed to disturb the horseman, and Aituár could feel the darkness pulling back, and suddenly the hoof beats thundered down the path into the distance.
'We must hurry - come!' urged Wotan, and set such a furious pace that the children had to run to keep up with him.
It was not until midday that they reached the village Wotan had talked of. The first thing they saw was an imposing wooden palisade, stretching to the left and the right for as far as they could see. As they approached the gate, a harsh voice shouted 'Halt! Who goes there?'
'Wotan, with some fugitives seeking shelter!'
A small hatch opened in the gate, and someone seemed to be examining them.
'Come on - open up!' bellowed Wotan, banging with his fist on the gate so hard that it shook. This seemed to have the desired effect, because the gate was opened in a hurry, and Wotan quickly ushered the others inside before it closed behind them.
Surprised, Aituár stopped and looked at the scene in front of her, as did the others. The village was bustling with activities; it seemed to be market day and the village square was filled with stands, children ran around chasing each other, groups of soldiers hurried past, farmers' wives gossiped around the village well, and a small crowd of curious villagers started assembling around them.
'Make way, make way!' bellowed Wotan, pushing his way through the crowd, urging the others to follow. Ahead of them lay the village church, and it was for a big building right next to it that Wotan was heading.
'There is a small monastery here, and they have a guest house where you can stay!' said Wotan over his shoulder.
It seemed their arrival had been expected, and soon Aituár found herself alone in a small room, sparsely equipped. It had a bed, a chair, a small desk, a wash basin in a corner and a narrow window overlooking what seemed to be a garden. After making sure that the door was locked, she sank down on the bed, feeling exhausted.
'I will just lie down for a moment and rest' she thought, but as soon as her head hit the pillow she promptly fell asleep.
Who is this Wotan?
How did he know where to find them?
And how did he know about the egg?
Will Aituár manage to keep Déomarr a secret?