As we approached the gates of Haven, it was clear to me that things were not all right. Movement along the tops of the walls reminded me of insect hives on a hot day. Yet we passed through the gates into the grounds with relative ease. One look at the wounded and unconscious Tobus, and the guards were waving us through. A young guard was instructed to go with us. He jumped onto the wagon and showed us where to take Tobus.
For me very little had changed. It had been nearly two years since I had last returned to the Haven, and yet everything felt like I had seen it just yesterday. We wound the streets I knew, and I let the young guard point the way. As we approached the establishment of the apothecary, the young guard jumped off and rushed inside so that as we came to a stop, there were aids clambering to take Tobus inside.
As I climbed down from the wagon, a familiar voice called to me.
I turned to see the familiar face of Talish, Haven’s Master Healer. Her silvery hair reflected the sun, and the wrinkles only made her smile all the more brighter. Her whole face shone with happy warmth and we embraced.
“What have you been up to? You return after two years and bring that poor young boy to me.”
“His name is Tobus, and he may have saved our lives. There was trouble on the roads. If it was not for Tobus and Graciul here, I may not have made it at all.”
Talish’s expression hardened slightly. “There is trouble everywhere it seems, but I am not the one to speak to it. No doubt you will be looked for at the Academy. I will oversee the boy’s healing. You should join the others.”
I nodded. “I shall. Thank you.”
She bade me farewell as I turned to join Graciul at the wagon.
We made our way to the Academy stables and I left Graciul to watch over the horses. The grounds of the Academy were noticeably quieter than the streets beyond which was not unusual. Memories of my years of study played through my mind as I walked the familiar corridors towards the main hall. Young acolytes could be seen wandering also, and I began to wonder where my academy-day friends were now.
The large doors to the main hall were open and as I approached I could hear many voices within. As I set foot within the threshold of the hall however, they quickly died and I felt the sudden attention of all within. My eyes, still adjusting to the change in light, couldn’t make out any faces. All I could see was a crowd of eyes watching me. My discomfort was eased when someone called me by my common name.
“Juth!” Billtak, a co-student to me, pushed his lithe figure through the others. “It is about time you got here.” He greeted me with the customary embrace.
“It is good to see you too, but what do you mean by it is about time?”
“We were all sent for nearly a half Mena cycle ago.” Mena was the name of the night sun and that meant runners had been sent over ten days previous, yet I had never received any and stated as much. This revelation sent a murmur through the others in the hall entrance, and Billtak looked as concerned as I suddenly felt. Thoughts of my journey here flooding back to my mind left me feeling cold. Billtak grabbed my shoulders and escorted me softly back, out of the hall.
“Then you would not have heard. There has been numerous reports of trouble from a number of villages. Disappearances and gangs causing disruption.”
“Yes, that is why I have come. I have witnessed these disappearances and gangs myself.”
Billtak faced me. “How recently?”
“It started several months ago, about 4 cycles I think, with what most simply took as run-aways. After the third, I had suggested that the Haven should be consulted, but the prefect felt it was a village matter. Two nights ago however, one of the missing returned to me. She begged me to walk her thoughts. Also, on the way here, another of the missing was a part of a gang that set upon us, yet he helped us and was injured as a result.”
“Then you know more than most, but you would not have heard about Master Rieng.” He led me further away from the hall careful of his surroundings. Two young acolytes walked past and he waited until they were beyond hearing. “Master Rieng encountered the same as you and had informed Haven of the disappearances and gangs. I am not clear on all the details other than it appears that matters there deteriorated further with villagers turning on each other. Almost two full cycles ago, we received news that Master Rieng was dead, killed while trying to stop a clash in the village. Less than eight days later, word was received that the village had been burnt to the ground.”
A sense of dread fell through me and I felt my knees quiver. Rieng was a friend and student in my academy days, and he was highly skilled in his services. To now think of him as dead was hard to comprehend. Then to contemplate the destruction of a whole village was inconceivable. I had flashes of all the people whom I had helped and made friends with, and I began to feel queasy. I leaned on a nearby column trying to breath deeply. I felt Billtak rest a hand on my shoulder.
“I am sorry to be the one to tell you.”
Then the realisation that I had almost been killed struck a chord of fear in me, and I felt a cold sweat break out across my chest and head. I crumbled to my knees and Billtak struggled to catch me. The world span and wobbled around me, and I felt like I would be sick.
Then I felt a second set of hands pull me up from the floor. Between the two, they dragged me to a nearby room and set me down on a low bench. I looked up to find myself looking into all too familiar eyes.
“Hey there little Juth.” She said.
I could but utter one word. “Mum.”