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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Fantasy · #1761342
Everything had gone horribly wrong. Now Elena was dead.
Chapter One: Elena.

         Sevastian desperately wished he could wash the blood off his hands. It had been hours since they got back to the caravan, but they had been told to wait. He sat on an upturned log outside the large communal tent next to his brother, Kazimir. Both of the young men were in rough shape. They were covered in dirt and blood. Their green and brown clothing was torn and ragged. There were trails of pale skin washed clean by tears on Sevastian's face.

         He stared directly ahead, not seeing anything. People were inside the tent. He could hear them. He could hear his mother crying. He could hear his father's raised voice. He could hear the Wayfinder's stern, unwavering tone. He couldn't make out the words. It had all gone so wrong.

         It was all his fault.

         Next to him Kazimir held his head in his hands, elbows upon his knees. Kazimir was bigger than Sevastian, taller and broader through the shoulders. Kazimir's shirt had been removed to let someone stitch up the wound in his side. Sevastian had known who that someone was, but he couldn't put a name to them. Something told him that was wrong. He knew all the people of his caravan. He should know the one who tended his brothers wounds. He should know the someone that was covering his sister's body with a sheet.

         Maybe this was a dream. Maybe he would wake up and Elena would be in the kitchen helping Mother prepare breakfast. This wasn't a dream though. Dreams did not hurt like this.

         With a start, Sevastian realized someone was standing in front of him trying to get his attention. Wayfinder Danov reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. Sevastian flinched and looked up, caught the Wayfinder's eyes and quickly looked away.

         "Son, tell me what happened. I've heard what you told your father, but I'd like to hear it from you." The Wayfinder's voice was gentle, comforting. Sevastian tried to speak, but no sound came out. Kazimir managed it better.

         "Sir, we thought we could help. Those bandits that beat up Petr and Ruslan, they stole some things and we... we thought we could get them back." Kazimir finished weakly.

         "Why? We've been robbed before. Petr and Ruslan were a bit bruised, but nothing serious. Why would you go out in the dead of night hunting dangerous men? Why was Elena there at all?"

         "She followed us." Sevastian said. "We didn't know who was there until we found the bandits' camp. They must have heard us telling her to go back." His voice was wooden, as if he had no emotion left.

         Wayfinder Danov frowned, but said delicately "Then what happened?"

         "The one they had on watch yelled and woke the others. There were four of them, but had our bows. Only two made it to us... it's all a blur, I just remember bodies. We turned around and there was a fifth man, and he had a knife to Elena's throat." Sevastian's voice broke and deserted him again. 

         "We... We weren't fast enough." Kazimir whispered through clenched teeth.

         Sevastian looked up and saw his Father, jaw set and eyes hard enough to make stones seem soft. He could not hold that gaze. That gaze held such profound rage and disappointment that it nearly broke Sevastian.

         The Wayfinder's voice turned to steel, "You attacked them? You killed five men? You know that is not our way."

         Kazimir looked up at that, his eyes burned with sudden defiance. "They killed our sister. They would have killed us. The Way allows us to defend ourselves."

         Wayfinder Danov leveled a finger of righteous condemnation at the young men. "You went after them. If you had stayed with the wagons your sister would still be alive. It was your action that instigated this.  The Way is clear, we are to take all possible action to avoid conflict and only defend ourselves with deadly force as a last resort. You are to blame for this, both of you."

         Kazimir was on his feet before anyone could react and his fist caught the Wayfinder square in the jaw. Sevastian stared in numb shock as their Father moved quickly to grab Kazimir by the arms and keep him from further violence. "Have you lost your mind, son? Sit down." There was command in that voice. The kind of command that only comes from father to son.

         The younger man twisted in his father's grip. Sevastian wondered if his brother had indeed lost his mind. After a moment, Kazimir nodded to himself and sat back down. Wayfinder Danov was getting back on his feet and brushing himself off. "I may have earned that. Nonetheless, you have broken our laws and one of our people is dead because of it. I'll be meeting with the council to decide what to do about it." He turned to their father, "I'm sorry Andrei, you are too close to this. I can't let you be a part of this meeting. Stay here and comfort your wife." With that, the Wayfinder ducked back into the tent.

         Andrei looked down at his sons and said "Come on back to the wagons, boys, lets get you cleaned up."

         The brothers both stood rigidly and followed. As they walked through the wagons, Sevastian noticed for the first time that a large crowd had formed around them. The whole caravan must have been there. They all stared at him and his brother with horrified expressions. Their stares made Sevastian feel dirty. He could feel their disapproval, their contempt. He focused on the ground in front of him. They had camped in this place for nearly a week now and whatever sparse grass had been here was trampled into the dirt by now.

         It was not far to the wagons shared by the Volar family. Their mother whispered something to their father and slipped into the wagon the two of them shared with Elena. The wagon they used to share with Elena.

         Sevastian looked up at The Mountain looming overhead. The sun was just starting to come out from behind the massive peak. It was nearly noon then. He was tired, he still hadn't slept. He wasn't sure if he would ever sleep again. Mechanically, he pulled off his shirt and tossed it aside. His mind still wasn't working right. He kept thinking about last night, replaying the events in his mind. Try as he might, he could find no way that things could have turned out differently. Unless he and his brother had died out in the night along with Elena.

         He reached for the washbasin and used the rag to wash his face. The water was cold and refreshing. He felt some of the tiredness wash away. The water was a muddy red when he and his brother finished. There had been so much blood. Elena's blood. Elena had been so excited about the other caravan that was meeting them here in another week or so. There would be a dance to celebrate and the young men and women would mingle. Sevastian and Kazimir, at eighteen and twenty years, were old enough that they would be expected to be trying to find wives at these meetings. At thirteen years old, however, Elena would be allowed to take part for the first time. She had been convinced that she would meet some handsome youth and spend the next several years exchanging letters and all manner of romantic nonsense.

         "Sev." Kazimir said, pulling him out of his thoughts. "I'm going to try and get some sleep. You should to. They won't be done for a while yet."

         "I... I can't imagine sleeping after that. How can you?"

         "We'll need our rest."

         "For what? We'll have the funeral tomorrow, Kaz. Then... I don't know what."

         "Use your head, little brother. You know the laws."

         Sevastian stood dumbfounded. He couldn't be serious. They would burn Elena tomorrow and give her ashes to the wandering winds and then things would go back to normal. Kaz and he would go back to work repairing wagons. The Kirill's wagon needed to have that axle replaced before the caravan would be ready to leave, and the Taras' roof needed to be resealed. "There is too much work that needs to be done, we have to stay."

         "Father will have to get along without us. Danov won't bend the law just so we can stay and fix wagons."

         "You're right. I can't think about this right now."

         "It's been a hard day." Kazimir reached out and gave Sevastian's shoulder a squeeze. "Get some sleep, Sev."

         Sevastian nodded and went into the wagon he shared with his brother. He crawled into his bed, but sleep did not come easily.

Chapter 2: Exile.

         There was a knock at the door before Sevastian had slept for more than an hour. Still, after rubbing his eyes and shaking his head to clear it, he felt more alert. He could almost believe that last night really had been a dream. He hurriedly pulled on a shirt. There was not much room to move around the wagon. There were two beds against one of the sidewalls, one atop the other. Along the other wall was a small section drawers containing clothing and various possessions. Most of the space was taken up by a large cabinet that could be opened either inside or outside that held all the tools and many of the materials they used to build and repair the wagons that the Wandering People relied on. The ceiling was low enough that Sevastian could not stand up all the way. The top of the wagon was a covered rack filled with planks of several different types of wood.

         Sevastian tossed one of Kazimir's boots up into the top bunk and was thanked with low mumbled curses as Kazimir climbed out of bed behind him. Sevastian opened the door and stepped out of the wagon into a camp filled with activity.

         The sun was on it's way into the west now, and the shadow of The Mountain had retreated for the day. This section of the camp was filled with carpenters, wainwrights, and other craftsmen. Not far off, a sawmill was set up. It was a cleverly made wagon with collapsible sides that could be packed up and readied for travel in about an hour.  Right now, two men were feeding a good sized cedar log into a blade that moved up and down, powered by several emurocs harnessed to a wheel and walking in circles. The great flightless birds were everywhere in the camp and when they were not pulling the wagons, they were put to work elsewhere. The mechanism that drove the sawmill fascinated Sevastian. His father had designed and built the wagon, and he had a solid grasp on how that worked, but he wished he knew more about the gearing craftsmen had used.

         "You alright, son?" His father's words brought him back to the business at hand.

         Sevastian nodded and moved aside so that Kazimir could get out.

         "Wayfinder just sent word." Their father said. "They are ready for you. I'll go with you. I don't know that I can do much, but maybe I can help somehow." The older man had a defeated look in his eyes. "It's bad enough I lost my daughter last night, its not right if I have to lose my sons to." With that he turned and led the way toward the center of the camp. Sevastian and Kazimir followed in silence, heads held low.

         As they walked, people looked up from their labor. Some of them set aside their work and followed. They made an odd procession through the camp. An older white haired man leading two young men who could only have been his sons, followed by an ever growing crowd of gawking onlookers. When they finally reached the big tent at the center of the camp used for public meetings and other gatherings, there were hundreds of people milling about gossiping and shooting curious and unpleasant looks at the brothers. Sevastian and Kazimir shared a look and a frown for the crowd, the entered the tent when their father pushed aside the flap.

         The inside of the tent was surprisingly large. It was one larger room with a leg-thick pole in the middle for support. Along the walls starting at the door and progressing all around the room and back to the door again were a series of tapestries that depicted the Wandering God's arrival on Aevar, his creation of the cloudstone islands in the sky and all the people and animals upon them. They went on to depict the rise of the Wandering God's children and the war they started. They showed how the Wandering God cast down the cloudstones and sheltered his faithful from The Fall. Sevastian liked the tapestries, they were intricately made and full of interesting details.

         The middle of the room was taken up by two rows of varnished cedar benches with an aisle between them.  At the other end of the room was a well made and very, very old oak table. The Wayfinder sat in the middle, facing the entrance, and five gray haired men sat with him. As Sevastian and Kazimir entered, all six men looked up with near identical frowns on their faces. The brothers walked forward together and stood across the table, backs straight and arms at their sides like old Grigor had taught them in their self defense training. All of the Wandering People had some training in self defense. To seek peace was not to be incapable of defense.

         "Kazimir Volar, Sevastian Volar." It was obvious from the Wayfinder's tone of voice that a decision had been made, and that the young men would not like it. "Your actions last night strayed from the Path. You attacked and killed five men." Sevastian saw his brother's jaw tighten out of the corner of his eye and  hoped Kaz would keep his mouth shut. "As a direct result of your ill conceived actions your sister, Elena Volar, is now dead. The law is clear."

         The Wayfinder paused and shook his head as if he did not want to say the rest. Into the silence, Andrei spoke. "Wayfinder, I must ask you to have mercy on my sons. Poor Alik just lost her only daughter, do not take the rest of her children from her as well."

         Wayfinder Danov's face softened momentarily, but turned back to iron just as quickly. "I cannot, old friend. The law is clear. You would not ask for mercy if they were another man's sons." He turned back to Sevastian and Kazimir. "You must leave the caravan. You will not be welcome among the Wandering People. Word will be spread to the other caravans, so do not try to join them. You must leave before nightfall, or we will have to take more drastic measures."

         Sevastian felt as if he'd been kicked in the gut. He'd known it was coming, of course, but to hear it said aloud was another thing entirely. No one had been exiled from the People in generations. What would they do? Where would they go? His head spun with questions and uncertainty.

         "Go, say your goodbyes, but be gone before dark." With that, the Wayfinder dismissed them and sat silently, waiting for them to leave. Sevastian turned and, seeing his older brother hesitate, but a hand on his shoulder and pulled him along till they were both moving for the door.

         They walked back to their wagons in silence. Even the crowds of onlookers were silent as they passed. Once there, Sevastian went into the wagon to pack. There wasn't enough room for both of them to move around. He didn't have much to bring, just a spare change of cloths, his bow and the quarterstaff his father had made for him. A glint of metal caught at the foot of the bed caught his eye and he bent to examine it. It was bit of smooth shiny metal tied in a braided leather cord, Elena's bracelet. He had given it to her for her name day years ago. She'd been looking for it for days, afraid she'd lost it for good. He'd told her it would turn up eventually. He couldn't help but chuckle mirthlessly. "Looks like it turned up after all."

         He tucked the bracelet into his pack and finished grabbing what items he thought would be useful, a travel blanket, his skinning knife, two water skins, and his tinderbox. He wished he could take his tools with him, but it would be too much to carry, and he may well never have a use for them again. Better to leave them here and hope someone used them to help his father keep up with the work.

         As he exited the wagon, he saw Kazimir talking quietly with Tasha, one of the prettier young women in the caravan, and the daughter of Ruslan, one of the men waylaid by bandits yesterday. They were standing close and talking softly in a way that Sevastian was loath to interrupt. He sneaked out quietly and went to his parents wagon and knocked on the door. His father came out, carrying a small wooden box and closed the door behind him.

         "You ready to go, son?" Andrei was clearly making an effort to make his voice sound casual.

         "I am, Kaz is still packing."

         "I saw Tasha about, your brother probably hasn't even started packing." The laughter was forced.

         "Will you be alright? With the wagons, that is."

         "I'll manage. Marlen said he'd come help out."

         "That's good." Sevastian didn't know what else to say.

         "I want you boys to have this. A while back I did some work for some traders, they paid me with these. Never had much use for them, but I figure you can sell them if you end up in a city and need coin."

         Sevastian hadn't even thought about money. The Wandering People didn't use money.  Everyone just traded what they had for what they needed. Sevastian took the box his father held out to him and flipped open the top. Inside was a small pile of gold jewelery, rings and necklaces of different styles and sized, some delicately wrought, others studded with gems. "This is too much, Father."

         "I've no use for any of it. It's been sitting in that box since before you were born. Take it, sell it and use the coin to start a life somewhere. Keep your feet on the ground and your shoulder to the wheel. Work hard and make something of yourself, son. That goes for you too, Kazimir. You two stick together and keep each other out of trouble."

         Kazimir had entered while the older man was talking, his pack slung over his shoulder. He nodded to the older man.

         "Will mother come out? I don't want to leave without saying goodbye." Sevastian said.

         "No, son, I don't think she will. She is taking this hard. Very hard. I tried to get her to come out, but... Well..."

         "She blames us." Kazimir finished.

         Their father nodded sadly. "She loves you boys, but I don't think she's in her right mind right now. You just leave her to me, I'll take care of her, and I'll tell her you said goodbye."

         Both Sevastian and Kazimir looked at the ground, unsure what to do next. They embraced their father briefly, then turned and walked away toward the outskirts of the camp.
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