Junea pulled the reigns of Ceanol sharply, bringing her to a halt.
“Why did you stop?” Kanek asked, pulling up next to Junea. Garne, his horse, stamped impatiently. He was an old racing horse, and he hated standing still for more than a moment at a time.
“Do you hear that?” Junea asked.
Kanek cocked his head to one side.
“What?” he asked, “I can only hear the birds signing and the monkeys-“
“There is no sound of Ine,” he said, horrified.
Junea kicked Ceanol forward. Kanek followed with haste.
They tore through the forest, dodging low hanging branches and trees as they went. It was in times like this that Junea was grateful for Caenol’s Inetru heritage. She never put a foot wrong through the murky and dense undergrowth.
As they got closer to Ine, the River’s roar echoed through the trees. But that sound should have been accompanied by a vibrant town. Ine, name after the River it surrounded, had the one crossing between the Trynach territories and the Forest of the Dead. Trynach had been trying for years to destroy it, ignoring the cries from the other states that cited the old legends – the ones that said if they cut off the Forest of the Dead they would incur the wrath of the Guardians.
Maybe the Trynach knew that it was only Junea and Kanek left of the Guardians, not the armies of legend. Maybe they knew the magic had been faltering in the past year, seeping back into the ground as the violence between men erupted into war.
The stench of death on the air caught Junea unexpectedly. She threw up a small ward, small enough to alert anyone scrying the area to know where she was, but enough to stop the smell. She didn’t want to throw up over Caenol’s mane.
“Gods of the Forest,” she whispered as Caenol trotted out of the forest line.
In front of her the charred remains of Ine spread out for miles. Where buildings had one stood, only blackened posts stuck out of the earth. The smell was worse now, bleeding around the edges of her ward. The wind was blowing the smell up stream towards them. Junea forced herself to stay focussed.
“Who did this?” Kanek whispered. Junea felt the anger in his voice. He was the first Guardian for one hundred years, he had yet to bloody his sword. He was eager for battle to protect the Forests.
Junea was not so eager. She had seen this before. The Trynach advance across the Ine. They had done this three hundred years ago, when Junea had just been raised to a Guardian herself. But then, there had been hundreds of them standing with her on the backs of the Ine, thirsty for revenge.
Now, there was just her. All that remained after the Trynach massacre.
“The Trynach,” she whispered, gently edging Caenol forward, “we need to find survivors first-”
“But the Trynach,” Kanek said.
“Will wait,” Junea said. She would not make the same mistake as her forebears. She would look for survivors first. She would save those she could save.
Then she would seek revenge.
Then we will cross the Ine, she thought, looking across the River, and in doing so, start a war.
Featured Image by Alice Hampson on Unsplash
First Posted in 2020.