Home > Fireblood (Whispers from Mirrowen #1)(4)

Fireblood (Whispers from Mirrowen #1)(4)
Jeff Wheeler

A Druidecht was always welcome in a hut, no matter how small, and he was given the best portion of meat or a heaping bowl of vegetables and broth. He was revered because of his knowledge of the world and its many unseen inhabitants. The knowledge of the Druidecht was secret and only passed along from one to another, without books or written words, and Annon hungered to learn it all. He secretly hoped that by doing so, he would finally learn to control his anger.

Anger was a part of his life, like his walking staff, the dagger in the sheath at his belt, and his hands. Especially his hands. It was anger that made them tingle with heat. He had much to be angry about. The King of Wayland was a fool, and his reckless laws endangered the woodlands, threatening the creatures that lived there—secretly, dangerously. Lumber was needed to build his cities. Chalk from hills and sand from the rivers were removed, damaging the spirits that hid there. The creatures retaliated, of course, causing bizarre accidents amidst the workers. Some of the accidents were fatal. Deliberately so. The Waylanders were a superstitious people, yet they never learned to read the mood of the spirits in the shift of the winds. They never seemed to know when they had gone too far.

Annon ducked beneath a low-hanging maple branch and increased his stride, walking briskly through the woods and trying to make it to the hovel before the sun set. Dame Nestra would have baked fresh bread that day, and he longed for a slice drizzled with white honey. Her husband was a woodcutter; Annon had taught him which trees were safe and which were sacred—and how he could tell them apart. He was not wealthy because he was selective in his trade, but his lack of riches was balanced by the lack of harm and accidents in his work. Their little hovel was a haven, and they did not even realize it. But how could they? Only the Druidecht held the knowledge. Only another Druidecht could be taught about Mirrowen.

Light drained from the sky, showing small tufts of clouds that promised a balmy summer’s eve. He smoothed the hair from his forehead and watched the signs of life surrounding him. Not just the dragonflies and the ravens, or the nervous gaze of a doe and her young. No, the woods were full of spirits as well, and they could not be seen unless one knew what to look for or unless one had been touched by them. They lived in an invisible realm called Mirrowen. It was in the world, but it could not be seen. Glimpses of it were fleeting.

Sometimes he had stared long and hard at a sacred oak, stared at it for hours, and in the moment of a half-breath, he saw it. Teasing him. Luring him. Mirrowen. The Druidecht were the intermediaries between the beings who dwelled there and those who lived and breathed and died. Occasionally there were Druidecht so accepted by the spirits that they were invited to dwell in Mirrowen. There was no death there, or so it was told, unlike the world he lived in—a world where death met his gaze often. Where the slightest misstep of chance could end a life. The worlds were opposites. One full of life. The other of death.

Annon smelled the smoke before he saw the hovel and smiled with relief that it was nearby. Through a thicket of maples and witherberries, he spied the small, cramped structure and heard the grating rasp of a whetstone and blade. There were voices drifting in as well, and Annon pursed his lips, surprised to find another visitor already there. His annoyance flared, but he shoved the emotion aside. He had not expected another guest to have found this place. It was one of his favorite haunts.

The feeling melted away when he saw the older Druidecht sitting on a stump, mouth open over a bowl of stew, savoring the blend of flavors. It was Reeder. Annon emerged from the copse of trees, sweating slightly, and beamed when he saw his mentor sitting with the couple he knew so well. Reeder was tall and had copper-colored hair that flowed down to his shoulders. It had receded from his scalp significantly since their last meeting. A small gray-flecked beard covered his sturdy jaw. He looked up as Annon approached. It had been several years since they had seen each other.

Reeder swallowed another bite from the stew bowl and then stood, towering over Annon like a bear, and set the bowl down on the stump. “Look at you, Annon. A child no more, but a man grown!”

“It is good to see you, Reeder,” Annon said warmly. “You found one of my favorite places to eat.”

“I know! I was telling these good people that I can see why you visit them so often. The bread is especially tasty. Now, if I were not journeying to Silvandom at the moment, I might stay and learn the secret of their white honey.” He grinned as he gripped Annon’s shoulders, smiling genuinely. “Look at you. It is good to see you again.”

Dame Nestra smiled pleasantly. “I told Reeder we might expect you for supper, Annon. He waited all afternoon for you, but I made extra stew for you both.”

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