It was a few more minutes before I wanted to read the scroll, to be well and truly into the forest. In the meantime I spoke to Deirdre about my dream, she asked me as much details as I could remember but she didn't recognize any of it, not even the term 'dreamer'. She appeared as intrigued as I was about it though, asking more and more until there was no detail left to give. Unfortunately she had little more clarity to offer than I had myself on the issue. Eventually, more than a few minutes had passed before I realized it.
"I have to read something."
Deirdre looked at me. "Read what?"
I smiled and slowed the horse to a walk, retrieved the scroll from my bag and opened it. "This."
It was hard not to be slightly amused with Deirdre's surprise. But my amusement quickly faded when I read the words on the scroll. They were handwritten, but quick and rushed instead of the neat style, usually used in letter.
Most of the Masters presume you expendable, Taran, but I see potential in you. There are strong rumors of Rockwall being unstable, rivalry between the Castles at a higher level than normal. Be careful in your step and your trust. - Master Gadrim.
I blinked, this wasn't exactly what I was expecting. It gave me a nasty after-taste, as if things were even worse than I suspected. It was strange, while I was a student, there didn't appear any of this discord that I was feeling now in the houses. Sure, the ones of Light were competitive with the Dark, but it felt more like a friendly competition than a rivalry.
"What is it?" Deirdre asked curiously.
I handed her the scroll. "Read it."
Deirdre took a moment to read it and handed it back to me. "Interesting."
I blinked. "Why?"
She smiled. "It doesn't look like he's the one trying to help us with the maid and things. This is a cheap warning, scribbled not too long before you got it."
I hadn't thought about it that way yet, now she'd made me curious to her other conclusions. "What else?"
"Well, it's very unusual he mentions he sees potential in you, if I'm honest and slightly distrusting, I'd say he starts that way to make himself seem better and more trustworthy."
I responded quietly. "You have a point."
She smiled at me as she spoke next. "It's important to realize you don't have enemies though. This basically says they're indifferent about you, a very useful position for you to be in if you want to learn more."
I smiled back at her. "You're right."
I put the scroll back in my bag and spurred the horse on again. We quickly went to a trot, then to an easy canter that the horses would be able to keep up until lunch. In the meantime, we both got some small provisions, hard bread, from the saddle bags and ate it as a sort of breakfast. It wasn't bad, actually. They appeared to have mixed some bacon fat in the dough when they baked it, giving it a slightly meaty taste and a more wholesome fill. I've definitely had worse breakfasts than this.
Deirdre and I started talking about using Dark as well, performing small things while on the horse. She had me concentrating it around my hand or fingertips to see how precise I could focus. After that she asked retrieved the knife and handed it to me for me to practice focusing Dark on. It was also an interesting test to see how it would respond to Dark magic and how it would feel to the wielder. While I only practiced with the knife in my own hands at first, soon she was holding it again with me trying to focus on it from a distance. Curiously enough, it was very educational to focus on it from horseback. Having to divide your attention between riding, the direction and focus was definitely good practice.
We arrived at a fork in the path, nothing special as such. We knew we had to head north but there was even a small signpost. It was old and weathered but it deserved our attention for a very simple reason. A satyr was sitting on it, and started to play a single reed flute. The tones were quite cheerful and somehow felt completely natural to the forest. In fact, I'm not sure I even heard the tunes before I saw him play, like having to know what makes the noise before you notice it. His legs were dangling over one of the signs as he sat up there, moving along with his melodies. Of course we both stopped our horses and listened.
"Is this a welcome?" Deirdre asked me softly.
"It feels like it." I whispered back.
We stayed until he finished his song and stood up. He wasn't too tall, perhaps half our size, but he had definitely no trouble balancing on top of the signpost. As he took a small bow, both me and Deirdre applauded for him politely. He smiled at us in a very unusual way, not really happy with the applause but sort of happy with what he was going to do. It wasn't a nasty smile, as such, just a very... curious one.
"You two are to visit the Queen. But not today, tomorrow at dawn." His voice was a little odd as well, raw, animal like.
I bowed my head, the words came automatically. "It is an honor. Will we be retrieved?"
He grinned now. "That is for her to decide."
After those words he simply turned and jumped into the trees. He almost immediately vanished from sight, as if the trees themselves usurped him. Of course I knew of their supposed agility and dexterity. They must know and feel the forest so well. Still... It was a very unusual display.
Deirdre spoke up as soon as she felt him gone as well. "The Queen?"
I nodded. "It's the word they use when speaking to us. From what I've read, 'mother' is closer to the truth. I've read about her..." My voice trailed as I recalled all the myths surrounding the spirit mother. That she existed was never a doubt, but meeting her was a little surprising to say the least.
Deirdre looked at me. "You really want to meet her, don't you?"
I blushed. "Is it that obvious?"
She nodded. "Well, I've read some about her as well. But I didn't think she'd talk to humans."
"She doesn't, usually. But there have been several reports through time."
Then Deirdre voiced something that I hadn't really thought about yet, but something that was very important considering the situation. There were some things going on and it was important to know as much about it as we could. With practice and the satyr, I'd forgotten about them, but apparently they hadn't slipped Deirdre's mind.
"So, when will you read the letter?"
"Letters... I suppose tonight when we make camp, using the heat from the fire as our aid."
She smiled. "Sounds like a plan."
With those words we set off again, heading to the north and the mountains.
To whatever the gods had in store for us.