He remembered that last day at home. It was chilly, and their mothers hadn’t wanted them out that day. A storm was coming, they said. But the sky was clear—the children did not understand, so they snuck out and met by the stream in the forest as they had every day for months.
He and Ameryn played from morning until afternoon, building their little fantasies together the way they always did. First they had pretended they were hunters tracking a dangerous beast—this lasted for hours, until they discovered there were no wild beasts any more terrifying than squirrels to be found in the area. They gave up on that and became wandering minstrels who were unfortunate enough to come across a pack of bandits. For their own safety, they joined the bandits until they could initiate a mutiny, then they ran off with the deposed bandit captain to start a peddling business under assumed names. They set up their imagined stand of wares by the stream, dangling their toes in the water, waiting for homebound sailors to come buy their wares.
A solitary cloud engulfed the sun.
“That’s the first cloud I’ve seen all day,” Zon said, leaning backwards to examine the sky. “I wonder what Mother meant when she said there was a storm coming?”
“My mother was packing things in bags,” Ameryn said. “She said we might be going on a journey soon.”
“A journey?” Zon looked at Ameryn, his forehead crinkling as he frowned. He hadn’t even thought about the possibility that Ameryn might ever leave the valley. “For how long?”
Ameryn shrugged, then looked at him. Zon would never forget that look. Her child’s eyes, opened wide with the promise of a question, looked like the deepest, darkest part of his enchanted lake. In that moment, she was the good elf who had waited there to tell him his future. And in that moment, the boy Zon knew it.
“If I went away,” she asked, “would you miss me?”
“Yes,” he said—and then, remembering he was a little boy, he added, “You’re not a bad fighter…for a girl.”
The sky was getting darker. The air began to smell strange. Zon thought his father must be burning something.
“Do you suppose we’ll always be friends?” Ameryn asked.
That question was easier to answer. “Always,” he said.
Then they heard the screams. They both jumped at the sound, turning towards their homes.
“What was that?” Zon cried.
“I don’t know,” Ameryn said, her voice shrill and quavering. She backed into him, shaking. On impulse, he grabbed her hand.
Zon looked up at the sky again. That was no cloud. That was smoke.
He heard cries—savage cries of men. Then another scream.
“Mother!” Ameryn yelled. “That’s my mother!”
Her mother’s voice echoed down the valley, screaming, pleading; mocked by the brutal laughter of her attackers.
Ameryn started to run towards her house, but Zon held her back. “Ameryn, no!”
“That’s my mother! They’re hurting my mother!”
Zon heard the thunder of boots on the ground. The sound of thick, angry voices.
“What are they?” Ameryn’s face had turned ghost white.
“I don’t know, but whatever they are, they’re coming fast.”
Ameryn ran into the cover of the trees. Zon followed her, but she turned around, frantically pointing in the opposite direction.
“Zon, you’ve got to go home! What if they come for your family?”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“Your family needs you! What if they’re coming for you, too? Zon, please,” she cried, “I don’t want you to get hurt! Now please, Zon, run home!”
He grabbed her by the shoulders. “Ameryn,” he said, one ear turned to the sound of approaching footfalls, “If something happens—”
“I will find you,” she said, her eyes black with panic. “No matter what, I’ll find you.”
They were children. They hardly knew what they were saying. “And I’ll find you,” he said.
“Run, Zon! Run!”