The swamp gave way to a well-maintained path suddenly. It elevated Jarmil out of the knee-deep water, and he took a deep breath. He could smell the decay of the swamp still, but something else lingered on the air-dried herbs, cooking meats, and something altogether unfamiliar to him. Three days of searching had finally paid off. He was nearer to the Hermit’s shack than he could have hoped now. He could feel his heart thrumming in his chest as though a bird were trapped behind his ribs. Jarmil did what he could to get the water off his legs and out of his boots, but the smell of hot food was too great. His mouth watered as he lumbered forward, ready to be done with the swamp once and for all.
Vines and mosses descended from the limbs of the trees he passed on either side. Ahead of him, he could see the faint flickering light of a fire as he pressed on. The trees and path opened to a small campsite. A bedroll, cooking fire, and hanging pot sat in the center with a small chest a few steps away. Inside the pot, a steaming stew bubbled merrily.
“What brings you out here, traveler?” a voice croaked from behind a tree. Jarmil would have believed it had come from some sort of beast more than a man.
“I’m looking for the Seer,” Jarmil replied, leaning over to try to get a view of the source.
A small, balding man stepped into view, tucking himself away. Jarmil averted his eyes, realizing that the man had just been using the bathroom.
“Why do you want to find that old coot?” the man asked, dropping onto the bedroll. He tucked his long beard before he leaned forward and reached out, stirring the stew. “You know he’s never brought anything to sorrow to everyone that he’s ever spoken with, right?”
“I’ve heard the stories, old man,” Jarmil said. He tried to ignore the stew, but his stomach growled audibly, betraying his hunger to the man.
“Are you hungry?” the man asked, producing a bowl and ladling a portion into it.
“Incredibly,” Jarmil replied, stepping forward and seizing the bowl. He ate furiously, barely letting the scalding meal cool enough to swallow.
“Slow down! You’re going to burn yourself,” the man said. “What’s your name, boy?”
“Jarmil Kral, from Glapland,” Jarmil said, lowering the bowl with his cheeks flushed. “Sorry, I’ve been out here for a few days. What’s your name?”
“Oysian Grenfel. A pleasure to meet you,” Oysian replied, serving himself a bowl.
“I’m lucky I found you. I thought I was nearing the Seer. It’s surprising to find another traveler out here,” Jarmil said before taking another mouthful of stew.
“I’m no traveler,” Oysian said, shaking his head. “I live here. I prefer it this way. Far fewer people to deal with on a regular basis and all that. Though some still come through, it’s nice to be able to choose who comes here.”
Jarmil paused for a moment to process what the man had said.
“You’re thought process is correct,” Oysian said, taking a bite of potato.
“The Seer is said to be a great mystical being. Something capable of rending the earth in two and peering into a man’s soul,” Jarmil said.
“I don’t know about rending the earth and all that, but I suppose if I were to talk to the right person, they could if they were so inclined,” Oysian said with a shrug. “I’m just a simple wizard, nothing more.”
“Wizards live in towers, though,” Jarmil said.
“Well now, if you know all about wizards, why not tell me more,” Oysian teased. “Wizards are people too, young one. We live where we live, and we try to get by like everyone else.”
“So you are the Seer?” Jarmil asked.
“Yes,” Oysian chuckled, shaking his head. “You’d think you’d believe me. How many wizards do you think like out here in this swamp?”
Jarmil felt silly suddenly. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize. You came out here for a reason, and it must be a good one to risk as much as you did to get to me,” Oysian said. “What’s your reason?”
“I’m searching for someone-”
“You found me already, remember?” Oysian teased.
“Not you, a girl. Talwynn Sambell. She’s from Glapland as well,” Jarmil said.
“I have to warn you, things often go terrible for those that look into the weave for answers,” Oysian said. “Are you sure you want this?”
“Talwynn vanished three years ago, and even with all my efforts to find her, I’ve been unable. I’ll give anything to find her again,” Jarmil said.
“As long as it’s been, it’s likely she just dead,” Oysian said, spooning more stew, “or moved onto bigger and better things.”
“She wouldn’t. I promise you. I know something terrible happened, but I also know that she’s still alive. I need to find her,” Jarmil said.
“Why do you need to find her so badly?” Oysian said.
“I love her,” Jarmil said. “We were to be married a week after she vanished.”
“Sounds like cold feet to me,” Oysian said.
“What do you want? Can you please just help me find my answer? I brought diamonds and gold. I can get more if that’s what it takes,” Jarmil said.
“Relax, young one. I don’t require payment. The universe takes its payment all its own. It would be cruel to make a profit off that,” Oysian said, pushing himself to his feet. He hobbled over to the chest and pulled a square box from it before returning to the fire. “Are you certain you want this? I can’t talk you out of it?”
“I want to know,” Jarmil replied, setting his bowl down and turning to face Oysian directly. “I’ll never stop searching.”
“Very well,” Oysian said, raising his eyebrows as he opened the box to reveal an orb. Jarmil could see the skull of what appeared to be a human set inside it.
“Yes,” Oysian replied. Holding the ball out. The skull inside twisted to face Jarmil directly, and the eyes flared with a yellow glow, dimming all the light around them.
Jarmil stared into the eyes, unable to pull his gaze away. His vision was dragged from his body and pulled high above the swamp. He watched trees, forests, mountains, and oceans pass by at increasing speed until everything snapped to a stop in the center of a battlefield. In the center of his vision stood Talwynn, armor-clad, and covered in blood as she swung a massive weapon down through an orc’s head. As though something changed, her face became passive rather than furious, and she turned to look directly at him.
“Jarmil?” she whispered and stepped forward, extending her arm toward him. “I’m coming!”
His vision suddenly recoiled back through the world and slammed hard when it arrived back at his body. He bowled over backward from the force of it.
“I saw her!” he cried as he scrambled to his feet. “I saw her, and she said she’s coming!”
“Congratulations,” Oysian said. “She’s alive for now.”
“What are you talking about?” Jarmil asked. “Of course she’s alive. She was fighting a ferocious battle and killing orcs! I’ve never seen her like that before. She’s amazing!”
Oysian dropped the orb back into the box, closed the lid, and returned it to the chest. “I warn you. The universe will collect its payment. Be cautious in your travels,” he said.
“Thank you! Thank you! Yes, of course!” Jarmil said, pulling the pouches of gold and gems from his waist before dropping them on the bedroll. “She’s alive!”
Oysian watched Jarmil run down the path he had come from and shook his head. He looked into the fire and sighed.
“You want to save him from his fate?” another voice said as a pale-skinned man stepped from behind a tree. “I know you saw it too.”
“What could I do to sway it, truly?” Oysian said. “You’ve stood by me for a long time Oberon, but I think we both know that fiddling with fate only irritates the gods.”
“Could you come with me?” Oberon replied a warm smile spread across his face.
“I suppose so,” Oysian replied, walking away from everything in the camp as a door appeared in front of them.
Oberon reached out and opened the door. Before them, Oysian could see the great gallery of Tymora.
“We don’t have to fiddle with fate, we could just put a little luck on the boy’s side,” Oberon smiled, putting his arm over Oysian’s shoulder.
“Do what you will, Oberon. I’ll not get involved,” Oysian said, pulling away and returning to his bedroll. “If the pair of them are destined to suffer, and topple countries, so be it. It’s not my problem, after all.”
Artist Credit: Andre de Oliveira Silva (andrebdois.com)