Lia and Wynn sped back to Granda’s shop, and the small band set off along the main road leaving Rockberg. Just as Lia had dreaded, numerous villagers gathered close, gawking. Wynn and Kelven drew stares, the sixteen-year-old boys’ presence adding fuel to the chatter. The horses slowed through the growing throng, as if walking through the mire. Lia swallowed hard, her every nerve pulled taut as a bowstring.
Among the startled cries and hushed voices came, “Tis true, they’re going in, even the girl!” And, “Nothing but a fool’s errand. Brume’ll swallow them whole, and the Bryn’s will still carry this plague. I say we burn the Bryn groves all the way to the eastern border!” Several shouts of agreement resounded.
Lia wanted to yell back, to remind them it wasn’t some plague ravaging their people, and burning the groves would do nothing to an enchanted creature that crept underground. She wanted to shout how Granda knew Brume’s mysteries better than anyone alive did, and she trusted his wisdom. Didn’t anyone give credence to his long ago treks to Brume? He would never lead his kin to their deaths. She was sure of it.
Lia flinched at the shriek of an old woman, “Shame upon the lot of you! Tis one thing dabbling in the crafts, tis quite another venturing to the cliffs of Brume. And you, Lia Griene, a young lady, you’ve truly gone astray.”
Lia held her head up high with her jaw set hard, though her insides quivered. Didn’t anyone realize it was precisely this “dabbling in the crafts” and “venturing to Brume” that could save them? Had the ignorance of royal rule completely shaded their minds, even while their own people suffered from such blatant attacks?
Granda tilted his snowy head toward the old woman. “No need to fret, Ilna, we’ll be back before you can wag that finger twice.”
The crone’s face squinted in reproach, and she stomped away in a huff. It was easier for Granda Luis to handle being viewed as an oddity. He was a man, he was an elder, and he was tough as nails.
Lia looked to the edges of the crowd and her heart skipped. Some of the villagers raised their hands in farewell. A few had tears shining in their eyes. A handful of wives missing husbands at their side smiled at Lia. One mouthed the words, “Thank you.” Another blew her a kiss. A lump grew in Lia’s throat, as she dared to hope for her people’s support. She raised her hand and smiled back at them. They trust us, she thought, her tension easing, they have faith in our quest.
Then her eyes fell to a group of girls her same age, glaring at her. Lia’s insides tightened once more. The girls knotted together, chattering away like hens. Lia turned her head from their scorn, trying to ignore its usual sting, and swallowed down the retort growing bitter upon her tongue.