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You're Not Alone

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 22nd July 2019

Characters: Alyena, Gil
Description: Alyena receives an offer of help
Location: Emerald Falls Hold
Date: month 11, day 4 of Turn 9
Notes: Mentioned: Grevan, Corowal
This takes place after Alyena's first visit to the Weyr ("Don't Give Up") but before "A Request and a Gift"

The days at the cothold seemed to drag out endlessly, with no word from
Hold or Weyr. Though she hadn't wanted to go near the place, Alyena had
returned to Emerald Falls twice to buy food with their dwindling supply
of marks and ask for news, but no-one had heard anything. At night, she
barely slept, thinking of Grevan trapped alone in that dark room deep in
the rock, and woke exhausted before the day's work had even begun.

Soon it would be two months that he'd been gone. Her younger children
kept asking when he would return. They could see that supplies were
running low. She kept telling them that he'd be back soon. Every time,
it was harder to convince herself.

She'd taken to skipping the noon meal, claiming that it was too hot to
eat and instead dividing her share between the children. She didn't
think Furayl had noticed anything unusual, she had done it before from
time to time, but that day, Evalya had said that she wasn't hungry,
either. Alyena had scolded her and she'd changed her mind, but she knew
she wouldn't be able to hide the truth from her daughter for much longer.

In the afternoon, Evalya returned to the fields, while Furayl remained
indoors, out of the heat, with a pile of clothes that needed mending.
She had shown him how to stitch up a small tear and mend a frayed hem;
not skills she'd ever have thought to teach a son, but they would be
useful to him at the Weaver Hall. The boy was patient and his fingers
were quick and neat, and she had to admit he was suited to the work.

If they would still accept him, after what his brother had done.

Alyena would usually have gone to the fields too, but she had taken to
staying near the cothold in case there was any message from the Hold,
and so she returned to work on the vegetable patch. After only a day or
two of neglect, the plants were already wilting in the hot sun, and the
weeds were sprouting again. She fetched her basket and gardening fork
and knelt down in the soil, her fingers sliding over the new handle that
Grevan had carved for her. Her eyes blurred for a moment as she
remembered how he'd worked on it in the evenings, shaping and then
smoothing the wood so that no splinters would work their way under her
skin. How he'd handed it to her, before he'd left...

**Stop it.** She brushed her eyes with the back of her sleeve, then dug
the fork into the stony soil.

She worked steadily until the sun slowly began to sink in the sky, the
shadow of the cothold falling across the dusty patch of earth. Reaching
the end of the last row, she paused for a moment to stretch her aching
back and look up at the path leading to the main road.

Her heart thudded, painfully hard. There was a man, leading a
runnerbeast, coming up the path.

Alyena stumbled to her feet, wiping her hands on her apron. The evening
sun was behind her, lighting his face. Lean, lined and tanned, like many
of the farmers in these parts, though she didn't recognise him. His hair
was long and tied back in a tail, with a few loose fair strands
straggling. From here she couldn't see the knots, but he wasn't a
runner, nor did he wear the uniform of a guard. Just a trader, perhaps,
or a travelling craftsman.

There was something about the way he moved that was familiar, though.
She remembered it from the old days at the Hold. Her husband had always
held himself that way, back then. A fighting man. A guard out of
uniform? The hairs rose on the back of her neck. A bandit? They'd little
enough worth stealing, but with no man to defend them, they'd be an easy
target, too. Suddenly chilled despite the heat, she clutched the handle
of the fork.

**Evalya. Please stay in the fields a little longer,** she pleaded
silently. **Furayl, keep quiet, stay inside.**

But the man's voice, when he spoke, was polite. "Afternoon, ma'am." He
looped the runner's reins over the post, at the edge of the cleared
area in front of the building. "Might I ask for some water?"

"Of course." She walked over to meet him, though she didn't get too
close, nor did she relax her grip. "Your beast, too?"

"If you wouldn't mind?"

"Not at all," she said, cautious. If that was all he wanted, then she'd
nothing to worry about. Hospitality to travellers was expected, out here
in the cotholds in a Pass, but she'd seldom had to offer it. Most people
passed their farm by, seeking less shabby and run-down holdings further
along the road.

Water, at least, was not in short supply. Keeping an eye on him, she
slipped the fork into the pocket of her apron and went over to the well.

"Allow me." He stepped around her and began to turn the handle. Alyena
stood back and watched as he drew up the bucket without apparent effort,
then unhooked it, carried it over to the patiently waiting runnerbeast
and set it down for the animal to drink.

"Have you come from the Hold?" she asked, reassured somewhat by the fact
that he'd let his beast drink first. Maybe he'd have news...

"No, I'm not bound that way. I'm on my Holder's business, carrying
messages." He patted the runner's neck, then looked across at her, his
eyes narrowed. Perhaps it was the sun in his eyes, but she had the
strangest feeling he was studying her, as if he was trying to judge her

"I'll fetch you a cup." She half-turned towards the cothold. Though she
was relieved to know he wasn't holdless, she could still take the
opportunity to tell her son to stay indoors.

"Wait - may I ask you something?" the man called after her. He paused.
"Are you Alyena, wife of Cronfur?"

She stilled, her back to him. How did he know her name? Did he have news
about Grevan, after all? But then, why didn't he say so? "Who's asking?"

"My name's Gil." He sounded contrite, as if he'd not meant to alarm her.
"I never met your husband, but I've heard of him."

"Then you'll know that he died last Turn. I'm his widow," she said
pointedly, turning back to him. "What do you want with my family?"

"Just a drink of water." Gil held up his hands, palms empty. She noticed
he didn't carry a weapon - not visibly - and wondered where it was. "And
to pass on a message."

"What message?"

"That there are those in Emerald Falls who think your family has
suffered a great injustice." He paused, considering. "Who think that the
Weyr goes too far in sheltering thieves and murderers, and the Lord
Holder does nothing to stop them."

Alyena stared at him. Suddenly, she was more frightened than if he had
been a bandit in truth. It was as though he'd given voice to those
thoughts she'd kept locked up, deep down, ever since her husband had
returned from the Weyr. Thoughts that were too dangerous to speak, now
more than ever.

"I don't know anything about that," she said, her voice unsteady. He
could be from the Hold, here to test her loyalty. She didn't put
anything past Lord Corowal.

"You're being cautious. That's understandable." He let his hands fall,
slowly. "Nevertheless, my Holder wants you to know that you're not
alone. That should the worst happen, you and your family will be taken
care of."

She flinched. As hard as she'd tried not to think of it, Alyena knew
what the worst was that could happen to Grevan. She had heard the Lord
Holder himself say it, and it wouldn't leave her. It echoed in her
unguarded thoughts and through her dreams at night.

"Thank you, but that won't be necessary. My son will be coming home."
She turned. "I'll get you that cup. Wait here."

When she returned, he had gone back to the well and drawn up another
bucket. Accepting the cup, he dipped it into the cool water and drained
it with a breath of relief.

"The offer is there, anyway." He filled the cup again. "Take care when
you go to the Weyr. Don't trust them."

Alyena looked up at him sharply. "I don't trust anyone."

"Very wise." Gil drank, then placed the cup on the edge of the well.
"Thank you for the water. I hope you're right about the lad, that he'll
be returned unharmed. But...if you have need, someone will come to you."

She hesitated, then gave him a brief nod by way of answer. She didn't
know what game his Holder was playing, but it seemed to her that he
genuinely did want Grevan to come home safe. If so, he was the only one
outside her family that she knew of who did. At the same time, he didn't
sound that confident about it.

"Well, then. Message delivered, and I'll be on my way. Good day to you,
holder." He untied the runnerbeast and swung lightly into the saddle.

"Go safely." Alyena watched as he turned and set off back down the path
to the road, his seat easy and relaxed, as if he was used to travelling.
Resting her hands on the well, she breathed deeply, trying to calm
herself. There were people out there who supported her cause, and that
should have been comforting, but at the same time it frightened her.
These were deep waters. She wanted no part of any conspiracies.

She just wanted her son.

**He _is_ coming back.**

Slowly, she turned and walked back to the vegetable patch, her fingers
closing around the handle of the gardening fork. Even if she hoped
beyond all else that she'd never need help from that man or his Holder,
it was something to know that she wasn't entirely alone.

Last updated on the July 22nd 2019

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