FHoJ: Chapter 28 - Lonely Picnic

Cole woke up rather numb  the following morning. He hurt all over and deep within, but did not  pay it much mind. It seemed to have no bearing upon his activity as he  worked upon fixing the garden fence, putting great care and workmanship  back into it as he had done the first time, and other such lasting  repairs where needed. He was thinking in the long term now. Accepting he  was going to be here a while longer.

It was slow work but  only because he moved slow. He had his pot upon an open fire outside  stewing away, an amount of hodgepodge fixings that should last him  through tomorrow or so. Occasionally he would give it a stir and pretend  he knew what he was doing by checking and tasting it. And periodically,  he would stop for a break in the shade to soak his bruised, swollen and  blistered feet, giving them some time to dry before wrapping them up  for more abuse. All the while his mind ticking along and slowly coming  to terms with everything.

It was late in the  afternoon when the two familiar horses came galloping up, Cole was  sitting on the porch without a chair, finishing a bowl of the bean and  smoked meat concoction. He looked to them as he heard the surprised  voice.

"COLE?!" Jane cried. The  Bucks jumped off their horses and jogged right over to him. They were  silent for a good long minute, staring at him. "Where the hell did you  go?!" Jane roared.

"Ya fuk'n disappeared!"  Marin cried. "Batseye is lose'n its shit since da ud'er night n' all we  could find was yer horse before it walked off!"

"We've been searching the whole fucking forest!" Jane cut in. "We came here! We went to Westen! I FUCKING TOLD BAILEY that I lost you again!!! Fuck! He's going to fuck my ass to next month! And here you are!"

Cole just quietly looked  up at them from where he was, letting them stand over him and vent.  They were furious and rightly so after being worried, and now waiting  for an answer as to what his excuse was.

So Cole blinked a bit,  he licked his lips and looked unsure as to what to do with the bowl in  his hands. "I... um..." He really was unsure what to say. "I... am  done."

"You are done?" Jane repeated, his hands upon his hips. "Really?"

Jane's face softened a  bit as he realized something was not right. Cole looked very troubled,  more than usual he was not looking at them, and Jane thought Cole might  cry.

Cole started nodding as  he thought about it. "I, am done." He started to fidget with the bowl  now. He was shivering. "And you.... this time, you did not lose me. I...  I should not have gone, where I did not belong."

"What?" Marin asked as Cole's voice was distant.

"You went into the  mists?" Jane asked strongly while looking at Cole. Marin now appeared  concerned. "You, followed us into the mists...."

Cole nodded without looking up. "I am responsible, this time for that."

"Cole?" Jane said trying to get a look at him. "What did you see?"

Cole looked off, seeing beyond the post and into a deadly beautiful view laid out before him. But he did not answer.

"Cole?" Marin said,  somehow his voice not as garish as normal. "Ya can say what happened. Da  mists fuck people up. Ya can talk about it."

They were being so kind  to him here, genuinely concerned and sympathetic. Past the gruff and  vulgar swearing, they were good men deep down and that fact sunk deep.  Cole really could cry, but all of that was spent last night.

He then finally figured  out what to do with bowl and set it aside. The two watched as Cole went  through great lengths to just stand, needing the heavy posts he sat  between for some stability. The rise of the porch put Cole at eye level  with them.

He then looked at their  worried and expectant faces, they could see he had been through much,  and Cole drew a shaky breath. "I know not why you two dare or act  unaffected, but I urge you, for the love of those that love and need  you, do not go back in there." They looked at each other and at him.  Cole then put his eyes to Jane. "Jane. Your wife is due soon with your  second child, is she not?"

Jane was caught off guard and struggled to think. "Uh, yeah... six weeks now or abouts."

The look Cole gave him  was heartbreaking. "She will need you. Please stop and think of them,  and to them what your life is worth. Both of you. Forget about the  damned beast. Forget about the meadows. None of it is worth your lives."

The words were too heavy  to answer anything to, the men just looked sad and ashamed, looking to  each other, and having known each other so long, there was no words  shared but an understanding seemed to be met.

"Cole?" Jane finally spoke.


Jane licked his lips  some and judged his tone. "What happened?" Cole started to crew on his  cheek. "What happened out there?" Cole looked as if he might say but  changed his mind, shaking his head and waving it off so Jane pressed  more.

"What happened is Reaper was right to be angry," Cole then said.

"Wait– Reaper found ya?" Marin asked.

"No. What I mean to say  is, their reasoning. Their... goal maybe." Cole was struggling. "To  protect people from the forest. From the mists. People really do not  belong out there... Reaper was right to be angry. Knowledge is  dangerous, I regret all of this."

The men exchanged more looks. "Alright, Cole," Jane said. "I'm real sorry this happened to you."

"Please give up on the hunt," Cole said with urgency.

"No, yeah, we get that. And if you are out, that doesn't leave us with much choice, does it? Relax."

It was hard to push down  the drive Cole had to go after them more about it, the desperation to  not see them taken by what he escaped from, he would have gotten on his  knees to beg.

"I realize the villages are suffering because of that thing, but..." Cole then had his shoulders taken by Jane.

"It's going to be okay," Jane said. "Let it go."

Cole was unsure but nodded and pulled away as he normally would. "Thank you."

"You just worry about  yourself, alright? Someone will eventually get it, be it a ranger or  some lazy bastard may actually grow a pair. And with all the chaos in  Batseye right now that may actually happen."

A change to the subject. Something Cole's mind needed.

"What is going on in Batseye?" Cole then asked.

There was eye-rolling and groans from the Bucks.

"Cause o' da od'er  night, everyone's got d'eir slacks in a bunch," Marin answered. "D'ey  found da trap n' blood. Ferdin was found passed-out in da open n' ill.  Every liv'n d'ing in da village was awoken n' piss'n itself cause o'  d'at roar. Shit... some of Westen came ask'n!"

"Oh no, that is a  problem," Cole replied with worry and looked down in thought. "And Mr.  Deere is now ill?" Cole asked with concern.

Jane spoke next. "Yeah,  apparently he awoke like everyone, but the shock was too much for him.  Cause he was out there, he possibly saw something, or just spooked. I  didn't get to talk to him yet, but he had a heart-attack. He's alright  now! Gammi brought him back from the brink and he's recovering, but real  sick."

Cole's tired look  started to change with his eyes growing wider. "He had a what?" Jane  repeated it was a heart-attack or similar, but that Ferdin was  surviving. That did not change the guild that would come. "That is quite  unfortunate..."

"Yeah," Marin chimed in  again. "But plus side is d'at he may not be sleepwalk'n fer some time."  It was a sad truth, but way too soon and he coughed as they looked at  him. "Anyway, by da sounds of it, people are make'n a huge fuss d'at  somth'n needs ta be done. Plans ta put in a wall like Westen are be'n  made."

"But, we saw it knows how to get in," Cole said.

"Yeah, I don't know what  they plan to do about that," Jane said. "But do you want to be the one  to tell them what we know? That would involve explaining Wednesday."

To explain Wednesday.  Cole did not feel well enough properly consider all of that and all the  responsibility that would come with it. Their actions put a whole  village into terror, and whether the misfortune to Ferdin was avoidable  or not, they would likely be held responsible for that also.

"This is why we don't  talk about what it is we are doing," Jane added. "We'll be there to help  Ferdin. But if you feel like telling the council what happened, leave  our names out of it."

"I suppose we should see what comes of this first," Cole then replied.

"Now you're getting it."

"Cole, ya gonna be okay?" Marin asked watching.

Cole forced himself to  perk up a bit. "Yes. That... yes." There was yet another exchange of  looks between the Bucks. "It has just been a hard few days... I just  need to rest."

"Ya sure?" Marin was eyeing him heavily.

"Yes. And thank you. Both, for your concerns."

There was a pause  between them all. Cole was trying to center his mind as his energy was  faltering, making it hard to keep focused and balance. The friends were  studying him and unsure as to what to do even after a month of time  spent together.

Jane snapped his  fingers. "Hey, I got an idea," he said and got the attention of both of  them. "Cole, why don't you come on up tonight, have dinner with us. Ya  know, call it a false celebratory, thing."

Cole was raising a brow. "Huh?"

Jane started snapping his fingers more in recall. "Yeah, ya know..."

Something clicked with Marin. "Ah yeah! Yeah! Ya really should join us, Cole."

"Ya know, seeing as you  won't be riding with us anymore," Jane continued. "Rosy kept getting on  me about it, seeing as she's made a number of meals all these weeks,  which she was fine with, but really wanted you to come over again. Meet  you all proper like."

"Yeah, Vii also," Marin  chimed in and turned to look at Cole with a gesture. "I had mentioned ya  were from around Rethool n' had her all eager fer a get ta'ged'er n'  finally meet ya."

"I see..." Cole managed to get in.

"Yeah, the plan was to  do it when we finally got the damned thing, have a 'one last ride with  Cole,' " Jane went on to say. "But seeing as, well, this is it, we might  as well do that at least. Ya know, close it out with something fun. For  the women..."

"Yeah, d'ey love putt'n d'at stuff on," Marin added. "Vii was talk'n 'bout make'n cucumber cakes, spiced tea, fuck-turd."

"Fuck turd?" Jane repeated. Cole looked just as confused.

"Yeah, d'em rotted eggs," Marin replied. Jane then recognized it.

"Ferrok'tar?" Cole asked to clarify things.

Marin snapped his fingers. "Yeah, d'at crap." Cole had a look that was between offended and interested.

"So, what do you say,  Cole? Come on over and lets just enjoy the evening rather than work it,"  Jane pushed. They then waited for an answer, looking friendly and  inviting.

Cole looked as if really weighing it. "I...I am not very hungry tonight."

"Whatever, just hang out and have drinks and sweets. Don't matter, just come."

There was a bit more  thought. "I...not tonight," Cole said. He then started to give an excuse  as he saw the frowns they had. "I do not feel well enough to travel  back down those cliffs at night."

"Na! No need! We got a  spare space ya can overnight in," Marin said. "N' I'll kick Becaine on  over ta sleep at Jane's so's it's quiet." Jane did not seem so thrilled  about that at first but let it rest and went with it.

"Yeah, so it can work  out," Jane said. "You can just get your stuff together. If you want,  I'll saddle your horse up so you don't have to, and we can just kick it  back up there. Easy stuff."

Cole glanced back and forth from them, he was extremely tired looking.

"That is very generous of you. I... I will have to decline the offer," he then said. "Perhaps another time."

"What? Why?"

"I... I just really want  to be alone right now." The one thing the friends did not want to  happen. But they knew they pushed enough, any more might break what  trust there was. "I do appreciate the offer. Really, I do."

Jane licked his teeth in  thought. "Okay then, Cole, we'll get out of your hair. And, sorry for  storming up on you. We had a hell of a few days trying to find out if  you were dead or what."

"I understand," Cole replied. "That was not intentional... my disappearance. Sorry to have scared you."

"Na, it's fine. Fucking mists. You can blame anything on the mists. 'Oh, my laundry wasn't done because da mists up n' ate it,' " Jane said in a mock female voice, then changed it again for another quote. " 'Oh yeah, 'bout d'at cart, mists came out n' well, ya see.' Or 'Oh  sorry, ma! Didn't mean ta make ya think I was dead fer five days, mists  caught me! I so wasn't sneaking off with the Gigip's daughter...' works every fucking time."

Cole gave a tired smile and even more tired chuckle. "Thank you. Thank you both."

"Yeah, no problem, Cole," Jane replied. "You sure you don't want to come with us?" he tried one last time.

Cole looked as if he seriously was considering it but again his mind fell upon remaining here.

"Get some good rest, Cole," Marin said. "N' remember, if ya need anyth'n, ya can talk ta people."

"It's true," Jane added.  "You can talk to us, or Bailey. Even Zooie. Zooie's dealt with her fair  share of crazies." Jane suddenly got backhanded by Marin. "What! It's  true!"

Marin growled through his teeth. "Ya dun need ta make 'um feel worse about it!"

Jane was half serious as  he looked to Cole. "Oh yeah, and if in case you didn't know, the mists  have a tendency to half-baked your brain. So if you find yourself  howling at the moon, and naked, you can keep that to yourself."

Cole actually started  laughing. It was an odd thing to witness from the stoic man, it was a  very tired sounding laugh, and the friends were not sure what to accept:  abandonment of reservation or insanity sinking in.

"God forbid!" Cole said. "I do not want to go from the village stranger, to the village stripper..."

"It can get worse!" Jane  chimed but Cole seriously doubted that. Cole then got a friendly knock  in the shoulder. "You're alright, Cole. And you're going to be alright."

Cole took a deep breath, feeling calmer than he had all day. "Thank you."

The men then started to  excuse themselves to give Cole his space. "And seriously though, talk to  someone before ya do anything crazy. Okay?" Jane added.

Cole nodded and held a  hand up to send them off, being left alone again but feeling drastically  better. As long as they stopped hunting the beast, they were safe. But  as Cole sat inside and wrote down key things, his fate was still a  question within the light all of this. He forced it all back, closing  the journal and the thoughts. He would just have to worry about it when  he was better and mentally equipped again. Of course there was cries to  haunt him that night, setting him back again and forcing him into throws  as he tried to drown the sounds out.

Elsewhere, Jane and Marin talked as they rode home, Cole being the center of their conversation.

"Shit... he looked horrible," Jane would often repeat when there was a pause.

"Yeah, I really want'a know what happened ta shake him up d'at bad," Marin replied.

"I'm seriously gonna fuck up those imps if they got to him," Jane growled. "Should have had him tell us what happened."

"Jane, ya saw it as clean as I, he's really screwed up right now."

"Yeah, that's why I decided we should leave. But- ugh! I didn't expect this!"

"Jane, I know ya feel responsible, n' yeah, we shouldn'ta brought him along. Ya were right about d'at at da start."

"Na, you know, at a  point I thought I was wrong, he ain't that bad at all. But, shit! It was  because we had to keep our heads low, ya know? Didn't want to play that  dance."

"Na, I got it after ya wrung my neck," Marin replied. "And now d'is happened."

There was an odd pause of silence for them as mental powers were focused inward, on all that happened and went wrong.

"Nice d'ink'n back d'ere on have'n him come back with us. Ya really pulled d'at our o' yer ass," Marin said.

"Thanks." Jane was  distant still. "Rosy kept saying she wanted to meet him better, then it  hit me suddenly. You did good yourself. Cucumber cakes... god, when was  the last time Vii made those? I'm real sad now cause there's no excuse  to have those again!"

"I doubt she could.  Northern dishes have lots of fancy ingredients we just don't got here,  but I spout out d'ings she kept miss'n in hopes it got Cole a bit  homesick, ya know?"

"Brilliant," Jane replied. "Purely brilliant."

"D'anks." Marin looked  his friend over, Jane just looking ahead bitterly and chewing his lip  raw. "Ey, I d'ink he's gonna be okay, but I am d'ink'n I could go back  ta keep an eye on him, just ta make sure."

"I was thinking the same actually," Jane said. "God I'm tired..."

"Same, but I got a bottle o' d'at night juice Vi makes. Go home n' let her know fer me. I'll be hang'n around there."


"Yeah, go."

"Thanks, Marin. I'll  come by and find you in the morning." Now feeling able to relax, Jane  stopped fighting himself, taking off a mask of strength and actually let  the exhaustion show. "Oh, here. Take what food I got left, I'll bring  you a stuffed roll tomorrow too."

"Ah thanks! I wasn't sure I'd have enough. I'll see ya in da morn'n, Jane."

* * * * *

The whole next day  involving Cole was rather uneventful as he just took his time puttering  around, resting and trying to make sense of his shattered mind.  Occasionally he felt like he was being watched, or thought he saw  something out of place in the surrounding area. But overall, he just  minded his own business and troubles. He was doing much better today but  there was much weighing on his mind, and now that three days had passed  since that frightful night there was some doubts about it all.

It wouldn't be till the  following day, Sunday, that Cole saddled Gale up and went for a ride. It  felt good to get out onto the road and focus on something outside of  himself, keeping balanced and in rhythm to her trotting as they took the  road up and around to the lake. He had a mission today, one full of  loaded questions, and it was not something he truly wanted to do but  knew he needed. If he could find his sword, then the doubt whether the  whole event with the cliff would be settled and that, yes, he really did  run his way up those cliffs. If not, well... denial was a powerful,  human thing.

It was going to take the  whole of the day. There was some two miles of beach, shale and wooded  land to sift through if his memories to the location served him right,  which they likely did not and it would take longer. He packed a lunch  and some grain for Gale, he would refill his canteen there at the lake  and stare with dread up to the overhang of forest covered cliffs. No, he  had to do this. It was not like he planned to ever go back up there.

He took it easy and  everything in a roundabout way, enjoying the scenery and sun's warmth  through his clothes, as he rode Gale in a relaxed walk along the gravely  beach of the lake. He would then need to take her a short bit down  along the stream going to Greeny to continue, and train her that the  small bridge over it was not going to kill her. Then they could continue  on.

Cole hardly explored  this portion of the beach because of her issue, though it was a portion  of the lake not used by people regularly either, and now deemed unsafe  for potential bandit troubles. Cole was hardly thinking of that, nor was  he worried despite being armed only with the big knife he kept. And as  they made their way along and around the lake, using an old beaten path  that was slowly being taken back by nature, the age of this land really  showed.

There was signs of human  life here in the past, cut stones and foundations worn down by the  elements stood out. People once lived here upon the lake but something  must have changed. And by the fact there was still remnants of rotted  lumber protruding out of foundations, it may have only been a handful of  generations past that portions were in use. How much history was lost  to this mysterious and enchanted place? Gale continued along at an even  pace upon the ease of an old paved stretch, natural hooves clicking  along, occasionally diverting to rip up grasses growing through the  paving stones.

Eventually the signs of  the civilization would become indistinguishable from the wild, the  pathway they took was simply a thin, beaten trail at best, having  officially left the beach portion of the lake and crested around into  the bowl of the cliffs. It was rocky here, closer to the cliffs the  larger the stones in piles were, old trees lay as dry-rotted relics  intermixed in and Cole knew he was getting closer to the right territory  for his search. Stretching his neck, the cliffs were sheer, with  emphasize made by the layers of rock going vertical. Little bits of  plant life could be seen clinging to crevices but it primarily looked  cold and harsh. Cole swallowed and felt weak.

He then stopped Gale and  looked around and out over the lake to the different falls. They had  traveled about two hours in from the beach and it finally felt right,  the sun was behind the cliffs but it was an hour or so before noon.

Cole wore his working  boots, better suited for rough terrain and long hours, rather than his  riding boots which had torn his feet up during the long walk home. He  also was dressed more like his farmhand self with the warn-out slacks  and full covering working shirt that breathed. Seeing as the whole  stretch was in shadow from the cliffs, Cole wanted to do without his  shuetal, but even as he worked up a sweat climbing up through boulders  and thick brush, it was quite chilly this way.

Cole left Gale to roam  and graze on what she could find while he jumped about and climbed his  way around. He combed between the rocks, getting as high as he could to  scout the area, and constantly checking his position in relation to the  waterfalls. But more often he just paused to admire this place. All five  of the falls were flowing, filling the lake with clear water, and  keeping everything alive. Flocks of waterbirds glided about peacefully  with their young, dragonflies darting about madly for other insects, the  patches of wild flowers adding color. It was spring. It had been spring  for some time now, but here Cole truly felt it and could appreciate it.

During his search he was  finding many things, mostly good flakes of stone for working into  grindstones, some cured wood that, at the very least, would prove good  for burning if not carving, and some more signs of ancient times. He  could not read it but ancient letters seemed to be carved into some  stones, many weathered and broken down, some still crisp which made Cole  realize they were script. But where did these large stones come from?  There was nothing to be seen as far as Cole's sight would allow, and it  seemed illogical that anyone would have dumped them here. He ran his  fingers over the foreign shapes again. A story he may never learn within  his lifetime. He would then pick up some smaller fragments of the  whitish stone, a soft and fine texture suitable for finer sharpening.

Searching the wooded  areas were vastly harder. He might as well have been a mouse looking for  a needle in a haystack. The wildlife here was far less friendly towards  him. As birds felt threatened to have such a strange intruder in their  secluded world, Cole was getting driven off by the more bold ones and  his search made short by threat of pecking. Eventually he and Gale found  their way around to the first waterfall and here they would stop for a  while.

The south most fall was  the lowest formed one as far as Cole knew, spilling forth from the rocks  themselves rather than a river high above. This fall was said to never  stop flowing, even in winter, and it carved itself a fine basin before  flowing out as a broad stream into the lake. Furthermore, there was  quite a buildup of minerals upon the rocks here, giving them a sheen or a  jagged texture. Long stalactites could be made out around the area from  the rich waters, and Cole picked up one small hunk of the stone,  looking much like a stony icicle in his hand. It was useless, but  intrigue caused him to take it along for now, needing to be careful of  overloading Gale at this point.

Once his lunch was eaten  there was little excuse to hang around here much longer. There was no  sense or way to continue past the waterfall so he and Gale started back.  It was maybe four in the afternoon by this point in the day, and the  sun dipped down enough to peek around the cliffs, casting warm colors  upon the surrounding cliffs and down into the dark waters. Cole walked  Gale along the rough terrain, trying to stick to the easiest path  possible for her, and although he gave up his search, Cole still scanned  the area as they went along.

He felt glad to have not  found the sword. It meant that, perhaps he had finally gone mad, but  the events that transpired may very well have been false, which was  preferred. And he likely should find it and the sheath back where he had  them in Batseye. Or, perhaps he dropped it within the forest when he  lost his mind.

The sun continued to set  and was getting into his eyes after they had cleared around the wooded  patch. It may be another hour before the sun actually dipped down below  the forest line, plunging the lake and all around it into twilight. He  squinted as he lifted his head up to view past the edge of his hood so  to see the way they were going. A glint caught his eye.

Cole tried to ignore it.  He tried to tell himself to not look. But it happened again, then  again, and against his desire to abandon the uncanny, Cole stopped and  looked to where the shine came from. He would have to leave Gale and  start to make his way through the maze of stone and dead brush. He was  tired, he would feel this workout tomorrow as his limbs were already  weak, he just wanted to leave things alone. But he needed answers and  this was the whole reason why he came.

Cole pulled his shuetal  off out of frustration and threw it over the saddle before clambering  through brambles and hopping his way up the boulders. "Taashish't,"  he groaned. Some minutes later Cole picked up a gnarled piece of steel,  blade bent at an angle along the edge. Twisted, cracked, hammered and  dented all over. He held it up in the warm light and looked it over.  There was no salvaging this. He then followed up the length of the  crooked sword, eyes casting off towards the tops of the cliffs to see  the approximate area it had to of come from, hundreds if not a thousand  feet high up. He felt defeated, yet again. He also felt ill.

Cole then walked home, half dragging the useless piece of metal in hand.