Exhausted from a long day of wandering through the forest, relaxing in the warm breeze with his feet in the cool water running down from the mountains, and achieving nothing more than forgetting why he set out in the first place, Gerylde the hermit arrived home to find a cooked meal waiting for him inside. It was a hare, cooked over fire. Half of it, at least. The other half had vanished, along with the chef.
Ryleine had been round then. She was such a sweet girl, making sure to visit every few days to check up on him. Gerylde remembered when he used to pop around to visit her, back when she was too young to string together more than a few nonsensical syllables, accompanied only by excessive saliva and giggles.
A lot had changed since then. The girl had learnt to talk, and walk, and how to survive in the forest. Gerylde had more or less forgotten how to do all of those things. He wasn’t sure how he had managed that last decade, living on his own in a little hut deep in Rordynne Forest. But, he fully intended to stay there, living alone for the remainder of his years.
Ryleine was one the few people he ever saw, and he loved every visit, even if she always gave him that pitiful, worried look – the one that suggested she wanted to take him home with her so that she could look after him there.
Although, there was also that strange fellow the other day. Appeared out of nowhere. Foul mouth, spent too much time in the sun. What was his name? Not important. The point was, he very rarely saw anybody. Those that did know he was there called him the hermit. His name was all but forgotten.
Feeling satisfied from his dinner, he lay down on the crude cot in the corner of the room, and gazed up at the ceiling. He often wondered how many more storms it would survive, but his workmanship as a younger man had proven effective. His hut had survived through everything with him, had seen off the hard years, just as he had.
His eyelids fell limp, and it wasn’t long before he was snoring, sleeping deeply as he always did. And as the sun rose gently over the horizon, so too did Gerylde. But his rising was sudden and panicked.
Where was it? What had he done with it? Had he lost it out in the forest?
He jumped out of bed, and began turning over all of his possessions in a desperate search. What the hell had he done with it? It must be somewhere!
His hut was a mess, and he was no closer to finding it. Frustrated, he sat down on a stool, shut his eyes, and tried to concentrate, to think about where he may have left it. He searched his memories for any sign of it, for an indication of where he may have left it. Hidden it perhaps.
Then it occurred to him. What was he looking for?
He sighed and walked outside. Whatever it was, it must be out there somewhere.
It was a pleasant morning. Sunny and warm, with a light breeze. Perfect. It was exactly why he lived out there all alone in Rordynne Forest. The wind rustling through the deep green leaves of the tall trees, the numerous birds singing in harmony, and the calls of animals ringing through the dawn. It made him feel happy; his meagre possessions were not important, only that sensation he felt every morning when he realised he was exactly where he wanted to be.
He glanced around, searching in all directions for whatever it was he was looking for. He was certain he would know what it was just as soon as he found it.
The old hermit wandered in the direction that felt right, keen eyes darting between the trees. He wasn’t worried about getting lost. After so many years in the forest, he knew every tree personally. He’d named many of them. He’d had conversations with some of them too, though he wouldn’t admit that to Ryleine lest she pack him up and move him to her cabin. He knew the trees didn’t talk back, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t good at listening. And occasionally, he had plenty to tell them.
It wasn’t long before Gerylde realised that he would need some help to search for his lost item. Rordynne forest was huge, and finding something in it would be very difficult, even if he did know what he was looking for.
“Imps!” he called, and they were there.
They were always there as soon as he called. They followed him around, concealed until he needed them, then vanishing again as soon as he left. But they were always nearby.
“How are you this morning?” he asked.
As usual, they didn’t answer. He suspected they couldn’t speak, or perhaps he simply couldn’t hear them. Regardless, they were there, and they were good company.
“I am looking for something,” he said. “Can you help?”
The nearest imp, standing a few steps in front of him, cocked its head and gave him a curious look. It was a strange creature. Ugly really. About a foot tall, dark brown skin with patches of light green all over its body. Its arms and legs were long and twisted, forking into tiny little fingers. It was often difficult to read their expressions, as if they didn’t have any emotions or didn’t waste time thinking about anything.
“Well, can you help or not?”
The imp still didn’t reply.
“What about you?” he said, looking up into the canopy. “Anything up there?”
There was another imp sitting on a branch in the tree above him. The imp shook it’s head, though Gerylde wasn’t convinced it had bothered looking. Something was wrong. The imps seemed to be rather unhelpful.
“Any of you?” he called out louder, frustrated.
One of the imps moved, darted into the trees. Gerylde raced after it, as fast as his aching legs could carry him. They bound through the forest for what must have been half a day, and Gerylde was exhausted by the time the imp came to a halt in a dark ravine with a little stream running through. He took the opportunity to take a break, drinking the cool water, and washing his face. Refreshed, he turned to find the imp waiting patiently at the top of the ravine, with several more surrounding it.
“Glad to see the rest of you have caught up,” he said. “We must keep searching.”
He followed the imps up the ravine, still scanning either side in case he saw what he was looking for. Fortunately, the pace had become much more reasonable, and he was able to keep up with them without too much effort. The imps were unpredictable. They were there whenever he called, but by no means could he control them. They did what they pleased.
Out of nowhere, a huge tiger jumped from the foliage to block his path. It growled viciously, edging from side to side, claws protracted to full length, scraping deep gashes in the dirt. It was just a few long steps away from him, still growling and snarling, threatening. The imps were panicking and running in all directions. Except towards the tiger.
Well, it wasn’t exactly a tiger. It was twice the size of a normal one, and its fur was black with long blood-red stripes down its sides. It looked nothing like a real tiger. Also, there were no tigers on Renryre Island. Hadn’t been any since they had lost the mainland. Whatever this was, it obviously didn’t exist.
Gerylde burst out laughing.
“Calm yourselves, imps,” he said. “This tiger clearly isn’t here. I think I am just getting a little old, starting to see things that aren’t there! My imagination has gotten a little wild!”
He shook his head. He was old. When did that happen? Well, he supposed madness had to set in one day. It seemed as a good a day as any, given he had no idea what day it was.
“You are a cute kitten aren’t you,” he said.
He took a step forward towards the giant tiger, and it cowered away. Well, in his imagination it cowered. The creature looked confused. He closed the gap swiftly and confidently.
“Come here, you!”
He patted the giant beast on the top of its head as it tried to slink away, its eyes and ears pulled all the way back, its snarling all but ceased.
“Have you seen it?” he asked. “What I am looking for?”
The creature turned and bolted, vanishing into the thicket almost instantly.
Gerylde shook his head and giggled a little more. He couldn’t say he never expected it, but he had hoped to keep his wits a little longer. He turned back to his imps who had all cowered behind him while his mind had played its tricks. He knelt down to get closer to them, to get a better look at each of them.
“At least you lot are real!” he said. “Now, where were we? What were we looking for?”
One of the imps clapped its arms together and trotted off into the trees, the rest followed close behind. Gerylde wasted no time falling in behind them. He didn’t want to get left behind.
It was afternoon by then, the sun high above, though its rays barely broke through the thick trees, with only spots of light swirling in the shadows, dancing on the forest floor.
“Are we nearly there?” he asked. “I don’t want to get caught outside when the night falls. You know what prowls in the shadows.”
No matter how well he knew the forest, he didn’t want to be caught after dark. There were wolves hunting in packs at night, and they weren’t likely to allow him an easy retreat.
The giant black tiger emerged from the forest three more times while he followed the imps, each time growling softly and backing off. It wasn’t threatening any more, in fact it seemed almost friendly. It was acting as if it wanted him to follow. But Gerylde preferred to follow the imps. They, at least, weren’t figments of his imagination.
* * *
Gerylde kept following the little creatures, all the while becoming less confident that they knew where they were taking him, and gradually he became more nervous as the day wore on.
He was just about to demand that they turn around when a man burst through the trees. An old man. Naked. Completely naked. He stopped before Gerylde, and looked at him curiously.
“Good afternoon to you.”
Gerylde couldn’t help but notice the man was still naked. Incredibly naked.
“I’m looking for something,” said Gerylde. “Would you care to help?”
“I can’t right now, I am on a quest.”
“Yes, a quest. I am trying to win the heart of a beautiful maiden, the woman that I am destined to be with for eternity. I am to begin my courtship by finding some clothes. Any suggestions?”
Gerylde glanced at his own tattered rags, unsure of what the old man was hinting at. They weren’t the most fancy clothes, but he didn’t want to end up being the one standing around naked in a forest.
“I am afraid I can’t help.”
The old man bounded into the forest. Good thing that – he was clearly mad. It had been a long day already, what with the imaginary black tiger following him around. With the old man gone, Gerylde could resume his search with his imps.
“Imps!” he called.
But there were none. They were all gone.
“Imps!” he shouted louder.
Nothing. Where the hell had they run off to?
He searched through the trees, looking up unto the canopy, scanning through the branches amongst the fluid shadows dancing in the wind. He searched the forest floor, the ravine, and in the water trickling through. He kicked up the dead leaves, looked behind some larger tree trunks, and under the dense bushes.
Then it occurred to him. What was he looking for?
No matter, he was certain it couldn’t have been important. He should make his way home, it looked to be getting dark soon, and he didn’t want to get caught out alone at night time, deep in Rordynne Forest.
He searched the trees themselves, looking for something familiar. He knew all the trees, he knew them personally. Just not these particular trees. Panicked, he began rushing around, looking for anything familiar, but soon the sun set, and he lost his way.
It wasn’t long before he heard the wolves howling in the distance. It wasn’t much longer before the howling came much closer. There were at least ten in the pack judging by the howling. Might as well be a hundred for all he could do about it.
If he could only climb trees as he used to, he could maybe avoid them for the night by hiding high in the treetops. But it had been some time since his limbs were strong enough to lift him. Quite some time.
Gerylde searched desperately for anything he recognised. Where was he? What was he doing out there? Was he looking for something? That’s right, he was looking for something. What was it? No time now, it was dark, and he needed to find somewhere to hide before the wolves arrived.
He discovered a copse of trees tightly packed, and managed to slither through a gap. It might just be enough to hold the wolves out, should they find him. He sat down and hugged his arms close as the cool of night started to settle in. He could hear the wolves coming closer and closer, and he felt powerless and afraid. For the first time in years, he felt alone. Lost, deep in Rordynne Forest.
His eyes were playing tricks on him. He was certain he could see things moving in the dark. Big things. Scary things. They were watching him, hunting him perhaps. He could feel his heart beating faster, his breath catching as he tried to remain silent. His nerves were barely under control, involuntary shudders overtook him, both from the cold and the fear.
There was a shape in a tree above him, looking down on him. He struggled to focus, but in the dark it was almost invisible. Straining, he finally made out the shape. A huge cat. A tiger, dark as night. He remembered the blood red stripes down its side, but he couldn’t distinguish them in the dark. It was watching him, its eyes catching what faint light there was. Gerylde was certain he had imagined it earlier on, but he was becoming less sure. Fear getting the better of him, he shut his eyes, squeezing them tight, and held his breath.
He opened his eyes, and she was standing right in front of him, with someone else next to her. Where did she come from?
“Ryleine?” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“I… I was looking for you,” she said. “What are you doing? Are you okay?”
He was reluctant to admit the truth. She would use it against him, force him to move to her cabin. And he was still completely fine on his own. Then again, where was he?
“I just got a little turned around. I was looking for something and… well, everything seems so different in this part of the forest. So, unfamiliar.”
“This part?” she said, a little confused. “Grandfather, your hut is about forty yards away. It’s right over there.”
She pointed behind him, and he followed her finger to see his hut. Right where he left it.
“I knew that!” he said. “Why are we still outside? Let’s get indoors. You two will catch a cold if you stay out so late in this cool weather!”
He ushered them indoors, and Ryleine quickly lit fire in the hearth. Soon enough, it was warming up, and Gerylde could sit comfortably by it with his guests. Not that he had much to offer them. Ryleine boiled some water and handed them all small cups of broth.
“What were you looking for outside?” asked Ryleine.
“It’s nothing important, don’t you worry about me.” he answered, conscious that he still couldn’t remember what it was. “Who is your friend?”
Had he met him before?
“This is Kyrnrie. We are… helping each other find some things,” she said. “Grandfather, do you still have that gold coin? The one with the ship on one side, and the seven stars on the other?”
That was it! That was exactly what he had been looking for! Finally! But where was it? He had lost it. He just couldn’t remember where.
“I don’t know where it is,” he admitted. “I had it recently, kept it in that drawer where I always have. But… I lost it. I don’t know where it is.”
Both Ryleine and Kyrnrie sighed in dismay, almost perfectly in unison.
He’d had the coin since he was a young man. His father had given it to him to keep safe when he travelled to the mainland. The next morning he had gone to the dock to await his father’s return, but the mainland had vanished, along with his father. It was obvious Gerylde would never see his father again, but he had kept the coin safe all the same. It was probably worth something.
“Don’t worry, Grandfather, we will help you find it,” said Ryleine. “When was the last time you saw it? Did you take it out recently?”
“I always keep it in there Ryleine, you know that.”
“Please think, Grandfather,” she pushed. “We need that coin in order to find the mainland! I’m not sure how it will help exactly, but we really do need it! Otherwise, I will have to…”
“Has anybody been here… ah, Mr Hermit?”
Kyrnrie was too inquisitive for Gerylde’s liking. Asked too many questions. He seemed to have an eye for his granddaughter too.
“No, of course not,” barked Gerylde. “I would have said so, wouldn’t I? Ah wait. There was that one man. Foul mouth, spent too much time in the sun. What was his name?”
“I have no idea, Grandfather, I thought you were alone? What do you mean he spent too much time in the sun?”
“He did. Dry cracked skin, red, peeling, patchy. Looked like he had spent two weeks in the desert chasing his own tail. He was on his way to Helen’s Bay.
“Chasing his own tail?” said Kyrnrie. “Uh, Tailfin? Wait! You mean Madrik? Madrik was here?”
“Yes, Madrik. That’s exactly what I said.”
Madrik? That didn’t sound right. But he didn’t have to time to try to recall the man’s name now. Besides, Gerylde wasn’t sure about Kyrnrie. He seemed to have an eye for his granddaughter too.
“Madrik, the thieving bastard. He would definitely have taken it.”
“Who’s Madrik?” asked Ryleine.
“He’s a gangster,” said Kyrnrie. “Got on the wrong side of Tailfin. Got sentenced to the desert run twice, and survived both times. Not someone you want to get involved with.”
“He’s also a gangster. The gangster. Runs most of the crime on the island, and most of the inns, gambling dens, pretty much everything really. If Madrik went anywhere near him, which I know he did, then Tailfin almost certainly has the coin now. And he is not someone you want to get involved with.”
“Yet you seem to have gotten involved with both of them?”
“You don’t go about collecting valuable gold coins without bumping into gangsters here and there.”
Ryleine looked upset. It pleased Gerylde. He didn’t much like Kyrnrie, he was up to no good. He seemed to have an eye for his granddaughter too.
“Will you go and find my coin, Ryleine?”
Ryleine glanced at Kyrnrie, who nodded back to her.
“We should get some sleep first,” she said. “There is room enough on the floor.”
Gerylde watched as his two guests set up near the hearth. He didn’t remember inviting them to sleep over, certainly not Kyrnrie. He should make sure to get rid of him in the morning.
He lay down on his bed, gazing up at the ceiling. His eyelids fell limp, and it wasn’t long before he was sleeping, snoring loudly as he always did. And as the sun rose gently over the horizon, so too did Gerylde. Startled, shaken awake by Ryleine.
“Wake up, Grandfather, it’s time to go.”
He glanced around, and saw some of his things packed up in a bundle near the door.
“I’m not going anywhere!” he barked.
“It’s time for you to move in to my cabin,” said Ryleine. “You will be happy there, I promise. I can watch over you, feed you, and make sure you are always looked after. Please come with me this time. Don’t make me beg!”
It wasn’t the first time she had tried it. Packed his things and insisted he go with her. She was watching him with that pitiful look. It drove him crazy. He was just fine without her. He could survive another decade on his own in Rordynne Forest.
“I am perfectly fine on my own. I don’t need you looking after me.”
Ryleine looked sad and disappointed, but she didn’t bother arguing. She had lost the argument a hundred times before, and she didn’t seem up to fighting about it again.
“It’s probably better this way, Ryleine,” said Kyrnrie. “We are about to go after gangsters who are unlikely to hand over the coin on polite request. It will be dangerous. Perhaps once we are done we can come back here, see how things are then.”
Reluctantly, she left without him. The two headed off into the forest, and Gerylde was once again left alone in peace. He loved living out in the forest on his own. He would stay there till the end of his days if he could manage. Ryleine was certain that he had long since lost his wits, but Gerylde knew better. Yes, occasionally he forgot things. Little things really, nothing important. Certainly nothing she should be worrying about.
With a skip in his step, albeit a slightly painful one, he walked outside. It was a pleasant morning. Sunny, warm, with a light breeze. Just perfect. He strolled out towards the trees, walking at a leisurely pace. He put his hands in his pockets, and felt something small and solid. He withdrew it, and held it up to his eyes.
A gold coin. With a ship on one side, its sails unfurled. On the other side, seven stars. They always seemed to rearrange themselves, he never knew why or how. Suddenly, he remembered what he had been looking for.
“Ah! That’s where it is!”
I hope you enjoyed reading Renryre Island Chapter V: The Lost Hermit
Next, Chapter VI: The Hook And The Godstone
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