After getting the creature and the old man to the boat, they immediately continued down the current of the river. The cool morning air soon turned into a hot, humid afternoon. The sky was almost completely clear of clouds and the sun felt hot on their backs, even with the cold water of the river churning and splashing around them.
The man was still unconscious, but would often murmur in his sleep. While his clothes were tattered, Eitra recognized them as farmer’s robes. He had possibly come from a village similar to Eitra’s own home. Although, something about the designs on the fabric reminded her of the villages farther north where fishing and trading was more popular.
Taris guided the boat through rapids and ravines, navigating through the river with skill and precision. In particularly tricky parts of the current, Eitra would stand on the bow of the boat and direct Taris, the two of them working together in perfect synchronization. At regular intervals, Taris would navigate to calm waters and they would dock the boat, leaving their unconscious companions on the water as Taris went to hunt for food. It was at their final stop, as the blue sky of day melted into the blackness of night, that the man in robes woke up screaming.
Eitra immediately rushed over to him and covered his mouth. The man struggled against her grip as Taris lifted him up off the boat and onto the solid ground by the shore.
“It’s alright,” Taris assured him.
The man looked around, his eyes wild and filled with panic. As he became aware of his surroundings he began to relax.
“Wh-where am I?” he stammered. His voice was rough with old age and he shook violently as he attempted to steady himself.
“Drink this,” Eitra handed him a horn of water, fresh from the stream.
The man took a generous sip and handed the horn back to Eitra.
“We saved you,” Taris finally answered, “from one of those creatures.”
“Oh yes… the creatures,” the man had a strange look on his face. “Wh-where is the creature now?”
“Um…” Eitra looked over to the river, “It’s on the boat. Unconscious.”
“Wouldn’t you think it would be, ah, unwise to bring something so dangerous onto your boat?” The old man’s words sounded concerned, yet his tone seemed to evoke a sense of malice.
“My thoughts exactly,” Taris remarked.
“It’s important,” Eitra insisted. “We’re on our way to Arabouth. We’re bringing you and the creature in as evidence. We have to warn as many kingdoms as we can before they suffer the same fate as both of our villages.”
The man chuckled, “Oh, no no no… I’m not from any village.”
Eitra raised his eyebrows, “You look like you are.”
The man shook his head, “My village thought I was crazy! They–they forced me out. Told me they didn’t want any of my crazy ideas.”
“And…?” Taris prompted.
“They–they banished me. Told me to never come back,” the man’s eyes seemed to be unable to focus on a singular point of interest. “They were just afraid, afraid of what I knew.”
“You’re a loner,” Eitra said. “I’ve heard about people like you.”
“Oh yes… I’m sure you’ve heard all about me: the crazy one, the rambling on.” His eyes caught a bit of the firelight, illuminating his irises in the night, “The Historian.”
“Yes, yes! That’s me. The one who studies the keys of the past to unlock the doors of our future. Th-the one who searches for answers in the most unlikely of places to learn things about this world–our world.”
“You are crazy,” Taris grumbled.
“Oh, not at all,” The Historian shook his head violently. “Not at all. In fact, you’re crazy for not believing me! Th-the past–I can assure you–is the future!”
“I can’t listen to this guy any longer,” Taris strapped his quiver over his shoulder. “I’m going to get some food.” He leaned in close to Eitra, “Keep an eye on him, will you?”
He disappeared off into the woods.
The Historian sat down by the fire next to Eitra. He stared into it as he spoke, “Your friend isn’t very perceptive, is he? One of those close-minded hunters, I assume? Yes, yes. Th-that’s it. They’re always focused on the present–on one entity. Th-they never see the bigger picture. I suppose, however, that’s why they are so good at shooting. Makes it easier to focus on your prey when you aren’t stuck in the bigger picture…” He looked into Eitra’s eyes for a moment, “but you… you see it don’t you?”
“See what exactly?” Eitra decided to humor the old man’s antics.
“You have a goal, don’t you? A purpose. You want to warn people about th-the future. You don’t want them to suffer the same fate as your own village.” The Historian smiled, then continued, “You see it now, don’t you? In your past, your village was taken by th-those creatures. So now you have set yourself a goal–a purpose for your future–to warn the other kingdoms. You yourself are a historian. You have used your own past to determine your own future.”
“But don’t we all do that?” Eitra added more wood to the crackling fire. “We see the problem and attempt to fix it in our future?”
“Oh… not everyone is able to see the bigger picture, my dear. You’ll see, you will. When we get to Arabouth, th-the council won’t see your bigger picture. Only their own, closed, selfish goals,” The Historian shook his head. “No no no. Not even your key evidence is enough to unlock the door to their sight. Ha! They’ll simply laugh… and th-they’ll see you as a threat to their precious power.”
“You don’t know what will happen, though,” Eitra said. “The future can always change.”
“Oh, my dear, but it hasn’t changed. Th-the past determines the future and, in the past, they have always seen new ideas like yours–and like mine–as a threat to their power.” The Historian leaned in close to Eitra, his voice barely a whisper, “They fear it. They always have. Th-they always will.”
Taris appeared from the woods, a furry, large rodent in his hands, “I’ve brought some food. Hopefully it’ll be enough for the three of us.”
“Tell me hunter, why is it that you left the Bowmen of Uriv?” The Historian asked, his eyes still fixated on the fire.
“It wasn’t exactly my choice,” Taris seemed to be taken aback by the question.
“Well it was, wasn’t it? Your choices set your future into motion… th-they are what determine consequences,” The Historian looked up at Taris. “The Bowmen want to overthrow Arabouth’s rule, do they not? Th-they’re radicals masquerading as a simple band of travelers, rebels, some might say.”
Taris didn’t respond.
“You were caught warning the council I assume… and in return, they both banished you. Th-the hunters punished you for your betrayal, and the council condemned you for your crimes against their power,” The Historian shook his head. “And you believe it wasn’t your choice. Was it not your choice to reveal the Bowmen’s intentions? To oust them as a th-threat?”
“Don’t go preaching your nonsense to me, old man. You don’t know me,” Taris sounded angry, but Eitra could tell that The Historian was right. She could see the hurt in his eyes, just behind his frustration with the old man.
“Oh, I don’t know you, Hunter,” The Historian agreed, “but I have seen others like you– th-that same outlook on life, the same hunger in their eyes, looking for a chance to prove themselves. It’s just like yours. You’re lost, Hunter… and in many ways, you are a loner yourself.”