Jaysh the woodsman wasn’t the only one feeling haunted that evening. On the other end of the Sway, Brother Brine was feeling fairly spooked himself. He’d just reached the northern rim of the Shun, peeked his head out of the brambles at the pastures of the Sway, and a wave of unease just washed straight through him.
     Unable to explain this spell of disquiet, Brine stood scanning the prairie for quite some time. Then, when he failed to spy either beast or bandit lurking in the reeds, he turned his head to the heavens and searched them thoroughly from left to right and back again.
     As had been the case with the pasture below, he found no cause for alarm in the skies above. He saw no gloomy thunderheads gathering to the west, spied no birds of prey circling overhead.
     What he did notice, however, was that the blue of the sky was still giving way to the dark of the night and that there was still plenty of time to make up ground. On the previous night, he had traveled the Shun Forest until he couldn’t see his hand before his face, stopping only because his body demanded rest.
     But not tonight.
     Tonight, he had the strangest feeling he was being watched.      So, unable to explain the feeling—but acutely aware of its presence—he decided to ameliorate its unpleasant effects with a cup of Father Boo’s famous herbal tea and the note he received from the desert stranger; the tea to sooth his nerves and the note to distract his mind. Or so he hoped.
     Next, he found a hickory tree with a thick trunk—ideal for leaning against—and laid his pack upon the ground. He filled his tea cup with water from his water skin, sprinkled in a pinch of spices and leaves from Father Boo’s secret recipe, and plopped himself down against the hickory.
     The tea would have tasted infinitely better had he boiled the ingredients before drinking, but since he wasn’t about to risk a fire with all those eyes out there, he consume the beverage cold. All the same, he couldn’t blame the temperature of his tea for his unrelenting nerves. And Olymun’s note wasn’t helping either.
     So he sipped his beverage, and he reflected on his note, and with every passing moment he felt the eyes draw ever closer.
     “Sir?” a voice said.
     Brine started, arms shaking, tea spilling, his paranoia screaming in his mind that the old man had come back. Olymun had returned and he was about to use Brine like a flesh and blood puppet, moving him not with strings, but with invisible tentacles of nausea and pain.
     As the hickory trunk stopped Brine’s initial retreat, he swept his eyes the length and breadth of the prairie and saw that it was not the old man from the desert who had addressed, but a boy.  
     Brine exhaled and felt his muscle go slack. He still wasn’t thrilled with the idea that someone had crept upon him from the prairie, but at least it was a boy. And this particular boy didn’t look like he was any older than nine ages. He looked like he might weight half of what Brine weighed, and that was after a large meal.
     Rising out of the grass beside the lad, a rather tall pole jutted towards the sky. The boy had a death grip on the rod, gripping it with both hands and practically leaning on it.
     Brine felt his hands continue to shake and told them to be still. The boy’s walking stick bothered him. Maybe because Olymun had used a walking stick. And true, the old man’s stick had been shorter, and it had been shiny blue instead of plain brown—and it had come to his waist instead of rising over his head—but it had still been a walking stick.
     And who was to say that they were not in alliance? Brine thought. Who was to say they did not belong to some band of stick-toting bandits?
     The disciple intensified his squint and scanned the rest of the boy, looking for additional similarities. But as his ruined eyes traveled the boy’s form, he found the walking stick to be the only commonality.
     Rather than clean and silky blue robes, the boy wore the tattered rags of a beggar and was smeared with some kind of dark brown fluid. His hair and clothes appeared greasy and unwashed and his hands looked as though he’d been using them to dig in the dirt.
     But mostly, the boy looked tired, bitterly tired, so tired, in fact, that Brine imagined the ridiculously tall stick was the only thing keeping him up.
     Feeling a little safer about the situation, Brine said, “Yes?”
     The boy looked over his shoulder, scanning the pasture to the east. “Are you all right, Sir?”
     Staring at the back of the boy’s head, Brine gave the question some consideration and then looked down. From the solemnity in the boy’s tone, he quite expected to find a dagger in his chest or a noose around his neck.
     When he found only his cup of herbal tea and the note from Olymun, he said, “I, um…I think I am. Very well in his eyes, thank you.”
     When the boy turned back around, his expression had not changed, glum certainty still masking his features. “Did you receive bad news?”
     Brine’s face crumpled in consternation. “I don’t think so,” he said.
     The boy nodded soberly, his body language paralleling his tone. “You have it to give?”
     “Not that I know of,” Brine said, wriggling backwards on his heels and buttock and stopping only as the trunk of a hickory struck him in the back. “Is there something I’m missing?” he asked.
    The boy’s weary gaze hung on him for awhile, much longer than appropriate really, then his head shook back and forth in the same indolent manner, swinging one way and then the other.
     “Are you okay?” Brine asked, leaning forward from the tree.
     The boy turned listlessly to the pasture in the west and panned his head along its dwindling features.
    “I am tired,” he said.
     Brine’s eyes darted past the boy, checking the dark smear of the prairie and again wondering what his young visitor was looking for. Considering their remote locale and the dress of the young man, he was probably not working with Olymun the sage. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t working with another band of cutthroats, a whole caravan of thieves lurking deep in the reeds and waiting for the boy to signal an attack.
     Of course, if there was a throng of burly killers out there, Brine couldn’t think of a reason for sending this scrawny young man, not when the mob of thugs could attack him outright. The disciple was clearly alone and unarmed and he obviously hadn’t been paying attention when the sleepy boy approached.
     Turning back around, his weepy-eyed gaze settling on the disciple, the boy said, “And where is it you herald from?”
     This puzzled Brine, puzzled him so much that he forgot all about his urge to be rid of the creepy hooligan. The word herald was not the sort of word he expected, at least not from an illiterate heathen who wore shredded bedding and donned tangles of soiled hair.
     Although, now that I think about it, Brine mused, this particular heathen is enunciating remarkably well for an illiterate, despite the questionable word choice.
     Aloud, Brine said, “Do you mean hail?
     Glancing languidly at the prairie, the boy said, “No.”
     Brine made a face. “Are you certain?”
     “Yes,” the boy said, shaking his head. “Hail wouldn’t make sense.”
     “Oh, wouldn’t it?” Brine said, now with a smirk.
     “No,” the boy said, giving Brine a rather patient look before turning back to the prairie. “A harbinger doesn’t hail from elsewhere, he heralds. It’s the difference between coming and announcing.”
     Brine followed the boy’s gaze. “What makes you think I herald from anywhere?” he said, gesturing with his mug to forest and pasture. “Maybe this is where I herald from?”
     “No,” the boy muttered, craning his head back from the Sway. “Your hair,” he said, “it is not of this land.”
     Brine rolled his eyes to the crest of their sockets, as if trying to see the island of hair atop his head or the shaved scalp along its sides. “You’ve never seen hair like this?”
     Sighing, or maybe yawning, the boy said, “No.”
     This made Brine feel uneasy, perhaps even frightened. He pulled the mug close to his lips, attempted to sip it, and then stopped. “Maybe I just cut it,” he said.
     Nodding solemnly, staring hard at something to his right, the boy said, “And the ponytail?”
     “Wauk,” Brine corrected, a bit too quickly. “It’s a wauk. It’s the symbol of my walk with…,” he stopped, giving his head a shake and deciding it wasn’t important just then. “Listen,” he said, “there are a good many gentlemen in this kingdom who have hair exactly like mine. And I think if you took a stroll to the city and had a look around, you’d see them for yourself.”
     The boy turned left, staring hard at something to the west. “So the missive,” he said, “you aren’t delivering it?”
     Brine lowered his tea and frowned. “Missive?”
     The boy twisted around, one bony hand slipping from his rags to point at the note clutched between the disciple’s thumb and forefinger, the note still folded in a perfect square despite the disciple’s many attempts to pry it open, the note which was still as white as eggshells despite the disciple’s filthy, sweat-dried palms.
     “From the pasture,” the boy said, “I saw you staring at it.”
     Gripped by nerves, Brine shoved the note in his robes, shoving so hard that he missed the interior pocket several times and had the look of a man punching himself in the ribs.
     “You were spying on me?” he accused.
     “No,” the boy said, “just watching.” He took a deep breath, then added, “It’s my duty to watch.”
     “And sneak?” Brine snapped, placing both hands on the now-jittering mug. “Is it your duty to sneak as well?”
     “I did not sneak,” the boy said, yawning once more, “I only walked. You would have seen me,” he said, leaning against the very tall stick, “but you were staring at the missive.”
     Brine lowered his eyes to the tin cup. He had no choice but to believe the boy. He knew as well as anyone that he’d been staring at the note. It had become quite the pastime. On each break he took, he’d slip the thing out and try to open it, finding that the edges would not budge, despite the obvious lack of seal or binding. Then he’d try to throw the thing away, to slip it under a rock or bury it in the soil. But each time he did, the dizziness would envelope him until he slipped the paper back inside his robes.
     It was no wonder he was suspicious of this young man, no wonder at all that he suspected him of the worst. The last person he’d met along the road had shackled him with a curse.
     But the boy is not the old man, he told himself, and you aren’t exactly acting like a good Amian, are you? For did He not say to treat your strangers as your friends and to love all men as Owndiah loves you?
     Out loud, his eyes still searching the dark liquid of his cup, Brine said, “I’m sorry I shouted at you…I’ve not felt well lately.” He lifted his gaze. “And I’m not a harbinger or a courier, or anything of the like. I’m just an Amian disciple, a man who’s…,” he paused, swirling his tea and wondering how much to tell, wondering if anyone should know about his powerful feeling or his dream or even the letter, “…I’ve come back to follow the will of my God,” he said at last, searching the boy’s face.
     Quietly, as if he hadn’t heard anything else, the boy said, “Disciple?”
     “Yes,” Brine said, still swirling his drink. “A follower of Amontus.”
     The boy nodded. “Is he a king?”
     Wrestling with the look of shock on his face, Brine said, “No, he’s not a…He’s a prophet—He’s the prophet.”
     Still nodding, the boy said, “Oh.”
     “You’ve never heard of Amontus?” And when the boy shook his head, he added, “Well, surely you’ve heard of Owndiah.”
     “Owndiah,” the boy said, his head falling to the forest floor. He reflected thoughtfully for a moment, then said, “Is his name carved on the temples of old?”
     Brine jabbed an excited finger at him. “Yes!” he confirmed, rising up on his knees. “Yes, it’s on the pillars out front, right before—” he stopped, nose wrinkling and finger curling back inside his hand.
     “Did you say old?”
      The boy nodded. “The temples on each side of the city, the ones to the north, the south, the—”
    “Yes, I know the temples,” Brine interrupted. “What do you mean old?
     The boy yawned again, seemed to be distracted by something far to his left. “They are cold and empty,” he said.  “Do you have a better word for—”
     “How do you know they’re empty?” Brine demanded. “Have you ever gone inside?”
     Readjusting his grip on the stick, the boy said, “No.”
     “Well, then you can’t po—”
     “But neither does anyone else.”
     Brine looked down at his tea. From the look on his face, it could have been bile. Then, in a small and mousy voice, he said, “They aren’t attended? Even on holy days?”
     The boy yawned. “Not in my lifetime.”  
     Brine mouthed the word Empty, then thought about all the times he’d gone to temple, all the times he’d been led there by the hand. He couldn’t remember who’d led him, but he could remember being excited about the tales of wonder that he would hear, like the one about the disciple who was taken by the Old Ones for not following God’s purpose, or the one about the old man who took his family from the evil city of Goar before Owndiah opened the ground and swallowed it whole. Those stories were the building blocks that made up who he was and what he believed and it pained him greatly to think that they were no longer being taught.
     Brine looked up.
     “You were staring again, Sir. This time at the cup.”
     Brine didn’t say anything.
     Without looking up, Brine said, “Yes?”
     “Can we stay with you tonight?”
     Brine looked up in a hurry. “W-We?
     “They’re no trouble,” the boy said, staring at the pasture, “and if they are given to wander,” he said, pausing to yawn, “a soft swat or a quick shout will bring them into line.”
     Brine’s eyes drifted to the prairie. “Th-Th-Them?
     The boy trudged out into the dusky reeds, and even as he raised his hands to his mouth, Brine could see the dark humps waddling towards him from the grass. He heard one of them make the guttural call of a bovine, and then they were close enough for him to recognize as sheep, all of them baaing and grazing and, more or less, bumping into one another.
     “Can you take first watch?” the boy asked, handing Brine the staff. “I haven’t slept in a long time.”
     Reluctantly, Brine set aside his cup and accepted the stick, watching with some dismay as the sheep continued to materialize from the gloom.
     The boy lay down beside him and curled into a ball. With his eyelids closed, he said, “Keep your eyes to the sky.”
     Brine’s eyes darted to the growing darkness overhead. “And why’s that?” he asked.
     “There are less of us now…,” the boy yawned, “…less than once were.”
     “And why’s that?” Brine hissed, his fingers clutching at the cane.
     “…because something…,” the boy said, his massive yawn ending in a sigh, “…is taking us…”