“Are you insane? You want to take a child into the Valley of the Dead?”
The old man sighed. “Insanity is what is happening around us,” he said patiently.
They were sitting at the back of a public house, the place filled with field workers and townsmen, the low hubub of voices, the relaxed flow of life which repeated tomorrow and all the tomorrows to come.
The old man nodded at them. “They all think it is normal. Everyday is the same. It makes sense to them. It is internally sane. But their behaviour is what is making the world sick.”
“But taking a child to the Valley of the Dead! What could a child hope to achieve there?!” The younger man asked incredulously. He was a man-at-arms dressed in assorted brined leathers, a sword blade at his side, a swarthy face topped and chinned by rough black hair, blue eyes shining.
The old man shook his head and sighed again. “Nothing,” he said flatly, “nothing.” It was not so much the young man’s questioning, for he had thought this himself many a time. He sighed because of his own answers, answers he did not himself believe. But it was a thought, arrived by deduction, a thing the clerics called logic. He didn’t believe it, hardly trusted it, but there it was nevertheless.
“Nothing,” echoed the young man, deflated, empty of passion. He had expected more of a fight, a reason from the old man. He sighed and let his gaze defocus into the room. He took a drink from his tankard.
“Where everyone else see the dead, ghosts, wraiths, demons,” said the old man, “the child sees only shadows in the trees. He sees nothing.”
The young man hummed in acknowledgement. “Figures,” he murmered and wiped his mouth.
“Not just any child, mind,” said the old man. “A child who is not afraid. A child who has not heard of the Valley as others have, who has not grown up with its stories. A child who has never lied, or cheated, or taken the wrong way to anything.”
“And where would you find this child? This good-natured child? This child who hasn’t heard of the unspeakable horrors that exist in the Valley,” asked the young man, his eyes diverted from the old man, softly in the room of villagers drinking their evening away.
“I have already found him,” said the old man. “But there is a catch.”
The young man nodded, then shook his head. “And what’s that?” he asked. Progress was at least being made, he thought. Not looking at the old man seemed to help. Just passing time, while gazing gently at the people before them, like a slow moving stream.
“He’s looking for a dragon,” said the old man.
“A dragon?” The young man snorted and shook his head. “You want to take a boy into the Valley of the Dead to look for a dragon?” He glanced at the old man. “This is going to end well.”
The old man raised his eyebrows to concede the point, a rare expression from him. “That would be a foolish venture.”
“Uhu,” remarked the young man, “foolish,” he quoted and turned away. “That would be one word for it.”
“No,” said the old man, “he wants me to help him find his dragon before we go to the Valley.”
“Riiiiight,” said the young man. “I’m not sure they have enough beer here for this ever to make sense.” Nevertheless, he rose to his feet, steadied himself, before making his way to the bar.
The old man watched the young man’s back as it receded. How much does he understand of what they were talking about, he wondered. How much real? How much rax? Even he was getting close to the point that he no longer knew. But then again, that was the nature of what they were exploring, and it was the only way they would survive passing through the Valley of the Dead. Putting their lives in the faith of a boy’s innocent, came at the expense of his belief in dragons. Correction, a specific dragon. A dragon which existed deep in Everdark. A dragon the size of a mountain. The dragon known as Argentis, the creator of time. Rax, or real? The old man shook his head and wryly noted he was responding as the young man had. Disbelief was a necessary part of the journey, it seemed, for the only one who needed to believe was the boy. The boy who had never lied, who was still true.