Ilen tried to stay with the children, to shepherd and chaperone them, but no matter what, he never managed to be with them when the Captain summoned them unto their task. He grew further enraged when it played out as a trick, a game, and the Captain no longer seemed gentle in his denial of Ilen’s wishes.
One night, Ilen went to the Captain, but he was turned away, as the Captain was sleeping, was in the thrall of his dreams, holding tight to the long, full feather, the surface of it flatly pressed to his lips. Ilen left, angry, and went to the banks of the waters of Songfall, to where Luroteo kept vigil, as though he never needed to sleep, wanting to know if the man saw the children go, if he knew why and where they went. Luroteo had no answer to satisfy Ilen, but told him that he should listen to the Captain, that all would someday be made clear.
Ilen was not made to follow blindly; now that survival seemed as close to being taken for granted as possible, he could not stumble after the Captain without questioning every step.
Rather than go back to his bedspace, Ilen stayed with Luroteo and waited. The Captain often came here in the morning, and he would speak with him them. As the night quietly bled into morning, the Captain approached. He did not acknowledge Luroteo, or Ilen, but Luroteo gave him a small nod. The Captain knelt near the fallen thing, and leaned down, as though listening. He kept the feather in his hands, running his fingers over it, and whispered, as though conversing. Ilen could not really hear the words, but knew they sounded like song. He was angry, because he was afraid. He was afraid, because he did not understand.
When the Captain got back up and walked away, Ilen followed him, wanting to know where the children would be going. Wanting to know if he could go, as well. Wanting to know why he wasn’t being told the full truth. The captain looked saddened, but could give no answer that would satisfy.
When Ilen came back to the group, the children had already gone, and Ilen spoke of the Captain’s inability to, or unwillingness to, explain the situation. We tried to soothe Ilen, but when dark came, and the children did not come home, those of us who had been complacent in their pilgrimages rose up and went to the Captain at once.
He was as calm and quiet and well-spoken as always, though he looked haggard, worn and tired. It only fueled Ilen, who advanced, outraged, furious that the very beings we should have protected above all others were now missing, to the last child.
He stood there and screamed.
He stood there and wept.
He raised a fist, but then a small hand touched his shoulder, and held him back. Where there had not been children, now there were, walking amidst our group with their treasures, and their tired, but determined, accomplished faces, and their return brought joy enough that Ilen’s raised fist was forgotten, as was the Captain’s refusal to explain. Their return brought enough joy that much could be forgotten, perhaps even forgiven, and when they had offered up their findings, our group celebrated, even with laughter and song.
If anyone noticed that one of the children had not returned, they showed no sign.