Chapter Thirteen: Upon Waning Patience and
Calhalla Holt, Mossreign Dale, Southern Dagger Fells Cord
2nd Som Patience, month of Foundations 8178
Growing loud and more chaotic, the shouting voices no longer seemed directed at anyone in particular. Every person only screamed to have their voice heard. Sahaan loathed to use it, but he gripped the carved, wooden club-shaped gavel and slammed it onto the council table once. The sound echoed loud enough to be heard in the halls beyond the locked doors. Although most everyone quieted and sat, one voice continued to rant. That it was Tumahnr Fehlisan was no surprise to him.
“It is an insult enough that we must share a table with this--”
“Tumahnr, tread carefully.”
“--that you even consider caving to the demands of her leadership, these, Falenoth women. It is abhorrent! Why not line the streets with our youth and simply behead them now?!” The woman threw her hands up trying to stoke the frenzy anew.
As supporters and challengers began to speak, Sahaan raised his voice above all of them. “If Tumahnr Fehlisan is quite finished with her histrionics, perhaps we need another reading of the letter... AGAIN. It is not a demand. It is a request. In my experience, those engaging in genocide do not make a habit of polite invitations.”
“The Vesvudak stressed several times she is quite understanding of the strain placed upon all the Erahs clans, both emotionally and physically given our losses recently and historically. Daunet Zuree is not a tyrant. In fact, all accounts of her depict a woman of very wise leadership who chooses to seek out diplomatic means before rushing to the sword.” Umisra spoke up without asking permission, her own ire raised at this point. “Her letter details an upheaval in the capital and Viridian Enclave that will require far too much of her attention to be worrying about clever tricks for 'squirrel-hunting' sport.”
Her language riled several present, while Sahaan struggled to conceal a smirk behind his hand. They needed it. They deserved it. The Calhalla had been sheltered and protected unlike any other Erahs clan save perhaps the elusive Sutali, and because of this, they had become arrogant and complacent. No less dangerous, they had become detached. They thought themselves removed from the other clans, more important and so isolated in Mossreign that the troubles of Tybraes did not affect them. The Dusters had been a hard smack of truth that too many still refused to face.
Rising from her seat, towering above everyone, Nkot cleared her throat and rest the fingertips of one hand upon the table. “The religious unrest in Ejade is a storm the Greater Kith will have to weather. The creature Uvall is a test of the Valkto faith. Many will continue to believe, many will join this belief- Shae and Erahs included... but many more are seeing the horrors around them, these Dusters that attacked your clan, that I myself have fought. These Valktoss... not one I have known who has looked into the face of a Duster has held to that faith. The fate of the Valk Malvud detailed in the letter only confirms for many that if our premiere voice of the Gods has such a crisis of faith as to go mad, many more will turn away.” The woman crossed her arms then and heaved a sigh. “Vesvudak Zuree has a keen enough tactical mind to manage this unrest on her own. She does not expect the aftermath of the coup in the Enclave will simple go away. But Uvall is the threat. The Dusters are the threat. To EVERYONE. And she will not allow our politics to be the reason all of Tybraes dies.” She glanced about the table but settled her eyes upon Fehlisan. “Will you?”
As Nkot eased back into her seat, Sahaan bowed his head, “Thank you, Ganrosa Raagmin, very well stated. Unlike my mother before me, I prefer not to hand down decrees upon the people. I will not force anything upon anyone.”
“Yet you will force the council to accept this without our say or approval?” Tumahnr Kamis blurted, a woman younger than Umisra. “So I am invited to sit on the council yet my voice still counts for nothing!”
“No, this is not true. You are the heads of your houses. Your voices are looked to for wisdom and guidance everyday. You are here to gain all the information, so you may take it to your houses. Offer your opinions to them, but let it be known that if I learn of anyone forbidding a willing volunteer from stepping forward, there will be consequences.” His eyes fell upon Fehlisan at this. “Umisra has seen to it that the letter has been copied for each of you to take and provide for your houses to read. Other copies will be made available around the holt. Volunteers are to report to Captain tu'Satin. Greil will ensure that they are properly prepared and, if need be, receive some training before leaving to meet the Ganroth Vud-Ntaesk or the imperial army. Units of both will be coming through the area.”
Tumahnr Fehlisan opened her mouth to argue, but it was Tumahnr Satin who held out a hand and silenced her with a shake of his head. “The clan have a right to make this decision for themselves, Eema. It is their lives for which these Ganroth and Shae fight. They have a right to defend it for themselves as well.”
Again Sahaan nodded with respect. “Thank you, Tumahnr Satin.”
Without word, Fehlisan rose from the table and looked to those who had supported her voice, then marched for the door. A few others rose and followed. Tumahnr Kamis considered it but faltered and remained seated. Tumahnr Satin called after the defiant delegate, “Eema, do not be unreasonable!”
“Let them go.” Weary of arguments, Sahaan gestured toward Umisra. “Guards of the Protectorate will see the letter is delivered to every home. She cannot spin lies, only bend truths.”
“You discount the power of this manipulation,” Nkot advised him from the end of the table.
The elder Satin looked her over then very polite praised, “you are very well spoken, Ganrosa Raagmin. Your words here today were very influential.”
From his seat at a distance, Sahaan could see the flicker around her eyes, the twitch of muscles, but Nkot inclined her head and remained civil. “Perhaps the Ganroth are not as savage as you supposed. We are well educated in history and philosophy, same as your people. Our culture simply has less tolerance for illusions. Politics are considered dishonest and vulgar. This is something I am struggling to learn since arriving.”
“Then, I must say,” he smiled at her wryly, “you are a very keen study.”
“I do try, Tumahnr.”
Rising to his feet as the others had begun to shuffle out, he reguarded Sahaan. “Do not dismay, young Orahsi. You are doing exceedingly well. The people still like you, in spite of Eema Fehlisan's crowing. She is a vahahsh.”
Sahaan was a party to Greil's chastisement. So stoic and silent, he had nearly forgotten she stood behind his chair. The old man only let out a soft cackle and waved a hand at her in dismissal as he made his way out.
“That went well,” Umisra smiled as she turned to face him.
Nkot raised her feet and set them upon the table as she rubbed at one temple. “Were we at different sessions of the Itumrathtan, Umi?”
The woman only chuckled and shook her head. “No one threatened sensure this time, and only one Tumahnr resorted to name calling. Oh, and no one insulted Nkot!”
“Ehn... debateable,” the Ganroth challenged with a grumble.
Sahaan reached over and covered her hand with an encouraging rub. “It was not a disaster. Ensure the letters are distributed and then we will see who reports to Greil. For now, I need to meet with Tumahnr Furl.”
He rose and left, then as was common, Nkot left with Greil to accompany her about her business until she and Umisra were to meet again. Seated at the council table, Umisra leafed through the pages of her ledger and regarded the notes of the meeting and her list of tasks to be done. A soft knock drew her attention.
“Pardon me, Tumahnr Effas?” A young scout stepped in with a leather scroll case over his arm. As she looked up with a hum, he extended it toward her. “This arrived for the Venerate, but he was in a meeting. I was told to bring it to you.”
“Yes, thank you.” She smiled and accepted the case. Uncapping it, she slid the parchments out then set the barrel upon the table. The papers smelled of leather and rose oils. Odd combination for official documents. Unrolling the papers more fully, she smoothed them down onto her ledger so she might read them. The finely inked letters were written in Etharhia. The Avali Venerate perhaps had sent word to influence their decision. This was painfully disspelled the moment she began to read.
Erahtha Sahaan... please forgive the tardiness with which this comes to you. I will not trouble you with self-pitious tales to win favor for inexcusable neglect--
Umisra closed the papers into her ledger. Chest trembling as she shifted her gaze to the scroll case, the woman considered what to say to him when he let out of his meeting. The letter began in a promising fashion, so it could be the comfort he needed to alleviate the stressful days he had endured. Although, it could also be informing him with delicate words and sweet oils that she had found someone else to capture her heart.
Leaving the council hall, she retreated to the meditation room and called for tea. She sat beside the window to read the pages delivered, to determine if this was news that would uplift or depress her Venerate. It was only his wellfare that concerned her. As Nelah's letter spoke of rainy nights reaching out to him with Elhia, remembering their talks by the fire and their hunts, its intent became evident. Passionate language spoke of how much she had come to understand what she had really feared, and what she now knew she had lost by holding him away. Nelah, the eto who would be warrior, who had stood before the previous Venerate in judgment for fighting with one of the scouts that dared impune her knowledge of the forest, who stood judgment as a youth for being malefica, who killed another youth- regardless of the fact she resurrected him- this Nelah was pleading that Sahaan allow her another chance if she survived and was able to return home.
Sahaan knew all this of her and he loved her, of course he would.
Tears in her eyes, Umisra lowered the letter into her lap and stared out into the sunlight as it started to dip lower along the horizon. As a hand touched her shoulder, she nearly leapt from the cushions.
“Umisra!” Sahaan chuckled with sympathy. “I did not mean to frighten you, but... did you not hear me calling you?”
Still distracted she shook her head and quickly swept the letter into her ledger. He reached over and swiped at the tears beneath her right eye. “What makes you weep?”
Ducking her head, she whispered, “no, it's... it is nothing. Your meeting went well?”
The man waved it off then reached over to hand her the cup of forgotten tea. “You have left it go cold. Pot and all. Let me make you more and we can talk.”
“I do not feel much like talking.”
“Then I know you have much you need to talk about.” He eyed her over his shoulder as he knelt beside the inset hearth and set the kettle back over it. “Do these talks stress you? The war, this Uvall... it would be natural for it to scare you. I am frightened. There is no shame in it.”
Demurring again, she avoided his gaze and looked at the ledger, then set it aside. Very casually, she rest a pillow over top of it. “I am finished speaking of work today.”
Regarding her for a long moment, she feared he may reach over and take the ledger, sift through the papers, but he only watched her. She could see he was genuinely worried about her. Although she could not name what was wounding her, could not put words to why she wept, she could point to what lifted those pains away. The light in his green eyes was all it took to clear away her darkness. Slipping off the cushions onto her knees, she crawled to him, took his face in her hands and kissed him with all the passion she could call upon. Slow to respond, his initial shock faded and she felt his hand snake around her waist and he drew her closer, then closer still, and soon he returned her kiss with a reflection of her deeper need.
- - - -
The Viridian Cattedrale, Viridian Enclave, Western Tybraes
2nd Som Patience, month of Foundations 8178
“You are sweating.”
“She is pushing me to train hard.”
Yaffeta leaned on the windowsill and smelled the honeysuckle flowers on the breeze. “I am tired.” Ducking back in the window, she eyed him askance, “and you stink.”
Grimacing, Aio crossed his arms over his chest and gestured to the window. “And you are showing yourself to all the world. Will you dress or shall I close the window?”
A sly grin curled her lips. “Take off your vest and wash, Nto-Aio. No one can see me.”
“I can see you.”
Laying on the bed again, she draped a hand over her under-developed chest and brought one knee up. “I fear Vess-Daunet is too optimistic.”
Hanging his vest on the bed post, the young man used her basin and sponge to wash away his morning's training session. “She has faith in you, that the people will see what she sees-- what I see.”
“They will see a little girl.”
“A naked one,” he laughed as he walked to her patting himself dry. “If Vess-Sama comes to escort you to the balcony and you are still undressed, she will carry you bare-assed out to the people.”
A devious giggle fluttered from the girl as she raised a hand to play with the sun coming through her window. “Wouldn't that be a sight?” With a squint she eyed him, “your training here at the Cattedrale, it is good? You do not resent that I made you return?”
“I am your personal guard-- one of, until I am fully trained.” Aio grinned and rest a knee on the bed beside her. “Why would I resent you for that?”
“The Dead Sister training you before Vess-Daunet ordered you be brought back,” Yaffeta brought her hand down to touch at the new braids that framed her face like a tiara. “She was very strong. You learned many things from her.”
Brushing a hand over her upraised knee, he stared at a patch of sunlight on her thigh. “I come running at your name. No one else holds that place.”
Sitting up, she glanced at him from the corner of her eye as she set her feet on the cool stone floor. “Do not worry... I learn many things too. My observational talents are more than just seeing with my spirit's eye.” Lifting her new vestments from the dressing screen, she slipped it over her head. The long tabard lay over her shoulders from fine chains, slightly heavier links threading the sides to hold it to her body in modesty, although the effect emphasized her growing curves. As she clipped in the last chain at her hip, she turned and faced him. “I am still a child in body, but not in mind.”
“You are not a child.”
Slipping bracelets and anklets on at the vanity, she hummed at him. “Vess-Daunet asserts I am free to do as I please. As do you. As does Vess-Hetaar and Vess-Sama and every other person around me.”
He leaned on the bed post. “So many voices are not enough to convince you?”
“So many other voices can not tell me who I am.” She afixed a brooch to the center of her braided crown, a delicate gem hanging from it to sit at the crest of her brow. She then attached fine chains to the brooch and draped them down the back of her sleek hair. Never had she worn anything so refined or elegant. Yaffeta felt costumed.
“I suspect few people would dare try.” Aio grinned at her, then reached for his vest. “The announcement is soon. Are you ready?”
Holding her arms out she looked down at herself then turned to face him. “Do I look like a Malvud?”
Tossing his vest onto the bed, he stepped around behind her. Drawing up the loose ends of chain, he attached them to the fillegreed caps on the tips of her horns. “You look like a goddess.” As he lowered his hands, one grazed lightly over an exposed hip. “No one will look away.”
“I want their ears, Nto-Aio... not their eyes.” Striding from him, the dainty talons of her bare feet clicked on the stones. “Change quickly. I will be in the Temple.” Her eyes sparkled as she looked back before leaving. “You still smell.”
Walking the halls, the guards and servants would stop to nod or bow to her. Yaffeta thought she should tell them not to. It made her uncomfortable, but this is what Daunet wanted, for her to be accepted as Malvud and perhaps one day as Valk Malvud, to take Massafera Tyque's place.
As she neared the Temple doors an Erahs servant came rushing to her in a flurry, her slate grey cheeks flushed with the effort of her run. Sweeping unfettered locks of periwinkle hair back from her face, she touched her brow to show respect then panted, “Malvud Yaffeta... I was supposed to help you dress. You, you did not have to prepare alone. I apologize for my absence.”
“Nonsense,” she smiled and extended a hand to her. “Ntå-Aio helped me with the headpiece. I am otherwise able to dress myself.”
“Except,” she gasped, clasping the girl's hand with both of her own. “You are wearing the vestment backwards, Malvud.”
Looking down at herself, her bottom lip pouted and she looked back with the tears of an embarrassed youth. “And everyone has seen. Everyone will be laughing--”
“No! I am sure they will not, but come. Let me help you. There is a sacristy adjoining the Temple room.” She guided her into the former throne room to the small chamber that was once Massafera's private meditation room and prior to that the Jaed's private study and Thelred's deathbed.
As the door closed, Yaffeta hung her head and stifled her humiliation. With warm, gentle hands, Adeil began to unclip each chain down on side of the garment. “Do not fret, miss. You look lovely. I cannot imagine anyone else noticed.”
The girl looked down into her royal purple eyes. “You did.”
“It is my duty to see that you are properly tended to.” Adeil smiled then carefully lifted the tabbard off to shift it around. “I could not bear to have my charge presented on her big day looking anything less than perfection.” Bending to task, she began reclasping the light chains down the side again. “I am surprised you allowed Ntå-Aio to assist you.”
“He has always cared for me. Looked after me when my vision walks made me ill.”
Adeil smoothed the vestments and began to primp at her jewelry and hair. “He is a fine young man. You are lucky to have such a one who cares for you.”
“He is keen to test the bed of others as I have made it clear I am not ready. He had a fondness for the Jaed's daughter, and she was Shae. I do not think being Erahs would dissuade him. You are very pretty. More than me.” Yaffeta watched her as the woman slowed her fussing and met her gaze. Taking this as disbelief, she asserted. “It is true. You have solid thighs and soft curves. He would like the feel of you.”
Mouth falling open, the woman stared at her before stammering a reply. “You should not speak of such things. You should not... know such things. And, if Ntå-Aio truly cared for you as you claim...”
Shaking her head, Yaffeta smiled, “the needs of our body are not the same as the needs of our hearts. He would only resent me if I demanded celibacy. He would respect my wish, but resent it. You are lovely and kind--” she paused at the woman's expression then bowed her head. “But you are disquieted by his nature. I understand.”
“Not as a Ganroth.” Adeil fussed at the girl's vestments again. “When I am finished changing your linens, it is not unusual for me to warm the Vesvudak's.”
“Oh, I see. I have never watched this type of coupling before.”
“I should hope not!” The woman blushed then leaned in to whisper in mortification. “You do not watch Aio--?”
Yaffeta giggled, “not presently. That would be terribly rude.” Turning away, she started toward the Temple room again. “He will likely be waiting. When the Vesvudak arrives, we are to begin.”
The door was only cracked a bit when she heard their voices. “There she is!”
Walking to them without concern, the girl bowed to Daunet. “Vesvudak. I hope I meet with your expectations.”
“You are Malvud now, Mala-Yaffeta. We are both people of rank. Do not demur to me.” The woman raised her chin and waved for Yaffeta to follow suit, then she nodded her head in a respectful gesture. “Good. The Enclave gates are open and the plaza has filled with people from the Capital as well. Everyone has come to see you.”
Smoothing her garments, Yaffeta drew in a cleansing breath and listened to the deep tolling bells still calling them to the Cattedrale. Saying nothing, she turned from them all and walked out onto the balcony. Unlike Massafera's arrival, she did not raise her hands, the crowd did not cheer. A hush fell over the entire city as the last bell rang out and reverberated out into the daylight leaving only the distant cry of a hawk.
Resting her folded hands on the rail before her, she looked down at all the upturned faces of every race, class and age. The bootsteps of the three Kithoth Falenoth leaders and Aio filed onto the balcony behind her. Still everyone only stared. A child below her giggled aloud and Yaffeta smiled bending over to look down at the toddler holding a chubby hand aloft. She raised a hand and moved her fingers in a wave. The baby laughed again. Straightening, she then looked out at everyone and closed her eyes briefly. When they reopened, golden light emanated from them like the sun. She did not need to shout. Not a breath disturbed the peace, more disturbing, every child within the streets was speaking in unison with her.
“My name is Yaffeta, Malvud of the Greater Kith, Malvud of Ejade. I believe in peace. I want peace... for our kith, for our kind, for Erahs-kind and for Shae-kind. I want for you to look at me and see a beacon of harmony, to hear a voice of reason. I want for you to look to your children and see the harmony this world lacks now that they so desperately need and in their voices, in their laughter and tears, I want you to hear their pleas for their futures.”
Every child turned and embraced a parent or adult near to them, holding tightly as Yaffeta stood in silence a long moment. As the parents examined them in fear and concern for what Yaffeta was doing to them, they just smiled and laughed as she whispered in their ears. Their tiny faces remained fixed on the adults as they gave voice to Yaffeta.
“I see the sick and wounded. Those touched by the dust in quarantine, those battered or dying beaten by neighbors for disbelief. This is not the way. Josefi, blood for blood is not the way. Bring bread to Shanna's family, see that her children are fed as recompense for your crime--”
“No one knew-- how did she?!” A man's voice wailed before he took off running through the crowd in fear and shame.
“Kasten, your herbs could help so many wounded and sick yet you hide them in your cellar. Show compassion. Trade them if you must. Nemna, your boy is coughing blood... go to him now. Losori, go with her.” Yaffeta looked around at them. “I watch this world. I see its hurts, but I have seen those who can heal it. Massafera Tyque's god is a false one. It was his corrupted spirit and his false god that brought all this pain and anger and sickness upon us all. This false god must die.”
Leaning forward over the rail, she did raise her hands as she pleaded. “The Ganroth took the Cattedrale in desperation upon the lies Massafera Tyque has told us! What reward have we reaped?! Pain. Misery. Loss. Changes are needed, yes. Erahs and Shae and Ganroth must sit and speak as equals. But this cannot happen when swords are raised. It cannot happen whilst we all are dying. As Malvud I plead... let us kill the false god together! Let us all save our families, save our children and our futures. Then together we will build a peaceful future for Tybraes. A future for our children to laugh and grow without hatred and war. One in which no race stands upon the backs of another.”
Lowering her hands to the rail again, she lifted her chin as Daunet had done and said her last with her chorus of children, “WHAT SAY YOU PEOPLE OF TYBRAES?!”
At this the children ran free laughing and playing, weaving through the crowd of adults seeking each other out to hold hands and dance in a beautious symphony of jubilation. Their laughter was soon joined by a rising chant as Daunet stepped forward and raised her fist in the air.
“MALVUD YAFFETA! ”
“YAFFETA! YAFFETA! YAFFETA! YAFFETA!”
Beaming a smile, Yaffeta closed her eyes, the light dimming from them, though the children never stopped laughing and playing. She raised one hand to the crowd then turned and took two steps toward the Temple room before all the world swirled in a great cyclone out from under her feet.
Aio and Sama dove after her, but only just stopped her head from hitting the floor. “Get her back from view,” Sama hissed. “I dont think anyone below could see.”
“I am more worried about HER.”
“That's fabulous... but as far as they're concerned, right now, she's a bloody goddess. We can't have that destroyed already.” Sama pointed toward the crowd. “You hear that? Did you see what she did?! This girl could tell them to march into the ocean and they would do it.”
Gently lifting her from the floor, Aio cradled her to his chest. Yaffeta hooked a hand about his neck. “I am so tired...”
“I know Ntomaloth, I will get you to bed.”
Closing her eyes she murmured, “did I do well? I hope they will not just dismiss me for a little girl.”
Kissing the top of her head, he strode the halls as swift as he was able. “I do not think there is any fear of that.”
“You smell... lovely... like incense...” Her voice faded against his collarbone as she slipped into unconsciousness.
- - - -
Jewelry removed, save the brooch and gem at her brow, Yaffeta rest against the growing collection of cushions that Aio was building for her as if making her a nest. Adeil had arranged for some new garments to be tailored for her, not as formal as the vestments she had worn that morning. Holding one up now she smiled, “see, simple as you asked, comfortable, but still pretty.”
Yaffeta nodded in placation. Adeil was very fixated on everything being pretty and just so. If it made her happy, then Yaffeta was content. “Will Ntå-Aio be returning after training?”
“Very likely. He was most reluctant to leave.” Coaxing the girl from the bed, she braced her as she stepped into the dress, then set to fastening the hooks. “See, very comfortable. Such soft fabrics.”
“I did not mind my shift.”
Adeil rubbed her shoulders, “but you are Malvud now. No need to wear something so plain.”
Turning to meet her gaze, Yaffeta shook her head. “Adeil, I am not royalty. Malvud is... a guide. A teacher. What example do I set, lesson do I teach with fancy clothes and jewelry when people die of dust sickness and Tybraesians slaughter each other in fear?”
The Erahs touched her face, “that we can all rise above it to something better.”
Brow furrowing, the girl was not convinced this was the way to achieve that. Before she could argue, a sharp rap came at the door.
“Yes?” Adeil crossed to greet them. She conversed with them a moment then opened the door for the Falenoth to step forward.
Bowing her head in respect the woman quickly apologized, “I do hope the Malvud is feeling better.”
“I am well, thank you.”
“I am sorry to ask that you come to the Temple, Malvud, but a man has arrived and is quite insistant to see you. The Vesvudak thought it may be pertinant.”
“Yes. It seems the Keepers have left the library and come to him.”
Yaffeta focused intently on the woman now, “who is this man?”
“An Erahs, Malvud. He says his name is Nel Alces of the Erahs'Jasuuk.” The guard's deft reflexes were all that allowed her to step back in swift enough time as the young woman bolted past, ignoring Adeil as she shouted after that she still wore no shoes.
Jogging in the halls, Yaffeta paid no mind to the bows and nods and murmurs of respect. She scurried as quickly as her weary body could travel. The Temple doors remained open at all times, but she was greeted with the bows of acolytes and guards milling about the newly enlivened hall, none daring to enter. They congregated at the door to stare in at the Ontax keepers and mysterious visitor.
Beneath the sunlight of the oculus she stopped and stared up at the man twirling about on the dais admiring the great seal. His cloak glimmered with magic in her eyes and she could see a faint shimmer around him as well. Behind him standing in a row were the Ontax, hands folded just watching him. Uxfesra drew his attention and pointed to where Yaffeta stood watching him.
Slipping his hood away as he turned to face her, the Erahs greeted her with a dashing smile. He swept into a low genuflect, and Yaffeta marveled at his height. He was taller than any Erahs she had ever seen, and handsome. “Great Malvud, I am--”
She raised a hand. “I know who you are.” Inclining her head as she studied him, this strange foreign animal languidly dancing within her temple. “How are you here?”
“I walked. Some of the way I ran. And a few places in between I rode a vnesh or a wagon.” His eyes sparkled as he grinned at her. Tus Fe chittered from behind him, and Nel listened closely then turned back. “I see... then forgive my cheekiness. I was not trying to insult your intelligence. A jest, only.”
“Yet still no answer.”
Elodis spoke to Sígo, both of whom laughed, then Sígo gestured to Nel as one eyed Yaffeta. “Yes, I know,” she answered their assertion that he was a Nelenr.
“And you understand the Ontax as well... marvelous,” Nel gasped, folded his hands behind his back and stepped down from the dais to walk to her. “By your horns I know you to be Aafon's child.”
“So you knew your father?” Nel lifted his brows in surprise.
“No, I merely witnessed my naming, at which he was present. I gather this surprises you.” She folded her hands behind her back then turned and raised one toward Aio as he stepped into the doorway with Daunet at his side. “I am fine,” she murmured.
There was talk amongst the Keepers then Zenix, who rarely ever spoke, directed a remark to Nel. It was Yaffeta however who responded. “It was Massafera's torture that awakened me to my full abilities, in only that I had been limiting myself. My instincts have always been here. I did far more in my dreams as a child than I did under his tutelage. The moment he began to take his heated blade to my back I understood this.”
The mirth on Nel's face faded as if a black shadow passed over the oculus above them. “I misjudged your judgment of him.”
“The Keepers still deny the justice in it.”
Inclining his head in their direction in concession he “The Ontax society has survived for millenia longer than you can imagine, perhaps due to their vehement opposition to violence.”
“Not all of us have elevated to that level of luxury just yet.” Lowering her eyes, Yaffeta stared at the floor, feeling the disquiet amongst her mentors. She disappointed them and she felt the shame of it, but refused to revoke her judgment on Massafera. Cooling the warmth around her eyes, she cleared her throat and changed the subject as smoothly as she could. “I believe I understand now the ill-fitting matters in our enigmatic narrative. The histories that made little sense and the overlaps in religious mythos. If I am correct, if you are the son of Quirifen and brother of Ndor... Khes Adaia... is she your daughter?”
“Our time is better spent on questions you do not know the answers to.” The man lowered to sit upon the edge of the dais. “Your spectacle with the children was impressive. Had you not done this, I may not have believed Uxfesra's letter.” Embittered clicks and resonating vowelic agitation uttered from the shadows behind him, to which he laughed.
Yaffeta raised her brows, “I do not know many of those words.”
“Perhaps best you do not.” Nel smiled and gestured for her to come sit with him, although his eyes drifted to the two wary soldiers at the back of the room. “Vesvudak Zuree. And the young man, Uxfesra, this is Aio Matjera?” There was a soft reply. “Hmm.” His thoughts remained his own as he looked back to Yaffeta. “How did you entrance the children?”
“I didn't. I whispered to them, asked them to play a game with me. Children like to play.” Her persimmon eyes looked him over curious how he could not understand so simple a thing. “None older than ten were receptive, their minds already growing too clouded by the impositions of their parent's dogma. This is why they laughed. It was silly fun to them. I was harming no one and forced none to do so.”
“I think in her youth my mother was like you.” His onyx eyes held her gaze with an uncomfortable intensity laden with pain. “You listen to the Keepers. Heed their council. No matter how good your intentions do not dismiss the guidance they give and think you know better. They know more than you can imagine no matter how great you think your power or far reaching you think your visions.”
Withdrawing in indignation, she scowled, “I am quite aware. I have no interest in domination.”
Nel shook his head and lowered his face into one hand. Scrubbing at it as he looked back up to her in sorrow his voice faltered, “neither did she. That was never her goal. Desperation colors our view and we see the world through a tunnel, only a very narrow route out of our misery. She conceived a way to save our people and rid Tybraes of the invaders... convinced us all that--”
“Invaders?” Daunet stepped forward now crossing the room with caution, not understanding who the visitor was or why Yaffeta and the Keepers showed him so much reverence. “What invaders?”
The man looked to Yaffeta as if to seek permission. The girl drew a breath and faced her. “He means us. The Ganroth, the Shae. Tybraes was never our land. We 'discovered' it and attempted to take it as our own.”
Nel laughed heartily as she said her last. “Attempted. Well done there, little one. The historical rhetoric lives on.”
Hanging her head, she looked at him sheepishly then back to Daunet. “The 'Old Gods' were... a weapon unleashed on our kind that they thought they could control.”
“Mother thought she could control, in her arrogance.” Venom seeped from his tongue. “And as a result nearly all Tybraes died and your people here, the Shae here... the Ontax and Tōk, they have been cut off from all the rest of the world that you have all forgotten even exists.”
Daunet's eyes darted to the Keepers desperately seeking a rebuttal. Instead the line of five bowed in confirmation. “Can you prove any of this?”
Nel tossed his hands, “aside from having been there? Aside from having watched my sister DIE? Aside from confessing to my own mother being the harbinger of the end of the world? Truly?!”
“Nel.” Yaffeta pleaded quietly knowing Daunet's temper.
A chorus of voices rose from the shadows behind him and he snapped up an angry hand to silence the Keepers. The woman's muscles were tensing and she stood taller, hand flexing closer to her blade. “If Aafon were here I could have him walk you through the battlefields and show you every horror, let you feel every horrific death and witness the horrors that he and I and the other four survived simply to be thrust through time to be here to help you ungrateful whelps. Would THAT be enough to convince you?!”
“WHAT?!” He spun his glare onto her with no less rage.
Yaffeta's eyes flared with light and she willed him to calm down before the two launched into combat which Daunet would most assuredly lose. “She is not at fault.”
Sagging in submission, he quieted and Daunet stepped down, her own muscles relaxing away from her sword belt. The girl stepped between them and she urged Daunet back. “I cannot convince all of Tybraes of the truth. Not... ethically.”
“They will cling to their delusions, even should their own people return.” Nel rose and strode to a window for air.
“How does one travel in time? You've an easier time convincing them of that miracle than their ancestor's guilt and the complete fabrication of their religious foundations.” Daunet paced away from him to sit upon a stool.
“Nel and Ndor together,” Yaffeta guessed.
“Actually, it took us and Jaa and Dyás all.” Arm braced on the window frame, he hung his head and sighed. “I have hunted for over a century for more Nelenr. It would seem the 'Order of Monks' that claim the Nelenr name are not in fact Nelenr... not anymore. Not since the purge. They are simply scholars who keep records of their order's past. One clan exists to the north in the Icelands but...I could not even get close to them. They remain so hidden and the Jasukk are so distrusted, thanks to my mother.” He raised his free hand again.
“Khes is truly the only one?” Yaffeta's voice broke in terror that their hope was completely lost.
Nel turned his head and looked to her with a soft, sad grin. “No child. That is why I need to know where she is, and I know you can tell me.”
- - - -
Wind pulled at her braids and the moisture of the air smelled of a coming rain. The Vernal Equinox, ReBirth as the Erahs called it was nearly upon them signifying the official end of the Rain season. It had been light this cycle. Harvest would be light as well and Firetide would be brutal. This felt fitting. Daunet felt she needed a cleansing as well. Burn it all down.
Accepting that a gansalla like Massafera had manipulated the Kith council into rallying them into a coup was one thing. She had known Massafera a long time. She also believed the Kith elders if they claimed that diplomatic measures had failed. This was a failure of her own, a misplaced trust.
To believe all that Nel threw at her, however, it made them monsters, everything the Shae and Erahs have ever claimed them to be. The very conquorers their name boasted. How could she deny it? It made the Shae no less culpable, but Daunet had never loathed her own hide before. Never. Strangely she thought of the Ancients whose bodies she had burned, their horns cut and filed, their eyes gouged out of their own accord. Had they known this all the while? Perhaps the shame tearing at her bronze skin had torn at theirs until claws tore at eyes and they took saws to their horns to be something else, anything but one of “The People of Conquest”.
Fixing her eyes upon a large bird of prey circling round and round with a raven desperately riding the wind to flee its fate, Daunet did not hear the soft leather boots that stopped a few paces away. The long silky white hair that whipped up into the wind drew her eye, however, and she glanced long enough to note that it looked like an artist's rendering of wind against the greying sky. Nel stared out at the Enclave below them and the Capital beyond the walls.
“It is all so different now.” His voice was somber as he studied the land. “There used to be more trees here. Only the Cattedrale is the same. The houses and buildings... such clever engineering to be honest. Like the enormous ships of your ancestors. Magnificent builders, you lot.” He leaned on the parapet and sighed. “The Erahs lost their gifts... the magic that formed this cathedral out of the mountain stone, like Iaegonaul formed of the mountains themselves like wet clay in our hands.” He looked over at her. “I did not mean to intimate that any of this was your fault. It was the Shae who arrived first, if that is a consolation. They seemed genuine and peaceful. We believed they truly just wanted to exchange cultural knowledge. I am not sure anyone really knows what changed.”
Daunet's arms tightened across her chest, her eyes fixed on the birds as the large hawk finally won its meal. “It only takes one with a hunger for something less honest.”
The man nodded and stared out at the coming storm. “Like you, my sister and I were manipulated by one we trusted. We believed we were doing the right thing... blinded to consequence.”
“The Erahs wanted their home back. I do not fault them for their desperate act. War leads to many horrors--”
“No. We cannot moralize atrocities. There are always better ways. I knew that then and it is even more obvious now.” As he hung his head, the wind hid his face beneath a great waving flag of snowy silk. “Regretful hindsight does not raise the dead.”
Daunet's jaw clenched, the muscles tweaking as she ground down. “I have convinced the ranking Commander of the Shae Army to help us, as well as the Erahs'Avali and Erahs'Calhalla. The Erahs'Haesh had... a less cooperative response in spite of the trading arrangements between their clan and the Shae and Ganroth outposts. They are also the smallest of the clans, so, I cannot spite them this.”
“With so little truth in your hands, you and Yaffeta have accomplished much. This is something to be proud of.” Nel turned to face her. “Hroc Tosh was much like you. Less personable, perhaps, certainly scarier.” He chuckled as his eyes wandered in nostalgia. “She wore these metal caps on her fangs...absolutely terrifying. I am glad that is no longer a common fashion.” He looked to her again, “stolid warrior that she was, however, when the Vesvudaks of her time refused to hear reason... she cut them down and simply took control. Told the people there would be peace. Simple as that. No more arguing.” Again he laughed and nodded to her. “I imagine she would find you a bit soft, but she would still insist upon a night of Maloor at your table.”
Lifting her chin, Daunet tried not to take offense at his remark that she was soft. Turning her eyes out to the skies she ventured to risk another disappointment. “So I gather the legends of the Vudaa are just fanciful fireside tales then.”
“No.” Nel put his back to the parapet and beamed a smile at her. “I told you, she was fierce. She pinned the Vudaa down in the Inere and set to hacking. When night fell and it was still fighting, she wet her axe in oil and lit it up. By the time we got there, she was on it's back whirling that massive axe about like a madwoman. All three eyes were on the ground and she had split the carapace wide open was cutting its heart out like she was rooting a stump.”
“Vudaa was a Majoidea...mostly. A little bigger than you have now, three eyes and those little split-toe things you people call claws are nothing. This thing had two massive claws big as vnesh.” The man let out a laugh. “Somehow she had levered a boulder onto its back leg. Damn thing couldn't go anywhere and only had so much reach. She insisted we were eating Spider Crab for dinner.” Daunet stared at him in anticipation of the outcome. He just flashed a smile and snorted, “we all refused, but she ate the damned heart anyway just to prove what faaltalla we all are... were.”
Clearing her throat, Daunet realized she had been holding her breath. “At least not everything I have built my life upon was a lie.”
Facing her again, he leaned forward and stressed, “so what if it was? Are you a worse person for it? I see a magnificent warrior who seeks sense and reason before drawing her blade. A woman who does not draw lines on race alone.” The seriousness around his eyes softened as he slipped in a sly compliment, “only takes one look to know that servant girl isn't just serving orders.”
Daunet looked down then away with a grimace. “I have never been particularly pious. Rotta and Vudaa...Vudaa being Hroc Tosh in a sense have always been more symbols of aspiration to me than gods. So, in this respect your words change little. Everything else, however...”
“There is an entire world beyond Tybraes and in it other Ganroth. I imagine very different from you, with a very different religion and very different histories to teach you. Do not think about the failures of those who came here. You have an opportunity to repair the mistakes they made and if you are so ambitious... seek out your TRUE ancestors, those from long before these fumbling corrupted fools.”
“We are called The People of Conquest. I've no reason to believe those others are of lesser savagery.”
Nel leaned forward again. “Not savage. Savage is not knowing what you do. The Ganroth were never savages. At times, merciless, yes. But never liken yourself to a sickened animal.” Straightening again he shrugged, “You will not know what caliber a people are until you speak to them. Ask why they have not returned to Tybraes in over eight kyr. This is an answer worth knowing, yes?”
Daunet was quiet as she felt the intensity of his eyes on her, like the judgment of the Ancients whose eyeless gaze still somehow always pierced right through her. Without looking back to him, she hesitantly asked, “you will seek out the Nelenr girl and the other gifted. Then what?”
“Then... I take them to the Uvall and we tear a hole through all of time and space.”
Lifting her head she looked over at him expecting to see him wink at her or at least smiling, but instead he had turned back to the parapet wall to stare out at the city again, his face as somber as before.
“And... if that doesn't work?”
The man remained very still, wind whipping tendrils of his long hair. “Then pray that all the armies of Tybraes are enough this time.”
- - - -
Northern Estuary Valley, along the Yadri Barrier, Southern Dagger Fells Cord
2nd Som Mindfulness, month of Foundations 8178
First day of the Vernal Equinox, also know as ReBirth
Sunlight rose over the tops of the pines, radiant gold spraying out in arcs of warmth to cut through the mists weaving up through the forest canopy. Chin resting on her knees, Khes stared out at the small sliver of Tybraes. The lids of her eyes felt heavy, though she was not tired. Turning her head, she rested her cheek down as she felt Atirian's hand lightly stroke the shaved bristle of hair at the nape of her neck. From the corner of her vision she could see him look over at Zakeriel, knew they were speaking without her. Only Taliss had not been told yet. Pelleas knew, but he was not one of them, one of the 'Children of Time.'
Embracing her, Atirian lay his head upon hers. ~I can only guess it was Aila that damaged the bond between us. Our reunion yesterday seems almost proof of that.~
~Proof will be irrelevant when I hold her throat in my hand and watch the light fade in her eyes.~
Zakeriel's hand reached out and encircled her ankle. The comfort of her two bonded, one a lover the other... kin, of sorts. Yet, she still felt hollow. ~It changes nothing.~ He suddenly asserted.
~You are the one who told me I could choose my own life.~ Her tone was sad as it was terse.
~We can Mith'erahsh. Not he or Nel or Renen can force us to do otherwise.~
~Yet here we are... fulfilling the purpose we were bred for.~
Zakeriel leaned forward and kissed her crown. ~That's not true. No one has bred you for anything. You aren't lifestock.~
She and Atirian both sat up and looked at him with restrained anger. The emanating waves of residual pain from centuries of conflict between their races washed over him and he dipped his head. “That isn't...” Meeting each of their gazes in turn he whispered, “that isn't fair. You know that is not what I meant.” Reaching over he carressed her face. ~You were raised being told you were meant for something special, that there were prophecies... good and bad. Prophecies are not real. Aafon coming here and telling you that Nel really did conceive you with Lihaan with the intent that you would help save the world does not mean you HAVE to do that. That any of us do. We are free to choose.~
~Choose what, Zak? To watch all of Tybraes burn?~
~Aafon has a daughter. Surely there are others out there. Let them bear the burden.~
~And none of them are the granddaughter of the woman who destroyed Tybraes and began the Firetides.~ Ducking her head down, Khes felt her heart hardening into a giant knot in her chest. It felt harder and harder to breathe.
“Do you have nothing to say about this?” Zakeriel snapped at Atirian.
The man stroked Khes' back with soft comforting circles as he shook his head at him. ~Neither of you are wrong.~
Atirian shrugged again then dipped and kissed Khes' shoulder before standing. “We will need to gather the others and get moving.”
Khes did not bother to acknowledge this. She flexed her bare feet on the stone, happy to be free of the boots for a while. Beside her, Zakeriel shifted to sit behind her, his legs wrapping on either side like an embrace now that Atirian had left. Pulling her close, he held her in a soft glow of pure love. ~At least one pain has been laid to rest, and you know with certainty now that no one touched you.~
~You do not trust Atirian's word?~
Sinking aginst him she sighed with world weariness. ~I trust that he believes them, and perhaps even J'reth does. Aila's motivations make little sense to me. In everything he has told me, it all seems so senseless. Just single-minded villainy.~
~So it is.~
~I do not believe that. No one is so petty and shallow.~ Tracing small designs over his hand, she pondered. ~She wanted J'reth to rule the clan with her even if he had to be coerced. She needs his power for something.~
~Why attack you?~
~It is always to get rid of me.~ Khes looked up at him. ~If I have been misled so, and misjudged him so... it is possible he truly does love me.~
In a fast swoop, Zakeriel captured her mouth with his and fed all the passion necessary into a silent assertion that J'reth could not have her. At least, that the knight would not so easily stand aside, heart ripped asunder. Warmed in breast and loin by his gestured, Khes merely smiled and stroked his cheek as he withdrew. ~I think Aila wants him broken down so she can exploit him, manipulate him. Though I have never known J'reth to be easily manipulated.~
~What can he do that she would need so badly to go through so much trouble over you?~
~Frankly, I don't care. Unless the dkun can survive a knife in the eye, she will not have an opportunity to show us.~
Wrapping his arms around her, Zakeriel breathed softly in her ear, nuzzling against her neck. ~Nice to know that in all these changes you have undergone, that Ganroth cant is still well under tongue.~
She smirked and snickered, ~I'll show you what's under tongue.~
Having just laid upon his chest, her hand beneath his trousers and her teeth nipping lighting at his throat, the soft cough from above was more than unwanted. Slipping her hand free, she wiggled her nose in agitation before lifting her head. Zakeriel, nose pink and awkward smile fixed upon his face, cleared his throat. “Uh, good morning Jace. Taking a walk?”
“Enjoying nature in all its splendor of ReBirth, yes.” He smiled in return with a twinkle in his aged eyes.
As graceful as one could manage in such cases, Khes sat up and closed her vest, lacing it with quick, deft fingers. “I suppose it is near time to leave,” she muttered.
“Very likely,” the Jace dismissed the notion. “After so many days of skirting past Spider Crabs, fighting off fossa, listening to your brother's energetic late night thaekellesh... I am content to enjoy a peaceful sunrise.”
Uncomfortable at the mention of Atirian and Pelleas', evidently very active engagements, Zakeriel cleared his throat and hunched forward with arms on his knees. Khes arched a brow at him. ~Oh, you have forgotten how it is we met Aafon and Lily? You honestly believe they stumbled upon us that morning?~
~Wha--? They were watching?~
~No. Lily is a respectful woman.~ Khes clucked at him then looked back to the Jace as Zakeriel gaped in horror at this revelation.
“Hmm,” Jace Trin grinned and leaned on his walking staff. “So Master Aafon told the truth. You are with the Elhia. Fascinating. Did you learn this before or after you two coupled?”
“Oh, for the love of Naaris...”
“Is it impolite in Shae culture to leave off Aunt? ...Aunt Naaris...” Khes kept her grin sheepishly askance. Zakeriel's returned gaze was not amused. Looking back to the Jace she advised, “perhaps Atirian is one to discuss this with. He has spent time with a remarkable young woman who understands the Elhia in a way no Elihaet or Weyd has ever explained it to me. It is not what we supposed it was and there has never been any reason the Shae or Ganroth can not use Elhia.”
“Yup,” Zakeriel stood and dusted himself off. “Spiritless lops aren't so unenlightened after all.”
Rather than insulted or ruffled by the young man's gruffness, Jace Trin chuckled. “Son, if there were but one person in all of Tybraes who were truly enlightened, we may not be in the mess we are mucking about in today. Squirrels, lops, ramskulls... all the cruel things we call each other. The only truth under it all is that Elhia is exactly why the Erahs clans have not been at war with each other for as long as we know our own histories. If your people and the Ganroth are not incapable of it, then it is one more way to speak to one another and build some compassion.”
Standing next to Zakeriel, Khes regarded the Jace with a somber scowl, “that would be... the history that we have completely wrong... the history that ends when the Felling began? That history, you mean? Ask Atirian how much compassion the Jasuuk feel from the circle of clans.”
Taking Zakeriel's hand she looked down at it and stroked the fur on it with her thumb. Before walking away, she murmured to the old man, “Jace, we have failed at even preserving who we are. We are the last ones to be dictating the best way to do anything.”
The two left the elder to watch the last of the sunrise and sought out the others to finish packing the vnesh. They could ride harder for the purlieu now. Although the Erahs and Zakeriel spent most of it in silence, their conversations were laden with intensity. Taliss was only excluded on occasion. Until Aafon told her the truth, Khes refused to let anyone else be the one that unveiled this to her. Throughout their journey she could see it weighing on him, could see him struggling with finding the right way to bring it up, to make mention of it.
It was late into the night of 2nd Som Tolerance. They had traveled for three days and the purlieu was in their view. By sunset of the following day, they would be crossing the gatehouse threshold, the first day of ReBirth. If Aafon was going to tell her before she learned of it as Gregoire and Hereth and Bazl did, he had to tell her before then.
Glittering ash rose into the night sky, dancing between the fireflies. Everyone sat about the pit, their meal freshly cooked. Khes eyed Aafon across the wavering heat of the flames and held his gaze. There was an acknowledgment somewhere deep in the shimmer of his black eyes, unconscious perhaps, a desperate wish for someone else to take the responsibility. This she would not do, but she would, at least, dull the edge a bit.
“Jace Trin, do you remember my mother?”
“Lihaan? Of course.” He smiled with nostalgia. “She was such a pragmatic woman, but fierce and loyal. Loved you and Revas more than anything.”
Khes smiled to remember her. “Did she ever talk about my father? I know the eto delivered me but... surely you counceled her.”
The man sat picking at his food for a long time in deep thought. “You know... I recall only that he was a Jasuuk hunter. She had that beautiful bow and his dagger. I assumed with such gifts he may have been one of the Deignier or--”
“Belonged to one...” Atirian muttered.
“Esh... yes.” Then Jace gave an apologetic nod. “It was an easy assumption as to why we never saw him. She never petitioned for Boann to accept him into the clan, so, he must not have been a runaway.”
“No, he was not.” Khes shook her head. “Boann met him though. In fact, arranged for him to meet her.” The man looked at her with surprise. Glancing toward Taliss, who was drawn into the conversation, she lured her along further. “In my travels, I have met someone who knew my father, very well, as a matter of fact. Filled in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge. Such as my father's name... Nel Alces.”
As Taliss blinked at her in surprise and Aafon shifted in discomfort, Jace Trin let out a delighted chuckle and looked about, “oh, it is stories we are telling. Forgive me. I was fooled. Well done, dear.”
“This is not a jest.” Khes stared at him with seriousness.
Dhon leaned forward at her shift of expression and noting the akwardness and discomfort of many of the others, “who is this Nel Alces person?”
“He is a legend,” Taliss answered. “The first Blade Spirit.”
“Not the first,” Aafon corrected as he poked at the fire. “Just the greatest.”
“He is why they call the gift Nelena.” Khes eyed the Jace, then she finished her meat and tossed the bone into the fire. “And his name Alces... the wolves were named for him.” Standing up she inclined her head a moment. ~Jace... for the child... will you come?~
As if materializing from the shadows themselves, Jace padded out of the darkness and came to sit between Atirian and Khes. The others, save Zakeriel and Pelleas, flinched for their weapons as Khes lowered her hand to pet his head with loving strokes.
“Khes, what're you playing at?” Dhon was not amused.
Waving a hand, Zakeriel calmed him and the panicking Obret. “You're fine. She'd not let him harm you.”
“They are named Alces for him, but not because he commands them.” Khes mildly contradicted Zakeriel. “Because they respected him and his twin Ndor.”
“It is not possible,” Jace Trin shook his head. “Nel Alces is just a story... a legend told to children. Even if real, he died so many centuries-- KYR before your mother was even born.”
“Likely should have, yes,” Aafon spoke up. “Me too. But, that was not how time played out for us. Warriors of an ancient era hurled through time... some of us forgotten and not made into legends, yet, here I am. And Nel met Lihaan and he gave her Khes. And some time later, I met Etin.”
As Taliss' eyes shifted from curiosity to something more wounded, a hush fell over the circle. Only the crack and pop of the fire filled the space between them, until Khes sent to Taliss, ~come with me and Jace...when you are ready, he will come to answer your questions.~
Standing, Taliss stepped over Obret, nearly kicking the man as she stormed to Khes. Jace stood up again and started to walk a distance into a patch of moonlight not far away. Khes glanced back, first to Jace Trin who was still dumbfounded, then to Aafon. Heaving a sigh she strode to sit with the confused and upset young woman.
~I am not sure that was the best way.~ Atirian sent to her with worry.
~I gave him days. It was the gentlest way I knew.~
She felt a sense of him, that soothing, like fingers combing long hair. ~I fear you have lost some of your gentility.~
Quiet a moment, she swept back waves of memories, everything that had happened in the past week. Understanding reflected back to her from him, and he left her in peace to comfort Taliss until Aafon grew a spine and came to face his child, to look her in the eye as a father. Taliss did not cry. She sat staring at the ground in confusion, leaning against Jace, his warm body and heartbeat a nurturing nest. Khes sat beside her staring up at the moons knowing partly how she felt. Her father had not traveled beside her for days saying nothing of this truth, although he knew from the moment he saw her that she was his child.
~How is this true?~ Taliss begged of Khes.
The woman lay with her ankles hooked and searched the stars for different colors. ~I only know that it is, and that there is more you need to know. This, however, is not for me to tell you.~
Footsteps approached and both women grew still. Although Taliss' gaze fixed on the dirt, Khes' upraised stare shifted to seek out the intruder's face. Aafon.
~I will stay if you like, but Jace will rip his throat out if he is a threat.~
Khes nodded and rose. She stood beside the man a moment looking up at him. “I told you it had to be said.”
“I know.” Ginger lashes lowered as he avoided her gaze. “It pains me, but... thank you.”
“Make it right.” The woman walked away, leaving father and daughter to sit beneath the moons against the fur of the giant Alces Wolf.
- - - -