At long last. XP
I’m posting the last chapter and the epilogue together because I can. =)
…*very very evil grin in Rebekah’s direction*
~Chapter Thirty Eight~
The Bowman And The Moth
Though it was now long past dark, there was still so much to be said. Thalon asked Netya and I how we had come to find him, and Netya began the story. She told all, from the moment Thalon had fallen to the poisoned arrow, through our meeting with Berion and our journey with Arhael, to the last march with Aranel and our journey over the rooftops and into the dungeons of Pethnor. I added to her tale whenever she paused, picking up the thread and continuing until she joined in again.
When we had finished, Thalon smiled at us, saying simply, “Thank you.”
Netya laughed. “Oh Thalon. You don’t need to thank us. How could we do otherwise? We are your friends.”
“Yes,” I said, “Don’t, Thalon. You would have done the same for us.”
Arhael laughed. “What did I tell you? A cord of three strands will always spring together again.”
I smiled. “Yes. You are right, Arhael. But…but how did you come? With the Castle Guard, and Berion? And how…why did Aranel return?
Arhael sighed. “Let us go outside, and I shall tell you. It is a perfect night, and were Aranel here, she would want her story told under the freedom of the stars.”
We moved outside, and as I stepped from the mouth of the cave, the beauty of the night swept over me. We sat together in Aranel’s courtyard, the darkness casting a blanket of comfort over our faces. When Arhael began, he spoke quietly.
“After you left,” Arhael said, “I waited in the woods for a long time. I knew Aranel would come back, but I planned to wait for you, to guide you back to Berion’s clearing, where I first met you. A few hours after we parted, Aranel returned. She seemed upset, distracted. I have never before seen her so agitated,” Arhael added, shaking his head. “I asked her what was wrong. It took a while, but finally she admitted that she was worried for you. She said you called her a friend, and she would rather die by your sides than live many years alone with your ghosts in her heart. She told me her plan: to return through Lastare’s room and over the roofs, as you had gotten in, and to find you and aid in your escape. Then she begged me to find help, to destroy the stronghold of my father and bring him at last to the justice he deserved, and disappeared again.
“I figured my only hope of aid would be to find Berion and his Rangers. Their camp is a good two-day’s run beyond Aranel’s home, as you remember, but I hoped to find at least a few of them closer, who may have horses. At best, I would not have been able to return to the fortress in under a day and a night.
“I would have been too late to help you, if it were not that I met Berion only a few hours into the woods. He was come with his Rangers, leading a legion of the Castle Guard with him. He gave me use of a horse at last, and as we rode, Berion told me that some of his Rangers, who had been riding the woods near where I met him, had captured a spy of Pethnor bare hours ago. This man gave away the location of Goemorn under torture, then killed himself when Berion’s back was turned. Berion had already sent out riders to summon the Castle Guard, however, and in under three hours they were riding together in direction the spy had indicated. I met them minutes after they began their mad ride, and joined them.
“I know the woods here like the back of my hand, so often have I traveled them. I led Berion and his men through the widest, easiest paths I know, and we arrived at the gates of Goemorn by midday. A fight ensued, in which we only won the gates after many of Berion’s men had given their lives. It lasted hardly a half hour, however, as there were few of Pethnor’s soldiers at the gate and I guess the reinforcements were on your tail,” Arhael laughed, grinning at Netya, Thalon, and I.
“Once we broke through, it was a matter of only a few minutes to find you,” he continued. “Some of the Rangers carried you to safety as Berion and the Castle Guard drew Pethnor’s men off. Once the battle was joined and the men in order, I came to find you, but you were gone from where the Rangers left you. I was making my way back to the gates, hoping to find you there, when I came across you in the alley, just after…after Pethnor killed her.”
Arhael stopped speaking; the rest of the tale was known to us all. Aranel’s death sprang so heartbreakingly to mind. Soon Thalon broke the silence, however, asking softly, “And what of your mother? What happened to Lastare?”
Arhael shifted in the dark, his cloak scraping the stone behind him. “I do not know. I did not see her at Goemorn, and I hope she remained in her rooms, safe from the fight, at least. I will go back tomorrow, and meet with Berion. The soldiers he has captured will be held in prison, possibly in Goemorn itself. I would see my mother again, and take her away from that place. She is a strange woman,” he said, chuckling softly to himself, “But she is not evil. Her heart has been broken by Pethnor’s actions, and his darkness has filled her soul. But I hope that in time, she will become again the woman she was when I was a child.
“If Berion will have me, I will travel with him and aid in the discovery of those of Pethnor’s men who fled away into the woods. Perhaps I will make my home near your Castle, Alasse,” Arhael said, laughing. “I hope you should not mind me and Lastare as neighbors.”
I smiled. “Of course not. Please, do come back with us, Arhael. We…I’ll miss you.”
He nodded. “And I shall miss you. You have been as sisters to me. And I do not want to lose the blood brother so soon after finding him again,” he laughed. “We shall see. I first must go with Berion, and destroy the remains of Pethnor’s power. He must never rise again.”
We drifted into silence, the moon riding overhead. Above us, the heavens sang gently in a cacophony of darkness, netted with stars. I saw the constellations, my constellations, that I watched so often from my window back home in the Castle. Melmacar and Vilarin, the Bowman and the Moth, watching over our journey and guiding us home. Home. It was a long way off yet, but tomorrow would come, and the next day, and the next, and soon we would be there again. I smiled, and leaned back against Thalon. As the world around me disappeared into the darkness that heralded sleep, I almost felt myself at home, standing on the Castle walls with my friends. A cord of three strands.
Arhael’s voice broke the silence once more, his strange accent comforting now. “I told Aranel once that it was not my lot to know or understand friendship. And it is true, I don’t understand. Yet…you have taught me much. And I think that I do know, now. I know that unearthly power that drew you together, Alasse and Netya. That power that guided you to Thalon, my brother. That power beyond all others that held you to your purpose. I have watched you, and I have learned. And truly…there is no greater love. Thank you. Thank you, my friends, my sisters and my brother.”
I felt the pressure of Arhael’s fingers on my shoulder. Beside me, Netya murmured something, and Arhael laughed softly. Thalon sighed, tilting his head back to watch the sky. His face bore now only the lines of happiness. My eyelids fell, and I drifted at last into peace-filled sleep.
Strange how just a handful of days can change your life.
Arhael led Netya, Thalon, and I home. The whole Castle had been in turmoil over our sudden disappearance, and our equally sudden return only made matters worse. My Mama and Netya’s are too glad to have us back to punish us, although Thalon has been forbidden to leave the immediate vicinity of the Castle. I suppose we’ll just be sneaking off to the forest at night now.
As soon as Arhael saw us safe, he went back to Goemorn. There, he was reunited at last with Lastare. I wish I could have been there to see. I can’t imagine the look on that strange woman’s face when she beheld her son again. Arhael is traveling with Berion now, searching out the remains of Pethnor’s men. Lastare still lives in her quarters at Goemorn. Before he left us, Arhael promised that as soon as his job is finished, he will come back, and live near us with Lastare. I hope he comes soon!
One last development in our story: I had completely forgotten the funny warden, Tugo, in Pethnor’s dungeon, but it seems Netya has not. Tugo was one of the first men to surrender to Berion. Arhael said the poor fellow is really quite good at heart, and did not even realize the extent of his master’s cruelty. Right now, he is staying with Lastare. Netya cannot seem to get him off her mind. I caught her just yesterday scribbling his name in the margins of a book. When she saw me watching, she slammed it shut and turned away, but I saw her blushing. It appears as though she is just as infatuated with him as he was with her.
When I asked her about it, Netya at first would say nothing. It took me some coaxing to get her to reveal that she sent a note to him through Arhael when he first went back to Berion and Lastare. She and Tugo have been exchanging love letters ever since. Apparently, one of Tugo’s friends from the dungeons is acting as a go-between. I have no idea how the scheme passed the approval of Berion. I caught a glimpse of the first page of one of Tugo’s letters this morning, before Netya had time to hide it away. He still thinks her name is Merce. I don’t know how she stands him. Yet somehow she does, and I shouldn’t be surprised if Tugo comes back with Arhael, and he and Netya wind up married.
…And so it ends. Life seems almost dull, now that we’re home again. Tonight Netya, Thalon, and I have a secret rendezvous in our forest glade. I do wish that Arhael would return soon. I miss him dearly. He was like a brother to Netya and I. In the last letter Netya received from Tugo, a second note was included, from Arhael. He says he will come back soon, maybe even within the month. I hope so. Since Aranel’s death, he has not been himself. There is a shadow over his heart, and I hope that we can cheer him.
It is so good to be home! Home. It’s something we all take for granted, at some point. Something that’s just always there. We don’t think twice about how blessed we are, just to have a place of our own. Sometimes we don’t realize what we have until we lose it. At least, I know I didn’t. But I’m back now. We all are. And somehow, the Castle seems brighter, the fields seem more alive, and the forest itself seems a friend. But our adventure is not over yet. Every journey must start somewhere, and this is only the beginning of ours. Only the first step. I wonder where the road shall lead.
…Yes Rebekah. I DID just write that.
*cough* However. I MAY consider removing it. For a small fee. Like, say, if you bring me chocolate when you visit. 0=)