Tothelea: Chapter 28

They mounted their horses and rode on, rather more quickly than they had been.
Trevor didn't sleep a wink that night, haunted by the events of the day.  Fear
of another attack kept him awake the next day.  The next night he slept, out
of sheer exhaustion.  His fear did not abate for all of the following two
days, until at last they were out of the forest.  Nestled against the forest's
eastern edge was a small town, the first they had seen in a long while.
Trevor couldn't pronounce its name, but Mati said that the name meant "high
pass."  They stayed the night in the town, even though they could have ridden
a couple more hours that day.

Trevor was much happier traveling in the open again.  I'll have to find a
different way back home, he thought.  If I never pass through that forest
again, that will suit me fine.  What would happen, he wondered, when this was
all over?  There was still no denying that, succeed or fail, he and Harmony
would have to part ways.  Either tragically, at Aramathokoa's hands, or with
her returning to Ararsel.  He shook his head.  It was still such an incredible
notion, his sister, going to live with the Aran.  No, being Aran.  Was this
all some strange dream?

The days passed, Trevor was grateful to find, uneventfully.  They camped one
evening by a small stream, Trevor still taking every opportunity they
encountered to refill their water skins.  Trevor lay down to sleep thinking
about the remainder of the journey.  According to the map, Trevor estimated
that they were no more than fifteen hase away from the end of the Dragon Road.
Another ten days' ride, perhaps.  Past that, he had no idea how long it might
take Harmony to lead them to Monolshoeat.

Trevor sat up.  Something had woken him.  He looked around in the darkness.
There was only a sliver of moon, and the stars, to see by.  Trees closed in on
them.  But, they had camped in the open.  Trevor tried to move, but could not
throw his blanket off of his legs.  It was too heavy.

The trees came closer, and then they were men also, with hands and feet and
roots and branches, all mixed together.  Harmony and Mati slept soundly.
Trevor called to them to wake up, for Harmony to disappear into the darkness,
but they would not wake.  The tree men clustered around Mati, and lifted him
up.  He remained limply asleep.  Trevor yelled for them to put him down, but
the men did not heed him.

One of them, who had Aramathokoa's face but scaly bark for skin, strode over
to Trevor.  A stiff, rootlike toe jabbed uncomfortably into Trevor's leg.  The
tree man dug a pinch of something out from the cracks in his bark, and held it
to Trevor's face.  He blew, and Trevor's eyes were filled with grit.  Blinded,
Trevor rubbed at his eyes to clear the sandy grit away.

When he could see again, the tree man had rejoined the others.  They had laid
Mati back on the ground, several yards away, on his back, with his arms and
legs outstretched, and now stood around him.  The tree men broke sticks off of
themselves, and pushed them deep into the ground by Mati's hands and feet,
then tied him to the sticks.

Trevor tried to yell for them to stop, to go away, but the sand clogged his
throat too so he could make no noise.  Another tree man stripped leaves off of
one of his own branches, and stuffed them into Mati's mouth.  Mati remained
asleep.  Then the tree men lowered their leafy arms in a dense curtain so that
Trevor could not see what was happening.

The sand blocked his throat so he couldn't breathe.  Trevor felt himself grow
weak, unable to get even a little bit of air.  He fought it, trying to stay
awake, to see what was happening, but he could not.  He felt himself pitching
backwards as he slipped into unconsciousness.

A shrill cry rang in his ears.  He covered them with his hands, and opened his
eyes to find the source of the noise.  Sunlight streamed in, making him
squint.  He sat up, and shaded his eyes with one hand.  The noise was coming
from Harmony.  She stood, outlined in the morning sun, a little ways away.
Trevor stumbled to his feet.  There was something on the ground, in front of
Harmony.  The sleep cleared immediately from his mind when he realized what it

Mati.  Harmony's cry ended for lack of breath.  She turned away from the body
and ran to Trevor's arms.  He held her, not daring to look himself.  "Is
he...?" Trevor asked.  Her head nodded vigorously against his chest.  When at
last he dared look, he saw Mati, tied to stakes in the ground.  He lay gutted
like a fish, his eyes open but unmoving.  A rag filled his mouth.

Trevor led Harmony back to the stone circle of their campfire, and sat her
down, her back to the grisly scene.  He sighed.  Aramathokoa had been here.
Why had he not killed them all?  Trevor had no idea.  Whatever it meant, it
couldn't possibly be good.  He quickly checked their horses and packs.
Nothing seemed to be missing.  Trevor's mind returned to the place of no

He collected Mati's blanket, and returned to their guide's body.  He replaced
Mati's insides as best he could, and untied the man's hands and feet.  The
limbs were stiff, and difficult to move to a more natural position.  He
covered Mati with the blanket, and rubbed dirt on his hands to clean off the
blood as best he could.

He went back to Harmony.  "I'm sorry, Harmony.  But I need your help.  We have
to go, but I won't go without burying him."  He wasn't sure why, really, but
he felt strongly that they had to do this, even though it would take time.
"I'll dig a grave.  You gather stones."

Harmony nodded, a trickle of sobs still shaking her slight frame.  Trevor dug
a grave, a respectful distance away from the road.  It took a long time, and
wasn't deep, as all he had to dig with was his knife, and the ground was still
somewhat hard and dry from the summer's heat.

He took Mati's chop from around his neck, and stowed it safely in his pack.
Someone should know what happened to him, Trevor thought, if I ever get back
to Wesso, anyway.  He took Mati's money pouch, and added to it Mati's wages.
Twenty-seven days worth.  He stowed the bag along with the chop.  Maybe he has
family who will need it.

Trevor wrapped Mati in in his blanket, and carried him to the shallow grave,
wishing he knew anything about how Tithorans buried their dead.  He piled dirt
on top until everything was covered, and then helped Harmony find suitable
stones.  It was a harder task than he had figured.  Pebbles were everywhere,
but larger rocks turned out to be few and far between.  It was late morning
before Mati was properly interred.

Trevor and Harmony stood, sweating from their labors, at Mati's grave.  "I
feel like we should say something," Trevor said.

"Thank you, Mati," said Harmony.  "You were a good guide, and a good friend to
two people who needed you.  Thank you.  Go with the Aran, and may your soul
find peace and rest with Aramanamoa."  A lump formed in Trevor's throat as she
talked, and tears pushed their way out from his eyes.  He hadn't really
thought about it, but she was right.  Mati had become their friend, not just
their guide.

Dannel.  Hinton.  Beleden.  Mati.  All dead by Aramathokoa's hand, for surely,
he had been responsible for this death as well as the others.

"Goodbye, Mati," Trevor said.  "I'm sorry this happened to you.  Thank you for
everything.  If I am able, I will see that your guild knows, and your family
receives your wages.  I'm sorry."

There was little more to say.  They broke camp under a sullen cloud, and rode
on.  Now, Mati's horse followed with a rope on her bridle.

Trevor puzzled over the night's events, his strange dream, and what must
really have been happening.  When they stopped for the evening, tired in
spirit if not in body, Trevor got out his map and spoke to Harmony.

"I figure we're about here," he said, indicating a place about half way from
the mountain pass to the end of the Dragon Road.  Where do you figure
Monolshoeat lies?"

Harmony puzzled over the map for a while, then indicated an area near the far
end of Nop, perhaps two-thirds the distance to the tip of the province, but
before the mountains.  "Somewhere around here, I think."

"Well, listen.  We're alone now, and I don't think we dare look for anyone
else to help us.  For their sake, if nothing else."  Harmony nodded quickly.
Neither one of them wanted to be responsible for anyone else coming to harm.

"If this map is right, we are pretty close to this river, here," Trevor said,
indicating a river that also marked the border between Nop and Gaan provinces.
"Let's ride to the river, and follow it down until you decide it's time to go
east some more."

"All right," Harmony said.  "I remember this river.  It was a sizeable river,
like the one we crossed before, when I knew it.  But if we can find it near
its headwaters, it should still be small enough to cross easily, if we end up
on the west side of it."

"Good.  Then in the morning, we ride south."

Over dinner, Trevor broached another subject, one he was much less eager to
discuss.  "Harmony, do you remember anything that happened last night?"

"No," she said.  "I seem to have slept through it."

Trevor told her about his dream.  At the end of it, he said "I think
Aramathokoa found us, did something so we could not interfere, and then did
that to Mati.  I think he must have suspected something when we sailed for
Tithora.  And back in Wesso, he must have learned that we were headed east.
Maybe he talked Captain Danisk, maybe he believed the lie and wasted some time
riding west to find us.  But eventually, one way or another, he would find out
we were headed east."

"How, do you figure?"

"He would know we'd need a guide.  Mati must have told his guild where he was
taking us, that night before we left Wesso.  You saw how things were there,
everything gets written down.  Eventually, he'd find those records, and come
after us.  And you can bet he was riding faster than we were.  But it doesn't
seem to make sense!  Why didn't he just kill us all?"

"He means for us to be alone, anyway, with no one to help us." she replied.

"Perhaps he means to scare us into changing our plans, into doing something he
wants us to do.  Something that plays to his designs.  Only, I don't know what
his designs might be."

"Neither do I.  I wish I did.  He is not the Aramathokoa I knew.  Not anymore.
If he could do that to Mati...  I don't have any idea what he might be capable
of, now."

"We just have to find Monolshoeat, quickly.  That was always our plan, we
should stick to it."

They rode south after that, as fast as they dared.  It helped, too, that all
three horses now carried a lighter load, once they put their gear onto Mati's
mare.  It took two days to find the river, which was yet small enough that the
horses could ford it easily.  They rode faster, at an easy run.  Trevor wished
he had any way of gauging how far they had come.  They would just have to rely
on Harmony's memory of the land.

A week later, they reached a fork in the river, where a tributary from the
west joined the main channel.  Trevor consulted his map.  They were just south
of Persa now.  They must be close.

"Yes," Harmony confirmed.  "I remember these lands.  Only, they are more dry
now.  The ground used to be very moist, almost wet, and there were trees
everywhere.  So many trees.  All gone, now."

"Where did the water go, do you think?  If it all used to be wetter."

"Up onto the Plateau, I think.  Before, in my time in Ararsel, I saw many many
seasons pass in the world.  The world changes, very slowly by the lives of
men, but the Aran are ageless and can see the pulse of the world.  Sometimes,"
she paused, trying to figure out how to explain, "the world gets a fever.  It
gets hotter.  The snow on the Plateau retreats, and the rest of the world
becomes moister.  When the fever passes, the snows return."

"The world gets sick?" Trevor didn't understand.  What a strange idea.

"No, not sick.  Only, like a fever.  Just hotter and colder sometimes.  I do
not really understand why.  It is as Arshoeoa wills it."

Another strange thought, that Harmony herself didn't understand all these

Soon after passing the tributary, Harmony led them east, away from the river.
They rode several days in that direction, pausing often while Harmony surveyed
the particular hills and slopes around them.

At last, she stopped, and dismounted.  She walked aimlessly around, looking
this way and that.  Trevor dismounted and followed her.  She bent down,
scooped up a handful of soil, and smelled it.  "This is the place," she said.
"Or very near here.  We were in a slight depression, where the ground was
wettest.  The flowers Eman was tending grew best in spots like that.  That's
where I found him that year."

"What do we do now?"

"Come on," she said, striking off to climb the nearest slight hilltop.  "We'll
look around from up there.  See what we can see."

From the top of the little hill--it was barely a hill, really.  The ground was
very flat here, flatter than the plains of Hardal had been--they could see
several shallow depressions.  Harmony inspected them carefully.  "That one,"
she said, pointing, "or maybe that one."

"How will we find your actual grave, Harmony?" Trevor asked.  What a bizarre
question to ask someone, he mused.  "We can't dig the whole place up.  Do you
think Eman left some sort of marker?"

"Perhaps.  But there is no sign of the trees that were once here.  Any marker
he left would probably be gone now, too."

They checked the first depression, but found nothing.  The breeze changed
slightly, blowing into their faces, as they walked towards the second.

"That's it!" Harmony said, taking off at a run.  Trevor ran to keep up.

"How can you tell?"

"Can't you smell the flowers?"

They crested the small hill between them and the second depression, and came
upon a lovely scene.  The depression was filled with flowers.  Growing
decidedly out of season, as though the plants thought it was spring instead of
early autumn.  At the lowest point, they found a low block of stone, cut

The block was clean, and there were markings in the top, although they were
written in Tithoran.  "Do you think Eman left this?" Trevor asked.

Harmony shook her head.  "No.  If he had, it would be weathered smooth by

The ground near the stone had been disturbed.  Harmony fell to her knees,
placing her hands on the soil.  She turned to look at Trevor, grief in her

"It's not here, Trevor.  It's gone.  It was here, look around!" she waved her
hand, indicating all the flowers around them, "But it's gone."

Trevor knelt down beside her.  "Are you sure?"

She nodded, fighting back tears.  "I'm sure.  I would feel it if it were

We should check, anyway," Trevor said, adding "I'll do it."  Harmony sat down
on the ground, and focused on the flowers around them.  Let her remember
happier times, Trevor prayed, to whatever gods might be listening, as he began
to scoop the soil away with his hands.

Little by little, he moved the soil away, and soon encountered a bone.  He
tried to go to that place in his mind where he could get things done, but he
could not find it.  He could not get over what he was uncovering.  It was too
strange, to be digging up his sister's bones--a goddess' bones!--when she sat
not ten feet from him.  He wept as he worked, at the thought of all that
Aramathokoa, who had once been her betrothed, had done to her.  How long had
she lived?  How many lives, snuffed out by another fallen Ara gone mad with
age and time?  How many other graves did Harmony have, scattered to the many
corners of the world?

He worked, uncovering bone after bone.  He tried to work without looking--it
was, somehow, an invasion of Harmony to gaze on her very bones--but of course,
he had to look.  He couldn't do the work without looking.

He uncovered her skull, and rib after rib.  The soil seemed loosest around her
ribs, so he worked there.  He could not help but imagine Harmony, still
clothed in flesh, lying there, Eman at her side.  He would have placed her
gently, lovingly, in this hole.  Monolshoeat on its chain around her neck
would have laid about here, between her breasts.  He dug, and his fingers
encountered something hard and smooth, neither bone nor stone.

His pulse quickened  He dug the dirt away, tracing the object with his
fingers.  Then, hope died.  No, this couldn't be it.  The object was metal,
rectangular.  He dug some more, and pulled it gently from the ground, trying
not to disturb the bones.  It was a box.  He almost called to Harmony then, to
show her, but then stopped.  He set the box down, hiding it from her behind
the stone marker, and quickly scooped the soil back into the grave.

Only when she was properly covered again did he show Harmony what he had

"Look at this," he said, carrying the box over to her.

She looked at it.  "I don't recognize it."

They opened it.  Inside was a slab of wood, a deep red color with streaks of
yellow grain in it.  The grain caught the sun and shone like gold.  The slab
was polished to a high gloss, and had words written upon it.  The letters were
Hardalan, but the words were holy speech.  He handed it to Harmony.

"Ol Totheleam Veos kopoketa mir ol Nemith ur Nakoa."

"What does it mean?" Trevor asked.

"It means, 'the Veos of the one who is fallen rests with the House of Nakoa.'
Veos is how the Aran call the tools by which they perform their duties.
Monolshoeat is my veos.  Aramathokoa must be head of the House of Nakoa."

Trevor's shoulders slumped.  "We're too late.  He has it."

"I think that's why he didn't kill us," Harmony said.  "because he figured out
our plan.  He wanted to take our hope away, then make us chase after him.  He
has the upper hand now."

"Yes," Trevor agreed.  "But we still have hope.  We might yet get it back.  We
don't know what we'll find when we find him.  There is always hope."

Harmony surveyed her gravesite.  "He must have found this place long ago, when
the memory was still fresh for him, and things were less changed.  He must
have left this marker," she kicked weakly at the block of stone.

Trevor asked "I wonder how many times he has come here?  How familiar this
place is to him?  No wonder he was able to get here ahead of us, once he knew
where we were bound."

The future laid itself out in Trevor's mind.  They would have to track down
Aramathokoa, to his house, or castle, or whatever place he called home.
Trevor would, somehow, have to wrest Monolshoeat from his clutches without
letting Harmony get killed in the process.  He could picture Aramathokoa,
sitting on a red nakoa-wood throne, laughing as he waited for them to come,
making his plans for doing them in.  It nearly made Trevor want to stop, right
there.  To lay down and never get up.  But they had not come this far to stop
now.  He would do what he had to do.  Or die trying, he added.