Tothelea: Chapter 29

They rode east, faster than ever before.  Trevor considered the possibilities
as wind whipped his hair, trying to figure out what they might be riding into.
Aramathokoa had been around a long, long time.  Plenty of time to establish
himself as a Tithoran noble, Trevor thought.  He must be the one responsible
for the actual cutting of the nakoa trees every year.  Probably cuts an extra
one, for himself, which he sells on the side.  Keeps himself wealthy that way.

Mati had said the nakoa trees only grew out at the end of Nop, by the
mountains.  The map showed a long ways between Persa and the mountains.  Long
past where the end of the road was marked on his map.  But too, Mati had said
that a small road continued on past Persa.  Trevor spared a moment to thank
Mati again.  He was still guiding them, even now.

There must be a town or village or something at the end of the road.  Yes, it
made sense.  That's where they would find Aramathokoa, at the end of a
different kind of thread.  A thread of travel instead of life.  Trevor only
hoped that for them, travel and life would not end together.

"Trevor," Harmony said, as they paused to water the horses a a small stream,
"there's something else that bothers me."

"What's that?"

"I think we were right, about Aramathokoa wanting us to chase after him,
dreading what we would find with every mile we went.  But I think there might
be another reason he didn't kill us along with Mati.

"Spring was my dominion.  Autumn was his."

"And autumn is upon us."

"Yes.  I am always happiest in the spring, although I never knew why until
now.  If there is a season in which he is strongest, it will be the autumn,
when many things die at their natural times."

Trevor took a deep breath, and nodded.

"Do you think we should wait for spring to come, before finding him?"

"No.  If we wait too long, who knows what he might do.  He might try to
destroy Monolshoeat."  Trevor winced.  That thought had occurred to him, but
he had hoped it would not occur to her.  There was nothing they could do to
prevent him from trying, except what they were doing: make all haste into
whatever trap Aramathokoa had laid for them.

She continued, "Or he might send out riders to find us.  Either way, we have
to keep going.  I can't run any more, Trevor, and I can't wait.  My heart, my
core, my bones are drawn to Monolshoeat.  I must go to it.  Alone if need be."

Trevor was stung by the suggestion.  "No, not alone!  You know I would never
leave you."

"No, you wouldn't.  Thank you, Trevor."

"Besides," he added, encouragingly, "If this is the best he can do, to make us
come to him in his strongest season, then I know we'll succeed.  After
everything you've endured at his hands, surely the Aran wouldn't let us fail."

"Surely?  No, Trevor.  Remember the punishment the Aravolir chose for me?  I
do.  'Let none among the Aran assist you,' they said."

That was true.  "But they didn't forbid mortals from helping you.  I promise
you, Harmony, I won't let Aramathokoa harm you again.  We have to win.  If
there's any justice at all, we have to."

But he wondered who he was trying to convince.

The horses drank their fill, and they were on their way.  Autumn brought with
it cold and rain, gray skies stealing the color from their days.  Soon they
reached a small road, which they followed to the east.  Here and there, the
road came close to the sea.  The sight and smell of the salt water was
comforting to both of them, so familiar, even if it wasn't the same sea they'd
grown up with.  And, the sea confirmed that they were nearing their goal,
which was its own comfort.

"I think," Harmony said one day, "that Aramathokoa may have done us a favor by
making us come to him.  I feel different, since leaving my gravesite.  Do you
feel it, too?"

Trevor considered.  Yes, he did feel different now.  Maybe it was that they
were nearing the end of their journey.  But maybe, it was something else.

"I do.  We aren't running away any more."

Harmony nodded.  "Now we're doing the chasing, and that gives us power.  He
should have thought of that."

It was a hopeful thought.  "Perhaps after so many lifetimes of chasing, he
cannot conceive of not being in control."  And that, too, was hopeful.

They pushed the horses harder, starting earlier in the morning, riding later
in the day.  Going perhaps two hase per day, Trevor thought.  Day after day
after day they rode at their It was a grueling pace, and they slept the sleep
of the dead when they camped.  Their packs grew light, and if not for the
supplies Mati had left unused, they would have gone hungry.  They had counted
on buying more, somewhere in Nop, but that plan had changed after Mati's

Maybe that was Aramathokoa's plan, to make them arrive weak and starving.  In
which case, Aramathokoa had erred in not taking Mati's horse and supplies as
well.  Trevor sighed in frustration.  He had no better idea of Aramathokoa's
plan than the birds they saw flying away for the winter.  And he was growing
tired of trying to out-think their adversary.

Many days later, the mountains came slowly into view, forest running down the
mountains' flanks in a dark band towards them.  They were close now, they had
to be!  Snow had begun to collect on the tallest peaks, the first signs of
Winter descending inevitably towards the lowlands.

The next afternoon they reached the sparse outskirts of the forest, and almost
immediately, encountered a village.  A few farms, placed between stands of
trees, and a dozen or perhaps twenty small houses.

The place was quiet.  It reminded Trevor of the abandoned village they'd
stayed at in Hardal.  Where he had last faced Aramathokoa.  Only, the
buildings here were all in good repair, obviously still in use.

They rode slowly along, down the main path through the town.  An old woman
came out of one house as they approached, lugging a heavy pail of garbage.
They halted their horses.

"Hello.  Do you speak Hardalan?" Trevor asked.

The woman gave them a blank look.

"Where is Weilin?  House of Nakoa?"

The woman nodded, and spat.  "Weilin."  She motioned with her head, along the
road.  I guess he's not popular here, either, Trevor mused.

They continued on.  Trevor's heart beat faster, half expecting Aramathokoa to
jump out at them from behind the every tree they passed.  He reached out to
Harmony, across the space that separated their horses.  She held out her hand
to grasp his.  They looked at each other, much too much written on their faces
for them to say anything.

"I can feel it," Harmony said.  "We are near."

The moment was upon them.  Trevor was terrified.  His hand drifted down to his
staff, as he prepared to draw his weapon at a moment's notice.

"Which way?"

Harmony closed here eyes, and brought her horse to a stop.  Trevor halted
beside her.  She turned her head, as if listening for it.  "That way."  She
pointed, a bit to the right in the direction they were going.  The trees were
thicker there, and the light gloomy.  The late afternoon sun had dropped below
the treetops, leaving them to ride in shadow.  Trevor peered through the
trunks, but could see nothing.  Trevor raised his reins to continue on, but
Harmony said "Wait."

She dug through a saddlebag, and withdrew something wrapped in cloth.  She
unfolded it, producing a stick of pemmican and several pieces of dried
fruit--their respective favorites, of all the travel foods they'd brought.
Trevor eyed the food curiously; they'd run out of those things what, a week

"I saved these.  Let us eat before we go on."  She handed him the pemmican.

"Thank you, Harmony."  Trevor ate slowly, almost unable to swallow past the
hard lump in his throat.  They might be dead before the evening was out, and
they both knew it.  And here Harmony had found one last small act of
thoughtful generosity to perform.  One last way to show, not just to tell, her
feelings.  Trevor wished he had something to give her.  But all he had left
was his service.  And that, he vowed, he would give to the utmost.

Trevor sidled his horse over to hers, getting as close as the horses would
allow.  They finished eating, and gave a long firm embrace before parting.

"Let's go get it," Trevor said.  Harmony nodded, and they spurred their horses
forward.  The road curved a bit, in the direction Harmony had pointed.  They
rode, and caught glimpses through the trees of some lights, and a large
building.  Then they passed the dense copse and found a large clearing.  A
building, very much in the style of the Emperor's palace in Wesso, if much
smaller, sat in the middle of the open space.  A low stone wall surrounded the
building, a few dozens of yards from it.  The road led to a gate in the wall.
Beyond the gate, was a barren, muddy expanse.  Nothing grew between the wall
and the house.  They dismounted, and stepped up to the gate.  Trevor moved to
tie the horses to the gate, but Harmony stopped him.

"Let them stand free.  They will be here if we need them."  She did not need
to add 'and at least they can go free, if we don't.'

Trevor took his staff, checked the knife at his waist, and approached.  The
gate was unguarded.  Trevor wondered if this was normal, or if it was in their
honor.  Trevor pushed open the gate, and they stepped into the Thread Ender's

Mud pulled at their shoes as they approached the house.  Trevor spied a
smooth, round thing sticking out of the mud.  A skull?  Or just a stone.  He
did not stop to find out.  They climbed low stone steps leading to a pair of
wide doors.  The doors swung inward as they approached.  Trevor stepped
quickly in front of Harmony, holding his staff to block, but there was
nothing.  Only a dark entrance hall stretching before them into the building.

"Let me go ahead," Trevor whispered.  "Tell me which way."

Harmony nodded.  "Forward, for now," she said, at an equal whisper.

They walked slowly down the hall.  Trevor tried desperately to see through the
gloom while his eyes adjusted to the dark hallway, bracing himself for an
attack that he knew must be drawing nearer with every heartbeat.  He tried to
remember every scary story he'd heard as a child, of bold men seeking
adventure and treasure in strange places, of every kind of trap and surprise
he'd ever heard of.  He tried to be alert to them all.

"Left," Harmony repeated, tapping his shoulder.  Trevor's heart pounded so
hard he hadn't heard her the first time.  They turned left, into a narrower
hallway.  Trevor had to adjust the angle of his staff to keep from bumping the
walls as they walked.  He went over his lessons in the valley, for how to
fight in a small space.

The hallway opened into a large, dark space.

"Welcome," said a familiar, dry voice.

Icy cold poured through Trevor's veins, as small lanterns came to light,
piercing the gloom.  Aramathokoa sat, much as Trevor had imagined, in a throne
at the back of the room.  He held an object on a chain from one hand.

"You have come for this?"

Harmony gasped in recognition, and she lurched forward.  Trevor saw something
flick near Aramathokoa's resting hand, "No!" he cried, blocking Harmony's
movement with his staff and pitching himself in her way.  Something flew
towards them.  Trevor moved his staff, grazing the object, which deflected to
strike the wall behind them.  He did not hear it hit the ground, and dared not
turn to look.

His eyes locked on Aramathokoa, and the object they sought, dangling in mid
air before them.  The lanterns grew brighter, revealing the red and gold
shades of the room's dark wooden paneling.

"Oh, Trevor," Harmony moaned.  Her voice was full of loss and pain.  It must
hurt her terribly, he thought, to be so close to Monolshoeat, but unable yet
to take it.  Trevor swore, by all the Aran--except one--that he would ease her

Glints of light bounced off the object.  Trevor tried to get a sense for it,
in glimpses while watching Aramathokoa, but it was hard to see.  It almost
hurt look at it, like he was not meant to see it, and he could not quite make
out its shape.  Looking at it was like trying to hold water.  It kept slipping
through his fingers.

"Toss that over here," Trevor commanded, "and we will go in peace."

Aramathokoa laughed.  "Stupid, stupid boy.  I give full marks for boldness.
But no.  Come take it from me, if you wish it."

He hadn't expected it to work.  But it was only fair to give Aramathokoa one
chance, anyway, to do the right thing.  Trevor steeled himself for a fight.

He took a step forward.  "Choose your weapon, then, fallen one."

Aramathokoa stood and pulled a knife from his belt.  A familiar looking knife.
"Do you know," he said, "This knife--my knife--tried to attack me when I came
for you in Olanton?"  Ah.  That had been Beleden's plan.  "This my favorite
knife.  I have it for many, many years.  It take some doing to remove the old
man's enchantments."

"You didn't have to kill him," Trevor said.

Aramathokoa hung Monolshoeat around his neck by its chain, and held his knife
in a fighting pose.  "Ah, but I did," he said, coming slowly forward.  "It is
death to attack one of the Aran.  For him, and for you."

"You're no Aran!" Trevor spat.  "You're only a twisted, hollow shell.
Aramonea, she keeps the spirit of the Aran.  Not you."  Trevor thought hard,
anticipating the odd effects Aramathokoa's power would have on his swings of
the staff.  Trying to figure out how to change his technique.  Aramathokoa
advanced slowly across the wide room.

Trevor and Aramathokoa met in the middle of the room, an arm's span distant.
Aramathokoa led with a feint, a testing jab with his knife.  Monolshoeat swung
and bounced against Aramathokoa's chest.  Trevor's response, a flick of his
staff to block the knife, was immediate, instinctive.  The seeds of a plan
came to his mind.

"I am Aran!" Aramathokoa insisted.  "You are but mortal.  What matter if you
die today, or one hundred years?  You are nothing next to me!"  He slashed
with his knife, the blade catching the middle of Trevor's staff, between his
hands.  Aramathokoa forced the blade down the length of the staff, towards
Trevor's fingers.  Trevor whipped the staff in a pinwheel, hard, only just
flipping it over the knife in time.  He twisted his body against the force of
Aramathokoa's attack, and stepped behind him.

Aramathokoa pivoted in an instant--he was fast, nothing like his age would
suggest--facing Trevor as Trevor squared his stance.  Only now, Aramathokoa was
between him and Harmony, who watched from the side of the room.  Trevor
prepared to rush him, in case he turned to make a move for Harmony.

"You keep calling me a stupid mortal," Trevor spat back, praying to keep
Aramathokoa's attention off of Harmony.  "But you're the stupid one.  You
could have killed us all, back on the Dragon Road.  But you didn't."

The old man and the young man circled each other.  "No," he said, "I wanted
you here.  I spend so long, to find her.  To kill her in her sleep, it is not
enough.  When I am finish you, boy, I will destroy her veos.  Make her watch.
Then kill her slowly."

Trevor spat in his face.

Aramathokoa feinted forward, causing Trevor to flinch back, then lunged with
force, while Trevor was off balance.  Stupid mistake, he reprimanded himself,
knowing that the die was cast.  Trevor tried to retreat from the blade, but
lost his footing.  He stumbled backwards, onto the floor.  Aramathokoa bore
down on him.  It was all Trevor could do to get the staff up as his head hit
the floor.  His staff caught Aramathokoa's wrist, keeping the knife from
finding its mark.

Dazed for an instant, all Trevor could think was to be glad for the carpet, or
else he would surely have been knocked out.

"When you sail for Tithora," Aramathokoa hissed, his face just inches from
Trevor's, "I see your plan.  You come for her veos.  I cannot have that."

Now it was a test of strength, Aramathokoa bearing down on top of him, Trevor
pushing back with his staff.  Trevor's jaw clenched at the strain of keeping
the wiry old man off.

"If she is restored to Ararsel, I cannot have my revenge."  Aramathokoa's
other hand gripped the staff as well, adding to the weight.  This was all
right, Trevor realized, at least for a moment.  Aramathokoa could not change
hands with his knife to try a different attack, as any change in his position
would allow Trevor to throw him off.

Aramathokoa realized this too, recognizing that his advantage was temporary,
illusory.  Trevor could see his staff pressing into outer bone of
Aramathokoa's wrist.  Most of the man's weight, carried on that tiny spot.  It
had to hurt tremendously, but Aramathokoa showed no sign of it.

Trevor pushed with all his might, but his arms were not positioned to use
their full, considerable strength.  Bit by bit, the blade was coming closer.
He wasn't going to be able to hold Aramathokoa off much longer.

"Trevor!" Harmony cried out.  She was behind him, now, positions having
changed again while the combatants had circled each other.  Trevor tilted his
head back, to look at Harmony, to tell her he was sorry before it was over.
But he saw her hand flash out towards them and heard her give a gutteral cry.
In that instant of motion, Trevor knew what Harmony wanted him to be ready

Monolshoeat lept towards her outstretched hand, yanking to a stop at the end
of its chain, springing back into Aramathokoa's face.

The former god flinched, and Trevor was ready.  He heaved against his staff,
rolling as he did.  He locked one leg around Aramathokoa's as he turned, and
with every muscle in his body  participating in the ungainly move, flipped the
old man over.  Aramathokoa's knife hand swung wide, slapping to the floor as
Trevor bore down.  The other hand still held firmly to the staff.

But now, it was two hands to one, the advantage Trevor's.  The free end of the
staff touched the floor near Aramathokoa's knife hand, forming too small a
space for him to get under and push.  And one arm, even the arm of a fallen
god, was not enough to throw Trevor off.  Aramathokoa resisted, but Trevor
pushed the staff slowly down, until it touched his neck.  Then Trevor kept

Stangled sounds came from Aramathokoa's throat, as the staff continued its
deadly arc downward, bit by bit.  Still, Aramathokoa was strong, and he
resisted well.  Not enough to save himself, but enough to place his knife
against Trevor's side while Trevor crushed his windpipe.

Both men pushed, with everything they had left.  Aramathokoa's eyes were
fluttering, his strength ebbing.  But the knife was sharp, and was now through
Trevor's clothes and into his skin.  Trevor's teeth clenched in pain as the
knife slipped slowly between two ribs.

"Die, you bitter, murderous bastard!" Trevor commanded him.  Wheezy rasps were
his only answer.  The agony was unlike Trevor could possibly have anticipated.
Firey, burning, freezing, metal pain.  Trevor felt the knife's hilt bump up
against his side.  He gave one last shove on the staff, ending the thread of
Aramathokoa's long, very long, life.  The dead god went limp, his hands
flopping to the ground.

Harmony was at Trevor's side in an instant.  He let go of his staff, and she
helped him gently to the ground, to lie on his un-stabbed side.

"Oh, Trevor, Trevor," she sobbed.  Tears streamed from her eyes as she ran her
hands over his face, brushing the hair from his eyes.

"We, did it, Harmony," Trevor gasped.  Every word was agony, and there was a
wet rattle to his breath.

"You did it, Trevor.  You did it."

"You helped.  Thank you."

"He helped," she said.  "The way Monolshoeat was calling me to it.  What he
said about his knife trying to attack him, it made me think maybe I could call
it to me."

A vague, familiar thought tickled his brain, making him start to chuckle.  But
only for a moment, the pain putting an end to any thoughts of laughter.  "Take
it out," he said, rolling his eyes in the direction of the knife.

"But, but," she was becoming frantic, "you'll bleed to death!"

"Out," he repeated.  "Bind it.  I'll take my chances."  I'll be damned if I
die with his knife in my side, Trevor thought.

The pain was intolerable.  Adrenaline from the fight was making him shake.  He
was physically, emotionally exhausted.

"I, I need to rest," he gasped, closing his eyes, "Take it out."

She slapped him in the face.  "Don't you leave me, Trevor!"  He opened his
eyes.  It was so hard to stay awake.  "I'll do as you ask, but you have to
stay with me.  You promised you'd always stay with me!"

He nodded weakly.  Anything for you, Harmony.  Anything.

She took the little knife, the one Trevor bought for her so long ago, from its
sheath on her calf and cut some bandages from her clothes.  Then, without
warning, she drew Aramathokoa's blade from Trevor's body--he was too tired even
to scream--and packed the bandages against the wound.

Trevor could feel the wet rattle in his lungs increase, and he felt very short
of breath.  "Hard... to... breathe," he managed.

She helped him to a sitting position, and wrapped more cloth around him,
holding the crude bandage in place.  He was, literally, in her hands now.  It
was such a relief, to be done.  Finished.  It would be all right, he thought,
if I die now.  No family to go back to.  Harmony would soon be with Eman
again.  It would be nice to rest.  He was tired.  So very tired.

She grabbed his chin and slapped him awake again.  "Trevor!  We need to get
you up against a wall, so you can sit till the bleeding stops.  I'll help you
stay upright, but I need you to push with your legs.  If I pull you to the
wall, it'll pull the wound open."

Trevor did as she commanded, push by agonizing push.  At last she propped him
up against a wall, commanding him not to fall down.  "I'll be back," she said.
Trevor drifted away the second she was gone.

He woke, coughing.  Harmony was pouring water into his mouth, making him
drink.  He felt cold and clammy, and there were spots before his eyes.

"You need to rest a while.  The sun has set.  We'll stay here for the night.
We seem to be alone."  Along with their water, she had brought blankets back.
She sat close beside him, and wrapped them both in blankets as best she could
without dislodging him from the wall.  Trevor slept.

In the morning, she woke him again.  He looked around.  They were still in the
room, with Aramathokoa's body lying limp and cold where he had died.  Trevor's
staff was gone, and Monolshoeat now hung where it belonged, around Harmony's

"Do you feel well enough to move, Trevor?"

The raspy feeling was still present, but only on one side.  He was terribly
short of breath, though.  "I think so.  As long as we don't go too fast."

She helped him up, and supported him as they walked.  When they got outside,
it was sunny.  A clear, cold autumn day.  Harmony had led Mati's mare--slightly
shorter than Trevor's horse--to a place by the steps up to the house.  Trevor
could mount from the top of the steps, easier than from the ground.  She
helped him onto the horse, and then led it away.

Harmony had moved all their things to this horse.  The other two horses were
nowhere to be seen.  Trevor felt his staff, in its customary place in the
leather loops, against his leg.

"Now where do we go?" he asked.  In all this time, he had never given any
thought to what might come after.  Honestly, he thought Harmony would be
restored to Ararsel by now.

"We need to find a bud.  Any flower, not yet open.  So I can fulfill the
conditions of my punishment."

"But, it's autumn."

"I know.  Some plants bloom into autumn, though.  Roses, for one.  Let us look
for a wild rose in the forest."

"If anyone can find one, you can," Trevor said.  He slumped forward, resting
against the mare's neck.  Harmony led the mare  into the forest, away from
Aramathokoa's house.  She searched and searched, finding nothing.

Trevor was very tired again, the riding agonizing to him.  He wanted to stop,
to get off the horse and rest, but he said nothing, loathe to interrupt her

They searched some more, with no results.  Harmony said a frost had been
through here, a few days ago probably, and everything was dead or dying.  A
rose would have been hardy to an early frost, but try as she might, she
couldn't find one.

"Do roses grow here?  In this part of Tithora, I mean?"

"Yes.  They used to, anyway.  Little pink ones, and sometimes white."

The pain was too much.  "I'm sorry, Harmony.  I can't ride any more.  Please,
help me down."

She helped him to the ground, to lean against the nearest tree.  She fought
back tears, both of them knowing they'd never get him back on the horse.
That's all right, thought Trevor.  It's a lovely day.  I've done what I had to
do.  For love.  For Harmony.  He said as much, and Harmony's tears flowed.

"Oh, Trevor!" she sobbed, "I'm so sorry.  I wish--  But I have no power.
There's nothing more I can do, like this!"

"It's all right, Harmony," Trevor said between pauses for breath, "It's all
right.  In truth, I never held much hope we'd both survive.  I'm happy to be
only half right."

She held him fiercely, sobbing into his shoulder.  He put his arm around
her--the one he could move--to comfort her, and together they waited.

Trevor looked around.  It was a pretty spot.  There was no breeze, and the sun
was warm on his face.  The ground was soft, covered in fall leaves.  He didn't
recognize these particular trees, though.  Maybe these were nakoa trees.

"What trees are these, Harmony," he asked, just to hear her voice.

"They're mostly nakoa.  There are some birch, though."

He looked around for other things to ask her about.  He pointed to a small
plant near his feet, dead now, but not yet covered by leaves.  "What's that?"

Harmony indulged him.  "It's..." she had to look carefully to identify it.  If
it had been alive, Trevor was sure she'd have known it immediately.  "It's a
flower.  I don't know what they call it here, but back home it is called
cornflower.  It is a pretty blue.  I never understood why they call it that."

Trevor looked at the dead plant.  Even now, there was a grace to the way its
stalks bent, the way its blackened, petal-less heads still pointed towards the

"Is that a bud on it?"

Harmony looked.  "Yes, but it's dead.  Maybe there was not enough rain this
summer, and it died before all its blooms opened."

"I know it won't do, but show me how you used to wake the flowers, anyway."

"All right."

She shifted away from him, to kneel before the plant.  She pulled the chain
over her head, and took Monolshoeat in her hand.  Trevor could still not see
it properly.  But it was brilliant in the sunlight, filled with colors.  She
held it out to the plant.  "Vo parovetu, delidira.  Vo botu lur eshin
Epulemasol."  She did it slowly, so Trevor could watch.  She touched
Monolshoeat to the bud as she spoke.

"It was like that," she said, turning to look at Trevor.  "But of course,
always much faster.  There are so many flowers in the world, Trevor.  You
cannot imagine.  I had to go very fast to get to them all."

It was too much work to move his eyes, so he left them where they were aimed.
"Look," he said.

She turned back to the plant.  There was a tiny spot of green at the tip of
the bud.  Harmony's hand shot back to the plant, applying Monolshoeat to it
again.  She traced the rod up and down, over every stalk and withered leaf,
leaving green in its wake.  A babble of holy speech poured from her mouth, too
fast for Trevor to make out the words.  He watched, as the leaves raised up,
the stalks became full and plump, and the bud opened before his eyes in a
beautiful, blue flower.

Light surrounded them, a beautiful, brilliant silver radiance.  The light
compelled Trevor.  He summoned the will to turn his head, to find the source
of it.  It came from Harmony.  She knelt on the ground, arms outstretched,
Monolshoeat in her hand.  Her head tipped back, and she looked skyward.

"Vo reisetan sioa!" she screamed, over and over, to the sky.

Then everything changed.

Trevor slumped backward, the tree he had been leaning against, gone.  They
were in a vast hall, the ceilings so high he couldn't really make them out.  A
voice inside him said "Be healed," and all his pain left him, like a breath
held too long.  He inhaled deeply.  His lungs were clear.  The air here was
better, somehow, than any he had ever breathed.  Like drinking water from a
cool spring on a hot day, when all you've had before is warm musty water from
a waterskin.  His head cleared, and he sat up to look around.

Harmony knelt beside him, but not to him.  She was still radiant but not
blinding anymore.  She knelt towards a couple, man and woman, seated in twin
thrones.  She spoke to them, again using the holy speech.  Trevor heard the
strange words as before, but in his mind their meaning was clear.

"Greetings, Aravolir, my king and queen."

Trevor boggled.  They were in Ararsel!  In the hall of the Aran!  The
Aravolir, the king and queen of the gods, spoke as one.  "Arise Aramonea.
Also rise, Trevor, faithful servant of the Aran."

They stood.  "He is not my servant," Harmony said, "he is my brother.  I owe
him my redemption."

It was strange to hear her called by her former name.  He knew it was hers,
but in his mind he couldn't make the name fit her.  She would always be
Harmony to him.

"We are sorry, Aramonea, for all that you have suffered.  It was not as we
intended.  Aramathokoa had no right to do what he did.  But once done, we
could not undo it, and none of us could offer you aid."

"I understand.  And I forgive him," Harmony said.

Forgive him, Trevor thought?  After--

She continued.  "In his crime, he took my memory and with it, my capacity to
suffer at my situation.  He, living long years, suffered far more than I ever

"But," Trevor stammered, "he killed you.  Murdered you!  Over and over!"

"I know," Harmony said, with surpassing gentleness in her voice.  "But that is
his way, not mine.  My way is life.  Growth.  Renewal.  I have no need or wish
for vengeance."

"Wise daughter," said the Aravolir.  Then, "join us, Aremesoa."

Another god strode into the hall.  One who looked Tithoran in his features,
but with the regal brilliance that now also shone from Harmony.  

"Eman!"  Harmony rushed to greet him, and was enfolded in his arms.  They
embraced, passionately and without shame, for a long time.  Trevor could not
help but smile.  When the embrace was ended, the reunited couple strode back
to Trevor.

"I owe you a great debt," said Aremesoa.  Trevor started to protest, but
Aremesoa would have none of it.  "No, it is true.  You did what, in fairness,
should have been my task to complete, although I was forsworn from doing so.
I am in your debt."

Aremesoa stood, as if expecting something.  Trevor had no idea what.

The Aravolir spoke again.  "It is written that no Ara shall be indebted to a
mortal, Trevor.  Name your reward, and you shall have it."

Trevor responded without a second thought.  "Then restore all those who
Aramathokoa killed."

"Alas, that we cannot.  Their souls rest with Aramanamoa, and he must not give
them up."

"Then..." Trevor thought for a moment.  "Then I want to go home.  I have had
my fill of travels.  I just want a quiet life, somewhere pleasant, where I can
have a smithy and practice my craft.  There is much of Arelenoa's lore that I
have not mastered."

"So shall it be," they pronounced.

"Please," Harmony interjected, before the Aravolir could say another word, "a
moment more, before you send him home."  The Aravolir nodded their assent.

"Goodbye, Trevor," she said, taking him into an embrace, "Thank you for

"You're welcome, Harmony.  I'm so happy for you."

"I will miss you terribly.  But you understand that we will not see each other
again.  Not until your thread's proper end, anyway."

"Then death will hold no fear for me," he said, tears in his eyes.  "I love
you, Harmony.  Be happy."

"I love you, Trevor.  I will."

And he was back in the world, standing next to Mati's patient mare.  Trevor
sat for a long time, wiping tears from his eyes.

He looked at the one blue flower, thinking about everything that had happened.
About the ripple of events that had driven them from his father's death to
Harmony's new life.  Then he understood.  The vague thought, that had been
nagging at him for so long, became clear.  Each of Aramathokoa's malicious
acts had planted the seeds for the failure of the next.  It had been true when
Dannel's death, and Harmony's desire to make his grave beautiful, had saved
her from being burned alive.  It had been true when having Aramathokoa's knife
had allowed them to escape in Olanton.  It had been true when Aramathokoa's
desire for the cruelest possible revenge had left them alive on the Dragon
Road, giving Harmony her chance, later, to distract him just enough.  Trevor
shook his head at the futility of Aramathokoa's labors.  Of revenge.  Of so
many lifetimes, wasted in that pursuit.

"I'll miss you, too, Harmony," he said.  He brushed his fingertips over the
blue flower, mounted the horse, and rode for home.