Saturday, September 24, 2011

You can now connect to the Romany Epistles on Facebook. Talk to the writers (some of them) and see what they have been doing over the years. You can encourage those who are still finishing their stories. Also, you can discuss your favorite characters or fun bits from different siblings' stories. Come, stop by, and join in.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Worlds Pre-Orders About to Close!

The proof copy of Worlds Unseen arrived today, and it's gorgeous! It needed a little tweaking, but that's now done and the finished product will be ready-to-order before this month is out. In the interest of getting this book on Amazon in time for Christmas, I will only be taking pre-orders until November 30. If you'd like an early, autographed copy of my first fantasy novel, place your order on today!

Shameless though it is, I'm going to mention that Worlds would make a great Christmas gift for the pre-teen/teen/young adult in your life who enjoys Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, et al. This is clean fantasy with a backbone of truth and a lot of heart. Copies are $15.00, and like I said, they're beautiful! Deborah's cover art and design are gorgeous.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Painful though it is to face, Taerith is in fact finished. There's no more story--anything that happens past those last few words is up to your imagination. If you're really sad, I suggest having all your friends read it so you can sit around and reminisce after tea ;).

The journey that is writing, however, is not over. Sometime in the next few months, Taerith will go into revisions. Improvements will be made. Some things will be changed. The changes won't be posted here--the version on this site will remain the First Draft.

Once revisions are all finished, Taerith will be made available as a real book. The paper, ink, and softcover kind. You'll be able to buy it on Amazon, or directly from me, and if you do either, I'll be really grateful and pleased that you enjoyed it that much.

If you want to keep on top of Taerith's progress, I suggest subscribing to my writing blog, Inklings. There's a subscription module underneath the profile.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chapter 29

A Note From Rachel - It's hard to believe this is the end. My thanks to everyone who's come along on this journey with me! If you've been reading thus far and have yet to comment, I'd love to hear from you at the end of this chapter.

They crossed over the bridge as the sun came up the next morning. The new grave lay beside the river, marked not with stone but with Borden’s sword, driven halfway into the ground. Its hilt formed a worn cross.

Trees arched out over the river, their branches forming a green canopy over their heads. Raindrops kissed with sunlight dripped down from the newly-budding leaves. Taerith and Kardas led the way. The bridge rocked and swayed beneath their feet, but the boards held. Mirian crossed behind them with Isaak in her arms. She paused once and looked down the raging river as it widened. Tears came to her eyes, but she ducked her head and kept going.

Behind her, Zhenya and the unicorn brought up the rear with brightness.

Braedoch Forest welcomed them into its green arms. Every sight, every smell was at once new and familiar to Taerith, like a waking dream of childhood. They came to a well-worn path, and it seemed to him that the dust of it was still stirred by their leaving―Romany feet and horse hooves as each of the nine children of Isaak Romany went into banishment alone.

When the slope of the ridge leveled out and Taerith smelled the smoke of the hearthfire, tears stung his eyes. He stopped. Mirian appeared at his side, bouncing an awake and beginning-to-squawl Isaak. “That’s it?” she asked.

He smiled. The Romany home, surrounded by forest―built of wooden, circular chambers, every board hewn by his father, every peg carefully shaped, with a roof he and his brothers had repaired every spring―it was a long way from the castle in Corran.

“That’s it,” he answered.

* * *

Aiden stood at the door, his dark head bowed, arms folded across his chest as he leaned on the doorframe. He looked up at Taerith’s approach. His blue eyes were startling as they had always been, but they seemed clouded over now.

“He’s inside,” he said. “She’s with him... Kristalyn.”

Taerith didn’t wait to ask. He pushed gently against the door. It opened to him. The fire in the center of the room was smoking; the room was filled with the peculiar smell of wet firewood. A cot lay near the fire, and on it an emaciated form. Taerith’s heart caught in his throat.

A girl was seated next to the cot. She was beautiful. She wore the clothes of a forester from lands to the east. Golden hair spilled down her back. Her eyes when she looked up were green and compassionate. A great black cat―a panther―lay curled near her feet. It lifted its head at Taerith’s entrance.

“Easy, Kurio,” she said, and the panther relaxed.

“My name is Taerith,” he said.

“Aiden told me,” she answered.

His feet moved forward of their own accord. He dropped into a crouch beside the man whose rasping breathing filled the silence. Duard turned and regarded him. His eyes were bloodshot; if he even recognized anything around him Taerith couldn’t tell. The side of his head was bruised where Aiden had tried―and failed―to take his vengeance.

The cracked lips opened. “Taerith,” Maeron Duard said.

Taerith reached out and took the old man’s hand. “It’s me,” he said.

“You haven’t come to kill me,” Duard rasped.

“No,” Taerith said. The druid’s fingers tightened around his.

“I knew that,” he said. “You were always the thoughtful one. You knew... I never really wanted to hurt you.”

Taerith blinked back tears: bitter tears, angry tears, and yet tears also of pity. Maeron Duard: the man who had held the Romany children in fear and neglect; the man who had almost certainly killed their parents; the man who had banished them. He had done more to destroy them than anyone alive.

And yet, here on the threshhold of death, blame seemed more futile than it ever had in life.

Even then, Taerith had not really blamed him. Duard had been a man caught in old feuds so much bigger than himself―bound by curses old and acrid.

Taerith closed his eyes. Tears slipped past his eyelids. Old feuds, old curses: like the animosity that drove Borden to murder his brother and to die a useless death himself, a great man lost to his own bitterness. Like the cruel triumphing that enslaved Mirian and left her with nothing but a tree to love. Things so much bigger than one person―like the quarrels and struggles and political battles that used Lilia until she died.

“You were wrong,” Taerith said. He opened his eyes. The bloodless face stared up at him. Kristalyn, who had retreated to one wall, looked at him with surprise and perhaps accusation. But he had to speak.

“You were wrong,” he repeated. “It could have ended with you. Had you refused to kill my parents―had you chosen not to send us away―it could have ended with you.”

Duard made a sound like laughing. “It does end with me,” he said. “It dies with me.”

Taerith shook his head. “No,” he said. “It has already ended―with me. With Aiden. We―we choose to let it end.”

Something dark flickered in Duard’s eyes. “That’s the coward’s way out,” he said. “You ought to strike me down now. Take vengeance.”

Taerith thought of the sword over Borden’s grave. In his mind’s eye he saw it rusting over the years, breaking away and being swept into the river.

“I am heartily sick of vengeance,” he said. “We release you, Duard. We forgive you.”

He stood and released the old man’s hand. “You are going to have to find a way to deal with that.”

Kristalyn was still watching him. There were tears in her eyes. Taerith motioned toward the fire. “Is there no dry firewood?” he asked.

She shook her head. “There was none when we came, and it has hardly stopped raining since our arrival.”

Taerith nodded. “We’ll make do, then. If you would, please, put a pot of water on. I’m going to see what old herbs still linger in the stores here.”

He looked back down at Duard, answering the question the old man was too weak to ask. “I’m going to heal you,” he said. “If I can.”

* * *

Taerith stepped out of the smoky house into the clear air. It was still morning. The air was clean as rain, washed into newness. Aiden still stood near the door. Taerith faced him.

“No vengeance, Aiden,” he said. “It’s over now.”

Aiden nodded. There was still, in his eyes, a terrible hardness―but something in it moved in acquiesence to Taerith’s words. “I know,” he said.

Taerith slapped his brother on the shoulder and moved on, his head bent. It took him a moment to remember that he was searching for herbs. He moved automatically toward the root cellar when a loud bleating interrupted his thoughts.

He looked up, startled. Mirian was chasing the nanny goat with a bucket in her hand. Zhenya, seated nearby, laughed and jumped up to join the chase. He limped faintly―very faintly.

Taerith smiled as he watched them catch the goat and wrestle her into submission. Isaak lay on a wide stump nearby, wrapped up in Mirian’s old shawl. Taerith picked the baby up, looking into the grey eyes so like Lilia’s. He meant to say something about all the trouble such a little one could cause, but the eyes caught him off guard and he could only smile, willing away a lump in his throat.

Far away, wind stirred a bundle of feathers on a grave beneath a tree.

* * *

Taerith leaned against the doorframe, listening for Duard with one ear while he picked through herbs. Aiden sauntered up.

“So...” Aiden said. He rubbed the back of his neck. “She’s beautiful.”

Taerith frowned. “Who?” he asked.

Aiden laughed. “Your wife,” he said.

“Who―” Taerith stopped and cocked his head. “Mirian?”

Aiden bent an eyebrow. “How many wives do you have, little brother?”

“None,” Taerith answered. He laughed at the look on Aiden’s face. “She was in trouble... I helped her escape.”

“And Isaak is...”

“An orphan,” Taerith said. Not for the first time, he realized how much time it would take to explain everything... and even then, some things couldn’t ever really be explained.

“Oh,” Aiden said. “Well. Forgive me.” He turned to go, and looked back with a twinkle in his eye. “She’s still beautiful.”

He left Taerith deep in thought.

Mirian was standing on a knoll nearby, looking down over the ridge. The deep blue sky above her was streaked with high, thin clouds. Her hair was blowing in the breeze, as he had seen it do so many times. She stood hugging herself―cradling something, cold or painful, and hers alone.

Taerith approached her quietly. He stood next to her for a time, looking down on the wooded valleys below. Far in the distance, the world flattened out―into a land of fens and moors, a lonely stone castle and a tree.

“Home is not what I thought it would be,” Taerith said. “I should have known.”

“Things change,” Mirian said. The words came too quickly; she hadn’t thought them out.

“No,” Taerith said. “They haven’t, really... I’ve changed. Aiden’s changed. When the others come back―they won’t be the same either.”

Mirian turned her head and looked at him. She didn’t smile. The loneliness in her eyes was so clear it made him ache for her.

“Mirian,” he said, “do you want to go back to Corran?”

She stood still for a moment, then shook her head and hastily wiped at her face with her sleeve. “No,” she said.

“Then I think you should make a new home,” Taerith said.

She cocked her head just a little. It was a familiar gesture by now. “Where?” she asked. Her voice was faint.

“In the same place I make mine,” Taerith said. He didn’t wait for her to answer. “Mirian, you and I have loved the same loves and felt the same hurts without ever really taking hands. Someone told me recently that belonging is a choice, so...”

He stopped and looked away from her, out at the wide world. He smiled. Turned back.

“So if you’re willing to belong to me, I’ll gladly belong to you, and we’ll both have a home. And Isaak will have one besides.”

Mirian blinked. A smile tugged at the edges of her mouth. Slowly, she held out her hand. He took it.

“All right,” she said.

He entwined his fingers with hers, lifted her hand, and kissed it. “Welcome home,” he said.

* * *

That night, as they gathered around a fire on the knoll under the stars, Taerith still had hold of Mirian’s hand. He sat on a log and she on the ground in front of him, and he held her hand and stroked her hair with his other. Zhenya sat across from them, holding Isaak―he had held him most of the day. The unicorn stood outside the circle, stamping its hooves in the dust, shining under the stars. Zhenya watched the creature, its light reflected in its eyes.

Aiden sat on the ground near the fire, poking at the flames with a stick while Kristalyn watched from the shadows beyond the circle.

It was Kardas they watched―Kardas they all watched, except for Zhenya. He had spent the day wandering the ridge; coming to grips, Taerith knew, with his freedom. Now he sat with the fire behind him, his face in shadow but his eyes full of power and light. The barbarian king crouched on the ground facing Taerith and Mirian and listened in silence as they spoke.

“He should have the throne one day,” Mirian said, “but we don’t want him to grow up there. There are too many tangles―too many threats still.”

“But Corran shouldn’t be abandoned while it has a king,” Taerith said. “You know that.”

Kardas nodded slowly.

“Master Grey will be guarding the throne now,” Taerith said. “Waiting for us to return. He would accept you―would help you.”

“I am a king,” Kardas said. “Why should I act as a steward?”

He smiled in the darkness. Joachim’s words were there in his ears, as they had been since the day they were uttered.

The loyal one. It takes a very loyal heart to sit a throne without claiming it.

Kardas stood. He stretched to his full height in the starlight, as much a creature of the night as the unicorn that tossed its head to dance with the stars. He reached down and took Taerith’s hand, and then Mirian’s hand, and smiled down on both of them.

“I would be honoured,” he said. “I am only sorry to leave without you two.”

* * *

Taerith spent the night in the central chamber next to a pot of simmering herbs. He tended the fire and kept the concotion brewing, feeding it to Duard every hour.

When the sun began its ascent, Taerith awoke suddenly because Duard was not breathing.

A moment later he heard the raspy intake of breath, more laboured than ever, and then his name, faint but clear. “Taerith.”

He went to Duard’s side immediately and looked down at the pale face.

Duard opened his eyes. They were bleary, but they could still see, and the old druid smiled.

“I bless you, lad,” he said. “I bless you all.”

Two hours later he was dead. Taerith poured the herbs onto the cot before they burned it. He and Aiden took Duard’s body deep into the woods and burned it on a funeral pyre there.

When they came back, Mirian and Isaak were sitting in the doorway waiting. Isaak was awake, propped against Mirian’s knees as she played with his hands. Taerith smiled at the sight of them. Mirian looked up and smiled back. The sun was bright overhead, though off in the distance rainclouds were gathering again.

Taerith walked into the house. It was quiet. The fire was still smoking. He crossed the main chamber to Duard’s room and pushed open the door. Cobwebs pulled away from the wood as he entered.

In the far corner of the room, a table sat. Paper and ink lay out on it. Taerith lowered himself into the chair and took up the feather pen.

My dear brothers and sisters, he wrote.

Come home.

* * *

Copyright 2006 by Rachel Starr Thomson. Do not reproduce without written permission of the author.

Enjoying the story? Download the whole thing as an e-book from Smashwords:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chapter 28

Thunder rolled over the ridge. Mirian stood slowly, her eyes not leaving Borden’s face. She was frightened―afraid because she had declared herself this man’s enemy, afraid because she was alone―but her fear gave place, as she looked into his eyes, to horror―not of him but for him.

He had come to her last with blood on his hands, and there had been fear and guilt and pain in his eyes. After the loss of so much, she’d thought his eyes would be empty―but they were so full.

She took a step toward him. She hadn’t meant to, but his eyes held her.

So full―of something tormented, inhuman.

She expected him to speak. He said nothing. Thunder rolled again, and a wind began to blow, and then she was afraid in earnest.

The Borden who had been was gone.

The man who had―had what? Had wanted her, needed her somehow―was not the same man who stood before her now. That man might have killed her. This man surely would.

“Come back,” she whispered as a cold rain began to patter against her face and the stones on the riverbank.

He moved too fast. He grabbed her by the throat.

“Where is he?”

“Where is who?” she answered back. She took his arm with her hands, trying to push him away. His grip tightened.

“Where is the child?”

Somehow she managed to pry his fingers loose enough to allow herself to breathe.

“Let me go,” she said.

He shook her. “Where is he?” he roared.

She broke loose and roared back, as much as she could between involuntary gasps for breath. “Gone! Why are you hunting us?”

She backed away from him, toward the water, desperately scanning the beach behind him for some place to run. The sky was darkening on every side, the water behind her white and wild, and Borden stood black like an iron wall in her way.

“My brother...” Borden began. Lightning tore the sky behind him.

“He’s dead!” Mirian screamed over the rising wind. Borden drew his sword and dealt her a blow to the shoulder with the flat of it that sent her sprawling on the wet stones.

“Where is the child?” Borden demanded.

Body resounding with the pain of the blow, Mirian rolled onto her back and started to push herself up.

The tip of Borden’s sword, held against her heart, stopped her.

Fear, if it was still present in her, receded where it could hardly touch her. Other emotion took its place. She still couldn’t tear away from his eyes. She could weep for the hatred in them.

It was raining harder. Another bolt of lightning forked over the forest behind Borden.

Of everything in this wilderness, it was Borden who had always been a part of her. Borden who was her home.

A girl’s home should not hold her at the point of a sword―should not have murder in his eyes.

But then, neither should a girl rebel against her home.

He asked again, pushing the sword down so she could feel the sharp point through her clothing. “Where is he?”

You should have been his home, she thought. She swallowed and wished away the tears in her eyes. The pressure on the sword lessened. Something in him was faltering.

“Answer me. Don’t you want to live?” he asked. For a moment he sounded like his old self.

She shook her head. Slowly, she reached up and touched the sword. He didn’t move. She pushed the blade aside, her eyes still on his face.

“Not at such a price,” she said.

He looked back at her. The raging hatred in his eyes flickered a moment, gave way to remorse. She got to her feet slowly, wishing that somehow she could touch the part of him that felt regret―could make him come back.

“You should have been mine,” he said.

She stood tall. Still. There was spray in her hair, nipping at her, freezing her heels and the backs of her hands. The rock beneath her feet was slick with water. The river rising, trying to take her...

His eyes changed, and she saw it. He lunged. She turned on one heel and grabbed his sleeve, throwing off balance. And even as she did, as his foot slipped on the wet rock and he fell, even then she tried to undo it. She reached for him, tore at his sleeve, tried to catch him and keep him back.

But the river had him now, and the river was truly wild. On her knees on the slick black rock, rain pelting at her, she watched him go under and screamed.


* * *

Aiden’s words were too much to process all at once. His sudden appearance was itself enough to knock Taerith off balance, but it did present a problem of its own―or the answer to one.

“You went home?” Taerith asked.

“If you can call it that,” Aiden answered.

“Then what are you doing on this side of the river?”

Aiden looked at him in surprise, then threw back his head and laughed. “Trust you to ask a question like that at a time like this!”

Thunder rolled alone then, mingling its deep voice with that of the river. Taerith half-smiled at himself, but the image of Mirian and Isaak at the riverbank―cold and soon to be wet, coupled with a sharp memory of a fire under the wooden circular roof of home―demanded an answer to the question. He asked it again.

“I’m hunting,” Aiden answered. He recognized the quiet frustration in Taerith’s face and nodded upriver. “There’s a bridge up that way. Where the river narrows.”

Taerith frowned. He could picture the river in that direction where it narrowed and cut through rock so sheer it was almost a chasm, but no bridge.

“There never used to be,” Taerith said.

“Well, there is now!” Aiden burst out.

Taerith reached down and picked up his arrows. He had dropped them at the sight of Aiden. He tucked them into his belt now. “I need to get across.”

“Well, come then,” Aiden said. He started in the direction of the bridge. Taerith didn’t follow.

“Not alone,” he said.

Aiden stopped and regarded him. “So you brought someone too, did you?” he asked. “Good God, what is wrong with us? Didn’t you learn the danger of attaching yourself to people when Duard sent us away?”

Corran was the only answer to that question―Corran, where he had stayed because of caring and not regretted it. But there was no way to put all of Corran into words. “I learned how dangerous it can be not to care. The price is too great.”

Aiden looked a long time at Taerith. But for their faces and the unspoken experiences that somehow deepened their voices, they might have been boys still.

Aiden smiled. The old, cocky, ironic smile. “This is a strange way to talk,” he said, “for long-lost brothers now found. Hello, Taerith. It’s good to see you.”

Taerith smiled. His eyes clouded, and he and Aiden stepped into a warrior’s embrace.

Aiden slapped Taerith on the shoulder as they separated. “Tell me,” Aiden said. “What brings you back home to Braedoch? And please tell me you didn’t bring those other three with you―you have more sense than to attach yourself to that.”

Taerith was about to answer that he had when he realized Aiden had said “three.” His fist tightened involuntarily, so hard that had he still been holding an arrow he would have snapped it. “Who?” he asked.

“Dark men,” Aiden said. “Warriors; they smell like trouble.”

He hadn’t finished speaking before Taerith was on his way, running, back to the riverbank.

* * *

Straining to see through the trees, Taerith saw Mirian first: standing at the riverbank, long red hair streaming with the wind and rain, and Borden close enough to touch her. He willed more speed into his legs and drew his sword as he ran.

His advance was stopped cold as he burst through the tree line. Kardas stood in his way. Taerith had not seen so much anguish in his friend’s face since the night he had gone to fight the wild men and return himself to bondage.

Taerith eyed Kardas a moment and turned back to the drama at the water’s edge. He rushed forward―and found himself locked, steel to steel, with Kardas.

“Kardas, let me go,” Taerith said. Warning mixed with sorrow made his eyes intense.

“Orders,” Kardas said. “A few things bind the wild men. This is one of them.”

Taerith pulled his sword away; started forward again. Again the clash: the way blocked. Anguish in Kardas’s eyes.

A battle yell split the air. Surprise pulled Taerith and Kardas apart, and between them a living whirlwind sprang up: Aiden. The speed of it forced Taerith to the side, as before him a conflict faster and more powerful than anything he had ever seen arose. Everywhere Kardas turned, Aiden was. Everywhere Aiden could attack, Kardas repelled him. One thing became clear in the minutes―the seconds―he watched: Kardas, defeater and king of the wild men, just might not be good enough to defeat Aiden Romany.

“Aiden!” Taerith cried, seeking out some way to get between them. “Aiden, don’t kill him!”

Something pulled his eyes away from the fight to the edge of the trees just beyond them. A living, muscle-bound streak of lightning burst from the trees and drove forward, hooves pounding the ground, horn pointed at Kardas' chest. The unicorn split the fight with a grace more than any earthly thing should possess: the grace of power and beauty united. Kardas held his hands up in surrender, his dark eyes full of the lovely death that breathed hard before him. “Don’t kill him!” Taerith shouted again.

His eyes were drawn back to the forest edge. Zhenya was there, the baby in his arms, standing on tiptoe in the pelting rain. He was looking to the river. To Mirian.

Taerith whirled around just in time to see Borden lunge at her―and then something happened, and Borden disappeared from view. Mirian fell to her knees behind him, narrowly avoiding a plunge into the water herself. They all heard her scream out Borden’s name.

Taerith stripped off his sword as he ran. Somehow he managed to loosen his boots without slowing. He reached Mirian and took her shoulders for a moment. He scanned the water. There―already swept far downstream, the dark form of the man he had once followed. Taerith ran along the edge of the bank and dove into the river.

The surging current pulled him forward and dashed his shoulder against a rock. He fought to get control of himself as the water pulled him down. The water was a mass of white bubbles and swirling debris. He struggled to see through it and keep himself from being driven against the rocks along the bank.

Thunder crashed as he surfaced for a breath. He whipped his hair out of his eyes and searched for Borden. There, again―dark clothes, the vague outline of a form in the water. He wasn’t far. Taerith dove under again and swam with all his strength.

He reached him. He hooked his arms underneath Borden’s and tried to drag him up to the surface, but the current kept sucking at them both, hurtling them forward. Taerith nearly cried out as another rock smashed against his back, losing precious air. Borden was too heavy. Taerith tugged; Borden wasn’t moving.

Through the underwater spray Taerith saw the branch―Borden’s cloak, heavy with water, was caught. He groped for the clasp at Borden’s chest and undid it. He needed air desperately, but he was so close... still holding on to Borden, fighting against the ceaseless push of the current, he found Borden’s belt and undid it. A knife and ax fell away.

Something was still holding them down; still keeping them under. His lungs were straining to the breaking point. He felt his hands growing weaker; losing their grip. He needed air; he knew, with what was left of his consciousness, that he needed it now.

But not without Borden,; he couldn’t let go; couldn’t leave him to drown; couldn’t...

The current was carrying them both with it. He could see the surface above him, no calmer than the water beneath, could see the darkness above that was sky and clouds and thunder.

Hands reached down and caught him.

He came up struggling, coughing, trying to free himself. “Taerith!” The voice broke through a crash of thunder. Mirian. He was fighting Mirian.

He stopped struggling and found something hard and rough beneath his feet. Hands were still hauling at him from above: Mirian, her skirts soaked, half in the water, and Kardas holding both of them.

He turned before he’d even left the water completely. Aiden was dragging Borden out. Taerith joined him, taking one of Borden’s arms and pulling him up over the rocks. Wind and rain lashed at them as they laid the one-time crown prince down.

Mirian knelt by Borden’s head and brushed his long black hair from his face. She drew her fingers away covered in blood. It ran thickly down one side of his face, flowing from a wound she could not see. She rocked on her heels and began to cry.

Taerith knelt on his other side. Rain turned the world around him grey. His helplessness was a physical pain, an ache that grew with every second Borden did not open his eyes. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. Kardas stood beside him.

“You did all you could,” he said.

“Help me bury him,” Taerith said. “After the rain.”

Kardas nodded.

* * *

Copyright 2006 by Rachel Starr Thomson. Do not reproduce without written permission of the author.

Enjoying the story? Download the whole thing as an e-book from Smashwords:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Chapter 27

Wind had dried the hillside out. The wagon wheels creaked over dry roads. Findal held the reins and brakes with an expert hand, careful not to let the horses go too fast even as he kept the wagon from riding on their heels. Before them, the sun slipped below the horizon.

Taerith and Mirian rode inside, Mirian with Isaak in her arms. He was sleeping soundly despite the bumps and jars, contented by Marta’s milk and Mirian’s arms. Marta and Randal sat at the back of the wagon, hand in hand, with friendship written in their eyes as they watched the others. To both Taerith and Mirian the silent couple gave strength and encouragement by their presence.

They left the hill behind them. The roads now were muddy and full of potholes. It grew darker and darker outside the wagon. All noise but the sounds of the wagon―creaking wheels, jangling tack, horses’ hooves―faded into nothing. No birds called or insects sang.

On the driver’s seat, Findal cleared his throat. “Entering the fens,” he said quietly. They all heard him.

Taerith felt sleep creeping over him, trying to drag at his head and limbs, making his chest heavy. He hadn’t really slept―sheltered and free of worry―for so long. Mirian was wide awake. She watched him with her green eyes like a cat’s in the dark.

What felt like hours suspended in limbo passed.

“It’s time,” Taerith said. Mirian was still awake, still watching him. She nodded.

On an impulse, he held out his hand. She took it. They got to their feet, careful to keep their balance in the swaying wagon. Taerith leaned forward and touched Findal’s arm. A slight signal, but understood. Findal pulled up on the reins just enough to slow the wagon.

Taerith led the way, crouching on the seat next to Findal for an instant before releasing Mirian’s hand and jumping down. His boots hit the ground and he moved off the road into the cover of dormant bushes. The ground sloped away beneath his feet, down to water and shards of ice. Mirian was right behind him. He turned to make sure she was all right, when she shoved Isaak into his arms and whispered, “Wait for me.”

He bit back a curse as she dashed from cover and jumped into one of the other wagons in the caravan. The moonlight was slight, but enough to allow him to see her. He hated to think of who else might be watching. If they were attacked now he couldn’t defend them―not with a baby in his arms. He held Isaak close and sank into a crouch beneath the cover of the bushes.

Clouds drifted over the moon, plunging the fens into darkness. He heard the sound of her feet on the road, barely perceptible beneath the quiet rumbling of the wagons. Dead branches moved and rustled. He started to stand.

Something bleated.

The clouds cleared a little. He saw her eyes first, shining. She had a tiny smile on her face, curiously exultant at her own strength and speed and nerve. The goat in her arms bleated again.

“Mirian...” he whispered.

You can’t feed him,” she answered.

Taerith nodded. “Make her be quiet. Has she got a tether?” Isaak stiffened in his arms. Taerith bounced him a little, willing him to stay asleep.

Mirian nodded. Moonlight was streaking her face with shadows. She set the goat down carefully, searching out the tether in the dark.

“Take Isaak,” Taerith said. “I’ll lead the goat.”

Mirian reached out and gathered the little one into her arms. Taerith watched as Isaak relaxed in her tight embrace. He took the tether in one hand and drew his sword with the other. His eyes met Mirian’s. Not a word passed between them―not a word needed to. They both understood the dangers.

Somewhere in the fens, water was trickling in the dark.

* * *

They had left their horses behind. Warriors could move as fast on foot as a wagon caravan could roll, and horses would make too much noise.

Kardas led the way. Like a dog hunting down his own kind, he loathed every step. Yet he could not free himself from the hunt, and so he let it thrill him in its own way―let it make his blood pump harder and his senses work at their edge.

There was not a chance of Borden’s losing the trail, so it did no good to allow him to lead. This way, perhaps, Kardas might see something Borden wouldn’t―might even block him from seeing.

The path was muddy. The wagon wheels were imprinted clearly and deeply enough to be obvious even in the dark. It was a trail to make a hunter lazy, if he didn’t know that the real quarry was something lighter, faster, more clever than a wagon. Borden knew it as well as Kardas did.

The shadows deepened more and more as they descended lower into the fens. Kardas kept up his pace, jogging lightly, just enough to stay out of sight of the wagons. His eyes scanned the road. For a moment his heart skipped a beat. They were there. New tracks, headed off the road into the wild. Just as he had expected.

A hand on his shoulder stopped him.

“Here,” Borden said.

Kardas’s heart sank. Borden knelt and examined the tracks. When he stood, the frightening fire had returned to his eyes.

* * *

They followed them through the night. Deep into the dark heart of the fens. Silently, Kardas marveled at the stamina that kept Taerith and Mirian going. Men, guided by nothing but skill, would have lost their trail in the night. But Borden was somehow more than a man, and obsession guided him.

The ground lay low, netted over by ancient bent swamp trees that spread their branches beneath a thin moon. Below the branches, the world was dank and black. When they had walked much of the night, the ground sloped even lower than before. The trees cleared for a moment, and the moon showed a basin of sorts. Waist-deep water surrounded an island. Two figures had entered the water and were climbing out now, little more than shadows in the night. One carried a child, the other a goat. Kardas almost smiled at the sight of them.

Beside him, Borden drew his sword. He started forward.

He stopped. Gasped. He began to tremble, and Kardas saw his knuckles go white as he gripped his sword. His eyes stared, not at the water or the island, but at something in the darkness no one else could see.

From his other side, Doublin cursed softly. Kardas kept his eyes on Borden.

What is it? He nearly asked. What do you see?

Before Borden’s eyes, the fens had melted away. A great man stood before him, armed, a naked blade held at the ready. The man stared down at him with great dark eyes, murderous eyes. His hands were covered in blood, and it had dried on the sword hilt so that his hand was stuck fast to it.

Time began to move. It slipped past him like water, carrying pictures with it. He saw himself on the castle parapet; Mirian coming to him in the fading light.

The girl looked up at Borden's words but did not answer. She did not have to. Borden could see her eyes burning in the darkness, with nearly as much force as his own. She was angry with him.

“Come here,” Borden said. She came. “What am I?” he asked.

“A tyrant,” she answered.

“You do not admire me for that.”

“I have never admired you.

Adrenaline pumped through him as he faced the giant in his path. Fear and regret. The sharp edge of vengeance, urging him forward. He looked down to see his feet shrouded in the darkness of the fens, to see only faint traces of moonlight reflecting off the water below. In the dark, a baby was crying.

The great, dark, bloodstained man stood still in his path.

Behind him, he heard the sound of someone rushing. He whirled around. Annar was coming through the night, rushing forward, sword drawn to attack. Borden raised his hand and caught his brother by the forearm, twisting his arm, forcing the sword to fall out of his hand.

The apparition pushed back. He was too strong. Borden’s own wrist would break. His eyes widened in surprise.

“My lord,” a voice whispered. Borden stopped pushing. He found himself standing hand-and-arm with Kardas. The nightmare visions were gone.

Borden had dropped his sword behind him. He didn’t even know when. He turned away from Kardas, breathing hard, and sheathed the sword.

He could still hear a baby crying. That, at least, was not part of the nightmare. He narrowed his eyes and tried to see the refugees on the island, but nothing would reveal itself to his eyes.

Abruptly, he turned away.

“My lord,” Kardas said quietly. “Let us go home.”

Borden stared at him. “Not until my work is finished,” he answered.

He looked back at the island. A great shape seemed to waver before his eyes, blade still naked, hands still bloodstained. Blocking his path.

He whispered the words. “However long it takes.”

* * *

Two weeks of walking east brought them to a place where the ground began to rise in ridges and the land was thickly forested. Game grew more and more plentiful; Mirian’s goat yielded milk enough for the baby and his guardians. Two weeks of walking—and on the fourteenth day, Taerith saw through the trees a ridge he knew as well as contours of his own hands.

They camped in the woods that night and talked by the fire.

“It’s hard to believe it’s so close,” Taerith said. His eyes were on the ridge, outlined by the moon that shone clearly above it. “All this time I’ve been close enough to go home if I wanted to.”

“Why didn’t you?” Mirian asked.

Taerith smiled. He looked down, stirring ashes with his stick. “I didn’t know I could,” he said. He shook his head. “No, I couldn’t have. I had to find a home somewhere else... make one myself.”

“Did you?” Mirian asked.

He looked up. The firelight danced in Mirian’s hair as though it belonged there. Bundled beside her, Isaak slept soundly. The goat moved behind her, pulling against her tether. Behind them, the moon shone down: pure and distant like Lilia, a dream high in a starry night. The stars called up other memories. He saw Kardas on the standing stones, fighting for the loyalty of his people, and Joachim the priest. He remembered the dark eyes of the unicorn and the rumbling wheels of the circus. And above them all, hovering, fathering them, Deus with wings.

“I think I did,” Taerith said.

In the flickering firelight a shadow passed over Mirian’s face. “I’m afraid,” she said, and stopped. Taerith waited for her to continue. Strong, fiery Mirian—the words didn’t belong in her mouth.

“Corran was my prison,” she said, “but it was also my home. I can’t go back—I know that. But I have no where else on earth to call mine.”

“I understand,” Taerith said. He thought of Mirian’s tree with her family buried at its roots—and Lilia. He understood the fear in her eyes. “My brothers and sisters and I—we all left home feeling as you do. Our guardian forbade us ever to come back or see each other again. We thought he had taken our home from us forever.”

“And now you’re going back,” Mirian said.

“Yes,” Taerith said. “I’m not sure what I’m going back to.”

“Is your guardian still there?” Mirian asked.

Taerith gazed up at the ridge again, wishing his eyes could search out the wooded darkness. “If he’s still alive,” he said.

* * *

Doublin had run away a week earlier. Borden, in his lucid moments, was aware that the mercenary had gone, but said nothing of it. Kardas wondered what reports the coward took back to Corran with him. Reports of a mad king—of a ruler who sat and stared at nothing, who tracked a quarry but would not take it, who held something terrible in his eyes.

They had fallen far enough behind Taerith and Mirian to keep their presence entirely secret, but not far enough to lose them.

Kardas hunted and gathered what food he could. They made no fires; cooked no meat. Borden would not allow them to give away their presence.

Once, late at night, they spoke to each other.

“Loyal one,” Borden said. He spoke the words with irony; making a mockery of them.

“My lord?” Kardas asked. He had not slept. He had been staring up at the moon, wishing Taerith far away.

“Can you see it?” Borden said.

Kardas looked into the darkness. There was nothing there—nothing but the night. Yet it seemed to him that something did stand in their way. Something intangible.

“No,” he said.

“It won’t let me go forward,” Borden said. Twisted, he smiled. “My own mind is destroying me.”

Kardas did not speak his answer out loud. Your heart is destroying you, my lord.

Borden stared into the darkness. He could see it: the giant, who he had come to recognize as himself. Standing silently and impassably in the way. He would overcome it. He was determined to.

“Turn around,” Kardas whispered. “Go home.”

Borden clenched his fist. “That is the one thing I cannot do. I have to finish what I started.”

* * *

The sound of rushing water reached them before they came upon the river. The woods were a nursery of budding green in a damp tangle of saplings and old trees, grey and dark brown branches forming an elegant weaving above and around them. Taerith led the way, his feet eagerly finding old paths again. This was familiar ground—familiar woods—a spring he had not known since banishment. Behind him, Mirian stepped carefully through the greenworld with Isaak in her arms and the goat trailing behind her.

They stepped out of the woods and found themselves on the banks of a swollen, raging river. Beyond it, the ground swept up: the ridge, and adorning its sides like a glistening emerald coming into light, Braedoch Forest.

Taerith swallowed a lump in his throat. “Home,” he said.

Mirian’s voice came from far away. He turned. She was still at the edge of the woods, wrestling with the goat as it tried to stay where it could eat the new shoots of the underbrush. Isaak was in his makeshift sling on her back.

She looked at him pointedly and repeated herself. “That river’s going to take some crossing.”

* * *

Taerith spent an hour collecting kindling and firewood while Mirian perched herself on a rock by the river, feeding Isaak from one of the special flasks Marta had given her and talking to him in a low voice. The rush of the river drowned out even that sound—Taerith smiled as he watched her lips moving.

He could feel spray from the river on his face as he paced in search of the best place to build a fire. His mind raced as he worked. They would be camping here for some time unless he could find a way to cross the river.

He arranged sticks in the shape of a tent, wishing as he did that he could find drier wood. Clouds over the ridge spoke of more rain coming. Perhaps they should think about building a shelter as well.

Something nagged at him—some understanding he couldn’t bring to roost. He stopped his work and tried to focus on it.

The image rose up suddenly before him, one in spirit with the river and the greening slope. A boat.

He smiled and jumped to his feet. Mirian looked up at him, questioning. He grinned at her and headed for the woods.

Fifty paces, through a copse of silver-barked trees, over three white boulders. He knew the landscape perfectly. The ground dipped into a bowl-shaped hollow, the ground at the base of it muddy and slick with clay deposits.

A sapling was growing over the hole he had dug in the side of the hollow all those years ago. He pushed it aside, and there it was—the hull of the boat, just visible in the dim light that filtered into the woods.

He propped his back against the sapling, holding it away as he pulled the boat out. It came with little effort. The end he grasped was damp, but the rest of the boat—a long, thin, light craft made for navigating rough water—was dry. The shelter had done its job.

When it was out, laying on the ground like a youthful dream made tangible, he examined it quickly. It needed some repair. The damp end had rotted partially away. The boat had been designed to carry only one or two people—Aiden had taken it out with him to hunt, he remembered, and Ilara had stolen it once—but Isaak hardly counted as a third person.

The rushing sound of the river was clear even in the hollow. Taerith hauled the boat up over his head and trekked back to the riverbank.

Mirian looked up at his approach. It took a minute for the sight to register, and she broke into a wide smile. Isaak was in his sling on her back, awake and alert. She stood and helped Taerith lower the boat to the ground.

“It needs some repairs,” he said, “and we won’t take it till the river calms just a little more. But it will take us home.”

Home. Something in Mirian twinged at the word. For her it was still a hurt, an aching word. She turned away, glad for Taerith and the happiness in his eyes but suddenly lonely again.

Taerith disappeared into the woods, reappearing not long after with several long slim branches. Mirian watched as he stripped them and began to fashion them into arrows, arsenal for the makeshift bow he’d made on the journey. An hour later he was off on a hunt.

* * *

Mirian looked up from milking as a shadow fell over her―a curious shadow, one that felt to her eyes like light, shot through with traces of silver. She broke into a smile.

“What are you doing here?”

Zhenya, his hand as ever on the unicorn’s shining back, smiled. “You left too soon,” he said. “I always meant to go with you.”

Mirian finished squeezing a last shot of milk into her small bucket and stood, wiping her hands on her skirt. The goat bleated and wandered off, seemingly unaware of the unicorn.

“Where is he?” Zhenya asked. He was looking around the camp site, his strange, chidlike eyes searching.

“Taerith went hunting,” Mirian said. She wanted to step forward, to greet Zhenya properly, but the presence of the unicorn awed and quieted her. She waited where she was.

Zhenya looked back and smiled. “I meant Isaak.”

“Oh!” Mirian skirted around the unicorn until she reached the patch of new-sprung clover where Isaak lay in his blankets. The baby’s eyes were open. Mirian smiled at him as she lifted him into her arms. His eyes, dark for so long, were changing colour now. They were grey like Lilia’s.

Zhenya reached for him. “May I take him? Only for a little while,” he asked. There was a curious, wistful look in his eyes. “I want to take him wandering.”

She wasn’t sure how to reply, and so she didn’t bother. She handed Isaak over instead. Zhenya took him as tenderly as any mother, with a delighted smile. The unicorn turned its magnificent head and looked on the babe with eyes as deep as the night sky.

Zhenya cradled Isaak with the baby’s head in the crook of his arm, and, absorbed in him, walked toward the woods. The unicorn went along, a part of Zhenya, a part of his constant delight. Mirian smiled as she watched them go. A wave of exhaustion hit her as they disappeared in the woods. She hadn’t really slept in weeks.

* * *

Taerith bent his bow as he crept toward the sound. Whatever his quarry, it was just beyond a clump of bushes. He saw a flash of brown fur and tried to peer through the branches.

A hand clamped down on his shoulder. He spun around, bowstring taught, ready to let the arrow loose.

It was Aiden.

For a long moment Taerith stood with his arrow still at the ready.

His brother. The eldest Romany, he whose impetuous temper and prodigious strength Taerith had so often balanced in his youth. Aiden, playmate and fellow hunter; Aiden, also-banished.

It couldn’t be.

“You look well, Taerith,” Aiden said.

He lowered the bow. Aiden was looking at him through eyes that were not what they had been―eyes that were hard, harbouring pain and guilt and cynicism. His face was different, too, older and marked with the same bitter scars.

“You look awful,” Taerith replied.

Aiden laughed. It was much the same laugh, if emptier than it had sometimes been. “I should,” he said. “I’m a failure.”

“Why are you here?” Taerith asked.

“Why else?” Aiden asked. “I’m here for revenge. To kill Duard―and I’ve failed.”

* * *

More than once, in the chase, Borden had heard the baby crying. He couldn’t hear it now. The nearby sound of the river drowned everything else out. He could only imagine the sound now, and that made it worse. Imagination made everything worse. He was so close, and if he did nothing, the child would grow up—would come after him—would take everything.

Imagination came to its head. Borden stood and drew his sword. He stared up at the apparition that had held him back so long.

“Let me pass,” he said.

The apparition stared back. There was life in its eyes—vitality, conviction. Borden knew in the instant that he had been wrong. This was no creature of his mind. It came from outside of him.

The giant did not speak, but it stepped forward. As it did, it changed. Great, dark wings spread up from its back and stretched themselves to the sky. The man’s form changed and became that of a bird: a bird in which even the darkness was somehow like light—shining, powerful, blinding.

He knew it for what it was: his last chance.

The darkness, so long a part of him, the obsession that had held him captive for years, broke out of him like a torrent. Borden drew back his sword and threw it into the heart of the creature.

It looked at him once with human eyes and disappeared.

The ground around him came up in ragged pieces and then took wing. A flock of doves, birds of peace. They rose all around him with a clatter and cry.

At his feet, another form appeared in the dust. It twisted and writhed and became, before his eyes, a serpent. It lifted its head from the dust and looked into his eyes.

The day returned to itself. Vision over. Madness gone.

Nothing now stood in his way.

* * *

Mirian sat by the river and watched it rushing and roiling in a white-lashed foam, its tearing force the last obstacle to the end of Taerith’s journey. Where her own would end she didn’t know―could hardly imagine. The cold stone that had settled in her throat when Lilia died was still there. It nearly melted each time she looked at Isaak, but at night it returned―fear, and uncertainty, and the still-fresh sorrow of her truest friend’s death.

She shivered.

Behind her, a stone shifted. Someone was there, not three feet behind her. She stiffened.

Slowly, Mirian turned her head.

It was Borden.

* * *

Copyright 2006 by Rachel Starr Thomson. Do not reproduce without written permission of the author.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the absence of Taerith
cross posted from The Romany Epistles last Saturday...

Hello faithful readers,

Those of you who are keeping up with Taerith may have noted the absence of an update today. Never fear... I haven't fallen behind. In fact, the first draft of Taerith is finished.

However, I'm not sure when the next chapter will go up. This is because, in Chapter Twenty-Seven, one of the Romany siblings makes an entry into the story. I need that sibling's author to ok the scenes wherein he appears. That author, our very own Sgt. Charissa Taylor, was deployed to Iraq today. (We're praying for you, Kristy!) I'm not sure when she'll be able to get back to me. As soon as she does, Taerith will resume its regular programming.

See you then :).

P.S. Those of you who really can't wait are welcome to download the ebook version of Worlds Unseen. It isn't Taerith, but it might help take the edge off a little! Be sure to email and let me know what you think.