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.

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Blogger Brittany Simmons said...

Congratulations, Starr! You've done a wonderful job. Taerith is an awesome story. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading it, it has been such a treat to look forward to--like coming in from a long day's work and sitting by a fire while someone tells a story. ;-) I'm going to miss it very much. I already do, it is like saying goodbye to a friend. I wish I could call for an encore, but one can't do that with stories, can they? Oh well, I'll just applaud and say splendid job!

12:02 PM  
Blogger Jo said...

*sigh*, It's all done. too soon. It was lovely.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Emily Mae said...

EXCELLENT. I have to say that my favorite part of that chapter was the last words, when Taerith begins the letter to his siblings. EEEK!! I can hardly believe one of the stories is finished! You did a wonderful job...Congrats on writing a super story!

It was interesting reading about Duard again. He was different than I thought he'd be. I guess this whole scenario is a little different than I imagined it, though. Not in a bad way. a different way. :-) Overall I have to say you have crafted a magnificent story and I'm exceedingly proud that I know you!

It is rather sad to realize that this is the end of the end of the end of Taerith. Pity. 'Twas a good tale. Ah well. Least there's eight other stories to read along the same vein.... *grin*

~ the very proud O.W.E. ;-)

12:55 PM  
Blogger Kirk said...

It is the end. But it is a nice end.
And that is good.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Marsha said...

What a fascinating story! A great ending... and yet a beginning as well.

THANK YOU for sharing this with us!

I am extremely sad to see it end. I guess I never really thought it would end as I would just get lost in the journey.


I guess I can read about the other Romany's now... But it won't be the same, it won't be the same.

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful story and ending to it!
Love the ending and how they could all go home in the end.

Looking forward to reading the rest of the Romany series soon. =)

11:50 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Noooooooooooo! How can this be the end?!?!?

Thank you so very much!! I am printing it up to read now.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Marsha said...

Are you SURE about it ending?

Puhhhlease continue!!! Don't make me beg... although I would if it would make a difference.

See, I've read and commented a few days ago and I still check back to see... Just in case...

1:50 PM  
Blogger fiadamom said...

Well, what a lovely discover for a sick day. I just followed a few links before I discovered Taerith and have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in his world. I also enjoyed reading the comments, and wanted to add one impression I had. The relationship of Mirian and Lilia reminds me of Scarlett and Melanie. I was also very touched by the last sentence. I look forward to reading about Taerith's siblings and their journeys home.

3:07 PM  
Blogger margaret said...

Everytime I tried to start Taerith, I would stop and begin one of the other siblings. Now I know why. The story was beautiful and full of meaning. The comments were wonderful to read. But the ending said it all, "Come home." I hope all of the others end with the same feeling of time to go home, time to end the bitterness and break the bondage of what someone would try to control you with. I kept hoping that Borden would end His bondage and forgive His brother and His self and look to God for a knew beginning. If he had only reach to His nephew with the desire to make him a better King then His brother, it would have set him free from His bitterness. But you gave us a good picture of what happens when we walk in bitterness and how it can consume us to where we are no longer the person we once was. Ok, I'll shut now but I enjoyed the story from the begin to the end. Thank you for letting me come along on this journey with Taerith.


9:46 AM  
Blogger Malachi said...

You forgot to put in 'The End' in big, swirly letters! Great story. I look forward to more from you! Keep up with the great writing!!

2:54 PM  

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