Chapter Thirteen: The Skull



by

Josie Beaudoin







“But I don’t want to stay here looking at some invisible temple all day: I want to return to my ship!”

The other Ria nodded agreement.

“One more night, give me that long at least,” Morgan urged.

“Most of my crew still thinks I’m dead! It’s three days’ journey back to Ligma and we’ve wasted enough time here already. I’m feeling better, so let’s go!”

“I want to read-”

“You always want to stop and read something. ‘Let’s read this old painting,’ ‘Let’s read this evil house,’ ‘Let’s read this pyramid.’ Morgan, I am sick of you reading all the time. This is not a sightseeing adventure, we’re in a hurry to get you home.

“Oh, had you forgotten that?” Jasper went on, seeing Morgan wince. “And what about your sister and niece? Have you forgotten about them, too? Because surprisingly, I haven’t, probably because they’re on my ship. My home. Where I live. Where I want to go back to. You want to go back to your home too, don’t you?”

Morgan dropped his eyes from his brother and stared at the ground. There was an awkward silence, followed by an astonished one.

“Morgan...”

Morgan turned without a word and walked off into the forest. Jasper tried to follow after him, only to stumble and fall against the wall of the temple.

“Stupid invisible pyramid,” he groused.

“I’ll go find him,” Galen offered.

“Thanks,” Jasper said, rubbing a trickle of blood from his nose. “Try to talk some sense into him while you’re at it. We really need to leave.”

“I’ll see what I can do, sir.”

Feeling his way along the edge of the cool marble, Galen found the entrance to the pyramid and went inside. He looked up and found Morgan with his Vada. Though his master sat still, apparently hovering in the air, Galen could feel the turmoil within. Jasper’s words had cut deep, opening a wound at least as severe as the lumpy scar on his chest had been. Galen had no desire to climb up invisible steps to sit beside his master, but he saw no choice. He knew, roughly, where the first stairs were, and hazarded a walk through the trees to find them.

“Go away, Galen.”

“I’d love to, but you know I can’t. Sir, he doesn’t understand.”

“Obviously.”

“Well how can he? Look at it from his perspective. You’ve never talked to him about... the past. As far as he knows, it’s just that: in the past. He cannot imagine why you would wish to delay your return home.”

“He knew once.”

“Well right now there are a lot of things he’s having trouble remembering. He’s not deliberately trying to hurt you. Maybe you need to sit down and talk with him about it, just the two of you alone.”

“When? He wants to leave right now.”

“Well, back on the ship, perhaps. You can delay it, but you know you cannot avoid it: we will be returning to the ship. The captain’s a little high-strung right now, but by the time we get back he may have settled a little. The two of you have never sat and talked about it.”

“He knows all he needs to know.”

“Somehow, I doubt that. Morgan, I know more than I need or ever want to know.”

“Don’t speak to me in the familiar, apprentice.”

“I’m not your apprentice right now, I’m your friend. As your fr-”

“You can never be my friend, Galen. I tolerate you because I need you, and you know it. Our bond is not based on friendship and never will be.”

“The bond is still there. I can’t un-know what you’ve been through. All I wanted was to be left alone, but I’ve become more deeply involved than I thought possible. Jasper, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to help, and you push him away. In a way, I deserve it. What he did to you, he would have done to me if he had me. We should have suffered side by side, and now we have, through your memories. I cannot distance myself from them, or from you. Jasper cannot come close to you, and he does not deserve what you’re doing to him.”

“Do you think you could stop me in time if I were to jump? You don’t know where the edge is.”

“You won’t do it. Whether this is real or not, you know you have to live. Cara isn’t ready for you to die.”

“But if it’s a dream, my death will simply result in wakening in my cell again.”

“And if it isn’t, you’re just dead, and Cara will be on her own.”

Morgan strode over to Galen and struck him. As fierce blows go it was not much, but as an expression of rage it served its purpose and quieted his apprentice. Morgan leaned his back against an invisible wall and sank to the stone floor which, to Galen, was empty air. A nonexistent branch swayed through his narrow frame as he sat. It was unnerving to see, nearly as impressive as the feeling of strength and control Morgan was exerting over himself to calm his anger and think clearly.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Mjarni hobbled over to Baqeas and struck him. As fierce blows go it was not much, but as an expression of rage it served its purpose and silenced her husband. She pounded on his workbench, sweeping it clean and sending experiments flying across the room. With her hands planted on the table, she took deep, ragged breaths until she regained control over her anger and was able to think clearly once more.

“Liar!” she growled. She would have screamed it, but her vocal cords were disintegrating again. He could feel her anger through the Song, though, and that was more than enough.

“Beloved, please,” he said. “It worked. I can improve on it, give me a chance.”

“You’ve had chances before,” she scraped out.

“And I’ve succeeded,” he said. “Look at this, you’ve lived a hundred years without any loss whatever. This is just a setback. I’ve never tried it on anyone for this long, that’s all. I can make it stronger, make it last longer.”

“I’m rotting again, you said I would never rot again. You’re a liar!”

“I was mistaken; there’s a difference. Beloved, it worked in all the trials, I had no reason to believe that a hundred years later it would lose efficacy. I had no one to test it on but you, and I didn’t think that it-”

“Test? I’m a test, aren’t I? Just another experiment for your magics. You don’t care about your wife, only your experiments. It’s not even a Song to you anymore, is it? No, just herbs and bones and who knows what else you have here, all this magic. Let me tell you what I think of your magic!”

Mjarni tried to spit, but could not quite manage it. Spittle dripped from her gaping mouth.

“Grandfather would never have let this happen,” she grated through broken teeth. “He would have put me out of my misery, would have found a way to release me.”

“Release you? Narni, think about what you’re saying. I wouldn’t kill you even if I could.”

“I would. I would kill you in a heartbeat for this, except my heart doesn’t beat anymore. Damn you, Baqeas. You should have let me die that day. And don’t call me by that stupid baby-name. Just because your people can’t pronounce my name is no reason for you to say it wrong.”

“You know I could never do that. I love you more than life and more than death, so no more talk of that. Don’t mock their speech, they do their best. I haven’t been ‘Baqeas’ in three hundred years and you know it. You’re the only one who calls me that anymore.”

“‘More than life, more than death,’” she mocked. “You’re a hopelessly romantic but very bad poet, that’s all you’ve ever been no matter what your name is. Grandfather was a fool to train you.”

“It was his choice, my love, not yours.”

“He was still a fool.”

“Narni, I’ll fix this, I will.”

“Liar!”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Morgan strode back into camp on his long legs, followed by Galen.

“Alright, let’s go,” he said.

“Now?”

“Now, before the sun starts down. Let’s not waste daylight. Everyone who has one get your swords out, let’s hack our way back to civilization.”

“Can we pack first?” Emmy asked.

“Will we need any of this on the ship?” Morgan asked. “We’re wearing our clothes, we’ve got no food to worry about, we won’t need the torches. Is it worth the effort to carry blankets back?”

“By God, my brother’s right,” Jasper said. “Let’s just go. I want to get back to the ship as soon as possible. Aswedd, lead the way!”

Morgan fell in with Aswedd as they walked, hacking their way through the undergrowth. Morgan was not the most effective path-breaker, but he did his best.

“Have you given any further thought to what we discussed?” he asked.

“The temple said nothing about being a secret,” Aswedd said. “I feel that to keep it hidden would be an affront to Ilop himself. It is His greatest temple, and I feel it’s truest one. People may not embrace the truth, but they should at least be told the temple exists.”

“I fear for your people,” Morgan said. “This war has been deadly enough and gone on for how long? Over a hundred years? Two hundred? Your faiths are so firmly established, and those pyramids are not easy or quick to build. If you hand them a third option, I fear there will be great bloodshed such as you have not seen.”

“Probably, sadly, accurately,” Aswedd answered. “But how can I keep this great secret to myself? Even if it brings chaos for a little while, eventually people will understand. As you say, this war has raged centuries between us, though we once were one people. What is a few more centuries to that? The war will continue anyway, but if people see, if they know, there is a chance we can be whole again. This temple could not make the war worse, my friend. You have seen one skirmish, nothing more. If people war over this lost temple, it will be nothing new to them. Given time they will see the truth. I fear I cannot find the right words to speak my meaning. People are already at war: why should they not now war over something worthwhile?”

Morgan shook his head. Sweat dropped from his chin and hair as he hacked at branches.

“It is not an easy answer, my friend, and I do not envy you,” he said. “My people have not had religious wars for over a thousand years. Not since we pushed the Emperor south of the mountains, in fact. We war with each other occasionally, but not over religion. I don’t know how to advise you.”

“The road must be made and it shall be made,” said Emiksin just behind them. “Whether anyone uses it or not, I must be able to return to my temple.”

Your temple?”

“I would be lying to you if I said I did not feel something - a pull - from the pyramid, even though I cannot see it. I shall leave it to my brother to decide the complexities of war, but I must return here somehow. It is where I belong, more than any place on earth. The temple needs a keeper, and I feel it has called me to this task. I would have stayed behind, but for my inability to fend for myself. I shall need helpers, acolytes. Ilop will send them to me, I have no doubt.”

“If such is meant to be, then I’m sure He shall,” Morgan concurred. The Ria said nothing, holding their tongues in the presence of the blasphemers.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Two days they hacked their way through the jungle northwest with Galen and Kemen’s guidance and assisted by the slashings of their southeastward journey. After two days, they found their way to the temple complex of Aswedd’s people. The path was already slightly broader than it had been when they left.

The priests had been busy with their embalming work, and now the people were busy cutting fabric into long, narrow strips.

“This is to wrap the bodies with,” Aswedd explained. “Ah, how they waste their time, when Ilop requires no sacrifice but that of love. He drinks our life without needing to deprive us of it. I will see to their enlightenment as best I can. I see now what you mean, Morgan my friend, that it will not be easy. In the jungles, at the temple, it was easy to forget this life, but now that I see it, I know the battle will be long and fierce. It may well not end during my lifetime, but it is a journey which must be taken regardless of the cost.”

Aswedd and Emiksin provided them with fresh clothing, much to Jasper’s amusement, and food provisions. He then took them to a caravan leaving the area.

“This road will take you directly to Ligma,” he told them as they mounted some of the strange humped pack animals. “Stay on the road and do not dawdle, and you can reach your ship by tomorrow. I shall miss you all, but I understand that we must each go our own way and fulfil our own destinies. Mine lies here, and yours lies elsewhere. May the blessings of Ilop go with you, wherever you fare!”

“Good luck, Aswedd,” Morgan said. “I will pray to my own gods for your success.”

“I am sure they will listen to you, scholar.”

With these words the travelers turned to the northern road and left behind the busy people with their pyramids and their strips of cloth. Jasper was delighted with the rocking motion of the camel he rode, the Morgan was reminded uncomfortably of his first experience on a boat, back in Erlaya.

The next day they reached the Eleli Rei.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“They’re back! They’re back! The captain is back, he’s alive!” The shout came from the topnest of the Lady, which had been manned day and night since the party’s departure.

The crew of the Eleli Rei swarmed off the ship and onto the dock, each vying to be the first to greet their returning captain. They swarmed around his camel, nearly knocking him off before he managed to dismount and begin hugging people properly. His euphoria had not diminished, and he greeted his crew as enthusiastically as they did him.

Hearing the hubbub, even Paige came above and onto the docks. Morgan scooped his sister into a tight hug, kissed her hair, and made his way up the ramp to where Ashia waited, holding Reina. Gently he took the baby from the nursemaid’s arms and stared into the too-blue eyes of his little niece.

“I missed you, little princess,” he cooed. Paige followed him back up on deck. “And missed your beautiful mother. Oh, Paige, you should have been there. We could have used your bow during the battle. I thought we weren’t going to- what?”

“You were in a battle?” she asked, unamused.

“Well it was sort of unavoidable,” Morgan said a bit defensively. “It really wasn’t our fault. Look, we’re all home safe and sound, even Jasper, so let’s not worry about what was. What matters is that we succeeded. The temple really was there, and Paige, it was amazing! Nobody else could see it until the moon rose, it was invisible, but I could see it. I was the blind man, don’t you see?”

“The blind man.”

“Yes, blind to the magics.”

“Well so is everybody else.”

“But I didn’t used to be, and now I am, so it’s different. We actually had a blind man, a local man with us, and he couldn’t see the temple at all, but I did. There’s some sort of spell on the place that - oh I don’t know how to describe it, but I wish you had been there, it was amazing. No, you know who should have been there? Brand. It might have cured his delusions. Well, maybe not, but it would have been worth a try. How is Brand, anyway? Is he recovering?”

“You certainly are full of energy,” Paige observed.

“Well, I’m glad to be home, I suppose,” he said. “I missed the Eleli Rei, and I missed you. I wasn’t designed for exciting adventures, and it’s good to be back where things are safe and secure again. Oh! And I learned a new language. It really was an exciting adventure, but I missed the ship.”

“The ship is not home, Morgan,” she reminded him. “Not unless you’ve suddenly gone Rian on me.”

Morgan’s tale ended abruptly. Paige was right. The ship was familiar, and seemed safe compared to the wild jungles, but it was not home, nor was it safe in the strictest sense. As the remembrance of home settled back onto his shoulders he stooped under its weight and his face grew grim once again. He walked over to Bartok who, as acting captain had to stay aboard the ship.

“Have you any coins?” he asked, peremptorily.

“Welcome back, Archard,” Bartok said. “Glad to see you too. When is Jasper coming on board, I have to sweep him off his feet with the biggest hug he’s ever had. What’s this about coins?”

“I need some money,” Morgan said.

“You’re planning on shopping, or did you lose a bet?”

“Shopping, before Jasper decides to leave.”

“Well certainly then. How much do you need?”

“I want to buy as much paper as I can lay my hands on. How much do you think is in the marketplace?”

“As much... Morgan, what are you going to do with all this paper?”

“Write things down.”

“Come with me.” Shaking his head, Bartok slipped below deck and led Morgan to a small chest in Jasper’s cabin. Undoing the latch revealed gold and silver coins from every land, as well as precious and semi-precious stones, some mounted, some not.

“Take your pick, Archard,” he said. “There’s nothing that’s Jasper’s that’s not yours too. You’d best hurry, though, and get offboard in the chaos. I think Captain’ll want to raise anchor as soon as he can.”

With that, Bartok returned above to finally greet his captain. Morgan dipped his hand in the box and came up with a random fistful of riches. He picked the stones out and dropped the coins into a small pouch. Then he followed Bartok back up on deck and slipped down the gangplank heading back towards the nearest marketplace.

Morgan found a vendor after some searching and bought two blank books as well as needle, binding thread and glue to turn the loose pages he bought into yet more books. A stop at another booth supplied him with still more paper and ink, along with several fresh quills. His primary shopping done, Morgan looked around at the marketplace in general, seeing what was to be had in a foreign bazaar.

“What is this?” he asked a merchant in his flawless Fremerian.

“The screaming goddess,” he replied. The tabletop was full of the same icon, a skull with its lower jaw articulated open in a silent scream. There was a hole over the left temple and several teeth were missing. The icon came in many sizes and materials, but they were all the same. “It is Yarni, wife of the pale Barkarnas. Yarni is goddess of wronged and suffering women. Do you have a wronged or suffering woman in your life? You might wish to - but no, you Ria do not pray to any gods but your own.”

“No, we don’t,” Morgan murmured. “Nonetheless, the statue intrigues me. I will buy this one,” he said, holding up a statue that fit in the palm of his hand, carved of a white marble that looked like bone. He paid the merchant and tucked the figurine into his coin pouch.

The next merchant he stopped to peruse was similar to the one he had seen in Old Ilsho - a booth of goods from the FreeLands. There were no toys at this booth, but Morgan picked out a delicate Czeryn bracelet for his sister.

“Where is he? I’ll kill him myself! What was he thinking?” Jasper’s voice sounded loud over the hubbub of the marketplace. “Morgan! Where in the Depths are you?”

Despite his height, Morgan had always been good at sneaking up on people by moving silently and willing them to look the other way, to not notice him. This skill, without his magics, failed him utterly, and Jasper charged up to him where he stood at the FreeLand booth.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Jasper shouted.

“Shopping,” Morgan answered mildly.

“Shopping? We’re leaving, and you’re shopping. What on earth is so important you would risk getting lost now? We almost left without you!”

“Paper,” Morgan answered, holding up his bound stack of sheets, “and ink. Galen and I have work to do back on the ship, and cannot continue it without paper. You did want me to train him, didn’t you?”

“You should have told me where you were going,” Jasper glowered.

“I told Bartok. Surely he told you.”

“Yes,” was the answer, “but he took his time doing it. First he let me panic for a little while.”

“He’s got a wicked sense of humour,” Morgan admitted.

“Will you just come on? It’s past time to leave,” Jasper said.

“Yes, I’m done here. Let’s go.”

Jasper only growled, took his brother by the arm and dragged him back to the docks.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


When Jasper was finally satisfied that everyone who was supposed to be was back on the ship, he waved a fond farewell across the docks to Captain Necio standing on the deck of her ship and ordered the lines to be cast free. The Eleli Rei carefully nudged her way past the larger ships and out of the bay of Ligma, heading once again for the open ocean.

Morgan went below and as he opened the door to Jasper’s cabin the sails caught the wind, and he stumbled. His papers fell from his grip and scattered everywhere.

“Oh, Morgan, really,” Paige said reprovingly. “I had Ashia clean this place up special for your return, and now it’s all... strewy. I’ve a good mind to make you pick it all up yourself. No, let me get that. You’ll only drop them again.”

“You had Ashia clean it up?” Morgan asked.

“Well yes, of course. Don’t you like it? Apart from the paper, that is...”

“I thought we’d established she’s not a slave and not to be ordered about.”

“Of course she’s not a slave, Morgan. She’s a servant. There’s a world of difference.”

“And that difference is...?”

“Slaves wear collars.”

“Do servants get paid?”

“Well... I haven’t any money right now, but there’s nothing for her to spend money on anyway. She’ll be paid in Krisadon, and until then she’s my maidservant and wetnurse. Morgan, I haven’t any money right n–”

From his coin purse Morgan pulled out a gold coin and gave it to Ashia. It was the precise denomination with which he had purchased her in Kaihiri. From the same purse he drew forth the bracelet he had bought and put it around Paige’s wrist.

“Morgan, this is beautiful,” she said. “Czeryn workmanship, isn’t it? And look! The three gods! Such beautiful miniatures. Why, Vatha looks so graceful, she... Morgan, where did you find this?”

“In the marketplace,” he admitted. “They’ve got everything there, from everywhere, even the FreeLands. I saw it and thought you might like it. You’ve no jewelry at all, and I thought...”

“I’ll never take it off,” she whispered in his ear as she threw a big hug around his neck. “Well, not unless it might get caught on something and damaged. Like a tree or something. Oh, speaking of which, and speaking of jewelry, I had Ashia do something else for you while you were off on your adventure. Here, you should wear this, it’s only proper.”

From a drawer built into the wall she drew forth a chain. Dangling from it was a shining, silver pendant - what had been the blackened tree given to him by Sefti the day they left her farm.

“Now you can’t say no,” she insisted. “Ashia worked very hard on this, as I’m sure you can see. It was a gift, and it’s very ungracious to refuse gifts. Especially from the dead.”

“Paige, I can’t,” Morgan said, tears pricking the backs of his eyes. “No, you know I can’t wear that. It looks too much like The Tree, and I just couldn’t bear it, not after what happened there. Now I know it was a gift, and kindly meant, but it should be tossed overboard, not worn. Sefti isn’t here and won’t know better.”

“It’s restoration was a gift from Ashia,” Paige said archly. “Would you turn her down?”

“Please wear it, sir,” Ashia spoke up. “You offer me so few chances to repay you for saving my life.”

“There is nothing to repay,” Morgan said. “Any decent human being would have done the same.”

“There were no other decent human beings around that day, then, sir.”

“That still does not leave you indebted to me,” he insisted. “Look, do we have to have this conversation again? You’re a free woman, you can do with your life what you like.”

“Can I, when you keep stopping me? Is it wrong for me to wish to serve you and your sister? I have only ever been a servant, it is what I know. It is what I wish for. I wish to serve you, but you refuse to allow me. See? You have even paid me.”

“For services rendered. Has my sister been teaching you rhetoric? You are the most plausibly argumentative woman I have met after her. And stubborn. But logic does not apply to matters of the heart, and I simply cannot bear to have a former slave working for me. That should be an end to that discussion right there, but you keep serving me whether I like it or not. It is not only unfair, but you might show a little more respect for the man you claim to esteem so highly by respecting his wishes.”

“You are quite right, Magister, logic does not apply to matters of the heart. Will you not for a moment consider her heart as well as your own?” Galen, who had been listening by the open door just long enough, chose to join the conversation.

“I saved her life, what more does she want from me?”

“To serve you!” the reply came from three voices at once.

“I don’t want a servant,” Morgan said coldly. “I don’t need a servant, and if I do, I have an apprentice who will do quite nicely. Now for what I hope is the last time, this conversation is over. Galen, will you kindly help me pick up these ‘strewy’ papers?”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“This book is for you,” Morgan said, handing one of the bound volumes to Galen. “It is your grimoire. I wish you to write your spells in it, all of them, from the beginning to the present. Put the Apprentice’s Ryme on the inside cover, then begin your spells on the first page. Only spells you have actually performed yourself. When you have filled it, I shall give you another one, but this will suffice for the present. Most of what you have done lately have been Ainvadas, you needn’t include those. Only spells. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Sir, but I already have most of those written down already. Will it not be a waste of paper to repeat them?”

“You have them writ down on scraps of paper stuffed in pockets here and there in your luggage and your herb packet. I want them all in once place. No, it is not a waste of paper. You are making a reference book for the future. It may not seem important now, but you will see the use of it later.”

“And the other book?”

“The other is for me,” Morgan said, “and nevermind what I put in it. It’s private, you understand?”

Galen nodded solemnly.

“The loose pages are for the Barkarnas translations. I’ll bind them together later when I can put them in some semblance of order. Look, I need to show you this.”

Morgan drew from his pocket the marble skull he had bought in the marketplace at Ligma. Galen gasped in surprise.

“You recognize it, don’t you? I did too. The skull carvings all over Barkarnas. But there’s more: she has a name and a purpose. The merchant who sold me this told me her name is Yarni and that she is called the ‘Screaming Goddess,’ patron goddess of wronged women. Now looking on Jasper’s globe, Barkarnas is not that far from here, compared to the size of the world. Do you suppose he took this goddess from them, or that they took her from him?”

“You think he gave them a goddess? But why would he do that? I mean, what benefit would there be for him?”

Galen had not seen, and Morgan did not mention, the statue of the woman below the house on Barkarnas Island, but Morgan knew there was a woman Laric had loved more than life or death.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“Admit it: you can’t stop the decay,” she said.

“I don’t know how to stop it right now,” he admitted. “That does not mean I never will. You must not give up hope, Beloved.”

“Hope,” she scoffed. “It’s easy for you to speak of hope and cures and magic, but I have none of those things.”

“There may be other plants, other medicines in far-off lands,” he insisted. “The Ria say there are lands we have never seen, lands that do not connect to this one, that can only be reached on their ships.”

“And you believe them, of course. The Ria are lying scoundrels who will say anything to get money from the gullible. You’re not thinking of asking them to take you there? Overseas? In those rickety little boats of theirs?”

“Not me, my love, us. I wouldn’t leave you, not again, not in the ice.”

“And how do you propose to get them to allow something like me onto their boats? How much money would you offer them to not throw me overboard the first time they look at me? Truthfully, Baqeas, look at me and tell me I don’t –”

“Keyan,” he said, absentmindedly. “My name is Keyan now, remember?”

“I don’t care what other people call you, husband. Your name is Baqeas, and you know it and I know it. Stop changing the subject. The Ria will never allow something like me aboard their ships. They’ll think I’m contagious, or evil or something, just like the Djanarans do.”

“If we disguise you,” he began, but was cut off.

“What, will you nail me into a box and call me cargo?”

“It’s an idea.”

“Well it’s not a good one. Take me back to our tower by the river. People think it’s haunted, they won’t come near the place.”

“Narni, even if I could find the way back, the tower may not be standing anymore. It’s been centuries. And besides, I told you I’m not leaving you.”

“I wish you would,” she said. “I’d enjoy some peace and quiet without you around. Six hundred years listening to you prattle on about cures and healing spells and I’m out of my skull with exhaustion. Honestly, don’t you ever think of anything else?”

“Think of something besides saving the woman I love? No, not really. Narni, you’re my life, and nothing will ever change that.”

“How about me?” she asked. “Did it ever occur to you that you may not be my life? That I’m tired of you and your studies and your magic spells and your optimism that’s too stupid to know when it’s been beaten? It was peaceful in the ice.”

“You were asleep.”

“And I liked it. Take me back.”

“No.”

“Take me back to the tower.”

“No, you’ll only get worse than you are now. Narni, I’m telling you, we have to search over the sea, in the distant lands. The Ria tell tales of – ”

“A lot of things that aren’t true,” his wife finished.

“But the things they sell, where do you think they come from? Ships’ holds laden full of exotic things from where? Other places, that’s where.”

“Don’t do it.”

“I already have, Narni. I was just hoping I could talk you into accepting it. We are going overseas, I just - well I wanted you to agree to it.”

“I’ll scream.”

“They won’t hear you unless there’s a magician aboard. If there is, I’ll rob them and leave them for dead before we sail. No one will hear you. No one will know you’re there.”

“I don’t even know you anymore, Baqeas,” Mjarni said, weeping softly. “You’re not sane, this obsession has taken hold of your entire life. And this life! No one was meant to live forever, not you, not me, not anyone. The gods did not make us this way.”

“No, we were a mistake, but here we are. And since the gods have not seen fit to correct our plight, we shall just have to correct it ourselves. What else should I do with æternity? You say ‘give up this obsession.’ I say ‘what else should I do with my life, then?’”

Mjarni sighed and allowed herself to be lifted into the crate. Baqeas nailed the cover shut over her, and carried her, crate and all, to the waiting waggon which took them down to the docks and the waiting Rian ship.














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