Tales of the Kirgeur

By the Bluedragon

"Torienne, wake. Break your fast." Tre shook me from my dreams.

"What is the hour?" I was not quite awake. My dreams paths had been scattered.

"You have time only to dress, eat and hasten to court or you shall be late." Tre pulled the blanket from me. "Lyliane has escorted Sevianth to his lessons. I was left to wake you and return the morning tray."

"My gratitude. I cannot believe I dreamt so long." I rose quickly and gathered my clothing.

"The palace servants say you have reason to be tired. Were you harmed in the battle last eve?" She seemed concerned.

"Nothen. I was not harmed. It merely exhausted me. I had a full day's duty before the battle. I am growing soft in these opulent surroundings."

"Nothen. Sister, you are but human. Your day would have exhausted any warrior. Rise and eat else you will be late for court." She allowed me privacy to dress.

"I shall decline the meal. I must perform my duty and scout the court before the Jilhsaed arrives. I shall see you at the noon meal." I pulled on my boots in haste.

"We shall all be here. I wish a full description of your battle. It will go nicely in the journal I am preparing for Dalin."

"I shall let Salenia relate it to you. I shall return for the meal." I did not take the time to eat, but hastened my steps to the court chamber.

I was not as late as I had feared. I was able to scout the chamber and take my place behind the throne before the Jilhsaed entered. Unlike previous courts, the Jilhsaed merely inclined his head to the assembly and took his seat. Soliumant stepped forward on cue.

"The hunters have been chosen." Soliumant announced. "We shall depart an hour before the sun awakens and if the gods favor us, we shall return by the evening meal." He took his chair as the crowd cheered.

My thoughts were with Iolaine throughout the duration of the morning court. He should have been seeking the proper place for our operations base outside the palace. He had pledged to return by the midday meal and tell us of his success or failure. I prayed to my gods for his success.

"Have we no more to discuss?" The Jilhsaed asked the court as he stood. No one said a word in response. "Then I shall dismiss the court. Let the festivities begin." The crowd cheered again. Court had been in session for less than an hour, and no word of the previous eve's events were related.

I escorted the Jilhsaed to his private chambers and relinquished my duties to the normal house guards. As I was walking back to the main chamber, Siveruian hastened his steps in my direction. The little chamberlain had been overseeing the preparations for the festivities. The heavy chairs had not been moved. They were too massive, however, the normal trappings of court were in the process of being removed.

"Torienne, Soliumant bid me request your presence. I shall find you an escort to his chambers." He waved over a servant. "Escort Torienne to Soliumant's chambers."

"Yes, chamberlain." The servant bowed low.

"My gratitude for the message." I nodded to him. I knew he would infer the proper meaning from my words.

"It was my duty and nothing more." He replied. "See you to Soliumant."

"Yes, Siveruian." I found the hidden meaning of his words.

Soliumant was privileged with a chamber the size of half a floor. The Jilhsaed's chambers contained an entire floor. The heir shared his floor with other offspring of the Jilhsaed. They could not inherit according to custom. They had been the products of liaisons between the Jilhsaed and members of his harem. Some were younger in seasons than Sevianth. The older ones had positions of rank and duty, though they would never rule the realm. Soliumant was the only product of the Jilhsaed's bride. Her soul had departed in the birthing of her only child. The Jilhsaed had not taken another to wife. It was said he had wed for love and still grieved for her. However, he did possess a full harem. The first of his harem was the woman Sal and I rescued the night before. Since she was the first chosen, she was considered the princess and ruled over the other members. If the Jilhsaed did not allow his heir to marry his chosen, Kierian faced the same fate.

One who guarded Soliumant was by my customs his brother. The man was seasons older than the heir, but performed his service with great loyalty. He was known to me, though I knew not his name. Regardless, he admitted me to the chamber with a smile and a slight bow. My rank was already higher than his own.

"Well met, Torienne." Soliumant was in good humor.

"Rohirm." I bowed before him.

"We shall seek out Kierian." He announced as he rose from his chair. "There shall be no practice on this day."

"As you wish, rohirm." I kept my thoughts only on my duty.

Kierian was wearing a long belted type of tunic. It had no sleeves, and fell past her knees. She had been sitting on her bed when we entered. She stood quickly and bowed low before Soliumant. She paid me no heed.

"Tell her to rise, Torienne." Soliumant looked uneasy as Kierian remained bowed before him.

"Stand." I told her. She stood.

"You look more beautiful today, I had not thought that was possible." Soliumant spoke directly to her. I could tell she could only recognize the word today. Her knowledge of the language was severely limited. I had to remind myself not to use that against Soliumant.

"He thinks you look more beautiful today than he has seen you." I kept my voice in an emotionless tone.

"He flatters me, do you think so as well?" She asked.

"You have flattered her, rohirm." I told him. She ducked her head in false modesty.

"Ask her if she wishes to join the hunt." Soliumant seemed to be searching for common ground. Of course, he chose his ground to start the process.

"Do you wish to join the tirgeaur hunt?" The conversation seemed inane.

"I have no wish to hunt, you know that perfectly well. Remember the times you attempted to get me to accompany you when you were learning to hunt?"

"What did she say?" He asked eagerly.

"She asked what a tirgeaur could be, rohirm." I misdirected him. "I was merely relating the question he bid me ask." I told her. I refused to acknowledge the rest of her statement.

"All for duty then?" She asked.

"For now, aight."

"Has she declined?" He asked.

"Yes rohirm, she does not wish to endanger your person while you are undertaking such a hazardous endeavor." I told him. He seemed pleased by her falsified concern. I felt as if I were being a traitor, but to whom I knew not.

"She would be quite the distraction." He grinned. "However, I shall respect her wishes not to attend. Ask her what she wishes for entertainment."

"What do you want to do now?" I asked.

"I wish to speak to you alone."

"That is not possible, it is against custom. Choose something else."

"Kierian talk Torienne?" She spoke as if she were a babe just learning her native tongue.

"She wants to speak with you, Torienne?" He was puzzled. "Why?"

"I have no idea, rohirm." I told the truth.

"Kierian talk Torienne of Soliumant." She stumbled over the words. She had guessed the direction of our conversation.

"A good sign, if she wishes to ask you of me." He had the same look Sevianth sometimes wore, that of childish excitement. "I shall return in one hour."

"Rohirm, that is not necessary." I was not eager to be alone with her. My head and my heart were not yet in full accord. I knew not if I could resist her charms.

"She might not feel comfortable if I am in the room." He quelled my argument. "Though you shall report to me everything she says. Woo her for me, Torienne and I shall be forever grateful."

"I shall court her for you, rohirm." The words fell easy from my tongue, but lodged in the hollow of my stomach.

"My gratitude, Torienne for the rest of my life." He placed his hand above his heart and made fist. "I shall return."

"As you wish, rohirm." I bowed as he left the room.

"And so we are alone." She grinned.

"Why did you request this?"

"Because I could." She widened her grin as she sat down at her table. She crossed her legs allowing the long tunic to display her legs. "I have a wish to speak to you and I could think of no other way to accomplish that wish."

"You could have waited. I may have journeyed again to your balcony."

"Perhaps. I needed to know if you were well with the world this morn. It is not easy to have it turned on its side. Tell me, did he ask you to court me for him?"

"He did." I answered. "What shall I tell him?"

"Tell him I will join with him." She replied in an offhand manner. "I can think of nothing else that should suit me better. I shall have the future Jilhsaed when his duty permits, and you when he is away. What more can I ask?" She seemed pleased with her little plan.

"You shall not have me. You made that clear before." I replied. "Soon I shall return to the village. What should I tell your family?"

"Oh, you can tell them I am dead for all I am concerned about the situation." She poured a mug of viniare. "However, you shall not return to the village."

"Is that a threat?" I knew not how to respond.

"Do you desire to leave me here unprotected?" She seemed to think she had the advantage in the situation.

"You shall not be unprotected." I replied evenly. "Soliumant has a multitude of guards."

"They are hardly qualified to protect me in the ways you are able." She answered. "Think on it, Tor. This is a wondrous place. I have not seen as much as you have and even I can say it is so. We can live in luxury all our days. It is better by far than returning to the village and being a horse breeder or farmer's wife."

"I have only the desire to return and be a breeder of horses. I have had my fill of luxury." I replied. "Though I shall still carryout my duty as a kirgeur when the need is there."

"I shall not return to the village. I shall not go back to that life." She seemed agitated.

"Was the village that bad?"

"Have you found someone you are able to love more than your horse?" She redirected the conversation.

"I have not." That was not the truth. I had found someone I loved more than my horse, though the love I felt for Sevianth was not the answer she wanted.

"Do you desire me still?"

"I have no desire for so cold a person. You made it clear you did not love my brother, nor did you return my love. I have no desire for you any longer." It was not true. My lust for her was still alive.

"I am cold because I am required to be." She stood and walked to the balcony. "I have been conditioned to be so."

"How so?" I was intrigued. I had always enjoyed solving problems. It was one aspect of my personality that enhanced my abilities to be a kirgeur.

"You know not how life was for me in the village." She continued to stare over the balcony.

The day was warm and the sky was clear. The edge of the earth shimmered in the heat. It formed interesting paintings for my eyes. The sun's lights bounced from roof to roof much like one of the leather balls we had played with as children. If omens were truth, I knew the next would be a good day for the hunt.

"I know how life was for you. I was there, Kierian. We spent our youth as companions and almost as lovers." I turned my attention back to the topic she had dangled in front of me. I did not fully believe her, but I was intrigued despite my misgivings.

"Nothen. Torienne, you have no idea what I returned to each evening." She unlaced her tunic and turned her back to me. Even in the light I could barely see marks across her flesh. They had the look of an old wound. "That is what I received if I did something my mother's husband did not think had been done to his specifications. He did not approve of you or my association with you. He reckoned you for cylinge at an early age. He approved of your brothers and I was determined to leave anyway I could." She refastened her clothing.

"When Lu offered, you accepted then?" It seemed easy to deduce. "Why my favorite brother?"

"You two were quite similar. I do grieve for his loss. I did love him, but not as I should love a husband. I chose to accept Lu's offer for several reasons. I do not wish you to know them all, for I do not wish your anger. I need for you to understand this. I always loved you, Torienne. We were not destined to be." She paused for a moment. I could not respond. "You shall make as fine a horse breeder as you do a kirgeur. They shall tell of your adventures in generations to come, I have been given the gift to see that much." She seemed sad. "I could only wish it had been different. I truly did love you, Tor, but we cannot fight our destinies. I am sorry for hurting you and for teasing you as I have these past two days. It was pride and I am sorry for it."

"How can you know? You know this. Sal knows that. Where is my knowledge?" Finally, my mind was rebelling against my lessoning. "I am no student of love, it is truth, but gods of my tribe, am I only good for cutting down men?"

"Nothen. Calm yourself, Torienne. You are more than a warrior. You struggle so, yet you do not see the answers you have yet to seek. They are nearer to you than you believe." Kierian put her hand on my shoulder. "You have too much in that head of yours. Give yourself time to grieve and all will seem simpler." She pulled me into her arms. "Cry for your departed, cry for me, cry for who you once were, but cry. It will help."

"What would you have me give in response to Soliumant?" I pulled away and returned to a more comfortable topic.

"I shall marry him. He seems a kind, generous and worthy man, and if I shall not grow to love him, I do pledge to respect and care for him. I shall not disappoint you, nor shall I injure him." She released my hand.

"He is a kind, generous and worthy man. He shall be an outstanding Jilhsaed, and he is already a worthy warrior."

"Some things never change." She laughed long and hard. "You have always judged people by their swords and their horses."

"My grandfather taught me to see the measure of a man by the way he treats what is his." I replied. My grandfather had the charge of my early schooling. It was the custom of our people. The duty of the old was to teach the young.

"Your grandfather is a wise man." She complimented him.

"He is." I agreed. "We should return inside. Soliumant shall return soon."

We walked back into the main chamber and attempted casual positions at the table. We sat one on each end of the square piece of furniture. Kierian poured two mugs of water. It was cool and sweet. It easily quenched the thirst I had become accustomed to during my stay. The land was parched more than my homeland. It was not hard to comprehend the reasons behind the light, thin weaves of wool these people favored. As we quenched our thirst, we spoke on common topics. She inquired of the adventures that had befallen us on the quest. I related them as well as I were able.

"I should like to be introduced to your partner." Kierian smiled gently as she directed the flow of the conversation.

"Why would you wish to met Sal?" I asked.

"I should have a vote of approval." She laughed. "I have never before seen that look in your eyes when you have mentioned someone."

"What look?" I almost choked on my water.

"The look of love and devotion. You are quite besotted are you not?"

"What?" I was astounded.

"I have known you for years, Torienne, it is obvious when you say her name. Each tale you relate is laden with her. You describe her more than perhaps you realize." She leaned back into her chair. "You have yet to acknowledge it. Gods of our tribe, I have blundered."

"I am confused. I deal not well with emotions. These two days have been filled with unaccustomed ones. What mean you when you say that?" I slipped into the more formal version of our tongue. It was meant to add distance to the conversation. It did not seem to assist me.

"I cannot tell if you have yet to realize it. Follow my advice, Torienne. Grieve for all you have lost. You shall see clearer then."

Soliumant announced his return by a light knock on the door. It interrupted our conversation. I rose from my chair and ushered the heir into the room. Kierian, in her role as enamored subject, bowed low. He looked only at her as he walked to her. Kierian raised her head and brought his hand to her lips. His cheeks reddened at the gesture.

"This is a good sign, no?" He asked me.

"Yes, rohirm." I smiled at him. "Kierian has accepted your offer if you are still willing to defy customs for her."

"I am pleased. If the hunt goes well on the morrow and we manage to capture a tirgeaur I shall tell my father my decision." He bounced on his feet as if he were a boy. "It shall be a sign from the gods, an omen for the future of our realm. It shall confirm me as heir in right and a man worthy to lead my people."

"You have pleased him, Kierian." I told her. I ignored his speech of customs. It seemed strange to validate manhood. "He is willing to defy customs to marry you. You shall mother heirs for him."

"I shall be pleased to do so for I find more freedom here and am at my ease." She seemed contented with her new role. Suddenly I felt nothing but sympathy and perhaps some sense of our old companionship for her. It was not lust, it was not love, but it was a gentle feeling of sisterhood. "Come tonight, I have more I need tell you."

"She is willing to stay by your side and breed many heirs for you, rohirm." I told him as I nodded to Kierian. His grin became wider. It reached and enhanced his dark eyes. She saw the change in him, and I observed the change in her. She was charmed and won by the look in those eyes. Adoration is difficult to resist.

"My gratitude, Torienne, you are dismissed. I would advise you avoid the late court festivities as we have an early day on the morn." He was preoccupied with Kierian.

"Yes, rohirm." I bowed and began to depart.

"I have asked that Johianei allow your partner to attend us on the hunt. He has agreed and she has been relived of duties for this day. We shall not have lessons either." He turned his attention back in my direction. Kierian did not remove her eyes from him. She was falling under his charm.

"My gratitude, rohirm." I bowed once more before departing from the room and turning my steps in the direction of my chamber.

The hall was empty and quiet. Those who inhabited these sections were either resting or attending the festivities in the court chamber. It was a lonely walk back to my chamber. Thankfully it was a short one and friends were waiting for me. The remembered warmth they added to my chambers supplied a slight bounce to my steps. I had to force myself to retain a stern façade. It would not have benefited my reputation to be witnessed grinning as if I were a child escaping daily chores.

"A day of ease." Sal sat at the table in the common area of the chamber. She had her boots on the table and her arms across her chest. She seemed as if she were content with the world. "Dearest gods of all, we have needed one."

"Aight. We have. Where are the others?" I sat down at the table. Kierian's counsel echoed through my ears. Gone was the relief I had felt at my day's freedom. In its stead were thoughts of the past two moons.

"They shall be here soon. Tre and Iolaine are fetching the meal while Lyliane and Sevianth are at the stables. He wished to show her a trick he learned on his horse during lessons."

"Kierian has accepted Soliumant's offer. She shall be his bride if the Jilhsaed agrees." I reached for a flask of viniare but did not pour any.

"The passionate one has accepted then?" Sal's voice contained a slight sense of scorn. "You have my pity. I know it is not easy to lose one you love."

"For once you are not correct. I do not love Kierian. I did once, but through this quest I have been chasing a shade of a youthful obsession. It is harder to rid the self of shadows of youth than it is love which no longer lives." I quit toying with the cloth wrapping the flask of viniare and poured a mug. I held it over another mug and lifted a brow in question to Sal. At her nod, I poured one for her as well. "Soliumant has canceled the lessoning today. He wishes us to rest for the morrow."

"That is sound reasoning." She looked thoughtful, but did not share her thoughts.

"Shall you watch the festivities?"

"Perhaps I shall. I am still tired from our match last eve. I believe I shall seek my dreams early this night, but I shall watch a little with the others. What have you planned?"

"I shall take Kier for a ride. I have been too long out of the saddle. I miss it." I had not planned it until I related it. It was sound reasoning. I needed time with no one around. Kier could provide that.

"Somehow I knew that was your plan. Are we meeting for the evening meal?"

"If you wish. I wish they would hasten. I had not time for the morning meal. I am hungered." My stomach was burning within me.

"I did not dream easily. I was awake before dawn." Sal admitted.

"What terrors haunted you?" I was curious. I did not ask to be polite or make conversation. I wanted to know.

"Images of our match last night. They ended differently in my dreams. It is always so after a battle. I dream of alternate endings." She poured more viniare for both of us.

"I had night terrors as well. I do not recall them. It is rare I dream of a battle. I second guess my moves thereafter, I do not wait until I dream." It was easy to admit it to her.

"You second guess your moves?" She seemed surprised.

"At times. After I was wounded on our journey, I painted the scene in my mind again. I noted where I was injured and how to avoid it again. I did so with the guard here as well. I watched it in my mind until I could see where he struck me and what I should have done to prevent it. Do you the same?"

"Nothen. Not always. The battles merely have untrue endings in my dreaming. It is no matter. I have done so since school, I shall continue to do so until I hang up my blade." She shrugged her shoulders. Her words caused me to wonder how the outcome had changed in her dreaming. Which one died who lived in reality? I wanted to ask but could not. At that moment our four companions returned.

"Thanks be to the gods you are both here." Lyliane announced as she entered. She was assisting Tre with the food. Iolaine followed carrying Sevianth.

"What happened?" I asked as I rose from my chair. The boy was walking in dreams. He was pale and his head was bleeding.

"He fell from the paddock railing. One of the servants at the stable distracted him as he was climbing the fence to find his horse. He fell and hit his head." Tre hastened her words. "Iolaine saw from the window in the stairway. We were on our way to get food. We ran to assist when Lyliane screamed."

"I apologize Tor, I know not how this happened. I could do nothing to stop it." My partner's sister was near tears.

"Peace, Lyliane. You could not have halted this occurrence. The servant who caused this? Who is he?" I was filled with anger.

"I know not, Tor." Iolaine answered. "He recognized the boy, but he did not stay to assist."

"Lyl, go fetch my saddlebags. Iolaine, fetch you the chamberlain. Tor, calm yourself." Sal took charge of the situation. "Tre, help me move him to his bed."

"Will he be unharmed?" I could hear the note of unease in my voice. The boy meant much to me. I could not grieve for him as well.

"He shall be his normal self soon." Sal promised. "Sit. Tre will assist me until Lyliane returns."

"Aight." I could find no other words.

I could not sit. I paced the length and breadth of the chamber twice before Lyliane returned. Sal forbid me approach the bed. I paced more. Tre relinquished her duties to Lyliane and patiently waited near the boy. What seemed like days after he hastened from the chamber, Iolaine returned with the chamberlain.

"Will he live?" Siveruian asked as he entered.

"He shall, misayla." Sal joined us near the table. "Has Iolaine informed you how this occurred?"

"He has. He described the servant at the stable as well. I must inform you I cannot punish him on another servant's word alone. I can see that he is reprimanded for not assisting, but I can do no more. I apologize, but it is custom." Siveruian was calm though he appeared unhappy with his tidings.

"I understand. My gratitude for your assistance." It galled me to accept the matter. I had no choice.

"I could wish to offer more. It is the way of our world to keep close by tradition and custom." He released a long breath. "The boy shall be well? He is a favorite of his teachers. I have had no bad reports on him, only good."

"Our world is like to yours, I think." I told him. I was gladdened by the news Sevianth was held in esteem by his instructors. The boy showed promise.

"He had the breath knocked from his chest and bumped his head. He shall wake soon. He shall be well in hours." Sal smiled as she imparted the good news. I released a long breath in relief.

"Gladdened am I to hear it. I shall return to my duties after I see to the servant at the stable. You are both attending the hunt on the morrow?" The chamberlain asked.

"Aight, misayla." Sal answered.

"Well met. I shall see you one hour before dawn on the morrow in the great chamber. You shall leave from there. The horses will be waiting out front. Have a peaceful eve." He bowed and exited before we could answer.

"It is truth? Sevianth shall be well?" I asked again.

"It is. He shall be well, Tor." Sal grinned. "Eat now before you waste away from hunger."

"Healer's orders?" I was relieved enough to tease.

"Aight. Eat. I too am famished." She set a good example by claiming her chair at the table.

"Who am I to argue with the orders of a healer?" I asked as I joined her. The others quickly followed.

Before the meal was completed, Sevianth joined us. He was none the worse for wear. He even showed his continued health by consuming his normal portion of the meal. Sal informed us it was a good sign. He was granted permission to attend the festivities as a result. Though I did make him give his oath that he would not climb more enclosures. He agreed readily and with such earnestness I was drawn to his eyes. They seemed familiar though I could not place them. I rationalized it as the scare he had given me, and my desire to see him as my heir.

"Are you attending the festivities, Tor?" He asked after finishing his meal.

"Nothen. I have been too long from the saddle. I need to ready Kier for the hunt on the morrow. Tre and the others will escort you."

"Are you attending, Salenia?" He turned to my partner.

"I am for a time. I may wish a swim thereafter, though I have a desire to see the wonders you keep describing." She smiled fondly at him.

"I am gladdened. One of the others in my lessons said I had no family. I told him I did. This is my family." He waved his arms around the room and encompassed all of us.

"You are correct, Sevianth. This is your family if you will but have us." I smiled at him. "What say you?"

"I say yes." He ran to my arms. "Does this mean I can stay with you and not return to my village?"

"You shall stay with me." I pulled him into my lap.

"Salenia also?" I raised my brow at my partner. She wore a strange expression.

"Perhaps, Sevianth, perhaps." She answered.

"You have your answers, and your family. Go now with the others and seek the entertainment." I placed him back on the floor. "I am for the stables to check on Kier."

"Shall we meet here for the evening meal?" Tre asked as she passed the used plates to Lyliane. The extra food had already been hidden.

"Aight. We shall." I turned for one last look at my companions. "No one is allowed near the top of any enclosure while I am away. I shall meet you here for the evening meal."

I did not wait for their answers but directed my steps to the stables. As I walked through the palace, I could hear sounds of the revelry within. I knew I would not miss it. I also knew my sister and my heir would be pleased to illustrate the feats of skill I would not see. It entertained them. I could not begrudge them that.

The servants at the stables ignored me as I located Kier's bridle. I did not need the saddle. The bridle was only to tether her if I wished to halt our progress. I did remember to grab a handful of treats before I entered the paddock. I used the entrance through the stables instead of climbing the enclosure, though I was tempted. I did give vent to temptation and had Kier hurdle the enclosure again. I heard the gasps of the stable hands as we rode to the river.

As we traversed the same path we had encountered Sal on the previous evening, I let my mind wander. It had been a long two moons. It was the first time I had to contemplate the turns my life path had taken. True to Kierian's words, I found time to grieve.

I stopped Kier near the edge of the water perhaps four leagues from the stables. There was no one in the vicinity. All were joining in the celebrations. I lowered myself to the ground after tethering my horse and watched the water ripple in the wind.

I fought the urge to return to my village then. I wished to flee from the sudden emotional storm I found myself experiencing. No tears were present. I saw the events that grieved me play themselves out in the water. I saw my eldest brother fall from his horse. I saw the men I cut down before me on the field of war, the first who had died at my blade. I saw the remains of my favorite brother, the remains of my house, and the remains of my mother. I saw my father crumble at the sight. I felt the wound on my shoulder anew and watched as the man who gave it me died at my sword. I watched as Sal fought a man with a sword while only protecting herself with daggers. I saw Sevianth's pale form on a large bed. I saw my sisters in cages and chains. I saw the faces of the departed swimming on the surface of the water. I saw two pairs of blue eyes with the same look of adoration, one to me, the other to Soliumant. I saw the inside of my heart and shrank from it.

I know not how long I sat there contemplating the watery images of my life. I lost myself in the pictures before me. My trance was broken only by another's approach. I did not need to look from my position to know it was Sal. Wordlessly she sat beside me and pulled me into her arms. I did not protest the movement.

Once, in my youth, as my grandfather taught me to fish, we came upon a blockage in the stream. He told me the story of how Solisiric taught all the animals and humans of the world to protect themselves. He told me how she had taught the benivi to build blockages in waterways to gather fish and evade predators. We watched as the water overcame the blockage and flooded the banks of the river. Sal's arms overcame my defenses and my blockage disappeared. I watered her shoulder with my tears.

"Are you well now?" She asked softly as my tears subsided. I did not move but continued to rest in her embrace. She felt my nod. I had no voice to speak. "Have you grieved enough?"

"I have and more." I regained my voice. I was slightly shamed at letting her witness such a vulnerable outpouring.

"Nothen. You have though perhaps not enough. This was long overdue Torienne. I am awed you did not break before this." She continued to hold me. I continued to allow the embrace.

"I was shamed by it."

"Grief is natural. We need give it vent. It allows us to recover from loss. You have suffered much loss over the last few moons. Even Kayla wailed when she found the remains of her sister. It is not wrong for a kirgeur to feel grief. We are mortal, fallible and human." The news of Kayla's grief eased my shame. I admired my mother's sister. As a child, I wished to be like her.

"It is not easily accepted." Reluctantly I eased myself from her embrace. She let me. "I did wait too long to grieve. I know the way of life, but at times it does not make sense. It seems easier when I do not have to rationalize it, when I can merely exist in the current. I cannot do that forever."

"Nothen. You cannot. Why do you think I wished you learn to swim?" She did not pause long enough for a response. "When I am in the water, I remember I can fight the current or I can flow with it. It is easier to float, but more rewarding to swim."

"Were you reminding yourself of that last eve?" I used my sleeve to dry my tears.

"I was. This journey has left its mark upon me as well as you. I think we have gotten the better parts of life from it. I have found my sister, you have found an heir, and we have found one another."

"You are a good friend and true, Salenia. I am grateful for your presence." I told her the truth. At that moment, I was more than grateful she had accompanied me.

"At last you see my worth." She teased.

"Nothen. I have known your value as a companion and partner in this quest. I have been remiss in telling you of my gratitude."

"It is nice to know you do not take me for granted." She became serious again. Her eyes shone with unshed tears. I could not understand why, but the tears made them deeper, as green as the grass after a storm. I sensed I had said something incorrectly to cause that look. I knew not how to repair it.

"Nothen. I do not take you for granted. The food here I take for granted. You, I hold in high regard." It may not have been the correct phrase, or the phrase she wished to hear, though it worked better than any others I could think of at the time.

"I suppose that is an improvement, as long as I am not equated with those gods be damned nuts, it shall suffice for the time." She rose and offered her hand. I accepted it readily. "I came to fetch you for the evening meal. Your heir was most insistent upon your presence. He wishes to perform more tricks for you."

"Salenia, you have my deepest gratitude." I pulled her into an embrace. "I would not have completed the journey here without your assistance."

"I do what I can to assist when I can." She smiled. "Come, let us return your horse and find our companions. I am hungered again."

[part 13]

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