Misty, cold, wet.
The creaking of the leather tack, the offset muffled sounds of the horses’ feet that come into harmony every so often and then disperse again as each one has its separate stride.
Ahead of me, the neck of my horse, moving up and down, ears pointing ahead onto the roadway grey and the soft shape of Lucian, upright in his cloak and bare headed on the stout gelding.
Behind me, Chay in sullen silence, half drowsy half sleep that keeps the body in the motions and the mind elsewhere.
Below me, the grey mare is warm and narrow. She is a very different experience to the blacks from the grasslands, too perfect in a way, too unreal they were and yet they were quite real in their unworldly god perfection. They were not of this realm, not of this land, and I had always felt vaguely guilty that I would bring them to this, a strange undertone that precluded an honest relationship beyond that of mere convenience, of mere usage as you would give a tankard in a tavern, a borrowed knife around a camp fire that would pass along as soon as you had cut a piece of meat from the communal creature’s corpse.
I am not sure that there is any merit in this ride at all; I am not sure why I requested it.
Well, it would be possible that I just want to stretch time a little, for I cannot stop this now or change its course and I cannot not go straight forward and towards what is inevitably now to be; but I can bargain for a few more days.
A few more days.
How is this going to make it any better?
Perhaps this is making it harder instead, perhaps I am just prolonging the torture for us all and yes, I am, and still, I cannot call to Lucian, stop, I’m ready, let’s just go to the abbey, let’s just end it now.
I try and I can’t.
And so I ride, and I already feel my legs begin to chafe and my back begin to hurt, unused the muscles once again, its been too long since last I rode for any length of time.
We are moving at a slow walk.
At this rate, it will be a tenday before we get to Pertineri.
Lucian is setting the speed and I am well aware that he is just responding to me, that he is following my desires absolutely and that in and of itself is once again too much for me, it is simply too much to ask of me.
How can I walk us all into oblivion?
My hands are knotted so tightly around the reins that the wet leather is cutting into my palms. Ahead lies the miserable village, and in a moment we will pass the circle of stones and I will be flooded with memories once again and oh, dear creator, I wish I was back then and not here, back anywhere, backwards just backwards no matter how bad it was, or how painful, because this is worse.
Lucian halts his horse and turns in the saddle towards me. Chay draws up to be by my side and both look at me and send their silent respect.
I am not enough for this.
And then I know of course, that this too is nothing but a child’s illusion and I rotate my neck, feeling the creaking of the bones inside and I sigh deeply and extend an apology to them both.
This serves no purpose, I send them and know that those aren’t necessarily my words but they are his, well suited to the circumstance and expressing precisely what the truth is of the situation.
There is no purpose in prolonging the agony. Let us go to Pertineri now, let us do what must be done and then it will be done, it will be over and so be it.
I sense a veiled relief from both of them.
We link lightly and Lucian opens the doorway wide and clear. The horses shy, unused to the energies and the procedure but obey us nonetheless and walk on through, and in triad we choose not the Abbey but an elder point on one of the hills overlooking the white city for our exit point.
The sky is clear here, blue and wide. The hill is gentle, very old and no-one could begin to guess that once a great palace had stood here, and before, a hundred more, each built upon the ruins of the other, all of this below us now, long, long forgotten and erased in all ways.
The road into the city lies off and to the left, winding towards the great white walls and all its spires, walkers, riders, carriers and beasts of burden moving along minutely from this vantage, and camps set up in patches by its side where once there may have been the post stations, inns and mini towns upon approach but all of that was well erased when Trant’s hordes flooded across these plains and I sat watching silently beneath a copse of trees on my way to find and re-claim my sworn general to his duties.
Still in triad, we turn the horses as one and make our way down the hill at a trot and angle down across the barren fields, strewn still with remnants here and there of the great battle that was fought two years ago, to pick up the road.
We seek and find Camu, now pregnant highly and most glowing with wellness and with health, and tell her that we’re coming.
By the time we are upon the main gate, a hundred men are ready for our escort and they clear the streets for us with brutal disregard as we sweep into the main royal roadway and towards the palace itself.
Eddario has had much work done.
The perimeter wall is all restored once more and new trees have been planted. I cannot help but check although of course, there was no way that anyone could have restored the palace shielding, nor would anyone have wanted to do this, of course, for the shielding’s job was done and gone and never needed now again.
The practice field before the palace is green and beautifully tended and already, early as it was, there were soldiers in the red and white hard at work, parading in groups, running and turning, and all stared as we rode by for they recognised us well enough and those who did not recognise us were informed in urgent whispers who we were so they could stare as hard and open mouthed as their more knowledgeable companions.
I had never seen the great gates standing straight with my own eyes, nor had I ever seen the enormous courtyard with the fountains flying, with the statues tall and regal and the perfect mosaic lying stretched like impossible honeycomb as far as your eyes can see and shifting into tightness at the furthest edges where it would meet the steps towards the bridge building and the entrance to the palace.
More guards are there, all ready and waiting, and at the top of the stairs stand two men in blue and silver and our little Camu in white, their courtiers multicoloured behind them, as we ride up three abreast and stop as one, I in the middle, Chay to right and Lucian to the left.
In spite of all those minds and all those people, the courtyard is extremely silent save for the snorting of the horses and a resonant clap here and there as one of our guard’s horses strays from four square for a time.
Eddario comes forward.
He looks very different this day, so much older, he has gained weight and substance and a gravity of being that befits him well.
He looks down at us from the steps and two souls within him have a battle.
There is the High King who has grave concerns about us and our reputations; about the effect our presence must have on talk and tale, and then there is Eddario who admires Lucian as he would a father, and who remembers me to be the bridge between the then and now, the only bridge of possibility that holds his lives together.
The battle is brief.
“Welcome to Pertineri, Lord Tremain, Lady Tremain, Sir Catena,” the High King himself pronounces in clear and reaching voice and then he salutes Lucian.
The horror of the courtiers and the troops is palatable and I cannot help but smile.
Lucian is smiling too, on the inside only, of course, and we all dismount and make our way up the steps to meet Eddario. He kisses my hand with deepest reverence and exchanges soldier’s handshakes with Lucian, then with Chay, and I go to Camu and embrace her.
Then I greet Carran.
He looks a lot better too than last time I saw him and I wonder why he is still here and not on his father’s throne in Solland as had been the arrangement.
We go inside, and I see the walkway entrance to the abbey and for a moment, I lose all sense of the now until Lucian gently takes my arm and steers me on, towards a room I recognise only too well.
It is where I had my meeting with Thoran of Thelein.
It now holds different furniture but that ornate carpet is still the same and if I was to shift my viewpoint, I am sure I would find my blood soaked into the base weave just there, over there by those exquisite pale tapestry chairs surrounding a low table, where waist high stands support exotic plants that droop their leaves like waterfalls to define an intimate area in that enormous room.
Chay startles badly by my side as he remembers too what happened here and for a moment, the triad must re-establish so everyone can find a sense of equilibrium.
There are six of us and we sit in a circle.
One in black, for we all wear black this day, and there are the blue, silver and white ones, mortals all, Camu, Eddario and Carran, and for a time no-one speaks until Camu asks us if we would like to take refreshments after our journey.
Chay and I submit to Lucian’s desire for wine.
Lucian and Chay submit to my desire for fruit.
Lucian and I submit to Chay’s desire for sweetmeats.
The servants are instructed and withdraw to outside of hearing range and we are in as much privacy as such as these will ever be allowed.
The triad confers in a heartbeat, and Lucian speaks gently and tells them that we have come to conclude a magical business and would order some affairs.
He requests that the child Sondra be raised under their stewardship and the three exchange glances of alarm. Carran speaks first and says, “I have already sworn myself to be the child’s champion. I would be honoured to accept such a task.”
Eddario nods and says, “The child shall be raised as my own. You have my word of honour.”
Only Camu stares at me in fear because she begins to get a notion that there is a reason beyond as to why we would seek stewards for our child when we were blatantly alive and well ourselves.
Lucian continues and speaks of Guenta and his second, as yet unborn child. Eddario blushes slightly in discomfort and Carran looks at his half brother with a measure of amusement. They repeat their pledge of stewardship, of course, and still, they are not going to ask us what it is that we are planning to do.
I am glad that they don’t, for how can this be explained?
I don’t even know what we are going to do when the time has come, as it must now for it is very near, I can feel it in my bones, I can see it approaching shadow white from the wide perimeters of the room, time is closing in on me and I cannot really hold the reality of Eddario and Camu in any sense of steadiness.
I feel Lucian say it more than I can hear it that we must go to the abbey and remain entirely undisturbed.
I feel Lucian far more than I can see or sense him even as he takes my arm and starts to walk me away, and a little while later I feel Chay’s hands strong and hot on my other arm.
The white is moving in swiftly now.
Time is collapsing in on us ever more swiftly now.
I cannot see anything at all but I can sense the walkway, the garden and then the abbey explodes around me, within me, fire bright and yet that is nothing compared to the brightness flaring of the entities of my companions, and I am confused for I no longer know which one is Chay and which one is Lucian.
The thought disturbs me, then it makes me distraught.
I cast around helplessly and try to find something to hold on to, something to steady me in this brightness and I find the abbey structures and take to them, cling to them, mesh myself to their strangest of energies and then there is the web.
The artificial web, the ancient web, the broken, torn web that first I knew in Manoranta.
Fantastic strands of power, unknown, inexplicable.
And yet, even then I knew I had to one day be here and repair the web.
It was my task, it was my design and also, my desire.
The others move towards me and they merge to me, but this time I absorb them to myself and remain absolutely me, absolutely untouched by the dissolution of the triad, I am just me but I am more than I have ever been before and it is easy then to read the final patterns, to find the places where the ancient structures lie in ruin and to raise them up again, to release them from the weight of the millennia where some lie buried and where others have sunk deep below the ground and gathered in gigantic reservoirs below the threshold of reasoning, below the thresholds of awareness and to start a bursting to the surface there.
Yet other strands are woven into mountains and still others have become perverted long ago and turned upon themselves, and in so doing are causing sinks and wells that churn but do not flow.
And all of it is waiting for me, just waiting for my call and for the lightest touch that re-arranges, frees, aligns and puts what should have been, back to their rightful place, and to their rightful time and to their deep alignments that have hungered for so long to be just there, just here, just right.
With every part restored the energy increases a thousand fold until it is so primal that I virtually begin to lose myself in all that sandstorm rushing, all that mountain fire and I need to draw upon my very last reserves of strength to hold the lightning in my hands and fuse the last of the connections, and when the very last tears from me and breaks into its rightful place, the entire system takes a shift into enormity unknown and I am imploding with its purpose power and I fall into myself again and touch the ground with force and pain of physicality.