Earth Magic

I remember working on the story for a long time, the last time in December 2005.  It is unfinished, and likely to remain that way.

The rain plastered Tovor’s hair to his face as he ran through the night.  There was a thin sheen of mud on the road; just enough to make things treacherous, but Tovor didn’t dare stop running.  His horse had thrown a shoe a ways back; did the animal have time to hobble back to the stables?  Had they found Luro’s body?  Did they know he wasn’t in the palace?

Foolishness.  Foolishness on Luro’s part, thinking that being the heir to the most powerful member of the Council of Lords would protect him from justice.  Still, it had, in a way.  Even though Tovor was a prince, the youngest son of the king, he held no such misconceptions.  He would hang as a common murderer, when he was caught.  Royals, nobles, commoners, they were all alike under the law—in theory, anyway. A prince, such as Tovor Namid would be made an ‘example’ of, while a ‘lesser’ noble, like Luro Udan could hide behind his title.  It didn’t matter though, justice had been done.

He had slit Luro’s throat with the lordling’s own knife, while he was sprawled out in a drunken sleep.  Carelessly, he tossed the knife aside, what difference did it make if it was found?  He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a woman’s signet ring.  Coria’s ring, the one that showed a ship amidst a stormy sea, sigil of the house Thada.  He tossed the ring next to Luro’s body, so people would know why the lordling died.  After a moments thought, he tugged his own signet ring, showing his own sigil–two trees with their branches intertwined beneath a starry sky—so that they would know who did it as well.

A turn in the road, and a slick patch of mud sent Tovor sprawling face forward out of his reverie, his dark green hunting cloak spread over him like a shroud.  Sputtering filthy water, he froze, imagining that he heard hoof beats pounding down the sodden road. After what seemed an eternity, no one having passed his way, he slowly rose.  The time had come to leave the road.  He more crashed than picked his way though the dense hedge alongside the road, and headed off into the dark woods.  Though the dim light, he somehow found a deer trail, and followed it as best he could.  Stumbling though the dark, wet woods, the adrenaline that had sustained him for the past few hours called for its price.  Overtaken by weariness—if he was caught, at least he would be able to sleep, Tovor found shelter beneath a pine tree with large overhanging branches that kept out the worst of the rain.  He wrapped himself in his cloak, still damp and muddy from his fall, not really expecting it to keep him warm.  Weariness overtook him, and soon he fell into a fitful sleep.

The morning dawned bright, clear, and beautiful, as mornings after heavy rains are known to do.  The light of dawn combined with his aching muscles pulled Tovor from his sleep.  Painfully he stood, and tried to work the worst of the pains from his body.  He wasn’t sure exactly where he was, but he knew he wasn’t far enough from the palace.   He could go to the south, across the border, his twin sister was married to King Putra of Milit, but he wasn’t sure that Putra would protect him.  He could head west, to the mountains.  Men could, and did, disappear in the mountains for years at a time.  He wasn’t sure, though, that he would be able to survive in the wilderness, his upbringing, in fact, had completely failed to prepare him for such a challenge.  South then.

Noting the sun, he picked his way along a deer trail that headed roughly south.  He knew these woods, Tovor kept telling himself, he practically grew up here, hunting and playing at being a hero.  He was not going to admit to himself that he was lost.  Whatever else he was, he was most definitely not lost.  He just needed to keep heading south until he reached the river.  Perhaps, when he reached Milit he wouldn’t even need to involve Putra. Perhaps he could start a new life as a…Tovor searched desperately for skills that he could use to make a living.  Again, his princely upbringing completely failed to deliver.

Suddenly, someone grabbed him from behind, and Tovor could feel something sharp against his throat.

“You are far from home, Little Prince.” said a feminine voice by his ear.  “Though not far enough, I would wager.  I think it best that you come with me.” Not that she offered much of a choice.

“Who are you?” he asked, as she frog-marched him along a thin trail.

“A friend.”

Tovor considered the logic of this answer, but decided not to comment on it.  “I don’t suppose that you will tell me where we are going?” he asked.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Talking seemed to take to much effort—effort that he would much rather use, say, avoiding branches and stones that would cause him to trip and fall against the knife held at his throat,

Not that thinking would be much better.  At least the woman wasn’t taking him back towards the palace.

The trail lead to the base of a tall hill, one end having been sheared into a cliff face.  It was here, facing the cliff that the woman released him.  Tovor turned to look at his captor.  The woman was perhaps ten years older than he was, with dark hair and a pale face.  She was slipping a dagger into a leather scabbard.  Her clothing was made of the soft leathers and cottons of the Ka’tava, the wild men who lived in the Pavon waste on the western side of the mountains.

“Now, little prince,” the Ka’tava woman smiled.  “I see that you have two choices.  One, you can come with me, or two, you can stumble your way though the woods until daddy’s guards find you.  They don’t have much reason to be happy with you right now.”

“How do you know who I am?” Tovor asked.

The woman laughed out loud.  “That is merely one of the mysteries that may or may not be explained to you, depending upon your decision.”

Tovor looked around.  This cliff face would be a prominent landmark, but he had no idea where he was.

“I think…” he said slowly, “That if I stay out here, I will die.” He looked at the woman.  “I’m not sure if I go with you that I won’t, though.”

The woman smiled.  “We all die, Little Prince.” She said.  “But I can garentee that if you come with me that your life will be longer than it would be otherwise.”

“Why have you stopped forcing me?” Tovor asked.

“Because,” the woman said, turning toward the cliff face.  “This next step has to be done with complete co-operation.  If I were to force you, well, you don’t want to know what would happen.  Give me your hand.”  She thrust her hand out behind her.  Cautiously, Tovor took it.

Before he knew what was happening, the woman slid into the stone face of the cliff. Tovor opened his mouth to yell, but he found himself being pulled behind her into solid stone that gave way as easily as water.  He stumbled out the other side, into a small, roughly circular cavern. Two steps left the soles of his shoes on the floor, and his belt buckle seemed to have gone missing.

The woman was staring at him and tsked to herself.  “I forgot to ask about metal.” She said, softly.  “No matter, now, though.”  Louder she said.  “Wait for me here, I will be back shortly.”

Tovor didn’t seem to have a choice, as the woman slipped though the cave wall opposite the one they had just come though.  What had just happened?  What was that about metal?   Shaking his stricken shoes off, and gathering his trousers with one hand, he used the other to explore the cavern.  It was lit, somehow, the light was unlike any given by fire that Tovor had ever seen, and seemed to be coming from somewhere overhead.  He could find no way out.  He ran his hand along both the wall that he had just come though, and the wall through which the woman had just left, and they seemed solid.  The hobnails were gone from his boots, as was his belt buckle, dagger, and the coins out of the small purse in his pocket. Feeling like this was a dream, he slid down one of the walls, and shivering, waited.

Soft voices seemed to echo though the small cavern, just within the realm of hearing.  Tovor was able to catch a few phrases, he wasn’t able to make head or tails of those that he heard.

“–has the ability—“

“—won’t get far”

“Not—we’re looking for”

“—take that risk?  If we don’t—“

Tovor closed his eyes against the words he heard.  Treacherously, he began to calculate how long it would take for him to die if he were left here.  No food, no water, and a chill in the air made that number depressingly short.

As if she had sensed that treacherous thought, the woman whom had brought Tovor to this place slid back though the wall.

“Here.” She said, handing him a piece of leather cording.  “Fix your pants.  I’m sorry about your things, but  we can’t have you standing before the Council with your bum hanging in the air, can we?”

Tovor glanced at her, before discarding his stricken belt, and replacing it with the leather tie.  It would probably just be easier to go along with her, he decided.  Maybe he would be lucky enough that this wouldn’t be a dream.  He stood up, taking the woman’s hand again.  This time he was a little more prepared as the two of them slid though the wall of the cavern.  Tovor considered himself lucky that he didn’t loose anymore bits of his clothing.

The two of them slid into a large room—where as the cavern where they had come from looked as though it could have been natural, this was most certainly a man made space—that seemed to use a cliff face for one of its walls.  Large windows let in sunlight; the shadows were at a different angle than those beneath the pine tree where Tovor had spent the night.  How long had he been in that small cave?   Three women and two men, also dressed in Ka’tava clothing were seated behind a long wooden table. Five pair of eyes seemed to bore directly into his soul.

“This is the man.” The woman said.  “Now you see him, can you question my decision to bring him here?”

The oldest woman stood up.  She carefully crossed the room, where she circled Tovor, with the air of one examining a horse that was being sold by a questionable dealer.

“He is a princling.” She said flatly.  “And he has a cloud of guilt hanging over him.  We do not wish to upset the Kuso. We have enough trouble with them as it is.”

“I for one, trust Trenna.” The younger of the two men said without rising.  “If she says he has potential, than  I say we complete the tests.”  He smiled at the woman who had brought Tovor to this place. Trenna?

“Hmph.” The old woman—the horse buyer Tovor began thinking of her as—snorted. “I don’t like it.” She said.  “I want to know why he is fearful of his father and his home.  Such people are not to be trusted.”  The horse buyer made her way back to her seat.  The Council looked at him expectantly, Trenna had taken a seat in one of the vacant chairs, and was also watching him.

“I—I killed a man.” Tovor stuttered.  “The eldest son and heir to the most powerful member of the Council of Lords.  He deserved to die, were he not a lord, he would have hung for his crimes, but he was able to hide behind his title.  It was justice.”

The man who had not yet spoken raised an eyebrow.  “He was able to hide behind his title, but you are not?”

Tovor shook his head.

“That explains much.” One of the women said.  “Let us finish the testing before we decide anything else.” The counsel murmured their agreement.

“Has he been to The In-between?” The woman asked Trenna.  She shook her head.

The woman rose, and directed Tovor to follow her as she crossed the room to the cliff wall.  A low bench emerged from the wall in such a way that it seemed to have been carved there by wind and water.  “Lay down here.” She said.  “I can’t explain what is going to happen next, not in words that  you will understand, but believe this, no harm will come to you.”

Feeling slightly disembodied, Tovor followed the woman’s instructions.  The remaining members of the counsel had risen, and were touching the stone wall.

“Airae is the best.”  Trenna said.  “Don’t worry, you are in good hands.”

The woman, Airae, placed her hands on Tovor’s head, and closed her eyes.  Her lips moved soundlessly, as if she were praying.  Tovor wondered what exactly she was doing—

“So sorry to hear about Coria.” Luro smirked at Tovor.  “When was the wedding going to be?  It must be quite a blow for any perspective bride-groom for his darling to kill herself less than a cycle before the wedding.  Still, she wasn’t that good, I suppose it was a favor to you, in the long run.”

An animal growl escaped from Tovor’s throat, and his hand instinctively reached for his sword. “YOU killed her,” he said softly.  “And I will see that you hang for it.”

At least Luro took a step backwards.  “I don’t know if you will, dear Prince Tovor.” He said.  “Murder is a hard thing to prove, especially when the victim took her own life.”

“You are a rapist and a murderer.  Were you not your father’s son, you would long since have been executed.”

Luro smiled at him.  “Ah, yes, but you see, you can still be executed, because you are YOUR father’s son.”  Luro turned and walked away.  Tovor clenched his teeth, and began to plan.

The world blurred, and Tovor seemed to travel back in time.

They had found Coria’s body that morning, the empty bottle still in her hand.  The apothecary was beside himself.  “I mixed it up for her so she could sleep.” He half sobbed.  “I warned her against taking too much—I didn’t know!” not that anyone blamed the apothecary.

People stepped lightly around Tovor.  He had tried to comfort her for nearly a cycle now, but she had shuddered away from his touch.    He had confronted Luro, her rapist, and he had laughed in his face, admitting his crime, knowing that he could easily escape justice.

“You cannot blame yourself.” Tovor’s brother, Jarris told him.  Jarris had entered the Temple of the Moon, and was the one to conduct Coria’s funeral. “You did nothing to hurt her.”

Tovor nodded slowly.  “I know.” He said.  “What I can do for her now is justice.”  Jarris looked at his youngest brother, with concern in his face.  “Many people have their lives destroyed in a moment of grief.” He said. “Do not be one of them.”

“Moons blood, Jarris!” Tovor exclaimed.  “Coria did nothing wrong—nothing!  And she is dead.  Luro killed her, and  he walks free, knowing that no one will touch him.  If I were to try…if I were to try…”he trailed off softly.

“Come to the temple for a while.” Jarris pleaded.  “It will help you recover.”

“I don’t know if I want to recover.”

Time shifted again.

Coria was radiant, she floated in his arms as lightly as a feather.  It was a good match, everyone agreed.  Coria was a Lady, the heir to the house Thada, small but wealthy.   With three older brothers, it was unlikely that he would ever take the throne, and spare princes just seemed to cause problems, so Tovor would marry into her house.  He had been dissuaded to marry as long as he could remember, but Coria—he would give her house status and recognition.  And beyond the political, he loved her, deeply.

The music came to and end, and Coria pulled him off the dance floor, cheeks red, but smiling.  “I wish this night would never end.” She whispered into his ear.  “This is perfect. This is what I want for our wedding.”

Tovor smiled.  “For you? Anything.”

“Oh, that time would move more quickly!  Only two cycles, but it seems an eternity!”

“I thought you didn’t want tonight to end.” Tovor said, mock strictly.

“I want tonight to go on until our wedding.” Coria said.  “Then, after that, it can pick up again.”

Tovor laughed.  “There are elves and dragons here.  Perhaps we should talk to them, and see what they can do. And if they can’t do anything, I’m sure Jarris has open communication with Father Moon by now.”

“That’s blasphemy.” Coria complained mildly.

“You don’t know Jarris very well, do you?”

Coria laughed, and snuggled against his chest. “I put complete faith in you.” She said.  “Make my wish happened.”

Tovor smiled at her, then something drew his eyes up.  Luro was there, staring at Coria, a hungry look in his eyes.

Tovor’s world shifted again, as he struggled to wake from whatever trance these damn Ka’Tava had put him in.

He stood in a large room, three open doorways in front of him.  Through one, he saw himself on a tall warhorse, leading troops into battle under the doubletree sign.  As he watched, the scene shifted, and the banner that had floated behind him now flew over what he recognized as the Palace Udan.

In the second doorway, he saw himself wearing the clothing of the Ka’Tava.  He could tell that he was one of the great among them; many people had come from miles around to see him.  A woman was at his side.  His wife.  Children played and laughed in the background.

In the third doorway, he sat in a small, dark prison cell.  Rain came from the high, barred window, and he was wrapped in a threadbare blanket trying to keep warm.  Outside, he could hear the muffled hammers and cursing as men labored to build the scaffolding where his life would end.

Tovor’s gaze shifted between these three scenes, each representing a possible future.  If he reached towards one, he could feel every emotion linked to the scene.   As he stood and watched, the doorways vanished, and were replaced by three more.

In one, he saw himself being laid to rest in his family’s crypt.  In the second, he was being raised on a high pyre, in the manner of the Ka’Tava.  In the third, an unmarked gave, with no prayer or ceremony uttered.

Panting, Tovor sat straight up, forcing Airae’s hands from his head.

“What was that!?” he asked.  “What did you do to me?”

“We can teach you.” Airae said, softly.  “We can explain everything. I don’t think we have a choice.”  That last was directed to the other members of the council.  One by one, they nodded, even the horse buyer.  Airae moved so that she could look into Tovor’s face.

“There is a form of magic, that comes not from the sky like that the faye use,” she said. “But from the Earth.  This is what you have seen used here today, and unlike the sky magic, humans can use this.  We are all as human as you are.” She spread her fingers wide in demonstration. “The faye have forgotten about this magic, preferring to use that which comes from the sky.”

“It is easier for them.” The younger of the two men interrupted.  “It is easier to draw, and to weave.”

Airae nodded.  “They forget that life is mud, and sweat and blood.” She said.  “That is the secret to this magic.  Anyone can learn to use it, but some have a more natural talent than others.  You,” she said, nodding to Tovor, “have an immense natural talent.  Were you born Ka’Tava, you would be a great Emald, young as you are.”

“Wait.”  Tovor said, struggling to come to grips with what was happening.  “Magic from the earth?  It sounds demonic to me.  I want no part of it.”

Trenna laughed.  “It is the magic that makes plants grow,” She said, “or mountains form.  Where the demons to enter this world, they would only cause destruction.  This is only creative.”

“So,” Airae asked.  “Are you willing to learn?”

Tovor looked around slowly.  This was a world he had never dreamed of.  Were he to go back…the sounds hammer and nails filled his memory.  It was nothing more than he deserved, but perhaps…

“I am willing.” He said.

Cycles, turnings, years, lifetimes later—Tovor had lost track of time since entering the Pavon; Tovor sat on a high ledge overlooking a barren valley.  The rock face that reached below him was sheer enough to have been cut with a giant axe—impossible for man to climb.  Tovor smiled to himself.  He had no use of climbing anymore.  A slight change in the rock announced that someone had folded in behind him.  Trenna, he though.

“We have been looking all over for you.” A female voice said.  He had been right.  Tovor shrugged, not bothering to turn around.

“You were the one who told me to practice folding.” He said.  “Why should I make myself easy to find?”

“Have you found the in-between, yet?”

Tovor shook his head.  “Not on my own, I’m looking every night, though.”

The in-between was the secret, the heart of the Earth Magic the Ka’Tava practiced.  It was called the in-between because that’s what is—the place in-between waking and sleeping, between life and death, between this world and the world of the demons.  Mother Sun, Father Moon, and the Star Children made use of the in-between; it was the gateway between their world and the sky.  Everyone stood slightly in the in-between—that is how those most proficient at the Earth Magic could read people—not their thoughts, exactly, but who they were, what shaped their lives.  Tovor had yet to reach it on his own.  It seemed as though the council had been wrong about his potential. He couldn’t help but feeling like the Emald’s, those trained in the ways of Earth Magic, were beginning to despair.

Trenna sat down next to Tovor.  “Perhaps you need a different sort of motivation.” She said.  Tovor still didn’t look at her.  “Your mother—she is among the dead?”

“I don’t really remember her.” Tovor said, sighing.  “I was a child when she died.”

“Perhaps she waits for you in the in-between?”

Tovor turned his head slowly, eyes burning.  “I have gone looking, trying to find Coria.  I have gone with the intention of confronting Luro.  I have sought Ib, and Kovi, and none of these things have worked.  Why should my mother, whom I know only though paintings and stories, when the woman I loved, the man I most hated, and Wanderers I have worshiped my whole life not?”

Trenna returned his look mildly.  “You bury your dead in stone, do you not?  Is your mother close to the earth?  You said yourself that Coria and Luro were not.  Perhaps you should go to her.”

With that Trenna stood up and slid through the stone wall.  Tovor rose after she had gone, and placed his hand on the spot where she had disappeared.  She had gone back to Leham, where the Council was, where his teachers were. He waited until the traces of her had vanished—he had learned the hard way that it was possible to feel where others folded to when they used the same rock.

Folding was the process of traveling though rock.  Travel anywhere in the world was theoretically possible, as long as the starting and the ending destination were ‘living stone’.  That is, stone connected to the earth’s core.  Stone that had been cut, or had fallen, or in any other way was not connected was dead, and while it was possible to fold dead stone, it was only through the dead stone.  In other words, it was possible to fold from one end of a stone building to another, but only that.  You couldn’t fold metal, or with metal for that matter, it longed to be part of the stone and would stay behind if you tried to take it through.  However, if the metal was wrapped in leather cured with iffan, a small plant that actually drew power from the earth and sky, it would remain in tact.

Sohae had explained that there was iron in the blood, and it too would try to stay behind if it had an outlet.  He had preformed a graphic demonstration by sliding his hand, holding a chunk of raw meat, through a boulder.  When it came out, the meat was little more than dry, white fibers.  Tovor shivered at the memory.  Never fold when you were wounded.

The crypts in the royal palace had broken through to natural caves, so Tovor was able to fold right to them.  He shivered as he emerged from the rocks, the cold underground air hitting him hard.  He didn’t have any way to make light, but he had learned to see through the rocks, so carefully, he made his way among rows of dead ancestors until he reached the stone bench by his mother’s grave.

Feeling slightly foolish, he reached out his hand, and rubbed the stone lid, carved in her image, surrounded by roses and orchids.  The sarcophagus was dead stone, and felt no different than any other he had ever seen.

The crypt suddenly seemed awash in light, as the door leading from the palace proper opened.  Tovor fled to the nearest wall, and half folded into the stone.  He could see the outline of his father, turned in discussion with the guard behind him.  He won, of course, that was the only entrance into the crypt, and it was guarded constantly.  Slowly, the old King turned, carrying a single lantern, and headed down the cold stairs. At the foot, he turned and yelled something back up to the guards “Close the damn door!” Tovor thought it was.  Any rate, the door swung shut, as Tovor’s father made his way through the coolness of the crypts.

King Borin Namid, Protector of the Realm of Denlian sat heavily on the bench that Tovor had just vacated.

“Oh, Terila,” he breathed heavily, “Would that you were still here.  I don’t know what to do.” Borin lapsed into silence, staring forlornly at the grave of his wife.

Tovor considered for a moment, then slid out from the rocks, standing just within the circle of light created by his father’s lantern.  “Father” he called out, softly.

“Who’s there?” Borin asked, springing to his feet, lantern held high, one hand reaching for the sword he had always worn.

“Father, it’s me.” Tovor said, coming closer.  Seeing the look of panic on his father’s face, and the half drawn sword, he raised his hands.  “I’m not armed.” He said.  He knelt in front of his father, bowing his head slightly.  “If you wish to strike me down, I would understand.  All would name it justice.”

“Get up, boy,” Borin growled.  “Let me look at you.”

Borin shook his head as Tovor rose to his feet.  “You have certainly changed.” He said.  “To think, I’ve had the kingdom scoured looking for you these past turnings, and you were hiding down here all the time.”

“Not exactly,” Tovor said, but refused to elaborate.

Borin grunted a laugh.  “This would be fodder for the bards, eh?  A king and his renegade son locked in mortal combat among the ancient tombs of their forbearers.  It’s a damn good thing that their aren’t any of them here to find out.”  He lapsed into silence.  “You’ve caused me a world of trouble, my boy.” He said, finally.  “We might as well roll over and give Denlian to the demons.  It would certainly be easier.”

“Father, I am sorry for everything, but I only did what I had to, Luro—“

Borin cut his son off with a wave.  “Luro was a fool, someone would have taken revenge for herself or for a loved one eventually.  It’s probably best that he died before he took control of House Udan.   No, my problem, boy, is with his father.  Maos says that your actions are proof that Namid is no longer fit to hold the throne.  The Council of Lords has met three times without me, that I know of, and I fear what Maos is planning.”

“Can’t you just remove him from the Council?” Tovor asked.

“Not yet.”  Borin said grimly.  “I have no proof of his treason, and I fear that more of the Council follows him than me.  If I tried, I would find myself without a throne, and perhaps a head.”

“Perhaps…” Tovor said, hesitantly, then more softly as if to himself, “It is Maos Udan who would be calling for my blood, anyway.  There isn’t much more trouble that I can get in.”

Borin looked at his youngest child, eyes flaming.  “I don’t know what you are planning, boy, but you best forget it.  Go back to wherever you’ve been hiding, get out of it.  This is my problem, and Drayed’s.”

Tovor shook his head.  “This is Denlain’s problem, and I will not see her fall into the hands of Udan.  I have sworn to uphold and protect her, same as my brothers, same as you. Father, I can’t just go back now, knowing this…”

Borin shook his head.  “You know, son, sometimes I wish that you had been born first.  Out of all my children, you would have made the best king.”

Tovor was surprised.  “But Drayed—“ he began.

Borin waved him into silence.  “Drayed has a fine sense of duty.” He said.  “He will make a good king, but a hundred years from now, he will be remembered only as a name and a date.  You, my boy, have a fine sense of justice.  You would have been remembered for years to come.”  He studied his son carefully.  “Perhaps you still will be.”

The guards chose this moment to open the large doors to check on their liege, and Tovor fled to the safety of the stone.

“Is everything all right, sire?” one of them called down. “We heard voices.”

Borin looked around, but could not see any hint of his youngest son.  “The ghosts have been loud today, “ he said.  “Give me a little time more.”

The guardsman nodded, and pulled the door shut.  Borin lifted the lantern, “Tovor?” he called out softly.  For the first time in his life, Tovor did not come running when he heard his father call.  The old king shook his head, stood, and made his way out of the crypts.

Tovor re-emerged from the rock wall, and stared longingly at the door where his father had just left.  He couldn’t re-enter that world, not just yet, but perhaps there was something he could do to protect it.  The image he had seen in vision, of his Double Tree banner flying over Palace Udan filled his mind.  Airae had told him not to put too much faith in what he had seen, it might mean nothing, it might be symbolic of something else, or it might be a possible future.

He didn’t know enough about Palace Udan to try to fold directly there.  Instead, he went back to Leham, folding into the familiar white stone hallways, which already seemed more like home than the palace he had just left.

Dragging the fingers of one hand along the wall, he practically ran, seeking Trenna’s aura.  She had spent enough time in Leham that he couldn’t fold directly to her; she seemed imbedded in the stone.  Jogging around a corner, he was barely able to stop himself as Trenna emerged from the stone wall.

“I felt you coming, and quickly.” She said, ignoring his glares.  “Did you find what you were looking for?”

“Did you know he would be there?” Tovor asked. “Did you know I would see my father?”

“You talked to your father?” Trenna seemed genuinely surprised.  “What did he say?”

Tovor rehearsed the conversation he had with his father.  “I have to go back.” He said, finally.  “With this,” he ran his hands along the wall, “I could stop Udan, I could get Father the proof that he needs to try him for treason.  My country needs me.  I have to go.”

Trenna regarded him silently.   “Follow me.” She said, finally, and folded through the wall.  Tovor waited a moment, and followed her aura.  Her emerged in a large room he had never seen before, lined with bookshelves, and with large glass windows opening up to a bright blue sky—glass was a rarity in the Pavan to say the least.

“If you feel like you have to go, I will inform the council of your decision.”  Trenna said, sitting in a large, upholstered chair.  “I urge you to reconsider, though.  You are an outlaw in your land, and by your own admission, you will be killed if you go home.”

Tovor nodded in agreement.  “I will be,” he said.  “And it would be justice for me to die.  I would spend the rest of my life here, if I could, but I swore and oath to protect and uphold Denlian.  I have to do this.”

Trenna nodded slowly.  “It is a pity that you have never made it to the in-between.  It isn’t unheard of though.  Airae, for instance, couldn’t fold to save her life, but she practically lives in the in-between.”  Trenna chuckled softly.  “Between the two of you…”

“Can I ask you a question?” Tovor asked, abruptly.  Trenna nodded her consent.  “Why did you agree to teach me in the first place?   You knew enough of the in-between to see who I was and what I had done, why bother?  Why not leave me to the woods, or the guards?”

Trenna rose slowly, and turned to face the window.  “You remind me of my brother.” She said,  “He would have been about your same age.  He never showed any Talent, though, and worked as a guide to merchant trains.” She shook her head.  “He was killed two years ago, when a merchant didn’t want to pay the fee.  He never left the Pavon.”

“So this is because of your brother?”

“No.  My brother is the reason I have been watching out for you.  The reason the council agreed to train you…there is a prophecy among my people.” Trenna explained.   “It says that the greatest Emald will come from one who is not Leham trained.  Every one of our children who show any inclination towards Feeling the Earth, or the Inbetween is brought here and trained, so we seek outside of the Pavon for this great leader.”  A touch of pride entered her voice.  “Years ago, a mystic promised my great-grandfather that his family would be the one to find the Leader.”  Trenna turned to look at Tovor, who’s mouth was hanging open.  “Don’t worry.” She said.  “You are not the one we are looking for.  While you have Talent, it does not fit the prophecies.  The council will let you go, but it may be with reluctance.  I will go and talk to them now.”  She folded out through the wall, and Tovor went through a different one—there were few doors in Leham.  But instead of following the woman, he went back to his quarters and began packing his meager possessions.

The council had indeed been hesitant to let him go, but his words, combined with Trenna’s had indeed convinced them to let him leave.

“When one decided to forgo the training of the Emald, we send them on their way with the things they would need to start a successful life elsewhere.” Agaie had explained.  Tovor had long stopped thinking of the old woman as a horse trader, instead, she reminded him of his grandmother, fierce and proud and willing to do what needed to be done to protect her domain.  “For you…” though she was not the one doing the presenting, Tovor could not help but feel as though Agaie had hand-selected the horse and tack he was given, along with the sword and iffan leather scabbard with a hood, that could be drawn up to cover the hilt.  The clothing, Agaie herself handed him—made of the same leathers and cottons that were a requirement in this hard land, but cut more in the style of his home.

Sohae was the one to lead him out of the Pavan, carrying those bits of tack with metal in an iffan bag, with iffan leather wrapped around the horses hoofs to protect the shoes.  Tovor was glad that Sohae was there to lead the animal though the fold, he wasn’t sure how to do that.

“One last lesson.” Sohae said, once they were clear of the bluff overlooking the Talmis.  “This is not something we often teach, Emalds have no use of it, but…” Sohae stroked a boulder.  “Different stone reacts in different ways, I’m sure you have noticed.” Tovor nodded impatiently.  “Most metal longs to return to its earthen state, as you have learned, all but one.”  Sohae lifted his hand, to reveal a small gold nugget on the top of the stone.  “Gold is flashy.  It desires to be seen, to be used.  It alone can be drawn forward from the rock.”  He handed the gold to Tovor.  “I have left quite a bit in this stone, see if you can duplicate what I have done.

Feeling slightly foolish, Tovor placed his hand on the stone, feeling it.  The nugget in his other hand gave him the feeling of gold, and he felt it echoed in it’s parent stone.  “Call it up,” Sohae said softly, “it wants to come.”  Tovor concentrated on the gold flecks until he could feel them move, and combine.  When he lifted his hand, a nugget, smaller than Sohae’s rested on top of the rock.

“Good.” Sohae nodded. “Tovor, I wish you luck.  Had you chosen to remain among us…” he shook his head.  “A man must follow where duty leads.” He said.  “Be true to your duty.”   With that, Sohae folded back into the sheer face of the bluff, and was gone.

So it was that less than half a day later, Tovor found himself riding his horse along the southern banks of the Talmis river, the border between Denlain and Milit, gazing across to the northern bank, to the country he had sworn to protect, when he was first old enough to say the words.  He probably wasn’t safe, this close to the river.  With luck, his father had drawn off the search, or concentrated it to the north, but with the events of the past few cycles, Tovor did not trust his luck.

He reached a trading town; large enough to have a wall, just about the time the sun was going down.  The gate guard glared at him as he dismounted.

“Hey, you!  No admittance after sunset!”  The guard growled.  Tovor glanced at the setting sun, still more than halfway above the horizon.  Fishing into his iffan leather bag, he pulled out a small gold nugget, and tossed it to the guard, who snatched it out of mid air.

“Excuse me, sir, I though you were Ka’Tava by your clothes.  They aren’t to be trusted, you know.  You a miner, out from the Pavan?”

“I was born on this side of the mountains.”  Tovor said, dryly, “But I did get my gold from the Pavan.”

“Huh.” The guard grunted, rolling the nugget around the palm of his hand.  “Perhaps I should head west and try my luck.”

Tovor shook his head.  “The Ka’Tava don’t take kindly to strangers.  You wouldn’t believe what I had to go through before they accepted me.”  Though he wasn’t aware of it, a dangerous light of remembrance shone in his eyes.

“Perhaps you are right.” Tovor moved to pass the guard, but the man held him back.  “This is more of a formality, you understand, but I need to take down your name and where you are staying.”  The man indicated the river.  “We have a lot of problems with Denlianen scum crossing the river to make trouble.  Not that you are.  Denlianen scum, that is.  Or a troublemaker.  But I need to know who you are and where you are staying.”

Tovor held back a laugh.  If only he knew!  “My name is Kovian Lotoai.” He said easily.  Kovian for Kovi, the bringer of Justice, and Lotoai, the last name of his nurse growing up.  The guard grunted, recognizing Lotoai as a Denlianen name.  “I don’t have a place to stay, perhaps you could recommend something?  Also, a jeweler or a mint or somewhere where I can exchange my gold for coin?”

“Watch yourself, Justice-bringer.” The guard said, much more harshly than he had moments ago.  “Your countrymen aren’t in particularly good odor right now.”   He scribbled a couple of addresses on a piece of paper, and handed them to Tovor.  “I’d stay low if I were you.”  He shooed Tovor through the gate before pulling it shut behind him.

“You have had trouble from across the river?” Tovor asked.  “Forgive me, but it has been a long time since I have been east of the mountains.”

The guard sighed.  “I don’t really follow politics, see, and Kasari is as fine of a queen as man could ask for, but I know there is trouble in Denlian.   Maybe it’s just near the border—those who come across the river say some Lords are in dispute, or something.  I just hope things resolve themselves.  Too much trouble in Denlian will bring trouble to Milit.”  He shook his head, as if realizing what he just said.  “Just keep low, I’m telling you.  Don’t let too many people know where you are from.”

Tovor nodded to himself, lost in reverie as he followed the guards directions to the inn and jeweler.  He thought the jeweler didn’t give him a fair price for the gold, and he knew the innkeeper overcharged him, but he didn’t care.  The lands directly across the river were estates of Lord Tradar, who had strong ties to house Udan.  If Tradar was loosing tenants across the river, perhaps Udan wasn’t as popular among the commoners as he was among the nobility.

As the days wore on, and Tovor traveled south through the Milittian countryside, he saw and heard the story the guard of that first trading town echoed dozens of times.   The whole countryside of Milit seemed poised on the brink of exploding into violence, ready to mob anybody who even smelled like they came from north of the river.  As grim as the situation was, Tovor had to admit that it fit his plan perfectly.  Perhaps he would not find as much resistance in Milit as he had expected.

The better part of a turning finally found Tovor in Carro, the capital of Milit, with a small inn, less than a quarter of a mile from the palace, providing his lodging. Despite his Ka’Tava clothing, the short, plump innkeeper had seemed more than happy to have him stay, though she did seemed puzzled at his instance on a ground floor room, one with a stone wall—simple folding had turned it into a more secure hiding spot for his sword and gold than any kings vault.

He had considered finding a tailor before approaching Kasari and Putra, but time was too important. The guards at the palace gate seemed affronted by him, but he had made a big enough fuss that finally, the escorted him into the palace, to a small, stark room where he could be shut away at discretion.

Tovor could use the stone to locate Kasari’s presence, to hear her voice.

“—Insisted on seeing you, Highness.” A male voice was saying, “He didn’t give a name, but seemed certain that you would want to see him.”

“Dressed like a Ka’Tava, you say?” Kasari asked the guard—the man had to be a guard. “What business would the Ka’Tava have this far east?”

“I am not sure he is Ka’Tava,” the guard hesitated.  “Truth, I have never seen anyone quite like him.  His clothing seems rough, but he has the bearing of a Lord. He insisted on seeing you, but not the King!  I could not make myself turn him away.”

“Then I suppose I better see him.”  Kasari’s voice had the no-nonsense tone to it that only Father could dissuade.  “If you think he is dangerous, choose ten of your men to accompany me.”   Tovor could feel her approaching, quickly, and moved away from the wall, smiling to himself.  It had been too long since he had seen his sister.

The door swung open, admitting Kasari, indeed flanked by ten men.  The sight of her, radiating power took Tovor by surprise, though he quickly recovered.  “Hello, Kassi.” He said, smiling.  “It’s been too long.”

Kasari stared at him for an instant, before flying to him with a hug that nearly knocked him down.  “Tovor!” she exclaimed.  “I am so glad to see you!  Where have you been?  We received word from Father…” she broke of suddenly, and pulled back to look at Tovor.

“Yes.” He said softly.  “I would imagine that you would have.”

“Captain.” Kasari turned to one of the guardsmen.  “Please inform Putra that my brother, Tovor has arrived.  Oh, and have the green apartments readied.  Take your men, please.”  The captain bowed stiffly, before herding the guards out of the room.

“Tovor, I was so sorry to hear about Coria.” Kasari said softly.  “I don’t know what I would do if Putra was taken from me, and in such a manner.”

“I appreciate that.” Tovor said.  “Kassi, I really can’t stay.  You have heard about Coria, surely you have heard about Luro.  There is enough bad feeling toward Denlian in the countryside, I do not wish to exacerbate it.”

“I have heard about Luro, and I applaud your actions.”  Kasari said in such a voice that made her seem years, rather than minutes his elder.  “There wasn’t a Lady or a maid, for that matter, who was safe in his presence.  I haven’t gotten the news I would like from Denlian, but it seems to me that many on the Council of Lords, at least those with wives or daughters, should feel the same way.”

“Not according to Father.” Tovor said, “He claims that the Lords see Udan as more powerful than he.  He fears rebellion.  There is a chance that I can pull Udan down, but I need time.  I come only asking that you turn a blind eye to my actions.  The last thing I want is to start a war between Denlian and Milit.”

“Then perhaps you should explain you actions to us.” King Putra said from the doorway.  “Tovor, it is good to see you.”  He chuckled softly,  “Anyone who can help keep my wife in check is more than welcome.”  Kasari smiled sweetly at her husband.  “Captain Terlo says that she has ordered apartments prepared for you.  You wouldn’t make the maids do all that work for nothing.”

Tovor threw up his hands.  “I surrender!” he laughed.  “I suppose if you were going to send me back to Delian in chains, you would have done so by now.”

Putra frowned slightly at his brother-in-law.  “This is not talk for a welcoming.” He said.  “Come, rest and clean up, we will discuss things later.”

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