I said that this was the last time I saw Thereus in the flesh, but I am persuaded that he visited me again. Foolishness, everyone tells me, but who can tell me where Thereus’s body is? Where is he buried, if they’re so sure? No, Heaven sent him to comfort me and guide me, and I would have done better if I had listened to him.
I thought, as I looked up at the cloudy sky from the deck of the ship, that it was the perfect match for my mood. But I had no reason to believe that Thereus wouldn’t be following me shortly, to join me in Lhaursi where we could be married. He inspired me to boldness, to defy Sarwe even if he was my father and my king.
Tharo happened to be on the same ship as me, and I remember that he joined me in looking back towards Thalata. “So Theala’s dream is ended,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied. What more was there?
“He wrote, ‘I see before me an ocean of knowledge, and all my efforts have only wetted my toes.’ It’s very fortunate he didn’t live to see this day.”
“I think having such a long lifetime would be fortunate enough for anyone,” I said. A poor joke for such a time.
“Perhaps. Or perhaps the tragedy would only be worse because the dream would be longer.” Tharo went to the railing and looked out at the city in silence. “Well,” he said at last. “You do not feel it so much because you were with us for so short a time. And, forgive me, but you were more focused on other things, weren’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you never seemed as much a part of the Brotherhood, one of its limbs, as it were. You are of Lhaursi, of course, not Thalata. Though I have often wondered if there were similar circles of knowledge in other islands.”
“Not in Lhaursi that I know of. Unless the order of diviners and astrologers counts.”
“Well, perhaps not. Anyway, it should be most interesting in Tortarven, and hopefully I will be able to find diversions from what we have just experienced.”
“I am sure you will.” My joke had been poor, but it struck me even then that Tharo seemed more interested in the disaster’s effects on him than on anyone else.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why did you go to Rhos? Was it for the Brotherhood?” aske Tharo.
“No, not at first. I was there because of the stars.”
“Astrology, you mean?”
“From the High Tower of Tortarven I saw a comet that joined my star and the star of the Black Hill in its path, telling me that it was my appointed destiny to travel there.”
“So you went to Meloros?”
“Yes,” I said. “Perhaps I will make it into a song someday, what happened there to me and my companions. But I will not speak of it yet. Not yet.”
When we arrived in Tortarven, I sent Tharo off with Koris, the head diviner, to see the library. Then I went myself to greet my father in his study. He welcomed me warmly and asked me about my letter to him, which apparently he had found difficult to understand. So I told him what I had seen in Meloros, and he stood from his chair and paced away.
“You bring dark news, if you have seen correctly,” Sarwe said. “But tell me, how can they control the auguries? Are their agents among the diviners?”
“You know well that the books of wisdom are open to all, and that interpretations do not change from diviner to diviner. My fear is that they alter the very path a drop of water takes on its way down to the cups.”
“And you know well that should not be possible from Nemhir. Their agents would indeed have to be among us. I shall consider this and decide what is to be done.”
Thus it would be done, as simple as that! I felt a great sense of relief as I looked at the man who was in all senses but one my father. In Thalata there had been chaos and a thousand factions to choose from, but here in Gineadh all was under Sarwe’s hand. He would forestall the Lords of the Night and confound their plots.
My only wish was that Thereus would come soon, and then all was certain to be well. That was what I thought.
It is almost as painful to remember this as it was to remember my time with Thereus. He and I may have been separated in the body, but we had loved one another to the end. Sarwe is another matter. Oh, father, forgive me. I must hurry through this so I can reach my first vision of Thereus.
I told him about the overthrow of the Brotherhood and he was enraged, promising that if he were king of Thalata he would have the perpetrators executed. He told me that he had thrown Eapora in the dungeon for a little while to cure his obstinacy, which amused me and made me wonder what Thereus would think about his father’s captivity. I see the irony now, of course.
After this I went to talk with Vrean, one of the older diviners, and Eambrin, my beloved teacher in the bardic arts. Tharo was there too, enthusiastic about the libraries Koris had shown him.
“Do you know you have the original writings of Ceredem here? Ceredem himself!”
“He came here in the fall of his island,” I explained. “It is not for nothing that Lhaursi is called the second Sotlaci. Our kings are descended from Meselen of Sotlaci, you know, and our seaborn aristocrats all claim Sotlaci ancestry.”
“Yes, of course. But I recall that Sotlaci had five libraries each as great as those today, and all were lost in the flood. It is sobering to think about as I look over your shelves.”
“And few of the scholars of those libraries left in time to escape, and none were allowed to take manuscripts with them.”
“Some did, of course, defying Romureh’s command. I have heard that a couple of those who fled formed a Verín Atlés, a High Circle. A circle of wisdom and learning.”
I admitted my ignorance, looking to Eambrin and Vrean. Eambrin was as puzzled as I, but Vrean understood. He nodded slowly as Tharo spoke.
“It was kept hidden. Much like the Brotherhood, in fact, but far more secretive, and far more knowledgeable. I have heard that their wisdom included the old lore. Magic.”
“It sounds like a legend to me.”
“Perhaps, but the places where I have found references to the High Circle are otherwise reliable. If they do exist, perhaps they would be interested in the remnants here and there of the Brotherhood. A fanciful dream of mine, I suppose. But you must admit that a society that preserves so much that has been lost, and of which the Brotherhood was only a shadow, is an attractive idea.”
It was, and it was tempting to believe it, with the Brotherhood of Theala so recently lost. I admit, too, that Tharo was an appealing proponent, with his utter assurance and smooth words.
A few days later word came from Thalata that Gamnamina had been made king. I didn’t despair, for I had already lost everything. But one of Sarwe’s guests protested loudly when he heard the news, and so I learned that the exile Iksan Radanth was living in Tortarven.
Let me see what else I must say before I can write of how Thereus appeared to me. I attended the great feast of unity, when nobles and representative commoners met to dine in the great hall of Tortarven. Every year this feast was held, and every year I was prouder than I should have been. It had, you see, been my blood parents who had by their love and by their death inspired the great reconciliation of Sotlaci seaborn aristocrats with the native Lhaursi. As a child I had listened to Sarwe’s sad recounting of the tale many times.
My appointed seat was next to Sarwe and his nephew Anadiu, who was then the heir to the throne. Sarwe turned his smile upon me when I arrived. “Ah, here we are,” he said. The wandering star has returned to us, Anadiu.” Anadiu bowed his head but, as was his wont, said nothing. “Now we can truly enjoy the feast.”
But before Sarwe had risen to give his usual speech, a sudden quiet fell over the hall. Matsen had appeared. Matsen has passed by now into a figure of legend, a children’s bogeyman and a specter of the night, but he was flesh and blood, a real and evil man, even if his face was hidden behind his gleaming metal mask, carved to resemble the head of a grotesque monster with wide grinning mouth. No one had ever answered my questions about why he wore it or what he looked like underneath.
Matsen had come to deliver a folded piece of parchment to Sarwe, who took it but rebuked him. “You are frightening my children. If you have delivered your message, be gone?”
“As my king wishes,” said Matsen in his hoarse quiet voice. He did not bow as he left. As much as it pains me to bring Matsen into my story, if I failed to mention him you would not understand half of what I saw.
One more thing. I spoke briefly with High Priest Walhua, who found me wandering along the cliffs on the coast near Tortarven. “A storm is coming,” Walhua said, and I glanced up at the sky before I realized he was speaking in metaphors. “There is some conflict among the farmers over the dragon-riders, especially now that winter approaches.” For my readers beyond Lhaursi, I should mention that dragon-riders are farmers and fishermen who take their boats out during the winter storms.
“Some think kelp gathered in the winter months should be left untaxed by the king. They have their arguments, but many others disagree, and some even think dragon-riding should be done away with altogether.”
“Why do you mention this to me?”
“No, I want you to be careful, to keep your eyes open. There may be attempts to take a hostage to gain a better bargaining position, and you would be a fine prize.”
“And whose side are you on, Walhua?”
“On Heaven’s, and yours.”
Walhua was a keen observer of events in Tortarven, and he proved to be right. Some days after this, I was accosted in the palace itself by a strange man, who put a hand over my mouth and a knife to my throat. (Jazun tells me to say that he does not remember the knife, but I say his memory deceives him). “You’re not going to be hurt, I swear by Heaven,” the strange man said. “Just come with me.”
He put a hood over my head to conceal my face, but it couldn’t hide me from Tharo, whose voice I heard next, saying my name.
“I don’t know who you’re talking to,” the strange man said. Then, suddenly, he fell to the ground. Caught off balance, I almost fell too, but kept on my feet and tore the hood off. The first thing I saw was the knife on the floor, and I grabbed it. Tharo was struggling with the strange man, who kicked him away and fled down the hall.
Tharo stood and bowed to me. “Thank you,” I said.
“It was my duty,” he replied. “Rather, it was my pleasure.”