Portheas looked up as his father sat down next to him at the table. Matheas studied him for a while before speaking again.
“Yet not the same Son I think.”
“Not quite,” Portheas conceded.
“Do you feel up to talking now? It can be just you and me if you prefer.”
“I would prefer to wake up and find myself sitting on the shores of the Araevian Sea.” He paused, gathering himself together.
“We are in need of information son. We are working blind here.”
Portheas gave a short laugh. “I know that feeling.”
He rubbed his gritty eyes before finding the energy to rise.
“I think I should tell my tale to all. Shall we go?”
Matheas smiled proudly and lead the way back to Morden’s study.
“The ledge above is where we will find her,” Cardin said reassuringly. Liasna smiled thanks at him. She ached from the previous days climb and facing more of the same again today was not a thought she relished. Azti trailed behind them, leading Troy. He had been deep in his own thoughts since his encounter with Mona, and Cardin had thought it best to leave him alone. Liasna’s heart ached for the pair of them. How could Isil-Ra be so unfair? She sighed deeply and scrambled up the next part of the trail.
“Why do wise people live in such hard to reach places?” she asked wearily.
Cardin laughed. “Because if they were accessible all the time they would get no peace.”
She considered this. The truth of a matter was always so simple, she thought. So what is the truth for my daughters?
“Have you visited Miglais before Cardin?” she enquired.
“No. But I have travelled this trail many times. The high temple of the Magi is a day further along the road we were on.”
“Are there any Magi left? When I was a girl they were ancient.”
“Five in total.”
“No new ones?”
“Nobody. They are frail now in body, but their minds are very strong.”
“What will we do when they are gone?”
“Hope we never have to call on them,” Cardin shrugged.
They trekked on in silence.
“The world must be so different now from when our ancestors arrived here,” she said. “The time of our people has gone.”
“Or perhaps not.” Cardin smiled again. “Your daughters are our people. We still have much to give. And much to learn,” he added.
She nodded thoughtfully.
By midday they had found a small rocky path that came from the other side of the Tor. It was worn quite smooth, as are stone steps through years of use. Liasna marvelled at the view. She could see for many miles, this peak being one of the tallest in the range. The air was crisp, and clearer even than the city. The path gradually widened until it became a large flat plateau and a dead end.
“This is it.” Cardin said softly. They waited in silence for Azti to catch them up. Liasna stared at the flat walls of the mountain trying to work out where this wise woman lived. There seemed to be no sign of any sort of shelter.
“Wait here while I ask if we may enter,” Cardin muttered striding forward. Liasna glanced at the face of the young knight who now stood at her side, but he didn’t see her. He seemed to stare into a far distant place that only he could reach.
Cardin had stopped in the middle of the plateau and now struck his staff three times on the rock. Nothing happened for what seemed like an age but Cardin still stood in his position so Liasna dare not speak or move. Her eyes scanned the rocky walls, searching for, she knew not what, but finding no sign of Miglais.
Suddenly the sound of a flute floated through the air, the notes curling around them and Liasna felt a small tug as if the music wanted her to walk. Cardin beckoned for them to come to him.
“What is happening?” she whispered.
“It appears we must follow the music,” he said smiling.
Tentatively they moved off. It was hard to determine the direction as the sound echoed off the mountainside, but if they went wrong a small tug seemed to pull them back on course. They reached one wall and walked along looking for some clue.
“Do you think we go up there?” Azti said, making Liasna jump. She had been concentrating so hard on the music that she hadn’t noticed he was behind her. He pointed to a steep stair well cut into a fold in the mountainside.
“So it seems,” Cardin said thoughtfully, “Well spotted.”
“We will have to leave Troy and the ponies here then. Can you see anywhere to tether them?”
There seemed to be nowhere at all.
“We best remove their tack and hope they stay near by,” Azti spoke quietly and Liasna wished he wasn’t so subdued.
“Will Troy wait for you?” she asked gently.
“Troy will come if I whistle, yes. But the other two may just disappear home.”
“It can’t be helped,” Cardin said, a merry counterpoint to the Knight, “We will just have to hope.”
Leaving the confused horses behind they started up the steps. The climb was steep and long, but the music kept playing. The melody soon stuck in Liasna’s head and she found herself humming along.
Eventually they reached the top and found another much smaller plateau. In its centre stood a tree, seeming to grow from the rock itself. As Liasna studied it she realised it was a mountain ash, although the leaves were a golden hue, unlike any other tree she had seen. As they approached a Blackbird called a high pitched warning and took flight from the branches, drawing their attention to a dark cave mouth. The music tugged them on. Liasna’s nerves were beginning to jangle now. Inside the cave the notes echoed eerily. The light from the entrance fell onto a strange mist that floated around their feet, curling and moving with the melody. They walked on in silence until the mist reached eyelevel.
“We should hold hands now,” Cardin whispered.
Liasna was glad to find herself in the middle as they set off again. The daylight had disappeared, yet the mist was still illuminated. After they had walked at least a mile inside the mountain the music stopped abruptly. They halted as one and waited. The silence was deafening. Liasna had to fight hard not to make some sort of sound. She had an irresistible urge to shout, to project one clear noise into the complete silence. The music still played in her head, round and through, as if wrapping tiny threads around each cell of her body, until she felt as if she vibrated with the sound. She felt light and happy, she knew she was smiling. And then she could hold on no longer, she hummed the tune out loud.
Instantly the mist peeled away and they gazed upon an old woman who barely reached Liasna’s chin in height. She wore a light blue robe, and her hair, although white with age, flowed down almost to the floor. Her eyes were as dark as a ravens, and darted birdlike over each of them. Resting at last on Liasna, they were still. The music disappeared from her head as the last wisps of mist disintegrated and Miglais smiled. She beamed at them like a ray of sunshine that finds its way into a dark nook and illuminates hidden treasures. With a flowing gesture that belied her ancient body, she welcomed them into her home, and they saw a feast awaiting them on the largest slab of crystal they had ever seen. It was fashioned into a low table and cushions covered the floor around it.
Then Miglais spoke.
“Now you will eat.” Her voice was the melody that had led them there.
After the wonderful but puzzling feast they all felt relaxed and refreshed.
“How did she get all this food up here?” Liasna said shaking her head. “It seems impossible.”
“Miglais is a direct link to our ancestors. She has many skills that we no longer possess and so she can do many things that seem impossible but are, for her as easy as clicking her fingers.”
Liasna appraised Azti. She hadn’t heard him string so many words together since they left Mona with her escort. Did he look a touch more relaxed than he had? She could only hope.
“There was a seeress on this mountain when our people arrived here,” Cardin went on, “And it is said there will always be one until the world ends.”
Liasna was suddenly dragged back to the reality of the situation.
“Lets hope that we can prevent that happening in our lifetime.” She shuddered as she spoke and hunched down into the feather cushions. Full and warm, she felt her eyelids getting heavy and she forced herself to sit more upright. Azti yawned at her side and stretched his back and arms. Miglais suddenly stood opposite them.
“Now you must rest,” she said melodiously, and Liasna found herself unable to resist sleep any longer.
The mists encircled her body, moving with her, curling enveloping becoming thicker until she could feel the icy cold tendrils as a light touch on her skin. Fear rose up inside her making her breathe hard. The cold damp mist entered through her nose filling her lungs and conjuring dread in her heart. She felt smothered and tried to resist, but to resist meant to stop breathing and then she would die. It was impossible. She forced herself to calm her breath and slow her thundering heart. As the mist filled her body it became warmer, until she felt a comfortable glow travelling through her. It is not harmful, she admonished herself, and relaxing she allowed the mists to fill her completely.
Suddenly they melted away and she saw the clear blue of a mountain sky. An eagle flew in circles above her filling her with a feeling of hope. He flew still higher and she screwed up her eyes to keep him from disappearing from view. In the next instance she looked through the eyes of the great bird itself onto mountains and lakes and in the distance the twinkling silver of waves on the ocean. Then the eagle flew higher and higher still until day became night studded with an array of twinkling stars. An old man sauntered along in front of her, walking on air, seemingly unaware of herself or the bird. He carried a crystal staff that rang out a beautiful clear note each time he struck the floor of air. Liasna followed him silently until he began to descend, as if in an invisible elevator. Curiosity prevailing she followed him down until they found the blue sky once again. But in the distance she noticed that the sky was grey, and as she watched it darkened dramatically until an inky thick blackness approached the old man at an alarming rate. Looking down, Liasna saw the flames of many fires and a waft of smoky air carried with it the scent of death. She searched for the old man. He was striding towards the blackness, his crystal staff catching the light of the sun and illuminating his way. Then he struck the earth creating a low humming that seemed to vibrate through everything, and the light intensified. He pointed the staff at the encroaching darkness, and she watched as light fought dark. But although he stopped the darkness from encroaching further he couldn’t beat it back. It was stalemate. As he tried harder the tone of the earths note changed. The frequency became lower and the energies around her whirled up into a great tempest. She vibrated within it until every bone in her body seemed to be rattling.
Suddenly there was a deafening crash and she had to shut her eyes to block out the blinding light. She was hurled head over heels through an empty black void. The eagle’s wings were beating rapidly trying to stop their plight, fighting against the immense burst of raw energy that was pushing her ever onwards. Around her floated rocks and trees, debris of the planet she had dwelled upon. Then the mists slowly drew her back and she sighed with relief as she sunk back into their calm security.
Azti couldn’t believe it. For the first time in years he was asleep. He watched his body curled up on feather cushions, the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he rested. How could this be?
“You are not quite on your own plane now. The laws here differ from your own.”
He looked around but the voice was just there, around him.
“Who are you?”
“The keeper of this world.”
The voice was undoubtedly feminine and he wondered if it was Miglais playing tricks on him. A tingling droplet of laughter caressed him.
“No. She is the guardian. She dips into my world but she cannot enter. She is human. You my beautiful knight are not…quite.”
Azti’s guard was up now. Where was he and what did this woman want from him?
There was nothing to see from where he floated above his body, apart from the cave that they all slept in. He wondered what would happen if he went exploring. Willing himself towards a tunnel, he left his friends and floated through the damp and dark until he came to a fork. Light shone from one tunnel, the other was dark. He began down the lit one but before he had gone too far he was pulled up by the voice.
“Azti, where do you go?” The voice touched his soul with silken fingers and he felt a tremor of pleasure run through him.
“You took the wrong tunnel, follow me.”
Suddenly a woman stood in front of him, her hand outstretched, a coy smile playing around irresistible rose red lips. Only her golden hair that reached to her ankles covered her nudity, and her eyes sparkled, piercing silver blue.
He found himself hesitating, mesmerised by the promise in front of him.
“I strive for the light,” he spoke haltingly, unable to take his eyes from hers. She laughed again, lighting a fire in his loins.
“To find the light you strive for, you must first travel to the dark places. What is your intention dear Knight?”
“To live,” he replied breathlessly.
“And what of love. Do you not desire it?”
“Not allowed,” he spluttered trying not to surrender to this woman’s magical embrace. His breath quickened.
“Nobody ever told you not to love.”
“I….I cannot for it will kill me.”
Her laughter this time was harsh and abruptly she let go of his passions, discarding them on the cold floor of the tunnel. His mind reeled and he tried to pick up his thoughts and piece them back together.
“You are as foolish as the rest of them. Be gone.” She waved her hand and turned, her hair fanning out around her in a see through golden veil. She glanced back at him once, her eyes piercing his heart.
“If you intend to live, you had better get on with it,” she hissed, “or else… you will die.”
And then she vanished, her warning still echoing in his heart.
Realizing he was trembling he retraced his footsteps, back to the cave where his body rested still. Carefully he laid himself back within the confines of his human form and hid deep down within.
Cardin awoke first. He stretched, looking around him, doubting that he’d had as refreshing a sleep as that in years. A wonderful aroma made him look around. The table was once again host to an amazing variety of food, and trying not to salivate the monk set to work on removing some of it.
Azti stirred next. Cardin watched as he got groggily to his feet and poured himself a tankard of ice-cold water.
“I thought you Knights didn’t sleep,” Cardin commented, between mouthfuls.
“Me too. Apparently the rules don’t apply here.” He sat opposite Cardin and ate sparingly. He looked dazed and confused and the monk was glad his own life was simpler.
Liasna slept on, and Cardin wondered whether he should wake her or not. Miglais might appear at any moment and Liasna would need to be ready to do what ever was asked of her. Different people told different tales of the tasks set for them by the seeress. Some were more gruelling than others, but all must be done in full before she would answer any questions.
“Perhaps we should wake her,” he said out loud as he left the table.
“Perhaps,” agreed Azti. “The sooner we leave here the better.”
The monk raised his eyebrows, but thought it wise not to comment. He put a hand to Liasna’s shoulder and shook her gently.
“Liasna. It is time to wake up now.”
She stirred slightly, but stayed asleep.
“Liasna,” he said louder.
“What is it?” she sat up instantly gazing wildly about.
“We thought it was time you awoke. Miglais may arrive soon.”
It took a minute for her to focus fully on him.
“Yes alright,” she frowned, running a hand through her tangled hair. “I had the most strange dream.”
Azti looked up sharply, but said nothing.
“Come and eat and you can tell us about it,” Cardin said helping her up, “Have a glass of this water, it will help clear your head.”
She took the glass with a far away smile, the faint frown still playing around her forehead.
Before she had chance to tell them her dream the old seeress appeared suddenly in front of them.
“You are awake,” she said in her twinkley voice. “Eat and then come to me.”
“How will we find you?” Liasna asked.
“I will call and you shall follow,” she said with a smile, and then Liasna saw the impression of a mist swirl around her. Miglais was gone.
“How does she do that?” Cardin asked shaking his head. “It is a trick that I could do to learn.” He chuckled to himself until he realised that his companions hadn’t even heard him. They were both closed books this morning. He had the strangest feeling that he was missing something.
The moment Liasna had finished her last mouthful, the melodious tune of yesterday started up, bidding them to follow it into the dark passage that Azti had taken in astral form. They walked in silence, trusting the tune to guide them, until they came to the fork. To Azti’s dismay they took the darker tunnel. He still hadn’t been able to figure out what exactly had happened to him the night before, and he didn’t feel comfortable discussing it with his companions. The image of the woman formed in his minds eye, instantly creating that spark of passion that he so wished to avoid. Grimacing he scrubbed her away and instead pictured Troy grazing somewhere not too far away.
Suddenly a bright light sprang up around them and a high roofed cavern was revealed as if from nowhere. It was furnished with beautiful ornate oak furniture and a fire burned in a crystal hearth, exposed from within the rocky wall, creating a wonderful effect with the flickering flames.
Thick rugs covered the floor, and an exotic tapestry woven from silken threads that caught the light, bringing the images to life, covered one wall.
Liasna stood rooted to the spot totally entranced with the wonderful room. Everywhere she looked something new caught her eye.
“Please have a seat.” Miglais spoke softly but the cavern seemed to enhance her voice so that it filled every nook and cranny. Liasna saw her then, sitting cross-legged on a colourful pile of cushions near the fire.
They each sat carefully down.
“So my dear Liasna. You have come to ask me three questions.”
“Yes.” Liasna wanted to add “My Lady” but didn’t know if it was suitable. Miglais seemed happy with her simple answer.
“Well first you must complete a task for me. Will you do that?”
“I want you to interpret your dream.”
“Oh!” Liasna was shocked. “You know of it?”
“I know you had a dream, but I don’t know what it was.”
Miglais regarded her with those birdlike eyes, and Liasna knew she could never hide anything from this woman. That was why the questions must come from her, she thought, for the seeress would have no problem reading her heart.
Liasna shuffled into a comfortable position amongst the cushions before relating her dream. As she spoke she realized that she could remember it clearly, reliving it in her mind.
“An interesting dream. What do you think it means?” Miglais asked when she’d finished.
“I think it means that everything we have come to do is for nought. The world will end anyway. It blew up around me.”
“Think again.” Miglais smiled at her. “ You were not hurt? No?” she asked.
“No.” Liasna confirmed.
Liasna considered her feelings in the dream.
“No,” she said.
“Then this vision was only showing you what might happen, not what will.”
“Vision?” she looked up in surprise.
“Yes. Now think about what you actually saw and not what you think you saw.”
Liasna ran through everything again in her head.
“I saw good confronting evil, the light trying to stop the dark,” she said thinking aloud. Miglais gave a small nod of encouragement.
“But neither won. They were both destroyed.”
“Who was the old man you followed?” Miglais prompted.
“Isil-Ra?” She had secretly felt it was the God even within her dream.
“Yes.” Miglais clapped her hands together grinning.
“Now. What information is useful to you within the vision?”
Liasna felt she was beginning to understand.
“Isil-Ra and Deverous will destroy each other if they battle over the planet. So…… so somehow we have to stop them both.” The room was silent as they all absorbed what she had just said. Miglais reached over to her and squeezed her hand kindly.
“You did well,” she said quietly, “She chose well.”
“Who?” Liasna frowned.
Liasna stared at the old woman in confusion.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You have been chosen to be the Guardian when I’m gone.”
The impact of those words was like a sledgehammer to the stomach. Liasna was speechless yet her mind was going frantic.
“I don’t understand,” she managed at last.
Miglais looked past her at Cardin and Azti.
“I need to speak to Liasna in private. The light will guide you back.”
The two men left the cavern looking puzzled and confused.
“The Goddess Dara,” Miglais began, turning back to Liasna, “Chooses her Guardians carefully. She has been watching you since you were born.”
“What is a Guardian?” Liasna stammered.
“The Guardian guards the gateway to her world. In return she gives us the power of the sight, and a part of her energy, similar to the Knights of Isil-Ra. Isil-Ra learnt his skill from his mother, and put it to use, destroying the armies of his brother.”
“Dara is the mother of the God who created this world?” Liasna murmured.
“Yes,” the old woman nodded.
“Why does she need a guardian?”
“Because to have a portal open on her sons world is a dangerous thing to do. He knows nothing of this gateway. His mother likes to keep her eye on him. Isil-Ra is a very clever God, but not always wise, and not always kind.”
“But he is good, he is the light of my dream… vision,” she corrected.
“Good and evil are not as easily definable as you would think. Imagine if you were at war because someone invaded your lands and stole your cattle. They would be evil to you. But they stole so that they could survive, and saw you as evil for attacking and killing them when their only crime was to want to live. It is a very basic example I know, but what is good and what is evil often depends upon your own viewpoint.”
Liasna nodded thoughtfully.
“So you’re saying that Deverous isn’t bad?”
“Deverous also has his faults,” Miglais smiled “the biggest one being jealousy. He is not as clever or creative as Isil-Ra and could not figure out how to create his own world. Isil-Ra ridiculed and teased him and would not help him with his own attempts. Isil-Ra enjoys the advantage he has over his brother.”
“You are painting a picture of two petulant little boys,” Liasna said.
“I like you Liasna. And you are correct. But we must remember the power of these children.”
“So why doesn’t Dara stop their quarrel?” Liasna asked after a pause.
“She has no power on this world, apart from here at this gateway. She cannot take control, but she will help us.”
“She will start by giving me the answers to your questions.”
“I am unclear as to why she choose me to take your place, and ….oh!” Liasna’s hand shot to her mouth, “How can I do that. I am married, I have children.”
Miglais smiled warmly at her.
“I am not going anywhere soon,” she said reassuringly, “And when the time does come your husband will be made welcome too.”
“That he may be,” Liasna blustered, “But he has a kingdom to rule and he won’t give that up lightly.” She sighed in consternation. “Life is so full of problems of late.”
“Things will work out. Now for the first time She has chosen a successor early. This is so that you can be her eyes and ears as you travel about the land. She will send you more and more visions and it will be your job to interpret them correctly. She will give you clues as to what must be done. It is the only way She can offer help here and we should thank Her for Her generosity. After all, the outcome of our world matters little to Her.”
Miglais rose gracefully to her feet and picked up a box from the crystal mantle. Handing it to Liasna she said,
“This is yours.”
Liasna took the box. A mixture of woods inlaid the lid, and a gold ornate clasp held it shut. Carefully she opened it and took out a pendant on a fine gold chain.
“It is beautiful,” she whispered holding the amethyst image toward the light.
“Put it on,” Miglais urged.
Liasna carefully donned the necklace and then studied the little figure.
“Is this Her?” she asked reverently gazing at the figure of a beautiful woman with ankle length hair.
“In one of her human forms, yes. The Mother. Look.” She reached inside her robe and pulled out an identical pendant, except this one showed a much older woman.
“This is her as the Crone, the wise woman. She can also appear as the Maiden, usually a naked version of the same woman. She is femininity in its entirety.”
Liasna gazed back at the pendant. Within its centre a faint light glowed and she felt a corresponding warmth within her stomach. She smiled and nodded in understanding.
“Now my sister. What are your questions?”
Two hours later Liasna rejoined her companions who sat talking quietly.
“ Is everything alright?” Cardin asked jumping to his feet.
“Yes. We have the answers we sought. We may leave now.”
“So soon?” Azti asked in surprise.
“Yes,” she replied simply, reaching down to gather her things. As she bent the pendant drooped forwards and Azti gasped. Straightening she gave him an enquiring look.
“Who gave you that?” He asked pointing at the amethyst figure.
“Is that the Goddess she spoke of?”
“Yes. I must warn you both that when you leave here you will forget about her. It is a necessity,” she said shrugging at their frowns.
Azti sat down heavily.
“Then I suppose I must tell you. I met her last night.”
“Really?” Liasna said sitting down next to him.
“Yes. But,” he swallowed, “She was naked except for her hair.”
Cardin made a sucking sound.
“The maiden,” Liasna whispered in wonder, “What did she say?”
Azti cleared his throat. “She made it clear she wanted to sleep with me,” he said reddening.
Liasna hid her smile.
“Anything else?” Cardin asked.
“Yes, but I don’t understand what she meant.” He related his experience.
“Perhaps here the rules are different as you said yourself earlier,” Cardin commented raising his eyebrows at the Knight, “It sounds like she wanted to give you something you can’t have, normally.” He shook his head chuckling.
“And you turned down a Goddess.”
Azti stared at the floor, while Liasna put a comforting hand on his shoulder. She frowned mulling over his words. This Goddess was going to take some knowing. Was this really a message for herself? After all Azti would not remember her when he left so why would she have given him the vision. Unless of course Cardin was right, and she just wanted a bit of sport with one of her son’s Knights. Liasna shook her head. Now that felt blasphemous and she quickly shooed the thought away.
“Did we get the answers that we sought?” Cardin enquired as they set off back through the mountain, following a tendril of mist.
“My first born is alive,” Liasna said quietly, coming back to the present. That answer had filled her with both dread and hope as well as a wave of guilt for the child.
“And the prophecy?”
“It is workable and will buy us much needed time. But it will not cure the problem in the long run.”
Cardin was quiet for a time.
“And the last question?”
“I found that out before I asked any questions. Yes there is a possibility that we can save our planet.”
“So did you think of another question?” Cardin asked excitedly.
Liasna smiled. They had reached the entrance cave and daylight once again.
“I did,” she said turning to face her friend, “ and the answer was….” she paused, “Puzzling.”
With that she headed for the stone steps and started down.
“All in good time Cardin,” she smiled. “Let us make the most of the day to get back to Tor.”
The horses had strayed down to the road where they were patiently searching for food. With a whistle Troy trotted up to Azti nickering a greeting. The ponies thankfully allowed themselves to be caught and soon they were retracing their footsteps back down the mountain. Liasna mulled over everything she had heard. She had learnt so much and yet still she knew so little.
The background information on the Gods, along with her vision gave her a task to accomplish, but how she would do that she had no idea. The first step was to bring together her three daughters to use this Trident of Power. She sighed aloud. It seemed from Miglais’ words that they were all alive. That was at least a temporary relief. The problem would be finding them. She had no clues where to begin. Would the Goddess show her in another vision? And if she did would she be able to interpret it correctly?
Doubt and worry once again shrouded her mind. How would she explain all this to Mona? She pictured her youngest daughter sitting at the side of the road, tears rolling down her cheeks, looking so completely devastated. Azti rode silently ahead of her. Was he looking upon the same image? Yet Miglais seemed to think that Mona and Azti were connected. She had said that ‘one needed the other and the other needed one’. She only understood half of that, but the old seeress had just smiled at her question and told her that the answers would come in time. It seemed that she now had questions that before this visit she didn’t know existed. If she had known, perhaps she could have gained more insight. The thoughts circled around her head until it ached.
As the sun dropped from the sky they found their previous campsite. Liasna dropped wearily from her pony and helped the men throw up the rough tent that would shelter them from the worst of the weather. At last she unzipped her bedroll and climbed inside, resting her head on her rolled up cloak. Without thinking she grasped the pendant and closed her eyes. Warmth drifted through her hand and up her arm into her shoulder, up her neck and circled her head. The headache eased away, the questions crumbled to nothing and Liasna found peace.