Fantasy where heroes don't follow the rules
Image by Idella Cutler
The R’th God Astorous introduced R’th light to the first mortals. He also granted R’th to newborn children. He did this until he vanished from Everlasting Earth in the year 1,997. Diviners cannot determine why.
-Diviner Sights about the R’th God Astorous
Gold burst out of the horizon; a loud cacophony of light.
The light sliced across Cohthel’s eyelids and he woke, confused about the increased hubbub kicking dirt inside the caravan ring until he remembered the Holiday.
Kitannia planned the Holiday into her route, in that she wanted the caravan to be as close as possible to Deep Winter so her attendants would be gone the shortest amount of time possible. They arrived in the Gryphon Realm last night in perfect timing for the hired gryphons to fly anyone in the caravan to Deep Winter.
Cohthel rose with a twisted gut for the sixth morning in a row since finding out about Neleci. He had sent a falkon to Thaen asking questions, but no return falkon arrived yet. It was too ambitious expecting a falkon to return an answer within six days of flying to the other side of Eloshonna. He still blamed Thaen for the neglect.
Markie offered to hire a gryphon for him, and though Cohthel had at first refused since Cohthel could never pay Markie the cent thirty links back, he allowed himself a little selfishness and asked Markie if he still offered. Thaen would be at the Holiday. Everyone traveled to the Holiday. If not for Kingdom camaraderie, then to hock and barter their merchandise, or to ask the Goddess of Fate their one allowable question.
Cohthel didn’t have the time, but he walked away from the caravan anyway looking for the black and white pegasi. Caravan talk named her Atalixsphere and noted her as the most extreme personality in the caravan because she hated everyone.
Cohthel told Markie about his meeting her — incidentally — and Markie wouldn’t believe his story about the pegasi having a genuine, polite conversation with him.
“She won’t talk to anyone,” Markie said. “Won’t share our fires, meals, or camaraderie. Goes so far as to sleep outside the caravan circle.”
“Why does she hate everyone?”
“We don’t know. She won’t even talk to her cart-companion. Says nothing all day. Does her job, of course, which is why Kitannia keeps her hired, but doing her job is the only thing she does. The only thing she does.”
Cohthel tromped through the chill, hot breath fogging in front of him, the snap of early winter biting the tips of both ears and hurting his nose too much to smell anything. Maybe she hated everyone because everyone excluded her. He’d been in the caravan two months and had not once seen anyone extend her an invite to their fire, their dinner, their games, or song. Her cart near the front, he’d only seen patches of her when they turned wide corners in open fields. He hadn’t noticed her general vacancy inside the caravan circle at night.
Mianda had been confrontational when Cohthel first met her in school their first year, but he scrapped away her reasons and found she wasn’t filled with animosity, but defense because of how her fellow classmates ostracized her half-race. Cohthel gave her a safe place to land and taught her how to defend herself with politeness instead of rage. She enjoyed this method so much it was hard getting Mianda angry about anything now, even when it was deserved.
Atalixsphere just needed the same kind of friend.
The black and white pegasi was stomping around the ground when he walked up. He stopped and watched, working out what she was doing until he saw a little mouse peep out of the ground.
Atalixsphere saw it too, and jumped at the mouse with both front hooves, stamping the ground.
“Why are you stomping on the mice?”
The pegasi looked up sharply. “I’ll stomp on you next.”
“You’ll…sorry. I have no right to impose on your doings. I came to ask if you are coming to the Holiday with us.”
“Do you see how far from the caravan I am right now? I can’t get any farther from the rest of you idiots without leaving Eloshonna and yet you still assume I want to go with you all to Deep Winter?”
“Why are you asking? You want a free ride there? Because you can gallop off. I don’t give rides to anyone. I’m not an animal.”
“That’s not…I wasn’t…I didn’t…”
“Why are you stuttering? Are you feeble in the mind? Wait, I remember you. But now I can’t decide if you are feebleminded or blind because you ran into me while I slept back on the Element Plain.”
“You’re the one who…” He bit hard on his back teeth. Markie warned him. Remember Mianda. “I came to invite you to come to Deep Winter with us.”
She stared at him an uncomfortable amount of time. Cohthel looked over his shoulder. Through the trees, gryphons took off with their passengers. Distantly he recognized Markie calling for him.
“Do I look like I have any interest in going? You are blind if you can’t see my every attempt to stay away from all of you feeble-minded.”
“Are you deaf as well. That was your gently-assisted hint to gallop off.”
“I want to be friends.” He found his voice and stood upon them with boldness he had not known since he stowed away in Kitannia’s caravan.
“Friends? You see him?” She pointed her long black nose to the ground where a field mouse had dared brave the cruel surface world, see what he was made of, see what future he could forge, test his mettle against all—
“He’s my friend too,” Atalixsphere said, and stomped both hooves on top of the rodent.
Cohthel emerged from the trees, sweaty from his brisk walk back. Markie gave him a questioning look that Cohthel waved off.
His bag already packed with a change of clothes Markie bought Cohthel at the Dwarven Realm, to include a pair of pants that, for what must have been the first time in his life, actually fit and complemented his sixteen-year-old body — yet another thing Cohthel couldn’t repay — and a blanket, Cohthel followed Markie to the remaining few gryphons, already saddled and waiting. Sycain declined going with them to Deep Winter, even though enough kindred in the caravan offered to afford the cost for his flight.
The lion-bodied, winged gryphons of varying colors and patterns could carry up to three and a half hundred pounds — a hundred pounds more than the pegasi with smaller wings. Out of the four qualified “cargo carriers” — dragons, gryphons, pegasi, ecthore — merchants always preferred gryphons in consideration to cost versus carrying capacity.
Markie approached a gray and black gryphon. Speaking to her, Markie counted out the cent thirty, blued steel links and clicked them to some sort of green, plant-based cord encircling her feathered neck. Lacking clothes, the un-common-form had no other way to carry their currency.
Markie turned and smiled at Cohthel. “You’re all set, Evermore.”
Cohthel’s sensitivities already damaged from when he heard about Neleci, a gaping hole yawned inside him, and Markie’s generosity, smile, and constant male presence filled that hole for yet a third time with a brief flash of conviction that he was Cohthel’s father.
It didn’t matter the flash flared and died simultaneously; the heat still touched Cohthel. Hot tears burned his dry eyes at all the reminders of what he still lacked. Mind clouded, he lost the presence of mind to thank Markie as Cohthel marched toward the gryphon, paid no attention to the gryphon who introduced herself cheerily as Star-Sprung, said nothing the entire four hours of flight though she tried multiple times to converse with him.
I’ll find you, father, he chanted over and over like a prayer. If I have to walk over every inch of land, swim to the bottom of the ocean, traverse the Dark Elven underground, I’ll find you.
The gryphons landed halfway to Deep Winter to allow the passengers to dismount and stretch, work blood back into their legs, void bowels, snack, and refill water at the spring.
Deep into autumn and threatening snow, the seasonal chill sharpened late morning when they soared over the peaks standing guard over Deep Winter’s vale. Cohthel hissed and unshouldered his bag and pulled out his blanket, yearning for the many campfires in the valley from those already assembled.
The largest and highest valley in the Bealt Chain mountain range, the surrounding rocky mountain crowns spread permanent shadows across deep crusts of snow at their base where sunlight never touched. Campfire smoke from Holiday worshipers curled against the heavy crags of rock on the northernmost end of the valley against the mountain.
The east pass of Deep Winter opened to the Malbeane Forest, blocked by the dwarven horses called bullraths. The dwarves camped near the towering beasts resembling walking mountains heaving side-to-side as if too heavy for their own weight.
A shadow stretched across the sky as falkons streamed into the valley, their small bodies massed so thickly they could’ve created a dark monster even a dragon wouldn’t want to challenge.
The Realm of Dragons took roost on the highest peak, their individual colors from red to blue and beyond patching the mountain’s crags with contrasting splashes. Uncontested as the largest organic life on Eloshonna, if R’th did not manage procreation in all races — smaller organic life granted higher procreation rates, the larger organic life stilted — they’d face no challenge conquering Eloshonna.
Their entire population hovered near one hundred; a mere drop compared to the human population of fifty-six thousand. R’th considered mortality rates, too. Humans would die from illness, infection, starvation, and everything else. Whereas the only way to kill a dragon was to shatter their crystalline heart.
Without that shatter, dragons would live indefinitely, which would cause the R’th to cut off their fertility. So to bring in fresh blood, dragon culture expected that once they reached five hundred years, they fly into the active volcano on the Land of the Two Moons where the extreme heat will shatter their heart.
The gryphon flock carrying their Trading Cycle Caravan passengers flew down to the valley floor in a wide, descending spiral, in a corner where most of the humans had already gathered.
Cohthel dismounted. Still unable to think beyond the fatherless distress in his heart, he did not thank the gryphon as he walked away. Markie dismounted as well and waved at Cohthel but Cohthel pretended not to notice, hustling further away from Markie — breaking into a run. Fighting his feelings on how badly he wanted to accept Markie’s fatherly love was like swallowing succulent meat but forcing yourself to throw it back up before the nourishment reached your stomach. He needed to stick with Markie and build camaraderie with him so he would talk about Father, but Undergod’s knuckles if he didn’t feel like a thirsty dog laying next to a fresh bowl of water, refusing to betray his master by drinking water brought to him by another hand.
Warming fires flickered inside camping rings, marching back the ground frost eager to sneak back in. Cohthel passed huddled groups, families, daughters, mothers, and sons and fathers talking and laughing both, their deep baritones joining in a boom of male ascension into godhood.
He looked at their faces, imagining away their beards to catch the measure of their eyes, the breadth of their foreheads, the texture of their hair to see if any one of them, any one of them, might be the Father he recognized in his portrait. Having abandoned Mother’s lie that he died, Cohthel obsessed over the reason Father left. Could he be here? Did he leave Mother and start a new family in the farthest human town from Malandore, bearing Cohthel half-sisters and brothers?
If you did that, Father, I forgive you. He imagined walking upon one of these families at their camp and introducing himself. And the man, Father, would gift warmth through his smile, embrace him, say, “Welcome home, son. Meet your new brothers and sisters.” And Cohthel would stay with them, sleep in their camp circle, learn the names of his new family. He always imagined his sister would be named Adane and any brother would be Cirkut. And he’d tell Thaen, and he and Thaen and Cirkut would be the best of friends, even though Cohthel would have to fight off Thaen’s advances toward Adane.
Cohthel would go home with his new family, share a room with his brother, know where he wanted to apprentice, grow a beard, marry and start a family of his own.
But the autumn chill biting into the toes of his boots grounded him again, planting his feet back into his reality where he walked through the human camp without an apprenticeship, beard, brother, sister, or Father.
The caravan attendants claimed their corner of the massive camp, laying down ground covers in a tight clump to keep them together so they would leave no one behind when they flew out again in two days.
“Evermore, over here!” Markie called, waving his hand.
Cohthel’s feet shuffled back toward him. His hands acted on their own command and unpacked the bundle Markie had unloaded from the gryphon. Though starving for a Father for the last five hours, his subconscious released the stress while in Markie’s presence, and Cohthel’s stomach, for the first time since he left the caravan, loosened and a whisper said, “You’re okay now. This is fine.”
For the moment, he believed the lie.
There remains only two structures on Eloshonna where every race in the Kingdom lent a hand to build it: Malandore Castle and Fate’s Throne.
Fate’s Throne built center of Deep Winter’s valley winked blue gleams from the elven-made glass swirling between a harmony of dwarven stone and human wood. Dragon, pegasi, gryphon, and ecthore ferried the material to Deep Winter, the falkons kept everyone informed and organized, and the seadwellers — in common — bound the stone, glass, and wood together into graceful sweeps of stairs, platform, and seat worthy of a goddess.
Though always on the 40th of Dwarf, the last day of the first autumn month, Fate chose her own minute when to appear. She first showed herself to mortals at the Kingdom’s conception eight hundred sixty-two years ago when the races united after Eloshonna’s Equality War. She declared she would hereafter hold the tender new Kingdom together, requiring every torc of every race to meet at her shrine once a year to learn of her counsel. For all other mortals, on this Holiday, she would grant everyone a truthful answer to any question.
True, Fate will answer truthfully, but she’s always so vague anyone could’ve made the same conclusion.
Mother vented to Cohthel once that before she married she asked Fate if she would marry a rich man.
Fate responded, “You will if you take the right measures to be admired by a rich man.” Hinging on hope still, despite Fate’s vague answers, Cohthel had already fashioned which question to ask her.
In the meantime, he needed to find Thaen for a different truthful answer. Hands shoved deep in both pockets of his coat, Cohthel walked among the camps for familiar faces. Several tens of thousands of humans clustered the southwest corner of Deep Winter, energized with playing children, mothers working over the fires, the men bringing in wood. Thankfully, the three human cities: Farettsi, Solnast, and Malandore, grouped themselves by different colored flags.
Walking among the smoky Malandore camps, Cohthel trusted he’d run into Mother, though he hoped against hope he would not. His withheld bitterness against her flexed the muscle in his jaw. He spotted Vril first, terrorizing his sister, then Thaen’s mother at the fire, long hair interfering with her busy hands. Behind them, Cohthel found father and son dressed for sparring, churning frost into the mud as they stepped, parried, and withdrew.
Cohthel watched the pair, Ranger Apprentice Thaen already a decent match for his Ranger Master father. Cohthel’s hopes lifted watching them. Markie had been teaching Cohthel how to sword fight every night so Cohthel could show Father when he found him. And that moment approached with the timing of asking Fate his question: Goddess of Fate, will I find my father alive?
Floating on the hope of that question, he maintained a steady beat of cheerful forbearance so watching Thaen and his father cocooned in that craving camaraderie didn’t sting as harshly.
Thaen’s father noticed him first. “Why, it’s Evermore!”
Thaen whirled around, leaving himself wide open for his father to take him from behind (might have been a bluff, after all) but his father did not and Thaen launched himself toward Evermore with arms spread and a daring grin shooting his high blond eyebrows even higher. “Brother, you knuckling sod-head.”
Thaen rested his sword against a make-shift rack he’d constructed out of branches and removed his leather vambraces and chest piece. He launched himself into step beside Cohthel as they walked away from the Alta family’s camp circle.
“You came with the caravan?”
“Ya. Wanted to ask Fate about my father.”
“Caravan Master Kitannia wouldn’t tell you about him?”
“No, but she eluded he might still be alive.”
“I knuckling knew it.”
“But Thaen, I also came here to ask you about Neleci. I sent a falkon. Did you not get it?”
Thaen stopped so abruptly, Cohthel walked two more steps before he also stopped. Cohthel’s gut tightened seeing Thaen’s face pale, his pompous carriage slumping, shrinking as if considering burying himself in the frosty dirt.
“Disinherits ambushed us,” he mumbled, barely loud enough to be heard over the screaming children carousing near them.
And Cohthel heard the account, the eye-witness to human disinherits betraying their kin to the Dark Elves who took Neleci — the torc’s daughter — as a hostage. Thaen said nothing else for a long beat. “I—I…” he fought, struggling to tell Cohthel more, “I went underground for her, brother. And I…” A longer beat still, Thaen morphing into an uncertain, fearful stranger Cohthel no longer recognized. “And…I didn’t get far. Too dark. Had to turn back. But I tried.”
“Brother…” Cohthel slipped an arm across Thaen’s sweaty shoulders.
“I told no one I went underground. Not even my parents.” A keen flush swamped his face. Cohthel thought he could feel Thaen’s heartbeat through his shoulders. “Not Ilthyn, not Mianda, no one!” His voice rose to a desperate pitch, increased breathing threatening hyperventilation.
“Thaen, brother, going underground is not treason. Trying to rescue a member of the Kingdom is especially not treason.”
Thaen nodded in an earnest act of wanting to convince Cohthel to believe Cohthel’s own words. After another moment he sputtered, “You’re right. You’re right.” He inhaled, exhaled. Again. “You’re right.”
Now Cohthel understood why Thaen didn’t send a return falkon. He imagined Thaen’s equal parts self-blame and terror for the kidnap and then his heroic attempt to rescue her. “And, as you said, the Dark Elves are not abusing her. If they are, the armistice ends and I’ll go down with you to rescue her.”
Thaen shook loose a hesitant smile. “I’m glad you’re back, brother.” His sly grin returned. “I guess I should warn you that Neleci and I got serious after you left.”
“Got serious?” From Thaen, that would mean anything from Neleci glancing his way to asking to marry her. No matter Thaen’s definition at the moment, Cohthel didn’t need to guess his intentions: he wanted to make Cohthel jealous.
A jealous rage did build, but only because, Cohthel realized, he created the rage and forced it to life himself. Once he realized he had manufactured these emotions, he dropped them. They fell and shattered into a blank nothing.
Why? The girl who asked to share his sleeping bag, kissed him, admitted to liking him now turns her attention to Thaen and Cohthel feels nothing? No proving, of course, if Thaen invented the story. But if Thaen told the truth and Cohthel obsessed over that opposition until he lost sleep, his imagination still elicited no emotion from him.
What did this mean? When she kissed him, Cohthel felt attraction toward her but decided he couldn’t spare himself to anymore problems. To hear of her loving another should have jostled some reaction in him: a hope broken, a thread snapped, an ache souring in his chest. Unwilling to let himself cave to the attraction, he still trusted other emotions such as jealousy would slide into the empty space. But he felt nothing. And with this nothing he feared diagnosing, but did, and set a little piece of him free:
He was genuinely not interested in a relationship.
Maybe he’d be interested later, after the sticky anxiety over Father’s mystery thinned, after he picked an apprenticeship, and made life alright with Mother again. For now, he didn’t have the emotions to spare for taking care of a girl, never mind he didn’t think he had enough for himself. He allowed himself this release from the demands of tearing pieces off himself to feed the endless vacuum of other kindreds’ emotions.
He inhaled a deep breath of mountain chill and thought the air filled a little more space inside him
“Like you already asked her to marry you?” Cohthel laughed to show how free his new release allowed him.
Thaen frowned, as if now afraid the woman prize had lost worth when the competition dropped. “Oh, she shared my sleeping bag when we camped. Put her head on my shoulder.”
“You shouldn’t think she shared your sleeping bag because she likes you,” Cohthel quoted. “You know she was just cold, right?”
“No! She did it because she does like me. Likes me more than you!”
“Who did she kiss?”
“She kissed you like she’d kiss a stray dog she felt sorry for.”
Cohthel grinned at Thaen’s desperation.
“How’s the caravan been?” Thaen loosened the more they walked among the camp circles and talked about everything not related to Dark Elves. Thaen, naturally, excelled in his apprenticeship, Mianda in her engineer, and Ilthyn his arts, though they’d all been spending less and less time together.
“Too busy with school,” revealed Thaen’s reason, though Cohthel knew his excuse went deeper than that. Sadder than that.
They were getting older.
“Weird things are happening in the Kingdom,” Thaen said, both of them straying out of Malandore’s camp. “Ever since the armistice, Dark Elves have been walking above ground as casually as if they lived here. I think they’re spying, to be honest. They’re getting a count of everyone in the Kingdom so they can later launch an assault. But anyway, the Dwarves reacted poorly to the armistice and have closed their Mountain Door and insist on advance notice if you want to visit.”
Cohthel’s head spun. “That’s petty.”
“And the falkons are working overtime and paid four times as much to keep watch on the above-ground Dark Elves and provide both free and paid rumors. Of course, no one trusts the Dark Elves. Bladehands and other escorts as well are charging cent five links to protect travelers and caravans between the realms…and kindred are gladly paying it!”
Cohthel never knew if Thaen told the truth, but he took value in thinking about the possibility.
They left the corner where the Human Realm had clustered, suddenly finding themselves included in the expanse of Deep Winter’s belly: Dragons, gryphons, and pegasi settled on the peaks, seadwellers in common standing nearly in their campfires to keep warm, the contrast of heavy dwarven tents next to wispy, elven ones. Close by the ecthore trotted past, comfortable in their fur, tongues hanging between their teeth as if too hot for the cold air. Some of them bore bags strapped to their backs, likely ferrying cargo from one realm’s camp in Deep Winter to another. Falkons, too, filled the air with constant energy as they passed messages.
“Knuckling animals,” Thaen grumbled in a low tone.
“What did you say?”
“What? Oh, I said ‘knuckling carnival.’ Rangers say the more kindred you get clustered together, the higher the crime rate.” He shrugged. “I’m monitoring everything, but there isn’t enough of us to keep order. Anyway, I promised my mother I’d take my younger brother and sister to ask Fate their questions when she arrives, so I gotta go.” He departed Cohthel’s side with a wave. “Come home soon, brother.”
Cohthel considered walking back with him to find Mianda. Ilthyn might be here too, but he was more Thaen’s friend. Cohthel only spent time with the elf when Thaen brought him.
He walked forward but stalled when he noticed a female human cleric astride a horse.
The cleric did not wear a belt so her gray robes — declaring her a Cleric of Fate…the only cleric to Fate — hung open to reveal a white dress beneath. Her young burnt-gold face spoke of early twenty, but her braided hair gleamed as white and long as a unicorn’s tail.
Cohthel believed that would be Cleric Shollomoon. No one dared guess her age. His grandparents talked about Shollomoon looking young when they were young themselves. One thing everyone knew, however, was she held the status of the only mortal assigned especial as a cleric to an Aspect God.
There are five Sovereign Gods: weather, earth, water, astral, and life who manage their proscribed element on Mortal Earth. They all have temples and clerics who work in their name.
There are four recognized Aspect Gods of the Kingdom: the Undergod, the (now decommissioned) R’th God Astorous, the Warrior God Crimstone, and the Goddess of Fate. These gods governed the emotional failings of mortals. These gods had been mortals once. Having performed something extraordinary as a mortal, the Paragons rewarded them with ascension into godhood at their deaths. Unlike the Sovereign Gods, Aspect Gods cannot recieve worship or prayers. Because of this, clerics cannot function in their name.
Except for Shollomoon. She’s the only cleric working under the name of an Aspect God: the Goddess of Fate. No one knew how or why.
A small shiver of panic rushed through Cohthel’s chest. Unnerved at Shollomoon’s intent to fix her gaze on him for no reason, he turned away.
Thundering hooves made him turn back, forcing himself not to run away as Shollomoon reared her horse in front of him.
“You call yourself Evermore?” Shollomoon snapped, and he couldn’t tell if she was asking or threatening.
Cohthel almost said, “How did you know my name was Evermore?” but he stepped back instead and muttered a pathetically small, “Yes,” and considered running after all.
“Why do you call yourself Evermore?”
Her tone wasn’t any softer, but now Cohthel didn’t dare run. “My f-father gave it to me.” Why am I stuttering?
“Who is your father?”
He stuttered over the d and the f
Shollomoon sat back in her saddle. “He’s the wrong one,” she said…to herself? Without apology, she kicked her horse into a trot and away from him through the camp.
His heart thundered five times. What? But he let go of the mystery when the entire valley flashed with light. The world stilled, every head turning to Fate’s Throne center of the valley. Above the glass, stone, and wood throne, a sharp sunray bent into itself, winked, and the air split open.
The Goddess of Fate emerged. The entire valley bowed to their knees, even Cohthel, letting go of life’s questions and everything else cluttering his heart and head and opened himself in praise for her.
Fate didn’t have a body. No flesh and blood. Rather a truism gifted with life. Her image came from visualized concepts massed together and given voice; a shifting mirror reflecting the hearts and minds of those assembled before her.
“The Kingdom endures still.” Her voice reached out unfaded to every ear. “But seats remain empty. Where are the Dark Elves? The Droogs? And Dusutri?”
Cohthel shrunk at the question, the answer so full of reasons he doubted an immortal would understand the perils of the mortal mind. Every year Fate asked the question. Every year no one gave a response. Those named three held their individual hostilities against the Kingdom and the Kingdom merely reacted in protecting itself.
“If you made everyone your friend,” Fate recited year after year, “you would have no enemies.” And where in past years she then passed on to inviting everyone to approach and ask their question of her, she said something else instead. “This is especially true now. Mortality is like a song. If someone pressed a single key on a piano for several minutes and called it music, no one would listen because one sound, one tune does not inspire us, teaches us nothing.
“So you throw other keynotes in as well, both high and low notes. The low notes represent the conflict in our lives while the high notes represent the good we enjoy. You wouldn’t listen to a song with only a single low note playing, nor would you listen to a single high note playing. You need both high and low notes to appreciate the balance of both.
“We cannot maintain the same homeostasis forever because that is like holding down a single key on a piano. Kindred, you’ve held your high note for so long, you’ve reached the time for that high note to remind you why we have the balance of low.
“And so long as you kindred hold together, no matter who presses the low note, you will conquer and move back to your high notes again.”
An unsettled hush swept over the valley, an anxious forewarning turning Cohthel’s heartbeats into tight tic tic tics.
Neleci’s armistice must have triggered this. The timing and Kingdom reaction. Though Cohthel could not fathom what ill would come since the Kingdom maintained the armistice specifically to keep the Kingdom and Dark Elves from warring each other.
Yet another worry crowding Cohthel’s plate.
Fate resumed back into her normality she repeated every year. “I invite you all to come to my feet and ask of me a truthful answer to a question about your life. Be wary of what you ask, for you may not like the truth.”
Because of the thousands assembled in the valley, general courtesy dictated the oldest to youngest stand in line. Not everyone wanted an answer to their questions. A big majority stood vendor with a designated mass of others selling and buying with the other realms, a chance they only had once a year.
Otherwise, they’d have to pay the cargo cost for either dragon, pegasi, ecthore, or gryphon to transport to and from, not to mention the falkons who would bring negotiations to and from until they settled on a price agreement. The vendors all arrived two days prior.
Her invite concluded, kindred flocked near the raised platform where her visage hovered. The Kingdom constructed a symbolic throne with a goddess in mind, but, like all other gods and goddesses, the Paragons forbid her from touching Mortal Earth.
Cohthel joined the line, close to Thaen who grabbed his younger brother and rubbed five knuckles into the top of his head. The line moved quickly; Fate’s answer rebuked no debate.
A dry well scraped in Cohthel’s throat as if he’d swallowed sand, chest opening into vast emptiness; a vacuum ready to receive all, no matter how trivial, no matter how shattering, to suck up hope by force like collapsing stars suck in terra firma to fill their fresh emptiness.
To occupy his jittery anxiety, he rolled his earlier family-finding scenario over and over, heart racing with the ecstasy of the dream. He’d find Father, grow a beard, choose an apprenticeship! By the time he ascended the stairs after an hour, fantasy filled him with so much hope he forgot how to use words. He kneeled in front of Fate’s undulating visage and bowed his head.
“Goddess,” he began and stopped. Swallowed. “Goddess…” His pulse thumped. Ask her! He opened his mouth but this time, no words formed. The most important moment of his life and he couldn’t speak his greatest desire, hung up on what Cleric Shollomoon said an hour ago.
He pushed that earlier event into the nethers; an unexplainable fluke. But kneeling before Fate, his greatest desire split now into two.
“Why do you call yourself Evermore?”
And then… “He’s the wrong one.”
Wrong one…as in, compared to the real Evermore of legend, as in Evermore and Nevercease? But that didn’t make sense. It was a legend, one, Cohthel now believed, Father invented. That is, until fear etched across Shollomoon’s face, a mysterious woman herself, terrified of a single name — Evermore —splitting Cohthel’s belief in two: was the legend of Evermore and Nevercease real?
“They aren’t very good world-conquerors, now are they?” Markie had said. “Life seems pretty normal. Sure your father didn’t make it up?”
Shollomoon didn’t think so.
So now Cohthel had to choose: ask about Father or ask of the legend Father may not have invented?
For all the hype surrounding his one goddess-granted answer to any question he’d obsessed over since this morning, his old question flopped on its belly as this new question pushed forward. The answer to what he should choose arrived so simply: he was almost done conditioning Markie to talk about Father, but only a goddess could clarify a legend no one else had heard of. And he wanted to know if his Father-given nickname of Evermore held honest claim to legends.
“Goddess?” Fate would only answer questions concerning his life. He needed to trick her into answering a question about someone else’s. “Will I ever find out if the legend of Evermore and Nevercease conquering the world ever happened?”
Fate did not respond for a long moment, so long Cohthel feared she would decline answering. With a haggard pinch to her tone, she said, “Your question is half false — Evermore and Nevercease haven’t conquered the world. And for your part in knowing more about them…I can only hope you will forget.”
Stunned, Cohthel didn’t move off his knees, forcing his brain to process what she said, process she spoke about the future, not the past.
“Th–” His swollen tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. “Thank you, Goddess.” He retreated down the stairs on stiff legs, walking away and stopped, looked back, looked at the sky. Everything appeared as normal as the minute prior.
How did a legend no one has heard of grow enough for Fate to hope he would forget? Her words verified they were real, still alive? Where? What were they doing right now? Not conquering the world otherwise everyone would have heard about them.
He stood long enough befuddling that Thaen reached him.
“Fate is useless.” Thaen shook his head. “I asked her if I would achieve the rank of captain, and she said, ‘you will if you become a ranger’. And I so wanted to argue and say, ‘What do you think I’m doing apprenticing as a ranger?’ Don’t know why I bothered. I should have asked if I would still be alive tomorrow, but then she would have said something equally stupid, like,” he changed his tone’s inflection so he now gave the terrible impression of an old woman sounding nothing like Fate, ‘you will so long as you don’t die.’ Knuckling stupid. What did you ask her, Evermore?”
Cohthel jumped at his nickname since he’d still been puzzling over the real Evermore. “Me? Oh, uh…I asked her if the Evermore and Nevercease legend was real.”
“Let me guess, she didn’t answer you because you weren’t asking about your own life.”
“No, I worded it so to sound like I was asking about me. She verified Evermore and Nevercease are real, but had not conquered the world.”
“Didn’t conquer the world. So this weird, obscure legend I thought for the longest time your father made up is made up?”
Thaen looked at the sky, folded his arms, and spun a complete circle so he saw the entirety of Deep Winter and all nine realms gathered inside its belly. “They are real, but didn’t conquer the world.
Sounds like a stupid legend. Your father named you after a stupid world-conqueror who didn’t conquer anything. But that’s okay. I won’t tell anyone. We can still pretend.”
Cohthel squeezed his eyes shut for a full second and opened them again in the same motion he lifted a grin. “Dumb world-conquerors. Probably.” Probably not. Fate and Shollomoon didn’t think so.
Their camps not co-located, Thaen waved his goodbye as his ranger-in-training strides took him in the opposite direction.
You will if you become a ranger.
Evermore and Nevercease haven’t conquered the world.
Cohthel shoved both hands in his pockets and walked back to the caravan camp. Fate, he asked with his heart, what do you see that the rest of us cannot?