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Paragon Forgotten Chapter 20

Clerics: devote their life to a specific sovereign god. The god, in return, grants them special favors without the  required sacrifice. Cleric duties include: cleaning the sovereign god’s element, teach mortals how to sacrifice, and teach mortals how to respect the sovereign god’s charge.

Diviners: must have been a cleric first and be released from service to their god. Diviners are granted the “sight” to look into Eternal Earth. They observe only, observing how the gods behave which gives them an indicator why certain aspects of the earth are the way they are.


Morning frost in Deep Winter stung unprotected fingers, noses, and ears. Distressed over Neleci’s unknown fate he learned yesterday while Cohthel packed, he considered little about the environmental difference between the humid Gryphon Realm and a high mountain snow-valley. It’s due solely to Markie’s foresight packing enough warm clothes for them both that Cohthel still lived by morning if still having not slept well because of the shivering cold.

The caravan camp rotated a fire watch who made sure the fires never went out — a service Cohthel praised while he now warmed near the popping fire so close the blanket covering his knees steamed.


Cohthel grit his teeth, sinking his head deeper into his shoulders. He turned his head enough to verify Mother stood behind him, her loose blond hair keeping her neck and ears warm, eyes wide with hope as she stepped closer. “Jumpy?”

Of course she found him. By a member of Thaen’s family or a falkon. Growling, he stood, hoping Mother would at least not embarrass him in front of these men in the caravan.

Mother, of course, never considered that as she swept in for a hug. He couldn’t dodge in time. Suffering red-faced embarrassment, he stood, cringing, as she sobbed into his neck. Cohthel spotted Markie who stopped between two tents, arms loaded with a rope-wrapped canvas. Markie watched him with a curious lift of his eyebrows.

Mother broke contact, wiping her eyes with a long sleeve. Her hands, normally pale, looked paler in the cold. “My boy…you’re so grown!”

“I’m still the same.”

“No…no something is different about you. Are you…” She squinted.

“Nothing’s changed, Mother.”

“Oh, all right.” She looked to either side of her. “Is Markie here? I want to thank him for taking such good care of my son.”

“N-no. He stayed back.” It would only take Mother a few words and one minute with Markie to destroy Cohthel’s rapport he’d been fostering since the day he arrived at the caravan. Mother would fess up her last name and tell Markie the real reason why Cohthel left. Having asked Fate a question unrelated to finding Father, Markie remained his last and only hope to get the truth, the truth beating inches away inside Mother’s heart that she refused to give.

“Oh.” Her smile fell. She looked at all the hands tearing down tents and rolling blankets tight. Gryphons had trotted over, accepting pay for their passenger-carrying service back to the caravan. “Is that man there Markie?”


“How frustrating. I guess I’ll thank him when the caravan reaches Malandore. He knows it well enough already in the letters I’ve written him.”

A hot wash of fear warmed Cohthel, too hot for Markie’s thick coat he borrowed. He morphed into an instant fool thinking Mother didn’t write personal letters to the man who oversaw Cohthel’s care. Did she tell Markie all about Cohthel running away? The subject of their last fight?

She would have sabotaged me already!

Before sickness made Cohthel swoon, he reminded himself that Markie didn’t once in the month and a half he’d been with him ask about his running away. He knew Markie long enough that if Markie had questions about a matter he felt deserved advice or caution, he would have stated them.

So Markie didn’t know. Was not automatically biased against Cohthel. Cohthel relaxed.

Mother touched his cheek. “I miss you, son. Are you…do you want to come home with me?”

Cohthel flicked his chin away from her hand. “Mother,” he said, surprised how grown his tone sounded on the word, “You understand why I left.”

She looked away. “You won’t even consider coming home with me?”

“Oh, I’ll consider it. But I left to get answers about Father, and I won’t come home until I have them.”

She understood, of course, the topic sensitive for her, too. She folded her arms and looked down. “I can’t, son. Not yet.”

He wondered why he’d done so many services for her — his chores without being asked, the meals he’d have ready when she returned from work — while she flashed her gratitude bright enough he wouldn’t spy the lies behind her.

“Then I can’t either.”

She lowered her head knowing, like him, no negotiation would come from this meeting. “I’ll see you in a month and a half?”

“That all depends, I guess.”

She nodded while looking at the ground. “I love you, son.” Testing him to see if he would return it, see if she had already lost him.

“I love you, too.” He wanted his tone to clarify it wasn’t a blanket love. He loved her for raising him in a happy, healthy home. Nothing more. He didn’t trust her declaration of love, not when she stood on a foundation of lies and scrambled through justifications to still throw it at him. Love did not come with conditions, but it needed to anchor on honesty.

She walked away. Cohthel didn’t watch her go.


The caravan rolled along the cliffs above the Sea of Istali eight days later, circling the previously established campsite within the trees half a mile from the seething water.

Cohthel sat through the nightly campfire banter, ate his meal, set out his bed, and walked toward the cliffs. Your father died while working for the Trading Cycle Caravan, remember? Fell off the cliff. They never recovered his body. Caravan Master Kitannia suspected a shark ate him, Mother told him that very night after Cohthel realized Father never had a grave. He didn’t expect answers to blast at him while he walked toward the cliffs like Father must have done, but he would include everything into his investigation, no matter how trivial. “Your mother could be telling the truth about him walking off a cliff and being eaten by sharks. All I can promise you is it didn’t happen while he worked for me.”

His steps brought him to the sharp edge, though he kept three feet back. He didn’t need to toe the absolute edge, stare down the sheer face of the cliff, and analyze how a man might fall into the teething maws of sharks. No need. From where he stood, he already noted the half violet moonlight flooding the frothy caps of the rolling sea two hundred feet from the beautiful, solid, sandy shoreline skirting the base of the cliffs, stretching as far as Cohthel’s dread in both directions.

Just like deciding what question to ask the Goddess of Fate, debating going home with Mother, he now needed to decide if Caravan Master Kitannia was lying to him…

Or Mother.

Footsteps crunched from behind Cohthel. Immobile in his conflicted agony, he didn’t verify who came upon him, didn’t make sure it was a member of the caravan and not one of Thaen’s Dark Elven conspiracy theories come to push him over the edge and kill him.

At least sharks wouldn’t eat him. At least they’d find his body, sprawled out on the sandy shoreline below. Unlike Father.

Cohthel didn’t move when Markie stopped beside him, staring at the vast, wind-wiped sea shrieking with seagulls fighting its draft.

“Is this where your mother told you your father died?” Markie asked.

Father’s name spoken by Markie snapped Cohthel into action. Emotions and questions slammed together in a muddle in his brain. “How did you know?” Why did he ask? He already knew Mother told Markie in her letters.

No! No! I was supposed to be the one to ask him! “Did my mother…” He couldn’t finish. His careful planning to approach Markie about what he knew of Father’s disappearance shredded into a waste of a month and a half. He should’ve asked the Goddess of Fate about Father instead of bothering with a useless legend and a name. Regret stung.

Now he’d never know about Father.

“Your mother didn’t need to tell me. I knew who your father was the first day I met you.” Markie’s ivory face softened. “You look just like him.”

Of course he did. Kitannia said so herself day one when he snuck into her caravan. How immature not realizing everyone who remembered his father would connect them. Even Markie, whom he needed to make sure held no bias the most.

Shredded. His failure like salt on his raw insides.

Markie looked across the sea again. “That first letter I sent your mother explaining I’d taken you into my care, she sent a personal letter back explaining why you left and begged and bribed, mind you, to not tell you about your father. She explained her story of him dying while working in the caravan by walking off these cliffs and eaten by sharks.” Markie laughed at the absurd story sounding like a joke leaving his mouth. When his laughing subsided, he leveled into remorseful tones. “And begged that, if you asked, I would repeat the same story.”

Cohthel clenched fists and jaw with equal strength, but the tears came anyway.

“Listen, Evermore…” Markie put an arm across Cohthel’s numb shoulders he didn’t feel, “I understand your mother still treats you like a child. Not because she’s malicious, but because Mothers cannot see their children’s growth through their aching prayers to keep them young. You are a young man grasping for manhood. I understand how much you want that, understanding you need closure about your father to allow yourself that growth.”

“But you won’t tell me. I can hear it in your tone.” Words Cohthel meant as thoughts only wiggled out of his heart and into his mouth.

“I didn’t say that.” He inhaled, expanding ribs pushing into Cohthel’s shoulder. “Your mother and I have been falkon-sending the entire time I’ve been on this cycle with the caravan. I’ve been doing this so I can know her better and determine if I had any justification betraying her request by telling you the truth about your father. And I know, Evermore, you won’t like my decision.”

Cohthel stared across the sea, hot tears raking down both cheeks in endless streams of loss and failure.

“In her letters, she presented a mature woman who makes calculated decisions and independent thought. She’s kind and considerate and I picked up tones that she has cared for you your entire life, making the choices about you as any good mother would do. She vented her loneliness and her inability to let you go because she loves you so much. You are all she has left. And then I saw her in Deep Winter embracing her son and my heart wanted to touch her when I witnessed her pain and loneliness.” A long pause. “I watched you too, your body language, the words you said.” A longer pause. Heavy sigh. “You were unkind.”

“You’d be unkind, too, if the woman rearing you lied about the one and only thing…the one and only thing…you wanted. Gave no care to my feelings. Just lied and hoped I wouldn’t question.”

“And I decided at that moment, Evermore, that I can’t betray her.”

Cohthel’s eyes burned as he squeezed them, his future showing him unable to do anything independent in his life because of a Father Cohthel wouldn’t let go of, clinging to his mystery as long-suffering as Mother kept it so. He’d go home, back to Mother who would smile at him and pretend Father’s shade didn’t stand between them, pretend Cohthel never left, that he would never leave again.

“I know what happened to your father. We worked opposite rotations so while I walked my cycle he took his break in Malandore. I saw him once every three months. Once during our switch and we got talking about little mundane things, he told me he had a son. You.

“When I found out what happened to your father, what he did, I hoped your mother would not teach you his influence. I don’t have children so I get into the business of other kindreds’.” He laughed without humor. “It appears she did not teach you, but what when you asked questions? She did the one thing she knew would prevent your father’s influence from coming back: she lied. And I sympathize with her decision.

“But I’ve learned about you too, Evermore,” Markie cut through Cohthel’s agony with abrupt surprise. “You are kind to others. I think of your motto a lot: kindred kindness always. I love it. From the way you talk about your friends, you are more loyal in relationships than anyone I know. You don’t let the same irritations of caravan life that get us grumbling bother you. You focus on tasks to the point you’ll run away from home and circle Eloshonna to get answers. You want information about your father. No one should deny you your family, even if it’s family denying you. So, Evermore, I can’t, in good conscience, betray you either.”

Cohthel turned his head, just a little, Markie’s dark shape hovering in the corner of his eye.

“So where does that leave me?” Markie lifted his other hand, staring straight ahead. “Two kindred want opposite outcomes, and I can’t answer one without betraying the other when I want to answer both and betray no one. So, Evermore, here is what I’ve decided.”

In his pause, Cohthel allowed himself hope.

Markie grasped Cohthel’s shoulders and turned him so he faced Markie, Markie lowering himself so he looked Cohthel straight in his eyes. “I want to get home, meet your mother face-to-face because letters are only ink-shapes on paper and not a personality. Get to know her a little better. And after that, I will tell you my final decision whether or not I’ll talk about your father.”

Cohthel’s hope blossomed. He had lost nothing. Yet. For Cohthel’s part, he could do nothing more to impress Markie. Mother only needed to fail in her meeting with him and in a month and a half he would, finally, know the truth about Father.

Of course, that meant wishing ill on Mother hoping she’d fail. But Cohthel would endure that small sacrifice for the truth Mother refused to give.

On the walk back to camp, they nearly stepped on a man who was laying in the dark across their path.

The man rose to both knees, holding his gut. Moaning.

Markie dropped beside him. “Sycain? What happened?”

Sycain winced and grinned, waving Markie off. “Just wishing I could win one fight in my life.” His voice strained with tightened stomach muscles.

“Seriously, what happened?”

“Thanks, but I can stand.” Sycain stood without any assistance, though Markie stood with hands ready just in case.

“Sycain...I am your sponsor. Until you graduate from needing a sponsor, I am charged with your welfare and required to report your health to the caravan master.”

“No need.” He sucked in a deep breath. “She already knows and told me how she feels about it.”


Sycain’s blue gaze danced from Cohthel to Markie. “To translate? She’s absolutely smitten with me and she’s swept away by my charms. To quote? I should kill myself at the soonest possible opportunity, praying to the Undergod as I do for him to torch my soul to absolute nothingness and wipe every remnant of memory I’ve ever impressed upon anyone who’s ever looked at me to spare them from gouging out their own eyes and daggering their own brains. Hmmmf. Didn’t expect her to take my flirtatious gesture so well.”

Markie opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

“I’m going to go...throw up by the stream now.” Sycain limped off, calling over his shoulder. “No worries; I’ll be back to undress the horse.” He disappeared in the dark.

“I’ll be damned,” Markie swore under his breath. “He did it.”

“Did what?”

“Get kicked in the gut by the caravan master for flirting with her.”

“...Isn’t that obvious?”

“No, what I mean is, he got kicked in the gut for flirting with the caravan master. The one and only man I ever saw attempt to flirt with her, she tied to a tree in the Malbeane Forest and left him behind. I never did see him again. No one felt bad for him. We had warned him. So when I say he got kicked in the stomach it means he did not get tied to a tree and left behind.

“He’s still allowed in the caravan. And I can’t fathom why except Sycain actually got through to Kitannia on some sort of romantic level affecting her enough she kicked him in the stomach and didn’t tie him to a tree. I think...I think Kitannia might actually like him.” Markie exhaled hard enough, it sounded like saying Kitannia and romantic in the same sentence kicked him in the gut.

“If she does, she certainly has a violent way of admitting it.”

“She’s not admitting she does. She’s admitting she liked his gesture and it brought her to a new level of rage to where he needed to pay for her feeling that way, yet not to the point where she’d blacklist him from her caravan. I know you don’t see it; it’s a difficult translation. But I’ve been in this caravan twelve years and I’ve seen all her levels. I don’t know how this bodes for the rest of us. Except some stormy seas ahead.”

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