Maps and messages, cyphers and signals read in the candlelight in the evening in my tent. The trencher with the half-eaten meal on the table beside me forgotten as I engross myself in more maps, messages, cyphers and signals all to forward the war I must general. To crush the enemy without mercy. To rescue and transform my land, my people. And a thousand thousand details to master and know in the maps and messages, cyphers and …
My eye catches on one letter from Karna. It’s a mundane report on her continuing researches in the rich libraries of the Tower of the Moon. A petty detail, but as she always does, she dates it precisely at the top of the first page. It has taken ten days by rider to reach here. Somehow today, tonight’s date - I hadn’t even thought of it. The passage of days, of moons, the seasons, in fact, apart from the immediate effect of the changes in weather on the campaign have not been something I have dwelt on at all. But here it is, before me now, and at last I do think about it.
been a year.
A full, full year of treaties, negotiations and battles. The Erogenian Alliance concluded, however imperfectly. Our remarkable desert adventure in creating the uneasy truce with the Sandaks, and now our first united push to sweep Erogenia itself completely free of the Urtts. We’ve done well. The Urtts now know that the tide has changed. And I have messages that they do not intend to let it sit, but are themselves preparing to strike back. This was expected. And we are ready, or we will be when the time comes. And so, a year has come and gone.
And I am still so angry. So angry at him. Now, in my tent alone, feeling tired from the long day’s march and battle, with nothing to distract me from the thought of Father, I find that I am still so angry at him for dying. It makes no sense, I scold myself, it’s unfair. He chose to fight, he didn’t choose to die. But sometimes it is the same thing, isn’t it? We choose to fight knowing we can die. Knowing we must eventually. And I feel, irrationally, that he has abandoned me when I needed him most. We won today, but at what a cost? Thantic, for all his faults, was a superb fighter and war chief. In my heart I want, not these books from a dead world of long ago, but to talk to my father. I can’t help but think that he would have done better than me, would have lost fewer warriors, would have been cleverer, bolder, luckier than me. But he’s gone. And so now, as I do so much of the time, I feel completely alone.
look up, barely aware that I have tears trickling down my face.
Zonn stands stooping in the entrance to the tent, the flap in his
massive hand, a questioning look in his blue eyes.
“Come in,” I say, wiping my face and putting on a smile I almost feel.
“You all right? I … I can come back later.”
“No!” I say, a little too forcefully, “Why? It’s all right. How are you?”
“Tired,” he admits with that silly grin of his, “Today was … rough.”
“Rough” he says.
Well he might.
Our first stiff resistance from an organized, well-led enemy. “Rough,” indeed, as I recall him, a great sword in each hand, mounted on giant grey Twilight, crashing like a force of Nature through the Urtt lines, the two of them braying and screaming like thunder, a dead enemy at every stroke. I’ve seen him do that dozens of times without a mark. I come to expect that he’ll have his magickal luck that brings him through such things unscathed. Today, he’s wounded. To him, perhaps, “just a scratch” in his seven-foot frame where an Urtt spear thrust pierced his arm. But, somehow, to see a bloody bandage on him is also a wound to me. I would have insisted he allow the priests to heal him instantly, but he refused, his blue eyes flashing, saying that so many others had more need of it, and it was nothing.
Today cost us warriors that cannot be replaced. I have surrounded myself with the ancient books tonight, because I am somehow insanely convinced I might have the power to prevent such loss in the future if only I knew more, if only I understood more from the distant past. Maps, missives, cyphers and signals …
He gestures to the wine on the table nearby.
“Can I …?”
“Of course. Help yourself.”
He pours a goblet of fine Bear Tribe metheglin for himself and offers to fill a cup for me.
“No. I’ve already got --”
I wipe my eyes again unconsciously. He notices.
“You’re crying. Is there …?”
“Oh --” I admit, finally, “I just … I just thought about my father, that’s all.”
“Oh, Gods!” he says with sudden realization, “It’s been a year, hasn’t it?!”
He surprises me. I would never have expected him to mark the date. Not my giant, straightforward, simple Erogenian champion. Yet here he has actually remembered the time of Thantic’s passing, and realizes how it might affect me. Somehow, it seems to give me permission to speak more freely than I would have.
“Yes,” I say, “It was today. I … it’s so stupid.”
“It’s nothing anyone can help, is it? I should just let it go, but I’m still so .. I’m … livid at him for dying when he did.”
He sits on one of the chests. A chest that holds precious scrolls and artifacts from three millennia ago that I need to study. He looks into his drink with a wan smile and looks up at me.
“I don’t think you’re stupid,” he says simply. “Ipola, I … I think you’re the least stupid person I’ve … Gods, the least stupid person I’ve ever met. Ever.”
I laugh, just a little uncomfortably. “Thank you.”
We sit in the candlelight for a few minutes in silence, sipping from our cups. It’s nice. There doesn’t seem to be a need to fill the silence with anything but ourselves for awhile. The anonymous camp noises play back and forth outside the tent as we simply sit and sip. I let maps and messages sit for just this little breathing time, closing my eyes. The calls of teamsters, of complaining horses and livestock bleed through the canvas. The night birds and the crackle of the watchfires surrounded by the murmuring conversations of the warriors, each wondering if they would be the next to fall, the next to triumph, the next to couple with the object of their desire. The companionship of war and danger, the excitement and the passion that inevitably happen in times like these, create an easy, gentle background to the moments that he and I have by now become used to enjoy and share. I look to moments like these for my comfort and my solace. I’ve come to make Zonn my regular bed partner, whenever it’s possible. He looks up at me eventually and says with a sympathetic expression,
“You really loved your father, didn’t you?”
Without thinking, I laugh, almost harshly, and say, “Of course. I wouldn’t be half as angry at him otherwise.”
I take a draught from my drink and continue, “Goddess, you never get really, really angry at someone like this if you don’t love them. How could you? You wouldn’t care.”
smiles in a way I’ve not seem him smile before as he looks down into
his mead. “I guess that’s good news for me, isn’t it?
do you mean?”
“Well - “ he says, a little hesitantly, “I really piss you off sometimes, don’t I?”
“Ha!” I answer, again without thinking, “You? Gods, yes! Oh, you -- Luna, Zonn! Sometimes you just … drive me …”
And my answer trails off to silence, as I realize what we both now know I have told him.
He grins his silly grin. The one I would like to frame as a painting and hang on my wall. The one that takes all the sting out of what I would have liked to be my acerbic and oh-so-witty reply.
“Don’t … just don’t let it go to your head.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t.”
We sit again for a few minutes. He makes no move toward me, which I think is odd, because he would usually look at a little victory like this as an opportunity to begin his overtures to lovemaking. I wait, a little awkwardly. He starts a sentence two or three times before eventually saying,
“That … that bard last night. He .. he was pretty good.”
“Yes,” I agree, “ He sang a good song.”
“He said some … some very pretty things about you. About the … the moonlight, and the stars and goddesses and things. It sounded … really pretty. ”
“Oh,” I say casually, “That’s his job. He exaggerated too much, but then he’s a Kivalian, he’s allowed.”
“I …” he says, seeming to struggle a little, ‘I didn’t think he was exaggerating.”
“Oh, Zonn …”
“No, I … I thought it was just what you deserved. I …”
He stands uncomfortably, seeming unsure what to do with his enormous hands. “I just … Ipola … if I … sometimes I just wish I was a poet.”
I’m profoundly surprised as I look up into his face. I’ve never seen Zonn so ill-at-ease.
“You’re not a Bard, Zonn. I don’t need you to be.”
He kneels in front of me. I still have to look up into his eyes, but in them I see something that is so ardent, so intense, that I cannot answer or interrupt him.
“But I just … all these fellows with the words that can … that can paint you like a flower, or like gold, or like a jewel or a star. They’ve got verses that can tell a woman the … the way that you make a man feel like he’s a … an emperor, just by looking at him a … well, the way you look at him. I’ve never had that.”
“But I … if I did, I would make you a song like no one’s ever seen or heard. I would .. if only I had the words. But … the only way I could would be --- I mean, if I were to make a song about a woman who was the most beautiful woman in the world, a woman who’s so smart and powerful and … and so wise that she can make anything -- anything at all -- happen? A woman that any man would be a fool not to love? I guess the only word I would have would be ‘Ipola.’ That’s the only word I know that means all that. “
I am, for the first time by a man, overwhelmed. I’ve been flattered, rhapsodized, made much of and the subject of good and (sometimes extremely) bad poetry of every form known to bards of several nations, but this -- this is something new. Something simple, powerful and wonderful. And how can it be anything but sincere, coming from him? I’m at a loss for words at first. I stroke his face, feel the texture of his young skin, his golden beard, the strength in the corded muscles of his neck and shoulders. I breathe in deeply of the evening air, the scent of the man, the smoke of the lamp oil and of the food and drink.
I notice the bandage on his arm and I slowly begin to unwrap it.
“Let me take care of this, okay?”
“Uh .. sure. Okay.”
I pass my hands over the open cut, which is even now beginning to fester a little, I see, and chant softly “LunaDeiaeaaa … Amanacorpeiaeaa … “
With a blue-white glow, the puffy red spear thrust begins to quiver and move on his arm, and the bare edges of the wound close and knit as his body, jolted by the energy I have just sent to it, heals itself at many times the natural rate. Soon his arm is as though it had never been hurt. I smile with satisfaction. It’s the most gratifying bit of magick I know.
“Wow!” he laughs, and he actually shivers a little bit. “Tingles like stinging nettles!”
“Are you all right?” I ask.
“No, no, I’m fine! It’s fine! I just never had something like that before, is all.”
“What? You’ve never had healing magick? Come on!”
“Never needed it,” he says.
“Well … you are a … remarkable man, then.”
“Never broke my nose, either!” he says proudly.
“A remarkable man altogether,” I say. I smile. “Zonn. I … I do write poetry. Some of it’s even good. I have many many many words. I hardly ever have a problem saying things in a … a pretty way, if I want to. But if I were to make a song … about a man who was taller and stronger than any man alive, whose courage is so natural that he … he needs never give it a thought, a man who laughs at life and death and brings his laughter and his love to everyone he touches, a man who seems always to put himself on the right side of any quarrel whether it profits him or not? The only word for that that I would have is “Zonn.”
He raises my hand to his lips and kisses it like a holy relic.
“I love you,” he breathes to me, “so much.”
I you.” I say softly, just before our lips meet slowly and
folds me in his massive arms and pulls me gently but irresistibly
to him. His thick, powerful fingers explore my hair and
pull the silver circlet from my head, tossing it gracefully but
carelessly to the floor so that he can stroke and twine his hands
through my long, wavy red locks even as his tongue and mine dance
slowly in each others’ mouths. Many times he has carried me
to my couch, but this time seems sweeter, more passionate and, frankly,