Daerus had no notion of how he was going to contain himself and he was not entirely certain that it would be worthwhile to make the attempt. After he had banished the Chaotic Maelstrom and hauled Kera into his arms, he had mastered the lump in his throat long enough to bring her inside the Manor. Much to his astonishment, he had been faced with what seemed to him to be his entire household staff, lining the walls of Great Hall. He and his lady had both stopped short, blinking at the unexpected crowd.
“Daerus?” Kera had said, looking adorably bewildered.
He had patted her hand reassuringly but directed his gaze to his headman. “What ails you, Berdaen?” he asked with a lifted brow.
“Why, nothing, yer Grace,” he replied with all his customary insousiance. “’T’would never do for ye to bring her ladyship to her new home without what yer staff should be here to greet her proper, now, would it?”
Daerus exchanged a long glance with his beloved. “Er … No, Berdaen, I suppose it would not,” he said on a lengthy sigh.
Kera seemed inclined to fall into a fit of giggles but she controled herself long enough for Berdaen and his wife, Noria, to make themselves known to her as Headman and Headwoman of the Shae Manor House. Then, of course, nothing would do but for Berdaen to introduce her to the entire staff from his Grace’s steward to the least chambermaid. Daerus mastered his impatience as best he could but when it came to Berdaen asking her how many they sat down to endmeal and Noria wanting to conduct her to her rooms, his Grace put his foot down.
“No, really, Berdaen!” he said with stern impatience. “You know very well that Lady Kera has only this instant arrived and has no notion of how many guests we are entertaining at this season! And my lady has no need to refresh herself after her journey, either, Noria, for her journey lasted some five steps and you can see she is not in the least fatigued. Now, if you will please excuse us, my lady and I shall retire to the drawing room,” he said firmly. Then he turned to Lady Rischa and Zhedthik, who had followed him inside, adding, “Alone. We will all gather together an hour before endmeal.”
Noria opened her lips to speak but Daerus ruthlessly gave her no opportunity. “I will give orders for endmeal shortly,” he promised her, suddenly feeling harassed. “You may return to your duties.”
And with that, he led Kera away, closing the drawing room doors decisively behind them. His lady, unromantic female that she was, immediately collapsed onto a settee and gave herself up to laughter. For the moment, Daerus was content to watch her.
He had done it! From the instant that the Phoenix had told him that Kera lived and that one of his tasks was to retrieve her from the House of Chaos, he had been consumed with impatience. If he were honest with himself, he would admit that he had doubted his ability to find her at all. More than that, his eagerness to find her had as much to do with fear as it had had to do with his terrible longing for her. The hints he had gotten from the Phoenix and Zhedthik, and even the encouraging words of Luegtha, had seemed too obscure to be helpful and Daerus had begun to fear that if he did not find her soon he would not be able to find her at all.
And now she was here. “Do you suppose your ladyship could compose herself for a moment?” he asked when it seemed she’d had her laugh out.
“Yes, of course, your Grace,” she said seriously enough, although her dark eyes still brimmed with merriment.
He crossed the room to her and helped her to her feet. Then, still holding both her hands in his, Daerus said, “Before all else, I feel I must first beg your pardon.”
Kera stared at him in astonishment. “Why, whatever for?” she asked in the forthright manner he had grown to love.
“I know I have said – and you have said – that I could not have made any choice other than the one I made,” he explained, “but I am not at all certain I could have done so had I known that you would be condemned to the House of Chaos as you were. I feel I betrayed you, Kera. I hope you can forgive me.”
She tilted her head at him quizzically. “In that case, it is probably as well that you did not know,” she pointed out. “Since we have both said that you had no other choice, I suppose I need say no more than that you are being very silly. There is nothing to forgive. And besides,” she added thoughtfully, “I begin to think perhaps it was a very good thing that I have spent some time with Lord Septha.”
“I have learned a great deal about Him, you know,” she told him earnestly.
“I see,” he said, looking at her in considerable amusement. “I hope that you will share what you have learned with the other Chosen of Septha. You do realize that you have utterly ruined my apology, do you not?”
“That is just as well,” she replied in serene accents. “You know I have little patience with useless gallantries and that includes needless apologies. Was there anything else you wished to say, your Grace?”
“There is a very great deal that I wish to say, my lady,” he told her, “but I fancy this is not the best time, when all the servants seem to want your attention and we sit down to endmeal is less than an hour. There is one thing I wish to know immediately, however.”
He noticed that a somewhat preoccupied expression settled upon her face has he spoke and it did not lift when she answered, “And what is that?”
“Well, now there are two things I wish to know,” he amended, aware that he was feeling a little nervous, “but the first is this: you have just returned from the House of Chaos and I have brought you here without a single word vouchsafed from you as to where you actually would wish to go.” Kera stared at him, the blank incomprehension in her face signifying to him that he had already made a mull of it. “What I mean to ask is whether you would not wish to journey on to Ormaer and settle in the home of your uncle, the Grand Duke.”
She did not answer him right away, staring at him speculatively while he fought the urge to fidget. “Have I some other option, then?” she finally asked him.
“Well, what do you think, my lady?” he returned, sudenly exasperated. “Here are my servants bowing before you and fully prepared to accept you as their mistress with not a word spoken by myself! Not to mention the fact that I have just journeyed to the House of Chaos and risked the wrath of Septha the Destroyer for the sole purpose of retrieving you from that dismal abode and do you think I did that so that I could meekly hand you over to your uncle? Of course you have another option!”
Kera’s response to this impatient speech was to glare at him through narrowed eyes, with a fist on her hip and a finger within an inch of his nose. “You are not to call Lord Septha by that odious name, Daerus of Shae! It is unjust … !”
“Yes, very well, but do not think to change the subject!” he interrupted her ruthlessly.
She took a breath, fixed him with a smoldering eye, and said nothing.
It suddenly occurred to Daerus that he was taking the entirely wrong tone for the question he was trying to ask. Dia would have my head for washing, he thought ruefully and smiled at the annoyed young lady before him, calming himself. “I am not doing this well, am I?”
“Well, I don’t think you can be, your Grace, although it is difficult to tell,” she said, her gaze very direct.
“And that puts me in my place,” he said, still smiling as he took her hands once more. “Kera, belovéd, will you stay with me here at Shae and be my lady or do you wish instead to go to your home?” he asked her gently.
Her eyes grew soft and she stared into his eyes for a moment before saying simply, “This is my home, your Grace.”
Daerus took a deep breath and pulled her into his arms, discarding the more proper chaste salute of her hand. He suddenly found himself remembering the last time he had returned to Shae, when he had come back without her and without any hope that he would ever see her again. He had been welcomed by his parents, relieved to be at home but still sick at heart and wounded in spirit, convinced that he would never be truly happy again. Now, his heart was full and he could not imagine a happier moment for the rest of his life. This was how he had always intended to come home and he was only sorry that his parents could not have been there to welcome his Kera to Shae as he had once planned.
He took another deep breath and held her away from him to look into her eyes. “Shall we ask the High Priest of Septha to wed us after endmeal, my dear?” he asked lovingly, only to see that preoccupied expression descend over her features once more. He grinned. “What is worrying you, Kera?”
“We dine in less than an hour, Daerus,” she said very seriously.
“Yes, I know.”
“I cannot change for dinner.”
Daerus, much to his secret delight, was able to refrain from laughing after a severe struggle with himself. However, he was blessed with a sister and knew better than to make light of a lady’s wardrobe. “We will be informal tonight and, on the morrow, you may travel to Ormaer to fetch as many of your own things as you like,” he promised her.
“To own the truth, I do not think any of my own things are at Ormaer,” she confessed worriedly.
“I have never been there,” she told him simply. “If they have not been discarded, I am sure all my clothes must still be in the Imperial Palace.”
Daerus slowly smiled, mischief dancing in his grey eyes. “Even better,” he said in satisfaction. Dia, my dear, he reached out to his twin.
Daerus! she instantly responded. Why have you not contacted me before this? I have been trying to reach your mind for this age and I was growing so worried …
“Who are you talking to?” Kera was asking him, eyes narrowed suspiciously.
He did not answer the question directly but reached out to let her listen in on the conversation. Never mind all that, Dia, he said coaxingly, his eyes holding Kera’s. You should know better than to plague a fellow to distraction. I promise I will explain it all to you as soon as may be but, for now, I have a favor I must ask of you.
Have you indeed? she replied ominously. And what might that be?
Kera’s eyes widened in astonishment.
Are any of the Lady Kera’s clothing still in the palace?
Fire and ashes, Daerus, how should I know? Dia asked impatiently.
Daerus grinned as he stroked Kera’s cheek. Perhaps because you live there? he suggested helpfully. Be a decent thing and have a look, would you?
There was a lengthy pause before she replied thoughtfully, Well, I will but only if you will tell me why you need to know.
Why I need to know?
Yes, why? As I recall, the lady had some very nice things but I do not think they would be very becoming to you.
Kera covered her mouth with her hand, while her eyes danced mirthfully over the top of her fingers.
Besides, my dear, I have vivid memories of the last time you asked me for a favor that involved the Lady Kera. This time you get nothing from me unless I get an explanation!
Nothing could have contained the laugh that escaped him then. If you must know, Kera is distressed because she cannot change for endmeal.
No really! he assured her with as much sincerity as he could infuse into his mental voice. I am in earnest, twin.
After another protracted silence, Dia said, Do you mean to say that Kera of Ormaer is there? At Shae? Now?
How? Dia demanded of him.
Dia, it is a lengthy tale and we gather for endmeal in less than an hour, Daerus countered evasively. Think how you yourself would have felt on your first night as a guest in the Imperial Palace if you had found yourself unable to change for endmeal!
He could sense that he had captured her attention then and she did not disappoint him. Oh! Oh, yes. Oh dear! Poor thing! Yes, she has quite a few things here still. Shall I pull an armful from her closet and bring them to you? she offered.
Dia, you are the best of good fellows! That would be splendid!
An instant later, a Time Window opened across the room and he watched Kera’s eyes widen in astonishment. From the darkness inside it, a familiar laughing voice was saying, “Only you, Daerus, could describe me as the best of good fellows without getting your ears boxed!” And there was his twin stepping from the Time Window with her arms wrapped about a cloud of lady’s draperies.
Kera was grinning – Daerus guessed that she and Dia would greatly enjoy a lengthy cose about the failings of brothers – until she saw what his sister carried with her. “Oh! My clothes!” she said, dashing across the room.
Daerus grinned, then, and strolled toward the two women. Kera had relieved Dia of her burden and was curtsying very low. “Your Imperial Highness,” she said, “thank you for putting yourself to so much trouble.”
“Not at all, my lady,” Dia replied politely. “I am very happy for the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with you.”
At that, Kera winced and cast an uncertain glance at him. Daerus responded to the appeal in her eyes by saying, “Come, Dia, there is no need to be a shrew!”
“No, no! That was not meant to remind you of how matters stood between us when last we met, my lady,” Dia immediate protested, blushing for her apparent lapse and becoming alarmingly formal in her embarrassment. “Truly, I am pleased to know that you have not perished and I am even happier to know that my brother need no longer mourn your absence. And besides,” she added with a sudden mischievous smile that made her look very like his twin, “ we cannot permit you to sit down to endmeal witout a change of dress. That would never do.”
The self-conscious formality did not appear to fool Kera in the least and she grinned through most of this speech. When it was done, she merely laughed a joyous, carefree peal and grasped Dia’s hand. “I am going to like having you for a marriage-sister, I just know it!” she said impulsively. “Thank you!”
The last time he had seen the two of them together, it had seemed that Kera was always standing on some sort of raised dais or other. Looking at them now, he was struck by how very small his Kera was. Why, she barely reached Dia’s shoulder! Of course, Dia was tall for a woman, almost of a height with him, but Daerus had forgotten just how petite the former Imperial Princess was. Inexplicably, he felt a tug of protectiveness.
“I feel certain that you have some extraordinary explanation for this,” his sister said, turning to face him just then.
“And I will give you that explanation when we have more leisure at our disposal, my dear,” he replied instantly.
“And are you so very rushed at this present?” she asked with a lift of a brow.
“Really, Dia, do you never listen to a fellow?” he chided her with a devilish glint in his eyes. “We gather to dine in half an hour, my dear.”
He could imagine how Dia would react but she was not given the chance. As soon as he had finished speaking, Kera’s alarmed gasp interrupted them. Arms still full of ladies draperies, she yet managed to drop another curtesy to his sister. “Please excuse me, your Imperial Highness,” she muttered distractedly before hurrying toward the door.
Again, Dia’s eyes softened in understanding. “Yes, of course, my lady,” she said.
Daerus only barely managed to reach the door in time to open it for her, noting as he did so that Noria was hovering in the Great Hall. Then, reluctantly, he closed the door again and turned to face his twin.
“She looks well,” Dia said in the mildest of accents.
“Yes, does she not?” he replied cordially.
“I am surprised to see her here,” she went on carefully. “I had thought that Princess Kera had perished during the late Gaerud. Did not the Phoenix instruct Lord Septha to return to the House of Chaos and take with Him the ones who had served Him here?”
“I believe you have His exact words, my dear,” he agreed, appearing impressed.
“Daerus … !”
At that, he uttered a laugh. “Well, what would you have me say? I had no more notion than you that she still lived or that I was meant to retrieve her until I was instructed to do so by my nephew.”
Dia choked on a laugh of her own. “Your nephew?”
Daerus grinned. “Well, is He not?”
“You are perfectly dreadful, you know!” said Dia, laughing openly now. “So tell me, did the Phoenix also instruct you as to why you were required to retrieve Kera of Ormaer?” she wanted to know.
“He merely said that I would not be able to accomplish my task without her,” Daerus said. Then he smiled tenderly as he added, almost speaking to himself, “Indeed, I do not think I can do much of anything without her.”
“Your task?” Dia asked, frowning in concentration. “Phoeday mentioned something about another task … .” She sounded exasperated when she asked, “Is there something more that is required of you now, when the Gaerud is done these eight moons and more?”
“So I am given to understand and, before you ask, no I have no notion of what that task may be. Do you see if you are able to pry any more information loose from your stalwart Phoeday, my dear,” he suggested to her. “For now, I believe you should go.”
Dia cast a startled glance at him, looking both surprised and hurt.
He smiled ruefully. “Now, that is not what I meant and you should know that very well. But I am entertaining quite a few people here at Shae who are great with the power of Chaos and I am frankly surprised that you have been able to bear it for as long as you have.” He added quickly as her expression grew even more alarmed, “And I am in no sort of danger, my dear, I promise you.”
“No, of course you could not be in any danger here at Shae,” Dia began. “It is only … “
“It is only that you cannot help me, Dia,” he told her gently. “It will do neither of us the least good for you to meddle. You have completed your task and received your reward. You must leave me to complete mine.”
He strolled toward her as she spoke again. “I suppose that must be so but,” and she raised her eyes to his, “I have been worried about you, you know. Can you not share more about this task of yours with me?”
“Dia, you must know that I would tell you the whole if I knew – but I do not. I am sure I shall learn more presently and I faithfully promise you that I will be visiting the Imperial Palace in a month or two, when naturally we shall sit together and I will answer all your questions,” he said in soothing accents as he ushered her toward her Time Window. “I hesitate to rush you, my dear, but I must hasten to ready myself for endmeal as well.”
Their eyes met and held, silent laughter lighting the air between then as it had so many times in their past. “You have not changed one bit, my dear,” she conceded finally, in markedly fraternal accents, before stepping toward the dark maw in the middle of his drawing room.
“Oh, and do you imagine that you have?” he retorted before she could continue.
Dia fixed him with a laughing, smoldering eye. “Very well, twin, I will wait. Indeed, I suppose I must. I will only forgive you because … because I can see that you are finally content,” and her voice softened as her eyes filled with affection. “I wish you both very happy, my love.”
He caught her hand before she had disappeared into her Time Window and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Thank you, Dia,” he said around the lump in his throat. “We will be seeing you soon.”
An instant later, she was gone.
* * *
Endmeal was done and the Brethren of Luegtha took their ease about the table awaiting their Master’s pleasure. Rather than visiting them after firstmeal as He had been wont to do back in Luegoria before this had all begun, the Master had taken to joining them later in the day since they had arrived at Shae. They had been cooling their heels in Tamaeranda for some six moons and, with the setting of each sun, they hoped Luegtha would be more forthcoming about what they were doing at Shae.
They had each delivered their charge into the care of Daerus of Shae in good health and unharmed. They now knew that their Master had pledged them to “bear witness when the Chosen of Septha shall stand upon the field of battle and bar the path of the Children of Chaos.” That had seemed odd to Pandfer, for were not the Brethren trained for centuries at a time to stand upon the field of battle themselves? “What, then, are we only to watch?” he had asked. “That seems to me to be very poor sport.”
Still, they had stayed where they were, spending their days in training exercises and tours of the Shae estate. Luegtha had been giving them bits of information when it suited Him and with that they had learned to be content. But now that Lord Daerus had finally retrieved his Companion from the House of Chaos, they all felt that further information must certainly be in the wind.
Indeed, it is time.
Not one of them betrayed the smallest start of surprise at the sudden divine visitation. Brasdin finished draining the tankard of ale he held before observing, “We had some notion that You might have matters of importance to discuss with us this even.”
How can you say such a thing, Brasdin? Do I not always have matters of importance to discuss with you? said Lord Luegtha, worlds of wounded innocence in His voice.
Brasdin and Brandis exchanged a sardonic glance, and Brandis said, “As it please You, my Lord.”
They seem to have fallen into a lethargy, Lueg. What do you suppose is ailing them?
Lueg looked around the table with a raised brow before he replied, “They are feeling put upon because You have not yet confided in them, my Lord.” He swept them with another chiding gaze before adding, “I believe they think they are being subtle.”
At that, a merry, rolling laugh surrounded them. Dear me! Must I make them an apology, do you think?
“Of course not, my Lord,” Lueg assured his Master. “They are children.” He ignored the indignant looks that remark earned him.
In that case, shall I tell them a bedtime story? Luegtha asked gently.
“No really, Master!” protested Pandfer.
I am afraid I must insist, Pandfer, said the God of Knowledge. The pace of events will soon quicken and there are things you must know before then.
They all sat up and looked around at each other. “Are we to understand, then, that You are finally to instruct us in the task before us?” asked Tomasadin hopefully.
Well … no.
As one, they all slumped back into their seats.
You lot really are children, are you not? Luegtha said, sounding a little testy. You already know your task. You are to bear witness when Lord Daerus and his companions stand upond the field of battle to embark upon their task. I but thought to tell you more of why I have concerned myself in this matter, so that you will have some idea of why I have concerned you in this matter.
They all sat up again, provoking another peal of laughter from Lord Luegtha. “That does sound a bit more promising a tale than the bedtime story you threatened us with, Master,” Loasdin said in his deep, quiet voice.
As to that, I leave it to you to decide …
Endmeal was done and the Chosen of Septha sat together in the comfort of his Grace’s drawing room. The meal had been a gay one and no one could wonder at it, for (Kera had been assured by the very vocal Noria) the master of Shae was happier now than he had been for the best part of half a year and more. There were those among his household and among his company who had told her that they had never seen his Grace laugh and talk so, not since the old Lord had gone to Tamerand and died there.
And it seemed that they were all quite prepared to place the credit for the transformation of Daerus of Shae at her door. That, at least, had been the explanation she had supplied to herself for the way the entire estate seemed ready to take her to their bosoms. Daerus could not have known it, of course, but her life at the Imperial Court of her father had been one of almost unrelieved isolation. Certainly, she had been surrounded continually by servants and by the Imperial Guard and by her father’s aides and by her own ladies in waiting, such that she never seemed to have a moment to herself.
And yet … she had never felt as welcome in her own home as she did now at Shae. Perhaps it was because she was no longer an Imperial Princess that she was finally able to close that always-present distance between herself and everyone around her. However it may have been, Lady Kera Ormaer had never set foot on her ancestral estate but she felt sure that when she took the hand Daerus had held out to her and let him convery her to Shae, she had indeed come home.
At endmeal, she had met humble Faendun of Gedbaen, who had become so alarmed upon being introduced to her that he had been wholly unable to say a word. She had met the beautiful Princess Tohra of Pym, who took her hand and shared a long, silent look of fellow feeling from one royal escapee to another. She had met the Silent Ones, young Sheloch and Sholeck of Ychindacht, who had elected to assume their most angelic expressions upon meeting her, so that she became immediately convinced that they were a pair of the most diabolical youngsters she would ever be privileged to know. Together with Lady Rischa, Zhedthik of Throk, and Daerus, they had sat to table and experienced a camaraderie and fellowship that was entirely new to her. Kera had felt so happy that she thought she might burst into tears.
“When will you wed us, then, Zhedthik?” asked Daerus, effectively capturing her wandering attention. The glance he leveled at the Throk held considerable affection.
“Tomorrow should be soon enough,” Zhedthik replied shortly. He chewed his words out as if he was still not accustomed to the way his jaw was working. Then he turned his hooded eyes upon her. “I had rather Kera began on her task now,” he said.
Whatever answer he was expecting, this clearly was not it. “Her task?” he asked, bewildered.
“She is to teach us of our Master,” Zhedthik reminded them all. “She is to tell us His story.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, feeling self-conscious as all eyes in the room were now focused upon her. Once again, she summoned the poise her years in the Imperial Court had taught her. “Yes, of course.” She paused and looked into the middle distance, gathering her thoughts.
But Daerus interrupted. “No, really, Zhedthik,” he protested. “I feel sure that my lady is too tired after the excitements of the day to embark upon this tale.”
Zhedthik did not seem to have much patience with ordinary protocols. “If you thought she would have energy for the marriage bed,” the priest said with a frankness that strongly appealed to her, “then I am sure she has enough energy for this.”
Kera hid a smile at the look on Daerus’ face. He cast an uncertain glance in her direction and then, evidently relieved that she had not been overcome with embarrassment, he relaxed. I am relieved that you are not too easily put to the blush, he told her silently.
Brothers have their uses, she retorted primly.
You sound exactly like my beloved Dia, he informed her. I can’t think how you can have become contaminated already after such a brief contact!
It has nothing to do with Princess Dia. You forget that I, too, once had a brother, she replied, sounding more somber than she had intended.
Leaving him to digest that in the silence of his mind, Kera nodded at Zhedthik and said, “Indeed, I do not mind telling this tale now. I too think it is of the utmost importance that His servants come to know Him – and in truth, ‘tis a surprising tale. It all began a very long time ago … ”
… long before we came to this place, even, we dwelt together as family – not always peaceful or harmonious but always happily together. We numbered six: there was Re, who ruled the sky, and Terra, who ruled the earth, Our mother and father; there was Nephtha of the seas, Oseptha of the dead, and there was Me and My twin …
The men who sat around the table had disposed themselves for listening. They slouched or leaned or slumped, staring before them at nothing in particular, occasionally lifting a tankard to their lips. But here was a startling piece of news and, not surprisingly, Brasdin and Brandis exchanged a startled glance before Brasdin interrupted this recital to ask, “Have you a twin, Master?”
Indeed, I do, Luegtha answered sadly.
“And why have we never heard of this other God, Master?” Brandis wanted to know.
Patience, Brandis. The tale is barely begun.
“As I understand it, the Twins were particularly close,” Kera was saying. “They were the eldest, as well, and had that place of honor at the side of Re that one would expect of them – although, naturally, the Gods have no notion of heirs or anything of that sort, since they do not perish.”
“Did the Master tell you the name of this seventh God?” Daerus asked, evidently having overcome his shock at learning that Lord Luegtha was also a twin.
Kera shook her head. “I do not think the name matters, my Lord, as you will see. Well, back in that time, this family of Gods traveled among the stars together.” She paused, a gentle smile on her lips as she recalled Lord Septha’s manner in recounting this part of the story. “I think they were very happy together and I think, in particular, the Twins knew no greater happiness than simply being together wherever they wandered.” She waited another beat and then continued.
“Now, it happened that, unbeknownst to the rest, Re was in truth roaming the stars in search of a place where He and His family could rest and call Their home. And as They wandered, Re examined many, many worlds and, as He learned more of what sorts of worlds there were, He came to know just the sort of world that would suit Him. And He shared His thought with Terra, and Terra said His thought was good.
‘But We will need to bring forth another Child,’ She advised Him.
‘Why, is Our family then incomplete?’ Re asked Her in surprise.
Terra answered, ‘The world You wish for will need One to tend to the fertility of plant and animal, so that it will remain forever fair.”
“And Re saw the wisdom of Her words and so He joined with Her and brought forth the godess Istha, guardian of fertility and healing.
“Now, Istha was fair … ”
Father seemed quite smitten with her.
“That does not sound promising,” Loasdin said.
“And, to own the truth,” interjected Tomasadin, “when You speak so, You sound quite smitten with Her as well.”
Well, and I suppose I was. We all were … except My twin. Breegtha alone among Us did not fall under Her spell and became out of reason cross with the rest of Us because We did. Luegtha chuckled remniscently. And, to own the truth, We indulged Her rather badly, so that it could not have been wondered at had She become the most insufferable brat. But She never did, and His voice held remembered surprised at that observation. She is still the darling of the family and can still get away with saying things to Father that He would never bear from any of the rest of Us.
But the more We doted upon Istha, the angrier Breegtha grew, Luegtha continued, His voice growing pained. After a time, even I could not persuade My twin to talk to Me, and We began to grow apart. I could never have guessed what was to come but I cannot but feel that I was in some measure greatly to blame …
“ … He had come to feel that even His twin had placed Him in a subordinate position to the … well, the Master called Her ‘the Infant.’ And when the time came that He proposed They test the new goddess to see if She wielded sufficient power to protect the fertility of a new world, Re admonished Him that this test should not be unreasoningly difficult, ‘for She is but a babe.’
“That was not adroit,” murmured Tohra. “One always thinks of the gods as wise beyond imagining, so it surprises that Re would make such a mistake.”
Kera smiled, privately acknowledging that she could grow quite fond of this Princess of Pym. “Indeed, anyone who had ever observed any family of siblings would know better. I sometimes think that the Gods have such a bredth of comprehension that they do not understand the little things as well as they might.”
Then she resumed her tale. “Of course, by this time, He was in an agony of jealously … although, of course, when He told the tale to me, He did not describe it so. Alone among them, He tested Her to the utmost and taxed Her power so much that, although She did pass His tests, She collapsed in exhaustion as soon as She had done. And then, of course, all the rest of Them scolded Him for … well, to own the truth, for bullying to His little sister. That is really what it came to.”
“He began to brood after this episode and even stopped talking to His twin. He says that He began to see that His father was a controlling despot who had made each of Them with limitations that kept Them from experiencing Their full power. He called His siblings fools for being content with those limitations but He vowed that He would not suffer them any longer …”
Father had gone off again on one of His prospecting trips. Breegtha came to me and began talking wildly about how Father had placed limitations upon us all so that He could control us and that Father would remove Istha’s limitations because She was His favorite. I tried to argue but Breegtha was too agitated to make much sense and I was young and impatient. I grew angry. I refused to listen further and walked away.
The next thing I heard was Breegtha, almost hysterical, shouting, ‘I will not submit! Watch Me, Brother!’
And in that moment, to my utter horror, My twin rent asunder before mine eyes. That was the moment that saw the birth of Septha, god of Chaos. Outside of Him was that part of Himself that He saw as limitation, that which was guardian of time and that which imposed Order upon Chaos.
Now, Our Mother had heard Our dispute and She rushed in upon Us, to find Septha in place of Breegtha and the Spirit of Time and Order floating free. I think Septha would have destroyed it in but another instant but Terra snatched it away and made off with it. She followed Father to the world that He had found and came upon the mortals there. She found one who She deemed trustworthy and gave the Spirit into his care, but so great was that power that the mortal flashed into a conflagration as soon as he touched it. But Mother, knowing this would come to pass, had added to the Spirit the power to be reborn from death and thus the very first Phoenix came to be.
Then She found Our Father and told Him all that had occurred. And She told Him further that Our journey must needs be ended for now, that My twin was now Septha, god of Chaos. Guided by Her hand, Father found the Phoenix and instructed Him in His task …
“When Re returned to His family, He told Them that They would remain at this world until such time as Septha came to His senses and returned to His original form. Until then, Re said, he would give them each a people. And so, to Luegtha he gave the people of the lands that would come to be known as Luegoria. To youthful Istha, he gave the people of the small patch of land that would become Lemantia. To Oseptha, he gave the lands that would become Ychindacht and Pym, and to Nephtha, he gave the fisherfolk of Akkam.
“And then He said to Septha, ‘Had You been whole, I would have given you the people of these plentiful lands, My son. But now I cannot. Instead, You shall be god to the Throk, who inhabit the lands of the far north. We shall see how they thrive in the bounty of Your care.’
“But when Septha went to see His new people, He was angry because He thought His Father had insulted Him by making Him god unto beasts,” Kera paused, so caught up in the tale that she had forgotten Zhedthik. He sat, quietly listening, but she could see that his eyes glistened with sudden tears. She bit her lip and cast an uncertain glance at Daerus.
“He did not know you then, Zhedthik,” Daerus said gently.
“He still does not know us,” Zhedthik said, sorrow heavy in his voice. “It is through His neglect that we have never known what it is that we were to do, and how we came to light on the notion that our purpose in this world was to kill and to die.”
“Do not rail against your Master, High Priest,” Lady Rischa intoned at him. “The battle Lord Septha fights is far larger that just the Throk and you are the teacher who will instruct Him to mind his duties.” Then she turned back to Kera. “Pray continue your tale, my lady.”
Be easy, My sons. There is not much more to tell. Luegtha sounded weary.
Although the Phoenix has greater power than most mortals, still he too is mortal and eventually he died his final death. But when he realized that his time was short, he consulted with Us about what was to be done. And the way We chose another to bear the burden was by finding a Muphoen and Tiphaen to bring forth a new Phoenix. It was during the interval between that First and Second Age that Septha discovered that He could roam at will in this world only when the Phoenix was not about, and He thought He could use that time win the hearts of mortal men to strengthen His hand so that He might battle the Phoenix for that place in this world.
“So the point of this tale, then, is that Septha the Destroyer is, in fact, Your twin, Master?” asked Lueg quietly.
That is not quite all of it, Lueg. Septha cannot remain as He is. He has been steadily growing weaker with every Age as His children kill and die in a morass of Chaos, as much through His nature as through His neglect. With each death among the Throk, He is lessened. If they become extinct, He will be no more. Somehow, I must persuade Him to resume that part of Himself that He has rejected … or He will truly be lost.
“Well, but does Lord Septha know any of this?” Tomasadin asked. “If He knows that He will die if He does not once more become whole, I cannot comprehend what more He would need to convince Him.”
Septha knows all that I have told you here, good Tomasadin – whether He will admit it or not. I know that He does not wish to perish but I do not know what it is that He does want, or what it would take to persuade Him that this has gone on for quite long enough.
“Very well, Master,” Pandfer agreed. “And what is it that You wish for us to do about it?”
Kera paused, remembering the Master’s crotchets fondly. “Lord Septha is arrogant and He seems to despise everything but I feel sure that is nothing but a façade. While I remained in the House of Chaos, what I saw was that He was still hurt and is often lonely. I suspect that He misses His family but, even more than that, He misses His twin.”
“And I can vouchsafe your suspicion, my love,” Daerus interjected. “I have not the least doubt that Lord Septha feels less than whole in more ways than one, for to be thus separated, to be in some wise no longer a twin, must be inexpressibly painful for Him.”
“But He is also stubborn,” she continued, her eyes on the thick carpet that covered the drawing room floor as she considered her words carefully. “It is only the threat of death that has moved Lord Septha take any interest at all in His children. I do not know yet if He perceives how their way of constant killing and death has been weakening Him through the Ages. In some ways, He is still a child Himself.” Then she looked around at her audience. “In many ways, He is quite impossible, but still … I feel sure that we can save Him.”
“We must save him,” agreed Tohra.
“It is our task,” Daerus added, speaking with a quiet confidence that put heart in them all.