Gendahl dreamed often of his wife and baby son. Their smiling faces and warm touches delighted him more than he remembered. But disaster always consumed the blissful dreams. A dark storm sickened the sky and angry winds hurled destruction upon them. A roof collapsed on them, or a falling tree crushed them. Once a flood grabbed them tight in its drowning embrace.
Between these unbearable dreams his physical pain tormented him. Then the beautiful female came and eased his discomfort. Her powerful aura enveloped him. She was his protector now. He was a babe in the arms of a new mother. His smashed soul accepted rebirth into her world.
When Gendahl became lucid, he was alone. Bright sunshine warmed the air. He heard the waterfalls and smelled the good water. A flowering bush arched over his head, dappling him with shade, and a butterfly sipped on a blue flower. Its yellow and black wings opened and closed lazily.
Then memories of his desperate battle, the death of his Infoh, and the smoke over his home poured over his heart like a mudslide gobbling a building. Moaning, he touched his aching thighs and found that they were bound in mud casts from crotch to shin. Except for his red shirt, he was naked. Beside him his armor, blue leather jacket, boots, sword, and other items of clothing and gear were neatly stacked.
Gendahl stroked his face, trying to judge from the stubble of his thin beard how much time had passed. His sprouting mustache seemed to indicate a week. Aching and hungry, he awkwardly rolled over and dragged himself to a tree. He pushed his torso up with his arms. His weakness was distressing and he was puffing by the time he had lifted his butt into the air. He pushed himself off the ground and quickly grabbed the tree trunk. Placing more weight on his feet added to his pain, but he pulled himself straight and tenderly stood up.
Gripping the tree, he circled to its other side and urinated, taking care not to hit his casts. His life had been reduced to counting a piss as an achievement.
He called for Onja. His voice mixed with the mellow rumble of the falling waters. The trees stood watch silently with their green leafy limbs reflected in the water. Birds flapped and sang in the branches.
His legs were hurting more, but he did not want to get back down until he was ready to stay down for a while. The cool pool beckoned his thirst. When he was ready, he let go of the tree and bent over. Gradually he shifted his weight forward until he fell onto his hands and he hand-walked until he was flat on the ground again. Gendahl soon found that dragging himself naked out onto the stone shore was unpleasant. He grabbed his leather jacket and spread it on the ground. Then he shifted his midsection onto the leather, which would serve as a protective sled.
As he slid across the flat rock, the stone was hot beneath his hands. The sun beating down on his back soothed his muscles, and when he dipped his hands into the pool, the cool water was refreshing to drink. After quenching his thirst, he washed his face and rolled onto his side. He stared at the peaks of the Tymelo beyond the waterfalls and thought about how the water that he had just drunk had journeyed from the snowy crown of Gyhwen.
Hungry and miserable, he wondered if the graceful blue spirit daughter had abandoned him. Fear gripped him as he contemplated not having her help any more.
I deserve no help, Gendahl thought darkly. After losing his domain and family, he should be left to die slowly.
Mired in self-loathing, Gendahl stared at the waterfalls and lost his mind in the ceaseless flow. The sparkling light upon the falls grew brighter until Gendahl finally blinked. Onja had appeared.
Hope sprouted in his heart like a new embryo of life. She stepped out of the waterfalls and dropped into the swirling frothing waters. When her feet touched bottom, she walked toward him through the water, ascending the gradual bank and rising from the pool with water spilling off her perfect body and glistening like frost on her blue skin. She came to him on the ledge of sun-warm rock and pulled herself out of the water.
“You should not be moving about, Gendahl,” she said.
“I was thirsty,” he explained. “I called for you but could not wait.”
“I heard you,” she said, and then after a pause, added an apology, “But I do not always realize how time can pass. I must be more mindful of that.”
She spoke his language beautifully and without flaw, but Gendahl knew that it could not possibly be her native tongue.
“Are you from the mountains, Onja?” Gendahl asked.
“I have heard that spirit creatures live in a valley surrounded completely by the high snows. They say it is a paradise where none grow old. Take me to your fair home and let me dwell in forgetfulness of my sorrow,” Gendahl said.
Onja sensed the grief that clawed at the human man who had fallen into her care. His belief that her homeland would save him from his pain made her experience pity for the first time. It was an intriguing feeling.
Perhaps pity is why I show him such kindness, she thought, but she knew it was more than that.
“My home is not as you would imagine it, Gendahl,” she said with sadness.
Her statement disappointed him. There was no escape from the life with which fate had saddled him.
“I do not remember telling you my name,” he muttered.
“I do not need to be told that which I want to know,” Onja said. “Speaking your name helped to soothe you as I tended your legs.”
He touched one of the casts. His legs were becoming hot inside the mud casts. With a fearful whisper he asked Onja if he would walk again although he was not sure why he cared.
“Yes, I have mended your broken bones with my power, but some spells only time can cast. You must stay still for a few more days while the bones become strong again,” she explained.
Gendahl remembered the ugly snap and explosion of pain when he had fallen over the cliff. For certain both legs had been broken. Such an injury should keep a man down for months, if not forever, but Onja spoke of his recovery being only a few days off.
“You are magic?” he said although the truth of it was plain.
“That would be your word for it,” she said. “But it is normal for my kind. Do you think of yourself as magic because you can start and control fire? But then, I suppose a squirrel looks at you cooking food and forging metals and sees magic.”
“Do you see a squirrel when you look at me?” he asked, more resigned to the fact than offended.
“I see a human. I know that you are more than a squirrel, and I am more than a human,” Onja answered.
“What are you, Onja?” he asked.
“I am rys,” she said, drawing herself up proudly.
“So it is true,” he whispered. “The magic land of the mountains is real.”
“Jingten,” she said, giving him its name. “A fair valley with vital forests and a great deep lake nourished from the womb of the Rysamand Mountains. But it is a troubled place.”
“They say that none who go into the Tymelo Mountains ever comes back,” Gendahl said.
Onja smiled. “Then how is it that you have heard of my magic land?”
Rethinking the drama of the fairy stories told to him as a boy, he conceded that perhaps the mountains were not as perilous as reported.
“A human must never discount the peril of the Rysamand,” Onja said. “But going there and returning are not impossible. People of your land must have ventured in and out of my homeland, perhaps before I was born. I know that humans from the east come and go from Jingten.”
“From the east? East of the Tymelo?” Gendahl asked with surprise.
“Call the mountains of my home the Rysamand,” Onja corrected. “Someday the humans of the west shall all call my home by its proper name.”
“Rysamand,” he said to show her that he would use the name from now on. “And there are more men east of the Rysamand?”
Onja answered that it was so and then asked him why he thought that there would not be more world beyond the mountains.
“Because the mountains are the roof of Gyhwen,” he answered quickly.
“A roof with one wall?” she chuckled and made him see the smallness of his thoughts.
“There is much I do not know, and of what I did know, I showed no intelligence,” he muttered and dipped back into his sorrow. He had been a worthless leader. Too young and optimistic without a chance to absorb lessons or heed counsel before his enemy had struck. No doubt Ginjor Rib had acted so quickly after Gendahl had become Lord of the Lin Tohs to take advantage of a young leader’s foolish first years spent in sport instead of preparation for the worst.
“You hunger,” Onja observed, trying to distract him from his depression. “I shall feed you.”
“I want no food,” he said.
Onja bent over him and placed her hands in his armpits. Tingling energy wrapped him and he suddenly felt light. He floated more than she lifted him. Onja embraced him and carried him upright with his feet gently dragging. She was tall, and Gendahl eased his head onto her shoulder, giving himself over to her care.
Onja returned him to the bed of leaves and dried grass that she had prepared for him. She moved her hand over his eyes and he dozed off, and this time no dreams bothered him.
When he awoke, the sun was a bright glare at the top of the ridge and the treetops shimmered gold over darkening green. A faint rainbow clung to the vapor rising around the falls. The fatty scent of roasting rabbit nudged his despondent appetite.
Close by, Onja tended a tidy fire with a rabbit on a spit. Gendahl watched her remove the rabbit from the fire. With deft fingers she tore the small tasty animal into two portions and set it on a smooth flat rock that she had found in the water.
“You shall eat,” she said and set the stone within his reach.
For a moment, he appraised the meat with sullen disinterest, but the splotches of juice on the stone and the tender strings of meat hanging on the bone called to his animal desire to live. He reached for the meat and, after each bite, he ate with increasing gusto.
Onja ate as well. As he observed her straight teeth biting the flesh and the grease smearing her finger tips, he could believe that she was something beyond a spirit daughter. She was flesh and blood, but her magic powers could not be denied. Under different circumstances, Gendahl suspected that he would be afraid of her.
When his meat was gone, he sighed. The full warmth inside his stomach felt good now that he had done it.
“Why do you help me?” he asked.
Onja licked her fingers carefully and seemed to be overanalyzing the taste of the rabbit. When she was satisfied that her fingers were clean, she turned her intense black eyes onto him. “You were hurt,” she replied simply.
Even if he hated being alive, Gendahl thanked her. Courtesy toward Onja seemed appropriate.
Onja had never been thanked before. To receive gratitude touched her with unexpected force, and she rewarded him with a better explanation. “I have never had a human friend before. This seemed a good opportunity for making one,” she said.
“I fear you have made a poor choice,” he said.
She cocked her head, increasingly intrigued by his growing self-hate. “You blame yourself for being attacked?” she said.
“I blame myself for not preparing my domain properly to defend itself. I was playing at games in the forest when I should have been at home…” he stopped speaking as grief clamped his throat. Images of his wife and son pierced his mind with sharp regret. He wrung his hands, rubbing his fingers over his knuckles and contemplating the blue tattoos. The tattoos wrapped his wrists in blue stags and sunbursts, marking him as a lord-born.
Lord no more, he thought.
“Could you have done something to prevent the killing and destruction that I have seen in the settlements near here?” Onja asked, curious to learn more about how the humans interacted, attacked, and defended. For what did they struggle?
“You have seen what was done?” Gendahl said, agonized by the report.
“I can see near and far,” Onja said and explained that the sudden death of so many people nearby had captured her attention and she had watched the progress of the attack. The gates and walls of the stronghold had been stormed. Villages torched. People dragged from their homes and slain or cut down whether fighting or fleeing. Those who had attacked had seemed to want to eradicate the residents and make the land vacant for their own purposes.
Gendahl clutched his face as ragged sobs escaped him. After finally wrestling and pinning his emotions, he explained in a strained whisper that he had been the leader of that small but growing tribe.
“My family,” he moaned without any hope that they had been spared by Ginjor Rib.
“Family,” Onja echoed him thoughtfully.
“Yes, my family. Do you know what that is?” Gendahl demanded, lashing out in his grief.
The set of her jaw hardened and she looked toward the Rysamand Mountains. Anger twisted her beautiful face for a moment, but then she softened and turned back toward Gendahl.
“I did not know those who bore me,” she said. “I was fostered by many rys over the years, but never truly did I have any to call my own. I have lived alone of late. I am different.”
She seemed to Gendahl almost forlorn now.“I am sorry that I yelled at you,” he said.
Onja shrugged. No hasty words from a human could hurt her feelings. “You wanted me to understand you. To have sympathy,” she said. “I shall try, Gendahl.”
Gendahl shut his eyes and reclined onto his grassy bed. “I thank you again for your kindness, but it has been a waste of your talent,” he said. “When I am able, I will go back to my domain. To see what I can do.”
Tears pooled in his eyes. What could he expect to do? He could not even fantasize about finding his family alive. His wife and child had probably been dead by the time he emerged from the Espen Forest and saw the smoke. The best he could do was go back and get himself killed, which seemed the right thing to do. He should have died fighting in the forest, refusing to be taken alive, but instead he had fallen over a cliff.
More days passed and Gendahl lay on his bed of leaves and contemplated his bleak future. The exercise was frustrating. Even before the tragedy, he had never given much thought to his future. It had simply been something set before him. He was his father’s heir. His life would go by much as his father’s had.
Onja continued to bring him food. Usually fish, sometimes rabbit or duck. About half the time, he lacked an appetite, but he ate anyway because he did not want to be rude to her. Grudgingly he healed. During the day, he watched the sun travel the sky and the rainbow sprays around the waterfalls shift from one side of the pool to the other side. Each night he watched the horned moon grow and fell asleep staring at its silvery reflection on the night-black waters.
By the time the moon was half full, Onja declared that his casts could be removed. She came to him in the morning with a round rock in her hands. She gripped the rock tightly and blue light flashed between her fingers. When she opened her hands, the cracked rock fell away in two pieces that had sharp serrated edges that she used to saw away his casts of mud and tree bark.
Although his time healing had been abnormally brief, already his muscles had begun to wither. His skin was dry and flaky, and his knees looked big and knobby.
“Move them,” Onja commanded, wondering at his reluctance.
Gendahl had to make a conscious effort to control his muscles. Painfully he bent his creaking knees. Stiff muscles and ligaments groaned, but the striking pain of broken bones was gone. He bent and straightened his legs until they ached. Sweat dotted his forehead from the strain.
“Get up now,” Onja said. She stood and swiftly grabbed him under the armpits and hoisted him to his feet.
Gendahl bit his lip, fearing to test his wobbly legs, but Onja gave him his weight gently, and the legs held him up. The bones were knit, set straight and properly. Such an injury should have crippled him. Even a skilled healer would have been challenged to right the bones of both legs, but Onja had fixed him with swift perfection.
As if he were a baby learning to walk, Onja stood behind him and held his hands as he took hesitant shuffling steps. She guided him to the water, and it was a sweet relief to his crying muscles to get into the pool. Onja joined him in the water and they spent the rest of the morning walking in the water until he was exhausted and begged to rest.
Onja helped him out of the water but then, without a word, she jumped back into the pool and swam toward the waterfalls. She disappeared behind the curtain of water.
After resting and drying in the sun, Gendahl struggled to his feet and put on his pants. To be dressed again felt good after flopping about half naked.
Sitting next to his gear, he drew his sword. He turned the blade and examined its sheen in the sun. The weapon that had once given him such a thrill to hold now seemed puny and useless. A man needed much more than a sword to keep him safe. He needed to know what was going on around him, where his enemies were and when they might strike. But too late the lesson had come. The joys of lordship coupled with the pleasures of a new wife and family had distracted him. His sense of security and power had dulled the counsel of wiser Lin Tohs who had feared the greed of Ginjor Rib. Diplomacy had been boring. There was so much more to amuse a young lord and he did not want to worry. The Lin Tohs had always been able to deal with Patharki raiders and common bandits before. Nothing beyond the dithering of balding warriors, fat from years lounging in their lord’s good house, was going to happen.
Foolish boy! Gendahl fumed at himself, suddenly as wise as the hills.
Gendahl raised his left arm and set the blade along the arteries of his wrist. His guilty conscience demanded that he make the blood flow, yet the pride of his manhood cried for vengeance.
“Vengeance,” he whispered derisively. What hope could he have for vengeance?
He heaved a sigh and sheathed the sword. To kill what Onja had saved seemed too rude, and Gendahl escaped his depression in sleep. Free of the chafing casts and itches that he could not reach, he slept well for once.
Over the next five days, he continued his therapeutic water walks. Aches and pains went away. He saw little of Onja, who, as far as he could tell, stayed behind the waterfalls. Gendahl thought of swimming into the foaming waters and seeking her lair, but he decided not to disturb her.
He finally dared to approach the spot where Temdi had died, but there was no headless body. A blackened patch of ground attested to a cremation likely performed by Onja’s magic. Gendahl touched the ashes and groaned at the grief grinding his heart before slinking away.
Through these lonely days of punishing sadness, he did not draw his sword from its scabbard again, but sometimes he sat with the covered blade across his knees and contemplated returning to his domain. Could he seek out scattered warriors and rally them to attack? But such thoughts stirred no hope. He doubted that he could find any surviving Lin Tohs warriors. Ginjor Rib had apparently attacked with overwhelming force. Any surviving Lin Tohs warriors would have believed their lord to be dead and had most likely fled the area.
Still I must go back, Gendahl thought. He had been the lord of his tribe, and he deserved to look upon his failings.
Gendahl prepared to leave. He washed his clothes and cleaned his armor. When he assessed his possessions, he saw that he was woefully lacking in gear and food. The bare minimum he had—a knife and tinder kit with flint, although he was not accustomed to starting his own fires.
And he was hungry. Onja had not served any meat for days, and Gendahl found that he missed the meals because sorrow was not stemming his appetite so much when food was not at hand. Plucking greens and foraging for berries was not going to sustain him. Gendahl fashioned a fishing spear with his knife and a stick. He moved quietly to a shady section of the pool and spied some trout. Anticipating their flavorful flesh, Gendahl thrust for a fish impatiently and missed.
He waited for the fish to return but he finally had to find another fishy corner of the pool. As he circled the shore, scanning the water, he saw a shining strand in the stony silt. Gendahl paused for a long time before he pulled out the silver chain. A hawk carved from amber dangled from the chain. It was Temdi’s Infoh amulet, and Gendahl shut his eyes with deep respectful grief.
The chain was broken. Gendahl tucked the amulet into a pouch and resumed fishing with a fresh crack in his aching heart.
After four artless attempts at spearing fish Gendahl concluded that it was hopeless for him right now. His legs were not yet strong enough to keep him steady so that he could make a true throw.
Hungry and sore, Gendahl returned to his campsite. After repeated effort, he managed to get a fire going right at dusk.
He crouched over his little fire. Once he had settled with his tribesmen beside comforting fires. Now loneliness and bitter shame comprised his retinue of loyal followers. Thinking of what had likely happened to his wife and son tore at him.
Perhaps they are still alive. Hostages or trophies, he thought, but he quickly kicked that possibility to the side of his mind like a dog rejected from the pack. It was impossible that his son would have been left alive, and his wife, even if taken as a hostage, would surely have killed herself at the soonest opportunity.
In the darkness he heard Onja’s beautiful hard body sliding into the water like one lovely note struck in the quiet forest. Dripping water pattered on the stone after she got out of the pool. When the firelight revealed her, she made a striking figure. Powerful, confident…superior.
The sight of her immediately comforted him. The destruction of his small life did not mean the world lacked majesty.
“I missed you, Onja,” Gendahl admitted.
She squatted by the fire and offered him the fish in her hand. He never saw Onja fish. She simply came out of the water with a fish. And it was always a big one.
They sat together in silence while Gendahl cleaned and fileted the fish. He arranged the filets on some grilling sticks over the fire.
Onja sat down and crossed her legs. Petting her black hair over her shoulders, she said, “You are going to leave.”
“I can’t stay here forever,” he said.
“Nor shall I,” she said, although she sounded sad at the prospect of both of them abandoning their little watery haven.
“Why are you here, Onja?” Gendahl asked. “What do you do behind the waterfalls?”
Onja considered his questions, trying to decide if she could even explain. How could a rys tell a human of rys things?
“I think about my powers. The waters have come down from the Rysamand, and this is a special place. With the waters of my homeland flowing over me, I can think on the greatness of the world. I can learn. There is power in the moving water,” she said.
Gendahl grasped slightly what she was trying to say. He understood that forces existed within Nature. Mountains, moving waters, winds, fire. There were many powers beyond the control of man, but perhaps not beyond Onja.
“When will you leave this place?” he asked.
“I shall go home when the snows begin to fall in the Rysamand,” Onja replied. “It is good to be home in the winter.”
Gendahl said, “I think that I’ll go soon. I must see what has happened to my domain.”
Onja frowned. She was uncertain why he would want to further torment himself by viewing the destruction of his home. “I have told you what you will find there,” she reminded him.
He flinched with anger and dumped the fish in the fire. He cried out with frustration. His supper was going to be incinerated, but Onja swiftly thrust her hand into the flames and grabbed the filets. Without suffering any burns, she handed them back to him. Blue sparks snapped in her eyes, and Gendahl knew that she had used her power to protect her flesh from the heat.
When the fish was sufficiently cooked, he offered her some, but she was not hungry. As Gendahl flaked the food into his mouth, he told Onja that he had no where else to go except back to his domain.
“What will you do there?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he snapped. “Try to find out what happened to my family.” His voice cracked when he said “family.” He shoved the rest of the fish in his mouth, eager to be done with the chore of eating. Surly, he stretched out. “I must sleep. I will go tomorrow. I am well enough.”
Onja watched him roll over and put his back to her. Having nothing to say, she left him.
Eventually Gendahl wiped his eyes and tried to think more rationally. Onja was right to ask him what he might do. Simply wandering around whatever horrors he was sure to find was going to accomplish nothing and probably get him killed when the Patharki discovered him.
There was a path open to warriors whose lives were ruined for one reason or another. Those who had murdered, stolen, or committed adultery and could no longer live within decent tribal society. Those whose lands had been lost or overrun. Or, those whose lords had been vanquished. Such warriors could take the bandit path. Some lived as pure criminals, menaces to all, but others lived in enclaves of semi-criminals and mercenaries, who lived by their own laws and sold their loyalties at their convenience, if at all. Most infamous among them were the Kez.
But Gendahl was lord-born. His tattoos marked him as such. They were traced into his skin in childhood to forever place him above the lesser segments of society. Hiding his identity would be hard. The evidence of his high birth would draw attention, and it probably would not take other criminals too long to figure out who he was. His Lin Tohs accent would always be strong in his speech, and someone would eventually get the idea of hauling him to Ginjor Rib and asking for a bounty.
Gendahl was surprised that the option of turning bandit did not disgust him like a mouthful of vomit. Before the Patharki attack, he, like any man of any tribe, had viewed the outlaws as scum. The bandit folk were the grime that made decent society shine that much brighter.
But now Gendahl could not imagine a fate better suited to his disgraced existence. Best that he let Gendahl, Lord of the Lin Tohs, stay dead in the minds of all who might care. His foolish inadequacy as a leader rightly decreed that he should slink from society in shame. A lord-born without lands or retainers was worse than dead. The only place he could go was to the criminal underworld.
He wrung his hands against his tattoos. The indigo stains in his skin had once been such a source of pride, but now they were shameful and dangerous.
Gendahl squirmed fitfully for most of the night. A thousand fears assailed him. Since falling from the cliff, his life had become a surreal mystery that sheltered him from the full impact of his grief. His strange circumstances kept the crushing loss of his family and tribe at a distance. Tomorrow when he walked out of the Espen Forest, he would be rushing into the burning building of his ruined life.
Gendahl wanted to sever himself from the hideous feelings. He wanted to be spared dreams of his family that was surely lost. He wanted no more to think of Temdi’s head being carried away in place of his own. Gendahl must cease to exist.
When morning came, Gendahl’s scream roused Onja from her watery lair. She burst through the waterfalls, swam across the pool like an excited otter, and sprang onto the shore. She marched purposefully to Gendahl’s camp. His back was to her, and she grabbed his shoulder and flung him back from the fire. He writhed on the ground, holding his hands out and shaking. His wrists and palms were red and black, charred by the fire, where he had been holding them against the coals and flames with all of his will.
“What are you doing?!” Onja yelled, astounded by his action.
Tears streamed from Gendahl’s eyes and he could only gasp in pain. The skin split on his fingers and a rugged spasm of shock wracked his body.
Onja exhaled sharply with exasperation and understood the futility of questioning him at this moment. She knelt beside him and seized his forearms. He had rolled up his sleeves, showing more concern for his shirt than his flesh.
Blue light rose in Onja’s eyes until they brightened her whole face. Wispy blue fire radiated from her hands over Gendahl’s wrists and then his hands. His pain stopped entirely as her magic soaked into the charred skin and he relaxed against the ground.
Onja pressed on with her magic until blisters receded and fresh pink skin glowed with health. When she was done, she brushed ashes from his hands. His burns were gone, replaced by tender new skin that was pale next to his brown skin. Only scattered remnants of his tattoos remained. They looked like the shards of a painted vase broken on a floor.
“You are a wonder, Onja,” Gendahl murmured, not ungratefully.
“I do not understand this,” she said.
“The tattoos,” he said. “I must get rid of them.”
Onja leaned away from him and put her hands on her hips. Angered, she demanded if he had counted on her healing him.
“That was and remains your choice, Onja. I only knew that the tattoos had to go,” Gendahl explained. “If you are upset with me, you can stay to watch me suffer for I must burn away what remains of them.”
“Foolish human,” she scolded. “Why did you not ask me to rid you of your marks? I could have done it without causing you so much pain.”
He answered, “I have never asked anything of you.”
“No, Gendahl, you have not,” Onja agreed. “But you may ask. I have much that I could give.”
His dark brown eyes glistened with curiosity, perhaps even temptation. Onja had frequently analyzed his thoughts about vengeance, and she wondered if he would ask her for the power to pursue his enemies.
With polite humility, he asked her only to remove the remainder of his tattoos. He said nothing as Onja worked on his skin. Gendahl paid attention to the sensation of having her magic touch him. She was blocking the pain as she burned the pigments bit by bit from his flesh, and then healed the skin as she went. The stags with their blue antlers gradually disappeared, and Gendahl forced himself to accept the end of his old life. It was the only way he could even attempt to go on. Gendahl could not be forgiven.
A breeze stirred and it was cool against his sweaty skin. He stared at his hands. The absence of his tattoos made him feel different. When his skin was tattooed, he had been only a small boy, and the painful task was one of his earliest memories.
This is my earliest memory of my new life, he thought.
With Onja’s firm slender fingers massaging his hands, Gendahl wondered if it had been the will of Jayshem, the God and creator of Gyhwen, that he experience a life other than being Lord of the Lin Tohs.
“Does it comfort you to think that your God willed your suffering and loss?” she asked.
Taken aback by her knowledge of his thoughts, Gendahl pulled his hands away. “What else can I think?” he asked back.
She lifted her eyebrows thoughtfully. The slight stretching of her eyelids sharpened the beauty of her features. His answer intrigued her greatly.
To change the subject, Gendahl examined his hands and thanked her. “I could not go on with my lord-born markings. I am lord-born no more,” he announced.
“You are still what you were, Gendahl,” Onja contradicted. “Tattoos did not make you a lord.”
“But they showed others what I was. I am something new now, but I know not what,” he said.
“You are Gendahl, my friend,” Onja said, and she smiled.
Her smile seemed to reveal a vulnerability that he would not have expected from her. She was alone as well.
“Your friend,” he said although he had no smile to give. “But call me Gendahl no more. I am Amar.”
“Amar,” she said and liked the name.
“I must go,” he said. He scanned the trees, rocks, waters, and mountains around him. Onja’s presence enchanted the landscape and made it more beautiful. It was a good place to die and to be born. “Back to the world of men,” he added.
Onja nodded with understanding. The time would come when she would go back to her kind as well. “If you want my help before I go back to Jingten, I will be here until the day equals the night,” she said, still hoping that he would make a request of her.
“Thank you, Onja,” he said and stood up.
Onja reached into his pile of gear and pulled forth his weapon. Proffering it, she said, “Your sword, Amar.”
Receiving the weapon from her opened a door in his mind, but he did not yet dare to look inside. He was not ready to receive any knowledge from this awesome being. As he took the sword from Onja and strapped it over his shoulder, he looked into her eyes that sparkled with powers to which no man could aspire. He would miss her.
Amar said, “I start a new life today. It is not a life I want, but perhaps if I keep living, the path to vengeance will present itself.” He decided that he needed this goal to keep going. He would view his smashed domain and take to the bandit life, and he would look for a way someday to hurt the Patharki and Ginjor Rib.
He parted from Onja without any more words. Planning to follow the stream through the hills, Amar walked away along the bank. When he turned back, Onja lifted a hand in farewell and he waved back to her. Onja sensed among his many harsh emotions, his sadness at leaving her. It was good to have a friend.
You shall have your vengeance, she thought.