The staff was standing alone, upright on the forest floor.
Tathea stared at it in wonder and then with a sharp prickle
of excitement and awe. Even in the muted light through the
canopy of trees she could see that it was carved down the
shaft in tiny hieroglyphs.
On tiptoe she walked over to look more closely. They were
in six separate groups. She tried to read the first, but it
made no sense, nor did the second, nor the third. It was
only when she came to the last one that the words were as
clear as fire in the mind: "when the woman of love has
kneeled in the ashes and taken up My burden, then shall I
come and receive My own."
She reached out her hand to take the staff, and as she did
so it leaned away from her, southwards, towards the edge of
the forest where she had not been able to pass in five
hundred years. Was this the time, now, at last?
She clutched it and started to walk, shivering a little.
She had an appointment to keep, not just for herself but
for every living thing, the present and the past. She
stepped over the gnarled roots twisted into the ancient
soil. Urgency impelled her. She started to run, climbing an
incline and slithering down, splashing through a stream.
A fallow deer lifted its head at her approach and then
sprang off into the shadows of hazel and birch.
Tathea's mind was filled with memory. She could see the
place on the soul's journey where she and Ishrafeli had
parted as if it were around her now, the dark slope down to
the water's edge, the glimmer of starlight over the sea and
Sardonaris on the horizon. The skiff had lain at its
moorings ready. She had had the Book in her arms. She had
expected Ishrafeli to return with her to carry its burden
to the world, and instead he had told her the one truth she
had never imagined. He was an angel. His time was not yet.
But he had promised that one day he would come and take his
mortal life, and together they would fight the last
terrible war against Asmodeus, the Great Enemy. If they
won, then the world would be resurrected into a glory and a
joy beyond the heart to dream. It would become the
habitation of God for time everlasting, and for all those
who in their testing had loved Him with undivided heart.
And if they lost, then Asmodeus would make it the seat of
dominion to rule and ruin all other worlds he could reach,
spreading an ever--widening misery until the light faded
across the universe and darkness owned them.
Tathea was running faster now, brushing past whipping
branches and over stones and ruts, her feet soundless on
the dark earth. Briars reached out and tore at her clothes
and she ignored them. Old prophecies thundered through her
mind. In her memory she was back in the desert of Shinabar
again, the hot sand abrading her skin, the light dazzling,
and Iszamber's voice telling her that in the final war,
when nations plunged into violence and desolation, still
the Island at the Edge of the World would stand, because
here the light of faith would never be entirely quenched.
It was here that the warriors would be nurtured who would
fight Armageddon. One king would unite the warring tribes
long enough for the truth to be taught again. The Book
would be unsealed and the old glories of the light of God
would harrow men's souls, and fire such faith in them as
would rekindle the stars.
And at the very last, Asmodeus would be able to walk the
earth, and she must take the keys of the world from him
before God could renew all things into eternity.
Another clearing opened in front of her, larger than the
last, but here there was no sunlight on the grass. She
hesitated and looked up. The sky was dark with scudding
clouds, and a cold wind whipped the tops of the trees. She
felt its breath on her skin like ice. She was glad to reach
the far side where the stinging edge was broken.
Tathea was on a path now, and the trees were less dense.
There were elders, white with flowers, dizzying scent; ash
and wild cherry.
The first hailstones struck so viciously it seemed as if
the pellets of ice must leave bruises on her flesh.
Stumbling, teeth clenched, she ran on, half blinded.
Whatever the storm, she must not stop. Everything depended
upon her being there in time.
Thunder rumbled around the skirts of heaven, then, without
warning, cracked above her with ear--shattering sound.
Flights of birds shot out of the trees, whirling up against
the sullen sky and small animals fled for cover, huddling
under logs and stones in terror.
Lightning forked down. A tree exploded in a sheet of fire.
It swayed for a breathless moment, then crashed down across
the path in front of her, trailing gaudy ribbons of flame
which caught other branches and blazed up, roaring,
crackling, spreading wide.
She stopped abruptly, scrambling to keep her balance. She
could not retrace her steps. She would have to force her
way through the undergrowth to go round it.
The wind was harder, rising to a high, shrill whine in the
upper branches, whipping them back and forth as it changed
direction, snapping them off and catching them whirling up
in the air.
Tathea wanted to find any lee side of a bank where she
could crouch down and protect herself. There were plenty of
places. She knew the forest, its heart and its nature. She
loved its great trees, its slender saplings, and every
creature in it. It had fed and sheltered her for five
centuries. If she turned back, maybe this terrible
destruction would end. Perhaps there was another way? She
stood motionless, her hand clenched on the staff.
When she tried to pull it back, it would not move. It would
yield only southward, drawing her on.
She stumbled over fallen branches across the path. Ahead of
her the trees thinned, white wood showing in great wounds
where the storm had ripped branches away.
Now she was at the path's end. Beyond was open land. She
hesitated, afraid. The moment had come. If she could walk
beyond the last tree, then the forest no longer held her.
It truly was the beginning.
The sky was purple--dark, heavy--bellied with hail. Behind
her she heard the scream of the wind and the crash as
another tree was rent from the earth. Lightning flared, and
ahead she saw the figure of a woman coming towards her,
floundering as if heavy--laden and near exhaustion.
The moment of indecision passed. The woman was in need.
Tathea went towards her swiftly, away from the forest edge,
free from its hold. There was no sense of surprise, no
barrier. The storm, the piercing cold, the rage in the sky,
told her that the earth itself knew the waiting was ended.
She reached the woman and in the livid, fading light saw
why she had moved so awkwardly. She was heavy with child,
and close to the time of birth. Her clothes were torn,
stained with mud and blood and the dark smears of burning.
Smoke streaked her face, and her eyes were grief-hollowed.
Tathea clasped her, taking some of her weight. The woman
was shuddering with exhaustion. Her clothes wrapped around
her thighs, the long, wet skirts tangling every movement.
"Gently! Gently!" Tathea urged her. "There's no one behind
But the woman struggled on towards the outlying trees. "I
must reach Hirioth," she gasped, fighting to keep her
balance as pain shot through her and she stumbled, almost
dragging Tathea down with her.
"You can't," Tathea told her more clearly, forcing her to
stop. "Your time is come. I'll look after you. I know a
little of birth." She remembered, with the old, heart--
consuming ache, her own child, and the moment of drenching
horror when she had discovered his small, blood--soaked
body, the night of the coup in Shinabar. The tightening of
the throat, the pain through the body was always the same.
But there was no time for the past.
The woman had a strange and subtle face with a beauty
unlike any other.
"Who are you?" she said in little more than a whisper as
another spasm grasped her.
"Tathea," she answered. "But you must rest. The rain has
stopped, and you will be dry under the trees here."
The woman stared at her, her eyes wide with wonder.
"Come!" Tathea urged, pulling at her arm.
"Tathea?" The word was spoken with awe, as if there were
magic in the sound of it.
"Yes. Please come! You have not long."
The woman's eyes clouded. "I know," she said softly. "I
shall not live to raise my child, not even to hold him in
my arms." Again the spasm took her and she sank to her
knees, holding herself, rocking back and forth.
"Yes, you will!" Tathea kneeled beside her, clasping her as
she fought to control herself. "It will seem terrible, but
it will pass."
"No . . ." The word came between clenched teeth. "I have
come too far, my strength is gone. But I had to . . . to
reach Hirioth. Now I know why." She let out a cry and
gripped Tathea's hand so hard it was as if she could
transfer her own pain.
Tathea held on to her. A great feeling flooded through her
that the woman was right and a stupid and futile denial
would comfort no one.
"Sardo..." The woman continued after a moment. "Sardo gave
his life to help me escape the city. He loved me, and he
knew the child . . ." Again she had to stop to give herself
over to the pain. "Will you tell him about us?" she asked
after a few more moments. "My name is Mairin. I am sister
to Aelfrith, Earl of the Eastern Shore. My husband was
Sardo . . ." She gulped and her eyes filled with tears.
Perhaps it was only hours since he had died.
Tathea held her closer, feeling the pain reach through her,
aware of Mairin's failing strength, the violent beating of
her heart. She ached for her that she would hold her child
for no more than a few moments before she would have to
trust him to a stranger to guard and protect his life, to
nurture him, teach him, and above all to love him as she
Tathea knew that this child was to be the king who would
unite the Island, so no more women would have to flee
ruined cities because of war with neighbouring tribes or
pirate raids from the Sea Isles. He was the one who would
create a golden age before the great and final war. The
violence in the shattered forest had told her that, and her
freedom at last to leave its bounds, to walk beyond its
keeping and into the world.
Though her strength was ebbing fast, Mairin spoke of her
youth, and how she had met Sardo, and how they had loved
each other. Then her body convulsed and the moment of birth
came. There was no more time left.
An hour later Tathea stood in the fading glory of the
evening light with the baby in her arms, wrapped in pieces
of Mairin's robe.
Mairin had held him herself for a few moments, touched his
face, and named him Sadokhar. Now she lay in her final
peace, her blood--stained gown her winding sheet, and
Tathea could do nothing for her but pull some of the broken
branches to cover her, and think how she would care for her
She had only just taken the first steps towards the distant
village, when she saw the man coming up the rise, his black
hair blown by the wind. He was slender, strong, and he
moved with unusual grace as though his feet barely touched
For a moment Tathea's heart knocked with a familiarity so
sharp it pierced her with a physical pain.
He was close to her now and she could see his face, the
broad brow and chiselled features, the blazing blue eyes.
Of course she knew him. Her soul had known him since before
the creation of the world. He was the Great Enemy, Asmodeus
himself, walking the earth like a man.
He stopped in front of her and looked at the child in her
"Sadokhar," he said softly, as if he knew him already.
Tathea held the baby so closely he seemed almost part of
her. Asmodeus could not harm him physically, and yet she
could smell her own fear. Why had he torn up the forest,
breaking and wounding it, if not to prevent her reaching
Mairin in time, and saving the child?
Asmodeus was smiling. "Sadokhar," he repeated with infinite
satisfaction. He held up his left hand and in it was a
bunch of keys, heavy and dull--gleaming black.
She stared at them, transfixed.
"The keys of this world," he told her. "The power and the
dominion of it." He leaned a little forward. "It is mine!
And neither you nor that child will take it from me--nor
Ishrafeli, when he comes."
Her lips were dry, her heart pounding. "If God wills it, we
can do anything," she said huskily.
"'Can't?" The word was a challenge, a cry of
derision. "Maybe you can . . . but you won't!" He looked at
the child again. "He won't! You remember nothing, but I
have known each of you since the foundation of heaven." He
held up the keys again. "The earth is mine!" Then he turned
on his heel and strode away.
She heard his laughter, thin and hard like a knife blade
into the flesh, and a moment later she was alone in the
wind and the sunset, and the child began to cry.
Legs shaking, Tathea walked away from the vast prison and
shelter that was Hirioth, and into the world.
Tathea looked at Sadokhar beside her, then at Sardriel and
Ardesir opposite. All the tables in the Great Hall were
crowded with the scores of warriors and advisers who served
the castle and city. The torches in the hall burned low,
casting shadows on the coffered ceiling and sending a
golden glow on to the bronze of half--empty bowls of fruit
and the curves of wine glasses. The sounds of laughter and
conversation filled the air. The embers of the fire faded
and the dogs stirred hopefully, looking for scraps.
It had been twenty--eight years since Tathea had left
Hirioth, bringing with her only the staff and the golden
Book of the word of God. Sadokhar was a grown man and he
had accomplished all that she had promised Mairin he would,
and all that she had dreamed for him herself. Some of it
had been savage--war and reprisal. She still shivered at
the memory of Cunaglass's rebellion and how Sadokhar had
hunted him down and, in his rage at the needless ruin and
death he had caused, the betrayal of those who had trusted
him, had slashed off his head with a sword, and painted his
name across the fortress walls with his hair dipped in his
own blood. If Sadokhar regretted it he had never said so.
But the Island at the Edge of the World was united at last
after two centuries of strife. For nearly ten years there
had been peace. The old and the young walked in the open
without fear. No one was hungry or sick and went uncared
for. Justice was swift, but anyone might plead their cause
before the King and be heard.
This beautiful city of Tyrn Vawr had been built, and
artists and poets, philosophers and dreamers, architects
and musicians lived here, dined and talked far into the
night in Sadokhar's hall. The learning and the wit of the
world found their way here at one time or another.
Four years ago had come Sardriel, Lord of the Lost Lands,
to pledge peace with the King of the Island. Sadokhar had
liked him immediately, drawn to the love of truth in him.
Tathea had watched his quiet face, with its high cheekbones
and cool, intelligent eyes, and seen the passion in the
curve of his mouth. She felt in him a strength of the
spirit and a fire in the mind, and she grew increasingly
sure that he was one of the warriors foretold in the dim
days of her waiting, who would come in the evening of time
to fight the last great war.
Sadokhar had read the first hieroglyph on the staff when
they were still in Hirioth, as she had known he would--
"when the man of courage enters and leaves where I am not."
He had looked at her, his grey eyes puzzled, aware only of
mystery. Many times since he had asked her to explain, but
finally he had understood that it was something that could
be grasped only when the knowledge was already in the
One quiet evening a year after Sardriel had come, when
Tathea had glimpsed the patience in him and the swift,
secret moments of loneliness as well as the brilliance of
mind, she had shown the staff to him. He had taken it in
his hands, turning it over, marvelling at the workmanship
of it, and he had read the third inscription--"when the man
of truth hungers for a lie, and casts it to the deep."
He had said nothing. He was older than Sadokhar had been,
less impetuous, and she did not need to tell him that only
time and battle could teach him to understand it. Now that
battle was already darkening the horizon.
From that time onward he had returned to Tyrn Vawr every
few months, leaving the stewardship of the Lost Lands with
his cousin and ally.
A year after Sardriel had read the inscription, Ardesir had
come from Shinabar, and before that from the southern
deserts of Pera. When Sadokhar, in his wilder youth, had
for a space rejected the high calling he felt Tathea had
placed upon him, they had quarrelled, and she had left him
on the Eastern Shore with his mother's people. She had gone
back to the centre of the world alone, and then on to
Shinabar. It was then she had met the younger Ardesir,
still afire with ideas, a man of laughter and imagination,
an architect who held visions of building palaces, arches
and towers of the mind as well as of stone. He sought in
the perfection of form and purpose a meaning that could be
held in a single grasp. They had been friends, savouring
together the subtlety and laughter of Shinabari art, the
long desert evenings, the smell of the night wind off the
endless sands, sweet wine and bitter herbs, the intricacy
of the old ways.
Then she had returned to the Island, knowing that she must
try again with Sadokhar. The lesser part would never be
enough for the hunger in his soul, no matter how it
glittered before him now.
He had stood before her a little abashed, uncertain how to
acknowledge the change in himself, and yet his eyes were
shining with joy to see her. He had asked softly for
another chance, but she knew that he would have wrested it
from her had she not given it willingly. They knew each
other so well!
Then years later, when the Island was at peace and its fame
spread wide, Ardesir had come to Tyrn Vawr and found the
perfect field for the arts he had perfected since.
It was Sadokhar who insisted Tathea show Ardesir the staff.
"I can't read it!" he had said with confusion. "Can
Tathea had felt a plunge of disappointment. But before she
could answer, he had looked at it again. "Except this one!"
he went on. "When the man of faith embraces terror to
himself'! What does that mean?" Then his face had paled and
his voice dropped to a whisper. "Why can I read that, and
not the others?"
"Because that one is for you," Sadokhar had answered. "As
the first is for me, the third for Sardriel, and the last
"And the others?" Ardesir had asked.
"We don't know . . . not yet, but we will."
"Before the final war with the Great Adversary."
"Before its beginning?" he had asked. "Or before its end?"
"I don't know," Tathea had said, barely above a whisper.
Now they were still waiting for the last two warriors, but
Tathea felt the urgency grow within her that time was
She looked from one to the other of them as they sat
talking now, Sadokhar telling a story, his face animated,
on the edge of laughter, Sardriel listening, his lips
curved in a slow smile. He knew he was being teased and the
acceptance in it, the knowledge of his rational scepticism
was part of the joke.
"I feel we have little time left," Tathea said aloud.
Sadokhar stopped his tale and looked at her with sudden
"We have two of the inscriptions still unread," Ardesir
reminded, but apologetically, his face tender. "And
Ishrafeli has not yet come."
It was the one thing Tathea could not ignore or reason
away. It was the single, bright certainty she had clung to
all the long centuries. Awake or asleep she had waited for
"He has not come to us," she said quietly, "but we don't
know that he is not alive somewhere."
"There are other things," Sardriel said reasonably, his
voice soft so that those at the further end of the great
table would not hear him. "It grows dark, certainly. Every
new word from the east brings more news of the barbarians
attacking, but the great empires still stand. Asmodeus does
not yet walk the earth again, and most of all, we cannot
open the Book." His eyes were steady, not wavering from
"I know, but it will be soon. We must prepare." She turned
to Sadokhar. "You said Kor--Assh of the River covenanted
with you to come to Tyrn Vawr. When?"
"Lantrif is not an easy land," he answered, his eyes
careful and bright. "He cannot leave until he has made all
provision for its peace in his absence. But we have yet to
speak with Ulfin of Kharkheryll also. Knowing all you have
taught me of the Flamen belief, I am sure he will be with
us. They above all others love the earth. How could they
not join in the last war to save it from Asmodeus?"
"If he comes then we will be five, and if Kor--Assh does
also, then all six," Ardesir agreed, turning a little in
his chair towards Tathea. "But that is not Ishrafeli, nor
does it open the Book. Without that we don't have the
knowledge of God; we understand only a shadow of the truth
and it won't be enough! We dare not start until we have
every weapon and every shield!"
He leaned across the table, his elbow against the empty
pewter bowl where the sweetmeats had been. His face was
pale. "We fight not only envy, ignorance and evil in the
world, but the forces of hell and beyond from places
unimaginable. We will be tested to the end of all we have."
He looked at each of them. "Don't go into the last conflict
as if it were something we cannot lose. We can! All
eternity depends upon us. Every step must be with prayer,
and certainty that we are obeying God, not our own
What he said was true, and yet it did not dispel the
conviction inside her that the Enemy was closer. It was not
faith like Ardesir's, reason like Sardriel's, nor courage
like Sadokhar's, it was memory in the soul of wars lost in
the distance of time, the touch of darkness closer than the
Sadokhar leaned back in his seat, resting his elbows on the
arms of his chair, watching Tathea. "We need more news of
Camassia, and of Shinabar. Are they preparing for war? Are
they even aware that the threat is real? Or do they imagine
it is no more than the sporadic troubles they have had for
centuries, and it will all die down again as it has in the
past? There are travellers among us, especially one old man
who has recently come from the City in the Centre of the
World. Shall I send for him?" It was a courtesy that he
asked; he needed permission of no one.
"Yes," Tathea said immediately, not certain what she
expected to hear. She had loved the City long ago. Its
golden stones, its teeming streets and cypress--crowned
hills had been her home in the days of the height of the
Empire. It had sheltered her when her own land had cast her
out. "Yes, send for him."
"Bring the traveller Eudoxius," Sadokhar ordered.
The page he had addressed bowed and went to obey.
Within minutes an old man walked the length of the hall
from the bottom table. His head was high but his body gaunt
and round--shouldered, his features battered by wind and
sun. Only as he was feet away was the humour clear in his
faded eyes, and the bitterness about his lips.
"Sit with us and take wine," Sadokhar directed him,
indicating one of the vacant high--backed chairs opposite.
"Sire . . ." The old man obeyed, but he did not incline his
head. He was a citizen of the world and he was bowing to no
"Tell us of your travels," Sadokhar continued. "What news
do you bring of the world?" He was courteous, but there was
no mistaking the command in his voice.
"You have fed me well," Eudoxius replied. "And given me
shelter. What would you hear?"
"The truth!" Sadokhar snapped. "When I want tales I will
send for a bard and have them to music!"
Eudoxius' weary eyes opened a little wider, there was an
instant's black laughter in his face, and then it was gone
"Shinabar is rotten to the core," he said very
quietly. "They deal in bribery and lies as other men deal
in bread. No man knows what another is doing. Camassia
still has a coating of civilisation, and a kind of spurious
vitality that is thin as the colour wash on the walls of a
tomb." He glanced at Ardesir's dark, desert face. "Painted
scenes of the dead, for the comfort of the living, who know
as surely as sunrise tomorrow that they too will one day
inhabit those same mansions of oblivion. The barbarians of
the flesh are at the borders, pressing closer with every
season, but the barbarians of the heart are already there."
Tathea looked at Sadokhar and saw the shadow cross his
features, the merest tightening of the lips as if the words
had touched an old understanding inside him, memories of
things she had taught him long ago. It was another shard of
prophecy fallen into place.
"Is that new, sir?" Sardriel asked Eudoxius gravely. His
courtesy never wavered--he would have considered that a
gross weakness, a betrayal of the inner self--but neither
did he stay his hand in pursuing reason to the end. To have
done that would be to insult both speaker and listener. "Or
are you merely referring to the nature of mankind, perhaps
darkened by your own exile?" he pressed. "Forgive me, but I
perceive that you are much travelled, and yet you bear no
embassy nor do you carry the goods of trade. You are past
the years of being a soldier and your bearing suggests you
serve no master, and yet you have the marks of both hunger
"You observe well," Eudoxius said without self--pity, but
there was a bitterness in him. "But my path is self--
chosen. I have no desire to live in Camassia any longer."
He looked beyond the few dark plums left in the burnished
dish in front of him. His voice lowered a little. "What I
saw in Camassia was not honest greed, as in the long past,
it was evil pretending to be good." He twisted the stem of
the glass goblet in his fingers, the light red through the
wine. "The Emperor is weak. He loves the glory and the
praise of men, and in his eagerness to satisfy the crowds
he has forgotten any beliefs of his own. He appoints his
friends to power, and accounts it loyalty to protect them
at any cost."
"In what way?" Sadokhar asked sharply.
Eudoxius shrugged. "He does not stop corruption or
incompetence if the perpetrators are his friends," he
replied. "No one admits fault any more. There is little
honour left." He looked from one to the other of them, his
expression suddenly darker and openly edged with
fear. "Irria--Kand lies directly on our northern borders
right from the far east across to the forests of the west.
It is not a united empire but a series of city fortresses,
and already half of it has fallen to the barbarians
sweeping in from the lands on the rim beyond."
No one interrupted him. Sardriel sat motionless. Ardesir
was tight--lipped. Sadokhar leaned a little further
forward, his attention total. This was military news of the
gravest kind, and he had been too long a soldier, left too
many good men on bloody fields, to weigh lightly a word of
"The Emperor has been told," Eudoxius continued, watching
Sadokhar's face. "Word comes almost weekly, but he chooses
to disbelieve it. He says our armies have never been beaten
and it is treason even to think they could be now. But they
are untrained for anything but garrison duty, and parades.
They have never seen war. If Irria--Kand falls and the
barbarians reach the great forests of Caeva to the west,
they will find nothing there for them, and they will turn
south into Camassia. Who wouldn't? The whole land lies in
front of them, all but unprotected! Hundreds of miles of
wheat and vines, orchards and woodlands there for the
taking, all the way to the City in the Centre of the World,
and the sea."
No one had interrupted him. One of the dogs stirred briefly
by the embers of the fire.
"Leadership requires that your first debt is to the demands
of honour," Eudoxius continued. "If you are not prepared to
do that, if you must be praised at all costs, then step
back and leave the crown to someone who will."
His eyes did not leave Sadokhar's. He did not see the
sorrow in Ardesir's eyes, nor the flash of pity in
Sardriel's. "We overlook faults we should not, because we
are too afraid of invasion to admit that it could happen."
He waved away a servant with a bowl of honey cakes. His
voice was thick with anger he no longer tried to
conceal. "The barbarians will cross the borders one day. We
shall be conquered and all the beauty and sophistication,
the buildings, the art and the inventions of a thousand
years will be lost under the tide. But perhaps we will
drown ourselves in our own filth before that, and when the
savages come they will find only more savages, no better
than themselves . . . merely different." Then he smiled
suddenly, but there were tears swimming in his eyes. "Only
I will not live to see it."
A coldness filled Tathea, as if she had swallowed ice.
Could that be what Armageddon was--not consuming war at
all, but the corrupted heart eaten away, until when the
barbarians came in the end, there was nothing for them to
conquer but decay? Was the end not violence at all, but a
Then what were all their preparations of wisdom, self--
discipline and the arts of strategy worth? The Book of God
could not be opened, but Tathea remembered much of it and
had written it out again, disconnected, precept by precept,
but still a light to the soul. At every step they had
prayed in humility, and retraced each mistake and sought to
For a decade Sadokhar had ruled so that there was a surplus
of food, and safety from violence or need. There had been
space for thought and to learn, to take months apart from
daily tasks in order to enrich the soul. He, Sardriel and
Ardesir had argued and discussed, explored the natures of
good and evil. They had ridden together, built, known
failure and success, quarrelled, tested each other and
forgiven. There had been experiences which had winnowed the
wheat from the chaff, refined the compassion and the
integrity. Each had in one manner or another walked an
inner path which had learned his courage of the soul, and
found it enough.
They knew who they were, not only in this mortal life, but
from eternity to eternity, children of God on the wild and
dangerous journey home. Each had committed himself
irrevocably to the conflict and forged his covenants with
The servants moved around Tathea, fetching and carrying.
Light winked on polished metal and glass. The sound of
chatter came dimly and she barely heard it.
Where was the war? What weapon was there to strike an enemy
which was a nameless horde a thousand miles away?
She looked at Eudoxius sitting opposite her, and saw the
torchlight shine through his thin hair, and the marks of
age on his skin. Once he had been as young as Sadokhar, in
the prime of his strength. Now he was already too tired to
For all their passion and courage, even purity of mind so
they could face any evil, Asmodeus had the ultimate weapon
against which there was no defense--time. He needed only to
The room swam around Tathea in a haze of flame and shadow,
golden reflections on pewter and shining wood. The familiar
faces blurred. Voices were a sea of sound like waves on a
shingle beach, and over them all she heard laughter, cruel
and soft, not in the ears but in the heart. She knew his
voice. He had cursed her before, and promised he would
never forget the injury she had inflicted on him, once,
long ago, nor forgive it.