Paths of the Shadow

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What Is Lost

Kelena looked at the flower arrangements that stood upon the elaborately carved, scrupulously polished side table. A few of the stems looked droopy, the petals dry as thirsty lips. She reached out to pull away the flowers offending the general harmony of the arrangement, but stopped, seized by a sudden pity for the withering blooms. They have been plucked to grace my rooms, and now that they are beginning to lose their freshness and beauty, am I supposed to throw them away? Let them live what little life is left to them.

There was a knock on the door. She recognized her husband’s steps. She couldn’t tell why her heart stirred ominously, then began to beat furiously, so that she heard the pounding of blood in her ears. Thump, thump, thump it went. Kelena hastened to her sitting cushions and pulled the forgotten embroidery into her lap. Only then did she call out:

“Come in,” she said serenely, and lifted her head slowly, for all the world as if she were immersed in her work until moments before he came.

But the look upon Dankar’s face made her instantly drop the needle and silken thread, blanch and stand up.

“What is it?” she whispered. “Oh, do not be silent, tell me at once.”

Dankar lowered his eyes. “Kelena – ” he began.

“There is no need to prepare me. My own thoughts have prepared me for the worst, haunting me in the black of night. O Great Spirit, just speak. Is it Kohir?”

He bowed his head, and in the terrible silence Kelena wrapped her arms around herself as she stood there, shivering, ensconced in her grief as if in a shell. “Kohir,” she whispered. “I... go on. I want to know all. Where was he found?”

“On the border of Everdark Valley,” said Dankar. “But I have not yet told you the worst.”

“You have just told me that my brother is dead,” she whispered, “what could be worse?”

“He was murdered, but... it appears something dark and sinister was involved, and I think we all understand whom he seeked in the Everdark Forest.”

“Jadine,” said Kelena. “Yes, but you could not mean... no, I will never believe she had anything to do with – he was her own brother, she had always been close to Kohir, she would never – ”

“As to that, I value your judgement more than my own,” said Dankar humbly. “Yet the rumours spread around like black crows, and I thought you must be prepared for the ugliness of what you might hear when we head to Rhasket-Tharsanae for the funeral.”

Kelena nodded vaguely, still hardly comprehending the enormity of what happened. “And Thadorn?” she suddenly remembered. “Has there been any word of him?”

“Yes,” said Dankar, and she could hear the relief in his voice. “I am glad to tell you that your good-brother is alive and well, as is Akira and most of the soldiers who went with Thadorn.”

Kelena’s heart stopped beating, replaced by a cold black chasm that opened all of a sudden. “Most?” she repeated quietly.

“There was some sort of skirmish with the wild tribes on the border, apparently,” said Dankar. “A trivial incident in itself, but unfortunately, it resulted in bloodshed, and I was grieved to hear of the death of someone I knew and liked well.”

The word she sought was short, but Kelena’s bloodless lips could barely form it. “Who?”

Dankar hesitated for the briefest moment. “You will recall him, I am sure. Torwen Mattar, that brave and honest young lieutenant. A great pity, to be sure, but you need not distress yourself at the moment – ”

And then all went black.

When Kelena woke, she was lying in her bed, wearing her nightdress. The curtains were drawn, dispersing the sunlight and making it look dim. A pitcher of water and a drinking cup stood by her side, and Dankar sat opposite her, the look upon his face grave and grim and satisfied and angry and pitying all at once.

“I understand,” he said when he realized she was awake and looking at him, disinterestedly, not waiting for him to speak because there was nothing he could say that would comfort or bestir or frighten her. “It was him after all. What a blind fool I was. I ought to have seen it a long time ago.”

She averted her face. She wished she had never met Torwen. She wished she had run away with him when he suggested that they should. She wished his seed had quickened in her womb on the last time they were together, so that at least she would hold a child that is her and him, together, blended into one... a child that will never be. A life that might have been, and will never be.

In a corner of her mind that was as dimly lit as the room, she expected Dankar to work himself into a rage, to throw accusations, to gloat at her grief, but when he spoke, his voice was gentle.

“Cry, Kelena,” he told her. “Cry, for he is worth every tear you shed for him. Had it been anyone else, I would feel humiliated.”

When she lifted her eyes back at him, they were brimming with furious tears. “You killed him,” she hurled at her husband. “Yes, you did it, and there is no need to look at me as if I am insane. Torwen was an honest man. Lying and hiding frustrated him, made him feel as though his hands are dirty. That was why he went with my good-brother. If you had given me my freedom when I asked for it, he would never have gone. He would still be here, alive.”

“I know it is much too late,” said Dankar, “but you shall have your freedom now, if you ask for it.”

Again she looked away from him. “Freedom is nothing to me now,” she whispered.

It was then that Dankar surprised her with a question - a question that required a decision, a decision that would bring her back to life, however horrible and dark and empty it might have seemed to her at the moment.

“Do you wish to go to your brother’s funeral, or to Torwen’s?”

She lifted her eyes up at him - empty eyes.

“I do not understand,” she said.

He stepped closer and took her limp, cold hand in his. He held it as if it was something extremely fragile, which could break with any careless move. “I do not grudge you your love,” he said, “nor will I grudge you your grief. If that is your wish, you can go to Tallbridge Town, to attend Torwen Mattar’s funeral, and no one need to know of that. I will go to Rhasket myself, pay my respects to the Kotsar, and say that grief has left you in a state so delicate that your attendance was made impossible.”

Kelena weighed this possibility. Yes, she wanted to go to Tallbridge Town, to see how the departed soul of her beloved is sent off to the Lands of Dawn... it would not assuage her grief, but she still felt a need to do it, to comprehend that he is really and truly gone, that he is at peace now, that their happiness and suffering and all that filled the vision of their life together had turned to ash and bone together with him... yet at Tallbridge Town, there would be no one for her to see but Torwen, and he was dead. In Rhasket, the living were waiting for her.

“No,” she said. “I will go to Rhasket. My father and mother and Nog need me, especially with Jadine gone.”

He looked at her intently. “Are you certain?”

She nodded. “That is my wish as well as my duty.”

“Will you permit me to accompany you?”

“That would only be proper.”

“I do not ask what is proper,” he said, a frown creasing his smooth brow. “I ask whether you prefer me to go with you, or remain behind.”

She thought about it for a moment, then said, “I think I would rather go on my own, if it’s all the same to you.”

She could see, of course, that it was not all and the same to him, but he gave his acquiescence as graciously as could be expected. “Of course. You do what suits you best, Kelena.” Then a sudden thought struck him. “What about Emmet?”

“What about Emmet?” she echoed.

“Will you take him with you?”

She considered this for a moment. She could sense the tension in the muscles of her husband’s face as he waited for her answer. “I believe I will, if you do not object,” she finally said. “I know it is probably unwise to take him on such a long and sad journey, but I don’t think I could bear to part with him at the moment.”

“I understand,” he nodded. “You intend to leave as soon as possible, of course?”

Now was her turn to nod. “As soon as I talk to Rani. She will want to go as well, I know it.”

“I hope so. Her company along the way will do you good.” He paused, weighing his words, then asked, “When will you be back?”

Despite her will, her eyes filled with tears again, although she could no longer say for whom she is weeping. “I do not know.”

Looking almost dispassionate, he acknowledged her words with the briefest inclination of his head. “Take as much time with your family as you need,” he told her, and made to walk out of the room. Her next words caught him when his back was already turned to her.

“You are kind.”

He turned around. “You know I am not,” he said. He opened the door and walked through it and closed it behind him, as gingerly as if it were made of glass. His footsteps were so soft Kelena did not hear them receding down the corridor.

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