The enormous silver gates stood tall against the murky skies, imposing and grand, blocking out the misty path beyond. The White Sea was in motion, creeping up the Khaled Pass, as it was want to do every few years or so to threaten the feet of the mighty elven city. Thais had been granted a steed and sat astride it while her uncle opened the enormous gates with a surprisingly delicate set of keys. At his side the youngster known as Dahl hopped around, furious that her human cousin was leaving her so soon, repeating her desire to visit Titua in the spring.
Thais’ smile was a genuine one when she assured the exuberant youngster that she would await her visit with great apprehension. Once the gates had opened Thais cast a last look over her shoulder at the crowd of elves, watching her with mixed emotions. Some seemed to look upon her as a saviour while others with scorn in their beautiful faces. The little human had succeeded in unsettling the precious peace and calmness of the elven city. They would speak of her visit for many years to come as one of the most portentous moments of their recent history.
Turning her eyes forward Thais rode out of Khaled-Dîn with her head held high. Behind her Sil’Ahmen wrapped his arm about young Dahl’s shoulders to prevent her from running after the human princess while he shut the gates.
“Till we meet again Thais Mai Avani,” the tall elf called after his sister’s daughter before the girl disappeared into the mist lapping up at the gates. Thais shut her eyes against the prickling tears that stung them as she led her horse on through the eerie misty trees. Her skin was tingling and her heart was swelling with emotion. The girl did not need to open her eyes to see the orange haze of ether all around her, attaching itself faithfully to her skin once more like a blanket, very sorry to have left her unguarded in the elven domain.
As soon as the first particle of ether returned Thais felt a great difference in her being, she found she could remember things she had long forgotten, feelings, memories, sensations, it was all returning. That heavy pull in the back of her mind, she knew that pull.
The girl opened her eyes and saw the figure she had expected in the mist. She brought her steed to a halt and stared at the figure darkly.
“He didn’t acknowledge me,” she called out into the murky light. A moment passed by and then another, before finally the figure strode forward. Gallus of Denari had found his wayward daughter at last. The great man came to a stop beside the horse and he reached out to take the reigns from her hands. Thais stared at the king for a moment before she swung down from the saddle and wrapped her arms around his chest. For a moment she buried her face in his shirt and cried.
“You were right,” she wept. “I never should have come to this place. He hates me.”
Gallus sighed heavily and stroked back the girl’s curly hair, resting his large hand on her neck and taking a moment to thank whichever God might listen for bringing her safely back to him. He had never expected she could achieve so much. Her whole life he had been underestimating the girl, she was braver and more determined than he had ever felt her capable of.
“And yet here you are,” the warrior king spoke eventually. Thais pulled back and met his eyes.
“And so are you,” she accused, her tears drying.
“Aye, and so am I. Did you find what you were looking for?” Thais’ eyes slipped away from her father’s unreadable expression and rested on his shoulder.
“No. No I didn’t. Did you?” Thais’ eyes found her father’s once more. For a moment the king smiled sadly before he shook his head.
“No, neither did I.”
Wrapping his arm protectively around his daughter’s shoulders the great man Gallus led her down the misty path towards the White Sea, leading the horse alongside them.
“Papa, are you angry with me?” the girl asked innocently. A dark chuckle was the only answer she was going to receive on this point. “I suppose that was to be expected. What are you going to do to me?”
“I haven’t yet decided,” the king replied somewhat light-heartedly. “Though I will have a few weeks to think about it before we return to the palace.”
“You aren’t going to translocate back to the city?”
“And leave you to make your own way back I suppose? Would that end well? Would I in fact, ever see you again?”
“Papa!” Thais laughed unsteadily. Her chest still trembled when she felt her emotions growing too strong. “I have nowhere else to go. I would come home eventually you know.”
“Somehow, that does not seem to be too strong a punishment,” the king mused. For a while the pair walked on in silence.
“How did you know I was at the gates?” Thais finally asked when curiosity got the better of her. Gallus grinned broadly.
“I do believe you have your friend Mister Greenwood to thank for that.”
“Kaio! You found Kaio?” she exclaimed with joy. The king gave his daughter a sidelong glance and shook his head slightly.
“Well, not quite, I believe the young man strode right up to a group of my soldiers and threatened to fight them if they did not bring him to me. He told me where you had gone. I have to say little one…” Gallus paused and he bit the insides of his mouth. “I never thought you capable of coming this far.”
Thais hid her smile behind a stoical expression. She was sure her father had not intended this remark as a complement.
“I never would have made it on my own,” the girl replied instead. “I wasn’t as strong as I thought. I owe too many people my life and will have to spend the rest of my days repaying them for their kindness.”
“Thais, none of us are as strong as we believe,” the girl’s father spoke softly. Thais rolled her eyes. This was all very well coming from Gallus the Great, but she believed not a word of it. “You can remove that expression from your face daughter, because whether you chose to believe it or not, your father is not immortal, nor is he as strong as you think.”
In the distance four figures were emerging from the mist. Thais recognised them all and felt an enormous feeling of wellbeing spread through her tired battered body. Soon she would be home. The smallest of the figures had started running towards them. Gallus tightened his arm around Thais’ shoulders.
“If you ever go to see Alucia Dal Am again…” the words escaped the king’s throat and he shut his mouth firmly. Thais looked up in surprise, her jaw hanging. How had he found out? Gallus squeezed the girl’s shoulders painfully and Thais promptly shut her mouth. “We all make mistakes Thais. I consider this yours. Learn from it.”
Her father’s expression was set in anger. It hurt too much to know she had caused this and so Thais looked down to the ground.
“I will never go to her again papa. You have my word.”
Gallus looked up at the expansive sky and sighed heavily. Behind him the merry tunes of the Broken Horseshoe wafted out of the tavern and into the night. They had returned to civilisation once more, the little and of travellers from Titua. Thais and Kaio had been sent to bed straight after their supper while the men remained down in the bar enjoying their first tankard of ale in over two weeks. And the children had agreed readily, which aroused suspicion in the king. The pair of them had been frightfully well behaved since they left the elven city. Thais seemed to be on her best behaviour to hopefully lessen her eventual punishment when they returned to Titua.
The merriment in the tavern had been too much for Gallus’ laboured mind and he had easily withdrawn from the celebrations into the darkness. A fresh blanket of snow had turned the landscape white and with Ease Gallus was able to wander along the road to a small rocky outcrop where he made himself comfortable.
His mind had been troubled ever since his meeting with the Elf Lord. It had not gone as he had expected it to. He had fewer answers now and more questions.
“This is where it all started…” The words danced through the night sky. Yes, that is what he had told Sil’Vein.
“So you thought this is where it would all end?” Sil’Vein had spat back. “Foolish boy! It will never end!”
Gallus screwed up his face in anger and pinched his fingers into the corners of his eyes. How could it never end? If something has started, then surely it must be able to end? Or so the human believed. The elves believed something else entirely.
“What is it they say?” Gallus spoke aloud in the cold night, his breathe escaping as steam. “Oh yes, the beginning of the end. That is all they ever talk about.”
The king laughed cruelly and lay back on the snow, staring up at the stars above him. It was a beautiful night.
“The beginning of the end…the beginning of the end…the beginning of the end…”
Gallus sat up quickly, his breath caught in his chest. He was struggling to breath against the realisation that had come across him. He started to cough and splutter for air.
A firm hand clapped down on his back clearing his airways and helping him to breath. Gallus stood up quickly and wheeled around to find Selmain watching him with a concerned expression.
“Gallus,” the mage spoke wearily. “What is the matter?”
“’Tis all my fault,” the king exclaimed in shock. Selmain frowned and reached out to steady his friend, but Gallus pulled away and stalked away from the tall mage across the hillock. “I have made a terrible mistake! They knew! The Beginning of the End! That is what they call it and then that is what she called it.”
“Gallus, friend, speak plainly, I do not understand,” Selmain complained. The king turned on him and stalked forward to stand at his side once more.
“The elves, they knew that Thais would come to them one day. They knew that she would send my daughter to them and it would all begin, the prophecy! I could have prevented it. All this time I have been looking for a way to save her from it and instead I launched her straight into the middle of it. I should have told her Selmain. I should have told her why she must never go to that wretched place.”
“Gallus, stay calm,” Selmain warned. “You believe the seer knew?”
“Of course she did,” Gallus growled. “The Beginning of the End, that is what she called it on that day…she knew Selmain! She knew what she was doing when she sent my child to that city. Is it not enough that she killed my wife? Now she must ensure the rest of the damn prophecy comes true?”
“The elves knew this day would come? Mai? Did she know as well?”
Gallus’ eyes flashed with anger and he pulled away from his dear friend.
“Yes, even Mai. She spoke of it, but she never told me what it meant.”
“Perhaps she did not know,” Selmain countered passionately. “Gallus you cannot believe your wife kept this from you. She could not know what Thais’ coming to the city would mean…Have you told her?”
The king’s expression turned darker still and he sat down heavily in the snow, his face resting in his hand. Eventually he shook his head.
“No. How do I tell her Selmain? How does a father tell his child she is going to die and he has failed to protect her? How can I tell her it is all my fault?”
Selmain sighed heavily and sat down at Gallus’ side. He held no answers to these questions. He held no answers to even his own questions. So what help was he to his friend the king? He had been but a shell of his former self since the meeting with the Helvetet on the mountain road. The mage knew Gallus was aware something quite monumental had happened and that he had missed it, but it would seem the king’s worries had prevented him from breeching the subject just yet.
The time would come soon though and Selmain needed to be ready with what he was going to say. He had broken the code, but Gallus would never know this.
“Gallus,” Selmain finally spoke. “You must tell Thais the truth. Tell her about the seer and the prophecy and her mother’s death. Tell her everything. Let her live the rest of her life in light rather than darkness.”
Gallus shut his eyes and nodded meekly. Quite suddenly the great man climbed to his feet and started marching back to the tavern. Selmain watched him go, his heart heavy for his friend.
Once inside the tavern Gallus pushed through the merriment to the small staircase behind the bar. He strode up the stairs two at a time until he reached the narrow corridor. There were giggles wafting through the stale air from the very last door. Gallus approached it, his heartbeat ringing in his ears.
The whispers and giggles quietened down as he stood outside the door, his hand resting on the doorknob. Somewhere down below people were screaming with mirth. Gallus grinded his teeth together firmly before he pushed into the door. The room was gloomy, lit only by a small flame from the lantern lying between the small beds by the window. The children were on their sides, facing one another across the gap, feigning sleep with all their might.
The king was not fooled.
“Kaio,” Gallus spoke up firmly, bringing the small flame in the lantern to life and lighting the room brightly. The children sat up in time, their eyes betraying their sleepless states.
“Is everything all right papa?” Thais asked with a curious frown set into her young forehead. The king glanced to the girl and felt his resolve weakening.
“Yes,” he lied and he walked over to the children and sat down on the edge of Kaio’s bed facing Thais. “I need a word with Thais Kaio, would you mind joining Avery and Thalius for one last drink before bed?”
Kaio grinned from ear to ear and nodded fervently. He was out of the room within moments leaving Thais watching after him enviously. She did not like the expression on her father’s face, nor the way the ether had been set into motion the moment he had came to a halt outside the door.
“You’re worrying me. Have you come to tell me about my punishment?”
Despite his grave thoughts Gallus managed a small smile and he shook his head.
“No, I have come to tell you about something else. Thais, I have come to tell you about my wedding day.” For a moment Thais frowned so deeply, her nose wrinkled, but now Gallus had started he was not going to stop. “The day I wed your mother was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life. We were so in love, we did not believe anything could stand in our way. I am sure you are aware of her father’s views about our union, but we did not allow this to ruin our spirits on that day. Your mother…”
Gallus paused and he stared into the past. How beautiful Mai Avani had been that day.
“Your mother was beautiful. Just, beautiful. As we stood at the alter I felt as though I were the luckiest man alive. There was nothing that could ruin this day for me.”
Thais pulled the blankets up to her chin and stared with wide eyes at her father’s heartbroken face. She didn’t want to hear this story, she could feel it in her bones. She knew how this story ended.
“Papa,” the girl interrupted her father. Gallus looked up sharply and saw his daughter’s expression. “Please don’t carry on. Please don’t tell me.”
“Thais,” Gallus whispered and he climbed to his feet before he sat down at his daughter’s side. Gingerly the king leaned back beside his daughter and rested his arm around her trembling form. “I know it pains you, but you must hear what I have to say. I have kept it from you too long.”
Thais sniffed away the makings of her tears and nodded bravely.
“We were in temple, your mother and I, and all those hundreds of guests. The Priestess was about to declare us husband and wife when the doors to the temple were flung open. One of my dearest friends had betrayed me and there before us stood…” Gallus struggled with the name. How he loathed the seer. “There before us stood Alucia Dal Am. Before our disbelieving eyes she started to tell us about the prophecy. Should Mai and I be wed then your mother would wane and die. Any child she bore me would live but a half life and on the day of that child’s death the freedom of the northern peoples would come to an end and all civilisation would fall.”
Thais’ trembling had become more violent and though it pained him Gallus pulled her firmly to his side and carried on,
“There was more. I know you are suffering. I am sorry little one, but you must hear it all. The seer, she foretold that this child of ours would bring upon itself the Beginning of the End. The elves, they knew of this prophecy. They knew what would happen. They tried to warn us, but we did not listen. We believed our love was strong enough to prevent it from happening. We believed if we did not hear the words, if we could keep the seer from foretelling this prophecy in temple, in the eyes of Gods it would never come true. We were wrong.”
Thais sat up sharply and pulled away from her father, her tearful eyes glaring at him in accusation.
“Sil’Vein! He told me it was your fault mama died. Was he right? If you’d have stayed in Khaled-Dîn would she still be alive?” the girl demanded furiously. Gallus met her eyes and forced himself to remain calm at this mention of the Elf Lord. The girl had a right to be upset.
“That is what he believes,” Gallus replied softly. “That is not what I believe. Your mother could not have been saved had we stayed behind. She could only have been saved if I had stayed away, but we were in love Thais. I know you are too young to truly understand what that means.” The child’s lip curled in anger. “And yes, I know you hate it when I say that, but I’m afraid that this time I speak the truth.
“After the seer’s prophecy,” Thais demanded. “What happened then? You decided to have me even though you knew what would happen?”
Gallus looked away from his daughter’s angry eyes and remembered the day Mai had come to him to tell him she was having a baby. Neither could remember a time when they had been happier.
“In those days, we did not…believe…that the prophecy was real. We thought Alucia Dal Am had been sent by Sil’Vein to scare Mai into returning to Khaled-Dîn. The day your mother gave birth to you, was the happiest day of my life and for your mother it was more so. She had gone for thousands of years desperately wanting a child and finally there you were. She was afraid to touch you at first, she thought she might break you. Thais your mother could never have given up on her dream of having you.”
The tears were running down Thais’ cheeks once more.
“But then she went and died!” the girl shouted. “And the prophecy turned out to be true didn’t it?”
Gallus looked at the girl, his own eyes stinging. He nodded quickly.
“So I am going to die,” Thais uttered coldly. “I am going to bring all of civilisation to its knees. How did it happen? How did this beginning of the end happen?”
The king still stared at the girl, his expression hardening.
“Oh,” Thais exclaimed and more tears fell from her cheeks. “It was this journey wasn’t it? It was my visit to the elves. You tried to stop me…it’s my fault…”
Quite suddenly Gallus reached out and grabbed his daughter’s wrist. He pulled her to him and embraced her so tightly the girl whimpered in pain.
“No,” he spoke darkly. “No, it is my fault. I should have told you. I thought that by my going to Khaled-Dîn I could prevent the prophecy from happening. I thought the elves might be able to end the whole damn thing and in so doing I forced you to go to that place.”
Thais pulled away from her father angrily and wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“No. I should have listened.” A pair of pale blue eyes and a hooded face flashed in Thais’ mind and she hung her head heavily. “I should have listened to a lot of people. They all tried to warn me. She wanted this to happen.”
Gallus waited while his daughter fell silent and seemed for a moment to overcome a particularly angry series of thoughts. The girl’s fists were balled up and growing white.
“Who do you speak of?” he finally asked, reaching out to touch Thais’ shoulder. She looked up at him in surprise, her expression tumultuous.
“The seer. She sent me to that place. She knew and everyone warned me it was a bad idea to follow her advice, that you couldn’t hate her for no reason, but I didn’t listen. This is my fault. And it is her fault. She is truly evil. Why did she do this?”
This mention of Alucia Dal Am caught the air in Gallus’ throat and her coughed heavily. After a few moments when he had fully composed himself the king looked up into the furious eyes of his daughter.
“I know not how to reply,” he uttered quietly. “She is protected by old magic. Magic I do not understand.”
“But papa, you said there is no such thing.”
“She is protected by the Gods Thais, she is protected by the Mother.”
“Eoni? She protects the seer? Papa! I don’t understand.” The girl threw her hands up to her face to hide her frustration. Why would the wife of Aius, king of the gods, protect a vile old woman who had tried to destroy the House of Apollo?
“The seer is a witch Thais.”
The girl’s hands dropped from her face and she stared awe-struck into her father’s face.
“She is protected by Eoni’s magic. There is nothing I can do that can touch her and she will never leave. She will never die. There is nothing I can do.”
Silence wrapped itself around the sorrowful pair upon the bed and for a moment Thais let her head drop forward, her eyes tightly shut.
“So what happens now?” she asked dejectedly. Gallus shook his head.
“I do not know.”
“Will I know?” the child asked before her face contorted for a moment into agony. “Will I know when the end is near?”
The king shook his head brusquely and he reached out to wrap his hand around the back of Thais’ neck. He gripped it firmly, trying to infuse the girl with strength. She would need it in the times to come.
“I promise you Thais, I will do everything in my power to protect you from it. A prophecy is not set in stone. You have the power to break free from it. Let the end come in good time. Do not welcome it to your door with self-pitying thoughts.”
The child nodded, slowly at first, but then with more fervour.
“I’ll try papa,” Thais promised. “I don’t want to be responsible for the end of the world after all.”
There was a slight smile on the girl’s face and for the first time in his life as a father Gallus realised he was looking into the eyes of a person far braver than himself. Where he had run from the prophecy and fought it the girl accepted it and welcomed it into her world.
“No,” the king exclaimed through a heavy sigh. “You my girl, you are going to be the beginning of a new one.”