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Chapter 9

Slowly, Jasen made the transition from sleep to wakefulness. Blinking open his eyes, he gazed in surprise at his strange surroundings. He was in a huge tent lying on a grass mat padded with furs and hand woven blankets; more of the brightly colored blankets covered him. His body felt sluggish as if he had slept a long time. Jasen frowned. How had he come to this place and, more importantly, just where was he? He vividly remembered encountering the Centaurs and the battle for Hawk’s life. Everything else was cloudy. He had a vague recollection of being carried by Chauras and had the Centaur called him friend? He wasn’t quite sure what was truth and what was dream.

Glancing around the room he spotted Hawk. His friend, still asleep, was lying on a bed similar to his on the far side of the tent. A white bandage was wrapped around Hawk’s head and more strips of white cloth securely bound his right shoulder and chest. It looked as if someone had rendered medical assistance to the wounded shapeshifter.

Jasen’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of hooves outside. The tent flap was pulled aside and Chauras entered, carrying a large coffee pot and a stone mug. He smiled when he saw that Jasen was awake. The large Centaur walked over and knelt beside the bed.

“Good morning, or rather good afternoon. How do you feel?” Pouring a cup full of coffee Chauras set the pot aside and offered the cup to Jasen. “Here, your lady said that you are partial to this brew. I believe you call it coffee. She said you do not fully awaken without it.”

“Yes, thank you.” Pushing himself into a sitting position Jasen accepted the cup. Taking a sip, he studied the Centaur. He could detect nothing false about the creature. His sudden friendliness was not an act. Jasen was puzzled. What could have happened to so change the Centaur’s attitude toward him?

Chauras watched the stranger with amusement. Jasen was clearly confused by his change of attitude, and could find no plausible reason. It amused the Centaur to be one up on the extraordinary man before him. Chauras’s amusement changed to concern as he remembered his discussion with Tivonna. From all that the elemental had told him of Jasen, he could well understand the telepath’s misgivings. He had taken a big risk to save his friend. He had expected Chauras and the other Centaurs to react with fear and loathing. Their sudden friendship must be hard for the man to understand. Chauras was amazed that sentient beings could so mistreat one of the Wise Ones. Well, he would suffer no such indignation here.

Jasen finished his coffee and placed the cup on the ground beside the bed. Fixing the Centaur with calm golden eyes, he asked the question upper most in his mind. “Why?”

Chauras met his gaze. He understood exactly what Jasen was asking. “Because, you are one of the Wise Ones.”

“I don’t understand. Who are the Wise Ones, and what makes you think that I am one of them?”

“I had better start at the beginning.” Chauras made himself comfortable. This could take a while. “When you first came here, I saw you as just another human; an extraordinary one, true, but still just a human. When you went to care for your friend, I watched you.”

Jasen stiffened. “And what did you see?”

Chauras smiled. “I saw a legend come to life.” Seeing Jasen’s puzzled expression, he continued. “Oh, I admit when I first saw what you were doing I was frightened, but then I remembered the old stories and I knew what you were. I confronted your lady. She was very stubborn and refused to answer my questions at first, but after hearing the story of the Wise Ones, she gave me the information I sought. I know that you are a telepath and that you are not from this world. I also know that you are the last of your kind, and that fills me with great sadness.”

“Why? Telepaths are not well loved. Most people would be glad that we are gone. You do not hate or fear me, why?”

“Because I know who you are. Long ago, my people lived on a world in the Gamma3 star system. We had no technology even then. One day our planet’s orbit became unstable. As our planet drifted out of its natural orbit, destruction ranged across our world. It would soon destroy itself and us. Then the Wise Ones came in their golden ships. They came to help. They had much learning and a technology beyond our greatest imagining. They also possessed tremendous powers, powers of the mind. They used those powers to save my people. Many of the Wise Ones died transferring their vital energy to the sick and injured. When I saw you giving your life to your friend, I remembered the legend. Then, I knew how you had beaten me. It was impossible for a human, but not for someone possessing the mind powers of the Wise Ones.” Chauras leaned forward eagerly. “Are you truly of the Wise Ones?”

Jasen stared at the Centaur stunned. He had read the historical records of how his people had saved the Centaurs, but no one had ever dreamed that the Centaurs would remember that time or that they would revere the race that had saved them. In a hushed voice, he answered the expectant Centaur. “Yes, Chauras, I am of that race or rather was. My world no longer exists and, as far as I know, no other survived its destruction.”

Chauras nodded his head, sadness mirrored on his face. “Your lady told me of the destruction of your world and of your quest. It makes it all the more vital that I and my people aid you now.”

“Chauras, I thank you for your help but you don’t owe me anything.”

“Nay! From long ago, the legend has been carefully preserved and handed down to each generation, along with a charge to be ready to aid any of the Wise Ones we may meet. You are the last. It is my duty, my privilege, to help you in any way I can.”

Jasen lowered his head, touched by the Centaur’s words. It had been a long time since his race had been met with respect, instead of contempt. “Thank you.”

Chauras studied the man closely. Jasen possessed all that was good and noble in his people. That anyone would throw away such a one as this filled the Centaur with anger. He could not lessen the burden of life in a cruel galaxy, but he could offer sanctuary. Choosing his words carefully he made his offer. “The galaxy beyond Mystra’s barrier is dangerous for one of your kind. They would destroy you if they knew what you are. I cannot change how the universe views telepaths, but I can offer you the friendship of my people. Know that you always have a place here with us. Anytime you want or need a safe haven you will be welcomed. You are clan brother, now and forever.”

Jasen shook his head in wonder. This day was turning out to be filled with wonders. He didn’t know how to answer the Centaur. “Chauras, I don’t know what to say. Thank you, I am honored. I will try to never betray your trust or to bring dishonor on the clan.”

The huge Centaur smiled. He was right. This one was worthy to be made a part of the clan. “It is little enough to repay you for the lives of my kind. Now, how about some food? I promised your lady I would see you well fed and cared for. She has gone to divert an earthquake nearby. I do not want her to return and find you neglected. I, for one, do not wish to face her wrath.”

Jasen laughed. “Then let’s by all means eat. I would hate to see such a fate befall your kind and generous people.”

Laughing, the two left the tent and headed for the cook fire. Chauras watched the man who he now called friend and shook his head in amazement. Fate had indeed been kind. After generations of waiting, the Wise Ones walked among them again. At long last, honor could be satisfied and the debt repaid, at least in part. He could not wait to introduce Jasen to the tribal council. Chauras’s name would go down in legend.

Tivonna searched the ground around her for signs of weakness; a large quake was building. The shockwave would travel north toward the Centaurs’ main camp and wreck untold damage on the nomadic tribe, unless she could divert its force away from the area. Vaguely, she wondered why the elemental assigned to this quadrant had not already taken care of the problem. Oh well, she would worry about her missing sister later. For now, she would deal with the situation herself.

As Tivonna’s senses probed the earth, her mind turned to the unusual events of the past day. Jasen and Hawk were both out of danger, and the Centaurs had accepted them as friends. ivonna laughed; if anyone had told her that she would one day be staying in a Centaur camp as an honored guest, she would have thought them crazy; but here she was helping protect the Centaurs’ home.

She sighed. It was all because of Jasen. Her love for the mysterious star traveler grew stronger with each facet of his character she uncovered. She had been astonished to learn of his people’s unselfish aid of the Centaurs. Yet, when she thought about it, things were not as farfetched as they sounded. Ever since she had met the telepath, he had been engaged in helping others, often to his own detriment. First, herself, then Gaius, and now Hawk. Each time, he had risked himself to aid another. His mission to Mystra was another example. He came here to help save a galaxy, not for any personal gain. She would have to watch him in the future. His compassionate, self‑sacrificing reverence for life could get him killed if he wasn’t careful. She would have to help protect him from himself.

As Tivonna reviewed the past, she felt a thrill of joy. Jasen had trusted her and had turned to her for help. He had spoken to her, mind to mind. The sensation had been strange but not unpleasant. It gave her hope. She was certain he did not take such liberties with just anyone, maybe with Hawk, but not with others. That he had accepted her and confided in her filled Tivonna with an inexplicable excitement. His wall was weakening. Oh, when he thought about it, he maintained his distance; but when a crisis had come, he had instinctively reached out to her. He was more hers than he knew. Hawk had been right; it was only a matter of time.

Tivonna’s thoughts were diverted by a tingling sensation along her body. Her senses had finally located what she sought. A faint fault ran west away from the main fault line. By diverting the stresses along this secondary crack, she could relieve the underground pressure without endangering the Centaurs. Joining herself to the earth beneath her, Tivonna reached out and tapped into the underground forces. Molding the earth to her will, she closed off the fault line leading to the Centaurs’ camp and opened a path to the secondary crack, leading away from the inhabited areas of the plain.

Tivonna savored the power coursing through her veins. She delighted in the feel of the earth sliding and moving in obedience to her will. This was the danger of the elemental. The siren song of power urged her to surrender herself to the elemental forces swirling around her and become one with the power she wielded. She would not answer that call. Another stronger power sang in her mind, the power of her kiosan. She could not leave him.

When all was as she wished it, Tivonna withdrew from the earth. The new fault line was now firmly established and the old one filled in completely. The Centaurs would never have to fear another earthquake again. With a smile of satisfaction, Tivonna and her escort headed back to camp where Jasen would be waiting for her.

Hawk groaned and struggled to open his eyes. He had been having the weirdest dream. Prizing his eyes open, he scanned his surroundings. Maybe, it hadn’t been a dream after all. He was in a tent and, from the bandages around his chest, he must have been hurt. He didn’t remember coming here or being wounded. What had happened, and where were Jasen and Tivonna? The confused Filidae continued his study of the room, and froze as his gaze fell on the large, fearsome looking creature standing at the entrance to the tent. Hearing Hawk’s movements, the creature turned and walked toward the bed.

Seeing that the visitor was awake and lucid, the Centaur smiled. “Welcome back to the world of the living. How do you feel?”

Hawk stared at the mythological being before him. “Are you real or have I lost it totally?”

The Centaur laughed. “No friend, I am quite real. I see that you are truly back with us. I will summon the Wise One. He has been most anxious about you.”

The large creature turned and left the tent, leaving a puzzled and slightly bemused Hawk behind. Centaurs? And who was the Wise One? What had been happening? He felt like he was suddenly in another dimension.

Hawk’s thoughts were interrupted as the tent flap was lifted and Jasen entered. Hawk was stunned. There were dark circles under the telepath’s eyes. What could have happened to leave Jasen in such a state? He had a sneaking suspicion that his friend’s condition was somehow tied to him and his wound. It would be just like the telepath to endanger his own life to save a friend.

Jasen smiled and sat down on the edge of Hawk’s bed. “Well, well, you finally decided to join us. Have a good nap?”

“Oh, just lovely, but it looks like you’re the one who needs a nap. You look horrible.”

“Why, thank you so much for the compliment.” The amusement left Jasen’s eyes and he studied his friend closely. “Are you sure you’re all right? You gave us quite a scare.”

“Everything seems to be in working order. Jase, what happened? Where are we and how in the world did you find Centaurs of all things?”

Jasen sighed. “It’s a long story.”

“I don’t seem to be going anywhere.”

Jasen laughed and shook his head. It was good to have Hawk back. There had been a time when he had feared he would never again be the victim of his friend’s quick wit; but that time was now over. Hawk was going to be just fine. Taking a deep breath, he brought the Filidae up to date.

“Whew! And I missed all that?”

“Well, people who go flying off into strange territory and then fail to pay attention to their surroundings usually get to miss the fun.”

“OK, OK, so next time I’ll be more careful and less impulsive.”

“Hah, that’ll be the day. Now, think you can eat something?Chauras has been a most gracious host.”

At Hawk’s nod, Jasen rose and went to the tent opening. Lifting the flap, he turned and grinned at his bedridden friend. “Don’t go away now. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Hawk scowled; he hated being helpless. “Yeah, I’ll try not to run any foot races until you get back.”

Chuckling, Jasen left the tent. Hawk lay staring at the exit through which his friend had left. There was more to this story than Jasen was telling. Such as how hard the battle for Hawk’s mind had been. Losing control of a form was a danger every shapeshifter faced. The primitive instincts and emotions of a wild animal were hard to control. Having to confront those forces without the aid of the shapeshifter, was no small task. No wonder Jasen looked so tired. For the millionth time, Hawk thanked the Creator for such a friend.

Moments later, Jasen entered the tent, followed by a young warrior carrying a large blanket. Jasen smiled wickedly at him. “We decided that some fresh air would do you good.” Before Hawk realized what was happening, the young warrior advanced and scooped him up in the warm blanket.

“Put me down! I can walk, thank you, it’s my shoulder that’s hurt not my legs!” Having to be carried through the camp was humiliating.

“Now Hawk, people who go around getting themselves shot have to suffer the consequences. So, be a good boy, and behave yourself.” Holding open the tent flap, Jasen grinned as the warrior carried the irate Filidae from the tent. It wouldn’t hurt Hawk to suffer a little embarrassment. It served him right for nearly scaring Jasen to death.

Seeing his friend’s amusement, Hawk relented. The truth was that he still felt weak and unsteady. Besides, it was good to hear Jasen laugh. Hawk wasn’t the only one who had had a close call. He could suffer the indignation for such a worthy cause. He just hoped Tivonna didn’t see or he would never live this down.

The young Centaur deposited his burden in a nest of warm furs beside the campfire. The Centaurs had constructed ingenious chairs for their non-equine guests from packs and furs. They could lean back comfortably and still remain upright. Settling into his chair, Hawk watched the activity going on around him.

Jasen sank into a seat on Hawk’s right and pulled a brightly colored blanket around his shoulders to ward off the night chill. A large roan colored Centaur knelt to Hawk’s left and offered him a bowl of stew. He gratefully accepted the bowl. Suddenly, he was ravenous and the stew smelled wonderful.

Chauras watched his guest with something akin to wonder. He had heard of the Filidae, but had never before seen one of the mysterious race. None of their race had come to Mystra; still the stories of their accomplishments were well known even on this no tech world. The Filidae were a legend throughout the universe. Most of the technological wonders of the day were due to them. Without them, many races of the Alliance would have perished and few, if any, would have reached the stars. They were very much like the Wise Ones. It was no wonder that Jasen and the Filidae were friends. Chauras shuddered. To think that he had almost killed this one, he put the grim thought behind him. That was the past, he must concentrate on the future. It was a time of change for Mystra. A Filidae and a Wise One walked her land and he, Chauras, was a part of it. He glanced at Hawk. His first task however was to make amends for his earlier folly.

“I am glad you are recovering. I am Chauras. I fear I am the cause of your injuries. I am sorry. I did not know you were something other than you appeared.”

Hawk looked up at the Centaur and smiled. “Forget it. I should have been more cautious, as I keep getting reminded. You are just fortunate that Jasen came along when he did. Filidae are very unappetizing. Too tough, I would have made a lousy stew. This however is delicious.”

Chauras laughed. “We are indeed fortunate.”

Placing his empty bowl on the ground beside him, Hawk surveyed the camp. “By the way where is Tivonna? She didn’t get tired of you and run off did she?”

Jasen chuckled. “What and leave such splendid company? No she is dealing with the small problem of an earthquake. It seems while we were napping she decided to do some work.”

“Well, someone has to work. You two certainly don’t.”

Startled, the men watched as Tivonna walked toward them. She had silently approached the camp and had stood quietly listening to the ongoing discussion. Smiling at their startled faces, she stepped forward into the light of the fire.

Jasen’s eyes twinkled with amusement. She was getting as bad as Hawk. “Welcome home. Come join us. I’ll even share my blanket.”

Tivonna circled the fire, walked over and sat down near Jasen. Pulling her into his arms, Jasen snuggled the blanket securely around them both. Tivonna smiled to herself. Being an elemental she was immune to both heat and cold. But sitting here leaning comfortably against Jasen’s chest with his arms around her and his chin resting on her auburn hair, she wasn’t about to spoil this moment by telling him. Instead, she gloried in the feel of being held safely in his arms. He had missed her.

Holding Tivonna close, Jasen felt contented, and his tensed muscles unwound a little. Hawk had been right; he was still tired but he just couldn’t seem to sleep anymore, too many thoughts kept running through his mind. There was so much to do, and little time. As Jasen sat with Tivonna cuddled near, a lassitude began to steal over him and the problems of the galaxy didn’t seem to weigh as heavily as before.

Hawk watched the two, elemental and telepath, and smiled. Yes, Jasen’s wall was definitely cracking. His friend had been under a tremendous strain ever since reaching Mystra. Part of that strain was due to his resisting his feelings for Tivonna. Over the past few days, she had managed to convince Jasen that she did not fear his powers or hate him. Still, the telepath would still not admit his love for her. His mind told him that loving him was wrong for the elemental, while his heart yearned for her. From the looks of things Jasen’s heart was finally winning out over his head. A little privacy might just finish the job. Hawk hoped so; he didn’t know how much longer his friend could survive his inner battle.

Hawk turned and addressed Chauras. “Thank you for the meal, but I seem to be weaker than I thought. Could you help me back to bed?”

Glancing at the oblivious couple, the Centaur smiled. “It would be my pleasure to assist you.” Scooping his guest up in his arms, the Centaur carried Hawk back to his tent, leaving Jasen and Tivonna alone by the fire.

The couple sat together in companionable silence for many minutes, staring into the dying fire. Neither wanted to be the first to shatter this rare moment. Finally, Tivonna turned in Jasen’s arms so that she could see his face. He looked tired but the wary, watchful look was not in his eyes. For one of the few times since she had known him, Jasen was unguarded. Tentatively, she reached up and brushed her fingertips along his cheek. “Are you sure you are all right?”

Jasen smiled at the worried expression on the beautiful face turned trustingly up to his. The green eyes were full of concern. “I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong that another good night’s sleep won’t cure. I had to transfer a great deal of energy to Hawk to stabilize his system and speed up the healing process. Sleep will restore my reserves, honest.”

“I believe you. But if sleep is what you need, why are you awake?”

Jasen chuckled. “I wish I knew. I just can’t seem to let go. Any suggestions?”

Tivonna’s eyes sparkled. “Maybe.” Leaving Jasen’s embrace, she tugged at his arms until he vacated the chair. Settling into the abandoned seat, she patted the ground next to her. “Lie down here and put your head in my lap.” Seeing the surprised and doubtful expression on Jasen’s face, she laughed. “Come on. I don’t bite. Trust me.”

Shrugging, Jasen complied.

“Turn on your side.” As Jasen obeyed, Tivonna began to gently massage his neck, back and shoulders. She had often watched her mother do this for her father when he had had an especially trying day and couldn’t sleep. After a few minutes, Tivonna felt the muscles beneath her hands relax. She was sure that Jasen had fallen asleep, when he spoke.

“Tivonna, have you ever thought about marriage?”

Tivonna quickly suppressed her surprise. Could he finally be ready to express his feelings for her? She chose her answer carefully. “Yes, I have often dreamed of one day finding a man I could love and respect and who would return my feelings. Why do you ask?”

Jasen turned over and gazed up into Tivonna’s emerald eyes. She was stunned by the expression on his face, and the feelings mirrored in his golden eyes. There was so much pain and love in those eyes.

“I don’t want to stand in the way of your happiness. I have nothing to offer you except a life of uncertainty.”

Tivonna shook her auburn head. “Oh, Jasen, do you not realize that my happiness comes from being with you? Nothing else matters. And as for finding another, it is impossible even if I wanted to; which I do not.”

“I don’t understand. What do you mean impossible?”

“An elemental cannot choose who she marries, any more than she can choose where she lives. Jasen, my soul has picked you; no other is possible or desirable for me. No man may touch an elemental except her kiosan; it is death to any other.”

Jasen was stunned. “But...”

Tivonna pressed her fingers to his lips stopping his words. “I want you to listen carefully. This is not a burden or a curse. There is no one else I desire. I love you, not because you are my kiosan but because you are you. Is that clear? I put no ties on you. You are free to follow your heart. Whatever you decide, my heart is yours now and always, and nothing you say or do will ever change that. I am in love with you, Jasen Blackthorn. No other will do for me.”

In stunned wonder, Jasen reached up and brushed the tears from Tivonna’s cheeks. She meant it, all of it. She truly loved him. Sitting up, Jasen gathered her carefully into his arms as if afraid to break the spell and find out that it was all a dream. The warmth of the body held snuggly in his arms proved that this was no dream. She was real as was her love. Jasen leaned forward and gently kissed her. Leaning back, he met her bright green eyes and smiled. “And I love you. I know it’s crazy. I know I shouldn’t but I don’t care. I can’t fight it anymore. I want you with me always. I am sorry for the way I’ve been treating you. I just couldn’t believe that you could love me. Then, I saw Hawk lying there near death and I finally realized what was truly important. The future doesn’t matter; none of us may live past today. I don’t want to waste the gift of your love by fearing things that may never come to pass. Besides, you’ve seen me at my worst and are still here. If I haven’t sent you fleeing in terror by now, I doubt that I will. I still don’t think it’s fair to you, but then I’m selfish. I don’t want to lose you. Tivonna, when this mess is over, if we survive, I would like you to be my wife. Think it over carefully, it would mean leaving this world and all you know to brave the dangers beyond Mystra’s skies.”

Gazing at the man before her so strong yet so vulnerable Tivonna’s heart soared with joy, at last. Throwing her arms around him she gasped out her reply. “Oh, Jasen, there is nothing to think about. I would go anywhere to be with you. I will be glad to be your wife. No more talk about it not being fair to me. You are everything I need or want.”

Jasen ended the embrace and held up a hand to still her excitement. “Before you make up your mind, there is something you must know. When telepaths marry, they are joined by more than words. They are bonded in mind, as well as body. You have felt our link. What we share now can be broken without undue consequences for either of us, but a marriage bond is for life. It can be broken only by death. Could you bear having me permanently in your head?”

Tivonna met Jasen’s eyes calmly. How could a smart man be so stupid? “I know you. I don’t fear the bond. The only thing I fear is losing you. Now, what are you really afraid of?” She held up her right hand and fire raced along her arm, wreathing her elemental tattoo in golden flames. “I am not a weak maid who needs protecting from the things in the dark. You are not here to protect me, but to protect others from me. We are soul bonded, there is no stronger link. We are already joined until death do us part. If you have some dark secret you are afraid the bonding will reveal, you might as well tell me now for I will always be at your side.”

Jasen searched her face intently and opened his receptors to her thoughts and feelings. She meant it. She would gladly face anything to be with him. Jasen was filled with awe. He did not deserve such a woman. With a sigh, he prepared to reveal his greatest fear.

Sensing the import of what he was about to say, Tivonna extinguished the flames and gave him her undivided attention.

“I have very little memory of my world. I’ve read the ship’s records, but I have little firsthand knowledge of where I come from. I was young when Jake found me, but even with a damaged memory I had full control of my telepathy and telekinesis. Sensing and manipulating energy is instinctive. I obviously received extensive training at an early age, but I can’t remember the lessons. It’s like there’s a barrier in my mind. Something or someone blocked much of my power when I was very young. I have to wonder, why? Was I such a dangerous child that they felt the need to hobble me? If so, what might I do if the barrier fails? I could kill you or Hawk. If you are linked fully to me, I could destroy your mind.”

“Do you remember anything of your family?”

“Snatches, I think they loved me, but I also made them uneasy.”

Tivonna nodded. “Jase, would you give a baby an unsecured weapon and hope that he doesn’t injure himself or another? No, you keep the weapons secured and out of the hands of the young or untrained. It’s much the same with power. If you developed strong gifts early, the adults in your life would try to protect you and themselves by binding your gifts until you were old enough to use them safely. I doubt the barrier was meant to stay in place this long. But, you had to flee your world and with no other telepaths around there was no one to remove it. The fact that you are afraid of what your power can do tells me that you are not the type to misuse it. I’ve touched your soul. You have nothing to fear. If the barrier falls, you will be ready for whatever happens. Now, if I go power crazy and run amok, you must promise to stop me and I’ll do the same for you. Deal?”

Jasen shook his head in amazement. “You are truly a wonder.”

“And don’t you forget it, mister.” Tivonna fixed her future mate with a stern gaze. “We will survive this quest and then we will be married. Though I have to warn you, I am very jealous. You are mine and I do not share.”

“I consider myself warned.”

Lighter in spirit than he had been in a long time, Jasen rose and pulled Tivonna to her feet. “Now, I think it is time to rest. I believe I can finally sleep.”

Arm in arm, the couple walked to their tent. Jasen laughed. “I can’t wait to see Hawk’s face when we tell him.”

“Better wait until he recovers. I would hate to have him die of shock.” Tivonna continued in a more serious tone. “He cares deeply for you. He will be pleased.”

“I know. I don’t know how I rated the good fortune to have the two of you. It is more than I ever dreamed possible.”

“Hawk and I are equally fortunate to have you. Now, not another word: sleep!” Entering the tent, Tivonna pushed Jasen toward his bed. “I do not want to hear another word until morning. That is an order.”

Giving a mock salute, Jasen obediently headed for his sleeping mat. Lying back on the thick furs, he opened the bond linking him to Tivonna and sent his love and joy winging through the darkness into her mind. As sleep stole over him, he felt Tivonna’s own feelings echo back along the link. With a smile of contentment, Jasen finally let his weary body slide into sleep.

Across the room, Tivonna smiled as she felt Jasen relax into slumber. She savored the bond between them. She was still amazed that he had actually feared that he would hurt her with his power. Everything she had seen and felt until now proved the exact opposite. Jasen would never do anything to harm her or cause her discomfort. It was not in his nature. She smiled. At long last, he had finally admitted that he loved her. More than that, he had actually asked her to marry him. Clutching the warmth of Jasen’s presence to her, Tivonna slipped into a gentle sleep.

Jasen awoke the next morning to find both Tivonna and Hawk already up and about. He quickly rose and went in search of the missing twosome. The night’s sleep had fully restored his energy and he felt ready for anything. He found Hawk and Tivonna with Chauras, eating breakfast by the cook fire. “Good morning, is there anything left for me or did you three finish it all off?”

Watching Jasen approach, Hawk grinned and held up a bowl. “Oh, we saved you a little. I know how grumpy you get if you’re not fed.”

While Jasen ate his breakfast, Hawk studied his friend closely. Jasen looked good; the night’s rest had refreshed him but it was more than that. He looked as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Hawk glanced over at Tivonna. Yes, she looked different too, like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary. What had happened last night?

While Hawk was pondering the sudden change in Jasen and Tivonna, Chauras carefully examined his three guests. Hawk was almost well. Jasen’s healing touch had intensified and speeded up the healing process, to the point that now only a stiff shoulder remained to trouble the Filidae. He was fit to travel and both Tivonna and Jasen appeared to be rested. It was time to discuss the future. “Well, since you three appear to be fully recovered from your ordeal, my people and I will be returning to our main camp today. You are welcome to travel with us if you wish. The plains can be dangerous to those unfamiliar with them. You will have a place in our village for as long as you care to stay.”

Jasen considered the Centaur’s offer. Since he and Hawk knew little about the local terrain, native guides could be useful. Also, someone in Chauras’s village might know where the laboratory was located. Chauras had mentioned a shaman who kept the tribe’s records. It wouldn’t hurt to check. “Thank you, we are headed north anyway. It’d be a pleasure to have company. Besides, I would like a chance to speak to your shaman. He might have information which will aid us in our search.”

“Excellent, I will see that your mounts are readied.”

While Chauras left to supervise the breaking of camp, Hawk turned to face Jasen and Tivonna. “OK, who’s going to tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Jasen gave him a puzzled expression. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Tivonna smothered a giggle. If she didn’t know better, she would have sworn Jasen was totally baffled. Hawk, on the other hand, was not buying it for a second.

Hawk folded his arms across his chest and looked from Tivonna to Jasen. “It won’t work. I know something happened last night. It’s written all over you two and I’m not letting either of you alone until you tell me, so give.”

Unable to hold his pose any longer Jasen broke into a wide grin. “OK, you win.” Reaching over, he grasped Tivonna’s hand. “Hawk, last night I asked Tivonna to marry me and she said yes. Want to be best man?”

“Do I want to be best man? Just you try and stop me! Jase, this is terrific!” Hawk fairly bounced with excitement. “This is great! It’s about time you came to your senses, though why Tivonna would have you I can’t imagine. When’s the wedding?”

“Whoa boy, take it easy.” Jasen chuckled. It had been a long time since he had seen his heart brother this enthusiastic about anything. “The wedding is on hold until after this mission is over. Unfortunately, we just can’t spare the time a full joining would take. Besides, I would like Tivonna’s parents to be present. After all, I can’t very well steal her away off planet without letting them know what’s happened.”

“Well, at least you won’t be able to complain that you had a boring engagement. It’s not every couple who gets to save the universe while planning their nuptials.”

“I don’t think boredom is something any of us have to worry about for a long, long time. Mystra seems determined to keep throwing us one surprise after another. Speaking of which, it’s about time to see what she has in store for us next. Let’s pack! I’d hate to keep our guides waiting.”

Hawk glanced at the huge Centaurs busily dismantling the camp around them. “Good idea, the last person I want to have mad at me is a Centaur.”

Tivonna rose gracefully to her feet. “Why Hawk, they are really very sweet, just stay out of bow range.”

“Yeah right.”

Chuckling, the three friends headed for their tent to collect their packs. Tivonna and Jasen may have resolved their differences, but the Firehawks remained.

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