"When I left, my kind and the dragons were close to declaring war on each other. Now look at them," Jennicor says with a wry laugh.
"You're sure that's a dragon she's lying with?" Suchandra asks doubtfully. In his experience, recent though it may be, dragons are much larger, and very lizard-like.
"I told you, they have a form much like our own, which they'd attempted to keep a secret," Jennicor replies, then turns to the sleeping pair who'd taken shelter from the rain beneath a makeshift canopy. "Tania," she calls, poking at her sister's arm.
"Another fairy," Tegan growls unhappily, waking only moments before Tania beside him.
"Jennicor," Tania says in surprise when her eyes open, "Where have you been all these years? And who is this you've brought home with you?"
"I've seen the world, sister. There are more varieties of our kind scattered across the lands than you can imagine. This is Suchandra, a gandharva, and he's come with me as an emissary from his king. Dragons have appeared in his lands, dragons that came originally from here. Did the fae drive them out?"
"Hardly," Tegan answers, "Our leaders decided against war, but there were some nests who would not live the decision, so they broke off and left."
"And they've been wreaking destruction wherever they go," Jennicor frowns, "The world burns in their wake. They moved far to the east, to where Suchandra's people live, and they've attacked, unprovoked."
Tegan shakes his head sadly, "I feared it would be so," he sighed, "Aithne has gone mad."
"My king sent me to find aid, help from those who had fought these beasts before," Suchandra says, "But you are saying your fae did not actually war with the dragons here at all."
"Beasts?" Tegan growls, then laughs harshly, "Aye, I suppose that's justified, given what you've seen of us. If you're looking for experienced warriors capable of fighting dragons, it's dragons you should turn to, not these fickle fae."
"You think dragons will fight their own to aid Suchandra's people?" Jennicor asks.
"I will," Tegan answers, his jaw set in a grim line, "And I know others who would join such a cause."
"Take me to them," Suchandra requests.
The sun rose and the rain dried as they made Tegan lead Jennicor and Suchandra to Aymeri's camp, where Suchandra explained the situation and made his case for help.
"We have vast armies," Suchandra says, "The might of the gandharva, the yaksha, even the rakshasa have gathered together to fight the invaders. But it is not enough. The dragons burn our forests, and we spend all our magic fighting the fires, and not those who caused them."
"My king, Chitrasena, offers great rewards for any who will join us. Jewels, gold, the finest weapons...we will see you well paid."
"I require no reward to do what must be done," Aymeri says, "Aithne and her followers must be stopped, and it must be dragons that stop them. I will go with you, and I will find other dragons willing to join this fight."
"I'm going to go with them," Talfryn whispers, squeezing Evenfall's hand.
"I know," she sighs. She knew it as soon as the gandharva plead his case that her Talfryn would be among the first volunteers.
"We avoided this war once, now you wish to seek it out?" Riain asks Aymeri in private.
"They are our kind, and they are our responsibility," Aymeri says, "I know you have no heart for battle, brother. Stay here and protect our nest."
"Let's bring this to the council," Tegan suggests, "If I know my mother, she'll commit her entire nest to bringing Aithne down."
Aymeri nods, "Let me have words with Ico, then we can be off."
"If you go, I will go with you," Evenfall tells Talfryn.
"To war?" he asks, "It will be ugly."
"I know," she answers, "But I can only protect you if I am near you."
"I would miss you, if we were apart," the young dragon admits.
"Is it true, Auberon has slept these many years?" Jennicor asks of Ico. Tania would not come with her sister to the dragon's nest, but she did tell her about Auberon's condition before they set off.
"Tania's curse was very specific, he will not awaken until his mortal lover, Evenfall's mother, dies," Ico tells her.
"I had hoped to get his aid most of all," Jennicor sighs, "With his power behind us...."
Ico shakes her head, "Even if he were awake, you'd likely get no help from him."
"We'll see," Jennicor replies.
"Evenfall means to go with Talfryn to this war," Ico says quietly, "Perhaps I should go with you."
"You don't want to," Aymeri observes.
"No, I don't. I don't want to be separated from you, but I have no desire to walk into a war, to see what Jennicor has seen, the burning forests, the death."
"Then you should stay, my love. I will not be away for long."
"If you are away too long, I might have to follow you," Ico says playfully, trying to hide her distress.
"As you can see, I cannot help you, Winterdream. The curse your sister cast on me ties me to the dream realm," Auberon says when Jennicor is done with the tale of her travels and made her request for his aid.
"You do not expect me to believe that some curse of my sister's could truly hold you prisoner. A lesser fae, certainly, but I know you too well, Nightshroud. You are no prisoner."
Auberon nods, "You do know me well," he admits, "And so you must know that I won't join some foreign war that I have no stake in. I protect our own, but I don't go looking for war."
"The gandharva are our kind," Jennicor says, "And the dragons will wipe them out if you don't help."
Auberon shrugs, "They are not my concern."
"Are you truly so heartless?" Jennicor asks, growing exasperated, "If you care nothing for others...what if the dragons destroy all and then return here?"
"If they return, I will fight them. But not before," Auberon says.
Jennicor rises angrily, "With your power, you could put a quick end to this destruction."
"I have said I will not go," Auberon says. Jennicor rolls her eyes in frustration. "Tell me, in your travels, have you ever met with a girl called Jennail? Or heard of a House Tricou?"
"What? No, I have met or heard of neither. Why?"
Auberon shakes his head, "Nothing you need concern yourself with. I have made a promise that is yet unfulfilled, that is all."
It was a project of many years, to quarry the stone and move it here, to arrange the circle, the stones aligned perfectly so the shadows would properly mark the days. In his dreams, the circle of stones emanated a magical energy, a power that Auberon told him came not from the stones themselves, but was something Kvornan invested into them. He did not understand at first, but as he's made this place the center of his practice, the place where he brings his people to honor the spirits, the place where he leaves his body when he takes his spirit walks, the place where he teaches his young niece the ways of the sprit talker, he's felt how the magic lingers here now, how his use of the place has indeed invested it with a power it could never has on its own.
"You are ready, Zamira," Kvornan decides, "It is time you took your first spirit walk."
"I am ready, uncle," Zamira agrees.
"First, you must gather the ingredients. You know what you need?"
"Of course, uncle, I remember all you have taught me."
Kvornan smiles. His father had seen her ability when she was still a child, and Kvornan had nursed it and taught her well ever since. Zamira would be spirit talker after him. "Go then, and make your preparations. At the next moon's turning, you will walk with the spirits."
Kvornan lingers after Zamira has gone, and is soon joined by the sister he so rarely sees. "Evie," he calls, smiling as she flits about him.
"Was that Kairi's daughter I just saw leaving?" Evenfall asks, taking her regular form, "She has grown so much!"
"She is almost a woman," Kvornan tells her, "I've been training her in the ways of the spirit talker, and she'll be making her first journey soon."
"You still have no children of your own? No mate?" Evenfall asks, sad to think of her half-brother's lonesome life.
"No," Kvornan says, and makes no further excuse or explanation. He's sought his Jennail in every spirit journey he's taken since he met her, he's begged the spirits for just another glimpse of her, but to no avail. Still, he cannot give up hope, and cannot give his heat or his life to another so long as she is in his thoughts. "You did not come to ask after me," he continues. Since she left to live with her father's people, Evenfall's visits become more and more rare.
Evenfall nods, "I came to tell you that I'm going on a journey, far to the east. I'll be away for some time."
"Have you spoken with our mother?"
Evenfall's head drops, "No...I was hoping you would say goodbye for me."
"She is not long for this world," Kvornan says, "You may not have another chance to speak with her yourself."
"I know, I'm sorry...I cannot," the fairy sighs.
"Is mortality that frightening to you?" Kvornan asks, "You lived among us, once."
"Please, just tell her goodbye for me. Tell her I love her," Evenfall pleads.
"She speaks of you often," Kvornan tells her as she turns away, "She wishes to see you."
"I am not your kind," Evenfall says, so quietly that he almost doesn't hear her.
A few nights later the tribe watches in surprise as a large group of dragons takes flight, their cries and the beating of their wings disturbing the evening quiet.
Very few in the tribe are old enough to remember the last time such a flight of dragons was seen. For Uvie, it brings memories of her youth, the days when she was a new made spirit talker.
"It's an ill omen," Uvie says, "They bring death and destruction in their wake." The last flight of dragons had brought Ardax to her, Uvie remembers. Thinking of her mate brings tears to her eyes, the years she's had to live without him have never been as full as those when he lived by her side. But those years are done now, she realizes, knowing as he had known, all those years ago, that her time has at last come.
Uvie died just one day after the night of the dragons' flight. Her people brought her down to the tomb, where her son performed the rites that would lead her safely to the realm of the spirits, where she could at last join her mate in eternity.
Kvornan's chant stops suddenly as magic lights surround his mother, and the people drop to their knees in awe.
This magic is not of his own doing, nor dies he understand what it means, but Kvornan feels the need of his people, and steadies himself to continue the rite.
"My mother was a unique and special woman," he concludes, "Beloved of the spirits that dwell in the forests, beloved of the fair folk. She brought prosperity to our tribe, and though her mortal body has passed on, her spirit will ever remain, to watch over us, and keep us prosperous." These words were not part of the usual rite, but they were what Kvornan sensed needed to be said at this time, and he sees how they comforted the people, who rise to their feet and file out of the tomb in better spirits than when they came in, whispering to each other about the mystery they'd witnessed here.
"This was your doing," Kvornan says when Auberon appears after all the other have left, "You could have at least warned me you meant to make such a show."
"You did well," Auberon says, "They will remember. They will tell of this day for generations to come. And they will heed what your words, and believe she watches over them, and brings prosperity."
"But it's a lie," Kvornan says sadly. A lie he told to comfort the people in the moment of their grief and fear.
"Lies and truth are just words," Auberon waves his hand dismissively, "What is and what will be are formed by what you say, and what you do. What we have done here, your words and my actions, will create a truth greater than both of us."
"Uvie," Auberon whispers as he leans down to give her one last kiss, "I will never forget."
When he rises again, he holds a jewel in his hand. "She told you the story, did she not?" Auberon asks.
"That's your heart," Kvornan says with a nod.
"It was. It's lived so long within her, it is no longer truly mine. It is...us, she and I together."
"Take it," Auberon continues, handing the jewel over to Kvornan, "I promised her I would help you find what you seek, and she has died before I could fulfill that promise. All I can offer you is this, and hope that its magic can help you where I have failed."
"I never asked for your help," Kvornan says, "My quest is my own." But he does not refuse the offered gift.
Auberon walks out of the tomb back to the living world, to the circle of stone the mortals have erected to mark the place. He had known she would die, he'd always known that. That is their way, and it shouldn't make him sad. But it does, oh it does, and his grief brings him down, embracing the stone as he weeps.
Just a note to say, things are progressing rapidly lately, the last few chapters have all made time jumps of a few years as I begin to wrap up this part of the story. Very soon, we will be making a very huge jump of some 20-30,000 years, out of the cave man era and into the medieval period.