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The Mountain Diva of Thebos-Final Instalment
The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Final Instalment
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Arlin woke with a start. ‘Pen!’ he screamed in a panic, sitting bolt upright. He felt he could not wait a second longer. The Diva was compelling him to leave, to complete the quest. Arlin quietly crept to his parent’s bedchamber and gently parted the curtain. Luckily his cry had not woken them, so he hurriedly dressed himself while the image of Pen’s toothless grin continually haunted him and drove him on. He now felt a grave urgency. The crystals had to be returned immediately; Pen’s life depended on it.
Arlin finished strapping on his leg covers and carefully put on the coat his father had given him. He buttoned the collar and shrugged his shoulders to settle it into position, making sure that his wings were free and comfortable. Finally he adjusted the jus down over his ears and placed his thick woven gloves on his hands.
No-one had stirred in the household so Arlin quietly tiptoed to the fireplace. Above the smouldering remains of the fire on the mantel sat the casket containing the crystals. He carefully opened it and a soft blue glow radiated out into the half-light of the hut. They were safe. Arlin placed the casket into a pouch attached to his belt and made his way to the door. Easing it shut without a sound, he stepped out into the morning light.
It was midseason and bitterly cold, the thick cloud cover above making it even colder. A stiff breeze whistled through the village and a few lonely flakes of white tossed and turned in its wake. Arlin looked up to the mountain. His expression mixed, he felt excited but also a little apprehension.
This quest was not over until the crystals were in their rightful place and the Diva returned to power; that was his sole responsibility.
Arlin spread his wings and slowly lifted from the ground, heading toward the foothills. He swooped low over the village huts, then up to the tree line that edged the base of the mountain. The wind was fierce and gusted in waves as Arlin strained to keep on course.
As he slowly made his ascent, the white began to fall and as he passed over the first ridge beyond the foothills, the squall became so intense he was barely moving forward. The roaring sound of the storm was almost deafening and Arlin, unable to continue was suddenly swept aside like a leaf and sent hurtling through the air into a mound of white below. He struggled to his feet but even at ground level the wind was incredibly strong. The icy flakes, driven by the wind, struck his face with such ferocity, they stung like nettles and he quickly scoured the landscape looking for shelter.
Protecting his eyes with one hand and with his other arm stretched out to keep balance he leant into the wind and pushed his way toward a rocky outcrop thirty feet away. The icy flakes looked like they were falling from all directions, at the mercy of the squall, twisting and spiralling in a mass of confusion, almost wiping out all vision.
Arlin arrived at a clump of rocks and quickly found a small cavity. It was just big enough for him to curl up into, but at least it was sheltered from the wind. He sat hunched up in a ball for some time, the casket held firmly between his chest and his thighs. The white flakes slowly piled up on either side of him as he waited for the storm’s fury to subside. He was freezing and tried to imagine he was home, in front of a blazing fire.
With his face buried in his knees, Arlin remained motionless, his thoughts drifting aimlessly trying to escape his predicament. Just as he was drifting off, a sound suddenly jolted him back to reality. Beside him to his right, sat something, it was panting heavily. Arlin was almost too scared to look up, but gathered his strength and hesitantly lifted his head and looked over his knee.
There, only inches away, sat a huge valen, out of breath and with a glazed and frightened expression on its face. Arlin’s eyes widened but he froze, not able to move a muscle. The creature turned and looked at him without reaction, its long curved tusks able to tear him apart. But the creature wanted refuge as Arlin did and wanted nothing more than to share the shelter.
They sat together for a long time, Arlin’s head buried in his knees, the valen simply sitting and waiting. Arlin dared not move or look at the creature, for fear of disturbing its composure. But the valen had no other intent other than to pass the time preening itself, and perhaps dreaming of its next kill.
Eventually the wind began to subside and the white fall eased. Suddenly, with a fleeting look as if to say thanks, the valen dashed off into the white glistening landscape. Arlin exhaled with relief and stiffly crawled out of the cavity.
Suddenly everything was still again, but how long that would last was any ones guess. High up on the mountain dark clouds still hung brooding over the clean white caps.
Arlin brushed the soft, cold flakes from his face and after checking his pouch, took flight and headed toward the main cliff face. As he got closer he adjusted his altitude to avoid the down draught, then once over the cliff, swooped down closer to the ground again and on to the second ridge.
The vegetation was thankfully sparse and as he carefully made his way the wind began to pick up and the squalling white fall began to reduce his vision. Toward the top of the ridge Arlin barely missed a few saplings. When he saw them through the dense curtain of white, he had but a second to swerve and avoid them.
When he arrived at the last rock face, Arlin decided to land, it had become just too dangerous to fly. The wind mercilessly battered the rocks and he crouched down behind a small rise to rest for a moment and drink some water.
‘Ahhh,’ he sighed, realising the font water was still in his gourd. He felt its magic reviving him almost immediately.
He looked up to the white caps and just as he did the clouds parted and a ray of light shone through, giving him a glimmer of hope. The wind was still strong but at least the fall had eased, affording him a small window of opportunity to get to the cave before it turned again.
Inch by inch he struggled against the wind and the ragged rock face. As he scratched around for handholds his hands began to cramp in the cold, desperately trying to hold his weight and to keep balance. Even his gloves couldn’t stop the coarse stones from cutting his fingers and giving him intense pain with each movement.
It was a difficult climb but the high winds made it treacherous. Every ten feet or so, he was forced to rest from the effort. It was more than difficult to preserve energy and to recover from each burst.
After what seemed like forever, Arlin finally reached the top and wearily dragged himself over the last rock and on to the clearing in front of the cave entrance. He rolled over on to his back, his eyes closed, out of breath. He reached down by his side and grasped his gourd, clumsily dragging it toward his parched mouth.
Without warning the gourd was viciously wrenched from Arlin’s hand, thrashed by a huge blast of wind. Arlin opened his weary eyes to see two huge sets of talons clawing at him. He screeched at the top of his voice and rolled sideways to escape the assault. Hovering above him was another mountain hawk, clawing and snapping at him maliciously. Its huge wings were stirring up the ground cover and Arlin edged back amid a veil of white. Game was scarce and the bird was obviously starving.
Arlin was keeping it at bay with a long stick and sitting precariously at the edge of a deadly drop. The hawk hovered low, desperate for a kill and as it drew closer Arlin saw out of the corner of his eye, many sylphs alight from the cave entrance. The hawk saw them too and let out an ear-piercing screech, turning threateningly toward them.
‘Reveal the crystals!’ a voice shouted. Arlin not even knowing who had spoken instinctively withdrew the casket and opened it. The hawk, still hovering above, returned its attention to Arlin. It peered down into the casket and gazed hypnotically at the soft pulsating light. The sylphs began to smile and suddenly with a parting cry, the hawk was gone.
The wind eased, the fall suddenly subsided and a strange, unexpected silence fell over the clearing.
Arlin replaced the casket into his pouch and brushed himself off. The sylphs were calling him to enter the cave so he collected himself and walked quickly toward the entrance.
As Arlin approached the main chamber several male sylphs stepped aside and from behind them a most beautiful creature emerged. She was tall and slender with the most magnificent blonde wavy hair. On her head she wore a jewelled crown of gold.
‘I am Lexa,’ she said in a soft voice. Arlin bowed before the sylph queen.
‘Come,’ she said. ‘There is no time to lose.’
Arlin moved to the altar at the centre of the chamber and delicately placed the casket on top of it. When he opened the lid the radiating light from the crystals was almost blinding. With his eyes squinting, he removed the crystals and placed them into the hollowed out cavity in the centre of the altar. The light increased threefold and Arlin reeled, his hands over his eyes.
A loud humming suddenly emanated from the altar and a strong beam of light rose from the crystals. As it hit the top of the domed chamber the shimmering light poured down the walls, leaving a silvery glow in its wake. Soon the entire chamber was alive with its radiant glow.
‘Come quickly!’ shouted Lexa, taking Arlin by the hand and leading him into a small room on the other side of the chamber. There was Pen, frail and fading away. Two sylph maidens were by his side, wiping his brow and comforting him. Pen looked up and smiled his toothless smile.
Just then, the radiant glow from the crystals entered the room. It started from the ceiling and slowly made its way down the walls and as it approached Pen, he turned his head towards Arlin and lifted his fragile hand.
‘Thank you,’ he whispered as his eyes fluttered weakly closed and his hand fell limply to his side. Arlin was horrified.
‘No!’ he shouted, not believing his eyes. ‘The crystals are back. This can’t happen!’
Arlin looked to the sylphs for some explanation, but they simply bowed with respect and solemnly left the chamber.
‘Nooo,’ sobbed Arlin, burying his head into the old ones chest. The tears were streaming down his face, he just couldn’t believe that he was too late. Arlin felt his entire being tearing apart as he tried to accept that had failed Pen, let everyone down. In deep despair, Arlin sobbed and sobbed over Pen’s lifeless shell.
Quietly Lexa entered the room and gently put her hand on Arlin’s shoulder. Arlin felt the warmth of her kindness and looked up to her, his eyes filled with tears, his heart broken.
‘You have saved all of Thebos,’ she said, with gratitude in her voice. Arlin sat up and looked down at Pen’s gaunt, sallow face.
‘But Pen, I was too late, he is dead,’ Arlin replied. Lexa smiled warmly.
‘Death is not an ending, Arlin,’ she explained. ‘Only a transformation.’
She took Arlin’s hand and gently moved him from Pen’s body. ‘See,’ she said, pointing back to it.
Suddenly Pen’s body became indistinct, blurring in and out of focus. Then each cell of his physical body transformed, one by one, into tiny specks of light. As they miraculously transformed, Pen’s body became a mass of flickering light, swirling and buzzing in the air, like currents of energy forming, then reforming. Suddenly in a blinding flash, the lights were somehow absorbed into the stone wall of the chamber. A surge of energy burst into the room and throughout the cave and Arlin could feel its vibrating power. Arlin’s face was filled with wonder as he began to understand.
‘I am, once more!’ said the Diva in a deep and powerful voice. The sound echoed throughout the cave and emanated from every surface and stone. The Diva was the mountain and he had once again ascended to his rightful place. The sylphs were suddenly dancing and rejoicing at his becoming, celebrating the return of balance.
Arlin felt the joyful bliss embrace him and the power of life once again surging through the mountain.
‘Arlin?’ boomed the Diva’s voice. ‘Approach the crystals!’ Arlin, with Lexa, moved slowly toward the altar.
‘Behold!’ said the Diva. Arlin peered down at the sacred crystals and saw a small crystal shard parted itself from the cluster.
‘Pick it up, Arlin. Hold it tightly in your hand,’ the Diva followed, with obvious pleasure in his voice.
Arlin held it tightly in the palm of his hand and closed his eyes, feeling the divine power rush through his body. When he once again opened his palm, the shard appeared set in pure gold and attached to a long golden chain.
‘The power of life will always be with you, Arlin. Your deeds will long be remembered. You have brought a peace and harmony to this land that will endure for many lifetimes. I will not forget you,’ said the Diva, his voice fading, its soft reverberation caressing every stone in the mountain.
Arlin looked around him, sensing the Diva had left.
‘He is where he belongs,’ he mouthed. Lexa turned to him and smiled.
‘It is time to go home,’ she whispered. ‘Your work is done.’ Arlin returned the smile and proudly placed the chain around his neck.
As Arlin alighted from the cave entrance, he was greeted by hundreds of sylphs dancing in celebration on the ground and in the air, their glistening white bodies gracefully dashing and spinning about with joyful abandon. The clouds above had miraculously cleared to a clear sky and the wind to only a wisp. The entire mountain was vibrating with colour and Arlin’s heart soared with happiness.
Down below in the village, all were dancing and celebrating. They had witnessed the energy flow like rivulets down the sides of the mountain, transforming everything in its path. As it reached the village, wild flowers began to appear through the white cover and the forest trees became more vibrant and steadfast.
As the energy rushed to the creek, the nymphs began to play and skate joyfully across the water. The rushes and lilies at the water’s edge suddenly stood tall and their colours changed to an endless variety of rich, vibrant greens. The landscape-transformed inch by inch and life once again flowed through all things. Creatures of both fur and feather emerged from their dark sleep, chattering endlessly and scurrying around in their renewed wonderland.
Arlin farewelled Lexa and the sylph guardians and took flight into the clean crisp air. He glided over the cliff face and down over the foothills. Arlin’s flight mirrored the soaring of his soul, as he glided freely, catching the up draughts then swooping down at great speed to find them again. Arlin adored flying, feeling the freedom and the exhilaration it offered, making him feel boundless, and able to do anything.
He peered across to the mountain; it looked incredible from the air. The grey cliffs, the tall green conifers adorned with the white cover, all against the azure sky, rich and endless, seemed a miracle to him. He felt the crystal shard against his chest, giving him strength and aiding his every breath and movement. He was exhilarated, immersed in life itself and the peace that came from the understanding that he was a part of it.
As Arlin winged his way down toward the village below, his mind turned to Desta; he wanted to share this with her. Circling overhead he passed the edge of the forest and swooped down to the village. The villagers were all out in the open, dancing and celebrating. Arlin was trying to spot Desta and as he passed overhead, they all waved and cheered, tossing wild flowers in the air to greet him. Then, on the edge of the square he saw her, standing with Tia her mother and Tezara. She was waving excitedly and as Arlin landed gently on the ground in front of her, she leapt into his arms. The villagers crowded around them both, throwing flower petals and cheering joyfully. Elgan and Nya pushed their way through the crowd and embraced Arlin and Desta.
‘You scared us half to death!’ exclaimed Nya with relief, overjoyed that he was safe. She then planted a huge kiss on his cheek and she and Elgan picked him up and sat him on their shoulders. Arlin laughed and swayed as he was jostled around the square among the raining flower petals and smiling faces.
Then suddenly the frivolity somehow subsided and Arlin was lowered to the ground. Desta rushed to his side and firmly took him by the hand. From the crowd came Ephram, with the four Terras. Orla stepped forward and he looked at Arlin with a furrowed brow and pursed lips. There was a pregnant silence for a moment and then Orla spoke.
‘Thought you’d take all the glory, did you?’ he snapped.
Arlin looked at him, suddenly feeling he may well have insulted the warriors. He didn’t know what to say. Orla stepped forward threateningly with his hands on his hips, but couldn’t uphold his feigned anger any longer.
‘It appears I slept in this morning!’ he added with a huge smile on his face.
Arlin’s face crumpled with relief and Orla lunged forward and lifted him off the ground in a giant bear hug. The other Terras crowded around and the village once again erupted into rowdy cheering.
There was much jubilation and celebration in the village of Iba that day. Every soul felt not only a sense of pride in their young hero, but a sense of security and hope for the future that had almost been lost. Their hearts soared in the knowledge that life was as it should be, in balance and shared through all the realms of nature. Even during the cold and darkness of the season, a light now shined on their village and all of Thebos. This light also shone through their hearts and that would keep them safe and able to overcome any challenge that would present itself.
Arlin took Desta by the hand and they quietly slipped away from the celebrations, making their way behind one of the huts that lined the square. Arlin playfully swung Desta around and up against the hut, kissing her playfully. She looked lovingly into his eyes.
‘I knew you could do it,’ she whispered, nuzzling into his neck. Arlin blushed a little. Desta looked down and saw the crystal shard and as she touched it, it began to pulse with a soft glow.
‘A gift,’ said Arlin with a cheeky grin. Desta looked at him lovingly.
‘You have friends in high places,’ she replied with a grin.
Desta stood on her toes and kissed Arlin passionately. The crystal in response began to pulse, its radiating light infusing them in its life-giving warmth.
From the corner of the hut, some distance away, stood Elgan witnessing their private moment. A single tear slowly made its way down his round cheek. Then quietly from behind him, approached Nya.
‘What are you doing, Elgan?’ she asked, scaring him half out of his wits. He quickly turned away and wiped his face. ‘Nothing,’ he said, caught out.
Nya looked over and saw Arlin with Desta, then turned back to Elgan and smiled warmly. ‘You’re my hero,’ she said sweetly. Elgan, completely embarrassed turned to the side but Nya gently turned his head back toward her and gave him a mischievous, expectant grin. Unable to resist he rolled his eyes and fell happily into her arms.
At the end of the fifth moon cycle during the period of darkness and toward the end of the year of Gorn, the village of Iba was waiting in anticipation. As had always been the tradition, this was the time of unions. But on this particular day a wedding was planned like no other.
The periods of light were longer now and the days brighter. The white cover had all but melted and a myriad of multicoloured wild flowers bloomed everywhere. The forest was green and alive with the movement of creatures large and small and the creeks were full from the cool mountain streams.
The village was simply covered with flowers, every hut, pathway and doorway lined with fresh blooms of every conceivable type and colour. Dyed lengths of twine criss-crossed every walkway and open area, hanging like a multicoloured canopy over the village. Wooden tables lined the village square, soon to be laden with platters of every fruit, nut, vegetable and bread that their finest cooks could prepare. Small fires dotted the perimeter, over which many pots containing stews and herbal brews bubbled away in waiting for the oncoming feast.
As the sun reached its zenith and the villagers began to gather, Ephram approached the large podium and waited. He checked that everything he needed was ready and discussed final arrangements with a few officials and chatted to passers-by.
There was an air of excitement in the village that had never happened before. Even the elderly, sick and frail had struggled to the square and lined the paths so not to miss the spectacle. Every soul in Iba was there, waiting in anticipation.
Finally, from the east, a long procession approached the Village Square. The word passed quickly through the crowd, and they all strained their necks to see who it was. As the procession entered the outskirts of the village, a rousing cheer erupted and echoed back to the square, stirring the excited onlookers even more.
The Undines marched proudly into the village with Magnus leading the group. Above his head he held a vibrant blue banner of delicate translucent fabric attached to a fine golden rod. Behind him marched four male nymphs, carrying their queen Zandra on a throne of aqua blue and gold. Twenty feet or so behind the queen marched the colony of a hundred-odd creatures, their slender, pearl coloured bodies shimmering in the sunlight. As they entered the square a hush came over the crowd, as Zandra was gently lowered to the ground. All the villagers and the nymph colony bowed with respect as she stepped up to the podium. Zandra nodded gratefully to the crowd and to Ephram and quietly waited by his side.
From the northern end of the village another group approached. The timely marching of their hefty feet could be heard well before they came into view. They were the Terra-Thebans. The warriors of the envoy fronted the procession with perhaps fifty more warriors behind them. They marched in pairs, in their finest regalia carrying spears and shields that displayed their family markings.
As Orla, Nolt, Jaff and Toran entered the square, a loud roar came from the crowd. The Terras were simply beaming with pride. Following the warriors was King Gob, seated regally on an intricately carved throne that was encrusted with many precious stones and crystals. Gob’s impressive stature seemed only to be surpassed by his air of authority. He wore a crown of gold and a finely embroidered purple cloak. The crowd bowed humbly as he passed.
Following the king were many maidens carrying huge metal platters of fruits and vegetables, many of which the Artecs had never seen before. The villager’s eyes widened and they happily approved of the offerings as they passed into the square. Behind them a hundred or so members of the Terra families marched. They were in their best clothing; even the children were clean with their hair neatly tied back.
As the throne lowered to the ground, a small figure came out from behind it. It was Norbit. He approached the King and held out his hand to help his new master descend from the throne, then bowed respectfully as Gob passed. The King smiled and stepped up to the podium to join the others.
Suddenly from above, a mass of winged creatures entered the square. The mountain sylphs darted here and there at great speed, their elegant slender forms often too fast to see. Then as quickly as they had appeared they were gone.
On the outskirts of the village on the western path, came the sylph procession. They were all dressed in a soft white fabric, so sheer it almost seemed like the air itself. Four males held high above their heads a shimmering fabric stretched across a rectangular frame of silver. On the fabric, with a multitude of luxurious cushions, sat the sylph queen Lexa. Above them flew several winged maidens holding a soft pink, sheer fabric to shade their queen.
Directly behind marched many sylph warriors wearing highly polished silver headdresses, shoulder and leg guards and carrying spears and beaten metal shields. The warriors were tall, muscular creatures, unlike the average slender sylph stature, their bronzed skin and polished armour highlighting their impressive physiques.
Behind them flew the family groups, all holding hands and hovering just above the ground. The hum from their collective wings reverberated through the square as they approached. On arrival, before the podium, Lexa gently lifted from her carriage and set herself down before the other dignitaries. She curtsied graciously and then joined them.
Ephram was grinning from ear to ear, soaking up every second of this great occasion. With pleasure, he turned to the assembled group of musicians and raised the ‘staff of truth’ high up into the air. The musicians began to play and all the guests and villagers began to tap their feet to the rhythmic melody, in quiet anticipation of the arrival of the wedding party.
Back at the family hut, Nya straightened Arlin’s collar hurriedly. He looked at her with such a nervous expression she could barely contain her composure. Elgan was still trying to find his gold amulet. He had cleverly placed it somewhere that he thought he couldn’t miss, but now couldn’t remember where that was. He was mumbling and thumping around his room in frustration. Nya, hearing his performance, raised her eyebrows, touched Arlin on the cheek consolingly, and went to sort him out.
Amid all the tension Lil and Jot were of course running riot throughout the hut. Arlin, trying to ignore them, took a deep breath and went to the table to get the kita his mother had fashioned for the occasion. He looked at it nervously and waited for his family.
Arlin was a striking figure. His slender but wiry body had filled out. He wore a simple loincloth and vest in the traditional green. His beshas’ were neatly strapped to the knees and he wore only the Diva’s crystal around his neck as well as the silver pin that Magnus had given him, on his vest.
Suddenly Elgan and Nya came out from behind the curtain of their room, arm in arm and brimming with pride.
‘It is time,’ said Nya, giving Arlin a gentle kiss on his cheek. Arlin placed the kita on his head and Nya fussed with the veil to make sure that it was just right.
‘Jot!’ shouted Elgan, stopping him in his tracks. Elgan glared down at him, his patience having finally expired. Jot felt the finality in his father’s voice, hung his head and calmly took Lil by the hand. Elgan shook his head with dismay and then turned to Arlin.
‘Ready?’ he asked, feeling every bit as nervous as Arlin. Arlin looked back rather wide-eyed and vacant and his father rubbed his shoulder reassuringly.
‘Let’s go,’ he said with a smile.
As Arlin stepped out of the doorway his heart stopped. Before him, at the bottom of the stairs was Desta, she was so beautiful. Her delicate face beamed through the sheer veil of her kita and she wore a magnificent full-length green robe, tied over one shoulder and adorned by an ornate gold pin. The pin was a special gift from her departed father, who had held it in trust for her after the death of his own mother. It was hundreds of cycles old.
Desta was covered in vibrant yellow flowers of many types and sizes. Tiny yellow bellflower’s sat over the kita and through her wavy long red hair. An interlocked necklace of yellow daisies hung around her neck with bracelets and anklets of tiny woven forest blooms.
Arlin’s heart melted at the sight of her, she was just radiant. Desta's mother Tia stood beside her, simply glowing. Her maids in waiting, Tezara and Hesta flanked the party, patiently awaiting the groom.
Arlin stepped proudly down the stairs and gently took Desta by the hand. The wedding procession was now under way. The pathway to the Village Square was lined with all their adoring friends and families. The elders proudly held long poles bearing coloured triangular flags to mark the occasion and as the wedding party passed by, onlookers threw flower petals at their feet.
As they drew nearer to the square the music became louder as did the rousing cheers of the guests. The village was packed to the brim. The sea of smiling well-wishers suddenly overwhelmed both Desta and Arlin, and as they entered the square they could not believe who awaited them.
Arlin and Desta turned slowly to face the podium. Flower petals were raining down on them, the crowd’s enthusiasm unexpected and overwhelming. Tears rolled freely down Desta’s delicate cheeks and Arlin kept swallowing, desperately trying to contain his emotions.
Ephram, also overwhelmed with the crowd’s reaction,
happily let them enjoy the moment and stood there for some time enjoying the tumultuous reception. After the roar began to subside, Ephram raised his staff and the gathering slowly silenced. His eyes drifted across the huge crowd and then to the dignitaries alongside him. A broad smile drifted across his round, aged face.
‘This is a great day,’ he announced. ‘It does not just signify this wonderful union of Arlin and Desta, but something far greater. Here in this square many have come to celebrate this union. We are many cultures, diverse and from different realms. But on this day we commune as one brotherhood and in this great union, from this day, shall we endure together, under the light of the great one.’
Ephram turned to Arlin and Desta, and lowered his voice a little. ‘To each other you have chosen and under the shadow of the great Diva, you make this commitment,’ he followed, raising the ‘staff of truth’ above his head.
‘I entreat you, spirits all. Bless these our children, and consecrate their union.’
Ephram slowly lowered the black crystal of the staff down and gently touched both Arlin then Desta on the tops of their lowered heads. They closed their eyes to accept the blessing. Ephram then lifted the staff and looked out across the gathering, and in one strong voice they all repeated in unison...
‘To one and the other unseen, to one and the other as one.’
A silence once again fell over the gathering. Tezara and Hesta stepped forward to remove the veils but Hesta’s heart began to pound as Arlin’s veil stuck and would not come free. His eyes widened as he stood there praying and staring at Hesta, who grimaced trying to free the stubborn fabric. Suddenly it let go and Hesta stepped back with a red face pretending that it hadn’t happened. Arlin sighed with relief and turned to Desta, who was just as relieved.
They finally embraced and the crowd erupted into a thunderous cheer, the square suddenly alive with music and frenzied dancing. Friends and family, all wishing them well immediately surrounded Arlin and Desta, congratulating one another, the feeling contagious.
Orla stood by Elgan; they were happily comparing the size of their bellies, their most prominent feature. Toran had taken an instant liking to Tezara and had confidently winked at her, sending her into shock and turning her face bright red. Nya and Tia were huddled together trying to assure each other who was the luckiest in-law, while Kaelin, overwhelmed by the proceedings, stepped to the side with his new companion, Doff-two, smiling happily and enjoying everyone’s enthusiasm.
The excitement and joy of the moment created a mass hysteria and confusion. The sheer volume of the music alone was deafening, but combined with all the well wishing it was difficult to hear anything. In all the chaos Desta saw a familiar face across the crowd next to the podium. She smiled sweetly and then made her way through the surging mass of bodies. Norbit stood there feeling a little out of place and Desta approached him with a warm caring smile.
‘I’m glad you came!’ she shouted, trying to be heard over all the noise. ‘And thank you for everything!’ she followed, kissing him gently on his forehead. Norbit’s hunched over frame almost caved in on itself with embarrassment, his face flushed with his leg turned in a little more than it normally did. Desta smiled sweetly and softly grasped his shoulder with affection, then returned to Arlin.
As she arrived back to the wedding party, Magnus was proudly inspecting the pin that had saved Arlin’s life. Perhaps even Elgan would agree that Magnus had finally done something right. Lil and Jot were of course dancing exuberantly. They were covered with forest blooms and in the celebration had added even more adornments. They looked like two bushes bouncing up and down in the frenzy of movement. It was the one time that they could use their boundless energy and have no-one to keep them from it.
The celebrations continued long into the twilight. It was a day that would be long remembered. Not because it was a wedding, but because all of these creatures had discovered common ground. They had learned that diversity and difference could be valuable to life and not a point of segregation.
All the creatures present that day now realised that in their veins the life in all life flowed. They could now rest in the knowledge that from the tip of the Diva’s mountain to the gully floor, all was in balance and as it should be.
The red dust settled in small mounds at the entrance to the cave. High winds had been lashing the desolate landscape for many days now and the heat outside was unbearable. Inside, Mangarna sat despondently, drawing mindless pictures with a stick on the cave floor.
The feelings of hate and vengeance that had consumed him on his arrival to this inhospitable place, now waned, his apathy an unavoidable result of living in this wasteland, alone and isolated.
As he wallowed in self-pity a small creature slowly crept out into the light in front of him. It showed no fear and moved closer looking directly at him, its poisonous sting held high above its head, just in case it needed to defend itself. Mangarna looked carefully at its red glistening body.
‘Ah, Meecas,’ he said softly. ‘What a beautiful creature.’
Mangarna reached down into a small pouch attached to his belt and removed something. He held his clasped hand out in front of the Meecas and slowly opened it to reveal a tiny crystal shard. The shard began to pulse with a soft bluish glow and lit up his coarse, soiled hand.
The Meecas took a step back and its tail eased down, transfixed by the light. Mangarna, amused by the creature’s instinct, began to laugh; first softly, then loudly, uncontrollably. The ominous sound echoed in the cave and out into the lonely darkness. As it slowly dissipated in the balmy twilight air, not a soul heard it or cared.
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