So, poor Rion had met his end...
Watchland Velion was down off his horse almost before it stopped. "You are still here. Thank the Balance. I was afraid… I had missed you."
Kyri took a breath, watching the Justiciars hard at work loading the coach. They had refused to allow any others to help with that – it was their way of mourning her brother, who was also theirs, she knew. I must answer, she thought, and turned to face the Watchland. Another farewell. This is harder than I thought it would be. But staying … staying would be even harder.
It seemed as though everyone in Evanwyl had come at some point in the last few days. And every one of them so hard to say goodbye to. She knew them all, every one – one of the Eyes of the Watchland was supposed to know them all, and she'd tried. The farmers like the Monns, who had come to offer both sympathies and their thanks, Kochiss the butcher and his wife Minuzi the apothecary, he with huge hands and gentle eyes and she with a dissecting gaze and sympathetic voice, Kell from the Balanced Meal carrying a load of cookies along with his grief, the Eyes like Zan'Tak and Hightower and Thalinde, almost all twenty-five of the families of the Arms… all so much, all so very much sympathy and support, and yet I know we have to leave… and now this, one of the hardest of all.
She looked up into the Watchland's eyes, lighter, more piercing blue than Rion's, but at this range filled with the same concern. He was so… remote, seemed so cold right afterwards. So hard to see as he rode from one side of the country to the other on the hunt. Some say he rode into Rivendream Pass itself, seeking whatever it was that killed Rion.
"I wasn't sure it would matter," she heard herself say before she could catch herself. What in the name of the Black City is wrong with me? I know courtesy!
Victoria, barely in earshot, stiffened, and she heard Justiciar Condor give a grunt of consternation.
To her surprise, the Watchland smiled sadly. "Yes… I am unsurprised. Such terrible events… for many of the last few days I have felt almost outside myself, watching what I have been doing, seeking to make it all right, yet… not able to let myself … truly reach those who needed me most." He took her hand and pressed it between both of his. "We had all too few chances to speak in the last few years, Kyri. So many things to do, for us both. I regret that."
She saw, from the corner of her eye, Condor looking narrowly at the Watchland. It might almost be funny, if things were different. "Watchland… Jeridan –"
He laughed. "I am not about to become terribly melodramatic with you, Kyri Vantage, for I have not quite so abysmal a sense of timing nor an over-inflated belief in my personal influence. Still I would ask if there is no way we could convince you to stay? Evanwyl will be much lessened without your family."
Kyri looked over at the longcoach; inside, the faint dark shadow of Urelle was visible, unmoving, sitting still and quiet, even as Skyharrier directed Bolthawk in placing one of the wrapped portraits to one side of the coach's cargo area. "There are too many painful memories here right now, Jeridan. For myself… for myself it might be I could remain, overcome them, but I have to think of Urelle." She looked back at him more directly. "And in all honesty, I have to be worried that Rion did not die because he was a Justiciar, but because he was a Vantage."
The handsome face hardened. "Yes. Yes, I suppose you must. It would be unwise to not suspect that as a possibility."
"But," Thornfalcon put in, carrying a long crate of what was probably fishing gear, "does that mean you will return, Lady Kyri?"
She saw Condor glance up again as he headed back into the Vantage mansion for another box, "Possibly." She managed a painful smile. "Even, I suppose, probably. I won't want to give it all up forever. But I have to get Urelle somewhere far away…"
"…Somewhere safer than here," Victoria said, joining them. "Somewhere the poor girl can recover. Kyri's holding up remarkably well, I think you'll agree, but Urelle's devastated."
"You will return, of course, Lady Victoria." It was a statement more than a question.
"Sooner rather than later, but the journey to Zarathanton is not a short one, and not entirely safe even along the Great Road."
The Watchland nodded. "But where is your Master-of-Arms?"
Victoria's lips tightened and her eyes were sad. "Lythos… blamed himself, felt he failed as a Sho-ka-taida of the Way of the Eight Winds. Oh, it's foolish, and I tried to tell him so, but he felt that he could have arrived a few moments faster, or perhaps have trained Rion or Kyri so that Rion would have lasted a few moments longer. He begged to be allowed to return to his home – I presume to heal his own heart, which I hope he shall, and join us again perhaps."
Kyri could see the look of concern in Jeridan Velion's eyes. "But without Lythos… Lady Victoria, I know of course your reputation and skill, and Kyri proved herself full well, but still, you have now none of your guards to spare and you shall be travelling dangerous places, especially as you pass through Dalthunia, which is no longer our friend and ally. Will you require an escort?"
"I've hired a pair of Guild Adventurers to guard us," Victoria answered. "Over there." She indicated the front of the horse team hitched to the longcoach. "And neither I nor Kyri are entirely unable to defend ourselves, as you have already mentioned."
Shrike glanced in that direction. "The Iriistik – Gray Warrior, even! Not a bad choice, but that lavender-haired little boy? Looks t' be not old enough t' leave his mommy!"
Victoria smiled thinly. "That, Shrike, is Ingram Camp-Bel. Of Aegeia."
Shrike's eyebrows rose up so high they disappeared beneath the beak of his helm; the Watchland's rose as well. "Dedicated to the task of bodyguarding nobility, from the Incarnate Goddess on down," Watchland Velion murmured. "And trained in the arts of war from the time they can walk."
"Savagely enough that many of the chosen children die in the process," Mist Owl put in, looking at the slender boy, who in truth did look as though he should just be starting an apprenticeship, with a strange long bladed staff slung across one shoulder and armor of peculiar squarish blocks covered with green fabric. "Then you are fortunate in his presence."
"Yes. He was quite insistent on taking the job once I began the queries, insistent enough that I considered him seriously… and he passed my tests extremely well." Victoria nodded in a satisfied manner.
"What… in the name of Myrionar… is in this thing?" Condor's voice was strained. "Sirza, give me a hand here before I rupture myself!"
Shrike, seeing the younger Justiciar wrestling with a squarish crate, sighed and walked over. "Young'uns like you always lookin' fer an excuse. Now, let a man take over –" he reached down, grasped the case, and gave a heave – nearly tipping himself onto his face. "Demons an' dragons, girl, are you tryin' t' kill us?"
Kyri felt her first real laugh since that terrible day two weeks ago come rippling up. "Those are mother's stonesculpt hangings."
Watchland Velion smiled. "Ah, yes, she was famous for her hobby. I have one of her pieces – the radiant sun relief in my dining hall, in fact."
Between them, Shrike and Condor managed to lift the crate and stagger with it to the rear of the longcoach. "Doesn't want to go in…" grunted Condor.
"Put yer shoulder into it, lad," Shrike said; the two Justiciars pushed the crate into place with two ramming blows. "There. Now I hope there be just some drapes or something light."
"Here, I'll help." Kyri followed them, leaving the Watchland, Victoria, and Skyharrier discussing the journey to the south.
As she reached the front hall and paused, looking around to decide what to take next, Condor and Shrike were joined by Bolthawk, Mist Owl, and Thornfalcon. She was startled when all five dropped to their knees before her. "What…"
"My lady," Mist Owl said, his straight and slender figure more tense than their usual, "we… owe you a great apology."
"And one that must be given now." She saw Thornfalcon's gaze flicker backwards, towards where – she guessed – he could just barely see Skyharrier. "Now, while our most courteous brother keeps the others in conversation."
"Your brother…" The slender Justiciar's gentle voice suddenly threatened to break, "He… he had guessed at a most shameful secret. I…"
She saw the others looking, trying to speak, and to spare them the trouble, forced herself to say it. "Silver Eagle betrayed you, and killed my parents."
"Great Balance, girl!" The exclamation seemed torn from Shrike. "How… Did ye…?"
She smiled bitterly. More bitter than I knew. "I was the one who thought of it."
"Myrionar's Sword." Condor's voice vibrated with sympathy, a sympathy she nearly rejected outright … but there was no point in inflicting her anger on them.
She was the one who deserved that anger.
"Then," Mist Owl said bleakly, "you have guessed that we found out the truth, and kept it a secret purely from selfish, selfish reasons – to protect the reputation of the Justiciars."
"No," she protested instantly. "Not selfish, Mist Owl. None of you think that! Not ever! My brother … and I, and my sister – we've always believed in you. There was nothing he wanted more than to join you – and you gave him, at least, the chance to redeem the armor."
The Justiciars exchanged glances. Thornfalcon looked quickly back, then met her gaze. "But we failed him, and you, again. We had thought we had dealt with all those involved. Now.. now we know it was something worse."
"Worse, and deeper than the roots of mountains," Bolthawk said. "We should have realized it. By the Hammer-Father and the Hammer, we should have known it would take something much worse to turn one of Myrionar's own and hide it."
"But now we do know," Shrike said, "and so, lass, we come to ask ye something we don't deserve at all; that we be given some time to make it right. Ye could tell the truth, and we couldn't gainsay y'r right…"
"But," Mist Owl took the words up, "but then all we have done … may be undone. We still fight for Evanwyl, for justice; you know this better than any save one of our brothers, for I know your own brother has told you what he has seen, what we have done." He looked to Thornfalcon, who had just looked back again; the slender Justiciar nodded, and Mist Owl continued, "We agree that your family may still be in danger, and you are acting wisely. Will you allow us to continue, to seek those who have now struck our hearts twice, at least until you yourself return?"
The five were staring at her now, eyes beneath the helms as close to pleading as she could ever have imagined. Allow you? I'm the one who caused it this time! But aloud, she said, "Of course I will, Mist Owl. I won't dishonor my brother's name by destroying what had made him happier and more proud than anything else in his life."
The five bowed so low their helms touched the floor. "Then we all thank you, Kyri Victoria Vantage; your forgiveness both shames and honors us, and we shall strive to be worthy of you… and the memory of our fallen brother."
Thornfalcon made a sudden gesture. "Quick. We have been in here too long and no sign of the actual work being done!"
Despite the heaviness of her heart she couldn't deny a tiny smile for Thornfalcon's exaggerated panic. "Then lend a hand, all of you." She pointed to another crate. "That's the other stonesculpt crate. I'll get that. None of the others will be that heavy, I'll guarantee it."
She reached down, squatting just as she'd always been taught, and with a smooth motion hefted the crate. Gods, it's heavy! It occurred to her now that the two crates were probably about the same weight… and together the hangings had been about eight to nine hundred pounds. But the pain helps focus, at least.
Condor and Shrike stared at her momentarily. "Lass, Balance an' Swords, take care! Let us –"
"I've… got it." She gritted her teeth and moved down the path. Not… going to let them… think I can't handle this.
Probably should have asked for help. She felt the ground sink under the combined weight, but held grimly on. Rear of the longcoach. Just have to… lift it… a little more…
With a supreme effort, she pulled the crate up and practically threw it into place next to the first. "Whooo… That'll teach me to try to show off."
"Doubtful. That has always been your problem since you were much younger, Kyri."
She turned quickly. "Arbiter?"
Kelsley sat in a wheeled chair, pushed by one of the other Seekers… Yana, that was her name. "I know you have been terribly busy, Kyri… but we have missed you at the Temple."
I knew it. But how can I say it? "Arbiter… I … I am not sure…"
"I know. Twice now you have lost family, twice to cruelty and evil, and no vengeance yet have you seen. I know."
Kyri was suddenly silent, tears threatening to overwhelm her again, and she realized she was nowhere near as strong as she had thought. My fault… maybe the weakness of my faith, too…
"Kyri… I know the pain is great. And it seems there is no reason or justice in the world now. But I beg you, do not abandon your – our – god for appearances. There are many vile powers in the world, and one of their greatest goals is to break our faith, take us away from the gods, and the gods away from us. I know of the power of Myrionar, I have felt Its power, and I know Its sorrow, too."
For a moment, she felt that same presence, the one that was sometimes with her in the Temple, and she sensed the sorrow Kelsley spoke of.
"Do not let evil triumph. We need the gods. And they need us. Our faith in times of injustice … brings them strength too, leads them through that which seeks to oppose them, that they can in the end lend us the power to return the world to its right and proper course."
I've lost my mother, and my father, and now my brother! And what has Myrionar given me?
But before she could say it, she looked down at Arbiter Kelsley, still unable to rise for more than a few moments, and – she had heard – likely to need a year or more to recover, and no magic known would avail him. He held Rion in his arms, and tore his own soul apart to try and save my brother, all in the name of the Lord of Justice.
That kind of faith, that personal seeking of justice for her and her family – something that could have cost Kelsley his life – could she ignore it? Dismiss it? When the power to even attempt it had come from Myrionar Itself?
When it was I who gave Rion the idea that got him killed?
No. It's hard… but no one said justice was easy. Toron himself said how powerful and hidden our enemies were, even to powers of the greatest of the gods. If I am grateful to Father Kelsley for what he has done and tried to do, some of that has to go to Myrionar for giving him, not just the power, but the courage and convictions to risk all for my brother's sake, even when there was no true hope to save him.
She knelt down and took Kelsley's pale hand. "I'm sorry, Arbiter. It is… very hard to keep my faith. But I know what you've done for us, and I won't abandon Myrionar. I will just hope that this time… this time we will find the monsters responsible."
"I assure you," he said, and now his voice was cold iron, "I assure you, Kyri Vantage, there is no prayer more fervently made at our temple, and no prayer more fully at the fore of my mind every day. And I know – for I hear all the prayers in my Temple that are given to others to hear – that there is not one person in all Evanwyl who has not said a prayer for you and your family." He gestured outward, and smiled again. "And I doubt not that it is in the minds of all of these present, especially his former brothers; they help you in this movement because they know they have no other help to offer now, and at least with this they accomplish something. See this, and know neither I, nor they, shall give up… and Myrionar shall not forget."
"Indeed. Nor shall the Watchland of Evanwyl." Velion was beside her again. "One attack, however terrible, could have been just some single, senseless tragedy. This is far more sinister. A small country we may be, but all the resources I may command will be bent towards finding the truth and delivering that truth to you."
She rose and bowed. "I thank you, Watchland."
"It is the least I can do… and far too little, even if I succeed. But you are welcome." He pressed her hand once more, bowed, and returned to his horse. "I have new Armsmen in training, and I must see how they fare. Fare you all well, and take care on the long road."
She waved, then turned towards the Vantage mansion. The sun was setting, and the mansion's front darkened, looking already sad and forlorn.
She went to stand by the door, looking in at the still-silent Urelle, and then looked back at the mansion.
I will be back. Mother, Father, Rion… and Myrionar… I swear that. I will be back.
That's a promise likely to be fulfilled, yes.