Choosing

Posted on August 2, 2010

7


This story is Part 11 of the Fire and Water series. It follows The Return. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

* * *

Findol and his companions made camp beside a small lake. They had descended from the mountains into a valley still asleep with winter. Evergreen trees shielded the lake from the winds sweeping down from the mountains. Patches of snow lay scattered on the ground, and the lake was frigid, but not frozen.

Coanh and Aurmid started a fire while Varala interrogated Zaghran for ancient stories. Findol wandered away from them and sat down to rest on a rock that jutted over the water. He listened to little waves lapping against the pebbles of the shore and, for the first time since they set off on this journey, he let himself think of home.

The winter storms would be ending soon, and the fishermen would have finished repairing their nets by now. They would be restless and ready to set sail. Whales would be passing by, close enough to see them from the strand.

Findol sighed, wishing he was there. He took the rock Lourlan had given him out of his pocket, worrying it between his fingers, studying it for the first time. An heirloom, she had told him, touched by all your ancestors.

It was smooth, almost perfectly round and flat. It fit his palm as though it had been shaped just for him. It was mottled dark gray and white, but held angular facets of shimmering deep blue and green within it. When he held it just so, those facets glinted golden light.

He saw his mother holding the rock out to him, felt her hands, which were sometimes seal’s paws, touching it. He felt the paws of her mother passing it to Lourlan, and each ancestor before them as they passed it to their children. As he felt their touch, he saw each of them, too. Their faces, some seal, some human, moved past him in a swift blur, unfurling his entire lineage back to the very beginning. Some part of him knew them all.

Finally he saw the two who were first. The man was earthy and dark, a land dweller who went to live by the sea. He met a woman born in the sea, her body covered in silver scales. Findol saw her turn and receive the stone from her mother, whom he recognized: Aubele, the Queen of the Deep. Her daughter accepted the stone and turned to her new mate.

The man was familiar, too. He wore his body like a garment, as though he could change it at will. He looked over his shoulder at his own parents. Findol saw a column of smoky shadow filled with sparks of light, and another being who seemed to carry all the living green of the world in a woman’s form.

Findol sucked in a breath. His eyes cleared. He stared into the water, but instead of his reflection, he saw Aubele’s face. Her voice spoke in his head.

Now you know your own truth, and the truth of Vael. The stone is a treasure like no other. Use it to guide you, and keep it safe. There are those who would destroy it if they knew it existed.

Her image rippled, and as it faded, she said, Trust him, Findol. I sent you not to bind him, but to help him.

He looked up from the water, dizzy. Zaghran stood beside him. His dark eyes were warm, melancholy.

“He was my son,” he said softly, “mine and Sulinor’s. He did not survive the Nurain– the Old Ones, as you call them. Nor did Aubele’s daughter.”

“You heard– you saw that?”

Before Zaghran could answer, there was a commotion in the sky, a thunder of great wings beating the air. They heard Aurmid trumpet, and she leapt up to greet two dragons. Findol and Zaghran ran to join Coanh and Varala. They all stood watching as the three circled and dove, apparently happy to see each other.

After a few moments, they landed on the lake’s shore and gazed at Findol.

“My sister Yryn–” Aurmid inclined her head to the blue-green dragon on her right, “and my brother Eron–” the golden fellow with red wings on her left, “have brought a message from the Queen of the Deep.”

They turned to Zaghran.

“She sends word that the Nurain have returned, ” Yryn said.

“They know that you are free,” Eron added. “They are searching for you.”

“There is something I did not know before,” Aurmid said. She took a step toward Zaghran, and Varala came to stand at his side. She might have bristled had she been in cat form. Aurmid snorted.

“My brother and sister tell me these words come from the Queen’s own mouth. My father Griel set you free. If this is so, then we are not enemies, you and I. I beg forgiveness for my ignorance. I will no longer seek to kill you.”

Zaghran smiled, then broke into laughter.

“There’s nothing to forgive. Griel was my oldest friend, and I will always count his children as my friends, too.”

“There is more,” Yryn said. “The Queen urges you to find Sulinor and release her with all haste before the Nurain reach her.”

“We go to seek the Nurain and end them before they find you,” Eron said. “We will stay long enough to ensure that you are among allies.”

Zaghran shook his head.

“You cannot challenge the Nurain, Eron. They’ve spent ten thousand years weakening Vael, and we don’t have the strength to resist them. At least, not yet, we don’t.”

All eyes turned to Findol.

“What will you choose, Findol Grey?” Yryn said. “You are our ally, but will you also be Zaghran’s?”

“You have our father’s knowledge,” Aurmid said. “We honor you for that. He also chose to help Zaghran. If you turn from him, we will respect your wishes, but we will do as our father would. We will aid Zaghran.”

Findol’s eyes met Zaghran’s.

“Family must always come first,” he said. “The Nurain aren’t the Old Ones– our families are. I’ll do what I can to help you free Sulinor.”

The dragons growled their assent. Zaghran nodded, relieved. Varala squealed and leapt on Findol, who was alarmed until he realized she was embracing him, roughly, in approval.

“At last that’s sorted,” Coanh said, and bent to rummage in his pack. “How about some supper now?”

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