do not know if this writing of mine might ever be found, or if found, then
done so by those able to decipher it. My people, in other words. My fellow
survivors or their scattered descendants who may yet live to carry on our
ways. Perhaps I write this more for myself than for them. Perhaps none
shall ever come here and my work as well as my words shall be forever
lost, forever forgotten, as the wheel of the world rolls ever on.
that is so, then so may it be. Such is in the hands of the gods. Yet as I
move on from this place, I must leave some record for those who may
follow. Whether it means much to them or little, whether the aeons pass
and my poor words are but a moldering curiosity for scholars of some
distant age or whether they might yet have wisdom and value, I still must
let this portion of my tale be told.
where to begin? An accounting of my youth would be a futile vanity, for
the Ranala who lived in the golden city is a memory almost foreign to the
woman I have become. Oh, I could fill pages and pages with the glory of
Govannisan, but to what avail? What would be the use of recalling its
bright walls, its gardens and orchards, its fountains? That place is no
more. It is perhaps better that it fade into legend.
yet I remember it. Even now, it is fresh in my mind despite the passage of
years. I grieve for that city as I grieve for my Rathel. My heart knows
the truth and has always known it, much as that ever-hopeful corner of my
mind may dare to dream that it was not so complete a destruction. It is
folly to think that those who stayed were victorious, that they dwell
still in Govannisan and wait for our return.
because he would have come for me. He swore it to me, and had he been
able, I know that not seas nor mountains nor trackless desert should have
kept him from his oath. Only death could have done that.
my love, song of my soul. How magnificent he was on that final day, and
yet how tender. If I am to write any memory of the city it must be that
one. Of our parting. It pierces me as thought it had been only yesterday.
Rathel so fierce in his armor of scarlet and black, his snowy hair blowing
on the smoke-scented wind and the set of his jaw so very grim.
his eyes … his eyes were gentle. And his words, and his touch. As he
held me to him and kissed my brow, my cheek, my lips. As he pressed a hand
to where our child slumbered, so tiny and new that not even the hint of a
curve had begun to swell my waist. "If I live," he told me,
"I will find you. This by sword and shield I vow."
slipped from his finger to my own the ring of his order, and closed my
hand around it for it was too large. I held to it so tightly that the
sigil upon it impressed into my palm and let him lift me into the basket.
And then the gentleness was gone from him as he donned his helm and took
up his weapons and rallied his soldiers with a great cry.
they all die, I wonder? Those brave men and women whose unflinching duty
it was to remain behind, not so much in defense of a city that was already
doomed but to allow the rest of us a chance at flight, escape, life? How
many others made promises such as my husband made unto me, and how many of
them fulfilled those promises?
how many, like myself, waited and hoped for a day that would never come?
had a portion of him still, in our son. That was more consolation than
many might have known, for I at least could look on my boychild and see
the mirror of his father in his hair, in his eyes, and to a lesser extent
in his face. For he never in all his young life had a look so grim. He
never took up a sword or armor or went to war.
as painful as it is to think and write of Rathel, it is a thousand times
moreso to think and write of Elgovan. A warrior's mate knows what is at
risk, and must accept that near surety of fate. A parent cannot. Even
should one's child become a warrior as well, somehow we feel and believe
that our very love will grant a protection more powerful than the divine.
That an exception will and must be made.
my darling son. No warrior, not in the way his father would have reckoned,
but neither was he weak, nor helpless. He had his training by running with
the gazelle, swimming with the river-dolphin, climbing with the lemur,
hunting with the leopard. Too, he trained with Seema herself, and made of
his body a weapon so refined that he needed no other. I believe that
Rathel would have been proud to behold him, proud to call him a child of
the Starver. So the Rumeli called him, and Idos loathed me with a terrible
fury. It was my work that so displeased him. He liked nothing better than
to bring plagues of blight and withering, so that the people were thin as
sticks with the bloated bellies of those near to dying. Their suffering
amused him and he liked nothing better than to see them fighting for
scraps of rotted fish or chewing hard stalks of blister-grass for
sustenance even as it killed them.
work cost me my son. Had I not come among the people and shown them how to
plant and tend, harvest and store, Idos would not have marked me enemy. He
would not have brought forth the snakes.
bite of them filled the veins of the Rumeli with a venom that struck them
a hideous ailment. No more could they take sustenance from the fruits of
the earth, which only passed through them undigested. No more could the
meat of animals assuage their hunger. A different hunger ruled them then.
of the Cannibal-Bite, he became, for unless they ate of their own kind,
the people became raving and emaciated, skeletons with skin, before dying
in agony. And Idos set his snakes upon me as well. He may have wanted to
inflict me with this curse, knowing that I would have slain myself first.
But Elgovan put himself between us, and the fangs struck him instead even
as he wrung their necks and stamped the life from them.
venom … to this day, I do not know if it was better that way. It did not
affect us as it affected the Rumeli. To us, it proved to be a poison so
swift and so lethal that Elgovan was dead perhaps before he felt the pain
of the bite.
was spared the curse of the cannibal-hunger, and he was spared the
knowledge of his death. In that, I suppose I must take what cold comfort
is offered. It was quick, and he did not suffer.
Idos? As he stood amid his snakes? I shot forth thorns from my hands, sure
and sharp as any arrows. Never had I done such a thing and never would I
again, but in that moment my loss was too great for any thought of mercy.
The thorns tore him and his screams pleased me more than any music. He
fell apart into a wriggling multitude of snakes and sought frantically to
then Terlion had come with his birds, and the sky was darkened with them
and the air filled with their shrieks as they dove and snatched up the
snakes, and with their talons rent them until a ghastly rain of their
blood fell. And in each place where their blood struck the soil, I felt it
burn and spread like a fire. I reached out to counter it else all the land
be made bare.
sprang up in a scattering. Petals red as blood, leaves as banded in shades
of brown and gold as had been the scales of the snakes themselves. I had
somehow so undone the power of Idos that the flowers themselves became a
cure to the cannibal-hunger. The Rumeli – the Ran'ta, as they came to
call themselves in an honor of which I deem myself undeserving – were
spared. They from that very day eschewed all meat and devoted themselves
to the farming of crops.
flowers could not save Elgovan. Nor could I, not with all the mother's
love that I possessed. Terlion would have had me send him away, to the
place where in the end we were all agreed to lie in death, but I could not
bear to do so. Elgovan had never known of that place, and I had never seen
it. Was I to send my son ahead of me, away from his home and the land he
had loved, while I remained with my work unfinished?
refused to let his death be in vain. I would see the land bloom and be
bountiful, that the Rumeli would never know starvation again. To have
abandoned my work in my grief would have been to surrender a victory to
all of the snakes had perished. Not all had fallen prey to the beaks and
claws. I could not chance that the core of Idos might be among them, that
he might return to strength.
so I remained, keeping Elgovan near to me. I did not inter him as was
custom, for the thought of his fair and youthful body succumbing to decay
was beyond bearing. At that time I yet hoped for Rathel to come, and would
have wished him to look upon the face of his son.
brought Elgovan to the tree that had been his very first to plant, when he
was no more than a toddler with his little spade and his wish to be a help
to his Vali. How proud he'd been of that crooked sapling! It became his
tomb, to preserve him as he had been in the very hour of his death.
the years have gone by, I have come to wonder if this was right or wrong
of me. Was it selfishness that I could not let my only child be taken so
far away? Defiance against Idos, against fate? A hope so fleeting I could
not even admit it to myself that someday the gifts of our people might
become so great that the songhealers could bring him back from beyond the
edge of death?
of that matters now. The loss of him is still an ache in my soul but I can
no longer remain here. My work is done. The land is lush and the Rumeli
have learned what I offered. My spell-weavings to forestall famine have
been completed and the crown with its message has been sent.
comes a time when any parent, patron, or tutor must step back and know
that enough has been done. As Terlion knew when the fledglings were ready
to fly or fail on their own, so too is it that time for the Rumeli. Most
of our people have already left them to their own devices. We have
accomplished what we set out do to and helped them to become free of their
like Govannisan, would perhaps do better to pass into legend. Only a few
of us lingered this long. Kelev and I are the last, I believe. He sought
me out, and seeing him grown not just to manhood but to greying maturity
made it clear to me how many years had passed. I knew from the seasons,
but that number meant nothing to me until I saw the lined face of one I
best remembered as a boy playing at blocks with the Karzi children.
it is because we did linger the longest, but Kelev and I are reluctant to
do as our companions have long since done. We have decided together that
we will not go to the meeting-place. We were young, and now are old, and
those who were our elders will have died. Their children may know of us
from stories but will have no need of us. Instead, we intend to go
wherever our paths take us. The Rumeli have prospered and spread over the
lands. Perhaps somewhere, there are tribes who might benefit from our
wisdom and skills.
this, I therefore leave the last of my former life behind. Rathel, Elgovan,
my love for you as wife and mother has never dimmed. When my weary years
are over, may the gods bring us together.