Athera’s Dawn: Chapter 38

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E P I L O G U E

 

Chapter Thirty-Eight

 

WRITING FROM THE END

 

It took seven days for the returning army to reach the northwestern shore of Jerovah, another three days to build rafts and use diji-hi to cross the channel, two days to gather the women and the wounded in Grandath, and four days after that to reach Mt. Dakka. Those of the taken who recanted their allegiance to Morgui were restored to their former states, while those who hadn’t were bound and eventually imprisoned, wooed daily by those desperate to see them made whole.

The weather was fair for the ten-and-six day journey to Tontha, thanks to Morgui’s control being shaken from the land. Messengers had run ahead, so by the time the army came into view of the mountain city, the entire holding was bursting with fanfare.

The banners fluttered in the swift morning air, and the warriors didn’t know whether to weep or shout at first sight of them. The massive stone towers poked over the final mountain peak to the shouts of thousands of people gathered along the ramparts and outside the City Gate. Like a war cry, their voices lifted the hearts of the men and drew them in…

…this time there was no war.

Only peace.

Minstrels and musicians welcomed the victorious warriors into the city as baskets of flower petals were poured from above. Color and sound pervaded the senses, overcome only by the embrace of loved ones—wives, mothers, daughters, and sons—who bounded through the crowd with tears smeared across their cheeks.

Luik sat atop Fedowah, a euphoric sense overtaking him as he passed beneath the City Gate. “Gorn, I remember the celebration before, of the Kings’ Coronations after we returned from Ot, but this…this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

“Aye, Luik, and so it should be. Think on this: The enemy is slain. History will be written to tell of these exploits. Your children, and your children’s children, will learn of them and will take heart! The Most High God will gain renown for many an age. Your charge now is to be grateful for your role in these events, but to make clear to all that this victory belongs to the Most High.”

In the short time since the inhabitants had received the news of the victory, they had prepared a feast unlike any that their people had ever seen. Luik had smelled the cooking fires even before he came into view of Mt. Dakka. And he, like the others, hadn’t eaten in days; his body was weak from all that had been spent on the battle. The scent of fresh bread was enough to make the water rise in his mouth. The aromas of roasting meats—a meal they’d grown accustomed to, not just because other foods were rare—seasonings, and warm mead followed. He could picture mounds of fruit, and knew the vats of wine would not be far behind.

The welcoming of the victorious was only the first cause of celebration, however. Luik had been plotting a more glorious escapade since they first set out for Mt. Dakka, kept from the beautiful ear of the one it was intended for.

His bride-to-be.

On the third morning after their return north, Anorra’s chamber was flooded with maidservants, washing, grooming, and primping her. All her suspicions were confirmed the moment Meera and Ciana brought in the dress—a gloriously white gown, shimmering with the embroidered swans of her seaside homeland, and adorned with diamonds. A string of translucent seashells wove around her neck, and pearls hung from her ears. The sides of her hair were pulled back with a cluster of roses, while the back lay curled down her neck. And atop her head was the crown of Legion, worn last by her long-departed mother, watching today from the realm beyond. This was to be Anorra’s wedding day, and she had never seen a dress so magnificent; nor would her husband ever behold a woman her equal.

Luik had requested the King’s Garden be flooded with white roses—countless lettings never witnessed before or since. Trellises full of them lined the garden; heavy-laden arbors arched before the walkways; pergolas drenched in white covered the sides; and roped nets stretched down from the castle walls and reached to the far side of the garden, each bounding with the pale pedaled beauties. The summer breeze passed through the floral array and washed the audience with the scent of Athera itself.

It was her brother Anondo who walked her down the aisle, escorting her to the songs of minstrels and the gasps of onlookers. And it was Luik who stood in wonder, confusing his dreams with reality; he sided with what his eyes beheld as his dreams had never been this radiant.

Fane conducted the ceremony, bathed in the palpable presence of the Most High now returned to the lands of men. Luik and Anorra sang their vows of dedication and faithfulness, until we are called home to the Great Throne Room, and meant it; they supped on bread and wine in remembrance of the Mighty Son who laid his life down for His Creation, an example of sacrifice they would always follow; and handed a rose to their closest friends as a symbol to help guard the beauty and purity of their union in the summers to come. Then they exchanged arm bands, rings, torcs, and crowns, pledging the seal of love upon their arms, hands, necks, and foreheads.

Luik squeezed Anorra’s hand as Fane was beginning to sing the final pronouncement over them. “This is it,” he whispered. “No going back now.”

“Why would I do that after how far we’ve come?”

“One of the other Dibor may be more—”

“Courageous, passionate, and loving than you? I think not, my King. I stand in honor of you.”

Luik meant to say something back, but Fane was inclining his head.

“What?” Luik whispered to him. “What am I supposed to do now?”

Fane dropped his head, laughing. The audience began shouting: “KISS HER!”

Luik looked back to Anorra. “O, right.” And with that, he took her in his arms and summoned all his love into a single moment of adoration, willing his most passionate affection to conform to a single kiss that would be remembered forever by all those in attendance, and spoken of for generations by those who wished they had been.

Dionia has never seen such a reception banquet. Boards were set up all throughout the King’s Gardens and heaped with more food than anyone had ever seen. It took days for them to finish it all. Even after the feasters were full, the kitchens continued to send out trenchers of beef and fish, stuffed chicken and roast duck. Wheels of cheeses were sliced and served with goblets of wine and fresh date cakes. Such a feast had never been imagined before, let alone consumed. And dine they did!

The afternoons were filled with games and the noise of cheering. Rokla matches were played wherever open ground could be found, even in the city streets. The Dibor joined in easily enough, and friendly rivalries were rekindled from summers past. The players paused long enough to quench their thirst before scrambling for the next gita to begin. Luik took every occasion to tackle the other Dibor but never quite managed to get a hand on Gorn, who continually eluded him. Anorra shouted from the sidelines, content to sit this battle out. And Ciana stood beside her, screaming her brother’s praises.

Luik played the boyhood game with all his heart, letting his body feel the joys of play once more. He tackled Fane more than once, reminiscing about their childhood together; it was only then that his heart felt sorrow, as he wished Hadrian could be there to share in their revelry. Aye, he had betrayed. But who among them had not betrayed the Most High in some way? And who was to say the quality of one man’s peshe was more grievous than another man’s? All sin was detestable. And therefore they were all in need of mercy. Hadrian had betrayed, without question…but he had also ended well. And that was the most important decision of all: to repent and make right the wrongs. To Luik, Hadrian would always be a hero. A friend. A brother.

The nights were spent around hearth fires, faces illuminated by flickering orange flames. Children listened to the heroic stories of their fathers, and more than one bard could be heard singing tales to eager ears. The dwarves lost no time in weaving their ancient tales and using their song craft to paint pictures in the mind.

Luik sat against a tree under the clear night sky as Fane’s song pulled him forward into the otherworldly realms found between waking and sleeping. Anorra snuggled beside him, comforting herself in his warmth. The fire painted their faces in soft yellows and took away the evening chill. Luik had lost track of time, his count of the days adrift somewhere between the trek home and the feasting. But what did it matter? Dionia would never be the same, and this was the occasion for losing oneself in the mood of victory and the wake of love. He had never celebrated like this, nor had any of them. Yet despite his merriment there remained a part of his heart that was misplaced. Something melancholy gnawed at the depths of his soul. And it bothered him. As Fane’s song ebbed with the dying flames, the group in the King’s Garden said their farewells and retired for a well-deserved rest.

When the sun beat warm upon Luik’s face the next day, he kissed his wife, rose and took something to eat in the kitchen. Staying just long enough to greet the cook and thank her for the fare, he made his way to the northern part of the palace and then out into the morning air. He stretched and meandered through the streets, relishing being in Mt. Dakka once again. However, he still could not rid himself of the strange feeling that now sat like hard cheese in his gut.

His feet eventually took him to his favorite conversation spot. To the place where others didn’t talk back.

The stables.

He walked in through the open threshold as the smell of horse sweat, mixed with grain and straw, filled his nostrils. It was so…

…comforting.

Few horses remained in Mt. Dakka, for most of their holdings had been whisked to the Final Battle, as it was being called, and then left in the plain of Jerovah from whence they came. Only those that had not seen war stayed. All, that is, save one.

Fedowah chewed a mouthful of hay and nodded as Luik approached his stall. The horse snorted and shook his mane as if to greet his friend. Luik drew near and blew softly into the animal’s nose, Fedowah’s mind flooding with countless memories in that instant.

“Feeding you well, are they?” Luik asked, patting his neck. Luik still remembered the day he had found Fedowah, or rather the day Fedowah had found him. They had ridden a long way together since then, had seen their share of loss. Their share of bloodshed. But no more. They would never ride into battle again.

There it was again.

His heart longed for…

…for something.

A season had ended. A journey had come to an end. Luik stroked the smooth part of Fedowah’s neck and then scratched vigorously behind his ears. Fedowah had followed Luik all the way home to Tontha, even swimming across the channel when all the other horses had stayed behind in their homeland.

“We’ve seen some hard days together, eh boy?” He paused. “But we won. We won, my friend.”

Fedowah bent to take another pull from the hay mounded in his stall.

“No small thanks to you,” Luik continued. Images of charging into battle filled his head.

His spear strummed against Fedowah’s flanks.

Dirt flew into the air.

Blood stained their skin.

Blood and water soaked their bodies.

Men screamed, demons shrieked.

Pain.

Defeat.

And then the Lion.

Victory.

It had come to such an abrupt end. One moment they were measuring the time until their final breaths, the next they were feasting in the Great Hall of the Mountain King.

“But no more,” Luik concluded. “Now we will enjoy the life we were meant to have. Perhaps I…”

Luik didn’t know how to finish the sentence. Fedowah swallowed and returned for another tuft of hay.

“Perhaps I am just so used to fighting…to having an enemy, that I don’t know what to—”

A door swung open and slammed against a stall. Luik and Fedowah turned.

“O! I’m sorry,” said a tall man, suddenly realizing whom he addressed. “Pardon me, my Lord.” He carried two buckets; water sloshed out of one, the other was filled with grain. He made to turn. “I will come back.”

“Nonsense,” Luik raised his hand, gesturing the man forward. “If you are here for my valiant friend, then by all means, finish your task.”

The man looked to Fedowah and then back to Luik.

“Your friend?” inquired the man, taking a few slow steps forward. Fedowah watched him carefully.

“Aye. Fedowah is my horse.” He slapped the animal’s neck again. “My war horse,” he corrected with a grin.

“So it is true then,” remarked the man and then looked at the horse. “You made it into the service of a King. And not just any King, I might add.”

Luik watched Fedowah hold the man’s gaze.

“You—you know my horse?”

“Indeed,” the man replied, setting the buckets down in front of the stall. He took Fedowah’s muzzle and blew into his large nostrils. He then nuzzled his face with the side of his head. “For I was once his.”

Luik stared, trying to sort out this man’s words.

“I guess you could say I started all this, well, at least what we’ve endured as of late.”

“I don’t understand,” replied Luik.

The man addressed him and extended his arm. “Tadellis, son of Trinade. First of the taken in the Second Age. And now…now I’m…”

All at once Luik recognized him and remembered him from Haides. “Now you’re a beloved friend of Dionia’s High King.” Luik pulled Tadellis to himself by the forearm and embraced him as a brother. It was then he recalled the conversation with Cage: I think you’ll know his horse, Cage had said.

Of course!

Tadellis was overwhelmed with love, moved to tears. “C’symia,” he said softly. It had been a long, hard road. Never had he thought he would be in the embrace of Dionia’s King once again. Ragnar had appointed him to the Lion Vrie, and now Luik was welcoming him back into the land of the living.

Luik held the man back and said, “So, this is your stallion then?”

“Was my stallion, my Lord,” he corrected.

Fedowah looked between them.

“Well, I don’t plan on riding into battle anytime soon,” Luik said winking at Fedowah. “So…”

Fedowah whinnied excitedly and stomped his foot in the straw.

“My Lord, whatever do you mean?”

“I mean that an animal this fine should only be used for war, or ridden by the man who has known him the longest.” He looked at the horse. “Fedowah, will you have him back?”

Fedowah snorted and threw his head up.

“It’s settled then,” Luik concluded.

“My King?”

“He’s yours once more,” Luik replied, smiling widely.

“I don’t know what to—”

“You can start by feeding him,” Luik said, indicating the buckets.

“Aye,” Tadellis replied. “C’symia.”

“It is as it should be. Here now, I’ll leave you two alone.” Luik watched as the pair renewed their friendship over a bucket of grain and a fresh draft of water, and then left the stables and walked back out into the morning light. He stood for a moment, preparing to take the street to his left that curved away down the hill. But a voice called out his name, and he turned toward the palace.

“Luik!”

A small figure came bounding down the avenue from above. A blonde braid of hair swung back and forth behind her.

“Luik!” Ciana yelled. “You’re needed in the Great Hall!”

She finally ran up beside him, and he knelt to embrace her. “What is it, my sister?”

“It is Ta na,” she smiled. Just hearing her make reference to their father so freely felt wonderful. No more secrets. Just light. “He has asked for you to come.”

“Has he now? Whatever for?”

“He said it was important. That is all.”

She took his hand, and the two of them marched back up the hill toward the towering palace above. When they arrived, the halls were bustling with activity. Everywhere they looked someone was moving about, most carrying armloads of clothing, goods, or baskets full of empty sacks waiting to be filled.

Luik grabbed one man by the arm and stopped him. “Pray, tell me. Where are you going in such a hurry?”

“My Lord, is it not your own command?”

Luik became uneasy. “Excuse me?”

“Why, I’m going home,” said the man with a smile. “Everyone is going home.”

“Home?” Luik’s hand released, and the man strode away with a smile. “Home,” Luik whispered again. His heart ached. Was that it?

“Come on.” Ciana pulled his hand forward.

They passed more and more people, each on their own errands, crisscrossing the many hallways with a sense of urgency. At last the siblings came to the doors of the Great Hall. Luik paused, confused as to the man’s response. Home. Luik had given no such order. Yet it was not without merit; going home to Bensotha was a thing he had coveted for so long a time, he nearly had forgotten the desire to return. Until now. But still, he had not given the order. Perhaps it was Ragnar? But he would never dream of usurping Luik’s authority.

“Well?” Ciana wondered.

“Well, what?”

“Aren’t you going to go in?” She turned and looked to the massive iron handles and the articulated latch. The Great Hall.

“Right,” Luik nodded and pulled open the heavy door.

Once through the threshold, Luik looked across the empty chairs and tables to the dais. His heart skipped a beat. The White Lion stood tall beside Tontha’s throne. Luik nearly missed a step as he fought to breathe. What was He doing here? He walked forward, and Ciana steadied him, gripping his hand with both of hers. Luik then realized they were not alone; the Dibor were gathered near, as were the Lion Vrie and the Immortals. Li-Saide and Gorn stood there, with Ragnar, Meera, and Anorra. Even Pia and Rourke were there, their faces glowing—and Sheffy, whose hand had been restored. The presence of so many friends—of his family—was a beautiful sight. He only wished more were there…those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for this moment to be shared by all.

“You need not worry,” the White Lion spoke as Luik arrived. “It was I who gave the order to return home.”

“So we’re all going home?” Luik wondered like a little boy.

“Aye,” replied the Most High. “It is time Dionia received her people again.”

Luik stopped just in front of his Maker and then looked to those gathered. They stared at him with expectancy in their eyes. The White Lion went on.

“It is time that the ruins be rebuilt. The city walls, the palace towers, the villages and their homes. All of it. Luik, I charge you this day with the restoration of Dionia. Bring her back; but may she be even more glorious than she was before, so that the enemy will know he cannot destroy My people.”

“As you have spoken, so it will be done.”

“Very good. Your people will march on your word.”

“C’symia, my King.” Luik paused for a moment. The White Lion didn’t speak; neither did any one of Luik’s men. A thought was nagging at Luik’s mind, one he longed to ask. He feared he might be rebuked, but it must be posed for him to get any rest in the days ahead.

“My Lord,” Luik said, “what about our enemy? What about Morgui and his army?”

“I have defeated Morgui and conquered peshe, even death. I have placed him under My feet and so, too, shall he be under yours. No longer will he threaten Dionia or your people. You are to destroy every Sif Gate that remains. In doing so you will cut off his ability to reenter this world. But even if he should find his way back here, know this: You are no longer the pursued, but the pursuer. He will always be hunted and never find rest. For my Father has sent the Great Spirit, and He will forever abide in you.”

“The Gift you spoke of,” Luik concluded.

“Indeed. He is the mighty Rushing Wind who baptized you in Fire.”

Luik noticed that everyone nodded in acquiescence.

“Now where will You go, Most High?” Anorra spoke up.

The White Lion looked to her. “My Father calls for Me. I must heed His summons and return to Athera.”

“Will you take us?”

“Nay, my child. It is not your turn to journey home yet. You are needed here to lead your people and,” He paused, “to support your King—your husband.”

Anorra looked to Luik and blushed with pride.

“Nay, you shall all live a prosperous life here,” the Lion raised His voice. “The best is yet to come!”

“Hey’a!” the men cheered as one.

“There remains a few matters more,” the White Lion added. The throng followed the Lion’s stare to Gorn. The dark warrior returned the gaze and stepped forward. “It is time, Gorn.”

Gorn bowed his head. “Aye. It is time indeed.”

Li-Saide stepped beside him and took his hand. “It has been nothing but my life’s honor to serve with you for this season.”

“And I with you,” Gorn replied.

Luik noticed that both of them had tears streaming down their cheeks. “I—I don’t understand. What’s happening?”

The White Lion looked to Gorn. The warrior pulled the Ring of Bensotha from his finger and moved in front of Luik. Handing him the ring he said, “The fruitful hills and thatched homes you saw on my crown did not look like anything in Bensotha …because they are not from Bensotha.” He paused. “I am not from Bensotha, or any other realm in this paradise.” He looked to the White Lion.

The Lion prodded him onward with a dip of his head.

“I am from the First World. I am from Earth.”

There was an audible gasp from everyone that heard it.

“Earth?” Luik said.

“Aye, from a massive land with mountains and plains, deserts and forests. My people roamed throughout the great expanses hunting and foraging for food. But eventually we settled along a mighty river and built our cities on the edge of the sea where all matter of life sprung up around us. An oasis in the desert. I was born to a long line of warriors within my tribe, and I grew strong under the tutelage of my father, as he had done under his father. When I had grown to a man, I had become the greatest warrior in the land.

“It was long proclaimed that we would harbor a peculiar people, a people that would bring curses upon us. When that people finally came, they were weak and pitiful, and I was given charge over them. I ruled over them with an iron fist as I was the Chief of Warriors, pledged to my Pharaoh in blood. But when the Great God came to rescue His chosen people, I could not help but follow them, for I had never seen such a display of power in the midst of such weakness.” Gorn’s eyes drifted to a far-off place. “What I saw—what we all saw—were miracles. Surely their God was greater than any of ours. And the allegiance of my life changed. I made a new covenant; my life was no longer my own.

“It was not long after our escape into the desert land that the Most High had need of me elsewhere. That is when He brought me here, to Dionia, and gave me charge over a new people.” He looked hard into Luik’s eyes. “You, Luik. And the rest of the Dibor. You were my calling. And now that my orders have been fulfilled, it is time I, too, return home.”

Luik tried desperately to wrap his mind around it all. “I—” He looked to Gorn. “I don’t have any words.”

“I don’t expect you to understand, my King. I hardly do myself at times.” He chuckled. “But I do want you to know this one thing: It has been the greatest honor of my life to teach you, to train you, and to see you become the man you are today. You will forever be my friend. My swordbrother.”

With that he handed Luik the Ring of Bensotha. But Luik refused it, saying, “If it is true, these things that you say, then you are far more noble than any of us will ever be. To risk your life for your own people is one thing, but to give it for another, twice over, demands the utmost respect. Though Rourke may well rule in your place, you will forever be a King of Dionia.” He took Gorn’s weathered hand and folded his fingers back over the jewel.

Gorn fought back more tears and thanked Luik. The two embraced, after which the rest of the Dibor surrounded him and said their own farewells. It was a solemn moment as unplanned words were exchanged, tears smeared with the backs of hands. This man had taught them how to fight, taught them how to survive. But more than that, he had taught them how to be a team. How to give everything and endure anything. How to be victorious.

“Gorn,” said the White Lion, “we must leave. And you, too, Li-Saide.”

“What?” Luik blurted out.

“Now make no fuss about me,” Li-Saide spoke up.

“But you are not from Earth!” Luik paused. “Are you?”

“True enough,” the dwarf nodded. “True enough. But I have been called to the Great Throne Room in service of the Most High.”

“This is not true.” Luik turned to the White Lion. “Is this true?”

Li-Saide removed his billowy hat to reveal a bald, blotchy skinned head. “Luik, I have lived long ages, countless ages, and have recorded every spoken word, both of Man and of Creation. Faithfulness has been my call. And I have served well, I trust. But I am tired, dear one. It has been a long road. And I fear I could not live well with the memories of so much loss continually in my mind. It is too great. Perhaps that is why He has called me onward. He has called me home.”

“I understand,” Luik conceded. “I will have enough trouble as it is living with those memories.”

“Ah, yes, but you are Man, and your memory fades. You think this a curse, but it is a blessing, in fact. We dwarves never forget. Good memories bring hope, bad ones plague us. And I fear that I have more bad than good at this point.”

“Then may your last memory of Dionia serve you well in eternity. If there be anything you wish—anything at all—it will be done for you, Li-Saide of Ot, Chief of the Tribes. Just name it.”

Li-Saide looked in silence to Luik, fingering his patchwork hat. “There is one thing.”

“You have only to speak it,” Luik replied.

“You once made a promise when the tall trees of Grandath still stood in all their glory. Before the new kings were crowned, before you crossed the border of Ligeon, you spoke of a legacy that you wished to one day undo.” Li-Saide paused. “Free the dwarves.”

“Free the dwarves,” Luik repeated. His mind raced back. From the foundation of her Creation, the Tribes of Ot had always served Dionia. Sworn to record and protect the written history of her existence and that of her inhabitants, theirs was an unending duty of loyalty. Never had they ceased, never had they missed a moment. Under their attentive care, not a single word had fallen to the ground. “In the name of the Most High God, be it known this day that you and all your kind are loosed from the bonds of your vow. You are free.”

Li-Saide wept and walked into Luik’s embrace. He shed tears for a life lived in service of others and never in pursuit for himself; he wept for long ages spent listening to the cares of the world, never once voicing his own; and he cried for the lives of his people, a people that he would see only from afar as they ventured out into the unknown, living their lives without any task in mind. To live simply for the sake of living.

“C’symia,” Li-Saide quivered. “You are the greatest of all Kings that have ever lived.”

“In truth, I am nothing,” Luik confessed into the dwarf’s little ear.

“I know. That is what makes you so great.”

When Li-Saide finally pulled himself away, the same throng that had bid Gorn farewell greeted him. The Dibor showered him with affection and words of endearment. They owed him their lives.

At last Li-Saide stood before Fane.

“The mantle passes to you now, Fane of the Mosfar.” Li-Saide took his hand and plopped his hat into it. “Something to remember me by.”

“I will always remember you,” Fane said.

“And I you,” replied the Chief. “My people will need a leader now, and I trust no other as I trust you. You have learned the ways of the Mosfar, and the secrets of Dionia will live on in you and those who learn from you. Teach well; be quick to listen and slow to speak.”

“Aye, as you have taught me.”

“As I have taught you, aye.”

“Li-Saide,” the White Lion reminded him.

“I am ready,” replied the dwarf, smoothing out his robe and turning to the Lion. He and Gorn walked to the Lion’s feet and then looked back to the company around them.

“Grinddr, you and your men may come as well,” said the White Lion. “Should you remain, you will forfeit the blessing on your life of longevity and be subject to the aging of your brothers until I see fit to call you home. But I give you the choice, something I offer no other.”

Luik watched as the noble warrior turned to his men and said, “You may stay, each of you. Take wives and have children. Or you may proceed to the great beyond. It is as you wish.”

The Immortals had been in protection of the people of Dionia since the First Battle, surpassed in age only by the dwarves. Grinddr looked back to the Lion and stepped forward a pace. “You have my sword in Athera, my King.”

“And mine,” said another man who stepped forward. The declaration of fidelity was echoed numerous times thereafter until more than half the Immortals stood before the Great Lion. Those that remained behind bid their brothers farewell. While the parting was bitter for those watching, the warriors knew that it was but a momentary parting, as their perception of time had shown how short the season of a man truly was. They would be reunited soon enough. While some of the men longed to have what they could not while in service to the Most High here on Dionia, Grinddr longed only for one thing: to see the vast and ever increasing frontiers of Athera. New worlds and expanding spaces unexplored by Creation, known only in the mind of the Creator Himself.

“There is much to see,” Grinddr said to the Most High. “I am ready.” He looked back over his shoulder. “And Luik, c’symia. It has been my honor to protect you.” He made the sign of blessing and took his place with his men, leaving the remnant, and stood behind Gorn and Li-Saide.

Though Luik could not be more content, there was a part of his soul that was torn—he wanted to stay…but to go to Athera was an awfully grand adventure. He was jealous…of them all. Of Gorn, to actually walk the Earth where the Most High had sacrificed his own life; of Grinddr, who would finally rest from his duties and explore all that the Mighty Father had for him; of Li-Saide, who would quickly be in Athera, surrounded by the Magnificent—those who had already gone on to glory. Luik saw each of their faces in his mind’s eyes: Thero and Thad; Brax, his dear friend; Gyinan; and Najrion; Lair would be there, as would Hadrian; the Kings killed in Adriel and Grandath would also be there: King Thorn, King Purgos, King Nenrick, and the Horse King of Jerovah. It had been so long since Luik had seen them.

Had he forgotten what they looked like? But all at once their faces didn’t seem so foreign. In fact, they were as clear as day, shining radiantly before his eyes.

Luik snapped out of his daze and looked about. A majestic light filled the Great Hall, coming from somewhere far behind the White Lion, as if from another room that stood an eternity apart. Gorn, Li-Saide, and Grinddr with his men stood before the Lion as before, but to their right and left were a host of others, men and women that Luik instantly recognized. Not just them, but children also. Babies clutched in their mothers’ arms, boys and girls smiling back at him from across time. The slaughtered were now whole.

Luik raised a hand and waved. Lair waved back first and laughed. Hadrian smiled, his dark complexion glowing as if in the presence of the sun. Anorra clutched Luik’s arm and wept as she waved to her Ta na, his red hair and curly beard jouncing as he let out a deep guffaw. Gyinan stood beside him and raised a hand as well. And there was Brax, whole and handsome, his face as regal as they all remembered. The Sons of Jerovah wept with joy as they saw their father, King Daunt, as did the other Dibor who had lost the patriarchs of their family lines.

“We are waiting for you,” King Thorn said loudly. “We’re all waiting for you!”

“I love you, Ta na!” Anorra yelled, choking on her tears with one hand wrapped tightly around Luik’s arm, the other waving frantically.

“And I love you, my princess,” Thorn replied

“Don’t go!” she screamed.

But the light around them was fading, as if retreating back into the far-off room. Those gathered searched for the faces of their loved ones, willing them not to dissipate. Anorra called again, but the scene before her soon disappeared.

All was still.

The White Lion was gone, as were some of the greatest warriors Dionia had ever seen. It felt like a dream, but was too powerful to be anything less than reality. No one moved for a long time after that. They stared at the far wall as if the strange apparition might suddenly reappear. But it never did.

A sense of awe still hung over them all as they slowly shifted on their feet and moved to face one another. Anorra turned in her husband’s arms and held him. Others placed a hand on a shoulder or embraced in the moment. It was the end of an era. But the beginning of a new one.

Three days later Luik set out for Bensotha with his bride and his people, and after the long trek through Ligeon and over the Border Mountains, he settled in the land of his forefathers. There Anorra would bear him two sons and three daughters. Together with their people they would rebuild the walls of Adriel and bring glory back to the jewel of Dionia.

 

• • •

 

While Adriel Palace housed Luik and his family officially, they much preferred the small home he had grown up in to the east in Bensotha, spending most of their time in the restored cottage. Luik sat in his chair late into the evenings, writing in a massive book…an invention adopted from Earth, something Fane had told him of. The candlelight flickered atop his desk, a piece of furniture modeled after those he had once seen in the Scriptoriums in Ot.

He hesitated, holding his quill above the ink reservoir, wondering if he had spent too much time writing again tonight. Anorra would be cross with him, surely. There was just so much to record. And it was always his habit to lose track of time. He was sure the hour was late. She would probably give him only stale bread for dinner.

Just then he heard giggling from behind the wooden chest on the floor, the children hiding all too unsuccessfully in their evening ritual.

“Ta na’s at it again!” the middle one whispered.

“I say we hide his quill!”

“And the book, too!”

Suddenly Luik stretched out his arms and then pretended to fall asleep on his work. At once the children leapt from their cover and piled on his back. Luik roared and turned on them, wrestling the lot to the ground. They laughed and wiggled, each tickled ruthlessly, gasping for air and begging him to stop.

Anorra poked her head in the door just then. “Always have your nose in that book of yours, I see.”

“It seems the children have made sure I pull myself away.”

“Aye. I do love you for it though, Luik. You always have so much to say.”

“But isn’t there? What a thing we have lived to see.”

Anorra nodded. “So you say. And your children’s children will bless you for recording it. Still,” she turned back toward the hearth fire and called over her shoulder, “you’ll have nothing but cold stew for dinner.”

 

T H E  E N D

– – –

Author’s Note:

I really hope you enjoyed reading Athera’s Dawn for free on my site. I love that I have the freedom to give things away like this (versus the tighter control of a legacy publisher). I hope the story touched your life in some way, and more, that God touched your life in some way. That was always the hope.

Please pass the links to these chapters along to family and friends.

To get the rest of the features in the book, like my “From The Author” chapter, Character Library, Glossaries, and more, you’ll need to purchase either the physical or ebook versions.

Happy New Year!

ch:

– – –

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  • Glade

    It is truly a wonderful trilogy, Sir Hopper! It has an amazing ending! I love the fact that Gorn was from earth; it was quite a surprise. And all three books are so easy to picture; it seems so real. I love the Dionian words, like C’symia. I use it sometimes instead of thank you. C’symia, for posting it here on your blog for us to read! May you have a wonderful New Year! I anxiously await more works from your pen; if I recall correctly, I remember reading a long time ago–it seems–that you were working on something new with the initials TSR, I believe. If so, then I can’t wait to read it! And also the next Berinfell book!

    God bless you and your family, Sir Hopper. Thank you for all that you do.

    • Thank you for you kind words! They mean so much. Truly.

      Yeah, that bit about Gorn I thought was a nice twist. Glad it caught you by surprise.

      I do indeed have a new series I’m working on! And TSR are in fact the code-named initials. Good memory! The project has been put on hold solely to work on Berinfell III. But it will come soon enough I gather.

  • Elizabeth

    I saved all of these chapters. 🙂 I can’t wait to read them when I have more time!! It looks so exciting! Thanks so much for doing this. 🙂 I really need to read more of your books and this is a great way to get people interested in them! 🙂

    • Thanks for your enthusiasm, Elizabeth. Let me know what you think when you’re done. Happy New Year!

  • gabe

    i just finished reading it this morning, and WOW. that was totally AWESOME!
    C’symia for writing and posting this awesome novel. 🙂
    I look forward to bernifell 3, and whatever this new series might be 😀

    • Thanks again, Gabe. What a blessing. Look forward to releasing future work to people like you!