The Princess’ Grief
Princess Artanna of Tan Kolar watched her mother sink to the ground and lie still. Litanus, the acolyte of her father who had done the deed, released the garotte from around the woman’s neck. He knelt and confirmed that she was dead. The Night Lord, Artanna’s father, began the rites to ensnare her mother’s spirit to empower his new pact.
Realizing that the lich who held her was gone and the mental haze that had kept her reactions muted was fading, Artanna turned and began to walk swiftly away. Tears started to run down her cheeks. Valdeth Pranathis scurried after her. The tall, somewhat portly man in a black cloak was her father’s vizier. He was no sorcerer, but looked after more mundane affairs of her father’s palace like money and supervising construction projects.
“It is all necessary, Princess,” Pran said, his voice almost apologetic, when he caught up with her, “someday, the power your father has unleashed, this palace, the great army that even now conquers in his name, will all be yours.”
Artanna stopped and whirled on the man.
“I don’t need power or palaces or armies. I need my mother,” she snapped, her eyes ablaze with rage.
“She knew the day would come, that you were her legacy to the Night Lord’s mission.”
“Why did it have to come? Why is everything around here about death? Most of the so-called people here are dead, Pran. Does that not bother you at all?”
“It is for the greater good, for the day when the Night Lord shall hold the world in his sway and remake it according to his great plan.”
Artanna spat on him.
“Who the hell wants to live in such a world?” she raged, then turned and raced away.
The princess headed towards the tall, gloomy tower that was the only home she knew. In her heart, Artanna was already preparing for the day when she would turn on her cruel father, when she would use his own sorcerous arts and knowledge against him. Until then, she would have to bide her time.
A Blade for a Healer
“I need a blade, Lond. A good, sturdy sword,” Tana said.
Lond, the blacksmith of Hyrford and the healer’s lover for over a year, looked up from his forge.
“I have a couple blades put away. I made them some time ago but they were not needed so I have never mounted them to their hilts.”
“I don’t need anything fancy, just a way to hold it if I must use it.”
As if, Lond thought, Tana would ask for such a thing without the intent of using it.
“I’ll show you one. Give me a minute.”
The smith went back and opened a chest at the back, near the door into his home. From it, he lifted a bundle wrapped in cloth. He brought the object forward and unwrapped it on a table by the forge. Inside was a long blade that gleamed red in the light from the furnace.
“I think this might be one of the best I have ever made. Too bad it has never been used. I would love to see how it holds up.”
Tana ran a finger along the blade, feeling its cool smoothness. There was enough room on one side for what she needed.
“This is perfect, Lond. I also need a sturdy sharp tool so I can mark some signs upon it.”
“What is this for?” the smith asked, his voice soft and a bit suspicious.
“I made a promise to go and free my mother, Lond. It is time to do it.”
“You’ll need it blessed then, if you plan to use it to fight spirits and monsters.”
“No blessing is needed for me. Sorcery can fight sorcery.”
Lond sighed. He had only recently discovered that the woman with whom he shared a bed was the daughter of the sorcerer-warlord known as the Night Lord. Tana had saved Deira, Hyrford’s healer, by using knowledge learned from her father to break an ancient sorcerous pact. That action had revealed her origins to him and the other healer.
“Is that not dangerous? If sorcery fights sorcery, does that not mean sorcery wins no matter what?”
“In the right hands, Lond, sorcery can protect as well as destroy.”
“And you, the daughter of the Night Lord, are the right hands? You could just as easily become like your father, could you not?” Lond said, voice tense with both worry and anger.
“I am a healer, Lond. Sorcery for me is a tool for healing, not power over life and death as it was for him. My mission is to heal the world of the wounds inflicted by my father. Saving my mother is part of that, since it will also break whatever pact required her as a sacrifice.”
“I am frightened by you undertaking this, but I guess I understand why you must. I can have the blade ready in a few days. Will you at least take Oben along? My bum leg makes me useless as a companion or bodyguard, but he’s still pretty spry.”
He refrained from reminding her that the bum leg was a war wound inflicted by one of her father’s undead soldiers; products of the sorcery she was going to use.
“It is better that I do this myself. That way no one but myself is placed in danger. I must walk into Tan Kolar itself and who knows what remnants of my father’s dark art might lie there.”
Lond nodded. He had been pretty sure what the answer was going to be even before he asked. There had to be a reason Tana needed a sword.
It took Tana seven days to prepare the weapon once Lond had it completed and delivered to her home in the woods near the town of Olsham. Carefully, she inscribed a series of seven runes, one each day, on to the blade.
As she made the runes, Tana sang ancient chants that she had learned from her father and his acolytes. It was not a complete pact, just preparation for one that she might have to make to bind a certain spirit. The final steps could not be done until the right time and place.
After another two days to prepare for the journey, Tana slipped away very early one morning. The trip to Tan Kolar could take weeks. She would have to pause at times to rest and obtain provisions. As she walked along the road out of the valley, Tana chanted an old song that she had learned from her mother.
Return to The Palace of Night
At first look, it seemed that very little remained of Tan Kolar. However, after Tana ascended the hill from which she had once observed Tan Kolar’s collapse, the healer could see that a few buildings still stood within the walls. Some sections of the great walls still stood as well, though many parts had been torn down. The huge rents in the defenses were likely intended to make it useless as a fortification should some future threat emerge.
Tana descended the hill to where a small cart pulled by a donkey waited. She had purchased both a few days before along with a shovel and a sturdy wooden box that sat in the cart. The cart would enable her to transport her mother’s remains home and also made it easier to carry sufficient provisions for the final stage of the journey.
The sword rested in a scabbard on Tana’s left hip. The healer had also secreted the knife she used for preparing herbs and various other tasks under her clothing. It was really too small to be useful as a weapon, but Tana wanted something left if she lost the sword.
Tana left the cart in a field a distance from the East gate. She tied up the donkey with enough line to let the animal move around and graze. Finally, the healer put on a pack with some food and her healing supplies. Feeling ready, Tana began to walk towards the gate. It was starting to get dark, but she hoped to keep this initial visit to her one-time home short.
The great arch of the gate still stood as did a bit of the wall around it. However, the massive gates themselves were gone. Tana guessed that they had likely been knocked down and destroyed by the army of the Great Alliance once it had defeated her father’s forces outside. For a moment, the healer wished that she had asked Oben to come. A sergeant in that army, he might know more of what happened in those last hours. She had fled by the time the army breached the gate.
As she walked through the battered cobblestone streets, Tana watched carefully. There was no sign of life, but the healer still felt a need to be cautious. To her left, almost everything was in ruins, smashed when the great central tower fell over. The remains of the tower and the buildings it destroyed were charred from the fire elemental that had raged through the palace after she released it from captivity.
Near the tower, there had been a circle of pillars like one Tana had destroyed months before in the woods near Hyrford. The Circle of Tan Kolar, as the one here was called, was where her mother had been murdered and her corpse buried. It was also where her spirit might still be bound and in torment.
There was a good chance that the Denith Lorn, the Alliance’s priests, would have tried to use their blessings to drain its power. Tana was unsure as to whether they could have succeeded. Even if they had, it was unlikely that they would have released her mother.
Tana was surprised to see the circle standing, though in rather rough shape. If the pact that powered it was still in force, it should have looked as good as new. The healer guessed that a blessing had been made that at least partly drained its power.
She felt nervous as she walked into the circle. A large block of black stone lay on the ground near the centre, close to where her mother’s grave should be. There was something small sitting on it. As Tana neared, she could see that the object was a charred skull. The healer shuddered, realizing whose skull it probably was. Her hand reached for the hilt of her sword.
The Night Lord’s Fall
Artanna entered the great chapel in the base of the tower. Her father stood there, resplendent in the great black robes of his office of Night Lord of Tan Kolar. It was an office he had created, of course. However, with the force of his sorcery behind it, few dared argue. Until the arrival of the Alliance’s army and the Denith Lorn that was.
“How is the battle going?” he asked her.
Artanna was nervous, but kept it hidden. She had not come to tell her father of the progress of the war. In her hand was a lance empowered by a sorcerous pact she had made quietly one night in the palace’s forge, ostensibly to practice that rite and prepare for the coming attack. Her father seemed to suspect nothing. After all, nearly everyone in the palace was armed on this terrible day. Even Pran had been wearing a sword when Artanna last saw him.
“They are drawing closer, but slowly. Our army fights hard.”
As one would expect. The spirits animating the horde of corpses that took the field for her father were demons of violence and bloodlust. Fighting hard was all they knew.
“But they are not winning the day, are they?” he said softly.
“No. The Denith Lorn are present and summoning power such as we have never seen from them before.”
“The pacts will hold them for a time, though. We can begin the rites to raise a new pact, summon more power to cast them out.”
Her father’s voice rose, his eyes blazed, as he contemplated what sorcery might salvage the day for him.
“No,” said Artanna, her voice calm.
Artanna’s father looked stunned at this simple word. The princess steeled herself and prepared for what she must do.
“No? Are you defying me, daughter?”
Artanna smiled, resigning herself to her next action and whatever might come of it.
It had been a decade since the Night Lord had used the sacrifice of Artanna’s mother to power some great new pact in the Circle of Tan Kolar. Throughout that decade, anger had seethed within the girl. She had learned her lessons well from her father and others. But her plan had never been to use that knowledge in the way that her father intended.
Without warning, Princess Artanna lowered the lance and drove the weapon’s blade into the startled man’s chest. A look of surprise, rather than fear, replaced the stern arrogance that was her father’s usual countenance. The Night Lord let out a gasp, then sank to the floor. The pact on the weapon gave it the power to strike down even the world’s greatest sorcerer.
Steeling herself, Artanna found the great sword that was her father’s main weapon. The sword also bore the runes of a pact, but the princess had never quite figured out what that pact was.
Taking a couple deep breaths, she swung it hard into the Night Lord’s throat. It bit in deep, but hardly deep enough. Blood flew into the dimly lit room. Artanna took one more swing, biting deeper, then sawed the blade the rest of the way through his neck. Her father’s head fell away from his body, landing on the floor next to him. Pierce the heart, then remove the head. This was the only way to be sure of destroying a sorcerer.
The Princess stared, not sure if she was happy or horrified at her deed. Artanna’s stomach churned with nausea as she realized that she was covered in her father’s blood. Somehow keeping herself from vomiting, Artanna turned and fled. With the Night Lord of Tan Kolar slain, the fall of Tan Kolar itself was now all but certain.
The Last Pact of Tan Kolar
Tana turned away from the skull, preparing to leave. Something was terribly wrong here. Her father’s body and head should be buried in the ruins of his tower, the place where she had slain him. As she began to walk away, a familiar female voice spoke.
“Artanna, is it you? Why have you come?” said her mother. Her voice was faint, almost inaudible, like the whisper of a slight breeze. Her image was even fainter, just a slight disturbance in the growing gloom of twilight.
“Mother, I came for you,” the healer said.
“No. You must go. The Night Lord is waiting. He wants you here, to make you his once again. To take all you have and use you to restore himself.”
“I was never his, Mother. He perished by my hand. I hated him and all he stood for once he took you from me.”
“His people come,” her mother said, “so you must go. They will give you to him. There is more than just you at stake, my daughter.”
Then the phantom was gone.
Tana’s ears pricked up at the sound of approaching voices. The healer fled in a different direction than planned, finding a hiding place where she could watch the circle.
Three men entered the circle, two with torches. Leading them was a tall man in black. Other than his white hair, Valdeth Pranathis had changed little. She did not recognize the others but that did not matter. Knowing that her father’s vizier still lived and still served her father in some way was enough. Her hand came to rest on the hilt of the sword.
The two with torches set them in sconces on the sides of the altar, then all three knelt before the skull.
“You call us, my Lord?” Pran said in a hushed, almost formal, tone.
For the first time since the Fall of Tan Kolar, Tana heard the bass growl of her father’s voice.
“The heir who betrayed me is among us. You must bring her. Her body is mine by the Pact of Alys Tral.”
Tana shuddered. That was the pact her mother had died for. So it had been aimed at her. Her mother’s death had been about binding Tana to her father in some way. She would need to steel herself, to once again strike down her father. This time, though, Tana had to make sure all traces of him were cast out of the world. Her own life and spirit depended on it.
Then Tana shuddered at a realization. She had heard her father’s voice. Disembodied spirits had no voice, only the ability to communicate words directly to the spirits of those they were addressing. If Tana heard her father’s voice, he must know she was there. And wanted her to know.
“Halt. Who are you? What are you doing here?” snapped a male voice.
Tana sighed and turned to see a man in a leather jerkin and trousers pointing a spear at her. She smiled and stepped towards him, which would make her visible to the others. It was time to finish this.
“I am Artanna, Princess of Tan Kolar. I have come home,” she announced. Her voice was solemn but there was a twinkle in her eye.
The man glanced down.
“Remove your blade. Put it on the ground,” he commanded, his voice shaking a little.
Apparently, her pronouncement had not impressed the guard, or whatever the man was. He looked too young to remember the war. Tana drew her sword and put it carefully on the ground. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Pranathis and the other men with him approaching.
“So the treacherous princess has returned. Come to make amends for your patricide?” the vizier said, sneering slightly.
Tana ignored that remark.
“You still serve the darkness, do you? I thought the fall of Tan Kolar would have liberated you as well.”
“His power is still great and he has need of my help. He requires a body. And yours is now available.”
The old man had a wicked gleam in his eye. Tana was surprised. She had believed Pran was a better man than this. Perhaps her father had a stronger hold on the vizier than she realized.
“Not yet, it is not. So how did you get these poor souls to follow you?”
“There are those who see your father as a great man, Princess,” Pran explained, “They recognize the value of power and seek to follow such a man as him. I have promised them a place of privilege and prestige in the new world your father will build.”
The healer chuckled and shook her head.
“They will die, Pran. If not at Father’s hand, then yours. He will want their bodies for his liches or some other demon.”
“He will grant them my promise. You know that, Princess.”
“In his way, I suppose.”
Pran smirked and glanced back towards the skull.
“Come before The Night Lord, errant princess. Bow before your father.”
Tana followed him back into the circle. One of the men grabbed the healer and forced her to stand directly before the skull. And, she realized, directly over her mother’s probable grave.
Pran solemnly raised the skull, and another man placed a tapestry over the stone. It held an image of a girl with a dark form looming behind her. Runes ran down either side. Once it was in place, Pran put the skull back.
Tana remembered her mother making this tapestry on instructions from her father. She had finished it the night before her murder. Now the healer read the runes and realized what the pact was. It bound Tana to her father, it made her body his possession in effect. Upon her physical death, her father’s spirit could replace her own and claim her body as its own.
“Behind you!” her mother’s voice suddenly called out.
Tana started to turn and raised a hand. Suddenly, something wrapped around her throat and tightened. So it was to be a garrote, like her mother. Tana began struggling and sank to the ground. With one hand, she grabbed the noose and tried to loosen it as it squeezed her windpipe shut. She managed to fill her lungs enough to give her a minute or two.
Then she heard her mother’s voice saying, “Take heart. Have courage. He cannot take you. Your body is already bound to another, my daughter. Fight and live.”
Tana did not understand what her mother meant by her body belonging to another. There was Lond, of course, but she had never known simple physical and emotional love to defeat sorcerous pacts. He did not bind to her body and spirit in a way that would keep her father from taking her. Then it dawned on her. There was one way another could have such an unbreakable bond to her.
“It cannot be, can it?” she whispered.
Tana withdrew a hand inside her cloak. Her fingers closed around the handle of her knife. The noose tightened. Tana looked up to see a red light blazing within the skull. She grinned.
Not tonight, Father, she thought. The healer’s hand erupted from the sleeve of her cloak to plunge the knife into her attacker’s arm.
The garrote went limp and a scream tore through the darkness. Tana rose, gasping for air, to see that her attacker was Pranathis himself. She grabbed the garrote. Before the other stunned men could react, Tana got behind Pran and slipped the cord around his neck.
“My sword, please, or your leader shall suffer the fate meant for me,” the healer commanded in a stern voice.
To make her point, Tana tightened the garotte a little. Pran’s eyes bulged and he clutched his wounded arm, blood staining his fingers and clothing.
The man who had captured Tana in the first place came forward. He looked frightened, though the healer was not sure if he was frightened of her or of the skull that she knew was blazing with light behind her. The man dropped the sword in front of Pran. Tana kept her grip on the vizier and pushed him forward until the sword was behind them. Then she released Pran and shoved him away. Keeping her eyes on him and his men, Tana stooped and picked up her sword.
“Now go. All of you,” the healer commanded, letting herself be a princess for once, “wait for me by the old East gate. I will need your services later. And I shall treat this wretch’s injuries, then.”
Pran, still whimpering and clutching his bloody arm, raced to join his companions. The healer held the sword threateningly between her and the men until they were out of sight. Then Tana turned to her father.
A dark shadow loomed over the stone and skull. From within the shadow, she saw a grim, bearded countenance. Tana knew that face. It was an image burned in the healer’s brain forever.
“What will you do now, foolish daughter?” the spirit of the Night Lord rumbled, “the pact remains. You are bound to me unto death. Give me your body and let my mission resume.”
“I broke the Pact of Tan Kolar and dispersed your army, father. I broke the pact of Pras Tola to save another healer. Why would I not break this pact, too?”
Except, Tana realized, the pact was already broken if her mother spoke truly and she was already bound to another. That binding would be hard for even her father to break.
The spectre grinned and his eyes blazed like those of his skull.
“Your defiance is amusing, but how would you do that? Your own spirit might suffer.”
“Less than my mother’s spirit has. Less than I would if I surrendered my form to you.”
Except that was not going to happen. It could not happen now. Smiling Tana walked forward. She gripped the sword in both hands and raised it over her head. The healer began to finish what she had begun when she engraved the runes on her blade.
“Nalis,” she said, beginning the final rite to complete the pact.
There was silence.
“Tian,” Tana recited.
“The Pact of Nalis Tian? You cannot do this. Where did you learn this?” the Night Lord roared.
From you, the healer thought, but she could not speak now that the rite had begun.
“Nalis Tian cannot hold me. Where are my men? Why aren’t they stopping you?”
A glance told Tana that they had stayed away as ordered. Perhaps they, too, were ready to be rid of her father for good.
His anger turned to bargaining.
“I will not take you, Artanna. Rather, I shall raise you up as my equal and together we shall rule the world; you as Night Lady of Tan Kolar, me as your guide and mentor.”
“Talris,” she said softly, ignoring his attempt at bribery. Or was it extortion?
“You shall heal as no one has ever healed before,” the shade vowed, sounding more desperate, “you shall make the world perfect in your eyes.”
Tana knew that doing so with sorcery would corrupt her eventually. Perhaps that was how her father had begun his descent; by thinking he could make a better world. Only by breaking her father’s power and then turning her back on his sorcery could Tana truly heal herself and the world. And protect the one to whom she was bound.
“Orvis,” she said, her voice rising and stern.
There was no response this time. The shadow over the skull was gone and the light in the skull itself was fading.
“Altris,” the healer finished.
Tana gripped the hilt of her blade tight in her hands and brought it down hard on the skull. The skull, charred and weakened from the fires of long ago, shattered into myriad pieces. Tana closed her eyes against a bright flare of light that was followed by a cloud of glowing, sulfurous smoke.
When the healer opened her eyes, she saw that the once bright blade was now black as the night. The runes glowed an eerie red that was bright against the darkness. Tana watched them fade, then sheathed the sword.
Taking one of the torches from its sconce, the healer touched it to the edge of the tapestry. After a moment, the fabric started to burn. Tana watched the flames spread for a moment, wiping a tear from her eyes.
“You are free now, my daughter,” said the female voice.
She turned in time to see her mother’s faint image disappear.
“You will be, too, Mother,” Tana said quietly.
The healer stared at the empty space for a moment, then went in search of the men. She found the group huddled near the gate as she had asked. Pran looked to be in severe pain, though one of the men had tried to bandage his arm.
“I can deal with Pran,” Tana told them, “fetch some shovels or other tools. I need some digging done. There is a shovel in a cart outside the gate if you have no other. ”
Tana opened her pack to pull out some herbs and a clean cloth. As she set to work, Pran watched her, eyes seeming bleary and unfocussed.
“Princess, why am I alive?” he said in a sad, quiet voice.
“Because I don’t kill without good reason. And you were, at times, a friend to me when I was still trapped in this place.”
“I just tried to kill you,” the old man told her, “why not take your revenge?”
Tana sighed as she continued to clean and bind his wound.
“You were under my father’s influence, Pran. I know that killing is really not your way any more than it is mine. And revenge is the kind of emotion that leads to darkness.”
“I will always be under his influence. So much of my life was spent with the Night Lord. Where is he? Even now, I sense his presence.”
“I have bound his spirit with the Pact of Nalis Tian. He will be in my control until I release him from the world.”
“And what of me, Princess?”
“You will be free of him forever once he is gone. You can have a life of your choosing.”
Pran sighed and frowned.
“I am not sure I know how to do that. I am an old man and have always been a servant of your father, never a man unto myself.”
Tana looked at him and smiled.
“You are a solid, competent administrator, Pran. Maybe you can move to the villages where I live and help them manage supplies and provisions. Or try your hand at being a merchant. I think you might be good at that.”
The old vizier looked skeptical.
“They will hate me, Princess,” he suggested.
Tana looked at him and took his hand.
“They do not need to know who you are, Pran. Only a few close friends there know my true story.”
Tana finished, then sat back.
“There, you should be better now. The poultice I applied should give you some relief and protect the wound from infection. I will brew something for pain later once it wears off. It’s not often a healer has to patch a wound she caused. I am sorry, Pran.”
Pran nodded, but remained silent. He lay down on the ground and closed his eyes.
“Oh, and Pran,” she added.
He opened his eyes and responded, “Yes?”
“No need to call me ‘Princess’ anymore. I am now just ‘Tana.’ Or ‘Healer’ if you must use a title.”
The old man smiled at her.
“Healer. Of course. I shall.”
Then Pran closed his eyes again. The healer checked to make sure he was breathing and was relieved to find he was. Killing a man she had some empathy for was a different matter from striking down her father’s liches, as she had once done.
Tana looked up to see the others returning with shovels. The healer stood and went to meet them. Together, they went back to the circle where only smouldering remnants of skull and tapestry remained.
“Dig here,” Tana told them once she figured out where her mother’s bones would likely be found.
The Healer’s Heart
Tana worked slowly and carefully on the sword. After a three week trek to Hyrford, the healer was back in Lond’s smithy. The sword lay on a heavy wooden table as Tana added additional lines and whorls to the runes, changing their meaning. She had to break the pact, but in a way that cast her father’s trapped spirit out into the realm of spirits.
“It is done,” Tana finally said after studying her handiwork.
Lond nodded to his apprentice, who began pumping the bellows to heat up the fire in the forge’s furnace. Pranathis, arm still bandaged and in a sling, watched quietly from a seat in the corner. From outside, the faint sound of music drifted in. A minstrel was in town and was playing for a festival out in the village square.
“For the world to be healed, you must pass from it, Night Lord of Tan Kolar,” Tana said softly, “perhaps the pain you have caused, the suffering you spread through the world, can pass with you.”
Then the healer began to chant the new runes, starting from the one nearest the hilt. When she finished, the healer nodded to Lond. The smith picked up the blade in his tongs, and lowered it into the glowing heart of his furnace. Almost immediately it began to glow.
To her surprise, Tana felt tears coming as it began to glow with the heat. Lond put his arm around the healer, holding her close as she wept. Tana turned to face him and buried her face in his shoulder.
The healer found herself wondering who, or what, she was grieving. Surely not her father. Tana, her mother, and the world at large had suffered untold pain due to his actions and sorceries. Was she mourning the victims of his violence, including her mother? Or maybe she mourned her own ruined childhood and youth?
Then a sound from the furnace made Tana turn her attention to it. It was a sigh, a sound of resignation, maybe even some kind of acceptance. The healer had expected rage or some final defiance, an explosion perhaps. Instead, there appeared to be just a quiet passing into the Shadow Realm. And then there was silence. The blade was now molten slag.
“He is gone,” Tana said quietly.
The healer turned and walked outside. Her body was shaking a little, her tears barely restrained.
The cart, still holding the wooden box Tana had brought back from Tan Kolar, waited. The healer put her hand on the box holding her mother’s bones and sighed. Tears flowed anew. Then, the healer became conscious of a presence in the cart.
“It is done, my daughter,” said her mother’s voice, “the Night Lord is gone. We are free and I shall move on. Take care of the one you bear, my daughter. Make her strong like you.”
As the words faded, Tana suddenly felt strangely alone, even with the music and voices coming from the party in the square. She leaned on her mother’s coffin and hung her head, crying like she never had before.
A hand on her shoulder made her look, expecting Lond. It was Pranathis. His eyes were moist, too.
“You are right, Princ…Healer. I no longer feel his presence, no longer have the need to obey. Thank you.”
Tana chuckled at his slip. She put her hand on his.
“You are welcome, Pran.”
To the man’s apparent surprise, Tana turned to hug him and kissed his cheek.
“Where do you plan to bury your mother, Healer?” Pran asked when he recovered his composure, “I wish to be there. I am guilty of having let it happen. She was a friend to me and I betrayed her, as I did her daughter.”
Tana put a hand on Pran’s.
“I will bury her at my home in the woods near Olsham. I have a place in my garden that is perfect. It is too far to travel tonight. We can stay with Lond for a couple more nights.”
“Of course. This smith, he is your husband, Healer?”
Tana smiled at that thought.
“No. At least we are not yet betrothed. He is just a man I love very deeply, who helped teach me to love. And he is the father of my child.”
Tana touched her belly. Her mother’s words as she struggled against her father in the Circle of Tan Kolar had made the healer pay attention to signs in her body. Tana had ignored those signs before in her determination to undertake her quest. Now she realized that her body was, indeed, already bound to another spirit. There was no ignoring those signs now, though. Her pregnancy would be visible if not for her heavy dress and cloak.
“Tana, are you sure?” came Lond’s voice from behind her.
The healer turned, smiling. Tana had not noticed the smith joining them. His eyes were wide with surprise.
“I am, my beloved,” she said, “I have attended many births and cared for many mothers. I know the signs. Thank you for this precious gift. She saved my life.”
Tana hugged and kissed Lond, breaking down into tears again. Then she grabbed the smith’s hand in one of hers and Pran’s in the other.
“Let’s go join the party, my friends,” Tana suggested, “we have much to celebrate this night.”
Laughing, they headed towards the music. A faint female shade watched them, smiling.
Thus ends the Chronicle of Tana the Healer. But all endings are also beginnings.