A few days after their fight with the humans, Narya and the other mountain Enai tried to resume their daily activities such as learning herbal medicine and crafting weapons and jewelry. Yet none of them could forget what they saw, and the nightmares continued to haunt them. One day Brym showed up at Narya’s cave while Heri was at work.
They met in the kitchen where Narya offered him some raspberry juice.
“I don’t know I about you, but every time I close my eyes all I see is are the faces of the Ihi we killed and the pile of bodies we left behind,” he said after finishing his drink.
“I feel the same. Their screams still haunt my dreams. I tried praying to the Lady of the stars, hoping that she will make these dreadful images go away but nothing works… I can’t help thinking whether we did the right thing by killing them. What would our Lady think of this? We weren’t supposed to interfere with the lives of the Ihi,” Narya replied as she pulled up a chair next to Brym.
“Maybe we should ask her? It’s summer, but she mentioned that we are always welcome inside her husband’s realm.”
“Yes she did. But it’s so hot there it burns my skin to even touch the gates. I can’t enter and Heri is still at work.”
“You can’t but your son can. He’s part fire Enai. Surely he can go there and pass a message to our Nefiria?” Brym suggested.
“Now there’s an idea…I’ll ask him,” Narya replied.
She left the kitchen and headed outside, where Ori was flying around with Gwen and Gwyn.
Narya called out his name.
“Yes, ari. What is it?” Ori asked as he landed next to the cave.
“I want you to head to Lord Fiehri’s palace, and pass on a message to Lady Lavinia. Tell her that Brym and I would like to speak to her.”
Ori agreed and bade goodbye to his mother and the twins, before flying towards the volcanic palace. He noticed two fire Enai outside the gates.
“Who are you and what you do want?” one of them asked.
“My name is Ori, I’m Heri’s son and I’m here with a message for Lady Lavinia from the mountain Enai,” the boy replied.
Hearing this, they opened the gates allowing him inside. Ori swiftly flew in and made his way past a the flames, pool of lava and series cavernous corridors towards the throne room. There Lord Fiehri’s queen sat on a hematite throne. The earth goddess was barefoot and dressed in a green silken gown with her ginger hair loose, adorned with a wreath of flowers, a golden necklace with sapphires and emeralds.
Ori landed next to the throne and bowed to her before speaking:
“Nefiria Maanteri, my name is Ori. I’m here with a message from your servants, the mountain Enai.”
“Well aren’t you adorable…You remind me of Little Spark, my son Ieskr. He’s a man now, but he looked a bit like you when he was your age, minus the wings of course and the hair color. You must be one of the hybrids. Which of my husband’s servants is your parent?” Lavinia asked smiling at the boy.
“Heri is my father.”
“Oh yes, Heri of course. Now I see the resemblance. Your father is one of Fiehri’s best blacksmiths. So what is your message?”
“My mother Narya and our neighbor Brym wish to speak to you.” he replied.
“Your mother and Brym are welcome to see me here. You may tell them to meet me tonight in the courtyard outside the palace, where it is cooler. Now before you go, you deserve a little treat for carrying such an important message. Do you like honey cakes?”
Ori nodded in response. Lavinia summoned a servant and tasked him with bringing some honey cakes from the kitchen. The servant returned with a whole tray full of them. Ori soon ate his fill and thanked the goddess.
“It was lovely to meet you Ori. Goodbye!” the goddess stated.
Ori bowed as he bade her goodbye, before flying out of the volcano.
A few minutes later he was back at his parents’ cave, where he delivered the message to Brym and his mother.
That evening, Narya informed her husband of the plan to visit the volcanic palace. Knowing that this meeting could take some time, Heri decided to use the opportunity to teach his son how to cut and polish a variety of crystals, which they could later use in jewelry. Ori was delighted and eager to spend some time alone with his father, as such occasions were rare. Usually Heri was so tired after a full day of working at the forge, all he wanted to do was to eat something, bathe and tell Ori a bedtime story before heading off to bed.
Narya glanced cheerfully at the duo, as they sat by the fireplace with a sack full of crystals, before saying goodbye and departing from the cave. The sun was setting by the time Brym joined her. He reached into his pocket and took out a yellow crystal. He cast a spell on it to light their way.
Silently they journeyed past the caves, towards the highest peaks where the volcano stood. Upon arrival, they headed towards the courtyard, where Lady Lavinia sat by a stone table. The enclosure was lit with a series of flaming torches, mounted on the walls in each corner of the compound. There were two stone chairs next to the goddess. As Brym and Narya approached her, a servant came over with three goblets of mead and a selection of nuts in a ceramic bowl.
“Nefiria Maanteri.” Brym and Narya spoke in unison, as they bowed to the goddess.
“Hello Narya and Brym. It’s good to see you again, please take a seat,” Lavinia uttered, gesturing towards the chairs.
The mountain Enai sat down and helped themselves to the mead. Brym ate a handful of hazelnuts. Then Lavinia spoke up:
“So what was it that you wish to speak to me about?”
Brym finished eating, before telling her the story of their encounter with the humans. Lavinia remained silent throughout, listening carefully to every word, while sipping her mead.
“Like Brym and many of our friends who were there that night, we all feel terrible about what we did to the Ihi. I can’t help thinking that we deserve some punishment for this. After all, we swore not to intervene in the lives of mortals,” Narya added once Brym had finished the tale.
Lavinia finished her drink before replying.
“You made an oath not interfere with human lives. During your fight with the mortals, did either of you or any of your friends try to revive the deceased after killing them?”
Brym and Narya shook heads. “No, Nefiria. We would never do such a thing. We all know that it’s against your laws to use your healing powers to resurrect a mortal.” Brym responded.
“In that case, there is no need to punish any of you. As far I’m concerned all you did was to defend your land. If humans died in the process, it was Lord Makar’s will to send his Morkrai after them. That is not a crime. You didn’t break any laws. The nightmares and the guilty feelings are just the results of your conscience. I created you as a peaceful and loving race, one that feels empathy for others and would not kill in cold blood.” Lavinia stated.
“But what of the nightmares? How can we stop them?” Narya asked.
“That is unfortunately beyond my powers. The dream world is the domain of Fiehri’s sister Vea, as is any of the magic associated with it. Maybe a small offering and a prayer to her will stop the nightmares. I would suggest leaving some moonstones and crone-wort by the side of your beds tonight. That and praying to her before you fall asleep should help.” the goddess suggested.
“Thank you for your advice Nefiria,” said Brym.
They stayed in the courtyard for a while, finishing their drinks before saying goodbye to their Lady and departing from the palace grounds.
Before heading home, they stopped via the woods to collect some crone-wort before returning. Both Heri and Ori were asleep by the time that Narya got home. After a hot bath, she changed into her nightgown and strode into the living room, where the boys had left the polished crystals. She found three moonstones in the pile and took them into her bedroom. She placed them next to the bed along with the herbs before whispering:
“Lady Vea, Nefiria Tahtizda, brightest of the Erai and bringer of dreams, I ask that you grant me a good night’s sleep and chase away the horrors that keep tormenting me.”
Having completed her prayer, Narya crawled into bed and wrapped her arms around her husband before dozing off. Meanwhile in the cave next door, Dri helped Brymir with the same ritual. They both participated in the prayer to the moon goddess before drifting off to sleep. That night, for the first time since before their encounter with the humans, both couples had a good night’s sleep.
Back in the human province of Lavinium, the day before the army was scheduled to return to Isfienia, Lial made his decision to cease being a temple guard and join the local army. He explained the situation to the priestesses and his colleges at the temple. Later he met with General Rekihais at the temple and informed him of his decision.
“You should really hurry up and pack everything in that case. We’re setting off for Isfienia at the crack of dawn. Once there, you will report to Prefect Telius at Dux Kernis’ fortress. He will have some paperwork for you to sign, then you can begin your training,” the General stated.
“Thank you sir. I will start packing at once. Goodbye and I’ll see you tomorrow.” said Lial.
“Goodbye and good luck. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Rekihais uttered as Lial prepared to leave the tent.
As the former guard left, he spotted Kiia again, as she and the other Arhian soldiers sat on the ground outside their tent, eating some soup.
“Hello again,” he greeted the Arhian warrior, “I guess I might see you at some battlefield in the future. The war is still ongoing. I’ve decided to join Dux Kernis’ army.”
Kiia swallowed a spoonful of soup before replying.
“Oh I doubt that… I’m not a fully qualified soldier, just trainee at the Atarai academy. My unit was sent here because most of the Arhian army are currently in Ifirium, as the Emperor requested. He needed their help to take the city back from the usurper Dux Verenios. That was before Lady Lavinia’s temple came under attack. By the time the Emperor found out, and realized his mother and sister Princess Lorli were trapped inside, it was too late to send any reinforcements from the capital. Instead the Emperor ordered trainees from the Arhian military academies to travel to Lavinium. Now that the royal family is safe, I must return to Naitoria to complete my training. I have two years left until I graduate,” she said before resuming eating her soup.
“Oh I see… And what do you intend to do once you have graduated?” Lial asked.
“I’m from a noble family, so my career options are limited. Once I’ve graduated and I turn eighteen, I’m supposed to marry an Arhian nobleman of my father’s choosing. I’d like to stay on at the Atarai academy as an instructor like my teacher Prefect Siaka, If my future husband agrees to this that is. If not, I guess I’ll just stay at his villa and raise our children.”
“And is that really what you want? I’ve seen you on the battlefield. You’re a true warrior. You don’t strike to me as the type, who would just settle for being some Dux’s or Marchio’s wife, stuck at home with his children.” Lial commented.
Kiia finished her meal and passed the empty plate to another soldier collecting them, before replying.
“I’m an Arhian girl. We’re not like other Gragiyans. In Arhia, the women must obey the men. What I want doesn’t matter. I have to do as I’m told. My father says I must marry then, that’s what I will do. He’s a powerful man.”
“Yes, I know your father. Everyone know Lord General Levorian. He’s the highest ranking military officer in the whole Empire, a member of Emperor’s High Council. Also, two of your brothers are in the Arhian army aren’t they?” Lial asked.
Kiia stood up before answering.
“Yes, my oldest brother Levon recently got promoted to Centurion of the first legion, Leiron is now a Lieutenant in the ninth legion. I have two more brothers: Mahos is still at the Atarai academy and Aeon recently graduated. He’s now married to my best friend Auria and training to become a blacksmith.”
“So you’re from a military family. Your brothers got to choose their professions, and all you get to be is a housewife to some rich nobleman. Looks like you have to live the rest of your life as a Ducissa or Marchionissa, married to an older man whom you don’t love at all. That doesn’t seem fair.”
“That’s Arhia for you. Life’s not fair, but it’s all I’ve ever known. Anyway I have to get ready. We’re marching back to Naitoria tomorrow,” Kiia added as she glanced at her fellow soldiers as they headed back to their tents.
“Fair enough. Oh, before you go, I wanted to ask you for a favor. Could you leave some flowers and maybe some food or wine at the sight, where the Enai killed the Misoans?”
“You’re asking me, to honor our enemies with an offering?” Kiia asked with a puzzled look on her face.
Lial shook his head, “No, not the Misoans. I wanted to thank the Enai. They killed them and saved our lives in the process. It’s too dangerous to leave anything inside their realm but this is near the border, so they should see it.”
“That I can do. I’ll ask my friends for help. We can gather flowers. We can’t spare any of our food, but there might be some wine available. I’ll see what I can find.”
“Thank you. I would do this myself but I need to pack for tomorrow’s journey to Isfienia. So I guess this is goodbye. Good luck with your training! It was a pleasure to meet you.” said Lial.
“Goodbye and good luck to you too Lial!” Kiia stated before heading back inside her tent.
Later that evening, on the other side of the mountains, Heri was returning home after work. He had only just left the volcanic palace, when he noticed Ori flying towards him, carrying a bouquet of flowers in his hand.
“Lietr!” the boy exclaimed as they embraced.
“Hi Ori, these look pretty. Where did you get them from?” Heri asked staring at the flowers.
“The twins and I found a large pile of these under a cliff, on the other side of the mountains. There was some blood on the ground too and bodies of the Ihi, all just lying there lifeless. So many souls taken by the grim judge’s Morkrai. I think that something terrible must have happened there…” Ori responded with in a sombre tone.
This revelation made Heri remember the day they slaughtered the humans. The thought that his son had now seen the aftermath filled his heart with dread. He couldn’t bear to tell his little boy the truth about what happened that fateful night.
“Show me,” he requested.
Ori nodded in response, and began to fly towards the other side of the mountain paths with his father in tow. They soon noticed that other Enai were also heading the same direction, no doubt with their children having noticed the same sight. Gwen and Gwyn soon joined them, as did their parents along with several other families. It took the adults a little longer to descend towards the lower regions, for only the young ones possessed wings. By the time they had arrived at the destination, most of the children were busy gathering the flowers. Some of the girls decorated their hair with them.
Heri took a closer look at the sight. The human bodies were in various stages of decay with most partially eaten by scavenger animals, rats and carrion birds. His first thought was that the flowers were left by the humans in memory of their loved ones, who had passed over to the Halls of Makar. But then as he came closer, he noticed something else. Next to the piles of flowers were jugs of wine. Brym was equally puzzled by the sight. Wine and flowers was an offering, which the mortals normally left for Lord Silyan and the woodland Enai, thanking them for their protection from trolls and other wild beasts.
“I don’t understand. We killed so many of their kind. Why would they thank us? Heri asked as he grabbed one of the jugs of wine.
“I think I do.” Narya replied, “I remember thinking there was something strange about those Ihi. The way they looked differed from the locals from Lavinium. Their skin was lighter and the clothing they wore looked odd. Also when Brym spoke to them, they acted as though they’ve never seen an Enai and they didn’t seem to understand Gragiyan at all. This must have been another nation. That’s why they’re thanking us. We killed their enemies.”
“If that is the case, then what we did wasn’t murder. We killed them to protect our own realm but also by doing so, we saved some mortal lives. The lives of the Ihi, who live on the other side of these mountains.” Brym commented.
“You’ve no idea how much that puts my heart at ease, to think that something positive came out of our actions. It’s times like this that make me feel proud to be a mountain Enai. This is something we can tell the children when they ask about what happened here. We saved human lives. We should take this wine with us and celebrate.” Dri suggested.
Those that overheard their conversation agreed. They stayed there for a few more minutes gathering flowers and jugs of wine before heading back to the caves. Dri and Brym decided to organize a party at their house. Narya helped her with the cooking, while the others brought jugs of wine, mead from the volcanic palace along with many other delicacies. Soon the cave was full of guests chatting, drinking, singing, dancing to the sound of flutes and harps. The festivities continued throughout the night.
Ori by Rose Goga,