None of this made more than a passing impression on Abelas. It was her hair that arrested his attention. She bore the jutting white horns in which he’d first seen Mythal, though nothing else about her looked the same. Instead of the proud ears echoed by the elaborate style she had a shemlen’s rounded-off nubs. She lacked the glorious decoration with which all the elvhen gods had shown the power and devotion of their followers.
He dismissed all of this as unimportant. None had ever worn their hair thus.
No one would have dared when she had been alive and none would have wanted to when she’d been killed. The horns stopped his attack long enough that a wary curiosity took over and continued to stay his hand.
The old woman smiled still, a softer, affectionate look on her face. Her voice, unfamiliar and with the slightest quaver of age, spoke the name he’d given up when her friend had named the Well of Sorrows. Abelas fell to one knee without thought.
When she’d been alive, Mythal had been beauty and mystery and the joy that she’d chosen you, of all the thousands clamoring to serve. She had been the security of proof and the antidote to the capricious nature of the other gods. When she’d been killed, Abelas had welcomed the sleep that let him forget he served but the barest echo. For the third time in the whole of his life he cried, in relief and in love, and for the third time Mythal gently touched him and bade him stop.
Though she wore the guise of this human he could feel her presence thrumming through the hand on his gauntlet. It vibrated into his bones and shook the fear from him. A thousand questions flooded his mind but it had never been his place to demand answers from her. She would tell him what he needed to know and leave him to follow the faint path as required.
“I told you long ago you would never again have to kneel, da’len,” she said firmly. “Did you think I spoke lightly?” He raised his face to her new one and she lifted a thumb to wipe a tear from his cheek.
The gesture brought another flood and she stepped back with a sadder smile as he hauled himself up his staff to stand before her. The scene echoed through the centuries and doubled on itself, the ghost of a gem-dusted gown glittering around her like the evening’s stars before fading.
“Such a little thing as death could not keep me from those bound to me,” she said in her strange new voice. She chuckled, a throatier, more-restrained version of her former joyous laugh. “I did not use the word forever to impress you.”
Abelas bowed his head and spoke to the toes of her tall boots, wondering that an elvhen goddess should go shod like a shem even in the body of one. “I did not pledge myself thus as a jest,” he answered in a voice still clogged with tears. “I remain yours, my Lady, and ever shall.”
Mythal shifted a bit. “You always were my favorite,” she said warmly. “I was so glad you never made me kill you.”
He laughed at that, preening a bit with her praise before he mastered his pride. She had always reached effortlessly past his logic and discipline to tug his emotions to the forefront. “What would have of me?”
Her expression sobered and he felt the smile drop from his own lips in return. “With your duty accomplished your sentinels disperse like seeds. I cannot stay to help them take root.”
So he would lose her again, as soon as he had found her. “To whom can we turn, Lady?”
“The wolf will come to your door,” she said. “Gather your scattered fellows and open it to him.”
Abelas found his duty in her words and the solace of having a purpose once again eased his last worries. Mythal narrowed her eyes at him and spoke sharply. “Stay awake for it,” she cautioned. “Your days of lazing around my house have come to an end. It’s time you left the nest.”
“Am I learn to fly, then?” he teased but Mythal only nodded and grinned delightedly.
“You might at that,” she said with a hint of her old laugh, likely as much as this mortal throat could take. “I’ve seen weaker specimens spread their wings.”
With that she turned to go. Abelas wanted to catch her arm, to keep her with him for just a little longer, but he did not. Fledgling or no, it was not his place to detain a god. He allowed himself one forlorn question. “Will I see you again?”
She stopped but did not turn. “Not like this,” she said, “not like anything I’ve been. I look forward to learning what name you choose for this new turn in your life’s path.” Then she disappeared into the shadows.
Abelas breathed deeply again, the jungle no longer a frightening symbol of loss and failure. The friendly stream trickled beside him and, far in the distance, a wolf howled as the moon finally rose above the trees. The broken road stretched into the distance and Abelas set his feet upon it.
Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four