His grief had soothed them, somehow. Though everyone at the temple had felt the shock of her death none of them could tell for certain what had happened. Until the god had said it, had boldly stated their beloved Mythal was dead at the hands of another, the priests and sentinels had clung to the hope that she would return. As he had quieted, they had accepted the truth and begun to wonder what would become of them
After a week, Fen’Harel had exhausted the noisiest portion of his grief. He had knelt, slumped and silent, face buried in hands dripping tears, as the moon rose above the pool. The silhouette of a wolf at full howl with three ruby eyes gleaming in its head had been worked into the tail of his long tunic where it trailed between his heels. For a moment Abelas had expected the god to mimic this symboland, indeed, Fen’Harel had lifted his head to stare at the pale orb washing the clearing of color. All the temple had held its breath.
Instead of voicing his grief he had suddenly plunged his sodden hands into the still waters. The ripples had spread from his wrists, making shards and curves of the moon’s reflection as they passed, and then rebounded from the far side to cross the following swells. As the moon’s image had broken into diamonds and sparks the waters around it had begun to shine in their own right. By the time Fen’Harel had pulled his hand free, now dry of his tears, the pool had become a dancing series of tiny peaks, a gently glowing blue ocean in miniature.
The god had spoken then, so softly that only Abelas could decipher the words from where he’d stood at Fen’Harel’s shoulder. “Goodbye, my friend. I will see you in my dreams.”
He’d stood and turned abruptly. Abelas had stepped back hurriedly to keep from being slapped by the heavy red braids that had dangled from the god’s head as they’d flared with his sudden spin.
“All your love and loss serve as a beacon in this wilderness,” the Fen’Harel announced loudly. “I will help you hide Mythal’s Heart from those who seek to destroy her utterly. I will show you how to defend it and how to stand eternally ready to do so.”
It had been the wily god who had taught the sentinels to enter uthenera at will and to exist there without the honey drizzle given by slaves that had sustained pampered nobles overcome with ennui. He had brought the priests, one by one, to sip from the well that, at the moment of their deaths, they would be returned to it no matter the distance. And it had been Fen’Harel who had changed the name of the pool. “This is the well of our sorrows,” the god had told Abelas, “and it is the spring of our hope.”
It had been then that Abelas had abandoned his second name, the one given to him with Mythal’s markings centuries before, and named himself for his own sorrow. In grief, the men and women had picked the glittering threads of the embroidery from their cloaks and robes and forged the metal into weapons for their guards. The sentinels had sunk into black and dreamless sleep and the priests had fled the Temple of Mythal. The forest grew around and over what it could hide and the small villages nearby turned to blood and then to dust. The way became hidden.
Abelas shook himself. The sun had disappeared entirely and with it the friendly little creature. Trees laid heavy shadows across the quiet riverbed, stripes and blotches picked out by the glint of the stars reflected in the water. The birds had gone to roost and he could hear nothing more than the rustles of the day’s creatures settling to sleep in the undergrowth under the burble of the stream at his feet.
The moon announced its arrival with a glow that lit the horizon. He could make a bed here of fallen leaves and mosses but after letting millennia pass in one location he found himself reluctant to linger. The Well of Sorrows, Mythal’s Heart, was gone, though not precisely destroyed, and with it the last tie that had held him here.
While he could not leave behind his own sorrow he wondered if the strangely familiar man had been right that it was time for a new name. The strange new lands stretched around him, shifted from bright day to grey night as his own life had done long ago. Abelas deemed it a fitting time to strike out into the unknown.
The man, Solas, had emanated a magic that resonated with the Well, at least until the shem had drunk it. He had said the elvhen were not all so long dead and gone as Abelas thought, that they might be found were he willing to look. With the feel of his spells still echoing in his fingertips, Abelas had believed him. The unfamiliar jungle that had eaten his past made him yearn to search, to find something in this changed world he still understood.
In his golden armor, made to fit the curves of his muscles and the stretches of his thighs, the ancient elf stood shimmering above the once-mighty river. He looked up to the moon, for a moment tempted to howl at it as he’d thought Fen’Harel might before he’d transformed the pool into a living well for their shared grief. Instead, he breathed deeply, learning the new world’s scents.
After thousands of years dedicated to the purposes of another, how could he choose his own path? The fear he’d lost in his memories returned to squeeze his heart again. Any moment, between one heartbeat and the next, he would make a choice all his own and live with what that brought.
The hundreds he’d slain in their attempts to breach the temple, the warriors of other gods and then, increasingly, quick-lived shemlen hurrying to their own ends, had brought themselves to their deaths through such choices. With no path to follow, he feared he might stumble into as dire a fate himself.
He was not afraid of death. He trusted in his strength and control. The other gods had sanctuaries of their own, though, with protections as powerful as Mythal’s had been. Could he find after so long the ones responsible for her murder and bring punishment to their doors; should he die trying?
Abelas listened to the beats thudding in his ears as he prayed to a goddess he knew to be dead. There was no other he could ask and no one else whose advice he would take. Their home lay in ruins behind him and her heart been taken by another. Still, Mythal was the only one whose guidance he would ever seek.
Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Five