avis remained crouched over the Enteroh, delicately holding his lifeless body, waiting, wanting for the eyes to refocus. Nashan's dark eyes, however, remained rolled upwards and off-center. A long moment passed before Tavis was disturbed by the sound of Brogan's deep bellowing groan as the hulking BeHemoth rose to his feet. Turning, he saw his friend standing, a pained grimace distorting his face.
"We'd better hurry kid," Brogan began, signaling to the window, "Looks like they've lit the place."
Tavis turned and looked. The view of the bay was obscured by stripes of flame that swelled outside the window.
"Come on," Brogan continued, "We won't last long in here."
Turning back to look at the King's body in his arms, Tavis hesitated, then gently set it on the steps. He fetched his lance from the floor, looked at the body once more, then dashed over to Brogan and out the door.
The hallways unfolded like the twisting passages of an insane labyrinth. The flames that had been lit outside quickly breached the walls and began eating up rugs and plaster. Brogan moaning, Tavis panting with exhaustion, they managed somehow to find an exit, and plunged relieved into the night outside. They paused and gulped in great gasps of the cool night air.
Shouts arose from around the frame of the burning Hall. Rioters or guards, the twosome could not tell. "We'd better-" Brogan began, then cut himself off with a grimace of pain. "We'd better keep moving." Tavis nodded and they were off again. They ran for blocks, minds dizzy and clouded with pain, exertion, and the lingering effects of the powerful magic storm in the throne room. Buildings and piles of rubble passed by in a blur and finally cement streets and wooden fences gave way to sand and fronds. With a calamitous thump of footfalls, the two came to a stop and drew in full breaths of seashore air, the taste of salt on their tongues.
"Tredge," Brogan muttered between pants, "My arm stings. Is there somewhere we can rest?"
Tavis cast his eyes about for a moment, then spotted the dark outline of pallow tree a short distance away, off toward the shoreline of the bay. "Come on, over here," Tavis answered moving toward it. Brogan followed and the two hunkered down onto the sandy ground and leaned against the tree's tall stalk, twisting leaves shivering slightly overhead in the breeze off the bay.
Brogan clutched stiffly at his shoulder, groaning and wincing.
"Are you okay?" Tavis asked.
"I'm fine, kid, I'm fine." He grunted a few more times as he closed his fingers over the bulbous, knotted shoulder muscle. "Just hope it sets right or it will heal all wrong."
"Oh I think you'll be a long time healing from that one," Tavis attested.
Brogan looked down at him over his shoulder. "You don't know me as well as you think, kid."
Tavis furrowed his brows in question at that remark, but he was quickly distracted by a motion off by the bay. "Someone's coming," he declared.
"Who?" Brogan asked, head turning about to look in the direction Tavis was peering. "I don't see anything. Couple of boats… That lighthouse over there… Where are you looking?"
"Right down there," Tavis pointed emphatically, "Just over that wharf there, you see?"
Brogan's browline went up as he made out the shapes in the distance. "Ho, we got ourselves a little squadron coming at us."
"What should we do? You're hurt -Should we hide?"
"I'm sure they've either seen or heard us."
"Call to them then?"
"Let me," Brogan offered. He then cleared his throat noisily and cupped a hand by his mouth.
"Hey there!" he bellowed, "Who is that!?"
The distant figures chattered to each other.
"What are they saying?" Brogan asked.
"I think I heard someone -sounded like a woman… or a girl."
Shortly, they heard the light thumping of tiny feet on the ground. "Tavis!" a young, Elf girl called.
"Ginny?" Tavis answered. Quickly she raced across the beach, leapt off the ground and into Tavis' arms.
"Wooof!" Tavis replied, dropping the lance and bracing from the impact.
Little blonde tendrils tickled his nose as she drover her face into his neck behind his ear. "Oh, Tavis! You're here! You're here! You're here!"
"Glad to see you too, Gin."
"And Brogan!" she cheered, pulling away from Tavis and looking down at the BeHemoth's huge bulk reposing against the pallow trunk.
"Hullo, Ginny," he replied.
Like some sort of reptile, Gin wiggled out of Tavis' arms and sped to Brogan's side, hugging one of his huge arms.
"Aaaarghh!" Brogan howled.
Gin gasped and sat up. "What's wrong?"
"I hurt my arm -Just a sprain."
"Oh, Brogan!" she gasped in a wavering, worried tone.
"Never mind. Where are the others."
"Ho there!" a gruff, throaty voice from downwind called. Tavis looked up to behold a stout, dark-bearded Dwarf approaching. Rhoden hobbled along behind with Kenja under one of his arms offering support.
"Wait a minute," Tavis began, "…Elnidar… Elnidar Toroth, isn't it?"
"Aye," the Dwarf replied, "And who might you be?"
"Tavis," the youth began, putting his fingers to his chest, "Don't you remember? I helped you paint your lighthouse… My father was Jovis, he peddled his leathers on the merchant ships."
"Ah… Oh! Yes! I do recall you now!" Elnidar replied enthusiastically. "By Helneda's teats, boy! You've grown up like a shoot!"
Tavis smiled, then looked over the Dwarf to Kenja. "How's Rhoden doing?"
"Oh he'll be just fine," she replied, affectionately patting the conjurer's abdomen with her free hand. Rhoden grunted slightly and looked at her with a defensive countenance over a weak, half smile. She met his look and smiled delightfully. "He just needs a little rest is all."
"How did you…" Tavis began, "I mean, what happened? How did Elnidar…?"
"Oh Tavis," Gin began, all exited. "We crash landed in the bay! There was water splashing everywhere and I thought we were going to sink! But then Kenja steered us toward the shore and then he," she pointed to Elnidar, "came out of his tower-"
"Lighthouse," Elnidar corrected.
"-Right," Gin resumed, "Whatever. -So then he yells at us and tells us to steer toward him and he had this big rope, and I wasn't sure how we were going to get Rhoden out, but somehow Kenja lifted him up, and then we got pulled into the rocks by the tower-"
"Here now," Elnidar cut Gin off. He tapped Tavis' arm and then gestured to Brogan. "Does your mate here need any attention?"
"It's…. just a sprain…" Brogan pined unconvincingly, his good hand still kneading away at the injured shoulder.
"I'm sure he could use some attention," Kenja answered before anyone else could.
"Right then," Elnidar replied, offering a hand out to Brogan, "Let's get you down to Rolly's, just down the road a pace. Owns a tavern -The Oak Barrel- and he's had to patch up a few rowdies after bar fights -His friends, mind. Put you up for the night too, probably."
"Go with him," Kenja ordered.
"Yeah, okay," Brogan replied, no argument. He took Elnidar's hand and got to his feet with a lot of heavy groaning.
"Think we'll find a room there for Rhoden?" Kenja asked hopefully.
"All of you can come!" Elnidar announced grandly. "Rolly knows me, I'll vouch for you!"
The group began shuffling off toward the road in the direction Elnidar led them. Tavis however, hesitated by the tree.
"You coming?" Elnidar called. The group came to a stop.
"Yeah… Just give me a minute, okay? I'll be right behind you. There's just something I need to do first."
"Suit yourself," Elnidar returned. "Only don't be too long, though. There's crazies running through this town!"
"Right, I won't be long."
The group turned and began shuffling down the road again.
His breath caught, Tavis squatted down by the trunk of the pallow tree and took the small, white cup with the pitch-sealed stone out of his belt pouch. Intently, he stared into the dirty yellow jewel peering through it to the inky liquid beneath. He hesitated, not quite sure what to do without Zeyn to assist him. Snapping his fingers in recollection, he darted a hand back into his pouch and retrieved the small, jade statuette. Holding the cup level, he stood the figurine on the stone and gently, let go. Although he had seen it done once before, he stared transfixed as the tiny jade figure remained standing on the jewel, a hair's breadth of space between it and the stone. Slowly, successively, the figurine began to spin, faster and faster until the edges blurred and glints of moonlight turned to a solid glow. It began to blur and shift like sunlight through clouds of smoke. Soon, the tiny spinning figurine was replaced by the image of Endae. Slowly the old man opened his lids and looked at Tavis with soft, gray eyes.
"Lad! Stars, it's you! How are you, son?"
Tavis smiled broadly, his fatigue abating. "Hello, Wiljes."
"Stars, I am glad to see you again so soon. -You know, I was worried… You see, there was this huge surge of the foulest mana just a moment ago. I was afraid you might've gotten caught in it."
"I was pretty close to it actually."
The tiny figure of Wiljes sighed heavily. "I'm so glad that you're okay… How did things work out otherwise?"
Tavis raised his eyebrows slightly. "I'm not sure… Okay I guess. I did end up killing Enteroh Nashan."
Wiljes nodded solemnly. "I wasn't sure, but part of me was afraid it would come to that."
Tavis looked startled. "You weren't sure? All this time? With what happened to you and all that my friends and I had to go through?"
Wiljes chuckled slightly. "You know lad, sometimes you do things not knowing beforehand just how it's all going to work out."
Tavis looked on at his uncle.
"I mean, think of yourself, lad… Could you have guessed what all would work out?"
"Well, I had some ideas… Figured it could go one of several ways… There were some ways I was hoping it would work out."
"That's good, son. A man needs hope. The whole world does."
Tavis' eyes grew distant and his face dolorous. "When I saw that creature in the throne room… The feeling that came with it was…so cold… and so bleak. I never want to feel that way again… tight… trapped."
"It's good that you did feel that way for a moment though, son."
"Good?" Tavis repeated, dubious.
"So you would know the difference, lad. So you would be able to tell in the future."
Tavis' eyebrows perked up again. "Future?"
Wiljes nodded purposefully. "The world has need of heroes, Tavis. It doesn't have to be you every time -didn't have to be you this time, but there's no one I'd trust more."
Tavis gave a single, musing chuckle.
"I'm glad you were up to the job," Wiljes declared.
"Yeah," Tavis replied, thoughtful.
Uncle and nephew exchanged smiles. "Good, good… Well, I'd better be off. You said that Nashan is coming, and from what the city looks like from here, there'll be more coming tonight as well."
"Coming?" Tavis piqued.
"Oh yes, you see, I'm meant to lead them in, help them get their bearings, get situated, you know."
"You do that?" Tavis asked, intrigued.
Wiljes shrugged. "It's a job. It keeps me out of trouble, keeps me from sitting about idle."
Tavis chuckled openly. "I like that… You're still the same old uncle Wiljes that I've always known."
His uncle smiled. "It's not my best feature, but it suits me."
Tavis sat up straighter. "I'd better get going too. I've got to catch up with my friends."
"-Oh yes, I completely forgot! How did they all make it? Things work out? They're okay, then?"
"We took some scrapes.. but we'll all be allright." Tavis pursed his lips. "…There was one, though, that… didn't make it."
Wiljes raised his thick, gray eyebrows in concern.
"I don't suppose…" Tavis continued, "that you could -I mean you meet people when they come over… Maybe you could say hello to him from me?"
"Possibly. What did he look like?"
"Well… He was kind of thin -really thin, actually… He liked to wear a cloak most of the time… Kind of hard to see straight, like you were always seeing him out of the corner of your eye… And his eyes were… red, all red, front and back."
Wiljes moved his head forward, inclining it slightly. "He was a… Yuz, I take it?"
"Some people called him that."
Wiljes shook his head and frowned, waving a hand dismissively. "They do their own thing, son, and we don't bother them."
"Okay… Well, I just thought I'd check."
Wiljes nodded and smiled, closing his eyes slightly. "You take care, lad."
"Goodbye for now, Wiljes."
The tiny image of his uncle shimmered again, taking on the ethereal appearance of smoke. Swiftly, it faded, replaced by the spinning jade from earlier. The edges caught the glint of moonlight intermittently as the statuette slowed, wavered, and finally toppled off the yellow stone, and onto the sand where Tavis sat.
Long before he saw it, Tavis could hear the sounds of frolicking and jubilation from the tavern. Turning another bend and passing some buildings, he saw the brightly lighted windows of the Oak Barrel with the trademark round wooden cask hanging over the door, just beneath the sign. Kicking up grainy sifts of sand, he plodded toward the door, lance in hand. Over the tops of the other patrons, he saw a familiar red giant, moving deftly between and around people, also moving toward the doorway. The two met at the entrance, smiles on both of them. Brogan's wounded arm had been wrapped with swaths of bandage and tightly held to his body with an enormous sling. In his other hand he held a colossal drumstick off of what animal, Tavis had no idea.
"Tavis!" Brogan hailed, little gobbets of glistening fat wriggling and spewing from his lips and protruding teeth. "They got food here! Real food! You wouldn't believe how good this tastes! I feel like I haven't eaten in years, what with all that weasel food I've been eating."
Tavis cocked his head to one side thoughtfully. "I thought that weasels were meat-eaters."
Brogan stopped chewing and scowled at Tavis. "Don't spoil the moment, kid."
"Good to see you too, Brogan," Tavis replied, uncontrollably smiling. "Which one of the sailors in here gave up his mast for that sling?"
"Oh lemme tell ya, this guy Rolly that Elnidar introduced us to, he patched me up better than any kind of treatment I ever got at the pits! Guy could be a doctor, I swear; My hand to the stars. …Hey, there's someone in here that wants to see you." Brogan gestured to enter, and Tavis followed him into the warm and teeming tavern. Deftly, the big red guided him in through the throngs of people to a table in the corner. All his friends -Kenja, Gin, and Rhoden- sat at the table, drinks or food in hand. Sitting by them was a thin, middle-aged man almost completely bald, the tavern lanterns shining off his brownish, round head. As they approached, the bald-headed man looked up at Tavis, a twinkle entered his eyes, and a wide smile opened up across his face. With a speed that belied his age and frailty, the old man bolted from his seat and rushed over to Tavis, clutching the youth's shoulders emphatically.
"Tavis…" the bald-headed man began, "…Tavis, son, how are you?"
Tavis blinked hard in realization. "Dad… Dad is it you?"
"Son!" Jovis answered, wetness entering his eyes. Father and son flung their arms around each other, laughing and swaying. "God above, I've missed you son!"
"Thanks, dad," Tavis replied. The two pulled away for a moment and looked on at each other. Tavis took note of his father's gaunt cheeks and sunken eyes. "You don't look to. well, dad."
"Peckh!" his father cursed, "I've been rotting away in the bleedin' king's dungeons for months now! Surprised there's any of me left at all! But I'll get well, son, I'll get well."
"Tell me, son, how's your mother doing? Have you seen her?"
Tavis swallowed stiffly. "I haven't seen her lately, but she wasn't in real good shape last time I saw her… She went to live with her mother back in Piruville."
Father nodded solemnly. "I see, son, I see. We'll have to get out and visit her one of these days."
"Well, when was the last time you saw her? Where have you been staying?"
"I went to live with Wiljes."
"Ah, good, good. And how's he?"
Tavis' eyes dropped. "He didn't make it."
Jovis frowned sadly and nodded. "Well we'll pray for him, won't we. Pray that Anhur holds him close and gives him rest."
Tavis reflected on his conversation with his uncle only moments ago and smiled. "I don't think we need to worry too much about Wiljes."
Jovis returned the smile. "That's the spirit, son."
Just then the tavern's swarming voices changed in tone, uttering hushed questions: "He's here now?"; "Where is he?"; "Which corner?"
Jovis looked up and nodded toward the other end of the tavern. "Here, son, you'd better head up there."
Tavis looked in the direction his father nodded to behold a host of shuffling bodies and searching faces. Standing on a huge table was a tall Iscorian youth and Elnidar Toroth at his side. "There he is!" Elnidar barked, pointing to Tavis. At that, the crowd practically carried Tavis off his feet, towed him across the length of the tavern, and set him up on the huge table.
The tall Iscorian youth slugged Tavis playfully on the arm. "Gerd! It's the same kid who beat me at Tenkers all those years ago! Do you remember me? Remember old Jonda?"
"Wait," Tavis began, shaking his head slightly "I took your big flint out of the circle… Your prize winner."
"He does remember!" Jonda exclaimed, slugging Tavis in the arm again. With that, Jonda turned to face the crowd of patrons. "Ladies and gents of the Oak Barrel," he began, his voice filling the tavern, "I present to you, the only man that could ever best me at Tenkers!"
A combination of shouts and laughter circulated through the crowd.
"And I present to you," Elnidar continued, slapping Tavis on the back, "the same man that slayed that bastard Nashan!"
The patrons erupted with hoorays, lifting their mugs up high. Tavis however, paused at the memory of the king's body in his arms, and his words of relief and contrition. Noisily, Tavis cleared his throat and the taverners quieted and looked at him, waiting. "I also want to give a toast," he began, gesturing to the far corner where his comrades sat, "to all my friends who helped me along the way!"
Again the crowd cheered, turning and lifting their mugs to the party of four at the corner table. Brogan bowed grandly, Kenja beamed brightly, Gin clapped her hands franticly, and Rhoden allowed a faint smile to cross his lips.
"And also," Tavis continued, waiting for the patrons to quiet down, "to absent friends."
The tone of the tavern turned as somber looks crossed the faces of all the taverners. Absently, Tavis clutched the tiny cup and figure in his belt pouch. Off in the corner, Rhoden brought a few fingers up to the side of his face where Zeyn used to touch him.
"They were all strong," Elnidar picked up, breaking the near silence that had come over the room, "And they will all be remembered."
The congregation all muttered low-voiced agreements.
"But now," Elnidar continued, "to honor their memory and to cheer our champions, let us revel!"
Affirmations and cries of "Hear, hear!" went up.
"The moon is low in the sky, the ale is plenty, and the band has not yet treated us to a song!"
More cheers and cries of jubilation resounded as mugs were pounded on tables, and the mood returned to one of celebration.
Elnidar and Jonda climbed down from the table and brought Tavis along with them, half helping, half jerking. Once on the floor, Tavis turned to see that a band had sprung up from the throng and had perched on a tiny raised stage at the head of the tavern. A huge BeHemoth, neither as tall nor as muscular, nor as red as Brogan plucked at the strings of an enormous bass instrument with huge, sausage-like fingers. A pair of native Temacun humans with the customary tannish features took their places, one on a set of lap drums and the other on a pan pipe. The fourth and final member of the band, a tiny Gnome with a crop of scruff on his chin, climbed up on a stool and began drawing a bow across his fiddle.
The band began with a thrumming drumbeat, joined it with a jaunty bass line, and followed up on the pipe and fiddle. Half the patrons began clapping to the rhythm while the other half pushed tables and chairs against the walls. Men and women of all shapes, colors, and races ambled into the cleared floor, paired up, and danced and turned as the band began to sing as well as play.
Oh it's hard to see down the road you're on,
When you can't help but look back.
And you can't believe what's ahead of you,
When you can't accept the fact,
That the life you lead is changing,
And all you've ever known,
Is left and gone forever,
When you're now so far from home.
Yes it's left and gone forever,
'Cause you're now so far from home…
Tavis looked over the crowd to see Brogan prancing around, holding Gin up on his good shoulder while the little Elf girl squealed in delight. Off in the corner, Rhoden made a tiny flame dancer jump between his hands, much to the delight of young and older patrons alike. Flying through the teeming dancers, Kenja emerged and grabbed Tavis by the arm.
"Come on!" she cried, pulling him out to the floor with the rest of the patrons. She took his hands and placed them firmly on her hips, then threw her own arms over Tavis' tan, strong shoulders. She paced, she turned, she flowed, and she smelled wonderful, Tavis thought. Midway through the second verse, she spun out, into his arms, and back out again. Tavis' throat filled with laughter and his eyes held back tears of joy.
Away so far from home,
Someday to return.
So call a cheer and give a toast,
'Cause you'll always come back to Temacus.
Outside, the tides of the bay lapped up against the sand, moonlight glinted off the broken glass that made up the dome of the King's Tower, the planets turned in the heavens, the stars shone in the velvet sky, and on and on, the band played into the night.
Here ends book one, "Far From Home". Tavis and his friends will return however, in their second book, "Heart of the City".