Achara regained her composure after the battle, with Camon patting her on the back while he held her, “It’s okay now. Everything is okay now. We are here. I am here.”
“You came for me,” she moaned.
“You did it for me,” Camon said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner, but we had no idea where you were.”
“Ratana told me everything; about how you found me and that you were coming. It’s the only thing that has kept my sanity from slipping away.”
“Tell me everything,” Camon said.
Achara recounted how the Gray Elf had kept her locked away in complete and utter darkness. She had no idea when it was day or night unless Ratana had told her. She recounted the candle burns on her hand and the mirror visions and so many other things that she had experienced in the fortress. “He was hellbent on trying to get me to hate myself and him. I was beginning to do so.
“I am so sorry,” Camon said. “I really am.”
“It’s not your fault. The Gray Elf would have you believe that. But your persistence paid off.”
Jorn came over to them, “I’m glad you’re okay,” he said.
“Thanks. I’m glad you are too,” she added. “I’m glad you came back around.”
“The old man here has a way of convincing people. It took a sword fight and three demons that almost killed us to do it, but he got through to me.”
“You never were a fast learner,” Achara joked through her sobbing.
“Better late than never,” he said.
“Jorn played his part in this story too,” Camon said as he talked about how Jorn rescued him from the Inquisitors.
“You found your magic, too,” Achara said. “No doubt, Camon has taught both of us a thing or two.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” the Paladin remarked. “I was merely a guide on pathways to discovery.”
“Don’t be modest,” Jorn said.
“Even I learned a thing or two along the way,” Camon said. “Let me get you two fixed up the best I can.”
He sat Achara down on a piece of debris and summoned his magic to address her wounds, then did the same for Jorn. The humming was higher now than before and more melodic than ever. Jorn and Achara could feel the warmth of his hands on their shoulders as he worked the healing. When he had finished, they looked at their wounds on each other, which were now closed and hardly noticeable.
“You learned to heal without the stones,” Achara exclaimed. “How?”
“The exposure to the Sky Elves and the absence of my stones, I guess. Along the journey here, I had plenty of time to think and reflect on it. It became more apparent to me. The elves described their magic as music, and that metaphor helped me see it in a new way, so I’ve tried crafting the magic I knew in new ways without the stones. And it looks like it works.”
“A new school of magic?” Achara asked.
“No, just a new understanding of what I already knew. I will show it to you on the way back. Speaking of which, we probably need to get out of here. There’s a ship waiting for us.”
“A ship? That’s how you got here? Where are we, exactly?”
“On an island in the middle of nowhere.”
“The elf said this place used to be an orcish outpost. I’ve never seen it from the outside, so I have no idea.”
“It’s not much to behold, but soon enough, you will taste the free air,” Camon said.
The three companions gathered what they could find that they thought might be useful. Camon retrieved his sword, as did Jorn. Camon found a lantern and used one of the torches to light a candle from amidst the debris. He grabbed a few extra candles, and they all left the pit room and followed the stairs down to where Camon and Jorn came in on the boat. The tide had raised, so they waited for it to fall enough, and when it did, they all boarded the skiff, and Camon rowed them out of the tunnel.
It was night when they were back out on the sea, but the sky was still brighter than anything Achara had seen in the months she had spent in the dungeons. She looked up at the stars and moons in awe. “I never realized how much I took these for granted,” she said. “Not until you can’t see them, and you yearn for the open spaces of the world. To think that the Gray Elf wanted to watch it all burn just seems despicable to me.”
“It is something,” Camon said. “This is my home under the stars.”
He rowed the boat to the ship, and the ship’s crew helped the three travelers aboard.
“So, this girl is who you came for?” Kelah asked.
“Yes, this is Achara.”
Kelah looked at her and cocked an eyebrow, “What are you worth to him that he would spend a month at sea and more gold than most people will see in a lifetime? Are you a princess? A queen? Nobility?”
“No, none of that,” she answered.
“She’s priceless,” Camon said. “Now, if you don’t mind, we’d like to be underway. And we could use something to eat.”
“Your gold, your rules,” the captain said.
Achara looked at Camon and Jorn, “So exactly how much did you pay him?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Camon said. “You’re safe, which makes it worth everything.”
“Fifty gold pieces,” Jorn said.
Achara looked at Camon and then a Jorn, “And you let him do it? I thought you would flip your lid, seeing that much money slip through his hands.”
“Well, the old man has taught me that there are some things worth more than money. And besides, what’s money worth if there is no world left to use it in?”
The ship’s crew put up a full rigging and turned the ship back to the northwest. They left the island behind and sailed onward for the next several weeks back to Rahtsaan. Back in port, Camon hired a coach to take them back through the Eastern Province back over the pass, where they retrieved their horses. From there, they rode west across the Empire to the plains. Winter set in, and they occasionally encountered snow, but they rode with intent through Rahtclang and along the way until they reached the prairies of the Gypsy domain.
Achara, Jorn, and Camon rode across brown grass against the wind blowing in from the north on the prairie. The cold had set in, and the three travelers were hardly recognizable, wrapped from head to toe in coverings of all sort. The three horses galloped with purpose up a hill, down the backside, then up the next across the plains’ wind-swept grounds. Achara led, with Camon and Jorn trailing. They crested the next hill and revealed a broad valley with a creek bottom running through it. A large encampment of wagons had circled along the creek banks under a grove of large oaks. Smoke raised above the trees, and then the wind carried it away south.
Camon, Jorn, and Achara stopped at the top of the hill and formed a line abreast with Achara on the right, Camon in the middle, and Jorn on the left of Camon. They all looked out over the camp that was now alerted to their presence.
“Here we are,” Camon said. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
Achara looked at Camon and then back at the camp, “I cannot say as much that it’s what I want. But one thing I know for sure is that this is what I need. Back there on that island, everything the Gray Elf showed me was trying to get me to give in to the power that he knew was in me. And in many ways, he succeeded, but thanks to you, you rescued me not so much from him, but from myself. I am not sure how much longer I could have held on. Ratana was a blessing, but even she had her limits. You were right: I need the temperament. Jasnovi can help me with that.”
“I understand completely. I really do.”
Jasnovi emerged from the camp and looked up at the three travelers on their horses and smiled. She opened her arms and then gestured them forward. Camon and Achara dismounted their horses while Jorn stayed back. Achara unloaded her things from the horse. Camon walked with Achara down the hill to Jasnovi, joined by several other Gypsies that all greeted Achara and Camon warmly with hugs and handshakes alike. Achara went to Jasnovi and took her hand, and the two looked deeply into one another’s eyes. A tear came to Jasnovi’s eyes, and Achara smiled as she looked at the old seer’s face. Camon looked on, seeing the happiness on Achara’s face and the comfort she desired.
Zboru came out of the camp and Zenna and greeted Camon, “I heard what you did for us in the south. All of us are grateful. I think of my daughter. She could have been one of them. You are a legend among us now. You are always welcome,” Zboru said. “Why does your friend not come?”
“Jorn? He doesn’t feel like he deserves to be amongst us. This is Achara’s moment,” Camon said.
“Jorn. He was not with you last time. But he helped. He is welcome too.”
“You can’t make him do what he doesn’t want to do,” Camon said.
“This is true,” Zboru replied.
“Achara, Jasnovi welcomes you and says that you are now family,” Zboru answered.
“I know,” she replied. “We speak like the children of destiny do.”
“You have grown so much, child,” Zboru said.
“In more ways than one,” Camon added.
“Will you be joining us?” Zboru asked Camon.
“No,” Camon answered. “Jorn and I have some unfinished business in the south near Rahttaay. The slaver activity in the south is becoming a scourge on the land, not just among Gypsies. We intend to root it out and expose it for what it is.”
“For all of humanity, you serve the Way. When you succeed, we will all be in your debt.”
“To that end, I hope we do.”
Achara turned to Camon standing next to Jasnovi, who put her arm around Achara, “You already look like you belong here,” Camon said.
“I do,” she said plainly, but then tears welled up in her eyes. She ran over to Camon and put her arms around him, and he hugged her back, but his hand on her head and patted her. The Gypsies watched in solace as she cried uncontrollably for minutes before she regained her composure and was able to speak again.
“Achara, this isn’t the end. This is merely the beginning for you. You are home now, and you will be great here.”
“I know, but it’s just hard to let go. You are about the closest thing I’ve ever had to a father since I was a girl, and now it feels like I’m losing that all over again. I just don’t want to say goodbye.”
“It’s never goodbye. It’s I will see you soon. You better believe I will be back here to see you and how things are going. You know me – always dropping in on old friends. But even more with you, because you are my family now.”
Achara smiled, looking up at Camon, who was looking down at her. She gazed into his gray eyes and weathered face and breathed a sigh of contentment and let him go. She took a step back and stood between Camon and the Gypsies, who then came around her placing their hands on her. Jasnovi came up to Camon. She placed her hands on his and spoke a word to him in her language. She then removed a charm bracelet from her pocket, wrapped it around his hands, and then backed away, smiling at the Paladin.
“She blesses you with the highest honor among Gypsies,” Zboru said. “You are the father of the Destiny. And protector of the daughters. You have earned it.”