Twenty-second of Horse 2624

Dear Kisa,

Although I had penned a few thoughts along our journey since leaving Bordertown, it was not until tonight that I found the need to sit and write to you once again. Perhaps this is a sign that I am becoming more comfortable in my role... that I have fewer self-doubts... that I am certain you know my feelings for you without a weekly missive.

Or perhaps it was simply that the journey — until two nights past — was dull enough that even I could find nothing about it that compelled me to write. Yes, beloved... I smile at that thought, because a dull journey is one to be savored. I've already learned that lesson!

We left Bordertown without Camelia. It was by her choice, and I think it a good one. As she pointed out, she is more comfortable in a town. I think it also had more than a little to do with the town's Sheriff, for it was plain to see in her eyes and hear in her voice that she both liked and respected the man. She may have the opportunity to become part of Bordertown's Thing — their town council — and I believe she would do quite well in that role. She is young, yes... but resourceful and intelligent, and I think she understands people far more easily than I do, despite your excellent tutelage.

But as we left the town, we were joined by another traveler. He is an older man, with a talent for carving the most intricate things from wood as I have never seen before. He is as quiet as Darian, and even more solitary. However, we continued to invite him to our camp each night, and little by little we have come to know small stories of the life of Jankin. Before the incident at Highside Heather, I suspect I might have been the only one to guess the Deity to whom he devotes his life, but in a group such as ours, it doesn't seem to matter. Or it didn't — until we had the misfortune of spending the night and an eternity at the inn at Highside Heather.

Ah, but I get ahead of myself again. I should tell you of Morning Star, known as His Magnificence, with many additional attributes appended to his name.

Gilly would say nothing about Brighteyes that I could not puzzle out for myself, except for her statement that they keep us honest. And perhaps that was for the best, because it's certainly difficult to explain a Unicorn.

He likes apples. This may seem like a simple statement, dear Kisa, except that I suspect he believes all the world's apples are meant to be his. He can consume more apples in a single day than I have eaten in a year. Fortunately, he truly is magnificent... and a Unicorn is enough of a rarity for folk at the farms and inns where we stop each night that he manages to charm the goodwives and children into sharing their few remaining apples with him.

They talk among themselves just as people do, and it would seem Brighteyes has spread the tale that I am extremely talkative. I wasn't sure if I should be offended or simply shocked that Morning Star knew of me before even meeting me, but I finally decided that Brighteyes would naturally have that impression of me. Did I not always pelt Gilly with question after question whenever she was in the Vale?

Still, he and I have had time to take one another's measure. He chides me often, or so it seems. Yet I do recall Gilly's interactions with Brighteyes, and the lesson I hadn't realized I was learning: that one must give as good as one gets from a Unicorn.

So I have yet to decide if the Magnificent, Handsome and Pragmatic Font of All Knowledge Wise and Wonderful, Magnanimous Seer of All and Listener of Innumerable Nuances, He of the Majestic Flowing Silky Mane and Charming Disposition Known as Morning Star has been a good influence on me or the opposite. I've begun to suspect standing all day in Court would be quite a different experience today than it was a year ago.

And now I must write of the events that transpired in the days before my birthday. The first was a random accident, a cart carrying a load of Montague marble had tumbled off the trail and down the side of the hill. There was no question that Bekkah would stay with the badly injured teamster until he was well enough to no longer need her attention. The rest of us, however, needed to press on.

However, despite passing the tumbled cart and panicked teamsters so early in the day, it left us a half day from the inn where we might have stayed the night. We spent the next several days bypassing the inns at midday, to camp along the trail at night. The last inn we passed before reaching Silk Creek — called the Half Day Out tavern — was overly crowded, and those already there were not the friendliest of travelers we had met on the road in our journeys.

We arrived at the Silk Creek just as She began bidding the world a good night, to leave my Sisters to watch over us in Her stead. The fog was already thick and foreboding as we crossed the bridge... the beautiful honey marble from which the bridge was originally crafted, leading to the sturdy wood where the bridge was repaired after the Battle of Silk Creek Bridge at the end of the last Age.

The inn was a lonely thing... called the Lone Pine Inn, in fact, named for the enormous tree that grew at the edge of the ravine. The innkeeper was a man who seemed fearful of the night itself. As we came to find out, he had good reason for his fear, though again I am getting ahead of my tale.

A word to the wise that I will share with you, and you must share it with anyone who plans to venture across the Silk Creek: it is better to stay in an overcrowded inn before coming to the Bridge than to cross the bridge and stay at the Lone Pine Inn on a foggy night. But perhaps you already know this, da? Why else would you have a messenger — was it Katshka, by chance? — leave a pouch for me with the tablet you drew this time?

The innkeeper, beyond being afraid of the night, encouraged us to drink so heavily as to pass out for the entirety of the night from the consumption of beer. My companions are no more fond of doing so than I am, and so we declined that offer. He then demanded we stay in our rooms all night, a demand to which we could readily agree for we were weary and wanted only to sleep.

Finally, he gave me your latest small tablet for my growing set.

Kisa, my love... perhaps you might include a description of unknown pieces in future messages, along with a few words that might explain their meaning, as each piece becomes more enigmatic than the last. I treasure them, for they are made by your hand, but it is only after events occur in which the message might be useful that I learn of the message. I am but your Knight, and your Pawn upon this playing field, but if these tokens of your friendship are to serve as a signpost on the Path, they are of little use once I have started down a Path, one that may or may not be the one you point toward in your message.

Oh, Kisa... I apologize for sounding ungrateful, and questioning your manner of doing what you do. I am still unnerved by the occurrences that night, and find that my temper has risen more than I would like. But a shattered gray circle? Such a thing I'd never seen before, though I later learned that Camelia might have known its meaning had she stayed with us, for a Rhoni woman later identified it. How do you come to know of the Rhoni Cards, I wonder? You seem to know everything, my dear Kisa. Sometimes you unnerve even me.

Even Morning Star was no help in it. None of his kin was at the Battle of Silk Creek Bridge, so he could not speak to the strangeness that pervaded the place and the unnatural fog that clung to the ground like a living thing. I wonder, too, about that... the fog, and its life. That he spoke of his kin and that battle, however, gave me pause. Did this unnaturalness have its beginning at the end of the last Age? Was this, too, a Curse place upon the land then?

I will tell you true, Kisa... what we learned, what I learned, of the end of the Second Age does not resemble well the reality of it that I have come to know. And perhaps the whitewashed stories are better than the harsh truth, though not for Dayalans. No, I believe we — of all the people of this world — would best be served by knowing the truth. But that is not a decision for me to make, is it?

Or is it, Kisa? Is that why I travel with these folk? Is that why I find myself in situations that might turn another's blood to ice and their bowels to water? Is it my future task to tell the truth, if only to my Sisters, of the Truth of the Second Age's ending? To bear witness to the Truth of the Easterners and the Truth of the Coveners? If such is my task, I would say only this: Do not believe everything you are taught.

The stories say that Dayalans were not at the Battle of Silk Creek Bridge. Tashka insisted that the best of them had been sent to aid those at Silk Creek — including the Allaine House Guard and the Glacier Cavalry — while the Starlords and Starriders remained at the Temple on the Border. In there, somewhere is a truth and a contradiction. Once you spoke of Truth, saying that the truth itself did not matter... what mattered were our perceptions of it. There is a Truth of the Battle, and the lessons we are taught are the perceptions of those who, I would venture to guess, were nowhere near the Silk Creek Bridge that night.

Do I sound angry, Kisa? I am angry. Days have passed, and I no longer shake with the anger, but I am still angry. I am content to learn the hard truth of the world; I am less pleased to learn that what I have always been taught turns out to be a lie. Yes, it could well be a matter of perception of those who began the story. In my heart, I still feel I have been lied to for all of my near fullhand of years.

Yes, the tale of Silk Creek Bridge... it begins late in the night as we slept, in a room I shared with Kadri and Romana, in an Inn that would not exist in a better world. I dreamed of home, of the Temple, of the Court, of the marketplaces. I dreamed of summer and the scent of flowers, the scent of apples of the orchard where we so often sat. I dreamed of you. To have so pleasant a dream broken by the pounding on our door and the sound of words that were utterly foreign to my ears at first made me think I had simply fallen into a different and darker dream. How else was I to explain the man outside my door calling me 'Yurisdotter' when no one has ever called me that? How else was I to explain the fact that the dye had been completely removed from Romana's hair, leaving it pure and white and beautiful? But even the worst nightmare could not explain why I could no longer speak to Morning Star.

And then I looked out the shuttered window of the room, expecting to see the quiet night. Perhaps I would see Dayala's Children, my Sisters, marching across the night sky with Tashka and Linette solidly guarding the Dark Patch, or perhaps the fog would have remained and I would have seen nothing but the fog. I was not in any way prepared for what I did see.

Oh, there was fog, yes. But there were the lights of torches and lamps and bonfires. There were people, so many people, Kisa. And the bridge... the bridge, Kisa, was whole — its marble glowing in the light of the many fires from one side of the ravine to the other. I wondered if perhaps I'd gone mad, for on the other side of the bridge... on the other side of the bridge the whole of the Eastern Army was gathered. On the near side, closest to the inn, was the remains of the Dayalan army.

More Dayalan warriors died holding that bridge for the twenty five days it was held than exist in the world today, Kisa. Yes, I am still angry. And I recall at the moment I looked out that window the tile you had left for me there at the inn. I understood it then — or thought I did, anyway. It was too late, of course. A circle, Time, broken into many pieces? Time Shattered. I remember remarking — in frustration, I think, but perhaps the anger was already building by then — Just write me a letter next time, Kisa, would you? Something simple is fine. 'I'm doing well, Daxia. Mother sends her regards. Oh, by the way...' Really, is that too much to ask?

Ah, perhaps it is. And perhaps the experiences that night has led me to a crisis of... not faith, no. A crisis of purpose, perhaps. What am I doing out here, and why am I doing it? That night hurt me, Kisa. Yes, I will likely recover, but I have not been dealt such a grievous blow in these twenty four years of my life. I am still reeling from all I experienced.

It would seem the others outside the room — were they real before we stepped outside the room, or did our exiting the room place us upon the stage, making them as real as we were? I understood then the innkeeper's insistence upon staying in our rooms throughout the night. And perhaps... perhaps I might have been able to do so if I had not heard the voice of one who sounded so much like a combination of your dear mother and the Captain of her Guards, Verchovai Reena. It was a Dayalan's voice, and a very angry Dayalan at that, arguing with a man. Even if I should live long enough to see a Dayalan Temple dedicated outside the Vale, I will never forget her angry words, Kisa.

You got to have some better plan than 'just hold that bloody bridge'!

The reason our stories do not mention any Dayalans at the Battle of Silk Creek Bridge is that no one survived that night who thought it worth mentioning.

Oh, we were there. And it turns out the question asked by the one I would come to know as Verchovai Lily Allaine was, perhaps, part of the reason no one thought to remember her and her company. It is another wrong that I can right... giving names to each brave woman who perished that night. And sharing the name of the one who survived... but that comes later.

Shattered Time and Time Shattered. I will be honest with you, Kisa... I had the hardest time deciphering the meaning of that tablet. Was it simply an observation? Was it a suggestion as to which Path I should tread? Perhaps that is the moment when I began questioning my purpose out here. I am doing my best, love, to keep our world from falling to Chaos. But it is getting harder and harder to see the Paths, and despite Gilly's proclamation that Unicorns keep us honest, I still feel as though I am following my heart as I travel these lands. I fear I do not think enough... and yet there are times when I fear I am overthinking it all, as you said I did when first learning to see the Paths.

When I opened that door, I was not thinking. I was feeling that my Sisters needed me. I did not know why, and I still wonder. Perhaps it was merely to observe, and to bear witness. After all, I spent so many years in your mother's Court doing just that... observing, bearing witness.

I will say that Mikal, the Jvrillian who is my friend and brother in arms, made more of a difference that night in the battle than I. Though there is one who will say I made the greatest difference of all.

And so the three of us — the Amber Princess, the Dayalan Warrior, the Eastern Sorceress Prisoner — left the room and returned to the commons. There were so many more people in the inn now. Some I first mistook to be Jvrillians, but who were really their elder brothers... or perhaps cousins... the Knights of Roth. Two Dayalans... the aforementioned commander, and a youngster, an Initiate, with the name of Koromov.

I have time to think on that now. Of course it makes sense that long ago — when adventurous second or third or fourth sons journeyed across the Sea of Opals to come upon the Opal Archipelago — there would be those who did not make the journey. And so the Koromovs who returned in this age from what they had called their Bankorpool Empire would have cousins who had remained here on the mainland all these many years.

That night, however, I was not in a frame of mind for thinking such thoughts. I was merely shocked to find a Koromov in a place where I never would have expected one. But also, there were Coveners... coming in and out, and there seemed to be more of them than any other group. I had the pleasure of meeting the Archdruid — and I do not mean that I found anything of delight in the meeting. He was a most disagreeable man. At first, I thought he was a fool; now I suspect he had already become infected with the madness his God was spreading among His followers. I do believe I disliked that man more than any person I have ever disliked before. I have disliked some for the deeds they have done. But I don't think I have ever disliked a person simply for being a thoroughly unpleasant, overbearing, condescending man who committed atrocities and betrayals for... for what? For revenge? How does that help anyone or anything?

Revenge... vengeance... I find I must agree with Darian and Longtooth when they say vengeance is not their way.

Does an Avatar of an Eastern God count as a man? Then perhaps I have disliked one other as much. To compare the Archdruid of the Horned God to the Avatar of He of the Red Scarf in such a way might be a sacrilege. However, I suspect my Lady Dayala understands why I think what I think. Both are — were? — loathsome individuals.

He thought to order us about, Kadri and me. I'll confess to using a sharp tongue on him, and perhaps even giving him insult, for I do not answer to a man dressed in green. I answer to my Lady Dayala, and then I answer to the Noble House Allaine. In that place and time, however, I could see that my place was with Verchovai Lily, who — I think — held the same position and rank as Verchovai Reena holds now. It was fitting, then, that I stood with her.

On the bridge.

On Silk Creek Bridge that was shattered during the Battle, and only later repaired with timber.

In all honesty, Kisa, I was afraid. The Rhoni there, a woman by the name of Akemi interpreted your tablet for me, by the way. She called it the Sea of Fog, and said if drawn reversed — as she suspected it was — it represented a chance to find out the truth.

Kisa, you couldn't just send a note saying, "Daxia, you have the chance to find out the truth"? I would have still been puzzled, but I promise I would have been less frustrated.

It is interesting to note that this Akemi has the same name as my Koromov acquaintances' mother's house, the same mother who later married a Koromov. Do you remember all the fullhand of fullhand of tiles on your floor that night I brought you even more tiles and your dinner? When I think of this Akemi ancestor and the Koromov, my head feels as though all those tiles explode through the room rather than tumble into a pattern... and the room is the inside of my head. That is to say, I don't have any idea what it all means, but I have a feeling it means something.

And so to the bridge I went. I did not see Kadri or Romana again until morning... or any of my other companions, either. For a short while, I spoke with the young Initiate, Kay Koromov. It was difficult to know what to say, and what not to say. I knew there was nothing that could change the course of history; however I did not want them uncomfortable with me. All the Unicorns had been killed at the Temple at the Borders... so Kay said. And yet, here I was speaking of my Companion as though he was not dead. I know she thought I was addled. And so, I decided to test a theory — was I, Daxia Yurisdotter, friend to Kisa the Heir of Allaine, whose Companion was named Morning Star, really here in the past... or was I inhabiting the body of someone who died there long ago, someone who managed to survive the sacrifice at the Temple although her Unicorn did not. I asked Kay to humor me, to help me know real from false, and asked her the name of my Unicorn.

She started to answer, and then became extremely confused. That doesn't make any sense. The only critter we call Morning Star is this stallion tied behind the blacksmith's shop; all black, white star on his forehead. He won't let anyone put a saddle on him; right powerful annoying he is.

And so I knew not only was I really there as me, so was Morning Star. And I also knew that however angry I was — and was about to become, though I didn't know it quite yet — His Magnificence was a fullhand times a fullhand fullhand fullhand more angry.

And then Kay said something else, as the Easterners began moving again. ...the currents of the world are about to break upon us once again. It's hard to remember anything else. We've held this Bridge for the Gardener for twenty five days... it feels like we've been doing this forever.

And when the Eastern horns sounded, every Path disappeared. Every single one of them, Kisa. It was as though I never had the gift of seeing them at all. But I had my instincts still, and I used those and did what I knew I needed to do. I was afraid until that moment, Kisa... afraid of dying on that bridge. Would I wake in the morning as from a nightmare? Or would I never wake at all? But when I heard Morning Star's name, I lost my fear and ran as fast as my legs would carry me away from the bridge, with Kay's words rolling and pounding in my head, toward the blacksmith's shop... toward the foul-tempered black stallion...

Oh, my dear Stars, how angry he was, Kisa! But I spoke to him, reminding him that I did know him, and I knew who and what he was, and that — despite needing to be here in this place and time to do whatever duty I must do — we were partners and belonged together. I even promised him every apple I found between there and Talantal, which seemed to seal our deal. He allowed me to saddle him with an inferior piece of furniture, but we rode out from behind the blacksmith's shop as a Dayalan should.

I knew who he was. I knew what he was.

I had thought that we should stand on the Highside, not on the bridge itself, but Morning Star had a different idea. Beneath the clacking of his hooves on the marble bridge, I could hear the clicking of the tablets tied to the pommel of my sword. I thought of you, Kisa... could you feel my thoughts that night?

And a strange thing happened as I rode up the arch of the bridge, Kisa. For a moment... just a moment... it was as if my Sisters saw a Starlord, one of those few who inspire others to stand strong and rally. For I saw them straightening, Kisa. Their resolve returned, and they stood fast. I trusted Morning Star to carry me to the place I most needed to be. I trusted him and I trusted my Lady Dayala. I was there, in that time and place, as the youngest of Starriders... but in this time and place, I have been trained by the very best. I trusted myself.

I do remember thinking, just before the battle began... I love you, Kisa.

And once it had begun, there was no thinking. There was only doing... instinct and training. Of course they came for me. I was the most visible target. But Kay stayed by my side when she should have been at the Allaine's side. A battle is a terrible thing, Kisa. And against foul Demons and unnatural Things, it is even worse. Set all of this atop a bridge, and there is on the chaos. The swinging and parrying, striking the enemy and being struck. Perhaps Morning Star would have been more sure-footed in his true form. Perhaps he could have guided me more in mounted combat had he been in his true form. No matter. We did what we needed to do. Kay stopped a blow that surely would have sent me flying from Morning Star's back... and perhaps into the ravine itself.

She was beginning to rise when more horns were heard from the East... from behind the Eastern lines. The tales here are true, at least. The Knights of Roth did arrive then. Perhaps that is the only truth of the story of the Battle of Silk Creek Bridge. The Easterners knew they were in a desperate position then, and knew their only hope was to get across the bridge.

The bridge being held by only a small company of Dayalans.

Dear Goddess, your Daughters are so fierce and so brave! Oh, Kisa, we held the line against the Eastern army, and we would have held that bridge until the very last of us fell.

Except the Coveners, directed by the forever be damned Archdruid, had cast a spell upon the tree that stood at the foot of the bridge. The tree grew unnaturally... too fast, too tall. Its roots reached out and began tearing the bridge apart. I heard the Allaine curse him, and I saw block after block of the bridge fall into the ravine. I saw my Sisters behind me fall to their deaths.

I cannot express the rage I felt then, Kisa. I fear no language holds the words to describe how I felt at being betrayed by an ally.

Was breaking the bridge to keep the Eastern army contained on the Lowside with the Knights of Roth a wise tactical move? Yes. Was not telling the Dayalan commander this was your plan of action a wise tactical move? No... although that sorry excuse for a man seemed to think it was, which only proved how little he knew of Dayalans.

I may have injured myself further in pulling the young Koromov up on Morning Star's back with me, but it was instinct. Had I known what it would mean, I would likely have still done the same thing. Morning Star knew as well as I did the point on the bridge where the blocks would stop falling. We pushed into the Eastern line... I don't know how many of my Sisters followed, but I do know none of them had the power of a warhorse beneath them. Most of the women who still lived when the Coven cast their spell were killed by those who were supposed to be our allies... to die not in battle, but in the collapsing of a bridge.

There was no honor in that action.

And then, a moment later, as Morning Star scrambled hard against the marble of the bridge, She broke over the mountains to survey what the night had wrought: Her Daughter astride a Unicorn, her Daughter's friends scattered on both sides of the bridge — a bridge that was once again whole, half marble and half timber — and one in the ravine itself... and a second Daughter where one had not been when She left the world in the care of her Children the previous evening.

Yes, we were hurt. But we had wounds that could be healed. We managed to fetch Romana up from the ravine. I don't know who was more confused by Kay's presence... me or her. It has been several days, and I think she is beginning to become accustomed to being alive, though there are so many things that confound her. I'm not certain I've yet become accustomed to having an Initiate. I'm not certain I even know enough to be a teacher, though supposedly the spurs I wear mean that I do know enough.

Each of us has a different tale of that night, but the one that gives me the greatest... pride? Yes, I think that's the word I want to use, for I am so very proud of my sword brother, Mikal. Because he thought to tell Captain Allaine what the Archdruid planned, none of the Dayalans in his version of the story fell to their deaths when the bridge collapsed. They had charged hard into the midst of the Eastern army and were well onto the Lowside when the bridge collapsed. Mikal despaired that they all died. But I thanked him for his service, for he allowed them to die as Dayalan Warriors should die... fighting their enemies.

I should note that according to Romana's stories, none of the Easterners survived the battle. The Dirkwood was not called the Dirkwood then... it was the Heartwood. Tashka and Kay agree on this, and even now it is how Romana knows it. So I have to wonder — you know that I do — what happened at the very end of the Second Age, or at the beginning of the Third Age to change the nature of the World Forest? And does it have anything to do with the madness of the Horned God and his followers?

Jankin's tale is an interesting one, for he is, indeed, a follower of the Horned God. But during the ceremony that caused the tree to grow so unnaturally and destroy half of the bridge, not all stayed within the circle of those casting the spell. Jankin, I could see, was conflicted by his role in what happened. That he feared something worse might befall everyone should he venture out of the circle, too, is his reasoning for remaining. Having traveled with the man for many weeks now, I accept his word in good faith. He has shown himself before that night to be a decent man. He has shown since that night the shame he feels for his role in my Sisters' deaths.

And so we have made an agreement, he and I. Once we have completed the task in Talantal that the youngest Korie requested of Bekkah — whom we found camped at the side of the road last evening — we will continue west to find a place where we might enter the World Forest to find a way to bring peace to his God. We will work together as Dayalan and Covener should.

I had a thought, though... one that I have not shared with Jankin yet, for it is too soon to speak of it. On that night so long ago there was one called Ashley who broke away from the circle and would not return. I wonder if there might be two sides to the coin that is the Horned God's followers, just as there are two sides to the coin that is Jvrill's followers. Are there some who follow their God into madness... and others who walk a Path more sane?

I hope that we will be beyond Talantal and halfway to Talesan's Village by Midsummer, my love, and that perhaps when next we see Midsummer... after another year has come and gone... it will be in the Vale, and we will celebrate it together. Someday... ah, someday I will see you again. Until that day, I hold you in my heart. And until that day, my dreams will be of holding your hands in mine and looking into your eyes as I tell you that I love you.

I am always yours, Daxia

© Kelly Naylor