“The Open Hand” is the first story I wrote set in what I would eventually call The Universe of the Nine Roads. It’s also the first story featuring Zerieth, who goes on to become the Hierophant of the White Road, and introduces The Order of the Open Hand. I place it here, after it’s having been rejected from all the best publications, for the delectation of my beloved readers, representing the “High Fantasy” stream of my work.
Zerieth sat cross-legged on a large wooden platform situated in the center of the great crossroads at the heart of the city of Vierlion. Beside him were pied-clothed jugglers, rugged guides and ragged musicians. This was their place to seek employment or an audience. He’d been told it was also the place for a White Road wizard of the Open Hand to make himself available to those in need.
The sea of people swirling all about him made Zerieth uncomfortable. He’d never been to this part of the world, but he felt as if he were traveling everywhere without moving as people of all types, human and otherwise, passed before him.
As he sat, he tried to calm his mind and catch a glimpse of the White Road. The sight of it was elusive. He’d walked it and wielded its magic for several years now, but seen it only a few times. Not at all like the Red Road he had walked for most of his life; that Road had almost always been in his sight, shimmering and undulating like a great snake of fire and blood.
Once it would have angered him. Now it brought mild frustration and a sense of melancholy. The White mages who taught him said creation was more difficult to achieve than destruction. He supposed that might be why the White Road was so much harder to see than the Red, at least for him.
A man in rich clothes striding toward him diverted his attention. He held his head high and walked stiffly, with an exaggerated air of importance.
“You are a White Road mage of the Open Hand?” the man asked as he drew near.
Irritation replaced Zerieth’s awkwardness. Couldn’t the man see? He pointed to the brooch on his shoulder; mother-of-pearl carved in the shape of an open, offering hand. “That is what this means.”
The man bowed, a sneering smile lifting his dark moustache. “Of course. I’ve just never met a White Road wizard with red hair.”
Zerieth smiled thinly. The most devout mages of the White Road had snow-white hair due to their connection to its power, or were old enough to be naturally silver-haired. Many younger acolytes chose to bleach theirs to emulate this.
Beside the fact that he felt such practices were a bit foolish, his red hair acted as a constant reminder of who he had been and no longer wished to be. It reminded him of the life, the version of himself that he’d left behind when he stepped off the Red Road and on to the White.
“I am called Zerieth and I am at your service. What sort of help do you need, sir?”
The man shook his head. “I need nothing. My employer, Gesundren, has sent me to bring you to him. Business matters keep him from coming to find you himself. Will you accompany me, please?”
Zerieth took up his staff of white rowan, stood and nodded. “Of course.”
Following the man through the thick crowds, he tried to engage him in conversation, but his responses were curt, clipped and perfunctory. In his old life, Zerieth would have burst the arrogant man’s body like an overripe fruit for showing such impertinence, but as it was he simply resigned himself to walking in silence. He’d save his improved social skills for the man’s employer.
He didn’t have long to wait. Before he knew it, the man was leading him into a palatial estate in the northeast corner the city.
The mustachioed man kept glancing at him, as if expecting words of admiration or wonder. The opulence of the place conveyed its owner’s vast wealth, but wealth neither impressed nor intimidated nor interested Zerieth.
The servant led him through a set of great oaken doors into a large, square room. It seemed almost to be made of gold; gilt paint and fixtures were everywhere. A tremendous fireplace in which a veritable bonfire raged dominated one wall. In Zerieth’s eyes, tiny serpentine flickers played within the flames, but he ignored them stolidly. Such things were vestiges of the past, easily pushed aside by his newer, truer purpose.
A man with short cropped, salt-and pepper-hair and a slight paunch sat upon a chair that was nearly a throne at the far end of the room. Beside him stood a tall figure in bright yellow robes, bearing a gold-tipped staff of oak. His expression was open, but Zerieth felt a tremor of unease when he caught the mage’s eye.
The older man rose when they entered, walking quickly toward them with open arms. He held out his hand, smiling broadly. Zerieth took it, grinning in return. Finally, someone with emotions.
“Zerieth, at your service, sir.”
“And I am Gesundren, as I’m sure you surmised. Thank you so much for coming. Here, sit with me.”
The rude man bowed to his master and left the room, while Gesundren offered Zerieth a seat near his own.
Gesundren gestured toward the tall man who still stood beside his ornate chair. “This is Elesias, of the Yellow Road, my chief wizard.”
The man in yellow bowed slightly but did not speak.
Zerieth nodded. “It is always a pleasure to meet a brother wizard.” He turned to Gesundren. “Tell me what it is you need help with, sir.”
“I’ll do better. I’ll show you.”
He reached up and rang a brass bell that hung nearby. A curtain parted along one wall. Two servants wheeled out a large glass case. Inside rested a beautiful, dark haired young woman surrounded by a glowing aura like frozen sunlight.
“My daughter, Ceriesa. I need you, good mage, to act as her bodyguard on her journey to the home of her new husband, a business associate of mine. He lives in the city of Elgrion, some seven days from here.”
“Why is she suspended like this?”
Elesias stepped forward, speaking for the first time, his voice high and even. “I placed Mistress Ceriesa in temporal suspension at her and Master Gesundren’s request, for her protection.”
“From what? Surely the road to Elgrion can’t be that dangerous.” It seemed like an extreme measure; temporal stasis offered complete protection but also complete isolation.
“It is a dangerous road,” Gesundren said, “I am one of few merchants here who trades with Elgrion, so the road is little more than a path through the wilderness. But for my daughter, there is another, far greater danger.”
“A former suitor,” Elesias continued, “Rothollos, a skilled mage who walks the Purple Road.”
“Ah, then the stasis is to prevent her from being placed under a geas.”
Elesias nodded. “Exactly.”
Gesundren shook his head. “But it is not enough. That’s where you come in. Everyone knows there’s no better bodyguard than a wizard of the White Road. If Rothollos cannot call Ceriesa too him he will attack, try to break the suspension. You must prevent that.”
Zerieth nodded. There was no question he would help. The vow of the Open Hand required it, although the situation struck him as suspicious and odd. If he was to act as bodyguard, why did the girl need to remain suspended? Unfortunately the Order of the Open Hand also strongly discouraged it adherents from prying to deeply into the business of a Requestor. He would simply have to be on his guard and prepared for any eventuality. Perhaps Gesundren was merely over-protective of his daughter.
But there was one obvious thing he was curious about. “Forgive me, sir, but why couldn’t the groom simply come for her here?”
Elesias spluttered, looking scandalized. Gesundren smiled, shaking his head.
“I’m sorry; I forgot you are not from here. It is our custom for the bride to go to the groom so he and his family may receive her. To ask him to come get her, as you say, would be a grave insult.”
“Please forgive my ignorance.”
“Not at all. Will you help us?”
Zerieth nodded. “Of course. When do we leave?”
“The shields aren’t working,” Zerieth cried, “all of you, fall back and protect the carriage!”
The small contingent of soldiers Gesundren had sent with him fell back, dragging two of their number injured by the bizarre creatures that had appeared on the path before them. He’d placed protective auras of white light around each solider, hoping they could hold the creatures off while he performed a banishing-spell, but the beast’s tentacles shattered the wards like eggshells.
They were advancing now. Three creatures, unlike anything Zerieth had ever seen. They floated a foot off the ground, with six tentacles, one upward, one downward, and four like a compass around a central sphere, all composed of spongy, seeping flesh. They exuded a smell like rotten flowers, and constantly emitted eerie sighs from the gaping black orifices along their central hubs.
With a hiss, one of the beasts lashed out at him with a glistening tentacle. Igniting his staff with white light he deflected the blow and struck with a bolt of light. High whispering screams issued from the monster’s dripping mouths.
His strike sent the beasts into a frenzy. All three began spinning, revolving, undulating toward him, faster and faster. Tentacles lashed, streams of corrosive mucus shot from their quivering maws. A splash of the slime caught him on the shoulder, burning through the cloth of his tunic and eating at the skin beneath. As he wiped the odious fluid away with his cloak, a flailing tentacle smashed him in the head. He hit the ground, hurting, dizzy and disoriented.
Some bodyguard he was, letting a bunch of leprous starfish push him aside. He hoisted himself to his feet with his staff, fighting a wave of nausea.
The soldiers stood in a ring around the carriage. One dropped his sword and ran into the trees as the hideous creatures bore down. The others raised their weapons. Battle cries went up, quickly replaced by screams as the monsters struck.
Zerieth closed his eyes and cast a spell. For just an instant, he saw it; first as a flawless ivory causeway, then it was a shimmering river of milk. The White Road.
Its power filled his mind and soul as the cries of the soldiers filled his ears. He leveled his staff toward the melee. With a few words and gestures, he conjured a shining white dome around the men, forcing the beasts back and rebuffing their attacks.
Wailing, the monsters turned on him. He felt no fear, only strength and certainty. Raising his hand, he created a massive pearlescent sword hovering in the air before him. A glowing lance of the same half-matter, half-magic soon joined it.
With a flick of his wrist, Zerieth sent the lance flying to impale one of the hovering terrors. With a shrill shriek from each of its mouths, it melted in mid air dripping to the ground in a green puddle of stinking ordure.
He tried the same with the second beast, but it dodged, even as he sliced two tentacles from the third with the bright sword.
Zerieth shivered as slimy tentacles wrapped around his body, four from behind, two from in front. He gasped for air as a tendril constricted his throat. Death had never frightened him, or rather, he’d never even thought of it. He didn’t now, not more than in passing, but he thought of the soldiers, and the girl in the box.
He took that concern, that desire to protect and focused it, nurtured it, called it forth. Then he fed it the shining milk of the White Road.
When he could contain the power no longer, he ceased to try. A white tide burst forth, ripping apart the restraining tentacles and flinging the beasts away. He finished the job with the pearly magical weapons.
He lowered the barrier to find the soldiers crowded, weapons drawn, back to back. The Commander, a young man named Arvias, prodded one of the monster-puddles with his spear. The tip hissed and smoked. The young man pulled his weapon back quickly and came toward Zerieth with wide eyes.
“What were those things? I’ve never seen anything like them.”
“That’s because they are not from the world we know; they were summoned here, no doubt, by the power of the King’s Road. Tell your men to keep their eyes open and their wits about them. There’s no telling what the Purple Wizard may conjure into our paths.”
The boy went pale, his eyes sliding this way and that, as if he feared horrors from the Beyond behind every bush or boulder. Then he nodded nervously and trotted back to his men.
That night, lying on his bedroll beside the campfire, Zerieth dreamed. In the dream, he wore the blood-colored cloak and tunic he’d worn as a wizard of the Red Road and he stood in a small village. It was burning, because he had set it aflame. Buildings collapsed into bubbling pools of acid.
Around him were dozens of dead bodies, charred, melted, or strewn in pieces across the scorched ground. The crackling of flames and the stink of burning flesh filled the air.
Before him the Red Road writhed like a flaming serpent, flowed like a river of blood. It was around him and within him; he swam its depths and it filled his mind, feeding his passion and making his impulses reality.
As Zerieth raised his hands to invoke a further wave of destruction, tortured sounds of pain and moans of loss filled the air.
All around him, the bodies were moving. Slowly, painfully they rose, dragging shattered limbs or exposed organs, staring at him from scarred, burned faces.
They spoke no words, but none were needed. The anger and accusation stabbed at him from their eyes. They reached toward him with mangled hands and crawled on jagged stumps.
The crowd of bodies multiplied until he was faced with the shambling, mutilated corpses of every person he had ever killed.
It was a vast crowd.
A surge of fear ran through his heart, but it turned quickly to rage. With that rage he called upon the Red Road and with flame, acid and vehement anger he killed every one of them again.
The last one standing was a tall man with white hair clothed in scorched white robes. He wore the sigil of the Open Hand, though its mother of pearl was stained with blood. He smiled at him with flame-blackened lips, and laid his hands on Zerieth’s shoulders.
“I forgive you,” he said.
Then the man seemed to flow into him as a pulsing tide of white light. When it was finished, Zerieth wore pure white clothes and the Open Hand brooch.
He turned and choked back a scream. Before him the crowd of his victims stood again, dripping, moaning, crawling.
There was no forgiveness in their eyes.
As one, they lunged for him.
Zerieth started awake, a small cry escaping his lips. He looked around him, saw a flame, and realized it was only the campfire.
He remembered where he was. Who he was, now.
He took a deep breath, and fell slowly back to sleep.
Early the next morning, Zerieth stood at the open door of the carriage, staring inside. She looked so peaceful. Then it occurred to him, he was protecting a girl he’d seen but never spoken to, from a wizard he’d never met.
The real irony, though, was that in his old life, he would most likely have incinerated, exploded, or dissolved them both, just to see it happen.
How things change.
Approaching footsteps drew him out of his reverie. It was Arvias, leading both of their horses.
“We’d best be heading on, Master Wizard. We’ve many miles to cover still.”
“Yes, of course.” He closed the carriage door and took the reins from the Commander. He mounted slowly; he was used to walking and never considered himself a proficient rider.
“Will you ride point with me, Commander?”
Arvias glanced around nervously, but he nodded and rode along beside Zerieth.
“Is this the first time you’ve faced…supernatural threats, Commander?”
Arvias nodded. “Aye, it is. I’ve fought many men, but I’ve never faced down a monster.”
Zerieth barked a laugh. “Sometimes men can be the worst monsters, believe me. But don’t be concerned; they say there is no safer place than at a White Road mage’s side.”
The commander gave him a weak smile and they rode down the growth-choked path with the carriage and the rest of the troops behind them.
It was beautiful country around them; gently sloping hills covered in forest, but staying ready for the next attack kept Zerieth too busy to enjoy it. Eyes, ears and mind all searched the forest, the hills, and even the sky for sign of danger.
His mind sensed the threat before he saw it, a feeling that started in his head and blossomed like fever all through his body. A powerful spell was being cast, nearby, but he couldn’t tell from where. He reined in his horse. Arvias trotted up beside him.
“Something is coming, Commander. Tell your men to stand ready.”
The young man turned his horse but as he opened his mouth to call out to his men, the air behind him shimmered and rippled. With a crack like sundered stone, a rift opened in the hazy air. In a blink, two massive three-part pincers on thick stalk-arms shot from the opening and grabbed Arvias around the neck and chest. Zerieth lashed out with a bolt of light, but it struck one of the arms just as they lifted the young Commander off his horse and tore his body apart.
Several of the soldiers turned their horses and galloped away.
There was a sound that was at once a high shriek and a deep, thundering roar and the rest of the beast forced its way through the rift. It reeked, a sharp dry stink that filled Zerieth’s head and made his eyes sting.
The creature’s claw-arms extended from the front of a chitinous body. Above rose a columnar neck and a blunt-snouted head dominated by glowing red, multi-faceted eyes. A fringe of writhing tentacles ran along the body, supported by six bandy legs ending in enormous hooves.
It let out another wailing roar. Zerieth’s horse screamed and reared, throwing him from the saddle. As he fell, he saw the remaining soldiers turn their bucking mounts and gallop down the path the way they had come, trailing screams and mindless, terrified gibbering. The soldier acting as coachman hurriedly unhitched the carriage-horse and followed. An older part of Zerieth’s mind wanted to turn and blast them to ashes for their desertion, but the impulse was fleeting. The beast turned toward the carriage, its many legs carrying it with surprising speed and fluidity. Though her father’s men let cowardice overcome them, Zerieth would not abandon his oath to protect Ceriesa.
Raising his staff, he shouted the words of a spell. A wall of glowing, pale marble appeared directly in front of the charging monstrosity.
The creature struck the wall, rebounded and shook its hideous head. The two pincers closed and thrust forward into the barrier like spears. The wall cracked and with a roar they broke it into pieces that dissolved like pearly mist.
Zerieth staggered, a shattering pain sweeping through his chest. The beast continued its advance, mere yards from the carriage.
The river of shimmering milk appeared before his mind’s eye once more. He wanted to cry aloud with joy; two times in as many days the White Road had appeared before him. But there was no time for celebration.
He drew out silken strands of that flowing stream with mind, voice and hand, reveling in their mix of strength and softness. Infusing the shining ribbons with his will, he sent them streaking out to bind the awful beast.
The pearlescent fetters wrapped around the monster’s neck and limbs, holding it fast. Zerieth could feel the strain on the strands as the beast heaved against them. It roared and bellowed in frustrated agony. He thought he could almost make out words amidst the din, but they were incomprehensible.
He poured more power into the fetters, strengthening their hold on the raging creature. Once it was secure, he raised his staff and drew a complex sigil of white light upon the air in front of him. He intoned a spell as a he worked, calling upon the White Road to sweep the creature back from whence it came.
Abruptly, he ceased chanting. He felt something, a surge of power nearby. Before he could identify it, a scintillating wave of purple and green light burst from the creature’s body and shattered the white silken fetters.
Gasping, he fell to his knees, feeling his thoughts torn asunder along with the spell-bonds. His consciousness reeled and whirled, his only awareness that of jagged, brittle pain in both his body and spirit.
Moaning, he tried to lever himself to his feet with his staff. Dimly, muffled by pain, he heard the monster’s strange, mixed cry. It was on him in a flash. Pinning him to the ground, its great cloven hooves drove the air from his lungs, just as its pincers closed around his neck, preventing him from taking a breath.
As his vision dimmed, he looked up and saw the banishing-sigil, still hanging in the air above him. The spell was nearly finished, but how could he speak the last words, with his throat held shut by the beast’s grip?
He had to find a way. The oath of the Open Hand bound him. More than that, he could not die now; he still had far too much left to atone for. He must succeed.
Reaching deep within himself once again, he drew upon his desire to protect the girl, his certainty in the oath and joined this, his own power, with the flowing strength of the White Road. He let them shine through the darkness falling across his eyes, even as they allowed him to ignore the pain of cracked ribs and torn flesh.
He opened his eyes and unleashed twin bolts of brilliant white light. The beams slammed into the creature. It bellowed and staggered backward.
Zerieth cried out the final words of the spell. The sigil above him exploded into a lance of radiance that slammed into the beast’s midsection. It let out a booming shriek. Barely audible above the din, Zerieth heard an unfamiliar human voice crying out in pain. Seconds later, there was a surge of magic, the shattering sensation of a broken spell, and another scream of pain.
Blackness fell across his eyes, with divided in the center by an undulating white ribbon. The shimmering path receded until all was dark.
Zerieth came to quickly. He felt around him until his hand met the smooth wood of his staff. Using it as lever, he slowly got to his feet, fighting dizziness and nausea. His injured ribs throbbed, turning to lances of pain when he moved.
Before him stood the carriage, its doors flung wide. The coffin-like glass case lay open on the grass. Ceriesa, awake now and weeping profusely, knelt over the prone figure of a man. There was blood on her hands and blood staining the man’s purple tunic and cloak nearly black. Beside him lay a heavy, scepter-like golden staff.
Rothollos, the mage he’d been sent to counter. Now Zerieth understood what he’d felt just before he blacked out. Rothollos must have suffered backlash from the banishing-spell, then used the last of his strength to shatter the stasis field around the girl.
But why was he bleeding?
He struggled to her side, the lances of pain in his side growing sharper with every movement. She didn’t seem to notice his approach. Carefully, painfully he knelt down beside her.
“Ceriesa, are you hurt?”
She started violently, her eyes searching, uncomprehending. Then she fixed him with a gaze that seethed with anger.
“Get away from me! Don’t touch me with your bloody mercenary hands.”
“I am no mercenary. I am Zerieth, a White Road mage of the Open Hand. Your father sent me to protect you on your journey.”
Zerieth turned his gaze to the unconscious man sprawled on the ground. Three gleaming, razor-sharp metal blades protruded from his torso. Several more lay on the damp grass. Glancing behind him at the coffin-case, Zerieth noticed three small apertures along its side, near the latch.
He turned back to see Rothollos standing unsteadily and hurling a bolt of purple light toward him from his scepter. The blast slammed him into the coffin, shattering the glass. Jagged shards pierced his clothing and lacerated his flesh, adding the pain of many cuts to the throbbing of his ribs.
Trying to ignore the pain, Zerieth got to his feet once again. He gathered his remaining power in one hand and prepared to counterattack.
“No, please, don’t!” Ceriesa lunged at him, grabbing his arm and nearly bringing him to the ground again. No doubt, he had placed a charm of control on her. But, no, he’d felt no spell when she touched him. What was going on here?
Rothollos had collapsed again and without thinking, Zerieth knelt by his side.
Ceriesa’s grip on Zerieth’s arm became painfully tight. Tears flowed sparkling down her face. “Please, you are a White Mage, please help him, he’s dying! My father booby trapped that terrible coffin he locked me in, Rothollos, he’s lost so much blood…”
Zerieth laid his hands on the fallen wizard. “I will do what I can, but please, would you explain to me what in all the Roads is going on here? Your father told me Rothollos refused to let you go when you decided to marry another man.” As he spoke, he ran his hands over Rothollos’ wounds, assessing the damage and slowing the bleeding.
Ceriesa snorted. “Of course my father told you that. He duped you; he knows an Open Hand mage cannot refuse a genuine request for aid or protection. His “associate”, Bedriss, a vile old man, lusted for me. He told my father he would cease to trade with him unless I was given to him as his bride.”
Zerieth nodded as he attempted to close Rothollos’ wounds, one by one. “But you were already in love with Rothollos. It all begins to make sense now.”
He’d been lied to. He’d had his suspicions about Gesundren and his request, but the idea that he would try to force his daughter into a loveless, unwanted marriage…he breathed deeply, tried to stay focused on his healing.
“Exactly. My father had his pet wizard imprison me in that stasis field, to prevent me trying to escape during the journey. Bedriss employs a Purple wizard; he would have simply placed a geas on me to compel my obedience once we reached Elgrion. The last piece was you, Zerieth. My father knew Rothollos would try to rescue me, that he’d summon his most terrible creatures against those who tried to keep us apart. He needed another wizard, to fend off his attacks.”
“Why would he not simply send Elesias, his own mage, with you?”
The girl rolled her eyes. “Elesias? He’s useless. A coward, frightened of other mages. Besides, everyone knows there is no better bodyguard than a White Road wizard.”
Zerieth completed his healing work and rocked back, dizziness, weakness and nausea nearly overcoming him. Ceriesa took his shoulder, as Rothollos began to stir.
“Are you all right, Zerieth?”
“Not really, but I will be.”
She helped him to lie back against a tree, even as Rothollos slowly got to his feet. “Thank you for healing me, White Mage.”
“You are welcome.” Zerieth was nearly at the end of both his physical and magical strength. He only hoped he could muster up enough spiritual strength to heal the wounds of his body.
Ceriesa rose and went to Rothollos’ side. “So, what happens now?” the Purple mage asked. “Are you going to try and finish you mission, force Ceriesa to go with you to go to Elgrion?”
Zerieth laughed. Had they actually looked at him? “I’m in no condition to force anyone to do anything. But that aside, no. If a Requestor lies to a member of the Open Hand, it nullifies the agreement. In fact, my oath now compels me to help the two of you in any way I can.”
Now it was Rothollos’ turn to laugh. “You’re not really in any condition to help anyone either. I think healing me was sufficient. You saved my life.”
The Purple mage was probably right, but Zerieth wanted to do more. He didn’t know why his connection to and ability to see the White Road had grown so during this adventure, but he wanted it to continue. Therefore, he would follow the vows of the Open Hand to the best of his ability.
“No, my friends. I feel partly responsible for all of this. I adhered strictly to the oath of the Open Hand, and did not question your father’s motives. I should have, but, I am still somewhat new to this role.”
He shifted painfully and applied just a twinge of healing magic to his ribs, sighing in relief. “Rothollos, I trust you have a plan for getting the two of you away from this area? Gesundren and Bedriss will both be after you.”
Rothollos nodded. “There is a small town beyond the forest and a little south down the coast. A ship waits there to take us away from here. But the town is days away and I do not know when I will be able to summon us a mount. My strength is depleted.” He didn’t say it but Zerieth knew that was due in large part to the backlash from his banishing-spell.
“Gesundren’s soldiers will make it back to Vierlion in less than two days and at that point things will get interesting for you both. But perhaps I can help a little. Do either of you have something you could give me, some small possession?”
Ceriesa took a gold ring from her finger and handed it to him. “My father gave me this ring on my sixteenth birthday. Take it. I no longer wish to have any reminder of him or my old life.”
Zerieth took the ring and slipped it onto his own finger. “I certainly understand that feeling, more than you can know.”
He braced himself for the pain and exertion that what he was going to do would cause. Clenching his hand and reaching deep within himself he said a few words and there was a brief burst of white light from the ring.
“What did you do?” Ceriesa asked.
Rothollos set a hand on her shoulder. “Give him a moment. The poor man is nearly exhausted. It makes me glad I did not have to fight him, mage to mage. Such strength!”
Zerieth smiled. “You are too kind.” He unfastened his Open Hand brooch, and handed it to Ceriesa with a word. It flashed white between them. “This brooch will shield you both from prying eyes and minds. Likewise, the ring will cause any spell or power trying to locate you, Ceriesa, to find me instead.”
Her eyes went wide with comprehension. “But no…you can’t…you’re too weak!”
He waved away her objection. “I will rest here, while the soldiers travel, and recover my strength. You two had best get going, use what advantage you have.”
Rothollos bowed to Zerieth, and then took Ceriesa by the arm. “Thank you, more than I can say, Master Zerieth.”
“You are very welcome.”
The couple turned and walked away through the trees. Zerieth leaned back and smiled. Before him, the White Road quivered and shimmered. Not the near-constant presence the Red Road had once been to him, not yet. But even the flickering vision he saw now filled him with a sense of comfort, and a feeling of accomplishment he’d never known before. He knew the soldiers would come eventually, from both directions. He knew they would find him. But he had time, and for now he would rest.
He closed his eyes and the river of milk slowly flowed into the shape of a great open hand that gently rocked him into a slow, healing sleep filled with dreams of light.