Soon after the brilliant violet-white had startled Juthwara and Ralph, then disappeared in gold, Quintálamus and the others returned. Behind the Dwarf came the tall, slender elf-lady named Damaris, and on her leaned a figure that immediately captured Ralph and Juthwara's sympathy and pity.
Damaris helped the woman sit on the ground as Arim appeared in the doorway, leading on a leather thong a horse, of all nutty things. The Maychorian looked worried, but somewhat relieved.
Ralph glanced from the pathetic woman to the horse and back again. "A horse--?"
Arim nodded wearily and gently stroked the animal's nose. It was fine stepping riding mare, silky smooth and red-touched gold, saddled with black leather. "We found the Princess in the deepest, darkest, farthest reaches of the dungeon," the blue-eyed boy explained. "There was a nearly empty underground stable, with only Sunling, here, and, in the farthest stall, the poor Princess, bound with many chains."
"We released both," the Dwarf continued, speaking to his leader. "Princess Elladia has been badly mistreated, I fear. Damaris has done what she can, but the Princess is suffering greatly."
"Lenny might be able to help her," Ralph spoke up.
Arim nodded. "The Maker has given him a gift, amethysts that give peace and healing when they shine."
Recognition lit Juthwara's eyes. "Is that what we saw earlier? That violet light that seemed to revitalize me?"
"Yeah." Ralph nodded. "It healed the whole city, I'll bet."
Arim looked at him. "I think I felt it," he said slowly. "It didn't penetrate to the dungeons, Kataphage's last refuge, but the Katamobi fled as quickly as they could, and the Sleepwalkers are all regular people again."
"Aye, if it could do that, perhaps it can help Princess Elladia," Quintálamus said. He turned to where Damaris sat supporting the woman in her arms. "Let's get thee and the Princess onto Sunling and back to Kakon, Damaris."
They traveled as quickly as they could through the gold-infused atmosphere to the city. The wasteland beneath their feet was sprinkled with tiny flakes of black, and Sunling stepped daintily around more than one mound of the stuff.
Soon they were inside the black city gate. As they reached the inner city the streets became crowded with people, many former Sleepwalkers. Some had tears of thankfulness running down their cheeks to fall unheeded onto dark ragged garments or black cobblestones.
They reached a city square where many Jubilee Guild members congregated. Eben eagerly fought his way through the crowd to reach their side. "Everyone is talking of going home to Maychoria!" he shouted above the buzzing of conversation around them. Then he noticed the injured woman leaning against the elf-lady on the horse. A note of incredulity crept into his voice. "Is this Princess Elladia?"
Ralph managed to nod yes, stepping back against the horse's flank to keep from being trampled by the crowd.
"The poor woman." Eben's comment wasn't heard above the noise.
At that moment the gold light from the tower room faded, and the people fell silent for an instant, wondering what was happening. Juthwara seized this opportunity, leaping onto a well cover to be seen and heard by everybody.
"Friends," he said. "We have all been set free today, not by the Jubilee Guild or the warriors or even the Terrans sent to help, but by the living Lord of all, the Maker of all Creation, the King of the universe. I hope you will all give your thanks and praise to Him."
Cheers greeted these remarks, and Juthwara raised a hand to silence the people. "I know we are all anxious to leave this country of evil to the carrion, so go and gather your family and your possessions. We're going home!"
Cheers that could not be silenced answered, and Juthwara jumped down and joined his companions again. The square began to empty as Men, Elves, and Dwarves hurried away to gather what was theirs. Even Quintálamus left, with Juthwara's hearty approval.
While the courtyard wasn't so crowded, Eben and Juthwara helped Elladia and Damaris down from the horse. Arim, who had been leading Sunling all this time, tied the leather thong to a handy post and joined Ralph in drawing drinking water from the well.
The boys quenched their thirst and drew another bucket for the others and were about to start a game of tag when Ralph grabbed Arim's arm. "Look," he said, pointing. "Across the square!"
"What is it?" the young Maychorian asked. "You look like you've seen a spirit!"
"I don't know about spirits--that's your line," Ralph retorted. "But what I do see, I hardly believe."
The boys stood completely still as the four from Castle Ryoo came across the courtyard to meet them. Mariel and Eben had eyes for only each other. The Hosridon was momentarily forgotten, and Lenny found himself carrying the precious Book.
Seeing the young Jubilee warrior and spy embrace, Ralph remembered what he had been longing to do ever since his sister had vanished. Sarah did not seem at all embarrassed, but hugged him back, tears filling her eyes.
When Ralph pulled back, he was crying too. "Oh, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah!"
"I'm sorry, Ralph--I am so sorry."
"Oh who cares. You're back!"
Tears of joy, tears of grief--they were all a part of the healing lavender light in Lenny's hand. He hadn't even had to be asked, but immediately moved to Elladia's side and whispered the words he had shouted only half an hour before. The light was gentle, and the Princess felt the soothing rays. Hope returned to her light brown eyes. The night was over, and now she had a personal violet dawn.
Damaris smiled at the gray-eyed boy as the Princess leaned her head on the elf-lady's shoulder and gently fell into exhausted slumber. "Thank you, young lord." Damaris's voice was low and husky. "The Maker has blessed you with the gift of making others well."
Lenny blushed. "I am only Abba's hand, Lady."
Sarah had watched it all, and now she glanced at Cheryl. With a wince she remembered all the hurtful words she had thrown at her sister. 'Stupid! Lazy! You're just too fat!' 'I can't believe how incompetent you are, Cheryl. We can't leave you alone for a minute or some fresh disaster will break loose.' 'It's your fault! You and your God! Why can't you leave me alone? Just leave me alone!' 'I hate you! I hate you!' 'You hypocrite. You say you're a Christian, but you sure don't act like it. Hypocrite--hypocrite--hypocrite….'
The last word echoed in her mind, and Sarah flinched away from it, glancing at her sister. How could she have ever thought that, much less said it? Cheryl was the most sincere, earnest person Sarah knew.
How could she heal the hurts she had inflicted? Could Chumégal--
No, Sarah, the Maker whispered. By you the wounds were made, and by you they must be healed.
"Help me," she murmured desperately.
I already have. I have made your heart new. Now you must show this to others.
"How? How can I, what should I--"
Just talk to her. Ask forgiveness; show her your heart. She is a child of Mine, and she will never turn you away.
So Sarah began watching for an opportunity to talk to her sister. But the right moment never seemed to come, partially because of the girl's reluctance, and partially because of the sudden whirl of activity and busyness they were thrown into.
The courtyard was soon packed to overflowing with people--Men, Elves and Dwarves--not to mention possessions. Fortunately, these were few. Most seemed eager to go home, and took only the necessities. Besides, living as a slave didn't give much chance to accumulate useless junk.
Everyone was gathered in the square, talking and laughing and shouting to be heard above the sound. Suddenly the castle, less than two blocks away, collapsed in on itself, sending a shower of mortar dust into the air. The roar of its crashing echoed throughout Kakon like thunder, like the violent earthquake.
The crowd was silent for a split second, then quickly began chattering again more loudly than ever.
"What happened?" Ralph yelled at Arim.
"I don't know!" the blue-eyed boy yelled back. "It had nothing to do with spirits, that's for sure! There's nobody there now!"
Amusingly enough, the crowd had fallen completely silent again, and Ralph's last word rang out loud and clear. Juthwara, again standing on the well cover with his hand in the air, flashed a brilliant grin at the embarrassed boy.
The elf-leader addressed the crowd, "Don't be afraid, good people! The dwarves of the Jubilee Guild have mined tunnels underneath Castle Ryoo, causing it to be destroyed. We have no wish that any trace should remain of Ryoo and her evil deeds." The crowd roared. Juthwara went on to organize the people for the trip. "If you have provisions sufficient for yourself and your family, please follow my good friend Eben to gather outside the city wall. The rest of you, remain here, and we will see to it you are supplied for your needs."
Within the hour they were on their way, headed across the Katamobi Waste due west-- toward home.
Cheryl was struck by the difference between the going and the coming. On the journey to Kakon the four companions had been rather somber and grave, thinking more and more about the black city and the battle ahead. Now, going home, joy ruled the day, and the only rule was that you must join the celebration.
Which all did with great enjoyment. Walking was like dancing, and dancing was like flying. Elladia presided over it all, the Princess of the ball on the red-gold Sunling. (Arim's name for the horse had stuck fast.)
The Princess spent time with Damaris, Cheryl noticed, conversing seriously, sometimes with tears. The elf-lady was not weighed down by these confidences, but was a strong refuge for her friend. Elladia left these talks with Damaris with a bright face and brighter smile. She had learned to forgive and forget, and the black city and her sufferings there were far behind them.
The only one worried at all was Lenny. How on Madra would they get through the Dark Gate? Only children and smaller dwarves could fit through the little trap door, and even Cheryl found it a tight fit. And the booby-traps--it would be a nightmare! And what about the desert? Many of these people were too heavy for the eagles, and even if they weren't there were only about a hundred eagles in the Purple Mountains and nearly a thousand members of the Three Peoples with them. Surely it was impossible!
Lenny dared not voice his thoughts aloud, fearing ridicule. Cheryl was one of the gentlest people Lenny knew, but she simply couldn't comprehend that others did not take things on faith the way she did. She automatically assumed everyone else was just as believing as she was, and Ralph was even worse. Lenny had been scolded for unbelief more than once this trip, so he kept his peace and didn't say a word.
On the second day of the journey, when the city of Kakon was a small black tumor on the gray flesh of the country behind them, Lenny found himself separated from his friends. At first his fellow travelers recognized him as a member of the Jubilee Guild and treated him as a hero, asking what he had done on 'Liberation Day,' as all had come to call it. When he kept insisting he had done nothing, though, they gave up and went back to accosting another Guilder who walked nearby, demanding he tell of his exploits. Zimri was more than happy to comply, repeatedly talking of the violet Dawn and his healing, which he thought the most marvelous happening since the death of Ryoo, which goes to show how marvelous Liberation Day was.
One older woman stayed with the boy, however. After a while he noticed her faltering steps and offered his shoulder to lean on. She smiled at the gray-eyed boy, gratitude lighting her soft green eyes.
"I think you were fibbing, lad," she said in a quavering elderly voice. "I noticed your magnifying glass. You are Lenny, the boy whose soft words and gentle touch brought about the healing of the city of Darkness."
"I did nothing," he persisted.
"Lenny, never call what Abba does 'nothing.' It was His actions through you that set us all free. The violet Dawn healed my own aches and pains, if only for a time. I recognize the Great Physician's touch. Without you I would not have felt it, though."
"Only the King can do impossible things like liberate Kakon."
"And we are His agents here on the dirt of this planet. There are children of His here to perform His will, gentle lad. Just because you cannot open the Dark Gate or provide a path across the Trakinos doesn't mean there aren't those who can do these deeds."
Lenny looked at her, startled. "How did you--"
She chuckled softly. "I'm a grandmother, Lenny."
At that moment Mariel appeared, searching for the woman. "Grandmother! We were--oh, Lenny! Why aren't you with the others?"
The boy shrugged. "It matters little. I had a very edifying conversation with your grandmother. She is most perceptive and wise."
"I know." The young woman smiled. "But come with me. Eben found a cart for you to ride in, Grandmother."
Almost two days later they reached the Witch's Wall.
It came as a great shock to Lenny--but not really, for he had half expected something of the sort--but both gates were wide open, the booby-traps dismantled and the parts stacked neatly against the side of the wall that faced Kakon. Beside the pile of crossbows stood a smiling Dwarf.
Cheryl, at the forefront of the caravan, rushed forward to greet him. "Oh, it's you, it's you!" she cried. "Oh I'm so glad, I'm so glad!"
It was the tiny desert creature that had read the runes to them before the battle, restored to his rightful form. "Four day ago in midmorning I suddenly felt myself made whole again," he said, smiling though his tears. "I knew that thou had succeeded. I worked without rest to open the way for thee."
"Oh, dear friend…" Cheryl could not stop herself from embracing him in joy. "Oh, thank you--I'm so glad!" She was delighted beyond words to see him a Dwarf again, and speaking coherently. "Oh--I don't even know your name! How can I introduce you to Juthwara and Mariel and Eben and all the others?"
"I am Jehóiada, my Lady."
Holding his hand, Cheryl turned and faced the crowd. "This is Jehóiada," she said as loudly as possible. "Without him there would have been no way for us to get into Galgolb. Now he has prepared a path once again!" She turned back to the dwarf. "Will you join us in our journey back home?"
Jehóiada replied in the affirmative, and the crowd responded jubilantly. The Dark Gate was destroyed!
"Pull down the Witch's Wall!" someone yelled. "Let the way out of the land of Shadow always be open!"
Cheers filled the air, and the great congregation immediately set to work tearing down the wall. There were few tools but hands in abundance, and sheer numbers soon overcame the black barrier. Dwarves lent their expertise with gusto, and no one declined to help. In an hour the wall was down for half a mile north and south of the vanished gate.
Ralph and Arim were in the thick of it, using their daggers to pry at loose mortar, leaping lightly from pile to pile of broken rock, playing tag among the many workers, and causing mayhem wherever they went. Arim had never had more fun, and Ralph was in his glory.
'Many hands make light work,' the saying goes, but though there were plenty of hands, the work was heavy. Children were employed in running water back and forth to their elders from a stream found flowing near the gate. Lenny helped with this, often imploring an over-eager worker to sit and rest in the shade for a while before there were cases of heatstroke for Chumégal to heal.
But always after a sip of water the person--Man, Elf, or Dwarf--would leap to their feet and begin anew, as fresh as when they started. At first Lenny thought this was merely zeal to destroy the wall, but then he noticed something.
"Hey, Cheryl, Juthwara!"
At the sound of their names the girl and the elf looked up from what they were doing. Lenny stood by the stream, waving excitedly. Puzzled but intrigued, they walked over to him.
"Cheryl, do you remember this stream?" he demanded.
She looked startled. "Come to think of it, no, and it's flowing right through the desert!"
"Exactly. And see." He knelt down and picked something out of the stream and held it up for her to see. "Do you perceive it?"
It was a small pebble.
"I betcha at night they glow."
She felt momentarily dizzy. "Oh, wow."
"I agree. And look up the stream, towards the Purple Mountains."
She did so. Not far into the desert a single palm tree stood, and farther on, a clump of trees, then a zadron. At the horizon it had thickened to a line of green, a pathway across the Trakinos Desert.
Juthwara seemed to finally understand. "The Whispering Oasis?" he asked.
Cheryl looked dazed. "Not only does it move, it changes shapes," she whispered. "I bet it will take us safely all the way to Mount Shimron Meron."
"No contest," Lenny agreed.
So a highway was provided for the former inhabitants of Kakon.
The festivities that night were more joyous than ever. They camped where the Oasis had widened as if for the very purpose of an overnight stay. Singing and dancing never stopped, and the whispering in the trees became a victorious hymn, sung to the King of all.
Many tales were told--ancient stories of the making of the universe, of the war in Hosiotos and Kataphage's fall. Of the Dark Spirit's bitterness and desire for revenge, and his seduction of the apple of the Maker's eye--the Three Peoples. Of the trouble and strife that overcame Madra, and how it was beaten back for a time. Of the battle of Jerichimo, when the walls of the Katamobic fortress-city were tumbled by the shouting of Abba's children. And many more stories, including of the child-Princess Zena and the battles between Maychoria and Tappuah. The Legend of the Stones was recited, and the tale of Morain and the Vorprix, and how Morrévril vanished mysteriously out of the world when Ryoo destroyed Verdain.
And that brought them to their own part in the history of Madra, and they told of the evil drought and their own unfaithfulness and the years of misery, enslaved to the Witch. Then came the 'Tale of the Strange Warriors,' and the Terrans listened as their own adventures were retold in magnificent detail.
How they were brought forth from their planet of Terra and journeyed to Maychoria Castle, only to escape the enchantment there and travel quickly on in the company of two brave Bluewood Elves and a Maychorian lad. Of their many troubles in the Bluewood and how they overcame them: the Katamobic eels, destroyed by Morríenna and Thoníphage and Chumégal, the snare-net, cut through by Lenny wielding Thoníphage, Princess Morralitha's distrust and paranoia, healed by the peaceful amethysts, the Katamobic dragon, slain by Ralph with his little eagle-dagger. The danger in the tunnels of Shimron Meron was also told of--how Cheryl rescued Ralph, only to fall herself, and was saved by Falkor, Prince of Eagles.
Their battle with the Katamobi in the Trakinos, the whirlpool of sand--the Eye of Jah--the Whispering Oasis and the Pool of Turuth; riding on the back of an eagle to the Witch's Wall--it was the stuff of legends. Jehóiada was called upon to give his account of their passage through the gate, and Eben was made to tell of his adventure in the Urnvile Swamp, and then Liberation Day must be told of in exacting detail. Everyone had a story to tell, and it went on and on into the night without ceasing, for the trees and stones and flowers shone, and there was no need to light fire or torches. The entire Oasis was a warm hearth, and all sat on it and listened to the story telling.
Cheryl wandered away soon after Shimron Meron was mentioned. She found a handy rock by a streamlet that flowed into a pool and sat there, dabbling her bare feet in the water. The blue and gray and lavender stones shone through the water, casting peace over her secluded little haven, but her heart was troubled.
A step heard gently behind her, and Cheryl turned. It was Sarah, standing shyly a few feet away.
"Cheryl… I've been wanting to talk to you. May I sit by you?"
The gray-eyed girl nodded readily, and Sarah lowered herself to the ground by the rock. For a moment she stared at the glowing water, trying to think of something to say. Or rather, a way to get out what she longed to say.
It was Cheryl who broke the silence. "You know, what they're saying back there--it just isn't true."
"What's not true?" Sarah's hazel eyes peered searchingly into her sister's dark gray ones.
"That I'm a hero and a wonderful leader and wise and great and beautiful--none of it's true."
Sarah was bothered. She didn't know how to put it into words. "Cheryl, you are a hero--to me, and to all the people from Kakon, and to Ralph and Lenny and Arim. If it weren't for you, we'd all still be enslaved, either to Ryoo or to ourselves, with the possible exception of Arim." Sarah hesitantly touched her hand. "That's a lot of people, Cheryl."
The other girl shook her head. "Only God can set people free."
"But without you, it wouldn't have happened. Cheryl, I want to ask your forgiveness--for all the mean things I said to you."
Cheryl glanced at her in surprise. "But they were all true. I am a hypocrite, and fat, and lazy, and ugly."
"No, no, you aren't, you aren't." Sarah stood suddenly in agitation, frustrated at her lack of words. "Oh, how can I make you see?"
She paused and stood before her sister, looking at her bowed head. "Cheryl, no hypocrite thinks they are one. The very fact you think it's true shows that it's not. And you're not lazy. I've never met anyone as fervent and earnest and persistent as you are. You kept praying for me even though I demanded you stop. You kept loving me when I was completely unlovable."
A tear dripped onto Cheryl's lap. Sarah knelt down to look up into her downcast face and took the other girl's hands.
"Oh, Cheryl, forgive me. Forgive my nastiness, and my bad attitudes and my hatred and bitterness. Oh, Cheryl--I know now I was wrong. I--I love you, Cheryl."
The girl broke down in sobs. Sarah wrapped her arms around her and knelt there for a long time, holding her sister. At last Cheryl dried her eyes and smiled at Sarah.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I know. Oh, Cheryl, how could have ever thought I hated you? Please forgive me."
"I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago."
Sarah smiled. "Somehow I knew you would say that."
Cheryl half sobbed, half laughed. "But I am fat and ugly. Though I guess that's not important."
"No, no, Cheryl, you are beautiful!"
Cheryl stared at her sister. "How can you say such a fib?"
"Come here." Sarah stood and taking her sister's hand, pulled her off the rock and over to the little pool. "Now, lean over and look into the pool."
Cheryl stared at her reflection. It was her face, but it was pretty. Smoky gray eyes gazed back at her from under long black lashes, full rosy lips were open in an incredulous half-smile beneath a nose neither too large nor too small. Her hair was long, wavy, chestnut brown, hanging over slim shoulders and framing a slender tearstained face.
Cheryl pulled back and stared at Sarah. "How--when--I mean, that's me, but…"
The other girl smiled. "When I first saw you in Castle Ryoo, I was astonished. I recognized you, and you were lovely. I hardened my heart as much as I could, but not for long. Mariel led me to Abba."
"But, but I was fat…."
Sarah's smile broadened. "I guess it happened so slowly you didn't notice, but Cheryl, you're not fat anymore."
Cheryl thought about it. The rigors of the journey had forced her to learn moderation, and all that walking--could it be? She glanced at the pool. Well, reflections can't easily lie.
"Come on, let's go join the others," Sarah suggested.
Sarah and Cheryl were the most loving of sisters from that moment on. They talked constantly, and it came near to driving the boys bonkers, though Mariel frequently joined the conversations and her grandmother sometimes gently led them away from fallacies they were discussing. All in all, that was probably the girls' favorite aspect of the trip back.
It would take another book to describe all that happened on that long and pleasant journey home, and perhaps you are already nearing sleep. I will hasten to 'get to the good part.'
As said before, the return was almost the exact opposite of the trip east. A spirit of festivity and joy pervaded all, and the celebration never ceased. People fairly danced along the way--sometimes danced outright, because their feet were on the path home, away from slavery. Everyone loved the Whispering Oasis that led them safely through the Trakinos, but none were sorry to leave it behind, thought that meant entering the dark tunnels of Shimron Meron.
The dwarves were waiting to greet them, and led them safely to the other side of the mountain. The laughter of children echoed cheerfully in the formerly somber passages. The storytelling picked up again, and Aláric was called on a hundred times for his part of the tale.
When they exited the Purple Mountains, they left a good portion of their company behind, for the dwarves were home. The tears of parting were brief, for they would soon see each other again. (At least the Maychorians' and Elves' tears were brief. Cheryl's were a bit stormier.)
Ralph looked up from his farewells with the dwarven-children he'd befriended to see Falkor perched on a boulder.
"Would you like to go for a ride, Little Eagle?"
It did a good deal to take away the bad taste in his mouth from walking in dark enclosed spaces again. Ralph enjoyed the flight tremendously, much more than a similar tour of Madra he'd had while clinging to a dragon.
And then on into the Bluewood. Everywhere there were feasts and songs and the telling of tales. Jóram, Morralitha's minstrel, even wrote a new song. It wasn't the only one. The many joyful reunions can only be experienced, not described, and I cannot do them justice. Among the many indescribable experiences was Cheryl's surprise on learning that Emrey and Juthwara were brothers, and Juthwara and Morralitha had been sweethearts long, long ago, and she had waited for him.
Suffice to say that Viara and Chaeremon and Mariel and Eben and Tirzah and Elladia were joined in marriage, and that the wedding feast was then held at Maychoria Castle, with all in attendance. The list of guests was made into a substantial scroll that now rests with the other archives in the library of the castle. There isn't sufficient room here.
And after tearful good-byes, it was down to the core group again--Ralph, Lenny, Cheryl, Sarah, and Arim as well as the Maychorian's father and mother, Raemon and Faela--back in the mossy meadow, nearly six months after the Terrans had first arrived there. Not surprisingly, the huge golden orb sat there, pulsing and humming. Silhouetted in the glow was a large marmalade cat.
"Angel," Cheryl whispered.
The spirit-servant smiled. "It is time to go home, my young friends. You have done well."
Cheryl glanced around the clearing through blurred eyes. So much had happened here, so much changing and growing. She would be leaving behind so many friends, and a large piece of her heart.
"Oh, oh Faela, I'll miss you!"
The grandmotherly woman smiled through her tears. "We will meet again in Hosiotos."
"Yes, but oh, how I'll miss you in the meantime!"
Ralph and Arim were unabashedly sobbing on each other's shoulders. Each time they began to calm down one reminded the other not to forget him, to which the other replied that he never would, and the weeping would start afresh. This happened several times.
No one was dry-eyed.
At last Angel opened her feline mouth wide and breathed the breath of peace over them all. It carried the scent of the meadow in the state park left behind so long ago. A powerful yearning swept over the Terrans, a longing for their parents and their siblings and the hot, close, sweaty atmosphere of their van and the craziness of daily life in such a big family. A desire for home.
They had no regrets as they stepped back into the golden globe and felt their molecules rearranged--and then they were back on the hill in the state park, the long grass whipped around their legs in the lusty breeze. Angel stood next to them, returned to housecat size. "Come, I'll take you to your family."
Angel led them through the pathless trees for nearly fifteen minutes, warning periodically of poison ivy or uneven ground. A few feet from the tree line she turned to Cheryl.
"When you return home, I will not be there. But keep a watch out. I may return when you least expect it." She turned and vanished into the forest.
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