Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

“It’s dangerous.”  Liam shook his head.

“You said I would serve you, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere looked up at him.  “I cannot serve you if you leave me here.”

“You are serving me.  You are watching out for my family.”  Liam folded his arms.

“I can understand the trade language now, and I’ve beaten Chidike three times now in duels.”  Mikaere lifted his chin stubbornly.  “I can help.”

“Mikaere, if you…”  Liam leaned on the ship’s railing.  “If you come with me to the Wildlands, you’d have to pretend to be my slave.”

“I am your —”

“No.”  He raised his voice, then almost regretted it as he saw the wounded look in Mikaere’s eyes.  Liam exhaled.  “Mikaere, you are not my slave.”

“Aihuroa, my life is —”

“Mikaere, I…”  He looked up, and saw Uduak giving him a sympathetic smile.  He’d once been convinced he was her slave.  Except Uduak had…  “You’re not my slave, Mikaere.  You are part of my family.”  The younger man’s eyes went wide, then started to shine with unshed tears.  “And you’re right.  You came to the Ilael because of me.”  He squared his shoulders.  “Next time I go ashore…”  He smiled.  “You may come with me.”

Mikaere’s face broke into a wide smile.  “Don’t worry, Aihuroa.  I’m sure Captain Adaeze will let you go ashore again.”  He scampered off, pausing to help one of the crew tie down a line.

Liam looked up as Uduak approached. “I have a feeling I just became a grandmother again.”

“He’s too old to be my son.”  Liam laughed, then let it die away.  “I admit, when I go to the Wildlands and see Jurgen with Rutger and Rien, I…”  He shook his head.  “Have absolutely no idea how Jurgen manages to put up with little brothers.”

“Little sisters are better.”  Ama’s voice came from behind him, and a moment later she was climbing onto his back.  He shifted so she could settle herself more comfortably.  He felt the slight spark of her power as it brushed up against his, and saw the hint of a smile that revealed she felt it too.  “The storm is going to be big.”

“If we alter our heading a few degrees we can ride it out along the edge.”  Liam nodded.

“Be more fun to go through.”  She smiled at the clouds.  “They are singing.”  She snuggled into him as he shifted so she was sitting on his hip.  “Listen.”

He closed his eyes, tracing his mind along the edge of her fledgling gift.  Her head rested on his shoulder, and he knew her eyes were closed as well as she leaned into his focus.  “They are.”  He nodded.  He started to open his mouth, then closed it before tracing the edge again.

In his arms, Ama tensed slightly.  With their powers linked, he knew she’d seen the same thing he had.  “I could try.”  She lifted her head.  “I could try.”

“I know.”  He drew her further down the line, and heard her let out a small whimper.  Then he let the vision fall away.  “We can come around the other side.  It won’t save the ship, but it will save the crew.”

“I’ll get stronger.”  He opened his eyes to meet her darker ones, and saw the determination inside.  “I will.”

“I know.”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “And I will help you.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 31

“Adaeze and I really need to —”

“No.”  Jurgen shook his head at Diantha.  “No, I think it is very much in my best interest that you and Adaeze have a dozen mountains between you at all times.”

Diantha just rolled her eyes before turning to smile at Efua.  “Welcome.  I hope being away from the sea doesn’t cause you too much hardship.”

“It is…”  Efua shrugged.  “Strange not smelling salt on the air.”

“The collar was a wise idea.”  Diantha touched it.  “I know it may be uncomfortable, but it will mean that as long as you don’t actually attack, anyone with a grievance against you has to bring it to Liam, and he can bring it to me or Jurgen.”

Efua turned to give Liam a smug look.  He sighed.  “Yes, yes, you told me so.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 31

Stone and Fire: Chapter 30

“That was…”  Liam winced.  “Something I was hoping to avoid.”

Adaeze was pacing the cabin.  “As much as I hate it, I admire it.  You’re mine.  I claimed you.  How better to ensure your complete loyalty to the Ilael and ensure you never act against the best interests of the throne?”

“I think the fact that you saw that and he didn’t…”  Uduak’s voice was soft.  “Proves that the decision was a good one for multiple reasons.”

“Uduak…”  Adaeze blinked.

“I made you a captain for a reason, Adaeze.  And it wasn’t because you claimed my son.”  Uduak smiled at her.

“I still don’t like this.”  Adaeze sighed before sitting down.

Liam wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close to them.  “Those who want to rule are rarely those best suited to the task.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 30

Stone and Fire : Chapter 29

Jurgen swallowed as he watched a tear roll down Thirza’s cheek.  The worst part was he couldn’t tell her the truth.  He couldn’t tell anyone the truth without risking destabilizing King Wendel and thus rendering Pauwel’s sacrifice meaningless.  “First my songbird, and now my bear.”  Thirza wiped at her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mother.”  He sighed.

“I didn’t…”  She exhaled.  “He…”  She gave a small shake of her head.  “I thought of him as a pet.  A harmless little puppy I could take in and use as a guard dog and…”  She closed her eyes.  “Blood and ashes, I never expected to care about him, let alone love him.”  She sighed.  “How is Marinus?”

“I’m not sure he quite understands yet.”  Jurgen glanced out at the balcony.  Marinus was juggling three painted leather balls under the watchful eye of Rutger.  “He’s still…”

“So young.  All of you lost your fathers so young.  Do you even remember Gerlach?”

“I…”  He blinked.  He’d been the same age as Marinus now when his father had been killed.  “No.  I don’t.”  It was a punch in the gut to realize that by the time Marinus was a man, he likely wouldn’t remember Pauwel.  Or Koert.

“Gerlach.  Koert.  Pauwel.”  Thirza took a ragged breath.  “Blood and ashes, even Levi.  I can’t…”  She closed her eyes.  “I should find another so Marinus doesn’t…”  She shook her head.  “I can’t…”

“I’ll train Marinus.”  Jurgen crouched in front of her, putting a hand on her knee.  “He can come to Valyk with me and train with Petrus and…”  He swallowed again.  “I’ll make sure he knows what kind of man his father was.”

“A good one.”  Thirza nodded.  “A good…”  Her shoulders began shaking as she started crying again.  “Oh, Pauwel.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 29

Stone and Fire : Chapter 28

Pauwel was disappointed when Mbali was left behind, but he clearly understood.  Given Thirza’s feelings about Liam himself, there was no way to be sure how she’d react to his daughter.  Liam only stayed in Darodelf a week himself.  The queen was cordial, but didn’t do a good job of hiding the fact she’d prefer Liam to be far away.

Jurgen watched the children playing with the gifts Liam had brought.  For Rutger he’d brought an instrument made from the shell of a large turtle and two story-books, as well as the gift the boy was currently guarding like a dragon.  The lapdesk was made from olive wood, beautifully patterns and lovingly carved, and the pens inside were made of glass.  There were five vials of ink, three of them colored, cakes of paint, sealing wax, and a signet ring carved to look like a winged lion.  He wasn’t sure if the boy treasured it because of its own intrinsic value, or for the fact that Liam had told Rutger it had initially been commissioned as a gift for Koert.

Marinus and Petrus had both been given metal tubes that fired darts when they blew on the ends.  The people of Ocia apparently used them to hunt rodents and birds.  Marinus and Petrus were using them to hunt each other.  Fortunately, the darts had blunted tips.  Both boys had also been given small boxes that played a brief tune when a handle was turned, before fanciful creatures leapt out of compartments at the top.  The infants were both given stuffed versions of creatures Liam swore existed.  An elephant and an octopus.

Wharf Tower was functional, and Thirza grudgingly admitted it would increase Draak’s standing.  In addition to what the Ilael had brought, goods were starting to come in from Solsthriem traders.  Bringing goods by sea was considered less risky than bringing them by land, as the ships didn’t have to worry about being raided by rival clans.  King Wendel was keeping tariffs on that trade low in the interest of being a good neighbor.

He started to head for the door, then winced as something hit him in the left buttock.  He turned to see Pauwel concealing something behind his back and giving him an innocent look.  Jurgen rolled his eyes.  “He just had to get you one too, didn’t he?”

Pauwel grinned.

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 28

Stone and Fire : Chapter 27

Jurgen nodded to Pauwel.  “Things seem…”  He gave a cautious shrug.  “Better.”

“They…”  Pauwel smiled.  “They are.  Not fast or…”  He glanced up at the balcony above.  “Koert was teachin Rutger how to read a couple of the other languages.  I pointed out just how smart he was, and that maybe he could help her like Koert used to.  Taking notes during meetings and all.”

“Sounds like…”  Jurgen nodded.  “That might be good for both of them.”

“As long as she don’t want to actually read the notes.  He’s smart, but he can’t write fast and good at the same time yet.”  Pauwel grinned proudly.  “He’d getting there.  How’s Marinus?”

“Rien.”

“What?”

He laughed.  “Petrus started calling him Rien.  He likes the name.”

“I named him Marinus.”  Pauwel folded his arms.

“It’s a big name for a little boy.”  Jurgen shrugged.

“It was my grandfather’s name.”

“Give him time, Pauwel.  He’ll grow into it.”  Jurgen put a hand on Pauwel’s shoulder.

“He will.”  Pauwel lifted his head and gave another proud smile.  “He’s the River Dragon, and there ain’t nothing out there can fight a river and win.”

“I’m giving him Winterstar.  She’s a mare out of Lavender by Sugar…”  His eyes narrowed.  “Are you snickering at my horse?”

“Yes.”  Pauwel nodded.  “Sugarplum.  Lammert’s funny.”

“Speaking of Lammert…”  He held up a piece of parchment.  “Diantha and I are going to inspect Valyk’s holdings on the coast.  He’s going to meet us there.”  He tucked the parchment away again.  “Why don’t you come with us?”

“I…”  Pauwel hesitated a moment, the nodded.  “Yeah.  She’s got stuff to occupy her right now and uh…”

“And you could use some time for you.”  Jurgen squeezed his shoulder.  “You can bring Marinus as well.  Rozenn’s coming along to watch my kids.  One more…”  He frowned.  “I’ll get her a bodyguard.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 27

Stone and Fire: Chapter 26

Mbali and Ama were both wearing crowns of shimmering gemstones, and had silken capes draped around their shoulders.  Villagers were offering each plate of food to the two children, letting them choose the first morsels before allowing anyone else to eat.  Uduak blinked.  “Baako…”

Baako laughed.  “See it from their perspective, my heart.  Things are dark, their children are starving, a monster preys upon them, and then out of the sea come strangers, bearing the things they need most.  Answering their prayers.”  He smiled.  “And then, from where they sit, taking only a pittance as payment.”

“A pittance?”  Uduak stared.  “Do they have —”

“No, Uduak, they don’t.”  He laughed again.  “To them, colored pearls are common enough they give them to the children to use as marbles, and beyond that you are just asking for beans.”  He leaned back against one of the trees.  “Without Liam to guide us through the reefs, we’d have had only a small chance of making it here safely.  What we see is something we’ve accepted as normal.  They have clear eyes and so…”  He shrugged.  “They see the miracle.”

“Storm’s mercy, the charts to get here alone would buy us another ship.”  She exhaled, then took a slow, deep breath.  Her eyes went toward where a third of the crew were listening to Chidike tell the tale.  Liam had killed a basilisk in single combat.  Unarmored, and blindfolded.  “Return the gem to the fire, and you’ll be given a gift beyond what you dreamed.”

“Speaking of gifts…”  Baako glanced at the village.  “The governor or whoever he is keeps trying to give me a very large rock and…”  He shrugged.  “I’m going to need Liam to figure out what is going on with that.”

“I’ll uh…”  She sighed.  “Order Adaeze to let him out.”

“Just for a little while, and…”  Baako slowly nodded.  “Maybe on a short leash?”  He shook his head.  “Storm’s mercy, I’m going to set that boy to cleaning the bilge.  What the hell was he thinking with…”  He clenched his fists, then took a deep breath of his own.  “Should put him on bread rations and tie him to the mast and hang upside down from the rigging and…”

She shook her head and walked away as Baako was still muttering disciplinary actions.

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 26

Stone and Fire: Chapter 25

“Permission to board, captain?”  Liam looked up at the deck.

“Get up here.”  Adaeze laughed.

He caught hold of one of the ropes and swung aboard.  Mbali let out a giggle from where she rode in a sling over his shoulder.  Adaeze met him with a kiss as soon as his feet were both on the deck.  The repairs were nearly complete.  “Are you keeping the name?”

Adaeze’s smile widened.  “You didn’t peek.”  She kissed him again, then shook her head.  “No.  The Silver Trident died with her captain.”  She touched the railing, running her hands over the repaired wood.  “This ship is ours.”  She shrugged.  “Well, Uduak’s, but ours.”

Liam looked over at where The Phoenix was undergoing a few small repairs.  Abeni was going over her new ship, and she’d already dragged him over four times to use his sight upon the vessel.  The little bit of work he’d suggested was already underway.  “Well, Mbali, what do you think?”

“Down.”  She pointed.

“Not just yet, little blossom.  They are still treating the deck.”  Adaeze touched her daughter’s nose.  Children among the Ilael often were left at the islands due to the dangers of ship life.  Uduak had chosen to keep Ama with her in no small part due to Liam’s powers, and Adaeze had decided the same.  “My deck.”

“A couple of the crew think you are too young to be captain.”  He looked over at where some of the sailors were gathered, chatting among themselves.  “They think you are only the captain because you married Uduak’s son.”

“I am.”  Adaeze shrugged.  “On both counts.”  She exhaled.

“Uduak wouldn’t give a ship…”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “Or her son for that matter…”  He lifted his head to kiss her forehead.  “To anyone she didn’t think could manage them well.”

She caught his neck and pulled him down for a proper kiss.  Then she smiled at him hesitantly.  “I did decide on a name.”

“Oh?”

A sad smile came to her face as she touched the railing again, then she nodded up at him.  “I’m calling it The Bard.”

“I…”  He blinked.  “Adaeze…”

“He gave his life to ensure you came home to me.”  Adaeze blinked back damp eyes, then touched the golden band around her upper arm.  “How could I not honor that?”

“I love you.”  He kissed her again.

“I love you too.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 25

Stone and Fire: Chapter 24

Pauwel caught Thirza’s hand before she could slap Lammert again, and pulled her away.  Jurgen pulled Lammert away, then pushed him toward her and gave her an apologetic look.  Diantha nodded, and grabbed Lammert’s arm as she took him from the room.  “I’m sorry.”  His voice was quiet.

“Blood and ashes, Lammert.”  Diantha shook her head.  She pulled him to her and hugged him tightly before guiding him to a chair and making him sit.  “If you hadn’t arrived when you did…”  Fewer than forty people had been killed in the attack.  She didn’t want to think about how many more of her clan would have been lost.  Her hand caught Lammert’s chin, tilting his head up so she could take a good look at him.  “Toma, get me a healing potion.”

“I’m —.”

“You’ve got a cut on your side, another on your arm, and you look like you rode all the way here at a full gallop.”  She frowned.  “You did, didn’t you?”  She shook her head.  “Toma, get him food as well.”  She went to her dressing table and got a cloth, then dipped it in water before returning to wash dirt and blood from his face.

“How many died?”  He looked up at her.

“No.”  Diantha shook her head.  “No, don’t do that to yourself, Lammert.  Don’t…”  She crouched to look him in the eye.  “Lammert…”  She put her hand on his.  “If not for you, they’d have gotten inside the fortress and killed everyone before the guards realized it was an attack.  You saved my people, Lammert.  You saved my family.  You saved…”  She blinked back tears.  “Thank you, brother.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 24

Stone and Fire : Chapter 23

Even setting sail immediately, she could tell from the bleakness on Liam’s face that they weren’t going to arrive in time to prevent whatever it was he’d seen.  Uduak put a hand on his arm, and he turned to lay his head on her shoulder.  She held him almost as she had when she’d met him the first time.  Quietly, she sang, then let the words die away.

“You’ll have to make port.”  Liam’s voice was soft.  “Lethiun.  Load wool for Tebota, then —”

“We can go up the coast, my lamb.”

“There will be weather and ice.  If you try, we’ll lose the ship.”  He swallowed.  “Wool for Tebota, then silk for sails and to the islands.  You…”  He swallowed again, then took a deep breath.  “Bear east along the currents instead of straight.  The Silver Trident is listing, but with aid she’ll make it.  The captain is dying.  She’ll want her ship and crew in good hands.”

“Liam…”

“I’ll go overland.  I’ll have to kill the horse but I think I think I can make it.”  He raised his head.

“I can send men with you.”  She frowned.

“They’ll never be able to keep up.  The pace I’ll have to set will kill them as surely as it will kill the horse.”  Liam shook his head.

“And you?”  When she didn’t answer right away, her eyes widened. “Liam.”

“I don’t know.  There are too many choices between now and then.  I can’t trace all the possibilities and…”  He exhaled.  “If…”  He took another deep breath and let it out slowly.  “If I live, I’ll find you.”

“I forbid —” She’d change course.  She wouldn’t risk him.  Even if he couldn’t forgive her for it.

“Please.”  His voice was soft.  “It will be so much worse if I don’t go.  I can’t see it all yet, but Marinus…”  He half-closed his eyes.  “The sun went dark at his birth.  I can hear them in the dark, the beat of wings and…”  He opened his eyes again, and met hers.  “The wind takes me where it will.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 23

Stone and Fire: Chapter 21

Liam ducked to avoid hitting his head on the entrance to their quarters.  Even inside, standing upright his hair just brushed the ceiling.  He started to turn toward Adaeze only for her to shove him forward lightly.  He smiled, but obeyed the direction.  Her hand on his shoulder guided him to his knees, and he bowed his head, awaiting her next command.  “Put your hands behind your back.”

As soon as he obeyed, she secured his wrists with a simple leather strap, buckling it into place.  She fixed a second strap just below his elbows, then a third just above.  Adaeze had been nervous about binding him while they were at sea, but he’d reminded her that he’d know if there was any danger.  Her hand traced up his back, then she wrapped it around his throat and pulled him back against her.  “Whatever am I to do with you?”  She smiled down at him.

“Anything you’d like.”  He returned her smile.  “I am yours.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 21

Stone and Fire : Chapter 20

Much to his irritation, it didn’t take long before he found himself actually liking the Wilder prince.  Barbarian he might have been, he was surprisingly knowledgeable.  Then again, this young man had been raised with the intention of ruling his country, rather than simply supporting his brother’s reign.  “But what if there is no loot to divide among the men?”

“There’s always loot.”  Jurgen shook his head.  “Just sometimes its intangible.  Take your own history.  Those bandits your people yanked out of the woods to help.  Was it pay that was offered?”

“No, it…”  Wendel slowly nodded.  “It was restoring their status as citizens of a country.”

“Pride.”  Jurgen shrugged.  “You’d be surprised how far that’ll take a man.  Paying your men is all well and good, but doesn’t you little if your opponent has more gold.”  He waved a hand.  “Learn their names, listen when they speak, tell them when they’ve done well, even if it’s just a quick nod of approval.”  Jurgen looked over at him.  “Man will fight dragons for a leader who treats him with respect.”

“Is that how Wilders do it?”  Wendel raised an eyebrow.  “I thought you just followed whoever promised a good fight at the end of the trip.”

Jurgen laughed.  “But that’s part of it, yes?”  He shook his head.  “You respect your men, but you don’t coddle the bastards.  That’s why we decided ruling your people wasn’t worth the effort.  Need your swaddling clothes changed too often.”

“And here I thought it was just because your people were too lazy to bother with the work of governing.”  Wendel rolled his eyes.

“You have confidence in your men.  You tell them that.  You tell them they are the most vicious fucks that were ever born and that their enemies are mere dogs before them.  You tell them that, and you believe it…”  Jurgen shifted a little in the saddle.  “And they’ll believe it too, and they’ll charge when you tell them.”

“Or stand…”  Wendel slowly nodded.  Then he took another look at Jurgen.  “Soldiers I have.  It’s rangers I need.  Where do I get them?”

“Well, you could pay a bunch of my people…”

“That would turn the nobility against me.”  Wendel shook his head.  “Or I rather think I would.”

“Then you get them the same place you got them the first time.  You need a man who can sneak into a camp and come back with something you can use…”  Jurgen gave him a serious look.  “Then it sounds like what you need is a thief.”

He laughed a little.  “Prince Jurgen…”  He smiled.  “If your people weren’t a bunch of undisciplined lunatics, I rather think you’d be dangerous.”

“Prince Wendel…”  Jurgen smirked.  “We’re dangerous because we’re a bunch of undisciplined lunatics.”

“That helps me with my army, but there are still the nobles to consider.  Many will back my brother because of what he promises.”

“Then you make it clear that first off, he can’t keep those promises.  Then you make it clear that following him might give them some small benefit, but not following you will cost them everything.”  Jurgen gave him a level look.  “Who is the most powerful of the nobles arrayed against you?”

“Duke Baasch.”

“You answered that quickly.”  Jurgen blinked.

“It’s not really a matter for debate.”  Wendel sighed.  “Frankly, I think he’s hoping my brother and I will kill each other and he’ll be able to come in and set himself up on the throne himself.”

“Well, that makes the solution even easier then.”  Jurgen grinned again.

“And this solution?”

“Kill the jackass.”

“It’s not that easy.”  Wendel started shaking his head.

“Yes, it is.”

“It’s really not.”

“Yeah, it is.”  Jurgen laughed.  “You call him out.  Challenge him.  Make him come to you, make sure people will laugh if he doesn’t.  Kick him right in the pride.”  Jurgen shrugged.  “Then, kick his ass.”

“I…”  Wendel opened his mouth.  Then he closed it again.  He tilted his head and frowned.  Then he nodded to himself.  “Actually, that’s rather good advice.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 20

Stone and Fire: Chapter 19

Jurgen stepped out onto the balcony into the morning sun and stretched.  His shoulders made a slight popping sound.  Then he exhaled, and started to turn back to the door when something caught his eye.  Then he led out a whoop and went over the railing.  He caught the light pole to break his fall, then swung down and landed a couple feet in front of the tall young man walking up the path.  When the young man smiled, Jurgen laughed before stepping forward to hug his brother.

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 19

Stone and Fire : Missing Scene

This vanished somehow.  Should be the first scene of chapter 17.

 

She looked up to see Liam watching her, a small smile on his face.  “What?”  Adaeze found herself feeling just a bit shy.

“I missed you.”  Liam shook his head, then sat down at her feet.  “I knew I would, I just…”  He twitched a shoulder.  “Didn’t realize how much.”

Adaeze put her hand on his shoulder.  “I missed you too.”  She laughed.  “I forgot for a few moments who you were.  Thought finding you again would be hard and…”  She leaned forward to rub the back of his neck lightly.  “And then you found us.”

“I always know where you are.”  Liam leaned slightly into her caress.  “I could be a thousand miles away and I could still close my eyes and point to your location on a map.”  He leaned forward then, and shifted awkwardly.  “I, uh…”  He exhaled, then handed her something wrapped in an intricately woven cloth.  “This is for you.”

“I thought you gave out all the presents you bought already.”  She felt a small thrill of excitement.  They traveled all over the world, and yet actual presents were a rare thing.

“This one is…”  He shifted again, and she saw a bit of blush rise to his cheeks.  “It’s special.  It’s um…”  He looked away, then touched the shark’s tooth around his neck.  “It’s from Koert.”

“You told Koert about me?”  Her eyes widened.  That was a surprise.  He’d been worried, before he left, that the queen might take offense if she knew he was Ilael.

“I…”  He looked down at the deck.  “Somehow I didn’t have to.  He just…”  He blushed harder.  “I don’t know what it is.”

Carefully, she opened it.  Her eyes widened as she looked at the gold circle.  The ends fastened together with a bit of leather lacing, and the design looked alien to her eyes.  Abstract patterns, like…  Like those on the vest Liam had been wearing when he’d returned to them.  Wilder designs.  “It’s beautiful.”  She slid down so she was sitting next to him.  “Help me put it on.”  She held up her wrist.

“It’s not…”  He took her arm, and instead of securing it to her wrist, he slid it up and put it around her upper arm before tying it, then twisted it so the laces weren’t visible.  Then he touched the pattern, running his fingers across it.  “The pattern signifies water.  The waterfall the Wilders call the Breath of Life.  The birthplace of all rivers.”

“That’s…”  She looked at the burnished gold against her arm.  “Perhaps Koert has a gift of his own.”

“I’ve always thought so.”  Liam brushed a bit of hair from her forehead.

She leaned forward to press her forehead against his.  “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Me too.”  He smiled.