Chapter 22 (part 2 of 2)

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"Of course," he said, grateful that she had agreed. But she touched his cheek, turned his face so that he had to look up into her eyes.

"Don't make that promise lightly," she warned. "You don't know what I have in mind."

And in her eyes he saw that terrible light, and fear struck him to the core of his soul. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a new medallion to wear in his mantle, a receiver that would let him hear her call, and she gave it to him along with the key. It appeared that she had only been waiting for him to ask for these things.

That evening, they went to a gathering in a large dome, where four thousand lords celebrated in a great throng. Gallen had seldom seen so many people in one place, and Orick stared across the crowd in wonder. All of the lords were dressed in their finery in a rainbow of colors. Hundreds of robotic servants had prepared vast sumptuous meals, and all evening long, people crowded around them, thanking and congratulating Gallen, Orick, and Maggie. Everynne was on the far side of the room, and at the end of the evening, Orick seemed worn.

Gallen escorted him out into the hall, and Orick said, "I've got to get out of here, Gallen. I'm feeling well enough to travel. I planned to stay for Everynne's sake, not wanting to leave her alone. But she's got so many of those Tharrin counselors around her now, I don't think she needs me."

"Perhaps," Gallen said. "Why don't you ask Everynne what she wants? She has many people at her ear, and all of them admire her, but you're her friend."

Orick grunted, went back into the great dome and pushed his way to Everynne. A moment later, the two of them got up and escaped to a side room together.

Late that night, Orick came to Gallen's room, and the bear seemed ecstatic. "Do you know that those pills Maggie gave me will keep me alive for at least five hundred years?"

"No, I didn't know that," Gallen lied.

"And I talked to Everynne. She's not going to stay here forever," Orick said. "In ten years, another Tharrin will come take her place as regent, and she's going to come back to Tihrglas to live for awhile. I promised to show her around."

"Good," Gallen said.

"So are you ready to go home?" Orick asked.


"Good," Orick said. "I'll go tell Maggie. Everynne is going to lead us to a gate in a few minutes."

Gallen bundled up his belongings—his outfit and weapons, along with the mantle and weapons that Veriasse had worn—and together the three went to meet Everynne one last time.

Everynne was dressed in her blue traveling robe, as if she might come with them. She said, "Next time you see me, I'll be wearing this." She led them down through unexplored passageways of the omni-mind, down to deep caverns that Everynne said even the dronon had never been told of. Behind a hidden door, they found an ancient gate the color of brass, covered with dust. It was marvelously decorated with images of people and creatures from many worlds, and Everynne told them, "This is the gate that leads to all worlds, all destinations. Enter, and I shall send you home."

A pale green light shone under the arch. Gallen, Orick, and Maggie each hugged Everynne, said their last good-byes.

Then together they stepped through the cold mist between worlds.

They found themselves on a forest road, beneath large pine trees in the mountains. The morning sun was just breaking over the mountains, a radiant pink ball. Kiss-me-quick birds called from the edge of the roadside, and in the distance an owl hooted. The air tasted as sweet to Gallen as Maggie's kisses, and he breathed in deeply.

They walked along the road for most of the day until they reached a small town called Gort Iseal and learned that they were in the north of County Obhiann, many miles away from home.

At the inn that night, people looked at them oddly, and Gallen found himself apologizing for his strange attire and hid his mantle in his pack.

Maggie and Gallen took a table near a roaring fire and had a large dinner. Afterward, they sat and talked softly. Some bears came to the door of the inn, begging for leftovers. Orick went outside to talk to one young female. Afterward, he came up to Gallen and Maggie all excited. "That young she-bear has invited me to the Salmon Fest. Can you believe it? We've been gone all that time, and we still didn't miss it!"

Gallen nodded, studied Orick's face. He was eager, that seemed sure. "So why don't you go? What's stopping you?"

"Well," Orick said, "I took this vow a while back. I promised God that I'd only make jolly with one she-bear in my life."

Gallen looked deep into Orick's eyes for a moment, then said, "Orick, there are as many ways to serve God as there are men who serve God. In the past few days, you helped save every person on this planet, not to mention everyone on ten thousand other worlds. And now this she-bear wants you to serve her, and you're only feeling guilty because you'll get a little pleasure out of it in the process. Why don't you help her out? Why don't you make it two?"

"Yes," Maggie said. "I'm sure you'll be the thrill of her life."

Orick frowned. "All right, you talked me into it." Orick hung around a bit, promised to come back soon for Gallen and Maggie's wedding, then left with the she-bear.

The next morning, Gallen sold an oxygen exchanger to a sailor and used the money to buy a brace of horses. He and Maggie began to ride home in style.

But that night, they were almost in County Morgan when a bad storm tore up the sky. They took refuge at an inn, and Gallen and Maggie sat discussing their wedding plans. With Father Heany dead, no one would block their marriage. Gallen would have his cousin in An Cochan perform the ceremony. As they talked of their plans, one of the locals at another table said, "Och, what a nasty storm we have a blowing outside—and it not even yet mid-September!"

Maggie turned to Gallen and whispered, "What day was it when we left here?"

"September fifteenth," Gallen said.

Maggie turned to the stranger. "What's the date today?"

"Why, the fourteenth," the man answered.

And Gallen sat there, stunned. That trickster Everynne had sent them back in time again. He suddenly recalled that later on tonight, he would meet several robbers and a sidhe on the road to An Cochan, some twelve miles distant.

"Maggie, my love," Gallen said, "would you excuse me for a few hours, darling? There's something I have to do. I promise, I'll be back for you early in the morning."

"I suppose—if it's important," she said.

"It's not a big job," Gallen said. "But I think I need to save a man's life."

He went up to his room and dug through his clothes, put on his mantle. In one corner of his pack, he found the mask of lavender starlight he had picked up on Fale. In Veriasse's pack, he found the wavy-bladed dagger the sidhe had been carrying.

Gallen dressed himself all in black, like the Lord Protector he was, then strapped on his sword and rode out in the rain and darkness to meet his destiny.


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