“Keter … open your eyes.” Stravor held his boy’s hand. He closed his eyes and dropped his head until his forehead rested on his own. “You of my heart, hear me.”
After minutes of nothing, Dayson moved to the other side of the altar. He bent and spoke for some time in the boy’s ear. Finally, he moved away and stroked Keter’s hair.
Stravor looked ill. “What—”
“Come with me. Let’s get fresh air.”
“No … I need to stay.”
“Your father will call us if the boy breathes.” Dayson tugged on his friend’s arm until Stravor followed.
The two men climbed the stairs. Outside the air was fresh, and soft breezes blew.
“Day … why is it not working?” Stravor paced.
“I don’t know. I spoke the spell again.”
“Has it been too long? He does not appear dead.” Stravor stopped pacing and stared at his lifelong friend. “What spell? How can you cast spells?”
“Later. I do not know more than I’ve done.”
Stravor grabbed Dayson by the shoulders and shouted at him, “You will tell me how it is you can cast spells!”
“Dare not raise your voice to me.” The innkeeper shrugged out of Stravor’s hands. “Now we need to figure out how to help Keter.”
“Are you a witch?” Stravor stared at his friend as he nodded. “How did I not ever know this?”
“Stravor, please. Mother was of the Magoph Coven. My father was not …”
Suddenly Stravor understood. “You were not pure enough, not … good enough for them.”
The big man cocked his head and examined his friend.
“What are you looking at?” Dayson dropped his glance, not wanting to meet his companion’s eyes.
“You.” Stravor’s inspection ran over his friend. “You also of the Magoph; there are likenesses between you and the boy. You who do not believe in slavery, yet you buy him. Why, Day? Be he family to you?”
Dayson kicked a stone with force, and whispered, “Aye, to all your thinking. Not pure enough … aye, as well, that Keter is family. He is of my mother’s youngest sister ... my cousin.”
Stravor’s friend walked to the side of the wagon and lifted the lid from the water bucket that hung there. He dipped a cup and drank from it. He held it aloft, offering it to the Searcher, but the big man shook his head. Dayson took another sip before tossing the water to the ground. He rehung the cup on the bucket. “I had been to the market that morning buying food for the kitchen when I saw him. Such a tightness gripped my heart, I just knew he was kin. So, yes, I bought him and later he told me he was of Hesterine Astrea, who is my mother’s youngest sister as I said.”
“But you told me you had Keter to your own bed!”
Dayson tutted and said, “A lie to get you to choose him. You were too drunk and were getting bullish.” The innkeeper gazed at his friend. “This is not important now. We need to figure out what we need to do … tell me all, Stravor so that we might see.”
They sat on the rear of the wagon and Stravor related all to his friend. The Searcher stroked Shade’s long ears when the pony moved closer.
After the tale they sat quietly, each thinking of how the imparted information may aid their search.
“Damn my eyes for not seeing it!” Stravor jumped from the wagon.
Shade pulled back and snorted at the loud noise and his owner’s desperation.
“Stravor, what …?”
Stravor was halfway down the crypt stairs. “Come and aid me, Day.”
Dayson followed, taking the crypt steps two at a time.
The Elder was on his feet when the pair entered. “What has happened?”
“Is there change, Father?”
“No, I have been urging his return … but nothing.”
“I may know why.” Stravor reached up to untie his amulet. He gestured to Dayson. “Untie Keter’s and bring it.”
Stravor moved to another stone altar and put the Fathril amulet down. He began to undo the strips of leather until the blue stone was free.
Dayson gently untied the cords that held Keter’s amulet in place. He carried it to Stravor. “Why do you think this will help?”
Stravor eyed his friend. “It is as the Sword of Harman is for me. It is part of me, so the blue stone is to Keter. He cut it in half knowing I would need it to keep my body alive while we did our work within the walls.” He held the pieces of Fathril in each hand. “The half piece kept his body alive and mine out here. He magicked them inside the wall so we might kill the god.”
“He is a powerful mage if he can magic Fathril!” Dayson said.
The Searcher gazed at his friend and then his father. “I think … hope … that if I reunite the pieces, make the amulet whole once more it may help him come back.”
The Elder had moved closer. “That makes sense, boy … Stravor.”
Stravor placed both pieces of the living stone on the altar, ensuring they touched. The three men watched as the Fathril grew together. It twisted and warped until it was once more a whole, oval, multifaceted stone.
Gently, Stravor remade Keter’s amulet. “Let us tie it back around his neck.”
Once the amulet was in place, Stravor knelt again beside the boy’s body. He held the cool slim hand in his.
Dayson and the Elder left them alone in the crypt and went back to the wagon.
“Boy,” Stravor whispered. “Hear me. Listen to me. Never have I thought I would need anyone. But I come to see I am wrong. I need you, lad … more, I want you.”
The Searcher pulled himself up a little and kissed the cool, soft cheek. “If you will not return to me, I no longer want to bear this life alone. I will follow you and find you in Paradise if it takes all eternity.”
Stravor sank back to his knees and closed his eyes.
The vault was silent.
The boy lay unmoved.
The light grew dim, and Dayson came down the stairs. Stravor still knelt beside the body.
“Stravor … I took your father and the pony home. Now, I am here for you. Night falls, so come back to the inn.”
“No. He is not dead, not yet.” Stravor found Dayson’s eyes. “Say the spell again.”
Dayson sighed softly and shook his head. “It has not worked.”
“Say it again.”
“Stravor, please … “
The Searcher jumped to his feet, grabbing Dayson by the collar. “Damn you! Say … it … again!”
Though anger surged through him, Dayson said nothing. He shoved Stravor away and then looked down at the boy on the stone. “He looks asleep.”
The innkeeper stroked the boy’s forehead and picked up his other hand. “Keter Astrea, you are the last true witch. We need you. Stravor needs you. You must hear my words.”
Dayson blinked away sudden tears, drew in a deep breath and repeated, “Return this soul to its rightful place, see it safely return to grace. Make this body and soul as one; be it though it was ne’er undone.”
After several minutes Dayson gently lay the unmoving hand back at Keter’s side, and said, “You will not come with me, or go home. So, I brought you food and drink, and a blanket. Your mother sent them.” He ran up to the wagon, returned with the supplies and a lantern. “I will see you then, in the morning.”
“Aye. Thank you, Day,” Stravor said to his friend’s retreating form.
Once he heard the crypt gate close, Stravor got up. He put the lantern on the other stone altar and trimmed it so the light was low. He sipped water from the covered jug and put it and the food next to the lamp.
He found there were two blankets. One he covered Keter with and the other he wrapped around himself. He settled into a corner to keep vigil over his boy.
The tomb was a silent place.
Stravor sat on the floor thinking about his past and what may become of his future. He rose and paced around the small square room. He stopped and stroked Keter’s hair. “Since meeting you, boy, I have many regrets. Wishes, foolish as they are but wishes still.” He sipped from the jug of water, continuing to observe his sleeping boy. “Wishes, like the desire to turn back time to all those years ago. Wishing I had not listened to my father’s dreams for me. Wishing I had not chosen to be what I am. But more fool was I for believing.” Stravor laughed. “Tis a fool’s errand, this life. And a heavy burden, for I know deep in my heart that the souls I took were not evil.”
The Searcher stood quietly for some minutes before he continued. “The cost for failure … do you wish to know it? The cost of failing Him would be the soul of a loved one. My father swore on mine, and I on my mother’s. Had I failed, I would have had to take hers, and father, mine.”
“I remember how proud I was on that day, when I swore the oath. Fool.” Stravor wrapped the blanket around himself and settled once again on the floor. “Do you think I could have? Killed her? My own mother. I know I could not. I would have thrown myself on my sword first.”
Stravor, exhausted from his own reanimation and vigil, finally slept deeply in the corner.
He did not hear the gasp as empty lungs filled with air.
He was roused only when he felt a cool kiss on his cheek.
“Hmm?” The big man pulled the blanket tighter. “Leave me … tis too early.”
“I am cold.”
“Where is your blanket?”
The other whispered, “I … I do not know.”
“Oh, come closer then.”
Stravor sat unmoving. He opened his eyes slowly; afraid. “I am dreaming.”
“No. I am here with you. I am though, cold.”
The Searcher grabbed the body before him. “Is it you? Are you alive?”
Keter laughed. “Tis I, yes, Sir.” The boy sat on the floor shivering.
“You shake.” Stravor opened his arms and blanket. “Come here.”
The boy climbed onto the Searcher’s lap and snuggled up. He lay his head on Stravor’s shoulder and closed his eyes.
Stravor held the boy close. “Let us sleep now.”
“Aye, Sir.” After a moment, the boy whispered, “I could hear you as I slept, Sir. Would you really have followed me to Paradise?”
“Yes.” Stravor let his tears fall and hugged Keter tightly. “These days without you are not how I wish to live. You are of my heart, boy.”
Keter kissed his master’s neck. “I am here. So, there is no reason to feel that now, Sir.”
“No.” Stravor shifted and kissed Keter on the left cheek.
“Master, I feel your need. Shall I …?”
“No, boy. There is time for that later” Stravor kissed his boy again. “Let us just be as we are and sleep.”
The following morning, as promised, Dayson went back to the crypt. As he neared it, he impulsively drove past the turn off and went on to Stravor’s house. If the boy awakes, perhaps he would like to see his pony.
Elinor was weeding the vegetable patch when the wagon rolled into the yard. She turned and peered out from under her wide-brimmed straw hat. Pulling off her gloves, she walked out to meet it. “Dayson, good morn. Tis early … is something amiss?”
“Whoa, boy … whoa.” The innkeeper drew back on the reins. “Good morn, Elinor. I am on my way to the crypt … to see … to check on them.” He jumped from the wagon.
Elinor embraced Stravor’s oldest friend. “Well, you missed the turn. Was there something …?”
“Nay, no.” Dayson toed the ground. “Tis foolish, but I thought the boy would like to see his pony … when he woke … if—”
Feeling Dayson’s discomfort, Elinor patted the younger man’s forearm. “That is a lovely thought. Of course, take him with you. I’ll get Shade from his stall.”
Dayson turned the wagon around while Elinor was gone.
He jumped down when she appeared with Shade. He took the rope and led the pony. Then he secured it to an iron ring on the back of the wagon. He patted the pony’s neck before walking toward the front where Elinor waited.
He embraced his best friend’s mother.
She hugged him tightly. “Bring them all back to me, Dayson.”
He closed his eyes and said, “Aye. As soon as I’m able.”
Elinor stepped away and held the younger man by the shoulders. Tears sat unshed in her eyes.
In that moment, Dayson desperately wanted them to never fall. “I’ll go and see if there’s been any change.” He hugged Elinor again quickly, and then climbed into the driver’s seat.
Stravor’s mother waved briefly as the wagon and pony left the yard. Then she pulled on her gloves and walked slowly back to her vegetable patch.
Dayson halted the wagon under two Hickmore trees. Briefly, he checked the animals before unlocking the crypt gate. He shivered a little as he stepped inside.
Leaving the door open, the innkeeper then made his way down the stairs. He grinned broadly after he turned the corner.
Thank the Gods!
He stepped closer and smiled at the scene before him. They look content, but I must wake them.
The innkeeper squatted down. “Good morn, you two. Tis a relief to find you both.”
Keter opened his eyes and smiled. “Hello, Day. Tis good to be here.”
“God’s teeth, man! Why do you come before even the birds arise?” Stravor shifted uncomfortably.
“The birds are working, Stravor!” Dayson laughed. “Your dear parents await news of you. Come, let us go to them.”
“Yes, Stravor, please. Mmm, my legs …” Keter struggled to get up.
Dayson rose and held out a hand. “Come on, boy. You must be starving.”
“I am. Please can we go and eat, Stravor?” Keter stood, and after releasing Dayson, leaned on the altar.
From the corner where he remained seated, the big man said, “Aye, I have a hunger also.” He grinned at his boy. “But first food, to give me strength.”
“Always thinking with that cock of yours, Stravor.” Dayson laughed and threw an arm around Keter. “You’re a lucky lad.”
Keter smiled and blushed red.
The Searcher struggled to his feet. “Be a moment until life returns to my limbs.”
Keter turned down the lantern until the flame guttered. He folded the blankets and nibbled the food that Stravor had ignored the night before. He sipped a little of the cool water and handed the jug to his master.
“Thank you, boy.” After two mouthfuls, he said, “Let’s away. Give me these things to carry, boy. You just get up the stairs.”
Shade whinnied as Keter stepped into brightening day. Grinning, Keter ran to the little animal.
“Oh, Shade, it is so good to find you here.” Keter threw his arms around the thick neck.
Stravor and Dayson stood side-by-side watching the reunion. Stravor tugged on his friend’s arm as the innkeeper tried to step forward. “Wait … just for a moment. It does me good to watch them.”
Dayson smiled and bumped shoulders with his friend. “Aye.”
A few minutes later, they all climbed into the wagon and Dayson took the road toward Stravor’s home.
Elinor heard the wagon. She covered the pastry dough she was preparing with a cloth, cleaned her hands and went to call up the stairs. “Stravor, a wagon comes.” Without waiting for a reply, Elinor went out to the porch to wait.
When she saw Dayson’s wagon held three, she ran down the steps to greet it. She could not hold her tears.
“Stravor … Stravor.”
Day stopped the wagon and the Searcher jumped from it. He grabbed his mother and spun her around before holding her in his arms. Then while he kissed her cheek, he settled her to the ground.
“Oh, Stravor, thank the gods you are home.” She stared up into her son’s face. She reached up to touch it. “And you are come back to me whole … your eyes are proof of it.”
He smiled at her and laughed a little. “Aye, I suppose that’s the truth of it.” Stravor turned to the wagon and held his hand out to Keter. “Come and greet my mother, boy.”
Keter smiled shyly, and took Stravor’s hand. He jumped from the wagon. “Greetings, Mistress.”
Elinor smiled and took the boy’s hands in her own. “Hello, Keter. I am so very happy to meet you.” Elinor led Keter toward the house.
Stravor the Elder waited on the porch, helped his wife up the stairs and greeted the young man with a hug.
Meanwhile, Dayson had left the wagon taking the pony to his stall, and then returning to say farewell to his friend.
Stravor met him. “Come and eat with us, Day.”
Dayson’s smile was gentle. “Nay. I have much to do at the inn, but thank you.”
The big man nodded. “Tis I must thank you, my friend. You have been solid in your friendship and help.”
His control failed him then and Dayson let his emotions flow. He stepped into Stravor’s embrace. “You are my dearest friend. I …”
“And you, mine, Day. Always.”
The two hugged for several moments. Both knew what may have been, but were relieved they’d have a chance to see what would become.
“Go on now. Eat, rest with Keter and your family.” Dayson stepped back and wiped his eyes.
Stravor nodded. “Aye.”
“Perhaps you will come to the Inn later, eh?”
“Likely soon.” Stravor walked Dayson to his wagon. “I shall need your best ale, I am sure.”
After a last brief hug, Day climbed into the seat. He picked up the reins and clucked the horse into a walk. He lifted a hand in farewell.
Once Stravor had dropped his, he went into the house.
It was several days later, and Keter lay on top of Stravor. He loved his man’s sweat, the beating of his heart, the strength of his hard body. The boy sighed deeply.
Stravor, who was half-asleep, noticed, “Are you happy?”
“I am. I am with you.”
Stravor grinned. “Is that all you need for happiness? Your man’s hard cock in the morning?”
Keter nibbled his master’s ear. “That’s all, but twice rather than just once.”
“Is that right?” Stravor flipped them both over. He made sure the boy was doubly happy.
Sometime later, Keter lay spent in Stravor’s arms. The big man kissed the boy’s cheek. “What shall we do now, boy? My life’s purpose is gone.”
“You can find another.”
Stravor shoved his left hand under his head and smiled. “I think I have.” He ran a gentle finger over his lad’s ribs.
They lay together, warm, sated and content. Silences now were not empty for them. Keter broke this one first.
“Stravor, before I came to you or the slavers who brought me, one of the last Old Ones of the Magoph told me of my calling. I hadn’t been ordained a true witch yet, but she charged me with …”
“Tell me, boy.”
“Aye … if you want to hear it.”
Keter lay back and remembered. “The Magoph believed they were powerful enough to manacle the Gods, and saw the Stone Men as a lesser challenge. I remember the Elders saying so. They were powerful witches. They could wield spells, warp time and see without eyes, or so it was claimed. But on that day, the Stone Men came. So many were they, even the power of the Magoph Coven could not hold back the hoard …”
“Boy … come away.” Beltindaa tugged on the young man’s shirt. “Come away afore they see you be not a child.”
Keter looked at the ancient bent crone. Her twisted talon-like fingers pulled his clothes. Yet, he knew her and they sat together. She untied his bonds.
“There is much to tell you afore they kill me, boy. First untie my magic and wear it.”
“I cannot … I am not yet …”
The old woman hissed, “You must. You are the last of us who be close to the age of ordination. Take the amulet and while you do, I will tell you. You alone can kill He who controls all.”
The lad began to untie the blue stone amulet Beltindaa wore.
“There will be a heavy price to pay. You will love but will give up that love to save all. Wear the stone, for it will protect you when the time is right.”
Keter held the amulet in his hands; the stone was warm, not cool.
“Quickly put it around your neck and hide it.”
Keter did as he was bidden.
“Now bend closer for I must speak to you the ancient tongue …”
“I don’t understand it yet, Beltindaa.”
“No, but you must hear it and later your dreams will teach you. Quiet, for they will come. Bend close.”
Keter did until her lips brushed his ear.
The ancient words were more than sound. They flowed from the crone like tiny silver worms that slid into Keter’s mind. The lad squeezed his eyes shut and winced, for the words were old and real. They lay in his young mind, waiting to hatch, but as they did, they sent slim tendrils into his brain.
“Now, boy, before these Stone Men kill me, promise you will save them. Do not question, for you will know who. Just promise me and them, now, that you will save them all.”
“I … I promise.”
“God’s teeth, boy. Did they kill her?” Stravor pulled Keter closer.
“Yes, they picked up the Old Ones when we stopped next to a deep gorge. They threw them over the side. All the little ones saw and were screaming.”
“Boy, I am sorry.”
Keter lay quiet for a time. He was comforted by Stravor’s nearness. “I made promises, to Beltindaa and the souls, so now it is time to keep them.”
“Though they were made at different times, they are the same promise; to release the souls from Hemothracene’s damned walls.”
Stravor ran his hand down his boy’s slim body. “Yes, you must … how do we do this?”
Keter told him his plan.
“When, lad? I think we best hurry, for they will want to tear down the Hall sooner than wait much longer.”
“Aye, Sir. So, we must prepare. Let’s ask Dayson to spread the word.”
Over the next few days, both men rested and enjoyed the quiet at home with Elinor and the Elder. Keter visited with Shade and often took the little animal with him while he walked in the forest or to town.
“I must ready myself for the ceremony, Shade. All those souls are waiting for me to set them free.”
The little horse nuzzled the boy he loved so well as they walked together.
On the eve of the next full moon, the townsfolk and all who wished it, were invited to come to the Farewell Ceremony.
A small platform had been erected from the building debris. To the right sat the monolith. It remained linked to the last standing glass wall.
Keter stood upon the platform. Both the Elder and the Younger stood with him, each dressed in their Searcher’s garb and having their Life Swords hung at their sides. Around them, the people gathered.
When it seemed the crowd had stopped growing, Keter stepped forward. He smiled at the people and friends who stood there. He raised his arms to ask for quiet.
“Welcome, all. I am Keter, last of the Magoph Coven. I had been charged by the last of the Council to be the deliverer of the people by killing Hemothracene, the false. As you know, that duty was carried out.
“Over the years there were many victims of this creature. In fact, we all were. His influence infected us so deeply, we worshiped him without truly understanding why. Yet, he continued to send our own people to kill and trap souls. Souls this false god then held captive in his walls so they might feed him, give him voice and extend his power far beyond this town.
“It was they who helped me in the fight to stop him. And we have won. We can now learn to govern ourselves, write our own laws and protections as was done in a distant past. And we will, but first we must free those who are still trapped in this last wall. We must free them and send them to Paradise.”
The people responded with applause and cheers.
Keter raised his arms once more. “There is no reason to fear the souls you will see. If you are known to one of them, they may visit you briefly before flying to Paradise.”
The witch turned to the Searchers, who had moved to opposite sides of the stone column. “Please take your Life Swords and push them into the monolith.”
Both Searchers drew their weapons and then each placed the tip of the blades on the shining rock. When the Elder nodded, they pushed.
It was quiet for several moments, then the Life Swords glowed brightly. An explosive noise broke the silence as a large crack appeared in the stone column.
As the people watched, first only one brave soul’s light appeared. It looked like a lone firebug in a field. It hovered over the monolith in lazy circles. Soon there was another and then another. This continued until the coloured lights of souls poured forth from the stone. They rose and floated over the crowd.
Then in what appeared like an explosion, the souls flew over and through the crowd. Some stopped to whisper to people they knew. Others just flew with the joy of being free.
Keter smiled as he watched the hundreds of coloured lights flitting before him. Suddenly though they returned and surrounded him. They whispered their thanks and then shot straight upward like a school of tiny fish.
All those gathered gazed upward to watch the bright sparks until they were part of the lights of heaven.
Keter watched them with tears in his eyes, and he whispered, “Farewell, until our circle closes.”
Once all again was quiet, Keter spoke once more. “They are free and gone. This hall of horror can now be torn down.”
A man stepped forward. “I believe we should leave the Swords and the stone here as a reminder to be watchful.”
It seemed that most present agreed.
Stravor and Keter went to the inn after the ceremony. They sat together at the bar where they had met.
Dayson served them his best ale. “I wish to speak with you both, but it seems there is trouble in the kitchens. I will come back.”
“See that you do, Day.” Stravor grinned as his friend walked away.
“Master, will you be all right without the Sword?” Keter spoke quietly. He sipped from his small cup.
“Aye. It feels odd not to have it. But also, better. It will stay where it is, no one but its Searcher can move it. It was evil and I know it was what connected me to Him. Tis why it called to me as it did.” Stravor sighed deeply. “I was such a fool to believe.”
“Stravor, do not be angry with yourself. It was a demon. They are wily things, and only live by bending lives to their purposes. This one made most believe.”
“I know, lad. But still it is a hard bone to swallow.”
Keter moved his chair to be closer to the man he loved. “The only good thing Hemothracene ever did was to bring us together. You are of my heart, Stravor. I want us to be happy.”
Dayson returned to the bar and topped up each cup. He smiled as he overheard Keter’s wish.
“Thank you, Day.” Stravor reached for Keter and said, “I am happy, boy.”
The big man raised his tankard. “To better days.”
“Better days.” Dayson drank and then wiped his mouth. “So, what will you do now?”
Stravor shook his head. “I do not know. My whole life was in service to Him. I do not think I would be a good farmer or baker.”
Keter grinned. “You have special talents, Sir.”
“Thank you, lad. But those your grin mean, are not for sale.”
The three men laughed.
Dayson poured them each more ale. “I may have an idea.”
Stravor looked to his friend. “What idea is that?”
“I’ve had word from my mother. You know she lives in the south. Her small town is not quiet, or so small now.” Dayson took a mouthful of ale. “She says there is need of a good inn, with good ale! And … and it will be a chance to settle down, finally.”
“What are you saying, Day?”
“That’s where I was, when you were seeking me that night. I went to see how things lay.” The innkeeper sipped from his tankard. “Since, I have wondered how I could run two inns. In one I would need a manager I can trust.” Dayson glanced at Stravor and Keter.
The Searcher laughed. “Do you mean me?”
“Yes, you … both of you, in fact. Why not?” Dayson leaned close, his arms on the bar. “You’d be good at it. You know people, and well, most would think twice before crossing you.”
Stravor sat back. “Oh, Day. I am unsure how …”
“Sir, do not say no. Please let us talk about it.” Keter placed a hand on Stravor’s solid forearm. “It could be what we desire.”
Dayson smiled. “Listen to us, Stravor. Once, just once, please. You need a purpose, a way to live. I am offering that to you.”
Stravor sighed. He swallowed his ale and placed the pewter pot on the bar gently. He raised his eyes to meet Dayson’s, and said, “I have noticed more travel through Nabrook now. The market grows; more come to trade. I think we would need to grow the stable and even the rooms we offer. To make sure we keep the business.”
Dayson grinned broadly. “I think you’re right. I will speak to the builders. Does this mean you accept my offer?”
Stravor turned to Keter. “How say you, boy?”
Keter slipped his hand into Stravor’s. “I say, aye, master.”
Two moons later the new construction was nearly finished. Dayson’s wagon was packed and stood ready in front of the Silverhide Inn. He held a leather-wrapped parcel.
Stravor and Keter stood with him. They discussed the finishing of the construction, the business and keeping in touch.
“Don’t worry, Day. I can leave Keter and come down to see you. Sample your ale and man-boys there. The boys in the south are a lusty lot.”
Keter slapped Stravor’s arm. “You forget I am a witch, master.”
Stravor laughed and met Dayson’s eyes. “Yes, I do. Fine. I will just sample the boys.”
Dayson laughed, and Keter sighed.
Picking up Keter, Stravor kissed him soundly. “Boy, you are the only witch I need.”
Keter hung on tight, wrapped around his man.
Dayson glanced away for a moment. Then he said, “Well, now the time is here. You two will do well with this place. You have great help and I will have Aeri back to you as soon as he’s helped me train new staff. Your mother coming to do pies and other things will be wonderful.”
Galeth came out of the stable yard with a large sack. “Day … should I put this in the back of the wagon? Oh, and I found two more of your shirts; I brought them too.”
Stravor and Keter stared at Dayson.
“Um … yes. Thanks. In the back, wherever there is space …” Dayson said. He smiled at the other couple. “What?”
Grinning, Stravor sidled up to his friend. “You and Galeth? When did this start?”
“Um …” Dayson looked down to his boots.
“Oh, I found your shirts, Day … and he’s going with you?” Stravor poked Dayson in the ribs.
“Yes. Me and Galeth. It is time for me to settle down. He is a good man. Is that so bad?”
Keter took his cousin’s hand. “No, of course not. Stravor teases you. If he makes you happy, it’s not wrong. I am glad for you both.”
“Aye, my friend. You deserve happiness.” Stravor slapped his friend on the back.
Galeth came to stand next to Dayson. “I’ll just fetch the water skin and hurry Aeri along.”
“Aye, thank you. We need to get miles behind us.”
After Dayson kissed him on the cheek, Galeth went inside.
There was a pause between them, then Dayson picked up an item leaning against the wagon wheel. “Stravor, my friend, this is for you to hang.” Dayson handed the parcel to the ex-Searcher.
Together, Keter and Stravor unwrapped it. Inside was a plaque, which read:
The Silverhide Inn
Landlords: Stravor the Younger and Keter Astrea
Owner: Dayson Grimesby
“Oh, Dayson, this is wonderful!” Keter picked up the hammer which was leaning against the wall. He then handed Stravor a long nail. “Thank you for adding my full name!”
The new innkeeper took both and hammered the sign onto the heavy door.
“Aye, Day. Thank you.” Stravor handed the hammer to Keter and took Dayson’s hand. “You have trusted us with all of this. We will make it work.”
“I know you will. And we will see each other soon. You two come and see me, Aeri can run the place for a few days.”
“That I can! Anytime!” Aeri came out of the inn with a basket over his shoulder. “I am ready to go.”
“Good. Put your things in the back and let us be off.”
Aeri grinned and did as he was told.
Galeth returned by way of the stable and climbed up on the wagon’s seat. He sat in the centre.
Dayson watched this with a smile and then turned his attention to Stravor and Keter. “Well, this is farewell for now. Aeri should be returned within the month. Send a rider if something terri … urgent happens.”
Stravor stood there, one eyebrow cocked, his left hand on his hip. “Dayson, nothing terrible will happen. All will be fine.”
“You’re right. Farewell, you two. My best wishes be with you always.” Dayson climbed into the wagon. He twisted around and smiled. “Until our circle closes once more.”
Stravor put his arm around Keter. “Aye, my friend. Until our circle closes.”
Author's Note: This is the final chapter ... thank you all who read it. I am considering a 2nd book, we will see. Thank you again ... tim