Tammath shuffled his sandaled feet up to the line of the eighty-fourth beacon, came to a halt, and bowed deeply.
For a minute nothing happened, but Tammath simply patiently waited. Finally, a hundred yards away, the wall of the bottom floor of a watchtower swiveled, revealing its opening. From its depth a Noble Guardsman emerged, covered from head-to-foot in wavy, reddish-orange plate armor, and holding in his hands the staff of his great banner. The banner was made of the living Wirshyym wood, allowing it to support itself at a height of over sixty feet, so that the guard appeared much like an ant holding a mountain on his back!
Tammath continued to wait as the Guardsman slowly marched out to him. Of course, he had done a great deal of waiting during his long march on the path to Alquoran. One might even say that his entire life had been one long exercise in patience.
Tammath reached to his shoulders and rearranged the loose robes around his body. He stroked his chest-length, squared-off beard. He furrowed his hands through the short, trimmed hair on his scalp. There were those that had mistaken his appearance for that of a priest. Then, when they saw the leathery copper of his face, they often thought he was some merchant of Abad’lah. But he was not either of those things. He was simply a wanderer.
A shadow fell over Tammath as the Guardsman and his sky-reaching banner nearly reached him. Tammath looked up to the pommel on top of the banner, and though he could not make out its features, he knew it was the royal symbol of the flighted lizard. And while his eyes were stretched heavenward, Tammath took a moment to trace the constellations of the eternal-night sky. By now he had grown accustomed to the cloudless sky of this district, where the void was so black, and the stars so numerous and bright, that it seemed impossible that they hovered more than an arm’s-reach away. On private moments of his journey Tammath had even attempted to reach up and grab hold of one of the stars, even jumping into the air and waving his arm overhead, but he had never been able to reach any of them.
Though if all went well, he might be able to lay hold upon one very soon.
“Hoh!” The Guardsman said impressively as he drew near and slammed the end of his banner onto the paved walkway.
“Greetings,” Tammath bowed deeply. “I am Tammath Asueyi. I am a wanderer from the lands of Ovathyo, the province of Modecci, the country of Atta’Huk, the city of Metiphi, the district of Tong, along the southern slopes of the valley, where the river Phariedes sinks itself into the soil and waters the rice and biscill for King Taq’ii and his people…. Or at least, so it did until fifty years ago, when I first took my leave of it.”
The Guardsman’s metal helmet creaked as he turned his head inside, trying to make sense of Tammath’s geography.
“I know of no such place,” he finally said. “Is it far?”
“Yes,” Tammath bowed. “Perhaps you know of the lands of Adecci?”
“I… think I remember hearing tell of Lomolo once. Is that where the kargaur beasts are bred? I know that it is very far.”
“No, you are thinking of Molomo, which is ten lands before Lomolo.”
“And as you say, it is ‘very far’ before you come to the lands of Molomo. And then after Molomo are ten lands and then Lomolo. And after Lomolo, B’k’Tath. And after B’k’Tath, Estraugh. And after Estraugh, Adecci. And Adecci…is a tenth of the way to my homelands of Ovathyo.”
“Yes. And now you see that when I say I took my leave of my homelands fifty years ago, I mean that when I left that place I did nothing but make my way directly to this place where we now stand today.”
“You mean…” the Guardsman tried to scratch his head, forgetting that he could not do so through the armor, “that where you live is fifty years journey from this place?!”
“And–and you have walked here all that time?”
“Never rode? Never carried?”
“Hooves and wheels are forbidden upon the sacred Hall to Alquoran. You know this.”
“Yes, but–but why would you do such a thing?”
“I have had my reasons.”
“Why you would have been but a boy when you set out!”
“I was twelve years of age.”
“Twelve years?! Twelve years and consigned yourself to a life of–of walking down a narrow, never-ending road?!”
“But I am told that it does end,” Tammath smiled. “Told that it ends very soon, in fact. Why does the notion of what I have done disturb you so?”
“Because I cannot imagine wasting my own life so!”
“But you were not the one that was called to do it. I was. And here at the end, I feel no waste in how I have lived my life. I have no regrets.”
“And what is the end of your journey?”
“The throne of King Taq’ii. What else?”
“You really think he will appear to you?”
“I do. And I certainly hope so. If not, my long walk will have been quite in vain!”
The Guardsman nearly dropped his banner but managed to catch it just in time. And then his head cocked slightly, as if he had just realized something that he felt a fool for having not thought of before.
“Not a joke,” Tammath interrupted. And as preposterous as his story seemed, the firm fire in his eyes stemmed the Guardsman’s incredulity.
“Well–” the armored man shrugged his shoulders, “Well, of course, all are welcome here. Only be sure that only those of a pure heart proceed past this point, or else who knows how fate might turn against them? These are divine lands, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” Tammath bowed as the Guardsman turned and began his march back to the watchtower. “I’m counting on it.”
At times the Hall to Alquoran had been very busy, but most often it had been very sparse. There were always those that endeavored to carry their petition to the Hallowed Throne, full of fire and determination to see the long walk through, but over time raging passion cooled, and each traveler fell off the route at some point or another. And none of them had even tried to come from as far away as Tammath had.
Indeed, Tammath had witnessed souls who embarked on the path to Alquoran only one year from their destination, a distance that was no more than a drop in the bucket compared to his own long walk. Yet those souls continued forward the shortest time of all, no longer than two weeks! Paradoxically, the farther back from the destination one started their journey, the longer they would travel before giving up on it. And only Tammath, who had come from the farthest distance of them all, had had the resolve to see it through to the very end.
Of course, in all these years, Tammath had had time enough to consider this paradox, and eventually he had come to understand the situation perfectly. He realized that his “curse” of having been born so far from the end of the road was actually a blessing.
He realized that for all these other people, the journey to the Hallowed Throne was but a chapter of their lives, a way to try and smooth things out for when they returned back home. Which meant, of course, that their minds were still preoccupied with the lives they had left behind. Every step of the way they daydreamed of the places and people they had left behind, envisioned their old wants and desires, and longed for familiar comforts. Eventually it eroded all their desire to continue, and they felt that this strange road was taking them away from that “real life” that they had left behind. They fled back to it.
But Tammath was not burdened by any thoughts of “real life” outside of this walk. He had set out on this journey knowing that it was a one-way trip. If he obtained his desire, then he would not have enough years remaining to make it back home before he died. Thus, this was not a chapter of his life, it was his life! And having accepted that, to continue his walk was only to continue living.
Yes, when Tammath began this journey, it had been in a fit of passion. But before that flame had gone out, he had managed to find the quiet conviction that had kept him on his way for all the decades since.
There had been one setback, though, that had almost caused Tammath to give up the entire expedition. It had come after the first two years, when he began to doubt whether he would even survive the journey. He was still so far from his destination that there were no estimates for how much longer there remained. Back then it really had seemed like that the hallway could very well continue on forever, coming to no end at all. Was it possible he was taking a long walk for no purpose at all?
But then, too, he had been able to find a quiet, reassuring answer. He would not walk for the destination anymore. He would walk for the walk, and if he did happen to reach the Hallowed Throne, then that would only be an added blessing. And so, he settled into a mindset where he could appreciate the quiet shuffling of footsteps for their own virtue.
Then he had ceased to measure his rate of travel. It did not matter to him if it took him an hour to travel a mile or a day. He went along just as quickly as suited him in the moment, knowing that the journey would be what it would be.
And now, fifty years later, he was not even pulled out of his tranquil state by the knowledge that he really would reach the Hallowed Throne. About two years ago was when the murmurings of the Hallowed Throne became so prevalent that he was sure he would make it there. Even aside from his conversations with guardsmen and other wanderers, he had sensed that the very air was pulsing with a spirit of finality.
“I will bow before the throne while I yet live,” he had calmly said to himself. “I will make my appeal.”
And so, it was a quiet affair when Tammath finally did see the very temple before him. There was an uncharacteristic rise in the cobbled walkway, slowly curving up, and so continuing for miles. Higher and higher he rose, until he started to duck his head for fear of bumping it into the stars. And then, after many hours, the rise began to level out, and as the road descended beneath Tammath’s line of sight he saw the columned entrance waiting for him in the distance.
Immediately Tammath stopped where he stood. This was a sacred moment, and he turned on the spot, looking behind to make sure that he had utmost privacy.
From the top of the rise, Tammath was able to see the land sprawled out beneath him for hundreds of miles. The hallway extended from him like a cord stitching the entire land together, with the red and orange rock dunes to the left and the yellow sands and seashores to the right. From here it seemed to Tammath that all these countries and landforms, even the entire world, were but decoration to the Hallowed Throne. All of it had been made to lead up to this point, to be seen from this view, to be understood from this context.
And much to Tammath’s pleasure, there wasn’t another soul anywhere to be seen. Everywhere that he looked, he could not make out either smoke or light of any distant city. The solitude was so complete that he almost felt as if he was the only soul upon all the world, as if every community and individual he had met in the past were only parts of a dream, and all these millions of square miles had in truth only been made for him.
Tammath turned back to face the Plateau of Alquoran and the Hallowed Throne that sat upon it. He did not step forward into that holy place, though. He waited with arms outstretched, basking in the air, then bowed and touched his forehead all the way to the cobblestones. Then he rose to his feet, then bowed all the way back down again. And this he repeated, over and over, for a total of ten times. Then Tammath took a single step forward, after which he once again bowed ten times to the earth. Then he took another step and bowed another ten times. And in this way he continued, bowing ten times after every shuffling of his feet.
Of course, this made his advance much slower, so slow that at times it seemed he did not progress at all, but he did not mind how long it was taking. After fifty years of travel what did it matter how much longer he spent in giving obeisance? Far better to be true to what felt right in his heart and give this place all the dignity he could muster.
And, of course, Tammath really was advancing forward. If there were days in this land it would have been seven that transpired before he touched the bottom of the temple’s steps. But Tammath did not end his reverence there. He now performed twenty bows upon each of the steps, and when he passed the open doors and into the single, great room he advanced with fifty bows at each step.
So it was that by the time Tammath knelt upon the mosaic pedestal that rested before the raised dais, he had already looked upon the holy place for hundreds of hours, had memorized every detail of its architecture, and had anointed all its stones with his kisses.
“King Taq’ii!” he spoke loudly and clearly to the ornate throne that sat upon the dais. “King Taq’ii, your servant Tammath approaches. Wilt thou speak to me, oh Lord?” And then he touched his forehead to the cool floor, and kept it there, determined to remain prostrated until he received an answer.
How long he waited he could not say. Measurements of time had become meaningless to him, and so it might have been but a few moments, or even an entire day, but at last there came the sound of creaking wood as the weight of a person settled into the throne.
A voice returned his plea.
“Ah, Tammath, my good son. Raise your head and speak to me, I beg of you. Your lord has come to hear your plea.”
For the first time in decades Tammath’s tranquility briefly wavered. With tears streaming down his face he lifted his eyes to behold the king-God Taq’ii, great ruler of all the known world, the high steward appointed by the creator himself!
At first the man appeared much as any other man, with crimson and gold robes, chest-length, curly beard, copper skin, and many wrinkles around the eyes, but then one noticed the soft glow that clothed his entire figure. It was a fuzzy border, that extended about an inch above the skin across every detail of his body. Tammath knew, of course, that this was an immortalizing aura, a sort of shield that prevented King Taq’ii from ever coming into direct contact with anything of the corruptible earth. This was how a man, though born a mortal, could be artificially kept immortal by the creator.
“Please,” King Taq’ii repeated with smiling eyes, “speak, my son.”
“My Lord…” Tammath began, “I am Tammath Asueyi, and I have long sought your face. My motives have been pure, my intent has been just, and I do not seek my own gain. I am here only to beseech for that which is good.”
“Of course…you would not be able to witness my presence were your heart otherwise. And what is the good cause that has carried you to me Tammath Asueyi?”
“My Lord, I come from the lands of Ovathyo, the province of Modecci, the country of Atta’Huk, the city of Metiphi, the district of Tong, along the southern slopes of the valley. It is a very far off place, but it is of your realm. Perhaps you know if it?”
“Of course. I know I all my lands. I am very familiar with your valley where the river Phariedes sinks into the soil and waters the rice and biscill for me and my people. But I have not had word from that field for a very long time. Is all well there?”
“I am afraid not,” Tammath reverentially bowed his head to the stone, then raised his eyes again. “It was fifty years ago when a band of raiders came from the sea, razed the land, and murdered everyone therein. I, myself, escaped because I had been sent to the neighboring mountaintop the night before.”
“Sent to the mountaintop? But why?”
“I–I had been careless when watching my father’s sheep and one of the lambs escaped. We found it on the mountain, freezing and hungry a day later, and my father ordered me to spend a night out on the mountain to appreciate what I had done to it.”
“I see. And when you came back…there were no survivors at all?”
Tammath shook his head and pressed his eyelids closed as he vainly tried to hold back the tears.
“We were a very small hamlet, only thirty-two souls in all. And I was able to account for every body, stripped and laid out in the sun.”
“I see,” King Taq’ii said heavily. His head drooped, like it was connected to a great weight, and he shook it slowly from side to side. “Thank you for bringing me the news of this. What a horrible burden you have borne.”
“I ought to have perished with them,” Tammath declared. “I was born one of them, lived as one of them, and I should have died as one of them. But fate decreed that I would live, and as I pondered upon that I realized I had been preserved for a reason. I was left alive so that I could make the long walk to your throne! And now, here at your feet, I beseech that this wrong finally be made right.”
“You seek vengeance upon those murderous raiders?” King Taq’ii queried.
“Vengeance could be sought from the local magistrate,” Tammath shook his head. “I have come to the god-King Taq’ii for power he alone possesses.”
“Of course. Why else would one come here, but to call upon the deep magic? No, no, you needn’t apologize. I am not offended. After all, that is the purpose of my station, is it not? To preside over the power of the deep magic and distribute it to whatever cause is worthy. So, Tammath, what is your cause?”
“It is said that the deep magic is interwoven with the very fabric of reality. That its cords draw through life and death, space and time. They say that it can undo what has already been done, can make what never was. My request…” Tammath licked his dry lips, trembling with excitement to finally make the petition he had traveled all this way for. “My request is that the slaughter of my people might be undone. That though they were killed, they might be alive again.”
“Hmm, I see,” the god-King pressed his fingers together and rested them against his lips.
“Could it be done?”
“Well…it depends…there is something that you must understand about deep magic. You are correct that it is a thread that winds its way through all of reality. But it is a part of that reality, too. Wherever it is pulled, the surrounding parts of the tapestry are changed as well. There are effects and side-effects. And once one change is made, then other changes are forever closed off. Things must be balanced. Thus, while deep magic can do anything, it cannot do everything.”
“And so, you say you wish to bring this village back to life, but I must know the manner of how. We must consider whether it is possible within the balance of all else.”
“Yes, of course. Well, I would have it be that the morning when the raiders landed on our shores…that it simply was not so. There were no raiders, there was no slaughter, and the village lived on until this very day.”
“Hmm, I see. Perhaps it would be that the raiders boat sunk in the sea, and they were all drowned?”
“I do not care.”
“Or that the winds changed and carried the murderers to a different shore.”
“That would be fine as well.”
“Just so long as the sun rose that day upon your hamlet and brought no raiders with it?”
“Yes. That is all I ask.”
“But then, they would have been alive all this while.”
“And all this time you have been walking here to me. So, you would like me to return you to that place all those years ago as well.”
“That is not necessary.”
“Is it not your aim to live again with them?”
“I have lived my life. I only want for them to have the same opportunity.”
“So, if this were granted…would you leave to rejoin them?”
“What would be the point?”
“What would be the point indeed? For you are past the median of your life…”
“And you would perish before you could reach them.”
Two lone tears escaped Tammath’s eyes and he nodded. “It would be enough for them just to have had their lives.”
“Well…in terms of deep magic and its connection to reality, you have made things about as simple as it could be. If you had asked me to return you back to the village as well, it would have been entirely untenable. There must always be a symmetry of sorts when deep magic alters the world. As there was originally a loss of lives, so there must still be a loss even after lives are brought back. And now there would be. You had your life, but you have spent it, and it would remain spent, just to bring back theirs.”
“So…you will do it?”
“Hmm…I can accept that it is possible. But there is still the matter of whether I should.”
“You assured me that it was a good cause that brought you to my throne. And I must ask, is this cause necessarily good?”
“Of course! The saving of life is always good!”
“But do we not hold that the creator is just when he consigns the wicked to a fitting end?”
“They were good people in that village, not wicked!”
King Taq’ii smiled deeply. “Please…tell me about them.”
“Surely the divinely-appointed god-King knows the children he watches over.”
“He does. Even so, tell me about them.”
Tammath stopped speaking for a moment to calm himself down. He took a deep breath and shivered all over. Much to his surprise, he realized he had not thought of those old friends and loved ones for many years. His focus had been so intent upon this end of the journey that he had long ceased dwelling on the other.
At first, he was not sure he would be able recall those long-lost faces, but suddenly he felt transported back to the small, two-room house he had grown up in, the air filled with the smell of freshly baking bread, and the dull thud of his mother’s wiry hands kneading a slab of dough.
“My mother was a tired woman,” he said softly, his eyes fastened shut as he felt his way through the memory. “And there seemed to be a sadness about her that I never understood. I believe she bore great weight and that she feared for us every day.”
Tammath was transported to another memory, this one with the taste of salty water and the chilling breeze coming from the sea. His father stood upright in his boat, somehow keeping his balance as he wrangled a net of fish.
“My father was a strong but quiet man. He never raised his voice to me in anger, but at times he would silently stand and leave the room, and I would know that I had offended him.”
A laughing boy came to Tammath’s mind next, lunging from side-to-side in mimicry of the young lamb he was playing with.
“My brother was as carefree as my parents were weighed down. Sometimes he stayed out too late, played too long, but he brought a necessary relief to the rest of us. His joyful innocence reminded us of what it was we were sustaining and protecting.”
“Mmm. Very good. Now tell me of the others.”
“We were presided over by the village elder,” the memories were coming to Tammath more readily now. “His name was Father Crei and he was very old, indeed. Half the mutterings he said were too soft and unintelligible for us to understand, and he couldn’t walk, we would have to draw near to his bed in order to hear him. But all the parents had a love and devotion for Father Crei that spoke to me of what sort of man he had once been. All of them still abided under his precepts, even if he wasn’t able to speak them aloud anymore.
“And there was Bolbano, our porter. He was a silly and foppish man and did not fit in so well with the quiet gravity of the rest of our village. But he had found his place even so, carrying the rice and biscill from our farms to the magistrate’s storehouse. It was better for him, free to wander and be distracted between here and there, but he never failed to complete a task even so.
“And Nance was our teacher. She made all of us children to understand letters and told us stories of our ancestors long ago. We would walk to her hut hand-in-hand, and she would drone on to us for as long as we sat before her. Eventually we would be called away to our chores and depart in ones and twos, but she never was offended. She just let us drift away as easily as we had come and resumed where she had left off the next day.
“Morteo was our butcher. He would dress the fish my father caught and the meat that Bolbano brought back from the magistrate. He did his best, but when there is one man cooking for three dozen no one is ever perfectly content. For some his dinner had too much spice and for others it was too bland, but it gave us strength enough, and we ate it all anyway. And then, every year at the jubilee he would stay up through the night to make each person their own individual dish, just how they liked.
“Motuthay and Ailah were my family’s neighbors. Motuthay fished with my father, Ailah weaved with my mother, and their children did their chores and played with my brother and me. I honestly thought for a time that they were just another part of our family that happened to live in a different house. Of course, in a sense they were. All that village was one large family, and all the children ran together like one tremendous brood of siblings.
“Badu was the eldest and strongest of the youth, our unofficial leader, and Mayta was a second mother to us all. As a youth I always assumed they would marry when they were grown. Steeko and Vintir, the twins, were the most troublesome of the lot, they would tease the younger ones any chance they got. Setal was a kind girl, but she could never run with us, as she was always sick in bed with some malady or another…”
“What of Corvay?” King Taq’ii asked softly.
Tammath trembled all over as he tried to fight down the tears. Corvay was the one person whose memory had come effortlessly, but which he had tried to keep suppressed.
“Corvay was positively beautiful,” Tammath wept. “Though she was as young as I, she had such a mature grace about her. She was tender and kind, and she always showed such care and concern to me. Whenever I was upset, she would hold my hand. She wouldn’t say a word, she wouldn’t try to wish the trouble away, she would just be with me in that place so I wouldn’t be alone.”
“And you loved her.”
“Yes, I loved her with all of my heart, and I have forever mourned that we never knew a life together as husband in wife. Though I realize now we were but children, I am certain she would have grown into a remarkable woman, and that we would have had the most sublime of marriages.”
“It was a lovely hamlet,” King Taq’ii approved. “Perhaps they were not the most important of people in worldly matters, but they did live beautifully.”
“Yes!” Tammath gasped. “They certainly did!”
“And you have borne their loss all on your own. Borne it for many, many years.”
“And I must say, you have borne it well. In your grief you found a purpose, a noble purpose to pursue, and you have kept that cause through a great and consistent effort. Any man should be proud to have conducted himself so well.”
Tammath bowed his head to the floor.
“Tammath, I know that you desire to have this burden removed, to rest happily in the knowledge that those you lost have been returned to their rightful place. But there remains one factor of that desire that we must still consider. Have you considered that through this change you would be transferring your sorrow onto them instead?”
“How is that?”
“What do you think they will have assumed, to have woken up all those years ago, and not been slain by the raiders, but then found you missing?”
“I–I suppose they will assume that I came to some mischief. That some wild beast found me in the night.”
“Yes. And then your father would be racked with guilt for the punishment he had given you, and your mother would be torn by the loss of her son, and your brother would lose his carefree joy, and Corvay’s hand would forever long to have held yours in its time of greatest need. And all of them would wish that they could trade their own lives for yours.”
“I see,” Tammath nodded solemnly. “It is just as you said. To restore one loss, another must occur, and heartache must take the place of heartache. Truly, I never meant anything selfish in my request, but I never considered the pain that might follow this good deed.”
“And pain, in and of itself, is not necessarily wrong. But you know that you, at least, are able to bear their loss honorably. You have already borne it. The question is whether they could now bear your loss instead?”
Tammath did not immediately answer. He pressed his fists into his knees and stared intently at the cobbled stones. It seemed that King Taq’ii’s question was impossible to answer. Who could answer for any heart other than their own? And yet…
“I…do not know how those who loved me best would move on from my loss, but I do trust them. I truly believe that they would have found their way, just as I did.”
King Taq’ii nodded. “You are correct. They would indeed find their way. I just need to be sure that you appreciate the pain they will have to pass through before doing so.”
“Yes, it is good for me to consider that.”
“And now that you do consider it, do you still stand by your initial request? To rewrite that morning and bring them back all those years ago, but leave you as having been on this journey to Alquoran ever since?”
Tammath took a deep breath. “Yes. That is still my request.”
“Then, son Tammath, I accept this proposal. I, King Taq’ii, chosen steward of the Creator match my will to your own.”
Tammath stared in wonder, watching to see how the god-King would work his magic. But much to his surprise, King Taq’ii did not raise hands or speak words, he merely sat in his seat, smiling at Tammath.
“So… will you effect this change immediately? Or after I have gone”
“Oh no, Tammath, it has already been done.”
“But of course. It was done fifty years ago, just as soon as you set out on your journey. I performed the miracle then, just as you have requested today, and they have been alive all this while.”
“But all this time I have spent on the way–“
“Was not in vain. I would not have performed the miracle if not for the knowledge that you would come and request it of me with this integrity of heart. Because you asked me now, I performed the miracle back then.”
“Oh…” Tammath blinked a few times and tried to make sense of it. “So then…all these years they really have been alive?”
“And with every step I took, they walked and breathed and lived and loved?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Well, that’s good then,” but in spite of his words Tammath’s heart felt very heavy. The weight of his loss, of all the joys of life given up, of all the possible paths never walked came crashing upon him in full force. He bowed his head and sobbed deeply.
“What is in your heart, my son?”
“I do not regret anything,” Tammath spoke through the streams of tears, “but I am so very alone!”
King Taq’ii said not a word, but for the first time rose from his seat. He stepped down from his raised dais and reached his hand out to touch Tammath’s shoulder. Just before contact, the envelope of golden light extended from the god-King’s person and purified and immortalized Tammath’s shoulder, allowing the two to touch without the divine steward being corrupted by mortality. The holy leader’s hand was heavy and strong, a far cry from the tender fingers of Corvay, but like her he remained steadfastly and silently by Tammath’s side, simply abiding through the waves of grief until they had all washed away.
“Thank you, Lord,” Tammath finally wiped the remnants of the tears from his eyes.
“No son, thank you for letting me be with you. It has been an honor to know your heart.”
“I suppose…I suppose the time has come for me to take my leave, hasn’t it? Time to find something else to do with my life, though what I do not know.”
“Mmm,” King Taq’ii smiled knowingly as he stepped onto the dais and returned to his chair. “I do not think that you should leave my presence just yet, Tammath. I say you would do very well to wait with me a moment longer.”
“You would,” and with no further explanation King Taq’ii turned his eyes towards the end of the room, watching the entrance of the temple. Tammath followed his example, settling his eyes on the golden rectangle of light that was the only view to the outside world.
How long he watched, he could not say. He had long since given up measuring the passage of time. But it was not a very long while before the rectangle of light was interrupted by four figures who entered that sacred place.
And though the figures were so far away that Tammath could not make out any more than their silhouettes, somehow he immediately understood who they must be.
“My family?!” he gasped to King Taq’ii.
“The very same,” came the reply. “They have come here to do as you have done. To beseech me for a miracle.”
“A miracle to bring me back? Is that their request? Because they thought I had perished that night?”
“Exactly so. You traded your life to ask that I give their lives back to them, and immediately after they discovered your loss they decided to do the very same thing for you.”
Now the four journeyers were near enough that Tammath could start to make out their faces. Tammath’s father and mother were very old now, more than eighty years in age, yet it seemed a life of gentle travel had been agreeable to them, and their faces still shone with strength. Tammath’s brother stood beside them, now a mature man and virtually unrecognizable from the youth Tammath remembered. He had a full beard and was bald, and had stories twinkling behind his eyes. Next to him stood Corvay. Unlike Tammath’s brother, she looked exactly the same as Tammath had known her, only more mature, more gentle, and more beautiful for it.
Each of the four were staring at Tammath with expressions ranging from confusion to disbelief to barely-suppressed hope.
“Are you–?” Tammath’s mother began to speak.
“Yes, mother, it’s me! It’s your boy, Tammath!”
All four of them cried out at once and rushed forward. Soon they were all enveloped in a tight embrace.
“The god-King brought you back to us before we could even ask!” Tammath’s mother exclaimed as they drew apart to look at one another again. “He knew our hearts and raised you from the dead before we even entered the temple!”
“No, I never died!” Tammath laughed. “It was you. But I brought you back to life with my plea!”
“We never died!” Tammath’s brother said in surprise. “Whatever do you mean, big brother?”
“I mean you–you–well, I suppose it wouldn’t make sense to you. It doesn’t even all make sense to me. But I believe I saved you!”
“Have we not saved each other?” came the soft voice of Corvay.
Tammath turned his face to hers and they looked deeply into one another’s eyes. Silently she reached out and folded his hand within her own.
“Yes,” Tammath agreed. “Yes we have. For I am here, and you are here, and so we are saved together. One tragedy or another may have parted us, but we all paid a heavy price, and for it we have met again in Alquoran. All is as it should be now.”
Tammath turned his head to the throne to give his thanks to King Taq’ii, but upon the raised throne there was no person, not even the chair remained. Tammath spoke his thanks even so, and then the family, wrapped tightly in one other’s arms, walked out of the temple together.