Chapter Twenty-Five The Rrandah Promise
Morning had come before Vénes found the time to read the letter sealed with the Onsiran royal crest. He’d spent the previous night discussing matters with Shu-Giri, sorting through his worries and affections. Although he did indeed love the chieftain, and was honored to take on a Rrandah, he worried what harm might come to him in their journeys. No matter what reassurances were offered, Vénes was reluctant to accept the chieftain’s promise that they would be safe.
Shu-Giri changed the focus of their discussion by handing him the letter.
“It isn’t from Her Majesty after all,” the sorcerer commented when he opened it. “My father has written instead.”
“What has old Mearrk’hal got to tell you?” Shu-Giri asked, snuggling beside Vénes to read along with him.
Greetings to you from Onsira. I write in hopes that your time with Shu-Giri has treated you well. He is a trusted friend to me, and I know that he has his own sort of wisdom to share. We have missed you here.
When we arrived in Onsira, we learned that Her Majesty had fallen gravely ill. Her recovery has been slow, and she has named Prince Loracaz as regent until she can take her throne once again. Also, Emperor Z’Le has left the palace, and none have been able to locate him thus far. Zarrek has also left, no doubt to seek out his father. It seems that we have been left with a brief respite from the darker side of this family.
Vincent sends his regards as well. He has aided Her Majesty in reading some of the more ancient texts in her library, but nothing has proven useful to us thus far. Both are hoping for your arrival, Venes. There are texts that only you can read here, and Arialla has hopes that they can offer her some advice.
When this reaches you, I estimate that it will be time for the spring festival. Enjoy it, for Jzamneh’s is one of the best. Please, tell us how you have been. We wish to have you with again soon. Know that Shu-Giri is welcome in this realm, should he wish to join you in your journey. He has powers that only his kind can know. Trust him, my son.
Awaiting your word,
Mearrk’hal of Shyal’In
“We should go soon, then,” Shu-Giri told his lover when the letter had ended. “They are asking for you.”
“Indeed,” Vénes said with a nod. “But… what about the Rrandah ceremony?”
“Now you are eager?” Shu-Giri flashed him a grin and said, “I can arrange it for tomorrow, if you’d like, and we can leave the next day. Where did that book go?”
He searched around his room, rummaging through stacks of books and piles of papers interspersed with random pieces of clothing. Vénes wondered for a moment what had happened to leave the room in such a state, but dared not inquire; he suspected that it had to do with their night apart. At last the treasure-hunter returned with the text and handed it to him.
“Have you ever read it?” Shu-Giri asked, his tone for once even and serious.
“I never once imagined that I would have a Rrandah,” Vénes admitted. “I never gave the book any thought.”
“But you know basically what it means?”
Vénes nodded. “I can share your magic, and you can share mine. Our spirits, our life-forces, will be aligned, synchronized. A new level of power will be granted to us as well, and greater protection.”
Shu-Giri nodded. “That is the basic explanation,” he replied. “In truth there will not be only me and you; there will be us, like a guardian spirit making sure that we thrive. Also, you will not have immediate access to all of my spells, nor I to yours. You will know when I use magic, and the results of it, but to use it, I have to grant it to you.”
“Shu-Giri, if one of us were killed…”
“Who would kill us? Those nether-soldiers? Kearr will destroy them first. Besides that, the minions of Métius cannot move against one with a Rrandah bond. You will be safe from magic, Vénes. It would take great power, or the gods themselves, to end our lives.”
This was not enough to comfort Vénes. “And what of a sword through the heart?”
Shu-Giri was taken aback by the suggestion, but responded to the concern just the same. “Do you know of anyone who wants to kill you, my dear sorcerer? It would take great effort to overcome your senses and protection, but…” he sighed before conceding to the truth. “Aye, a blade to one would wound us both. We have ways to heal from it, but if you perish, then I shall join you.”
“Does Phiare know that much? And what of your son?”
“My love…” Shu-Giri met his lover’s lips, then gazed into his eyes. “I considered this for many days before I asked you. She knows what could happen. Phiare will look after Faolan without me. I would miss him dearly, but I am willing to accept that risk for you.”
“We will be seeking information to help the empress move against Z’Lé and Métius,” Vénes reminded him. “Why would they not want to harm us? Shu-Giri, you have hardly known me a month, but you’ve had your son for four years. Are you really certain of our safety?”
“‘Those who deal in magic and the gods cannot harm the Rrandah pair,’ the book will tell you. Have you ever seen the mark? It is respected, Vénes. If any should seek your death, you will know. It would be a serious matter indeed.” The chieftain gazed worriedly at his companion. “Have you changed your mind about this?”
“Then know this: we are safer going to Onsira with the bond than not.”
Vénes nodded, understanding. “Very well, then. Tomorrow.”
The answer made Shu-Giri smile. “Wonderful! Read this, then; I know it well already. I will make the arrangements. Wait for me here, and I shall be back by the afternoon.”
With lithe and joyful steps, the chieftain made for the hallway, leaving Vénes alone to read once again. Once outside, he sought out his herald, whom he sent to accomplish two tasks.
“First, send for three of the Jzamneh dragons. Do you remember where they live?” The lad nodded, and Shu-Giri continued. “Send two of them here. The third you shall ride to Onsira to deliver a message; that is your other task. Vénes and I shall depart for the Empress’s realm in three days to meet with her, the prince, and Mearrk’hal. We shall be riding the dragons as well, crossing over the mountains.”
“Of course, your lordship.” The herald bowed, smiling to his chieftain.
“Go on, then. Safe journey, my lad. Await me in Onsira.”
His mission in mind, the herald departed. He left the village behind, riding aback a k’hiv in search of the fae-like dragons of Jzamneh, who often lay hidden among the crystalline caverns and labyrinths of the forest. Had it not been for the chieftain’s decree, they would have been too difficult to find, but as it was, they would come to the herald’s request.
Word had come from Mithkyn and Ayafir; they would come to the aid of Onsira. It would take time for them to mobilize and prepare, but they would defend Onsira against infection from the Destroyer. When Z’Lé’s disappearance became well-known, and as the imperial conquests laxed and eventually ceased, even K’hithvahn, Enhar, and Rrévihn offered their help to the empress. They all knew that it was Emperor Z’Lé, not his k’haarana, who had sought imperial conquest and invited Métius into the kingdom.
Despite all of this aid, Arialla worried how Thiizav would react. The dark realm had not been directly threatened, but they had given the most assistance to Z’Lé. Arialla hoped that the sorcerer could advise her in the matter, for he alone could access the darkness while still being her ally.
The fact was, even Thiizav was searching for the emperor. The borderland of Enhar, where he had last been seen, was ravaged in search of him. Villages were overturned, and every soldier in his encampment interrogated. Even General Elezar had been questioned. He claimed to have lost track of Z’Lé and the prince after the incident in his camp, and was still seeking them out. For the time being, none were sure what importance Z’Lé was anymore. Was he needed to lead the conquests, or did Métius see him as but a servant of his own intentions?
Arialla’s health did not improve as most had hoped. After her initial recovery, weakness lingered in her still. She wondered in silence whether Z’Lé was in the same weakened state, reluctant to recover. She felt ill-at-ease about their bond, and confused over how she ought to feel about him. Though the bard often kept her company and ensured her comfort, he decried the emperor whenever she spoke of him. But she could not forget the words that Z’Lé had spoken not long before he’d left, the same that had entranced her decades ago.
“Keflay divan,” he had called her.
The sweet, archaic Draconic brought her fond memories. It had been ages since Z’Lé had been as sweet to her as the bard now was. In that time, she had lost track of the difference between his lust and his love. When Vincent left her alone for the night, her thoughts turned to her k’hurin. She longed to know what had become of him, forgetting that he had nearly killed her. On those long evenings, her youthful naïveté returned, rendering her better judgment useless. She wondered, deep down, hidden beneath her pain, if she did not love him still, and if he still remembered his love for her.
During the day, Prince Loracaz sat on the throne, bearing audience with the Onsiran citizens. He granted them what they needed as much as he could, though he could offer little to relieve their suffering. Between the drowned fields and soldiers’ rations, there was not much left in the storehouses. Their best hope was that spring and summer would be gentler this year, so that the harvests could support the populace. If the empire could regain the trust of its former allies, they might also stand a chance at re-establishing trade routes.
After a week of bearing audiences and attending meetings alone, Loracaz invited his beloved priestess to join him. Arialla consented to allowing Liriel to sit beside him, and regarded her advice as sound and beneficial. Even the citizens of Onsira were glad to have her in the palace. Together, they enjoyed the prince’s time as regent. Though he would not admit it, Loracaz had a sense of foreboding; he believed that this calm was but a brief respite as greater tragedy prepared to befall his kingdom.
At dawn, Shu-Giri opened his eyes to the new day, excitement for what lay in store for him pulling him out of bed. Knowing that he would have to be purified for the ceremony, he hurried to his bath. As the hot water flowed, he shed his nightclothes and searched a narrow shelf for the clarifying oils. Outside the steaming chamber, he heard the faint sound of clattering and voices.
Good, he thought to himself as he added the scented oil to his bath. They are here early.
Once the tub was filled, Shu-Giri stepped in, letting his body sink into the sweltering water. Up to his chin in liquid, he closed his eyes, absorbing the warmth. It was not as comforting as being near Vénes, but he enjoyed it nonetheless. Thoughts of the ritual to come wandered through his mind. He had memorized the important parts of the Book of Rrandah, and he was eager to fulfill his dream of becoming Vénes’s magical supporter.
To become a Rrandah is to be renewed. It is to bring together two entities, two realms of magic. It is a promise that must be embarked upon with a heart of truth, a sense of both duty and devotion. Those entering into the promise must bring into it only their devotion and their magic.
Shu-Giri poured soap onto his sponge and began the task of scrubbing himself ‘till his skin glowed, fresh and renewed. His skin tingled in the warmth and has scrubbed away the dirt and the surface layer, and he felt energized from it. All the while, he contemplated the coming ceremony, hopeful and eager.
Downstairs, Liam had shown Liaphense into the house, and her herald to the kitchen. Meanwhile, he led the chieftain-to-be around Shu-Giri’s home, most importantly the ceremonial chamber– the very one in which the treasure hunter had preserved Vénes’s life. Liaphense nodded in approval as she looked about the room, her soft glow shifting slowly from one color to the next.
“He has most of what he needs,” Liaphense said, smiling to Liam. Her voice was soft, reminding him of chimes glittering on the wind.
He nodded. “Of course; he has hoped for this day for many a year, your Ladyship.”
“It is good to see our chieftain happy, then,” she replied, her smile brightening. “He’s done well in his three years of leading us.”
“Has Shu-Giri said whether he will be leaving the forest in your hands early?”
Liaphense shook her head. “He does not see the need to break from tradition. Most everything has been cared for already. If we have need, we can send word to him in Onsira. He has said that I could care for small matters here until he returns.”
“But how long will that be?”
“You’re worried, Liam?”
“Of course,” he conceded. “Our leader is leaving the forest. I know that everyone is happy for him, but…” He sighed, meeting Liaphense’s eyes.
“If he has waited so long for a sorcerer, why expect them to remain here? This is what he has hoped for, Liam. They are leaving together.”
Liam sighed. “Of course. I was only thinking… The empire is very foreboding. Even if the emperor is missing… Shu-Giri could be in danger.”
Liaphense took his hands to reassure him. “Then Vénes needs Shu-Giri as his Rrandah. Also, Shu-Giri must leave if he is to seek out protection for our forest. Together, they will be safe. The Jzamneh people must have faith in that.”
Seeing that he understood, she smiled. “It’s time for you to rouse the sorcerer, Liam. He cannot receive his Rrandah still dreaming. I will send for the rest of what I need to conduct the ceremony.”
“Thank you, Lady Liaphense. You and Shu-Giri have our faith as leaders. If you need me, I shall be with Vénes.”
She nodded to him, and Liam took his leave. He found the sorcerer still asleep, as he had supposed he would, so he sat on a chair beside the bed. On the nightstand, he noticed the crystal that Shu-Giri hand sent to Vénes during the festival. It made him smile, knowing that his new friend had found happiness with his chieftain. Their friendship was his reason for agreeing to help Vénes prepare for the ceremony, though he knew little about it.
Liam leaned over the bed and nudged his friend. “Vénes, wake up. It’s time for you to get ready.” When Vénes only groaned, he shook him by the arm. “Wake up!”
The sorcerer opened his eyes, startled to see Liam there instead of Shu-Giri. “Where…”
“He’s taking a bath. Come with me; you need one, too.” He held out his hand for Vénes.
“Shu-Giri will see you at the ceremony; he made that very clear. You have to ready yourself, Vénes.”
Liam escorted the sorcerer to another bathing chamber, where he helped Vénes prepare to cleanse himself. Just as Shu-Giri had, Vénes bathed in hot water and scented oils. His friend brought him his ceremonial garb: clothes much like what he’d worn before, except made from fine Jzamneh silk. Once dried from his bath, he donned the plain white pants and the long tunic, which had just as many buttons as the one he’d brought with him. The long sleeves felt cold on his lean arms, the silk soft on his cleansed body. He tied his combed hair back tightly, then looked to his friend.
“Has my robe been prepared already?”
Liam smiled to him. “Of course. It has been washed, and awaits you along with Liaphense. The question now is, are you ready?”
The question made Vénes take a deep breath. In truth, the ceremony began with these words, for the sorcerer was expected to recite a phrase from the Book of Rrandah.
“I am ready, Liam, to accept Shu-Giri’s devotion. On this day, he shall become my Rrandah, my guide and guardian, and his life-force shall be mine. I do this because I embrace his love and devotion, and would give him the same in return.”
“You’ll do well with him, Vénes,” Liam told him, sensing his nervousness. “You have nothing to fear.”
The two left the bathing chamber, Liam leading the sorcerer down the stairs. The scent of incense wafted from the ceremonial hall in tendrils of smoke, and the two stopped to exchange glances.
“Go to him,” Liam told the sorcerer, knowing that he himself could go no further into the ceremony. “I leave you in his care.”
Vénes nodded, smiling nervously for a moment before walking on towards the hall. He could hear Shu-Giri chanting the declaration of purity, and as he entered the room, he saw his new beloved kneeling in front of Liaphense. She beckoned the sorcerer closer.
“Your beloved begs to serve you, Vénes. He has sworn to me that his intentions are pure, and asks that I bind him to you. Is this your wish as well, mighty sorcerer?”
“It is my wish to join with Shu-Giri,” Vénes agreed, as the book had dictated for him to answer.
“Rise, Shu-Giri,” Liaphense told the treasure-hunter, laying a hand on his head. “Your beloved has come to answer your pleas.”
Rounding off the last of the phrase he’d been chanting, Shu-Giri stood and gazed over at Vénes. He stood in silence, Vénes staring back for long moments. Meanwhile, Liaphense closed the doors to the chamber, hardly making a sound. Then she took the hands of the two men, putting one into the other, and they both grasped the other tightly, their eyes still locked.
“Look at one another,” the faerie whispered. “Until now, you could hardly feel the other’s life-force, nor hear his thoughts, nor see the world through his eyes. Vénes has come to Shu-Giri’s call to change that.”
“I wish to serve this sorcerer,” Shu-Giri told her, finally taking his eyes off of Vénes. “My magic is his to share, my life his to draw upon. I embrace my duty to protect Vénes.”
Drawing in a nervous breath, Vénes recited his part. “I swear to abide by the laws of Rrandah. I shall care for Shu-Giri just as he protects me. I shall draw upon the power that he gives me, and not take more than what he can sustain to in order to protect his life. I shall fulfill his desire that I become greater by his gift, and I shall not make waste of his devotion. My heart shall be his alone, for he has chosen to serve me in all ways.”
“Then let the gods hear you,” Liaphense declared. “Let Métius see your devotion, and Jenh your power. Let Kearr know the purity of this bond, and Aamh sing of your gift to all those below the gods. Knowing that you both enter into this with devotion and pure intent, I shall perform the binding rites. Kneel, dear elves.”
Together, they both descended to their knees. Liaphense knelt as well, then placed her hands on their shoulders. She chanted softly, and the room darkened around them. It seemed to disappear, to lift away so that a truer reality could show itself. The sorcerer’s form gave way to a more magnificent creature, one fae-like and adorned in crests, glowing with power. It was beautiful and mysterious, and Vénes’s mortal form looked humble in comparison.
This was the astral plane once again, where the rites could properly be carried out. Shu-Giri’s astral form wrapped around Vénes’s, and beside them a pink light presided. She could see the sorcerer’s heart glowing and pulsing, its place in his chest revealing itself clearly.
“Prepare yourself, Shu-Giri,” Liaphense told him. “You must flow into him, then out again.”
Shu-Giri’s light changed its color, flowing from blue to green, then on to other colors. As the colors flowed, his outline slowly melted. It split and wrapped itself up Vénes’s arms, across his shoulders, and down his back and chest like a layer of clothing. The sorcerer felt his astral form rise and float as his lover’s energy enveloped his legs. At last the light wrapped around his head, and he felt the energy seep into him as though he were absorbing Ser’s warmth.
Vénes felt the air leave his mortal body’s lungs, but it was a distant feeling, and he held back the desire to panic. Shu-Giri’s energy pulsed rapidly at first, searching for its home in the sorcerer’s body. They glowed brightly together, Liaphense whispering her words and she knelt beside them.
Eventually, the glow calmed, and Vénes felt his lover’s rhythm pulse in time with his. His heart crystal sparkled, and he felt it grow larger. Shu-Giri’s light gathered around his heart, shedding the shadows that he found at the edges of the crystal. When his energy left the sorcerer’s arms and legs and pooled in his chest, he was ready.
A rainbow of light poured out from the crystal like a fountain. Liaphense gathered it in her hands and formed it anew into Shu-Giri’s astral shape. Colorful sigils adorned his arms, marking him a sorcerer’s servant. He moved slowly, watching his beloved, feeling his new rhythms take hold. On the mortal plane, Shu-Giri’s body had collapsed, his chest still with neither breath nor heartbeat.
“Give him life,” Liaphense beckoned to Vénes. “He needs your help to use your rhythms to move his body.”
Vénes nodded, then focused his energy on Shu-Giri. He reached out towards his lover’s heart-crystal and embraced it with both hands until it pulsed and glowed like his own. In the center of the chieftain’s heart, Vénes could see the mark of Rrandah.
Without a word, Liaphense returned the men to the mortal plane. Shu-Giri’s body lay draped over the sorcerer, unmoving and silent. Vénes looked down at him, afraid despite having read about this in the Book of Rrandah. He gently laid his body on the ground, whispering a few words as he knelt over him. Vénes leaned in close, bringing his lips down upon his lover’s. He breathed into their kiss, letting his breath flow into Shu-Giri. Then he sat up, caressing the Rrandah mark on his cheek, admiring the way it curled over his skin.
Vénes pressed his hands over his lover’s chest and was not relieved until Shu-Giri gasped and opened his eyes. His pink irises sparkled with an array of colors and stared up, awestruck, at the sorcerer. He laid silently for several minutes, trying to get his bearings on the changes that had occurred to his life-force.
“My Rrandah,” Vénes whispered.
Shu-Giri blinked and smiled up at his sorcerer. “I am yours, Vénes.”
“Congratulations,” Liaphense told the men. “You have completed the Rrandah ceremony. Shu-Giri’s life now serves Vénes, and Vénes lives through his Rrandah. I am happy for you both.”
Sitting up, Shu-Giri embraced the sorcerer with his strong arms. The desert elf gave in to the other man, laying against his body affectionately. The Rrandah kissed the mark on Vénes’s cheek, the symbol of a sorcerer protected by a guardian, then turned to kiss his master’s lips more passionately and surely than he ever had thus far.