“Thick as thieves, they are, Mosver,” Soddgouble sighed happily. He set a crude, wooden cup on the long plank table and sat back in his chair. “Authorious was difficult to turn, but the years have proved what we already knew, and eventually even he agreed they were meant for each other.”
The ancient Diviner chuckled and poured more spirits into the Scholar’s cup. “I never see them apart anymore. Where one goes, the other follows. It’s been a joy to see their spirits link. They are tethered for eternity, those two.”
Soddgauble’s clear green eyes softened. “I pray the union happens before I’m too old to dance her around the Harmony Tree.”
“I have an inkling it will be happening quite soon. I see the difficulty they have parting company at nightfall.” Mosver sipped his brew and sniggled. “To be young again, Soddy. Young and so in love…”
“I fear our time has passed, my friend. But every day I give thanks that it did not pass by Honor.”
Pennar’s Notch was set ablaze in the late afternoon sun by an abundance of coral-colored Monarch Vine. The blooms of the plant emitted a sweet, intoxicating fragrance and Honor sighed contentedly as she rested against the trunk of an old, gnarled banberry tree. Her stomach was aflutter as she waited for her heart to arrive. Every day without fail, Zee met her here in the Notch and they made their way to Kelith Gorge, holding hands and sharing their dreams as they sauntered over the path to the Falls. He was late today. As the shadows grew longer, her anxiety grew, also. Finally hearing the rustling of leaves, Honor struggled to her feet, excited to greet her lover.
“Zee, I was getting worried. You never make me wait!” She looked expectantly at the path, waiting for him to emerge from the forest. The swishing of the leaves immediately subsided and in its place came a low, menacing growl. Honor gasped and took a step back towards the banberry tree. There was nowhere to flee, even if she were capable of running. A moment later a huge grey timber wolf emerged from the thicket and stood, back hunched, head low to the ground, its eyes glowing an eerie deep scarlet in the fading daylight. The animal snapped and snarled and the young woman watched its body tense as it prepared to lunge.
Honor’s mind raced as she tried to envision a means of escape, but all she could wonder was whether this snarling creature was what had detained her suitor. Tears filled her eyes as she imagined his torn and bleeding body lying somewhere in the forest, his lifeblood soaking into the mossy carpet that would become his death bed. In a rush of despondency Honor closed her eyes and stepped towards the beast – a living sacrifice – for she was not willing to take another breath apart from her beloved.
A bloodcurdling cry jolted the girl from her trance and she turned to see Zee and his Uncle, swords drawn, running towards the wolf. It snarled, and for a moment Honor thought she heard the beast curse before it turned and fled into the woods. The young man dropped his sword and ran to Honor, pulling her into his arms, crushing her in his embrace.
“Are you alright, my love?” he begged as he held her at arm’s length, looking her over, then holding her face in his hands. “Are you injured?”
“No. I wasn’t harmed. Just frightened. So very frightened for you, Zee!” she cried.
He looked at her, bewildered. “For me?”
“You were so late! When I saw the wolf I thought he had mauled you and left you dying on the forest floor!”
Holding her in his arms again, Zee shushed her. “Never, Honor…never. I will never leave you, Sprite!”
After escorting her home and kissing one last time, the young man held his spirit-bride close to his heart and whispered in her ear, “Tomorrow I shall ask for your hand from Soddy and Authorious. Soon we will never again have to say goodbye.”
Honor touched his face gently. “Meet me at the gorge tomorrow and we can make our plans, my love.”
As Zee turned and disappeared into the night, Ffeyjer watched from the shadows. His loathing for Honor had grown in the years he’d been stalking her. It was time to have some fun…at Honor’s expense.
She didn’t think her lessons would ever be over and Honor impatiently wiggled on her stool. “Please, Soddy, I cannot concentrate today! No more geography! Have pity on me and play your lute and I shall sing for you!”
“Not today, child. My hands are fevered and the pain is too great. Put the maps away and be about your business. You seem as if you have somewhere you wish to be.” He chuckled, knowing full well where Honor was headed.
“Thank you, Soddy! It’s a special day! I can’t wait to share something wonderful with you…later!” She kissed him and hurried to stow the maps in the eaves. “I want to fix my hair. Help me put some rosebuds in it, Soddy. Please?”
As the Scholar and his pupil were adorning her hair, Zeephen was making his way towards Kelith Gorge. His excitement was palpable and he could hardly contain his joy at the thought of making Honor his wife. So wrapped in his thoughts was Zee, that he didn’t hear the soft crunching of stones behind him. Reaching the edge of the Gorge, Zee looked down, spying the Enchanted mists and recalling the day when he had met his beloved. His life had never been the same.
The spine-chilling growl from the wolf pulled him from his reverie and Zee swung around to face the snarling cur. He had departed the blacksmith shop daydreaming of Honor and had left his weapon hanging on the wall. He had nothing with which he could defend himself. With nothing to lose, Zee let out a scream and jumped towards the wolf, hoping to scare the beast away. To his utter astonishment, the wolf sat on his haunches and emitted an evil, guttural chuckle. The young man took a step back, unsure of what was happening.
“I’ve waited several years for this moment, boy,” the wolf uttered.
“Who…who are you?”
“That matters not. I’ve allowed you to live so that I could use you to destroy the girl.”
“Honor? Why would you wish to hurt Honor?”
“That matters not. Her heart and soul are mine,” the wolf taunted.
“Her heart and soul are MINE!” Zeephen cried. “You will not touch her!”
The wolf jumped closer to Zee and crouched low. “I will enjoy killing you almost as much as I will enjoy decimating Honor!”
Without thinking, the young man took another step back, and felt the edge of the precipice give way beneath him. Arms reeling for balance, Zeephen’s feet fought for purchase on the rocky ledge. Not quite able to steady himself, he felt his body slowly plummeting backwards off the cliff. Plunging towards the rocks below, Zee’s last thought were for his beloved Honor…and then he knew no more.
Her heart was racing as she entered the clearing at the head of the Gorge, but Honor was disappointed to see that Zee was not waiting. It was not uncommon for his uncle to give him a last-minute job, so Honor decided to make her way to the bottom of the Falls to await her beloved. Picking her way down the path she dreamed of keeping Zee’s home every day and sleeping in his embrace every night. So caught up in her musings, she didn’t realize she’d come to the end of the path and she stumbled…splashing into the water…and falling on the body of her spirit-groom.
For one long heartbeat, Honor could not imagine why Zee was lying here in the water…and then the horror of the situation grasped her heart and stopped her from breathing. Grabbing his vest, she shook him with all the strength she could muster. “Zee! Zee! Wake up!” she screamed. “Zee!” She tried pulling him from the shallow pool, but her strength gave out and she fell next to him in the water. Laying her head on his chest, Honor screamed and wept and begged to no avail. Her lover could not hear her.
She buried him near the Gorge and planted Monarch vine atop his grave. When the last root was lovingly covered with dirt from his shrine, Honor sat down on a log near her beloved and wept the bitter tears of a heart broken beyond repair. And so it was that her grief was so immense that she cried until her endless tears formed a river and Honor slowly sailed away on waves of misery and anguish…