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A Measure of Solace

Chapter Eight

At a tavern in Lovaga, Zeera shared the midday meal with Astriva. When they were nearly finished, while they enjoyed tea and pastries with honey, the old warrior spoke.

“Vengeance was my partner for nearly thirty years,” Astriva said, gazing lovingly at Solace. “We shared many adventures together, all across the north.”

Zeera had unwrapped the bow and placed him between them on the table as they ate. Astriva was careful not to touch him, Zeera noticed, and Solace himself was oddly quiet.

 

“That’s strange,” Zeera said. “He told me his name was Solace.”

 

“Solace …” The woman had a wistful tone to her voice, her brow furrowed in confusion.

 

“I’m sorry,” the girl said. “I didn’t realize he belonged to anyone. I found him at the base of a cliff, and I thought he was abandoned.” When she reached out to stroke Solace’s body, she felt nothing there but smooth, inanimate wood.

 

Astriva looked down into her teacup, her face pained. “No. Do not apologize. You have the right of it.” She clenched her jaw, clearly trying to master her emotions. “He was abandoned. I … I had to let him go.”

 

Beneath Zeera’s fingers, Solace quivered.

 

“I don’t understand,” the girl said, pulling her hand away. “He said he lost his master. I thought he meant his master had died.” When the woman remained quiet, Zeera went on. “He told me of a battle at the top of the cliff, though he recalls little of what actually happened. He said his bond with his master was broken, and he was flung down to the forest floor.”

Astriva squeezed her eyes shut, her grip on her teacup making the saucer below vibrate. After a moment, she raised her head and took a slow breath. “Perhaps it is better he does not remember the details of what happened. The breaking of our bond likely damaged his consciousness, and for that, I am to blame.” She took another calming breath. “There was no one else there. It was not a battle so much as me warring with myself. It was I who flung him down from that cliff.”

Solace shuddered on the table, and both Zeera’s and Astriva’s eyes snapped down to look at him.

Zeera put a comforting hand on Solace and immediately felt his sorrow, his anger, his confusion, a swirling storm of negativity pulsing up into her palm.

 

Why? he said in her head, his voice barely a whisper.

 

“Why?” Zeera demanded of Astriva. “If you two shared such a bond, and for so long, why would you discard him like that?”

Astriva’s head fell forward. “It was too much for me, the emotions. My power was great, and through Vengeance, I was able to do incredible things. But after so many years of maintaining those feelings—most often anger—I found it difficult to set them aside in times of peace. I was always angry, always looking to use the bow, to hurt, to kill. That was not why I had taken him up in the beginning. I wanted to do good in the world, to help the weak and the needy against injustice.”

By this time, Solace had calmed beneath Zeera’s hand, though he emanated sadness like a forlorn child.

“But you,” Astriva went on, lifting her face and meeting Zeera’s gaze, “you have struck upon a wonderful, delicate balance.”

“What do you mean?”

The older woman smiled. “I saw you use the bow in Albevo, and several times after that. You know exactly how to summon just enough emotion to fuel the arrow without letting it consume you.”

It was Zeera’s turn to furrow her brow in confusion. “He says I don’t have enough control, that I let my emotions ebb too quickly.”

Astriva’s smile grew sad. “He knows only what we learned together, that the more powerful and longer-lasting the emotion is, the more powerful his magic becomes. But there is more to being a good warrior than power.” She finished the last swallow of her tea and stood. “You two work well together. I am glad he has found someone like you.”

“You’re leaving?” Zeera asked, also standing.

Astriva nodded. “Thank you for the meal. And thank you for letting me tell my story. It saddens me that Vengeance does not remember me, but …” She gazed down at the bow. “His new name and his new master both suit him better, I believe.”

And with that, the old warrior retrieved her staff and left.

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An hour later, Solace rested on Zeera’s back in silence as she climbed the hillside trail north of Lovaga. He hadn’t spoken about Astriva or the tale she had told, and Zeera hadn’t asked.

The old warrior’s nearness had awakened some memory in him, but it was as fleeting as a summer snowfall. If he had been called Vengeance back then, where had he gotten the name Solace? And would his memories ever come back to him?

“We need to make a decision, Solace,” Zeera said, startling him out of his musings. She pointed left down a sloping trail. “That way leads back the way we came, back toward home.” She pointed right along the ridge of the hill. “And that way leads into the northlands, where … maybe you’ll sense something familiar. Maybe your consciousness can heal, and your memories will return … if that’s what you want.”

A flutter of affection tickled at Solace then—affection for this girl he had discounted for so long, this girl he had somehow grown to love.

Just as time has allowed our two seemingly discordant spirits to grow together, Zeera, so will time allow my fractured consciousness to heal, regardless of our destination.

“You think so?”

The bow sent a wave of fondness through her as he spoke.

If I can end up bonded to a passionate young spirit such as you, without even realizing it is happening, then I believe anything is possible.

 

A wave of joy surged through the girl, and Solace was gladdened to find that it lingered for long moments.

 

“You’re right,” Zeera said, a smile in her voice. “Anything is possible.”

 

She turned right.

THE END
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