It all came down to keys. Leaving the temple and standing on the great steps down, I stuck my hand in my pocket and pulled out the three items: scroll, box, and key. This was the key to the First tower, that place where Merric god-killer had closed forever. I held that key in my hand and thought of the possibility of whether or not I would ever reach that tower. There was still so much ahead of me. Now I needed to track down my father, recover some fool book, and… and…
There was a second key. My fever addled brain had suppressed the memory, but now that I held a second one in my hand I could recall that toothy grin of the lizard folk wizard as she prattled about my destiny and handed me a key. A second key.
I sat on the step, pushing the key, the box, and the scroll back into my cloak and began pulling off my boots. Not an easy feat with only one hand, but with a little ingenuity, I managed. It’s not like I didn’t remove my boots every day, and you’d think it would get easier with time and experience, but there are certain things that remain difficult for me. Of course, there was nothing in the first boot — such is the way of luck. As I struggled to remove the second boot, I noticed I had garnered a bit of attention.
Lilith walked up the steps toward me, a goofy grin on her face and she nonchalantly reached out, grasped my boot by the heel and yanked it off with one smooth motion. There was a flash of silver in the weak light of the stars, but before I could hear a metallic ringing, Lilith snatched the key out of the air and held it to me.
“Are you so burdened with trinkets that you stuff things in your boots now?” she asked, sitting beside me and grasping my half an arm, hugging it as she placed her head on my shoulder. “Babies are divine,” she said with a breathy sigh, then she giggled.
“These more than most,” I said, feeling my mood lighten. What was it about simple physical contact that spoke so strongly to us mortals? I looked at Lilith and wondered again at her history, the complications she carried with Sparkle Glitterblade. I had assumed a split personality at first, but now I think it was more complex than that. The fact that they both seemed to care for me also made it less important to pry. They would share any details that were pertinent to my needs.
“So, handsome,” she said, snuggling closer, “did you ever dream of settling down and having a family? A few wee ones underfoot?”
I felt the key pressed into my palm and thought of my mother.
“I don’t believe everyone is destined for that type of life.”
She sighed again, this time more sad than content. “You are always the fool, are you not dear one?” And she rose, touching the side of my face for a moment, studying my eyes. “There are times when it is okay to dream of a different life.” She kissed me gently on the lips and went back down to where the babies were sleeping on a cloak thrown over turf.
Liz visited me next, a different sort of smile on her face.
“How was she?” She asked, settling down next to me and taking my half arm the way Lilith had done previously.
“Lilith? Oh, she’ll be fine, I think.”
Liz laughed. “Not her, though she did say you would always be the fool as she passed me, and I see that you constantly prove her correct.”
I blinked at her, confused.
“Do you think we would let you wander alone?” she asked, more joyful than I’ve seen her in a long while. “You are too pensive, too melancholy my heart.” She reached over and tousled my hair, something she had never done before. “I saw you in conversation with a woman whom I assume was your mother.”
“And here I thought Lilith the stealthy one.”
She shrugged. “You seem different.”
I thought on her perception and considered. I had dreamed of the day I met my mother and while it wasn’t the glorious reunion of my fantasies, neither was it the horror of my nightmares.
“I am contented,” I said, finally. We sat in silence for a long while, just absorbed in watching the others celebrate. Eventually I added. “Now to find my father.”
She bowed her head and laughed. “Always on to the next thing,” she said, stroking my arm. “Can you not enjoy the victory?”
I nodded and she rose, tousled my hair once more and went to join the others. Brindle came to me and lay his big head on my lap with a snort.
“You, too?” I asked, scratching his great ears. “Are you worried about my meeting with my mother?” Thankfully he did not answer, but sat with me with no more agenda than keeping me company, and getting scratched.
After a bit, I took out the scroll case and shook out the contents. Inside were two pieces of parchment. One a short note, the second a map.
If you follow this map, my son, you can retrace my awkward entry into the Tranquil Valley. In a hidden underground lake you will find my ship, the Tabula Rasa. Find a crew, ply the waters of the islands and find your father. I love you more than I can ever express.
I studied the map for a bit, knowing I needed better light. But what I saw was sufficient. I leaned down and spoke to Brindle in a hushed tone. “Tomorrow, we go back to the lake, my friend. If all goes well, within a few days, we will be pirates on the open seas.”
Brindle snorted and rolled, exposing his belly. I laughed and set to rubbing the great expanse with exuberance.
“If only we all were as easily satisfied,” I said.
I made up my mind then, Father. Perhaps it was time for me to relax and celebrate with my allies. The days ahead were unknown with a great chance of further pain and wretched moment. Why not tickle a baby and kiss a few who are willing? I am only human, after all.
<End of Book 6>