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Chapter 17: Endings and beginnings

The consequences of far too many days of ongoing fear and exertion finally caught up with me. I had just enough energy left to explain things to Bram, and to listen to Raphael’s commentary, before I felt the world spinning around me. Alison was first to notice, and guided me to my room and thence into oblivion. In the end, I spent more than a week confined to my room, drained of all energy and emotion. Bram, Alison, and James checked in on me and left food, but I found myself without an appetite.

It’s not that I was sick; rather, it was the kind of malaise that drags you down and leaves you with no energy for anything save sleep. Also, I had much to ponder concerning who I’d been and who I’d become. On the one hand, I was distressed at how important it had been to be normal and accepted, and disappointed at having so easily fooled myself into believing I could have that for no cost. On the other hand, every time Bram or Alison entered my room, I remembered once again what they had and what I could never have.

What finally brought me out of my self-pity was the battered old lute that Alison propped against my bed one day. It was out of tune, and the fingering was too wide for me, but it gave my mind and hands something to do beyond lashing myself with remorse or feeling sorry for myself. That first day, I did nothing but tune the instrument and teach my fingers the new positions of the strings and the chords they offered. It was therapeutic, and within a few days, I was playing old songs and savoring memories of the first time I’d learned them, at my father’s knee. Going through those songs was like a journey through the same past that had shaped me and given me the strength to stand against whatever insults life had to offer.

At the end of that time, I emerged from my room and cast off the cloak of darkness that had covered me. Bram’s household was all smiles, until I informed them of my plans. James shook his head, Alison looked sad, and Bram repeated his offer of employment and protection, but some time during my withdrawal, I’d decided. First and foremost, I would honor my vow and return to my father, for perhaps the last time. I’m sure he understood what he meant to me, but sometimes you have to speak the words aloud to reassure yourself of that understanding. I’d spend time with him—days at least, and perhaps as much as a month—then I’d set out on my own journey from which I might never return.

Well, perhaps that’s too melodramatic; if I succeeded at what I intended, just perhaps I would make it back to these lands some day.

My first stop would be the forest of the Elves, where my mischief had first begun. I had serious doubts that I’d ever again see one of the fair folk given the note on which we’d parted, but I had new songs to write and sing about what I’d learned of our past, and I was certain they’d hear my words. Whatever changes I’d precipitated among the Elves, perhaps the telling of the end of my tale would put them to rest. Some day, there might even be the chance to restore a dialogue between their race and mine. If nothing else, their woodlands had been beautiful in their own strange way, and I could live there for a time while I gathered strength to fortify me for the rest of my plan.

The part of my plan that still scared me, despite my resolve, involved returning to Amelior. Despite all my inward focus these past weeks, I’d not forgotten the hatred and bitterness of the Goblins and their fatalistic resignation in the face of Amelior’s war upon them. It would never be possible for the two sides to like each other, but I had hope I could at least convert Amelior from active warfare to a more defensive action. Bram expressed open skepticism about my plan, and made no effort to hide his disbelief, but he agreed to ask our King for a letter of introduction to Amelior’s Court, granting me minor ambassadorial powers. If I could persuade Amelior to cease its assaults, however briefly, I would have the chance to act as an apologist for mankind, to explain what had happened, and to try forging a better understanding between the two races. There was a solution, and if I could stop the warfare for a time, perhaps we could find it together.

Against me, there was the weight of centuries of hatred and misunderstanding, and a deep, abiding mistrust, each side certain that the fault lay with their foe. For my part, I counted among my assets the knowledge of languages that Orgrim had gifted me with at the start of my travels, and that had not departed me along with my size—that and the certainty the Goblins would accept me sooner than they would accept any other of my kind, for I was sufficiently like them now they would not fear me. Having myself been rejected by mankind, having been the object of fear and hatred for more years than I wanted to count, I knew better than any living man how they felt. There was no guarantee I could make them understand that, but success would perhaps be enough to atone for what I’d done.

It was a hope worth striving for.

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