"Can the Saa Thalarr still use the gates?" Tony asked.
"Yeah—they were only closed to the Elemaiya and the Ra'Ak," I said. "Who else uses them besides that?"
"Just us and some of the Wizard clans," Griffin replied. "I know Glendes uses them at times—it's easier than folding to some places."
"Well, we probably need to scatter to find Rabis, then," I sighed. "There are a bazillion gates and he may be near one of them, hoping it will become useful again, someday."
"That makes sense," Griffin agreed.
You don't have time to search through all the gates, filtered into my mind. Well, there he was again, and this time he was sending mindspeech. And then the vision came, so clear I felt I could reach out and touch the leaves of the trees he was showing me.
"I have to go," I said and disappeared amid shouts from those around me.
"Le-Ath Veronis is closed against us." Ringolar watched his four remaining Ra'Ak brothers closely. "We can't set foot on the planet, but it is common knowledge that the Reth Alliance Conclave will be held in less than a month. Viregruz agrees that we should go there, my brothers, and avenge ourselves."
"We can kill many birds with a single strike at that affair," Dalstone agreed. "Shall we go disguised?"
"That would be perfect," Ringolar chuckled. "They think to take us—we will show them otherwise."
"But we did not see how our brother died," Farthis argued. "We only saw the darkness when he left us. The cameras attached to his optic nerves ceased to function, suddenly."
"He was distracted and attacked from behind. That is easy enough to determine," Ringolar scoffed. "You always worry, brother."
"There is a way to harm Le-Ath Veronis, without setting foot on the planet," Levecus said. Of the brothers, he was the quietest.
"How is that?" Ringolar turned to him.
"Imagine this," Levecus began, and as he outlined the plan, Ringolar smiled.
I looked from one to the other. Rabis wasn't nearly as tall as the one who stood beside me. We'd come to a small clearing, surrounded by trees that bore knobs of fruit. At the time, I didn't bother to Look to see what kind of trees they were; I was focused on Rabis and what he might tell me. I also shoved aside what Rabis' scent told me—that could wait.
"I was hoping to meet you eventually," Rabis nodded respectfully. His hair was darker—a reddish-brown. His youthful appearance belied his age, too—he was older by far than my grandmother and looked younger. "Would you like to sit?" he asked. "The grass here is soft enough."
We sat. Rabis studied me for long moments, as if he were struggling to see past an invisible shield. The taller one sitting beside me turned away to hide a smile.
"You want to know about le'meruh," Rabis finally announced. He seemed satisfied with me somehow, as if I passed his scrutiny in some way.
"Mostly I want to know about Dark Elemaiya with the talent, who may now be turned Ra'Ak."
"Ah. The seven brothers," Rabis nodded. "And the seventh one, who is not Ra'Ak, may be the worst of the lot. He is the seventh son of a seventh son, and among the Dark half of the race, that is not a good thing."
"That's comforting news," I muttered sarcastically. I wondered, too, what in the nine levels of hell, as Gavin was so fond of saying, might be worse than a Ra'Ak.
"They are plotting against you," Rabis added.
"Tell me something I don't know," I sighed.
"Le'meruh is a terrible weapon in the wrong hands," Rabis began. "It can only be removed by the one who placed it, or by the death of the one who placed it."
My skin began to itch immediately.
"Will you give this to her?" Griffin held the small box out to Radomir. Radomir had to Look to see what it contained.
"Ah." Radomir wasn't sure he wanted to be the messenger in this instance, but was afraid it might not get to Lissa, otherwise. Radomir knew, too, that Merrill had been approached by Griffin for this errand, and Merrill had refused. A rift had occurred between Merrill and Griffin, and many among the Saa Thalarr worried that the long friendship had ended permanently.
"I'll see that Lissa gets this," Radomir said and folded away.
I was standing at the edge of the Green Fae village, again, watching them go about their daily business. Fall gardens were being tended, seedling trees planted, bread baked—I could smell it from where I stood. No sign of Redbird, though—she was probably inside one of the homes, taking care of Toff. Roff had an arm about me, seeing and smelling what I did. Corent stepped around one of the small houses and walked toward us.
"The child is doing well," he came to stand beside me. I nodded; I didn't trust myself to speak. Right then I might have wept if I tried to say anything. So many terrible things were happening, and I felt it was all heading toward an awful end. The worst part, too—was that I seemed to be at the center of it. I'd come to the Green Fae village, hoping to get a glimpse of Toff. Roff refused to be left behind—he wanted to see the child they'd stolen from him. That's where Radomir found us—standing beneath the trees surrounding Corent's new home. As soon as Corent learned the Green Fae had come to Le-Ath Veronis, he'd joined them.
Radomir knew I was close to tears. He silently placed a small box in my hand. I should have known what was inside—I opened it anyway. Roff's ring lay nestled on a scrap of satin. Amara must have packed it up; I couldn't see Griffin doing anything that considerate. "Honey, this was yours," I pulled the ring from the box and offered it to Roff. I was crying by that time.
"Do not weep, my love." Roff's wings unfurled and Radomir and Corent were shut out as he wrapped them about me. Only Roff and I existed inside the shelter of those wide, soft, leathery wings. The ring was lifted carefully from my palm as I tearfully held it out to him, and he accepted it, slipping it onto his left ring finger. It fit. That could be attributed to Griffin, I think. He held the power to resize it to fit Roff's larger hand. It should never have been taken away. What had Griffin thought to accomplish by taking it? Was that his final assurance that Roff would have no memory of his children—or of me?
"Lissa, come with me to the winery," Roff whispered, as he wiped away my tears.
"All right," I was trying to stop the tears from falling. Roff leaned down to kiss me, pulling his wings back. Corent and Radomir were both gone, although there were a few Green Fae staring, not far away. I folded Roff to his winery. I'd never been there—too many things had happened surrounding its building and operation, most of which involved Roff's forgetting me.
We walked up wide, stone steps into the place; I was amazed at how automated most of it was, but then Merrill and Adam had a hand in building it. I shouldn't have been surprised at all. Bottles were filled by one machine and corked by another. Two comesuli were there, supervising all the other comesuli employees. Roff led me to them.
"Roff, how are you?" The older of the two nodded to Roff. He had dark hair and his scent shocked me speechless. The one standing next to him only deepened the shock.
"Markoff, you may stop being polite, I have my memories back." Those were Roff's first real words with his brother, I'm sure, since Shala had staked him. I stood there like a fool, staring at Roff's brother and nephew. I shouldn't have been surprised, however; I had vague memories of Roff telling me, when he and Giff had come to Merrill's from the future, that his brother and his brother's child had stayed behind on Kifirin to take care of his business. I was wondering why I'd never met them before.
"He did not wish to take advantage," Roff was doing a good job of reading my mind. And the fact that he'd remembered was also a huge surprise.
"Honey, when did you remember?" I asked.
"I already remembered some, but all came to me when I saw the ring," he twisted it on his finger. "Lissa, this is my brother, Markoff, and his child, Dariff."
"I am so sorry I haven't met you before," I held my hand out to Markoff. He took it, smiling shyly. Markoff was slightly younger than Roff—about fifty years if my nose was accurate. Dariff, his child, was Giff's age, which was close to ninety.
"Giff has been spending time with Markoff and Dariff, whenever Rolfe has been away," Roff explained. "Markoff has kept me updated, though I had no memories for the longest time. I wondered, at times, why he was telling me all these things. All is clear to me, now."
"I welcome you back, brother," Markoff's smile widened.
"Markoff, where are you living?" I couldn't believe this had slipped past me for so long.
"I have a very nice home near the light half; Roff made sure of it early on," Markoff replied. "Dariff and I live there and visit the capital twice a month. Roff arranged for our numbers to be the same." He tapped the bracelet that he wore, which indicated his two bite dates.
"Please come and have dinner with us, when you're in Lissia next time," I said. "Both of you. You're family." I was feeling terrible by this time, and the fact that Toff's situation was what it was made me feel worse.
"We would be honored to have dinner with the Raona," Markoff dipped his head. "I have heard that Toff is now on the planet, even if he has no memories of us." Well, the whole memory thing was getting to be an epidemic, looked like.
"Lissa, you had no hand in this, I did not mean to make you feel bad," Roff put his arm around me.
"I'll just need some time," I said.
"There are some things that I should check on here, and other things to discuss with my brother," Roff bent down to kiss me. Yeah, he probably had plenty to talk about with his brother.
"I'll see you at the palace," I said, preparing to fold there and lock myself inside my suite. I had a meeting in the afternoon, but that was three hours away. I could wallow in misery until then.