Well, it turns out that wizards can hold a grudge. Tarik didn’t visit me the next week, or the week after that or the week after that. A full month passed before I saw his familiar form trudging down the streets of Arvon. After all those no-shows, I hadn’t prepared one of my so-called feasts and could only offer a loaf of crusty bread and a hunk of cheese.
He banged on the door. “Open up, Jerilyn. I know you saw me coming.”
“Who’s there?” I teased, as if I didn’t know.
“By the Spires, it’s me, Tarik, you old coot. Let me in.”
How dare he call me old! Next to him, I was an innocent babe. Well, perhaps not that innocent anymore, the Herald had taken that from me and not even Tarik’s magik could bring it back. “Tarik? I don’t know any Tarik? I’m afraid I’m having problems remembering much of anything these days. Who did you say you were?”
“Quit fooling around, Jerilyn, and let me in.“
“I can’t open my door to a perfect stranger.”
A hint of concern crept into his voice. “It’s me, Gerard, from the spellbinder school. Please, let me in. I’m hungry.”
“First it’s Tarik then it’s Gerard. How many names can one man have?” I asked through the door, enjoying this immensely. It wasn’t often I had the upper hand on Tarik and I was going to make it last. Though older than the world by an age or two, Tarik was still, in many ways, a petulant child. He knew he’d behaved poorly when we had last dined, but he was terrible at apologies.
“As many as I need,” he shouted as if he were going to blow down the door, though if he’d really wanted to he could have opened it with a snap of his finger. “Now open that door. You’re starting to scare me.”
I swung open the door and greeted my old friend with a smile. “But of course … Gerard. The students of Weyland the White are always welcome in my home.”
Tarik grumbled his annoyance. “I have not been called student in a very long time, Jerilyn. The people of this age may think Weyland mighty, but he and the other spellbinders are mere upstarts. I have forgotten more magik than they will ever know. And by the way, that wasn’t funny!”
“My, my aren’t we in a mood today.” I looked around the empty room. “Just who is it you’re trying to impress?”
Tarik stormed into the apartment and plopped down in his favorite chair. He wasted no time getting comfortable and flicked his hand at the liquor cabinet. The door opened of its own volition, or at least not mine, and a bottle of Tarik’s favorite brandy lifted into the air and poured a glass that flew into his outstretched hand. “Aren’t you going to feed me?”
“Of course, old friend. Nothing but the best for you.” I went to the cupboard and took out a plate upon which I placed the bread and cheese. I then set it on the small table to the side of Tarik’s chair.
“What’s this?” he asked with an upturned nose.
“Dinner. Like I said, nothing but the best and tonight, this is the best I have. Now had you visited last week, I had a plump roast lamb waiting in the oven. The week before that I had whipped up another batch of Zerina’s stew and the week before that I ate an entire chicken myself, but this week, all I can offer is bread and cheese. Be careful where you slice, it’s a bit moldy at the corners.”
“All right, Jerilyn, you win. I’m … sorry that I left so abruptly the last time. It wasn’t decent of me.”
My mouth hung open in mock astonishment. “What’s that I hear? Do I detect an apology?”
Tarik snarled. “You heard me just fine and don’t expect me to repeat it. Now, can we get some decent food? I’m famished.”
That was as much as I was going to get out of him. It would more than suffice. One of the benefits of living so long is learning how to take pleasure in small victories. “As you wish.”
“Praise the Spires,” he breathed with a warm gleam in his eye. Prayers to the long toppled Spires would of course go unheard and unanswered, but some habits were hard to break. Then, Tarik snapped his fingers – I told you that he liked to do that, he loved an audience, even an audience of one – and a feast fit for Tintammil appeared on my small dining room table, enough delicacies to last a week.
“Isn’t that a bit overdone.” I stated rather than ask.
Tarik helped himself to a plate piled high with conjured treats. “Perhaps, but when you reach a certain age, you have to indulge once in a while. We’ve both reached that age, Jerilyn. Help yourself.”
Age had done nothing to stem Tarik’s appetite. For the next hour we ate until we were so stuffed that neither of us wanted to move. Tarik waddled over to the leather chair and I flopped onto the sofa.
“So, Jerilyn, what did you want to discuss this evening?” He produced a pipe from the pocket of his blue robe, always blue, never any other color, and lit it with his finger and a mischievous grin.
“I thought we might revisit the Vanara.” We’d touched upon this subject many times; it was one that always got Tarik going. He hadn’t been close to either Dracoris or Davyrma, but some sense of familial pride always made him defend them. I often argued, more from a position of scholarly debate than one of passion, that were it not for the Vanara, the reign of the God-Emperors would not have come to pass. We both agreed with this supposition and that the Prophecies would ultimately be fulfilled no matter what course history took. Where we differed was in the question of free will. I maintained that Finbardin had a choice, whereas Tarik contended his decision had been pre-ordained.
“Yes, again. I’m still struck by the irony of it all. Finbardin thought to thwart the Prophecies with the Vanara, to prevent the Long Night, but even he, in all his wisdom, never saw beyond the Primal’s Girdle, never knew the truth of the Balance. Had he accepted the Prophecies and sought to live within them, the Vanara would not have been, but he could not. And so, he set in motion yet another turn of the Prophecies, another incarnation of the Warrior, Prince and Priestess.”
Tarik snorted. “Do you really think he had a choice, Jerilyn? He had made his decision long ago, when he let the Seeress voice her doom. Once he did that, the rest was inevitable.”
“Your logic is faulty. Lifting the sentence on Dracorys and Davyrma was inevitable, creating the Vanara was not. The Vanara were not even Finbardin’s idea. You can blame that on the Lady of Esel and her lust. If she hadn’t coveted Sudnar, she might never have planted her seed with Finbardin. Finbardin had a choice.”
“You make it sound like a bad thing,” the wizard argued. “Aren’t you forgetting all the good that came from the Vanara? Vitale uplifted the hearts of the oppressed and gave them hope. Glorianna inflamed the hearts of Mankind with love and passion, Beldar the Bear and Pugnar the Lion taught men the meaning of courage and let us not forget Bangal the Rainbow Lord, who judged the spirits of the slain. When the trumpets sounded for the final battle, they came down from the Crystal Palace and led the hosts in the Firmament. Have you forgotten all that, Jerilyn? Maybe your memories are starting to fade again.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my memory, Tarik, not since you broke the Herald’s curse. You’re right, much good came from the Vanara, but in the end, it wasn’t enough was it? Sangrar’s destiny was written in the Prophecies when the world was young. Much woe came from Finbardin’s decision as well. What might the world have been like if Sangrithar had never arisen? Imagine a world that never knew the God-Emperors, a world where the god-fire never burned, where the curse never took hold.”
“Do you really believe the Vanara responsible for the God-Emperor’s tyranny? That’s absurd!”
“In the strictest sense, no, but they were the cause of it as surely as the oak springs from the acorn. When Finbardin assented to Celetran’s plan, he set it all in motion. By deceit and trickery did the Vanara come to be, and because of that duplicity, Umbar and mad Rabyn struggled. Umbar lost that battle and his godhood and fell to Sangrar where Raena found him. And from that, everything else followed.”
Tarik stroked his chin thoughtfully and then drew on his pipe. “I can see how you might think that, but it’s your logic that’s faulty, not mine.”
“How so?” I had to admit, I was intrigued. Tarik’s debating skills had improved immensely since we began these sessions. In this arena, his magik was of no use and he could only spar with wit and sharp tongue.
“If the Prophecies cannot be denied, then the coming of the Vanara did not matter, therefore Finbardin’s choice was of no consequence. The Shadow Lord still dwelled in the east. The Dark Lord still waited in the Dark Star, gathering his legions and his strength. Sorrow was loose upon the world and would have made itself known, with or without Arvyl’s Folly, and the Prophecies would have found another champion.”
“You sound awfully sure of yourself.”
“You taught me the answer, Jerilyn, when you schooled me in the Greater Realm. You taught me that the Balance uses the Necessity and the Prophecies. That’s how I know you’re wrong. No matter what choice Finbardin had made, the Warrior, Prince and Priestess were destined to clash with shadow, for that is the way of the Necessity. As you’ve told me many times, the Prophecies will be fulfilled.”
Tarik’s reasoning did make sense, though it infuriated me that he used my own teachings against me. It also made me proud, not that I’d let on easily. “I suppose I can see your point of view. Still, had Finbardin chose differently and the Vanara never been, what might the world have been?”
Smug satisfaction spread across his face and he took a deep hit from his pipe. “We’ll never know, unless you spy out a different future from the Greater Realm. The end was preordained, but the middle … many paths led to the Long Night, many journeys were left untaken. In pettiness, the Seeress chose our path, not Finbardin, when she uttered her doom, and that way was littered with Sorrow.”
I reached out and clasped his hand. “Let it go, old friend, let it go. It was a world ago. The time for healing is long past.”
His jaw hardened and he stood. He was a stubborn one. So was his grandfather. “Next week then?”
I nodded and then glanced at the table laden with food. “No more of that though. And if I’m going to cook for you, you’d better be here.”
Tarik bowed. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
And then he vanished. I was used to it by now.