This piece concludes the story begun in The journey beyond the mirror sea. It is advisable that you read the first part before reading this.
The Journey Home
The early part of their journey was smooth, but as time went on Tyrus seemed to tire more quickly and have trouble soaring as high. Adrian was concerned, but his friend gruffly denied that anything was wrong, and fearful of wounding the griffin's pride, Adrian kept silent. Still, their rest times were more frequent and it was taking the griffin longer to recover. The Mirror Sea was beneath them, and there was nowhere for Tyrus to rest. The headwinds were good and the griffon was able to glide much of the way, but still Adrian breathed a sigh of relief when he spied the white mountain on the sea's sole island. He cried out, "There! We land there."
The griffin replied, "Is that an island? I did not see it".
Adrian again remained silent, but his heart sunk as the griffin banked and turned to land on the shore. Adrian dismounted and could not ignore the great beast's labored breathing.
"Are you unwell, my friend?"
"Do not worry, Adrian. You must complete your quest. I will be here waiting, when you return."
Adrian stroked the feathered head of his companion before striding off once more towards the pool of the witch woman. Walking through the ancient garden was easier this time, as if the vegetation had been warned of his approach and told not to bar the way. In less than twenty minutes he was standing before the marble pool. Her voice seemed to echo from beyond the waterfall, "So you have returned have you brought the mirror of visions?"
Adrian did not reply, but unveiled the scarred bronze mirror and held it up in the direction of the cave. He heard triumphant laughter, and the woman appeared before him, this time her body composed of the waters of the pool. She said, "Hold it before me! As yet I can bear its weight."
Adrian obeyed and the woman glided closer. A cruel look crossed her face and she whispered, "T'charis, tell me what ails the woman Aldara of the Gentle people."
The woman smiled and said sweetly to Adrian, "There is nothing wrong with her but old age. But I have a cure for this, as I promised. In my grotto I have the water of life, and I will bring it your Aldara so that she may live eternally and forever lead your people."
Adrian frowned, "I was not sent to find her eternal life, but for a cure for illness."
The woman smiled seductively, "But you will never have to worry about faltering leadership and her wisdom will be preserved."
Adrian's eyes narrowed, "You have not said what this will cost me."
The woman lowered her head, "You will have to trade places with me. You too will be granted eternal life and have the knowledge that you have saved your people. Rather than becoming an exile doomed to die in obscurity, you will be a hero, forever revered. They will make pilgrimages to visit you on this island, and perhaps one day someone will volunteer to take your place."
Adrian shook his head, "Why are you imprisoned here?"
The woman scowled, "I am not here to answer your petty questions! Without my help, your Aldara will die!"
Adrian turned the mirror away from the woman and gazed into its pitted surface, "t'charis! Why is she imprisoned here!"
His head filled with colors and noise as he saw the woman's past. She was a cruel and wicked sorceress, imprisoned by an ancient people for her dark ambition. Adrian shuddered in horror as he saw the long list of her crimes, the innocents sacrificed in her lust for blood and power.
Sickened, Adrian turned away, wrapped the mirror in its black cloth and said, "It is right that you are imprisoned here. I would rather my village fade away and to live an exile's life than free such a sickness on the world."
Adrian did not look back and ignored the impotent screams of rage and threats that issued from the pool behind him. Slowly he made his way back to the beach, where Tyrus was still lying, breathing in shallow, ragged pants.
Adrian reached his friend's side and said, "You are ill. How can I help you?"
Tyrus replied, "You have helped me more than you know. You freed from a life of imprisonment at the hands of a gluttonous fool. You cared for my wounds when I was injured. You were the first of your kind to call me friend. But the claws of the wyrm carried a deadly poison that has coursed its way to my heart. I have failed you, my friend and will not be able to carry you home to finish your quest."
Adrian could not hold back his tears and sobbed, "I have failed my quest! I did not find a cure. We should have stayed at the cloister, you would live and my life would not be a failure!"
Tyrus looked at his friend fondly and said, "You are no failure. And death is part of life. The medicine and rest at the cloister slowed its course, but nothing could stop its slow march. There is no cure for the poison from a desert wyrm's claws. I am ready to die."
Adrian buried his face in Tyrus' feathers and sobbed as his friends breathing became slower and more shallow and finally ceased. With great care and reverence, Adrian collected stones to make a burial mound and when this was completed, he played a dirge upon his reed flute and sang songs to his friend's memory until exhaustion and grief pushed him into the arms of sleep.
The dawn's rays woke Adrian lying next to the burial mound of the noble griffin. Realizing that he still had to report his failure to the Keeper of Stories, he decided that he must make a craft capable of sailing home. He found a nearly hollow oak and fell to work on it with fire and with sharp stones and with patience. It was two days before he had a seaworthy canoe, sealed with pitch he found bubbling on the island.
He gathered fruit and water to take with him and pushed his craft into the water.
He had no sails to carry him home, only his strength of arm and his unfailing determination. The winds and the currents were against him, but steadfastly he struggled and rowed towards home. It was four days before he caught sight of the silvery mists that blanketed his village. With a heavy heart he rowed towards shore and pushed his canoe up on the beach.
There was no one to greet him. Wearily he trudged through the village towards the Keeper of Stories' house, where at last he saw familiar faces. Nearly everyone in the village was sitting vigil outside the house, and Diamara was pacing impatiently when she caught sight of him with a scowl. She looked ready to give him a scathing comment but he pushed past her and ran into the Keeper's house, without even stopping to speak to his astonished parents.
Aldara was lying on a mat surrounded by the village healers, sweat covering her brow. She caught sight of Adrian and whispered to her worried attendants to leave. They would not budge, so with a massive effort of will she pulled herself up and said commandingly, "Get out!"
The healers scurried away and out through the covering cloth. Her rheumy eyes seemed to grow clear and lucid, although her skin seemed uncommonly pale and wan. She forced herself to smile and said in a low tone, "So."
Adrian burst into tears at this and gushed, "Aldara, I am sorry! I have failed you. I discovered that you are dying from old age and the only cure I could find had too terrible a price. I know this means exile and am ready to accept it, as long as you forgive me for not wanting to unleash that water witch from her prison."
Aldara again smiled enigmatically, "What is this cure, and what does it do."
Adrian swallowed, "It grants eternal life to whomever drinks it. And I know that means you would be able to guide us forever, but the mirror allowed me to glimpse how terrible that woman is and.."
"Eternal life. And what have you learned of death?" Aldara interrupted.
"Death is necessary and the normal balance to life"
"Who aided you on your journey?"
"No one from the village, but I freed a griffin from the King of Gordia and he helped me reach the Cloister of Secrets. And in return for studying and writing down our stories, the Cloister helped me."
Aldara barked, "So you have accepted aid from strangers. You refused to bring back a cure for old age even though it means my death and the end of fifty summers of Keeping Stories, even though I have not trained an apprentice? You have told the stories of our village to outsiders? You have risked the ire of a powerful king to free a beast?"
Adrian lowered his head in shame and said, "I have done all of these things, Aldara."
Aldara stroked her chin and said, "Very well, it appears that I have chosen correctly, and this waiting perhaps was all too unnecessary. Help me up."
With dread in his heart and fear for his parents' shame, Adrian helped the old woman to her feet. She tightly clutched his arm and he was surprised at how frail her grasp was. Together they slowly walked to the entrance, Adrian pulled back the cover and with tears in his eyes, helped Aldara outside.
Aldara cleared her throat, "There is no time. So I am here to make an announcement. The chain of Keeper of Stories shall not become broken. I hand the scroll over to Adrian, Fisherman's Son, Weaverwoman's Child. May he lead you well!"
Adrian was so stunned by the thunderous applause and the sudden weight of the scroll in his hands that he did not notice Aldara falling away from him, her life spent, nor did he notice the sudden beam of light that broke through the mists and veiled him in a halo.