On Fragile Ground
It took a long time for the smoke to clear, and when it did, we were no longer
on a peninsula, but an island, and the isthmus which had stood between
Landen's Keep and our present location was gone. I rolled over onto my side
"We did it."
I stood, painfully, as I had not escaped the battle unscathed. My armor was
battered and falling apart, and much of my clothing had been burned away.
As soon as I stood I noticed that something was very wrong. Lune, Siren, and
Miun were gone. We had discussed our plan before the battle, and the three
friends of Laya and I had all agreed, although only begrudgingly. I prayed that the plan
had been sucessful, and that the three had indeed escaped.
But at the time my thoughts were more focused on Laya, who lay, unmoving, only
a few meters away. I ran to her and cradled her gently, fearful that she had
received some injury I could not detect.
"Laya..." I whispered the name softly and applied my only remaining Trimate
patch to her arm. Within a few seconds' time, her arm grew warm, and then her
eyes fluttered open.
"Orakio?" she asked.
"We did it," she said. It was a statement of fact, not a question.
I nodded again, and we embraced.
I helped her to stand. She reached down to brush herself off, but when Laya
saw the condition her gown was in, she decided not to bother.
"Where is the palace?" she asked.
I drew her close and pointed out to the horizon, her gaze following the path
made by my arm. Then I turned my thumb downwards, and my whole arm sank.
"At the bottom of the sea," I whispered.
There was a long silence, and then Laya, my mortal enemy of a long, bloody
year, the woman who had helped me to destroy an evil force from time
immemorial, kissed me.
"I love you, Orakio," she said.
I was stunned. "I love you, too," was my answer to her, and we made the beach
our wedding bed.
* * * * *
Life on the island was not without hardship, but I found it a great deal more
satisfying and, yes, happy, then had been those terrible days before the
Exodus from Palm, or the turmoil and horror which had been The War. With Laya
I found peace. There was peace in gathering laerma nuts in the hills and
chewing lazily upon the soft leaves of maruera trees. There was peace in
fishing in the inlet near the spot where we constructed our home, which was
hidden in the entryway of a deep cavern. There was peace in the ebb and flow
of the tide and the enchanting glow of the twin moons. And, oh yes, there was
peace when I lay flat on my bare back in the sand and watched Laya as she sat
upon her rock, 'her throne' as she called it, like some mermaid out of a fairy
tale. There was nothing but peace. And peace was, I came to find, the
only thing which one could never have too much of.
"Orakio," she said to me one night as we sat atop the hill and watched the
stars come out. "Do you think they'll ever find us?"
"I hope not," I said with certainty. "I never want to go back there."
"Do you think they're still fighting?"
I paused. Of course, I had given this question much thought, even though the
answer could no longer affect us, no matter what it was.
"Only if they think we're dead."
"And they must," she said.
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"Because they never came looking."
We sat in silence atop our hill for a long while. That night was the first
time, but not the last, that we saw explosions in the sky and across the
distant horizon, and knew that so many of our efforts had come to naught.
* * * * *
We grew old together on that island. There were never any children to worry
about. I had known even before The War that the icily beautiful woman known
as Laya could not conceive. Although this bothered her, and, too an extent,
myself as well, it gave us the freedom to devote our whole selves to the
other. We loved and enjoyed one another as much as any man and woman ever
We did come to look rather haggard after a time, though. When we had been on
the island for two whole years, maybe more, Laya asked me, "Orakio, will you
still love me when I am old and there are no surgeons to make me look young
I laughed. "I promise. But only if you promise to love me when I'm
too old and weak to go hunting for you."
Laya cooed and threw her arms around my head. "You are young, strong and
handsome, Orakio, but I would love even if you were old, weak, and ugly as an
eindon. And you know that."
"Then I'm glad we have that worked out." She kissed me.
We were so happy.
* * * * *
I remember the last night. I had kept a calendar, more as a hobby than
anything else, so I know that I was seventy-eight and she was seventy-five.
We couldn't climb up to the top of the hill anymore. Sometimes we would
hobble down to the shore and let the warm sea water dance between our toes.
But for the most part we stayed at the entrance of our home and let the light
and smells of Landen Dome's eternal summer come to us.
Laya had been ill for some time. It was not a debilitating illness,
thankfully, but it did leave her awfully winded after even the slightest of
"Orakio," she whispered to me as she lay on a cot at the foot of our cave.
"What?" I said as I slowly made my way over to her.
"Do you ever think about home?" she asked me.
"This is home," I answered with a proud and tender smile.
"I know that," she said, touching my wrinkled face. "But that's not what I
"You mean Palm," I whispered.
She nodded. "You ever think...what life might have been like if the Exodus
"Of course," I said. "But I haven't thought about it in years."
"Neither have I," said my wife, "until today. I was thinking about air
conditioning, and teleport stations, television, fast food!"
"And I suppose you really miss those things," I whispered.
"Dear one, I wouldn't trade what I've had with you for all those things and
more," she said. Then she kissed her hand and placed it gently upon my lips.
"I love you, Orakio. Forever."
"I love you, too, sweet Laya. Forever."
She died in my arms.
* * * * *
At Laya's grave:
This world of glass
surrounds me now.
Home is gone, alas,
but not lost, somehow.
Here on fragile ground
you made chaos calm.
Sweet love that I found,
where you were, there was Palm.