From out of the Lost Direction, the winds blew without ceasing. Whereas, the storm-at-sea through which Benda had passed to and from Quatrian waters had been only sufficient to nearly destroy those humble fishermen, the heavens’ wrath knew no bounds against those who had taken up the present voyage under the sign of greed and conquest. The full fury of the guardianship of the passage at Tetharys was unleashed upon them.
Benda then faced the greatest choice of his life. He had failed to stop the Kremellian force from embarking on this campaign to re-open the way to Quatria. But it was he now who was – as was foretold by the legend encoded in the Scroll of Omouna – the Keyholder to whom it had supposedly been given the power to open that way. He knew not why. Or even how. He had not asked for this terrible privilege, this dark honor. He had simply left home one day a simple fisherman, and returned after many travails as something else altogether. He knew only he could not turn back to unknowing the glories of that land which lay beyond the vale guarded by the stormwall of Tetharys.
The choice laid before him was plain: to sacrifice to the angry storm his own life, and those of his family and companions, and all the misguided Kings and men-at-arms of Kremel, in order to save Quatria from plunder and ruin; or to sacrifice that land which he loved and the beauty and perfection he had found there, to ensure the survival of his raisla, and at the same time these foolish kings who would ruin it for their own gain.
As he stood there, exposed in his own perfect stillness on the deck, the crew struggled furiously against the relentless killing wind, and the chained together boats creaked and groaned like some chorus chanting their own funeral dirge. He saw then again within himself in stark, perfect detail, the dream of Tantathawe, the home he would build there for his family in the land that had been promised to him. And with it he saw his own vow to them – and to himself – to bring them all there together again.
He knew then that there really was no choice, and that all this had been set out before him – and for all of them – he knew not how long ago in the past. Since the High Augur had lain on him the charge of returning in secret and by stealth, at least. The High Augur of Quatria had foreseen it.
The High Augur. The moment before leaving Quatria flashed through his mind again, and something in him suddenly understood. From his back, he unslung the harp given him that day on the docks leaving Quatria and the Bay of Erasure. It’s name was Eril, and beyond that, it’s provenance was still a mystery to Benda, though its joy and clarity he knew with real intimacy, like a lover.
He plucked at the strings absently at first, and then with a growing certainty. And against the wind, the sounding notes were small and at first only lost in the fury. But then Benda heard the chained together boats crying out, and he heard the arhythmic thumping of the rowers and men-at-arms as they struggled, and from deep within his throat, and his chest, a low note resounded. It began as a hum, and he searched for resonance and found it with the groans of the vessels, who took up his note from him and resounded with it.
The harp Eril commanded the hands and fingers of Benda, and setting aside his own will, he only obeyed, as if an observer from far off, whose only purpose was keeping open the conduit for the power to pass through. And pass it did. The harp Eril used Benda’s fingers to play the ancient hymn of its own longing for its ancestral home too. For the body of the instrument had been carved ages ago from a scion of the original Tree of Anthuor which the Quatrians had brought with them through the tunnel of Matarax from the Third World. Its longing therefore was deeper and more profound than that of Benda or any human or similar being might feel. It yearned to be back by that stream beside which it had grown, to taste that cool clear water which had sustained them all, and to hear again the birds which had nested in its boughs, and sung sweet hymns of their own on its luxuriant branches.
Hearing these sweet notes, all within ear-shot were affected, and broke down in tears. And with it in response came the tears of the storm itself. Rain lashed the decks, and the rowers and men-at-arms, salty tears streaming down their faces redoubled their labor, bending their backs now with full force to the oars. Greppo himself, weeping openly, stood in the bow and commanded them forward into the fiercest center of the gale.
Benda felt his tears and the tears of the rain, and heard the rhythmic beating now of the rowers. The creaks and groans of the vessels strained against the resonant note he loaned them, and sought to break apart. But through force of will, he held them all together, until that moment when he felt he could go on no more, and all was to be lost. In that final instant, from somewhere behind which he could not see for rain and wind and fury and tears, he heard strike up the small sound of a reed flute. It trilled and played with precision and depth around and among the strains of the harp Eril, which used Benda as its instrument.
The flute was played by none other than Tob Gobble, himself a being of untold age, from another world entirely, who had been sent by his Mother, Makkarin, down the Great River, though he too knew not why. He knew only in that moment the music of his reed flute, and of the harp Eril, and the deep rhythmic chanting of Benda which held it all together over and above the chains which bound the boats.
Hearing this familiar friend amidst the horrific gale and the tears of the sky, Benda then was inspired. Instead of being only a passive observer, and a conduit, who held the moment together, he leapt with the fullness of his being as a diver into the river of song which flower and flowered through them, sinuously connecting the worlds and even time itself for a brief instant.
His voice lifted up in spontaneous verse which he sang out to accompany the harp Eril, and the reed flute of Tob Gobble, and the strokes of the rowers, and the groans of the boats, and the prayers of his family and companions, and even the foolish kings in their greed. The words he sang were:
“Rock of rocks,
Stillness of stillness,
Light of light,
Glory of glories,
Lay down your fury,
Let us return to the fullness of that far shore.
Tree of trees,
River of rivers,
Silence of silence,
Power of power,
Guide us in the Lost Direction,
That we may return whole and unscathed.”
He repeated those verses again and again, and the sound and power of the song began to reverberate outward from him louder and louder, the boats themselves acting as great resonators. And the men-at-arms were affected greatly, for the music and the prayer contained within touched their souls, and they took up singing it in rounds following Benda, as did his wife and friends who cowered against the storm, as the song passed from boat to boat, and the round along with it back and forth like a wave along the line of vessels. Eradus and Mergolech sang it out. Even Martis Ovnis who had been hiding and whimpering heard the truth in it, and took up the song and its lyrics. Only Greppo was silent, and Murta who was unrepentant in his folly.
As the hymn resounded among and from the boats, a strange thing happened within the storm. Blue flashes of light began to appear in the air and gather around the masts of the ships which had not been broken (more than a few had been). The lights were listeners who lived in another place distant from the storm, but who heard the song and came rushing curiously. Zalthyrmians. Benda would have known them had he seen them, but he only felt their presence and it was even still enough.
The blue lights, themselves a kind of vibrant living language, electrified the air. And in response, the storm unleashed crackling lightning of its own, and it struck the masts, and broke those which remained, around which the Zalthyrmians had been gathering. And the masts heaved and crashed down among the decks of the ships, and some were set ablaze with holy fire, the fury of the storm itself.
The rowers and men-at-arms ceased their singing, and some were crushed or thrown overboard. Those who were not rushed to put out the holy fires which burned even in the face of rain and gale. And for a moment, Benda’s voie faltered.
Somewhere, in the quiet of his mind, he heard a voice say in clear words, “The song alone is not enough.”
He answered the voice inwardly in the space of his heart, “It is all I have.”
The voice answered, “To you, much has been given, and much still will be.”
As he felt the channel close and the voice fade, he remembered then another gift of parting he had received on this strange journey. It was from the storm sage and weather-worker Banarat upon their departure from the Cloud Spire, where Benda had regained his memories of Quatria. It was the thunderstone dagger which had once belonged to Banarat’s own father in far away lost Seftar. He pulled it out from his belt then, and racing forward to the prow of the ship, he stabbed wildly into the air and cried out in wordless speech, emptying himself into the act and the moment.
In answer, thunder clapped, and what was dark turned to dazzling white, and then to darkness again. All except for his thunderstone dagger, around which now the blue lights of the Zalthyrmians huddled and played, like dolphins around a boat at sea. Then, calmly, and with total precision, he rent the fabric of the stormwall. It rolled at the edges like a ripped parchment, and curled up away from him in spiraling arcs. And the ships, broken and battered, but still chained together, passed cleanly through to the other side.