For Bralidan, the rest of that week passed both far too swiftly and agonizingly slowly. A small part of each day was occupied with attending the entertainments, such as plays, concerts, tours, a hunt, that had been arranged for the visiting delegation from the Siizhayip. The visitors were at Plethiss to request a favor of the Duke of Grahk for access to the Plains of Rihelbak. He had to do his duty as heir, and that meant standing in for his father, Bralevant, who after all didn’t like the Siizhayip all that much. Except for the delegation’s speaker, the one named Kendra.
Bralidan didn’t find his duty onerous, but he would rather have been spending all of his time with Nikorah, instead of only most of it. She was the daughter of the One of the Sun, the man who was able to speak for the whole collection of nomad clans that made up the Siizhayip. Bralidan had met the young woman only a month earlier, and then only briefly. She had been in attendance at the ceremony in which the Treaty of Rihelbak had been confirmed. She had captivated him then, but he had not thought to see her again. Until she had turned up at the gates of Plethiss with the other Siizhayip. And in the short time they had had together so far, he had found that captivation turning into love.
He was resolved to treat his time with Nikorah like a proper courtship, and so was the perfect gentleman in her company. But he wanted so much more. He burned with desire for her body. And even though opportunity after opportunity arose for them to satisfy those lusts, he passed every one by. Because he knew that he wanted more than her body. He wanted her: all of her, forever.
What he couldn’t quite work out, however, was whether she felt the same way about him. Kendra, another Sun clan member and nominal leader of the delegation, still preferred that Nikorah stay away from Bralidan. But Nikorah ignored Kendra and continued to see him. So she was defying her fellow clanswoman to be with him, but perhaps that was just because she was bored. She certainly looked at him with desire, but what if that was all it was?
And then there was the problem of what to do if she did love him back. One of their favorite topics of conversation was the differences between the way Siizhayip and Kuizhack lived. Kuizhack meant People of the Stone, and was the Siizhayip word for people like him who dwelled in permanent, fixed houses. No matter what he said, he couldn’t convince her that living in the same place year after year, confined inside stone walls, was a good thing, a thing to be wished for. She felt it was a punishment. Bralidan could certainly see her point of view much better than she could see his, and sometimes he even agreed with her.
There was also the matter of his duty as heir to someday become the Duke of Grahk. It was a duty that he had always feared. No matter how hard he tried to learn, he just didn’t think he had the aptitude to lead Grahk — a squad of teraehran perhaps, or even an army, but not an entire duchy. Now, beyond it just being a position he felt unfit for, it took on the aspects of a prison, keeping him from the woman he loved.
Each night, before sleeping and dreaming of Nikorah, he would spend time contemplating his falcon-stone. He had found the jagged-edged, intricately carved piece of sculpture in a hidden room in the catacombs, and had immediately felt attached to it. He would trace the interwoven ribbons of metal and glass that covered one face, and it made him feel calm and safe. The falcon was his symbol, his standard, and it almost seemed as though this falcon-carved stone was a piece of him, as though it belonged to him, and had long before he had found it. He eventually took to carrying the stone around with him as much as possible.
His dreams of Nikorah weren’t just the results of the heat of his youth, either. Yes, he had hot, sweaty dreams about her. But he also dreamed of the two of them living in a domed, hide-covered, easily movable ghur, or riding across endless open grassland at her side. There was such freedom in those dreams — not just the freedom of the open land, but a freedom from his impending future, a freedom from walls and servants and duty. A freedom from decisions that affected anyone other than himself. It was a life he was coming to long for.
Kendra, senior herd-keeper of the Sun clan of the Siizhayip, found herself still unused to living within stone walls. Even with the practice of more than three years of living at Plethiss about twenty-five years previously, she was still uncomfortable. She had tried back then to adapt to the life of a Kuizhack, for her husband and then their son, but it was just unnatural. She was Siizhayip, body and soul, and she hated being confined like this.
Today, Kendra thought, the delegation would find out whether their petition would be granted. She didn’t hold out much hope. Duke Bralevant had always been a grasping man, and she well knew his devotion to the empire to which Grahk nominally belonged. She didn’t think he had changed enough in the twenty-two years since she had last seen him to give up the Rihelbak Plains.
It was still mid-morning when the knock came at the door to her quarters. Kendra opened the door, and found one of the mansion’s pages standing there. The boy handed her a rolled scroll, bowed, and walked away.
She closed the door, then broke the wax seal bearing the symbol of Grahk and unrolled the scroll. It was another invitation to the duke’s quarters. No gifts this time, just words. Bralevant had been trying to maneuver a moment alone with her for the entire week the Siizhayip delegation had been awaiting his decision. She wasn’t sure, but she thought that he might even have put off his decision just so he could have this week to try to speak to her in private.
She had resisted all week, rejecting the gifts, ignoring the letters, staying away from him at dinner and the entertainments he deigned to attend. But this time, maybe she should go. She knew she could resist his charm this time; she was no longer the child she had been at that long ago confirmation ceremony, when a handsome duke with mismatched eyes had charmed her away from the Great Steppes and her natural way of life.
She dressed in a good tunic with a leather vest over it, beaded with fox designs. She put on her best leather pants and her best riding boots, and combed back her greying brown hair, tying it back with a leather headband covered with beaded foxes. Thus prepared, she made her way with familiarity to the duke’s quarters.
She knocked on the door, and Osirek opened it. The aide smiled neutrally when he saw it was her, and said, “Very good, Lady Kendra. I’m glad you came this time. I will tell the duke that you have responded to his summons.”
“Never mind that, Osirek. I’m sure that Bralevant is quite prepared for the eventuality of my visit. Why don’t you go make yourself busy elsewhere, while the duke and I converse privately?”
“As you wish, mi’lady. You *do* know the way.” Osirek’s smile turned frosty with restrained disapproval, and he retreated from her presence by leaving the duke’s quarters.
Kendra went into the informal receiving room and through it to the duke’s sitting room. Bralevant was sitting in a simple wooden chair, sipping wine from a delicate glass. When he heard the door open, he lifted his head saying, “Yes, Osirek, did she …?” When he saw her, he smiled, his eyes, one blue and one brown, twinkling. “I see she did. Welcome, Kendra.” He stood, and finished, “I’m glad you decided to accept my invitation. Won’t you sit down?”
One of the seats in the sitting room was the kind of canvas-and-poles chair that the Siizhayip commonly used. She wondered whether she had left it here, or if Bralevant had fashioned one to try to make her more comfortable. She was proud enough to refuse the tactic, but she was wise enough — not to mention, old enough — to be able to be comfortable without giving the duke any ground by it. So she sat in the canvas chair and made herself appear at ease, but she didn’t relax one bit inside, where it counted.
She said, “So tell me, Duke, why have you asked me to your quarters?”
Bralevant just smiled, and stood up. “Would you like something to drink? I don’t think I have any of that wine left you liked so much, but this is a fine vintage. I’m sure you would like it.” Kendra shook her head, and the duke continued, “Very well. Have you and your fellow Siizhayip been comfortable during your stay here?”
Kendra frowned, and said, “I think you know just how comfortable any of us is likely to be, cooped up inside walls made of stone. Why have you forced us to endure your hospitality? Why could you not give us your answer a week ago?”
“I asked you to await my careful consideration of the situation. You would not want me to make a mistake by acting too quickly, would you? You know what happened the last time we acted in haste.”
“If you hope to make me admit that it was a mistake to marry you, Alev, you hope in vain. After all, you made the result your heir. Bralidan has grown up handsome and strong, a fitting successor to the current ruler of Grahk. That our bonding only lasted three years is regrettable. That you tried to force me to stay with you, even as you began to dally with that Omelli woman, is why I hate you.”
“The past is the past, Kendra. Omelli died giving birth to my second son, and I have been alone ever since. And then, you return to me, and what can I do but hope? Hope that you forgive me, as I forgive you leaving me. Hope that you could love me again, as I have always loved you. Hope that you could stay again, longer than three years this time.”
Kendra shook her head in disbelief. “You spin your hopes like a storyteller spins childrens’ fantasies. You always did live in your own little world, Alev. I tried to share it once, but I am not made for it. You hope, once again, in vain.”
Bralevant turned his back on her, walking over to the mantelpiece and tracing a finger over the wooden sculpture of a galloping horse Kendra had carved for him ages ago. He said over his shoulder, “Hope, as usual, fails me. Well, then I will cease to hope and instead, attempt to buy.” He turned back to her and said, “If you stay with me, renew our bond, become my duchess, then I will allow your people access to the Rihelbak Plains. I will have the wall torn down, and I will tear up the treaty. And the Siizhayip will have room to grow for another hand-score of years.”
“Alev, you know I would die if kept within these walls.”
“But you would be with me until then. And isn’t your life worth the future of your people? Can you make that sacrifice?”
Kendra was silent for a while, thinking. She had a decision to make, just as she had twenty-five years ago. But it was not the decision that Bralevant thought.
She stood up out of the chair with the ease of long practice, and said, “I must think, Alev. But tell me truth. Would you really return the Rihelbak to the Siizhayip?”
Bralevant tried to look at her steadily, to convince her that he was sincere. But his eyes flicked to the side several times before he answered, and he tugged at his earlobe once. Finally, he steadied his gaze and said, “Of course, Kendra. Of course.”
She nodded. “I thought so.” She turned and left.
Bralevant called after her, “It’s only one life, Kendra!”
She muttered to herself as she walked back to her room, “You’re right, Alev. It *is* only one life.”
Kendra sat on the edge of her bed and stared at the puzzle box in her hands. Puzzle boxes weren’t common to Siizhayip culture, but she had learned of them from itinerant tinkers, and found them intriguing to carve. And they tended to keep the things hidden within them very safe.
She remembered a similar puzzle box she had carried into this mansion twenty-five years ago. That one had contained a charmed fox-shaped brooch, and had been part of an elaborate plan set into motion by the Elder Speakers to the Anhilizharnoh.
Kendra recalled the beginning clearly. It had happened several days after the Treaty of Rihelbak confirmation ceremony where she had met and fallen in love with Bralevant. Her continued pestering had almost convinced the One of the Sun, Demahh’s predecessor, to allow her to leave the steppes to be with the Duke of Grahk. She had gone to sleep that night attempting to marshal her arguments for the next day, and had dreamed romantic dreams of her future in the stone halls of the place called Plethiss.
She had been awakened in the middle of the night by an excessive chill, and had been greeted by the translucent and glowing forms of four people, two men and two women, dressed in stylized ceremonial shaman’s robes. After her initial fright had passed, she had realized that she was being visited by the mysterious Elder Speakers who appeared to individual clan members in that manner.
A voice that was a combination of four voices spoke. It said, “Kendra, We have learned of your desire to live among the Kuizhack. Ordinarily, We would caution you against this undertaking, and perhaps even go so far as to forbid it, knowing the difficulties you have before you. However, circumstances are different this time. We have a task that you would be perfect to undertake for us, in return for which we will grant you our blessing in leaving the steppes.
“We, the Elder Speakers, have seen that our people are slowly outgrowing the land they have been given to live upon. Soon, more territory will be required. It is Our feeling that the only territory available is the place known as the Plains of Rihelbak.
“But We also know that the Duke of Grahk grasps this land with an unseemly greed. The treaty that removes the land from our use is almost sacred to him. However, We believe that it is possible to render that very treaty into the instrument of our deliverance, the means by which we can regain access to the territory we will need to grow and prosper in the coming years.
“We have spoken to the Anhilizharnoh, the Lords of the Sky, and it is with their advice and help that we propose the solution to our future need. Items have been enchanted toward this purpose, and all is in readiness. Only the method of delivery is left to assign, and your devotion to the duke aligns perfectly with our needs. Will you accept this task to serve your people?”
Kendra remembered her hesitation, and the reassurances of the ghostly figures with one voice that no one would be harmed in the process of securing a future for the Siizhayip. Eventually she had agreed, and she had been instructed in the details of the complicated yet subtle plan that the Elder Speakers had devised.
They had determined that the weak point in the Duke of Grahk’s hold over the Plains of Rihelbak were the confirmation ceremonies. If the treaty was not confirmed five times in a row, then it would be rendered void and the Rihelbak Plains would become part of the Siizhayip’s territory again.
Seeing this weakness, the Elder Speakers had devised a way to turn it to their advantage. One of her favorite fox-shaped brooches had been enchanted heavily with the intent of making the wearer forget about the confirmation stipulation attached to the treaty. The enchantment was strong enough to make those that came into casual contact with the wearer also forget. If the brooch was given to the duke as a gift from his new love, he would be sure to wear it always, and the enchantment would do its work.
The treaty itself would be secured within another carving of hers, a simple box enchanted with a spell that made it inconspicuous and easily forgotten, even if it sat in plain sight. And the third part of the plan involved altering any written references to the confirmation clause stored away in the ducal mansion, so that no one could be accidentally reminded of it. This would be accomplished by further enchantments on small pieces of parchment that, when slipped into the scroll cases or between flat bound leaves, would accomplish the rewriting.
Kendra had received her permission the very next day, and had swiftly packed her things and set out for Grahk, eager to be with the duke and to carry out her mission. Bralevant had eagerly accepted the fox brooch, as the Elder Speakers had predicted. The other parts of the plan had been carried out surreptitiously. The keeper of the archives had been flattered by her interest in the history of Grahk, and once she had placed the treaty scroll in the enchanted box, she had just walked deep into the archives and placed it on a shelf.
Time had passed, and the difficulties that the Elder Speakers had mentioned surfaced. Her fantasies had died; Bralevant had not been quite the man she had thought, and she found living the life of a Kuizhack all but intolerable. She’d had no choice but to leave.
Once she had returned to the steppes, abandoning her only child, Bralidan, in the process, she had waited for the first confirmation ceremony with trepidation. She feared that her leaving would destroy the plan. Too many things could go wrong, and she wouldn’t be there to try to make them right again. What if the enchanted items had been found? What if as soon as she had abandoned him, Bralevant had removed the brooch, and everything had been undone? But that hadn’t happened. Four times in a row, she was part of the Siizhayip group attending the confirmation ceremony, and four times the Grahk Kuizhack didn’t show up.
But the last time, the twenty-fifth year since the last confirmation, the Fretheodan had shown up, ruining the plan. And then she was appointed to lead the delegation that would go to Grahk and ask Duke Bralevant to voluntarily give up the Rihelbak Plains.
And as before, the night after she had been informed of Demahh’s appointment of her as leader of that delegation, she had been visited by four glowing translucent forms. Whether they had been the same forms as before, or whether they represented the same retired shamans as before, she didn’t know. What she knew now that she hadn’t the previous time, was that the Elder Speakers were not supernatural intercessors for the Lords of the Sky, but just a body of old shamen who helped guide the Siizhayip by focusing on the future, something that the council of clans seldom had the opportunity for, burdened as they were by the day to day concerns of her people.
This time, Kendra hadn’t been given a choice. She had been given a phial filled with poison, and had been given her real mission to Plethiss: to ensure that the Siizhayip regained Rihelbak.
The Elder Speakers had told her that an augury they had performed led them to believe that the successor to Bralevant would return use of the land to the Siizhayip. It was her task, in the rather likely eventuality that Bralevant refused the petition, to ensure that the duke’s heir had the chance to make the prophesy come true sooner rather than later.
Kendra’s problem was that she wasn’t sure. Not that the poison was required; she knew that Bralevant had lied to her about relinquishing control of the Rihelbak. He would never let that land out of his control, not while he lived. What she wasn’t sure about was whether she could kill him.
The hate of twenty-two years ago still lived within her, but so did the love. Bralevant himself had given her a convincing argument for carrying out the plan — it *was* only one life — but Kendra just didn’t know whether she could take that particular life.
Complicating the issue was the involvement of Demahh’s only child, Nikorah, and her own son Bralidan. If she did away with Bralevant, then Bralidan would become duke. But did the heir feel the same way about the Rihelbak as the duke did? No matter his Siizhayip heritage, Bralidan had been raised by Bralevant as a Kuizhack. It was only natural that the son would think like the father.
And beyond that, if Bralidan and Nikorah were in love, as their actions over the past week would suggest, then Nikorah would want to stay with him, and Kendra knew how ultimately destructive that would be. As heir, Bralidan had more freedom, and could at least spend *some* time on the steppes. So, by following her orders, she could be dooming her own son to ultimate unhappiness by forcing him into the role of duke and all of its restrictions.
It was all too complicated, with dilemma atop dilemma. She almost wished to have such a simple plan to carry out as her first mission had been.
Midway through dinner that night, Bralidan reached a decision. Amid the noise of the nobles and Siizhayip crowded into the great hall, enjoying themselves and their food, everything just came together for him. Perhaps it was the way he was so comfortable with Nikorah at his side. Perhaps it was the dread he felt in anticipation of his father’s speech that would happen later in the evening, the speech wherein Duke Bralevant would tell the delegation from the steppes that he would not be giving the Rihelbak Plains back to them. It seemed almost cruel for Bralidan’s father to have kept the Siizhayip here for a week just to tell them the same thing he could have told them a week ago. He felt embarrassed to be a Fretheodan, to be of Grahk, to be a Kuizhack. So perhaps his decision was a means of running away from all that. Or maybe he just wanted to try to find happiness for himself in a way that didn’t involve the predestination of his heritage.
He wanted to tell Nikorah right away, but the noise level in the room precluded that. Conversations were being conducted in shouts, and he didn’t want to announce his plans to everyone just yet. So he waited eagerly for the moment when he could get her alone and give her the news.
In the meantime, he continued to enjoy himself. He found himself wondering what gatherings of Siizhayip were like. He pondered what different kinds of food he might eat out on the steppes. He was looking at everything around him with new eyes, as if he might be seeing some of them for the last time. Instead of making him sad, each such realization only buoyed him higher, for each one reinforced the fact that he had decided to change his life. With or without Nikorah, he was going to go live on the steppes, and he didn’t think he had ever been happier in his life.
In the pause between the main and dessert courses, as the servants started to clear away the tables to make space for dancing, Bralidan lost track of Nikorah. Everyone had left their seats to stretch their legs and talk in groups that were different from their seating patterns. He had felt a touch on his arm and Nikorah had said something about being right back, and then she had vanished.
The servants started bringing in the dessert course, setting the sweet confections on a table on one side of the room, and Nikorah hadn’t reappeared. Perhaps he had heard her wrong? Was she expecting him to meet her in his or her rooms? Bralidan began to get a little worried, and frequently scanned the milling throng in the hall, looking for Nikorah’s blonde hair.
He made a slow circuit of the room, glancing down the various corridors that led away from the great hall. No sign of her, anywhere … until he reached the windows and he looked out to see a figure standing atop the outer wall. The intense moonslight shone brightly, reflecting from the blonde hair of what had to be Nikorah.
Bralidan hurried from the hall and made his way onto the walkway atop the wall. As he walked toward Nikorah, he marveled at the picture in front of him. The light of the two moons seemed focused on her, due to the lack of any other feature around her. She almost glowed as she stood there, her attention focused on something set on one of the merlons in front of her. His mind almost automatically rendered the scene in terms of how he would make a mosaic of it, separating out the handful of colors he would need — several shades of black or dark grey for the night sky and the wall, off-white and pale yellow for the two moons, another yellow for Nikorah’s hair, a host of greens for the gown she was wearing. He did his best to memorize what he saw in his mind, and then continued toward her.
He was almost next to her by the time he was able to see what she was looking at, since she had it cupped in her hands. She seemed to be staring at it very intently, and when Bralidan saw it, he stared at it as well, though not for the same reason.
What he saw in her hands made his hand go to the large pouch he had taken to carrying. He felt the irregular shape of his falcon-stone with relief that turned to curiosity. If his stone was still in the pouch, what was Nikorah looking at? It seemed to be an approximately pie-wedge shaped slab of stone with intricate carving and interwoven bands of metal and glass on its surface. Just like his falcon-stone.
He undid the clasp of his pouch and drew out his stone. He compared the two carvings and saw that they were not the same in actual design, but he thought that they might both be from the same larger work.
Bralidan cleared his throat so as not to startle her, and said, “Greetings, Nikorah. I couldn’t help but notice that object you are holding. What is it and where did you get it?”
Nikorah turned her green eyes on him, and he thought the glow her smile brought to her face outshone both moons. She looked back at her stone; it was carved with the figure of a cat, Bralidan noticed. She said, “It is a piece of a carving of something. My father bought it for me from a tinker several winters ago. It is musical, too — if you tap the metal strips, they make notes. See?” She tapped at the silver and gold bars crisscrossing the surface of her stone with the ring on her smallest finger, and clear notes belled out of them.
Bralidan said, “I wonder if mine does that too?” He set his stone next to hers and used his knife hilt to tap the metal ribbons. Delicate, pure notes issued forth, and Bralidan said, “That’s amazing!”
“You have one too?” asked Nikorah. “Did you also get it from a tinker?”
“No, I just recently found it in the catacombs under Plethiss. But they certainly seem to be remarkably similar, don’t they?” Bralidan stared at the two stones and something about them seemed to nag at his brain. The ribbons of metal and glass seemed almost like they should go together, though the large animal carvings didn’t fit together. But what if …
Bralidan picked up his stone and tried to fit its edge to the edge of Nikorah’s stone that it was next to. Some of the strands matched, but not all of them. And then he thought he saw something. He reached out for her stone, and just before he actually touched it, he realized that she might not like that. He turned to her and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. May I just move your stone a little?”
She was staring at him with a gleam in her eye that had nothing to do with the moonslight, and he almost forgot about the stones altogether. But that something he had seen nagged at him, and he blinked, breaking eye contact. Nikorah took a moment to respond, but finally she said, “Oh, ah, yes. Sure, go ahead.”
Bralidan turned back to the parapet and lifted Nikorah’s stone. He reversed their positions, set them back down, and stepped back. Nikorah gasped; the match was obvious. Those two pieces of stone had once been joined together. The beast that was entwined with his falcon wasn’t a dog, but a cat: the very cat that was on Nikorah’s piece.
Bralidan stepped back toward the parapet, and Nikorah echoed his movement. They each reached out to their own piece, crossing arms. They looked at each other and smiled. Bralidan thought of the decision he had made over dinner. Was this some kind of confirmation of that decision? A sign from the gods? Or just coincidence?
He turned back to the stones and gently pulled his stone toward Nikorah’s, and she did the same with her own. The two stones touched, and fit together perfectly.
Before he could make any remark, or even remove his hand from his stone, he felt a tingle in his fingertips where he touched his falcon-stone. He noticed then that both stones were starting to glow slightly, and this time it was no simple reflection of the light of the moons. The glow brightened slightly, briefly flared up, making Bralidan squint, and then faded away totally.
The tingle was gone, but something else was also gone: the split between the two pieces! No dark, jagged line ran down the middle of the joined piece; each band of silver or gold or glass that had been broken between the two pieces was now joined up perfectly and whole again.
Bralidan touched the middle of the now single piece of stone gingerly. The tingling did not resume, and he could feel no hint of the separation that had once split the piece. He was just about to ask Nikorah if she somehow knew what had happened, when she burst out with, “Look! Wykuza’s Attendant is on fire!”
Bralidan looked at Nikorah, and then followed her pointing arm up into the sky to see a great fountain of fire rising from Celene, the smaller moon. He stared at the spectacle, and then laughed out loud. Yet another omen! Without a doubt, the gods *were* trying to tell him something.
Periodically, Celene produced a gout of flame that commonly lasted three or four days. Astrologers and priests were constantly trying to predict when the Fireflow Mountains on Celene’s surface would erupt. They were seldom successful except, it seemed, by accident. Whenever the flame appeared, it was taken as a favorable omen by any with plans to promote. The Festival of the Fountain, which always followed the appearance of Celene’s Flame, was a very auspicious time to begin anything.
Bralidan’s doubts and reservations about the decision he had made were all wiped away. This was what he was meant to do. He turned to Nikorah, who was still looking up at the celestial spectacle. He briefly wondered what Celene’s eruption meant to the Siizhayip, but he decided that he would find out in good time.
“Nikorah,” he began, and she turned her attention to him. He continued, “Over dinner tonight, I came to a resolution in my heart, a resolution that has only been strengthened and confirmed by the mystery of the carved stones and the display above us. I have decided to leave Plethiss and Grahk. I wish to live on the Great Steppes, to live as one of the Siizhayip. And most of all, I wish to live my life with you. I love you, Nikorah. If I was going to remain in Grahk, I would ask you to pledge a bond with me over a krovelathad. But that is a Fretheodan custom, and I wish to leave my old life behind. So, if you will have me, I will promise whatever the Siizhayip promise when they love each other and want to live tog ether forever.”
Nikorah’s radiant grin shown forth again, and she hugged him. She said, “Oh, Bralidan, I love you too, and I would like nothing better than to take you away to my ghur and make you my mate. The ceremony does not matter; the words of love we have just spoken are as important as the rites of the shamen and the pledgings of the clans. I accept what you offer, Alin, my love.”
They kissed then. Bralidan knew that there were still obstacles in the way of his chosen future, but since his reward would be the woman who was in his arms right now, he knew that he would overcome those obstacles with ease.