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Chapter Forty

This time, the deep, rolling voice echoing through Bahzells mind wasnt a coursers. It was the voice of Tomanak Orfro, God of War and Chief Captain of the Gods of Light.

Bahzell didnt even blink, but his mobile ears twitched, moving in perfect parallel with Walsharnos to point forward. The hradani felt the coursers reaction like an echo of his own, yet Walsharno took the cascading, musical thunder of that voice far more calmly than Bahzell had taken his own first conversation with Tomanak. There was a flavor of intense respect to his emotions, a touch of wonder and delight, but not one of awe.

Bahzell thought back at his deity.

Walsharno didnt share the apprehension bordering on horror which Bahzells tart exchanges with his god tended to evoke in two-legged audiences. He continued to trot briskly forward, swishing his tail to discourage a particularly irritating fly, and looked on with amused interest, perched like another viewpoint in Bahzells mind.

the deep, resonant voice observed with a sort of pained amusement of its own,

Walsharnos thought put in.

<Just like you to be after making up to Himself just because hes a god, and all,> Bahzell retorted, and the earthquake rumble of Tomanaks chuckle rolled through him. Then the god continued, but his voice was softer, somehow.

<Aye, that we will,> Bahzell replied, his own voice gentler than it had been a moment before. He felt Walsharnos unspoken agreement behind his own, then gave himself a mental shake. <Still and all,> he pointed out in something much more like his normal style, <that sounds as if its after suggesting weve a way to go yet after this little unpleasantness as is waiting up ahead of us somewhere.>

Tomanak said seriously.

Walsharnos ears shifted.

Tomanak said,

Bahzell frowned, intrigued almost despite himself. A portion of his awareness remained firmly focused on the movement of Walsharnos muscles under him, the caress of the late afternoon breeze as the day wound towards twilight, the jingle of mail and weapons harnesses, the creak of saddle leather, and the slightly dusty smell of grass crushed under the hooves of coursers and warhorses alike. But most of his attention was focused on the question it had never occurred to him to ask and on the answer he would never have anticipated, if he had asked.

he put in,

Walsharno agreed.

There was no disrespect or challenge in the coursers question. He accepted what Tomanak had said, as a yearling accepted the decrees and explanations of his herd stallion. He was simply seeking explanation, not demanding that Tomanak justify what he had already said.

Tomanak replied.

Bahzell observed dryly, and Tomanak chuckled again in the back of the link he and Walsharno shared.

Tomanak replied.

He obviously recognized Bahzells and Walsharnos confusion, for he went on.

Walsharno thought slowly,

Tomanak replied simply, as if the staggeringly complex and preposterous implication were perfectly reasonable.

Bahzell thought after a moment.

Tomanak agreed,

Bahzell and Walsharno were silent, stunned by the immensity of the concept Tomanak had just laid before them. The idea that there were an infinite number of Bahzells paired with an infinite number of Walsharnos, each fusion experiencing its own outcomes, fighting its own battles and meeting its own fate, might have made them feel small, and insignificant. No more than two single grains of sand upon an endless beach. Yet they were anything but small and insignificant. The exercise of their free will would determine their fates, and their fates would be not grains of sand on a beach, but stones in an avalanche thundering to a grand conclusion which would determine the fate of all universes and of every creature who had ever lived or ever would.

Bahzell said after a long, thoughtful pause.

Tomanak agreed.

<I?> Walsharno came to a sudden halt, his ears straight up and his eyes wide. <I, a champion? Im no such thing!>

Tomanak said almost gently.

<But> Bahzell began.

Tomanak said gently,

Bahzell protested, oblivious to the other coursers and warhorses halted in puzzlement about him and Walsharno.

The complex linkage between hradani, courser, and deity trembled with the force of his protest.

<Peace, Brother,> Walsharno said, shaking off his own shock at Tomanaks calm announcement as he recognized the painand guiltsuffusing Bahzells mental cry of denial. <You will never drag me anywhere against my will. When I chose you, I chose knowing you were a champion, knowing where that might lead. I was surprised, but Hes right, and if you think upon it, youll see that He is. I willingly and gladly chose to partake of whatever fate awaits youwhatever fate we make for ourselvesin the full knowledge that you were a champion and that few champions perish in peace, surrounded by those who love them. It simply never occurred to me that in doing so I might have stepped so close to the power of the Light myself.>

Tomanak said gently.

<I will,> the coursers voice rang in the vaults of Bahzells mind. A part of the hradani wanted desperately to forbid it, to prevent Walsharno from binding himself so inescapably to whatever fate awaited Bahzell himself. But another part recognized that it was too late to prevent that. That from the moment Walsharno willingly linked himself to him, their fates had been joined. And another part of him recognized that he had no right to forbid Walsharno this. That it was the coursershis brothersright to make the choice for himself.

<I do.> Walsharnos voice was as deep, as measured, as that of Tomanak himself, filled with all the certainty and power of his mighty heart.

A deep, resonant bell rang somewhere deep in the depths of Bahzell Bahnaksons soul. A single musical note enveloped him, wrapped itself about him and Walsharno, and as it sang like the voice of the universe itself, Walsharnos presence blazed beside him like the very Sun of Battle for which he was named. The power and essence of Tomanak himself was infused into that glorious heart of flame, and Bahzell felt all of the myriad connections between the three of them. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before, even in that moment when he and Kaeritha had felt and experienced with Vaijon the moment that Tomanak accepted his sword oath.

<Doneand well done!> The deep voice sang through the depths of their joined souls, deep and triumphant, joyously welcoming and shrouded in the thunder of coming battle. <Tremble, 0, Darkness! Tremble before the coming of these, my Swords!>

* * * | Wind Rider's Oath | Chapter Forty-One