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Authors: Anny Cook

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BOOK: Love Never-Ending
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“Here’s a clean
meerlim
,” he warned as he placed it
in her hands. Plucking a clean pale green sleeveless
shera
from the
basket, he shrugged it over his broad shoulders and slid the two loops over the
bone buttons. Next he slipped on his sandals and untied the door flap. With a
quick assessing glance around the clearing, he made sure they were still alone
before exiting the small
hurka
with his clean
sharda
in his hand.
It took only a moment to flip the dark green garment around his hips and fasten
the tabs. Satisfied that he was ready to face the day, he poked his head back
through the
hurka
door. “Ready?”

“As soon as I locate my other sandal,” she replied.

“Two o’clock from your right knee,” he said absently. “Is
that a new
meerlim
?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“I don’t remember any of yours in that color. I think this
is the new dye Tyger was experimenting with.”

“Oh?” She put on her sandal and with his guiding hand, she
ducked through the door and stood up. “What color is it anyway?”

“A deep rose. Very beautiful color with your skin.” He
paused and looked at her before continuing in a deeper, gruffer voice. “Of
course, you’re most beautiful to me in nothing at all. I love you, Jade.”

Moving into his arms, she rested her head on his shoulder.
“I love you, Merlyn. I’ve loved you forever.”

“I should tell you more often. Dai’s always telling you he
loves you.”

“Dai is not the father of my children. I love him dearly as
our covenant mate but he isn’t the other part of my soul. That would be you.
Always you.” She kissed him then in the pearly light of dawn as the birds
muttered sleepily in the trees all around them. “Time is running out. We must
go.”

Chapter Four

Mystic Valley, Cave at Bonding Circle Five

 

The cave was filled with a luminous glow when Bish woke. In
the soft light, he realized that it was actually much smaller than he’d
thought. A flash of movement, caught from the corner of his eye, had him
instinctively rolling to protect Trav. He stopped mid-roll as he took in the
little old man leaning over Traveller. He had both hands spread out over him
and was slowly moving them along Trav’s body as though he could see through the
skin with them. The man noticed that he was awake and nodded to him. “Your
friend is badly hurt,” he announced. “I’ve called for help to move him.”

“Who are you?” Bishop had never seen anything like this man.
He had very long silver hair, arranged in a multitude of small braids, each
finished with a jeweled clasp. When he moved, it sounded like a delicate wind
chime. His face reminded Bish of a withered apple, except for those bright,
twinkling green eyes.
Bird eyes
, he thought. Except for their color they
were exactly like bird eyes. He had some sort of cloth wrapped around his lower
body and soft leather sandals. Bish could have coped with all of those things
but one thing tilted his sense of reality past casual acceptance. The little
man was blue. Even in the strange glowing light, there was no doubt.

“I am Dai.”

“Uh-huh. And who are you when you’re home, Die?” Bish
demanded skeptically.

“I am Dai. A healer.” Dai looked directly at Bishop. “Your
friend is in need of a healer.” His head came up as he heard people
approaching. “Good. Help has arrived and soon your friend will be more
comfortable.”

Shoving the blanket away, Bish hurriedly rolled to his feet,
suppressing the groans that threatened to pop out anyway. No one was going to
move Trav until he talked to somebody that made more sense. Pale daylight
revealed a wide fall of water across an opening in the cave wall. Several
people appeared from behind the waterfall, all talking at once. When they saw
Bish, the babble stopped abruptly as though cut with a knife.

Then the oldest man in the group tilted his head to one
side, smiled widely with a scary flash of fangs and said calmly, “Hello,
Bishop. Fancy meeting you here.”

Bish knew that voice though he hadn’t heard it in over
twenty years. He sat down so suddenly he would have bruises on his backside for
a week. He shook his head very slowly and then just stared. “Baron.” His eyes
grew round with shock as he really looked at him. Baron’s black hair, shot
through with silver streaks now, was arranged like the old man’s hair. He wore
a similar soft skirt-like garment with matching vest and the soft sandals.

And Baron’s skin was
blue
. Bishop struggled to take
in the gently pointed ears and the flash of fangs when Baron smiled again.
After a minute, he realized that he was opening and closing his mouth like a
goldfish but no sound was coming out. He tried again but it came out as a
hoarse croak. “Baron.”

Baron came and squatted down next to him, draping his arm
across Bish’s shoulder. “Bish, I’m glad to see you.” He gestured for the others
to come closer. “This is part of my family. Llyon. Tyger.” Two tall young men
with blinding red hair arranged in tight twists on top of their heads gave him
a brief polite nod before moving to kneel next to Traveller. “Wrenna.” A petite
young woman with locks the color of glorious sunrise streaming down her back smiled
shyly at him before joining her brothers. “And two men from our village, Jonas
and Mali.” The men nodded politely and then ignored Bishop, edging past him to
stand at Trav’s feet. “You remember Jade, don’t you?”

Baron stood and helped Bish to his feet. Bish took in her
glowing auburn hair bound up in some kind of braided coronet arrangement
studded with strands of sparkling beads. Not much remained of the
unconventional sister-in-law he remembered. Back then Jade had been the epitome
of casual celebrity chic with her hair worn down in wild flowing curls. The
petite woman standing motionless in front of him was a perfect picture of
composed serenity unlike the young Jade who was constantly moving. Her
stillness served to emphasis the flurry of movement all around her.

Bishop’s mind leaped from one impossibility to the next
always circling back to the fact that they were all undeniably
blue
.
Seeking respite from the weirdness surrounding him, he turned away from the odd
strangers, focusing on his brother with a frown. “Baron, why have you never let
us know that you were okay?”

“That’s a long story, Bish, and we’ll have plenty of time to
tell it later. Why don’t we get this man settled and then we can talk.” He
looked down at Trav with a faint smile. “Well, he certainly looks like Dancer.”

“How do you know Dancer?” Bish demanded irritably, tired of
all the strange experiences bombarding him.

Llyon and Dai were behind him working with quiet haste to
stabilize Traveller while Wrenna knelt near his head. Suddenly, she slumped
over with her head resting on his shoulder. Tyger jumped to pull her away but
Dai shook his head. “Leave her, Ty. They’re in
rapport
and it’s better
if they’re touching.”

His attention snapped back to Trav, Bishop turned to his
brother and demanded, “What’s going on? What is she doing?”

Baron took his arm, leading him away from the group working
on Trav. “Wrenna is his mate. She’s helping them stabilize him by linking with
him mind to mind. You needn’t worry about him. We certainly wouldn’t want to
have to face Dancer if something happened to Traveller!”

“You didn’t answer me before. How do you know Dancer?”

A happy smile crept across his face as Baron replied
proudly, “He’s my bond-son.” Noting the panicked look on Bish’s face, he patted
his brother’s arm and suggested kindly, “Look! You’re very tired and your
friend needs immediate attention. Come with us and I assure you that we will
explain everything.”

Llyon and Dai judged that Trav was as prepared for transport
as he could be without more extensive healing. With Tyger’s help, Wrenna
climbed to her feet and joined her father and Bishop. Taking him by the hand,
she suggested, “Why don’t you come with Mama and me, Uncle Bishop? Traveller is
your friend?”

“Uh, yeah. He’s Dancer’s brother.” Unsure of how it had
happened, he found himself treading along the narrow path behind the waterfall,
toward a beautiful jewellike clearing surrounded by a lushly blooming valley.
Wrenna led the way with Jade sandwiched securely between her and Bishop. He turned
to go back but Jade’s deathly grip on his hand prevented him from leaving. In
the early morning light of the clearing, he stopped and frowned at her in
puzzlement, suddenly realizing the shocking truth. “My God, you’re blind! What
happened?”

Jade lightly squeezed his hand and smiled. “A fall, long
ago, Bishop. I’m fine now but as you see, I do need help. Will you lend me your
arm until we get back home? Merlyn will be busy taking care of your friend.”

“Who are these people, Jade? Did you know you all have blue
skin?”

“I’m blind, Bishop—not deaf. Of course I know we’re blue.
It’s part of the adaptation to the valley,” Jade replied calmly. “Why don’t we
start back toward the village.”

“What about Traveller?” he demanded stubbornly.

“Traveller will be fine. They will bring him to our house so
you’ll see him then.” She tilted her head and queried, “Wrenna? Will you go see
if Dancer and Eppie can come later? I know you don’t want to leave Traveller
but you should be back by the time they carry him home. Harmony, please go with
her.”

Harmony? Bishop looked around for another woman and saw no
one. Then the most enormous dog he’d ever seen trotted up to join Wrenna. The
dog had beautiful long hair—almost the same shade as Wrenna’s—that nearly
brushed the ground. Since Harmony’s head was just below Wrenna’s shoulder,
Bishop judged the dog was well over four feet tall.

Wrenna ran a gentle hand over Harmony’s skull. “Come,
Harmony. Let’s go tell Dancer and Eppie about Trav’s arrival.” They trotted
down the path, leaving Bish in Jade’s clutches. Stubbornly, he refused to move.
“What the hell is going on, Jade? Where is this place? Why are all of you blue?
And what’s with the fangs and pointy ears? I refuse to go any further until
someone
explains
something
to me!” He stared around wildly at his surroundings.
“There are things blooming! It’s December. What is this place?”

Behind him, he heard Baron’s low laughter. “Jade, I figured
he would be too stubborn to go, unless we explained everything first.” He led
Jade back to the stone bench near the calm pool in the clearing. Very
reluctantly, Bishop followed, though he didn’t sit down. As Baron talked, Bish
wandered around in the cool grass, enjoying the feel of it on his bruised feet.
“Bish, there’s no way to explain everything in a few minutes but I’ll give you
the quick, short version because we need to take care of Traveller. First of
all, you’ve arrived in Mystic Valley. Our village, Lost Market, is located over
in that direction, past that belt of trees.” He watched Bish with pleased
interest. “You’re doing that goldfish thing again.”

“But—”

“I do vividly remember how we felt when we first arrived but
trust me, you’re going to have to accept some things until we have time to give
you fuller explanations. Trav’s care comes first. Now! Where was I?” he asked
Jade.

“The valley…”

“Oh, yes! There is no way out of this valley—that we’ve been
able to locate. A very few people, less than three hundred in the last thousand
years, have come through that cave we found you in or one of the other pledging
circles. Most of those have been in the last fifty years.”

“What are you talking about? I dragged Trav through the
tunnel from hell! Of course after the cave collapsed…”

Baron shook his head. “You probably won’t believe me but the
tunnel is gone now. It always disappears as soon as the new arrivals are safely
in the cavern.”

Bishop immediately walked away, treading the path behind the
waterfall. Shortly, he reappeared with a scared, angry expression on his face.
Instead of discussing the tunnel, he asked about something else that was
bothering him. “Why does everyone keep calling you Merlyn?”

“Oh, that. When we first came to the valley, there was
another man here, much venerated, who was called Baron.” Merlyn shrugged. “It
seemed easier to use my middle name. By the time he died, everyone called me
Merlyn. It would have been too much trouble to change back.”

Bish started to say something and then thought better of it.
Merlyn nodded. “Wise choice. Hmm. Dancer came through the passage at pledging
circle three about a month ago and he is bonded with our daughter, Eppie. Jade
and I have fourteen children, so you’re an uncle several times over. There are
about fifteen hundred people in the valley, mostly in small family clans.” His
eyes took on an unfocused look and he stopped talking.

“What? What’s going on?” Bishop demanded sharply.

Merlyn sighed. “Trouble. I had hoped to delay it for a while
but Wrenna inadvertently spilled the beans.”

Jade covered her mouth with one hand. “Oh no. I didn’t even think
to tell her not to mention Bishop.”

“Well,” Merlyn said grimly, “she did, so now Dancer’s
enraged and rightfully so, I suppose. You go with Bishop and Traveller back to
the village.” He stood up just as the rest of the group appeared, bearing
Traveller on an ingenious stretcher. Bishop noted that his own duct-taped
handiwork was left undisturbed. “Llyon, you take care of Traveller. Tyger, see
to your Mama. Dai and I will go see Dancer and Eppie. Perhaps we can salvage
the situation.”

With growing confusion, Bishop watched the two men trot off
in the same direction that Wrenna had gone. The strange turn of events had no
sane explanation. His brother and sister-in-law were here—and yet, not here. He
couldn’t fathom any process that could turn the skin blue, grow fangs and
change the shape of ears. For a wild second he considered the possibility of
some alien body snatchers and then realized how silly that sounded.

Their small group was moving along a rough path that ran
through a forest. He caught glimpses of strange trees and weird flowering
bushes. Very little looked familiar. Then they passed a pale blue domed
building. A low stone wall separated the neat yard from the surrounding woods.
Blue and green birds about the size of chickens pecked at seeds and worms in
the front yard.

“What are those?” he muttered just before tripping over a
tree root.

One of the red-haired twins tossed a glance over his
shoulder and answered, “
Peekies.
They lay eggs.”


Peekies.

“Think of them as blue or green chickens.” Jade grinned at
him, flashing her dainty little fangs, and observed, “Lots of strange stuff,
huh?”

“You’re blue, you know.”

“I believe that you mentioned that once or twice.”

“Doesn’t it bother you?”

“Not so much. I’m sure there are worse things.”

“Name one.”

“Being blind.”

There was a long silence. Then Bishop said, “I’m sorry. It’s
been a rough couple of days.”

“I believe you.”

They were approaching a scattered group of domes that were
situated around a wide green lawn. “How did you find this place, Jade?”

“We arrived the same way you did, Bishop. Actually, we were
also greeted by Dai.” A small secret smile flickered across her face. “We were
stark naked at the time.”

“I’m not far from that myself,” he groused. “Trav snatched
me out of bed in the middle of the night.”

“Really? Why would he do that?”

“Because he lost his mind.”

“Yes, well. That would explain it, I suppose. How did you
come to be in the cave?” she asked with irritating calm. He wanted her to be
excited or appalled or show some emotion. Instead she acted like strange people
dropped in every day.

BOOK: Love Never-Ending
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