t 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 and smiled.
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 successful, 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, to 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 could.
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 again?
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 tasks.
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 mean.
You mean Palm, I whispered.
You ever think...what life might have been like if the Exodus never happened?
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:
See where the events of this story happened.