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Maryl heard the steps coming towards him, his eyes remained closed as he continued the movements; slow and precise they helped him stay limber. The steps stopped well enough away that he knew the person meant him no harm. He came to the end of the serie and stood still, centering himself.
He opened his eyes, and still saw nothing of the world. He had been born blind, his family gave him up to a monastery because of it and he was raised there to function without his sight. To him the world was composed of scents, sounds and feelings.
He sniffed the air for his visitor's scent, canine; he smelled deeper, wolf and the perfumes told him he was one of the king's messenger. He walked to the bench by the wall, knowing exactly how many steps it would take him to reach it.
"He wants to see you," the wolf said.
"What makes him think I'd come to his call?"
"Arach," was the answer.
The fox froze as he reached for the walking stick and his heart sank.
* * * * *
He made a left as they entered the castle. It still smelled the same as the last time he was there, it smelled of death, treachery and pretension.
"The king is in the throne room," his guide informed him.
"I know. I'm going to the Dungeon."
"But the king is waiting," the wolf replied pleading.
"He can continue to do so."
He didn't need his guide to show him the way, he'd spent decades in this castle, and most of it in the dungeon, listening to prisoners pleading their innocence. Like before it was a quiet place. Their footsteps and his cane clicking on the stone floor were the only sounds.
The guide opened a last door and is all changed. As they walked by cells prisoners called to them, claiming they were innocent, that a mistake had been made. They came in front of an uncharectiscally silent cell and he stopped. He heard the intake of breath and rustle of chains.
He took a deep breath and held it for a second. "Open the door," he told the porcine guard.
"No one's allowed in there," was the response.
Maryl took a step toward the guard, and before the guard realized anything happened he was laying on the ground the tip of the fox's walking stick pressing against his throat.
"Don't try my patience, open the door," he ordered calmly.
The guard scooted out from under the cane and took the large key chain off his belt as he stood. A moment later the door opened.
Maryl entered the cell and looked in the tiger's direction while the door closed behind him. "Arach, why did you come back?" he asked him quietly, his voice trembling.
"I couldn't stay away anymore," the tiger answered, in his deep voice that had made Maryl's heart melt the first time he'd heard it, and still did.
Maryl sat next to the tiger, and a moment later Arach laid his head on the fox's shoulder.
"I'm sorry," the tiger said as Maryl place an arm around his shoulders.
The fox kissed the top of his head tenderly. "I won't be able to save you this time." He felt the tiger's tears fall on his fur.
* * * * *
Maryl finally stood before the king. Since he had made the wolf wait, he had had to wait in return. He didn't mind, it gave him time to compose himself. He had already though of a way to save Arach, now he had to tried to save his life.
"You've seen him." The king said in his gruff voice.
"Yes, I have," Maryl answered, even if it hadn't been a question.
"Then you know what needs to be done."
"Does it have to be done?" the fox asked, working extremely hard to keep himself from pleading. "Arach has never done anything to hurt anyone."
"He stole form me!" The king bellowed. The silence that followed told Maryl how shocked the court was by that explosion.
"What he took," Maryl started, but stopped as his voice almost cracked. "What he took was never yours to begin with." He finally said in a controlled tone.
"It doesn't matter. You extracted a promise out of that thief in exchange for his life. Repeat it for me."
Maryl could hear the smug satisfaction in the wolf's voice. "Exile, he promised to leave and never return. That he would be put to death if he came back."
"And he came back," The king said with finality, "you know what needs to be done."
"Does it have to be me?" Maryl asked, already knowing the answer.
"You're the one who extracted the promise out of him. You have to be the one to take his life."
The fox lowered his head, "very well, in three days then."
Gasps of surprise traveled the court.
"No. That's unacceptable," stated the king, "He broke his promise."
"Did Arach run when your men tried to capture him?"
"No. he didn't."
"Then he didn't break the promise, he accepted the consequences of it. Has he tarnished his honour in anyway?"
Maryl knew what the king's hesitation meant. He knew what he wanted to say, but they weren't in private. In this court, by the king's own proclamations he had to go by what had happened, not what he felt. "No, he hasn't," the wolf said reluctantly.
"Then the Harsmok festival is an appropriate time for the ceremony, and he won't stay in the dungeon until then."
"He came back knowing what would happen to him. He deserves to be able to enjoy his last few days in this world." He made sure to make it about Arach, it couldn't be about himself since he was back in the position of Judge.
"Do you expect me to just set him loose in the city? You think he'll just show up when it's time?"
"I still have a house in the city. I'll watch over him and ensure he's there for the ceremony." The king was silent. "Have I ever broken one of my promises to you?"
"No. you haven't." Maryl didn't say anything, he waited for the wolf to add conditions. "He'll be escorted to your door in chains and heavy guards. Guards will be posted at your door at all times until the ceremony. And if he leaves your home you will be with him as well as four guards."
"Very well," Maryl said even as he felt the king was going overboard.
* * * * *
Maryl opened the door, before him he could smell Arach, and the guards. "Remove the chains." For a moment he thought the guard would argue, but he heard the keys unlock them. He motioned the tiger inside and closed the door.
Before Arach could say anything Maryl placed his hands on the side of his face and slowly felt it's shape. "You haven't changed," he finally said with a smile and a sigh of relief.
"You've gained more gray." The tiger replied.
They held each other tightly
"I missed you so much," whispered the tiger
"I missed you too, but knowing you were safe kept me going."
"I couldn't take being away from you anymore."
"Have you been told anything?"
Maeyl caressed Arach's neck. "We have two days together, on the third one I'm to end your life."
"That means . . ."
"I didn't know, I . . ." The tiger wrapped his arms around the fox and lifted him spinning around, "Thank you." He said before kidding him passionately.
Maryl smiled when the tiger put him down. "There's more, if we leave the house we will be under constant guard."
"Then we won't leave. I didn't come back to see the city, I came back to see you."
Maryl rested his head on Arach's chest, sobering up a little. "I wish I could see you."
The tiger held him warmly, "You will."
* * * * *
An hour before the ceremony started Maryl and Arach left their house to go to the center of the city. They were under guard, but those were ceremonial rather than the king's. Maryl wore his robe of office and Arach the simple loincloth of the suppliant.
The crowd was quiet as they made the procession; the last time the ceremony had been held Maryl had been just a child, and there hadn't been a petitioner then, There hadn't been one for as long as anyone could remember. They walked through the city so that everyone could see them. Most knew who Arach was by now, the king as seen to it but no one dared disturb the mood of the procession.
When they reached the center of the city the tiger stood against the stone and he was shackled to it. Maryl stood before the altar and said the prayers to the gods, asking for their protection and good will over the city, the king and the people. As he felt the time draw close Maryl ran a finger on the dagger in the center of the altar.
He lifted his head to start the song, but his voice cracked on the first note. He kept control of his body, but he realized that he wouldn't be able to do this.
Behind him the song began in Arach's deep voice.
The song was one that all knew, but normally it was sung in private. It asked the Gods to open their heart to them, to take them in and sooth their suffering; it was a request for their support, a petition for their help.
Maryl closed his eyes and joined his voice to Arach's, this time it was strong and steady. He didn't want this, but Arach needed it, and for him, he was going to be strong.
When the song reached the somber section Maryl heard the crowd gasp. He couldn't see what they saw, but he felt the temperature drop as the sun was slowly obscured by the God Lands opening. He took the dagger in his hand and turned to the tiger.
With the God Lands opening he could see the Gods joining them, Saram, the Father God stood on Arach's right, his golden mane floating around his head like it was radiating light. To his left was Anara, Mother to all, She was bovine and, as always, pregnant. Next to her appeared Torom, her first born and bringer of justice.
More Gods appeared as the song progressed and the God Lands opened, more than Maryl even knew existed. As the song reached it's climax and ended he stood before Arach, the dagger's point touching the tiger's breast. Maryl could feel his heart beating through it as he waited for the exact moment the God Lands would be fully open.
As the moment came close Arach leaned in and whispered to the fox's ear "Do not be in a hurry to join me, I am free now." And the moment was here.
Maryl pushed the dagger in to the hilt, knowing that if he gave himself even a second to think about it he wouldn't be able to do it, and in that moment he finally saw his tiger as he lifted out of his body toward the God Lands.
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