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AN ANGUISHED CRY filled the air. "No, Papa, don't leave me." Arian gripped the folds of her gown as she ran to her father's bed.
"Sa, it's okay." He grimaced in pain.
Arian dashed at the tears that spilled down her cheeks. Her gaze slid to the blue gauze curtains that hung from the ceiling, the only spot of color in this stark white room. She hated this place. Her father had been here too long. It smelled of illness and of death. "I can't do this without you."
"You must!" He grabbed her hand and pulled her down, closer to his bed, his voice barely a whisper. "You are the only hope now. Go to Drahar. Find Dresuer. Stop this madness."
Against her better judgment, she nodded. How could she leave her father to die while she pursued such a crazy quest?
The doctors, who stood like sentinels in the spacious medic's suite, murmured amongst themselves. The head doctor moved toward her. "Princess, we must try again."
"No." Her violet eyes blinked back tears. "He has been through enough. Let him be."
"I will not stand by while you subjugate him to your cures. They make him weaker, not stronger." She stood to face them. "Leave us now. I want to spend the last few moments of my father's life with him. Alone."
She glared at their shocked expressions.
"What are you waiting for?" She crossed her arms over her chest until they turned and left the room.
"Why must I do this now?" Her iridescent white gown rustled as she knelt beside her father. "Why can't I wait for the proper time of mourning to pass?"
His limp pale hand, which used to be so strong and tanned,patted hers. With each of his movements, light glinted off of the small monitors attached to him. The thready beep of his heart on the monitor accelerated with his movements. "Sa, you must leave immediately. If you stay here, you might not get another chance. I don't want to die knowing your life would be in grave danger."
"How will my absence be explained? The people will think I abandoned them and General Varal will take control anyway." Tears slipped down her cheeks again.
He shook his head in one labored movement. Pain etched his face. "You are going to the mountains to follow the ancient Taree. Varal will think you're fulfilling the burial rites. You'll have six lunas to complete your mission."
"Six lunas, Papa? What if I fail?"
His frail hand lifted her chin. "You can't fail, Sa. Too many lives depend on your success."
* * *
ARIAN STOOD RIGIDLY on the platform near the craft that would take her to the mountains where she would begin the Taree. The arid morning air penetrated the long traveling cloak that covered her clothing. She tugged on the felt hood concealing her face.
The priests' wails, lamenting the loss of their king, filled the air while they watched the urn being secured in the craft.
Copyright © 2004 Barbara Donlon Bradley.