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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2016 11:43 am 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm
Posts: 1352
val Holryn wrote:

Much bigger than "must like dogs." And Tukufu's follow through doesn't look so good as a correspondent! At least the advice he gave still sounds good (to me anyway). :D

Of course I had to go back and reread the letters by the fire.

I think I provided Tukufu with a reason why he didn't respond. Not sure if it rings true or not. You're always welcome to get back to the correspondence. I might breathe some life back into it by saying he took the advice. It was good, but perhaps a bit more difficult to accomplish as this story indicated.

My hope had been that the Letters for the Fire would provide an interesting and different set of insights on the character when it eventually became known that Raynard Virdan and The Mountain were one in the same. Hopefully it was a pleasant surprise when you realized the two characters were actually one. Ideally I'd wanted enough clues in the online forum for people who'd played with The Mountain to put it together. Nice idea, a lot harder to execute.

When I was looking for a new character to play I wanted to bring to life a character that reflected the terror and threat Ymandragore represents. What are the coping mechanisms? How does that influence the spells learned? How does that shape who the person becomes as they step out into the world to become an adventurer who at least hopes to have a long an interesting life? From a mechanical perspective he's really sub-optimal having been built on the Arcane Archetype and invested significantly in combat talents, stats, skills and paths. On the other hand, he's been an absolute blast to play which trumps the mechanics hands down.

If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions on improving the story or refining the character, let me know. Always happy to get them. If you want to see the build, drop me a PM and I can send you the sheet. As for the story itself the next scene is probably a couple days away. I still need to figure out the path to the conclusion and figure out exactly what it is. I haven't determined who he ends up with, so feel free to lobby for your favorite character or point out why he should or shouldn't consider someone.

At a minimum I hope you continue to enjoy the story.

With a sweep of his hat,


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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 3:36 pm 
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I am definitely enjoying the story.

I am amazed you didn't know how you are ending the story when you started (and perhaps aren't sure how it will end even now). When I did the Red Frescos i plotted everything out in an outline before I put the first post up. You and Eddy have got me fired up and ruminating on putting out another Tukufu story...

Eric Gorman

AKA Ambassador Tukufu, man of letters, tomb raider and Master Sword Sage
. . . and Sir Szymon val'Holryn, Order of the Phoenix
Formerly Sir Jaeger val'Holryn. Weilder of the Holy Avenger: Thonanos. Gave his soul to help free King Noen

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 7:41 pm 
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Shirin would be a good match for a 'dominant' female to beat his ego down (and feed it to the dogs).

Ruana would be a better 'life match' for several reasons:
1. Research and training partner
2. Get along well
3. If the Harvesters come, they get taken as a family unit (and not separated!)

LARG; Astra Tonsoria Ursula val¤Dellanov, Martial Former Tribune, Centurion Sword Sage II, T3.4
LA:5E; Magdelene of Ostermann, Dark-kin Courtesan Rog3(Bard)/HC2 (future twilight warrior)
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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 8:20 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm
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val Holryn wrote:
I am definitely enjoying the story.

I am amazed you didn't know how you are ending the story when you started (and perhaps aren't sure how it will end even now). When I did the Red Frescos i plotted everything out in an outline before I put the first post up. You and Eddy have got me fired up and ruminating on putting out another Tukufu story...

Glad you're enjoying it. It's both accurate and inaccurate to say I don't know how it will end. I knew at the beginning he would find a bride. I wasn't sure who exactly that would be and honestly as all of the candidates were going to be reasonable fits it didn't matter. The general structure of meetings for day 1 and 2 were figured out as was the discussion with Roshni. There isn't a lot of interdependence between the various scenes, so it was less critical to map things out. I did have sketches of each of the women from a personality, training and goals perspective. Depending on how the interactions played out impacted how further encounters would go. For other stories I expect I'd would have a more full outline as I'd want a clear end and progression.

Once this story is over I may see about another story for either The Mountain or Vincens. I want to get this one finished and wrapped up first though especially as the bride may factor in. :)

With a sweep of his hat,


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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 8:57 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm
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Southernskies wrote:
Shirin would be a good match for a 'dominant' female to beat his ego down (and feed it to the dogs).

Ruana would be a better 'life match' for several reasons:
1. Research and training partner
2. Get along well
3. If the Harvesters come, they get taken as a family unit (and not separated!)

Interesting point about Shirin. She would certainly push him though would likely be more of a friendly rivalry, especially given their differences in style.

Your points on Ruana are well taken. I hadn't really thought about the possible upside of being kept together when taken. Certainly something to keep in mind.

With a sweep of his hat,


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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 11:11 pm 

Joined: Fri Sep 27, 2013 11:55 pm
Posts: 297
val Holryn wrote:
You and Eddy have got me fired up and ruminating on putting out another Tukufu story...

Very glad we are able to inspire you. If that's what it takes to get your riled up to write, I'll push my next episode out sooner then ;)

Hat, I'm definitely looking forward toward your next installment. 8-)

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2016 9:44 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm
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The Mountain awoke to a knock on his door, as he did the day before he rose and answered it finding Firuz and Parviz looking alert and immaculate. He gestured for them to enter and they did. “Good morning, The Mountain.”

“Good morning, Firuz, Parviz.”

“We have a message for you. Ruana has requested the honor of your presence for breakfast and the morning,” Parviz informed him.

“Good! Tell her yes.”

Firuz looked at him, “Do you want us to deliver any other messages or invitations?”

“Yes. Please invite Arya to lunch.”

“Any others?” Firuz nudged.

“Nope,” and he smiled back at Firuz. Parviz laughed and slapped Firuz on the back. Having settled that question, The Mountain returned to the other room to make himself presentable.

“I am not deterred,” he heard Firuz’ bold respond dampened by distance. “Others will still ask.”

The rejoinder was almost too faint to hear. “He will end up with Arya or Ruana. Consider yourself fortunate that it means Shirin is still available.” The rest of the conversation was too quiet to hear from the other room. Within short order The Mountain was ready and returned.

The journey through the Palace was uneventful and they soon arrived at their destination. The Mountain entered and Firuz closed the door behind him. He greeted her as etiquette dictated given her status. She chuckled while accepting his greeting and offering the appropriate responses. “And I was getting used to you dropping to a knee as out of place as that was.” She smiled at him warmly.

The Mountain dropped to a knee, “If this is what you prefer…”

She shook her head and gestured for him to rise and pointed to a table with foods in abundance. “Eat well. You’ll need it.”

The Mountain looked at her questioningly.

“You’re not the only one who can keep things mysterious,” she teased.

He laughed and held her chair out for her. She sat and they filled their plates with gusto. The Mountain took time to consider the woman sitting across from him. Ruana was dressed differently than she had been the last two days they had met. Her outfit while still flattering and well-made was very functional – good for traveling and freedom of movement. Her hair was braided and secured with jewelry that even vigorous activity wouldn’t threaten to dislodge. At her hip she wore the scimitar he had seen hanging on a chair in the library when they first met.

“Where are we going?”

Ruana’s smile deepened, “You’ll see.”

“Can you tell me more stories?”

“Let’s save that for while we travel. Too many stories right now will only delay us.”

Conversation over breakfast covered more of her responsibilities within the Golden Court. She shared her interest in the mages who served the Emperors of the 1st Imperium and her curiosity in understanding the relationship between them and the church, given modern attitudes. He told her more of his own interests in myths and legends and about life growing up in the arenas as well as his struggles in understanding who he was. He also shared his sense of loss around what could have been.

“You are here today, in this place, seeking a wife because of how your life has gone. Are you disappointed?” She asked him pointedly.

He shook his head through remained quiet. Having given him a thought to chew on, they finished the meal in comfortable silence. Once done they released Firuz and Parviz to their own ends with assurances that they would be back in time for The Mountain’s lunch appointment. As Firuz and Parviz headed off they heard The Mountain speak. “You said you’d tell me stories when we left. Now?” he asked obviously very excited.

Ruana laughed. “Soon.”

As they left the Palace and headed off she told him stories often shared with children. He pestered her with questions to understand the stories better and the questions – while simple, were often insightful. After walking for half an hour they came to a building with men standing guard. They saluted Ruana with a level of comfort that showed long familiarity. The building was intact but had seen far better days. The Mountain looked at Ruana who smiled and shrugged and led the way. He followed.

Close to the entrance she moved down a short hallway then down a set of stairs. They reached a landing as the stairway bent where she pushed on a couple of stones in the wall and released a catch. It opened a doorway that had not been there before. She took out flint and steel and lit a lantern that hung within the new passageway. Once they were both through the door, Ruana shut it behind them and continued on. She moved confidently down hallways and stairs. Twice more they passed through hidden doors. Eventually she reached a room roughly forty feet to a side with a shallow vaulted ceiling. Bits of color decorated the walls but not enough to make anything of them. The room was clear other than dust.

“What is this place?” The Mountain asked.

“A sanctuary of sorts. While somewhat extensive, these tunnels have long been played out. Whatever was down here looted and gone. For those interested in training or exploring this can still be an interesting area. One of the tunnels we passed connects to another building a few blocks from where we started.”

The Mountain looked around. “So why did you bring me here?”

Ruana concentrated and witchlight began circling her head. “Because it’s a safe place to practice and talk openly about what we can do and what we know. I know of other places, but some of those have residents.”

“The Sanctorum?”

She nodded. “Are you familiar with it?”

He shrugged. “I’ve heard rumors, but it’s never been worth the risk to seek them out.”

She seemed surprised. “Who trained you?”

“I’m mostly self-taught. When my gift first appeared it caused those I thought were my family great concern. They summoned my real parents who also brought with them someone trained in the gift. He was cloaked and no names were given. I was taught the exercises needed to calm the mind and take control over it. I had good instincts and mastering control and being able to hide it was the first step. I was taught some basics, but have had very little interaction with anyone who knew what they were doing. That same man came twice more and helped me identify safe places to practice when needed but urged caution. I was shown how to do things subtly so that my secret wouldn’t be discovered. I can do a few things like that reliably, but others I can’t.” He looked apologetic.

“Safe is better than the alternative. Can you form a protective shield?”

He nodded.

“Show me!” she commanded releasing a bolt of arcane fire at him unexpectedly.

He stood in what appeared to be stunned surprise as the fire flew at him then impacted on some unseen force, its energies dissipated.

She looked impressed. “Even knowing you could do that I didn’t spot you invoking it. Good start!” She smiled warmly at him and he returned it.

For the next couple of hours they practiced magic, learning what each other was capable of and trading tips. She was able to help him properly manifest much of his power without concealing its source while he was able to help refine her ability to cast without appearing to. They both got a thorough workout trading arcane fire, blasts of wind and other tricks. They sparred not with trident or sword, but with spell and laughed and enjoyed themselves. The Mountain would still need a lot of practice to master subtle casting of some of the more elementary spells, but had a better foundation than before. Their sparring complete, The Mountain refreshed both of their appearances leaving little sign of their exertion or passage.

Ruana looked at him thoughtfully. “I can introduce you to others, here and elsewhere that can appreciate your gift and provide not only safety but friendship and teaching, if you like.”

“Are you sure I would be welcome? I draw attention and am very memorable…” he voiced with a mixture of hesitation and hope.

“The Sanctorum is there to help all those with the Gift. We can help you – if you let us.”

He took her hand gently and held it between his own, moved by her offer. “You offer something beyond price.”

She smiled. “Then there is nothing to repay.”

Aware that their time was short they exited the room and returned it to the slightly dusty state it had been before they arrived, taking similar actions to erase their passage as they worked their way back up to the entrance. They walked back to the Palace in silence, each lost in their own thoughts and seemingly content to just be together. As they entered the main entrance hall they spotted Firuz and Parviz heading towards them. The Mountain slowly sank to one knee with deep respect for the woman who had accompanied him. “Thank you for the morning.”

Ruana studied him reading what she could from him and then offered him a heartfelt salute. “And thank you as well.” She hesitated apparently considering saying something more and then Firuz and Parviz arrived.

They remained that way for a few moments before Ruana turned and departed and The Mountain rose and watched her leave. Once she was out of sight he greeted his escort with a grin. “Is it lunch? I’m hungry! And Arya! It’ll be good to see Arya.”

Firuz and Parviz considered him and what they had just seen transpire. “As you wish, The Mountain,” answered Firuz his typical bravado muted, and the trio departed.

To be continued…

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Wed Apr 06, 2016 6:27 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm
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“You seem to have made an impression,” Parviz commented as they walked.

“Yes,” The Mountain replied happily.

“And Arya?” Firuz asked.

“We’ll see,” he replied, “and you’re interested in Shirin?”

“I am,” Firuz replied a bit sadly.

“Have you told her?”


“Well, if you don’t ask a question, you don’t get an answer,” he noted earnestly.

Parviz laughed. “Even The Mountain thinks you should talk to her.”

The walk continued with Firuz getting teased a bit more, though that subsided as they neared their goal. They exited the Palace and entered the gardens. Firuz led him to a section he hadn’t explored. There a table was set with chairs for a meal. The sky was overcast, but the day was warm. Similar to Ruana, Arya was dressed in clothes that allowed her to move freely. Her hair was back, but down and as lovely as it was the first day they met. Nearby an impressive looking short spear and small shield were stored. She welcomed The Mountain as if greeting an old friend. “It is good to see you, The Mountain.”

The Mountain returned her greeting with enthusiasm. “And you too, Arya!” He gestured to the spear and shield. “Are they yours?”

“Yes! I don’t get the chance to practice as much as I once did, but I still enjoy it. I’m a practitioner of the Flos de Macto fighting style. Are you familiar with it?”

He grinned. “Yes. I have fought quite a few matches against men trained in that style.”

“Would you do me the honor of sparring after lunch?”

He seemed pleasantly surprised. “Of course! That sounds like fun!” He turned and found that Firuz and Parviz had already withdrawn some distance. He gestured and Firuz came over. “Can you get my trident from my room please? After lunch we’re going to spar! Why don’t you get some food and come after lunch?”

“As you wish,” Firuz responded amused and the two withdrew.

Arya touched his arm getting his attention. “Shall we eat?”

“YES!” he exclaimed bringing forth a full laugh from Arya.

“Hungry are we?”

“YES!” he reiterated.

Continuing to chuckle they sat and started in on lunch.

She started talking to him, but he couldn’t understand what she was saying. She switched to another language that was equally unfamiliar then looked at him questioningly. He shook his head and shrugged, she continued chatting as if he did and then switched again. This time into Yhing hir.

“I really would try one of those fruit tarts,” she said and pointed. “They are one of my favorites. I think you understand me, this time?”

“Yes. Though you probably suspected I would.” She grinned and nodded. “So why the other languages?”

Arya shrugged. “Seemed like a fun game to play. I know you understand more than you’ve let on. So why not see what kind of conversation we can have between us?” Her eyes twinkled.

The Mountain responded in yet a different language and she seemed surprised. He said something more and she strained to catch exactly what. He smiled innocently. “Say something else,” she prompted in Low Coryani. So he did. She shook her head.

“What is it? I can’t place it.”


“Ah…” she replied in Udor. Not a language he spoke, but something that simple he was able to make out. And so it continued for a while, with her even singing in unfamiliar languages. By halfway through lunch they had discovered that Arya spoke more than double the number of languages that The Mountain did, though he had a couple she was unfamiliar with. Otherwise they had a few in common and refined their game to inserting words or phrases of other languages into common ones to see how well it went. Some of the misunderstandings for the meanings had them both laughing hard.

When they were done with lunch she collected her spear and shield and he his trident and they retired to an open area where they could spar. Firuz and Parviz came along. They stayed at a respectful distance but close enough to watch. Neither Arya or The Mountain wore armor, though her style refused it. As they probed it became evident quickly that she was well trained. He left her an opening and was almost too slow to close it before her spear would have hit. He nodded impressed. She smiled sweetly.

The two sparred for almost an hour. It didn’t have the same intensity of the sparring with Shirin and The Mountain was clearly the superior warrior. Nevertheless, Arya proved herself an accomplished fighter. They returned to the table where refreshments awaited.

“You fight well! Do you practice regularly?”

“I do. In statecraft words are often used as weapons and the analogies between the two run deep. Practicing keeps my mind sharp, my body prepared and my perceptions keen. I don’t have the same level of passion for it that Shirin does, but it helps keep me in balance.”

“Who do you spar with?”

She raised an eyebrow, “with spear or with words?”


She laughed and started explaining the various personages within the Golden Court and within the city that she dealt with regularly as well as others that traveled there periodically – some a joy, many not. She shared with him various anecdotes and encounters she’d witnessed bringing them both nearly to tears from laughing so hard. It was a few hours past midday when a servant approached and came to Arya.

“Pardon the interruption, but you asked me to remind you when it was nearly time.”

Arya thanked the servant then turned to The Mountain. “I am expected elsewhere for a time, so I’m afraid our time today is almost ended. What’s next for you?”

The Mountain let out a long sigh, thinking. “I will stay here for a while. I need time to think. Time is short.”

He tenderly took her hand in his and covered it with his other. “Thank you for spending this time with me.”

“You are welcome. Time with you has been a gift as well.”

She offered him an endearing smile and withdrew her hand. Without another word she turned and strode from the garden, leaving The Mountain to his thoughts.

To be continued…

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Wed Apr 06, 2016 10:01 pm 

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Alone The Mountain wandered the garden in silence. Firuz and Parviz approached but hung back when it was clear he was not seeking their assistance. Though overcast enough sunlight made it through to brighten the colors of a garden in full bloom. What caught the attention is not only were the flowers and plants arranged for harmony in shape and color but in scent as well. Soft breezes brought hints of the closest flowers while larger gusts blew in a mixture of complimentary fragrances. To the observant it was a place well-conceived and tended with care. He wandered down the various paths. He paused momentarily at the bench where he had spoken to Roshni. A change in wind brought new scents to his attention and drew him down another path.

He stopped and looked at the place he had first met Arya. The breeze stirred the flowers and bushes, but otherwise this part of the gardens was quiet. The two guards stood and waited, unwilling to intrude. They remained that way for some time. Then The Mountain gestured and Firuz and Parviz joined him.

“Can you take a message for me?” The Mountain asked them.

“Of course.”

“Can you ask Arya to meet me here when she is done with her appointment?”

“As you wish,” and with that request Firuz departed.

The Mountain turned to Parviz. “Can you tell Nasha I wish to speak to her?”

“Of course,” and Parviz turned to go.

“If she asks I need an hour. Or any time after,” he looked upwards thinking. “That’s good.”

Parviz bowed to him slightly and departed.

The Mountain sat and absorbed what was around him. His eyes followed the lines of the different flowers and traced the clouds through the sky. Some time later Parviz returned. “An hour before sunset,” and The Mountain nodded in acknowledgement then returned to his thoughts. Eventually Firuz returned and with him was Arya. She seemed quite pleased to see him and he her. He stood at her approach though addressed Firuz and Parviz. “Could you wait for me by the garden entrance, please?”

They offered quiet encouragement and departed, leaving the two alone. He gestured and she sat, looking up at him expectantly.

“Ymandragore as it is seen and known within the First City is not as it is known beyond these walls,” he began. “In most of the known lands their king claims dominion over all those who have the ability to wield magic, to use the Gift as it’s referred. So strong is his belief that he has loyal followers known as Harvesters who scour the lands seeking those with the Gift and not in the Sorcerer-King’s service. Those who will not serve by choice, serve by force,” he adds quietly. “They are kidnapped and taken on black ships to Ymandragore. I have not heard of any who have gone there returning.”

Arya reached out her hand which The Mountain took. She gently pulled him down to the bench next to her and held his hand as he spoke.

“The Gifted are hunted. Rumors of people wielding power not granted as a gift of the gods are investigated. One thing is clear in all the stories: all of the Gifted are very smart as it takes a certain mind to harness its power.” He looked down. “I am one such as those,” he noted very quietly. “I am one of the Gifted.”

He looked back at her and his anxiety was met with concerned support. “I shall never or rarely be mistaken for someone else. I cannot use the camouflage I expect many with the Gift take to blend in in plain sight. So I use what’s available. If only the intelligent can have and wield the Gift, then I can’t be smart. I must not conform to the parameters they look for, if I wish to go on hiding and living my life.”

“This is why I behave as I do. This is why the world cannot know me for who I truly am, but only that part of me that’s safe to share. I have put my trust and faith in your hands. Should you betray it, my freedom and my life as I know it will be gone,” he paused and let that thought linger. “Life though this way is lonely. Few know the truth. This is why I have done what I’ve done. I need people I can trust around me. I want you to be one of those people.”

Arya seemed quite moved at The Mountain’s confession. “You have given me a great gift. May I always prove worthy of it.”

The Mountain smiled. “I need to go. I need to be ready to talk to Nasha soon.”

She nodded and returned the smile.

“Until later,” he offered a bow over her hand and stood and then headed for the entrance to the gardens.

To be continued…

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2016 10:59 am 

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The Mountain entered the room where only a few days ago he made a request that would change his life. As before Firuz and Parviz stood guard outside. Each had wished him well and they joked about the multiple bets that the two had made. The room was as before with light refreshments at hand. Nasha was dressed as formally as before and The Mountain dropped to a knee with great deference. She gestured for him to rise and he approached.

“You have been busy,” she began. “and used your time to the fullest. I have talked to the others and know their thoughts on the matter. I would hear yours as well.”

He nodded once. “Each of the women I met had potential and by the end of the first day I had only narrowed it down by one.”

“Roshni,” she supplied.

“Yes. Had she taken a different approach she would have earned more consideration, though in the end I expect the result would have been the same. Her impulsiveness and willingness to take risks would likely have been too much. Vashti removed herself next. She was the first to figure out I was more intelligent than I let on, but was also the one with a future I would have had the hardest time fitting into. It did not seem fair to her to put that dream at risk when there were others she can find it with.”

“Would you have said the same if she had been the last option?” Nasha probed.

“Yes,” he replied without hesitation. “What point in having an unhappy marriage?”

“Things could have changed or worked out differently. For many dealing with arranged marriages this match would still be preferred to the risk of a less desirable one.”

He shrugged. “True.”

“Would it surprise you to know that she hesitated when I asked if she would have you?”

He blinked. “It would.”

“So that left three.”

“Each had their strengths as a potential match as you expected when you selected them. It was hardest with Shirin to determine how it would work.”

Nasha looked at him curiously. “Why her?”

“Because she was in the position least likely to figure things out. She is the one among them that’s easiest to be the me the world sees and to share that with. I don’t believe she figured out any of the me I hide from the world, but I don’t think that mattered to her. She simply accepted me for who I am. If I had revealed the rest to her I think she would have been pleasantly surprised, but I don’t think it would have fundamentally changed things. She simply would have appreciated that I could offer her more than she thought and while that might change things in private it would not impact how we related in public.”

“It is clear in the way you’re talking that you decided against her.”

He nodded. “While she accepted me, she didn’t discover who I was. She didn’t probe enough or wasn’t insightful enough. In the end it felt too close to others I have traveled with. It may not be fair, but it’s not a feeling I could shake.”

Nasha nodded, accepting the rationale. “Shirin would have been happy with the match. For that matter so would have Roshni though having heard the details of what transpired I am somewhat surprised that it ended that way – to your credit,” she added.

“Even were I truly who she originally thought me to be, it would have ended the same. Though my mind may be different, my heart is still the same.”

“Which leaves you with Arya and Ruana.”

The Mountain sighed and paused for a moment as he figured out how to proceed. Nasha waited patiently.

“In many ways they are different, and in many ways the same. Each is passionate and complex, thoughtful and touching, skilled and capable. Like Shirin, both are able to defend themselves. They are very different in what they want and how they approach life.” He paused considering where to go next.

“Do both know the extent of your secret?”

He smiled. “Yes. With Ruana she was able to put together all the pieces on her own for all of it. For Arya she put together most of it but lacked knowledge that would have led her to the rest. She laid it out clearly enough, pointing out the fact that there was something deeper going on. She then expressed it as a matter of trust where Ruana dealt with it as a matter of intellect. For Ruana, that realization helped forge the bond we share. For Arya, the bond we forged was the basis for the trust given.”

“So have you decided between them?”

“Yes. I choose Ruana, should she and you permit.”

Nasha accepted the words, but provided no indication if that would in fact be the case. “Had you decided on Ruana before you told Arya?”

The Mountain nodded, his body language betraying an anxiousness that had not been there before.

“Then why tell her?”

“Because there was risk in not telling her. More importantly, a man I respect and the only person I have shared this with before you reminded me that this is not a burden to carry alone. That friends are as much a key to happiness as family is.”

“She will be disappointed,” Nasha informed him. “To have earned your trust and not been chosen may seem a bitter draught.”

The Mountain sighed. “She earned my trust. If I am to open myself up to risk to live a fuller life, then others must be part of it. You’re right, I could have not told her because she wasn’t chosen. She knew most of the truth already though, and recognized that at the heart of it there was a secret profound enough to define my life. Her discovering things in another way would not go better. Perhaps sharing it later would have been better and I made a mistake telling her now. It is my hope that she will appreciate the trust I have placed in her. Especially if she understands it was done after I had selected another. I would like her as a friend…”

He fell silent not sure what to say next.

“Would you be happy with her?” she probed.

He nodded.

“So why Ruana then?” Nasha asked.

The Mountain cheered up a bit with the question, “Because it would be a happier life. Arya’s responsibilities here are ones I may be able to aid or influence through my travels or insights when interacting with the various people she meets. I can be supportive and helpful and enjoy the time that we would have together. Her life though is very much spent under the gaze of others,” his voice gained strength and confidence as he explained.

“Ruana’s life is not spent as much under the watchful gaze of others. I can be present for some of her research or not. I can seek out information and resources of interest to us in my travels and journeys. When she explores I can go with her and assist and protect her. I can be an active part of that life – a partner. Even if others don’t recognize how much we are working together, we will. She understands a piece of me that Arya can’t. Ruana lives the same risks I do, and that is part of the bond we share. We share and can share so much moving forward that it is far easier to see a happy life together for both of us. This is the dream I have been willing to risk my life and freedom for. It is the path I feel called to follow. I would be happy with either of them, but in my heart I believe Ruana is the better choice.”

Nasha smiled warmly at him. “Thank you for treating my family with respect and careful thought. Ruana too has asked for this. So shall it be.”

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