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In the morning after a leisurely breakfast a gentle knock on the door announced the return of Gruen, who inquired how they had fared over- night. Hy was come to escort them into the presence of King Metatron.

"What has come of the yang who accosted us yesterday?" asked Lilith.

"Hyz Majesty is incensed," Gruen replied. "Normally hyz view of jus- tice is that the punishment should ever fit the offense, but it is some measure of the king's wrath that this miscreant's punishment is far in excess of what it otherwise merited."

Gruen saw how it troubled Michael and Lilith both to hear that.

The King received them at the end of a long, narrow colonnade exposed to the elements, where hyz throne had been set with its back to the very face of the Nine Mile Wall. From here hy often enjoyed watching the doings of hyz subjects in the streets of the city far below. Li- lith was brought before Metatron with har daughter Leliel in hand and with Michael at har side. Sha found the Larund sovereign to be like an echo of har beloved father of happy memory.

And yet, Lilith was forced to acknowledge to harself, if the greatness of a lord was reckoned by the realm over which hy was sovereign, Meta- tron bordered on the status of a seraph. All the angels of Adan at the heart of the Gerash lands would fill a mere burough of Rumbek.

Sha saw that the king's son, Barachiel, sat at hyz right hand. So hy was neither dead nor in fetters, which told Lilith that hyz father had accepted the conditions of the truce hastily worked out on the field of battle between har and Samael. Metatron noted har glance.

"I am not certain I should welcome you to Rumbek, Queen Lilith," said hy, after Gruen made the formal introductions. 'My son Ophan Barachiel told me it was you who gave a fair portion of my land to the Black Beards in such a way that I must either ratify it or go to war."

"Your Majesty," replied Lilith, "Ophan Barachiel was at a disadvantage even with my Fallen Angels fighting at hyz side. It would have been a rout and your new frontier with the Adanites would be that much closer to this city. The King no doubt understands how decisions are made in battle conditions."

Metatron grunted dubiously. Then: "It is said you are exiled from Sa- lem. How come you to such a strait?"

"I spoke truth to yeng of the House of Gerash, but they hated the truth because it was like a bright light that threatened to reveal the dark things they do in secret."

The king's next question was sharp and to the point. "What is truth?"

Lilith glanced at Michael, then said in reply, "Your Majesty, truth is simply the way things are. We know this truth when our thoughts and deeds echo the world as it plainly is, without a single contradiction."

"What do you ask of me, Queen Lilith? Shall I put my armies at your command? Shall I use force to protect the purity of your truth?"

Lilith said, "Nay, Your Majesty. If what I teach is so fragile that I must shield it from contamination, what I have cannot be the truth. The Eyes of Keter fight to convert others to their view and make war against other views, because what they call truth is too weak to sell itself to those who seek the truth with sincerity. They are certain they already possess the one truth and refuse to look at reality."

"If truth comes to those who seek it with sincerity, then tell me, Queen Lilith, what is the most sincere truth?"

"Only this, your Majesty: the noblest activity is unending love."

Metatron pondered this silently.

She said, "There is a yang who tried to rob my husband yesterday."

The king emerged from hyz rever-ie to search the face of Lilith. Sha went on to say, "Your Majesty, what hy tried to take from Michael was of little account. If hy chose Michael could flood both Heaven and Earth with so many diamonds they would be like so many wooden beads."

Hy said, "Yet it has come to me that your own daughter had to flee for har life."

"Sha did so at my command, in the event the attacker threw hyz blade. I severed the hand of this yang to preserve the life of my husband. And that, I think, is a most extravagant punishment."

Metatron saw to the heart of Lilith's words to hym. With great tact sha was trying to balance hyz absolute sovereignty in Rumbek with the radical graciousness sha had learned from har husband and teacher. "Gruen!" barked the king, and hyz yeoman sunk to hyz knees before hym. "Gruen, tell the malik supervising this yang's punishment that in my desire for justice it did not enter into my mind to be excessively cruel. Let hym be released from hyz suffering and let hym be cleaned and fed. Go in haste!"

The king's yeoman bounded to hyz feet and fled.

Lilith made a small feminine gesture of respect from one Cherub to another. "Hyz Majesty is merciful and wise, yet a far greater thing weighs upon my thoughts than the chastisement of this thief. Some four hundred yen, exiles of Salem, are stranded on the frontier with Adan. They cannot return east under the same covenant that stays the forces of Samael from marching west, and even now their meager supplies are running out."

"Queen Lilith, have you again established conditions on the field that leaves the House of Larund with little choice?"

"Nay, Your Majesty, at the last throw Queen Aurra has offered to set- tle the Fallen Angels in Rammon, yet this would have the effect of disbanding them as an army. What an army they are indeed that Samael has mustered all hyz warriors to drive them out of the Middle Land!"

"It is well that House Sala has opened their gates to you, yet I deem it would be a journey of at least two years to reach Rammon. Is that what you crave of me, Queen Lilith? Provender for your four hundred Fallen Angels, and leave to pass peacefully through Magodon?"

"Nay, Your Majesty. Give the word, rather, and to a yin my Fallen An- gels will become your most loyal subjects."

"Yet as an army they would be of no use when I march east to regain the lands occupied by Samael. You said yourself they are forbidden to cross the new border."

"That is true, Your Majesty, but for such an endeavor you would no doubt muster your whole army to strike the Adanites. The Fallen Angels could patrol your western marches, lest those of House Bellon or per- haps even rebels within Magodon itself covet your unguarded lands."

"And let us say I did not make your Fallen Angels my subjects," Meta- tron suggested, "nor send them provisions, nor give them leave to cross my land. What then?"

"In that event, Your Majesty, the avatar of Chokhmah would come into play. May my husband address the king?"

"By all means let the consort of the Queen speak freely," said Meta- tron. 'I would learn of this avatar, and of those things which con- verted the whole House of Sala to follow Chokhmah, and which tamed the heart of a warrior yin."

"Your Majesty is gracious," said Michael. "An avatar is an object not made by angels nor nephilim nor men. If Your Majesty is willing to accept this, an avatar is made in the heart of a sun that is the body of an eloah, yet it can fly free, and part of the mind and will of the eloah is bound with this artifact. But mere words concerning an avatar will not suffice. If Hyz Majesty will come to the edge of hyz colon- nade hy will soon see the avatar with hyz own eyes. It was set into motion from an idle state just moments ago."

And indeed Metatron did rise from hyz throne to watch. A streak of rushing fire appeared in the sky over Tala Strait followed by two thunderbursts so loud it seemed to Metatron hy would be knocked over. The fire streak, the king could see, formed behind a small dark object that raced across the sky almost too quickly to follow.

"Behold, Your Majesty, the first avatar of Chokhmah. With this contri- vance you world-dwellers were discovered on Earth, whom the elohim name the Students. The same artifact once whisked me to a hidden place to be brought into full union with Chokhmah as a living avatar."

"Tell me, Lord Michael," said the king, "are you like Samael and Is- rael? In times past they have appeared before me, unheralded, and seem to have the power to come and go as they will heedless of my castle guard. Samael calls hymself a seraph, a master even of cherubim."

"I was the first angel to join with an eloah, Your Majesty. As Chokh- mah I taught the art to Keter, and he in turn taught Daat. I now have the same power to move about Heaven at will but a covenant with Keter restricts my use of this power to the lands west of the Wall of God.

"Here I must resort to riding within the avatar. It brought me to Seliah with my wife and daughter and if needs be it can bring supplies to the Fallen Angels and the Fallen Angels themselves to Rammon, if aid is refused. I would honor such a refusal, your Majesty, even if it were not to my liking. In Magodon you rule absolutely, even over a seraph."

"You need not resort to your avatar," said the King, "for any of the yen willing to swear fealty to the Crown. A choice land will be given to them in my realm. They shall have whatsoever they might need to begin to become productive subjects, and you shall dwell with them."

Lilith was visibly relieved. "I am grateful beyond all telling, Your Majesty, and the Fallen Angels who look to me will be much gladdened. Yet if you say they must lay down the sword, so shall it be, for this too would be their fate scattered among the ringhouses of Rammon."

"Nay, Queen Lilith," replied Metatron, 'let them grasp the sword even so, and see that thou train them well. Samael is faithless. I portend his army one day shall pour through an overlooked loophole in the covenant and thy Fallen Angels will then repay me a hundredfold."

Michael said, "I am certain Samael will never directly assail thee with the main bulk of hyz army, Your Majesty. Elohim will not break the bonds of even small concessions. Yet hy can still send assassins and spies by ones and twos, and arm all thy enemies, both within Mago- don and without. And Samael will continue to foment hatreds between House Larund and the other houses, that thou would remain at each oth- er's throat, and hy might sell hyz remedy in the form of arms, first to one, then the other. Queen Aurra and King Uriel have already said this must end. Give the word of assent, Your Majesty, and I will bring the rulers of House Sala and House Bellon hither to take counsel with the aim of forging some form of peaceful union between the kingdoms of Heaven."

Metatron said a council as Michael described would be a good thing. "And it would be, I think, the first such council ever taken in the history of Heaven. But for now let us find a land to settle the exiles of Salem, and watch for a time whether Samael will break the truce hy made."

Michael bowed and affirmed the king's command.

"Your Majesty," said Lilith, "when we came to thy realm we touched down in a fair valley that runs south through the middle of Seliah Island. We fell in love with the place at first sight. There are some houses and farms but it seems to be lightly settled in the main."

"Thou speakest of the Living Valley," said Barachiel, who turned to face Lilith. "It is near to my own castle in the Dul Valley, though a high ridge intervenes. The high hills run nigh to the water, so it is arduous to bring the increase of the valley to Rumbek."

"The Fallen Angels shall dwell in the same vale," said the king. "And thou, my son, shall extend generous hands until the Salemites are able of their own to work the land. This is the labor I lay upon thee for thy part in what Queen Lilith named a battle decision."

Barachiel bowed hyz head low. "It shall be as you command, my father and liege-lord. But meantime, Queen Lilith and har family shall stay in a wing of my own house until a dwelling is built for them in the Living Valley. Alas, I cannot extend the same to har four hundreds."

Then Michael, Lilith, and Leliel departed from the presence of the cherub Metatron. They were taken to dwell in the Dul Valley for a time while the Fallen Angels were supplied by goods carried by the avatar of Chokhmah and made ready to settle the land apportioned to them.

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Strangers In Paradise