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When the dragon Demonstick fell from the sky and in his death throes belly-flopped upon the river Sabik, and the last embers of hope for House Gerash had been thoroughly extinguished, Baron Bayard turned to Hovan the son of Kirodiel. And he said, “Now carry out the terms of the death combat and release my mother Queen Aurra from her captivity, and get your ships hence, for neither shall you bring Lady Talishi into a cage once again.”

Then Hovan nodded his head once, and bowed, and Lord Zadkiel cut the ropes that secured Queen Aurra in her confinement.

With as much dignity as she could retrieve, she emerged from the cage and moved to within a few paces of her son, but her gratitude and pride in Bayard could not be contained, and he saw that.

Then from the air Victoria alighted on the gopherwood deck of the queen’s barge and in the same movement swept into the arms of Baron Bayard Sala, overjoyed that he had prevailed in his contest with Lord Kirodiel. Gently, gently, the baron embraced Victoria, and though he winced with the pain of his wound as she squeezed him back, the fact that she did squeeze him back was a very encouraging sign. He asked her, “Victoria, is it possible for mere human beings to fall in love with one the B’nei Elohim?”

“I see no reason why not,” she replied. “As I’ve told you before, we B’nei Elohim are mere human beings ourselves, with a few fancy tricks up our sleeves grounded in what you would call alchemy and natural philosophy.”

“I am very relieved to be reminded of that,” he told her. “Thank you! For now I can say with utmost confidence that I have fallen irretrievably in love with the B’nei Eloah named Victoria.”

“Then there must remain only one more thing for you to say, Bayard, so let me hear it. Come on, you’re among friends. Lay it out there.”

“Victoria, will you consent to become my wife?”

“The thing seems to be written in the living stars,” she said with no trace of hesitation. “But let me ask a question of you, Bayard, and when I have your answer, then you will have mine.”

“Proceed with your question, Victoria, but beware, I cannot foresee any that would deter me from what my heart has already resolved to do.”

Victoria caught the eye of the queen. “Is it safe to say, Your Highness, that with the whole House of Sala now moving at your command from their cities to many thousands of scattered faith assemblies, that there is no longer, in a real sense, any kingdom for you to rule, or for Baron Bayard to inherit?”

“Alas, Victoria” answered the queen, “that is true, and were you to marry my son and had your heart set on the title of Baroness, I’m afraid it would be little more than a figment, just an empty title. Our society is being profoundly transformed even as we speak. The irony of the situation is not lost on me, of course. All his life I have sharply rebuked my son for his taste in commoner women. I was trying to steer him to wed one of the Highborn, and now at the very end I find that the very word Highborn is a sound without meaning.”

“Thank you, Queen Aurra,” said Victoria. “And for my part let me say that my ability to fly, which is the biggest thing that sets me apart from humanity as one of the B’nei Elohim, is not a power that can be sustained here on Barbelo. Soon I must lay this power down again, and if I stay in this world I will be little more than a commoner woman, something that might interest the Baron of course, but I had thought you might have an intractable objection to that.”

“Victoria, you are far too modest! You have killed the dragon called Demonstroke and brought an end to the world war on Barbelo. Such a deed, which will be memorialized in songs for ages to come, makes you entirely uncommon.”

“Thank you once again, Your Highness Queen Aurra. And so I am led to ask my question of the man who has asked me to become his wife. Bayard, would you be willing to quit this world forever, and dwell with me on Earth?”

“Victoria I would eagerly follow you right out of this world if you consent to marry me.”

“I do consent to marry you Bayard! I warn you that it will be absolutely bewildering to you at first, and you will find yourself to be what we frequently call a ‘fish out of water’. For we do not merely live on the surface of the Earth, but in the skies above and in the ground below.”

“I am full willing, Victoria, if the queen will give her blessing.” And he turned to face his mother, who rolled her eyes and nodded her head yes. Then the Baron, filled with happiness beyond his capacity to bear, fell to the deck of the queen’s barge in a dead faint.

“I have done everything I can,” Talishi said after she had tended to Bayard and restored him to consciousness. “He has lost very much blood and I marvel that he slew Kirodiel. Do not permit him to stand on his feet until we have taken him downriver to Yeshua, who can provide a temporary blood substitute.”

“Lady Talishi, there remains a slight problem with carrying out that order,” the Fallen Angel Ambe Omphal said, pointing to Hovan Gerash and Lord Zadkiel and many of their officers who remained standing on the deck of the barge all around them.

Queen Aurra stood forth to confront them. She said, “Your dragon is dead.” And the men muttered aye for the queen spoke a truth.

The queen caught the eye of Hovan just then. “You have killed my husband.” And Hovan’s eyes fell, and he nodded in assent and said aye.

She said, “You are in the middle of Haaretz with a greatly diminished force, and the long road home will be much longer if you must fight your way there.” Then she caught the gaze of Lord Zadkiel. “The war is over, do you not agree?”

“I agree, your Highness.”

“Then get yourself and your men to another one of my boats and depart this land!”

When evening fell and the queen’s barge had reached the place where the rivers Sabik and Arhena became one, Talishi climbed, somehow, to the top of the highest mast where few would dare to follow her, and there she meditated on many things. Victoria, returning to the ship from a night flight she had taken for the sheer pleasure of it, saw Talishi sitting in that precarious place and asked to join her.

“By all means, Victoria, please make yourself as comfortable as you can.”

Then Victoria, knowing that no one could overhear, said, “Aliwe told you, didn’t she? That you and Bat-El found a way to win.”

“Aliwe told me things that would have been perfectly safe for our companions to overhear on the way to the Catwalk,” Talishi replied. “But I got the detailed update directly from her in the way that you and the other B’nei Elohim already know so well. Yes, we found a way to beat Mastema, both my daughter and I.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

“It’s a very curious thing, Victoria. It is like I have a splinter of wood that bears a tiny flame, and I must walk that small flame to a great pile of wood and kindle it to keep my loved ones from freezing to death, yet it is windy, and I dare not do the slightest thing to let the flame go out.”

“I think I understand what you mean. Even after Aliwe assured me I would defeat Demonstroke, I did not relax my guard for a single instant. It still required the utmost effort.”

“That is precisely what I’m trying to convey to you.”

“Lady Talishi, will I meet my daughter Aliwe again?”

“You will, after that big bonfire really gets going. But if you and Bayard have a child, even a girl child, she will not be the same Aliwe. Not even if you name her that.”

“Aliwe already said as much.”

“I will go with you and Bayard to Earth,” Talishi revealed. “It’s very strange, you know. My real body is the sun that warms the Earth and drives all life and movement there, but in this body, as Talishi, I have never been there. But I must go that there may no longer be two separate locii for the El Shaddai identity.”

“And will you return to Barbelo someday?”

“Just once, as an important part of that successful way Aliwe spoke of. I must save the planet from a third deluge. As Talishi I will not survive it. But Aliwe tells me the other El Shaddai, the one I must soon merge with once more, is already making arrangements to land in another body.”

“Please don’t make that into a habit, Lady Talishi. “We have seen what serial possession has done to Mastema.”

“I will not, and Aliwe told me that I’m making arrangements to deal with that problem as well. But I knew long ago there would be no real joy in bringing Mastema to his doom. Imagine contriving the total defeat of your bitter lifelong enemy only to discover the man was in the advanced stages of dementia.”

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