The Morning Air

Nala stepped back through the portal after she'd left the four youngsters at Port Utharus. She felt they had made the right decision. She'd been too scared to take the leap of faith. But then she hadn't had any close friends or family that would support her decision and link their lives to hers. 
"Balu." she sighed and stared out the window as her thoughts wandered to her first love.
She'd been so young when she saw Balu for the first time, barely 16. He'd been 24 and an accomplished warrior that would make his lakeside dwarf tribe proud. And she, she'd been a girl without a clan, only linked to her mother who'd been the wise woman before her. Nala had never known who her father'd been but she suspected her mother had had to have gone through the same ritual she had just put the four youngsters through. Mayhaps she'd been the fruit of her parents' love. Would her mother's choice had been different if she'd known she was pregnant? Nala could only hope she would have. 
The door to her cabin slammed open and a wild-looking dwarf stood on her doorstep. His white braided hair slashing in the wind and his eyes staring at her with an intensity that sparked anxiety in her heart. 
"Nala." he whispered, his voice coarse and hitching, "It's you."
Balu could hardly believe he'd finally found her. So many years ago, she'd been the one to choose duty over their love. Torn and broken, he'd left his clan anyway. Having lost Nala, Balu couldn't face others with the confidence he'd once had. Seeing other couples tore at his heart and he'd hardly slept. He'd fled to the mountains, choosing to live a life of solitude that had mirrored Nala's life. Life got easier when he'd made a shelter, knew where to look for food and adjusted to the cold. He'd searched for her then, combing the forest and shores for her. But he'd never found her. Not until today when a strange feeling had drawn him down again. He thought he'd given up on their love years ago. 
"Balu." Nala whispered, almost scared that he'd vanish if she spoke his name too loud.
"You were here." he said just as she asked: "What are you doing here?"
Balu coughed, his throat objecting to the words, "I searched for you, but..."
"I was always here." she interrupted, "I believed you'd stayed with your people."
Balu shook his head and pointed toward the mountainside where he'd made his home.
"I was there."
Ironically, Nala almost had a clear line of sight to where Balu said his home was. 
"Why now?" Nala asked.
Silence descended and the hut seemed suddenly cramped though she'd always lived comfortably in the home she'd shared with her mother. Her mother who'd vanished when she'd been old enough to take over. Nala wondered if maybe this was something similar.
"I just sent another couple on their way." she said and added, "They chose love."
Hurt ran across Balu's face, making Nala feel guilty. Thinking back on the years she could only wonder what their life together would have been like. She suspected a new wise woman had been found and her own term had ended. Maybe that was why Balu had found her when he had not been able to locate her before. He knew perfectly well where she'd lived after all. If he'd looked for her then he would have come to her home. Could they mend the broken pieces of their love? 
"Maybe one of them will return here to take over my task."
Balu felt frustrated and annoyed. Even now she was thinking of her duty first. Would the world end if she was not here? Hardly. Would it matter if love liaisons bloomed between the different dwarven clans? Life would go on. They were the same people, why did it matter where they lived or what colour their hair was? Before he knew what he was doing, he'd closed the gap between them and taken her by the shoulders. Teetering on the brink of hugging her or shaking her he froze. Careful not to squeeze too hard, Balu gazed deep into Nala's eyes, hoping to see the young woman he loved in them. He'd drawn her over a thousand times over the years. Had spent hours trying to mix the right shade of blond for her hair, the blue for her eyes. In his drawings she'd not aged. This woman was both familiar and new. But he breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed she relaxed in his hold. 
"Can we try once more?" he asked, pleading for her to agree.
"We're different people..." she objected.
"I know what I want, same as I did then, Now I just know the price we had to pay."
Nala drooped, wondering what to do next. Did she even dare go for the happiness that she could have had? Was she entitled to try and change her fate? Would it be just that easy? She looked up again and saw the determination in Balu's eyes and the set of his mouth. He'd waited for her. What more proof of his love did she need? 
"There is a place..." she started and told him about Port Utharus and the four young dwarves she'd brought there. She was certain that one of them was supposed to take over her task. More than likely it was the couple. Which meant they'd have to come back. 
"Let's go there." Balu said.
"Maybe I should wait until they return." Nala argued feebly.
"The world won't end with you gone. You can train her in this new world. And then she'll be all set to go when she returns with her love. They can take your cabin and build a life for themselves."
"I'm sorry I didn't give us a chance." Nala said.
"You're giving it to me now." he answered. 
He would not let her go a second time. But he didn't say that to her. He suspected she knew anyway. He was starting to get impatient to get on with their lives. He paced back and forth during the time it took to make the portal potion again. Nala instructed him to go pack his belongings but he had nothing of worth in the mountains. Furniture he could replace, clothes he could get when they reached their destination, he didn't have money. The only thing he needed was here with him. In the end he helped Nala pack some clothes and some books she felt she'd need to train her successor. 
"I think I'll miss this place." she said.
"We can come back, you know how to get here." Balu told her.
"I guess you're right." she said, feeling a little better.
For the second time that night she threw the potion in her fireplace and stepped through the portal. But this time she didn't intend to return. The future lay open before her and it looked promising though not easy. Because she had meant it when she said they were different people. They'd have to take their time to get to know each other again. But they had time.

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[Prologue] * [STORY] * [Nala] * [Balu]

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Lantessama Isle