The Logn Road Home, Ch 16: Off the Beaten Trail

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"Council of...Elders?" I looked quickly at Alice, and her face was as astonished as I knew mine was. "You're not the...eldest?"

Miali laughed. "No, but almost. We are the three who are presiding over the central and southern part of Africa; we have held this position for the last thousand years. We do rotate periodically. There are six others, two sets of three, and the nine of us form the Council of the Elders. The three siblings, Mwanya, Ngo and Iwe, are watching over those who have been sentenced to Sleep, besides being the Keepers of Lore. They are the very eldest. They are more than four thousand years in the Long Life. And then there are the other three, Siti and her husbands, Adeben and Majid, who are almost as old as we are, and they are those who watch over the northern part of Africa and most of the region known to you as the Middle East. Of course, they are not the only rulers there, after all, Sakhmet-"

"Miali!" Masudi and Ebele thundered in unison. "Hold your tongue!"

Miali blinked and ducked her head, seeming abashed. "I apologize...there are some things that must be told in their time...or not at all." Then her eyes narrowed shrewdly, boring into me, then widening in surprise: I knew she was seeing something about me, about my future. I felt like I was missing something very important, something she'd begun to mention before Masudi cut her off. Who was Sakhmet? Was that what was important?

"Oh, that's fine, Miali!" Alice chirped, seeming to have missed Miali's reaction entirely. "We don't offend easily!" She rose and took my hand, drawing me up with her. "So then...we can go? For now?"

Ebele nodded. "Yes, but you must swear not to harm more humans. You have sworn to abstain from their blood, as strange as it is...But it is useful strangeness. For your own honor you must hold to your vow, and this will help you in the eyes of the other Elders who have not yet met you, to know you are a keeper of your own honor in such a way. Can you do this, Jasper Whitlock?" She leveled a stern gaze at me, and I felt the weight of it to the bottom of my boots. But wait, I wasn't wearing boots.

"Yes, ma'am," I finally managed. I'd do everything I could to keep my word. Alice squeezed my hand tightly, sending me her love and encouragement. I relaxed a little: at least I wasn't alone. I had her there to help me. Just as she had me.

Ebele smiled indulgently. "And you must also try to remain discreet, as always. Try to avoid mixing with the humans as much as possible, and try to avoid being out in daylight when you must be among them. Perhaps you should adopt local clothing, head coverings and such, where it is appropriate."

"May I...may I please have my sight back, Ebele? It would help me so much, to be able to help Jasper, as well?" Alice ventured hesitantly. I could fairly hear the words radiating from her: please, please, please!

The other vampire considered for a moment, then nodded slightly, making a vague gesture toward Alice, almost like she was throwing something invisible. Immediately, I felt Alice's tension begin to drain away, her relief so thick it was almost palpable, her golden eyes taking on that faraway expression I had come to know meant she was seeing ahead. "I see no harm in it, for now at least," Ebele said.

"Thank you," Alice breathed fervently, her eyes closing as she sagged against me. "Thank you, so very much."

"So go then, my children, and see the wonders that abound in our lands. Touch and taste and smell, but with respect for our ways and for your promises, yes?"

"Yes, ma'am," I repeated, pulling Alice with me as I began backing away from the two women, who had risen to join hands and watch us go. Miali raised her free hand and waved at us; after a moment, we turned and began to run, down the slope, down into the dimness and away from the ancient ones.

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