"My dear friends,” Low King Hans said as he walked to the front of the banquet hall. He took his place at the head of the table and continued his speech. “I'm so thrilled to have you all here. Isn't it wonderful to be together once again? Even though it's only been a month, it feels like ages. I always look forward to these times with you, as I hope you do.”
Hanz continued as Avi, and the others listened intently. The cadence of King Hans's talk mesmerized him. His speech was full of sights and sounds. Avi felt almost as if he could taste the words.
“Avi,” a voice from behind whispered. Avi didn’t want to turn away from Han’s speech. He knew from the sound that it was Hasani, Hans's steward, who had been assigned to wait upon him. Without looking, Avi responded.
“It's ok; I don't need anything to drink right now.”
“No, it’s not that,” he whispered. Avi turned to see that Hasani's face was stretched with concern. “Could you please come with me?”
That’s when Avi caught sight of her. Standing next to Hasani and a little behind him, looking beautiful, bewildered, and not entirely comfortable with the location, was Zariah. Her stare was wide and sorrowful. Avi rubbed his eyelids, but it was no mirage. Hasani turned and walked toward a side exit. Avi followed as Zariah came alongside him. They whispered softly as they walked.
“I thought you had an airliner to catch,” Avi said.
“I did, but right as I was about to board, I spotted Bhoora.” She wiped her eyes. “There was no one there with him. I couldn’t leave him.”
“Oh, that’s great. Thank you,” he said, but then lowered his eyebrows. “I thought you were trying to avoid shepherds. You’re not doing a very good job.” He smiled as he gestured to the room filled with glowing figures. She didn’t smile.
“I knew you were at the palace. I had to contact the staff when I saw what happened. I just couldn’t—”
“What happened?” Avi said as they passed through the doorframe of the side exit. The way opened into an exterior courtyard. Dusky light poured over the scene.
The sight that met Avi’s eyes was like falling into an icy river. Lying in the garden court was Bhoora, but he was nothing like the carefree bear Avi had last seen roaming the streets of Tamesh City. Avi couldn’t breathe at the sight of his fallen companion. The massive grizzly’s fur held dark clots of matted blood around his face and neck. The bear’s body lay motionless on the grass.
“Bhoora!” Avi cried in terror. He rushed to the bear’s side. Avi inspected the motionless grizzly. A voice was talking to him. Vaguely he registered that it was Zariah.
“I’m so sorry, Avi. I got to him right after it happened.”
Sophia, one of Hans's entourage, added, “Witnesses said he stepped right in front of a hover cruiser.” Avi cradled the giant head of the bear as the tears flowed.
“Get my sister!” Avi said. “Get Carina; she will know what to do.” His eyes met Zariah's for a brief second.
Avi turned his attention back to the bear as Sophia vanished with a flash. “It’ll be ok, boy,” Avi said as he hugged the bear. “It’ll be ok. Carina will know what to do.” Bhoora didn’t move.
A flash of light illuminated the courtyard, and Avi could hear the immediate sobs of his sister. Zariah quickly filled her in. She was at his side in seconds, tears pouring from her face.
“Oh, Avi. I'm so sorry,” she said. She placed her hand in front of Bhoora's nose and rested her ear against his ribs. She quickly tugged at his eyelids and looked into his lifeless eyes. She ran her hand down the ridge of the grizzly's neck until she found what she was looking for. Obviously, she was trying to keep her response to a minimum, but Avi noticed his sister's gasp.
“What?” Avi said.
“I'm so sorry, Avi.”
“What?” he asked again. This time she just hugged him. That told him what he needed to know. Bhoora, Avi's companion and friend, the giant invincible grizzly, was gone. He was dead. Avi and Carina held each other and cried for a long few moments. Zariah knelt and put her arms around them both, laying her head against Avi's back. Carina let go when Avi shifted. Zariah rubbed Avi's back as he turned to look at his furry friend.
Avi felt some boiling remorse rumbling deep inside his chest. A dark scornful hopelessness, unlike anything he had ever experienced, twisted in his gut. A knot the size of an apple moved upward into his throat. He could hardly see through the deluge pouring from his eyes as he stared listlessly down at the broken body of the brown giant.
A melody so thick with mourning and pain rose from somewhere low in his soul. He could hear it like some far off whisper trying to break into the world through a darkened fissure. He laid down next to Bhoora's body, closed his eyes, and wrapped his arms around his old friend's enormous head.
The music that came from Avi's mouth was like no other song he had ever sung or heard. It was a tune saturated with the eons of pain that the world felt. It was a song of sadness that could have echoed before the war, the renovation, the return of the King.
Now, only a distant reverberation of that ancient turmoil resounded, but the places where it still rang were like the soot-black and brittle edges of a burnt map of the world. Avi felt crushed by the immense weight of the loss. It felt as if all of Bhoora's weight and more was placed upon him in that moment.
With closed eyes, hugging his dead bear, Avi sang as alone in the world as he had ever been.
With the last line, Avi relinquished his hold on Bhoora and sat up. He took a deep, mournful breath as he opened his eyes. To his surprise, Low King Hans's banquet guests surrounded the courtyard, watching him. They had somehow all entered the colonnade silently and were looking at Avi as he sang for his bear. Avi glanced at his sister and then to Zariah, whose face was smeared with tears.
“How long have they been listening?” Avi asked.
“They came out right before you started singing,” Zariah whispered. Avi looked at the glowing faces that surrounded him. To his wonderment, they too were flowing with tears. However, they didn't have the look of defeated sadness. Maybe they felt what he felt. A far off hope had to be glistening in their ancient memory, so much deeper and severe than his own. Somehow Avi knew they did not cry at the loss of his bear, but at a world renovated but not yet fully set right.