In the fifty years since Lyra's eyes turned gold, there has been a place high in the mountains that she could never see through. She had noticed it during the first sharp days of grief and new vision, and wondered if her mother had seen the same thing, and been so, so fiercely angry at not being able to ask.
It was far above any trade routes, and Lyra was no riddle-master, so she let the mystery of it stand. At first she kept a keen eye on the surrounding areas, but gradually the blind spot in her vision became normal to her, almost forgotten. She thought of it mostly when she thought of her mother, on the anniversary of El's death and on what would have been her birthdays.
Lately, El had been much on her mind. Lyra thought of her every time she saw the clean line of Lea's face, and the glints of gold growing in her daughter's eyes. And the mystery began tugging at her heart again, and did throughout that winter. It nagged at her at odd moments, even during Morgon and Raederle's long visit.
They were both gold when she looked at them too closely, Raederle with fire around the edges and Morgon fraying into wind; she blinked and they were themselves again, still looking so young despite Morgon's silvered hair. Lyra knew they had come to say goodbye, and wondered how it felt to Morgon, whether he could see the land-law beginning to thread through Lea.
Morgon harped for them. He played, at her request, songs of spring, traveling songs. They ran through her mind even after he left, and in the spring Lyra gathered a stout walking stick and a pack of food, and slipped past the guard.
Her pace was slow, but her feet and her heart were light. She felt clear in a way she hadn't for a long time, worrying about a thousand details, worrying over Lea's worry for her. She felt the fine stillness of the land around her.
She was tired by the time she reached the base of the foothills, very tired. She sat for a while, and thought about returning home, and then thought of Tristan getting seasick so long ago, and how she and Tristan and Raederle had all been so stubborn. She started climbing.
It got easier rather than harder as she went higher, which seemed in a dim way strange to her. Her breathing came more easily, and her hands on the rocks she used to clamber upward seemed like a young woman's hands. After a time the staff grew cumbersome; she needed both hands. There was a tree further down, its branches tangled in a way that formed an oval. Lyra sighted and threw the staff like a spear, and it flew straight and true through the oval and disappeared from sight, and for once in seventy years the thought of a spear did not have a sting, a remembrance of the spear that Morgon had shattered.
There was, eventually, a path. Lyra blinked in surprise and stepped along it. When she tried she could not see through the obstacles to where it led. She was seeing with a child's vision, she thought, and felt a strange tranquility at the thought. She was in the mountains that ringed Herun, but she was no longer on Herun ground, and when she reached for the land-law she felt it like she had felt it as a child--a dim and distant thing, hers, but truly belonging to someone else. (Lyra wondered whether her daughter was looking up at a place in the mountains with her new vision, and questioning what Lyra had or had not seen, and cursing her mother with all the love in her heart.)
She followed the path to a stone house, and walked into the surrounding gardens to find a man there crouched in the flowers. "Hello," she said. "I'm Lyraluthien."
The man smiled at her. "El's daughter. She came here once, a long time ago." He stood, tall and lean. "I'm Luthe, and you are welcome here."
"Here," Lyra said. "We're not in Herun, are we?"
Luthe spread his hands, empty, beckoning. "There are many ways to get to my house in these mountains, and one way is from Herun."
Luthe's house was a strange place, full of light and mystery and a stillness that sent Lyra to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. When she woke to the brightness of morning and found the kitchen, there was a woman there, with skin as pale as Luthe's, hair a brighter red than Raederle's, and a wry, crooked smile like Goh's had been. "Hello, I'm Aerin. Breakfast?" And Lyra realized that, for the first time in four or five years, she was ravenous. There was oatmeal with honey, simple food and sweet, and goat's milk to drink it down with.
While Lyra ate, she studied Aerin, moving about the kitchen. "You were a soldier?" she hazarded.
"Of sorts, for a time, a while ago," Aerin said, and looked back at Lyra in turn. "You were as well?" she said.
"A long time ago," Lyra said. A pang of longing swept over her, for the simplicity of those days, and then a wave of peace. She picked up her empty plate, carrying it to the water to wash it. The kitchen smelled of spices and soap. "Come," said Aerin when she was done. "I'll show you the gardens."
There was a bush in the corner that reminded Lyra of a Herun plant, and she felt a moment of piercing loss. She knelt in the dirt and traced the leaves with her fingers, and felt after a moment Aerin crouch next to her. Lyra pressed a hand over her heart. "I feel lighter," she said. "Unburdened. I know the land is in good hands. But it was still mine."
Aerin touched a comforting hand to her shoulder. "Those things and places we love have a way of returning to us," she said.
"It won't be the same," Lyra said.
"No," Aerin said. She put a hand on Lyra's elbow and lifted her up.
Her eyes, Lyra noted, had flecks of gold in them. She asked, "What do you see, with the gold in your eyes?"
Aerin smiled her crooked smile and said, "We have time, in Luthe's house. I'll show you."