The chamber was larger than we would have believed. It contained many scrolls in wooden shelving lining the walls. The corridor in front of us seemed to stretch the length of the palace. Had we not seen it, we would not have reckoned it existed. It was well hidden.
Several partial scrolls cluttered a small table in the center of the chamber. Seven chairs of ill repair surrounded it. We each claimed seats, trusting in fate to keep us upright. We did not speak as we waited. Speech did not seem wise. We knew not if there were ears hidden near to the walls.
The queriane returned within a hundred heartbeats. I had counted. The man accompanying him was elder. In truth, he seemed to have seen many summers. Had we combined the summers Sal, Tominent and I had witnessed, I doubt it would have sufficed as his number. Regardless of age, the man was similarly attired. The one exception was he wore a shirt of silk. It was of the same hue, a deep, dark red.
"You are kirgeurs?" The man asked in flawless Alsounthia.
"Aight. We are." I showed him the mark on my left arm.
"You have traveled far for adventure. I think you have other desires than interesting tales to relate to those you left behind. What brings you here, in truth?"
"In truth?" Sal asked. The oldster nodded. "We came to fulfill our duties as befitting our calling. We were trailing slavers to rescue members of our family."
"The Alsounthia are raided for slaves every season. What was different about this raid?"
"This raid stole the life of my mother and my birth brother. The slavers stole also my sister and my cousins. It had not happened before. It shall not happen again."
"You deemed it personal then?"
"I did and I do." My tone was serious. It reflected my resolve.
"You are Torienne?"
"I am." I saw not a reason to deny it.
"You bear the black shirt and the sword of your mother, do you not?" He seemed to have much knowledge. I did not trust in its acquisition.
"Salenia. You bear a blue shirt though you were meant for red, do you not?" He turned the inquisition to my shehala.
"I do." She seemed as concerned as I with his knowledge.
"You sought your sister and your heart on this quest, did you not?"
"I sought my sister. I followed my heart." She corrected.
"You are then shehalas?"
"We are." I answered.
"By the prophecy it is not yet meant to occur." He seemed confused. "Perhaps then it shall not come true. According to the full prophecy, the bond between you should not yet be acknowledged. It is most strange."
"How is it strange?" Tominent and the other queriane seemed oblivious to our conversation. They looked on with curiosity though not with understanding.
"It is strange because in prophecies if one detail is changed, the rest is left to a questionable outcome. Regardless, all else has occurred as it was foreseen. This may yet have no bearing on the outcome." He seemed of ill ease.
"What of the outcome? What is the full prophecy?" Salenia inquired. She seemed concerned and apprehensive. In truth, I was as well.
"The day is unclear, though we know of the time. The Jilhsaed shall die during court. He shall be overthrown and Soliumant with him. The kirgeurs are to defend the realm for Soliumant, though it shall be in vain and at great cost. Two journeyed far from their homeland. One shall return. Chaos shall rule our realm."
"That shall not happen." I was not confident in my disclaimer. I knew in my heart Salenia would return to our tribe. She would lead our lost ones to freedom. I would ensure it occurred.
"Perhaps you have the strength of will and the skill of steel to prevent it. Perhaps you have not. We shall know only when the moment occurs."
"Says it which is fated to return alone?" Sal seemed as if she were forced to ask. I believed neither wanted the answer.
"It says not." He did not meet our gaze. He spoke an untruth. It was written, he would not relate the ill news.
"Neither shall return alone. Soliumant shall not be overthrown and the Jilhsaed shall not die if I have any control over the matter." I stood and defiantly glared at the aged queriane.
"You shall have no say in the matter, Torienne. This is dictated by the gods, not by man."
"Nothen. I answer to none. It shall not happen as I breathe. On this, I pledge." I placed my hand on the hilt of my mother's sword. "You speak not words of peace, old man. I shall depart and let you return to your morbid fantasies."
"These are not mere products of my imagination. They are truth." He protested.
"Forgive me, misayla, I disagree. Since we are bound, before the prophecy claims, we shall change the other. We shall not abide by a text scribed long ago. You may wish to store your hopes on such. We do not. Peace to your dreaming." Sal stood beside me. "Come, keytheda, let us depart."
"Aight. Lead the way, shehala." It seemed important to illustrate our bond.
"Of all the places we could have traveled, of all the places the slavers could have taken the lost ones, of all the kirgeurs fit for this quest." Sal's grumblings were barely audible. "Nothen. We had to follow. We had to assume our duty. We had to travel here, a moon's ride from our homeland where strange men in outrageous costumes tell us we are part of a gods be damned prophecy."
"Salenia, wait. Perhaps it is best we return to our chambers and have speech there." I doubted not the ability of the queriane to follow discretely and monitor our conversation. Had I their duty, I would have.
"We are not returning to the chambers. We are journeying to the river. I have need of solace and I wish you to accompany me." The old man and his tale had greatly unnerved her.
"If you wish it so." Without reluctance, I followed. Though I knew the hour was late and our dreaming would be scant, I regretted it not.
"I wish it so." She smiled. "I think perhaps we have frightened Tominent."
"Perhaps. He should have been more forthcoming in his answers." Frightening Tominent concerned me not. My esteem for him and my trust in him had lessened.
"Perhaps he knew not the full danger." Salenia paused as we exited the palace. "Regardless, you are correct. Had he known, he should have informed us."
"Had he known." I agreed. We knew not if he had known of the danger we faced. "We know not if he did."
"In truth, we do not. Regardless, he was once a queriane. That is more than he spoke of to us."
"Have you lost your faith in me, Salenia?" Tominent's voice startled us. We had not heard his approach. In truth, he was not near to us to cause harm. He merely hailed us from a distance.
"Have you no knowledge? Come. Speak not loudly. You shall endanger us all." I grabbed him by the seam of his tunic and pulled him near.
"It matters not. It is futile." He seemed weary and dejected.
"It is not futile. Nothing is wasted, be it knowledge or experience." Salenia claimed a space on a bench. We had not journeyed farther than the Jilhsaed's gardens. In truth, we were at the very bench Soliumant bid me translate his words to Kierian.
"You had no knowledge of the full prophecy?"
"I did not. I knew only that which I showed you in Soliumant's birth scroll." He sank gracefully to the ground. I remained standing.
"It seems as if your very gods are against us." Kier had a talent to assist my thinking. I believed it to be the motion. Without benefit of saddle, or time to ride, I wore a path in the grass under my feet. "We shall not be daunted."
"Shehala, perhaps if the prophecy has now been thwarted by the acknowledgement of our bond, none of it's ill tidings shall come to pass."
"Perhaps. We shall discover it, unless you wish to return?" I knew not what I desired. I knew not to stay or leave.
"I know not. I desire to return, though my mind bids me stay." She seemed as divided in her desires as I. "If we remain, we need guard ourselves against this prophecy. I have no wish for one to return alone."
"It shall not occur." I pledged.
"It shall not. I shall do what I am able to prevent it." Tominent pledged.
"What shall we do to prevent it?" Salenia inquired.
"I think it is time for truth. The full truth."
"Perhaps you are correct, Torienne." Tominent seemed in thought. "We shall relate to one another that which we know and plan accordingly."
"We cannot plan effectively here. Know you a place we can speak without care?" I trusted not the bushes surrounding us. Too many curious ones could hide among them.
"I do. Come, I think we shall get no rest this night." He stood.
"I regret it not." Salenia stretched as she rose from the bench. "We have greater need than mere dreams."
"We do, shehala. Lead the way, Tominent. We shall follow."
Tominent led us to the tavern where we had formed our alliance. The little crowd was comprised of guards. There were few scattered among the tables. None watched as we traversed the darkened interior and selected a table near to the back wall. None were around us. We had privacy.
"Tell me, Tominent, what brought your mother to this realm?" Salenia broke the silence around us.
"I know not. I was but a babe when she gave her life for the Jilhsaed. It is rare she is spoken of, even if I ask. I know she arrived prior to the death of Soliumant's mother. He is my elder by two years. It is all I know."
"If we answer that question, I believe we shall answer them all."
"Nothen, Salenia. We need answers to two questions. We need knowledge of the thieves as well. If they are, as we believe, selling the servants into slavery again, then we must halt their plan. If we can halt them soon, there shall be no coup. The prophecy shall not be fulfilled."
"Have you a plan, shehala?"
"I have." Though my feelings ran contrary to my thoughts, I gave my mind the lead. "I have two plans. It shall take four of us to implement them if not more."
"Who shall be the fourth?" Tominent asked.
"Iolaine. Perhaps Tre and Lyliane shall assist as well." In few words, I spoke of the first plan. It would take much cunning and skill. It was a challenge we exulted in, for though it was not worthy of a kirgeur, it would test our skills. We would spy upon the queriane and learn of their knowledge.
"Perhaps you should speak of the duty that brought you here. I am curious. I have assumed much, though I wish for confirmation. The servants who wait upon you are not servants, are they?"
"Nothen. They are not. Tre is Tor's sister as Lyliane is mine. Iolaine and Sevianth were rescued in Creasinda." Sal informed him with few words. He seemed impressed at our feat.
"Few of this realm would trail slavers for long, regardless of the family taken."
"It is our duty to our tribe." I stated. I knew he needed not the full truth. I did not wish to mention Kierian. Our knowledge of her would cloud the past we had invented for her. She needed not the reminder of her untruth.
"The second plan?" Salenia returned the conversation to the topic near to hand.
"We shall set watch for the thieves as we have done, though we shall do so in pairs. We shall divide and hide in various places around the palace. If we deem one of the students worthy of our trust, we shall use them to run errands and stand as well. It is time we halted playing as warriors and became serious."
"Aight. You are correct, Torienne. It is why I am no longer a queriane. I wish not to watch and wait for danger. We shall defeat the coup before it can become such." Tominent regained his positive outlook. "My gratitude for your assistance and your counsel."
"Nothen. Gratitude is not needed. Come; let us return to the palace. Perhaps we shall dream little."
"Aight. Little rest is all we shall enjoy, I fear. The sun is approaching. Duty begins again." Salenia looked to the horizon. Though the sun had not yet risen above the horizon, the first of its rays heralded the journey.
"Friends, I bid you dreams of peace. I shall return to my chambers and see you at duty." Tominent bowed low before us.
"May the gods guard your rest, my friend." I returned his bow.
"He seems a good man."
"Aight. Have you doubts still?"
"I have. I trust in you, though. We shall not fail. Keep you your promise in mind and all shall be well." She seemed weary. "I believe we shall require two glasses of the strong morning drink."
"Perhaps. Have you developed a liking for it?" I had not attempted a second taste of the morning drink. I found it too strong for my palate.
"I have. It does well to revive weary spirits. I am told it is called kaffenie. It is rather rich, though I enjoy it sweetened."
"It is too hot for this clime. Perhaps it would be easier to consume in our homeland during winter."
"If I have read the signs correctly, we shall miss the Coming of Winter."
"We shall miss the celebrations. Regardless, we have seen such wonders here that our celebrations shall seem simple, I think."
"Perhaps you are correct. I could wish we cared not for duty. I feel a heaviness in my heart that cannot be assuaged through plans." She seemed saddened by her thoughts. "Regardless, we shall continue our duty. I cannot leave Soliumant in danger. I have much respect for him. I wish only that we overthrow the coup and return to the village together."
"We shall. Prophecies are no more than words. It is illogical to place much faith in them." I opened the door to the chambers. "We have two hours before duty. Shall we attempt to dream?"
"Perhaps we should, though I doubt my ability to rest easily for only two hours. Regardless, we shall occupy ourselves." Our companions were walking their dream paths. Duty did not begin for them at that hour. We spoke in hushed tones. We had no wish to wake them.
"I believe we shall, though what had you in mind?"
"You shall see."
When the others rose for their duty, Salenia bid Lyliane fetch a flask of the morning drink favored by the Jilhsaed as well. She believed we had need of it. We had spent many days restless in training. The ability seemed to have left us. The heat of the realm, the constant torture from the sun's rays and the dryness of the air had left us weary. Bathing was a necessity as well as a preference and learned trait. Our skin was becoming dry and dark in the sun. I believed we would not be recognized with ease when we returned to our village.
"You had no rest?" Lyliane inquired when she returned with the laden tray. "It is not healthy for two warriors to go without dreaming."
"We had duty." I answered. Reinea was in the chambers and seemed interested in our answers. She had begun acting in a strange manner as the festivities drew to a close. I knew not her reasoning. Perhaps she had become weary of our company or the festivities. I resolved to inquire of Lyliane. She would be in better position to inquire than Tre. My sister was a quiet sort. It would seem suspicious if she became suddenly inquisitive.
"Had you night duty? The Jilhsaed should allow you to rest during the sun lit hours." Reinea replied.
"It would not seem proper to beg leave." Salenia answered. She seemed in better temper. We had spent our two hours well, speaking of our youth and of plans for the future.
"We shall rest when the festivities are completed." The last of the festivities for Soliumant's coming of age were planned for that night. We would set watch for the thieves, knowing that if we missed them then, we would be required to wait half a moon until the next festivities began.
"This day is rumored to be a long celebration. I know not if the Jilhsaed shall hold court. I heard the servants in the kitchen speak of it." Lyliane redirected the conversation with much skill. "In truth, Sevianth was bid not to attend lessons. They have halted them for the celebration."
"Perhaps." A day of ease sounded well. As I was thinking on rest and raiding the inner chamber of the library, a servant entered the room.
"I am bid relate news to Torienne and Salenia." He gazed among us as if he could not perceive which of us were warriors.
"What have you to relate?" I asked. He showed rude behavior by entering without leave. I set my tone to match his.
"You are Torienne or Salenia?"
"You do not seem a warrior. Regardless, I was bid tell you there shall be no duty this day. The Jilhsaed and Soliumant shall not attend the festivities. There shall be no court." He sketched a meager bow. "That is all."
"A self important errand boy." Sal criticized him after he departed. "Have we a day of ease in truth?"
"I know not." It seemed a wish come true.
"I shall inquire of Siveruian, if I have your leave?" Iolaine stood.
"You shall have my gratitude." I gave permission. "I assume we shall wait for an answer."
"How shall we spend the day, if we have one of ease?" Lyliane gathered the plates onto the tray.
"Sal and I shall dream until the midday meal, then we shall explore the library. If you wish, you may attend the festivities until the meal. After it, you may either return to the festivities or wander the palace grounds with Reinea and Sevianth." I did not wish Reinea to accompany us to the library. I knew Tre would choose the library instead of the festivities, though I knew not which Iolaine would choose.
"What are the festivities? Shall we see more acrobats?" Sevianth seemed enthused.
"Perhaps, young one. You shall remember all you see and relate it to us at the meal." I could not guard against his charm. His joy was infectious. "In truth, if I were not weary, I would attend as well."
"Torienne, tried you the kaffenie?" Tre asked as we waited for Iolaine to return.
"It is not to my liking."
"Sweeten it. It is easier to consume when sweetened." Sal placed a small white cube in a glass and handed it to me.
"If you insist." With trepidation, I tasted it. It seemed to have removed the skin from my tongue. The second taste was not as bad. It was still rich and thick, though not as harsh as I had found it before.
"I think I have no skin remaining on my tongue. I believe it is why the second taste was better." In truth, the more of it I consumed, the better it became.
"You do not wish to drink heavily. If you wish to dream before the midday meal, you shall do well to drink no more." Lyliane laughed. "When I first consumed a glass of kaffenie, I did not dream until late. I am accustomed to it now. Two or more glasses bother me little if at all."
"May I?" Sevianth seemed eager.
"If you wish. Do not consume much." I cautioned him. I wished not to view the effects of it on him.
"How do people drink it?" The expression on his face was one of grave distaste.
"I suppose they become accustomed to it." I looked up as the door opened.
"The servant spoke truth, Torienne. The Jilhsaed and Soliumant shall perform no duty this day. Siveruian bid me remind you both to remain near to the palace. There is slight chance you shall be bid guard. He wants you near to the palace if an emergency should arise." Finished with his errand, Iolaine joined us at the table.
"Gladdened am I for a day of ease." Sal stretched before rising. "I am for dreaming. Wake me for the midday meal."
"Aight. I am not far behind. Iolaine, wish you to escort the others to the festivities?"
"Nothen, Torienne. If it pleases you, I wish to attend the market."
"Have we need of an item?" I did not catch his meaning.
"Aight, we have." Lyliane informed me. "We shall attend the festivities." She rose and indicated the others to follow.
"Guard yourselves. Do not stray from the court chamber unless you return here." I cautioned.
"We shall see you at the meal." Tre seemed distracted by the festivities and could not answer more.
"What need we at the market?"
"We have no need. I wished to take food and drink to our companions. Perhaps I shall find your cousin as well. Tre indicated which I am to take. I shall follow and discover if I have the opportunity."
"Iolaine, you do this well. Perhaps too well." I jested. "Go you and guard yourself. Be wary of watchers."
"Aight. Safe rest." He rose. "Torienne?"
"We each have duty. This is but a new aspect of mine. Rest well." He departed.
"Shehala?" I crossed the chamber and lay down on the bed.
"Aight?" Sal was almost in dreams.
"I believe we have formed a creature of myth in Iolaine." I chuckled.
"Why say you?" The question was muffled through a sigh of weariness.
"He is exuberant in his duty to the stolen ones." The pillow formed itself around me. It felt wondrous.
"Perhaps he is doing so out of need. Perhaps he either looks upon the situation and pictures himself there or he pictures someone he could not save there." Her wisdom was not weary.
"Perhaps it is revenge against those that made him a slave instead of a servant."
"Perhaps. Torienne, perhaps it is past time for words. Rest."
"Aight. Dream well, keytheda." I felt her claim my shoulder.
"I shall if you do as well." I heard not the full answer. My body was weary and I gave in to its call. I believe Salenia was not far behind.
The angle of the sun's rays made rest scant. The cloth draped around the bed did little to dispel the pleasant cheerfulness of the light. Sal was walking her dream paths. She was protected from the glare of the sun. I knew a return to my dreams was impossible. I resigned myself to the situation.
Our companions were seeking their entertainment. None were present in the chamber. I rolled from the bed's embrace and sought my boots. They had been polished and cleansed. My dagger was missing. I thought perhaps it had been placed to the side as the boots were polished. I worried not about it, content to discover its whereabouts when my companions returned.
I was weary. Kayla had once taught me a routine to conquer weariness. It cleared the mind and gave energy to the body. It was a sword dance unknown by many kirgeurs. I knew not if Salenia had witnessed its performance. I wished not to wake her. I would demonstrate the dance for her when we returned to our village. We would have opportunity then for rest and lessons.
I pulled my mother's sword from its sheath. There was space for the dance between the bedchambers and the table we used for meals. In truth, the dance of energy required little space.
The lessons I had taught were not designed to sharpen my skills. In truth, I had feared they lessened. Though I practiced each night, I doubted in myself. My shoulder had not been tested since it healed. The dance of energy would do so. It would test each muscle and bone, all my skill and reflexes. It appeared a dance of little difficulty. It was more than it appeared. It required complete concentration and much skill. It was not performed with ease.
Slowly I rotated my sword in each hand, loosening my wrists. I took the basic stance, feet the width of my shoulders apart. I let my mind travel back to school. I could hear Kayla's voice in my head as I began the dance in earnest. I heard her corrections, her approval and her warnings as if she were standing beside me, completing the dance with me. I had not performed it since I had received my brand.
As I completed each stage, my confidence grew. Kayla's voice faded with my energy. It is a dangerous dance to perform. Though if performed correctly it leaves energy, it requires energy to begin. If I had halted my performance at any stage, I would be days recovering. There is not much magic in our land. This dance is all we, as kirgeurs, possess.
"I have not seen such a dance. It is full of beauty." Salenia gave her thoughts voice as I completed the dance.
"It is the dance of energy." I answered after feeling the power inherent in the dance vanquish my weariness. "Kayla ensured I learn it."
"You seem to perform it with ease. Chelstea spoke of such dance. There is danger in its performance."
"There is if it is not learned correctly. Kayla bid me learn each stage before we linked them." I replaced my sword at my side. "Feel you refreshed?"
"As much as possible. Is it not time for the meal?" She asked as she reached for her boots. It brought to mind my dagger.
"Salenia? Have you seen my dagger?"
"Which one? You have several." She laughed.
"The one I keep in my boot. It seems to have disappeared." Disappearing steel concerned me. Kayla's first rule at the school had been to guard our steel. We were not to be careless with even the smallest knife.
"I have not seen it since you used it last. Perhaps Lyliane or Reinea placed it elsewhere when they polished the boots." She seemed little concerned.
"Perhaps you are correct." I halted my attempt at searching for it. "It is near to the midday meal. They should soon return."
"Have you given more thought to the prophecy?"
"Nothen. I am unconcerned." I attempted to match my tone to the words.
"You are concerned. You do not speak untruths with skill. At the least, I am able to see through them. If it is true, would you return without me?"
"I shall not return without you or any of our companions. Would you return if I were the one fated to remain?"
"Nothen." She said no more on the matter. "Shall we send for Tominent?"
"Think you he can assist in this?" My thoughts were divided on the matter. I trusted in him, though I wished not to depend on him.
"I think perhaps he can. He knows the way into the chamber. We do not. We have need of a distraction. Perhaps he can assist."
"When Iolaine returns, I shall bid him fetch Tominent."
"Have you a plan, Tor?"
"I have. I shall explain when we have gathered all together." The plan I had in my mind contained little skill but much of timing and stealth.
"Shehala, I have need to confess an untruth." Sal seemed agitated.
"Aight?" I knew not how to respond, as I knew not what to expect.
"I received my mark the night we freed the girls of your village. As a healer, I have a season more of training. If we return, nothen, when we return, I am required to seek out Chelstea and complete my schooling."
"If you had not completed the schooling, why did Chelstea mark you?" Apparently I had been too intent on calming my sisters to have noticed the branding.
"You needed a companion, a partner on this quest. Chelstea knew of my feelings for you. Mir was the only other possibility." She shrugged her shoulders. "I thought it wise to inform you before we encountered more dangers."
"It matters not. You are well trained. I could have no better partner in this quest or in my life. In truth, not many end their schooling before the seven years."
"You finished in five."
"Aight. I know not how. Regardless, you finished in five and a season. It speaks well of your abilities. Those such as Mir require the full seven." It seemed logical. It was truth as well. Rarely did a kirgeur receive her mark in fewer than seven years.
"I suppose it means we were destined for this." She seemed thoughtful.
"Perhaps. The training you lack, it is as a healer?" The thought seemed inspired.
"Aight." She paused. I could see her thoughts reflected in her eyes. "Since I have yet to earn the red shirt spoken of in the prophecy, it stands less chance of being fulfilled."
"In truth. We have two changes in our favor. With fortune and skill, we shall thwart the rest." My confidence returned.
"Aight. We shall." She seemed more confident as well. "It seems as if our companions are returning." It was truth. Sevianth, Lyliane and Tre entered the chambers.
"Well met, my friends. How was the entertainment?" Sevianth seemed joyful, though his keepers did not. "Where is Reinea?"
"She bid us inform you she wished speech with a friend. The messenger from this morning seems willing to court her." Lyliane answered.
"Are servants allowed to court?" Sal asked.
"With permission, though they are not permitted to join. Babes born of such a union are born as servants. Only guards can join and their babes are born to freedom."
"Who polished my boots this day?" I knew not why, but it seemed important.
"Reinea." Tre answered. "Is something amiss? She returned to the chambers after escorting us to the festivities. When she returned to us, she spoke of performing her duties including polishing your boots."
"I think perhaps she misplaced my dagger. I shall ask of it when she returns." Though her behavior seemed strange, I gave it little thought. Perhaps I should have been more concerned. Events may have had different outcomes. Regardless, I viewed it as a small matter and gave it no more thought.
"Shall we fetch the tray?" Lyliane asked.
"Aight. We shall hold the meal for Iolaine's return, though it would be well to have it near to hand." Sal answered.
"We shall." Tre answered. The two departed, leaving Sevianth to tell of the festivities.
He related all he had seen with relish. He delighted in reliving the slightest details. We were amused by his descriptions. Wisely, he did not attempt to mimic the wonders he had viewed. I had no wish to pry his ankles from behind his head as he attempted to walk on his hands. By the time the others had returned, he was only part way through his tale. Iolaine was as amused as Sal and I. Tre and Lyliane were indulgent. They had witnessed the same feats.
Reinea did not return for the midday meal. We each consumed it in haste, deciding not to hold it for her. Sevianth wished to return to the festivities. We bid Iolaine and Lyliane accompany him. Iolaine pledged to fetch Tominent first. As expected, Tre wished to accompany us to the library.
"You had me sent for?" Tominent seemed in good humor as he entered the chambers.
"We did. We wish to infiltrate the chamber of the queriane. If we were to do so, when should we have the greatest ease?" I asked.
"Now. There should be but one on guard as none frequent the library at such an hour. Have you a plan?"
"I have." Briefly I told them of it. They were gladdened by its simplicity. Sal and Tominent seemed eager to play their parts. Tre seemed amused.
We journeyed to the library in silence. Tre, Tominent and Sal entered a hundred heartbeats before me. They were in place and in character as I entered. I remained in the shadows and crept near to the hidden doorway. I watched the scene before me with great amusement. Sal and Tominent were gifted performers. Before long, their disagreement over the virtues of a certain scribe pulled a queriane from the chamber. The queriane paid heed to little but the argument. Silently I caught the door before it close and entered.
As before, many scrolls were laid on the table. Each case was inscribed with its contents. It took several moments to locate the scroll containing the prophecy. I had liberated it from the shelving when my ears caught the sound of footsteps in the corridor.
"For a warrior, you are not cautious enough, Torienne." The old man's voice was easily recognizable. His form appeared moments after his voice.
"Perhaps. Perhaps you are not cautious. You left the scrolls unguarded."
"I knew you would return." He did not seem angered.
"You know all, I suppose." I was not of a temper to engage in word games.
"Have you not guessed? I am the seer. It is my prophecy you hold in your hand."
"In truth?" I was not impressed.
"In truth, Torienne. I saw your coming two years before you were born. For twenty and one years, my dreams have contained the black phoenix. You are not an easy dream to forget."
"I am not a dream, old man, and I hold little store in prophecies."
"Perhaps. How else could I have much knowledge of you had I not foreseen it? Your arrival here is dangerous. I would wish you gone, if I knew not the outcome would be worse."
"Perhaps it is time you set aside the riddles, old man. Speak the truth and speak it plainly." I knew I had no right to demand such.
"A demanding warrior you are." He laughed. "You are no dream, it is truth. You are more complex than I foresaw."
"You foresaw incorrectly. Salenia and I are bound. We have acknowledged it. We have pledged ourselves, became shehalas. She is my beloved, and I am hers. My keytheda wears a blue shirt, not the red." It seemed an important distinction. Though we spoke a mixture of tongues, I doubted not he would understand the phrases I used. I could think of no word to mean shehala in his language and beloved had not the ring of keytheda.
"In truth, the crux of the prophecy concerns not Salenia, but you. It is as I have foreseen. She shall return to your homeland and be a great healer."
"It is my death you foresaw then?" Hearing my death was imminent was both amusing and disconcerting.
"You knew of it when first we spoke." He took the scroll from my hands. "You shall not find answers there. There are but two outcomes. Either you shall be tested, walk long the path of dreams and return changed or you shall depart from this life to save what you hold dear."
"If I die, what of this realm and my companions?" The question seemed torn from me. I could tell he believed his words. I knew not what to believe.
"Salenia shall return to your homeland, bearing your remains and leading your companions. Aight, even the lost ones shall return. You shall be laid to rest near to your mother and brother. Your companions shall flourish, and though Salenia shall not find another, she shall raise Sevianth in your memory."
"And this realm?"
"Soliumant shall be exiled and the Jilhsaed assassinated. Another shall claim the seat of power."
"If I live?"
"I have foreseen it but once." He seemed reluctant as if he had not the confidence in it.
"Regardless, I wish to know. What if I live?" I knew why I asked. A part of me began to believe the old man's words.
"If you live, the Jilhsaed shall still die. Soliumant shall assume the seat of power, though he shall not have a reign of ease. He shall be well remembered and his heirs shall rebuild this realm into a wondrous place. You and Salenia shall return to your homeland and deliver those you rescued. You shall then return and be advisors. You shall still die here. When the Jilhsaed departs, if you live, I shall not."
"I shall live. I shall return to my homeland and I shall not return as an advisor. If I possess the skill to do so, I shall ensure it." My father's determination flowed through my veins. I wondered if he had foreseen that.
"I wish you well, though I doubt your success."
"Doubt your own, old man, not mine. You called me the black phoenix. Are you prepared to see her glory?" My pride asked the question. It was the pride of youth. "I shall return to my companions. I wish you well, old man."
"As I you. Keep this in mind, Torienne; if you need assistance, you need but ask. I hereby open this chamber to you. Say only your need. It shall be met if we are able."
"For that I thank you." Without another word, I turned and departed. I had much to think on and I knew my companions would wish to hear what I had learned. I knew not what to tell them. I knew I could not speak of the full prophecy to Salenia. I knew not how she would react. Though had the situation been the opposite, I would wish to know.
"How did you gain entrance?" The queriane asked as I entered the main chamber.
"I walked in." I had not the temper for pleasantries. I turned to my companions. "Come. We have much to discuss." They asked no questions. Tre showed no reluctance as she replaced the scroll she had been reading. They followed readily.
"You located the scroll?" Salenia asked as we journeyed back to the chamber.
"I did. We shall speak of it alone. I wish an ale." In truth, I wished for more than ale.
"I wish to see the festivities. If you wish, you can escort me to the others then depart to speak of your news." Tre offered.
"It is a good plan." I looked fondly upon my sister. It seemed suddenly as if those I knew were more precious than I had imagined. I could not speak of it. I could only feel the slight change.
We located the others with ease. I paid scant attention to the performances around us. Salenia escorted Tre through the throng. I wished not to concern them. I knew they would read the expression on my face and react. I knew without anyone speaking of it that I appeared in ill humor. In truth, I was in ill humor. My thoughts wandered not far from the prophecy. Though I was resolved to fight it, I knew not how to do so. I could only do my duty and follow my training. I wondered if it would be enough. I had not yet reached the age of maturity according to my tribe. I was young for such responsibility.
"Shall we?" Salenia inquired as she returned.
"I shall not miss this conversation for a meal of tirgeaur meat." He seemed as if he were attempting to jest. "Let us continue this conversation at the tavern."
"It is a good plan. I think this shall require ale." As kirgeurs, we were trained to avoid unnatural stimulants. However, there was a time it was required. I felt the time required ale. It would ease the words from my tongue.
Many people crowded the streets of Marlkina. We had not seen so many. It was if the last of the festivities required large audiences. Our way was slow. We could not traverse the streets with ease. Though it was but two hours past the midday meal, it seemed as if the entire city were celebrating. No merchants manned the stores and stalls we passed. It seemed as if only the guards, both city and palace, had duty that day. Though I knew the market was operating. It closed for no event.
The tavern seemed empty. In truth, only two others were patrons of it. Only a single servant was present to fill the drink orders. Tominent ordered three mugs of strong ale as Sal and I chose a table. We chose the same we had used that first night. We had not received our ale when the two other guards departed. We were the only patrons. We could not have wished for more privacy.
"What was contained in the scroll?" Salenia broke the silence.
"In truth, I know not. The old man entered as I opened the case." I answered honestly. "We spoke of the prophecy. He is the seer. It is his dream we are said to live."
"What did you discuss? Did he speak of his prophecy?" Salenia seemed as if she did not wish to know the answer.
"We spoke of it. He told me of two possible outcomes. One is that we triumph, return to our homeland and reunite the lost ones with their families, then return here to guard Soliumant. He doubts that outcome."
"He doubts not the other?" Tominent asked.
"He believes the other is the outcome we shall witness." I answered.
"And in the other, I return alone to our homeland, do I not?" Her grip was strong on my hand.
"Aight." For a small word, it was difficult to force it from my mouth. "It shall not come to pass. I shall do all within my ability to prevent it."
"My sword shall assist you." Tominent pledged.
"As shall mine. I shall not return alone. Prophecies have been thwarted before. We shall thwart this one." Sal did not sound confident. I knew not how to reassure her when I could not reassure myself.
"We shall indeed." I agreed. "I think perhaps we should consume another ale and plan for a way to thwart this, if there is a way to do so."
"I think perhaps you are correct. I shall purchase this round." Sal departed to place the order.
"Think it was wise to tell her of the prophecy?" Tominent asked.
"I think it was. Salenia is my shehala. I cannot speak untruths to her. She has the ability to see through my attempts."
"What means shehala?"
"It is a term used in our homeland. It means roughly other half with connotations meaning we are both women. In truth, it is used for men as well who are cylinge. Those who prefer mates among their sex." I clarified, as he seemed not to recognize the term.
"You are lovers then?"
"We are. Does it bother you?"
"It would seem out of character if it bothered me." He laughed. "It is not common, but not seen as an abomination."
"I had wondered if you were cylinge." I admitted.
"In truth, I had as well." Sal joined the conversation as she placed a mug of ale in front of us.
"You are declining?"
"Aight. I remember too well the last time I consumed much strong ale." She laughed. "I wish not the same again."
"I cannot fault you for your caution." I laughed as well. "Those drums must have been frightening."
"Nothen. They were merely annoying."
"I know those drums well." Tominent informed us. "I overindulged once before I took the vow of a queriane. It was not a pleasant situation the next morning. I know not how I completed my final testing with all limbs intact."
"I spent an evening in a similar manner. During our schooling, a few of us invaded the village and spent too much time at the tavern. Our instructor discovered it and made us rise after an hour's dreaming and run the course on foot." I grimaced in memory. The course was designed for horses. It was difficult and Kayla had laughed the entire time as she guided us through it.
"I was fortunate to have missed that." Sal laughed. "Though I remember hearing of it."
"I am sure the tale is still told as a precautionary lesson. We should return to the palace. We were warned not to wander far." I reminded them. "Shall we stand watch this eve?"
"I believe we should. It is the only way we shall be able to thwart the prophecy before it has a chance to become reality." Tominent nodded his agreement to Sal's words.
"Then we shall watch in pairs; one at the river, one outside the palace. We shall bid Wendelent to pass messages." My confidence returned upon the formation of a plan. "Agreed?"
"Agreed." They answered as one.
"Then we shall return to our chambers. We shall stand watch one hour after evening meal until two hours after the height of the moon."
"Then I shall attempt to dream until the evening meal. I am weary still. I shall bid you farewell here. I must attend the market before returning." He clasped our hands.
"We shall see you at watch. We shall meet in my chambers."
"Our gratitude, Tominent. You have become a friend and ally." Salenia informed him.
"What need have we of gratitude between friends?" He grinned. "See you to your chambers and your rest." He turned and made his way through the throng of people crowding the streets.
"Perhaps when we return, we should ask if he wishes to accompany us." I knew speaking of a positive future would ease Sal's concern.
"He did express a wish to view grass. I think it is a good plan. We shall have need of an extra guard as well."
Our companions were not present when we returned to our chambers. In truth, I had not expected them. I knew they were enjoying the festivities. I knew also that Salenia and I needed the time to ourselves. The one drawback to our family like situation was the lack of privacy. It was rare I missed it, though in my youth, I craved it.
"You are still concerned with the prophecy, are you not?"
"I am a little. I wish not to believe it. It seems too much of fantasy to be real, though in my heart I wonder. And you, Torienne, what think you of the prophecy?"
"I think it is no more than an old man's night terrors." I paused for thought. "In truth, I wish it were so. I know not if I believe in his visions. I know only that they shall not come to pass. It seems as if my life is at stake in this wager. I shall play the game, though I shall not follow the rules."
"You wish to fight fate?"
"Aight. I shall do so. I have much to do in our homeland. I cannot give my life for such a cause in this realm. In truth, I have no duty here or at the least none I have been taught."
"We need not remain." She echoed my thoughts.
"What wish you?" It seemed fair to ask.
"I know not. We have sworn duty to the Jilhsaed and Soliumant. We cannot forgo that. However, we have sworn duty to one another and to our companions. We cannot forgo that either. Though I wish we could return to our homeland now, I know we cannot. It would not be keeping with our honor."
"Nothen. It would not. I wish to return. I wish to see my father and my grandfather. I wish to stand and watch Tre join with Dalin. I wish to pledge my life to yours in front of a kirgeur priestess."
"I wish that and more, shehala."
"It shall come to pass. We shall see our wishes become reality." I pledged to us both. "I think Siveruian knew of the prophecy. His words came to my mind. A true kirgeur would find a way. It is truth. We are kirgeurs, proven at combat. We shall succeed."
"We shall. I wish not to lose you or the family we have created with our companions. We have much time before the others return. Wish you a walk by the river or have you other activities in mind?"
"I have other activities in mind." I grinned as I reached for her. "You comfort me more than Kier."
"That is a high compliment." Sal laughed.
"It was meant to be. It is why Kierian knew our bond was true. She claimed I had found one I loved more than my horse. I confess I have."
"Then demonstrate it." She challenged.
"I shall." And I did, as did she. They were hours well spent.
Continue to part 19
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