THE SECRET OF THE JEWELS
By Janet Lane Walters
THE YELLOW JEWEL
Seven Jewels and seven threads. Find them, twine them, bind them into a braid to discover how to unlock the secret of the Jewels. What was pale becomes dark and dark changes to light. Sometimes destruction is the way to end a cycle of tyranny. Blazing sun and icy moons unite in the Yellow Jewel. You must go over land, across the sea and back again. Seek the thread and learn this lesson. What makes a home does not have to be a place. Fears may lurk and fears are faced when one learns to trust.
Disa turned and waved farewell to the Holders and their Chosen who remained at the mages’ stronghold. All but she and Brader stayed to tend to the living and the dead. Just days ago, the elderly healer had appeared and had given prophecies to all. The moment Disa had heard those words she knew she and Brader had to leave. Their role in the destruction of the mages lair had ended. The overland journey to Quato where they would board a ship to Thanis would take a seven day.
She prodded her horned horse and caught up with her companion. “Must we race like prisoners released from a dungeon?”
He slowed his steed. “Why not? I wish to reach my home as soon as I can.”
Home, she thought. Hers had been a peddler’s wagon and then the tavern in Pala. She didn’t understand his being drawn to a place. “Thy home won’t run.”
He laughed. “Thee are right, but some inner yearning pushes me to hurry to High Sanctuary. What if the mages have established a refuge there?”
She made a face. “Didn’t Andalor mention a ship filled with Queen’s Guards and mages that arrived in Quato around the time when thee did?”
“One or more might have remained. I need to find out.”
She supposed he was right but that wasn’t his real reason for the rush to return to his home. He wanted to visit his mother’s grave to bid her farewell. Did he really believe her spirit lingered on this plane waiting to hear of the success or failure of Liara’s quest?
At dusk they arrived in Desert’s Edge where they purchased enough supplies for the journey. She nearly suggested they stop at the Healers’ House for medicinals, but could think of none they would need before they reached the market in Quato.
Eight days of traveling from dawn to dusk brought them to the seaport town. On the outskirts they passed the villa where she had received her Jewel. “Remember our time here?” she asked.
“Clearly. What a pompous fool I was. Attacking Valmir when he wasn’t the enemy. Angering Liara and thee.”
She reached for his hand. “Thee feared someone would harm her and keep her from the quest.” She sighed. “I wonder how the others fare.”
“If there were problems couldn’t they reach us on the inner path?” Brader asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve listened every night and the voices have grown fainter. Should we stay here or go directly to the docks?”
He prodded his horse. “This is too far from town. We’ll find an inn. Word of ships leaving for Thanis will be heard at one, but we can’t leave for a day or two.”
She nodded. “We have to sell the horses.”
“And arrange for passage. We’re too late for today’s animal market.”
Once inside the town Disa led him to the inn where she and Andalor had stayed. They were in luck and one of the suites on the third story was available. After leaving their packs in the suite’s central room, they ordered a meal to be brought as soon as they finished in the baths.
A short time after returning to the suite, Disa opened the door for a serving woman bearing a large tray of food. Disa inhaled the aroma of brewed chokla and grinned. She slipped the woman a coin. Brader entered from his sleeping chamber.
He fastened his amber colored hair at his nape with a thong.
“What of our plans for tomorrow?” Disa filled a mug with her chosen drink.
“Sell the horses. Find a ship. Purchase some extra food for the journey. Ship’s food is plain and sometimes not tasty.”
“Will we have to wait long?” Though they’d taken coins from the mages’ treasury, if they were forced to stay too long their coins would vanish.
He shrugged. “Who knows? I’ll slip down to the common room. Someone there will know about sailings.”
Disa lifted a banta leg. “No tragon.”
He laughed. “Guess Liara told thee how little tolerance I have for spirits. I’ll stick to ale.”
Though Disa had planned to stay awake until Brader returned, the soft mattress lulled her to sleep.
In the morning as soon as they broke their fast, they led their steeds to the animal market. After selling the horses and gear they had enough to buy passage on the ship Brader had heard about the evening before.
Disa walked to the dock with him. While he boarded to arrange for berths, she sat on a bench. She stared at the ship. Seemed sturdy but she had no knowledge about boats. As she watched, burly men carried crates and bales up a wooden ramp to be stowed in the holds.
Her thoughts drifted to the prophecy. Did it mean they would remain on the isle? Would they find more danger in Thanis? In two seasons she’d been part of two arcane battles. One to destroy the Black Jewel and the other to destroy the stronghold of the mages. Would the changes she, Liara and Stilenta had spoken about ever come to fruition?
For an instant, she pressed her hand against the Yellow Jewel she wore beneath her tunic. Did she control the gem or did it play subtle games with her thoughts? She rubbed her arms and felt as though the sun hid behind a cloud. Until she knew the answer she would be cautious about using the Jewel.
Brader’s deep voice broke into her thoughts. He descended the long ramp from the ship. His broad grin spoke of success. She ran to him. “When do we leave?”
“The ship sails on the morning tide.” He made a face. “I don’t like the idea of sailing but there’s no other way to reach High Sanctuary.”
“Will there be storms like the one that stranded Stilenta on that isle? Or nearly drowned thee?”
“This isn’t the season. I’ve just no liking for the sea.”
“When thee came this way thee had wound fever. Liara feared for thy life. She said the sea water aided thy healing.”
He nodded. “All wasn’t ill. We found Valmir and Stilenta. Do thee think the Jewels played a role in the shipwreck?”
Disa looked away. If she admitted her concerns about the Jewels they might become true.
He grasped her arm. “Do they?”
She heard fear and curiosity in his voice. “I don’t know. Tell me what else troubles thee.”
He stared at the ground. “When the wind fills the sails and the waves roll, the motion of the ship is unsettling. My gut complains and my appetite flees.”
“There are herbs that can help. I’ll buy some.”
“And food, too. The trip can be as long as a lunar and a half or as short as two tendays. Ship food isn’t the best. Thee can shop and I’ll trade some of the gems from the stronghold for coins.”
Disa linked arms with him. They left the booming shouts and grunts of the stevedores and entered the noisy market square. The aroma of food and spices, the colors and varieties of the wares enchanted her. Brader headed to a shop with a wide selection of jewelry glittering behind the glass window. She strolled along the booths and made choices.
The last time she’d visited this market, mages had made dark blotches to gloom the atmosphere. Today there were none and only a few Queen’s Guards.
What would she and Brader find when they reached the isle where he and Liara had been raised? With a sigh, Disa thought of the friends they’d left at the mages’ stronghold. How did they fare? What secrets had they discovered?
She bought a mug of cider and sat on a bench beneath a canopy. As she sipped the cool liquid she sought her friends on the inner path. She heard faint buzzes but no words. Was the distance too great or was Brader’s help essential? She finished the drink and returned the mug. Had the choice to scatter been wrong?
Worrying about what couldn’t be changed wasted time. She stopped at a basket maker’s stall and purchased two lidded containers. At the herbalist’s she filled the compartments of one with a selection of herbs, spices and medicinals.
The aroma of chokla drew her across the square. She indulged in a powder for beverages, some candies for the voyage and two large pastries for the evening meal. After choosing other treats she carried the baskets to the inn.
When she reached the suite, she found Brader rolling their blankets. Their packs sat on the floor along with two sacks. “When are we off?” she asked.
Brader looked up. “After the evening meal we’ll board the ship.”
“But they don’t sail until morning.”
Brader chuckled. “The tide goes out at dawn. We need to be aboard before then.”
“Why? We’ve paid them. Wouldn’t they wait?”
“Not for a moment. Days from now we’d find another ship and have no coins to spare.”
Disa reached for her pack, blanket roll and the two baskets. “Then we’ll do what we must. I wish we didn’t have to go.”
He gathered his share of the baggage. “We must. I need to tell my mother what occurred so she can leave this plane for the next.”
Did he really believe his mother’s shade lingered? She reached for the door.
“We’ll need a cart to carry these things to the ship.”
“Agreed.” Brader followed her into the hall. “Just pray the sea sickness doesn’t grab me.”
“I have medicines for that.” They walked downstairs and entered the common room.
Brader laughed at the chokla pastry and gave her part of his. When they finished the meal they hired a barrow boy to cart their belongings to the ship.
As they boarded, Disa noticed the name painted on the ship’s side. The Amber Lady. She turned to Brader. “With that name and my Jewel we should have a pleasant journey.”
Her prediction proved true. With sunny days, clear nights, the brisk breezes filled the sails. The ship seemed to dance across the waves. Eighteen days after their departure from Quato the shores of the isle appeared in the distance.
Disa stood at the rail beside Brader. Large gray birds swooped through the air and dove toward the water. They emerged with fish dangling from their beaks and circled the small fishing skiffs. “What are they?”
“Lorns,” Brader said. “Fishermen train them to catch the fish.” He pointed to one of the boats as they glided past.
Disa watched as a bird dropped the fish and flew away. A man placed the fish in a tub. “Enterprising but what about the poor birds being robbed of their catch?”
“They’re given the heads and entrails.”
Disa shook her head. “Each to his own. When will we leave for thy home?”
He grinned. “First we have to dock. Won’t be today or even tomorrow. I’d like to see if any merchants are headed toward the mountains.”
“If there are we can travel part way with them.”
She met his gaze. “Do thee expect trouble?”
He shrugged. “I’ve a feeling. Can’t explain. On our way here, Liara and I ran afoul of some Queen’s Guards. They might still be around.”
Disa sucked in a breath. Could he be right? But Liara was the queen now and any of the Guards should be sworn to her. Disa shouldered her pack and blanket roll. She lifted the nearly empty baskets and followed him down the ramp. Uneasiness settled in her gut.
They walked away from the wharfs and paused outside a large inn. Brader pushed open the door. “Looks as good as any.”
“There’s one of the merchants from the ship.”
Brader dropped the things he carried. “See to the rooms. I’ll discover what he plans.”
A short time later he returned. “He journeys in our direction and would be pleased to have us join him. He leaves in three days. We’ll have time to purchase hill ponies and camping gear.”
Disa nodded. “Having our own supplies is a good idea.” She looked around to see if anyone was near. “We need to keep silent about the Jewel I wear.”
He looked away. “Thee are right.”