From The Armsmen's Guide
Beware the hidden enemy for he lurks in your heart.
Brader pulled a tunic over his head. The strains of music drifted through the open window. He leaned on the sill and thought about tonight's festival honoring spring's return. Last night, a lass newly arrived in the village had flirted with him each time she and her cousin had strolled past. Alas, he'd already promised another to be her squire for the evening. Perhaps tonight.
He frowned. Maybe he should remain in the keep. There'd been a subtle tension in his mother's voice when she had sent him for Liara. The news brought by the afternoon's visitors had troubled the Yellow Holder, but she hadn't shared her concerns with him. Had she told Liara?
He pressed his hands against the stone wall. His mother held a Jewel, but he could never follow her. Not that he wanted to stay here. He wanted to go to Pala and join the Queen's Guard. Too often, the villagers sought to use him to gain his mother's attention. He wanted to be liked for himself and not for his mother's position.
He strode to his bed and grasped the sword, his last name day present from his mother. That had been a day of triumph. He had bested his trainer with the sword, knife and bow.
The door rattled. He crossed and lifted the latch.
"Brader, your mother wants to see you."
Liara leaned against the door frame. Her crystal blue eyes were rimmed with red. "What's wrong? Is she worse?"
"Not that she'll admit."
"And you, is something wrong?"
She shook her head. "I'm tired and confused. Go to Tana. Then we'll talk."
"In the morning. I've plans for the evening. 'Tis the festival."
As he walked away, he shook his head. Liara, the stoic, had been crying and there could be but one reason. He smashed his fist against the wall. "Not yet." After swallowing the lump in his throat, he entered his mother's room. He strode to the bedside and took her hands. Their iciness deepened his concern. "Has the Healer been summoned?"
"There is naught she can do for me and I have no time for a Healing. Liara must leave at once and you must go with her."
"How can I desert you? Who will close your eyes and who will speak the final blessing? You cannot embark on your journey to the next plane alone."
"I won't be alone. Listen... Liara is niece to the Queen. When she dies, Liara must hold the White or there will be great destruction throughout the land. Even the High Sanctuary will fall."
Brader slumped on the chair beside the bed. "Liara? I thought she would hold your Jewel. What do you mean by the White?"
"'Tis the true ruler of the Jewels."
"And Liara will be the one to hold it? That means she's..." He shook his head. Liara was his foster sister, a foundling his mother had given a home. What would happen to their friendship now? "And your Jewel."
"Another will come for mine. You and Liara must leave. Go to Thanis and find a ship to Quato. She needs your strength and your skill at arms to keep her safe until she bonds with her Jewel. On the table are maps. Study and burn them."
A dozen protests formed and were swallowed. He reached for the maps and studied the route marked with dark ink. Quato to Stone Mountain, across the Great Desert to the Screaming Hills. When he had the route memorized, he burned the maps in the fireplace. "When must we leave?"
"I should have sent you a tenday ago. You must be gone before dawn. Take care. Guards have been sent. They may be accompanied by mages." She reached beneath her pillow and handed him a leather pouch. "Coins for the journey. Go not as yourselves but as villagers seeking a better life."
He kissed her cheek and held her close. "Do you want me to fetch your maid?"
"Let her sleep. I will be fine."
As he left the room, he began to plan. Two mail vests. Armsmen's clothes for him. Dark cloaks. A sword with a plain hilt rather than the jeweled one he wore. Knives, ropes, bow and arrows for Liara, trail rations and hill ponies.
The plans helped still his anxiety about his mother. And though he wanted to stay, he'd heard the command and concern in her voice and knew he had to obey.
Second room had risen by the time he would finish with preparations for the journey. He strode to his foster sister's room. She stood at the window. "Liara."
She turned. "She told you."
"Aye. Be ready to leave within the hour. Wear your oldest clothes. I'll come for you."
Liara shook her head. "I'll await you at the postern gate. 'Tis too much to understand."
"I know. Seems strange to me as well."
For a moment, he stared at her. She was beautiful, and he had never noticed. Until tonight, she'd been his playmate and his friend. What was she now?
He changed into travel clothes, then returned to his mother's room. As he paused in the doorway, he knew she had lied, a thing she had never done before. At the bedside, he knelt and took her hand. "'Tis not my choice to leave you before the parting ceremony, but since you believe Liara and I most go, so be it."
He cleared his throat. "Farewell, Mother. May the sun shine on your days and the moons light your nights. When the quest ends, I will return and tell you how we fared so your shade will no longer hover between this plane and the next."
He closed her eyes and left the room. He would keep her parting a secret until he and Liara were well away from the keep, for he knew she would want to return.