Ash helped carry the long granite slab the three with Earth affinities had carved from the cliff behind the keep. Dragen opened the door so they could enter the large kitchen. The nine placed the slab on the square pillars fashioned into legs. Though the original table had shattered, the stone benches and chairs had remained. She stepped back and scanned the massive room.
She and Kirlon had cleaned the large fireplace and used currents of air to clear the chimney. The braziers on either side had been scoured and repaired by Ky and Zand. Val and Bran had scrubbed the floors, the stone worktables along one wall and the shelves of the cupboards.
“What else is there to do?” she asked.
“Dragen is using wood from one of the wagons to make storage places in the pantry,” Jay said.
Dyna rubbed the surface of the table with a cloth. The stone gleamed. “We can use the mounds of straw in the entry way to stuff sleeping mats and pillows. A sevenday of sleeping on the stone floor is enough.”
Ash smiled. During the days since they’d arrived at the keep, they had worked hard. She thought of the other things they needed to do. Before long autumn would arrive. Besides having a safe place, there were quests they must complete before they returned to master their affinities. Only then could they train to face Dom Senet and his followers.
She wondered how much time remained before they could confront the evil man. What was he doing? Could she learn? Was she brave enough to search the winds for him? A chill rolled over her arms and she gasped.
Kirlon turned. “What has frightened you?”
Ash drew a deep breath, “Dom Senet.” She walked to the door and stepped into the courtyard.
He looked startled. “Has he tried to speak to you?”
“No. I was wondering if I should check on him. I can do that, you know.”
Kirlon clasped her hand. “Though I’ve never had a meeting with him, he scares me. I wonder if he was responsible for the disappearance of my father and my uncle. When they left for the highlands, they promised to return. They didn’t. Then illness struck the village and Dyna and I became orphans.”
“He and his friends could have killed them. We were sent to Cedris to meet the teachers our parents had spoken to. They never arrived. Just before we left the town we learned the dom had them killed.” She sighed. “I believe we must discover where he is and what he plans before we leave on our quest.”
He nodded. “I know there are talismans we need as well as other people with affinities. I think we should seek the talented first. The Rovers told me how those with talents for the elements are often feared by people and must flee the way Dyna and I did.” He stepped away. “Could we seek Dom Senet on the winds?”
“We can but not alone.”
“Then you and I will do this. What about now?”
Though his offer pleased her, now wasn’t the time. She refused to seek the dom unless her siblings were present to draw her back. “Not now. After the evening meal, we can meet in the inner room. Bring Dyna. Though you are cousins and not siblings, you have a bond.”
He frowned. “Why must she be there?”
“I’d like you to read the winds with me and taste Dom Senet’s thoughts, but I don’t want you to be trapped.” She told him of the time the dom had sensed her and how he had tried to gain control of her mind. “My siblings broke me free but an echo remained. Doma Jandia had to teach me how to break free.”
“What do you mean by trapped?”
She shuddered. “I was sick and fevered. He was in my head laughing and making threats.”
“I don’t want that. I’ll tell Dyna.”
Ash returned to the kitchen. She put plates on the table. Kirlon brought the cutting boards for bread and cheese. Jay and Geni arrived with greens and scallions. Ash wished for tomatls like they’d had in Cedris. Perhaps after repairing the growing house, their larder would improve. The doma poured heated water into pots for tea and kaf. Dragen produced a smoked ham. Eleven people gathered at the table and ate.
While she and her siblings cleaned the kitchen, she told them of her plan. “I have to do this.”
“Why?” Jay asked.
“We need to know where he is and what he’s planning. Soon we have to leave the keep to search for others with affinities to complete the quartets.”
Ky nodded. “She’s right.”
Bran clasped Ash’s hand. “I hate to agree but we need to know if he has any idea of where we are.”
“Kirlon and Dyna will join us. Kirlon needs to learn how to search the winds for a specific person. Their bond will pull him back if the dom senses him.” Ash washed the last of the dishes.
Bran and Jay carried the pails of dirty water to the door and emptied them. At the pump they washed and refilled the buckets. “Can’t wait until the pipes are repaired,” Bran said.
Ash chuckled. “In time, the doma said.”
Ky dashed to the door into the entry hall. “I’m off for some pillows. I’ll meet you.”
Ash walked with her brothers to the inner room the doma had designated as a training place. Located behind the tower stairs there were no windows and only a single door. Ky returned with straw-stuffed cushions. She lit the candles set in sconces along the walls. Kirlon and Dyna arrived with more pillows.
Ash positioned one beside hers. The others formed a circle around them. Ash clasped Kirlon’s hand. “Follow me.”
“How do I do that?”
She reached with her mind to touch his, using the way Doma Jandia had taught her. “Come.” She felt his thoughts join hers. She searched the winds for traces of the particular aroma of Dom Senet’s thoughts. He wasn’t in Cedris. Nor was he in the highlands. She continued to scent the winds until she smelled his essence. Cautiously, she slipped into his head.
He spoke to a pair of doms. Malera, Mandir and Lodar are in place and ready to do my bidding. They will seek the heirs of Easren, Nortren and Soutren. His laughter filled the wind. Ash felt cold.
They believe I will help them become the rulers of these princedoms. They will do all I ask until the day they learn there can only be one ruler. I am that one. You will remain hidden here. Two of my faithful will be sent to each of the other princedoms. I will tell you when and how to act. Though time will pass, you must remain alert.
Just as she was about to leave his thoughts, she caught a tendril leading to his plans for the four young men Zand and her brothers had met. She wanted to know more about them so she delved deeper. As she had suspected, the four were being trained to face her siblings and her. A sliver of fear sliced through her thoughts.
Dom Senet’s voice. A surge of fear that wasn’t hers startled Ash. She broke the connection to the dom the way Doma Jandia had taught her. Come, she called to Kirlon. She felt him flee on her trail. Yet someone remained.
Who? Ash asked.
Where are you?
Instead of an answer the other voice vanished. Ash heard her siblings call her name. Dyna called Kirlon. Ash opened her eyes. “I’m all right. This is what I learned…” She told them of the plans for the princedoms and how the dom planned to replace the heirs.
Bran nodded. “We’ve already seen the start of that.”
“How so?” Jay asked.
“Larin is the heir of Soutren and he’s with the Rovers,” Dyna said.
Kirlon nodded. “What about the four young men we saw in the dom’s thoughts?”
Ash drew a deep breath. “He plans to use them against us and he has no idea we have allies.”
Kirlon frowned. “Who is this Sydli? Is she friend or foe?”
“I’m not sure. She does have an affinity for Air.”
Jay looked up. “I’d say friend. Dom Senet has no use for girls. At least that’s what those four boys said.”
“She was frightened of him.”
Kirlon grimaced. “I don’t blame her. One scent of his mind and I felt sick. He smelled like rotten meat.”
Ash nodded. “You are so right.” She turned to Dyna and her siblings. “Someone needs to find the doma.”
“I’ll go,” Dyna said.
“Find Zand and Geni, too,” Ash said. “We’re not trained to fight the dom yet and we need to plan.”
Bran rose and followed Dyna. “I’ll make a calming tea.” Jay and Ky went with him.
Ash closed her eyes. The encounter with Dom Senet made her want to burrow into a cave. A thought arose. Had he really sensed her or had Sydli or Kirlon triggered his response? There had been a question in his voice. Maybe he hadn’t been sure who had searched his thoughts.
She had to warn others like herself. She sent a call on the winds. To those with affinities for the elements, seek the Rovers. If you are in danger, they will help.
Moments later the doma and the rest of the party arrived. Ash told them what she had done and what she had learned.
Doma Jandia frowned. “I pray the message you sent only reaches those you need and not Senet and his ilk.”
Ash released a sigh. “We need them. Visiting every village and town in every princedom would take too long.”
“There is that,” the doma said. “I know you want to start your search, but the time isn’t yet.”
Ash bowed her head. While the others talked about what had been learned and made plans, she prayed they would be granted the time they needed.