After four days on the road they reached the pass from the lowlands. On the other side, Brader saw the tavern where he had betrayed Liara. He prodded his pony into a trot. Though the sun sank toward the west he had no desire to stop here for the night.
Disa caught up with him. “Shouldn’t we stop here? I’d like a hot meal and a bath.”
Brader shook his head. “This isn’t the best place to stop. They have no rooms to let and I’ve no desire to sleep on the floor in the common room.”
“There’s more,” she said.
He nodded. “Liara and I stayed here. There was a spot of trouble. I ended fighting a number of Queen’s Guards.”
“The tragon incident?”
“Yes.” He rolled his eyes. Was that to haunt him forever? “At least one of the men who attacked the caravan was a Guard.”
“And thee fear the tavern owner will remember thy face?”
“Or worse. This could be the bandits’ base.”
Disa frowned. “Those men were working for the wizard because he offered them gold. He believed he knew a way to corrupt the Jewels and turn Liara’s White to Black.”
“He didn’t succeed by capturing thee.”
“I hope not.”
Brader’s eyebrows lifted. “What do thee mean?”
“We’ve been taught that those who hold the Jewels rule the land. I’m not sure that’s true. Sometimes I fear the Yellow is controlling me the way the Black did Reena.”
Brader prodded his pony. “How can thee think that? Thee have done no ill with the Jewel except help people and save thyself.”
She rode at his side. “That’s almost true.”
She nodded. “When my captor grabbed the Jewel he died. I didn’t warn him of the danger.”
“Happened too fast I imagine.”
“He grabbed the Yellow and his hand burned. Then I wanted to stop the wizard’s chanting. I caught the chain in my mouth. Then I tripped and fell against him. Was the action mine of the Jewel’s?”
“I don’t know.” Brader pointed ahead. “See the grove. We can camp there. I’ll cook tonight.”
She laughed. “We’ll make the meal together. I’ll see to the seasoning.”
On the eighth day of travel Brader saw the walls of High Sanctuary in the distance. A wave of joy tinged with sadness rushed through him. He was coming home. Did his mother’s shade linger or had she passed to the next plane? There was so much he wanted to tell her about the events that had happened since he’d left the keep. He knew she would be pleased about the destruction of the Black.
“There. The walls of my home.”
“Where we will stay until we find the thread,” Disa said.
“Forever is my wish.”
She shook her head. “Once we have the thread we must go to Pala.”
Brader didn’t respond. Arguing would serve no purpose. Once she settled here, she would see his decision to remain on the isle was the right choice.
The road wound through the village. Brader saw the tavern where he’d drunk ale with the young men of the village. He rode past the square and remembered moonlit nights and mild flirtations. The number of dark houses puzzled him. Had people been driven away or had they left because they were afraid? As he neared the gates of the keep he remembered how eager he’d been to leave. Now he was glad to be at home.
The sight of the shattered gates brought Brader to a halt. Had the Queen’s Guards and wizards destroyed all who had lived within the walls of High Sanctuary?
Disa rode to his side. “Is the place deserted?”
“Not quite.” A man spoke from the shadows.
Brader dismounted. “Quinton.”
The aging armsman emerged into the light. “Brader, lad, you’ve grown.” He stared at Disa. “Where’s Liara?”
“In Pala. She’s now the queen.”
“Then she found her heritage. Why did you return? You should be at her side.”
Brader shook his head. “She has her
to stand at her back. There are things I must do here.”
Quinton waved his hand. “The gates are broken. The people have scattered. The Guards ransacked the place. Only Agnie and I remain.”
“I’ll see the keep repaired and the people can return.” He turned. “This is Disa, Holder of the Yellow Jewel. I am her
Quinton bowed. “My lady, pleased to meet you. Come inside. I’ll see to your beasts.”
Once within the walls Brader noted the destruction of the small houses and sheds. Anger curdled his thoughts. A woman stepped onto the stone landing at the top of the steps leading into the keep. “Agnie.” Brader ran up the steps and embraced her. “I’m glad you’re alive.”
She smiled. “Your mother told me she was sending you and Liara away. I’m glad you thought to return. How is Liara?”
Brader repeated what he’d told Quinton.
“So she’ll not be coming home.”
“Not for a time.” Brader stepped back. “Will you take me to Mother’s grave?”
Agnie nodded. “After the midday meal.”
He turned and waved Disa forward. He caught her hand in his. “This is Disa. She holds Mother’s Jewel.”
Agnie smiled. “Welcome, Lady Holder.”
“Just Disa. No need for formality.”
Brader turned and looked around the courtyard until he saw the small graveyard. He noticed no new graves. “Where is Mother buried?”
“In the meadow on the hill.” Agnie drew him to the doors. “Ever impatient.” She smiled at Disa. “The keep is yours to rule.”
A frown appeared on Disa’s face. Brader clasped her hand. He would explain later. “Agnie, how do you and Quniton live?”
“The garden provides for our daily needs. There are bantas and other fowl. Some shoats were left. The silk sheep provide fleece for us to barter for other things.”
Brader smiled. In time the keep could be repaired and peopled. Perhaps that would content Disa enough so she would choose to remain. He and Disa followed Agnie to the small dining room. The older woman left to fetch the food. Disa followed and helped carry the simple fare to the table. Before long Quinton joined them.
After the meal the older couple led the way up the hill to the meadow where silk sheep in a variety of colors grazed. Flowers abounded. Brader bent to pick some yellow fiolas. He placed them on the stone slab covering the grave. “Fare thee well, Mother. Go now from this plane to the next. The quest you sent me on is finished.”
He began the tale of his adventures from the moment he’d left the keep. He spoke of triumphs and failures, leaving nothing out. “So Liara and the White have prevailed. But the trouble didn’t end. The wizards were strong enough to bring more disaster to the land.”
He continued to relate the story of the struggle with the wizards. “Thus their stronghold was broken. We have yet one task to perform before the land is free.” He drew a deep breath. “Mother, this is Disa who now holds the Jewel you carried.”
Disa knelt on the other side of the stone. She placed her hands on the slab. Her eyes widened. She didn’t speak aloud. Her mouth moved as though she spoke to someone. Brader watched her face pale. She toppled and sprawled across the grave.
Brader lifted her. “What happened?”
She moaned and opened her eyes. “She spoke. The thread is hidden in the keep. Thee moved me before she could say where.”
“Do thee mean the one from the prophecy?”
She nodded. “I need to sleep. I need to think about what was said. Then I’ll search and go.”
Though what she said made little sense to him he rose. “Can thee walk?” He helped her to her feet.
When they reached the keep Agnie took Disa to the chamber where Brader’s mother had slept. He sat with Quinton and talked about the keep and what was needed to restore the place.
For the next two tendays Brader settled into the life of the keep. He hired men to repair the gates, sought those who had been driven away by the Queen’s Guards and arranged for their return. He found spinners and weavers to produce yarn and cloth from the sheep silk stored in a shed. Before long the keep rang with life.
Disa spent her time in the library where she set about ordering and skimming the books and scrolls the invaders had left strewn around the room. Every day she joined him for the evening meal and spoke of what she had learned.
Brader felt content. He wanted to stay and he felt convinced Disa had settled into the life he wanted.
At the start of the third tenday Disa emerged from the jumbled storage room. She held a scroll container. Brader poured her a glass of cider. “What delights thee?”
“I’ve found a scroll in one of the chests. It holds the lines of a chant to destroy the Jewels. This is the thread I sought. We must return to Pala and take this to Liara.”
He shook his head. “I want to remain here. No one can destroy or corrupt the Yellow while thee stay in High Sanctuary. Remember what the wizard tried to do to thee.”
Disa fisted her hands on her hips. “The time has come to destroy the Jewels.”
Brader frowned. “Does this mean we must set out on another quest?”
“Don’t thee understand that we’ve almost completed our quest.”
“Don’t thee yearn for peace like we have here?”
“There’ll be no peace as long as the Jewels control the Holders. Haven’t thee seen how much darker mine is?”
“Looks the same to me.”
“Liara and the others need my help. We must end the tyranny of the gems.” She walked to the door.
Brader shook his head. “I’ll remain here. So will thee.”