Seven Jewels and seven threads. Find them, twine them, and bind them into a thread to discover how to unlock the secret of the Jewels. What was pale becomes dark and dark changes to light. Sometimes destruction is the path to end a cycle of tyranny. To the Blue Jewel is given control of the water that falls from the sky, the water that flows over the land, the water that bubbles in the depths and the water contained in all things. Search in the forest and in the sands. Fulfill your vows and learn being two united is better than two apart. Follow the past to where all began for one.
Once Disa and Brader vanished into the forest, Stilenta entered the cavern entrance to the mages’ stronghold. She strode up the path to the meadow where the tents for the wounded had been pitched. Though she had wanted to leave with her friends, she hadn’t laid her plans for solving the elderly healer’s prophecy.
Besides Nalor hadn’t been ready to leave. Two of the men who had served with him in the forest had sustained serious injuries during the destruction of the lair and the battle that had followed. He wasn’t willing to leave until he knew all his men would live. She couldn’t blame him.
She paused at the fire and scooped a mug of kaf from the kettle. As she sipped, Nalor left the tent where the injured recovered. “How do they fare?” she asked.
Nalor pushed his dark brown hair from his forehead. His blue eyes shone with relief. “They will heal but aren’t yet ready to be moved.”
“How much longer?”
“Jindera thinks a tenday.”
“Will we wait?”
He shrugged. “They said to go.”
“What about the rest of thy men? Will they stay until all are healed?”
“I don’t know. They’re at the stronghold exploring the lower levels to see if there are any mages who escaped the destruction by hiding there.”
She dipped a mug of kaf and handed it to him. “Surely no one escaped.” She recalled the moment the dome had shattered.
“I fear some did.” He sipped the drink. “What plans do thee have? Do thee stay or go?”
“Thee are my chosen and my place is with thee. We have a thread to find.”
“And I have a people to see settled. I plan to cede the lands belonging to my family to them.”
“That’s generous. Do they know?”
“The leaders do. While I attend to them, thee have a promise to the Desert Riders to fulfill.”
She met his gaze. “How can we do both?”
“There may be a way.” He finished the beverage and put the mug in the soaking bucket. “I’ve given our dilemma much thought. I believe I should go to my people and thee should go to the desert.”
“Then what?” His suggestion had merit, but was it the right choice? The prophecy spoke of the forest first and then the desert. Would separating be going against the prophecy? Would that action change the result? What if both of them were needed to find the hiding place of the thread?
She stared at the ground. Two promises had been made to the Desert Riders. She had promised to cleanse the tainted wells but her mother had promised to turn the sand to grass.
Nalor reached for her hand. “Once we’ve managed to fulfill our vows we will meet in Desert’s Edge and decide where we must go to find our thread.”
“Thee don’t think we will find what we seek in the forest or the desert.”
“I believe this thing we need will remain hidden until we have fulfilled our promises.”
Though what he said made sense she wasn’t sure each taking a different road was a good idea. She was the Holder and he the Chosen, two halves of a whole. She sighed. Until he believed they were, they couldn’t fulfill the roles given to them by the Blue.
“Then once we reach Desert’s Edge thee believe we should separate?”
“We’ll do what we must.” Nalor groaned. “I thought when we destroyed the stronghold our battles were over. They weren’t, so we must work toward a final ending.”
“When do we leave?”
“I’ll speak with my men. They’ll be driving most of the bovines, goats and silk sheep to Desert’s Edge and then taking them to the lands beyond the forest.”
“What about the shoats?”
He laughed. “They’ll be taken in cages lest they make for freedom. Shoats can’t be herded.” He rose. “I’ll go and speak to them and let thee know.”
She looked up. “I wish we didn’t have to separate.”
He grasped her hands and pulled her to her feet. “Though the choice isn’t mine, I feel we must.”
She kept her head lowered. “Are you sure there’s no way we can stay together?”
“Once we complete our tasks we will be.” He released her hands.
She heard the same desire in his voice as she felt, but there was a dark undertone of sadness in his manner. She wanted to offer comfort but she couldn’t find the words. This time when he reached the forest he would cede his claim to his family estate. He’d lost so much to the mages. His home, wife and children as well as his brother and his parents were gone. Though he was her Chosen, memories of his dead loved ones remained to taint anything that rose between them. Until the ghosts were quieted they were Holder and Chosen only. Would he hold his pain inside forever? Would he ever admit he needed her?
“I’ll see thee later,” he said.
She watched him walk away. For a few moments she stared after him, then walked to where Mara worked. “What can I do?”
“Help me with these dressing mixtures.” Mara smiled. “I can’t believe I hold a Jewel and am other than a servant named as an eternal child by the Desert Riders.”
“Strange are the ways of fate. Once I believed I would be stuck on an isle forever but I was rescued. What will you do when the injured are healed?”
“Solve the prophecy. Lajin and I have been discussing what we will do after that day comes.”
“Where will you go?” Would the Green Holder come to the desert?
“We haven’t decided. Desert’s Edge for sure. Lajin wants to find a young man the mages took from the village on the day they forced Lajin to go with them.”
Stilenta stirred a kettle and savored the aroma of the blended medicinals. “Why not come to the desert with me?”
Mara shook her head. “The desert is the last place I would go. Though I lived with the Blue clan from the day I was found wandering in the desert, they treated me as less than a person. One of them, Tomon, even thought to harm me and then give me to the mages.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Seems the mages knew I would hold a Jewel. Tomon was in this stronghold for a time. He’s Lajin’s cousin and also a grandson of one of the dead Master mages.”
Stilenta sighed. So she would be alone again. “Don’t you want to show the Desert Riders what you are?”
Mara shook her head. “They’ll hear. I have no desire to return to a place where no one valued me. Not that they were cruel, except for Tomon and his mother. But to the others I was nothing.”
“You don’t want to be one of the two who heals the land. I can cleanse the wells but I can’t turn the sand to grass.”
Mara scooped some of the thickened herbs into a large bowl. “Not even then. My prophecy seems to lead away from the desert. Will you come and help me change dressings?”
“Of course.” Stilenta sighed. She would travel by herself for the wells were far apart and only the largest oases were settled. The time on the isle after her mother’s death had been solitary. She had endured the silence and emptiness but she hadn’t liked a moment of her days there. Since her rescue the presence of other people made her feel secure. Could she handle being alone for a lunar or two?
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