The time has come. Ash bolted upright. Her heart pounded with a beat reminiscent of one created by a mad drummer. Her gaze swept the room. She saw the other young women slept. Had someone spoken on the winds or had the words been part of a dream she couldn’t remember? When her racing heart slowed she cautiously opened her senses to read the winds of the keep. Using her affinity for Air she searched. The only person awake was the doma and the cry hadn’t arisen from the elderly woman.
Fingers of moonlight slid through the shuttered windows. She moved to the edge of the bed and pushed her feet into her house boots. Ash crept to the window to peer outside. She knelt on the stone bench and opened the shutters a crack. A gasp pushed past her lips when she saw the birds, one light and the other dark. The pair circled the keep.
She rubbed her arms to banish the chill of the late winter night. “Mama, Papa,” she whispered. “What does your arrival mean?”
Since the destruction of the Wesren henge the birds had appeared at auspicious moments. Sometimes the pair signaled safety and other times they brought a warning of danger. What was the meaning of this sighting?
“The time has come.” Softly she whispered the words. Like a jolt of lightning a thrill of excitement swept through her. Did that mean her and her halfling companions were ready to leave the safety of the keep and venture forth against their enemies? There were more opponents than she cared to face. She considered the number of doms and domas who followed Dom Senet, the four halflings he’d trained plus Zand’s former step-mother and her two sons. A shudder rolled through her body. There was also the voice of evil she’d heard on the winds.
Two years and a season had passed since the return from the quests for the remaining halflings, the heirs and the talismans. The sixteen companions had worked hard to gain mastery of their affinities of the elements. Four whose element was Air, four Fire, four Earth and four Water united in four mixed quartets. A sliver of fear stabbed. Were they ready? She fought a desire to return to her bed and pull the covers over her head.
As the edge of the sun appeared above the distant mountains Ash closed the shutters. She thought about the birds and knew hiding was as impossible as a return to sleep. Not while her emotions rose and fell in waves. Should she wake the others and tell them about the birds? She frowned. If she did Ky, her younger sister, would scold and rouse everyone in the keep.
Ash grabbed her clothes and dashed to the necessary to wash and dress. Before she stirred the others into action she had to speak to Doma Jandia. Perhaps their teacher could interpret the meaning of the words and the arrival of the birds.