Syndria smiled, obviously proud of her prized possession. Looking around the Hall she spied a pitcher of water left over from the feast. She took off her bracelet, dunked it in the water, and scrubbed away the grime. Shaking off the droplets, Syndria walked back to her father’s side and handed the now gleaming silver bracelet to Nedra.
The bracelet was simple: a pattern of two leaves touching tip to tip followed by two with interlocking stems. The silver was strong despite its delicate appearance. Syndria was not a delicate child and she had not been easy on the bracelet. She wore it while playing and while helping her father on the farm, and yet the bracelet had lasted.
Nedra fingered the silver leaves. Could it be?
He closed his eyes, letting the colors swirl through him and around him. His mind relaxed, opening wide to the wisdom flowing through the night sky. Opening his eyes, he looked to the stars. All his life he had been reading the sky, waiting for the sign that that world was about to change. He had never known what it would be or when it would come, but he knew that one day he would see it.
Tonight, the sky was still. The colors he had felt earlier with his eyes closed were gone and all was quiet. He stared at the sky for hours, hoping for something to be revealed. Sighing, he finally turned back toward the door. He had been waiting for this for centuries, never giving up hope. Tonight, however, the stillness of the night seemed to be tearing at that hope, threatening to devour it forever.
He had watched the Kingdom of Tundyel slowly fading under the rule of Simann for much too long. With the Healers under his power, none could touch the man. It seemed the King had everyone fooled. No one in the kingdom so much as questioned him. He had no true powers of his own, yet with the help of the Healers and his Wizards the King seemed able to control everything. True, there had been no wars for more than three hundred years, but that peace had not come without a price. The people of Tundyel, though, knew nothing of the great costs of peace. They saw only a just, kind King, the man whose reign brought peace and contentment.
With one last glance up at the night sky, he started to go inside. Maybe tomorrow night will bring the sign. Maybe things will still change soon. As he stepped through the doorway, something in the southern sky caught his eye. It was faint, but it was there: a golden shimmer slowly moved north across the sky, barely visible to the man standing in his doorway. No one but a True Wizard would have been able to see it.
It was all beginning.
Twelve years later
Syndria knelt beside the man dying on the cold damp floor, placing her hands on his back. His flesh had been torn many times by the whip and now looked like the mangled prey of a hungry lion. He had broken ribs and a broken arm, and Syndria knew she had very little time to bring him back from his struggle with death. For a moment before she began letting her life flow into his still form, Syndria considered waiting just a minute longer. If she waited, the man would die here deep underground, lying on the cold stone. She wished she could grant him that peace, but the King had demanded that he be healed.
Slowly, the torn flesh began to knit together. The man began to moan as the life flowed back into his body. He was no longer hanging on the brink of death and would soon regain consciousness. Syndria closed her eyes and concentrated on the pain. All Healers could give life, heal wounds, but Syndria was the only one who could take pain. At first she had thought it was normal, just part of being a Healer, so she had never mentioned it to Nedra. Syndria had wanted so much to please the Ancient, to make her proud. The other Healers had already shown their displeasure with the fact that one so young would require so much of Nedra’s time before she was ready to serve the King. Besides that, the child was born of a farmer. Though young, Syndria’s pride was strong and her will was even stronger. The child had decided that in order to earn the respect of the women she could not show any weakness. Thankfully, Nedra had started Syndria’s training with scrapes and burns, gradually working up to the life-threatening injuries. Over the years, she had learned to withstand even the most excruciating pain, like that on the man before her on the ground.
The man would not die now, so Syndria stopped the flow of life coursing from her body into the man. She opened herself to his pain, felt it start in her fingertips and radiate up her arms. She steeled herself, knowing that if she lost her concentration for even an instant the pain of every whiplash, every slap and kick, would leap from her and re-enter the man. He would feel an entire day’s torture hit him at once. The pain shot through Syndria’s body, vibrating off her very bones. Every muscle in her body tried to contract at once, paralyzing the Healer. Finally, it ended. Syndria blinked away the tears in her eyes, the only visible sign of what she had experienced. She concentrated again on the man’s wounds and saw that the man’s body had relaxed after losing the pain that had wracked his frame. Once the flesh on his back was knitted together, Syndria moved her hands along his ribs and arm, quickly mending the broken bones. The man opened his eyes as Syndria finished.
Leaning close to his ear, Syndria murmured, “I am sorry.” The man turned his face slowly toward her, his dull eyes meeting hers.
“I do not blame you, Healer,” he whispered. “What choice do you have?” With that he stood, determined to face the Guardsmen proudly. His clothes were torn and bloody, but in that moment he seemed more like royalty to Syndria than King Simann ever had. Syndria stood from where she had still been kneeling beside the man’s blood. She slowly made her way toward the door, knowing that when she knocked the guards stationed outside would unlock the door and she would leave. Soon after, the man inside the room would be tortured once again.
“Healer,” the man called to her quietly, his voice almost musical despite the knowledge of what he was about to face. She turned back toward him, her eyes lowered. “Might I know your name?”
The first time she tried to speak, her voice failed her. Taking a deep breath she met his gaze. “Syndria, sir.”
“Syndria,” he repeated, then smiled. He had been tortured to the brink of death for three days now, yet he smiled. “Now I know who to thank when I leave this place.”
Syndria stared at the man in front of her. He was locked in a tiny room guarded at all times. He was beaten and spit on, mocked and ridiculed. Yet somehow he still clung to the faint hope that he would leave someway other than by the crematory. “And you, sir? What is your name, that I might know who to expect?”
The man’s gaze drifted away from Syndria, toward the door. “I am Paodin.”
The next morning, Syndria woke early to the sound of someone quietly tapping on her door. Pulling herself out of bed slowly because she could still feel the lingering pain she had taken from Paodin, Syndria reached for her gown and slid it over her head. She opened the door to Magen, a young girl who worked in the kitchen whom Syndria had befriended. The thirteen year old entered quickly, breathless and wide-eyed.
“Oh, you’ll never, never believe it! Nobody knows how he did it, but it’s all over the castle!” Magen exclaimed quickly, scarcely pausing to take a breath. Syndria knew the girl would keep rattling on like this, never getting to the point. It was how she told every story. Normally she would have enjoyed the girl’s endless chatter, but not this early in the morning.
“Magen, who did what?” she prodded, guiding her friend to the edge of the bed. Magen sat while Syndria cinched her silk belt around her waist and then tied back her raven hair with a matching ribbon.
Magen was nearly bouncing on the small bed, she was so excited. “The man from the…” She started to say dungeon but stopped herself. The King allowed no one to say what it was for fear his loyal subjects would not approve and become less loyal. “…from the lower west hall escaped! The Guards have been searching for hours but they can’t find him anywhere in the castle!”