Disgustedly, the King pulled aside the blankets and looked at two matching still faces. “Dispose of them immediately!” he commanded, brushing past Nedra into the room. “Guardsmen,” he shouted, looking at the small weeping figure lying in the bed, “kill this woman. She has failed her King.” With that he left, ignoring Nedra’s pleas that the tiny babies be given a proper burial with their mother.
“It is impossible!” Euroin shouted, pacing in front of the blazing fire. “Those Wizards are all gone and have been for centuries. That…that mere man in there could not be one of…those.” He almost spit the words out. A dark light shone fiercely in his eyes as he stormed across the room.
“If he was one of those Wizards,” Alek said, absently running his fingers through his long silver hair, “why would he have allowed himself to be tortured by the Guards? He was brought back from death three times--why go through it all?”
Osidius sat staring into the fire, gazing deep into the dancing light. “He was waiting,” he said calmly, instantly getting the fill attention of the others.
“Waiting for what, Osidius?” Uylti questioned. “If he had disappeared the first time the Guardsmen had touched him we still would have known him to be a Wizard.”
“Perhaps he was waiting for us.” Ilcren spun his heavy mug on the table. “He wanted us to see for ourselves that he is a True Wizard.” Ilcren was the first of the Wizards to speak the title aloud.
The mug shot out of Ilcren’s hands, shattering against the stone fireplace. Euroin spun to face the table where the younger man was sitting. “It is impossible,” he snarled, almost nose to nose with Ilcren. “Those Wizards are dead!”
“If they are dead,” Osidius interrupted, “how do you explain the old magic being present, Euroin?”
“How do you know if it was the old magic?” Euroin challenged, stepping in front of Osidius. “How do any of you know? You have never seen the old magic. You were just tricked! He cannot be a Wizard any different than us. If the four of you would stop being such old fools, believing in the impossible, and start searching the kingdom, we would find that imposter and put an end to his lies!” Euroin stormed around Osidius’s one-room cottage, knocking over anything in his path. His black cloak billowed around him, looking every bit like a thundercloud ready to burst. A dangerous light threatened to shoot from his eyes, ready to destroy anything--or anyone--in his way. Euroin had served King Simann for 130 years, much longer than any of the others, and very seldom did the other four challenge him. Tonight, though, Osidius spoke up. The newest of the Royal Wizards, he had only come to the castle ten years before.
“Enough, old man!” he shouted, jumping to his feet. His dark hair hung loose around his face and shoulders, giving Osidius the look of a vagabond despite his rich crimson cloak. When Euroin turned to face the newcomer, his look incredulous, Osidius continued. “You saw the same thing we saw! The man vanished before our very eyes and left no trace of a Wizard’s spell. You saw the magic the same as we did, hidden within that of the young Healer. What are you going to do next, tell us that the girl has use of the old magic? If so, it is you who are the fool, not us!” The dancing flames that had been reflected in his eyes while Osidius had stared into the fire were still visible as he faced Euroin. When Euroin closed his eyes, the three Wizards silently watching the exchange almost expected to see his powers unleashed on the newest member of their Order. A moment later, however, Euroin simply opened his eyes. The dangerous light present just moments before had faded, replaced by a Wizard’s ever present dull gleam. He sighed, looking as if he had just aged ten years.
“What do you suggest, old man?” Euroin asked Osidius, his voice as haggard as his looks had suddenly become.
Osidius studied the other Wizards before he spoke. “The prisoner spoke of the walls and magic of Tundyel Castle, so there must be a plan to attack both fronts. We must gather all the kingdom’s wizards, no matter how weak their gifts, and bring them to the castle.” He trailed off and Alek picked up the train of thought.
“If all the wizards are here, within the walls of the castle, the prisoner’s insurgent group will be able to attack only the walls. Our castle is a mighty fortress. None will be able to breach it. The Guardsmen have two thousand men at their disposal to defend our walls who can be ready at a moment’s notice. We will go to the King and tell him of the threat.” Alek stood, ready to do just as he had said. It was Uylti who stopped him.
“King Simann wishes for the castle to remain peaceful. We will tell him to increase the guard on the walls, but we must find the group our prisoner associates himself with and destroy the threat. If he does have use of the old magic, we will not be able to find them using only our minds. We must travel the kingdom physically.”
“We will each search a different district,” Euroin announced, reassuming his role of leadership in the Order. “Since my powers are strongest I will remain in Rues to protect our King. Uylti will travel to Nethien, Ilcren to Sephon, Alek to Finley, and Osidius will search Meinsley. Now,” he said, heading toward the door, “let us approach our King.”
Syndria knocked on Nedra’s door but did not wait for the Ancient to acknowledge her before stepping inside. The older woman was sitting beside her window, watching the preparations being made for the Wizards’ journeys. Her gaze never left the courtyard below as she spoke.
“Come in, child. You are welcome.” Syndria, not waiting for an invitation, had already crossed the room and now knelt at the Healer’s knees.
“Nedra, something troubles me. Yesterday it was I who healed the man who escaped. Did I do wrong? Should I have left some of his injury? I do not understand--”
“Child, would you pleasure the Ancient with a walk? It is stuffy in here. I would like to be in the sun,” Nedra interrupted Syndria. Taking the young Healer’s hand she stood.
“Of course, Ancient,” Syndria smiled. Ever since their first meeting she had called Nedra the Ancient, and the title soon became as dear to her as “Popa” had always been. As they started to leave the room Syndria glanced out the window and saw the four Wizards leaving. She considered asking Nedra where they were going in such a hurry, but thought better of it. Over the years she had learned that when the Ancient suggested a walk she would not speak until she was ready.
The two Healers walked slowly through the castle halls, their appearances strikingly different. Nedra was tall and powerfully built despite her age. Her long white hair was tightly braided and hung past her waist. Her skin was tanned, her eyes a deep green. She carried herself proudly, gracefully, and always appeared to be dancing as she moved. Her slender hands hung peacefully at her sides while Syndria’s were constantly moving. While she walked, the young Healer brushed at her gown or fidgeted with her hair, and her hands flew when she spoke. Unlike Nedra, Syndria was petite and appeared fragile. Her shining black hair, never in the customary braid of the Healers, bade her alabaster skin seem even whiter. Her bright blue eyes stood out in stark contrast to her black hair and fair skin.
The two walked through the castle doors into the courtyard below Nedra’s window. It was empty now, the Wizards gone, and the Healers strolled among the beautiful flowers starting to bloom in the early spring sunshine. Finally Nedra spoke.
“Think about the man from yesterday. What can you tell me about him, Syndria?”
Syndria hesitated for a moment. What had she noticed? She had been asking herself the same question but with no result. She could not put her finger in the one thing she somehow knew was important. “I don’t know, Ancient. He was a prisoner, a man in pain. What would have been any different about him?” About Paodin, she added silently.
“I know you, child,” Nedra scolded softly. “Do not lie to me.”
“He was different,” the girl finally admitted. “He seemed almost…royal.” She spoke the word no louder than a whisper, afraid King Simann would somehow overhear.
Nedra looked at Syndria for a long time, studying the young Healer. Finally she moved away, making her way to a stone bench in the midst of the flowers. Syndria followed in silence. Nedra sat down, taking Syndria’s hand as she did so.
Lightly touching the silver bracelet the girl wore at all times, Nedra spoke. “Your mother said this would protect you. No matter what challenges lie ahead, remember her promise.”
Paodin huddled in the damp cave, thankful for the small fire he had been able to start. He still did not understand what had happened the day before. One moment he had been facing the five Wizards in a small room deep underground, taking a deep breath in preparation for his inevitable death. The next he had been outside the castle walls, the words, “Remember those who have helped you” echoing in his mind. He had told the Healer Syndria that he would leave the castle, but at the time it had been more for her sake than his own. He had wanted her to know that it was possible, that one did not have to always be a slave to Simann. She could have a life serving the people of Tundyel as the Healers of old had done instead of bowing to the King’s every whim. He had thought his own fate sealed in that tiny room, but one with powers such as hers would be a tremendous asset in the fight against Simann’s cruelty.