How had he gotten out of the castle? The question rolled through his mind, blocking out all other thoughts. In his speech he had talked about the True Wizards, but how could it be possible? No one had seen nor heard from a True Wizard since Simann’s hunt centuries before. Of course, there had always been stories--Paodin’s own father had often told him tales of the True Wizard who had escaped Simann’s grasp and hid out somewhere in Tundyel waiting for the time to be right to destroy the King. It was said in prophecy that one day the True Wizard would put the rightful King back on the throne, an heir of Rilso. That seemed impossible to Paodin since the family had been destroyed twenty years ago, but he was not one to doubt prophecy, especially a prophecy his father had deemed so important.
Paodin had been raised by his father Audon in the village of Gelci, on of the smallest cities in Tundyel. Like many children throughout the kingdom, Paodin had never known his mother. She had died in childbirth, forced to labor alone without the aid of a Healer. In the time before Simann a Healer had always been nearby, close enough to attend to a woman in hard labor. For too long now the Healers had been forced to serve the King, leaving the citizens of Tundyel on their own. Unlike most, however, Paodin’s father had never taken another wife and raised his son alone.
Audon was a good man. Though not wealthy, he had not been poor. He was a carpenter and traveled the kingdom selling his goods and services to all of Tundyel. From the very beginning Paodin had traveled with his father and had seen almost every inch of Tundyel. Tonight he silently thanked his father for that childhood spent atop a cart. It would serve him well as he fled from the castle, especially since he could not return home. The men of Gelci had been planning a campaign against Simann for years now. If Paodin went back to Gelci now, the Wizards would surely find the group and kill them all. He could not allow that to happen, so tonight he was headed south to Meinsley.
He watched the sky, certain things had finally been set into motion. Twelve years earlier the golden sign had moved across the sky, marking the beginning of the prophecy’s fulfillment. Soon he would witness Simann being driven off the throne by the true heir, a descendant of Rilso.
The months, or even years, ahead would prove difficult, of that he was certain, but he had waited nine hundred years for this time to come. The true heir would need help in defeating Simann, help the old wizard knew he could give. First, though, he had to find the true King, a daunting task. For twelve years now he had spent countless hours studying the prophecy and the sign he had seen in the heavens, hoping for some insight. Many times he had thought he finally understood the prophecy only to watch events take a different turn. This time, though, he was convinced. Watching the sky tonight, he waited for confirmation. Soon he saw it. Glittering brightly in the black sky was the gold light he had seen from his doorstep twelve years before. This time it was visible to all, though few if any would understand its meaning. To the man staring intently into the night sky, however, the meaning was clear. The heir of Rilso would come from southern Tundyel, so that was where he must go.
Syndria lay in her bed, staring into the darkness. It was late, probably only a few hours before dawn, but she had not been to sleep. She had noticed something different about Paodin, but though she had been trying for hours now she could not recall what it would have been. For a while she had considered the possibility that she had met him before but soon brushed aside those thoughts. She had lived in seclusion with Nedra throughout her adolescent years and doubted she could remember him from her childhood. Besides, the more she thought about it the more Syndria realized that a mere familiarity was not what she had noticed about the strange prisoner. It had been something physical, an object of some kind.
Syndria closed her eyes, trying to picture the proud man who had stood to face what Syndria had thought would be his death. His clothes had been tattered and stained with blood but the Healer had still been able to tell that they were the clothes of a tradesman, probably a smithy of some kind. He had probably carried a sword as did many men of Tundyel, but it would have been taken from him when he was first captured by the guards. Beyond his clothes, Syndria could not picture anything else about the man who had asked her name. That was what stood out most in her mind, for no one she had healed had ever asked anything about her. That, and the fact that he had not blamed her for what she had done.
She did not like what she was forced to do to the prisoners, healing them solely for further torture, but it was a price she had to pay since she refused to take part in Simann’s daily ritual of healing. Syndria despised the man she was forced to obey, but only Nedra knew of the girl’s deep feelings. The wise woman had put Syndria in charge of healing the prisoners, convincing Simann it would be best for only one Healer to see what happened deep below the surface. Though it tore at the girl’s heart to know she was allowing the prolonged torture of the men in the dungeon, she could not have lived with herself knowing she was lengthening the reign of such a cruel man. Instead, Syndria told herself she was at least doing what little she could by easing the pain of the suffering men.
Syndria was stirred from her thoughts by the light of day at her window and someone at her door. Sighing when she realized she had still not figured out the difference in Paodin, Syndria stood and reached for her white gown. It took a moment of confusion at not finding the dress draped over the chair before Syndria realized she had gone to bed in the garment. Sighing once again, she opened the door to see Nedra standing before her. Before she could speak, the older woman had quickly stepped into the room and pulled the door shut behind her. Startled, Syndria lost her balance for a moment when the Ancient brushed by and stumbled backward into the room. She had never seen Nedra like this, visibly shaken for some reason. Nedra’s eyes darted around the small room and she wrung her hands nervously.
“You must leave,” she whispered urgently, moving toward the window. Much to Syndria’s surprise, Nedra tore the thin blue drape from its hooks and threw it on the bed. She then pulled a gown from Syndria’s dresser and tossed it on top of the drape, adding to that a pair of shoes. Syndria had taken supper in her quarters the night before, but in being too distracted to eat she had left most of the food on its tray. Spying the uneaten food, Nedra shook open the cloth napkin lying on the silver tray, placed the biscuit and meat on it, and tied it into a small bundle. Tossing that on the torn drapes as well, Nedra gathered the meager amount and tied the blue drape as she had the napkin. Shoving the pack at a stunned Syndria, Nedra started to push the girl toward the door.
“That will never do,” she muttered, taking in the girl’s appearance from head to toe. “You will be recognized before you even leave the gates.” Looking around once more she saw the knife lying on the silver food tray. “This will be painful, but it must be done,” she told the girl, spinning her around and gathering her thick black hair in one hand. She sawed off most of Syndria’s silken locks, leaving Syndria with her mouth gaping.
Syndria tried to speak, tried to ask Nedra what was happening, but he was in too much shock to form the words. Instead, she stood dumbly as Nedra pulled the dark green blanket off the bed and, using the knife to start, tore it in half. One half she tied around the bundle she had thrust into Syndria’s arms, and the other half she knotted about the girl’s tiny waist.
“Go now,” she ordered, opening the door and pushing Syndria into the empty hall. “I will meet you at the stables in Caron by this time tomorrow. Until then, do not speak with anyone. I will explain everything when I next see you.” When Syndria still stood frozen, Nedra gave her a shove. “Go, child!”
“Nedra has nothing to worry about,” Syndria muttered, wiping her face. “Even she wouldn’t recognize me now.” The road from Castle Tundyel to Caron was long and dusty, and despite the spring breeze Syndria was sweating. Each time she wiped her brow, the smudge left behind made her skin look less and less like the creamy complexion the girl was know for, and with her hair cut off there was no chance of anyone mistaking her for a Healer. Syndria had been walking for almost half a day now without stopping. She had no idea what she was running from, but judging by Nedra’s haste back in Syndria’s quarters it was something she couldn’t take lightly. So Syndria trudged on, never making eye contact with anyone. She was getting hungry but didn’t dare stop to eat. In another hour or two she would reach Caron--her meal could wait until she reached the stables.