The stranger quickly jumped to his feet, sending his heavy chair crashing over backward. “Yes!” he exclaimed, spinning to face the fire with his back to Paodin. “Now, what does it mean?” he questioned once again, his voice suddenly calm. “Think before you speak.”
Paodin closed his mouth. He had started to again tell the old man it was useless to question him before the stranger’s last command, but now decided it would accomplish nothing. So he closed his eyes for a moment, hearing one line of the riddle about the truth ringing in his mind. “And by the Truth the throne room take.” His eyes shot open. It was obvious--”The True Wizards will help to take back the throne of Rilso,” he stated, his eyes wide. “That is not a riddle, is it?” When the old man showed no reaction, Paodin continued, “That is the Prophecy.”
“I will help you,” the old man stated simply, staring into the fire. “What does the rest mean?” he questioned quietly.
When searching his mind didn’t turn up the rest of the Prophecy, Paodin left the table to stand beside the Stranger in front of the fire. He stood silently, gazing deeply into the flames in an attempt to find what the old man was watching so intently. As if reading his mind the man spoke.
“If you study something long enough, you can find the truth behind anything.”
“Well,” Paodin countered, “the first may have been the Prophecy, but that was a riddle. What are you trying to tell me?” Paodin was starting to get frustrated. Maybe this man really was just crazy. If so, Paodin thought, I should just leave right now.
“Dawn comes soon. Perhaps you should wait until night falls again to continue your journey. That will give you time to understand.” The old man opened a small door next to the fireplace. “Rest here.”
Paodin sighed. If it truly was approaching dawn he could not travel now. He turned away from the fire to look at the man who had seemingly wasted so much of his time, but the old stranger was gone. He must have gone back up into the forest, though Paodin hadn’t heard him leave. He ducked his head and stepped through the small door.
Instead of the dark hole he had expected, this room was warm and comfortable. A cot against one wall of the tiny bedroom was piled high with quilts full of rich, beautiful colors. There were no other furnishings in the room, but it was warmed by the fire it shared with the other room. Paodin lay down on the cot which was another first like the soup had been earlier that night. He planned to rest and try to remember the Prophecy, but soon his eyes closed and Paodin drifted into his first deep sleep in a week.
Syndria woke long before daybreak. She slept very little during the night, tossing and turning. At one point she had gotten up to pace the small room, hoping not to wake Lyddie. She had waited in bed as long as possible but finally felt too restless to stay in the bedroom. She made her way quietly into the main room, trying not to wake the family. To her surprise, Tamara was sitting by the window sipping from a heavy mug, gazing out into the early morning.
As Syndria walked in, Tamara looked up and smiled. “Good morning, child. Would you like some sassafras tea?”
Child. Syndria felt herself relax slightly at the word. Since she was first revealed as a Healer no one but Nedra had called her that. People seemed almost to fear her, a painful reaction Syndria had never been able to shake off. She nodded, and Tamara motioned for her to sit as she went into the kitchen for another mug.
“It’s pretty strong,” she warned, handing Syndria the warm mug. “Here is some honey if you need to sweeten it.” Sitting down beside the young Healer, Tamara gave Syndria time to relax before she began to speak.
“I am truly sorry you have been driven from all you know. So much has been stripped from you-- your appearance, your home, your friends. I wish there was more we could do for you, Mistress,” she said, bowing her head slightly.
Syndria felt a pang of sadness at the woman’s deference. “Please, I liked ‘child’ so much better,” she said, reaching to take Tamara’s hand. “There is nothing else you need to do for me. You have already opened your home to me, putting your own family in danger if the Guardsmen discover my presence. I am afraid that if I stay much longer that will happen.”
“Oh!” Tamara exclaimed, “That reminds me-- you need a dress to wear while you are here. Though your hair is now short, you will be easily recognized if you move about the kingdom in your white gown.” She stood, pulling Syndria along beside her. “Come with me and we will find you something to wear.” Tamara led Syndria through the kitchen to a small room full of fabrics, threads, and garments in various stages of production. She began searching through the dresses stacked on a small table tucked under the room’s only window.
“You are older than my Lydia, but I don’t believe there is much difference in size.” Pulling a dark red dress from the pile, Tamara turned to the Healer. “Try this one. I can adjust it some once you have it on. Call when you are ready,” she added, walking back into the kitchen. She left the door open slightly, giving Syndria some light in the tiny room.
Syndria fingered the dress. For the last twelve years she had worn nothing but white. The red was beautiful and the girl’s eyes lit up at the thought of wearing such a rich color. She quickly changed out of the simple Healer’s gown and pulled the new dress over her head. As soon as she was dressed she called Tamara back into the room.
When the seamstress stepped in she began laughing. “Well, my dear, I do believe I may have some work to do!”
The red dress hit Syndria in all the wrong places. It pulled tightly across her hips and gaped at her chest. The fabric folded at her waist, pulling the hem of the dress three inches above her ankle.
Tamara struggled to contain her laughter. Still chuckling, she pulled shears, a needle, and thread out of a drawer. “Now,” she smiled, tapping a stool, “step up here and let’s see what I can do.”
An hour later, the dress fit Syndria perfectly and the young Healer was learning to cook by helping Tamara prepare breakfast. Sir Lawrence walked in as Syndria set the table.
“Good morning. The two of you must have gotten up early this morning,” he said, looking around at all the food. “You’ve been busy! Are we celebrating something?”
Tamara smiled as her husband kissed her on the forehead. “I was just teaching… Kierney how to cook. We were having so much fun we just couldn’t stop,” she finished, turning as the twins stumbled drowsily into the kitchen. “Good morning, girls. Are you hungry?” The girls nodded as they climbed into their chairs at the table.
Sir Lawrence knelt between his daughters. “Well, since we can’t eat until everyone is here, who wants to go wake up your brother and sisters?” When neither girl answered, the Councilman scooped them out of their chairs, one in each arm. “I guess all three of us will just have to go.” He flew them through the doorway, both girls squealing with delight.
Soon they returned, little Lawrie riding of his father’s back. Abigail hurried in ahead of the group, her blonde hair wild. The twins still giggled and an obviously sleepy Lyddie followed behind. Looking at Lyddie, Syndria knew she must have woken the girl with her restlessness the night before.
“I am sorry if I woke you last night,” Syndria said as she served the young girl a bowl of oatmeal.
Tamara laughed. “Oh, Kierney, Lydia is always this cheerful early in the morning.” Kissing her oldest daughter on the top of her head, Tamara continued, “She wouldn’t know if the house fell down around her at night!”
The breakfast continued with lots of laughter, making Syndria remember all the quiet mornings she had spent in the castle. For a moment Syndria considered staying on until the feast. It would be amazing to experience a family for the rest of the week. The thought didn’t last long before Syndria mentally chided herself. How could she even consider keeping this family in danger longer just to satisfy her own desire to have a family? As soon as possible Syndria would talk to Sir Lawrence and see if he knew what was happening at the castle. Then she would leave Caron.