“Picking up the ring, the man asked, “Where did you get this?”
Watching the old man study the ring, Paodin answered, “It was given to me by my mother before she died. I was only a baby so my father held it for me until it fit.”
“What did she say?”
Paodin reached out to take the ring back. “I was only just born when she died. How am I to know what she said?” Leaning back he slid the ring back on his finger. Despite the casualness with which he had given his ring to the man, Paodin was relieved to have it back in place. Since the day his father had first given it to him, Paodin had only taken the ring off when his growing hands had warranted it being switched to a smaller finger.
“You do not lie--though you do not remember her saying the words, you know what she said.” The man’s eyes glittered as they had the night before. “Now, what did she say?”
Paodin spun the ring on his finger as he answered. “According to my father, she simply told me to protect it. Father told me it was very important to her family.”
In another change of subject, something Paodin had come to expect at any moment, the old man asked, “What is the strongest thing in nature?”
Without thinking for long, he answered, “The mountains.”
“Perhaps,” the man stated simply. “What is weakest?”
With the second part of the question, Paodin suddenly remembered the first line of the Prophecy: “Bound by nature’s strength and frailty,” he said, pushing away the plate of half-eaten food. “That is what you are asking me, is it not?” The stranger sat silently, letting Paodin talk through the line on his own. Pushing back from the table the young man stood and began to pace. “Nature’s frailty could be anything. The strength could be a mountain as I earlier mentioned. Now, if the Prophecy says ‘bound by’, that probably means surrounded by or trapped by. Trapped, though, has a negative connotation. I should not think the Prophecy which speaks of returning the rightful heir of Tundyel to the throne would be negative. Bound could also mean protected.”
The old man interrupted Paodin’s flow of words by repeating an earlier question. “What did your mother say when she gave you the ring?”
“Her words were simply to protect it,” Paodin said, his frustration at being interrupted obvious in his voice.
The old man nodded slowly, never losing eye contact with the young man.
Paodin’s eyes widened. “Protected by nature’s strength and frailty. Man is both the strongest and weakest thing in nature. The heir will be protected by man.”
“That is one meaning,” the stranger said as he stood, “but there is another.”
Until he had realized that man was both strong and frail, Paodin had been trying to think of two different aspects of nature. Now he focused on one thing that could fit both descriptions. The old man kept asking about his ring, so Paodin now studied it himself. The pattern of interlocking leaves wrapped around his finger, the silver gleaming despite his dirty appearance. Suddenly, everything fit into place.
“The Prophecy,” he said, isn’t speaking solely of man. I am to protect the heir. When my mother said to protect it she was not speaking of the ring. She told me to protect the kingdom.”
“Though two, as one in unity.” The stranger repeated the second line of the Prophecy.
Paodin’s eyes grew even wider. “Though there will be two when I find the true heir, we will both have the same purpose-- ‘Shall true heir of Tundyel make’. Soon the true King will be on the throne.” Paodin gazed into the fire. Now it seemed so simple. Why had he thought the Prophecy was so difficult to understand when he first heard it?
“You are forgetting something.”
The old man’s voice broke Paodin’s train of thought, bringing with it the last line of the Prophecy. The True Wizards would be who put the true heir on the throne. “I have to find a True Wizard,” he said, his spirits falling.
Euroin stood before his fireplace staring deeply into the flames. The fire danced under his gaze, the flames turning blue with the extreme heat. The Wizard’s eyes began to glow with a strange light as the room around him seemed to fade. Soon the flames danced and twirled around Euroin as he stood in an otherwise empty space. He focused on the four other Wizards of the Order, clearing his mind of all else. Soon he was joined in the blackness by four voices.
“What have you found?” he asked. “Have the traitors been captured?”
Alek spoke out of the darkness. “Finley is quiet this morning. So far non seem to know of the prisoner’s escape.”
“Traitors?” Uylti interrupted. “For whom besides the prisoner are we searching? Has something else happened at the castle since we’ve been gone, Euroin?”
“The young Healer Syndria,” Euroin stated. “She has fled the castle. You doubted her involvement, Osidius, yet her sudden departure proves her guilt.”
“But how can she be involved?” Ilcren’s voice echoed. “A Healer’s gift could never be strong enough to hide the Old Magic. What could the child possibly have done?”
The flames swirling around Euroin shot out into the dark space. “You all know that a Healer cannot use her gift on someone and not know he has powers.” His voice was harsh, booming out to the others.
Ilcren’s quiet voice answered again. “It has always been so for our magic, that is true. However, we are dealing with a magic we know nothing about, a magic much stronger than our own-”
“Enough! There will be no more discussion,” Euroin yelled. “The Healer will be found along with the prisoner. Now, how is the District of Nelthien? Has there been any evidence of the traitors fleeing to the north?”
“I have neither seen nor heard of the prisoner,” Uylti answered, then quickly followed with, “and I will be watching for the Healer Syndria.”
Ilcren spoke up, “Sephon is also quiet thus far.”
“The people of Meinsley know of the prisoner’s escape, though none seem to have heard of the young Healer leaving as well,” Osidius spoke out of the darkness.
Frustration evident in his voice, Uylti huffed, “Our search would be much easier if we could use our powers to aid in our hunt for the traitors.”
Always the peace keeper of the Order, Ilcren answered, “We have no way of knowing if one with the Old Magic would be able to sense our magic.” His calm voice quieted the others as he continued, “We are better off to rely on our wisdom and only use magic for meetings such as this.”
“Have we not spent too long in this meeting?” Osidius asked. “Perhaps we should only meet if and when someone has new information.” When everyone agreed, the voices stopped and the darkness departed, leaving Euroin once again standing before his fire watching the deadly flames swirl before him.
Syndria sat by the pond for a while before finally making her way inside to talk to Tamara. She straightened her shoulders as she stepped through the door, determined not to appear weak. Her entire life, even before becoming a Healer, Syndria had been known for her strength. She had never been one to get upset when the city kids of Lurn had made fun of her charity dresses and grimy appearance. In fact, she had been much more likely to punch said kid in the nose for the insults. She refused to be weak now.
Tamara stuck her head out of the kitchen when she heard the young Healer enter the cottage. “I’m making bread. Would you like to learn?” she asked as she brushed away a lose strand of hair, leaving a smear of flour across her face. Nodding, Syndria followed her into the kitchen. As Tamara taught the girl about baking bread she talked all about her children. Syndria heard about the many antics of the young Lawrie and his terrorization of his sisters along with the time the girls had put him in Abigail’s fanciest ball gown. The children ran in and out of the kitchen, often asking their mother for something sweet. Tamara would shoo them out with the promise of a special treat after lunch, afterward laughing at their pouts. For a while, as the young Healer helped to knead dough and prepare lunch, Tamara managed to keep Syndria’s mind off of Nedra’s death. Finally, though, once they sat the four children down outside for lunch, Tamara took her into the main room and brought up the subject of which Syndria was hesitant to speak.
“Lawrence tells me you are wanting to leave us before the feast,” she said quietly.
Syndria nodded slightly. “I’m afraid it would not be in the best interest of your family if I were to stay.”
“I beg to differ.” The woman’s statement took the Healer by surprise. “There are many in Caron who know of Kierney’s plan to stay with us through the feast. They are expecting to see her seated with us at the Councilor’s table during the celebration, and if you leave before that many will become suspicious--not only of you, but of Sir Lawrence.”
After sitting quietly for a few moments, the Healer asked, “Why did he say nothing of this to me?”
Tamara smiled, “You must remember, my husband has seen you as a Healer since your gift was first revealed. As you well know, there are certain lines which are not to be crossed, and a Councilor putting his own desires before those of a Healer is one of those lines. I, however, see you mostly as a child.” Seeing Syndria’s surprise, she continued quickly, “Forgive me if I offend you, Mistress, but in my eyes you are in need of protection as much as my own Lydia. Without the Ancient Healer you are now alone in a world that will undoubtedly prove dangerous for you, and I want to help you as long as possible.”