It will come to pass the harmony and balance of All Who Is One, of Arbet, Treach, and Charah, will fail. The great structure will collapse in strife; the tribes will scatter to form new nations, new names of gods created. In the land of home, greed and jealousy will rule. Arbet, the priests, once speakers and holders of the word of All Who Is One will betray the trust, twist and rewrite the words. The true meanings will be confused, new words false and corrupted, the purpose distorted. The sisters, once protectors and shields, must pass on the truth as well as the secrets of the Knowing. Charah, the brothers, once the avengers and wielders of retribution, will fall to confusion, divide, and turn their once intention. Darkness will prevail until mercy is shown to the faithful. Through the darkness of time will come the light of hope, a leader as well as speaker to guide, a shield to protect, and a sword to avenge, Atat Comm.
* * * *
Five hundred years later
By deliberate intent, the rider wore all black clothes on a dark horse on a dark and storming night. Not one condition was an accidental circumstance, but each well planned to fit with the other. Even still, he knew a chance of fate could undo him, and on seeing the struggling figure ahead, he slowed his hasty travel to covertly watch, curious but not alarmed until, between flashes of lightning, the figure disappeared. The rider knew death could come in small packages as well as large, and though he believed the one ahead to be no more than a child who was not aware of him, he proceeded with caution. He dismounted and drew his sword. Crouching to lessen his own bulky size, he moved slowly, stopping between each step to peer hard ahead and listen while he waited for the next flash of light before moving again. Rain fell and splattered around him, dripping from the leaves of trees beside the track to distort sound. On hearing a rustling of leaves, he drew his knife as well. Nothing came at him. Knowing it may well be a lengthy pursuit, he returned to his horse to lead it from the muddy track. He had no desire to be caught by surprise. With a bandana around the mount's nose to prevent it from answering or calling to any horse that might pass by, he returned to remove all signs of his horse leaving the track. Unlike his quarry, he also erased the evidence of the trail going into the woods. The rider took the time to do so to prevent any other from following him, not his quarry.
The hunted, for the rider was not sure only he followed the slight figure, had collapsed and crawled into the forest. The rider found him under a log, buried in wet leaves, most likely waiting for death to find him. Fever raged through the frail body, and the boy did not stir when examined by match light. His feet were raw from walking without shoes, his hands and knees scraped and cut, and held both scabs and fresh bleeding from falls and crawling for an extended time. The worst of the injuries, a large, ugly burn, putrefied and oozing, lay high on the back over the left shoulder blade.
He was an enigma, this boy. Long for his age, for his size suggested an age of thirteen or fourteen years, yet there were no signs of a boy changing to a man. More puzzling, he wore a cassock, the garment torn to rags. The man knew what the cassock and the wound on his shoulder meant for the man was of Ives and knew of the Priests of Oldspushner, but what he saw made no sense on one so young. In addition to everything else, the boy looked starved.
While the rider pondered the mystery, he lifted his head to listen to the sound of horses driven hard for the conditions of the night. Now he was hunted. With a muttered curse he rose to leave. By his personal code any kindness meant weakness. To help a dying child would be an act of mercy. He would not permit himself any such flaw until a self-serving reason occurred to him. He returned to heft the child to his shoulder.
Who would suspect a man traveling with a sick child to be an assassin? Not the troops he met on the road later.
"I am Lockmer. This be my son, Garran," he stated in a voice sounding as a rake dragging over gravel. In the saddle in front of him, he held the unconscious child, wrapped tightly in a blanket. "I go to the nearest village in search of a healer."
The night was miserable, wet and cold. The small force of Ives troops had sought shelter under a canopy of trees. The leader did not wish to leave the partial dryness to ask questions, to the assassin's benefit.
"A fever," the assassin continued. He knew even the bravest and strongest of men feared the deadliness of unknown fever. "Came upon him sudden last eve."
As expected, the trooper backed away. "We search for a boy of twelve, with dark hair and eyes. Have you seen such?"
Surprised the troopers searched for the boy, not him, the assassin did well to hide it. "I have seen many boys in my travel with dark hair and eyes. This be Ives. Otherwise would be not common."
"He has a burn on his back shoulder."
"I've seen none without a shirt to know this."
"In cassock and alone?" the trooper retorted angrily.
"Nay, none alone and none in skirt. Why do you search for him?"
"A child?" the assassin asked, disbelief clear in his voice.
The trooper didn’t answer. "If you see such a child, report it to the nearest trooper. A reward is offered. Now pass and stay wide."
In a night of surprises for the man, the next he did not care for. The boy stirred, having given no indication till then he was awake and aware. A child had fooled him to annoy the assassin.
"Why did you not give me over?" the boy asked weakly.
The assassin grunted and said gruffly, "It benefits me at current time to be a father with a son. When the time comes it does not, make no mistake, I will leave you quickly behind."
* * * *
Before strong enough to sit without assistance, the boy crawled from the camp into the forest to find plants and herbs to treat himself. Though amazed, the assassin did not show it. The knowing of plants and herbs was not consistent with the tattered cassock of the priests the boy wore, for the priests scorned the healing teachings of the Sisters of Treach. Nor did the sisters teach their secrets, yet the man made use of the child's knowledge. While the child healed, the assassin taught the boy the arts of disguise, more for his benefit than the boy's. He taught the boy how to lighten his hair, how to darken it by degrees from white to brown, to red, and back to dark till his hair was again as black as it had been the night the man had found him. The man altered his own hair in length and style as well as his beard and mustache. At times he fashioned false hair from a horse's tail or mane and tree gum. Never did a description that may have been given of the two in one village match their appearance when they arrived in the next.
As well as the art of disguise the man taught the boy to avoid detection, the skills of stealth, and how to use a sword and knife. From the boy, the man learned to recognize leaves to relieve pain, plants to heal, herbs to stimulate, flowers to help one sleep, and even plants to bring death.
For two years they held together, the boy often left alone while the man went off in secret. Not one kind word was ever given to the boy by the man, and any gifts he gave, just as the lessons he taught, were given more to benefit the man than the boy, until the last. The man tossed a small purse to the boy after setting him on the ground at a crossroads.
"We've been together too long," the man grumbled. "You've size enough to pass for ten and six. Go lose yourself by enlisting as apprentice in the army of Amor. Sign yourself as orphan of Ives. They'll not be able to verify even if they've a mind to with all those fleeing from Ives. The killing there will serve well as reason for the hate in your eyes that you care not to disguise."
The man pulled his horse around and trotted off, leading the horse the boy had ridden. No good-bye came from him and no thank you from the boy quickly growing into a man. The dark eyes the man had spoken of held no tears, only the anger and hatred that never left them. The boy watched the man out of sight. While he watched, he took two coins from the purse for his pocket. The purse he hid in his boot. Once done, he took up his pack and began to walk.
Because two names were required for enlisting, he became Garran of Lockmer.
By loss of faith, compassion is lost.
"Who?" Garran asked in disbelief.
"The Princess Fayahstella of Ives," Evemet repeated, his graying, bat-winged eyebrows pulled down in unhappy anticipation. "Her messenger has requested sanctuary."
Garran dropped the pen in his hand to the desktop and leaned back in the chair. The wood creaked from the stress his weight put on it, for the previous governor had been a much smaller man in height, weight, and width; though not an ounce on Garran had gone soft in his thirty-some years. The chair was a source of annoyance to him, which showed in a brief flash of his dark eyes. He had requested more than once it be replaced with one more suitable to his above average size. That it had not been and the same small one always managed to return when he replaced it was another source of irritation. The household staff may have been forced to accept his appointment as Governor of Sheritan, but they clearly made known their disapproval. To them he was unworthy, and he fared no better with the people of Sheritan, the mine, or the village. Now a new circumstance to test his temper presented.
"Why," he asked tartly, "would she be in Sheritan?"
"It's the easiest crossing from Ives to Amor. The message claims illness among her servants, but if rumors are as we hear them, Caslock is in search of her."
"Easiest route, but not the shortest so then speed seems not important despite the supposed pursuit," he mused. "How large a party?"
"A company of twenty palace guards, her caravan, a coach, and two wagons."
"This is how they travel in secrecy?" Garran retorted. "A caravan alone is as big as a house." He pushed out of the tight fitting chair with a hand on each wooden arm. The right arm wobbled dangerously before his weight left it, bringing a fresh flash to his temper. He stopped as he paced to gaze out of the double glass-paned doors leading to a garden. "She flees Ives where her own army cannot defend her, leads them here, where we have no army at all, and asks for sanctuary?"
"Our small company will for certain stand little chance of defending against Caslock."
"Nor will they be endangered so," Garran promised darkly.
"Is not Caslock's invasion of Amor but a matter of time? Is that not why you plan evacuation?"
"Aye and her presence here may well bring them too soon," Garran stated with a hard look to his face.
He turned to gaze at Evemet with an intensity that would have made any man squirm. His gaze had held Evemet uncomfortably the first few times he found himself under the dark, stony stare till Evemet learned most often the thoughts behind those eyes were not for him.
"Time is our need," Garran said finally, "and to discover how much time we have will be to our benefit. She is here. We will make use of her to gain both. Bid her welcome and keep a messenger at the ready. If Caslock believes—"
"You would bargain with Caslock?" Evemet exclaimed. He immediately altered his tone. They had served together for fifteen years, friends as well as fellow soldiers, but Garran was still his superior officer despite being younger, though his exact age was unknown. "Forgive me, Commander, but you cannot mean this. 'Tis well known Caslock's bargains bind only as long as suits him."
"Negotiations may well supply our need for time to make ready. For Caslock to gain genuine title to the throne of Ives, he must have the princess in marriage, though invasion of Amor to pursue her may not be yet in his plans. Choose two of our best scouts. I must know if Caslock's troops mass or only a small party follows or if any follow at all. He may well name his self king without the bother of being encumbered by an unwilling queen. If in truth he wants her to give himself true title of king, a promise of easy access to her in exchange for Caslock's quick retreat without causing any damage here may well serve us."
"You would turn her over?"
"I speak of maneuvering for time," Garran answered tartly. "But if a choice is to be made, my duty is to Sheritan."
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