Prophecy Story Index

The Bestowal
by Ryana
July 1997

She shut her eyes tightly, steeling herself defensively against the sickening feeling of dread mixed with hazy unreality. I am Kelesa of Rillanda. I am Kelesa of Rillanda . . . she repeated to herself, more and more urgently, but she could not seem to drown out the memory of the man's evil, taunting voice -- You are no one! From now on you are NO ONE! . . . Kelesa shut her eyes even more tightly. No tears would come -- her mind felt numb, helpless as images and memories floated in and out. How could it have happened only yesterday . . .

***************************

Morning rays poured through the castle window of the bedroom, illuminating a golden stream of dust particles. A young woman, dressed in a dark blue shift with a silver cord tied loosely around her waist, walked to the window. A cool breeze reached out to caress Kelesa's face as she opened the pane and looked out upon the courtyard from the tower. Familiar noises greeted her ears -- servants rushing to and fro, birds singing, horses' hooves stamping, wagon wheels creaking forward. Kelesa sighed and reluctantly moved away from the window to the padded stool in front of her vanity. She picked up the ornate silver hairbrush and proceeded to pull it through her long, fine dark brown hair. Kelesa would have much preferred to sleep in, but unfortunately her day had already been mostly planned by her aunt -- today more than usual. It didn't seem fair to Kelesa that a young woman like herself wasn't allowed to do more of what she wanted to do -- not what the dictates of the Rillandan court wanted her to do. It's a good thing I like Aunt Ilena so much, otherwise I might be feeling a bit more rebellious, thought Kelesa as she continued to brush her hair.

She mentally went through the list of tasks for the day. Eat breakfast (Kelesa considered that a task in itself, even though the palace cook was quite good), get dressed, brush hair 200 strokes, write in journal . . . She set the brush back in its place on the vanity, then walked over to her desk and sat down. Kelesa carefully pulled out a bound book with a dark green cloth cover embossed in gold with the hawk standard of the royal family. Turning to the first blank cream-colored page, she picked up the feather quill and began to write.

"The 16th day of Azaria

"Today is my birthday -- I am twenty years old. Aunt Ilena has planned a special birthday celebration tonight in the palace hall -- I wish I didn't have to go. She's invited every dignitary for miles around. I dislike parties where I have to be sociable with lots of people that I don't really know, constantly worrying about whether I am acting like a princess, always wondering if they are being polite to me simply because of my position. I'd rather not have everyone make such a fuss over my birthday. Sometimes I wish I was just an ordinary person -- a commoner. They never have to worry about things like this. What makes it even worse is that tonight Aunt Ilena will proclaim that in one year she will step down as regent and I will take my place as Queen of Rillanda. I know I've been trained for this since I was five -- I can't just tell everyone that I'm not ready, that I don't want to be queen. . ."

Kelesa paused. Mother and father, why aren't you here for me? Why did you have to leave me at home that day? It would have been so much easier if you hadn't. Kieran was supposed to be the next ruler, not me, she thought. For what seemed like the millionth time, Kelesa thought about her parents and her brother, whom she had hardly known. When she was five, her parents, King Aidan and Queen Tarisse of Rillanda, had taken her twin brother, Kieran, on their annual trip to the outlying cities of the Rillandan kingdom. They had reluctantly left Kelesa behind because she had taken ill with a particularly bad case of the flu the day before they were to leave. Her parents and brother were traveling aboard the royal yacht off the coast of the Drynan Sea when a fierce storm struck unexpectedly. No survivors were found, although pieces of the yacht washed up on shore a few weeks later. Rillanda's people, both noble and peasant, were shocked and saddened by the terrible tragedy. Kelesa was hardly old enough to understand what had happened. When it became clear that the king and his wife had been lost, the royal council appointed Ilena, Aidan's older sister, as regent for the young princess until she would come of age. Now, that age seemed very close -- too close.

Kelesa swallowed. Only a dull ache was left, deep down inside her. Most of the time it didn't bother her -- she had become used to it, very good at ignoring it, pushing it away. When she actually allowed herself to think about it, she sometimes found herself being resentful, even angry, with her parents and brother for deserting her. Then came the guilty feelings -- how dare she dishonor their memory! She must never forget who they were, who she was. Kelesa picked up the quill again.

"I know who my parents were -- they were the king and queen. But do I really know WHO they were? I didn't really have a chance to know them. Who am I, for that matter? Sometimes I think so much of me is determined by the royal laws that say that I'm different than other people, just because of who my parents happened to be. Who would I be if I was born to a seamstress in Brightstar or a baker in Rosewood? I just wish I had more time to find out who I am inside. That's kind of hard to do when all I can think about is how I have to become a queen. Why can't they just make Aunt Ilena queen? She does such a good job as regent . . ."

Kelesa's blue-green eyes were drawn to the wardrobe on the far wall. She made her way to it, opening the double doors. She reached in a pulled out a box from the wardrobe shelf and set it down carefully on the vanity. The box was made of pale green marble with silver edging. Kelesa lifted the heavy lid. The inside was lined with dark green velvet. With both hands, she lifted the silver circlet out of the box. The circlet was beautiful, sparkling as it caught the rays of sun that came in through the window. It was engraved with an elaborate filigree design, so intricate that only the best Rillandan silversmith could have created it. Kelesa had always felt that the circlet, which had belonged to her mother, was one of the last connections she had with her. Kelesa remembered her mother sitting on the bed in her parents' royal chamber the night of the Winter Dance -- the last one her parents had hosted. Queen Tarisse was wearing a gorgeous cream-colored ballgown, her dark brown hair pulled up into a twist. Five year-old Kelesa had jumped up onto the high bed next to her mother. She remembered her mother opening the green marble box and showing her the circlet. Kelesa looked at the circlet now, remembering her mother's voice . . .

"Kelesa, someday you will wear this circlet. It looks beautiful on the outside, but what is really important is what is engraved on the inside. It says, 'Love -- Strength -- Courage -- Truth.' You must value these qualities above all else. That means that you, your brother, your father, and I and all the royal families of Rillanda to come, must always rule with a commitment to love, strength, courage, and truth. A king and queen can be truly great and wise only when they learn to love their people. This is the legacy that your father and I want to pass on to you and Kieran."

Kelesa remembered reverently touching the engraved words with wide eyes as her mother smiled. Then the queen placed the circlet carefully on her own head, gracefully arose from the bed and took Kelesa's hand as they walked down to the throne room where the subjects were waiting.

Oh mother, thought Kelesa, I wish you were here now. Kelesa would wear the circlet tonight at the birthday celebration. A knock at the door pulled her back to the present. "Just a minute," Kelesa called as she quickly placed the circlet back in the box, closed the lid, and put it back in the wardrobe. "Please come in," she said.

"Good morning, Miss Kelesa," said Cara as she bustled in. Cara was Kelesa's maid -- and a friend also, even though she was in her 60's, much older than Kelesa was. "It is already late! We must braid your hair quickly, before the seamstress arrives for your last fitting." Kelesa obediently sat down on the stool and Cara expertly braided her long brown hair into a long, semi-loose french braid and tied the end with a dark blue ribbon. Kelesa knew Cara had talent -- she was the only one who could make Kelesa's fine hair behave whenever she touched it.

Just as Cara was finishing, they heard another knock at the door. It was a page boy with a message that the seamstress was regrettably going to be a half-hour late for the fitting. Cara threw up her hands. "What ARE we going to do? You have so many things to do today, Lady Kelesa."

"Cara, please, could I go for a quick walk while we're waiting for the seamstress?" Kelesa pleaded. "I'm going to be cramped up inside the palace all day -- you know how I get antsy when that happens."

Cara shook her head uncertainly. "I don't know, Lady Kelesa. Perhaps we should try to get some other things done in the meantime."

"Pleeease, Cara!" Kelesa said more urgently. "I . . . I was wondering if you would go with me. I want to hear more stories about my mother and father. You knew them so well."

Cara's face softened. At times like these, Cara found it hard to refuse her young mistress. "Wellll . . . all right. I suppose your tutor probably won't be available to come early on this short notice anyway." Her eyes twinkled. "We had better use the secret passage. We wouldn't want your aunt finding out about this!"

Kelesa grinned thankfully and almost skipped over to the bookshelf that covered one wall. It was full of books that kept Kelesa's voracious appetite for reading satisfied. She moved one of the bookends slightly and the whole bookshelf rotated to the side, revealing the passageway in question. Kelesa and Cara disappeared down the stairs as the bookshelf rotated back to its original position.

***************************

The walk had started out harmlessly enough. Kelesa remembered walking through the side streets of Brightstar with Cara. She even remembered giving a few silver coins to some beggars (she could never pass them without giving them something). In a few minutes they were outside the city gates, heading towards a small pine forest that was nearby -- it was her favorite spot to walk. A birch grove and lake bordered most of the forest, which made it a quiet, cool, private place where few people went. It would be easy to get lost in that forest, but Kelesa had frequented it often from the time she was little -- sometimes with Cara, who also knew the forest well, and sometimes alone. In recent years it had become her favorite place to escape when being a princess got to be too much. In the center of the forest was a small clearing. At night, it was the perfect place to watch the stars. The stars were so bright there -- according to an ancient myth, that was how the capital city got its name.

Cara was telling a story about Kelesa's mother -- Kelesa couldn't remember which one now -- as they approached the clearing. They were both laughing, not expecting anyone to be nearby. Suddenly arrows rained down on them, catching them totally by surprise. Kelesa screamed but somehow had the presence of mind to duck, yanking Cara down with her. Several men rushed upon them, wearing helmets and armor and holding crossbows and spears. They surrounded the young woman kneeling next to the old woman. They sneered.

"The gods must be smiling upon us today," said one of the men with a smirk.

"Master Drame will be pleased," added another man, leering as he looked at Kelesa.

Kelesa's heart pounded. Drame. Master Drame . . . Not Drame of Malaan! It was all she could do to keep panic from overwhelming her. Drame of Malaan was the master of all slavemasters, someone so diabolical, so infamous that there were legends about him. Kelesa could not believe that he was in the midst of her own country, her beloved Rillanda. Drame and his nightmarish raids happened to other countries, weak ones like Pakara and Gurodel. Not to Rillanda. And here he was, desecrating her most private, favorite place.

". . . Kelesa . . ." a weak voice whispered. Kelesa jerked her gaze down towards Cara's voice. A sickening, desperate feeling filled her as she realized that Cara hadn't ducked soon enough; she was bleeding profusely from an arrow that had found its mark in her chest.

"Oh Cara, please, noooooo . . ." was all she could say as she clasped Cara's hand in her own.

" . . . remember . . . 'Love . . . Strength . . . '" Cara was too weak to go on. Her eyes closed as she gasped her last breath.

" . . . Courage . . . Truth." Kelesa whispered, grasping Cara's hand even more tightly as the old woman slipped away.

Loud guffawing and the noise of metal and leather rubbing together announced that Drame had finally arrived to inspect his new captives. "What have we here?" His voice was cold. Greedy. And dripping with contempt.

"You've damaged the goods! You idiots!" he shouted as he realized that the old woman was already dead. His men shrank at his voice. He snorted at their cowering.

"Ha! Well, lucky for you it's been an uncommonly good day. That old hag wouldn't survive the trip anyway. But this young, luscious thing . . ." he turned to Kelesa, eyeing her from head to toe. Kelesa looked back at him, trying to hide her fear. She felt nauseated. Drame had a way of making someone feel violated just by looking at them. "Yessss . . . she will fetch quite a nice price. Or better yet, make quite a nice ornament in my own palace."

"With all due respect, master," one of the men stepped forward, "her dress speaks obviously of noble, perhaps royal, breeding. How are we going to keep from being pursued all the way home by the Rillandan army?"

"Astute observation, Faran. This is why you are my second in command. However, I've already thought of that. Take the old woman's body and fix it so it looks like she was attacked and killed by a wild boar. Strip the girl and rip the clothes so it looks like the animal dragged her off and ate her. Do a good job of it, too. You don't want those annoying Rillandans to be bothering us, do you? Tell me when you've finished. And be quick about it!"

"If she's royal, why don't we just hold her for ransom?" offered one of the younger men.

"Because," Drame snapped, "I want to get out of this country as soon as possible. We've got too many slaves and not enough men to hold off the Rillandan army. Besides, this will show that intolerable Rillandan Ilena that I did NOT appreciate her crackdown at the borders of this insufferable country. Now GET TO WORK!" Drame strode off. Two of the men grabbed Kelesa's arms and yanked her to her feet.

For some reason, Drame turned one last time to look at Kelesa and smiled evilly to himself. His voice was laced with sarcasm. "I don't know who you were before, but I can tell you one thing -- you are no one now. From now on you are NO ONE!" Then almost as an afterthought, he said drily, "Pity. You do have such lovely hair."

***************************

Kelesa jerked awake early. She was incredibly stiff from walking the whole day before, in addition to not being used to sleeping on the hard ground. She groaned mentally. I can't believe I finally fell asleep last night. How long will I keep reliving the whole capture? she asked herself.

Instinctively, she reached her hand up to her head -- it was true. In addition to robbing her of her clothing (they had given her an old burlap sack to wear), they had crudely chopped off most of her hair. "To sell," she had heard one of the men saying. He had also said something about it being an identifying mark for a slave in Malaan. All the other captives also had shorn heads. Oh well, she thought ruefully. I never did like my fly-away hair much anyway.

A whip cracked through the morning air. "Get up, you wretched things!" One of Drame's men was making his way through the sleeping captives, kicking those who didn't move instantly. Kelesa scrambled to get up before he reached her spot. Another day had begun. Another day -- as a slave.

***************************

It had been five days since they had left the outskirts of Brightstar. Five days journey due west of Brightstar had brought them to the mouth of the Kylei River where it drained into the Emerald Sea. Kelesa had been here once before, on a trip with her Aunt Ilena. Unfortunately, they were camped quite a distance from the nearest settlement. Drame had made sure that they avoided all towns by a wide berth, not wanting them to be sighted nor allow any opportunities for the slaves to escape.

The roar of the river filled Kelesa's ears, drowning out all other night sounds. The guards and captives surrounding her didn't seem to be bothered -- with them, exhaustion had triumphed over noise. But Kelesa couldn't sleep. She was exhausted, although she thought that maybe she might be getting a little more used to the hard ground. Her wrists were raw from the rough ropes that bound all the captives together. These were not the cause of her insomnia, however. Try as she would, she could not ignore the aching, suffocating feeling that filled her heart -- a mingling of raw, beaten sorrow for the past and gnawing dread for the future. The only thing Kelesa could think about was that this would be her last day in Rillanda -- her last day in the only land she knew as home. It was likely that she would never see it again.

Kelesa thought about the rest of the journey. Ever the sharp listener, she had been amassing information she had overheard in the guards' conversations. Apparently Drame planned to cross the Kylei early next morning via an old, little-used bridge. Then they would walk a day's journey to a small cove on the Pakaran coast where Drame docked his ship. Unlike Rillanda's, Pakara's coastline was largely unguarded and this served Drame's villainous purposes well. The cove was surrounded by high cliffs. The access was secret, well-hidden to anyone but Drame. They had made it to the Rillandan border without being detected. Kelesa was never one to give up hope easily, but deep down she knew that they would not be rescued. As Kelesa's mind finally gave in to her tiredness, she felt as though the last of her optimism was being sucked away by the evilly smiling slavemaster.

***************************

". . . Kelesa . . . . . . . Kelesa . . ."

Kelesa's eyes opened without moving the rest of her body. It was still pitch dark, and all those around her were still sleeping soundly.

". . . Kelesa . . . . . . . Kelesa . . ."

I really must be hearing things, she thought.

But again, she heard a soft, female voice. ". . . Kelesa . . . . . . . . Kelesa . . . do not be afraid . . ."

Not wanting to wake the others, Kelesa barely whispered, "Yes? Who's there?"

Kelesa turned her head and raised herself up on one arm as a soft light appeared at the foot of where she was lying. She squinted, trying to focus, then quietly gasped at the sight before her -- some kind of being of light, the edges of its form wavering and glowing. She whispered, her voice quavering, "Who are you? What do you want?"

The voice replied in a soft, low tone, "Do not be afraid, Kelesa. The Light cannot harm you. You and your descendants have been chosen."

Kelesa's eyes widened. "What?" she whispered hoarsely. "Chosen? By the Light? But I am no longer 'chosen' to be Rillanda's leader . . . Are you to free all of us?" she said, hope rising in her voice.

"No," answered the light-being. "The Light has chosen you for another destiny greater that what you can now comprehend."

A great flash of light enveloped the light being -- it was so bright that Kelesa had to hold up her hand to shade her eyes. When the light faded to a bearable level, Kelesa saw that the light being was holding two objects -- in the left hand was a great broadsword and in the right hand was a beautiful silver circlet. Both were surrounded with an ethereal glow. Kelesa did not recognize the sword, although it looked commanding, powerful -- worthy only of an exceptional warrior. It was exquisitely designed; the most obvious unique feature consisted of two rubies set in the hilt of the sword. The circlet's intricate filigree glinted in the light, as did some writing inside the circlet . . . Kelesa could not believe what she was seeing. It was the very same silver circlet that had belonged to her mother -- the one that had been passed on to her.

The light being held up the broadsword and then the circlet, dramatically bringing them together. "Strength shall be united with love. Courage shall be encircled by truth. Good shall triumph over evil."

Kelesa watched as another flash of light surrounded the sword and circlet, melding them together. The items appeared to vanish with the third burst of light. The light being held out a hand and placed something in Kelesa's hand. She looked down at it -- a solid silver cloak pin -- a smaller, exact replica of the broadsword and circlet. The sword was at an angle, point down, over the circlet.

The light-being began to intone, "As the Light has bestowed this gift upon you, so shall you give this as a gift of love to him whom you are to marry. In each succeeding generation, it shall be passed on to the eldest daughter, who shall also give it to her betrothed. The encircled sword has been given a duty to perform. When the gift has come full circle, having completed its necessary task, it shall return to the Light.

"And behold, the day shall come when this gift of love shall be worn by a giver, when the darkness descends from the north upon the land of Rill, when that giver is gifted with the power to overcome."

The being of light waved a hand over Kelesa's head -- she could feel a tingle of energy, almost hear it, as some of the light touched her dark brown hair. The voice spoke again in soft tones, "May this give you courage. The Light shall bless you, Kelesa, you and your descendants all."

And then the light being was gone. The brightness had been so intense that the void it left made everything seem even darker than before. As her eyes adjusted, Kelesa looked around her -- everyone was still sleeping soundly. No one but she had seen the light being. Her hand clasped more tightly around the cloak pin -- the only proof that the being had ever been there. Quickly she attached the cloak pin securely to the inside of the crude dress she now wore, not wanting to take any chances of losing it.

Tomorrow, Kelesa would have to leave Rillanda forever. But the Light had given her one last token of her homeland -- one which the enemy would not be able to take away. Her mind was full of questions. But her heart was no longer empty of hope.

***************************

An eerie, thick fog blanketed the ship's deck as Kelesa and the other prisoners were led up from the bowels of Drame's ship. The anchor had just been thrown overboard, signaling their arrival in the country of Malaan. Kelesa breathed the cool sea air deeply. The last four days aboard the ship had started out worse than the days on foot had been. True, they didn't have to walk, but it was only a matter of hours before all the captives had fallen miserably seasick, and Kelesa was no exception. It was midsummer and the Emerald Sea was supposed to be calm at this time of year, but the sea had been unusually rough -- as if it knew of the dreadful boat's presence and its despicable captain. Kelesa had managed to get her sea legs sooner than some of the other captives; unfortunately the stench of the ship's lower deck was enough to nauseate the most seasoned sailor. So Kelesa was endlessly thankful for the fresh air and a chance to shake off the claustrophobic sensations that she had been fighting ever since they had boarded the ship.

The captives were led down the gangplank to a small dock. There was hardly any beach; the steep cliffs of mountains came right up to the edge of the sea in most places. A narrow dirt path wound up into the mountains, and Kelesa knew instinctively that they were going to have to climb it. No one but Drame and his men knew exactly where Drame's hideout was, because no one had ever lived to find it and to return alive with knowledge of its location. However, Kelesa decided that the rumors of it being situated in the rugged Clarriet Mountains must be true.

Somehow Kelesa and the other slaves managed to survive another three days of difficult hiking, farther and farther up into the mountains. Kelesa had noticed quickly that there were actually narrow dirt paths winding everywhere through the mountains, probably created by Drame's men to make it next to impossible to find one's way through the mountains without getting lost. There were no signs of course, and Kelesa could not make out any identifiable markings that indicated which trail was the correct one. If a person did not perish from the elements, one was likely to be attacked by a hungry boar -- a vicious creature which Malaanians hunted for sport. Kelesa didn't know why -- the indigenous animals were incredibly dangerous as well as hideous.

The only good thing about the Clarriet Mountains Kelesa could find was that the wildflowers were very exquisite. Kelesa wasn't much into nature, but they reminded her of Cara, who loved just about any kind of flower. It was only natural since Cara had been born in Rosewood, which was famous for its beautiful meadows. Kelesa put her hand over the place where she had fastened the cloak pin -- she was determined never to forget Cara or Rillanda.

***********************

The prisoners and their captors finally made their way through the last pass and descended into a large bowl-shaped area. A large gray fortress dominated the opposite end of the oval-shaped valley. The pass appeared to be the only way in or out of Drame's hideout. The party stopped at a small shack near the center of the field, still a good distance from the fortress. Drame, accompanied by a couple of his men, approached the captives again. He went slowly down the line of captives, looking them over and stopping at Kelesa who was last in the line. He called to Faran, "Get these slaves a good meal tonight and have them bathed. I want them to look better when the chieftain from Gurodel arrives tomorrow morning to inspect them. Take them away!"

Faran yanked on the rope of the slave at the head of the line and they all stumbled toward the shack. Drame turned to head toward his castle.

"Stop, Faran!" It was Drame. All the captives lurched to a halt.

"Yes, Master?"

"That one at the end. Untie her. She's coming with me. I've been needing a new slave -- one with culture and breeding who will know how to do things the proper way. I'm tired of all those bumbling, ignorant peasants who have no idea how to serve in the palace of a man as great as myself. Well, hurry up with it!"

Faran quickly untied Kelesa and handed her rope to one of the men who was going with Drame. Faran quickly scuttled away with the rest of the captives. Kelesa watched as they left.

"Untie her, I said!" Drame said impatiently to the man who now held Kelesa's rope.

"You mean, ALL the ropes?" questioned the coarse man in an incredulous voice. Apparently this was not Drame's usual procedure.

"Yes, you idiot! We wouldn't want her not to feel . . . welcome . . . in her new home," he said, smiling evilly again. Turning to Kelesa, his face darkened into a sneer. "But be assured, if you even hint at trying to get away, I WILL kill you in an instant."

Kelesa only looked back at him, trying not to show her fear and disgust of the slavemaster. The guard pushed her forward as they resumed their approach towards the gray fortress looming before them.

***************************

It was the second day at Drame's fortress. Kelesa carefully balanced the two heavy pewter pitchers, one filled with water and the other filled with ale, on the gilt-edged round tray. She clenched her jaw unconsciously, concentrating on not spilling anything. I never was naturally graceful enough for a princess, she thought ruefully.

Since Kelesa's arrival at Drame's hideout, Drame had ordered that she be the one to deliver and serve all food and drink to him. A few of the slaves appeared to be jealous of the newcomer, but most of them gave her unspoken gestures of sympathy. It was no secret that Drame was a hard man to please, and most slaves would just as soon stay out of his way. To have to enter the unpredictably moody master's chambers at all -- much less on a daily basis -- was nerve-wracking for everyone, even Faran, his second-in-command. Fortunately, so far Kelesa had seemed to please him -- or at least be able to avoid his bad side. She was dreading the day when she would do something wrong, though.

Being chosen to be a slave in Drame's headquarters could be worse, Kelesa decided, when she was trying to look on the bright side. All the slaves were given clean clothes -- brown colored dresses or tunics -- to wear, and decent sandals. Kelesa did not miss the itchy burlap sack at all. There were actually quite a number of slaves here -- more than Kelesa had expected for the size of the fortress. Drame didn't have enough men to keep close track of all his slaves, so he utilized slave "foremen" to boss the rest of the slaves. The foremen wore brown tunics with a black stripe around the sleeves and hem and were easily identifiable. Kelesa had only met one foreman so far, and Ictus had seemed none too friendly to her -- above all, suspicious. Yesterday she had seen him chewing out another slave, which hadn't impressed her at all.

Kelesa was now at the end of the long hallway and at the head of the narrow, steep, windy staircase that descended down to the fortress level where Drame's private rooms were. She'd descended these stairs -- 24 of them -- only three times before and she already hated them. All the trays of food and drink combined with these stairs were an accident waiting to happen. It didn't help matters that the stairs were poorly lit with only a few torches along the way. Gingerly, she began to descend them, gripping the tray tightly and praying that her feet wouldn't slip on the slick stone blocks. Twenty-one, twenty-two . . . aaaaack!!! . . . The tray and pitchers went flying as Kelesa threw out an arm to break her fall.

"WHHHY YOU . . . YOUUUUU!!!! . . . " spluttered an angry male voice. Kelesa's stomach turned upside down. Drame! She knew it was going to happen . . . wait a second. No, the voice wasn't quite right. It was only Ictus -- but a very unhappy Ictus. Kelesa was relieved, but nevertheless completely mortified as she struggled to her feet and saw the dripping man.

"I . . . I'm so sorry . . . I didn't mean to . . . " Kelesa apologized as she scrambled to retrieve the tray and now-empty pitchers.

Ictus was just about to launch into a tongue-lashing when they both heard another voice.

"Hey, Ictus, it was only an accident. Give her a break, she's new. By the way, I had your tunic fixed and it's ready now, waiting for you in the laundry room upstairs."

Ictus hesitated, looking rather torn between making Kelesa feel bad to ease his hurt pride and going to retrieve his tunic. Luckily for Kelesa he grudgingly decided on the latter and after a long glare, disappeared up the stairs muttering to himself.

Kelesa heaved a sigh of relief, but then felt a new wave of panic as she realized there was a huge puddle of diluted ale on the floor -- and Drame could decide to come out of his room at any moment! Immediately her rescuer was at it again, already wiping up the mess. He threw her an extra rag and she dropped to the floor to help. They were both so intent on wiping up the spill that Kelesa didn't have a chance to get a good look at the young man. In no time at all, the mess was cleaned up and Drame would never be the wiser.

He reached out a hand to help Kelesa up. The first thing she noticed was that he had kind warm brown eyes that twinkled, and that his hair was longer than the other slaves -- also brown, and down to just past his ears. It was all the same length and slightly wavy. He was also wearing a foreman outfit. Suddenly she felt shy.

"Thank you . . . thank you very much," Kelesa said. "I don't know what I would've done . . . "

"It was my pleasure, Kelesa. Don't say another word about it. Ictus can get pretty short-tempered at times. Now I think you'd better get those pitchers refilled before Drame gets thirsty. And by the way, there is a dumb waiter in the kitchen." His eyes twinkled again. He had a nice tenor voice.

"Oh . . . yeah. Thank you!" Kelesa started quickly back up the stairs and he turned to go back down the hall the way he had come. How did he know my name? she wondered. And a dumb waiter. Thank goodness! I'm glad I found out about that today instead of next month. He sure is nice for a foreman . . .

Later that evening, Kelesa sat down with her small share of bread and meat in a corner of the small eating area next to the kitchen where the slaves ate. She had no sooner picked up her bread than she felt someone standing next to the bench where she sat (she could always tell when someone was standing next to her). Kelesa looked up and tried not to look too delighted. It was the nice young man that had helped her that afternoon. If she wasn't mistaken, he was actually looking a tad bashful -- somewhat of a change from his in-charge manner earlier in the day.

"Uh, do you mind if I sit here?" he asked.

"Oh no, of course not, please," Kelesa answered, gesturing to the empty bench across from her.

For what seemed like an awkward few minutes, both of them ate in silence (logical, though, since they were both starved).

He was the first to speak. "So, uh, did you find the dumb waiter?"

"Oh yes," Kelesa said, thankful that he'd finally said something. "Thank you for telling me -- it's a lot easier than carrying the trays by hand."

"Less dangerous, too," he joked. They both laughed nervously, but it felt good to break the tension. Again, Kelesa noticed that his brown eyes twinkled spiritedly. Suddenly she remembered some of her questions.

"I'm sorry, but I don't think I know your name," she said.

"Oh," said the young man, grinning rather embarrassedly, "I'm sorry. I thought that probably somebody else told you who I was or something. My name is Tristen."

"Pleased to meet you, Tristen. I'm Kelesa," she said automatically. "But then I guess you already knew that?"

"Oh, yeah. We don't get many new slaves around here, so it's easy to learn the new names. Besides, you got the rather coveted position of being Drame's new server," said Tristen.

Kelesa caught the sarcastic allusion easily and made a wry face. "Yeah, I guess so."

Tristen tried not to show that he was overwhelmed with interest over this new girl. Somehow he had immediately felt comfortable with her, that he could trust her. She was already getting less talkative, though, and he hardly knew anything more about her. If anything, he didn't want to scare her off. Something about her was different -- she didn't seem like an ordinary peasant girl -- he didn't know how exactly, because she was dressed and groomed exactly the same as the other slaves. Maybe it was something about the way she carried herself . . . Get a grip, Tristen, he said to himself. Look, she's practically done with her food and she might try to leave. Say something! Something innocuous . . .

"So, uh, what did your parents do for a living?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Tristen wanted to kick himself. Good one, that was just great, Tristen. For one thing, that sounded incredibly stupid. For another, what do you think you're doing reminding a new slave about her family she left behind? Stupid, stupid, stupid . . .

Kelesa looked rather surprised for a split second. She wanted to answer in a small voice, but she quickly shoved the ache away. For another thing, even though she liked this guy so far, she didn't know if she could trust him. And she wasn't sure if it was such a good idea for everyone to know who she really was. Or rather, used to be.

"Well, my parents are dead," Kelesa said boldly, with an air of finality. "I guess you could say I'm a daughter of no one."

"Oh," said Tristen, thinking that it was worse than he had imagined. "I'm sorry . . . " he trailed off awkwardly.

"It's okay. You didn't know." Kelesa couldn't stand the uncomfortable turn the conversation had taken. Impulsively going on the offensive, she said, "So Tristen, um, where are you from?"

This time it was Tristen's turn to be taken aback -- he felt like someone was getting ready to expose him to the world. I can't just tell her that I . . . that I . . .

"Well, I've kinda been here for a long time. Since I was little," he blurted. Hey, he thought defensively to his accusing conscience, that's not totally false!

Another several moments of awkward silence was all either of them could take. They started talking almost at the same time.

"Well, I am so tired . . . " began Kelesa.

"Actually, I've got a couple more chores to do before nightfall . . . " blurted Tristen at the same time.

They also got up from the benches simultaneously. Now several of the slaves in the room were looking at them, as was the cook.

"Bye," said Kelesa as she backed away toward one of the doors.

"Yeah, see you around," said Tristen as he headed for the other door.

That night, as Tristen lay on his mat in the men's slave quarters, he thought to himself, You know, Tristen, she probably thought you were kinda nice after you helped her this afternoon. You was so sure of yourself. But then you messed it up royally at dinner. She's probably thinking, "That insensitive simpleton!" Now she's not even going to let you get near her . . .

That night, as Kelesa lay on her mat in the women's slave quarters, she thought to herself, I was doing okay for awhile there -- why do I have to have only two modes of conversation -- blabbing on and being totally silent? He probably thinks I'm a supercilious klutz now. That'll be the last time he ever tries to sit next to me . . .

***************************

Over the next week, whenever Kelesa and Tristen happened to pass each other in the halls, they made eye contact for only long enough to say "hi" to each other, but never stopped long enough to have a real conversation.

One day, Kelesa was in the kitchen waiting for the cook, Kathena, to dish up Drame's meal. Kathena was in her 30's and friendly to most everyone. She also had a very tart wit and a husky, alto voice. She had taken Kelesa under her wing almost immediately and was one of the few people Kelesa felt she could trust. Kathena was Eirenian and had been captured by Drame and his men a little over a year ago. Drame had kept her when he learned that she was trained as a gourmet cook in Eirenian cuisine which was far superior to any Malaanian food.

"So have you been talking to Tristen lately?" Kathena asked while she had her back turned to Kelesa and was ladling fragrant soup into a bowl.

Kelesa was taken by surprise. "Uh, yeah, I've seen him around."

"No, I said 'Have you been talking to him,'" said Kathena.

"Well, I guess I haven't exactly talked to him in a while," admitted Kelesa.

"I see," was Kathena's only response.

"What can you tell me about him? I mean, what is he like?" said Kelesa. She had suddenly realized that Kathena was an untapped and low-risk source of information.

Kathena smiled. "Well, he's been here for a long time. I think Drame acquired him when he was a little boy, not more than five years old." She paused, then continued. "For some reason Drame kind of treats him special -- that's why he's a foreman even though he's younger than all the other foremen, and he gets to wear his hair longer than the rest of us. Everyone knows that the other foremen seem to defer to him, too. Some people think that Drame is grooming him to take over when Drame gets too old. He seems like a rather nice fellow to be taking over that despicable man's domain, don't you think? Something doesn't seem right..." she trailed off when she realized that Kelesa's silence indicated that she was getting downright uncomfortable with the subject.

Kelesa took the full tray of food and left with no more than a "Thank you, ma'am."

Kathena watched sympathetically as the girl left the kitchen.

***************************

Tristen tossed and turned on his mat. He had taken a long time to fall asleep, which was routine for him, but the sleep he was having would not be a restful one...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

. . . a small boy screamed as burning cinders of the house fell around him . . . bright red flames were everywhere -- everything was hot -- he could feel the heat suffocating him . . . "TRISTEN! TRISTENNNNN! . . ." a woman's voice screamed his name, but he couldn't see her . . . more cinders fell . . . he knew he had to get out, to escape . . . he ran down the hall, into one of the back rooms where it was less hot . . . he crawled out of one of the ground floor windows which was already broken, the sharp glass ripping his tunic into shreds . . .

. . . the little boy was outside the burning house now . . . he was running, running far away . . . his small form disappeared into the night, swallowed up by the thick forest . . .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tristen sat bolt upright on his mat, eyes wide, breathing heavily, his face and body covered with a cold sweat. It was the nightmare again -- it stalked him relentlessly, returning to attack its victim just when he thought it had left him alone for good. He lay back down, letting his heart rate return back to normal. He lay awake for awhile, as he always did after the nightmare. It was no use in rehearsing it -- he knew it by heart -- it was the same, every time. So was the exhaustion that would supervene the next day. Finally, he fell asleep.

***************************

Janik steadied his sword by placing his hand over its hilt as he headed for the loading tunnel. Janik's long stride and well-built body combined into a very commanding presence -- it was obvious to everyone why he was one of Drame's closest, most trusted advisors -- second only to Faran, who had been with Drame longer. When Drame fell into one of his verbal rampages, Janik's quiet, intense way of speaking often made more headway with Drame than did Faran's flattery. In his mid-thirties, Janik had had more formal education than all the other guards, even more so than Drame himself. Janik was a Malaanian native who had spent several years in Shionan at their renowned university. Upon his return to Malaan, Janik had joined Drame's organization almost immediately and had been with him for almost two years. At times Drame relied heavily on Janik's knowledge and intelligence, often leaving him in charge of the Malaanian headquarters when he left with Faran on slave raids.

The loading tunnel where Janik was headed was one of several exits and entrances into Drame's fortress -- each of course was hidden and well-guarded with several sentries. Janik personally supervised the unloading of all supplies that entered the fortress and he was headed there now to oversee the weekly shipment of food.

Kathena walked quickly down the hall corridor toward the loading dock, closely followed by a guard. Slaves were not usually allowed to get so close to an entrance or exit, but in the case of the food shipments, Janik had made an exception. After all, she was the only soul in Drame's entire fortress that knew anything about food quality, and Drame insisted on having the best obtainable in produce and meat.

Kathena arrived just as the produce cart drove up. Janik was already there, calling orders for it to be unloaded so Kathena could inspect it. She joined him at the large tables in one corner where the food was being deposited. Without so much as acknowledging Janik's presence, Kathena proceeded to sort through a box of fruit.

"How does this fruit look today, woman?" said Janik impatiently, not even looking in her direction.

"Acceptable," answered Kathena without pausing or looking up.

"Elek! Irin! Both of you go and meet the next cart at the first station. And escort this man out. I'll stay here with the slave." Janik also nodded at driver of the first cart of food, indicating that he could leave.

"Yes, sir!" The other guards quickly turned to follow their orders.

The instant the room was empty, Kathena looked up at Janik, one corner of her mouth turned up in a mischievous smile. "You know, you're getting pretty good at that nonchalant tone of voice," she said.

"I learn from the master," Janik smiled slightly and his eyes twinkled. He put his arms around her waist, "Besides, anything to get a moment alone with you."

"We must hurry, you know," Kathena protested, but not too much. "Anyway, have you had any luck convincing Tristen to commit to the cause?"

"No, I haven't," Janik said rather disappointedly. "He seems to be lacking . . . self-confidence, I think. I know his heart is in the right place, but he doesn't seem to think he's strong enough to stand up to Drame when it counts. He doesn't believe in himself enough. He doesn't think he has much to contribute, or even that people will trust him. I'm beginning to wonder if Drame has had too much of an effect on him. You know, 17 years is a long time to be under influence of such a heinous man."

"But that's the reason I know he'll come over to our side," said Kathena. "I've been watching him. It's amazing -- even though he's been here for so long, he hasn't become evil and twisted like Drame. He's still kind and friendly. That gives me all the hope in the world. And we need him desperately if we are to succeed. Besides, I think the key to Tristen just arrived a couple of weeks ago."

"And that would be . . . "

"You know the new girl who serves Drame his food?"

"Yeah, I've noticed her."

"I've checked her out and she's perfect -- also a very sweet girl, someone we can trust. Her name is Kelesa. I think I see something between her and Tristen -- she will be the one to bring Tristen out, the one he'll be able to do anything for."

"What are you suggesting -- that we play matchmaker or something?" Janik said rather dubiously.

"No, I think things will progress on their own. Just give them time."

"Well, I hope it doesn't take too long. We have to move soon -- Drame will be planning another raid any day now."

"I know -- just trust me on this one. This is the best way," said Kathena earnestly.

"I hope you're right, Kathena," said Janik, "but you usually are." He smiled at her again.

Noise outside the gateway indicated that the next shipment of food was about to be delivered. Janik was looking impatient again as the guards came through, leading the cart. "Hurry up, woman! The batch of vegetables is already here!"

Kathena said nothing, but continued to pick through the fruit.

***************************

Kelesa was eating alone again in the slaves' eating area. She had to eat at odd times because during the regular mealtimes, she was busy serving food in Drame's rooms downstairs. Kathena was nice enough to always save her some food, though, so it wasn't too bad. However, Kelesa had been used to having a book to read while she was eating. Oh, how she wished she had one now! Kelesa really missed her large library. Kathena was watching her from the kitchen when she noticed a young man slip quietly through one of the doors. She smiled to herself and retreated back into the kitchen.

Tristen forced himself to breathe deep breaths. Relaxed, yes I am relaxed . . . he thought. Over the past few days he had been avoiding Kelesa, but he couldn't take it any longer. He had tried to forget the whole incident, but he couldn't help it -- he kept finding himself thinking about her. Finally he had told himself that if he had one more chance he would try again, one more time. And here it was. Tristen poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher on the counter, took a sip, then headed for where Kelesa was sitting.

While he was still rehearsing an opening line, Kelesa interrupted his thoughts when she said, "Hi, Tristen."

That totally took him by surprise because he was expecting the "quiet" Kelesa, but fortunately he recovered in a couple seconds. "Hi, Kelesa. How's the food today?" he said, loud enough so that Kathena would hear.

Kelesa laughed. "Fine, of course. You know Kathena is the best cook for miles around."

"Considering our location in the middle of nowhere, I'd say that's a pretty safe statement," Tristen said drily. A semi-amused protest was heard from the kitchen.

Tristen took a deep breath and launched into his invitation. "Uh, Kelesa, Drame wants his quarters straightened today while he's gone. Since you're in there a lot and know where things go, would you be willing to give me a hand?"

Kelesa smiled, a little shyly. "Sure, I think I could do that."

Tristen mentally heaved a sigh of relief, not knowing that Kelesa read it on his face. "Oh, good. I was hoping you wouldn't mind."

Kelesa smiled again. After depositing her tray in the kitchen, she and Tristen made their way through the hall and down the now-infamous stairs to Drame's suite of rooms. Tristen unlocked the antechamber with his key and they went in. The rooms were empty.

"Let's start with the sitting room first, then the eating area, then the conference room, then the bedroom and bathroom last," suggested Tristen.

"Okay," replied Kelesa. They entered the sitting room, one of the rooms where Kelesa hadn't been in yet because Drame usually wanted his food and beverages in the eating area or the bedroom. She couldn't help but gape at the large bookshelves that covered one corner of the room. She had never thought of Drame as the type that liked to read, but he seemed to have classics from Rillanda, Eirena, Ysindra, Bornath, Shionan, and Gurodel as well as Malaan.

"Wow, he has quite a library here," remarked Kelesa as they proceeded to straighten up the room. "I didn't know Drame liked to read."

"Actually, he doesn't. It's like he collects books and other things that are marks of a sophisticated, enlightened person. Maybe he's trying to make up for his otherwise barbarian practices," said Tristen.

"Yeah, I wouldn't exactly call slave-trading a civilized occupation," said Kelesa in a disgusted tone.

"Drame's book collecting was lucky for me, because I had just learned how to read before I was brought here. This library is basically what I used to educate myself with."

"You mean Drame let you read even though you were a slave?"

"Yeah, for some reason he did. I'm really not sure why. Sometimes I get the feeling that I somehow remind him of someone or something."

"But how do you feel about what he does?" asked Kelesa cautiously. She had to know before she established any more of a friendship with Tristen.

He shook his head sadly. "It must be awful to be torn away from your family and home." He shuddered, then continued.

"I . . . guess that it's been a little different for me than for most of the other people here . . ."

Kelesa stopped dusting the shelves, waiting for Tristen to continue.

"I don't exactly have any family to go back to. Or a hometown to go back to either. My parents were drifters and sold me into slavery when I was five. I don't really remember much . . ." he trailed off.

"Oh. I'm so sorry," Kelesa said sympathetically. She went over to the chair where Tristen had collapsed. The story was obviously a difficult one for him to tell. She hesitated for a moment, then silently put a hand over his. Their eyes met in a glance of shared pain.

After a few moments, Kelesa spoke. "My parents and brother died in an accident when I was five, too. It was really hard for me to understand at the time. I guess it still is."

Tristen nodded. "I've never told anyone about my past before. I guess I was always afraid of what people would think."

"Well, here's what I think. I think you're one of the nicest, funniest, kindest guys I've ever met. Satisfied?" Kelesa smiled.

"I guess if that's what I have to settle for, I'll take it," Tristen grinned. "Guess we should get back to work."

"Yeah, unfortunately."

Kelesa and Tristen continued to talk as they worked, finding out more about each other's likes and dislikes. They discovered that they had similar tastes in literature -- Eirenian historical fiction, Rillandan poetry, and Bornathian dramas, to name a few. They were discussing a particular Bornathian play by the time they were cleaning the large bedroom.

" . . . I love the part where the king gets up and makes that stirring speech, just before he and his army go out to fight the enemy at impossible odds." Tristen said.

"Yes, I think that's the best part of the whole play," agreed Kelesa as she spotted a corner of the room that looked particularly unkempt. "Hey, I think this little shelf hasn't been dusted in ages!" She proceeded to dust the shelf as Tristen turned around to see what she was doing.

"Wait! Drame doesn't like anyone touching that shelf . . ." he said, but Kelesa had already picked up one of the vases that adorned the shelf.

She jumped back, startled, as the shelf suddenly creaked and shifted forward out of the wall to reveal a long, narrow space behind it.

Kelesa stared into the space, speechless. Tristen quickly joined her.

"Whoa. I guess this is why he didn't ever want that shelf cleaned," he said in a low voice.

Kelesa still said nothing. All she could do was stare at the object that occupied the secret space. It was a long broadsword with two rubies inlaid in the hilt. Kelesa's hand went up to a spot over her heart where the cloak pin was hidden, pinned to the inside of her dress for safekeeping.

They both gazed at the sword for a few moments longer, when Tristen broke their reverie.

"Yikes, we'd better get this shelf back the way it used to be if we don't want to be sold to the highest bidder tomorrow morning!"

"Right!," Kelesa agreed, shaking off the strange sensation that had accompanied her discovery. "Let's see, I picked this vase up . . ."

She replaced the vase in the exact position and the shelf shifted back to its original position. Both heaved a sigh of relief.

"Wait! He might see that the shelf has some dust cleaned off of it," exclaimed Tristen. "Go back to the front room and bring the dustpan here. We'll have to sprinkle some dust on the vase and the shelf where you wiped it."

Kelesa rapidly retrieved the dustpan and sprinkled the offending items. "I never thought I'd actually be dirtying something on purpose," she laughed at the absurdity of the situation.

"Yeah, well that dirt will probably save our skins," said Tristen. "Did we do everything else in these rooms?"

"I think so," said Kelesa, and they walked together to the entrance to Drame's rooms and went out into the hall.

"So, would you be willing to help me clean Drame's rooms again sometime?" Tristen asked hopefully.

"Sure, I'd be happy to," Kelesa said.

As Tristen locked the door, he paused. He looked at Kelesa and grinned. "Hey, I'm glad we got to find out more about each other today."

"So am I," Kelesa said shyly, and they turned to go to different parts of the castle..

***************************

That night Kelesa laid awake on her for a long time, thinking about the meaning of the sword's discovery. If there was one place she hadn't expected to find it, it was in the chambers of such a contemptible man as Drame. She distinctly remembered the strange feeling she had experienced when she and Tristen were standing together, transfixed for a moment by their unexpected find. She couldn't decide if the feeling was simply one of surprise, the result of seeing the object that the light-being had shown her ages ago (it seemed). Or if it was something more . . .

Tristen tossed and turned on his mat, not able to fall asleep, either. He had also pondered the events of the day. True, they had been wonderful -- he had managed to spend some quality time with "the girl" without digging himself into a deep hole and throwing dirt on himself. How, he wasn't quite sure, considering that he thought he was rather adept in that area. Someone must have been smiling upon me today, he decided. Now, the only problem is getting her to help me clean Drame's rooms every day without her getting suspicious, he laughed to himself. Nope, I guess I'll have to come up with some other creative ideas . . .

Thinking about Kelesa only worked for so long to distract Tristen from the other thing that was bothering him -- seeing that sword. No, he wasn't worried about Drame finding out about their forbidden discovery -- Drame wasn't the type to notice details like the dust being replaced on the shelf and vase. And they hadn't touched the sword, only looked at it. It's almost like the sword touched me . . . no, that's crazy . . . But he just could not shake off that weird sensation he had felt when he saw it. It was just something . . . weird . . . about him standing next to Kelesa as they were looking at it. I mean, it's not like I've seen it before . . . Tristen finally dropped off into a restless sleep . . .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

. . . the woman screamed his name again -- "TRISTENNNNN! . . . "

. . . the little boy was outside the house now . . . it was pitch black outside, accentuating the hot, bright flames that rose higher and higher from the burning building . . . his ears were filled with the roaring of the flames as they devoured the house, the clash of metal, the flash of sword blades, the shouts of men fighting, the screams of women . . . he felt strangely dissociated from the scene, even though the noises were loud and the colors intense . . . he ran, somehow unnoticed by everyone else, to the thick stand of trees that surrounded most of the house, hiding behind one of the larger ones . . .

. . . he watched from behind the tree as a woman with long, loose dark brown hair wearing a nightdress swung a tree branch as hard as she could at one of the men dressed in armor, yelling -- was she the one who had called his name?. . . he saw the woman get struck from behind . . . she crumpled to the ground, her body motionless forever. . . he looked again -- this time he saw two men fighting in a desperate struggle in front of the house. . . their swords crashed together, the blades glinting off the flames leaping from the house . . . he could not see either man's face, but both of them seemed familiar somehow . . . he strained, trying to see who they were -- suddenly, he was closer to the scene of combat, but he still couldn't see any faces. . . then one of the men held up his sword in defense of the other man's blow. . . the two rubies on its hilt were illuminated by the flames. . . one of the men delivered a blow successfully and the other man fell to the ground . . . the little boy turned to run away into the forest . . .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tristen awoke suddenly, sitting up on his mat. His forehead was damp with cold sweat like it always was after the nightmare. But his heart was pounding more than usual, and he was also breathing harder than usual. He tried hard to shake off the eerie, panicky, semi-irrational sensation that lingers after a bad dream. As it wore off, he realized that this time the nightmare had been different -- longer, more detailed. He hadn't dreamed about those two men before, and the scene was especially troubling. Had his mind simply inserted that sword into the dream -- or was it something more?

Kelesa sat up on her mat suddenly. It was strange -- she couldn't figure out why she had awakened so abruptly. She hadn't been dreaming, at least that she could recall, but she had a strange post-dream feeling. Odd, she thought. A bell rang -- that was her signal that Drame wanted something. She sighed, got out of bed and headed for Drame's quarters. Oh well, at least I'm already awake. That bell gets really annoying when it drags me out of a pleasant, deep sleep.

Tristen lay awake on his mat. For the past several minutes, he had been trying to get back to sleep, but it wasn't working -- his mind was busy trying to comprehend his dream and it wouldn't shut off. He decided to get up and walk around.

Having delivered a drink to Drame, Kelesa was on her way back down the dark hallway to the room where she slept. She yawned. As she turned the corner, she bumped into something -- someone. Kelesa jumped, startled as the person grasped both of her upper arms as if to reassure her.

"Kelesa?" the voice whispered loudly.

"Tristen?" she answered, opening her eyes widely and trying to see his face in the dark.

"What are you doing walking around at this late hour?" he whispered.

"Drame wanted something to drink," she whispered back. "What are you doing?"

"I couldn't sleep. I had this dream . . . come with me -- I need someone to talk to, please?" he begged.

"Okay. . . what do you mean 'come with you'? Where?" she asked, but he was already leading her down the hall by one arm.

"Shhhh!" Tristen hissed.

He guided her down the hall, through several doors and other halls, then up some stairs. By this time Kelesa was totally disoriented. Where are we going? she wondered silently. She heard the click of his key turning in the lock of the last door. It opened silently and they went through. Tristen carefully closed the door behind them.

Kelesa blinked as she realized they were outside. The night sky was full of mountain stars on the moonless night. A cool breeze blew, rustling the leaves of nearby trees. It occurred to her that she hadn't been outdoors ever since she had arrived at the fortress.

"Where are we?" Kelesa whispered again.

"We're out on the roof," said Tristen in a low voice. "Don't worry about the guards finding us -- they don't come up here," he said reassuringly, answering Kelesa's next question. "I come out here all the time. This part of the roof is storage space for little-used items and spare things, but I always make sure everything's arranged so there's a space big enough to walk around in," he explained. "I also keep the door hinges well greased," he said. Kelesa still couldn't see him grinning, but she heard it in his voice.

Tristen took Kelesa's hand as he maneuvered them among the boxes and other items. Finally they made it to the edge of the roof. The wall surrounding the edge of the roof was high enough that they could lean forward on it with their elbows. For a few moments they were silent, enjoying the fresh night air, the cool breeze, and the sparkling stars.

"You were saying something about a dream?" Kelesa broke the silence.

"Yeah," said Tristen. "See, I have this certain nightmare a lot. It's always been the same." He proceeded to tell her about it.

"But tonight, the dream was longer. Before the boy ran into the forest, I saw these two men fighting with swords. One of them had that sword that we saw in Drame's room. One of the men struck the other man with his sword and killed him -- I don't know which man was the winner, though."

"Who were they? Did you recognize them?"

"No, I couldn't see their faces."

"Hmmm," Kelesa pondered what Tristen had said. "So what do you think it means?"

"I . . . I don't know. I used to think that it was just something my mind conjured up, some obscure expression of the stresses and difficulties of everyday life. It never occurred to me until tonight that . . . now I'm beginning to wonder . . . if the boy in the dream is . . . me."

"But I thought you said your parents . . . "

"Yeah, sold me into slavery. Well, that's what I've always thought. At least that's what Drame told me."

"What are you saying?" Kelesa persisted.

"I didn't tell you the whole truth when you asked where I was from. Truth is . . . " he paused, "the truth is that I don't really remember where I came from. I don't remember anything besides this fortress -- I don't remember anything before age five. I don't know why I can't remember!" Tristen unconsciously clenched his fists, obviously frustrated.

"I always used to ask Drame where I came from. He's always told me that he was traveling through Bornath when he met up with my parents. He said they were itinerant folks in need of money and they sold me to him. He got to like me, so he decided to keep me here at his castle instead of selling me to someone else."

"So you're from Bornath?" Kelesa said, amazed. "Come to think of it, that would explain the accent."

"I have an accent?" Tristen said incredulously.

"Just a slight one," Kelesa laughed. "I tend to pick up on people's accents. I knew a Bornathian girl back home and you pronounce some words the same way she did."

"Oh. So that much of Drame's story might be true. But what about the rest of it?"

"I don't know," Kelesa allowed. "I don't exactly trust Drame."

"Yeah, I'm beginning to realize that I can't believe or trust Drame like I used to, either."

"If only you could find your parents, they could straighten everything out."

"Drame says they're most likely dead -- of course, who knows if it's actually true. He says they were planning on going to the capital city, and just after he left, a horrible civil war broke out in Bornath. Most of the fighting was centered in Darcabé. That city was besieged and ended up being practically burned to the ground. Most everyone was slaughtered by the conquering faction. I'm pretty sure that the part about the Bornathian civil war and Darcabe being burned is true. I've heard some of the guards and other Bornathian slaves talk about it. I guess it was an awful war, but thankfully it was short because the coup managed to depose the king very quickly. It's something about Bornathians -- they seem to be rather finicky about their rulers."
"Yes, it does seem that way. And the story about the civil war in Bornath is true. I remember my aunt telling me about it. The Rillandan government supported the reigning king, but the coup happened so quickly that by the time we heard about it, the royal family had already been killed and it was too late to send reinforcements," remembered Kelesa.

"You never told me you were Rillandan," said Tristen in a reproving voice, as if he hadn't even heard the rest of what Kelesa had said.

"Oops. I didn't think it was important," Kelesa said rather sheepishly. "Besides," she said defensively, "you never asked."

"I want to know everything about you -- who you really are," Tristen said earnestly. They stood silently for a few moments, facing each other.

"I want to know everything about you, too," Kelesa whispered. She was glad it was dark, because she could feel herself blushing.

"Keli -- is it okay if I call you that?" Tristen paused.

"Sure, I'd like that. Funny -- my father used to call me that when I was little."

Tristen grinned. "Keli, you're the first person I've really been able to talk to," he said sincerely.

They stood silently, simply enjoying each other's company. For the first time, Tristen realized, here was someone he cared about -- someone that made him want to escape Drame's slavery and manipulation -- for his own sake as well as hers.

"Tristen," Kelesa said after a pause. "We've got to get out of here. We've got to stop Drame."

"I know, Keli," said Tristen, thinking of Janik's plan. He knew what his answer to Janik was now. "I know."

***************************

Tristen awoke slowly the next morning at first, wondering why he was so tired. Then he remembered -- the wonderful conversation he had with Kelesa, the sharing of his secret place with her. But too quickly a feeling of foreboding and uncertainty filled him -- yes, now he also remembered his realization of the kind of person Drame was to others, if not to him. It had all been so clear last night as to what he must do, how it would be the best for the other slaves, how it would be best for Kelesa. Last night he hadn't stopped to think about where that might leave him. Presumably the other slaves had places to go to -- homes from which they had been captured. But all Tristen had ever known was the fortress. He had no place to go. And no family to return to. He couldn't face the outside world alone. An emptiness in his heart, once partially filled by Drame's favorable treatment, now felt exposed, raw, naked. He still knew what he had to do, but the emptiness and fear seemed almost overwhelming. I've got to give myself some time to get used to this idea, he thought. Kelesa will understand. But I can't let her see that I am afraid . . .

***************************

Drame stood off to one side at the loading dock, watching with a pleased expression on his face as his guards unloaded cart after cart with crates of stolen goods, prizes of his latest raid on the Eirenian coastal villages. There were no slaves this time, but that hadn't been the purpose of this latest raid. He had succeeded in finding the ship which was transporting part of the Eirenian royal collection of paintings and sculpture. The pieces were worth a fortune. Yes, they will look splendid hanging on the walls of the great hall, he thought with a satisfied look at the booty. Such treasures of art rightfully belong in the palace of a truly civilized ruler like myself. Now the walls won't look so . . . drab.

Drame's glance was drawn to one of the carts in particular. There were a couple crates in it that contained smaller pieces, mostly gold and silver sculptures -- he had chosen them himself to enhance his own quarters. A guard yelled for Kelesa who was waiting off to the side with some other slaves. The guard thrust the two heavy crates into her arms with an ominous warning about what would happen to her if she dropped them. Kelesa nevertheless struggled under the load, trying desperately not to lose her balance or her hold on the crates. Drame watched with amusement, but only for a moment. His expression turned to surprise as a young man appeared from nowhere, grabbing the heavier crate which was on top. Kelesa's face broke out into a smile of relief and so did the young man. They quickly made their way out of the loading area to go to Drame's rooms.

His eyes narrowed. The guards standing near him noticed and subconsciously moved away from him. It was true. Ictus had told him that Tristen had been spending more time with that girl. Yes, Ictus proved to be an accurate and willing (Drame smiled evilly) informant, one who acted out of fear for his life of course. Still, Drame had found it hard to believe that Tristen had finally made an apparently close friend out of another slave. So far Drame had succeeded in keeping Tristen isolated from all the other slaves, which was no small task considering how long he had had the kid. So far Drame's publicly preferential treatment of Tristen had made the other slaves suspicious enough of Tristen that they disliked him just enough to stay away. So far I've kept him pure of outside influences. Now this girl is threatening to ruin all of my hard work. I can't allow this to happen! I WILL NOT! Tristen is MINE to control. All others must simply be . . . eliminated. He thought back to that night, 17 years ago in Bornath . . .

*******************

On the hard ground, Drame slept deeply, as did all his other men who weren't standing watch. He was exhausted from the raid the day before. The fighting had been heavy, with a number of casualties among his own men. That's the last time I'm helping Eseth with any of his projects. I don't care if he is my friend, Drame had thought the day before. True, Eseth had let him take whatever loot he wanted from the scene, so it hadn't been a total loss. In fact, he had been especially happy with acquiring one object in particular. Drame smiled in his sleep. He began to dream.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

An image of a little boy not more than five years old appears. His clothes are tattered, ripped. His face is smudged with soot and dirt. He sleeps, curled up next to a tree in the forest. A voice speaks. He shall be found by the one who changes his destiny. And he shall change the destiny of the one who finds him. With the swords of destiny shall they change the destiny of kingdoms.

The next morning Drame remembered the entire dream clearly, and it did not fade like most dreams do. However, he was not ready to admit to his men that he might have had more than an ordinary dream. Just as Drame gave the order to move ahead, two of his men appeared, each of them holding an arm of a little boy about five years old. He was wearing a tunic of fine cloth, but it was sorely ripped and torn. His face and hands were covered with soot and dirt. He was not struggling; he didn't even look scared. He had more of a dazed look on his face. Without a doubt, it was the boy from the dream.

"What is your name, boy?" Drame asked after motioning to the men to release him.

"Tristen," he said simply.

"Who are you?" Drame asked, a question that held more meaning than the boy would understand.

The boy was silent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yes, I was the one who found that little boy, and Tristen and I will change the destiny of kingdoms. No one will get in the way of our destiny. Drame resumed a pleased expression on his face. He always felt so good about the efficient way he handled his empire -- identify problem, implement solution immediately. It was all so simple. This girl would give him no problem. Of course, he would have to be discrete about it. It had to be done in such a way that Tristen would think that Kelesa deserved her punishment. And that was something he could arrange quite nicely.

***************************

Tristen and Kelesa carefully set down their heavy crates on the long conference table, both sighing with relief. Kelesa opened and closed her hands, wincing with the pain that comes from gripping something too tightly for too long.

"Whew!" said Tristen, wiping his forehead. "Those crates were heavier than I thought they were. If I'd only known, I might've had second thoughts about taking one of them!" he grinned mischievously, looking sideways at Kelesa.

She grinned back and playfully jabbed him in the ribs. "Sure, Tristen. Thanks for helping me. I don't think I could have carried both of the boxes the whole way."

"Kelesa." Tristen's voice changed to a quieter, more serious tone. "I . . . want to talk to you again . . . alone, tonight on the roof. Would you meet me again tonight?" he pleaded.

"Alright," said Kelesa. "But I don't think I can remember how to get there."

"That's okay. I'll wait for you around the corner past the women's quarters. I'll ring that bell so you know I'm out there. I know how to ring it from a spot just outside your room."

Kelesa only had time to nod, because at that moment Drame entered the room.

"Don't you have other things to be doing, Tristen?" Drame said impatiently.

"Yes, Master," Tristen lowered his eyes and exited the room quickly.

Kelesa did not look up at Drame, but continued to unpack the contents of the crates silently. She pulled out porcelain figurines, bronze statuettes, small busts of tarnished silver, and other items. Finally she pulled out the item Drame had been waiting for.

"Ah-hah!" he said in a very pleased tone. "This is what I've been waiting for." Drame opened a small, long, narrow box and held up its contents -- a small golden dagger -- to the light. "Did you know this is actually of Rillandan workmanship?" he asked.

"No, sir," she murmured quietly.

"It is quite valuable, but not particularly what I had in mind -- you see, I've already got a better one in my Rillandan collection and right now I'm working on my Eirenian artifacts, you know," he said almost more to himself than to Kelesa.

"Anyway," he said in a very patronizing tone, "I've been wanting to reward you for your excellent service to me -- you've done quite a good job, always prompt and obedient. Please, take this as a small token of my thanks." Drame extended the open box with the dagger toward Kelesa.

"I couldn't, sir. I am honored that you find my service acceptable, but no, thank you."

Drame's eyes turned cold. He slammed the box down on the table and spoke through clenched teeth. "It isn't often I give my slaves anything, girl. No one refuses my generosity."

"No, thank you," Kelesa repeated quietly. She had a ominous feeling about that gift.

Drame was really angry now. This was getting way more difficult than it had to be. He grabbed her by the arm so tightly it was sure to leave bruises. "You will take it!" He reached for the sharpened dagger and held it up to her neck. Kelesa inhaled sharply. Blood began to bead up at the point of the dagger. "If you don't, I'm going to get even more displeased than I am right now. Now GET OUT of my quarters!" He threw the dagger back in the box and shoved it into her arms, pushing her out the door.

Kelesa ran all the way to the deserted sleeping quarters and collapsed on her mat, dropping the horrid box on the floor beside her. She could fight back the tears of fear no longer, and she began to shake uncontrollably. All this time she had been able to keep herself composed, ever since the kidnapping. Finally it had become too much. The dam had finally broken.

Kathena saw Kelesa run by the kitchen on her way to the sleeping quarters and immediately knew something was wrong. She left the meal she was cooking and walked quickly down the hall, following the girl.

A few minutes later, several guards burst into the women's slave quarters. The room was empty except for Kathena who had an arm around a shaking, rocking Kelesa and was murmuring soothing noises trying to comfort the girl. Kathena was holding up the corner of her apron to wipe Kelesa's face as she continued to sob. The guards paid no mind, however, and two of them went straight to the mat, pushed Kathena aside and hauled Kelesa to her feet.

"The Master wants her brought to the great hall immediately!" growled one of the guards.

"Look, here it is, just as Drame said!" another guard was bending over and picking up the box with the dagger inside.

"What is going on?" Kathena demanded, but the guards were already dragging Kelesa down the hall.

***************************

Tristen looked up from the crate he was unpacking in the storage room. It seemed that all the slaves were headed down the hall -- to the great hall, he heard one of them say.

"Master Drame wants all slaves to report to the great hall at once! All slaves report to the great hall . . ." a guard's voice rose above the din. Tristen left his task and joined the masses of slaves who were headed that way. When he arrived, he pushed his way to the front. Drame was standing on a platform with several guards and a slave . . . Kelesa! Her head was bowed and she didn't even look up to see that he was there. Tristen's heart filled with fear and questions. Drame began to speak to the whole crowd, but his eyes were directed meaningfully at Tristen.

"For some time now I have known of a slave plot against my life. Today my men uncovered the guilty party -- this Rillandan slave girl. They also found this Rillandan dagger hidden under her mat -- stolen from my collection. She obviously intended to try to kill me with it."

He turned to Kelesa. "Do you deny that this dagger is mine and that you took it from my room and hid it next to your bed in the slave quarters?" he asked accusingly, but not really expecting an answer. The girl was silent.

"She denies none of these accusations!" The slaves murmured among themselves, some uncertain, others confused and others believing of Kelesa's guilt.

"I called all of you here today so that you will know that I do not take such flagrant disobedience, theft, and treachery lightly! Justice will be served and she will be punished. But I will not have it said that I am not humane." He turned to Kelesa again.

"I could have you killed right now. But out of my great mercy and benevolence, I have decided to sell you to the Gurodellan buyer who is here today. You will be taken away, never to cause trouble here again." In a softer tone he remarked to himself, "Besides, why waste something when you can sell it?"

Drame resumed his louder announcing voice. "Take her away!" His voice was drowned out by those of the slaves, who were now loudly talking among themselves. It was so loud that only a few people, including Drame, noticed Tristen's "Noooooooooo! . . ." Drame turned away with a satisfied smile. This couldn't have worked out better, he thought.

***************************

Tristen ran out to the loading area. The guards, having been instructed by Drame not to stop the boy, offered no resistance. He arrived just as Kelesa's ropes were being handed to a Gurodellan guard. She turned to look at Tristen. Her eyes were sad, almost dazed, too. She mouthed the words, "I believe in you."

Tristen felt as if his heart was being torn. Watching her being taken from him like this was almost too much to bear. He had known that a run-in with Drame was inevitable, and he had expected that she would have to bear some punishment, but never in his mind had he thought Drame would sell her. He knew that Drame's accusations had to be false, but the unfairness of the situation was multiplied many times over by Kelesa being sent away. Tristen's eyes met Kelesa's as he tried to communicate through them all the feelings he was having. "I love you," he whispered, even though she was too far away to hear.

The guard yanked the rope that bound Kelesa's hands together behind her back. As she was led away, she turned toward Tristen for one last time as they looked at each other. Then Kelesa tripped over a rope that was on the ground, almost pulling the guard down in the process.

"You fool!" the guard raged. "This'll teach you!" A blade flashed as the guard ripped a piece of cloth off the front of her brown slave's dress, revealing the thin white undergarment underneath. The guard yanked on the rope again, pulling her toward the pack mule and roughly setting her on it. Tristen heard the command for the small caravan to move forward. It was already late afternoon, but the group would have a few more hours of early fall sunlight before darkness arrived. Tristen watched from the roof as the caravan made its way across the valley and finally over the pass into the mountains. He ached with the worst ache he had ever known.

***************************

The stars seemed more dull and the sky blacker that night, as Tristen leaned his elbows on the ledge of the roof wall. We were supposed to meet here tonight. How could things have changed so quickly? I was just getting to know her. How could Drame be so cruel? How . . . He couldn't go on. His mind felt dull from the ache that wouldn't go away. The horrible scenes from the afternoon kept replaying over and over and over. I don't even have anything to remember her by, except memories . . .

Wait a minute, he thought. When the guard had slashed her dress, hadn't something fallen to the ground? Without thinking any further, Tristen left the roof quickly and silently, heading for the loading dock.

Somehow he arrived there without running into any guards. He opened his eyes widely, trying to get them to adjust to the darkness faster. He felt along the ground, groping blindly for the object. Wait! There is something here. He grasped a small piece of metal, strangely shaped. It felt cold in his hand. Somehow he knew that it was the thing that had fallen from Kelesa's dress. Clutching it tightly, Tristen quickly made his way back to his quarters, which were at least dimly lighted. He finally opened his hand. It was a pin.

***************************

It was pitch black. All Kelesa knew was that she was leaning against the trunk of a large tree, bordered on one side by a jagged piece of granite. Her hands were still tied behind her back. The loud snores of men and no sounds of footsteps told her that everyone in the party, even the guard who was supposed to be up keeping watch, had fallen asleep.

She fought back the feelings of depression and foreboding that tried to take over her mind. All of the events of the previous day -- being threatened by Drame, being torn away from Tristen -- had been the most awful she had ever been through. But losing the pin -- she had watched it fall from her dress, knowing that there was no way she could bend over and pick it up with her hands tied behind her back -- that had been almost too much. Leaving it behind was like leaving her hope and courage behind, too. How could she hope for anything without the pin? She tried desperately to forget about it, because there wasn't anything she could do about it now.

The Gurodellans are apparently more lax than Drame's men were, or more stupid, she thought, forcibly turning her attention to the sleeping men. Ouch! Why did I have to end up next to such a sharp piece of rock, she thought as it poked her again. I think I could actually get away, if I could only get these ropes off of me . . . She shifted ever so slowly and quietly, positioning her hands next to the rock.

After at least an hour of rubbing, Kelesa tried for the millionth time to pull her hands apart. This time she felt the ropes give. Her wrists were finally free! She suppressed any exulting, immediately charting a course through the sleeping people. Every crackle and snap of small twigs made her heart jump. She fully expected for someone to wake up and catch her escaping, but she finally found herself at the edge of the group with everyone still fast asleep. She tip-toed quietly and cautiously for a ways more until she thought she was out of ear shot. Then adrenaline took over. Kelesa broke into a run, disappearing into the forest where there was no path. Branches and briars tore at her dress, and rocks and brush caused her to stumble and trip repeatedly, but she ran on. She didn't know where she was running to. All she knew was that she had to get away. She ran and ran and ran . . .

The first rays of dawn filtered through the evergreen canopy of the forest, revealing a girl crumpled on a bed of dry pine needles where she had collapsed a few hours ago. She groaned, opening her eyes, remembering where she was. Then Kelesa realized someone was watching her, looking at her. "Aaaaaaah!" she screamed.

"Aaaaaa!" the person jumped back, just as startled as she was.

Kelesa squinted up at the old man. He was hunched over and wore an odd combination of furs (most of them seemed to be tails of various animals) draped over his shoulders. He had a wrinkled, gnarled face that looked more curious than anything. Definitely not evil or angry -- perhaps even kind.

"Mathras not hurt you if you not hurt Mathras, mmmmm-hmmmmm," the old man grunted in a scratchy, gravelly low voice.

Kelesa couldn't help but smile slightly.

"Mathras been expecting you, mmmmmm" he said knowingly, helping Kelesa to get up.

"Been expecting me? How do you know who I am?" Kelesa was beginning to wonder if this guy worked for Drame or the Gurodellans.

"No, no, Mathras not know who you are. Mathras been expecting you. Who are you?" He obviously thought he was clarifying himself.

"My name is Kelesa," she said, deciding in a split second to trust him. "I escaped from some slave traders."

"Mmmmm-hmmmm," the man made the guttural noise again -- it sounded like a rumbling in his throat. "Mathras understand. Come."

Kelesa followed Mathras a short distance more through the forest, and they arrived at a clearing. A small hut stood in the center. In front of it a small fire pit smoked, warming up a pot of something. Whatever it was, it smelled good to Kelesa.

"Kelesa hungry? Mathras cook good food," said the old man, fishing the pot out of the fire with a stick and setting it on the ground.

"Yes, I'm starved, thank you," Kelesa looked eagerly. But as the man spooned out the brown steaming mass of something, her stomach immediately began having second thoughts. It smelled enormously good, but it looked awful.

Mathras read the look on Kelesa's face accurately. "Do not worry. Mathras not cook insects today. Mathras cook special food for Kelesa -- Surprise Casserole. Mmmmmmm." The girl looked somewhat more relieved and took the bowl he handed to her. She decided not to ask further about what was in it. Thankfully it tasted good, too. Kelesa and Mathras ate silently and hungrily. The old man broke the silence first.

"Mathras saw you in dream last night. Mathras see many things at night, mmmm-hmmmm."

"So you're a seer? a prophet?" concluded Kelesa.

"Mathras seer? What is seer?"

"A seer? You know, someone who . . . someone who . . . has dreams and sees the future? Never mind."

The old man shrugged and went on. "Mathras see you captured by evil man."

"Drame?"

"Kelesa captured by Drame? Ah, Drame. Mmmmm-hmmm . . . who is Drame?"

"You don't get out much do you?"

"Mathras get out of bed in morning," the old man said proudly.

"That's good," said Kelesa, not knowing whether to laugh or be exasperated. "What else did you see?"

"Mathras see that Malaanian prophecy will be fulfilled. Mathras see tall strong man free country from thirty years of scourge. Order will be restored, mmmm-hmmmm."

"But what about me?" persisted Kelesa.

"Kelesa must go back to evil fortress. Destiny awaits, mmmm-hmmmm," said the old man.

"I can't go back there!" Kelesa said incredulously. "For one thing, I have no idea how to get back there. And for another thing, Drame will surely kill me if I go back!"

"Kelesa must go back," insisted Mathras. "Mathras know that if Kelesa does not go back, thirty years of scourge will not end. Kelesa will not find destiny," he said simply but urgently.

"Then how do I get there?"

"Mathras know the way," he said as he picked up a large walking stick that could double as a weapon. "Mathras know where evil fortress is. Mathras know many things, but no one listen to Mathras. So Mathras talk to stick . . ." he was still talking as he ambled off into the forest.

"Wait!" said Kelesa as she ran off to follow him before he disappeared, along with her chance to find her destiny.

***************************

It took them the whole rest of the day to make their way back on foot through the mountains to Drame's hideout, which was logical since Kelesa had traveled the afternoon and evening before on horseback. In fact, it was near midnight when they finally got to the top of the pass. Kelesa gasped as she looked out across the valley toward the grey fortress. Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw.

Bright red and yellow flames leaped up from the roof of the fortress, accentuating the darkness of the sky. The only thing she could think of was Tristen. "What are we going to do now, Mathras?" she said almost helplessly.

"Kelesa and Mathras will go inside."

"Go inside that burning building? We'll probably get killed by the fighting that's surely going on inside, or by the fire itself! We can't go inside!"

"Mathras see that encircled sword will protect you. What is 'encircled sword'?"

"It's a pin I used to have," explained Kelesa. "But it doesn't matter. I don't even have it any more, anyway. I lost it," she said in a discouraged tone.

"Do not worry. Mathras knows. Encircled sword will protect Kelesa. Mmmmm-hmmmm. No one believe Mathras . . ."

Kelesa swallowed as she looked at the flames which were leaping higher and higher. Go deliberately into a burning building? That was crazy. But she could not argue with this old man who was so sure that he "knew."

Again, Mathras interrupted her thoughts. "Ahhhhhhh, Mathras see and understand now. Mathras see marking of encircled sword on large sword. Encircled sword can protect Kelesa only by becoming one with large sword. Mmmmmmm-hmmmm," Mathras nodded to himself.

A puzzled look had spread over Kelesa's face. I've seen that sword twice already, and I remember seeing it clearly -- I know there were no markings on it except the two red stones -- certainly no marking that looked like the pin I had. What could he be talking about?

"Kelesa!" he shook her arm, turning her around to face him. She could tell by the urgent look on his face that she had to understand him. "Destiny of encircled sword is bound together with destiny of large sword. Swords must become one. No one believe Mathras . . ."

The sound of burning wood crashing to the ground yanked Kelesa back to the present. She had to get to Tristen -- and hope that she would figure out what Mathras meant before it was too late for all of them.

"Well, come on then," she said, interrupting Mathras' muttering and grasping him by the arm. "Light help us all."

***************************

Tristen awoke very early the morning after Kelesa had gone. He was still grasping the pin in his right hand, and he held it to his chest. He got up from his mat and headed down the hall. He had to find Janik.

Janik and Kathena were talking in low tones in the kitchen. The instant Tristen stepped through the door, Janik assumed his condescending guard-like voice, saying something about how the food wasn't hot enough for him.

Tristen went straight to the counter. "May I speak with you?" he said to Janik, in a tone of voice he hoped Janik would understand.

Janik nodded at Kathena, who went to the door of the kitchen to watch for any other guards or slaves.

"I've decided to help," Tristen said meaningfully.

Janik smiled and put a hand on Tristen's shoulder. "Good. I'm glad you've finally made your decision. We will act tonight, during the changing of the guard."

"What do I do?"

"I have a few slaves who will be responsible for setting fire to the crates in storage on the roof, for a diversion. If all goes well, most of the guards will end up being locked out on the roof. You and I will go to Drame's quarters where I will take care of him. I will need your keys to get through the door."

"There is a better way," said Tristen, his mind rapidly working. "I know a secret passage that goes from the northeast tower directly into his bedroom."

"Good," said Janik. "I was counting on your knowledge and you haven't let me down. Meet me at the tower three hours after sunset, just before the changing of the guard."

Tristen nodded.

Kathena was motioning that someone was coming down the hall. Tristen slipped out into the eating area, then out the opposite door.

He would be there tonight.

***************************

"Fire! Fire!" yelled one of the guards as he yanked open the door to the roof and smoke poured into the hallway.

Tristen and Janik stood ready in the dark northeast tower. Janik was looking out of one of the tower windows toward the storage area on the roof. The flames were getting bigger now. Suddenly guards were pouring onto the roof, yelling and throwing water on the flames, which only soared higher thanks to the oil which coated almost the entire roof.

"Now!" Janik said, and Tristen pushed in one of the stones in the wall. Part of the wall creaked as it dropped down, revealing a dark passage way. Tristen lit the torch with his flint and led the way. The wall creaked into place behind them.

In no time they arrived at the end. "This is it," whispered Tristen. "It opens behind the curtains on the right side of his bed."

Janik nodded. He had already told Tristen that Tristen was to go back to the tower and then make his way to the kitchen where Kathena would be collecting the older and more frail slaves. He was to help her get them out of the castle.

The secret door opened silently, revealing a thick, dark purple velvet curtain just as Tristen said. But light was coming from beneath it. They could hear voices -- two men! They could hear the deeper laugh of Drame and the more tenor voice of Faran. The men were not in the bedroom, but in the adjoining conference room. Drame wasn't sleeping -- he was having an impromptu late-night strategy session with his second-in-command. This was something they hadn't anticipated.

Still, Janik motioned up the stairs for Tristen to leave, and Janik proceeded to move the curtain aside and enter the bedroom. But Tristen couldn't leave; he had to make sure Janik was going to be able to handle two awake men instead of just one sleeping one. Tristen crouched next to the curtain, straining to hear what would happen . . .

"Looks like another strategy session I wasn't invited to, again, hmmm?" Drame and Faran looked up to see Janik leaning nonchalantly against the door jamb.

"Hey, how did you get in here?" said Faran.

"I'm sorry, I thought we'd told you about this," said Drame in his patronizing tone. "Please, won't you sit down? We're discussing our next raid on Jourdain and Ysindra."

"One that's not going to happen," Janik said evenly.

"How dare you contradict the master!" hissed Faran.

"Unfortunately, it's something I should have done a long time ago," said Janik, drawing his sword. "Now surrender or fight."

"Betrayal!" said Drame with clenched teeth.

Tristen could hear the clang of metal as Janik's sword met those of Faran and Drame. Instinctively he knew that even though Janik was very strong and skilled in the art of swordfighting, he most likely wouldn't be able to defeat both Faran and Drame who were skilled fighters and almost equal to him in strength. He had to do something.

Tristen moved from behind the curtains toward the shelf. Janik was still keeping Faran and Drame busy in the other room. Suddenly he noticed that the pin, which he had fastened to his belt, had started to glow brighter and brighter as he neared the shelf. Quickly he imitated what he thought were Kelesa's movements when she had accidentally opened the secret space. As it opened and he reached in to actually grasp the sword in his hands, the feeling of connection, of significance again washed over him, this time more strongly than before. He was so awed by the sword that he didn't notice that the sounds of fighting had ceased in the adjoining room.

Suddenly the bedroom was illuminated by the tall lamp in one corner. Drame was standing there, apparently the only one who had survived the clash. "Well, it looks like I have more than one unexpected visitor tonight," he said contemptuously. "I see you've discovered my secret stash of toys. Careful with that sword, Tristen. You might hurt yourself with it," he mocked.

"It's taken me a long time to realize what kind of person you really are, Drame," said Tristen bravely. "You can't control me any longer." He held the sword out in front of him defensively, all the while knowing that he had never held a sword before in his life.

"We'll see about that," Drame said coldly, easily swinging his sword out in front of him.

***************************

Just as Kelesa and Mathras reached the front doors of the fortress, they swung open as Kathena ushered out a number of older slaves and sickly ones. Kathena's eyes widened when she realized who she was looking at. "Kelesa!" was all she could say.

"Where is Tristen?" Kelesa said urgently. "I must find him."

"He went down to Drame's rooms with Janik. You shouldn't go there, it could be dangerous . . ."

"Don't worry about us. Just get these people to safety!" Kelesa rushed past her with Mathras close behind.

Already the halls were beginning to get hazy from the smoke which had leaked in from the roof. Two bad guards appeared in their path. Kelesa inhaled sharply; she hadn't thought about what she might do if they were challenged. Before she could do anything, however, Mathras had stepped in front of her. With only a few twists and blows with his "walking stick," the two threatening men were on the floor, out cold.

"Wow," whispered Kelesa with admiration. "Thanks, Mathras."

"Mathras always use right tool," he gestured proudly with his stick.

Then three more men appeared, brandishing their swords. Mathras again wielded his stick. "Go! Go Kelesa! Mathras take care of these men first," he said easily between blows. Kelesa nodded, then ran down the hall towards Drame's quarters.

Kelesa flew down the stairs towards the rooms. At the bottom of the stairs was the body of a man. Kelesa paused, realizing that it was Ictus. He had been mortally wounded by a guard, having decided to take the side of the slaves. He moaned.

"Take my keys, Kelesa," Ictus whispered hoarsely. "You've got to save Tristen." He gasped in pain. "He was the only person who was a friend to me . . ." Ictus's eyes rolled back into his head. He was dead.

Kelesa touched his hand briefly, then grabbed the key ring and ran down the hall.

***************************

"I found you, raised you as my own. Is this how you repay me?" said Drame as he and Tristen circled each other.

"You've lied to me my whole life, Drame. How do you expect me to respond -- as a grateful, submissive little slave? My parents did not sell me to you, did they? They weren't good-for-nothing vagrants who couldn't care less about me, were they?" Tristen demanded.

Drame laughed loudly, evilly. "What did you want me to tell you? That your father was the king? Truly, you are too much for an old man like me to take."

"I don't care whether that was true or not. What you're doing is wrong, and I'm going to stop you, Drame."

"Then I guess you leave me no choice," Drame said. "Pity. You could have had a glorious future at my side. I will kill you, just as I killed your father!"

Drame lifted his sword, swinging it easily at Tristen. Alas, Tristen's sword was too heavy for an untrained young man, and he took the full force of the blow on its blade, stumbling backwards and onto the hard floor.

"Why don't you give up now, Tristen? I promise not to kill you -- it would be too easy," he laughed again.

"I . . . I won't give up!" Tristen said bravely, struggling to his feet again and hoisting the sword in front of him.

"Tristen! Touch the pin to the sword!" The voice really made Tristen wonder if he was hearing things. Both of the men turned toward the door.

"Kelesa!" Tristen breathed.

"Touch the pin to the sword!" Kelesa repeated urgently.

Tristen grabbed the end of his belt where the pin was dangling, pressing it to the plain, unembellished area on the hilt of the sword between the two rubies.

Drame, Kelesa, and Tristen watched in shock and awe as the sword's blade and the pin immediately began to glow brighter and brighter, even enveloping Tristen himself. Now he lifted it easily; as he swung it instinctively, it seemed an extension of his own arm.

Drame quickly lifted his sword to defend himself, but it was no use. Only a few more slashes and parries between the two men, and Tristen had Drame pinned up against a wall with the sword blade to his neck.

"Well, aren't you going to finish me off, Tristen? Or do you lack the courage?" Drame taunted.

"Wait!" a fourth voice called out, and the other three people looked to a short old man who now stood next to Kelesa. "Sword must have own revenge. Give sword to Drame."

"Whaaat?" said Tristen and Kelesa incredulously, almost in unison.

"No one listen to Mathras. Mathras know. Give sword to Drame."

Tristen turned his gaze to Kelesa, and his face was clearly asking, "Who is this guy?"

Kelesa swallowed, thinking that of all the crazy things Mathras had told her to do, this was the ultimate one. Still, everything he had said had been right . . . "It's okay, Tristen. I know this man. Give Drame the sword."

Tristen looked hard at Kelesa, then made his decision. He stepped back, placing the sword on the floor.

Drame's face communicated shock and amusement. "You are definitely lacking more mental capacity than I'd estimated," he said sarcastically.

Drame stooped to pick up the sword, a look of satisfaction on his face as he thought of his good fortune and how he would soon be rid of Tristen and Kelesa forever. But the moment he grasped the pommel, the sword glowed brightly and arcs of electricity ran up and down the blade. Drame's expression turned to fear as his arms swung back and forth helplessly.

"I . . . I can't control it!" he said frantically as the sword slashed his legs. "Aaaaaaaaaaaa . . . "

Only a few more strokes were necessary to bring Drame to his knees. Finally, the evil man fell forward on the sword. His eyes rolled and his mouth moved a few last times.

Drame was dead.

Kelesa and Tristen stared at the dead man for a moment longer, as if they almost couldn't believe it was over. But that took only a few seconds, because then Kelesa was running to Tristen. She threw her arms around his neck as he hugged her around the waist. They kissed intensely, deeply.

"I thought I would never see you again," Tristen said, still holding her.

"I guess no one can stand in the way of destiny . . . or love," Kelesa replied, looking up at him.

"I never want to lose you again," Tristen murmured. He looked down at her tenderly. Slowly, their faces were drawn together until they kissed again.

"Mmmmm-hmmmm," Mathras murmured approvingly as he shuffled out of the room to give the reunited couple some privacy.

***************************

A few hours later, everyone was gathered in the great hall. This time Janik, not Drame, stood upon the dais. His head and arm were bandaged, but he still looked like the noble leader that he was. Janik had only been knocked unconscious, while Faran had sustained a mortal wound and was dead. The other guards had been fairly easy to defeat once they had found out that their leader had been killed.

"Today, we have won our freedom!," said Janik. "We are no longer slaves of Drame. He could keep us prisoners here, guard and slave alike, but he could not imprison our minds." Cheers erupted from the crowd.

"Today, I claim the right of leadership. Two years ago, my father sent me to infiltrate Drame's organization and defeat him. Today, I, Crown Prince Dejanik, and all of you have succeeded in overthrowing our country's most powerful rogue warlord, Drame of Malaan." The gasps of the crowd (as they realized who "Janik" really was) were followed by more cheers and shouts.

"Drame was so infamous abroad that our country became known by his name, Malaan. I hereby declare that from now on our country will be known by its original name, Malinde. I also hereby declare all of you free men and women!" Again, he was drowned out by cheering.

"Before you go, I have one more thing I want to say," continued Prince Dejanik. "When I came here two years ago, I had thought that I would never find a woman who would truly share my heart, my hopes, and my dreams. But while I was here, I found her among yourselves. Kathena, would you please join me?"

More cheers went up, and Tristen and Kelesa clapped loudly as Kathena gracefully ascended the stairs to join the prince. Every one of the slaves had grown to love and admire the strong lady cook. Janik and Kathena smiled at each other as he took her hand.

"Kathena, would you join me in my life journey forever, stay by my side as my wife?"

One corner of her mouth turned up as it always did when she was amused or pleased. "Yes," she said simply, kissing him on the cheek.

Now Janik had a really wide smile on his face. "I present to you the future queen of Malinde, Kathena of Eirena!" Roars filled the hall as Janik and Kathena descended into the sea of happy slaves and were enveloped by them.

***************************

Kelesa and Tristen sat together in the otherwise deserted eating area. Some of the slaves had left the minute their freedom had been declared, while others had already gone to bed so they could leave early the next morning.

"We could be on the roof right now, breathing fresh air and watching the moon and stars. Except that it's wrecked now, all burnt and everything," said Tristen wistfully, but his smile told Kelesa that he also saw the humor in the situation.

"But wherever we are together, isn't that the best place to be?" said Kelesa.

"Aww, you're right again," Tristen said and playfully pecked her on the cheek.

"You haven't said anything about what you're going to do now."

Tristen sighed, his shoulders hunched over, and he looked down at his empty cup. "Well, I figured you would want to go back to Rillanda . . ."

"No, actually I wasn't."

"Ah, hmmm, what?" said Tristen, finally looking up at Kelesa.

"I said no, I wasn't planning on going back. The place I want to be is wherever you are."

"But I don't understand. Why don't you want to go back?"

"Well, I don't really have anyone to go back to since my parents and brother are dead. And I think the country will run just fine without me."

"What do you mean the country will run fine without you?"

"Oh, it's nothing really, just an expression," Kelesa tried to explain, but her look on her face revealed that she was hiding something.

"No, it's not, I can tell. What aren't you telling me, Keli? Please, I want to know," begged Tristen.

Kelesa sighed resignedly. "Well, I don't know if you really want to know," she stalled.

"Really, I want to know," he said sincerely.

"Well, it's nothing, really, just that I was supposed to become queen in a year, that's all," Kelesa said matter-of-factly.

"You WHAT? You're royalty? You were heir to the throne?"

"Shhhhhh!!! Everyone is going to hear you!" Kelesa tried to shush him.

"I can't believe it! I knew there was something different about you! I've fallen in love with a PRINCESS!! I . . ."

"TRISTEN!" Kelesa fairly shouted, grabbing him by the shoulders and turning him to face her. "I'm not going back. My aunt is queen now. I never wanted to be! I've always just wanted to be an ordinary person, that's all. The only thing I want is to be with you! Please?"

"Really? That's all you want?"

"Yes!" she said with all the sincerity she could muster.

Tristen paused, hardly daring to let her answer sink in. Finally, he smiled. "Well, I guess that means we should talk about where we're going to next."

"Bornath. Mathras say go to Bornath." There he was again, standing in the doorway smiling to himself, still fully clothed in those strange fur tails.

"Bornath?" Kelesa and Tristen said in unison.

"Yes. Mathras say go to Bornath, to village on Mirror Lake at base of Iridian Range."

"Why there? I've never heard of that place before," Tristen said.

"Mathras do not know why. Mathras only say go to village. Mmmmm-hmmm."

Tristen grinned. "I might as well give up now. 'Mathras know best,'" he imitated the short old man's gravelly voice.

Kelesa patted him on the arm. "Bornath it is," she said, finalizing the decision.

***************************

The next morning, Tristen and Kelesa stood in front of the large fortress, saying good-bye to Janik and Kathena. They had packed supplies into saddlebags, and their horses were ready to go. They were also equipped with a map of the mountains which Mathras had ably drawn before he had returned to his home earlier that morning. A large sword with two rubies in its hilt was tucked safely in a leather sheath and strapped to the side of Tristen's horse.

"Are you sure you won't stay with us a few more days? Janik has to close up this old fortress and make sure all the people have ways to get home," said Kathena.

"I wish we could, but we've got to get going to Bornath before the winter weather sets in to the Clarriet Mountains," said Tristen.

"Thanks for everything," Kelesa said as she hugged Kathena.

Janik shook Tristen's hand vigorously. "We couldn't have won without you, Tristen. Good luck and safe journey to you both."

"Good-bye!" Tristen and Kelesa called as they mounted their horses and looked back at Janik and Kathena waving at them. When they got to the top of the pass, they took one last look at the old fortress and waved one last time. Then they descended into the pass below.

***************************

The campfire flickered warmly as Tristen and Kelesa snuggled close together, drawing the blanket around them. The horses had been relieved of their burdens for the night, so the sword was propped up in its sheath against a large rock beside them. The rubies on the hilt sparkled, reflecting the flames of the campfire. The light also accentuated the shadow of a new indentation on the hilt between the stones -- the outline of a tiny sword with a small circle behind it.

"Don't you think we should go to sleep soon so we can be on our way early tomorrow morning?" asked Kelesa.

"Yeah, I think you're right," said Tristen. "But before we do that, I think I have something I need to return to you." He pulled out the sword cloak pin and handed it back to Kelesa.

"I never would have defeated Drame without it."

"I never would have found you without it," said Kelesa. "Thank you for keeping it safe for me."

"Keli, there's something I've been wanting to ask you . . ." Tristen trailed off.

"Yes?" Kelesa looked earnestly back at him.

"I . . . I know you're a princess and all, but I was wondering if you'd be willing to accept an ordinary guy like me . . ."

"Of course I'll marry you."

"You -- you will?"

"Yes! Tristen, I've been hoping that you would ask me for a long time."

"You have???" but his words were cut off by Kelesa's kiss, which he answered, hugging her to himself. Finally, he released her.

"Actually," said Kelesa, "I guess I'll have to give this back to you now." She reached up and began to fasten it to his cloak. "You see, I'm supposed to give it to my betrothed, and he is supposed to wear it. Eventually it will get passed down to our daughter and she will give it to her betrothed. Sometime I'll tell you the story of how I received it."

Tristen looked at the pin, fingering it with his hand. "Well, considering what it did for me yesterday, I'm glad you're letting me wear it." He paused, then grinned. "You just want me to wear this so I'll stay out of trouble, huh?" Peals of laughter rose up through the trees, into the night sky.

***************************

(Three weeks later)

An old man looked up from the dock which he'd been scrubbing. He heard voices -- one male and the other female -- laughing and talking. They were coming from the woods that surrounded the village. The voices were a nice contrast to the lapping of the lake's water against the dock.

Haven't heard any young people around here in ages, not for a long time. Not since the war. Not since everyone moved away. . . he thought.

He squinted, trying to see who was coming. At that moment the owners of the voices emerged. A young man and a young woman, both on horseback. He didn't recognize them, had never seen them before. They guided their horses toward the dock where he was standing.

"Good day, sir," the young man called out in greeting as they approached. "Is this Mirror Lake?"

"Yes it is, lad. New to these parts?"

"Yes, I guess we are. Where are all the other people of the village?"

"Gone away. Or kilt. War took a great toll on us here."

The young lady spoke up. "By any chance, is there a house that was burned down near here?"

"As a matter of fact, there is. Right there through those trees." The man pointed. "But it happened a long time ago -- almost 20 years now. This used to be a resort town, but after the war started people were afraid that the new King Eseth would come back and torch the rest of the houses. So they all left, except me. I's lived here my whole life and I's not about to move now."

"Thank you," she said to the man. "Come on, Tristen," she said, heading her horse in the direction the man had pointed.

In a few minutes Kelesa and Tristen arrived at the burned frame, mostly broken down now from the weather. Some of the surrounding trees still bore scorch marks from the fire that happened so long ago.

Tristen and Kelesa dismounted. He walked forward to stand before the large plot where the house had stood. It was all coming back to him, like great waves of memory crashing upon his mind as Tristen relived once again the burning down of his former home. Kelesa walked over and stood next to him, holding his hand. "Is this the place?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

For a long time he was silent, remembering.

Finally, he spoke. "I remember now. My father was fighting Drame with the sword that I have now. My father had the upper hand and almost defeated him, but then my mother screamed as she was cut down by another soldier. He looked away. It was just enough time for Drame to take advantage, to kill him. Drame must have taken my father's sword as part of the spoils of war."

"But why them? Why did the king want your parents dead and your house burned?" asked Kelesa. They were walking among the wreckage now.

Tristen said nothing as he looked among the burned rubble, as if he were looking for something. Finally an object caught his eye and he quickly picked his way through the debris, leading Kelesa toward it.

"This is why." Tristen stood up a very large frame with canvas stretched upon it -- an oil painting. It was surprisingly well preserved all these years, somehow having survived the fire and the looting. He brushed the dirt and soot off the picture. Kelesa could make out a man sitting on a chair with a woman standing behind him. The man and women were dressed in royal robes and wearing crowns. And the man was grasping the pommel of a sword with two blood red stones embedded in its hilt."
"These are my parents," said Tristen, "the former King and Queen of Bornath. This was our summer palace."

***************************

Epilogue

(Three years later)

"Waaaaaagh!!!" the sound of a newborn's first piercing cry filled the small room.

"Congratulations!" said the old woman as she gently wrapped the baby in a soft blanket and carefully placed it in the arms of the exhausted but joyful new mother. "It is a healthy baby girl. May she be a blessing to all," the woman said, uttering the traditional Bornathian benediction for the birth of a child.

Three years ago after their arrival at Mirror Lake, Tristen and Kelesa decided to make their new home nearby the mostly abandoned village. They had already agreed not to reveal their true identities. All the newly married couple wanted was a place where they could settle down and have a quiet, unassuming life together, and the sparsely populated land around the lake was perfect for them. Mirror Lake was far enough away from the capital city that the present king would not be suspicious, and all the people who could have possibly recognized Tristen had moved away years ago. The old man was the only person who ever figured out who Tristen really was, and he promised to safeguard their secret. Tristen helped the old man harvest his fall crops in exchange for a share of the food. Each spring after that, Tristen planted his own vegetables and wheat. He and Kelesa built a simple but comfortable house on the lake not far from where Tristen's childhood home, the summer palace, had stood.

The old midwife smiled at the young parents who were now oblivious to everything else except their new baby. She left the bedroom to give them some time alone with the new addition.

Tristen sat on the edge of the bed, his arm around Kelesa. He kissed his wife's damp forehead gently, smoothing aside the dark bangs of her hair. "She is so beautiful," he breathed, reaching out one of his fingers for the baby's tiny palm to grasp.

"Yes, she is," Kelesa agreed. "We've waited so long for this day, and it's finally come. It's hard to believe, she's so wonderful." She smiled widely down at her daughter, who was now making soft, cute baby noises. "Lynis, welcome to the world. We love you."

***************************

(Four months later)

It was almost sunset. Tristen and Kelesa were going to take Lynis for a walk on the shore of the lake.

"Keli, better wear something extra tonight and put an extra blanket around Lynis. The fall breeze arrived a few hours ago," said Tristen as he fastened his own cloak around himself.

The family left the house and soon was standing on the shore of Mirror Lake enjoying the sparkling of the water as it reflected the last rays of light and the cool breeze.

From her mother's arms, Lynis pointed a little hand up toward the sky as the stars came out in full force. She giggled to herself.

"Yes, Lynis, I think those same stars are shining over Brightstar," Kelesa laughed.

Tristen put his arm around his wife and smiled at her and the baby. "You know, I don't think I could be happier right now, Keli." Leaning over, he kissed both of them.

Lynis was making baby noises and giggling again, as if to get her parents' attention. She reached out toward her father to touch something . . .

"Look, Tristen!" said Kelesa. Lynis was reaching out to touch the cloak pin Tristen wore. She seemed fascinated with it. It was the first time since she had been born that it had been cold enough for Tristen to wear his cloak.

As her small fingers touched the pin, it seemed to glow ever so slightly. She giggled again.

Kelesa and Tristen looked at each other in shared wonder. They said nothing, but their eyes said volumes. They smiled.

"Someday . . ." said Tristen, looking at Kelesa.

"Yes," said Kelesa. "The day shall come . . . when we will tell her the story of the bestowal."

- The End -


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