Prophecy Story Index
"...the flower-sea gleamed white,
shimmering gold and green..."
Silhouetted by the crest of rising sun, two horses and their riders made their way quietly down the narrow dirt road. Trees lined either side from which the occasional bird would take flight or squawk at their passing. As the shadows pulled back and the sun rose higher, light struck the riders, revealing them to be a man and woman. A sword rested easily on the woman's back, her long braid of blonde hair swishing over the scabbard with the horse's movements beneath her. On the second horse, the top of a lute peeked out of a saddlebag on the man's saddle. The woman raised her face and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath of the morning air, a tiny smile working its way into her features. Silence reigned for long moments, then the man broke the quiet with a soft question.
"So, Kell, what did you think of Aeric?"
Eyes reopening, Kellessan chuckled. "Finally decided to talk of something other than the Sword tale, minstrel?" She looked over at him, eyes glimmering with humor.
Dorien blinked, then laughed, the sound echoing up into the dew-laden trees. "Sorry. Old tales are my hobby." He grinned and leaned towards her. "Especially anything having to do with the great Kellessan."
The swordswoman scowled and muttered under her breath as she shifted on Tavi's back. The pommel of her sword caught the sunlight, reflecting it back in flashes. "I'm not great. I'm just someone who loves her country and her people. I'm just a fighter."
His amusement fading into curiosity, Dorien rubbed one hand absently along Pela's neck as he asked, "And now that your country is free of Seth? Are you still a fighter?"
Kell looked away. "I don't know. I told you before that who I was back then...I'm not her anymore. I don't think I can be. Innocence lost to war and death. But..." She trailed off and shrugged easily. "But again, the choice isn't mine."
Dorien frowned. "Again? What?"
Staring down the early morning sunlit road, Kell smiled rather wryly. "This was all destined, Dorien." She gestured with one hand then looked at him. "The pin, the sword, the name, everything. Oh, I had a choice, but it wasn't much of a choice. It was either this...or letting Seth win."
"Do you regret it?" Dorien asked hesitantly. "Regret not getting a choice? Losing...so much? So many?"
She paused, echoes of those losses reflecting in her eyes, then she sighed. "Yes, I have regrets. But I've learned to live with them. I had to."
Several quiet minutes passed between as they continued down the empty road, following the flow of the Kylei River as it wound its way west towards Lake Aurora and the village of River's End. The return trip from their ambassadorial trip to see Opella had been gratefully quiet and non-eventful. With Opella in place as Regent until Aeric came of age in five years, Bornath was guaranteed to remain quiet for several years. Especially since Opella and Varian, one of the lead council members, had disbanded Seth's army and were concentrating on rebuilding Bornath from the inside. Pakara had been slowly putting itself back together ever since Seth roared through on his way to destroy Rillanda. They had no intention or desire to get involved in anything, conflict or otherwise. Kell had a feeling they would choose to be somewhat withdrawn for a while, much like Ysindra.
As for the Rillandans themselves...most were still learning to believe that they were free again -- and that the king and queen had survived their fifteen-year exile. To be given the additional gift of Linet, the heir, was almost too much. Inside, the swordswoman cringed. 'Linet' wasn't someone she wanted to think about quite yet, wasn't someone she was ready to be yet.
As they rounded a corner on the road, Kell finally answered Dorien's question. "You asked about Aeric. He seems like a good kid. Young. And old in some ways. Quiet. Unsure. And very horrified about his father's rule." She paused and shivered once. "It was...disconcerting to see how much he looks like Seth."
Dorien nodded, lips tightening. "Yes, it was. I think he was a little frightened of what we were going to do to him. I overheard his mother telling him we weren't there to hurt him." A smile twitched onto his lips. "I think when he saw that I'd brought a rather imposing mercenary with me -- the one responsible for killing Seth no less -- he, uh, got understandably scared."
A brief flash of pain and regret flickered across Kell's eyes and then was gone, letting her comfortable mask of 'indifferent mercenary' resettle into place. Dorien, however, had caught the sudden shift and frowned to himself before continuing. "Before we left, I decided to take another look at the courtyard, where the portrait of Andrel and Gwnya was set. Aeric happened to be there at the same time and we talked for a little while. You're right about him being a good kid. But at the same time, almost overnight he's become a young man with a country and a people to rule, if only in name for the next few years. He's very worried about what kind of king he can be with the shadow of his father still hanging over the country. And he's worried he'll be judged by his father's actions, instead of by his." He glanced at Kell briefly and finished. "He wants to do right for his people -- and for yours."
Kell pursed her lips and answered quietly. "I know."
The trees opened up ahead of them, revealing a lakeside village just waking up to greet the morning. Kell pulled Tavi to a stop at the line of trees and let the reins relax around the black stallion's neck. Her eyes scanned the houses and barns and the few tiny shops scattered ahead of them. Dorien came up next to her, Pela's light brown coat contrasting against the darkness of Tavi's. The two horses whickered at each other as their riders paused.
"Do you know where he lives?"
Kell nodded. "He said he lived on the north side of town in a two-room house with a huge patch of blue picants out front and a sticky bush by the door."
Dorien's lips quirked upwards into a smile. "Sticky bush?" He laughed. "Haven't heard it called that in a while."
The swordswoman turned to glare at the unrepentant bard, then sighed and joined in the laughter as well. "I never could manage to remember the real name, plus it has more meaning to me as 'sticky bush'." She smiled wider. "Those things come in handy when you've got a few too many mercs to handle at once. A good shove and they're taken care of."
"Ooh, ouch!" Dorien winced through more laughter. "Remind me to stay on your good side whenever we're around those things."
With another laugh, Kell knickered at Tavi and headed down the path towards the village. "Come on, minstrel, time's a-wasting."
"...of purity untouched,
of innocence serene..."
Finding the house didn't take long though they did get stopped a few times by a few who recognized the semi-famous swordswoman from when she road through most of Rillanda during the three-year span that she rallied them together. When they finally did arrive at their destination, they'd only had time to dismount and toss the reins of both horses over a convenient hitching post when the door opened. An older man stepped out dressed in dark browns, a relaxed smile on his face.
Dorien held back, watching as Kell strode forward and clasped the man's arm warmly with one hand, an answering smile on her face.
"Master Hinarme. It's good to see you. It's been so long. Are you well?"
Kell's former mage teacher chuckled and patted her hand. "Yes, I am well. And you?" His eyes studied her face, reading things in her eyes that only a fellow mage could understand.
Her smile quivered but held as secrets darkened her gaze. "I am...okay. Seth is gone. Rillanda is free."
Hinarme's eyes remained on hers a moment longer, then shifted to look behind her. "And who is this?"
Releasing her grip on the older man's arm, Kell shifted and waved Dorien forward. "Dorien, this is Hinarme. My teacher. Master Hinarme, this is Dorien. A friend. A bard. He found...us."
Dorien held out his hand. "It is a honor, sir."
Hinarme chuckled and shook Dorien's hand in a surprisingly firm grip. "I don't know if it's truly an honor, but thank you, Dorien." He backed up into his house. "Please, come in. You can tell this old man what's going on."
"...soft winds sang of joyous life,
a harmony of peace..."
"You have done very well, child." Hinarme paused and smiled as he and Kell walked among the knee-high grasses. "Or perhaps I shouldn't call you such any longer."
Kell chuckled. "Even with all the changes, I think there's some small part of me that will always be that impatient child, so maybe the name is correct."
"Perhaps. Though I doubt Dorien would say as much." Hinarme carefully did not look at her, instead concentrating on the distant hills to the north.
"Huh." Kell's eyes softened for a moment, then she shook her head at the thought of the minstrel. Dorien had seen that Kell wanted some time alone with her former teacher and had gracefully left them, saying he wanted to stop by the small market in the village to get some supplies. Knowing they weren't in need of any supplies, Kell felt especially touched to have such an intuitive friend and traveling companion. After he'd left, she and Hinarme decided to take a walk through the grassy fields.
The comfortable silence held for a few more minutes as they walked slowly together, listening to the songs of birds, the calling voices of children, and the lapping of water against the shore. Hinarme spoke up again quietly as they came to rest near the edge of Lake Aurora. Staring over the water, he said, "I notice you no longer wear the pin. Did it fulfill its purpose?" He turned to look at her, hands clasped behind him.
"Yes. It did." Forehead furrowed in memory, Kell told Hinarme of her confrontation with Seth in the throne room and how the Lightsisters used her to deliver justice. "...and when it was over, when Seth was gone, I heard this voice saying that the task was over, that balance had been restored. And then the pin just...vanished."
Hinarme nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, returned to those who gave it. The pin was a temporary gift, never meant to remain forever." His eyes sharpened, and he looked towards the sword pommel rising over one of her shoulders. "The sword, however...that was always meant for you." He paused, then added, "Wasn't it."
Blowing out a harsh breath, Kell gave one stiff nod. "Yes. Or so I was told." She drew the sword from its sheath, the metal singing as it slid from the leather. Lifting it upright to allow the sun to reflect and glisten off the blade, she smoothed the opposite hand down it. "After I found Lachiellian, I found that the pin fit right here." She pointed out an indentation to Hinarme. "And when I put it there, runes appeared on the blade. Runes I could read which said 'To you the Protector of the land of Rill, we give Lachiellian." Pausing to chuckle self-consciously, she glanced at Hinarme. "I guess that's me."
The older man laughed softly. "Yes, so it is." He returned his gaze to the sword, watching the light flicker around it. "Did you learn anything else?"
"I..." She hesitated, then plowed on. "I had a...a vision of sorts. I saw things, heard things. And I learned that I was destined to...well, just destined, I guess. Who I was, who I am, what I would do, even my name." Her eyes grew shadowed. "I'm still not sure how I feel about that."
Hinarme touched her arm, letting his hand wrap around it. "Destiny only foresees that which will be, child. It would not have chosen you if you were not up to the task or if you were not willing."
"And if I hadn't been willing? Or if I'd been killed?" Kell's voice was sharp with a bit of anger.
Her former teacher only smiled, remembering that anger from years gone by. "Destiny also protects his own." He waited for that to register, then finished quietly. "You must forgive the past, Kellessan, daughter of no one. Your life...has not been easy. But it was necessary. Every life and every death had its purpose. And its meaning. You have served well. Now it is time for you to take up what was set aside."
Kell breathed out shakily and closed her eyes, leaning her head forward to rest against the flat of the blade still held upright in her hand. "I know." Another moment passed, then she straightened and resheathed her sword with ease. She smiled at Hinarme and covered his hand with her own. "Thank you, Master."
Hinarme returned the smile. "You are most welcome, child. Come, we should get back before Dorien starts to wonder where we've gone. The market isn't that large and if we wait too long, we might have to steal him back from the local tavern once they discover he's a bard."
Laughing loudly, Kell gestured to the path and they began the trek back into town at a slightly faster pace than the walk out. As they approached the town, Hinarme asked, "So, is Dorien a true bard or has he just claimed the title?"
Kell grinned. "Oh, he's a true bard, all right. He was Tulan's protégé. He even has Tulan's lute that he saved just before the Academy burned down."
Hinarme's eyes widened. "Dorien. Of course. I should've recognized the name. Good, good." He continued after a moment, "Is he...just a friend, Kellessan?"
The answer came slowly with a shy smile decorating her face. "I'm not...I'm not sure just yet. Maybe more." She waved as Dorien caught sight of them walking down the pathway towards them. "He's a good man. And I think...I don't know what I think."
Touching her arm again, Hinarme said simply, "The music will do you good."
She glanced at him and blinked, a bit of confusion in her eyes, then she nodded once and returned her gaze to Dorien. "Yes, I suppose it will."
"...one moment of fear and instinct,
and all safety thus did cease..."
After leaving River's End later that day, Kell and Dorien continued their journey towards Brightstar, although they decided to take a slightly longer route to get there. Following the curve of Lake Aurora, they traveled west, passing through various villages. They planned to turn south to head back to Brightstar, using a road that would take them through Rosewood as Kell wanted to get a better look at what Seth had done to the village where her mother had once lived.
However, upon reaching the crossroads the next morning, Kell stopped at the signpost and stared for a long time at the town names inscribed on the rickety wood. Dorien spoke up hesitantly, but shut up after receiving a rather cold glare and simply followed her as she led them further west instead of south. Several hours later, they arrived at the edge of a mid-size town. Looking down at it from the top of a ridge at the city gates, Dorien wondered what was so special about it to Kell and why they had gone out of their way to visit it. He nudged Pela forward to pull even with Kell and Tavi. Glancing over, he saw that Kell's eyes were fixed solidly on the town. Cautiously, he touched her nearest arm. "Kell? You okay?"
Kell took a sudden deep breath and nodded once. "I'm fine." She paused, then added, "This is Lilyvale."
Dorien raised an eyebrow, wondering if that statement was supposed to explain all. He remembered seeing the name on the crossroads signpost. "Uh, yeah, so it is."
The swordswoman sat in silence and rubbed a hand along her left thigh through her long draped cloak before shifting in her saddle. Dorien frowned, realizing quickly that something was up -- something he was definitely missing. Before he could ask, Kell gathered the reins to her and kneed Tavi forward in a rush.
"What--? Kell..." He shifted in his saddle and reached for the reins he'd draped over the saddle pommel.
"If you're coming, minstrel, get a move on before the town archers start to think you're here to attack." Kell's sharp voice echoed back to him.
Shaking his head, Dorien hurriedly urged Pela onto the same downward pathway as Kell. Pela tossed her head, picking up Dorien's agitation, and he strove to calm himself as he neared Kell. Once caught up with Kell, Dorien opened his mouth to speak as they approached the city gates, but Kell raised a warning hand.
"No. Not now." She hesitated, then glanced over at him, softening her tone as she finished, "In time, but just...not now."
Nodding, Dorien accepted that and chose something else to say. "You said there were town archers? How do you know? We were too far away to see them back there."
Kell relaxed and answered the innocuous question with a tiny smile. "I trained them. I was here for a couple weeks before... well, before." Her eyes grew distant. "They're good people."
Silence fell between them again and lasted until they stopped at the city gates.
"..then did darkness fall upon the vale,
sund'ring day into blackest night..."
They've made repairs. Kell's eyes drifted past the archers, taking in the low but sturdy city walls. And they rebuilt the guard tower and reinforced it. Good. She nodded absently. This close to the border and the nearness of Lake Aurora, she, at her first very brief visit, had suggested to the city leaders that a city wall around the main city would be useful in case of attack. The outlying farms and family homes were not protected, but the people could have a place of safety within the walls.
At her second visit, many months later, the walls had been partially constructed, along with the tall guard tower from which their best archers, trained and tested by her in those few weeks, could keep a lookout for any trouble headed their way. Her lips turned down into a grimace at the dark memories of that second visit. Not that the walls or the guard tower helped much.
Two guards approached them. The first one, an older man armed with a short sword, spoke in a low, familiar voice, dragging her back into the present. "Kellessan? Is that you?"
Dismounting smoothly, Kell replied clearly. "Yes, it's me." She paused, then said, "Hello, Gared." Her eyes flickered to the shorter figure behind him and she smiled hopefully, gesturing towards the second shorter, brown-capped figure, holding an archer's bow at the ready. "You wanna tell Jhiana to lower that thing? And what's with that cap she's got on anyway?"
The tension held and Kell stiffened, wondering if she'd done right to come back. But then Jhiana darted out from behind Gared and dashed towards her. Bow swung behind her, the younger woman grabbed Kell in an enthusiastic embrace. "Kell! You came back! And you're all right!"
Chuckling softly, Kell returned the embrace, then gently pushed Jhiana back and held her by the shoulders. She heard Dorien's muffled snort of laughter as he dismounted behind her, but didn't respond to him. The brown cap on Jhiana's head had fallen to the ground in her rush, revealing the bright shock of short red hair that glinted in the sun. "I think your hair looks even redder than last time, Jhiana."
Jhiana wrinkled her freckled nose and laughed. "That's what the hat's for -- camouflage." Her bright eyes sparkled with humor. "We heard about the battle in Brightstar -- and that we won! What're you doing here? And who's your friend?"
"My friend is--"
"I'd rather know why you're here." Gared's hard voice interrupted them, and Kell closed her eyes briefly in sorrow and regret.
"Gared!" Jhiana whirled to face the man. "She's a friend! She--"
"Quiet, girl." Gared stepped a bit closer, his sword still raised.
Jhiana's eyes flared dangerously. "I'm no girl, Gared. You would do well to remember that."
Dorien stepped up quietly to Kell's side and shot her a quick glance as the argument continued. Scattered guards and archers along the walls, plus several curious citizens at the front gate, watched and listened with wide eyes and ears. Kell spotted fingers being pointed at her and heard loud whispers being exchanged.
"You're not yet out of your teens, missy."
"Just who saved your sorry--!"
Kell dropped her hand on Jhiana's shoulder and squeezed it. "Enough. I'm not worth arguing about."
Gared glared at her. "That's right. You're not." Roughly shoving the sword into the sheath at his waist, he turned and stomped back into the city, calling out. "Be on your way, mercenary. Lilyvale's not open for the likes of you." The gawkers parted before him but no one gainsayed his proclamation.
Dorien gasped in astonishment. "What?!?"
Kell's eyes frosted and her lips tightened, but her voice was soft as she called out to Gared, "I'm sorry about Tanner. And Taneli."
Gared froze in his tracks, back still to her, then shook himself and shoved past the last few people standing near the gates to disappear.
Jhiana struggled to pull away from Kell's grasp. "Why that..."
Kell hauled her back again. "No. Let him go. He's upset."
The young woman relented and turned around to face Kell and Dorien again. "It wasn't your fault."
Smiling, Kell patted her shoulder and released her. "I know. But Gared thinks it is." She paused and forced a small nonchalant shrug. "And that's okay."
Jhiana frowned but didn't try to argue. Instead she held out her hand to Dorien. "Jhiana, local archer extraordinaire."
Setting aside his worries over the interchange between Kell and Gared, Dorien took Jhiana's hand, shaking it firmly. "Dorien, just a minstrel."
A weak chuckle spilled from Kell's lips. "Just a minstrel. That's like saying Tavi's just a horse."
"You mean he's not?" Dorien mock-frowned as he patted Tavi's neck. The warhorse turned to stare at him with one large brown eye, then snorted and tossed his head before deciding to nibble on the grass next to the pathway. Dorien laughed. "My mistake."
Kell rolled her eyes and returned her attention to the avidly watching and half-smiling Jhiana. "Ignore him. We've been on the road too long. It'll be good to get back home again."
Jhiana perked up, eyes brightening with interest. "You're going back to Brightstar? To the capital?"
"We're headed in that direction, yes," Kell replied. "Why?"
The girl straightened, her grip on the bow half-slung over her shoulder tightening. "I want to go with you. I want to be a guard."
Kell and Dorien exchanged a quick look before Kell said slowly, "Jhiana, you're only, what, 14?"
Chin lifting in stubbornness, Jhiana corrected her quickly. "I'm 15. I know the age limit is 18, but I can't stay here. I don't belong. You taught me how to fight two years ago. It's what I do best. And it's what I *want* to do."
Dorien asked, "What about your family? What do they...?" He trailed off as Kell touched his arm and shook her head. "What?"
Jhiana's eyes softened. "It's okay. He doesn't know." To Dorien, she added, "My family was all killed years ago during an attack by Seth's army. I was 5."
"I'm sorry," Dorien said quietly. "That must've been hard."
She shrugged. "I don't really remember them much, but thank you. I wasn't the only one left without a family. The surviving townspeople, they took care of us." Turning to Kell, she added fiercely, "But I've never felt as if they were my true family. Or that I belong here. I want to help rebuild Rillanda. But I don't want to do it here. I want to go to Brightstar. Please."
Kell stared at the young girl, seeing herself at that age, wanting so much to fight Seth and being unable to, being so angry at the world. At her parents. At herself at times. Even at Terel for dying.
Dorien cleared his throat. "Didn't Willim suggest starting a junior guards section? For those too young to be full guards but who wanted to get an early start?" Both women shifted to look at him and he continued, keeping most of his focus on Kell. "She could enroll in that and in the Bardic Academy, get some education there as well. In three years, she can decide if she really wants to join. What about that?"
The swordswoman's mouth turned down into a frown as she considered the proposal, then she nodded, her expression lightening. "That sounds...acceptable. Jhiana?"
Jhiana narrowed her eyes at Dorien. "The Bardic Academy? Is that like music and stuff?"
Dorien grinned and waggled one hand in the air. "Mostly, yes. But we also teach history, science, languages. You wouldn't have to learn any music if you didn't want to."
The girl chuckled. "Good. 'Cause I can't sing. You said 'we'. Do you teach there?"
Kell raised an eyebrow and looked at Dorien, whose eyes twinkled in mostly hidden amusement. "Uh, yes. I teach there. Or I will as soon as the Academy is repaired. Right now, we're still trying to find all the bards and former students, plus get new students." He held out his hand. "What do you say, Jhiana?"
Jhiana pursed her lips in thought, looking at Kell, then back at Dorien. Finally, she clasped her hand in Dorien's and shook it firmly. "You've got yourself a student." She paused and quickly added, "If Kell doesn't mind me traveling back with you." Her eyes filled with a sudden apprehension.
Resting her hand on Jhiana's shoulder, Kell replied with a smile, "I don't mind, Jhiana. Go. Get your things. Do you have a horse?" The girl nodded and Kell continued. "Good. Bring him. And say whatever goodbyes you need to. Meet us back here in two hours, okay?"
Eyes bright with happiness, Jhiana managed a jerky nod before whirling and dashing through the town gates, leaving small dust clouds in her wake.
Dorien and Kell watched her go, both with grins on their faces. Kell sighed and leaned against Tavi, absently stroking the stallion's neck. Dorien watched her smile fade as her eyes resettled on the city itself and the few people still hanging around the entrance, eyeing both of them warily. After scowling at them, he tapped Kell on the shoulder, getting her attention. She turned slightly to face him.
He gestured at the whisperers and gawkers. "You wanna tell me what's going on here? That guy Gared was ready to gut you and those folks don't look too much happier."
Kell shook her head and grimaced as she turned aside. "They're scared of me. Of what I can do. Or rather of what I did." She grasped Tavi's reins and started to lead the stallion away.
Dorien grasped her arm, holding her back. "What? Scared? What do you mean?" He released her to gesture into the air. "I have the feeling I'm missing something, but I just don't know what. What is it? Why would they be scared?" His voice rose. "You saved Rillanda for Light's sake!"
The swordswoman stared at him, then slowly the edges of her lips tipped upwards. "You have no idea where we are, do you, minstrel?"
"You told me we're in Lilyvale." He rubbed his eyes with his fingers.
She nodded. "Yes. Lilyvale."
Dorien spoke sharply into the expectant silence that followed. "And?"
With a somewhat disturbing smile on her face, Kell laughed. "Don't tell me the great Dorien has never heard of the Battle of Lilies." Clucking softly to Tavi, Kell strode away, leaving Dorien to his jumbled thoughts.
Dorien's mouth fell open and he stared wide-eyed and slack-jawed at Kell's departing back. The Battle of Lilies?! That was here?! The battle between the daughter of light and the son of darkness? The one where Kellessan... He scrubbed both hands over his face and ran them over his hair, holding it tight against his skull. Turning, he looked back at the walled and gated town, suddenly understanding their reluctance to welcome Kell into their midst. According to the stories he'd heard, the famed Battle of Lilies had nearly destroyed the town next to the field where the battle took place. Many had died, killed in the battle between Kellessen and one of Seth's black mages. Lilyvale. Battle of Lilies. I should've known...
Mentally kicking himself for his stupidity, Dorien stepped back and grabbed Pela's reins. "C'mon, girl, we need to find Kell before she wanders too far off. Or she runs into any other less than happy residents of Lilyvale."
"...but Rill's lost daughter stood tall,
glowing with blessed Light..."
Dorien found Kell at the edge of a half-burnt out plain to the south of the Lilyvale proper. Back to him, she stood silently, her long dark riding cloak snapping in the wind behind her. Tavi was tied to a tree some distance away, contentedly munching on any grass or leaves in his proximity. Hesitating only a moment, Dorien left Pela with Tavi and slowly picked his way across the rocky ground to join her. She didn't acknowledge his presence, even though he knew she knew he was there. Instead, she kept her eyes on the patchy field, which was dotted with ragged spots of grass and the occasional lily trying to grow in the tainted soil.
Kell suddenly spoke, her voice rising just above the mourning wind in a chant. "Evil stalked Rill's champion; destruction followed in her path."
The bard turned to her, staring at her profile. To hear her quote those words -- words that belonged to the Battle of Lilies song-tale -- was surprising to say the least. Almost involuntarily, the next line spilled from his mouth. "Death would not be forsaken; the darkness spewed forth its wrath."
The swordswoman shuddered and clenched her fists at her side. "I had almost forgotten the tale of what happened here. Almost." She blinked several times, but her voice remained clear and uncluttered. "That day...was a terrible day."
"I've only heard...pieces of the story, mostly from that song," Dorien spoke quietly, turning his gaze back onto the violated field. "You... Kellessan saved a child using her magery, not knowing that a black mage was nearby. He confronted her. There was a battle... And she... You won."
Kell laughed once hollowly. "Yes, I won. But the cost..." She pressed her lips together and squeezed her eyes together tightly.
Deciding to take a chance, knowing in his heart that Kell -- Linet -- the woman he cared for -- needed to tell someone what happened that day, Dorien laid a careful hand on her shoulder. "Tell me."
She opened her eyes and shifted to look at him, holding his eyes, searching them. Strands of hair loosened from her single long braid blew into her face and Dorien shifted his hand up to gently tuck those hairs behind her ear. For just a moment, her eyes softened and she let her face rest against his palm, then she pulled away, nodding. "Very well." She looked back at the field. "I had arrived here three weeks before and was training the townspeople how to defend their city and themselves. Lilyvale had already been attacked once by Seth's troops. I wanted to be sure if he attacked again, they would have some hope of protecting themselves. And I knew the time was coming when Rillanda would have to rise up against Seth. It was just a matter of when. I should've been gone by that day, but the Council had asked me to stay just a little longer..."
Two years earlier...
"...lightning flew from the darkened hands,
striking with awesome might..."
"That's it. Now pull back...gently...gently. Keep the line taut. Good, good." Kellessan walked behind the row of archers, observing their form and stance as they each held an arrow nocked in their bows. In the distance, beyond the field of white lilies, stood targets, several with arrows already sticking out of them. In the past three weeks, Kell had aided Lilyvale in setting up defenses and training many how to fight, using hands, swords, quarterstaffs, and bows. She and the others in her network were spread out across Rillanda, all doing the same thing -- preparing the country and its people for the time when they would take back their country for themselves.
In a few weeks, the leaders would meet, this time in Fariedel, and exchange updates and information. And plan. And hopefully be able to rest, if only for a day or so. It'll be good to see Jydan and Blaen again. It's been a few months. Wonder if Blaen's managed to get Sian to stop pinching him yet. Restraining a chuckle, she mentally shook her head. Sian, a well-endowed, sultry-voiced former 'lady of the evening', who now worked at The Black Rose with Caleen, liked to pick on Blaen. Blaen never knew quite how to react and usually just ended up blushing and quickly leaving the area. Jydan had told Kell in private once that Sian had no intention of seriously pursuing Blaen, but had thought him "too adorably cute" to ignore.
Shoving those memories away, Kell returned her attention to the task at hand and stepped up behind the youngest archer at age 13, Jhiana, near the middle of the row. The redhead had been a natural from the moment she touched the bow and Kell took delight in teaching her all she knew about archery. Her swordsmaster had been quite thorough and hadn't simply taught her just the sword, although the emphasis was there.
"What is it, Jhiana?"
"Do I have this right?"
Kell adjusted her hand a little. "There. Perfect." Jhiana gave her a bright smile, pleased at the compliment from her teacher. Returning the smile, Kell nodded approvingly, then straightened. "Okay, does everyone have their targets sighted? Good. Ready...pull back a little more...okay...release!"
All the arrows flew--
"...her sword raised high against him,
she dared not refuse to fight..."
--just as a little child appeared from behind one of the targets and scampered unknowingly into danger.
"No!" The cry rose, echoed by the row of horrified archers. Kell threw her hand into the air and snapped it hard outward, relying instinctively on her rarely-used mage skills. Stop! She felt the power surge outward from her hand, hunting for its prey. The arrow hurtling for the child shuddered, then smashed point-first into the ground just inches from the child's feet.
A collective gasp followed by an exhalation of relief passed through the group before one of the young men set down his bow and ran into the field to gather up the child. Kell lowered her hand and took a few steps back, feeling a bit drained from the sudden burst of magery. A moment later, she forgot the tiredness as something unseen seemed to poke at her. Eyes narrowed and alert, Kell scanned the field, seeing only those from Lilyvale. A low whinny sounded behind her and she turned to see Tavi dancing nervously in the shadow of the big tree in the center of the field. Kell walked quickly to the stallion's side and petted one hand down his neck.
"You feel it too, do you, boy?"
Tavi stomped a hoof on the ground, pawing at the dirt.
The quiet voice startled her and she shifted to see Jhiana, bow slung over her shoulder, watching her, a perplexed frown on her young features. "The kid, it was Errin, Gared's little girl. She's okay."
Kell nodded. "Good." She was staying with Gared, Leader of the Council, and had taken a liking to his children -- all four of them.
Jhiana stared at her, her frown deepening.
The swordswoman tensed, wondering if she'd lost the gifted archery student because of the display of mage skills. Magery wasn't something well-liked in Rillanda due to Seth's presence and his dark mages that continuously scoured the country, looking for enemies. That was another reason Kell chose not to use her abilities very often. What little she did use them was usually restricted to the passive shielding she used for her parents and herself to guard them against those same dark mages.
"...fire roared and wind howled in fury
as dark and light warred hard..."
Jhiana burst out, "Is something wrong?"
Kell opened her mouth to answer when it darkened suddenly. Glancing upwards, both saw the heavy gray clouds developing above them. Tavi whinnied again, louder, and pawed at the ground while shaking his head. Abruptly, Kell realized what she felt -- using her magery had garnered someone's attention. And from the uneasy feeling stirring in her gut, she knew it wasn't a good someone's attention. Nerves tingling with danger, she reached behind her and drew the heavy broadsword from its scabbard.
Jhiana's eyes widened. "What--?"
A flash of light lit up the dark sky, followed by a dull roar. Kell jammed her sword into the ground and said quickly, "Jhiana. You and the others, go back to town. Now." She untied Tavi from the tree, removed the reins to tuck them into a saddlebag, then slapped the stallion on the rump. "Go, Tavi. Listen for me."
Tavi tossed his head, then dashed away through the field into the cover of the trees.
Jhiana hesitated. "But..."
Kell yanked her sword from the ground and faced her. "Go Jhiana! This isn't a suggestion. It's an order!" Eyes glittering coldly, she stepped closer to her student and pointed with her sword to the path that led to the town. "Get out of here!"
The girl backed up a few steps, then whirled away, dashing towards the town. Already the others were leaving the area. In moments, she was left alone in the middle of the field.
"...lilies crackled with living flame,
their beauty burnt and scarred..."
Continuous rolls of thunder and lightning prompted Kell to leave the dubious safety of the tree's shadow. Sword gripped in one hand, she strode across the field, eyes alert and wary. The wind picked up slowly, whipping the grasses and flowers against her legs. Upon reaching a large, low-lying, flat rock in the midst of the lilies, Kell stood and raised her sword high, calling out loudly, "Enough!"
The wind stilled abruptly, though it remained dark. Loose leaves and flower petals floated through the air to land lightly the ground.
"You've had your fun." Kell turned slowly, looking around the wide field. "Come out and face me. Or are you afraid?"
A dark shape rose from over the ridge that led to the town. "Afraid? Of you? A woman without name?" The voice dripped in contempt as the figure came closer to Kell's position, revealing the person to be a man, draped in a dark cloak. "A woman without title? Without family?" Ordinary appearing on the outside, to Kell's mage-trained senses, he stunk of evil and darkness. "A woman who dares plot against her king?"
Kell tightened her grip on her sword. "Seth is no king. And he is certainly not my king. Rillanda's people will not remain docile forever. We will take back our country."
The man threw back his head, laughing long and hard. "Rillanda is weak. It always has been."
A grim smile crossed Kell's face. "Not anymore."
Without warning, the mage threw both hands up to the sky. Winds rose again, howling and tearing at the field and at Kell, although it left the dark mage alone in a circle of blue-tinged stillness.
"...once a symbol of nature's grace,
became a tool of blood and pain..."
He's...enclosed himself from the elements. Kell narrowed her eyes behind her raised free hand where she shielded her face. I think... Concentrating, she managed to bring something up around her. It wavered and wasn't complete, but it helped deflect the winds and dirt pelting her frame.
Okay, Hinarme, time to see if I can remember what you taught me. Using minor magicks such as lighting a torch or holding the passive shields around herself was one thing; this was something else entirely. Before she had time to draw a breath, the dark mage's scoffing laughter rung across the field.
"Is that the best the great Kellessan can do? I've heard great tales of your exploits. Your annoying little minstrel Rei has done a rather good job." He snorted in derision. "It appears none of it is true."
Shifting on her feet and altering her grip on her sword just a little, Kell refused to be baited, saying simply, "Can't say I know a minstrel named Rei."
The mage raised a hand, palm up. "And you never will." A ball of flame appeared in his hand, sparking and crackling with life. Kell's eyes widened and she moved her sword in front of her, gripping the pommel with both hands. Within moments, the fireball arced towards her, leaving a trail of flame behind it that quickly found tinder in the field, setting the flowers and grasses ablaze. The fireball exploded on the surface of the shielding around Kellessan. Another followed in rapid succession. And another.
Growling under her breath, Kell dropped the shielding as the fourth neared her, shifted her sword, and made contact with the fireball, concentrating on sending it back to its point of origin. It flew straight and true, striking against the mage's shielding, infusing the blue with streaks of red. She did the same with the next several fireballs.
"Is this all you've got? For a minion of Seth, I expected more." She jeered as she sent another ball of flame back to its owner. Packing just a bit more punch into the returned gift, a cold thrill of satisfaction grew within her as the mage's shield flickered. By then the field was dotted with tiny fires, garishly lighting up the false night. Smoke hung in the air and she gestured briefly, creating a breeze that cleared away the smoke from just around her.
The mage hissed and raised both hands again. "Not by far."
"...the valiant warrior did then falter
as the dark one called the rain..."
A bolt of lightning struck the ground several feet in front of her, throwing her backwards off the flat rock. Kell landed with an oof of surprise and a bit of shock. Her sword flew from her hands, skittering across the ground to rest among the smoldering ruins of the flowers. Another bolt struck the big tree in the center of the field, splitting it in half. Kell watched with an open mouth as the tree slowly toppled -- in opposite directions. She jumped upright when she heard a third bolt strike somewhere further away and heard the resulting distant screams of terror.
The mage had sent lightning to the city itself.
Anger blossoming, Kell scuttled over to her sword and scooped it up, ignoring the flash of pain from the heated pommel. Thunder roared overhead, competing with the high winds. She lifted the sword up as she again stepped up to stand on the flat rock. Waving away the smoke creeping up on her again, she spoke above the storm. "I call upon the Light to--" A hard cough overcame her as a billow of dark ash blew into her face.
Through the dissipating gray haze, Kell saw the mage lower both hands to his sides, then lift them again His voice whispered in her ears. "The Light cannot help you."
To her astonishment, Kell saw the remnants of the lily field rising into the air, their white petals stained with smoke and marred with scorch marks. For a moment, dozens of them hovered in place, encircling her.
Flowers? What can he do with flowers...?
The lilies slowly began to move towards her, gathering speed as they neared. Two flowers intersected with each other -- and shattered as their sharpened edges met.
Kell swore and hastily brought her wavering shield back up just as the first flowers reached her. They crashed against the outer edge, breaking like glass thrown against a hard floor. Two flowers made it through. She shifted to avoid one aimed at her face while the second one scored her deeply across the top of her left thigh. White-hot pain lanced up her body and she bit down on the yell that cried to get out. Falling awkwardly, she landed on the opposite hip as her sword clattered noisily onto the rock's surface, then fell off the rock and out of reach. She clamped a hand over the gash and breathed hard through her nose. Next to her lay the lily, the hard petals cracked away from the long stem.
"...smoke and ash clouded the skies
as heaven's tears flooded the land..."
Her mind distracted by the pain, Kell's shields vanished. She barely noticed the wind ceasing to tear at her clothes or the sudden fall of rain that drenched her and the put out the fires scattered throughout the vale.
Nor did she see the mage striding towards her, his shield gone as he moved.
Eyes squeezed shut, Kell gritted her teeth and pushed past the pain. C'mon, Kell. This is no time to check out. She tried not to feel the blood seeping from her leg and staining her clothes, her hand, and the rock beneath her.
"Well, well, look how the mighty Kellessan has fallen." The mage's gloating voice came from above her. "Rillanda's 'champion' isn't so indestructible after all."
Kell opened her eyes to glare at the man standing just out of arm's reach. Moving quickly, she grabbed the knife strapped to her lower leg and threw it. The mage laughed and waved a hand lazily in the air, knocking the weapon away.
"Is that the best you can do?" A smug smile accompanied the words.
Keeping her eyes on the mage, Kell pushed herself slowly upwards, releasing her hold on her leg to use both hands to steady her body in its half-sitting position. Her left hand came in contact with the hardened stem of the lily and she instinctively closed her fingers around it. The blood and rain made the stem slick within her grasp, but she refused to let it slip away as an inkling of a plan began to form in her mind. The pelting rain slowly stopped and the gray clouds began to disappear. A shaft of light broke through the haze and touched down on Kell.
She raised her face to the weak warmth and flashed a grin at the mage. "No, it's not. I call upon the Light to hear its daughter's plea." One. "I call upon the Light to protect its children." Two. One more. I call upon the Li--"
The mage resorted to sheer physical violence and swung out, striking Kell across the face with his fist. Knocked off-balance, she fell backwards onto the rock, reawakening the pain in her leg and smacking her head into the rock surface. Scowling, the mage stepped closer and raised his hand above her form. "The Light shall not save you today, woman." Dazed, Kell could only watch as he inhaled to speak again.
"No! Leave her alone!"
"...a child's voice, an anguished plea,
death struck, and death fell by Light's hand..."
Kell jerked as the voice rang across the field in the stillness left behind by the storm's passing. The mage shot upwards and turned to see what had interrupted his slaying of the troublemaker.
"Leave her alone!" The demand was repeated and Kell suddenly recognized the voice as belonging to one of the children from Lilyvale -- Taneli, Gared's oldest child at age 12 and his only son out of four children.
Why isn't he in town where it's safe? Well, safer. Shoving herself up again, she called out, "Taneli, get out of here!" The boy stopped where he stood next to the long-forgotten and now burnt practice targets. Two seconds later, Kell realized her mistake of calling the boy by name when the mage shifted and met her eyes. She read the intent in his eyes just mere moments before he turned back in the boy's direction.
A whisper spilled from her lips. "No." Grasping the stem more tightly, Kell rose to her knees and nearly fell again when the wound in her thigh cried out in agony.
The mage lifted one hand, holding it in a fist, palm facing the boy.
"No." Ignoring the pain, Kell shifted to put her right foot flat on the rock, then forced herself to her feet.
Taneli stood spellbound, eyes wide, not understanding the danger he was in.
Just as Kell took a step towards the mage and lifted the stem to aim at his unprotected back, the mage opened his hand. A flash of red light streamed from his fingertips and rushed on its way.
"No!" Kell's scream melded with the mage's as she thrust the stem into his back and piercing his heart. The mage's body jerked several times, then fell forward, landing in the mud and muck. Kell ignored him, seeing only the light engulfing the child in a wash of red glare. She had to look away at the brightness. When she looked back, the boy lay on the ground next to the target. Stumbling off the rock, she limped her away across the field and let herself fall next to Taneli. Leaning over his small body, she pressed her ear to his chest, but didn't feel or hear anything. He was gone. She touched his face and sobbed his name softly. "Taneli."
"...and alone, Rill's child wept..."
Seated on the ground, Kell hugged her knees to her chest. "I don't know how long I sat there before Gared and some of the others found me passed out from blood loss, draped over Taneli's body. Gared and his wife were...unconsolable. Neither knew why Taneli wasn't in the town, maybe he'd been playing or something. I don't know. But Gared blamed me. Said I'd brought the dark mage to them by using those 'unholy' magicks."
Next to her, Dorien protested. "But you saved his daughter's life!"
She shrugged. "He'd also just lost his son. To him, my life wasn't worth his son's life and that was exactly what had happened. Taneli's distraction bought me those few moments I needed. Gared's anger grew when he discovered that his younger brother, Tanner, had been killed during the strike the mage made on the town itself." She fell silent, eyes lost in remembered grief and sorrow, then she sighed and moved on. "One of the healers patched me up and I left. There wasn't any reason for me to stay any longer. The dark mage's body had somehow destroyed itself. Something Hinarme told me once makes me think that when I used his own weapon -- the lilies -- against him, he died almost by his own hand." She ran one hand down her left thigh. "However it happened, he left me with a scar to remember the day. As if I needed one."
Neither said anything for several minutes, then Dorien asked, "Where did you go? When you left."
"South. To Fariedel. I had friends there. And I needed to put distance between myself and this place, just in case Seth sent someone to investigate." An odd look passed over her features. "I couldn't risk visiting my parents. They would want to know. And I couldn't...can't tell them. Not about this."
Silence fell again and they simply watched the birds flit from tree to tree in the distance, both seeing things in the sparsely decorated field that defied words. Kell leaned towards him slightly, resting her head against his shoulder. For a moment, Dorien froze, then shifted to bring his arm around her back to lightly hold her to him.
Quietly, the bard spoke again, not wanting to disturb the fragile peace between them. "Those words you quoted earlier, they're from a song-tale written by Ryana. I never realized what the words truly meant. She and Jeran must've passed through here shortly after you left."
Another moment passed, then Kell twisted around to face him, searching his eyes silently. Dorien didn't say anything, just let her watch him while he watched her. "I--" A single tear streaked down her face.
He lifted a hand and cupped her cheek, wiping away the tear with his thumb. "I know."
Kell covered his hand with hers and shifted to press a kiss into his palm, then lowered his hand to smile at him. He returned the smile and squeezed her hand in his.
A half-hour later, Jhiana found them sitting shoulder to shoulder on the ridge, not talking, just enjoying the quiet of their surroundings.
- The End -
Prophecy Story Index