Prophecy Story Index

The Prophecy
Part Three
by Becky
January 1997

Part Three -- Linet
~~~~~~~
Unexpected Guest
~~~~~~~

A dark-cloaked and hooded figure walked in the front doors of the Crystal Palace great hall. A guard standing nearby stepped over to the figure. "May I help you?"

The figure pushed back the hood to reveal a man's face with soft grey-blue eyes and wavy blonde hair. "Yes, actually I was wondering if I might be permitted entrance. I am a traveler from another land and heard of a festival and thought perhaps I may attend."

The guard nodded after a moment, not seeing anything particularly dangerous about this individual. He stepped aside to let him pass. "Welcome in the names of King Randal and Queen Tayna. May your visit be joyous."

The man inclined his head in gratitude and walked inside, his cloak swirling quietly around his ankles. He looked around at the people, hoping to catch sight of any he might have met in the past, of a few in particular. He made his way toward the front of the hall, where the thrones were set. He could see who must be King Randal and Queen Tayna sitting on the thrones, though the Queen looked as if she was trying to get the King to join her in a waltz with the others below.

He continued walking to where many couples were dancing. He walked to the side and up on some side steps to lean against a pillar and observe unobtrusively, still scanning the crowd. The couple in the middle of the dance floor caught his eye. He saw a young man, the small embroidered hawk standard on his vest dancing with a young woman, dressed in dark blue, who he was smiling down at gaily. That must be Prince Stefan and his wife. The woman's hair was long and luxurious, nearly black, almost silky in its appearance.

As the couple turned, he caught sight of her face and his heart stilled within him for a few beats. He whispered, "Gwyna."

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

Andrel walked along the edge of the dancers, sipping at a drink, talking with people as he went. He noticed the dark-cloaked, blonde man on the edge of the dancers and followed his gaze where it rested on his daughter and Stefan. He frowned and walked toward the stranger, intending to discover who he was. As he came within hearing range, he heard the stranger whisper a name. "Gwyna."

He paused for a moment, then cleared his throat. "May I help you, sir?"

The man stiffened in surprise and turned toward him. "What...? No, I was just looking at the dancers. That must be Prince Stefan and his lovely wife that I've heard of so often."

Andrel stepped closer to him, not to be put off the subject. "I heard you say a name."

The man nodded, his eyes going back briefly to the dance floor, to the lovely young woman. "Yes, she reminds me of ... of someone I once knew a very long time ago."

Andrel looked at him a few moments. "You look familiar somehow, have we met before?"

The man shook his head, glancing back at him. "I don't think so. I am new to this area."

Andrel continued. "Well, I do travel a lot. I am a silversmith by trade and..."

The man looked up abruptly, studying him intently. "A silversmith? Andrel?"

Andrel nodded, not at all surprised at his name being well-known. "Yes."

The man began to smile, eyes lighting up. "Andrel, I never hoped to find you so easily. It's me, Dani, Gwyna's brother."

Andrel's eyes widened in surprised delight. "Dani, oh my goodness, it's been so many years. I didn't recognize you."

They hugged enthusiastically, then Dani pulled back, eyes scanning the crowds. "Is Gwyna around anywhere?"

Andrel's smile faltered a moment, feeling the old pain and loss hit him anew. "No, Dani, I'm sorry, she died over 20 years ago."

Dani looked away, tears filling his eyes. "Oh, Gwyna... How?"

Andrel answered softly. "She caught a childhood disease. No one knew she never had it before. She died in a matter of days, just slipped away during her sleep. It was ... very gentle."

Andrel let Dani have a few moments of silence to compose himself, then said quietly, "The woman you see dancing with Prince Stefan is our daughter, Raven, our only child, now 25 years old with two children of her own now. She does take very much after her mother, as you have noticed."

Dani nodded silently, remembering times from years ago, when he used to watch Gwyna dance like that with various suitors before she was almost married off to Seth and before she left with Andrel. Oh, Gwyna, my dear stubborn sister. He turned back to Andrel, the name of the girl finally registering with him. "Raven? She named her Raven?"

Andrel nodded. "Yes, she said something about it being a recognized name among those in Bornath. She wanted one last thing to remember from there. Why do you look so amused?"

Dani's smile softened. "Ah, Gwyna always was a clever one. Raven is not such a common name as she would have you believe. But she wanted to be sure that if I ever came upon your daughter, that I would know who she was. Raven respelled is Arven. It was a sign to me, a message."

Andrel blinked. "Yes, I see now. She ... never spoke of Arven after we left Bornath. I think his death hurt her too much. It was probably because of that reason I never made the connection."

Dani said after a time, his voice flattening out slightly. "The reason I came was not only to find my family again, but to warn you."

Andrel's frowned. "Warn us? What do you mean?"

Dani continued. "You probably are aware that Seth became King last month after our father died. Seth never got over Gwyna rejecting him. He did finally marry a few years after you left, but... He is still very bitter about Gwyna leaving and marrying you. I know that he has planned for a long time to get vengeance once he became King. I had always hoped that he would forget and forgive and go on with life, but that wouldn't be Seth. I have kept up on the news of Rillanda throughout the years. I only heard recently of the new Chief Councilor, one named Andrel."

Andrel nodded once. "Yes, that would be me. Randal appointed me a few years back."

Dani took a breath. "I took a chance that it was you and I came. I had to warn you. Seth will do anything to take the revenge he feels he deserves, even up to declaring war on Rillanda."

Andrel inhaled sharply. "Does he have the means to do so?"

Dani paused, then replied, "Yes, unfortunately, he does. I must speak to King Randal and Queen Tayna, during which time I will tell you everything I know."

~~~~~~~
News From Bornath
~~~~~~~

Hours later, after the annual Winter Dance had ended, most had left and basically only the family remained in the large dance hall. Raven and Stefan sat on the dais steps leading to the slightly raised thrones, both tired, but happy. The children had been put to bed hours before and all the crowds were gone, so they had a bit of time just for themselves. Randal and Tayna were standing nearby, leaning against a wall, smiling at the young couple. Tulan, the Royal Bard, sat in a chair in the musicians corner, stretching his hands and fingers out, relaxing them after playing so much. True, there were other bards playing as well, but none at his level of skill. No one else was in evidence. The guards, what few there were, stood quietly and unobtrusively at the outer edges of the large room.

Andrel strode across Randal and Tayna, bowing slightly at the waist. "Your Majesties."

The two looked at each other and sighed together. Tayna touched his shoulder. "Andrel, how often will we have to tell you not to do that in private?"

Andrel's mouth quirked up in a half-smile. "Probably forever, my lady. It's not a habit that's easily broken." He pauses, then continued, seeing his opening. "I began learning how to treat royalty early in life. This court was not the first I have visited, as you well know."

They nodded, knowing he was referring to the Bornathian court where he had met and fallen in love with his late wife, Gwyna. Randal commented. "True. But the Bornathian court is much more rigid in its court protocol than Rillanda is or shall ever be. They place a great deal in obeying traditions and rituals and in doing exactly what one is told to do."

By this time, their conversation had gathered Stefan and Raven's attention, as well as Tulan's, who had sauntered over to lean against on the pillars near the dais, his intense blue eyes missing nothing of Andrel's actions.

Andrel let his eyes roam over them all, memorizing their happiness he could see in their faces. He was about to disrupt this idyllic scene, and he wasn't the least bit happy about doing that. He sighed and turned back to meet the slightly puzzled look of Randal. "Obedience is an important thing in the Bornathian court, my liege. It is rewarded. Disobedience can lead to disaster and heartache for not just the one, but for many."

Before anyone could say anything in response, a hooded and cloaked figure appeared from behind a pillar at the far edge of the room. Stefan leaped to his feet to stand protectively in front of Raven. He inhaled to call the guards in closer, but Andrel stopped him. "No, it's okay, Stefan. He's a friend."

Stefan released his breath slowly, warily, reaching behind him to raise Raven to her feet. She stood next to him, gripping his hand, her eyes going curiously from her father to the figure.

The cloaked figure came to a stop before Andrel, Randal, and Tayna. Two hands went up to pull down the hood, revealing to those assembled grey-blue eyes and wavy blonde hair. He smiled politely, then said in a cultured, slightly accented voice. "My name is Danilon. I am from Norseth's court in Bornath. I bring you greetings." He crossed his hands on his chest, placing them flat against himself and bowed low once to Randal and Tayna. That he did not say "greetings in the name of my king" did not slip by them unnoticed.

When he had raised himself back up, Andrel said quietly, "Your Majesties, this is Dani, Gwyna's brother."

Raven gasped and released Stefan's hand to walk quickly to her father. Andrel turned as she touched his shoulder. Her wide eyes were intent on Dani, looking for anything that might be familiar. Dani turned his head to meet her grey eyes with his own and smiled softly. "Raven."

She looked up at Andrel. "He is really ... Mother's brother?"

Andrel nodded, "Yes, Raven, he is, he really is."

She looked back at Dani, then took a small step forward. "I'm glad to meet you, Danilon. Father has told me about you, and I have read a little about you in Mother's journal."

Dani glanced at Andrel. "Read?"

Andrel replied to the unspoken question sadly. "Just as she never spoke of Arven, she never spoke of Bornath or the people she knew there to anyone, even myself. Her journal kept her secrets for her."

Dani nodded once in unspoken understanding, then turned his attention back at Raven. "I wish I could have known you earlier, Raven. I wish things could have been different. Your mother and I, well, we were good friends. I missed her companionship over the years."

Stefan joined them, Tulan trailing him in curiosity. Raven grabbed his hand, pulling him forward. "This is my husband, Stefan. Stefan, this is Danilon."

Dani gave the same bow to Stefan. "Your Highness." He straightened and quirked a smile to them both. "And, please, call me Dani. Even Uncle Dani, if you feel comfortable with it."

Then he noticed the other man, Tulan, and stiffened defensively. "Who...?"

Andrel followed Dani's eyes, and replied, "This is Royal Bard Tulan. He is a trusted friend. Nothing we say here will be repeated, believe me."

Randal turned his attention from Dani to Andrel, a somewhat impatient frown on his face. "What is that supposed to mean, Andrel? Why all this secrecy?"

Andrel shifted his eyes to Randal, straightening slightly. "My liege, you know that when Gwyna and I left Bornath, she was supposed to marry Norseth. And that Gwyna did not want to marry him. We had already began to fall in love, true, but even without that, I doubt she would have married him at that point. Perhaps before that, but ... Seth was very ... upset at what he saw as a betrayal. That much is true. However, we didn't realize the extent of Seth's jealousy until he followed us that night as we were leaving through the forest. The one thing Gwyna's journal doesn't reveal is how her twin brother Arven died. I don't think she ever came to terms with it. And out of honor to her wishes of secrecy, I never told you."

He stopped, remembering the terror of the night as vividly as if he were there today. Seth's hatred, his sword, Arven's sacrifice, Gwyna's scream, her unending sobbing, and their ride into the night forest on Teva. Dani met his eyes; he also remembered. Raven touched his arm. "Father, what happened?"

Andrel looked down at her and laid his on hers. "Seth killed Arven as Seth was coming at me with his sword."

After several moments to let that news make an impact, he went on. "Gwyna ... never truly recovered from that. But she apparently wanted to always remember Arven, even if she never spoke or wrote of him again. She named you Raven which, as Dani has just pointed out to me, is a respelling of Arven."

Dani turned to Randal and Tayna and stood stiffly at attention. "Your Majesties, the reason I come tonight is this. You know Seth became King just last month. He has been sending out spies over the last few years, trying to find Andrel and Gwyna, hoping to take back Gwyna for himself. When he discovers Andrel is here, he will assume Gwyna is as well. He will stop at nothing to get her back for himself. When he finds out that she has been dead for years, he will most likely go for vengeance. And Seth never does things in small ways. He will come after your kingdom, your people, anyone who could be remotely connected with Andrel and Gwyna."

Andrel said to Randal and Tayna, "If I thought it would help, I would turn myself over to Seth, but I somehow doubt he would be happy with only me."

Randal shook his head once, waving his hand in negation. "As if I would let you do such a thing, Andrel. But you are right. I am familiar with Norseth and the way he operates. He does tend to do things in large ways, the larger the better. In the last several years, he has been doing the kingdom's business instead of Sonall, who has been ill for quite some time."

Dani spoke up quietly, slowly. "Actually, Sonall would have lived for many years more but for Seth's intervention."

Tayna frowned at him, hearing something in his voice. "What do you mean?"

Dani continued. "Seth got tired of waiting for Sonall to die. The bitterness of Sonall's life was keeping him alive much too long for Seth's tastes. He has his own loyal servants in the palace; a few were willing to go to any lengths to please him, to get the rewards he bestowed for obedience. From what my own sources told me before I left, Seth slowly poisoned Sonall, so slowly that no one knew. And so he died."

No one said anything for a long time, then Tayna asked softly, "How do you know so much about Norseth and Sonall?"

Dani looked at Andrel, one eyebrow raised. "They don't know?"

Andrel shook his head. "Um, no, they don't. They haven't read Gwyna's journal. Only Tulan, myself, and Raven have. And I never really thought to say anything about it."

Dani smiled mirthlessly and looked back at the King and Queen. "Seth is also my half-brother."

Those in the Hall that did not know this small piece of information blinked a few times, trying to absorb this fact and fit it in with the rest of the pieces. Stefan was the first to speak. "Let me get this straight. You and Norseth are half-brothers. Gwyna and Arven were twins. But they were also your half-siblings, but stepsiblings to Norseth."

Dani nodded. "Correct. Sonall was married first to Noranne, mother of Norseth. A few years after she died, he then married my mother, Dariella, who already had Gwyna and Arven by her late husband. I came along a few years after that. I know it is all rather confusing. It is even to those in Bornath, especially since Mother was a peasant. From what I understand, my father's councilors were not happy with his decision to marry her."

Randal pursed his lips. "I can imagine. Nobility and commoners marrying is considered taboo." He glanced at Stefan who had one arm around Raven's waist, "Fortunately we are not bound by such strict conventions in Rillanda."

Dani continued. "Well, in the months following Gwyna's ... defection, for lack of a better word and Arven's death, which had been blamed on Andrel, the Bornathian nobility decided that even royal upbringing could not cure the taint of 'peasant' blood. And being half 'peasant' myself, the Council, with Sonall and Seth both in attendance, voted to strike Sonall's earlier marriage to Dariella from the books, thereby making me an illegitimate child and not eligible to be Heir to throne after Seth as I presently was. I was given a seat on the Lower Council as consolation. From there I was able to do some good, but it was limited. I was an ... embarrassment to the nobility and an annoyance to Seth, but too good of a friend to the rest of the country for them to conveniently get rid of me somehow. But after Seth became King, I knew it was time to leave."

Randal finished up Dani's thoughts. "And so you came here, hoping to find Andrel and Gwyna, and warn them of Seth's plans to take vengeance, even if that includes declaring war on all Rillanda."

Dani took a breath, sighed, then began again. "Well, yes, but there is more, I'm afraid. Alone, Seth would not be able to win in a war with Rillanda. However..."

His voice trailed off as Randal again took up the tale. "However, Bornath and Pakara have signed a pact of nonaggression and mutual assistance. I heard. I also heard that he married the King's youngest child, his only daughter Opella, to seal the pact. I had thought Norseth was already married."

Dani nodded. "He was, but he has no heirs."

Andrel finally asked the question he had wanted to ask earlier. "Who did he marry?"

Dani replied, "Did you ever meet Zarena"

Andrel shook his head. "The name doesn't sound familiar to me. Who is she?"

Dani explained. "Zarena was the oldest child of Lord and Lady Ashton, two of the highest ranking advisors in the Bornathian court. She was always a bit ... different from the rest of us, though none of us could really decide why or how. I think Arven may have been the only one who discovered that Zarena was dabbling in the Forbidden Arts, the black arts as you might know them. He recorded a few incidents in his notes that indicate she was practicing even then.

"Anyway, several years after you left, Seth and Zarena got married. I don't know that many of us were at ease with it, but at least he married. However, no children were ever born -- I think the dabbling Zarena did precluded children. But she taught him much of what he knows now of the black arts. She died just last year, caught in the backlash of some spell she was working on.

"So, when negotiations came up between Bornath and Pakara, and Seth saw the marriage-available daughter, he suggested that a marriage between he and Opella be used to unify the two nations. Pakara agreed. And so now he, at age 51, has taken Opella, age 19, for a second wife. He doesn't love her, and she is terrified of him, but she will do her duty as she has been raised to do and have his children, his heirs. She is a sweet child, and I can only hope that Seth doesn't break her."

~~~~~~~
Family Portraits
~~~~~~~

Early morning sunlight stretched its golden fingers through a window pane to touch the sleeping figure of a child lying the midst of a jumble of blankets. In a few moments, bright blue eyes popped open and a little girl with long wavy blonde hair sat up quickly and pulled herself over to window. Looking out onto a freshly snow-covered garden, she smothered a shriek of joy as she jumped out of bed. Impatiently yanking off her heavy nightgown, she scrambled to find some appropriate clothing. After a bit of searching, she dressed in an old white pullover long sleeve shirt and a knee-length dark green skirt, plus a pair of well-worn short leather boots and black tights. Then she grabbed up a brush and pulled it threw her hair a few times before clumsily tying it back in a faded green ribbon.

Snagging her heavy, dark green woolen cloak, she rushed out the door of her bedroom and tapped lightly on the door of the bedroom next to hers before opening it and slipping inside. A tousled brown-headed boy peered at her from his bed at the side wall.

He yawned and sat up. "Morning, Linet."

She strode over to his bed and bounced it with her hands. "Get up, Terel. There's snow outside! New snow!"

Terel smiled slightly. "There's been new snow every morning for the past several weeks, Lin. Will you never get tired of it?"

She shook her head, sending loose tendrils flying around her face. "No, never. Are you coming?"

He sighed good naturedly, then nodded. "In a few minutes, okay?"

She nodded once in reply, then hurried away and disappeared out the door, leaving Terel to dress for the day.

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

Linet continued down the hallway and went down the stairs to the kitchen, where the back door led to the courtyard garden area, her favorite spot in all of the castle. As she entered the kitchen, an older woman with short faded red curly hair, an apron tied around her waist, turned to look at her from her stance at a low counter.

The woman smiled as the girl barreled through the door. "Good morning, Miss Linet. You're definitely up early today."

Pausing a moment, Linet grinned back up at her, eyes sparkling. "Good morning to you, Jaynell. I knew nearly everybody would still be asleep after last night. I wanted to see the snow before it got ruined, and we can play in it before breakfast."

Jaynell chuckled. "Well, it's out there waiting for you, child, just like every morning. I think it must snow just for you."

Linet giggled. "Is Kasi up yet?"

Jaynell shook her head, thinking of her 11-year-old redheaded daughter, 8-year-old Linet's best friend next to her twin brother, Terel. "No, but you know Kasi. Likes to sleep late. Try tapping on her window. Maybe you can get her to come out and play, or at least, out of bed."

Linet's grin widened. "Okay. I'll see you later, Jaynell."

With a jaunty wave, she dashed out the back door, letting it swing shut quietly behind her. Jaynell laughed softly, shaking her head, then went back to preparing breakfast.

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

From his hidden spot in the shadows of a tall marble statue, Dani watched the young girl twirl around along the snow-covered walk, catching some of the last falling flakes on her tongue. He smiled to himself. Was I ever that young? When was the last time I've even seen a happy child, much less one catching snowflakes? From the look of that cloak, I would have to guess that she is Linet, Stefan and Raven's daughter. I wonder where the son Terel is. From what I understood last night, they can be pretty inseparable at times.

He watched as Linet skipped over to a low window and tapped on it. Several moments later, he could see the drapes move back and the small pane open slightly. He could only hear Linet's voice vaguely, asking for someone named Kasi to come and play with her. Whoever Kasi was must not want to come out in this cold weather as after trying to persuade and argue this person out, Linet finally shrugged, sighing, and skipped back out to the main garden area, heading toward him.

He stilled as she went by him, hoping to remain unnoticed, not wanting to frighten her. However, she didn't get past him three feet when she came to a sudden halt and whipped around to stare at him, somehow sensing his presence.

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

Linet stared at the stranger, half-hidden in the shadows. Her thudding heart threatened to come out of her chest. She tugged her cloak closer around herself as she felt the cold air seeping into her. Maybe he/she (?) is a guest from last night that couldn't get home? Or maybe an ... intruder?

Before she could open her mouth to scream for the guards she knew were posted just some distance away, the figure stepped forward into the light, revealing to her a man with blonde hair, grey-blue eyes, and a friendly smile.

He inclined his head and did a funny gesture with his hands that she recognized to be a welcoming gesture. "I'm sorry to have frightened you, Lady Linet. I was not expecting anyone to be out here this early."

She hesitated, still not sure if he was okay. "Who are you? How do you know my name?"

He continued. "My name is Dani. I am an old friend of your Grandfather Andrel. Actually, I am your Grandmother Gwyna's brother. I came last night, after you and your brother were already in bed, or so I was told by your parents."

Linet's eyes widened, as she whispered in awe, all fear forgotten. "You are Grandma Gwyna's brother? Mama talks about her sometimes and so does Grampa Andrel. I never knew her. She died a long time ago."

Dani nodded, smiling sadly. "Yes, she did. I'm sorry she never got to know you, Linet. I think the two of you would have gotten along wonderfully."

Linet was silent for a moment, then said, "Papa painted a picture of her and Grampa Andrel. It's in the An-ces-tor Hall."

Dani frowned. "A picture? But I didn't think your father ever met her."

Linet continued. "He didn't, but Grampa Andrel told him how to do it. Would you like to see it?"

Dani looked away for a moment, over the snow-dusted trees and statues, then smiled back down at the eager Linet. "Yes, Linet, I would like to see it. Will you show me?"

She nodded happily, smiling up at him, then asked as she tilted her head to one side. "If you're Grandma Gwyna's brother, does that make you my uncle?"

He replied, "Yes, I guess it does."

She grinned. "Good," and clasped his hand firmly in hers to lead to way to the Ancestor Hall.

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

Just as they were entering the side door that led to the dance hall and there to the Ancestor Hall, a voice rang out from across the way. "Linet! Wait!"

They stopped and Linet turned to see Terel jogging over to her, dressed warmly in long black pants and a long-sleeve deep blue shirt, plus boots and his dark green cloak. He came to a halt in front of her and stared suspiciously at Dani.

Linet said excitedly before Terel could get a word out. "Terel, this is Dani, Grandma Gwyna's brother, our uncle. I'm going to show him the painting Papa did of her and Grandpa Andrel."

Terel straightened stiffly to attention and inclined his head sharply. "Sir, good to meet you. My name is Terel, as you no doubt now know. I was unaware that Gwyna had a brother."

Dani smiled at the properness and curiosity in Terel's tone. He did his greeting gesture, then said, "I understand that most everyone is unaware that Gwyna had a brother. I wish things could have been different."

Terel's eyes narrowed slightly, picking up on the subtleties in those words, but didn't say anything. Dani noticed that Terel had noticed and realized that while Linet might be a typical, carefree 8-year-old, Terel was most definitely not. Well, Andrel did warn me that Terel might surprise me with his intuition and precociousness. Next time, I'll pay more attention to Andrel's hints. Meanwhile, I'll just have to be careful.

Linet grabbed Terel's hand. "Come on, Terel. I want to show him the painting. You two can talk later."

After exchanging a look, Dani and Terel let Linet pull them inside, past the two tall blonde male guards, Willim and Jamas, who had let Dani in the garden earlier.

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

Moments later, they stood at the entrance of the Ancestor Hall. Dani's eyes moved quickly around the hall, taking in the gorgeous pictures and portraits of past royalty. He recognized Seyna and Helv in their portrait as there was an old portrait or two of them in some of the very old books in the Bornathian Royal Library.

Terel said after a long silence, in which even Linet was still. "Normally, only the portraits of the Rillandan Kings and Queens end up in here. And traditionally, they are in a portrait together at some crucial beginning stage of their relationship or reign. But Grandmother Tayna persuaded Grandfather Randal to have one of Andrel and Gwyna painted and installed. My father wanted to do it. It is to be officially unveiled next week. But you can see it now if you'd like. It's a bit farther down the Hall, though."

They strolled down the long hallway in silence. They stopped before the portrait of Randal and Tayna from years ago on the shores of Shionan. And they looked at the portrait of Stefan and Raven, in the setting of the courtyard garden outside, at the small manmade waterfall. Raven sat on a bench, a small leaf in her hands. Stefan was down on one knee before her, holding her hands in his, looking up into her eyes intently. The moonlight streamed over them both, illuminating their faces in the darkness. His eyes were drawn to Raven. So much like Gwyna. And the dress . . .

Dani stepped closer to look at the dress, inhaling sharply. It's Gwyna's dress. Our mother's dress. I didn't know she had taken it. He closed his eyes a moment, remembering the last time he had seen the dress, at a dance, just before Andrel had come into their lives. She had been dancing with Arven, laughing softly as she tried to pair him up with the various husband-hunting young ladies standing about the ballroom. Things had begun to get tense by then, but they hadn't known just how much worse they were going to get. And what price they would pay for their actions. Oh, Arven, forgive us, we didn't know. We didn't know.

He looked away from the painting to the space between them, where, on the ground, stood an easel with a painting covered by a heavy black cloth.

Terel fingered the cloth. "This is the painting of Andrel and Gwyna."

Dani nodded once, then reached out to touch the cloth. Pausing only momentarily, he threw back the cloth to look at the painting. He caught his breath as he recognized what was portrayed. Stefan had worked miracles with Andrel's memories. The scene looked exactly as he remembered it from so long ago. Andrel seated on the edge of the fountain, Gwyna sitting next to him, legs pulled up, her arms wrapped around her knees, her chin resting on her knees, her large dark eyes never leaving Andrel's face, her face glowing. Andrel was gesturing as he told one of his many stories, his eyes on Gwyna.

Terel watched Dani and decided that he would probably much rather be left alone right now. He heard the bell for breakfast ringing in the distance. He touched at his sister's arm. "C'mon, Lin, let's go eat."

She threw him a look, then tugged on Dani's hand, which she still held. "Are you coming, Uncle Dani?"

With difficulty, Dani pulled his eyes away from the painting and looked down at Linet. "Coming? Oh, to breakfast. You two go ahead. I'll join you in a few minutes. Okay?"

Linet paused for a moment, then nodded her acceptance. "Okay. But hurry. You don't want to miss any of Jaynell's wonderful breakfast."

She skipped off toward the dining room. Terel waited a moment, meeting Dani's eyes silently. He inclined his head. "Until breakfast, Uncle." Then he followed his sister, at a slightly more sedate pace.

Dani watched them until they disappeared around the corner, then let his eyes drift back to the painting. He reached out to touch it, to touch the figure of his sister, but stopped his fingers before they actually did, not sure if the paint was totally dry. He whispered, "Oh, Gwyna." For the past twenty-odd years, he had looked forward to meeting up with Gwyna again, thinking her safe and alive and happy with Andrel, perhaps with a child or two. And now to come all this way only to discover that she had died so long ago, when her daughter was the same age as Terel and Linet.

Shaking off his melancholy, he continued to look at the painting and remembered how happy Gwyna was with Andrel, how happy she must have been even though Arven had paid her price for freedom. Stefan is one very extremely talented young man. To get someone he never met so perfectly correct!

He glanced at the other two paintings, seeing the same signature mark on them as this one. As he let his eyes gaze over the rest of the painting, he frowned suddenly. There was an unnaturally dark spot in the background right corner of the painting, where there should have been a lighted candlescone in the alcove leading to the castle proper. He cast his memory back, and his eyes widened as he realized that was where Seth had been standing.

A quiet voice intruded into his thoughts. "Beautiful, isn't it?"

Dani jumped slightly and turned to see Andrel and Stefan standing behind him. Andrel had been the one who had spoken.

Still offset by the dark spot, Dani stuttered. "Y-yes, it is. Stefan, you have done a wonderful job here. Very beautiful. Your talent at putting Andrel's memories down in oils, with never having met Gwyna is marvelous."

Stefan inclined his head to Dani with gratitude at the praise. "Thank you, sir. I did have a bit of help though. I used Raven as a base model, changing what features I needed to get Gwyna right."

Dani's eyes went back to the painting. "You have her perfect. The scene is as I remember." Then he colored, realizing he'd let slip that he was there.

Andrel stepped up to him, putting his hand on Dani's shoulder. "I always wondered how you knew so much about us. How long were you there?"

Dani replied slowly, meeting Andrel's eyes. "Long enough to see that you loved each other." He hesitated, then rushed on, "I wasn't following you two, exactly; I was following ... another who was following you."

Andrel was quiet a moment, then said, eyes still fixed on Gwyna's youthful face. "It was Seth, wasn't it?"

Dani nodded reluctantly. "Yes." He turned to Stefan. "Stefan, what is this dark spot here?"

Stefan frowned unhappily. "I don't know. Andrel told me there was an alcove there, with a lighted candlescone. He said that was the only light that was lit that evening that could be seen from the courtyard. I painted it in, but the next day I looked at it and discovered it had blacked itself out. I painted it in again, only to have the same thing happen again. I tried it a third time. Same results. So I gave up and decided it would just have to be dark."

Dani was quiet, still staring at the painting. Then he whispered, "I ask because that is where I found Seth when I caught up to him, standing there watching Andrel and Gwyna. Right there. Under the eaves, blocking the light from the candlescone."

Stefan stepped closer and eyed the painting intently, then he reached out to lightly trace the dark area, just above the paint. "I've never noticed before, but this could be the outline of a tall man, wearing a large dark hooded cloak."

Andrel and Dani looked at each other, at Stefan, and then at the painting. Andrel whispered, "You're right, it could be. What does it mean?"

Dani looked at the seated figure of Gwyna, her eyes all aglow with love, then at the dark, menacing shadow that stood between them and the candlescone. "It means that the greater danger, and perhaps sadness, has not yet passed, that there will be war."

~~~~~~~
Discussions
~~~~~~~

Around midmorning, Andrel and Dani wandered through the halls of the palace, talking softly. Andrel told Dani about Gwyna and the happiness she had seemed to find again after losing so much. He talked of birthdays and anniversaries and parties, of her wild horseback rides on Teva and the breeding program she began, of the friends she had in Rosewood and the love she held for her family and those in the village. Dani told Andrel of Seth and the continually growing animosity he held for the peasants of Bornath and of Dani himself in particular, of the strange marriage between Seth and Zarena, of their lack of children, of Seth's impatience to be king and the very likely possibility of war between Bornath and Rillanda, of the nonaggression pact between Bornath and Pakara, and the marriage of Seth and Opella to seal that agreement.

Dani finished his tale in a quiet voice. "...After Seth married Opella and Father died, I knew it was time to leave. Only the fact that Father was alive had protected me from Seth before. He could now get rid of me in any way he chose. I also knew that Seth now had nothing stopping him from declaring war on Rillanda. He has been working toward that goal for many years. So, without letting anyone know, I gathered a few things together, took my horse Miran, and left in the night. I'm sure Seth wasn't sorry to see me go, but he'll probably be upset that I left, knowing I will come here."

Andrel asked, "Did you never marry, Dani?"

Dani looked out a window onto the cobblestone, tree-lined street running in front of the palace. "I considered my position with the Father and Seth too precarious to marry. I never knew from day to day whether I would be in favor or sentenced to death. Fortunately the latter never happened, but much of the time, I was not in favor. Having anyone close to me would have put them in danger." A look of pain crossed his face and he went on after a few moments, his voice quiet and choked up. "There was ... someone, once, someone that could have been ... but it just wasn't meant to be. Seth saw to that."

The raw sorrow and unhealed hurt in Dani's voice prevented Andrel from saying anything. He just laid a hand on Dani's shoulder briefly, just to let him know that he was there for him.

Dani turned to him, and continued in a stronger voice. "I brought Arven's journal with me. He wanted me to protect it, and I did. Somehow I knew it had to come here as well. I've read it and what little I understand seems to indicate that terrible things are about to happen, both to Bornath and Rillanda. I thought maybe your court might have a scholar or two who would be interested in studying it."

Andrel frowned. "I know he mentioned a journal before he died, and I know he was working on something. But I never knew what it was about."

Dani smiled in remembrance. "Arven lived for studying old dusty books that no one else cared about or even knew existed anymore. He found something simply called 'The Prophecy' one day in his studying. He worked on it alone from that time until he died, which was only about a year or so. We always teased him about having printer's ink on his fingertips. I think his fingers were permanently stained. The journal has a copy of 'The Prophecy' included in it and his notes from his studies of it, plus things he saw happen that he wanted to note in his journal."

Andrel nodded. "Well, as far as scholars and old prophecies go, I wouldn't be the one to ask. However, I know who would be -- Tulan, the Royal Bard. The post includes music and history. He is currently working on the history of Raven's family, including myself and Gwyna. Not having too much knowledge about Gwyna's background and history, I really couldn't help him. Actually he requested that I ask you if you would speak with him about Gwyna and your family. The man has an unending curiosity. Raven and I gave him Gwyna's journal to read years ago. He was thrilled, if you can imagine such a serious man being so. He would most definitely love to see Arven's journal, and he would know if there are any scholars interested in the prophecy part."

Dani nodded. "Good. Where is he now?"

Andrel was quiet a moment, thinking, then replied, "The Bardic Academy, I believe, tutoring Terel, one of his two personal students. He should be taking a break soon. The other student he teaches in the evening, a boy a few years older than Terel named Dorien."

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

Terel's hand paused on his lute as he heard soft voices coming down the hallway toward the practice room outside of Bard Tulan's personal office. Shortly, he identified the voices as Dani and Andrel. As they entered the doorless room, he stood to welcome them, smiling. "Greetings, kinsmen."

Dani eyed him a moment, then shook his head, saying to Andrel, "I will never get used to that boy being so ... official."

Andrel chuckled lowly as Terel colored slightly. "Don't worry, you will, in time." Facing Terel, Andrel asked, "Is Tulan around, do you know?"

Terel nodded. "Yes, in his office, writing, as usual."

Andrel nodded. "Thank you, Terel. Continue your practicing. I know that your grandmother is looking forward to hearing you when you finish the piece. It is one of her favorites."

As Terel picked up his lute, Dani and Andrel walked to the back of the room, where a short archway led to a door. Andrel knocked on it politely and opened it when Tulan's voice came back across it, inviting them in.

Dani followed Andrel inside, adjusting the strap of the bag that he carried. The office was moderately large, well-furnished, and very neat. Shelves and cabinets covered most of the walls; books and papers filling every available space. A large slanted table was in one corner, with what he believed to be a half-finished composition on it. Varied musical instruments hung on the walls or laid carefully on the top of a low cabinet. A dark wooden flat desk occupied the center of the room, stacked with papers, books, and writing instruments. Three or four chairs are scattered around the room; another was behind the desk, which Tulan had risen from when seeing who his guests were.

He was speaking, "Andrel, Dani, to what do I owe this honor?" He gestured them toward the two chairs in front of his desk. He remained standing until they have seated themselves and then resettled himself as well, pushing aside his current work to focus his attention on them.

Andrel began. "Dani and I have been talking about Gwyna and Seth and Bornath. I told him about the history you are doing of Raven and thought perhaps you may wish to speak with him about it as well."

Tulan moved his eyes to Dani, silently assessing him, then nodded. "I would be very interested in anything that you feel you can tell me."

Dani leaned forward in his chair. "What would you like to know?"

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

A few minutes after Andrel and Dani began talking with Tulan, Terel's practicing time came to an end. He walked over to the instrument shelf to put away the lute. The shelf was situated next to the short archway which led to Tulan's office. Without meaning to, Terel overheard the three men talking.

Dani: "...and once Arven discovered the major Bornathian prophecy, referred to only as 'The Prophecy,' he worked on it nonstop. From what little he told me, he believed that it was going to begin fulfilling itself very soon. He said he could actually see the seeds of it already, that it was only a matter of time. Arven was always pretty serious, but he was very concerned about this, very worried. When things started getting worse at the capital, well, we didn't really talk about it anymore. I don't know that he ever talked with Seth about anything at all, so he's most likely unaware of any of it. And Gwyna, she had her own joys and things to do. Though they were very close, I don't think Arven ever shared much of what he studied with her. She would not have had the patience to understand it."

Andrel: "You're right about that, Dani. I can't see Gwyna ever having the patience to study some dusty old book hundreds of years old. She always seemed to much more alive outdoors, on Teva's back, riding the wind."

Dani: (chuckling) "Teva. I haven't thought about him in years. I swear that horse liked her better than me. Probably knew he would end up with her sooner or later."

Andrel: "I'll have to introduce you to some of Teva's descendants. Gwyna put together quite a breeding program."

Tulan: (pages turning) "Hmm. This is very, very interesting. I seem to recall reading something somewhere about this Bornathian prophecy of yours. It sounds familiar. How does it go again?"

Dani: "Three shall there be that bring to Fate and Destiny to Bornath: A king's treasure stolen, a hidden jewel found, a royal sword bespelled; I have seen and I have spoken. Be ye warned and prepared, for truth it shall be."

Tulan: "Yes, yes, very familiar. Where did I read it? Oh, yes, Seyna's writings. She mentions it a few times. I may have to go back and find my copy and look for the references again."

Terel backed away slowly from the archway and made his way outside where he paused a moment, debating his next action. A prophecy. Something in it called to him. He turned toward the direction of the great Library. Tulan mentioned Seyna's writings. That would have to be her book "Sayings of Seyna." We have several copies of it. No one will notice if I borrow just one to read up on.

With that, he made his way to the Library and wound his way through the tall shelves to a small ornate glass-doored bookcase at one side, beneath a huge portrait of Seyna in her later years. He looked up at the portrait for several moments, then back down at the case. It wasn't locked; it never was. He opened it and pulled out one copy of the thin, dark green, leather-bound volume. On the front it was simply labeled Sayings of Seyna in embossed gold lettering. He reclosed the case, then looked back up at the portrait again. He whispered, "I'll return it when I'm done, don't worry." He headed out of the Library to return to his room.

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

Back at Tulan's office, the three men all stood up, discussion done for the time being. Tulan was saying, "Dani, thank you for letting me see Arven's journal. I'll make a copy of it and then put the original away in a safe place, where it won't be harmed. I wouldn't want to make any unnecessary notes in it as I am prone to do."

Dani inclined his head. "You are very much welcome. And thank you for keeping it for me. I was afraid it might get misplaced in the room I'm in. It's so large. Actually, it's a suite of rooms, more than I ever had in Bornath."

Andrel placed his hand on Dani's shoulder. "You are family, Dani. You deserve the best. And, I shouldn't be telling you this, but I think Randal intends to appoint you as an advisor on Bornathian affairs. And if what you believe to be happening is correct, then he will need every piece of advice he can get."

Again, Dani inclined his head. "I am glad to serve."

Tulan walked with Andrel and Dani to the outer practice room. Dani glanced around at the empty room. "It would seem that Terel finished his lesson. I didn't even hear his playing stop."

Tulan nodded. "Yes, he finished some time ago. You can only ask an 8-year-old boy with unlimited curiosity and energy to practice an instrument for so long, even if it is a song for his grandmother's birthday."

Andrel looked up as someone appeared in the doorway. It was a boy, maybe around 10, dressed in loose tan pants and a dark, long-sleeved shirt, devoid of any special symbols. He had darkish blonde hair, a little on the long side, and green eyes. The boy hesitated and almost turned to go when Tulan noticed him. "Oh, you are here for the book, are you not? It's on the top of the cabinet to your left." The boy stepped inside and carefully picked up a thick, dark, old-looking book from the cabinet by the doorway. Tulan motioned him over. "This is my other personal student, Dorien. A very intelligent young man."

Andrel smiled at him softly. "Ah, yes, Tulan has mentioned you to me. It is good to finally meet you, Dorien. I am Andrel and this is Dani, a relative of mine."

Dorien nodded, saying quietly, but with careful and distinct pronunciation. "It is good to meet you as well, Councilor Andrel, Friend Danilon."

Andrel raised an eyebrow as he turned to look at Dani. "Word must get around fast about your arrival here, Dani."

Tulan chuckled. "It isn't quite that. Dorien also works as a page sometimes for Queen Tayna. It's very easy to pick up such things there. And then there is Linet. She was never one to keep her mouth shut about 'wonderful, new people' visiting the palace."

Dani smiled and shook his head, then looked at Dorien. "Whatever the reason, it is good to meet you, Dorien, but please call me Dani, okay?"

Dorien bit his lip, then nodded. "Yes, sir, Dani." He looked up at Tulan, who nodded at him that he could go, which he did in short order.

Andrel waited a few moments, then said to Dani, "His mother died several years ago. And his father is a foot soldier in the army. So he more or less lives in the palace. His father entered him in the Bardic Academy a year after his mother's death. Dorien was always the loner sort and his father Meden hoped that the Academy would provide him some friends, especially after his mother's death."

Tulan picked up the story. "One of his teachers mentioned him to me, telling me he had perfect pitch, perfect timing, and was sharp as a tack, as they say. I kept my eye on him. I discovered that he carried with him a huge potential of talent. One day I caught him humming a harmony to a piece being played by a student inside a practice room. He was just standing outside the door, eyes closed, humming softly. So, not ten months after he joined the Academy, I took him as a personal student, much to his dismay and embarrassment, at least at first. His father is very proud of him, and so am I."

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

The year continued on, and the following spring finally arrived, bringing with it new greenery, new life, and new dreams. Dani, now an advisor to Randal and Tayna, had settled into his new place at Rillandan court. Linet, a little older, a little calmer, but still a joyful, buoyant child, had attached herself to Dani, almost as if she had adopted him. She insisted on showing him around the palace and the surrounding city of Brightstar, introducing him to her friends, both children and adults. When the weather turned nice, they began to ride horses together, Dani on his horse that brought him from Bornath, Miran, a gentle, but lithe brown mare, Linet on Auréllia, a creamy white spirited mare. Sometimes Terel joined then on Kitan, a tall black stallion that was the fastest of the horses available out of Teva-bred stock.

Tulan continued his histories and tried to puzzle out the meaning in Arven's notes, to no avail. Andrel, Dani, and the royal family began to plan for an eventual war with Bornath. And Terel continued with his own studies, both required and volunteered. And so life went on.

~~~~~~~
Arven's Journal (excerpts)
~~~~~~~

One day, several months later, Terel tapped at Tulan's door before he entered the office. Tulan looked up with a grunt as Terel pushed open the door. "Oh, Terel, yes, what may I do for you?"

He came to Tulan's desk, his lute in one hand, a piece of music in the other. "I had a question about this section in the piece. I just can't seem to figure it out."

Tulan looked at it and took down his own lute to demonstrate the advanced fingering for Terel, who watched him carefully and repeated what he saw until he got it. Tulan nodded his approval as he laid down his lute. "Good work, Terel. You're doing very well. This is 'Gwyna's Lament.' Interesting choice. What made you decide to do it?"

Terel paused a moment, fiddling with the strings on his lute, then shrugged. "I don't know. I know it's a sad song, but it's also beautiful, in an odd sort of way. It's a challenging piece. And I like the history behind it, sad as it is." Tulan nodded again, unconsciously tapping his fingers on a worn-looking, dull red leatherbound notebook in front of him. Terel's eyes were drawn to it and he asked, "What is that?"

Tulan looked down. "This? This is Gwyna's brother Arven's notes on a Bornathian prophecy. Dani gave it to me to read. I actually have my own copy, covered with my own notes. I wanted to look at the original again for a moment."

Terel's eyes widened. "I heard something about that prophecy. Sounds pretty hard to figure out."

Tulan agreed. "Yes, I would say it is. I can't say I've figured out anything beyond the obvious stuff that Arven had already noted."

Terel asked after a moment, "May I read it?"

His teacher just looked at him a moment, seeing something new in the boy' eyes, then picked up the journal and handed it to him. "Be careful with it."

Terel clutched it to his chest, eyes wide. "I will, sir."

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

Not wanting to be disturbed, Terel took the journal to his secret hiding place, a place he used mostly to escape Linet when she got to be too much for him. Being such an old castle, the Crystal Palace had a honeycomb of hidden tunnels and passageways. Being an explorer and naturally curious, he had found quite a number of them. One led from his room to a sort of a hub area which had branches going off in all directions. He hadn't followed all the paths yet, but he knew where most of them led. One even led back to the practice room outside of Tulan's office. Terel's hiding place was at that midway point, where several tunnels met and diverged. A dim natural light filtered in from somewhere, though he never had been able to figure out from where. It was there that he had settled down with a small lantern in a comfortable spot and opened Arven's journal and began to read.

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

A prophecy, The Prophecy as everyone calls it, of Bornath. Never solved. Quite a challenge. I can't resist. It intrigues me. I must know what it means.

Three parts. A king's treasure stolen. A missing jewel found. And a royal sword bespelled. Why does it seem that these things always come in threes?

Decided that this must be a prophecy of doom for Bornath. Not going to tell anyone else that, not terribly encouraging. The three things must be what brings it down. But what are they? And when is this supposed to happen? Next month, next year, 100 years from now?

Three things seem to be linked together. Two are valuable, two are royal, one lost and one found. Perhaps all part of one thing, or three objects brought together to form one thing, or perhaps three descriptions of the same object. Back to research.

Can't find any mention of a stolen treasure, a missing jewel, or a royal sword in the newer texts. Going on to older texts and scrolls.

Fate and Destiny. Are those two words perhaps a key? Will begin looking for them.

Found something today I didn't expect to find. Think that The Prophecy that Scholars have been studying for so long is only part of the whole, perhaps the linchpin, but there is more. Found a snatch of something on an extremely old scroll, The Histories of King Helv: "The Prophecy is given. Fated one will begin, destined one will finish." Very odd. Begin and finish what? Who is who? And am I more involved in this than I want to be? Or am I fated destined just supposed to be here doing this now?

Have started cataloging all the references I can find to treasures, jewels, and swords. Also, fated one and destined one. Many references to destined one, most just a line, but this person must be important.

"The forging and bespelling shall occur at the final turn of fate. And the sword shall arise from the fire broken to face the evil to become whole." Messages of Yeteth. Huh?

"Bespelled sword will be forged by tearing apart." Sayings of Seyna. Tearing apart to forge a sword? What sense is there in that?

"Jewel is from treasure. Sword is formed from jewel." Thoughts of Ulip. First part makes sense. But how can you make a jewel into a sword?

"Fated one will go beyond first to prepare the way." The Histories of King Helv. Beyond what? Prepare what way?

Will go beyond first. Beyond. The Beyond???

"Destined one will follow the path tread by the fated one." "Illumination belongs to the destined one." "Understanding will come with sorrow to destined one." Destinies.

Had a thought. What if the three things are metaphorical descriptions of something or maybe someone or three someones? So, they could be someone who is stolen/kidnaped from a king (by whom?), someone who is royalty or close who has been missing/lost and found again (by whom?), someone who is out for revenge (on who? why?). Same person? Different people?

Are the fated one and destined one somehow related to The Prophecy? I feel they must be. How?

Zarena has been acting a bit . . . secretive lately. Met up with her in the Library, of all places. Didn't even know she knew how to read. She was reading some ancient tome, but she put it back before I could see which one. After she left I couldn't figure out which it was. Odd.

Wish I could find the book Times. I was so sure we had it, but I can't seem to find it. It must have something in it.

Found another reference to IT in Prophecies of Seer Qatyl. He was the first Scholar who really studied this prophecy centuries ago and he had some kind of vision. Some shadowy figure said one thing to him. "It will be understood at the right time in the right place by the right one." Great. And just when, where, and who might that be? Is it the destined one referred to earlier?

Right one=destined one???? Who is the destined one?

Found another reference in Thoughts of Ulip. It said the following: "The time nears for understanding when the forbidden evil reenters Bornathia." The forbidden evil. What exactly is that? More research. Ugh.

The forbidden evil=the black arts. There's been no record of its use for a very long time. Those who used it did terrible things. Who would want to bring it back? I'm not sure I want to be here when/if it happens.

Right time=when the black arts are practiced again????

Had a disturbing run-in with Zarena this morning. Caught her railing at one of the servants in a hallway. Servant wasn't looking at her, but I was. Her eyes, they ... flashed, really flashed, glowed maybe, just for an instant. Then she saw me, whirled around, and left. Whatever it was that I saw, it was not good. It was ... sinister, powerful, and perhaps even ... evil.

The four of us went riding yesterday. Got caught in snowstorm in Nartha. Stayed the night in one of the shelters built for this purpose. Also, found a stranger wandering around lost. Had a very odd dream about The Prophecy. Very ominous. I've been studying this thing far too long. It could be that I need to move on to other things, but...

Andrel came back with us to Darcabé. He didn't realize who we were until we got into town and Seth and Dani took the lead. Seth seemed rather ... pleased with his discomfort. Unsettling.

Have a very bad feeling about this prophecy. The more I research it, the more I think about it, the more I think the time is near for it to be fulfilled.

Spend a lot of time with Andrel, Gwyna, and Dani. Andrel tells us stories of Rillanda and of other places he's been on his travels. Gwyna seems especially enthralled with them. She has always dreamed of adventure beyond Bornath.

Had another dream. Or maybe it was a vision. I don't know. I saw someone, a boy, in fields so green that it must have been Rillanda. And I saw someone else, a young woman with long dark hair. Looked like Gwyna. She was with the boy and another child, a girl. Both children were bathed in a soft yellow light. Beside the girl I saw a faint, glowing broadsword. I heard a voice say, "They are for whom destiny awaits." And then I woke up in a sweat. Is what I saw the future? For whom destiny awaits. Is one of them the destined one? Is one of those children going to interpret this prophecy? What is the other's destiny? What's the deal with the sword? And who was the woman, their mother maybe?

The sword. The bespelled sword. Could it be...?

Why Rillanda? Is it because Andrel is from there? Is there another reason?

Zarena's behavior is really beginning to concern me. She is getting very thin, almost ephemeral. Her eyes seem to be a paler green than they used to be and the blondeness of her hair is approaching white. But at the same time, there is this presence about her, a powerful presence that burns brightly within her. I've seen animals shy away from her and young children cry when they see her. I must tell what I've seen to Dani. He is out and about more than I am, maybe he can figure out what is going on.

Asked Dani casually the other day if he'd noticed anything out of the ordinary about Zarena lately. Dani sorta frowned, nodded, but said he couldn't really figure out what is was about her that bothered him. He hasn't been able to talk to her as much as he is getting pulled in to court duties. And she hasn't really presented anyone the opportunity to talk to her since she seems to vanish so much of the time.

Dani came to me tonight, told me what has been happening between Seth and Gwyna, and Andrel and Gwyna. Have to admit that I wasn't paying enough attention to notice. But as I think back, yes, I would have to agree with Dani and his observations. He told me about Stepfather planning to force Gwyna into marrying Seth. That I do know is wrong. Dani told me that he thinks Gwyna and Andrel should leave tonight on Teva. He believes not only her happiness, but perhaps even her life, are in danger, as well as Andrel's. I agree.

Gwyna is leaving Bornath tonight and going to Rillanda. I must see her off. Something is being set into motion here, though I don't know what. All I can feel is that it will change all that we know. Does that mean that the right place=Rillanda????

I can almost see the truth, but not quite. Maybe I am not the one to see it. Maybe what I saw in my dream was true. I don't know anymore. Whatever happens, these notes must remain safe. Dani knows where they are in case anything ... untoward should happen to me. I feel like I'm predicting my own death. I...

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

That very afternoon, Terel situated himself in the Library and started pouring over all the references that Arven mentioned in his journal. And then he began his own study, using every book he could get his hands on, and thus picked up where Arven had left off on the interpretation of The Prophecy.

~~~~~~~
Preparation for War
~~~~~~~

Time passed. In the winter of two years to the day after Dani had arrived in Rillanda, Seth declared war on Rillanda. The following spring, a son was born to Seth and Opella, whom he named Balaeric, a Bornathian word meaning 'vengeance'. And on one cold winter day later that year, Seth turned his great army toward Brightstar.

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

Closing his eyes, Randal removed the slender gold circlet from his head and rubbed his temples as he leaned back in his chair. Tayna watched him a moment, then leaned forward to look at the map spread across the conference table again, the markers for enemy and ally decorating the surface. Also with them in a loose circle of chairs were Stefan, Raven, Dani, and Andrel. Standing in other places around the room were others whom Randal called for this meeting, including the captain of the guards, Doyle; captain of the archers, Dawson; captain of the foot soldiers, Hovis; chief war strategist, Werner; and their best reconnaissance agent, Clary, who had snuck in and out of Seth's troop areas to judge their potential. Two blonde male guards, Willim and Jamas, stood at the doors to prevent anyone entering who should not.

Stefan asked quietly, "It doesn't look good, does it, Father?"

Randal opened his eyes and met his son's eyes across the table. He shook his head reluctantly. "No, it does not."

Clary, a short, ordinary-looking man, said softly, with regret, from where he waited at Randal's side, "I am sorry to bring you such terrible news, my liege."

Randal stood and clasped his hand firmly. "No, thank you, my friend, for bringing us this news. We needed to know the truth, however harsh it may be. Go now, you must be anxious to rejoin your family. If we need anything further, we will send for you."

Clary nodded once and left the room quickly.

Werner adjusted his eyepiece as he stared down at the map and the markers where Seth's troops had taken a firm hold. "Your Majesty, have we exhausted all other options?"

Randal looked at Andrel and Dani for answers. Dani replied in a hesitant voice. "Everything has been tried. Seth has decided that he wants Rillanda. Pakara found out too late that just because Seth has signed a nonaggression pact that he won't destroy their country as he rolls through it. Most of the surrounding countries are now terrified of him and will not do anything to attract attention if they can help it. Negotiation didn't work, neither did promise of trade or payment. And neither did the truth that Gwyna is dead. He won't believe that. He is, simply put, insane, and nothing can stop him, nothing peaceful, that is, perhaps nothing at all."

Doyle grunted. "Well, we're sure going to try to stop him. No way I'm letting him roll right over us without putting up a fight."

Dawson nodded in agreement. "My men agree with Doyle. We have to fight him."

Hovis added, "My men are awaiting your orders, Your Majesty."

Randal looked down at Tayna, seated in the chair next to his, then over at Stefan and Raven, then Andrel and Dani. He saw the same answer in all of their eyes. He looked down at the gold circlet in his hands, fingering the raised patterns engraved into it, saying mostly to himself, "I have always considered myself by nature a peaceful man. However, when threatened, even the most peaceful of men would defend themselves against those that would hurt the ones they must protect."

He was quiet a moment longer, then he lifted the gold circlet and placed it firmly onto his head as he straightened slightly. "And so it is agreed. If it is war that Seth wants, then it is war we will give him. Make the advance preparations, if not already done so. Doyle, put the guards on alert. Also, find a page and send him with this message to Tulan."

Randal pulled over a spare piece of paper and a quill and ink. He wrote a few short words, folded the paper, and sealed it shut with a drop of hot candlewax and the impression of his signet ring. He handed the paper to Doyle, who handed it to Willim, who left the room to find a page. He continued. "Also, send a town crier out to warn the populace. They need to know as well. Dawson, arm the battlements. Hovis, tell your men that orders will be coming shortly. Werner, we need plans, several of them."

Doyle, Hovis, and Dawson headed out the door. Tayna and Raven left as well, to inform the palace staff, and the children, that war preparations were being made. Andrel, Dani, Randal, Stefan, and Werner all bent over the map to begin planning their defenses, and if necessary, their offenses.

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

Tulan fingered the message that the page had given him. After dismissing the boy, he broke the seal and opened it, and read the few shorts words quickly. He sighed deeply, closing his eyes briefly, realizing what he had so hoped would not happen had happened, as somehow he knew would eventually. He reread the brief message:

Enemy is advancing. Invasion and war have become a certainty. Do what you must.

"Do what I must, he says." Tulan shook his head and stood from his chair. "Oh, my liege, I have prepared for this for years. I am always prepared."

He went to the door and yanked it open. He called out, "Camella." In a few short moments, a young woman with long dark blonde hair pulled back into an untidy ponytail and blue eyes skidded to a halt before him, dressed in a dark top and loose dark pants.

She smiled saucily up at him, a twinkle in her mischievous eyes. "You bellowed, m'lord?"

He grunted. "I did at that, m'dear."

Camella was a student of his of a sort. He had caught her trying to pick his pocket when he went to market several years ago. She had claimed to be an orphan street rat that didn't need his help when he offered to get her some food. He liked her spunk and her courage. Considering that he grew up on the streets as well before being discovered by Randal's father one day long ago, he understood the plight of being a street rat. He had "adopted" Camella and brought her into the palace. She had kept his life interesting, and she had a way of getting information that was beyond even Randal's best spies.

He returned her smile. "Camella, I assume you know about the army encroaching upon us." She nodded gravely and he continued. "The king has decided that war is inevitable. We must protect as many of the more valuable books and histories of the Academy and the Library as we can. Ideas?"

Camella was quiet a moment, then she responded. "There are passageways, hidden tunnels, secret places, within this castle."

Tulan nodded. "I am aware of them. But anyone could find those."

She smiled slyly. "Ah, m'lord, you only know of a very few. Are ones so deeply hidden that are near impossible to find. Only a few in this palace that know of the honeycomb of tunnels here, but even the ones they have found are not the deeper, more private, more secret ones."

He frowned. "Just how secret do these places get? And how do you know they haven't been found by others?"

She continued. "Always signs when someone has been into an area, especially an unused area. Dust builds up, sometimes in one spot for decades, never bothered. There is a place here, very deep, it is several, how do you say, layers down, very far. Skeletons that crumble to dust with a touch."

He gasped. "A crypt! You found an ancient crypt. The very place. We must get as much as we can there and protect it however we can from the mustiness. One copy at least of each of the important books, the histories, the music." He paused a moment, dismay going across his face. "The Ancestor Hall. The paintings. How much room is there in this secret place of yours, this crypt?"

She replied, "It is very large, can hold much."

He asked, "Can you bring me there? I want to see it."

She nodded quickly. "Yes, come, follow me." Camella dashed out and Tulan broke out in a brisk pace to keep up with her, hope building within him that all would not be lost if ... when ... Seth invaded the palace.

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

Much later, Tulan stood with Tayna and Raven in the Ancestor Hall, reporting on his plan to hide the paintings and books. "...It is musty, dark, and dismal, but it is very well-hidden and therefore a safe place to hide the things that we want kept protected from Norseth. I doubt I could even find how to get there again. Camella was very correct in her assessment of the crypt."

Tayna nodded in agreement. "Very well. We will begin packing the paintings at once and have them brought to your office area. What do you want to do about moving them? You will need assistance."

Tulan replied, "Camella and I will arrange that. She mentioned that there are others who know about the tunnel systems. I would prefer as few as possible know about this. Less chance that anyone will tell Norseth accidentally."

She nodded again, saying quietly, "Agreed. And if I know Camella, she will survive this whole thing intact, regardless what happens. She will know where the paintings and other things are, even if no one does."

Raven walked over the portrait of her parents, now hanging on the wall between Randal and Tayna's and hers and Stefan's. She looked up at it intently for several long moments before reaching out a hand and touching the lower part of the frame. Stefan had pointed out the dark area on the painting to her again after Dani had seen it upon his arrival here, explaining what Dani had told him about Seth. Every time she had seen the painting since, it had seemed to her that the darkness had grown just a bit larger, encompassing just a little more of painting, casting the painting in just a little more darkness. Today was no different. It was so gradual that most didn't notice it, but she knew it was happening, though no one was sure how to explain it. It just was. She sighed and lowered her hand, turning back to join Tayna and Tulan as they discussed what books to pull out of the Library and how best to protect them from damage in the crypt.

~~~~~~~
Invasion
~~~~~~~

Days and then weeks passed with an ever present and increasing awareness of how little time was left before Seth broke through their defenses and stormed the Crystal Palace. To the public eye, the royal family was worried, yet calm, as the army slowly but surely approached them. Inside the palace, the pace could be quite frenetic at times as valuables were carefully packed and stored in Tulan's hidden crypt.

Tulan discovered from Camella that the other two that knew about the hidden passageways were Terel and Dorien. To him it seemed quite appropriate that his two personal students had that knowledge. However, they were too young and not strong enough to be of much assistance in the moving of all the objects. They each wanted to help, so he asked them to 'cover' for him during the time he was aiding Camella and a few trusted others move the special items below. They agreed, and so he planned the moving to take place at the two times of their individual lessons, one in the morning, one in late afternoon. They remained in the outer office practice area and answered any queries concerning his absence carefully, knowing the importance of secrecy in this endeavor.

Before the Library was packed up too much, Terel increased his urgency of research, wanting to find all the references he could before the books were taken away and hidden. He had stopped for a bit earlier and so was now trying to make up for lost time. He didn't want his research to be unfinished and find himself in hiding and realize some piece of vital information was missing from his notes, not when he was so close to solving the riddle of The Prophecy.

And so, life continued, but those in Brightstar could not help but fear how long that would still be the truth.

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

Tulan was at his desk, tuning his lute when Terel burst in, panting heavily, gasping out, "Master, you must come. The King, he wants to see you now."

Tulan laid down his lute immediately, rising to his feet and stepping around the desk. "And he sent you, lad?"

Terel shrugged, still trying to catch his breath. "No pages. All sent home. I run faster than Linet."

Tulan grabbed up his cloak, clapping the boy on the shoulder. "That you do. Let us hurry now and see what the King wants."

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

Tulan stepped into the formal throne room, somehow unsurprised to see the entire royal family gathered here. Randal and Tayna were bedecked in their finest royal court regalia, their heaviest crowns on their heads. Dani and Andrel were likewise dressed in their finest. Stefan, Raven, and the twins, however, were dressed in dark shirts, pants, and riding boots. Stefan was just now throwing a dark cloak over his shoulders as Raven draped one over Linet's shoulders before putting on hers. Terel went to his mother to get his while Tulan stepped over to Randal who was standing at the foot of the dais.

He inclined his head deeply. "My liege."

Randal smiled slightly. "Tulan, my friend. I must ask of you a very important favor."

Tulan replied, "I am always at your service."

The king continued. "Norseth is at the palace doors as we speak. He will be here in a matter of moments. Will you lead my son and his family out of the palace to safety? Tayna has told me of the secret passages that you have been using to protect certain items. Could they be used to perhaps get to the stables?"

Tulan nodded. "Yes, Your Majesty, they can. My ... assistant Camella has showed me various ways to get in and out of the tunnels. On the chance that something like what you are asking me might happen, I memorized several routes that lead outside the palace proper. One of those would be to the stables."

Randal seemed to relax minutely. "And you will lead them to safety?"

Tulan nodded again. "Yes, my liege."

Tulan's eyes were drawn to Andrel and Dani bidding farewell to Raven, Stefan, and the children. He saw in Dani's and Andrel's faces that they would not see them again, at least not in this life. Terel and Linet didn't quite seem to understand. At least not Linet, she was mostly in a daze. Terel, however... He met Terel's eyes for a few moments. Tulan nodded once at the boy and Terel nodded back before straightening slightly.

Stefan walked over to Randal and Tayna. Tulan took a few steps back to give them room. Stefan was silent for several moments, then he said in a quiet voice, "I will not let Seth destroy our land and our people, Father. Someday, when the time is right, I will return and retake what is ours. That I promise. In the meantime, I will protect our future."

Randal reached out and clasped Stefan's arms in a tight grip before pulling him into a quick, hard embrace. "I was never so proud of you, my son."

After Randal released him, Stefan turned to his mother, looking down onto her petite frame. She reached up and touched his cheek in a silent gesture of love. "Be well, Stefan. Be safe. And live." He pulled her into a warm embrace as well before releasing her to Raven, who had looked upon Tayna as her second mother.

Stefan turned to Tulan. "I hear you have a way of taking us out of here."

Tulan replied, "Yes, I do. We must hurry. I can hear the fighting in the outer hallways at this very moment."

Stefan nodded. "Yes."

They gathered up the children and headed to the opposite end of the throne room, where Tulan touched a panel and the wall slid away, revealing a dark passageway. He led them in and the wall slid shut behind them, closing them off from the sight of Norseth who marched into the formal throne room a very short time later.

~~~~~~~
Interlude
~~~~~~~

Dorien finished his tale in a quiet, subdued voice, matching the solemnness of both the tale and the listening audience:

"...And so the remainder of the royal family vanished into the night. Not all escaped unharmed. The body of Stefan's son Terel was found in a hallway, an arrow piercing his chest. A guard was found lying on the ground several feet away, dead with no apparent cause. No trace of Stefan, Raven, or Linet was found anywhere. Their guide vanished into another secret passageway to escape the marauders that stormed the palace.

"Norseth found King Randal and Queen Tayna in the throne room, with only his old rival Andrel and his own brother, Dani, for company. No one really knows what happened in that room that night. Norseth was the only one who emerged from behind the closed door. Regardless what was said or done, the other four were dead. Norseth put their bodies, and Terel's, on display at the palace gates for some time before he buried them together in an unknown grave in a pauper's field. No one today knows where that grave is.

"And Norseth took the throne, bringing with him the darkness of his rule in Bornath. The Bornathian peasantry were not sorry to see him leave, but they ached for the people of Rillanda who were suffering under his cruelness.

"As for Stefan, Raven, and their daughter Linet, no one knows what happened to them. They vanished without a trace into the forest. No one can say if they lived or died. Most believe that they died trying to escape, either in the forest winter cold or by the hand of Norseth's soldiers outside the palace. Most say this must be true."

Dorien paused for a moment, letting his eyes drift around the room, taking in the features of those surrounding him, looking for reactions among the customers, the young man who wanted to hear this tale, the barkeep Patric and his wife Meg, the mercenaries in the back, the nameless glowering swordswoman near the door. He saw tears shed and unshed for the lives and dreams lost during the Norseth's invasion and following rule. He saw the unspoken desire to have what they had 15 years ago back again. He saw the wish in all their faces that this story had a happy ending, when they all knew it did not. He dropped his eyes as he softly whispered the last few words to this history:

"We can but hope and dare to dream that they live..."

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

Concluded in Part Four...


Prophecy Story Index