Prophecy Story Index

Thieves
by Becky
April 1997

The old man was supposed to have been an easy target for the 10-year-old. Just sneak up, snitch his money purse like she'd done so many times to so many others who came to market on these busy days. It wasn't like she was out-of-practice or even desperate for the money. She had taken plenty today already. This one was just for fun, just a little game to keep her fingers nimble. She wouldn't even have kept the money for herself; probably would have just dropped it, letting the coins spill all over the ground, then sat back and laugh at the old man trying to reclaim all his money.

It was supposed to be easy, just like that. But today, for some reason, her nimble fingers failed her and she'd been caught.

"Lemme go, old man."

The old man in question just raised an eyebrow as he tightened his hold on her skinny wrist. "And why should I let you go? You were trying to pickpocket me."

She struggled ineffectually against him, then gave up, hoping he'd let down his guard and then she could slip away from him in the crowd. No luck as his hold didn't change as he walked swiftly to the side of the pathway, dragging her along with him.

He stood her against the wall of a building in the alleyway, pinning her there with a heavy hand on her shoulder. She glared up at him defiantly, daring him to do his worst.

The man suddenly smiled, which only deepened her suspicion of him. She tried to move again, but his hand immediately tightened, and she slumped back against the wall. "What do you want, old man?"

He said softly, "Don't worry, child, I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to talk to you."

She stared up at him, disbelief in her tone. "Talk. About what, old man?"

He chuckled. "First, maybe you could tell me your name. Mine is Tulan."

She answered quietly after a few moments. "Camella. My name's Camella."

He nodded. "Nice to meet you, Camella. Now, tell me, why were you trying to steal my purse?"

She lifted her chin. "I'm a street kid. Have to eat. Takes money to eat, so I take what I need to get food. Lots of people have more than they use." She shrugged. "I can use. I take. Simple."

He shook his head. "Simple, you say. Ah, Camella, it is never that simple. One day you'll steal from the wrong person and get hurt."

Her eyes narrowed, her small frame tensing. "Been hurt before. Can take care of myself. 'Nuf talk. Lemme go."

Tulan resisted her tugs to get away. "If you are hungry, then I can buy you something to eat if you'd like . . . ."

Camella shook her head. "Don't want your help."

Sighing, Tulan went on gently. "Listen to me, Camella. I used to live on the streets, too, a very long time ago. I know what it can be like. I'll let you go, but if you ever need help, of any kind, I want you to find me."

He reached into his overtunic and pulled out a small token and pressed it into her hand. "I work at the Bardic Academy. I assume you know where that is. If you bring this to the front door there and tell them your name and that you need to see me, they'll let you through. Do you understand?"

Nodding, she tucked the coin into a small invisible pocket in her loose clothes. Tulan released her shoulder, backing up a few feet from her, his signal that she was free to go. She looked at him another moment, then moved away to disappear into the crowd.

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

Camella scooted through the crowed, ducking around people agilely, ignoring the startled remarks that follow her as she bumped into some here and there. She ended up across the street and several building down in the shadows of another alley. Feeling safe, she pulled out the token to examine it. She frowned unhappily -- it wasn't money. There were words written on it and she sounded them out slowly, putting what little reading skills she had into practice. "Bar-dic A-cad-e-my. Guest of Tu-lan."

She turned it over and saw a stylized etching of the main Academy building. She harrumphed to herself. "Don't need his help. Can take care of myself."

She about tossed the token away, but instead stuffed it back into a hidden inner pocket. Maybe she'd give it to Ghanull anyway -- he might have a use for it. And she had to have something to show him if someone reported to him that she was seen with this Tulan guy. Whoever he was, he must be important to have tokens with his name on them. Toby might be able to tell her. At 15, he knew a whole lot more than she did.

Though not blood-related, Toby was like an older brother to her. He'd found her in an alley when she was 5, alone, scared, crying, sick, and dirty. She could barely remember her parents now, only that they had been poor and that someone had attacked them in a bad part of town at night. She had run and gotten lost.

Assuming her parents were dead, Toby had taken her to Ghanull, who ruled the 'underworld' of the city, much to King Randal's displeasure. It wasn't so much that there was an underworld that bothered him -- that was to be expected in any large city. It was Ghanull that he disliked -- mean, nasty, cutthroat, amoral, and willing to kill without hesitation, even a king's guard if necessary, to protect his little kingdom. And worst of all, none of the king's soldiers had ever gotten close enough to him to arrest him. He had always managed to slip through their fingers.

It was to him that Toby had taken her. Ghanull had quickly claimed her as one of his 'children.' Toby had taken her back with him to the place he lived. Toby had told her that he was also an orphan, adopted by Ghanull at a young age. Ghanull would take care of her as long as she did as she was told. Toby taught her the ropes quickly -- how to sneak, how to snitch, how to slip away and hide, how to avoid Ghanull on bad days.

Camella frowned to herself -- Toby was supposed to have come out with her today, but he hadn't felt good this morning and stayed in their little room in the Beggar's Market Mazara House -- one of several different boarding houses Ghanull maintained at a barely habitable level for those who worked for him, voluntary or not. Should get back. Check on Toby.

She inched back out to look down the street. She saw the man Tulan walking out of the alley, looking around, probably trying to find her. She leaned back far enough into the shadows to keep hidden, but still be able to watch him. He stood there a moment longer, then turned and started up the street in the opposite direction, back to the Academy she assumed. She waited until he disappeared, then dashed out and headed toward Beggar's Market.

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

A week later, Tulan was at his desk, working on a new composition, humming the melody under his breath when he heard voices and scuffling drifting down the short hallway . Frowning he stood and headed toward his half-closed office door. Dorien, his 8-year-old student, was the only one in the practice room this afternoon, working on his lute playing. As he neared the door, he began to pick out what the voices were saying.

Dorien, sounding winded: "Who are you? What do you want?"

Girl's voice, angry and defensive: "Here to see Tulan. Told me I could. Move!"

Tulan's eyes opened wide, and he paused a moment. Camella! She actually came. Dorien didn't know that he had invited her to come. But then a guard or escort should have brought her from the front door anyway. Just what was going on?

A crash from the practice room got his attention, and he hurriedly yanked open his door and strode down the hallway, calling out, "Dorien! It's okay. I said she could come."

He entered the room and saw that a small bookshelf at one wall has been emptied, books scattered everywhere. He winced and took a mental inventory of what had been on that shelf. Sighing gratefully, he realized all the books were modern ones and nothing that couldn't be replaced if need be.

Dorien and Camella were standing several feet apart from each other. Dorien's tunic had been pulled askew and his hair was mussed, but was otherwise okay. Camella looked fine as well. Her hair, long and dirty blondish, had been pulled loose from whatever tie she used. Other than that it was difficult to tell. Her loose short tunic and pants were dirty and torn in places and her face, hands, and any other skin showing was smudged with stains. Her feet were only covered by old sandals that looked ready to fall apart at any moment.

But it was what she was holding that caught Tulan's horrified attention: Dorien's lute. And she looked ready to throw it to the ground, smashing his student's hours of hard work in a few seconds.

Tulan strode forward quickly. "Camella. It's okay. Dorien didn't know that I said you could be here. May I have what you're holding, Camella, please?"

She hesitated for a moment, caught between wanting to be angry at the younger, but stronger, boy who had questioned her presence and wanting to stay on this Tulan's good side. She needed his help. Finally she lowered her arm and handed the lute over to Tulan.

Tulan glanced over the lute once -- it seemed to be okay. He handed it to Dorien, who held it to his chest briefly, before running his fingers down the strings, making sure the tone was still okay and nothing had been damaged. It had taken him days to find the right wood and weeks to get the tone and pitch right as he was making the instrument.

Camella's eyes widened for a moment. "It makes music. Pretty."

In her surprise, she reached out a hand toward the lute as she stepped forward at Dorien, who backed up quickly, hugging his lute close again, not wanting her anywhere near his precious instrument.

Camella stopped, finally looking at Dorien, then backed up herself. "Like music. Didn't know."

Tulan placed a hand on Camella's shoulder cautiously. "Camella, do you need something? Is that why you came?"

Camella dragged her eyes from the instrument and looked up at Tulan. "Yes. Toby is sick. Ghanull won't help him."

Tulan frowned, alarmed. "Ghanull? How do you know him?"

Camella shrugged. "Work for him. All street kids work for him. Is the way it is."

Tulan blew air out of pursed lips. "Not good."

Dorien asked quietly, "Isn't Ghanull the thiefmaster, the one the King wants found?"

Tulan looked over at him, nodding grimly. "Yes. He controls the city's 'underworld', if you will. The poor, the unemployed, and children like Camella here who have no home."

Camella bristled. "Have a home. Street is my home."

Tulan moved his hand from her shoulder and lightly petted back her hair. "The street is no home for anyone, Camella."

Sudden pounding of feet heading their way broke up their conversation. Four guards appeared in the doorway, one of which was Willim.

Camella tensed and dashed behind Tulan, hissing slightly. Willim spoke. "Bard Tulan, we were told there was an intruder. And we heard something crash down here. Do you want the girl removed?"

Tulan raised his hands. "No, it's okay, Willim. Just a slight misunderstanding. This is Camella. I met her the other day and told her she could come see me if she needed to. Everything's okay. The crash was only some books, no harm done."

Willim nodded in relief and the guards left, booted feet echoing down the hallway.

Tulan turned and looked down at Camella who was slowly straightening from her defensive crouch. "You didn't come in through the front door, did you?"

A mischievous grin lit up her features. "Better and faster ways to get in than the door. Camella knows all the ways."

Tulan chuckled. "I see. Well, why don't you take me to this friend of yours. Then we'll see what we can do to help him, okay?"

Camella eyed his dark pants and tunic for a moment, then nodded. "Okay. Follow."

He grabbed her before she could scuttle out the door. "We'll use the front door, okay?"

She made a face, but agreed silently.

Tulan turned to Dorien. "I'm sure things will be fine, but if I don't return in by nightfall, please tell Willim that I've gone with Camella to find her friend Toby in the, uh ... where's your friend at, Camella?"

She answered impatiently. "Beggar's Market. Must go now."

Tulan paused a moment, then finished slowly. "In the Beggar's Market district. Go back to practicing, you are doing much better."

Before Dorien could say anything, Camella grabbed Tulan's hand and dragged him out of the room and down the hallway toward the front door of the Academy.

Dorien turned back to the worktable, righting his chair, and gathering the loose pages from the floor, muttering under his breath. "Go back to practicing, he says, like he's not heading into the most dangerous part of the city. Great, just great."

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

After evading the guards' worried questions, Tulan and Camella finally made it out of the Academy into the late afternoon sun. She led him quickly down to the market area and then beyond, through alleyways and several shops. Her presence didn't seem to cause any surprise to the shopowners, though he got a few curious looks. No one seemed to recognize him however. I guess I should be glad for that. Randal would not be terribly thrilled if his Royal Bard and Historian managed to get himself kidnaped or something. In fact, I may not even tell him I was even here. What he doesn't know is all the better for me.

Finally, after a series of twists and turns, Camella slowed down, letting Tulan take stock of his surroundings. Even in the sunlight, the buildings and what few people he saw were shadowed and gray. Yup, definitely Beggar's Market. Looks pretty much the same as when I was here so long ago. Maybe worse. Hard to tell. Though I never could figure out why it's called a market.

Camella led him toward a small, two-story building with a few windows and a dull grayish-brown exterior. Tulan could make out the faint lettering above door to read 'Mazara House'. Camella rapped on the door sharply a few times in a definite pattern. A code, perhaps? The door opened and she slipped inside, pulling Tulan in after her.

Inside, Tulan found himself confronted by a tallish, slim girl around her mid-teens with short auburn red hair and pale green, verging on yellow, eyes. She looked him over once, her eyes widening, then narrowing. Her mouth tightened in anger and she turned to Camella, her voice cold as she hissed. "Who is this? What do you think you're doing, bringing a stranger here? Ghanull will beat us both for sure now. You idiot!"

She lifted a hand to strike, but Tulan grabbed her wrist. "No."

Flinching briefly, she yanked her arm away from him easily, her thin frame belying the strength of her muscles. She threw him another look, then continued to glare balefully at Camella, who said only, "Toby is sick, Ren. He said he might help. Ghanull isn't."

Ren muttered something under her breath in another tongue that Tulan identified with a little shock as very strong Ysindran swear words. He took another look at Ren, reevaluating her appearance. Is she Ysindran? That would explain the eye color and the early height. I didn't think most Ysindrans ever left their home town, much less their country. Very interesting.

Ren growled again, grinding her teeth, but finally stepped aside to let them pass. "Very well. For Toby's sake, I'll let you pass. But you'd better pray that Ghanull doesn't find out about this, Camella. You know what he'd do to us if he knew."

Camella nodded once in understanding. "Yes." She grabbed Tulan's hand and led him down the long, dark hallway to a rickety staircase. Releasing her grip on his hand, she scrambled up them the stepped hurriedly. Tulan eyed them a moment, then started up after her, thinking with every creak that a step was going to break under his foot and send him tumbling to the ground. Death by staircase in Beggar's Market. Lovely thought.

On the second story, Camella opened one of the doors and runs into the room, leaving Tulan to shut the door. The room was small and dank, with one high, dirt-covered window. Candles were scattered on the few surfaces available -- a small table, a dresser top, a chair seat -- lending a small amount of light to the dark room. Two narrow beds, each against a wall, were the only other furniture. This was no place for a child to live, for anyone to live.

Camella was sitting one of those narrow beds, talking softly to a blanket-covered individual. "Feel better, Toby?"

As Tulan walked over to the side of the, he heard a hoarse, young boy's voice reply, "A little. Where'd you go, Camella? You know you're not supposed to be out today."

She looked up to locate Tulan then looked back down at Toby. "Brought someone who might help. Ghanull should, but isn't."

Toby lifted his head, frowning. "What...? Who...?" His eyes landed on Tulan who smiled and tried to look friendly. Toby's eyes widened and went back to Camella as he fell back down into the bed, coughing slightly. "Oh, Camella, no."

Tulan moved the candles from the chair seat, placing them carefully on the floor, then pulled the chair over next to the bed. Toby looked in his mid-teens, maybe 15, dark eyes, dark skin, dark hair. He didn't sound or look well.

Tulan began to talk quietly. "My name is Tulan. Camella said you were sick and asked that I might help you."

Toby's eyes got bigger. "You are Tulan? The Tulan?"

Tulan nodded, realizing Toby recognized the name even if Camella didn't. "Yes, I am who you think I am. But what you don't know is that I grew up on these streets too. And this is not a good place for you to be if you're unwell."

Toby closed his eyes, whispering, "It's the only place I know."

Tulan touched Toby's forehead briefly, frowning at the fever he felt there. Toby opened his eyes again, looking at Tulan. "Yeah, I know, I'm really hot. I'll be okay in a few days. Camella shouldn't have drug you out here."

Camella looked questioningly from Toby to Tulan, her forehead creased. "Who are you?"

Tulan replied quietly, "I am the Royal Bard and Historian to King Randal."

Camella's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. She shut her mouth after a moment and swallowed hard. "Oh."

Tulan chuckled and patted her arm. "It's okay. There are no likenesses of me floating around so you wouldn't know what I look like. And Tulan is rather an ordinary, common name, not something you would have noticed. Now, let's see how I can help Toby here."

Tulan had grabbed up his bag of cold remedies that he kept with him, mostly simple things like teas and makings of poultices. Things that the palace healer made up for him so he didn't have to keep running to her for every little muscle ache. He asked Toby about symptoms and left enough of his own medical supplies to tide him over until he could ask Healer Jaetinee for her advice about what to do for him.

After Tulan had done what he could, Camella led him back through the labyrinth of pathways until they reached the main marketplace. Once there, Camella shifted from foot to foot for a moment before saying quickly, "Thank you for helping Toby."

She made as if to leave quickly, but Tulan gently grasped her arm. "Hold on a moment. If you come back tomorrow afternoon, to the Academy, I will have talked with our healer. Perhaps she will give me something else that can help Toby get well faster. Understand?"

Camella nodded. "Come back tomorrow. Understand. Must go. Not supposed to be out right now."

And with a sudden twist of her arm, she slipped away from him and disappeared into the shadows of an alleyway.

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

As he neared his office and practice area, Tulan could hear Dorien humming and muttering to himself as he worked on a composition, one he was writing himself. Though Dorien had only been his student for a very short time, Tulan had discovered that the boy had an amazing gift for music and storytelling. Initially shy about displaying his talents, Dorien was becoming day by day more at ease with himself and what he could do.

Tulan stood at the entranceway, watching Dorien a few moments before the boy felt someone watching him and turned quickly to see who it was. "Who...? Oh, Master Tulan, you've returned." The relief was evident in Dorien's voice.

Tulan nodded and pushed away from the wall, continuing on into the room, "Yes, I have." He stopped next to Dorien and laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "And everything is fine. Camella will be back tomorrow to see if I have anything more for her. Her friend has a nasty fever and needs more help than the simple things I have can give him."

Dorien nodded his understanding. "Very well. I'll keep an eye out for her." He paused a moment, then went on. "Master, I have heard that you grew up on the streets."

Tulan pulled out a chair and sat down. "Yes, I did." He smiled in fond memory, "King Randal's father Meragor liked to visit one of taverns in the lower marketplace. He would go in disguise and sit in the back and drink and watch and listen.

"One evening, I was there. I had been living on the streets of Brightstar since I was 10, when I ran away from home. At that time, I was a lanky young man of 25, cocky, stubborn, thought I knew everything. Even then, I had a good voice and I knew lots of stories and how to tell them. I was telling a story about some battle or some such thing.

"Meragor came up to me afterward and invited me back with him to his 'house', he called it. He promised me a meal and a bed. I was hungry and it was cold that night. He was older, a small man, unlike his son. I figured if he tried anything, I could get away, so I accepted his offer. He took me into the palace by a back door. It was dark and rainy. I couldn't really see where we were going and didn't even realize where we were until I was halfway down a long corridor on the first floor. Even then I thought he was only a servant or something.

"It wasn't until the next morning when I was wandering through the Hall of Ancestors that I saw the picture of he and the queen that I discovered he was the king."

Tulan paused and chuckled lowly. Dorien's eyes were wide, his interest in the tale obvious. Tulan continued. "Meragor introduced me to his son, Randal, then age 20, and then enrolled me in the Bardic Academy. Randal and I became fast friends. I went with him the following year when he took his little adventure sailing trip during which he got himself a bride.

"The teachers at the Academy were shocked at the progress I made in my lessons and I quickly began to outstrip the others in my classes. I especially liked music and history, which became the areas I chose to specialize in.

"When I was 28, the Royal Bard, who was extremely old, died suddenly. King Meragor appointed me to his post. Several years later, he also died, of a heart problem, leaving Randal, with no heir as of yet, the throne.

"And the rest, as they say, is history."

Dorien shifted in his seat again. "And how does Ghanull fit into this? I mean, I know who he is and all that. But when Camella mentioned him, you almost seemed to know him or ... something."

Tulan sighed, rubbing his eyes with one hand, saying slowly, "Ghanull. No, I don't know him, well, not really. I knew his father, though. I knew him well." He stood. "I think that's enough practicing and storytelling for today. I think I heard the evening meal bell a few moments ago. We'd better hurry before everything is gone."

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

Later that evening, after Tulan spoke with Jaetinee and got some other medical supplies for Camella and Toby, Tulan found Randal alone in the courtyard. They walked and talked of various things, and then Randal said quietly, "I hear that there was a small disturbance in your rooms this afternoon."

Tulan sighed. "Willim's been telling on me, I see."

Randal shook his head, a half-smile on his face. "Actually, no, I heard it just through the regular palace gossip lines. News travels fast."

Tulan laughed and explained. "I met a street kid, a girl named Camella, about a week ago. I told her to come see me if she ever needed help. She came today, but not by the regular channels. She mentioned secret pathways or something. In any case, she startled Dorien and in the process a bookshelf was knocked over. Nothing major."

Randal nodded. "And so what did she want?"

Tulan, having decided to tell this to Randal earlier, replied, "She wanted some help for a sick friend, which I gave her. I went to Beggar's Market with her, decidedly against my student's better judgment, not to mention my own. But I wanted to help her and I wanted to see what things looked like out there."

Randal stopped short and looked at his longtime friend. "And?"

Tulan shook his head grimly. "Not good. Ghanull's hold is getting stronger and reaching further. If he's not stopped soon, he won't be stopped at all. I only wish I'd known sooner who he was. Maybe..."

Randal interrupted him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You couldn't have known. That life was long ago, Tulan, and best left that way. Come, old friend, let us go talk to Doyle. Do you remember the way you got into Beggar's Market? Good. Perhaps we can use this new information to help us."

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

Because of his aid to Toby, Tulan had gained the trust of Camella and then of Toby and Ren as well. Toby, Tulan discovered, was an orphan child who Ghanull had found at age 3 wandering the marketplace. Ghanull had kidnaped him and Toby had been picking pockets since the age of 5, thinking it was only a game until he turned 10 and found Camella and had to teach her the same tricks.

Tulan also talked with Ren one late evening in the marketplace, a neutral meeting spot for both parties. Ren was nervous and suspicious the entire time, looking for both Ghanull's men and for a doublecross in Tulan. Eventually Ren revealed that she had left Ysindra the year before -- she had wanted to travel, unlike most of her people. Ysindrans tended to stay to themselves and avoid major changes, but every now and then one would break away from the mold and had to get out of Ysindra or go crazy. Ren was one such person.

When she had arrived in Brightstar, Ghanull's men had found her and brought her to Ghanull, much against her will. Ghanull had held her prisoner in a windowless, locked room for a month, making sure she understood just how serious he was about her 'working' for him. After she'd been released, she tried escaping twice, but was caught both times and punished.

After that, she stayed in Mazara House. Although she'd refused to 'work' for Ghanull as he had originally planned, she had agreed to play 'housemother' or taskmaster to those in Mazara House. It wasn't something she enjoyed, but it was better than the alternatives. And now there was Toby to think about. The two of them had fallen in love and she didn't want to go anywhere without him.

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

As Ren finished her tale, she looked steadily at Tulan and said slowly, "When I first saw you, you startled me greatly. You remind me of..." Her voice trailed off.

Tulan nodded in unspoken understanding, "Yes, I know. It wasn't until last month that I saw a hand-drawn likeness of him. And then a few days before I met Camella, he was pointed out to me in the marketplace. I know. And I'm sorry."

She stared at him. "Why is there such a resemblance?"

He took a breath, then let it out slowly, beginning. "My name was not always Tulan. I was born Sharath. But then I ran away from my family and began calling myself Tulan. Actually I ran away from my stepfather after my mother died in childbirth having his third child. That child was Ghanull, my half-brother."

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

With the help of many of street children that Camella and Ren contacted through careful means, Doyle and his men finally caught up to Ghanull during a late night celebration. There was a massive fight between the king's soldiers and the thugs and goons that worked for Ghanull, but Ghanull was defeated. Or rather his 'empire' was. Rather than be captured and brought back to the palace to face the king and be put in prison, Ghanull drank a flask of poison before Doyle could stop him.

Ghanull died almost instantly. And Brightstar was finally free of his presence.

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

A few months after Ghanull's death, Ren and Toby were married. They decided to stay in the Beggar's Market district and live in the Mazara House, letting it be known that children with no homes to go to were welcome at Mazara House. It eventually became a safehouse and home for many of the children that used to roam the streets, as well as a temporary refuge for travelers with little money to spare for more expensive housing.

Ghanull's underworld kingdom became scattered and fractured, at least at first. Over time, another appeared to take control again, but his rule and dealings, while still illegal, were more benevolent than Ghanull's and did not threaten the safety of the kingdom and its people or jeopardize the position of the King as the ruler of Rillanda.

After much talking and persuasion, Camella moved into Tulan's spacious quarters, becoming his 'adopted' daughter, his student, and eventually his assistant. She continued to be connected to the underworld, becoming a hub spot for information going both directions, from the palace and to the palace. Time passed and Tulan watched with subdued joy as Camella became more relaxed and more at ease. The personality that emerged was saucy and sometimes impertinent, sly, quick-thinking, and full of energy and good humor.

Tulan had never married, since he had always considered himself married to his music and was quite happy with that. But he decided that if he had ever married and had a child, a daughter, he would have wanted her to be just like Camella. Dorien was his personal student, his protégé and very possibly his successor, but it was Camella who lived closest to his heart.

****************************
Five years later.....
****************************

Camella poked her head out of the outer doorway cautiously, checking both directions before stepping out and motioning those behind her to hurry. Last group, thank the Light. She whispered urgently, "Must hurry. Soldiers will be here soon."

Once the two guards and their families, plus the last few personal guards (and their families) that were not soldiers, were out of the passageway, Camella pulled closed the doorway. One guard, Willim she believed, touched her arm, saying quickly, "Thank you, Camella, for all you've done tonight." Jamas added his thanks as well.

The 15-year-old gestured impatiently. "Yes, yes, you're welcome. Please hurry. The soldiers..."

Too late, the soldiers had arrived. Willim, Jamas, and the other guards rushed to meet Seth's soldiers and give the others enough time to get to the safety promised them by Camella and her 'connections.' The soldiers were defeated quickly, but the fight had been noticed and more soldiers were on their way.

Camella said quickly, "Split up. Is safer, less noise to get attention." She gave them four different directions and people to meet. After a few hurried words of farewell, the groups each went their separate ways. Camella herself took one group into the underworld of Brightstar, delivering them safely.

Then she headed back to the palace. She had unfinished business there.

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

Much later that same night, Camella waited until Norseth left the royal bedchamber before beginning to push open the secret panel. She had watched as he'd set some spell on the room to protect it from being disturbed. But if she understood magery correctly, it could only protect what he, the mage, knew about. It didn't account for secret doorways and passageways.

She hoped.

Taking a breath, she pushed hard and the panel swung open silently. She waited a moment, but no alarm sounded, so she then tiptoed inside. She had seen Seth put the two royal state crowns and the formal robes in the side wardrobe before he'd gone out to a briefing meeting with his army commanders.

She picked the lock on the wardrobe and then opened the door. She reached inside quickly to grab the two robes and the crowns. Then she reclosed and relocked the door before hurriedly departing. A few moments later, the panel slid back into place and no one would ever know someone had been inside.

Seth never did find the crowns and robes again.

****************************
One year later....
****************************

Ren's voice was low as she looked over Camella's shoulder, "Oh, my, what is that?"

Turning around, Camella followed Ren's pointing finger with her eyes. Oranges and yellows painted the evening sky, but not from a sunset, it was in the wrong direction for that. A fire? But that's where ... The Academy! Tulan! She gasped out, "Oh, no, no, no!"

She jerked away from Ren's arm and started to run toward the massive building, ignoring her calls and warnings about the curfew. Inwardly she knew she was too far away and would arrive too late to do anything. She took all the shortcuts she could remember, creating a few new ones as she bumped into the empty carts on her rushed dash through the marketplace. She evaded the grasping hands of various soldiers that belonged to that invader Norseth's army. No time, no time. Have to hurry.

She skidded to a halt in the shadows of an alleyway in front of the burning Bardic Academy and could only watch in horror as the fire-gutted roof collapsed inward with a huge, tremendously loud crash. She fell to her knees, just staring. No, no, no, no! Tulan! Father! No!

Voices caught her attention. Soldiers' voices. "Well, he should be happy with the 'cleansing'. After it burns out, count the bodies inside and take role of those who escaped or who were already outside. Norseth wants them all accounted for, especially Tulan and that student of his, Dorien."

Dorien. Camella had forgotten about him. She couldn't have lost him as well. He was like a younger brother, most of the time at least, when they didn't bother each other too much. Blinking back tears of grief -- there would be time for that later -- she stood and carefully edged her way around to the back of the building which faces the forest in the distance. If anyone got out, they would go out the back, where it was safer, where there was a possibility of escaping from Seth's soldiers.

She managed to keep hidden from the soldiers looking for stragglers and eventually made it to the area at the back of the building. Over the crackling of the flames and the noise of falling walls, she finally heard a soft keening. She found Dorien huddled in the shadows at the edge of the forest away from the flames. He had clutched to his chest a lute that she recognized as Tulan's and a small packet of books at his side as he rocked back and forth slowly.

She ran to him and pulled him up to his feet jerkily, hugging him hard once, then backing up to look in his eyes, holding on to his shoulders. "Dorien, where is Tulan? Is he inside still?"

He blinked a few times, bringing her face into focus. "Camella? Tulan is ... he was trapped ... I wasn't strong enough. He told me to take his lute and the books and leave, that I had to live. I didn't want to..."

Choking back tears of sorrow, Camella shook him briefly. "The soldiers, they are looking for you. We must get you out of Brightstar safely. Come."

Nodding, Dorien picked up the packet of books and followed her into the darkness, trusting her instincts to get them both to safety.

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

Once at Mazara House, Dorien told them of how Tulan had told one of the histories the previous night to the students as they had eaten dinner. It was one of the true histories, a story of Gwyna. Somehow, word had reached Seth of what Tulan had done. The soldiers had appeared this evening just as curfew was being called and set fire to the building, saying that by order of King Norseth, the Academy was being cleansed. Dorien had just been entering the building and instead of running out, had run inside to grab the books from their hiding place and then went to Tulan's office.

The fire was spreading rapidly, but Dorien hadn't wanted to leave until he knew Tulan was safe as well. He'd found Tulan in his office, lying dazed on the floor, smoldering debris covering part of him. Dorien wasn't strong enough to remove the debris. Tulan told him to take the lute and leave, to escape, to remember, to live. Dorien did as he had been told.

When Camella heard that Seth was responsible, however indirectly, for Tulan's death, only the fact that Dorien had to be taken to safety somewhere out of Brightstar kept her from wanting to find Seth and attack him. It wouldn't do any good to try and hurt him, but her emotions demanded release. But first she had to get Dorien to safety.

After supplying him with food, extra clothing, and a little money, Camella took him out to the countryside and directed him toward the town of Rosewood. She didn't think Seth knew about its significance yet and it would be safe, for the moment. From there, he would have to make his own way. She could only hope the 14-year-old Dorien was up to the challenge.

In the years that passed, Camella would hear of a traveling minstrel named Rei that told marvelous tales and sang wonderful songs. And she would just smile.

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

Upon her return to Mazara House, she, Toby, and Ren began to make plans for a communication network both within and without Brightstar, hopefully to cover all of Rillanda. They had to first organize their Rillandan resources, starting with the underworld of the capital. And then the rest of Brightstar and then expanding out in circles. Included in these plans were ideas to make Seth and his soldiers wish they'd never come here. And those were plans in which Camella took great interest.

****************************
Fourteen years later....
****************************

Camella slipped out of her small house in Beggar's Market. She could hear the fighting in the parts of town closer to the palace. It sounded closer than it had a few minutes ago. It must be spreading out. Don't know if that's good or bad. I need to find Toby and Ren and make sure they're all right before I go. Ren is supposed to be due any day now.

She continued on, slipping through the shadows of the buildings, one hand holding a dagger close to her waist, ready for anything. A week ago, word had reached her through various messengers that Kellessan and her 'army' had decided to move against Seth. Rumor had it that she knew where Stefan and Raven were, though no word had been given about the daughter.

At age 30, Camella had had enough of Seth's ruling to last her until eternity. She and her band of street kids and allies in the underworld had kept Seth and his soldiers constantly on edge for the past several years. Small things really. Missing clothes, moved objects, suspicions of ghosts in the palace. All calculated to drive them slowly crazy and perhaps drive them away at the same time.

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

After checking on Toby and Ren, safe in a hidden basement of the Mazara House, along with many of the younger children that live in the area, Camella slowly went on toward the palace. She wanted to see this army of Kellessan for herself. And she wanted to see this Kellessan. Dorien's tales spoke of a mighty swordswoman with eyes that blazed and a sword that threw fire. Doubtful that it's true in fact, but the tales are very well calculated to bring the proper respect to the woman who just might save us all.

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

Camella followed the two guards she remembered as Willim and Jamas into the palace. They had to know what was happening. There were others following as well, so she was not noticed. Once inside, she slipped away and waited until the hallway was clear before ducking through a panel and into the passageway that led to her secret hidey-hole.

Reaching that special hidden place, she gathered up two large neatly wrapped packages. She continued on, taking a short-cut that would lead her to a hallway near the throne room. At the exit, she noted that the dust on the passage floor had been disturbed. Someone's used this recently. The swordswoman and her group perhaps?

While she was waiting for the footsteps going past the doorway to recede, she tore the twine and paper wrapping off the two packages, revealing two dark green and gold formal court robes, plus the two heavy state Rillandan crowns. Camella grinned rakishly to herself. Seth had had his men search the entire palace and half of the surrounding houses trying to find the crowns and the formal robes.

All to no avail.

The entire time they had been sitting right under his nose, so to speak, hidden in one of the many nooks and crannies of the palace. Seth had found several of the passageways, but not the more hidden ones, the ones only Camella and a few select others knew about. And he had especially not found the way down to the crypt. While searching, a few of Seth's soldiers had been unlucky enough to stumble onto a few of the more secret passages -- and the deadly boobytraps Camella had placed there. Their bodies were always found in some hallway the next day, with no way to tell how they had died or how they ended up where they did.

Camella realized that there were no more footsteps outside the panel and pushed it open carefully, looking around. Seeing no one, she slipped out and closed the door silently. She padded down the long hallway and turned the corner. In front of the large throne room doors stood a group of a dozen people, among them Willim and Jamas. As she neared them she could hear what sounded like lightning coming from inside the throne room.

She walked up to Willim who stood silent and tense in front of the doors. He looked down at her approach, recognition lighting up his grim features momentarily. "Camella! You are alive!"

She nodded, smiling slightly. "So I am. What's happening? Is that swordswoman in there?"

Willim blinked once at her knowledge, then nodded, looking back at the door. "Kellessan. Yes, she is in there, fighting with Seth. A battle of magery if I'm not mistaken."

Jamas took a step closer to the two of them, motioning toward what Camella carried, his eyes wide. "Are those what I think they are?" Willim's eyes followed Jamas' to the robes draped over Camella's arm and the crowns she had threaded on her arm as well.

She smoothed down the fabric of one robe, saying quietly, "Yes, they are. I, uh, reclaimed them from Seth's rooms the first night he was here and hid them. They have been waiting for their rightful wearers to return, which I what hear is happening tonight, yes?"

Horns suddenly started up outside the palace, playing the Rillandan March, signaling victory over Seth's troop. Now only the battle beyond these two doors remains. Looking at those doors, Jamas nodded in reply to Camella's query. "Yes."

The noise inside the throne room grew to a brief deafening pitch and then vanished before anyone could move to cover their ears. They heard an echoing voice say "Balance is restored," and then some muted voices.

Willim banged on the door after a few moments. "Open this door this instant!"

Movement was heard from inside as the wood barricade was removed and the doors were pulled open. Four people stood there, none of which was Seth. They had won. Seth was gone. It didn't have to be said. If Seth had won, the four within would not be standing there alive, waiting for someone to speak.

Two of those standing Camella recognized instantly as Stefan and Raven, older, but still them. The other man she realized was Dorien. It had been some time since she'd seen him. But it was him.

It was the woman who held her attention for a few brief moments. Blonde, medium tall, proud bearing, large sword, and a residual fading glow of magepower in her blue eyes. Kellessan. It must be her. Maybe Dorien's stories were true after all.

She shook herself mentally and stepped forward to Stefan and Raven, grinning broadly as she went to one knee before them, head bowed in respect and fealty. She looked up again almost immediately, lifting up the robes and crowns. "Your Majesties. I am Camella, once assistant to Tulan. Many years ago, I spirited these items away, keeping them safe for your eventual return to Brightstar."

Stefan took up one crown and placed it on Raven's head, adding the cloak around her shoulders, then pulled his own cloak on, before finally adding the crown to his own head. As the crown touched his head, the others around Camella fell to one knee as well, heads bowed.

Camella watched as Kell raised her sword to the heavens, saying loudly, "Long live the King and Queen." Her words were repeated and echoed with by those assembled in the hallway.

As they all rose to their feet again, Camella watched with a shrewd eye as Stefan and Raven talked quietly with Kellessan as she sheathed her sword. There's something about her, something about the way they treat her... Her eyes widened. Could she be Linet?

So lost in her thoughts, she didn't notice Dorien slip over to her side until he tapped her on the shoulder. She shifted her gaze over to her side and smiled, grasping his hand with both of hers. "Dorien. You have made quite a name for yourself over the years. I am glad to see you again."

Dorien smiled back at her. "It is good to see you again as well, Camella. And it is good to be back in Brightstar. Seems like a lifetime ago that I left."

Camella's eyes were drawn back to Kell as she approached the two of them. "It was a lifetime ago, Dorien." She directed her next comments to the swordswoman. "And you must be Kellessan."

Kell inclined her head. "Yes. And you are Camella. My thanks and that of Stefan and Raven's for safekeeping the robes and the crowns."

Camella's mouth quirked to one side. "All part of the job of irritating the invader. And now which of you is going to tell me the truth about who you really are?"

Kell and Dorien exchanged quick glances before Kell replied slowly, "I don't know what you mean."

Camella rolled her eyes. "Oh, please, Tulan taught me to look for the truth in all things, to not be fooled by exteriors and facades. I know who you are, Kellessan, or rather who you used to be. Do I have to say it?"

Kell was quiet a moment, then shook her head, sighing, resigned. "No, you don't. Everyone will have to know eventually I guess. No reason to keep hiding it."

Camella pursed her lips. "No, you're wrong there. You need to keep the secret for a while longer. Let the people get used to having the royal family back. To have the fact that the princess is actually a mercenary swordswoman thrown out at them would probably be a bit much. Say that you found Linet in the servant quarters below, or something innocuous like that, where she'd been hiding from Seth for years."

Dorien nodded his agreement. "Good idea." He grinned then. "And besides, who knows, you may want to get out of the palace at some point. You can go as Kellessan and no one will be the wiser."

Kell lifted an eyebrow, then laughed shortly. "Hmm. Whatever you say, minstrel."

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

Before going out to greet the people of Brightstar, Raven and Camella quickly made Kell look a little more like a princess. Jamas found another green and gold cloak in storage, plus the light silver circlet that befitted a Rillandan princess. Finally she was presentable enough to pass.

First Stefan and Raven went out to stand on the torch-lit platform. Cries of joy could be heard wafting up to them. Then Dorien pushed a reluctant Kell forward, taking her sword from her, saying it wasn't appropriate for a princess. Camella smothered a laugh at the glare Kell threw at Dorien before she turned and joined her parents. Ah, there is definitely something going on between the two of them. Tulan would be pleased.

Camella watched as Kell raised her arm in greeting, then turned to Stefan and Raven, saying loudly, her voice triumphant and joyful, "Long live the King and Queen." The Rillandans echoed her words, growing louder as they repeated the phrase with increasing volume and strength.

Camella smiled and looked up at the dark night skies above them. It was a clear night, though cold. The stars shone brightly down on them. She imagined that Tulan along with all the others who have died in the past fifteen years were watching them from behind those stars, smiling as well.

Yes, he would be pleased indeed.

- The End -


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