Authors: Steven A. Tolle
“What could I say?” Jake replied. “I like you, Keria, but if a way home showed up now, I would take it. Your father was right about that.”
“Maybe you can never go home.” Keria said. “Have you thought of that?”
“I think about it all the time.” Jake stated angrily. “Don’t you think I know that I may be stuck here?”
“Then why not accept that and stay here with me?” Keria said gently, stepping closer. “You have faced down and defeated demons; surely we can find a way to make my father relent if you really wanted it.”
“Look, two things. First, I don’t know how all of the politics and noble thing works. Second, it would not be fair to you if, out of the blue, I can go home.” Jake said, trying to be reasonable. “You need someone who knows the system and who will always be here.” Jake swallowed, still not believing he was going to say this. “Someone like Marcus.”
Keria stiffened. “So, you are just like my father; thinking that you can select someone for me without asking whether I want that person.” She said haughtily. Jake could see unshed tears standing in her eyes. “I thought you would understand that I simply want to choose my own way.” She paused, then said directly. “I can never hate you, Jake; you risked all for me and have suffered for it. But I don’t think I will ever forgive you for this.” With that, she turned and marched out the door.
Jake sat there, stunned and hurt.
He brought his knees to his chest, resting his arms on his legs, hands curling into fists, jaw clenching. He stared at the far wall, trying to bore a hole in it with the anger in his heart.
This is all bullshit.
He snarled to himself.
I didn’t ask for any of this. I can’t go home and I can’t stay here. At least, not how I would want.
He was so focused on his anger that he missed the faint voices coming from the yard. So, he almost jumped out of his skin when the door curtain whipped back and Dominic strode into the room.
“Dominic!” Jake exclaimed, shocked to see him. Dominic’s clothes were travel-stained, his breastplate scarred with scratches and a deep gouge, and a bandage on one arm. He stopped at the foot of the bed, crossing his arms and looking at Jake.
“You shouldn’t make a woman like that unhappy, boy.” Dominic said in the way of a greeting, nodding towards the way Keria had gone,
an amused look in his bright blue eyes. “She can make your life a terror if she wants.”
“When did you get back?” Jake asked, his gratification at Dominic’s return overwhelming his anger and frustration. “How did the battle go?”
Dominic pulled the stool over and sat down. “We just arrived.” He said. “We stopped off at the Temple first. The girl was there and told me that you were back here.” He looked closely at Jake, his eyes evaluating. “I’m glad to see you up and about. She mentioned that you could move with the assistance of your power.”
“Yeah, it beats lying around, though I still get tired easily.” Jake said. “Tell me what happened.”
“We breached the fortress easily enough.” Dominic stated, tone matter-of fact. “Once inside, we overwhelmed the initial force of demons and half-men, but had to start splitting off to clear the passageways and rooms. We assigned two soldiers to every cleric; Alleon and I protected Jonas. It took us all night and into the next day, but we were able to kill or drive off all of the demons and their followers. The place was riddled with passageways that led to the hills, so many that fled us were able to escape.” Dominic shook his head, clearly not happy about that. “We did not have a large enough force to go after them. We had lost five clerics and their escorts during the fighting. They were killed when they were clearing rooms, separated from the main force, and cornered by the demons.”
“We did find and free around a dozen captives in the dungeons.” Dominic continued. “They told us that there had been some in-fighting amongst the demons and many groups of the half-men had fled the fortress before we arrived. We took the captives with us and burned anything that was of use before we left. The clerics treated the captives and we escorted them to the local garrison fortress, where we were told that you had stopped on your way to the city. We rested overnight, then headed back to the capital.”
“Alleon has gone to the palace to inform the king.” Dominic finished, standing up. “I need to get Shadow and Dontas to the stables, as well as get cleaned up, but I wanted to check on you first. I will come by tomorrow with Jonas, so he can assess your condition.” He headed for the doorway. “Good night, boy.”
“I’m glad that you and Jonas are alright.” Jake blurted out. “I was worried about you.”
Dominic looked back over his shoulder. “Thank you, Jake.” He said simply and left.
Early the next morning, with the sun barely over the horizon, the sky filled with scattered clouds and a cool breeze drifting though the garden, Hailyn raked the dirt paths that crisscrossed through the plants. All apprentices were assigned tasks to keep up the Temple grounds. She was grateful for the physical labor since it allowed her an opportunity to quietly reflect on things as she worked. She especially liked spending time in the garden, enjoying the fresh scents from the plants while the birds sang from the trees overhead. It was very peaceful and refreshing.
“Hailyn!” A voice called to her. She looked over to see Cesila, another apprentice jogging over to her. Cesila stopped a few feet away, panting slightly from her exertions. “Master Jonas has requested that you come to the sanctuary now. I will finish your work here.”
Hailyn handed the rake to Cesila, brushing off some stray leaves from her robes as she walked over to the nearby doorway and entered the Temple building. She went through the library, nodding to the clerics and apprentices studying there, and passed into the Temple proper. She always appreciated the beauty of the Temple, the colored glass in the tall windows filling it with color during the day. She walked down the center aisle, with the polished wooden benches on either side. Directly ahead, she saw the large candle on the altar, its flame glowing softly. It was always kept lit to symbolize the eternal nature of the One. Above it was the large white banner that represented the Light of the One.
She stopped briefly before the altar to give her thanks to the One, and then headed to the sanctuary door built into the wall near the altar. The sanctuary was a small room that was sent aside for the clerics to speak with people that requested privacy. Apprentices also were called to the sanctuary when they were to be counseled by the clerics. She did not think she had committed any infractions, so she was not sure why she was being called. The heavy wooden door that blocked sounds from carrying into the Temple was open. When she paused at the door, she could hear soft voices coming from the sanctuary.
“Master.” Hailyn called into the hallway that led to the sanctuary. “I am here.”
“Come in, Hailyn, and close the door behind you.” Jonas’ voice came back to her.
She pulled the heavy door closed, having to strain a bit, and it shut with a hollow boom that echoed in the stone hallway. As she walked down the short distance, she saw that the sanctuary was brightly lit with many candles. When she entered the main room, she paused, surprised. There was a long wooden table set up with a single chair sitting in the middle of the room, facing it. Sitting behind the table were five clerics.
Jonas sat in the middle chair, a welcoming smile on his face and his staff resting against the wall behind him. Sitting to his right, Sister Silvan, her hair pulled tightly back as usual, watched Hailyn enter, her face neutral. Silvan was in charge of the healing clinic and was second only to Jonas in healing skills. To her right sat Brother Kethen, a portly man with calculating eyes. Kethen did not wield the clerics’ magic, but was in charge of the Temple’s finance and business interests.
To Jonas’ left was a cleric that Hailyn knew very well. Sister Lavera was an older woman, her hair gray and face lined with age. She also did not wield power, but she was known as a person with a steel will. That was why she was chosen as the cleric in charge of the apprentice training. Hailyn knew that beneath her hard exterior, Lavera was also a caring woman, always there to comfort the apprentices when they were homesick or had become overwhelmed by the training. Sitting next to her was Brother Trence, a lean and muscular man in early middle age who was in charge of the clerics that served in the army. He often taught the apprentices hand-to-hand combat skills, preparing them for possible military duty.
“Please sit, Hailyn.” Jonas said, gesturing to the empty chair.
Hailyn went over and sat, drawing a deep breath and calming her mind. She returned Jonas’ look, her hands folded in her lap, and waited.
“I have spoken with you about how I felt you were ready to take the tests to leave the apprenticeship.” Jonas said. “Having watched you during the rescue of the princess, as well as Silvan’s observations from the trip back, I have decided that the time has come to test your
knowledge and skills. If we are satisfied, we will welcome you as a full cleric.” He paused for a moment, then asked. “Are you ready to face the tests, Hailyn?”
“I am, Master.” She replied, keeping her voice steady in spite of the sudden knot in her stomach.
“Then we shall begin.” Jonas said formally. “Describe for us the role of the cleric in the lives of the people.”
Hailyn took a deep breath before responding, focused on providing the best answer, committed to passing whatever tests would be given her.
It was mid-afternoon when Dominic and Jonas appeared at Jake’s room. He had spent most of the day roaming the yard, playing with Maxis and sleeping. He was sitting on his bed, inspecting his sword, when the door curtain pulled back and they walked in.
“Hello, Jake.” Jonas said, looking closely at Jake’s face. “You look better than when I last saw you.”
“I’m glad to see you, Jonas.” Jake responded. “I feel better with my power, but am still very weak when I don’t have it.”
“Release your power and let me look at you.” Jonas stated.
Jake sat back against the wall, then released his magic, feeling his strength fade away. He immediately felt that strange crawling sensation, this time coming very strongly from Jonas. Jonas stepped closer, causing the sensation to increase, making it feel as if thousands of ants were swarming over Jake’s body. When Jonas called up his power, his shining aura lighting the room, the sensation became unbearable. Unsure what was happening and concerned for Jonas, Jake summoned his power, cutting off the sensation. Jonas stepped back, a look of confusion on his face.
“Stay back, Jonas.” Jake said. “You may get hurt.”
“Why do you say that Jake?” Jonas inquired.
Sighing, Jake explained as best he could about his sensation and how it was strongest from the clerics. Jake told Jonas that Hailyn had spoken with him about the risks to the clerics. He finished by describing how his power seemed to cut off the sensation.
“Interesting.” Jonas said when Jake finished. He stood there, watching Jake and thinking. After a few moments, he spoke again. “I am not sure I can find anything about this in our texts. I believe that we will just have to try and heal you, Jake. There is a risk there, but we will not know if we do not try.”
“No, Jonas.” Jake said stubbornly. “I will not allow you or anyone else risk their life for me.”
“Jake.” Jonas said reassuringly. “I am a servant of the One. My life is in His hands. If I am to fall helping you, then that is my fate.” He came forward, shining brightly.
“No.” Jake stated again, lifting his sword and pulling in more of his power, ready to deflect any attempt by Jonas to use his magic on him. “I will not let you do this.”
Jonas stopped, a look of frustration on his face at the sword and Jake’s insistence.
“Boy!” Dominic said sharply, his face a mask, though his eyes seemed to shine. “Put that down and stop acting the fool. Jonas knows the dangers.”
Jake stared back, refusing to lower his sword. Dominic began to move forward, clearly prepared to take the sword.
Suddenly, a knock sounded at the door. Norlan stepped inside, freezing when he took in Jake and Jonas glowing in power, the sword in Jake’s hand and the look on Dominic’s face. “I’m sorry to interrupt whatever is going on, but a messenger is here, asking for you both.” He said cautiously.
“We will discuss this later, boy.” Dominic growled at Jake. He motioned to Jonas and they followed Norlan out. Standing in the yard was a soldier whose uniform indicated that he was assigned to one of the city gates. Three horses were tied up at the fence.
“Brother Jonas. Dominic.” The soldier greeted them, giving them each a nod of his head. “I was sent to find you. There is a carriage at the North Gate with several soldiers as an escort. The captain did not recognize their armor and uniforms, so we halted them. The Aletonian in charge requested to speak to you by name. He asked us to tell you that Tomaris is here.”
The crowd at the gate courtyard parted as Dominic and Jonas rode past, following the messenger. As they approached the gate and were recognized, the soldiers manning the gate began to hold up traffic, clearing a path outside. They rode over to another group of soldiers guarding a plain and unassuming carriage, one that a moderately successful merchant may own.
Dominic saw the captain of the guard speaking with an armored man astride a brown horse. His armor shone in the late afternoon sun, reflecting the golden light, standing in contrast to his dark face. There were four other men on horseback surrounding the carriage, dressed in the same armor. Dominic, with Jonas right behind him, rode slowly through the soldiers standing guard, who moved aside as they passed. He came to a stop next to the captain.
“Greetings, Moshanna.” Dominic said, raising his right hand in salute. “I did not expect to see you here.”
“Greetings, Dominic.” Moshanna Deepwood replied, returning the salute. “Tomaris has some information that he said could not wait for messengers.”
“Hello, Dominic. Brother Jonas.” A familiar voice called from the carriage.
Dominic glanced over and saw Tomaris’ dusky and lined face as he leaned out of the carriage window. His white hair seemed to catch the sun while his unusual purple eyes seemed to take in everything. He gestured for Jonas to come closer. Jonas rode over and dismounted, going to stand next to the carriage window. The two put their heads together and spoke quietly.
“Captain.” Dominic addressed the officer. “These men are friends and pose no threat to the city. I will vouch for these men and Brother Jonas and I will escort them while they are in the city. Is that sufficient to let them pass?”
“Of course, Dominic.” The officer replied, giving him a short bow.
“Thank you, Captain.” Dominic said with a nod of his head. “Send your messenger with us so he can bring this horse back.” The captain complied, relaying the order
to the soldier.
Dominic looked back towards Jonas. “Jonas.” He called over. “Should we head to the Temple?”
Jonas spoke with Tomaris again, and then looked at Dominic. “No. Go to Norlan’s.” He motioned a solider over to take the horse he was riding. “I will ride with Tomaris.”
Dominic nodded as Jonas climbed into the carriage. He motioned to Deepwood. “Join me, Moshanna.” He said politely. “Please have the carriage and your men follow us.” Deepwood gave the orders to his men and the driver of the carriage,
then rode over next to Dominic.
With the creak of leather and wood and sounds of horseshoes ringing off the paving stones, the group headed into the city.
After Jonas and Dominic had left, Jake had sheathed his sword and gone outside to walk off some of his nervous energy. He was surprised and a bit unsettled to have faced down both Jonas and Dominic. He also felt slightly detached and conflicted between his regard for both men and his determination to not allow Jonas to risk his life to attempt to help him. He was wrestling with his emotions when Norlan joined him.
“What was going on, Jake?” Norlan asked quietly, concern in his voice. “Why did you have your sword on Jonas?”
“He was going to attempt to heal me, but I think if he tries, he will be seriously hurt or maybe even die.” Jake replied
, glancing around to make sure no one else was nearby. “That is the reason he didn’t do it before. Unless I know for sure that he won’t get hurt, I’m not going to allow him to risk healing me.”
“If Jonas cannot heal you, then what will you do?” Norlan inquired. “You cannot stay in this state, where only your power allows you to move.” He paused, thinking. “I trust Jonas knows what he is about. If he believes that there are no other option and thinks that it could work, maybe you should let him try.” He placed a hand on Jake’s shoulder. “You cannot decide for other what risks they will take.”
“This is different, Norlan.” Jake stated stubbornly. “I know that Jonas is skilled in healing and thinks that he can do something for me. But how can I live with myself if, to heal me, Jonas dies?”
“I don’t have an easy answer for you, lad.” Norlan replied, sighing heavily. He paused,
then spoke more firmly. “If I could do something to help you, even if it meant risking my life, I would. I know that Jonas and Dominic would do the same. We are grown men, capable of deciding for ourselves what we will gamble our lives on. You may just have to find a way to come to terms with that.”
They walked around the yard in silence; Jake wrestling with his feelings while Norlan was seemingly content to let him. After a couple of times around the yard, Norlan stopped. “I know that this is a hard matter, Jake.” He said simply. “You risked your life to rescue Cherise and the princess. They did not ask for it, but are grateful that you did. Do not try to deny someone from doing the same for you.” He patted Jake on the arm as he turned to go into the house. “I think that your concern for Jonas’ well-being is admirable, but try to remember that, in this case, concern runs both ways.”
After Norlan went back inside, Jake headed back to his room. He sat on his bed, restless, contemplating what he should do. What Norlan said made sense, but he could not bring himself to let Jonas die in an attempt to help him.
He was sitting there, unhappily, mulling over all of the options, when there was a knock at his door. He heard Hailyn call out from the other side.
“Jake, are you in?” She asked.
“I’m here.” He replied. “Come in.”
There was something different about Hailyn when she walked into his room. At first, Jake could not figure out what it was. She appeared the same, with her curly brown hair neatly done, a smile on her face and happiness shining in those golden-flaked eyes. Like a bolt from the blue, it came to him. She was dressed in brown clerics’ robes.
“What happened, Hailyn?” He inquired. “Why are you in the clerics’ robes?”
“I passed my tests this morning.” Hailyn said, delight in her voice. “I’m no longer an apprentice.”
“Congratulations, Hailyn!” Jake exclaimed, happy for her success. “What were the tests like? What will you do now?”
Hailyn came and sat at the end of the bed. “I faced a panel of clerics, including Jonas, who tested me on my knowledge of the teachings of the One. After that, I was given practical exercises to complete, including healing in the clinic. Once that was finished, I waited in the Temple. It seemed forever, but eventually Jonas came out to tell me I had passed and welcomed me as a cleric. After several hours of contemplation and prayer, Sister Silvan brought me my new robes. I have spent the last couple of hours clearing my things from the apprentice quarters and moving into the clerics’ quarters. There will be a formal ceremony in a few days, but for now, I have been given leave to rest and relax.”
“As to what I will do, that will depend on Jonas.” She continued. “Since I am a healer, I may be sent to serve with the army or I may stay and work in the clinic at the Temple. It is also possible that I will be sent to serve a community elsewhere in the country.”
“Elsewhere? Really?” Jake muttered, startled, having grown so use to Hailyn being nearby. He was surprised that the thought of Hailyn leaving hurt him more than having to say good-bye to Keria. “That sucks.”
“Don’t worry, Jake.” Hailyn said soothingly. “It is likely that Jonas will take your situation into consideration when making the decision.”
“I hope so.” Jake stated. He looked at Hailyn, meeting her eyes. “You are my closest friend here. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I am glad to hear that, Jake.” Hailyn said with a smile. “I have grown fond of you as well.”
Jake smiled back, blushing slightly and cursing again that he could not seem to stay cool and collected around women.
I’m sure Marcus would have something smooth to say.
He grimaced to himself.
Before he could say anything, there were sudden voices outside, then the door curtain pulled back and Dominic stepped inside, followed by Jonas. Both had an air of anticipation about them. To Jake, they seemed to have let the earlier confrontation slide. “We have someone who wishes to speak with you, boy.” Dominic said.
The curtain parted again and Jake was amazed to see Tomaris come in the room. He was dressed in the same gray robe he always wore at the Keep, that slight hunch on the shoulders visible as he walked slowly, a brown satchel hanging from his shoulder. He looked over at Jake, those purple eyes wise and knowing, but turned to Hailyn, who was rising from the bed. “Who is this lovely child?” He asked, his voice rheumy like Jake remembered.
“This is Hailyn, the newest cleric of the Temple.” Jonas replied for her. “She and Jake are good friends.”
“It is good to have friends, is it not?” Tomaris said, more a statement than a question.
“Greetings, Master Tomaris.” Hailyn said with a nod of her head. “Jake has told me about his time with you at the Keep.”
“Has he?” Tomaris asked, sounding pleased. “It is my pleasure to meet you, Sister Hailyn. Perhaps we will have time to speak with each other.”
Tomaris turned to Jake, coming closer, his eyes studying Jake’s condition. “Release your power, child, so I can see what has been done to you.” He said reassuringly. “Jonas has told me what you did and about your condition.”
“I don’t think that is a good idea.” Jake responded. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“Fear not, Jake.” Tomaris said with a light smile. “There is no danger here for me.”
Taking a deep breath, Jake let go of his magic, weariness settling over him like a blanket, and watched as Tomaris drew near. Jake could feel that crawling sensation radiating off all of them, most strongly from Tomaris, Jonas and Hailyn, with a weaker sensation from Dominic. Once Tomaris stopped near him, Jake felt a sudden change. If his condition had allowed, he would have jumped. Unexpectedly, he could no longer feel anything from Tomaris!
Jake watched, fascinated by the absence, as Tomaris closed his eyes and slowly reached out to touch his forehead. Jake felt Tomaris’ warm, dry and papery-feeling skin, but he also felt a different sort of tingling from that touch. He felt it spread through his body, distracting him from the other sensation. Tomaris stayed like that for several moments, then pulled his hand away. He opened his eyes, giving Jake a pat on the shoulder, then turned to address Jonas.
“It is good that you did not try to heal Jake.” Tomaris said. “It is as you suspected. Jake intertwined his life force with his power when he launched that last attack. Had you tried to heal him, likely you would have died.”
“Then is there nothing to be done?” Jonas asked dejectedly.
“If we work together, I think we can address his infirmity.” Tomaris replied, looking down and giving Jake a reassuring smile. “There is a risk, but it will be less than if either of us tried on our own.” He turned back to Jonas. “However, we must discuss what I discovered before we take that step.”
“Should I remain, Master Tomaris?” Hailyn asked, unsure of her place in this situation.
“Please do, my dear.” Tomaris said kindly. “I believe that you should hear this.” Hailyn nodded and sat back down at the end of the bed.
Tomaris called in Deepwood, giving Jake another shock; Jake had not considered that Deepwood would be here as well. Deepwood gave Jake a brief salute before turning to Tomaris.
“Moshanna, please make sure that no one attempts to disturb us.” Tomaris requested.
“Of course, Tomaris.” Deepwood replied,
then went back outside.
Once he was outside, Tomaris’ face took on a look of concentration, gesturing towards the walls. Jake could suddenly see a shimmering in the air, similar to heat waves coming off hot ground, cover the walls, windows and door. Once the shimmering was complete, Tomaris pulled the stool over, sitting down and pulling his satchel to his front.
“When Dominic and Jake left the Keep, I also left.” Tomaris explained. “I have been tracking down relics and information about our enemies since I was a young man. Over the long years, I have heard many rumors and tales of lost artifacts, piecing together what I could to determine if the tales were real, and, when possible, retrieving these artifacts.” He reached into his satchel and gently pulled out an ancient-looking scroll, dry and crumbling, holding it tenderly. “I left to find this, one of the things I had feared was lost to the ages.” He looked over at Jonas. “This is the scroll of Arnes, telling of his visit by the Guardian.”
?!” Jonas exclaimed, looking shocked. “Are you sure?” Hailyn had her hand over her mouth, her eyes looking stunned. Even Dominic seemed taken aback.
“Quite sure, Jonas.” Tomaris stated with conviction.
“Who’s Arnes?” Jake inquired.
“Arnes was the first cleric, Jake.” Tomaris said gently. “When the demons appeared, he came out of the wilderness, empowered with the clerics’ magic and taught it to the other clerics. It is said that he himself was taught by the Guardian.”
“Guardian?” Jake asked, feeling lost in this conversation.
“The Guardian.” Tomaris said, looking over at Jonas. “It is a belief of the clerics that the Creator assigned a Guardian to protect this world from the demons.”