The Seer and The Prince (A Seers Short Story)

Sorry it took so long to get this story out! Lots of things going on these days. But here is my first Seers short story, which is not really all that short. It’s just shy of being long enough to be a novelette. Once I started writing about Niall and Maelona’s backstory, I had so much I wanted to say that I could have made it a novella. Instead I stuck to the main story about the first time they met. (I had to save myself time for working on writing Book 2 and getting my first book ready to be listed, after all).

As I mentioned, this book gives background into how Maelona and King Niall from Book 1 met. In Book 1, we learn they are close friends, but the story of how that happened didn’t really fit in there. So I’ve done it here separately. It also gives background into the world  my stories are set in. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

WARNING: The story contains a “bit” of a spoiler for Book 2. Talwyn, who is mentioned in this story, is the main character for Book 2. If you hate spoilers, you might want to avoid this short story. Or, considering the Book 1 isn’t even available yet, you could just read this and then forget you’ve read it by the time the second book comes out. 🙂

Happy Reading!
Sherry

 

The Seer and The Prince

(A Seers Short Story)

 By: Sherry Leclerc

 

Niall mounted his horse and followed his father, King Ahearn of Eastgate, into the Sacred Forest. He could not help but look back nervously at the guards. “Are you sure we should leave your guards behind, Father?” he asked.

Ahearn looked back at his young son and smiled indulgently. For a child of eleven years, Niall was thoughtful and responsible. Ahearn had no doubt that this question came out of concern, and not of fear.

“I am quite sure, my son,” Ahearn responded.

“But what if something happens along the way?” Niall asked.

“Nothing bad will happen, Niall, I assure you. We are inside the Sacred Forest, and I have this.” King Ahearn tugged on a chain around his neck, and a beautiful, finely crafted, silver amulet appeared from inside his tunic.

“It’s incredible, Father, but what is it for?”

“This is an amulet that was given to me by an old friend. He lives deep within the forest. This amulet gives us protection and grants us passage through the forest,” Ahearn replied.

“Passage to where?”

“Well, I am not exactly sure. Though I have been there before, there is a protective spell on the place that keeps outsiders from remembering how to get there,” explained Ahearn.

“But, if we don’t know where we are going, then how are we going to get there?” Niall asked.

Ahearn responded by saying, “So many questions. Such curiosity. You will make a fine king one day if you keep asking the right questions.” He looked over and smiled at his son, who had brought his horse up next to his father’s on the trail.

Niall tilted his head and continued to divide his gaze between the path and his father. So, his father went on to say, “Remember what I am about to tell you, my lad. You will need to know this one day. And another, crucially important point to know is that everything you see and hear on this voyage is to stay with you: you are to tell no one. Our realm’s peace depends on our discretion in this. Do you understand?”

Niall seemed to think on this for a moment, then he answered his father solemnly, with an earnest expression. “Yes father, I understand.”

Ahearn trusted his son’s word, even though he was quite young. His Niall seemed to have the wisdom and common sense of a man who had lived twice his years. So, he continued, “We don’t actually find our own way to where we are going. We follow this path through the forest until they find us and bring us to their village. Then they will point us towards home afterwards. Once we return home, we will forget the way to the village, and we will need to do the same thing next time.”

“Who are these people, father, and why are they hiding?” Niall asked.

Ahearn knew he could answer both questions with one reply. “They are seers.”

Niall turned to his father with wide eyes. “Seers?” he asked with clear concern. Then he glanced backwards again in the direction of his father’s guards.

“Look at me, Niall,” his father demanded, and Niall turned to him.

“Forget what you have heard and understand the truth from your own father’s mouth: the stories you have heard about the seer people are just that – stories. A couple of centuries ago, there were those who feared their abilities, so they whispered rumors into the ears of those who did not know better. They preyed upon the ignorance and insecurities of the humans so they would think that the seers were their enemies. But the seers are not our enemies. They are guardians of the realm, son. They continue to guard us all even though we humans had judged them wrongly and hunted them down in the past.”

“But how can you know that is true, father?” Niall asked. “How can you be sure that they can be trusted?”

“I know this, Niall,” Ahearn responded, “because they have been partners to the kings of the gate-towns for millennia. They have been working with us to protect the realm, to protect what our castles were built to defend.”

“What were they built to defend, father?” Niall asked.

“Ah, all in good time, my boy,” King Ahearn answered with a smile. “You are not ready for that information yet. You are, however, ready to get to know the seer people. In particular, you are ready to get to know those who will be your partners when your time comes to be king.”

Ahearn and Niall traveled by horseback for a few weeks, stopping to camp when the sun began to set each night. Niall had never ridden for so long before, and he found himself getting a little stiff and sore. King Ahearn noticed, so he ensured they got off and walked from time to time so they could stretch their limbs and recover a little from the aches and pains that riding this long could cause. But they kept moving forward.

Niall had never been this deep into any forest before. As they traveled, Niall looked around himself in wonder. When he looked up, they were covered by a ceiling of green foliage. At times the blue sky was clearly visible above, but most of the time only hints of blue were visible where the rays of sun managed to penetrate down to the forest floor below.

For the first while, the trail was wide and clear enough that they could move at a gallop and make good time. As they continued on, the trail narrowed so that they had to slow to a canter, and now they were traveling at an easy trot. That was fine with Niall, however. It was much easier to look at the sights around him at this pace. He even saw some wild animals moving through the forest.

One day, he was so enthralled with the sights, sounds and smells all around him that he did not notice his father halting his horse until his own halted next to him. Then he finally looked ahead, and he gasped at what he saw.

A few feet in front of where he and his father sat on horseback stood a young girl. He figured she could not be more than a couple of years older than himself. She was very different from any of the girls in Eastgate. She had hair that was white blond at the top, then changed to a pale lavender near her shoulders. It darkened even more towards the ends, changing to a deeper purple color where it ended just past her waist. Her eyes shone a bright amethyst as she looked at them. She was dressed in a flowing white robe and, at first, he thought she was an apparition.

Her beauty made his breath catch and his heart speed up. Now he understood what the other boys in the castle town were talking about when they teased each other about their first crushes. This girl was beautiful, and he had never seen anyone with her hair and eye color before.

He was still gaping at her, eyes wide and mouth open, as she began to speak.

“King Ahearn. Prince Niall,” she said, nodding to each of them in turn. “I am Maelona Sima. My father has sent me to escort you the rest the way to the village.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Maelona,” King Niall responded, nodding to her in return.

Niall could not yet bring himself to speak, so he simply nodded to her.

“You will have to leave your horses here, I am afraid,” Maelona stated with an apologetic smile. “We have to continue on foot from here.”

Niall and his father dismounted. Niall, finding his voice, asked, “You want us to just leave our horses here? What if something happens to them?”

“Take off their equipment,” Maelona instructed. Niall was a little surprised that his father began to do as she said without hesitation. After all, this girl could only be a couple of years older than Niall himself.

Ahearn finished taking the bridle and saddle off his horse and laid them out on a nearby fallen log. Then he went to help Niall. As he did so, Maelona took a small jar out of her pocket and opened it. She dipped her finger into the jar and began drawing a symbol on the horse’s hindquarters in dark green paint as she began to speak. “There is a river close by for them to drink from and a meadow just through those trees where they can graze. The Sacred Forest should be a safe place for them to wander, but I am marking them as an extra measure.”

Once the horses were released, Maelona led them into the thick woods. She moved gracefully and silently through the underbrush, picking her way through with ease. Niall tried to watch her foot falls and repeat what she was doing, but he found he was not nearly as graceful as she was.

“Watch your step here,” Maelona called back to them over her shoulder. “We are beginning to descend into Glenn Shelladah. It gets quite steep.”

“What is the Glenn Shelladah?” Niall asked.

Maelona answered, “The Valley of Sight.”

Niall did not have the opportunity to ask any more questions at this point, however. As Maelona had warned, the decline became very steep. King Ahearn went down ahead of his son so he could guide him and catch him if he should lose his footing. Soon, Niall pushed on ahead of his father, thinking that if Maelona could navigate the steep, narrow path without aid, then so could he. The three of them continued on in silence for a time. Niall and King Ahearn were concentrating on their footing, so there wasn’t much conversation.

When Niall finally gave in to his impulse to look up at Maelona, he slipped on some damp, dead leaves and lost his footing. He began to slide down the embankment on his back, yet it was so steep it still felt as though he was standing up.

Niall could feel sticks and rocks scraping along his legs and back as he slid. Yet this became the least of his worries as he looked down and noticed that, as steep as he thought this embankment was, it still managed to drop off not far ahead.

Niall did not know how trees managed to grow on such steep ground, but he was certainly grateful for it when Maelona grabbed a small tree and swung out to grab him not two feet before the drop-off. She only let go of him once she was sure he had regained his footing.

Niall tried not to wince as he stood up. He did not want to look weak in front of Maelona. Once his feet were securely under him once again, Maelona motioned to the left with her head and said, “Come. This way.” It was then that Niall noticed a bridge just a few feet away.

Well, he supposed it was a bridge, though it looked more like planks of wood attached together with rope. This rope bridge hung loosely between posts at each end.

Niall suddenly felt nervous.

Once he reached the bridge, he sucked in a deep, calming breath and took a moment to look around himself. Up ahead he could see that the bridge extended probably about a hundred feet or a little more. Grasping the posts closest to him he leaned to the side and noticed that the bridge crossed over a river that flowed probably fifty or sixty feet below. It was only then that he got over the panic and apprehension enough to notice a rushing sound. Looking up to his left, he saw a waterfall a few hundred feet away.

This rope bridge was built to cross over a river that flowed down from the north, falling over a cliff in a waterfall before continuing on it’s way far below. Niall sucked in a breath again, but this time it was in awe.

“The view is really something, isn’t it son?” King Ahearn asked from behind him.

“Yes, it is,” Niall replied.

His father allowed him a minute or so to take in the view before urging him forward once again.

“Come on. Let’s get moving before Maelona gets too far ahead.”

Niall looked across the bridge to see Maelona approaching the other side with light, yet confident, footsteps. Suddenly he was inspired to start moving ahead again.

As he moved further away from the bank, however, he noticed that the wind seemed to blow more forcefully, causing the bridge to sway back and forth unsteadily. He paused a couple of times on the way across to steady and calm himself as the wind whipped past him, pushing the bridge this way and that. He gripped the ropes so tightly that his knuckles began to ache before he finally reached the other side and let go.

He tried to act nonchalant, as if he had not just been shaking with nerves on the way across, as his feet hit solid ground again.

Once Niall and King Ahearn had caught up to Maelona, she smiled at them before continuing forward. “Almost there,” she stated.

They traveled across level ground for some time before the slope began to descend again. This time, there were narrow stones embedded in the ground, forming a stairway of sorts that moved diagonally down to the left for a time before switching directions and moving down to the right. Again, though the decline was steep, there were trees all around them. Niall’s curiosity got the better of him and he asked, “How do these trees grow here? I would have thought nothing could grow on a bank this steep.”

“According to my father,” Maelona responded, “there are only certain types of trees and shrubs that have strong enough roots to hold on at such a severe angle. That is why the stone stairs were put here. The seers added the stones in order to minimalize disturbing the soil as people travelled back and forth. If you are not careful enough travelling on hillsides such as this, it could cause a landslide.”

Niall was even more careful about how he stepped after that.

When they were at a switchback around mid-way down the hillside, Niall glanced up and noticed that they were descending into a forested valley that extended for what he guessed was a couple of miles before another hill rose up on the other side. Maelona noticed where he was looking and said with a smile, “The Valley of Sight.”

“It’s amazing,” Niall said. “From up here, it just looks like untouched forests. One would never know there is a whole village of people down there.”

When they reached the bottom, he could see that, instead of having cleared a large area to build their village in, the seers lived in simple huts in and around the trees. Where land had been cleared, it was just enough space for a small hut. He was surprised that a village full of people could seem so close to nature. He had heard elves lived like that, but he’d assumed they didn’t live in organized towns or villages.

They walked toward the centre of the village and he noticed that the trees were not as dense here. Niall spotted a marketplace and a blacksmith in an area that was merely dotted with trees. The largest break from the forest was a large, circular, covered building. It had a thatched roof but no walls, being instead supported by several rough-hewn log beams. It was in this building that people were now gathering.

There was a raised, open area in the centre of the room that could be seen from all sides. On this platform, there was a bench and a table. More benches were placed in a semi-circle facing this area.

Maelona led King Ahearn and Niall to this platform now, to a tall, regal looking man with pale blond hair. Once they were in front of the man, Maelona introduced him, “My father, Maddock Sima.”

“King Ahearn! It’s good to see you again!” Maddock exclaimed. They clasped forearms as Ahearn replied, “And you as well, Maddock.”

Then Maddock turned his attention to Niall, saying, “You must be Niall.”

“Yes sir.”

“I expect we’ll be getting to know each other better in the future,” Maddock said. Niall didn’t really know what was meant by that, but the men began speaking together, so Maelona led Niall to a seat near the back.

“You and I are the youngest people invited to this meeting,” Maelona said, speaking quietly to Niall.

“How many years do you have behind you?” Niall asked out of curiosity.

“I have nearly 35 years,” Maelona responded.

Niall eyed her suspiciously, trying to figure out if this female, who looked barely two years older than him, was joking. She looked serious though. “How old are you really?” he asked again.

Maelona looked at him with surprise before shaking her head and chuckling. “Sorry,” she said. I’m not around humans very often, and I forget. Seers age much more slowly than humans, and live a lot longer as well,” she explained. “I do have almost thirty-five years, but I am also still pre-adolescent.”

“Really?” Niall asked with surprise.

“Really,” Maelona responded. “So, I look almost your age, but I’ve been around for much longer.”

“That’s incredible!” he exclaimed. “How long can you live for?”

“If we don’t get sick or killed first, we can live for a six or seven-hundred years or more.”

“Wow!” Niall said.

Maelona’s mind returned to what she had been beginning to say before being distraction by the age discussion, so she picked up from there. “As I was saying, people as young as us don’t normally get to be here, but they’ve made an exception due to the circumstances.”

“What circumstances?” Niall asked.

“Well, I am sure my father will explain all that once everyone is settled,” she replied. “But let’s just say that they wanted all the guardians and any future guardians, like you and I, to be present.”

“Future guardians? You mean I am a future guardian?”

“Well yes, of course,” Maelona replied. “Yours father is the current king and guardian of Eastgate, so you will one day king, and guardian of Eastgate. My father hopes I will follow in his footsteps and be a guardian as well.”

“So, you and I could be guardians together?” Niall asked.

Maelona huffed a short laugh and said, “I hope not.”

For a moment, Niall looked stricken. Maelona placed her hand on his forearm and clarified, “Sorry! I just mean that, with the difference in our life spans, my father will be guardian along with you, and a number of other kings to come, I should hope. Anything else would mean something has happened to him, and of course I would never wish for such a thing.”

Niall looked chagrined and apologetic when he replied, “Of course. I should have realized…”

“It’s okay,” Maelona assured Niall. “You are about as used to magical creatures as I am to humans, I would think. Which means, not at all.”

“That’s true,” Niall replied. He thought for a moment about what she had said, and then he asked, “So your people are magical?”

Looking at him, she explained, “Any creature in Sterrenvar who can live hundreds of years, like seers and shifters, are magical to some degree. While most cannot wield magic as sorcerers can, our abilities to shift, to see, and to live extended lives are born from the magic in the world around us. Our sorcerers, who can channel and wield magic as well, can live even longer.”

“Wow,” Niall replied, awed. “How do you know all of this?”

“My future position requires me to know these things”, she explained. “My education in these matters began when I was barely more than a babe. I expect I still have much to learn as well.” Then she added with a grin, “Also, don’t forget, I am older than I look to you, so I’ve had more time to learn things.

Niall took a look around the room at the others gathered there. “Are we the only two youth here?” Then, catching what he said, he asked, “Would you still be referred to as a youth, Maelona?”

Maelona smiled at him as she answered, “Yes, I would. Though a person having thirty-five years would be considered an adult by human standards, I am not yet fully grown, so I would not be considered an adult. Of course, a human child who is at the same level of physical development as me would not have had as many life experiences or as much education either, so we are intellectually and emotionally more developed at this point in our life cycle.”

Wow, Niall thought. I am learning so much here today. I hope I can remember it all.

“From what I’ve been told,” Maelona said, addressing his other question, “two of the other kings have adult heirs who are in attendance today, and one has a toddler, who is obviously too young to attend.”

As Maelona and Niall had talked together quietly, the adults in the room had started to settle and take their places. Now, seer Elder and chief, Kelwyn Kunagnos, stood at the front of the room, ready to begin. Maelona’s father, Maddock Sima, stood at his side. Maelona and Niall fell silent as the others in attendance gave them their attention.

“I thank you all for coming here today,” Kelwyn began. “It is very rare that we get to gather all together. Rarer still is it that this occurs under happy circumstances, unfortunately.

“There is no easy way to announce this: the seer guardian for Southgate, Champion Elisedd Dunne, is dead: he has been killed.”

Gasps and other sounds of shock resonated through the space. Maelona took the opportunity to lean in and speak to Niall. “It is extremely rare for seer champions to be bested by anyone,” she explained. “They are highly trained and very skilled at reading people and situations.”

“Did you know the man?” Niall asked.

“No,” Maelona replied. “I knew of him of course, but I’ve only been to the seer village a couple of times, so I never met him.”

Her statement confused Niall. If her father was Maddock Sima, who was a seer, then wouldn’t Maelona be a seer as well? Wouldn’t she live here as well?

He did not get to voice his questions, however. The murmurings were dying down and Kelwyn was preparing to speak again.

“There are, of course, a couple of worries that this brings about that we need to discuss as a whole,” Kelwyn continued. “I suggest we begin with the easiest one. Approving Elisedd’s replacement.” Kelwyn nodded to the King of Southgate as he said this.

“You all know that we always have four apprentice champions training in preparation to be future champions. Oftentimes, where the champion has an heir that is of age, they are offered the opportunity. Otherwise a worthy fellow-seer is appointed. This is how it has been done for almost three-thousand years now, and how it will continue to be done.

“In the case of Elisedd, we have already chosen his replacement, and seek your approval. I have no doubt that this person will fulfill the role to the best of her ability, in honor of our fallen champion. The seer we have selected is the most experienced and practiced of our apprentices. She also was present at Southgate when Elisedd was killed, so she knows first hand what we are dealing with. Our new champion and guardian of Southgate, with your approval, is Elisedd’s own mate, Talwyn Sevi.”

Kelwyn then turned to the side and gestured to a female with long, fiery red hair who was sitting behind the table. She stood and walked to the front as Kelwyn introduced her.

Everyone in attendance closed their right fist and bumped it over their hearts twice as a sign of acceptance and support, and Talwyn bowed to them in response.

Maelona noticed that her face was tight, almost impassive. She was clearly trying to show a strong front, but her pain was barely hidden, right under the surface. Maelona felt a tug on her chest. She wished there was something that she could do for this female. However, since she herself had never experienced personal loss like this, she doubted there was anything she could say that would bring comfort.

Maelona did not realize how caught up in Talwyn’s pain she had become until a warm hand wrapped itself around her own, drawing her attention back to reality. She turned to look at Niall and noticed his concerned gaze.

“Are you okay?” He asked her.

I am,” Maelona answered. “But it is not myself I am concerned about.”

With his hand still holding hers comfortingly, he turned to look at Talwyn as well.

“Why would they choose someone so close to the champion to replace him?” Niall questioned. “Wouldn’t that person be too sad or too vengeful to do a good job?”

Maelona shook her head before replying. “The seers are not a vengeful people, Niall. They want only to help and to protect others. It is customary for someone close to a champion to be offered a place as apprentice when possible. It is believed that the apprentice would then be motivated to do the job as best they can, to honor the memory of the champion we lost.”

Maddock now addressed the group. “We did not call this meeting just to approve a new seer guardian. You are all here,” he went on, his voice grave, “because of how Elisedd was killed and what it might mean to the future of the entire realm of Sterrenvar.”

“Honored Gate-Kings, it is now that you and your future heirs need to know a little more about our visions. We have names for a number of different kinds of sight. Our ability to see the past, present, and possible future, we refer to simply as ‘sight.’ You already know of this ability. Then we are also able to turn our focus inward, to heal ourselves and change hair and eye color. You know of this ‘inner-sight’ as well. Our ability to read others’ physical cues is not really a separate sight, as our inner sight allows us to see things in ourselves that we then can recognize when we see them in others.”

“The one sight you may not be aware of, however,” Maddock continued, “is what we call ‘true-sight.’ I just want to be clear that this is not something we have been hiding from you. We just simply haven’t had to use it as a strategy in the past couple of millennia.”

Niall glanced at his father, then to the other kings. They looked to be enthralled by this new information. He could understand that, as he was as well.

“True-sight,” Maddock continued, “is the ability to see things as they really are. On the more innocuous side of things, that means we can almost always tell what race a person is from, such as which animal a shifter is aligned with. But the important thing about it in this case, is that it allows us to see through deception. We can see past disguises and illusions.”

The invited guests all seemed to be holding their breath in anticipation of what Maddock was going to say next. They all had a good idea of what this revelation of information was leading to. After all, the realm’s four kings were intelligent men, well-versed in the history of the realm. But they hoped they were wrong.

“Elisedd was killed,” Maddock continued in a low and worried voice, “when he was visiting Southgate to investigate a mysterious illness that had affected the king’s guards. Talwyn was there and witnessed some of what happened.”

Maddock turned to the side and stepped back as Talwyn cleared her throat and began to speak.

“Elisedd and I decided to split up to investigate the illness. I was interviewing kitchen staff at the time, and he was interviewing guards. When I was done, I went looking for him.” She paused and took a deep, shaky breath before continuing. “When I found him, he was on the floor, bleeding profusely. His femoral artery had been severed; his leg had been cut through to the bone. In front of him, on the floor, lay the body of a demonkin. It’s severed head lay a couple of feet away.”

There were a number of sharp intakes of breath at this information. Even Niall and Maelona, as young as they were, knew the histories. Demonkin had rarely been seen or heard of in the past couple of centuries, since the attack on the seer people. They had mostly kept to themselves, up in the northern mountains…until now.

“Elisedd was losing blood fast and was barely conscious when I arrived. However, he was lucid enough to tell me that the demonkin had been disguising himself as one of the king’s guards.”

More sounds of shock and surprise sounded from around the room.

Talwyn shook her head, almost choking on her words, when she added, “Elis went unconscious. He couldn’t heal himself fast enough…”

Talwyn couldn’t continue. She turned around and walked out of the Gathering Place. No one tried to stop her. No one could blame her for needing to get away.

After a quiet moment, Kelwyn took the floor again, saying, “We all know what this means. If the demonkin are venturing as far as Southgate and impersonating guards, there is bound to be some plot behind it. The seer people will be extra-vigilant in trying to keep track of the situation. All guardians must be in closer contact than usual over the next months, until we get a better idea of what they are planning. It is possible that whatever they are plotting may take place over more than one human lifetime; when you live centuries, exercising patience becomes easier. Therefore, gate-kings, you will need to make sure your heirs are informed.”

Maelona tugged on Niall’s hand, gently pulling him from his seat to lead him outside. As young as they were, she figured they didn’t need to stay as the adults talked strategy.

Once outside, Niall turned to Maelona. “You are worried about Talwyn, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am,” she replied. “I had never even met her before today, but for some reason, it’s as if I can feel her pain.”

“You are a very empathetic person,” Niall commented. “You’ve only just met me as well, and already you have treated me like we are the best of friends.”

He liked finding this trait in others, as he knew that these were the kind of people who would make the most loyal, lifelong friends.

Maelona thought on this for a moment. Then, she tugged on Niall’s hand again and said, “Come on. I will show you to our hut.”

Niall and his father would be staying with Maelona and her father while in the seer village. However, they had gone straight to the Gathering Place when they arrived, so Niall was happy to be going somewhere where he could relax for a time. Maybe get to know Maelona better.

When they arrived at the hut, Maelona opened the door, then stepped aside for Niall to enter. He had only taken two steps inside, however, when he stopped in his tracks, eyes wide and mouth slack.

“Well, hello there,” said a beautiful woman with violet hair and purple eyes. Glancing back at Maelona, with her unusual hair and eye color, he could only assume this was her mother. “Young Niall I presume?” Niall could only nod in response.

“Well come on in and sit,” the woman said warmly. “I just made some tea.”

With that she ushered the young people to the table, where a kettle was steaming on a stone in the center.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you Niall. I am Ailla Melyonen.” Glancing lovingly at her daughter, she said, “I guess you have figured out by now that I am Maelona’s mother.”

Niall simply nodded again. Aside from the strange hair colors and the eyes that were almost the same shade of purple, the two females shared similar features. They were both striking.

“You’re…you’re a sorceress.” Niall managed to get out. Ailla nodded her response. Then looking to Maelona he asked, “Are you a sorceress too?” He wondered how he had not guessed that before.

“I will be someday, I guess,” she answered. “There’s not a lot I am able to do yet. Our abilities don’t fully manifest until adolescence, even if that potential is already there. Kind of like a shifter’s ability to change to his animal form.”

Niall just looked at her with wide eyes.

“You are feeling a little overwhelmed right now, aren’t you?” Ailla asked, and Niall nodded in the affirmative.

“That’s to be expected, I’m afraid. After all, today at dawn you didn’t know of the existence of most of what you have seen since. Here,” Ailla said, handing him a cup of steaming liquid. “Drink some tea.”

Niall took a couple of sips of the tea and was surprised to find that it actually helped calm him.

Niall sat conversing with Maelona and Ailla for a while after that. Maelona told him that she lived most of the time in a wolf shifter village, where her mother was from. She explained that since her parent are both sorcerers, their people need them. So most of the time they stay in their own villages. However, her father came to visit them as often as his duties allowed.

Niall was surprised to learn that Maddock Sima was a sorcerer as well. “If he is a sorcerer, why doesn’t he have strange hair and eye colors too? I thought all sorcerers do.”

Maelona simply replied, “He does, but he’s a seer.” Niall didn’t really understand her answer, but with everything else he had learned, he had had enough for one day, so he let it drop.

When dinner time arrived, the three of them headed out to the Gathering Place again. This place was used for meetings, and for communal meals, it seemed. Niall and Maelona headed out with her mother to meet their fathers there and dined with them. By this point in the day, his head was swimming with new information, and he just wanted a warm bed and some sleep. So, after they filled their bellies, he and his father headed back to the hut with Maelona and her parents.

Niall slept in Maelona’s cot, and his father slept in Maddock’s cot. He did not know where his hosts would be sleeping, but they were still up, sitting by the fire, when he fell asleep.

The next morning, Niall awoke energetic and excited. He had an idea that he knew Maelona would love. So, right after breakfast, he asked her, “Would you show me around the area while the adults have their meetings? I would especially like to see where the most beautiful wild flowers grow.” Maelona smiled at this request but didn’t question it.

Maelona took Niall to the bank of the river that ran through the valley, giving him information about the area as they walked. “The seer village is off the west bank of the river. A few miles north, this river joins with the same one that flows into the waterfall we crossed on our way here.”

She brought him to an area where the tree-line stood back perhaps a hundred meters from the bank of the river. As they broke through the tree-line, Niall stopped and stared. He was awed, not for the first time since coming here.

For, spread out before him was a meadow filled with grasses that swayed and sighed in the breeze. Dotted all throughout the grasses were hundreds of wildflowers in a myriad of vibrant colors. It was amazing!

“So, are you ready to tell me why you wanted me to take you to find flowers?” Maelona asked, smiling.

“Well, I was thinking we could pick some and leave them by Talwyn’s door to cheer her up.”

“Oh, no, no!” Maelona exclaimed. “I had heard that giving dead flowers is a human custom, but seers will not see killing flowers as something cheerful,” Maelona explained. “I do like your idea to try and cheer her up, though.”

Niall stood in thought for a moment before suddenly jumping into action. By the bank of the river, he found a long, flat stone. Using the stone as a tool, he chose a particularly vibrant and fragrant flower and began to dig it up. It didn’t take long for Maelona to figure out what he was doing and grab a stone of her own. Before long they had four flowers each, roots and all.

When they were just a short distance from Talwyn’s hut, they hid behind a tree and watched for a while to make sure Talwyn was not at home. They then each planted their flowers on either side of her door before sneaking away again.

Niall and his father were set to leave in two days. Maelona and Niall decided that they would use that time to look for ways to bring a little brightness to Talwyn in her dark time.

The day after they had left the flowers, Niall asked Maelona to bring him back to see the waterfall they had crossed on the way to the village.

Maelona brought Niall back along the path to the bridge, cut to the right, and walked until they stood atop a cliff that overlooked the place where the water fell to the earth below.

“This is incredible,” Niall exclaimed.

“It truly is,” Maelona replied. “There are no waterfalls like this near the shifter village.”

“Nor near Eastgate. Do you think it would be safe to swim down there?”

“That depends,” Maelona replied.

“On what?”

“On how well you can swim. I don’t want to be the one responsible for the loss of the heir to the kingdom of Eastgate.” Maelona grinned at him.

“I would have you know that I can swim very well, thank you,” Niall stated with mock indignation. “My father saw to it that both myself and my sister were instructed by the best.”

“Well, in that case,” Maelona began, a hint of mischief in her eye, “I will tell you of both ways down to the bottom.”

“Okay.”

“The first is that narrow stone path you see there.” She nodded to the left to point out a steep path that travelled diagonally down the incline.

Niall groaned. “What’s the other way?”

“This,” she responded, just before she leapt out into the air, arms wide. As she fell head first to the water below, she pointed her hands in front of her, one atop the other, and broke cleanly through the surface.

Niall watched wide-eyed and with a slight sense of panic. It was only a moment after she hit the water, however, that she surfaced and waved to him. Then the signal changed from a wave to a beckoning motion.

Well, he thought, if she can do it, I can do it. Right? Gathering a deep breath for courage, he tried to imitate what Maelona had done; he launched himself into the air and plummeted to the pool below. His form was sloppy, however, and he could feel a sting as he hit the surface.

He kicked and stroked his arms until he was once again able to breath fresh air. When he looked at Maelona his eyes were wide and bright with wonder.

“Wow! That was wonderful! It was like flying through the air.”

“It was flying through the air.”

“Well, you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know exactly what you mean,” Maelona agreed. “We could always go back up to the top and do it again.”

“And have to walk that path an extra time? No thank you! Besides,” he added. “I want to explore down here.”

Niall swam to the shore and pulled himself onto a rock. Maelona followed. Then they both walked along admiring the many-colored and shaped stones that lined the bank.

“Look at this one, Maelona,” Gareth exclaimed. “It is shaped like a crescent moon. Do you think Talwyn would like this?”

“I think she would,” Maelona responded. “Look at this one. It’s smooth, clear, and a shiny green color. It reminds me of her eyes.”

“Hmm. I’ve never noticed her eyes.”

“Don’t worry about it. Seers are more observant than most,” Maelona teased.

They continued like that for some time; searching for stones and sharing tales from home. Maelona loved the stories about the crazy situations Niall and his sister always found themselves in. They made her laugh and, at the same time, wish she wasn’t an only child.

When they arrived back at the village a couple of hours later they again hid behind a tree to watch to see if Talwyn was at home. When they were satisfied that she wasn’t, they used the larger stones they found to line the path to Talwyn’s hut, from her door to a few feet out. They perched the smaller, more colorful stones on top of the larger ones, where they could be better seen.

That evening when everyone was partaking of the evening meal together in the Gathering Place, Maelona was listening to their parents’ conversation when she heard Niall say, “I didn’t know a smile could be sad and warm all at the same time.” Maelona followed Niall’s gaze until she noticed Talwyn looking their way and smiling at them both.

“I think we’ve been discovered,” Maelona said.

“Well, at least it seems she didn’t mind us decorating the outside of her house.”

Maelona couldn’t tell from across the room if the smile was genuine or out of politeness, whether Talwyn was truly smiling in thanks, or if she was forcing herself to do it while she suffered in silence. Maelona hoped it was the former. She hoped they had managed to bring Talwyn some solace, small as it must be beside what she had endured.

 

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

The next morning the household was up early. Today was the day that Niall and King Ahearn would be heading back to Eastgate. Maelona and her father lead their guests back to the path in the woods. Maelona and Niall were silent the entire time as the men continued to talk.

“You two look like someone just stewed your favorite pet,” Ahearn commented when they reached the path.

The two youths looked at each other but didn’t comment. Though they had only spent a few days together, they had been inseparable in that time. Neither of them had had a best friend before now, and they were sad they would be going their separate ways once again.

“Don’t be too glum,” Ahearn added. “You will see each other again soon. After all, we will be investigating why and how a demonkin was so far south, impersonating a guard.”

“Yes,” Maddock agreed. “You will see each other again in a couple of month’s time. We will make sure you both accompany us to our next gathering.”

Ahearn gave a whistle and, a moment later, the horses appeared through the trees. They had not strayed far from where they had last seen their masters. Ahearn and Niall grabbed the equipment from the nearby log and got the horses ready. Then, Niall turned towards his horse, ready to mount. Before he could, however, Maelona grabbed him and pulled him into a tight hug.

“Don’t forget me,” Maelona whispered.

“Never,” Niall whispered back. “Don’t forget me either.”

“Never,” Maelona repeated.

Niall mounted his horse and he and his father turned to head back the way they had come just a few days before.

As they moved further away, Niall thought, I would never be able to forget my time here…or Maelona.

 

THE END

 

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