Princess Evaughnlynn watched Roselyn and Beowyn, right hands entwined but no longer tied, fold and unfold together like waving reeds, circling each other and the dance floor set up in the dining
hall while a flute and harp played.
Their auras would be strong reds and blues, blending into a vibrating purple, but she resisted the urge to let herself see. The wall in her mind had collapsed with the realization she had
allowed them to stumble through their courtship without assistance. Why?
The heat radiating from Faolan standing a few feet away nearly overpowered her decision not to turn. She dared not look into his eyes, not now, of all times. Their love was sealed away
by the power of his will and the honor of her family. Right now she knew one look could destroy them both. And yet, her mind dug and tore at her resolve, insisting she had a right to
happiness and that there had to be another way.
Sorcha whispered, “What troubles you?”
She sighed. “A canker on my soul from desire resisting fate. It will pass with the night.”
“That it does not heal suggests an irritant. Has something disturbed the pattern of events you foresee?”
She looked down at the cup of watered wine in her hand. “There is no alternate path.”
“There is doubt in your mind concerning the path you’ve chosen. You have not suffered doubt before. Something has changed in the matrix you perceive. What changed?”
“Well, this resolves more than one of my problems, dear.” Her father’s whispered voice in her ear startled her. “Not the least of which is that I can go with you and Phylon tomorrow.”
She turned to him. “But you’re going with Rose.”
He shrugged. “I was bound by honor to do so. She had no family protector here other than me. Beowyn had no such bond.” He smiled. “Now they’re related.”
“You let them marry so you could go with me?”
He shook his head. “Of course not. If I’d known they were in love, I’d have arranged their marriage before we left home.” He looked down at her with one eye cocked up. “But
you never told me. I assumed they thought of each other only as cousins.”
“I didn’t know he was in love with her. He never said anything.” Have I been unconsciously denying Rose her happiness because mine is forfeit?
Her father’s head went back. “And a wizard couldn’t read what Morrigan saw clearly on casual observation?”
“Perhaps,” Sorcha whispered. “But Beowyn suppressed his love for Rose in the belief he was unworthy of her and Morrigan may simply be more worldly than you. Perhaps she saw
what you didn’t because you never looked, and she did.”
“I think Morrigan simply has more experience with the world than I. She knew where to look for the signs.”
Her father looked at her for several moments with his head cocked to one side. His eyes narrowed slightly. “Perhaps you’re right.” He stepped back and looked around the
room. A smile played at the edges of his lips. “This is a strange land.”
The music stopped and the crowd flooded into the dance area to congratulate the couple. Evaughnlynn pushed through to hug both her cousins. She then turned toward the exit and her
father was there. “You must join them at the banquet and at least appear happy.”
“I am happy for them.” She looked closely at her father’s eyes. “What made you think otherwise?”
He took her hand and led her to the seat to the left of where the bride would sit. “I’m sure you’re happy, for them, but I sense unhappiness for yourself. You know I was never pleased
with your marriage pact. I have reason to believe that fate may intervene in that situation. But life is uncertain. So, I want you to know that if events should lead you in some
other direction, you go with my blessing.”
Evaughnlynn felt a cloud of happiness pass behind her as her cousins arrived at the table with Baron Loegaire and his ward. She couldn’t speak until they and the happiness passed.
She watched Roselyn as Beowyn seated her. Roselyn was completely entranced with Beowyn now sitting beside her. Father has learned something since we arrived in the Freeholds.
It could only have come from the Elect, Benami. Somehow he’s learned of the plot against Prince Thrall I sensed even before leaving Hawk’s Keep. She smiled at her
father. Then turned to the food set in front of her. She ate slowly, and very little, concentrating on keeping her mind calm as mental chaos threw random images of possibilities in
front of her.
After a while she touched Roselyn on the hand and whispered, “I have preparations to make for the trip to Bar Dor tomorrow. But I will visit you in Bar Kouf in a few days.”
She rose and walked out of the dining hall as casually as she could, then hurried to her room. But her mind didn’t leave the feast. Her heart ached with her own loss. Images of
her and Faolan dancing kept intruding into the memory of her cousins doing so.
She shut the door and sat in the chair trying to determine if her cousin’s marriage had changed events in Anglia’s future. But her mind wouldn’t leave the dance floor. Her heart ached
with her own loss. Images of her and Faolan dancing continued intruding into the memory of her cousins.
There was a knock on the door. Evaughnlynn stood and calmed her mind. “Come in, Neima.”
“Milady.” Neima curtsied. “Your father said I should move in with you now that Lady Roselyn is married. He said you shouldn’t be without a companion.”
“Of course.” She smiled at the young girl. “My father’s always concerned with doing what’s proper.”
“So’s mine.” Neima turned and shut the door behind her. “He says that men live by rules because they find it hard to do what’s right otherwise. He says the rules help them to do
what they otherwise might not.”
Evaughnlynn waved at the bed next to the window where Badger was now curled up, but with one eye open. “That was Rose’s. Badger claimed it when she packed earlier. Sir Faolan left
him with me as a guard. Do you want to get your things?”
Neima walked over to the bed and sat next to the big animal. She began to absently stroke his head. “No. The chief steward will have them brought here in a few minutes. I
just wanted to be sure it was all right for me to stay.” She smiled again. “I think men complicate everything. It’s really simple.” She looked at Badger as if talking
directly to him. “Love God above all else, and love others as you love yourself. If you do that, you don’t need other rules.”
Badger made a noise like a sneeze and turned around.
Evaughnlynn laughed. “I’m not sure he agrees with you. But then he’s a badger and a warrior.” She smiled. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t need all the rules?
But some men don’t love others, and enforcing rules is the only way to force them to obey or darkness will win. Suddenly, the look on Beowyn’s face the day of the duel when her father
had asked if he really wanted to marry Morrigan flashed into her mind. Talk about not wanting to do something.
A nervous servant was in the hall walking toward her room. He was in awe of her and Neima and burdened with Neima’s few belongings. Neima stood and walked to the door, but waited for
the knock before opening it. “Thank you, Enkle. Just put it on the bed.”
The man smiled at Neima and turned to the bed just as Badger jumped down and moved to the side. The man hurriedly put the small case on the foot of the bed, bowed to each of them, including
Badger, and left.
Evaughnlynn opened her mind to Neima’s aura. It was a deep blue. “You sensed him coming, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” Neima turned back to face Evaughnlynn. “It feels strange, but it doesn’t scare me. It started the night you told me to put my hands on the sick girl. When I did, I
could see what made her sick. Then I could sense others nearby and why they were sick. At first it was just the sick children, but later I began to feel the other people around me as
well.” She walked back to the bed and sat down next to her little case. Badger jumped back on the bed next to her, turned around several times and lay down.
Sorcha said, “It’s the power we felt on the ship and in the sickroom. I think we’ll feel that same power if, as you suspect, we meet the prophet Gamaliel on the way to Bar Dor.”
Evaughnlynn felt something stir in the back of her mind—an idea seeking connection with a memory, but it didn’t rise above the first hint. Whatever it is, it’ll either
fade or grow stronger if the idea finds the memory. Evaughnlynn sat on the side of her bed.
Sorcha cautioned, “You should know what the memory is. It’s recent or the idea wouldn’t have risen from it. Or it’s recently recalled. The pattern has changed
somehow, but earlier, before Neima came to the room, although it changed again while she was here.”
Evaughnlynn’s mind recoiled from any thought of Beowyn or Rose. Her connection to them was too strong and their emotions would flood over her. “No mystery about what happened.
Morrigan was the catalyst. From the moment she arrived Rose felt threatened again. And Beowyn, although resigned to walking in Rose’s shadow, could not help but wish Captain Tamir
would shift his attentions to Morrigan.”
“And you,” Sorcha added, “have blocked all emotions from your mind because of Faolan.”
“Yes, I’ve blocked my emotions. What choice have I had? If I’d let my emotions loose, they’d have compromised my decisions. I’m not important. Faolan’s not
important. Only the future of our land is important.”
“But you and Faolan are key to your land’s survival,” Sorcha replied. “You’ve known that for years.”
“We each have our role to play.” Determination tensed her whole body.
“When did you first feel this nagging pain you’re trying to dismiss?”
Aggravation struck her determination. Sorcha was not going to let it go. “What difference does it make?”
“You are deliberately blocking the idea from your mind or you would know. Something happened which caused the idea to arise, but you blocked it. Then a second incident occurred and
the idea returned. Why are you blocking it?”
Evaughnlynn jerked to her feet, determined to end the conversation with Sorcha. But where do I go to avoid my own mind?
“When I was little I dropped my doll out the upstairs window,” Neima said. Evaughnlynn turned to her, surprised by her presence despite the fact she had known the child was there.
Neima’s aura was a blue so bright she was glowing. She smiled. “I was afraid to look. I was sure she was broken into a hundred pieces on the stones below and I started
crying. My mother ran in and asked me what was wrong, and I told her my doll was broken. But when she looked my doll had fallen in a bush and wasn’t hurt. Even then she had to
drag me over to look.” She smiled again. “I was still afraid my doll was smashed. My mother told me I should never be afraid to face the bad things that happen in life. Only
by facing them can we overcome them.”
The aura surrounding the girl dimmed. “Sorcha, what’s happening?”
“The power of the Freemen spoke to you through Neima.”
Evaughnlynn sat down again. “Neima, why did you tell me that story?”
“Because you needed to hear it. You won’t look where you most want to look because you’re afraid of what you’ll find. But don’t you see? If you look maybe you can fix what’s
wrong. Or maybe, it’s not broken at all.”
Sorcha asked, “Where are you afraid to look?”
“At the path that’s forbidden me.” Evaughnlynn smiled at Neima. “Thank you for telling me that story. Perhaps you’re right.” She sighed deeply. “I’m going to
sleep now. It’s a funny kind of sleep we call a trance. I need to do that so I can look where I’ve been afraid to look for a long time.” She lay down on her bed.
“You’ve looked at this path before?”
“Yes, Sorcha. After we saved Tower Farm.”
“What did you see?”
Evaughnlynn’s mind went back to Tower Farm and the dawn of the day following the battle. She had looked out her window. Phylon had stood on the battlement over the gate looking toward
the trail of smoke still lingering over Yalding. His aura was a deep purple and she could sense his pain at the loss of friends, and the destruction of the village and farms.
He would be a great king for Hawkland, flashed through her mind. Why can’t I marry him?
The destruction of Hawk’s Keep and all of Hawkland flashed through her mind followed by the image of a frightened young boy fleeing through the forest. He had been her son.
Tears filled her eyes. “The destruction of Hawkland and a hunted child.”
“And what do you see now?”
Evaughnlynn sensed more than curiosity in Sorcha’s question.She wiped her eyes and willed her mind to abandon the past. She could only see a little way clearly. The future
was like a wild rose bush in a thick fog. There were so many paths she could take and so many thorns to avoid. Too many minor outcomes were possible which affected the major events.
With luck, and if nothing broke the main course of events, Anglia was safe, if under constant threat. There was no child, or love, between her and Prince Thrall. But he would learn to
listen at some cost to his dignity. Prince Hagarn, stood by her side against his brother while the king watched and waited. Brother Arnol remained in the background. But she knew
he was watching her and bidding his time.
Something scratched around the edges of her mind, threatening to break her concentration. The image of the big badger curled up on Rose’s bed flashed through her mind. Oh, Faolan,
where are you!
Suddenly, in the fog of future events there was a branch she hadn’t noticed before, or it had not been there. It grew from the sickness in the Freeholds. The branch ended with
the figure of a child, a boy, running. Faolan was with him, and others. He was not afraid. He was her son. This cannot be! She sat up.
“This can be,” Sorcha said, “or you would not see it. How comes this child to life?”
She lay back down. I’m not sure. I will not break my vow in order to marry Faolan, yet the child lives? I must examine the decisions which make up the branch. There must
be a path I’m not seeing.
She looked at where the branch separated from the trunk. The battle for the Freeholds. But it was another branch, next to it and intwined in it that the change had taken place.
Something had happened in the Freeholds that was touching it. A decision had been made which led the branch to grow. The other branch stopped. She saw wailing at the Temple of
Matres and the royal family at another funeral.
“You see the future, but the future depends on more than what happens in the Freeholds. How sure are you even of what will happen in Bar Dor?”
“Sorcha, what are you thinking?”
“The future is never set in stone, only the past. Evil men also seek to see the future and to change it. You have anticipated an attack on the way to Bar Dor. But you didn’t
foresee the arrival of Gunther with Faolan, and the pattern shifted when you met him.”
“I merely awoke the elfin part of his mind, which made it harder for a dark power to influence him. What possible effect on the future could that have had?”
“He has already saved Faolan’s life when he destroyed the wizard’s stone of power. Who knows what other events he will play a part in?”
Gunther watched the people eat while pushing the food on his plate around with his fork. He’d never seen such an instrument for eating before leaving Hollow Mountain and he was fascinated by
it. He had used a knife and his hands for meat and a spoon or bowl for soup at home. But these people seemed to think their hands were unclean, since they refused to use them to grip
their meat. Instead they held the meat in place with the fork and cut it with the knife before moving it to their mouths with the fork. They only seemed to use their spoons for soup and
He was glad Lady Morrigan had shown him how to use a fork when they were traveling together. She had explained how ‘civilized’ people behaved, while laughing at the silliness of it all.
She seemed a very wise and kind person. She was sitting at another table with Captain Tamir, who seemed interested in everything she did, while she seemed to be very interested in what he
The beautiful lady who looked like the princess was sitting with her new husband at the head table and he noted they were not eating either, but constantly touching each other’s hands and
whispering together. He had never understood why the men acted so strangely around women. He had asked his grandfather about it when he noticed some of the older boys suddenly changing
their total indifference to the clan’s girls, but his grandfather had only laughed and said he’d find out in time.
The princess was at the feast, but she too ate little. Faolan, sitting next to him, looked around periodically but always managed to look at her when he did. Gunther suspected he was
looking around as an excuse for looking at her.
He remembered seeing her shortly after they arrived. Sir Beowyn had led them to her preparations room. The way Faolan had spoken so formally in what he said, seemed funny.
However, when the princess introduced him to the girl, Neima, and asked Neima to show him the garden, Gunther had instantly began acting as formal as Faolan.
He had never talked to a girl before and was confused by the experience. Taking to her had not been as different as he had expected. And yet, it had been vastly different than he had
expected, although he had no idea what he had expected. He also had almost no memory of the garden. Only Neima remained.
She was just a child, at least two or three years younger than he, but talking to her was not like talking to a child. It had seemed more like when he had first met the princess. Neima
had been strangely beautiful, and every movement she made seemed like a dance. Her voice had been musical, soft and soothing as they walked through the garden. He had looked forward to
seeing her again. He smiled at himself as he also looked around, as an excuse for looking at her.
Musicians began to play over in the corner—a harp, a flute, and lyre at first. Then a horn and a strange, circular instrument with little round metal plates attacked to the edge which a young
woman shook. The sounds entranced him. When he looked around again the newlyweds were gone and King Ragnon was grinning ear-to-ear and waving one hand to the music. The princess
and Neima were also gone.
© Copyright 2020 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.