sundiver: (SF- Lady With Parrot)
[personal profile] sundiver
Because of the fact I hadn't really planned for section 2, it's the shortest of the bunch and leads directly into the next.
Updated 12/06/11


Previous

In the center of Yeoman Giles' field, Athena and Carmen sat cross-legged facing each other, their hands laid flat upon the earth.

“It gets easier to perform each time,” Athena said softly.

“But harder to find the strength,” Carmen replied. Unlike Athena, she had closed her eyes to concentrate. She was not as adept at wielding nature magic as the other woodswoman and needed as few distractions as possible.

“'Tis why I had us save this one for last. The first field had many things that needed help and the second one had weak soil. Giles is a good farmer who does his best to balance the need for crop rotation and the actual ability of the plants to grow in these horrid conditions. His major problem was telling his children to space the rows two steps apart. He is a grown man, and his eldest is only twelve.”

Carmen chuckled softly. “And the eldest three had split up the duties to plant the rows, so the spacing still isn't even, on top of the crops being much too closely planted.”

“'Tis a mistake he will never make again, at least. We have to coax alternate rows to return themselves to seed, and to return the nutrients they had used back to the soil. After that, 'tis only a matter of pulling nutrients up from the deeper soil for the plants to feed upon.”

“To return plants to seed form is hardly easy,” Carmen replied. “But ‘twill be easier than the work in the other fields was.”

“You already know how to do that,” the blonde replied. “Every woodworker with a basic magic ability is taught it. You needn't worry about knowing how to return them back to seed form in large numbers, I will guide the energies. I have already placed markers on each end of the rows we must remove. So, again, are you prepared?”

“Yes,” Carmen said with no doubt in her voice. She had the strength Athena would need from her to perform this. It was merely exhaustion that had colored her complaint.

“Then we begin.”

They recited the chant of rejuvenation and the air around them began to hum in anticipation as magic pooled under their hands. Carmen could feel the hairs on her neck stand up as Athena took control of the energies and reached mentally outwards to plants that blinked the merry pink of Athena’s personal energies. That was the marker the blonde had spoken of when she said she would know which rows to remove. Carmen could feel the energy being drawn from the plants as they slowly dwindled in on themselves, becoming just seeds, with only the potential for life.

Carmen did not have the training required to use the chant of rejuvenation and had only learned it now at Athena's insistence. So she was surprised when the energy from the plants integrated itself into to two of them.

“'Tis meant to be used for healing,” Athena explained softly as she worked. “But the plants are no longer properly alive, so the energy they have stored follows the magic that called upon it. We'll use the energy we are taking here to liven up the crops that remain.”

It was clever, but Carmen didn't think she could divide her attentions the same way Athena could and only nodded her understanding.

As they performed their working, there was only the whisper of the dry wind through the grassy-looking crop field. Carmen knew there were onlookers outside the boundaries Athena had asked them not to trespass beyond. Odette, of course, and Yeomen Yates and Giles. Giles' children had been corralled in his meandering farmhouse, to keep the youngest ones from investigating the strange doings. The elder two had complained bitterly about it, but had resigned themselves to child-watching duties. Tae might still be minding Petra in the temple, but she had mentioned wanting to watch one of the workings.

Carmen hadn't opened her eyes for the two previous workings, but the results she had seen once they completed their tasks were astounding. Both Lucas' barley fields and Willard's wheat fields had changed from sickly, thin, faded yellow stalks to lush, healthy, green stalks with faintly yellow tips- a sure sign of approaching ripeness.

The flow of energy from the plants trickled to a halt as the last of the crowded barley stalks curled up into seeds. Athena minutely adjusted her fingers to lie atop Carmen’s to keep her from lifting her hands up. The energy from the rejuvenation continued to slowly flow into them. Athena lifted her hands when it came to a stop and Carmen did the same. Neither of them bothered to brush the dirt off their hands- they would be repeating the move shortly, so it would be pointless.

Carmen felt as if she had had too many spirits as the energy from the working circled within her. She bit back a sudden urge to giggle, but only by taking a great swallow of air and huffing it out loudly.

“Do you want to rest for a bit before the next step?” Athena asked, her voice brimming with the heady rush of power. She was obviously feeling the same thing Carmen was.

“I feel fantastic,” the brunette replied, grinning, her eyes still closed. “Like I could run back to Khoresbar and drive off all those illegal squatter trolls by myself.”

“You won't by the time we're finished.” Carmen could hear the smile in Athena's gentle voice. “That energy is going right back to the crops, so you only think you're invincible.”

Carmen fidgeted where she sat, flexing her benumbed toes. “We should go ahead and get started now. Otherwise I’ll run off howling. I feel like a cup under a tap that can't shut off and I'm about to spill everywhere.”

“Hands back on the ground then, Carmen,” the blonde said with a musical laugh. “This will be the hard part.”

Carmen set her hands back onto the hard ground, still fighting not to giggle. She felt Athena slide her fingers in between hers as she placed her hands down as well.

“Feel the ground beneath you. You can feel how ill, how lacking it is, can't you? But deeper down, past the layer where the roots are, the earth is still rich and whole. It is there we will reach out to and request fresh life for these crops to feed the people of this village through the rough winter times.” Athena's voice was soothing and hypnotic.

The sound of the wind faded until all that was left of Carmen's senses was the feel of the dry loam underneath her hands. The rest of her attention was burrowing through the earth, root-like, tracing out the small cracks in the different layers of soil, reaching further and further until she came to bedrock.

The earth around her was filled with energy and the spark of life, just waiting for something to wend its way down here to draw upon it and ask for its aid. It wasn't anything like the other two fields they had worked with- those had had nowhere near the potential that this one did. Or perhaps they had, and this almost-aware energy had been too hidden for them to find and draw upon. Or perhaps the land here took joy in its cultivators and had sorrow for their plight and had merely been waiting for someone to ask for its help.

At this thought, Carmen tried to trace the size of this energy storage. A small portion of her stayed with Athena, knowing the other woodswoman was more experienced in these matters and if Carmen didn't, she could be lost forever down here.

It extended as far as her reach could go. And she knew, without a doubt, what this energy was. They had somehow chanced upon the power the earth retained for when a goodly king held the throne and treated his people and lands well. This was the reward, that if a king was good, his land would treat him and his people well. No wonder it seemed aware. This was not the dormant energy of the earth, but an earth spirit, perhaps even the great earth spirit of Telubra, slumbering while it awaited a new king. There was no telling how it would react to their request. She traced her path back to Athena as quickly as she could.

This is Telubra, she thought as loudly as she could at the other woman. There was no time for her to try and find her way back to her body and say it, though she knew the other woman had the experience to not be so tied up down here that she was unaware of her senses like Carmen was.

She didn't think Athena could hear her, though. Reading minds was not something practitioners of nature magic could do. She tried tugging on Athena's awareness, to show her the vastness of what they stumbled upon.

It was too late. Even as Athena let herself be drawn away from it, Carmen could feel the awareness move, slowly withdrawing tendrils from the bedrock it was anchored to. Alertness was building, like a hibernating bear woken deep in winter. They were held still as it moved around them, judging them. They were not its people, they had no right to call upon it, when there was not even a king to hold the throne.

She throttled back on the terror she felt. They had come here for a good cause, they had not meant to delve so deeply that they trespassed upon this outcropping of the power of Telubra. The people of Heron’s Rest would not last the winter without better crops, not all of them at least. Any good person with the knowledge of nature would do their best to help these poor folk. They were not to blame for the hardships poor weather had thrust upon them and they were doing their best to survive.

Carmen didn't know what it discovered, but they were suddenly shooting upwards, breaking through stone and dirt and old decayed plant roots as the whole mass of awareness surged to the surface.

Carmen snapped her eyes open. Athena's pale face was directly in front of her, her eyes wide with fear. She grabbed the blonde's hands and pulled them both to standing. The ground was rumbling beneath them. She dragged the other woman towards the farmhouse, racing to beat whatever it was that was about to break out of the ground. Athena didn't try to break Carmen's tight grip on her wrist, just sprinted alongside of her as fast as she could. Grain stalks whipped around them as they sped through the field.

They were thrown forward to the ground as a loud explosion rocked the ground. The small section of Carmen's thoughts that wasn’t quivering with adrenaline and terror thought it was probably centered where they had been seated. Carmen threw her arms up over the back of her head as debris rained down on them.

“Do you hear water?” Athena gasped out when the falling debris stopped. She tried to rise up onto her knees, only to fall right back down, though from relief they weren't dead or utter exhaustion, Carmen couldn't tell.

With a great surge of exertion, Carmen managed to flip herself over onto her back. She couldn't see anything of the ground beyond the green barley growths they had landed in and that was only out of the corners of her eyes. What took up most of her vision was a great geyser of water shooting skywards, no end in sight.

The air around them misted from the excess of moisture in the air, but no water actually fell back down.

“That be a lot of water,” Carmen said, not really knowing what else could be said.

She could hear footsteps running towards them. Odette must have seen their sprint through the waist-high crops and its sudden halt, even if she couldn't actually see them anymore. Of course, everyone for ten kilometres had to have felt that.

Petra's face appeared over her. “What in the nine hells did you do?” she said, not even sounding out of breath. “Tae and I saw the results on the other two fields and they look nothing like this. That's not even water, you know. Well, this mist is.” She waved her hand through the air, her sleeves darkening with moisture. “That thing, though. That's so much energy spewing that it's visible to folks without mage gifts like those farmers back there.” She waved her hand in the direction she had run from. “They're on their knees, sobbing and praying.”

“It's Telubra,” Carmen said. “There was a portion of Telubra's awareness down there. I thought it went dormant when the king died. We hit bedrock and it was dug in there, so maybe it was.”

“The land and the king are not closely tied together,” Odette said as she arrived. “Would you like help getting up?”

“I'd only fall over again,” she said, flopping her hand in Athena's direction, trying to signify the blonde had already tried and failed.

“Ow,” the other woman said. She had managed to get her arms underneath her head and was resting her chin on them. “I didn't realize what it was until I had already made the request. And then I think it misunderstood, because I asked it to heal the life above it-”

“She means the crops,” Carmen explained to Petra's confused face. Petra made a shushing motion.

Athena continued as of there had been no interruption. “The other fields didn't have anything like that. The land was linked with the layers above and below it, so the power eased itself into the crops I had marked out. But that energy- it was tied to all of Telubra.”

“So the borders of its request are the Telubrin borders,” Odette said, understanding. “But why would it accept your request? You are not native, it should have completely ignored you.”

“Or else killed you for your insolence,” Petra added dryly. “Maybe all three princes got thrown from their horses at the same time and died. Maybe the children weakened its protections somehow, making it available for you to approach.”

Heavy stomping signified Tae's approach. Snow was with her. He obviously wanted to return to his mistress' side. He licked Athena's face fondly before settling in on her other side, away from Carmen.

“Are you two all right?” Carmen could hear the frown in Tae's voice, annoyed that Odette and Petra hadn't helped them up yet.

“I think it sucked up all our energy,” Carmen said. Her limbs felt like they were full of lead.

“Because of the chant,” Athena said. “The plants' energy was part of us when we performed that part of the working. For all its awareness, it's not clever. Between being woodswomen with nature magic and the native plants' energies, I think it thought we were native spirits.”

Petra opened her mouth to ask a question. Not wanting to start a debate with the ever-curious elf, Carmen explained, “Belike dryads.”

“Which would make it think you were extensions of it and that your energies were available for use as well,” Tae mused. “Let me loan you some of mine while you get yours back.”

“We'll be here for at least a week,” Carmen groaned. “Provided the farmers don't drive us off with torches and pitchforks for ruining this field.”

Petra moved from where Carmen could see her. “Rather doubt that,” the elf said, amazement in her voice. “I know why they were weeping. You’ve got to get up and see this. Tae, see if you can haul Athena up while Odette pretends to help me with Carmen.” As she spoke, she circled back around Carmen and leaned down to grab Carmen’s hands. “Odette, stop staring at it and give Carmen a push when I lift her.”

After a short tussle of limbs, they managed to get the two woodswomen balanced leaning against each other. Tae hovered behind them, ready to grab someone should they fall.

From her poor view on the ground, Carmen had seen that the working they had meant to perform had succeeded. The barley that had been within her line of sight was lush and green, completely unlike the faded crops they had originally been.

Standing, though, the view was something else entirely. As far as her eyes could see, the fields were all vibrantly healthy, waving in the breeze. The ivy she had noticed on Yeoman Giles’ walls was in full bloom, no longer brittle and close to death. His door stood wide open, his many young children dancing about in the herb garden planted in front of the house. She could faintly hear their shrieks of laughter.

The column of water- magic, Petra had said- still gushed noisily into the endless sky, small rainbows glittering in the sky as the sun hit the mist.

“'Tis beautiful,” Athena said softly, not wanting to break the moment.

“'Tis a miracle,” said a voice from behind them.

Carmen turned her head to the side, forgetting momentarily about her hold on Athena. They smacked their temples together. Her arm tightened around Athena's waist as they both began to double over in pain. Tae's arms shot out, bracing their shoulders, keeping them from collapsing.

“Yeoman Yates,” Odette greeted as Carmen and Athena stumbled to turn around.

The large bearded man strode towards them with two others. Carmen recognized the one as Yeoman Giles, the owner of the field they had just ruined. His walk was the unsteady gait of a man fresh off of months-long bed rest. The other, an old man walking slowly with a cane, wore the pale blue robes of a sun priest of Jadus. The two farmers' gazes were locked on the geyser behind where the women stood, while the priest focused on where Tae stood holding up Carmen and Athena.

“They have spoken to the land,” he announced. Carmen barely refrained from rolling her eyes. “And the land has given its answer. The line of Telubrin kings has failed it for the last time. Telubra can no longer wait for a king to once again serve his people and not just himself and has released its power for the people to call upon themselves.”

Maybe all three princes really had fallen off their horses and died, Carmen thought. If the priest were right, the power of Telubra was now in the hands of the workers of the earth, instead of the man they held fealty to.

“‘Tis a most wondrous miracle,” Giles said in a far away voice, his eyes never leaving the sight of the geyser. “Will it keep doing that? My crops will be ruined by people traipsing about come to honor it. How did ya do this?”

“‘Twas an accident,” Athena replied sheepishly. “The boundaries between the energy of your field and the deeper energies that tie all of the country together were worn thin here. I did not notice until it was already awakening.”

“It should have killed us for our intrusion,” Carmen said hoarsely.

“There has been too much death,” the priest said. “The spirit must feel that way as well. Between the war and the drought, our country will take generations to recover. But you ladies have provided the first ray of hope that it can and will happen.”

“You are not well to travel,” Yates said, turning his gaze to the two woodswomen bracing themselves on Tae’s sturdy form.

“No,” Odette said. “All of their energies were drained by that.” She motioned towards the geyser behind them. Carmen thought the noise was beginning to trickle off. “It will take several days for them to recover enough for us to move on.” She shared a glance with Tae, who shrugged. Their timetable was constantly in flux. Carmen could only hope this unexpected delay did not cause them to miss Crunch again.

“You will stay with my family,” the big man said. “The twins will not mind spending some time in the kennels, 'twill be cooler down there anyway.”

Giles looked ready to argue, but at a look from the old priest, he stayed quiet. Carmen wondered what that was about.

“We could not possibly-” Tae started.

“You have given all of Telubra a gift we can never repay,” the priest interrupted. “With the crops we will harvest come autumn, there will be surplus for the first time in a decade. Let Heron’s Rest host you until you are well enough to continue your travels.”

“Tae, do not argue,” Odette scolded. “It is very kind of them to make the offer.”

“My apologies,” the healer said to Yates.

“‘Tis we who are beholden to ya, priestess,” the man said, an amused smile on his face. “Ya traded three fields for a night’s rest and have given us all of our land back instead. Ya could stay for tennights and never come close to being paid what is owed.”

----

Dusk had fallen upon the newly-green town of Heron’s Rest. Petra stood outside Mal’s public house, leaning against the wall to watch the distant lake. The noisy celebration inside would likely go on long into the night. Athena and Carmen had put in an appearance early on, but had left early, pleading exhaustion. Tae and Odette were still inside, making merry with the villagers. Mal had already asked to hire Galfrid’s eldest daughter to start clearing the rooms upstairs, to make them livable for the eventual pilgrims who undoubtedly were already beginning to feel the power thrumming through Telubra’s skies and land.

The rushing flow of earth magic in Giles’ field had finally trickled away, the geyser disappearing from the farmers’ vision long before the women’s. Petra hadn’t been terribly surprised to see Giles’ second youngest keep his eyes on it far longer than the rest. The women had been trying to spot which of his children had the ability to tap into nature magic. It was the likeliest cause for what had happened; an innocent unwittingly calling upon his native country’s energies as he tried diligently to coax his father’s fields to fertility, slowly wearing away the protections that separated the earth magic anyone with the gift could try to call upon from the powerful energies of the greater earth spirit who had slumbered fitfully underneath Telubra.

It was probably the reason why, sooner or later, empires fell. Kingdom borders were set by a combination of the ambition of its people and the power of the spirit chosen to dwell in that land. Empires took control of kingdoms, never laying claim to an earth spirit of their own. Places like the Free Coast, on the eastern shoreline of Caldonia, had only lesser earth spirits- like the dryads Carmen mentioned earlier. In ancient days, the spirits had made pacts with the elders and leaders of people who inhabited the lands where they were staking out their own territory. The people would take care of the land and the land would take care of the people, a beneficial symbiotic relationship that had lasted until the poor rulers began to outnumber the good and stopped making the necessary tithes the spirits lived on.

This spirit had finally said enough was enough and soon the vast outpouring of energy would spread across the entire country and rain down upon the unsuspecting citizenry. And only a four-year-old’s love of and devotion to his father and family had kept it from being the same rain of blood that the earth spirit was receiving from the men who would seat themselves upon the throne. The simple people of Heron’s Rest had no idea how close Athena and Carmen had come to unintentionally releasing a blood-maddened greater earth spirit upon them. Instead, though, it would be a rain of healing and rebirth, though she doubted it would be an easy rain. The spirits of the earth, while usually not violent, were still very forceful.

Heavy footsteps interrupted her thoughts.

“Lady,” said a soft male voice, obviously hesitant to draw her attention.

She turned her head. Farmer Giles stood there, his four-year-old in his arms. The boy had curled his dark head up under his father's chin and his eyelids were at half-mast. “Yeoman Giles,” she greeted, confused about why he had left the noisy party inside the public house and why he had brought his sleepy child with him.

“Yer friends, the nature witches? Be they teachers?”

Of the five of them, Odette was generally accepted as being the most approachable. Unless Tae was out of her armor. Even in armor, Tae radiated compassionate sympathy, but the armor left viewers confused. She wasn’t certain why he was asking her this. “Carmen knows only the basics of woods magic. And Athena’s not a native of this land. She knows what is taught in the lands past the eastern ocean. It would be a disservice to your son to teach him those ways, when this land has other rituals meant for speaking with nature. And he is still far too young to be apprenticed.”

“Helios Osgar says the last time a nature witch came by was forty years ago,” he began, a pained look in his eyes. “Aleyn cannot wait that long.”

“They will come now,” Petra said dryly. “They won’t be able to help themselves. Every woodsworker from here to Biar would have felt what happened here and will come to investigate.”

“But how can I trust those who do show up?”

“How can you really trust us?” Petra cut herself off before she continued that direction of conversation. “Look, have Tae mark him. Tae’s patron is a god of protection. So only those woodsworkers who will have Aleyn’s best interests in mind will notice that he has nature magic. You must still judge those who do see it.”

He considered the idea, petting his child's head as the boy snuffled sleepily into his neck. “But she carries the sign of the sun. Jadus' strength be not protection-”

She huffed loudly in irritation. The amulet around Tae's neck was an entirely different symbol. Obviously Tae's armor had scared him into not staring at all, instead of staring at her bosom too long. “She is a devotee of the Protector, head of the Elven Court. His sign is also the sun,” she explained.

“Thank ye for the advice, lady,” he said, flushing- either from anger or embarrassment, Petra didn't know or care.

“Take care of yourselves,” she said in polite dismissal. “This place will become very popular for a time.”

He left, leaving her alone again. She thunked her head back against the building, hoping he wouldn't bump into Odette and complain about her attitude. Odette always seemed so disappointed in her poor attitude with the people they met.

Like it was her fault none of them were brighter than a bag of bricks. Conversations like that made her miss Crunch. At least he accepted he was dim-witted and didn't get insulted when she corrected him. Of course, he was also almost a metre taller than her and could lift her with two fingers. Should he ever choose to get insulted, she was a fly easily swatted away.

He had better be in Lothar. Telubra was the only country on the entire continent where they hadn't looked for him yet. And wasn’t it odd how none of the diviners of Isis they had spoken with seemed to be able to tell where he was? Certainly they wouldn't accept payment for false visions, no. That wouldn't be right, after all. It was merely bad luck they always seemed to arrive in town months after he left.

She could feel the temperature of the air around her increasing with her anger and exhaled loudly, concentrating on pulling back in the energy she was releasing. She practiced fire magic, she should know better than to lose her control of her temper. And she knew better than to let her thoughts dwell on things that would make her angry- such as the fact the Isador priestesses were sending them on a wild goose chase across Caldonia.

There were more footsteps. She held back on sighing in exasperation, knowing she could use the distraction. Likely everyone in the village was making the rounds, trying to speak to all of them. She pulled away from the wall, turning to see who approached.

Yeoman Yates had two ale mugs in his big hands, so she decided against mouthing off at him and grinned brightly as he handed her one.

“Thanks. Mal wouldn't serve me any. Insisted it wasn't for children.”

He waited until she was already drinking. “’Tis small beer.” He chuckled as she pulled back from the mug, coughing. “There's little alcohol in it to speak of. We make it for our children. 'Tis healthier than water, and more filling.”

“You also need to chew it.” She made a face at the mug, but continued to drink from it. “I don't like that man.”

“Yer tall friend, the one in the walking dress, didn’t understand my worry when I spoke to her. She suggested I speak with ye. Mal overheard the conversation and gave me the small beer to bring to ye,” he explained.

“Of course he did. I'm a growing child.” She finished the mug off quickly. “So what did Odette send you to me about?”

“Many people will come here now. Trying to find out what happened.” She nodded when he paused. “What do we tell them?”

“That two nature witches interceded on your behalf with a local water spirit,” she said quickly. “Or more appropriately, interceded with the earth spirit on the lake spirit's behalf.”

“We don't have one.”

“Now that is where you would be wrong. With the length of time this drought has been, and with you farmers drawing water from it, that lake should have dried up ages ago. There's a naiad or something living in there, and it doesn't want its home demolished, so it keeps making more water. But not at the rate you're taking it out. So obviously, when two woodswomen came walking through the village, it appealed to them as defenders of nature. But water is a necessity for farmers, so they went straight to the source of the weather problems, brave girls that they were.”

“That's a lot of nonsense,” he said skeptically. His gaze, though, was locked meditatively on the still lake waters in the distance.

“Obviously,” Petra agreed. A small water spirit like the one in the lake wouldn’t risk attracting the attention of foreign practitioners of nature magic. It would have no way of judging their intentions. I've always found the best way to hide the truth is in a lot of lies. At least when it comes to things like this. After all, our request was a lot of nonsense too. But that doesn't keep it from being true.”

“So if yer request was nonsense, why did ya really want to stay here for a day?” Yates took a big drink out of his ale- probably something far tastier than small beer, Petra thought bitterly. He wasn't acting as if there was anything by idle curiosity behind the question.

“Odette blew up a temple back in Khoresbar to stop the troll invasion, but it took a lot of energy out of her. She needed the break. But we didn't think it through, and now we're stuck here while Carmen and Athena regain their energy,” she said honestly, the same wild grin on her face that she wore when she told him about the water spirit.

“So the bigger yer lie, the more people think it must be true, because who would make up a lie that outrageous and silly?” he mused. He didn’t look as if he believed her story, but that had rather been the point. “It could work. We would do ya no favors by telling strangers about yer friends' deeds. People would seek ye out for similar favors for nothing, and that's no way to live.”

“Wise of you,” Petra said, tilting her head back to further consider the big man. His way of speaking was uneducated, but Petra knew better than most that appearances were deceiving. The big man might look as strong and dumb as an ox, but she knew village decisions not made by the sun-priest were made by him. That was not an honor given to a stupid or foolish man.

“Cautious, more like. I can see you folks are following someone else's trail and the last thing ye'd want is people on yer trail as well. Might scare yer prey off.” He paused to look past the public house, further down the street. “‘Tis late indeed for Helios Osgar to still be running errands.”

She followed his gaze. The snowy-haired old man moved at a brisk pace towards them.

“Something lit a fire underneath him,” she agreed. He certainly hadn’t moved that fast coming to see what Carmen and Athena had wrought in Yeoman Giles’ barley field.

Petra jogged down the road towards him, disliking seeing the frail man moving so quickly. Yates followed her.

“Be there anything we can do for ye, Helios Osgar?” Yates asked they grew close.

“I do not mean to interrupt,” the older man said, leaning heavily on his cane. His wrinkled face was pale from overexertion.

“It was nothing of import,” Petra assured him.

“There are guests in the temple who asked for you ladies.” She could hear a question buried in his voice. How had anyone known they would be in Heron’s Rest, after all? It was not on the most direct route to Felaya from either Reeds or Khoresbar. They liked to meander across the countryside at their own pace, but Heron’s Rest had been chosen to proceed to instead of West Aldglen because Athena had felt the tug of nature magic calling her that way. Aleyn would need an exceptional teacher for his abilities- four really was too young to be showing such strength.

She gave a mental shake of her head.

“Guests?” she repeated, letting surprise color her voice.

“Three sun-knights who claim to be from Reeds in Sundabar,” the priest explained. “The two men have the right accent, but the woman who leads them hails from much further west. But Jadus sends his people where he wills, so she could be connected to their temple.”

“There were no female sun-knights present in Reeds when we stopped there,” Petra said with a frown. “She might have come from Khorevail. Our last job was an errand for the temple of Jadus there. Did they ask for us by name or description?”

“By name. They seek an audience with your sorceress. For what, they would not tell me, only that it was of the utmost urgency.”

“Instead of fighting the crowd in the pub, Helios Osgar, why don’t I fish her and Tae out of there while you return to your bed,” she said. “At a much slower walk, of course.”

“I have passed their message along, so I will not feel guilty following your suggestion,” he said. “If I could trouble Yeoman Yates for an arm, I would be much obliged. I fear my knees feel their age tonight.”

“’Would be no trouble, Helios. I’ve had me words with the gel.” He proffered his arm to the priest. Petra thought he could carry the old man back with no troubles, but was certain Osgar’s dignity wouldn’t allow it.

“Good evening to you both,” she said before turning to head back to the public house. What would bring someone from Khorevail this far into Telubra? The matter promised to be interesting.

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