Chapter 6 – The Girl of His Dreams
Fifth of Learning 1142
Each year, the people of the Kingdom of Twyl celebrate Battle Song, a holiday commemorating King Mavros’s victory over the Kingdom of Lethe. Mavros had been a fair warrior, but a brilliant strategist. He didn’t win his battle through strength of arms so much as agility of thought. Not that the average person would ever suspect the truth. In the minds of the common folk and even most educated people, Mavros was a great hero. Only a great hero could have conquered the unconquerable, after all.
Because it was a holiday, Prince Eric didn’t have lessons, leaving him the day free, or so he had thought. He had planned to do absolutely nothing, but that was before his failure of the night before.
Taking the day off was out of the question now. Something had gone wrong, and Eric wasn’t sure he wasn’t responsible, no matter what anyone said about it. Whatever happened, he would do everything in his power to make sure it didn’t happen again. Which meant training, every day. He needed to get stronger so he could complete his transition.
Prince Eric, Dahr and Kalutu ended up in the training yard, but there was no one there, probably because everyone had spent the night celebrating, which meant drinking.
“Grab a practice sword,” he told Dahr.
“So we can spar.”
Dahr eyed Eric suspiciously. “You never want to spar with me. You said you might hurt me.”
“Yes, well, today is different.”
Kalutu looked concerned. “Are you certain this is a good idea?”
Eric turned to study his familiar… no not his…their familiar. It still seemed unreal to him.
“If Dahr is going to be a noble, he’s going to need to learn to both fight and defend himself.”
“I suppose that’s true,” said Kalutu, who backed off to the edge of the yard to watch.
Dahr walked to the side of the training area and picked a practice sword from the rack in which they were stored, heavier swords on the right. He chose one from the far left. The swords were made of wood, covered with some sort of padding, which had been glued into place. Eric struck an en-guard position and Dahr tried to copy him, with mixed success. It wasn’t quite right. Eric struck first, and Dahr sidestepped easily.
“You’re going to have to be faster than that,” said Dahr impishly.
“Keep talking little man,” grinned Eric.
He tried three more attacks, each of which Dahr was able to avoid. Admittedly he hadn’t really been trying that hard, but each miss made him just a bit more annoyed. He’d try a slightly harder attack, something a bit more forceful.
He swung his sword in a simple quick swipe aimed at Dahr’s side. Easy enough to block and sidestep, but he did it again and again, keeping Dahr moving. The trick was to get your opponent to expect something and try something else. He swiped three times in a row and three times Dahr blocked. On the fourth time, he pulled his sword back so it swung past Dahr altogether and reversed the swipe to hit from the other direction.
Dahr wasn’t ready for it, and the blow struck him hard in the side. Harder than Eric had intended. Dahr staggered back and doubled over in pain. Kalutu leapt forward.
“Are you all right?” asked the familiar.
Eric had been closer, but Kalutu had reached Dahr before he did. The whole thing had caught him off guard. He looked on guiltily but didn’t say anything, waiting for Dahr’s answer.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Eric hits like a girl.”
Eric would have normally risen to that bait, but not after what he had just done. He was responsible for Dahr’s safety and was far more experienced with swords. He shouldn’t have needed to get in a shot at all.
“He certainly sounds okay,” said Eric. “By the way, there are plenty of women in the guard who hit harder than me, Dahr. You really shouldn’t say stuff like that.”
“I know. I was just having fun.”
“Well, if you’re well enough to have fun, you’re probably well enough for an actual lesson. Do you think?”
“Sure,” said Dahr, eyes lighting up.
Before the lesson could begin, one of the palace pages, a boy of about fifteen, entered the courtyard. “There you are. The king wishes you to attend him in the throne room.”
Eric was surprised since they’d only just had breakfast with the king a little while ago. Surely, he could have said what he wanted then. Dahr looked disappointed.
“Don’t worry,” said Eric. “There’ll be plenty of lessons moving forward.”
In truth, today had been a lesson… a lesson for Eric. He’d let his emotions run away from him, and Dahr had suffered because of it. He had to be better than that. He closed his eyes and prayed to Sheba. “Please, please let me be worthy of serving you. Please help me make better decisions in the future.”
The page was staring at him. Eric cleared his throat in embarrassment, though of course, no one could know his thoughts.
“Sorry, Zen, we’re ready.”
Eric and Dahr placed their practice swords back in the rack on the way out of the courtyard, then the two royals and Kalutu followed the page back into the palace. Eric and Dahr kept up an amiable conversation with the page. Zen was only a bit younger than Eric and, while they weren’t exactly friends, they were on friendly terms. Behind them Kalutu followed, apparently happy to observe without adding anything to the conversation.
Not that they had much time to talk before reaching the throne room. Zen didn’t enter with them. He waved good-bye, and Eric smiled back at him. Dahr he noticed, was staring through the doors, and Eric followed his gaze.
He had expected the king and queen to be there, but he hadn’t expected strangers. A man, woman and young lady stood near the throne but facing the door. All three of them were clearly well to do from their garb. The man and woman stood beside each other, the girl just in front of them. She was clearly the woman’s daughter, and that probably made the man her father, though he might be her grandfather as well. The girl watched them with scarcely veiled antagonism.
“Ah, here they are now,” said King Terrence, who stood and introduced them.
“These are my sons Eric and Dahr. Kalutu is…their familiar.”
The three looked startled, particularly the man, who made no effort to disguise his surprise. “I thought you only had one son.”
“One legitimate son,” corrected the king.
The man nodded his understanding, but the young lady scowled. The woman beside her pinched the back of her arm surreptitiously, and the girl schooled her expression but remnants of anger were clearly visible in her blue eyes.
“Boys, I’d like you to meet King Leonid and Queen Rhea of Melar, and their daughter Princess Chari.”
Both of the boys bowed low, and a moment later Kalutu followed their example.
“It is an honor to meet you,” said Eric, holding the bow long enough to show respect without showing subservience.
King Terrence walked toward the boys. “King Leonid and I were discussing the possibility of an alliance. The terms will be decided in the days to come, but part of the exchange will be Princess Chari’s hand in marriage. I had planned on telling you this after your transition, so you could focus on that without distraction, but King Leonid’s party made better time than expected. I had hoped to prepare you for this moment.”
Prince Eric had known some variation of this was coming at some point, he just hadn’t expected it quite so soon. To his credit, he didn’t miss a beat. “You’ve spent my entire life preparing me, father.” Then he turned his attention to Princess Chari. “I am honored to make your acquaintance.”
The girl shrugged but didn’t otherwise reply. Her mother scowled at the reaction but said nothing. Her father seemed not to notice.
“Perhaps,” said King Leonid, “the two of you should spend some time together, appropriately chaperoned, of course.”
“Of course,” said King Terrence in agreement.
Again Eric bowed. “It would be my pleasure.”
He thought he saw Princess Chari roll her eyes.
Queen Rhea stepped forward and spoke. “If you might direct me to the palace gardens or some other appropriate area, I’ll take them now, so the kings might begin their negotiations.”
“Would you mind if I joined you?” asked Queen Treya.
“I would be most delighted.”
So it was that the four of them left the throne room, led by Queen Treya. Eric and a sullen-looking Chari wandered several feet behind. Neither had said a word, but the queens seemed to like each other. They were both whispering happily back and forth as if they were old friends.
“I know this is probably hard,” said Eric.
“It didn’t seem hard for you.”
“It is. I mean I’ve never…I didn’t expect this so soon. Not before my transition certainly.”
“You haven’t transitioned? I thought you had.”
“I was supposed to but things…didn’t go as planned. You speak very good Twylish. Hardly any accent at all.”
“I’ve taken lessons for many years. My father’s idea. Seems like this arrangement was a long term plan of his. Are you going to choose Iorana?”
“Wait, if you chose Sheba, how do you have a familiar?”
Eric laughed. “I have no idea. Do you have time for a story?”
He was much easier to talk to than Chari had expected, which didn’t fit in with her plans. She wasn’t going to make this easy for him.
“What if I said I didn’t?”
If Eric was offended, he certainly didn’t show it. “Then I wouldn’t tell it to you. But it’s a bit unusual, and I think it will entertain you.”
Chari opened her mouth to tell him she didn’t want to hear the story, but it would have been a lie. She had to admit, she was curious. “Okay. Just know this. I don’t entertain easily.”
Eric grinned. “If this story doesn’t entertain you, nothing will.”
Without waiting for a reply, Eric set off on the whole story, starting with Dahr invading his dream and ending with his return to the waking world with a holy shield and familiar. The whole time Chari listened without interrupting or asking anything. When he was done, she finally spoke.
“You were correct. That did entertain me. Is it true?”
“Every word of it. Have you transitioned yet?”
“No, not yet. I’ll be doing that while I’m here.”
“Have you decided who you’ll choose?”
“Honestly, I’ve always wanted to choose Sheba. It’s not my parent’s choice though.”
Eric nodded in understanding. “You have to live with this for your whole life. They don’t. You need to choose what you feel is right.”
That was exactly the right thing to say, and Chari felt a warm glow of support. He was the first person to say something like that to her. She kept having to remind herself that he was just trying to make a good impression. She wasn’t going to fall for it.
“Did the High Priest really say Sheba favored you?”
“And my brother.”
Chari frowned. “I can’t believe that he’s here. Isn’t your father ashamed?”
If Eric was surprised by Chari’s directness, he didn’t show it. “I think he feels bad, sure. But he has ever taught me to take responsibility for my actions. When Dahr’s mother got sick, we took him in.”
“And what of your mother? How do you think she feels, having to see that reminder of your father’s infidelity every single day?”
Eric was about to speak, thought better of it and closed his mouth. They walked in silence for a while, then he replied. “Apparently it was my mother’s idea to bring Dahr to the palace. She loves him. I can see it in the way she looks at him.”
“And you’re not mad?”
“At what? It’s not my business. What happens between my parents is their business. And if they can make peace with it, why should I have an issue? Anyway, Dahr is my best friend.”
“But he’s a bastard!”
“And that’s his fault how? Dahr is blameless in this. He had no choice. His life has been harder than mine. Why should I blame him?”
Now it was Chari’s turn to hesitate before answering. Eric, she was forced to admit, was right. It would have been unfair to blame Dahr. But how could the queen tolerate his presence. It would have gutted her to have the bastard son of her husband around every day.
“Why would your father stray from his vows like that?”
Eric raised an eyebrow at the personal question but answered anyway. If this young lady were to one day be his wife, he owed her honesty if nothing else.
“My father fought in the Undead War. He’d been injured. He was forced to stay at a nearby inn while his men fought without him. He was aching to get back into combat but his body wouldn’t let him. The innkeeper was a widow. She was lonely, scared, in pain over losing her husband. Her inn wasn’t doing well during the war. So they comforted each other. They both knew the relationship wouldn’t last.”
“How do you know all that?”
“My father told us. He told my mother as well.”
“And she’s okay with it?”
“I don’t know, let’s find out…Mom,” said Eric loudly.’
Chari looked aghast, but his mother turned and looked at them.
“Chari seems concerned about Dahr and his origins. She thinks that dad’s actions bother you.”
The two queens looked at each other. His mother had a surprised expression on her face, but Queen Rhea just frowned and shook her head.
“I think they bothered me when I first heard about them, but none of us are perfect. We’ve all made our share of mistakes, and honestly, Dahr is delightful. I love him. What King Terrence did was wrong. He broke our marital vows. There’s no way to sugar coat that, but who am I to judge him? We’ve both done wrong at different times in our marriage in different ways. And it happened during the Undead War, where every day might have been his last. In the end, if Dahr was the result of that union, then I have to be okay with it, because Dahr is a blessing.”
Chari couldn’t believe her ears. She couldn’t help herself. “But he’s another woman’s child!”
Queen Treya smiled gently. “He was, but now he’s my child, and I love him as much as I love Eric.”
Chari raised her eyes in both surprise and alarm, turning her worried gaze to Eric. To her astonishment he was smiling and nodding approval.
Queen Rhea looked at her daughter sternly, but Chari just shrugged. Then the queens returned to their whispered conversation.
“I still find it hard to believe how easily you accept Dahr’s presence in the castle and in your life.”
“I only found out he was my brother yesterday night. I befriended Dahr when he was just a kitchen servant. Then my father made him my personal servant. We’re friends. I already felt like he was my brother. In fact, I already thought he might be my brother, but never said anything. I’m an only child. I’ve always wanted a brother or sister, now I have one. It’s not really that hard to understand.”
“I’m an only child too.”
“I’m surprised. Your parents have obviously been married for a long time. Most kings would have annulled their marriage or divorced their wife if they hadn’t provided an male heir. That’s my understanding anyway. It’s a bit different here, since female heirs can take the throne without being married.”
“Really?” asked Chari. “I’ve never heard of that before.”
“It’s because we’re of Andaran descent. Men and women are considered equal in all ways in Andara. A tribe’s leader can be male or female. Lethe wasn’t like that, but they don’t get to make the rules anymore.”
Chari laughed. “Well, good for you. Women are just as capable of ruling as men.”
“I agree. My mother is a great ruler. She and my father rule Twyl together. My father always says it’s a team effort.”
“I like that,” said Chari, realizing she really did. She was moving awfully far from her original game plan, and it was beginning to annoy her.
“So, if you’re not heir, who is?” asked Eric.
“My uncle Alexi. That’s my father’s brother. He’s sitting on the throne right now in my father’s absence, and he’ll take the throne permanently should something happen to my father. His son, Rat, that’s my cousin, is next in line.”
“What kind of name is Rat?”
“It’s not his real name, it’s just what I call him. His real name is Radcliff.”
“Does he like you calling him Rat?”
“He does. I’ve been doing it since he was just a little kid. He’s like ten years younger than me. They live in the palace too. When my father travels, Alexi often takes the throne. My father says he needs the experience, in case anything happens to him.”
“Well, it’s good that you have that sorted. It seemed strange to me that the King and Queen would both come along, but I guess that explains it.”
“My father could have sent an emissary, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t think anyone can bargain, or do anything else, as well as he can. He’s a bit of an idiot really.”
Eric didn’t know what to say to that, and though he didn’t react, he was somewhat taken aback. He would never say anything like that about his father.
So they walked in silence, each trying to parse their own thoughts. It was Eric who spoke first.
“Are you always this direct?”
Chari answered immediately. “Yes.”
There didn’t seem to be anything to say to that, so he didn’t reply.
They had reached the gardens. Summer was over and though fall had begun, it had yet to take hold. The trees still had their leaves, there were still some flowers about, and it was warm enough that they didn’t need coats. The gardens were well-manicured with quiet paths and benches in shaded alcoves, where people could walk or sit as they wanted. The queens opted to stroll, and Chari and Eric followed behind. For a time, neither said anything, taking in the garden instead. Chari broke the silence.
“I’d really like to see your shield.”
“I can go get it. I mean, if it’s okay?” He looked at his mother.
She was about to assent when out of nowhere, his shield appeared on his arm. He stared at it startled.
“I didn’t know it could do that.”
And a voice in his head, Sheba’s voice, explained. “The shield isn’t a shield. It wasn’t made in a forge. The shield is a reflection of my will. By your deeds you will either earn that protection, or you will not. I know you’ll make me proud.”
He was about to reveal the goddess’s words, when he realized from the expression on the other’s faces that everyone must have heard it.
Chari almost choked. “That…that was Sheba!”
Eric nodded. “It was.”
“You really are favored, then,” said Chari. She turned toward her mother. “Both Prince Eric and his brother are favored by Sheba.”
Queen Rhea looked startled and glanced over at Queen Treya who nodded.
“That’s amazing,” she said finally. “You should have led with that.”
Treya laughed. “The blessing of Sheba isn’t something you flaunt or use to gain advantage. It’s something that you cherish and hold dear to your heart. Yet Sheba clearly wanted people to know. She must have her reasons.”
Chari was studying the shield, which sported Sheba’s symbol glowing on the front. “She said it’s not a real shield. It’s a reflection of her will and good feelings. This isn’t a piece of metal. It’s a piece of the goddess.” Her voice was filled with awe. Her eyes never left the shield. “Can I…touch it?”
Eric nodded. She reached a hand out and lay a single finger on it. It throbbed with power, but there was something more there too. An indomitable will. A strength that no human could lay claim to. And she knew, deep in her heart of hearts, that when the time came to choose who she would serve for the rest of her life, it would be Sheba. She had known that for as long as she could remember, and hearing the goddess’s voice had solidified that knowledge. That realization brought her to another. If Eric was favored by the goddess she’d long ago decided to serve, then he was certainly good enough for her. After all, how could she possibly know more than a goddess did. Her eyes moved from the shield to the young man holding it. She saw him as if for the first time.
He was tall, with short hair that was either very light brown or very dark blond. His eyes were blue and sparkled with intelligence. His square jaw was softened by a rounded face. He was lanky, just starting to fill out, probably from practicing combat with a trainer. But his face was earnest and kind. He was good natured. He was honest. He even seemed empathic from the brief conversations she’d had with him. He was entertaining and charming and…and…and… at that moment she knew the truth.
Prince Eric of Twyl, son of King Terrence and Queen Treya, would one day be her husband, and Sheba would be the goddess they served for the rest of their lives.
“I owe you an apology,” she said, ignoring the shock on her mother’s face.
“You owe me nothing,” said Eric.
“I came into this day thinking badly of you. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was sure I wasn’t going to like it.”
“It’s completely understandable. Not having a say in who you marry is hard for many people.”
“But not for you.”
Eric smiled. “It’s hard for me too, but I’ve always known it would happen, and I’ve always known it would be hard. I would marry whoever my parents chose for me, because I trust them to do what is not only in my best interest, but in the best interests of Twyl. I didn’t know I was going to meet you today, I wasn’t told, but when I saw you, I felt immediately that they had made the right choice. It wasn’t just how you looked, though you’re beautiful of course. It was the defiance in how you stood, the fierceness in your manner. I knew you were a fighter from that first moment in your presence. And there is no better way to sharpen your sword than to test yourself. I strongly suspect that over the years, you will test me sorely…and I will love you for it.”
Chari didn’t know what to say. She started to speak, stopped. Started again. Stopped again. Finally she smiled and embraced him. “I’m going to hold you to that.
Later that evening, after a delightful day spent with Prince Eric, Chari was alone in her room, when she received a summons from Queen Treya. Curious, she followed a page she’d never seen before through palace corridors, but she wasn’t taken to the throne room. Instead she was led to a small salon, in which the queen sat with a pot of tea and some sort of biscuits.
The page admitted her, announced her and vanished, closing the door behind him, leaving her alone with the queen.
“Your Majesty,” she curtsied.
“No need for that here,” said Queen Treya. “We’re not at court. We’re just Treya and Chari here, if that’s okay with you.”
Chari nodded cautiously. She had no idea what this was about.
“I realize you have taken issue with my husband’s indiscretion.”
She started to speak, but the queen held up a hand forestalling her.
“I wanted to give you a bit of my thought process to help you understand. When my husband broke his marital vows, he wasn’t doing that to me. He wasn’t trying to hurt me. He didn’t do anything intentionally to make me sad. He was a man, alone, injured, terrified, fighting a war against the undead from which he might not return. He might never see me again. Never lay with a woman again. He didn’t look at this other woman and think she’s as good as I am. He was clutching at straws, trying to remain sane while his men ran into battle without his leadership. Some of those men were his friends. Some of them didn’t come back at all. And he wasn’t there to help them.”
“Does that excuse what he did?” asked Chari, when the queen finally paused.
“No, of course not. I was angry, at first. But I wasn’t angry at Dahr. He hadn’t done anything. And I made sure he and his mother were provided for because that was the right thing to do. Being a queen isn’t about doing the easy thing. It’s not about selfishly putting my needs or wants or hurts before the welfare of those under my care, and this woman, whatever else you could say about her, was under my care.
“She wasn’t my subject since she didn’t live in Twyl, but all the same, when I married Terrence, I took on some responsibility for his actions as well as my own. This woman was under my care because my husband put her in a bad situation, and I could do something about it. It’s not like I could blame her. She wasn’t going to say no to a king who had come to fight off the undead that had attacked her home, particularly a king who had been gravely injured in the conflict. She was an innkeeper who’d lost a husband and had to do everything on her own. Her life was tragic. She grasped briefly for just a tiny bit of light that she knew she couldn’t hold on to. Tell me, how do you think she felt when the king rode back to the battle?”
“But she was wrong too. She knew he was married.”
“And she knew he’d be leaving. At no point did she think the king would leave me for her. He was a fleeting moment of enjoyment in a lifetime of hardship that ended just a few years later when she got sick. I visited her, you know?”
Chari’s jaw dropped. “You did?”
Treya nodded. “I did. I wanted to understand her. I wanted to see her. And you know what I found?”
“What?” asked Chari, fascinated.
“I found a woman who was intelligent, and well spoken, and funny. A woman who’d been worn down by life but still stood proud. Some people are destroyed by such conflicts, but she had developed a grace that allowed her to transcend her hardship.”
“You respected her,” said Chari, startled at the revelation.
“I did. Royalty has it easy, at least many of us do. We don’t suffer the same tribulations as people who live less certain lives. They look at us and they see heroes and legends, or tyrants and monsters. But I look at them, and sometimes, I see heroes too. Dahr’s mother, she was heroic to me. And my husband? He didn’t do anything to hurt me. Like anyone with an uncertain future, he grasped for a tiny bit of comfort. Who am I to deny that to my king?”
Chari rolled the idea around in her mind. The whole thought process was strange to her. She thought about it for a long time before she spoke.
“I don’t think I could ever be as forgiving or gracious as you, Treya. I wouldn’t even know how to try.”
Treya put a hand over hers. “Don’t try. Be true to yourself. That’s all anyone can ask of you.”
The two stayed for a while and enjoyed a late evening snack. Later, Chari returned to her room, head buzzing with ideas she had never before considered.
When Dahr awoke, he realized something was wrong. Everything was off. For one thing he was floating, not lying in bed as he had been when he’d closed his eyes. He was being buffeted by more than one breeze from multiple directions. They weren’t cold, or hot, or anything really, just forces rocking him one way or another. And he was outside, under a sky unlike anything he’d seen before. It was striped in some places, checkered in others, and while parts of it were in various shades of gray, other areas were in every shade of color he could imagine.
“I’m in the Dream Realm,” he said aloud.
He heard laughter around him. Faint and loud, male and female, dark and light, but it was all contained in one voice. It had a bit of everything, like the sky above.
“Who are you?” asked Dahr. He felt no fear. He felt almost as if he were in a familiar setting, though he was sure he’d never been here before.
“Hello, Dahr. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The voice was like everything around him. A combination of all things. Loud and soft, deep and confident, high and tremulous, and everything between. It was both kind and cruel, gruff as that of an old man who spend too much time smoking his pipe, and as soft as a young maiden’s innocence. A single voice that contained everything within it.
“Who are you?” Dahr repeated.
“You should never share your true name with anyone. You may call me George.”
“Can I now? And what do you want with me, George? You’re the one who gave me my powers.”
“I am. Have you any questions for me?”
Dahr thought for a while before he asked, “Do I have a class?”
“Indeed you do, my boy, indeed you do. A special class. A class no one has ever heard of.”
“What is it?”
“You are a Level 1 Nexus.”
“What’s a Nexus?”
“Why you are, of course. Your very presence will change the world. Would you like to know your skills?”
“I bet you would, but you are going to make a promise instead.”
“Yes. I will never tell you your skills. You will have to figure them out for yourself.”
“I can do that,” said Dahr with more confidence than he felt.
“And you can never, ever reveal anything you know about me or your class to anyone. Do you understand, Dahr?”
“What happens if I do?”
“If you reveal your class? It would be the end.”
The laughter had never quite faded during the conversation but it grew louder now, as if the cosmos found the possibility of total destruction to be the funniest thing it had ever heard.
Telisian watched the boy twitch in his sleep. It smiled fondly. In its own way, Telisian loved the boy, which is why it had gifted Dahr the power of chaos– a power no mortal was meant to wield, but Telisian always liked to play fast and loose with the rules. Its own association with the forces of chaos made it a force to be reckoned with, but Telisian had never before had access to the physical plane. Dahr had provided that doorway when he wandered unattended into the Other Realm. And Telisian had been there to take advantage.
Dahr’s link to Eric gave the god-like being access to two mortals, something that hadn’t happened in Telisian’s ancient memory. His presence in the physical world had never been felt before. It would be felt now, though.
Telisian felt fortunate to not only have an anchor to the physical world, but to get one so young. Young enough to mold. Young enough to threaten. Young enough to control. Not only did it not have the power to end the world, but the gods, the truly powerful beings who held dominion over the physical plane would have never stood for it. He would have been wiped out in a second had he tried. But Dahr didn’t know that.
Telisian was confident that his secret would be safe. Dahr would never reveal their connection, or his class, to anyone.
Sixth of Learning 1142
The next day dawned gray and dreary. The sun was hidden behind clouds that couldn’t quite decide if they wanted it to rain or not. The air was heavy with moisture, and the day was heavy with the weight of expectation. This was the day Eric would complete his transition.
He woke early, pulled on a robe, left his room and almost immediately ran into Kalutu pacing the anteroom.
“What are you doing awake?” he asked in a low voice, so as not to wake Dahr.
Kalutu looked surprised, but then he always looked like that, what with his round eyes and white-feathered face. On second thought, with a beak instead of a mouth, it would be very hard to read Kalutu’s facial expressions.
“I am not certain familiars sleep at all.”
“Really? That sounds…odd,” said Eric.
“I have not slept since I have arrived here.”
“Are you tired?”
“Mentally, perhaps. There is much I don’t know and don’t understand.”
Kalutu resumed pacing. He seemed agitated.
“I’ve never been a familiar before and know little about them. I don’t know what’s expected of me. I also know little of this world. I feel I need to know more to be effective.’
“We can get you lessons about the world. I guess owls don’t learn much.”
“Owls can learn quite a bit. The issue is, this isn’t my world.”
“Well, it’s obviously my world now. I mean it’s not my original world. I come from a different place.”
“A different country?”
“No. A different world.”
“A different part of Mysandrika?”
“Is that what this world is called?”
“It is. I had assumed it was the only world.”
“No. My world has more moons for one thing. The sky is different too. I suspect there is no easy way to get from your world to mine. What’s it called again?”
“Mysandrika. I think it means all of creation in the old speech. Something like that. I didn’t realize another world could exist.”
“Nor did I.”
The two stood quietly, contemplating the expansion of their personal universes. The world they lived on was always the world. There had been no others. Yet now, it seemed like there were, and if there were two, there were likely others. How many others? Who knew? Eric wondered if his parents knew that other worlds existed.
“Look,” said Eric finally. “I’m going to get dressed and go eat. Then I’m going to find my father. I want to get my transition completed as early as possible.”
“Why the hurry?”
“Because if I don’t get it done early, I’ll be worrying about it all day.”
“Ah. There’s nothing to worry about. You’ll be fine.”
“Have you ever transitioned?”
“Then you’re hardly an authority on the subject. Wait for Dahr and stay with him today. I won’t be around to protect him.”
“Very good, Prince Eric. Good luck!”
When Eric reached the throne room, he was surprised to find his father, his mother and Veloran, the High Priest of Sheba waiting for him.
He stopped in his tracks, forgetting even to bow. “You knew I’d be here. You knew I’d want to finish my transition.”
Veloran nodded. “I did. There are advantages to being a priest. Whichever god you had chosen on that first night, that high priest would have been here waiting for you. It’s not always the high priest of course, it could be any priest, but high priests are most often the ones who attend to the needs of royal families.
“So my choosing was predestined?”
Veloran shook his head quickly. “Of course not. Everyone has free will. But your mind was made up a very long time ago. How could Sheba not know that? And the day of your transition was something we all knew. Sheba just made sure I was available on that day. I didn’t know the exact time, and in fact, had spend several hours waiting. She let me know when your father had you summoned, giving me time to make my way to the throne room.”
Eric nodded his understanding, but he was already moving on to a more concerning issue. “I can complete my transition today?”
“You can. And if we’re not to be late, we should leave now.”
The king looked puzzled at the statement, but no one would question the high priest’s knowledge or motivation. If he said it was time to go, then it was.
“Just a moment,” said Eric.
He closed his eyes and called his shield, which appeared on his forearm as if he’d been holding it all along. The symbol in its center glowed brightly, even though the throne room was lit by the morning’s light coming through the stained glass windows set high in the walls. While he’d been getting ready, the sun must have found its way out of hiding.
The king had heard about the boy’s ability to summon the shield, but still looked surprised to see it happen. Eric grinned at his parents, turned to Veloran, nodded once, and walked through the throne room doors.
Neither spoke during the short walk to the temple, which was fine by Eric. He had a lot to think about.
He thought about his encounter with Princess Chari. He was not entirely certain that their meeting wasn’t the reason he was in a hurry to complete his transition. It wasn’t that he found her attractive, though he did. But he felt inexplicably drawn to her in a way he’d never felt before. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t lust. In fact, he could think of no reason at all for his reaction. Until he thought of Sheba. Was this union her will? After all, Chari had told him she had always planned to choose Sheba. Was this union somehow part of Sheba’s plan?
He felt the symbol on his shield flash more than he saw it and paused briefly before continuing. It was like the shield could answer his questions, or read his mind. Well of course it could. It was a piece of the goddess after all. Suddenly he became self conscious and held it just a bit further away from his body. She was here, with him, whenever he held the shield. I mean she was his goddess, she was always with him, but this was different. She was somehow more present. She would be with him always, watching him, judging him. That was true of everyone that revered her, of course. The shield wasn’t any different.
Yet no matter how much he told himself that, he couldn’t believe it. He and Dahr were favored, but what did that mean? At the very least, it meant Sheba would have higher expectations of them than she would of another. His behavior would have to be impeccable from this moment forward.
He wondered then what the goddess had thought about his disgraceful sparring session with Dahr. It wasn’t good enough. He had to learn from it, not only because Sheba was watching, but because he had to set an example for Dahr.
And how weird was it that Dahr had transitioned before he did? How had that happened? Did Sheba favor him more? Well, that was her prerogative if she did. I mean, Dahr was pretty awesome. But then another idea came to him. Dahr had summoned a familiar and that wasn’t something that had anything to do with Sheba. The high priest had told everyone that Dahr had transitioned, and that he was favored by Sheba, but that didn’t mean he had been chosen by Sheba. Did he somehow transition to another god or goddess? How could that have possibly happened? Eric didn’t have any answers, but he was definitely going to have a conversation with Dahr when he returned to the palace.
Everything had gone exactly as it had before. After reaching the temple, Eric had chosen a room and drank the elixir, though this time he lay down on the bed right away. The elixir tasted the same, both refreshing and stimulating. It wasn’t like drinking alcohol. It wasn’t like anything he’d experienced before the first time he’d had it. And then he was drifting off and he awoke…
Under a bush. He was lying on the ground, fully clothed, and as he moved to sit up, branches scratched at his face. He rolled out from underneath, and stared at it in annoyance.
He knew the voice the moment he heard it and turned his head to confirm what he already knew. Chari stood before him, hands on her hips, an already familiar look of indignation on her face.