The Unicorn's Gift - Part 11



When we share our love,
We share our sorrows too
With all those close around us,
And some we never knew.

The path was laid before us.
Its turns already made.
We follow other’s footsteps,
Whatever choice is made.

For those have gone before us,
we share their sorrows too,
Even though the reasons
Are things we never knew.

by
Sarah Lynn Morgan

The Unicorn's Gift
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Part Eleven

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        Syna had been working all morning; first doing her common chores, then preparing several medicines that she knew were sure to be needed, and which kept well.

  She was not surprised when she looked up and found Aida sitting off to the side watching her.

  "Hello, Aida." Syna wiped her brow, and smiled warmly down at the little fairy. "You should have told me you were here."

  "I like to watch you." Aida said quietly, the smile on her face growing broader. "You are happy."

  Syna felt herself smile, and nodded, as she walked toward the open door, and the cool late morning air. She was happy. Not just warm, or safe, or content. She was happy. It was a happiness that she felt in every part of her being. She felt it in her hands as she worked and in her body as she moved about the cottage. She felt it in the beating of her heart, and in the air as it lent her its very breath. She felt it everywhere; in her past, in her present, and for the very first time in her life, in her future.  

  "Is it the girl?" Aida asked, following along beside Syna to alight on top of the door.

  Syna felt a small tightening of her stomach at the question about Keely, as if she had unexpectedly brushed into the cold leaves of a dew-sodden bush. Even if she felt the momentary instinct to ignore the question, in order to spare Aida’s feelings, she fully realized that this was something which she would never be able to do.   Aida knew her better than she knew herself, and she might as well get used to it.  

  "She sort of attacked me." Syna said in amazement. "Ever since I came back, she seems…" Helpless, she took a seat on the doorstep.

  Aida looked at her for a moment, and even giggled a little at Syna’s characterization, before flying down to seat herself on Syna’s arm to look at the girl more closely.

  The little one began to sing quietly, giving Syna the distinct impression that she was singing more for her own benefit than for Syna’s.

"You are a child of the forest,
        No less than leaf or tree.
    But there is more within you,
        Than ever one might see.

    You have great beauty,
        soft and fair.
      But so much more
        is hidden there…"

  Aida was looking at Syna now, as if wondering about a memory, and how to make Syna understand. All the fairies did that to her, Syna mused.

  "As flowers are drawn to sunshine." Syna heard the little fairy whisper softly to herself; so softly, that only her closeness allowed Syna to hear what she said at all. Then the fairy began to speak directly to her in continuation of a rhyme.

"When a mortal looks upon you
        He’ll not see you’re fairy kind.
      But his heart will tell him something,
        Not seen with eyes or mind.

        As flowers are drawn to sunshine
        They will turn with heart and mind…

They who are most pure of heart,
Will seek you out in whole or part.
        And of any folk who love you
          Your blood will make them true.

        As flowers are drawn to sunshine
        They will turn with heart and mind…

  Syna could only look down at the fairy, who had now turned away as if paying no attention to Syna, whatsoever. Aida had already answered her own question, even as all that she said began to coalesce in the girl’s consciousness.  

  "Did I do something to Keely?" Syna asked, afraid to touch on the thought that was creeping in around the edges of her perception.

  Aida only nodded, but her large eyes, now turned back upon her, seemed to be trying to swallow Syna whole.

  Suddenly, the thought that had been lurking just outside of consciousness became clear.

"Did Keely have a choice?" Syna asked worriedly.

  Aida did not move at first. Then she blinked once slowly. Then, for a moment or two more, she was still again, before her head tilted far to the side as if to look up at Syna through the corners of her eyes. Then she blinked again.  

  Aida smiled then, broadly.

"A child I see, for a child you are, even wise beyond your years. You have so much you have yet to learn, and many childish fears. No you did not harm her, for the girl was free to choose. You know she’s always loved you, just as you have loved her too."

  Syna felt a sudden rush of relief, and was very glad she was sitting down. Fortunately, she also remembered that Keely had reacted to her just as strongly the night before she had fled into the wood; so it was her, and not something the fairies had done to her to which Keely was responding.

"So, it’s a bit like your name affects me? She feels drawn to me."

  Aida looked as if she might explain a little more, but in the end she simply nodded, before turned to look about the cottage garden, as if appraising it’s suitability for Syna.

  Syna was relieved, but also worried a little too, to think that she might be doing something as powerful as that to her friends and family. There was another worry as well.

"Aida?" Syna asked softly, causing the little fairy once more to turn her eyes to her face. "Are you jealous of Keely?"

  Aida simply studied her for a moment or two, before she definitely began shaking her head ‘no’, only to have the motion almost immediately turn itself into a nod of confirmation. In the end, the little fairy finally settled on that very human shrug before once more settling herself to look toward the tree line.

  "Oh, Aida, I’m so sorry. You must know I love you too." Syna promised, as she drew the fairy’s eyes back from the trees. "You can feel that, surely."

  "You did not harm me, little one." The fairy said with some resignation. "You promised that you would not, and I know you never will. I’m happy for you and the girl. She is beautiful, and loves you as truly as I do. You ask if she had a choice to love you: I don’t think she did. You are so very beautiful, even when compared to another great beauty such as she.

The love I have for you is different. It is not lessened by her love for you, or that you return in kind." Aida shrugged.

"We are closer than you can be with most of your human friends. I will always feel what you do, as you will grow to feel me too. I would simply wish that I could hold you as the girl does. Also, I had no choice at all. I loved you the moment I saw you."

  With that the little fairy drifted up, and pressed her nose to Syna’s, flooding the girl’s senses with her most beautiful scent.

"Perhaps it is strange and different for you, but you do know, I love you too." Aida whispered, and pressed closer, as she began to stroke Syna’s cheek, causing Syna to close her eyes in reflex, and appreciation.

    Syna would have spoken the same words in return, but the lovely scent was flowing into her, making her dizzy. It affected her body in waves; warm at first then a cold burning moving rapidly from her feet to the base of her spine. She drew a deep breath involuntarily and then another to speak, but before she could, the sensations threatened to overwhelm her…

In less than a minute, they had.  

  Syna’s eyelids cracked open just as her breathing became more even, but well before her limbs were light enough to move again. She saw the little fairy blushing and smiling at her from a post near their door, just before she leapt into the air beyond.

In the distance, she could see Bayford drifting about the far end of the fallow pasture, unconcernedly choosing which grass to sample next, as the gentle waves of warmth still coursed through her.

  "That was different." Syna whispered to herself, as she gave in to her very relaxed body, and slumped back onto the doorframe, closing her eyes.

 

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            The leaves on many of the trees had begun to show some colors other than green, especially where they could be seen at the top of the cliffs and hills along the sides of the valley. Syna had often wondered how it was that the land just outside the valley was completely uninhabited, while nearer the village, people chose to place their homes just as close to each other as the land they needed to raise their families allowed.  

  Living as close as she did to the old forest path, she had of course been across the top of the pass more than a few times. She had even gone into the dark old forest that bordered above the valley on more than a few of those occasions. In all, however, she did not like it there. It had an old unused coldness that reached deeper down to her bones the father she walked into that trackless wood. Thus, he had never even been as far as the small streams that fell from the hills just south of her father’s farm.

  She told herself that it was silly to feel unease, as she would be well protected as she walked there, but the fact remained that she did feel that way. That was the world outside her valley, and there were many songs that told her how closely she should heed her feelings in the matters of love, and trust, and most especially fear.

Stretching her back, from where she had worked over the table all morning, she drew in the crisp air that now held so few of the tastes of Summer. It was filled instead with the crisp perfumes of the Autumn.

  As yet, she had only been collecting in the fields adjacent to her home, and to the road she had walked too and from the village. Green Eyes had said that he would be here when the little star stood centered in the sky.

  It was only when she remembered a part of the beautiful little poem that she understood him. It was an ancient poem in an odd language that was as pretty as it was perplexing. Aida had told her that it was one of the oldest poems they knew and that the little white star was called ‘Promise’ by the ancients.   The poem said that it circled a land that was the cradle of Man. It was such a lovely poem, this much she remembered well, but she could not clearly remember its meanings, save for the fact that in the tongue of the ancients the word for promise and hope had been the same, sounding like ‘Soleil’.

  Green Eyes had grinned at her, when he had pointed to the little star, where it sat above the western hills the day before.   Of course, he was referring to the sun.  

  Syna had noticed that in many things fairies tended to express things in simple common ways. Clearly, they found it simplest to do things like call all the lights in the sky "stars."   Unfortunately, she had found one night while she lay in the forest that they also had another funny name for the moon, which they also seemed to use for one of the brightest star she could see.  

  Syna was musing thus, tired from working hard to prepare even the limited medicines that she could from the very limited herb stocks she had been able to collect. Fortunately, two of them were very useful pain remedies, and another being helpful for the burning fevers, making it among the most valuable of all the medicines she knew.  

  She had only stopped when it was time to prepare a lunch for her father and Ladd, who were due back from Ladd’s farm, where they had spent the morning preparing for the harvest.

  Her father surprised her with a small table from Ladd’s barn, which he put under a window for Syna to use for preparing her remedies, so that they would not need to be otherwise disturbed. They had stayed only long enough for them to eat, when he and Ladd went off to meet up with Keen to look at the fields further down in the valley.

It was great kindness, the table, and it had only taken her three quarters of a turn of the glass to scrub it clean enough to use. She pressed her hands into her back, and leaned against them to feel the warmth of the sun on her face and to recover from leaning over so long.

  A noise and movement at the northern edge of the field drew her attention. She was surprised to see that Bayford had stepped onto the pasture again from the darker forest. It was obvious that he had already seen her, because he whinnied and began to trot directly to her as soon as he cleared the last trees.

Syna could not help but smile. He’d always been a nice horse, even when he’d been so badly mistreated by the cousins. Even though his eyes rolled in fear when any human approached, she could remember how he’d fleetingly pressed his muzzle into her hand as a thank you for a handful of sweet grains, or some small piece of apple she’d snuck to keep the poor animals spirits up. Now it seemed as if he’d left the upper, Southern end, of the valley to be nearer to the people living here. She’d seen him several times since he’d been kind enough to give her a ride home.

  "Hello, Bayford." She said gladly as the horse drew near.

  He still looked warily at the cottage yard and buildings as if some less trustworthy human might suddenly appear, but he did not hesitate at all to step forward to press his muzzle into the girl’s outstretched hand, and to close his eyes to be stroked.

  "You always were such a beautiful horse, and I’m so glad you’ve come to say hello."

  She stroked his fine neck muscles, still sadly rippled by the rope marks that would never fade. Syna thought that she might actually know a medicine that would help him, but smiled at the thought that he would hardly thank her for smearing awful sticky potions on scars that hardly ever bothered him anymore.   Clearly the fairies had already done all that they could.

  "I was hoping you’d still be here, because I found something down in the village you might like."  

  Bayford whinnied softly, and moved closer as if he understood, and stood straight again as she scratched her nails down either side of his spine.   It was the smell of one of the first apples of the season, though, that brought his muzzle once again to her hand.

  "It’s one of the first apples of the fall harvest, Bayford.   I ate one, and so did father, and I can tell you they are very sweet!"

  She giggled as the horse whinnied approval, as she held the apple out for him to take.   She could not prevent the remaining half from falling to the ground, but Bayford didn’t seem to care, as he wetly munched the deliciously sweet apple from the orchard south of the village.   For months they would be eating apple pies, and applesauce, and apple ciders, until they were well sick of them.   For now, these were the first of the season, and much appreciated by everyone, but especially by Bayford, who would no longer go near enough to the village to reach the orchards

It was all Syna could do to keep this one out of her own tummy, as she’d saved it for a certain sweet horse that she knew would still be around.

  Bayford had just taken the second half, when he casually turned to stare off to the wood line to the west as he chewed   Soon she too could see a swift movement of several small dots, coming toward her from a little more than head high.

Looking up at the sun, shining down from its midday position, she could not help but admire the green-eyed fairy’s sense of time.   Bayford seemed less impressed, waiting for the fairies by bending down to search for sweet grasses to go along with the apple.

   

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            "What do you call this one?" She held up a spring of plant, which had a small and rather ugly little flower on the top.  

  "That is called ‘Lellala.’   It is not of much use, but it has a waxy substance that we find useful to make hair shiny.   You already know two herbs that are better."

  Green Eyes said this, without paying much attention, but took the sprig to give it to one of the little ones, who flew it back to the little bundle they were collecting for him nearer the cliffs.

  The blue-eyed fairy had accompanied Green Eyes, along with a half dozen of the lesser faeries, including the brave little male who’d seemingly appointed himself as one of her protectors, and who had greeted her much as he’d done the day before

Blue Eyes himself had little concern for the collecting, except for one sprig that he’d looked at briefly before he informed Syna that it was a deadly poison that she must be rid of quickly.   He then took it from Syna’s hand and popped it into his mouth, chewing it with obvious relish.

It had amused Syna briefly.

  Both he and his little friends showed a far greater interest in watching the forest about them, with the little ones often flying right past useful herbs to poke into a hole or a fallen log or some similar hiding place.   It seemed she was quite correct about her safety, and that she would be carefully watched after whenever she was in their company.   At one point, they even shooed away a weasel that had become too curious.   Most of the smaller animals ignored them, strangely unconcerned with Syna’s presence as they went about their own tasks.

  "I thought that you greater fairies grew bigger over time?" She asked the healer, who turned to see her watching the blue-eyed fairy’s back.   Blue Eyes’ wings were flexing restlessly, as he stared off in the distance, obviously ready to fly and check something else.

  "That is true, Syna." Green Eyes said, from a limb beside her, where he was walking along the top, looking carefully at the bark.

  "Blue Eyes is smaller than you." She said. "He is your father, is he not?"

  Green Eyes was looking at the girl now.   "He is.   He has other gifts though Syna."

  "He does." She grinned. He was still the prettiest fairy, even though Syna had now seen at least a dozen more of the large ones.

  Green Eyes, had been learning more and more about her human curiosity. He did not fear humans, but she was one of only a very few that he had known. He smiled at her then, and shrugged just as Aida might have, who also had just come back from across the stream with several things for Syna’s basket.

  "There are many rules in life, Syna.   None of them are without exceptions.   He has always been very small, but he is very beautiful, too.   He also knows the forest as well as any, and is eyes are very keen."  

  Green Eyes and Syna both looked toward the other branch, but Blue Eyes had gone.
 
  "The little ones also love him, because he is so pretty.   He looks after them, and helps to keep them out of trouble.   They just naturally listen to him as well as they do our eldest sister."

  Green Eyes seemed to pause then for a moment.

  "I think, also, that he is perhaps the cleverest of all the fairies." Green Eyes said, finally, surprising Syna. "He learns new songs easier than most, and remembers them longer than all but a few.   He says very little, but I do not believe there are many things so small, that his eyes do not see."

  "The eldest, Golden Eyes, is your mother?"

  "Yes." He said, flying higher to check another branch.

  "What are you looking for?"

"There is lichen that grows in the trees.   It is too late in the season, but it would be good for the man’s stomach.   That which is still here is asleep, and does not make the medicine which makes it useful.   I had hoped to find some, but it does not keep, and it is only useful in it’s proper season.   Still, we find a little here and there, in the warm crook of a tree, where the warmth of the sun keeps it awake a little longer.   It is very good for…" The little fairy looked at her and touched his nose.

  "Runny nose?" Syna joked.

    Green Eyes smiled. "No." He shook his head.

  "Bleeding?" She asked more seriously.

  He nodded his head, and went back to walking the branch.

  "It’s called a ‘nose’," she informed him. "And a ‘Bloody nose’."

  He smiled again briefly, by way of thanking her.

  "It is good to remember, especially with the little ones. It only takes a little, which is easier to use with children, and it burns quite a bit less than the root you’ve been using.   You can mix either with cool water, which helps, but the root is not very pleasant if you get it in the eyes or nose when it is fresh."

  He flew down.   "We will look to the south of the valley tomorrow."   He shrugged again.   "There are some warm cliffs that face the sun, and some might still be awake."

  Aida seemed tired of all this, and spent a few moments playing with the bow in Syna’s hair before she sat down on the basket that Syna carried.

  "Aren’t you afraid that I might think you are a bee or something,
and that I might swat you when you do that?" Syna grinned down at her.

  Aida, who grinned right back, merrily answered, "Do not think you are so quick, child. Besides, you always know it is me, and I don’t look at all like a bee."

Syna realized she did, causing her to blink several times like a fairy might. She always knew it was Aida, even without looking How strange.

  Green Eyes came to her too, causing aida to once more pay him polite attention.  

  "It is difficult here." He explained. "To the south, across the great ocean, there are lands there that have forests so vast, that if a fairy were to fly as fast as he could, from sunup to sundown, he would not reach the mountains there for a full seven days. Those forests have many more useful things in them, than the forests here do. It is unfortunate that we can not go there."

  It was so easy for Syna to forget that she was talking to a Fairy that might well be older than her great great great grandmother might have been. Even though Aida had tried to explain how old some of the fairies were, they were not very good at such things.   Some of them were older than anything Syna had heard of.   She would have to remember this always.

  "It sounds like that forest was as large as my whole kingdom.   I would love to see it someday."

  Green Eyes smiled sadly now, sitting down on the basket beside Aida.

"In truth, if you were to hide your little kingdom in that forest, even we fairies would have to look very hard to find it again.   It is as vast as any but the oceans themselves."

  Syna instinctively asked "Would it ever be possible for me to see these wonders?"

  Green Eyes just shrugged.  

  "Well how does Asho, or the aida for that matter, cross the great oceans?" She asked in simple curiosity.

  Both Green Eyes, and her Aida just looked at her.

  "Sorry." she said.

"Did you find all that you were looking for today?" She asked instead.

  "Yes. And, more besides.   We will have to look farther to the south when you are more rested."

  Syna nodded.   Even though she felt fitter than she ever had, she seemed to grow tired, more easily as well.   She was getting stronger, though, and it seemed better every day.   It was a reminder that she had been through a lot.

"It is normal to be so tired, Syna.   Before the last of the leaves have left the trees, it will be as if it never was.   It should not worry you. The herbs will help a great deal"

  "I know."

  "We should go then." Green Eyes, said, but both he and her Aida were looking at her now, and neither made a motion to move.

  Aida suddenly did something odd. She flew to the opening of Syna’s chemise, and tucked herself in next to her skin, and lay down as if she intended to go to sleep there.   It made Syna blush a little, which all the fairies seemed to feel was amusing.

  As Syna walked back along the path, mostly just following in the direction that Blue Eyes, and the lesser faeries had taken, she felt Green Eyes touch the back of her hand.

  "You are troubled child?"

  Syna stopped walking.  

  "No. Not really."

  "My heart tells me that you are. Copper Eyes, too." He gestured to Aida, who seemed already to be asleep in the fold between her chemise and her neck.   "It harms nothing if you ask."

  Syna nodded and took a deep breath.   "I’ve wondered about my memory. I know that fairies sang their learning songs while I slept. I remember things that I don’t think I should remember. There are other things that I should remember, that seem…, unclear."

  Green Eyes nodded,

  "The sleep of the ancients affects memory, Syna. You know this."

  She nodded.

  "What you do not know, is that you are more… susceptible than any other.   When you first came into contact with the ancient one, we intended you to come to know him more slowly, but he pulled you from the cliff."

  That part was a little fuzzy too, but at least she realized that this memory was wholly her own, and not from someone else, so she nodded once more.

  "He was fearful, Syna. He feared for the little ones, for himself, and mostly for you. Had you not been as pure of heart, and as pure of essence, it would have destroyed you. You slept for a very long time, as your true self was revealed. As for the herbs," he shrugged again, "I did not feel it was necessary for you to feel any more pain or fear than you needed to. The eldest whispered that you had always been a female, which you truly are."

  Green Eyes was patient. He was silent as she thought and walked, until she sighed again

  "There is so much… What if I make a mistake?"  

  Green Eyes thought about this for a only a short while.

  "You do not know it, but you remember the learning songs even more quickly than my sire.   You have heard a great many more of them than you know."

  Syna nodded.   She had come to realize that this might be so, because when she thought of certain things, quite often a little song would pop into her head that she could never remember hearing before.   She had already used it several times, as in when she learned that if she placed the little pots of scented flowers beside the hearth before she used them, and left them there till the liquid was almost gone, the scent was much stronger and more pure. They would smell less like the spirits and more like the flowers.   It was in a little song about purity of the spring water, and how solid crystals might grow from the clearest liquids.

  Green Eyes was still watching.

  "I’m sorry." Syna said, simply.

  "You need not be. It is because of your…, doubt?" He paused only long enough for her to nod, "that Asho chose this path for you. Do you want me to find the eldest? She is very good at speaking the human tongue."

  "No." Syna shook her head, causing Aida to flutter slightly.   "No need to have her fly such a long way."

  "Syna, neither the Ancient one, nor I made you a healer."  

  Syna just looked down at him as she stopped in the middle of a small path.

  "You already had those gifts, and only needed the knowledge."

  She began walking again, praying he was right.

  "You knew the problems with the old man, and the woman?"

  She nodded.

  "Were you right?"

    "Yes. They were easy."

    "The old man was not easy from what you described.   I would still ask you this. What would you have done if you did not know what it was?   What if your heart did not tell you how he was sick, or your mind did not tell you how to cure him?"

  Syna shrugged.   "I don’t know.   I’d try to help where I could. I’d try to ease his pain at least." Syna shook her head. "I suppose I’d do what I could to make him comfortable. Then I’d probably try and find you."

  "As would I, Syna." Green Eyes said softly, causing her to look at him.

"This is a great burden for you, he knows, but it was necessary. This knowledge is needed by men, and it will help to keep you safe.   It is sad that you are so young, but whether you are young or old, there will be many illnesses you cannot cure. I can help greatly, but there is much that I cannot do. It will always be that way."

  Syna nodded. If she did not know, then it would have to be enough to help where she could.

  "Was this not what troubled you?"

    "Some of it.   I’ve been thinking since…"

    "Since you awakened?" Green Eyes asked.

    "Yes."

  "I do that a lot too." He said.

    Syna chuckled at the tone of his voice.   They were still in the trees, but were now heading down slope along the old forest path that would lead them to the pasture above her farm. She could still see the little ones scouting up ahead.  

  "I can see why ‘Aida’ likes it when you laugh, Syna.   Don’t concern yourself too much.   Most of the time you will be able to help."

  The path here on the side of the hill had washed partially away, exposing roots, which caused her to have to watch her feet.

  "Was there more of what my sister told you that troubled you?"

  "No." The girl was unconvincing, which caused Green Eyes to smile at her. It made her laugh, again.

  "Well, to be honest, this thing about being a princess, and having suitable female mate, and also having my essence passed through all the families of man through my children."

  Green Eyes smiled some more, even as he flew up beside Syna to land on her shoulder.  

  "I do not have a mate, but I have seen many who do.   I do not think that such choices are as much a thing of worry, as they are a thing of wonder.   You are very special. You will know the worth of those worthy of your love. As with the girl, it is not a thing should worry you.   Some things just are, and you will know them when they come to be."

  Green Eyes pressed the palm of his small hand against the side of her face, and quickly rose into the trees, headed back to the top of the valley.  

 
 

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      Ladd and her father were standing near their well as Syna turned the corner of their small home.   Both men stopped speaking as she approached, but it was the slight color in her father’s face that gave her pause.

  "Hello Father, Ladd." She smiled at both men. "I thought you would be getting things ready to begin the harvest tomorrow?   Is everything well?"

  Bryan nodded before explaining. "It is, Syna. We walked the fields with Keene, and several of the other men, and we decided that we would wait till the moon is full. Some of the other men will pick their fruits and vegetables first, and then they will be free to help us gather in this part of the valley.

Syna nodded as this seemed to make perfect sense, but another thought intruded.

"Father, they didn’t let Uncle walk all this way again, did they?"  

  Both men smiled at the mature concerns coming from the young woman. Having lived a long time, they had seen many young women at an age where they naturally assumed the care of everyone around them.

  Ladd spoke first, probably because it was less difficult for him to accept that Syna was very much the mature young woman she appeared to be.

  "No, Syna.   Chandi was in the village with the dray cart, and Dara asked her to give him a ride. Well, from what Chandi said, she ordered her to do it." Ladd shook his head. "I don’t think any of the village women are going to let him get out of the village again unescorted for a while.   Mind you, Keene is very fast on his feet for a man of his years."

  Syna was relieved.

  Ladd added one more thing. "You look lovely today, Syna."

  "Thank you, Ladd." Syna felt herself blush.  

  Then she turned to her father, "Are you two hungry, Father. I can make you something to eat. I have some stew on the warming fire, and I’m sure it’s ready.

  "We are fine.   We ate some of the fruit in Carol’s orchard when we were down by the river, and his wife gave us some meat rolls. Unless, you Ladd…?" He looked back at the man, who shook his head, which caused Bryan to do the same.  

  "I’m hungry father, so if you don’t mind, I’ll eat a little.   Would you like a cool drink Ladd?"

At this the man nodded, and they followed her inside, where she first made them the drinks, and without regard to what they had said, she placed small bowels of stew in front of them as well.

With the harvest coming in just a few days, they needed their strength.   She knew, that like the orchard man’s wife, every woman in the valley would be doing the same by serving frequent meals, and larger portions to all the men.   She began to nibble on her own food, while checking on the status of several small pots.  

  She knew the men were watching her, and even though she was getting used to this, their manner still felt odd to her, causing her to turn and look back at them.   Ladd did not look away, but her father did.

  "Father, is everything all right?"

  At first, there was only silence, until Ladd spoke again. It was very odd, as he seldom did more than nod or grunt.

  "Tell her Bryan."

  Her father’s shoulders slumped slightly as the put his glass down, and turned to look at Syna.  

  "Keene thinks that I should consider letting you take over the cottage to our north, and that it would be better for you as a healer, and better for the people to know that you had a place of your own."

  Syna seemed a little confused, and a little more shocked.   "Father. I never asked the elder to…"

  "I know that, Syna.   He has been worried. He thinks that it would be better for them to see that you are a grown woman." Her father didn’t sound convinced, and neither was Syna.  

  Syna could feel her throat beginning to close a little.   "Father, you can tell him that I am not leaving you again. I’m going to stay and take care of you. I know he means well, but I think he is getting old if he thinks that is a good idea."

Ladd looked between her and Bryan, not saying anything, as her father rose to retrieve more water from the cistern before he spoke again.  

  "Syna, I told him that you were far safer with me, and that you would want to stay with me for now.   Even so, don’t think that he’s not thought about this. The man thinks of ten things before he says one.   He makes a lot of good arguments. The people may not think it yet, but I am sure he is right that the people of the valley will more likely see you as a healer, if they see you as a woman.   Living alone would do that." Her father shook his head. "He also thinks you may need more privacy, because you are, as hard as it is to say it, a mature young woman now Syna.   I’m against it myself, but don’t think that our Elder has not thought this through."

  Syna was fully taken back. It seemed like her father was actually saying that he agreed with The Elder.  

  Ladd shifted and asked, "Syna?"

  She looked at him.

  "I hear things. The people of the village are good folk. They mean you no harm but I hear things that your father does not. The people are worried. They don’t understand, and you frighten them a little." He paused to think for just a moment, before he continued. "I’m sorry girl.   Perhaps frightened is a little too strong, but they are worried. The Elder hears many more of these worries than you or your father will.   They have heard you can heal, but they think of you as a child. Most, as a boy who has been odd all his life. They believe Dara, and Keene, and Calum, and me, when we tell them that there has never been any harm in you but... they need help. Keene has already convinced the Smith, and me, that this is for the best."

  Ladd paused to look at them both, before he finished.

  "I think he’s convinced you too, Bryan.   Dara as well, although she’s said less about the reasons why she agrees than even you have."

  Syna’s shock finally allowed her to turn to look at her father, but he wasn’t looking at her. He wasn’t looking at Ladd either.   He was looking out the door.  

  Syna moved away from the fire, and just about the time that Ladd turned in that direction, she heard it too.

  It was the sound of a horse that drew them. Her father made his way toward the door and Syna quickly followed, because she could clearly hear that, whomever it was, was in a hurry, as the pounding of the animal’s galloping hooves clearly attested.  

 

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            She and her father were already in the yard, when Jada on Sir Balderdash broke the tree line. The horse quickened his already rapid pace further, as Jada urged him forward to leap a wall, rather than taking the longer route along the path.

  Jada was standing in the stirrups as Sir Balderdash slid to a stop.

  "You are here, Syna. Good. You are needed in the village.   Your neighbor woman…"  

  He stopped when he saw Ladd, and took a deep breath, but then continued immediately on its heels, speaking directly to Ladd.  

  "I’m sorry, Ladd, but there was an accident, and your woman was injured. One of her legs was broken, we think, and the baker thinks she might have broken two…"

  "How?" Lad said, stepping toward the man.

  "The boy who works for the baker was lifting a weight of flour from the cart. The tackle broke, and when it fell upon the dray, the axle gave way. Your wife was guiding the cart, holding the reins and backing the horse, when it fell. She was pinned."

  "Chandi." Syna said to no one.

  "Yes. We must hurry Syna. They have freed her and are taking her to the inn. You must come." Jada said, earnestly, and now that he no longer needed to speak, they could see that he was breathing heavily himself.

  Syna turned, lifting her skirt, and ran into the cottage.   Bryan had moved quickly for the horses in the barn with Ladd close behind.

  When Syna emerged, she had a small basket, and cloak that she was wrapping around her shoulders.

  "Good." Jada said again, pleased at how quickly she had returned. "If you will do us the honor." He gestured toward the horse.

Syna only nodded, as she finished tying the cloak, and moved toward Mr. Balderdash.

  "We must hurry, but don’t worry he is very sure footed..."  

  Jada stopped mid-speak and mid-stride, when Syna reached his horse.

  "Thank you for giving me a ride, Mr. Balderdash." Was all that she said, stroking his neck. The animal whinnied softly, and dropped to his knees to allow Syna to take her place on his back, but the girl just stood beside the animal waiting for Jada to mount.

  Her father asked in shock, "Is that some trick you taught him while wooing ladies at the court Jada?" All three men joined Syna, as they too watched the horse.

  "Not I," Was all Jada said, clearly amazed as he walked to the horse. "He has never done that before.

  At his coaxing, the horse arose to his feet, and Jada mounted him first, before reaching down to effortlessly swung the girl up behind him.

  "I will see you in the village." He said to the men, before he leaned forward and said, "Hurry my friend."

  Syna had to clutch hard to Jada’s jacket as Mr. Balderdash was moving at almost a full gallop within a handful of paces.

  "Don’t be afraid. He will not let you fall." Jada said to her, as he allowed the horse find his own way along the path.  

Syna tried to relax her grip little, but Jada only pulled her hands more tightly about his waist, as he watched for low branches in the rapidly approaching trees.

  "The cart broke her leg." He shouted, as he helped to steer the horse to the opening in the wall this time.  

  For his part, Mr. Balderdash seeing that the path was partially washed away, kicked his foot against the bank, bounding to the opposite side, which he then hit with both hoofs on that side, to push himself back across the path.   Syna, and the men still saddling horses behind her, were all amazed by the animal’s agility, more akin to a goat than a horse, as he quickly bounced off that last bank to land both forefeet back on the path in full stride.  

  Jada did not seem to notice.

"They got her out, but the bone in her leg had either stuck through the skin, or she had cut her leg. The baker is unsure, and the…"

Sir. Balderdash sailed over a fallen log, and took to a side that was clearer of hanging limbs.

  "…the elder is making them wait for you. She is in a great pain."

  Syna was going to ask if any part of her other than her leg had been pinned, because they were in the trees now, which slowed them down enough that she might speak. The great horse was still moving so swiftly, however, that it frightened her.   She could feel Jada once more hold her arms, as he ducked, forcing her to duck with him.   Syna could only shift for a better seat when he arose, and hang on tightly.

  "Good." Jada said for the last time, as the horse broke the trees, and climbed on to the road.   He called, "Make haste, my friend. Fly."  

  Syna was sure the horse understood that word, because even though the mighty animal was already at a full gallop toward the village even as Jada spoke, at his gentle urging, Balderdash surged ahead at a speed that forced Syna to cling to Jada tightly. She forgot all modesty, and pressed herself to the man’s back as he drove the charger toward the village.   She saw Ladd’s farm flash by, and heard the rising wind in her ears become a steady roar that cut off all possibility of conversation. Syna just closed her eyes, and clung to Jada’s strong back, as he rode the roll of the animal’s powerful muscles that drove them with a speed she’d never imagined possible.   She felt Jada rubbing her hands about his middle to reassure her, but did not again open her eyes...  

 
 

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     The inn was crowded, and more could be seen running in their direction as Sir Balderdash delivered them to the common room door. To her credit, Syna was able to release Jada as he threw his leg over the horse’s neck, and slid off, but she was sure her legs would be none too steady, as he grasped her waist and lifted her high off the horse. They held her, though, when he gently lowered her once more to the ground.  

  Syna may not have been steady, but the muffled scream from inside the inn sent her swiftly in that direction nevertheless.

  Several people tried to tell her what happened as she entered, but Chandi cried out again, and began cursing them for helping and for not helping her in the same breath.

The elder stood by, as Dara knelt beside Chandi, trying to hold a cloth on a wound, causing Chandi to cry even more loudly.   Two women were trying to hold Chandi still, but it was difficult, and they had little luck.

  The poor woman looked wildly back at them from where she lay on the floor.

  "Why don’t you send for help?   I’ve lost my leg. I’ve lost it."

  Syna had to push a man, who had himself just shooed one of the children away, out of her path to reach Chandi."

  "Chandi." She tried to speak as calmly as possible as she knelt.

  Chandi’s face was so soaked with perspiration that it was actually running down into the hollow of her neck. She was very pale as she looked about in confusion for the source of her name.  

  Chandi had not heard Syna when she asked them to send for the healer from the village to the south, but she saw Syna as she knelt beside Dara, and pulled up Chandi’s skirt.

  "Ari?" Chandi asked in confusion. "Ari?" She began to cry again and reached for Syna.

  "No, Chandi, it’s me, Syna." Syna said turning to place her hand on the woman’s forehead. Syna wanted to plead with the woman, so great was her fear, but somehow she kept her voice almost calm. "Please, try to lay still. I’ll help you, but I have to look at your leg. Try to lay still."

  At first Chandi just stared up at Syna, dazed and confused, and her mouth working but made no sounds other than several soft whimpers as she stared up at the girl.

Then her eyes began to grow wild again.

"No!"

  Chandi tried to struggle to free an arm to push Syna away, but Ladd was holding that arm now.  

  "No, not you. Please. Please Ladd.   Send for the healer. Send…"

  Syna tried to comfort her again. "Chandi, Shhhh." Syna rubbed the woman’s head. "I won’t hurt you, Chandi, but you have to let me look. Hold still for me."

  "No, not you. Why do you look like her? Dara, please, send for him…   It hurts more than I can bear."

  Ladd spoke in a tone that surprised all but his friend Bryan. "Lay still, love. Let the girl work.   She has a great gift."

  "No, Please. Please, Ladd, give me some brandy. Where are the children? Where is Ari?"

  Chandi continued to plead, but more softly, as Ladd and the women tried to quiet her any way they could.  

  Syna began by gently lifting the cloth that Dara had pressed to Chandi’s leg. She was grateful to see that it was a new clean cloth, but the wound welled up as soon as Syna had released pressure.   It was not as bad as she had feared, even though there was a sharp sliver of bone poking just above the surface of the skin.

Dara spoke quickly "Calum was going to try to set it." She said this, pressing the cloth back to stop the blood, causing Chandi to writhe. "She was in too much pain, and we dared not move her yet."

  "It’s good that you didn’t." Syna responded, digging into her small basket before she turned again to place her hands on the sides of Chandi’s face.

  "Chandi, swallow this for me.   Keely, bring me some water."

  "No!   Please nooo." she moaned like a soul in hell’s torment.

  "Chandi!   Lie still. You’ll only hurt yourself more if you move. Open your mouth."

  Syna forced the herbs into the woman’s mouth, half-afraid that she might bite her, but desperate to get the pain medicines into her system.

  "Syna, please..." Chandi begged now, the shock causing her eyelids to droop.   Syna was amazed she had not passed out yet.  

  "It will be well, Chandi. I can help you."   She began stroking the woman’s face again to get her to look at her.   Keely handed her a cup, just as she forced another larger bundle of herbs into the woman’s mouth.   "Here Chandi, try and chew this one and suck the juice. It will make the pain go faster."

  Chandi tried to spit the herbs out, but she was lethargic now, and Syna held them there forcing her to chew the bitter herbs.  

  "Wine?" Syna asked, not taking her eyes away, from where she poured a little water into Chandi’s mouth forcing her to chew, and swallow.

  "I’ve lost my leg." the woman moaned. "The bone’s out…" Chandi began to cry.

  "Shhhh, Chandi. You haven’t lost your leg. I’m going to have to set it for you.   Try to hold as still as you can when we move you. Here." She said, forcing a third and final pellet into the woman’s mouth, and forcing her to swallow that too, along with a little of the wine that Calum handed her.  

  "This will make you feel better soon, Chandi. Squeeze my hand if you wish.   Shhhh, Chandi. Just a little while. The wine will make you sleep now."

    Syna was sure that the woman would have passed out, the wine and pain medicine being such a powerful combination, but she was gratified that she now only nodded in response.

  "You’ll be well again, Chandi.   Try and relax.   Is there a bitter taste in the back of your mouth?"

  Chandi nodded again weakly, looking up at her, the two combined herbs she had been given working rapidly now to ease her pain, and because of the wine, to make her sleep. Syna gave her a much larger sip.  

  "Just a few moments, now. Hold on to my hand, Chandi."

  "Why do you look like her?" The woman asked quietly.   "Why did you look like her?" She pleaded, too weak to scream.

  "She’s my mother Chandi."

    "They too her away from me."   Chandi began to weep. "They took her."

  Syna’s heart froze in her chest. Did Chandi know something of the fairies?   Of Asho himself?

Fearful, Syna looked at the people gathered around them and then at Ladd. He had a sad look on his face as he watched his wife.

  "It’s not her fault. Her leg bone is split. Small bits get into her blood.   It makes her say things. We shouldn’t pay it any attention. She can’t help herself." Syna said this weakly, herself in shock.

  " I loved her so, Syna, and they took her away. Now you look…"

  "Shhhh." Syna soothed, weakly, but when she looked about, all of the adults wore the same dead expression. Calum, the elder, Dara, her father.   All of them.   "Shhhh, Chandi. Don’t worry now.   You’ll feel much better soon." she continued to stroke the woman’s pretty dark hair.

  Chandi’s eyes slid to fix on her, even though they now looked very tired.

  "They took her away." Syna was desperate to soothe the woman, and tried but it was to no avail   "The elders…they took her from me"

  " What?" Syna asked quietly, unable to stop herself

  "The…, the elders. They said that I must marry.   I told them I loved her.   They never listen, they never listen…"  

  Syna continued to stroke her head "Not long now, Chandi.   The medicine will make you sleepy.   Shhhh, Chandi." Syna’s insides were turning as she began to understand.   "Rest, now. You can tell me later.   You need your rest."

  "Ladd’s a good man." Chandi pleaded to her.   "He understands."

  "I know he does, Chandi. He’s a very good man."

  "Biggest farm in…" Syna gave her another small sip of wine, before setting it down for the water.   There was nothing she could do now, but wait.

  "He loves me, Syna."   Chandi said closing her eyes.

  "I know he does." Syna said softly.  

  "Gentle father. He gave me a good home. Arlen. Mal…"

  "He did, Chandi." Syna soothed, even as the final thing clicked into place. No one, who was as mean of spirit as Chandi appeared to be, could raise such wonderful children.   "And Chandi.   You are a wonderful mother to Arlen and Maleah. They are wonderful, Chandi. That’s how I know what a good mother you are. Sleep now, Chandi."

  The eyes of many of the adults were fixed sadly on Syna, as perhaps they realized this as well.

  Tears slipped from Chandi’s eyes as she fought to focus on Syna’s face. "I love them so."

  "Shhhh, Rest now, Chandi. Don’t be afraid. I’ll be right here to care for you."

  "I love them so much. Why did you look like her, Syna? She loved your father, but I…"

  "I know." Syna said, easing her head back.

  "She loved me too.   She…"

  For several seconds Syna just looked down at Chandi as her breathing finally became more regular.

  "Keely, bring me some of the clear spirits, please." Syna called finally able to move to the leg, and discover how bad the break was.   She did not look at Dara, or any of the other adults while she made sure the wound was clean.   "It’s a bad break, but we can set it.   Thank the gods that the wound is clean.   Keely?"

  Syna looked about quickly, but Keely was nowhere in sight.

  "Calum, help me.   We need to get her off the floor, and on a table.   We must be gentle though. If you move her leg, it can cut the vein.   Don’t bend her leg.   Now."

  "Keely?" Syna called fruitlessly, but still did not see her love.  

Dara handed her the jug of clear spirits, like the ones the distiller made for her to make her soaps.

  "Dara. Good, I will need your help."  

  "What do you need me to do?" The woman asked, fascinated as Syna cleaned the area around the wound with the sprits.  

  "You still sew better than I do." Syna said simply, not looking at her surrogate mother’s shocked face.  

"Calum when I tell you, I need you to pull her ankle down and away, and by all that’s holy, keep her foot straight.   Ladd, you hold her under her arms. Try not to let her slide.   Everyone else, give us light please."

  The elder began to move the people back, although even he could not get them to leave the room, even if he had wanted them too.   Remorsefully, he used the woman’s further pain, as he allowed them to witness Syna’s skill.

  Syna asked Dara to apply pressure to the wound as she reached to hold the bones on either side, through the skin.

"Gently now. Pull." She said to Calum, as she manipulated the bones.  

"Pull harder, Father help Ladd." She struggled to move the muscles and bone back into their proper places.   Chandi’s moaning, but still unconscious, form was lifting from the table as Syna grunted with effort.

  "Steady, Calum. Pull Harder, now."

  On the third try they got it.

Dara, long having gotten used to such thing as blood and injuries, did not blanch as Syna pressed on the leg gently to expel some of the blood that had accumulated when they had set the bone. The bleeding had slowed considerably with the setting of the bone, so that was hardly a worry any longer.  

She did blanch when Syna picked up a needle and sewing thread from a small bowl of spirits.

  She was amazed further, as Syna began to hum softly to herself as she carefully placed a stitch in a deeper tissue.

"Work from within, not from without,
  herbs and spirits all about. Always use
  Silk, never use hair.   Always leave room
  for good clean air…"

    "What?" Dara asked. Causing Syna to smile at her slightly.

  "Sorry, just a silly song someone taught me.   Here." she handed the needle and thread to Dara. As she used both of her hands to hold the top of the wound together.

"Small stitches, close to the top. Leave a small place at the bottom to drain, and that will have to heal by itself…   Ah, Liam, I need two lengths of wood this long, and not too thick…"

 
   

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            The men carried Chandi to the small room at the top of the stairs.   Dara insisted on directing them, leaving Syna standing next to the table.   She jumped when someone gently placed a hand on her shoulder.   It was Liam, the smith.   He was soon followed by several more of the men and woman of the village, many of whom patted her shoulder, and thanked her for saving Chandi’s leg.  

  Many of them were people who had been among those whose eyes had been fearful when she had returned.   Now almost to a man, or woman, they smiled as they whispered their awe and thanks.

  Conversations began now, but most were too quiet to hear clearly. All except for one, where Lessa was telling a small circle how Syna had helped her feet. This conversation drew her attention when she heard the words "like magic."

  "Lessa." Syna said softly, easily recapturing everyone’s full attention.

"There is no such thing as magic.   Mushrooms live on the dead things in the forest, right?"

  Lessa nodded without speaking.

  "Do mushrooms grow mixed in all kinds together, or does one kind usually grow together on its own?" Syna asked.

  "One." Lessa answered, causing Syna to turn to lean her back on the table, and to nod in agreement.

  "Mushrooms have smells and flavors that drive back other mushrooms.   They do it so that they have more to eat.   Animals mark to signal others of their kind.   Little squirrels hide nuts near females nests so that the will come closer.   Is any of that magic?"

  Lessa answered "No." Softly.

  "I don’t believe in magic, Lessa. There is no such thing." Syna said quietly, before she turned to Calum, who was directing a boy to clean the table behind her, and beginning to set out tankards and cups of wine and mead for the people.  

  "Where is Keely?" she asked.

Calum shook his head, but Syna was already headed for the kitchen door.

 

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          She found her in the kitchen yard. Syna had only managed to whisper her name softly, when Keene was suddenly there with them as well.   Neither girl spoke to him, but Keely began to back away till she was against the side of the Inn.   She stared at Keene as if he were the very fire-breathing dragon of the children’s tales.   Keely was shaking, petrified of the man.

  "Keely." Keen said very softly, but it might have been a cannon shot, if judged by Keely’s reaction, for the girl jumped so badly that she actually banged the back of her head against the wall.   All the while her eyes just stared at the man, unblinking and tearing inevitably.

  Syna rushed to the girl, and not caring if Keene or anyone else was there, pulled her into a hug that Keely desperately returned by burying her face into Syna’s neck.

  "I won’t cause any problems, Grandfather. I promise, I won’t cause problems." Keely sobbed weakly, and tried to turn away, and in so doing, turning Syna to watch the elderly man over Keely’s shoulder.   In that moment he sighed and his shoulders slumped, making him look older than she had ever seen him.

  Jada entered the yard to stare at them all, immediately followed by her father.

  "Is everything well?" her father asked, his eyes moving slowly between the girls and the Elder, but Syna could see that he too had the same guilty look that all of the adults close to her had been wearing since Chandi spoke.  

  "No." Keene sighed again, and walked painfully to put is hand on Keely’s shoulder.  

  The girl tensed and whined so softly against her that Syna was sure that only she could hear it; but everyone could see how desperately she clung to the smaller woman.

  "Keely." The elder said simply.   "I’ve never told anyone that I was a wise man. It took me many years to figure out that most problems between people take care of themselves better if you do nothing.   I’ve made many mistakes, large and small, and I’ve tried my very best to correct those that I could.   All I’ve ever promised anyone was that I hope I’m a little wiser now than I was."

He watched Syna for several moments, then explained simply.

"I thought I was doing the right thing."

  Keely still would not look at anyone, even when Syna kissed her temple, and clasped her arm behind the girl, as if trying to shield her from all the rest.

  It was good that she did not look at him, the old man thought.   He could never have withstood a second glare like that which Syna had fixed on him. Through everything, her eyes never left his face, not even to blink.

  Keene only rubbed the larger girl’s shoulder, and then Syna’s arm.

  "Keely, you have no need to fear anything from me, child   I have loved three generations of children in this valley, each more so than the one before.   I could never do anything to harm any of you."

  Keene himself looked as if his lips might begin to tremble any moment, but Syna’s eyes still held fast to his face.

  "No one will try to take Syna away from you, child. Not while I have breath left in my body."  

  Keely gasped audibly then, and began to weep freely, even as Keene continued to rub her shoulder.  

  The sound brought Dara, who needed no explanation beyond the conversations they’d already had during the several previous days. She took both girls in her arms, and slowly led them away toward the pasture behind the inn.

  The Elder just stood there. He acknowledged the crown's emissary with a nod but spoke directly to Bryan.   "We need to talk. Walk with me?"

  Bryan walked to the old man, who in turn placed his old hand on the stronger man's shoulder.

"Are you well, Jared?" Bryan wispered, as fearful for his lifelong friend and mentor, as he was for his daughter now. He looked so old suddenly, a worn face that the man had always shown the greatest care never to reveil.

  The Elder smiled sadly, and shook his head.   "I only hope when you have my job, Bryan, you’ll be better at it than I was. I’m sad to say, that’s the only part of it that won’t be too hard. I can only promise you one unfailing truth.   Nothing comes without a cost, and a thing that is truly worthwhile, can have a terrible price indeed.

We have Peace in our valley, without the upset we had over Chandi's... What we took then as an enfatuation. We have two beautiful children we never would have had.   Ladd has a good woman, who works as hard as any man. He loves her, and takes care of her. She loves him as much - in her own way."

Keene sighed again, shrugging his shoulders.

"And, I’ve not had a single day in sixteen years that I did not think of they way that poor tortured soul looks at me. All because I interfered, thinking that I did the right thing. If I’m called upon to answer for that, even after all this time, I have none to make. None at all, except that I only did what I thought was best. I was a hundred years younger, Bryan, those sixteen summers hence."

  Bryan shook his head sadly as well, unwilling to challenge a man who was in such obvious pain.   Aria had been fond of Chandi, but she had wanted to be with him as much as he had desired her. Keene had only done his best for everyone.   However, Bryan realized that now was not the time to try and assuage the old man’s guilt, that had become a force that sustained him now in his quest to only do good.

  Thus, Bryan answerd his next biggest fear. "When I replace you?   I’d never have your job, Jared."

  Keene laughed at him, but it was a sad apologetic sound, filled with inevitability. "You will." He continued to chuckle merthlessly. "You will and I’m sorry for you.   All because you are a good man, and will just want to help. That's how it starts. Then, when your friends start comming for advice, it will already be far too late."

  Bryan was dumbfounded.   For the first time in more years than either cared to remember he raised his voice to the older man.

"And when in your senile dotage did you decide that I would be so... cursed?"

  Keene laughed again, only this time, the humor was there.

  "You see! That is a very good question, Bryan.   It’s something I’ve always admired about you.   Do you remember when you were seven years old, and…"

  "Seven years old?!" Bryan gasped, fully convinced now that Jared had indeed lost his mind.

  "Yes, seven. Don't interrupt. Do you remember when you watched that old man sneaking into old Branson’s barn to steal an egg?"

  Bryan was silent as he frowned. He did remember. Very well.

"I thought so. Well, I know you saw him, because I watched you both. Yet, you never told me you watched him. You never told anyone that I know of.   You saved that poor old hungry man from trouble, even when I was forced to ask you several times."

  "I lied, Uncle."

  "You did! As far as I know, it’s the only time you ever lied to anyone, especially me; and yet you had the sense to know which was the greater wrong.   Old Branson had two hundred chickens in that barn! He would have seen the poor wretch in the stocks for just one lousy egg!"

  "Uncle, that was almost thirty years ago." Bryan whispered in his astonishment.

  "It was, and that was the day just the same. I only knew for sure though when Aria agreed to marry you. The saints be praised that even though I could make a mistake, I knew that Aria never would. Now, be a good friend, and lend an old man your arm.   There is much that I need to tell you, and for the first time, I can feel with every year in me that the time is shorter than I thought … There are things I simply must do. I must find a way."
 
 
 

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      Some time later Jada was still standing where they had left him when Dara walked the girls back toward the inn.   The only difference was that Mr. Balderdash had found him round the back of the inn and was now also standing nearby.

  Dara smiled at the young man but, as he did not speak, she continued to lead them back indoors.
Calum would need them.  

  Keely surprised her mother by reaching out to place her hand on his arm.   Her daughter smiled at him and patted it gently before she allowed her mother to walk her into the kitchen.

Syna stopped, and remained where she was.

  "I will take you home." He said quietly, as the horse made soft approving sounds and greeted Syna by pressing his muzzle to her cheek.

  "I won’t be going home tonight, Jada."

  "You’ll stay with the woman?" He asked, impressed more than he showed at the mettle he could see in this young woman. By now he had heard every story from three sides. Her generosity staggered him.

  "She’ll need me tonight. It was a bad break." She looked from his feet to her own.

  Jada nodded, no stranger to every kind of injury, on battlefields, on highways, and in common rooms all over the kingdom and beyond. Still, he was amazed.   "I’ll stay with you. You may need me."

  Syna nodded thankfully.  

  "Where were you?" She asked.

  "When I knew you were safe, I searched the head of the valley again, and into the hills beyond. I followed the road as far as the next village along the south road."

  "You don’t need to look for me any longer, Jada.   I’m here, now." She reached to lay her hand on his arm like Keely had, drawn there by the tone of his voice.

  "I was not searching for you this time. I was searching for those that helped you."

  Syna squeezed his arm, now with both hands..

  "Please don’t do that, Jada."

  She was staring at him now, and even in the feeble light from the kitchen door, which stood open year round, and she took his breath away. He was sure that she was even more beautiful than she had been when they first met, and even more beautiful than the day before, though his heart could hardly believe it.

  "I won’t, but I’ll have to report to the Chancellor that I did so. He would never accept that I did not search. Now,I’ll also be able tell him that I found nothing."

  "Is that all that you will tell him?" She was fearful, and heartbroken at the thought that Jada might be a threat.

  "I’ll tell him the truth, Syna. I would not lie to him to save my very life. That is my oath.   I would, however, rather give that life willingly, than to endanger yours. It is far better for… everyone, that I tell him these simple truths. A lie, even one so simple, once discovered would bring a thousand men to your valley."

  He said this simply, and in such a tone that it took Syna several seconds to realize all that he had said.  

  "I’ll tell the truth, at least as much as they need to know.   I have only to ask you this one small thing, and it is all I will ever require of you.   Do the folk who helped you in the wood pose any danger to the people of this kingdom?"

  Syna had no trouble showing her sincerity, even though she answered very slowly, and very deliberately.  

  "No, Jada." She squeezed his arm for emphasis.   "They only mean good, for everyone. They are a great hope, Jada. I think I understand that now, but they are far more important than anyone could realize, and they do none harm."

  Jada looked into her eyes for several moments before he nodded.   If there were any doubt in the woman, then it did not show in her eyes. He was unlikely to miss anything that showed itself there.

  He placed his hand on hers.

  "There are ugly things out in the rest of the world, Syna. Not only in our kingdom, which is far more fortunate than most, but there are ugly things coming.   You can have no idea…"  

He was holding her hand now.

As she looked into his eyes, she could see that the gentle humor that had lifted her heart when they first met was still there.   The kindness, which had moved her very core, was there as well. However, there was also something dark, and it frightened her to think of the things that he must have seen, that would be sufficient to place that shadow in the eyes of one with such a bright soul.

  He explained almost painfully "I will have to go back in a few days time. They will look for me if I do not come when I am expected, and they will come with a hundred men.   I had thought that perhaps you might come with me, but now…"  

Jada looked down now, for the first time.  

"I know that girl is very special.   I can see that clearly, but even if she were not so, I believe that I would ask you to remain here in this valley.   That will be safest for all, and I could not bear any harm to come to you."

  Syna didn’t speak at first. What could she say?   Her eyes were open enough to know that he loved her but she chose to answer in the only way that she could.

  "I will not leave this valley, Jada.   I belong here."

  "If you ever do," he said flatly, "I will look for you."
 
She could have answered with humor, but only wonder was in her now.

"You’ve already looked for me for many days already, haven’t you?" She asked.

  "Twenty years before you disappeared on me.   After that, I searched for you in every hour that the sun shone, and in any hour that had any but the least moonlight."

He said this simply, but with an emotion she had never heard from him before. It was such a note of sadness.

"I’d be searching still… Syna."

  The moisture in the girl’s eyes glinted, as she at first pulled him close to press her cheek to his. Then she turned and quickly pressed her lips where her cheek had been.   She tried to draw away then, her insides in turmoil, and her mind no longer working, but He held her there.   She looked back up to him with her arms never leaving his shoulders. She couldn’t even take credit for closing her own eyes, because they did that on their own, as Jada bent to press his lips to hers.

  Her insides were a bubbling fire by the time he drew back.   When her eyes opened, again by themselves, he was still close enough that she could feel his breath on her sensitive lips.

He was watching her.

She could still see all his kindness and humor there in his eyes, but the darkness had disappeared as if it had never been.   She felt herself grin, as the silly thought that ‘perhaps I do believe in a little magic’, popped into her head on once more recognizing the carefree boy she had first met.

He must have been a little startled, by her reaction, but had no time to show it. Syna kissed him back in the very same way, with just as much resolve.   She could feel his heart beating as quickly as her own, just before Mr. Balderdash placed his soggy wet muzzle against theirs to sniff his approval.

  "Eeeeewww!" they both gasped in horror, springing away.

They both had ample evidence to fully appreciate that the good-natured animal had once more found a nearby water trough. Syna was laughing, but Jada actually looked all the more disappointed in the animal, as he wiped his slimy neck with the back of his hand.

  "Sir Balderdash! How many times must I speak to you on this point of your table manners?" He gasped at the horse, who looked completely unfazed at being remonstrated in front of the laughing girl, and still showed only his approval.

  "If you simply must go on doing that, will you please learn to use your napkin, before kissing people with your overly large and monstrously slimy snout! Ulmph, ga! Nagh!"

  Syna had to hold her tummy laughing, as the good fellow pressed the afore mentioned monstrous snout once more to Jada’s face affectionately before he could finish his speech.  

  She patted Jada’s arm again, even as she patted the horse on the neck, for his good deed. Jada himself was doing the same.

She told him. "We will speak more later. I think Mr. Balderdash needs your attention more than I do, right now, and I have to go and check on Chandi."

  Jada didn’t even act displeased as he bent to try and kiss her, again, only to have her bend back at the waist to save her self from his dripping muzzle.

  He was wiping his face disgustedly with his jacket sleeve, and leading the horse off toward the pasture when she lost sight of them at the door.

 

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          Syna went right to the stairs that led to the small room on the landing. She passed Dara there, who simply said "Sleeping," and continued past her down to the kitchen.

  The woman in the room informed her that Ladd had gone to retrieve the children, who would stay the night at the inn when they returned. She also asked if Syna would be there for a while. Syna nodded and the woman left for the necessary.

Syna first checked Chandi’s breathing, and then the bandages, before she quietly eased herself into the chair beside the bed. Even though she was tired, her mind still raced with all that had happened that day.   She almost longed for the medicines that Green Eyes had given her.

She tiredly closed her eyes for a few moments. When she opened them again Chandi was watching her silently.  

  "Are you in pain, Chandi?" She asked.

  The woman’s pupils were so large and dark, that Syna was surprised that she was even conscious, but conscious she clearly was as she first blinked her eyes and gave a little shake of her head.  

  "You should rest now. I’ll be right here to watch over you." Syna reached up to stroke her forehead before smiling to reassure her, and laying a cool cloth across the woman’s eyes.

  She gave her a small sip of water, which Chandi swallowed gratefully, before she whispered softly. "I didn’t mean … I just loved her. It hurt, when they separated ..."

  "I Know." Syna whispered back.  

Chandi was asleep again, even before Syna reached out to take her hand. "I know." She said again, squeezing her eyes on the single tear that escaped them through sheer exhaustion, as she rested there for the long night ahead... holding Chandi’s hand.

 
 

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My very special thanks to Geoff for his invaluable time and advice.

 
 

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       -S.L.M.
[email protected]
 
 

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