Time to meet our second protagonist....
"The least of her sons presents his compliments to the ageless and wise Lord of Waters, and asks if she would hear him at this time." The black-haired youth knelt before the woman whose white hair had a very few strands of similar midnight still visible.
There was a gentle laugh. "May the Spring of the Court flow ever for you, my son. The Lord of Waters is pleased that her son would seek out such an aged and infirm woman whose final years are doubtless close upon her, and would hear what wisdom of youth he may have to bring before her." Another laugh. "Close that door and have done with that prattle of tradition, Tobimar. By the Water and the Sand, what brings on such formality?"
Tobimar swallowed but managed a smile as he closed the door. This would be difficult, but his mother seemed in a good humor. "It's … something I need to talk about, Mother."
Talima Silverun had not been the ruler of all Skysand for forty years without being able to hear what was unsaid. "And this something is not merely of mother and son, but of Lord and one of her heirs." She shook her head, an uncertain but affectionate smile playing about the corners of her mouth. "You are scarce fifteen, Tobimar. What is there of such grave import that you could have involved yourself in? Have you thrown salt into the Court Fountain?"
Tobimar winced; as well ask if he'd dropped his pants and relieved himself on Terian's altar. "Of course not, mother!"
"Then have you killed one of the Warders in practice? No? Sold the Seven Sacred Scrolls? No? Well, now, we're swiftly running out of possibilities, my son. What could –"
She broke off, staring, as he held up the card that had been hidden within the long sleeves of the silver-trimmed black robe. Slowly, unwillingly, she reached out and took the thick, ancient plaque, unable to take her gaze from the image. Then she closed her eyes and bowed her head.
Tobimar knew what she saw: Terian, the Mortal God, Lord of Stars as the Dragons called him, Infinity as some of his followers preferred; a human figure with a face shadowed in glory, in black with a flowing cape clasped with a golden sidewise-eight shaped sigil. The deity their family had followed since before Skysand had existed, and – some claimed – whose power ran within their veins, Terian was said to be one of the greatest of all the gods, and according to legend was a man who had discovered the very key to the power of Creation itself.
But in the reading of the Mirror, Terian's card did not mean a blessing. Not for those of the Silverun family.
"There is no mistake?" she said finally. It was the voice, not of the lord of Skysand, but of his mother, whose other six children were grown, all now helping to keep Skysand a place of safety and beauty amid the all-encompassing sand.
"Nomdas Ferril did the reading himself." There could be no mistake when the Nomdas of Terian performed the reading.
His mother closed her eyes again. When she opened them again, they were hard and clear, a deep blue that mirrored his own and that only they shared, of all their family. "The Lord of Waters then must speak plainly to her youngest son."
It's as bad as I feared. Yet… I feel so much more alive. Will mother understand?
"The least of sons awaits the words of his most honored and wise parent, the Lord of Waters, as he would a drink in the very heart of the desert."
A tiny flicker of humor answered his extravagance, and then the Lord of Waters spoke. "The Lord of Waters earnestly inquires of her youngest and most beloved child as to whether he understands in fullness the meaning and import of this seemingly unimportant card, plucked from a deck at seeming random by the fingers of a priest?"
"Oh, Lord of Waters, your youngest son believes that he does, as much as any child can understand such things, for is it not written in our legends that when the face of Glory is revealed to one who stands between the innocence of childhood and the duties of a Lord, then the command of Terian is laid upon that one that he seek for that which was lost until it is found? And," he continued before his mother could begin the next question, for he didn't think he could bear to keep drawing this out, "is it not also written that ever since we fled from the Darkness that pursued us in the years of betrayal and loss, none of the Silverun may seek that which was lost except that they must leave Skysand and not return until their seeking is over, for in the act of seeking shall they draw the eye and will of the Darkness upon them, and upon all Skysand if they remain?"
"The Lord of Waters hears her youngest child and … and sees…" she broke off, took a breath, and composed herself. "And sees that he does well understand that the command of Terian lies upon him, and that he must leave his home, his city, and his people, not to return until twenty-four years have passed, or until – beyond all hope – that which was lost lies within his grasp and the Darkness is confronted by the Light.
"By our ancient laws, our child must know he has but a single day from the moment the card was drawn. More, he must know that he may taken nothing but what he may carry upon him, and that without the aid of any magics or powers not his own."
He nodded. I know.
It was a truth drilled into the Silverun from the time they could walk, the truth that lay beyond, beneath, behind the existence of Skysand itself. Once they had been a great people, a proud people with a land that was truly their own; but in the last Chaoswar something had happened – enemies monstrous and fell, demonic or worse, had fallen upon them, driven them from their lands.
And because of the effect of the Chaoswars themselves, the details of their heritage were forgotten. The clear records only spoke of the early years here, in the great and burning desert on the northwest of the huge continent, and the struggle to survive. None could say where the true homeland was, or even the true nature of the enemy.
But they still wait, and when we begin seeking…
Thousands of years ago, the first of the Mirror readings on the Skysand had chosen Vancilar Silverun, and it had been a moment of joy; for Terian was their patron god, their protector, and for any other family the face of the Mortal God meant good fortune, victory, protection. The Nomdas had told Vancilar he must begin the search for that which was lost, and – as he was the Lord of Waters, ruler of all Skysand – he bent to that task with a will, preparing the entire country for the search.
Catastrophe struck the very day he was preparing to launch the first ship; an earthquake sudden and violent, followed by a wave that the wizards and priests could only blunt, not stop. Vancilar paused in his quest to repair his country, but did not forget his holy mission; a year later he stepped foot on his flagship, and in that instant the dormant volcano at the head of the bay exploded into violent eruption.
Concerned but still aware of his holy mission, Vancilar stayed to deal with this new emergency, and at the same time prepared to send out other agents to begin the quest. The moment the first group passed from the gates, a cloud appeared on the horizon, grew, and enveloped the city in raging dust filled with howling, water-stealing demons.
Battered by repeated perils, Vancilar could see the pattern; he demanded answers from the priests who had told him of this mission, set his wizards – those who had survived – to tell him why he seemed unable to so much as begin the work that, he was told, was the command of the gods. He got his answer… and knew his fate.
"I know, Mother," he said aloud. "Our enemies laid upon us a curse, one that used the very power of the Chaoswar to drive us from our old lands. It is a curse upon our people that they can never know their past, and a command and destiny laid upon some small number of our family to seek that past. If we ask our people to assist, the curse will punish them – punish Skysand. Any who are truly part of Skysand will share in their anger and the danger. Only by leaving our people behind, by leaving our family behind, only by that can we escape the curse and yet fulfill the command of the Lord Terian."
The Lord of Waters nodded slowly, seeing that he understood both with head and heart the reason and necessity for his quest. She glanced to the door, assuring herself it was still closed, and then came as close as he had ever seen to crying; she buried her face in her hands and sat still for long moments before she dropped her hands and looked up. "Where will you go, Tobimar? My son, what will you do?"
Suddenly he laughed and grabbed her hands, knelt in front of her. "Mother, mother, please don't cry. Don't worry. I know you're afraid – I'm afraid, some – but … I never wanted to be a Lesser Lord of a city, or even the Lord of Waters myself."
The eyes looking back at him were suspiciously bright, as though tears hovered there waiting to be shed. But her lips slowly turned upward. "The youngest son becoming his grandfather's image… not to be, then?"
"More of my father and – perhaps – my mother in me."
She laughed, still with a hint of tears. "Perhaps indeed. Was it so obvious that this robe chafes at times?"
"To your children, I think so, Mother."
"Then what will you do, Tobimar?" She studied him. "You are a marvelous quick study with a sword."
"And I've learned from Master Khoros."
She looked … grim for a moment. "Yes. He said you had much power of the spirit, to use the spirit to see that which might be invisible, to touch that which lay beyond your hands. And he gave me something when he left…"
"What? What is it, Mother?" The question was not just for what the mage might have left behind, but what bothered her so much.
"… I wonder now… if he knew, somehow, even though not all the priests could have seen what was to come. For he said that it was for you 'when the time came.' And what other time could he have meant…?" She rose and crossed to the miniature vault set in her chambers, touched the door, which opened. Inside were many things that he strained to see, but when she turned back all she held was a sealed piece of parchment… no, it was a leaf, as Master Khoros had often written upon, a leaf from the Mynoli plants that grew near oases, tough, flexible even when dry.
"Take it… but do not open it until you have left. He said also that 'wisdom comes only to those who seek it, never to those who demand it. Listen to what is said by your heart.'."
That was Khoros, all right. He took the leaf-parchment and tucked it away inside his own robes. "So… I'll do what I can, Mother. I'm a swordsman and a Skysand; I'll help people as I can. And I'll find what was lost. One day I will be able to tell you who we were, and show us where to go."
She suddenly embraced him. "I will pray to Terian that you do, Tobimar. I will pray every day, so that my son will one day stand before me… as my sister never did again."