by Geraldle

Copyright © 2001


DAY ONE-Ascalon estate, The Plateau-642 AF-2nd of Seld

Symin, son of Duran and Deian, was out riding. Although he was a very good rider, he preferred the slower pace of Anya, the pony that he had been riding since he was four. He was wearing only a brief pair of light brown short trousers fastened by a belt, from which hung a small dagger on one side and a small, almost empty pouch on the other, a pair of sandals on tiny feet. He was small for his age, but wiry and tireless. Silky soft straight blond hair bleached almost white from constant exposure to the sun, bangs covering his forehead falling almost into his eyes.

The large expanse of bare skin was sun-darkened almost to the same shade as his short trousers. On his right arm just below his shoulder, the Ascalon crest was tattooed on his upper arm. The same crest was embroidered on the right leg of his short trousers just above the hem.

Symin turned to look back at his companion and a grin lit up the delicate features of his face and large gray eyes showing that he was missing two of his top teeth. The boy was his new personal servant, actually the first personal servant he had ever had. He was a boy of twelve and a half and a distant relative by the name of Maxim Ascalon. The older boy was riding on a saddled mule with saddlebags fastened to the back of the saddle and a waterskin hanging down from the pommel. At a couple of inches under five feet tall, he was over a foot taller than the diminutive Symin and thin as a beanpole. He was also wearing short trousers, grass green in color but also a lightweight short sleeve green shirt of somewhat darker hue and was barefoot.

Maxim was obviously unused to riding. He kept rising in the stirrups to rub his bottom. Symin said with gentle humor, “It's a good thing that I prefer to ride bareback. It'll be easier to get used to riding using my saddle. I can't remember a time when I didn't ride so I never had to toughen up my butt for riding.” His tone changed to sympathy as Maxim rubbed his bottom again and winced a bit. “I'll ask Minna to do something about that when we get back. I know she has something that'll do the trick.”

Maxim was somewhat shocked with an uneasy look on his small face, as he exclaimed, “Miss Minna don't have time for the likes of me and I sure don't wanna annoy her, especially on my first day.”

Symin shrugged his shoulders. With a grin, he said, “I'll be the one doing the asking and she almost never gets really annoyed or mad at me. Even when she has to have me whipped,” he grinned widely, mischief dancing in his gray eyes. “I can feel her amusement when she 'pronounces sentence',” he giggled at the solemn words. “And she can't look at me at all. She either looks at the ceiling or the floor or over my head. I can feel she's dying to laugh every time I appear in front of her. Once a couple of years ago, when I first started getting into trouble all the time, she looked me right in the eyes and she burst out laughing.”

He giggled and said, “Sivvin was there and he rolled his eyes and just sighed. She pointed at me and said 'you are the spawn of a demon'. She took a deep breath to calm down, 'That poor undercook. He'll always be looking around wondering when he'll be drenched with water and covered with flour again. Now I know you had to have assistance to pull that off, dare I ask you who helped?'“

Symin explained, “I put a solemn expression on my face and clasped my hands behind my back, 'The undercook deserved everything he got. He's a mean man. And you know I really love you Minna and you know I can't tell you a lie, but really I can't tell you the truth either, now can I? After all loyalty to ones comrades and a noble's code of honor and all that.'”

“I saw Sivvin's lip twitch at that. Then Minna after regaining control of herself, pointed to me. 'Take this little mischief-maker to his bedroom Sivvin; double the usual five lashes as punishment.'”

Symin said solemnly, “But Minna came to my room that night as she always does and talked to me for a few minutes before she gave me a goodnight kiss.”

Maxim was grinning widely with amusement, forgetting about his sore bottom for the moment. Symin looked over his shoulder at Maxim observing his amusement. He smiled his slow smile again, “I guess you've heard I get punished a lot? He asked.”

In a voice choked with laughter, Maxim replied “Yes Master, Mistress Minna said you get into more trouble and get whipped more frequently than all of the other Ascalon children combined.”

Symin turned on his pony so that he was facing Maxim. He cocked his head to one side, smile still on his face, “Now I don't think that's true. I know I get lotsa whippings, but I'm not always in trouble.” He paused, then grinned his gap-toothed grin again, “Just most of the time.”

Symin giggled, saying, “It's not too bad. Minna chose Sivvin because he really doesn't like whipping anyone. I know he seldom ever whips his own children and he doesn't wield his belt too heavily.” A shiver went through Symin's small body and his face went bleak.

His speech became thick with emotion, “The worst beating I've ever had, happened about four months ago when Sivvin was away and Minna had to assign the chore to the sergeant. I never had anything against him before, but when he was in my room I could feel his anticipation and knew he was going to enjoy beating me. It sickened and frightened me. When I had to take off my short trousers, for the first time in my life I was embarrassed to be naked, I even covered my penis and my balls with my hands. It was really weird.”

He shook his head, saying, “When I bent over the side of my bed he must of stood behind me for over a minute before he delivered the first lash. Though harder than Sivvin gave me, it wasn't much harder but I could feel him feeling my pain. I was disgusted when I realized he had some Empathic ability and he could feel my pain and actually enjoyed what he was doing. He took a long time between each lash but after the third one my own Empathic ability shut down and I was so relieved I could no longer feel him, that I didn't even notice the last two lashes. When Minna came that night I burrowed into her arms and cried. That was the first time I can remember crying after a beating, though I occasionally cried a bit during one. When I told Minna what had happened she said she would never have the sergeant or the other corporal give me a beating again. I must have looked confused when she mentioned the corporal; because she told me he was the sergeant's younger brother and was much like him. I hadn't known that. The sergeant is one of the few people in the castle that I've come to hate and I stay away from the corporal when I can.”

The solemnity left Symin as fast as it had appeared and he grinned, saying,“I'll try to be more responsible now that I have a servant and not get you any beatings, but,” he shrugged his small bare shoulders “I never go looking for trouble. It just seems to find me anyway, so I expect I'll earn us some beatings along the way.”

Maxim shrugged philosophically as his young Master had done, “My Da wasn't heavy handed with the strap, but we all got whipped now and then.”

Symin pointed to a few trees and a grassy area with a small pond a couple of hundred yards ahead. It was bordered to either side by low cliffs though directly behind it was a grassy hillside about a hundred yards wide. The cliff on the left had a small cave at its base out of which a small stream appeared, flowing down a shallow slope into the pond. The stream exited from the pond meandering in a twisting path. Maxim realized that they had crossed the stream several times on their way here.

Symin said cheerfully, “We'll leave the animals there and go the rest of the way on foot.” he drummed his heels into the pony's ribs making her move a little faster. He yelled over his shoulder, “By the way, Minna told me Sivvin wouldn't be beating me anymore. She said that is gonna be one of YOUR jobs from now on.”

Stunned to say the least at the last comment from his Master, Maxim shook his head in disbelief. He had never heard of a servant beating his Master before. He followed Symin but didn't try to test his newly attained riding skill by speeding up.

When he reached the little grassy area Symin was letting his pony drink from the small pond. He looked at Maxim telling him, “There's a couple of stakes in the right saddlebag and some rope and a cloth, there's some food in the left saddlebag in a bag. Bring the waterskin over as well. While we eat, we'll stake out the animals so that they can eat as well. When we head for the hut we'll stake them out close enough to the pond so that they can get water as they need it.”

Maxim took the items mentioned out of the saddlebags and Symin told him to put them on a small hill close to the half dozen trees. Deciding his pony had had enough to drink for the moment, Symin gently pulled her away from the water, saying, “Come on Anya, you've had enough for now, let Atine drink now,” He had Maxim hold her halter while he watered the mule.

Once the mule was satisfied, he had Maxim hold both halters while he unsaddled the mule. He carried the saddle and blanket over to the small hill. Putting the saddle down carefully, he just dropped the saddle blanket next to the other items.

Taking the cloth, he went back to the animals and wiped them both down lightly. It had been a short ride and they didn't need a lot of attention. Symin thought to himself with a little grin of amusement on his small face. 'It was a short ride, but I think Maxim found it much too long anyway.'

Once the animals were staked out a little way from the water, Symin knelt down and undid the straps of his sandals and stood up to kick them off. Unbuckling his belt, he undid the buttons of his fly, slipping his short trousers down his slender legs and stepping out of them.

His abdomen and bottom were as deeply tanned as the rest of him indicating that he spent a lot of time naked in the sun. Taking a run, his small bare brown body knifed cleanly into the pond, making only a small splash. He came up in the middle of the pond and turned to face the shore and Maxim.

“Come on in and have a swim,” he called, treading water in the middle of the pond.

Maxim flushed with embarrassment, saying, “I can't swim, Master.”

Symin frowned and then put a stern look on his face, saying, “Well, that will have to change. It's the most fun thing I do.”

When Maxim drooped with embarrassment and a little fear, Symin relented with a grin, telling him, “But not right now.”

He stopped treading water and raised his hands showing that he was standing on the bottom. He said seriously, “See it's not very deep. This is the deepest part and it doesn't even come to my shoulders and you're a foot taller than me. It's a good place to learn because you'll always be able to touch the bottom.”

Symin pointed with his chin at the bank Maxim was standing on. He said, “It drops off quickly there; it's up to my waist within three feet.” He jerked his thumb to point over his shoulder, “If you want to get your feet wet, it's quite shallow on that side. It's only a few inches deep.”

Going around the pond Maxim paddled happily in the shallow water while Symin swam in the middle not even seeming to care that there was only a very small area in which to swim, diving and spending a lot of time under the water. The two boys played happily for about an hour then Symin took a look at the sun. “We'll eat some of the food now and head up to the hut.” Swimming toward Maxim until he came to a halt in the shallow water like a beached water creature, he stood and shooed Maxim out of the water and followed him around the small pond to the other side.

Picking up his short trousers, Symin carried them over to their gear and after pulling the small dagger from its belt sheath, dropped them carelessly on top of the saddle. Kneeling he picked up the bag of food and undid it. He stated, “Minna always has Arma pack plenty of food. It's just bread and cheese but Arma really bakes good bread.”

Cutting the food in half, he said, “There's a nice lake about ten miles from here. Once you can swim halfway decent and get used to riding, we'll go up there.” Symin put the remaining food back in the bag and then cutting the food evenly again, he gave half to Maxim and kept half. Sharing the dagger they used it to cut off smaller pieces and began eating, drinking occasionally from the waterskin.

“May I ask a personal question Master?” Maxim asked.

With his mouth half full, Symin said, “You may ask, but I might decide not to answer.”

Maxim said seriously, “You seem to have a great deal of freedom for a boy of your age, even one from a noble family. I just wondered why? Minna said she was glad she wouldn't worry as much now that you have a companion, just in case something happens.”

Symin lowered the bit of cheese that he was about to put into his mouth, closing his eyes in pain. Then he shook his head shrugged and opened his eyes, looking down at the ground he quietly answered the question. “Grandfather has always left the responsibly for his grandchildren to their parents.”

He told him, “My mother died when I was born. My father blames me for her death. Whether he ever hated me for what happened I don't know, but I can feel that he doesn't hate me now. But he doesn't love me either. He just doesn't care.”

Symin raised his eyes to look directly at Maxim. The older boy could see the pain in the large gray eyes that were a bit watery with unshed tears as the younger boy continued vehemently, “It hurts!! It hurts a lot, but I don't think about it most of the time!” Symin wiped his eyes with the palm of his hand and continued once they no longer threatened to overflow. He sighed looking down at the ground for a few seconds. When he raised them, he shrugged his small shoulders again. He said, “Besides at least I know most everybody else likes me and Minna really loves me. That helps a lot.”

“But enough of sad talk,” Symin said, banging the grass with his hand for emphasis, “this is your first day as my servant and I promised Minna that I wouldn't get into any trouble today.” he said virtuously. He nibbled on his lower lip, for a moment, a nervous habit he had, sadness gone. He gave his gap-toothed grin “Well actually I didn't say that. I promised Minna that I'd try to stay out of trouble, but I couldn't give her any guarantees.”

Symin shoved the last bit of cheese into his mouth, jumping to his feet, chewing on it as he put on his short trousers and sandals and sheathed his dagger. His fine silky blond hair had become somewhat straggly as it dried so he hand combed it into some semblance of order.

Symin said to Maxim, “We'll move the animals now so that they can reach the water if they need to drink while we're gone.” as he pulled the stake that Anya was fastened to and moved it closer to the water. He pushed the stake back into the soft ground, Maxim following his example with the mule.

Symin stretched, telling him, “Even if they pull the stakes out of the ground they've both been trained not to wander off, so we don't have to worry about walking home.” He grinned mischievously, “Though you might prefer it. We'll eat the rest of the food once we get to the hut. It's only been abandoned for a few months, since we no longer have as many sheep as we once had.”

Symin picked up the food bag and threw it to Maxim, saying with mock pomposity “Here, since you're my servant, you can carry this outrageously heavy burden.” then he giggled. “We'll leave the waterskin here. It's only about a mile to the hut and it has a good well. It's an easy climb but in a couple of places, the animals couldn't make it. C'mon, follow me.”

Symin turned and led the way to the hillside, Maxim following. Symin stopped at the base of the hill and pointed alternately to the cliffs. He said seriously, “Actually there are only a couple of places where it would be hard to get up or down. They're very easy to climb without even needing a rope.” His large grey eye were twinkling, obviously he knew that fact, from direct experience.

As Symin said, the hill was easy to climb being mostly a grassy slope, but in two places, rocky outcroppings cut across the hillside. They were no inconvenience to a person but impossible for a horse or a mule to manage.

At the top Symin stopped and spread his arms at the beautiful scenery in front of the two boys. To the northwest, the cliff topped by trees curving away from them and spreading out into a large forest in the distance sloping upward toward the distant mountains. Right in front of them and towards the eastern part of the cliff was a large grassy plain spread out before them. Symin explained, “This is what they call The Plateau. I don't really think it qualifies as a real plateau, but that's what it's always been called.”

Maxim looked around him with awe, saying almost in a whisper, “I've heard about this place but I never thought I'd see it.” Shading his eyes, he looked around but then he asked in a confused voice, “But I thought this was used for grazing? I don't see any animals.”

Symin bent down and picked up several small rocks. Straightening he began tossing them softly underhand, with a sigh he said, “When the Edict was imposed ninety percent of the animals from up here went to pay off the huge initial fine. Over the years what cattle and horses were left were sent to the main part of the estate, Last year the last of the sheep were transferred as well and this area, as rich as it is, was abandoned for the time being. Once the main part of the Edict ends next year we'll have more revenues and we'll begin building up the herds again and this part of the estate will eventually get extensive use again.”

Symin pointed to the trees, saying, “The forest circles to the north then curves around down opposite us, where the hut is. Well actually, there are a dozen huts in all, but over the years, they abandoned them one by one as remaining animals were transferred to the main part of the estate. The hut we're going to is the only one with its thatch roof still intact. This grassy area,” waving his arm, “looks pretty level but it's not. It goes up and down and to the north of us there's a stream that is hidden by a fold of the earth then curves into the trees and flows down through them almost to the huts. It curves again on the other side of the trees and flows into a large pond. The pond is no good for swimming though. It's only a couple of feet deep. C'mon lets go.”

Symin headed across the grasslands followed by his companion. The grass was two to three feet long and slowed them up somewhat. It took them about a half-hour to walk as far as the trees. The only talking was one question from Maxim, “Master, how did they get the sheep and other beasts up, it would be very hard the way we came?”

Symin explained with a grin on his small face, “There's another way up. You can even get wagons up that way. But it's almost five miles further on,” he smiled over his shoulder with amusement. “I didn't think you were quite ready for that long a ride just yet.”

Maxim rubbed his sore bottom and grimaced, saying with feeling, “You're sure right about that Master Symin.”

Symin thought to himself, 'That Master crap has got to go, but like the swimming, not right now.'

When they reached the trees, they headed south. The huts were in a clearing twenty-five to fifty yards wide and two hundred yards long and were at the southern end.

Symin had a deep feeling of contentment. He was always happiest when he was outdoors. Unexpectedly his Empathy picked up something. He stopped suddenly putting his small hand on Maxim's chest to stop him. He knelt at the edge of the clearing concentrating. Maxim knelt as well asking in a whisper “What's wrong, Master?”

Symin waved at him to be silent as he concentrated. Then he said, “Someone's in the hut. He must be a Magic User or I wouldn't feel him at this distance. He's hurting. I must find out who it is. Stay here. I'll give you a wave if it's safe to come, otherwise go for help.”

“But Master Symin…!!” Maxim started to say.

Symin looked at him, his large gray eyes wide with fear, yet at the same time very clear and cold. In a hard, chilled voice, he ordered, “You will do as you're told!!”

Maxim swallowed but then Symin patted him on the shoulder and gave him a quick smile, the coldness not leaving his face. Symin moved quietly into the trees and made his way toward the hut. As he got closer, he could feel that whoever was in the hut had a pleasant personality that was overlaid with anxiety and pain.

Symin made his way to the hut and peeked through one of the windows. He saw a very large man wearing well-worn dirty clothing lying on the single bed. His right boot was off and his ankle badly swollen. He seemed to be asleep but suddenly he pushed himself to his elbows and called out, “I can feel someone there!! Who is it?!!”

Symin ducked out of sight as soon as the man started pushing himself up. His heart was pounding in his chest and he was thinking anxiously, 'He must have Empathy but it can't be very strong or he would have felt me sooner! He won't be able to move very fast with that leg! I think it'll be all right if I let him see me!' Heart still pounding he stood up and looked in the window leaning his elbows on the sill.

The man looked with astonishment as the blond haired boy popped into view, but smiled at him, “Hello, little one. And who do I have the pleasure of addressing?” he asked in a deep pleasant rumble.

Symin’s heartbeat slowed. He could read the man much better now and he could tell that he was in no danger. With a nod of his head in a partial bow, he said, “Symin Ascalon at your service, sir. And you?” He cocked his head to one side as he gave his name and he could see the recognition in the man’s eyes and felt it as well. He realized that the man didn't have any Empathy; it was simply the experience of an outdoorsman that had told him someone was close.

The man shrugged, “Cartan is what my friends call me,” and Symin could feel his amusement as he continued “and what my enemies call me would be somewhat vulgar for such young ears to hear."

The man continued more seriously, "I knew your father. My older brother shared quarters with him when he was doing his Knightly training. Their rooms were a place of refuge when I first became a page in the Palace. Are there any adults with you? I have an urgent and secret message that must get to Bremen today, before the gate closes for the night.”

Symin shook his head, telling him, “Just my servant and he's only two and a half years older than me. I'll come in, if you don't mind?”

Cartan gave a nod, saying with a grin, “I have the feeling that you have more right to be here than I do, so I hardly think that I have the gall to deny you entry.”

Symin backed away from the window and moved over to the doorway. He felt a sharp pain from within the hut that took his breath away for a moment. He paused then turned before entering and waved at Maxim, seeing the older boy start to run toward the hut. Lifting the latch, he pushed the door open and entered. Cartan had pushed himself to a sitting position, resting his right foot on a pack Symin hadn't noticed from the window. Beside it lay a fighting staff about seven feet long.

Symin hung onto to the latch leaning against the door and nodded toward Cartan's injury. “How bad is your leg?” he inquired.

The man felt it gently with his hands. He said, “It's a pretty bad sprain but I've got pretty good Healing so it will be fine in two or three days.” Symin wondered why he was lying about his leg as Cartan continued, “but as I say I've got a really urgent message that has to get to my contact today. The person expecting it will leave Bremen before the gate closes tonight. She'll stop at the first Messenger Post which is thirteen miles from Bremen and send her information off by Courier.”

Maxim had reached the hut now and stood behind Symin panting a bit from sprinting all the way. Symin told Cartan, “We can take it to the castle and someone with a fast horse could be sent to Bremen. Even if he's already left,” “She!” interrupted Cartan. Symin nodded, “Even if she's already left the servant could take it to the Messenger Post.”

Cartan reached into a pouch fastened to his belt and pulled out a round white stone about two inches long and an inch in diameter. He explained, “This is a Message Stone used by special agents. Spies.” he amended as he saw the questioning look on Symin's face. “They're specially made so the contents will fade if lost, or if someone who's an enemy gets hold of it somehow. Only an attuned Magic User can carry it, without it losing its contents. His magic, or in this case my magic, provides the energy needed to maintain its contents.”

Cartan gave a frown, before saying, “The only part that I can read is the part that shouts out its urgency. The person who originally compiled it can't read it either, he can only record information on it and he can't alter any information, he can only add to it. Normally only Prince Tamen and two of his personal assistants can read it. However a powerful Magic User or Mage can sometimes force it to give up its information, so we try not to let them out of our possession.”

He said, “I don't know what it contains, except that it concerns Madron somehow and that it's very urgent. Over the last few years there have been people conspiring to cause a war between our country and Madron. Something urgent coming out of Madron at this time probably has to do with that, therefore it’s very important.”

Cartan waved his hand, saying, “Bremen is the closest place, on the Northern Road between northern Madron and the capital Camara, that has any significant population and there may be watchers there. I had intended to wait for my contact a couple of miles east of Bremen on the Northern Road. Unfortunately, it must now be delivered to Bremen before she leaves. She will actively avoid contact with anyone she meets on the road who she doesn't know.”

Cartan continued, concentrating on it, rolling it about in his huge hands, saying, “Not all of our Couriers are Magic Users. I know for a fact that there is only one at the post directly west of Bremen. Normally there would be two at each Post but most Couriers with magical abilities were transferred to the southern border because of the war scare down there. Right now they are spaced out one for every three Posts. Within ten minutes of her arrival at the Post, the Courier will be on his way. Once she passes it on to the first Courier with the training he's been given he'll be able to deliver it in ten to twelve hours.”

Cartan frowned again, saying, “If the message is delivered after the Courier leaves, it would cause a lot of delay. Sinya is a Brown Forest Elf and like most Brown Forest Elves who become travelers, she came to riding late. She's only been riding for the last five years, since she became a King's Messenger and doesn't have the specialized training of a Courier. It'll take her at least two to three times as long to travel the same distance as a trained Courier. Moreover, once she reaches the Post where the Courier stops he'll only be partly rested and it'll take him longer to cover the same amount of ground than it usually would. Then there would be a cascading effect each Courier would be delayed by about the same amount of time.”

He shook his head, saying, “By the time the last Courier reaches the capital it could be delayed by as much as an extra two or three days. You're a Magic User so I could attune it to you.” Cartan looked up at the two boys for a moment before lowering his eyes “Is there anyone else at your castle who is a Magic User?”

Symin closed his eyes knowing what he would have to do, his hands trembling. He had to clear his throat before he could speak, but his voice was remarkably steady, “No, there's no Magic User besides me at the castle. Minna has a bit of Healing and one of the soldiers has a little Empathy, but neither has enough to be classed as a Magic User. Besides Minna weighs as much or more than you do. Even if she could 'get' on a horse it sure wouldn't move very fast.” Symin couldn't help but smile in spite of his fear as he looked at Cartan sitting on the bed. It was hard to tell exactly how tall he was since he was sitting, but he was a good four or five inches over six feet and must have weighed well over two hundred and sixty pounds, while Minna was only five feet tall and weighed as much or more.

Symin turned to Maxim, ordering, “The well is in back of the hut. I brought a couple of buckets up a while back. I'd like you to go get a bucketful of water.”

Maxim frowned, not liking to leave at this point. But after Symin barked out, “Go!!” he went reluctantly.

As soon as Symin could no longer hear him, he looked at Cartan, eyes wide. He said hesitantly, “I'll deliver the stone for you!”

Cartan looked up, a frown growing on his face and Symin felt the uneasiness in his mind. The man told him, “I’m sorry that I must ask you to do this. I hoped that you would do so once I realized you were a Magic User, despite the danger. Come over here and I'll attune the stone to you.”

Symin approached the man and stood in front of him. Cartan pressed the stone to his forehead. He told the boy, “Pay close attention and you'll be able to see how it's done, so you can attune it to Sinya.”

Symin closed his eyes concentrating deeply so he could feel what Cartan was doing. Suddenly there was something that felt like a snap, though it really wasn't audible. Abruptly, the stone was in focus as it attuned to him and he knew how to do the same thing whenever he needed. With some amazement, he also realized that the stone had given him the knowledge necessary to make a Magic Artefact like the stone whenever he wanted. There were also vistas of other possibilities as well, only dimly glimpsed right at the moment.

Cartan took a second stone from his pouch, a much smaller stone a deep black in color and held it to his forehead for a couple of minutes then explained to Symin, “This is my report updated to the moment and I would appreciate it if you would deliver this to Sinya as well.” When Symin nodded in agreement, he held this stone to the boy's forehead repeating the process with this stone.

The man told him, “Sinya is staying at the Boar's Head Inn which is on the street directly across from the town gate. Sinya is in the first room at the head of the stairs. As I said, she's a Brown Forest Elf and her hair is even lighter than yours. She has pale skin and blue eyes and she's a few inches over five feet.”

Silently Symin took the two stones and placed them in his almost empty pouch. He went over to the door and reached it just as Maxim returned. He took the dipper attached to the bucket and took a long drink. Placing the bucket on the floor, he queried Cartan, “Should I tell the truth when I’m asked?”

Cartan with a frown on his face and turmoil in his mind shook his head, saying, “I simply don’t know, little one. Would it be safe to do so? Probably. Would I say anything in the same circumstances?” He shook his head, his heart aching knowing that in effect he was condemning Symin to death, “No, I wouldn’t. If there’s even one chance in a thousand that it might get out, then my life or your life has absolutely no importance compared to the possibility of war. That’s what I would do, but it still must be your choice, Symin.”

Symin shook his head, his eyes watery with unshed tears and said simply, “No!! There is no choice to be made!! My life is Camron’s if she needs it and it seems that she needs it now!” and Cartan gave a little bow of respect and Symin could read the pain in his mind.

Symin said to Maxim. “Drink if you want to. We've got to go now.”

As Maxim took a deep drink, Symin asked “How were you going to deliver the message if we hadn't come?”

Cartan said, “As I said I have some Healing. I could have gotten my leg well enough to walk by tomorrow afternoon and then I would have gone to the closest place to commandeer a horse and ridden to the Messenger Post.” Again, Symin knew he was lying. He was pretty sure why now. Symin shrugged as Cartan said, “I was hoping that the extra time it took wouldn't turn out to be vital.” Symin gave Cartan a slow formal noble's bow, much deeper and more respectful than would normally be given to a simple knight, the rank he knew was given to all King's Messengers.

“If I do not see you again, I will say my goodbyes now.” Symin told him. Straightening he gave a little wave of his hand turned and walked out the door motioning for Maxim to follow him. Maxim was confused by their sudden leave taking but obediently followed his young Master.

After a few minutes of walking, Maxim asked, “Why did you ask him what he would do if we hadn't come along?”

“Because I told him that I would deliver the message to Bremen for him.” Symin said calmly, nothing to show that his heart was beating faster than normal from fear.

“But Symin, what about the Edict?!!” Maxim wailed, forgetting to use Master for the first time and jumping in front of Symin.

“I know what I'm doing.” Symin yelled back savagely. Then taking several deep breaths, he answered more calmly, “I could hardly forget about the Edict. It's been drummed into my head ever since I can remember. I know it by heart.”

Standing still Symin closed his eyes and began to recite:

“Edict of Exile concerning the Family Ascalon to cover the next ten years from the 4th of Sume Year 633, After Founding to the 3rd of Sume Year 642 After Founding.

A fine of 10,000 golds.

75% of all revenues raised during the period the Edict covers are forfeited to the Crown.

50% of all revenues raised during the following ten years following the period of the Edict are forfeited to the Crown.

25% of all revenues raised during the ten to twenty year period following the period of the Edict are forfeited to the Crown.

All Ascalons who are direct descendants of Armand and Cecily Ascalon are confined to their estates.

Any adult Ascalon who is found off of the estates without specific written instructions from the nearest King's representative and accompanied by that representative's guards is under sentence of immediate execution.

Any Ascalon child above the age of reason who is found off of the estates without specific written instructions from the nearest King's representative is to be taken and tried by the nearest Judge who may deal out High Justice. That Judge is free to hand out any punishment he may see fit, NOT excluding execution.”

Symin's voice had risen during the final clause of the Edict and the last few words were almost shouted. Throwing his arms into the air he took a deep breath to calm himself again, before saying, “I know the risks I'm taking, but it's important, really important!! I could feel that from Cartan. He was lying about his leg! It isn't sprained it's broken! And he wasn't going to wait for tomorrow. He wasn't resting!! He was gathering his strength and magic. As soon as he got up enough strength he was intending to use his magic to make his leg numb and try to get to the nearest place to the rendezvous point and if that wasn't possible, the nearest place he could find a horse."

Symin shuddered in sympathy, as he continued, "That would have damaged his leg beyond the ability of even the strongest Healer to repair. His magic is stronger than mine, but not by much and at our level magic is very limited. He probably wouldn't have gotten more than a mile before it began to fade out. Once that happened a man of his determination and honor would have tapped into his life force energy. That wouldn't have given him enough additional power to go much further but I could feel he would rather die than abandon his duty. Now lets go!!! We don't have a lot of time to play with!!”

Symin stepped around Maxim and headed across the grass. Maxim turned and followed him silently. It didn't seem to take very long to reach the animals.

Once they reached them, Symin had Maxim saddle the mule directing him almost absentmindedly. He pulled up the stake holding his pony and undoing the rope he handed both items to Maxim. He stood holding Anya's halter and rubbing her neck nibbling on his lower lip for a moment. He had Maxim hold her and undoing his belt and the buttons of his fly, he slipped his short trousers down his legs and off and then taking the food bag out of saddlebags, he pushed them into it. He explained, “Of course clothing and weapons are one of the indications of status when it comes to children.”

Symin scowled a little annoyed with his size. He said with disgust, “I’m so small that if I was really a seven year old peasant boy I certainly wouldn’t be wearing clothing, even a ten year probably wouldn’t. That means I need to be naked so that they won’t wonder why I’m wearing short trousers. Also that means they won’t inadvertently see the Ascalon crest embroidered on the right leg of my short trousers. A child on his own, of my age, wearing any clothing riding a pony in this part of the country would have to be an Ascalon. While many peasants from this area are distantly related and probably wouldn’t turn me in, there are no guarantees.”

Symin continued his instructions, “I want you to stay here for about ninety minutes and then head back to the castle. Go directly to Minna, she can be trusted to keep a secret. Tell her she shouldn't mention why I'm going to Bremen and should forget Cartan even exists. To acknowledge his presence could reveal the secret that needs to be kept hidden. Grandfather can't keep a secret from grandmother and she can't keep a secret from anyone. It would be all over the castle and the village in a couple of hours and all over Bremen a day later.”

Symin could feel apprehension and sorrow coming from Maxim. He put his hand on Maxim's shoulder saying to the older boy, "I'm sorry this happened before we got to know each other. I think we would have become good friends." His voice got a little softer, "Nobles are considered special. If we're special than we must act like it. If I must risk my life to keep my country safe, then I do so with pride. I hope you understand that?"

Maxim nodded, his grief choking him as he helped Symin mount Anya and watched him ride away.

It took about forty-five minutes to reach the boundary of the estate, which was marked by a streambed about two hundred feet wide. He stopped Anya on the bank. He nibbled on his lower lip for a moment shivering from anxiety. Then he started up his pony and rode her down the bank into the streambed. In the rainy season, the bed would be filled from bank to bank but at this time of year, the stream was only about seventy-five feet wide and quite shallow.

As his pony climbed the far bank, Symin's fear increased and it never left him as he headed for the main road into Bremen. When he reached the Northern Road, he followed it toward Bremen. Not being a market day, they only met a couple of wagons heading for home and he waved to them, sure no one would recognize him.

His blond hair came from his mother's family, all other Ascalons that he had seen having darker hair, ranging from a light brown to jet-black.

Symin also made sure he passed them on the left side so that they wouldn't see the crest tattooed on his right shoulder.

About two hundred yards from the town gate there was a small copse of trees and Symin entered it and slipped to the ground. He fastened Anya's reins lightly to a branch so she would easily be able to pull the reins free.

Taking his short trousers out of the food bag, Symin got dressed again. They were a sign of his status as he had told Maxim. He would face whatever would come as a proud member of the Ascalon family.

Of course, he didn't expect to return, which explained the periods of shivering he had been experiencing ever since he crossed the boundary of the estate. Symin would have preferred to take Anya's halter off and send her home. However, Concealment only worked with intelligent beings and Anya would have been able to see him and might have followed him. Then he began to reach for his magic. His Empathy was always present but the ability to Conceal took a lot of concentration to invoke and right now, because of his fear, it was even harder to reach.

Then suddenly Symin felt the familiar mental wall rise in front of his emotions, his fear lessening as his ability to Conceal popped into place. The only effect that it had on the boy was to partially mask his feelings, it didn't affect his thinking. Others however simply wouldn't notice him.

Symin was in a hurry now, the strain much greater on him. He had discovered the ability only three weeks before and it took a lot out of him. He had never used it for more than thirty or forty seconds and he didn’t know how it would affect him. He trotted toward the gate reaching it in about forty seconds. There was a guard holding a spear on either side of the gate, which was just wide enough for a wagon to enter. Symun was careful to stay in the middle of the gate; accidentally touching someone would destroy his effort at Concealment for that person.


Symin had discovered the ability to Conceal himself when he was in the hallway outside his room. It was an hour before his bedtime and he intended to go downstairs to find some of the other children. He had seen his father coming toward him. Symin always tried to avoid the man whenever he could. Seeing the scowl on his father’s face indicating that he was in a bad mood, Symin had wished that he could disappear. He felt something unusual almost as if there was now a barrier in his mind. When his father passed him by, he had been astonished, he knew that the man couldn’t see him because his Empathy told him so.

Turning, he had watched his father stalk down the hall and he saw Dinni move politely to the side to let the man go by. Dinni his first cousin, was a year older than Symin. Duran wasn’t well liked and Symin suppressed a giggle when Dinni stuck out his tongue at the man’s back.

Turning Dinni began to run down the hallway toward Symin yelling, “Symin, where are you?” He ran right into Symin and both boys went to the floor at the impact. They came to their knees and Dinni had a look of astonishment on his face, as he said, “Where did you come from?” Symin knew that the other boy could see him, yet he could still feel the thing in his mind that told him that the ability he had invoked was still in place.

Symin realized that with Dinni running right into him, Symin’s ability was no longer hiding him. Examining what had happened to him, Symin could see how he had inadvertently invoked his ability. He knew how to invoke it in the future and how to turn it off, which is what he did, realizing how tiring it was, as Dinni shook his head, saying, “Never mind. Do you want to play Hide and Seek with us?”

Symin grinned and nodded as he realized that he had the perfect way to play Hide and Seek from now on; though of course he wouldn’t use it. That would be cheating in his way of thinking.


Once on the street leading to the gate there were more people moving around and he slowed his pace so there would be less danger of bumping into anyone. Luckily, the Boar's Head Inn was not very far along the street. The doorway was double width and both doors were wide open.

It was still too early for most people to be eating, so there weren't many customers. There were a couple of men leaning against the bar and one of the tables was occupied. The stairs were at the front of the building and Symin soft-soled sandals were very quiet on the floor, then the stairs.

At the head of the stairs, Symin leant against the wall for a moment. He of course had never used his ability for this long and he was feeling incredibly tired and pain began lancing through his head. He knocked gently on the door the sound seeming to thunder through his brain. He was about to knock a second time when the door was jerked open.

Symin pushed past the slender Elven woman who opened the door. He dropped his Concealment. Her hand flew to the hilt of the short sword visible over her left shoulder and it flashed into her hand as Symin became visible to her. Symin backed away from her further into the room and croaked out in a rough voice. “Cartan sent me. He broke his leg. He’s in a hut on The Plateau.” His deeply tanned face was actually gray and there were large circles under his eyes showing how much the use of Concealment had taken out of him. The sword in the woman's hand flicked back into its sheath and she closed the door.

Symin swayed a bit, suddenly unsteady on his feet. She took his arms and pushed him down onto the side of the bed, poured some water into a mug and sat beside him on the bed to support him making him drink it. After taking a deep drink, Symin fumbled in his belt pouch and pulled out the two stones.

Recognizing them and knowing that he had to attune them to her, Sinya bent so he could hold the first to her forehead. His mind was sluggish. It took him a few seconds to remember how to do it, but with a snap, the reverse of what had occurred when it was attuned to him, it suddenly went out of focus and a band of pain clamped around his head.

Symin put his face in his hands for a minute then even more sluggishly, he put the second stone to her forehead. With a great deal of effort he attuned the second stone to her. When it snapped out off focus for him and into focus for her, the pain became unbearable and Symin lost consciousness.

She stood up rolling the stones in her hand for a moment before putting them in her belt pouch. She too could read the urgency from the white stone. Making sure that Symin was breathing easily and that his pulse was steady, she moved him so that his head was on the pillow and after undoing his sandals and putting them on the floor, covered him up with the lightweight sheet. She had seen this condition several times before, or at least she thought she had. She knew he had simply overused his magic and would recover after a good rest.

Sinya was somewhat worried about Cartan, who was a good friend and breathed a little prayer for his well-being intending to send help once she reached the Courier post. For now, delivering the message was her duty. Taking up her saddlebags, which were already packed, she couldn't resist bending over and brushing Symin's cheek with a light kiss.

She murmured, “Goodbye, little one. I'll pay the innkeeper to let you keep this room overnight and tomorrow,” she said to the sleeping boy giving him a salute as she exited the room, closing the door behind her. Ten minutes later after making arrangements and getting her horse, she was riding out of the town gate.

DAY TWO–Tavern and Mayor's House-642 AF-3rd of Seld

It was about ten o'clock the next morning when there came a knock on the door. Symin was so deeply unconscious that he wouldn't have noticed if a blacksmith had set up an anvil right next to his bed and was pounding on it.

A second louder knock came on the door and when no answer came, the door was pushed open. Symin had kicked the light sheet off and was lying on his left side. If anything, she was expecting the female Elf and was surprised when she found a little boy instead. The innkeeper's daughter was used to sizing up customers. She noticed the expensive dagger and sheath and immediately looked for a noble's tattooed crest. She recognized it instantly, and, after laying the new bedding she had been carrying on the chair, she hurried out the door and clattered down the stairs.

“Da, where are you?!!” she yelled, excitement and apprehension in her voice.

“I'm in the kitchen, Lorry. What's the matter, a demon after you?” he asked.

Lorry asked urgently, “Where's the Elf woman, there's someone else in her room!!!”

He told her, “She left yesterday afternoon when you were visiting your granny. She said someone else would be using the room and she gave me enough to pay two or three days.”

“It's a little boy Da! A noble boy!” Her voice dropped to a whisper, “An Ascalon boy!”

He asked sharply “What! Are you sure?”

Lorry gave a scowl of annoyance, telling him, “Da, you sent me to school to learn reading and writing and figure enough to keep the books. Well we got a little history too and I memorized the Ascalon crest since they was so close and the Exile has less than a year to go!”

The innkeeper began wringing his hands. “What are we going to do, Lorry? What?” He asked plaintively.

Lorry sighed; her father could never decide what to do. He had relied on her mother while she was still alive, now he relied on her. She sighed again, more deeply this time. She said with regret in her voice, “He's just a little boy, Da. But we could lose the inn if they found us knowingly harboring an Ascalon. I'll have to fetch the Town Guard.”

With the decision made, the innkeeper was no longer distraught and he stopped wringing his hands. He said more firmly, “Very well, go, go get them at once! I'll watch and make sure he doesn't leave!”

Not commenting, she scooted out the front door and returned within a few minutes with two of the Town Guard. They clumped up the stairs behind her and into the room. One of them examined the boy who showed no evidence of waking up.

He said, “That's the Ascalon crest right enough missy,” pulling the dagger from its sheath he whistled with admiration, “This be very, very nice. It seems to be Dwarven work; maybe a little small for an adult, but just the right size for a child.” Taking it over to the window, he looked at the blade in the sunlight. “It were made for the Ascalons. The blade be engraved with their crest.”

He looked at the boy again, saying, “If he can't say why he be here, he be in deep sh…” he coughed and Lorry couldn't help but giggle, “He be in deep trouble.”

“What's to happen to him for now?” Lorry inquired.

He shook his head, telling her, “The Mayor don't like to put childer in the jail if he can avoid it. He's a soft 'un. He keeps a couple small rooms in his house that he can lock. He'll be put there for the moment.” He sheathed the dagger then undid Symin's belt and slid the sheath off and redid the belt.

He handed the sheathed dagger to the second Guard. He informed him, “You hold onta that Toron. It's wort more than the Mayor's house. And more than you'll make in yer whole life, so don't lose it.” He took hold of Symin's shoulder and shook it. There was no response. He shook the boy a second time somewhat harder. When he still got no response, he stepped back and pursed his lips, saying, “I don't tink he gonna be walking. I'll haveta carry him I think.” He scooped the boy up into his arms. When Symin's arms went around his neck, he blushed and muttered under his breath before saying, “Come on Toron, carry his sandals and no comments from ya.” he growled.

Toron said, with a wide-eyed innocent look on his face “Yes Moth, I mean yes sir, captain, sir.”

The captain glared at his subordinate and nephew, his lips twitching a couple of times as he fought to contain a grin. “I'll be sure to find ya sometin' unpleasant to do when we get back to the Guard Room.”

The mayor's house was in the town square, across from the combination Guard Room and jail. He had Toron knock on the door and it was opened by the Mayor's wife, a nice looking woman in her late twenties.

She frowned at the captain, “What's wrong with the poor boy, Captain?” she asked.

Captain Sparan shook his head, telling her, “I dunno Madame Mayor. I know he be in deep trouble, but I dunno what's wrong with him physically. We'll put him in one of the rooms your husband keeps and I'll send Toron to fetch a Healer.”

She led them to a small room on the second floor and unlocked it with a key hanging on the wall next to the door. The three entered the room. Toron dropped Symin's sandals on the floor while Captain Sparan put the boy on the bed. After Toron handed the Captain the sheathed dagger he headed for the Healer's residence and was back quickly with Dearna the Healer.

She gave Symin at quick physical exam and finding nothing physically wrong, examined him with her Healing ability. Finally she straightened up and gave the mayor's wife and the Captain a smile as she said, “The child has two problems. One is quite common and I've come across it several times, the other I've read about but have never come across personally. He’s not asleep; he's actually in the Healing trance of a Self-Healer. He has overextended his magical resources. That wouldn't be very serious; rest and sleep would take care of that quite easily.”

She pursed her lips and said, “However high Magic Users have the ability to tap into their natural life force when we need extra energy. I don't recommend it. It's very dangerous even with training. It gives you a rush of power but it can burn out very quickly with deadly results. But this child,” she paused, “by the way, are you aware who he is?”

Captain Sparan said, “We know he be an Ascalon but not which one.”

Dearna nodded, telling him, “He is indeed an Ascalon, Symin Ascalon to be exact. I attended his birthing. Their resident Healer was worried about his mother and asked me to assist. And problems did indeed develop. This little one,” she nodded at Symin “came out as healthy as any baby, though a wee bit small.” She sighed and shook her head with regret, “Unfortunately his mother was not as lucky. A lovely woman but not built for childbirth. We were unable to do anything that would help her and she died from complications.”

Dearna shook her head before continuing, “Their Healer died a couple of years after the Edict was imposed and he was never replaced. I've been out to their estate on several occasions and I always examined as many people as I could. All of the other children suffered from the usual childhood ailments. Even when Symin was a toddler he never had so much as a cold and now I know why. A Self-Healer is very rare. Most Healers also have the ability to heal themselves, but it's a conscious ability. A Self-Healer uses his ability subconsciously and has no control over it. He is virtually immune to minor ailments and scrapes, cuts and bruises heal very quickly. Even major injuries, as long as they're survivable and not crippling, will heal much faster than with ordinary people who don't have access to a Healer. I haven't gotten to see him much in the last few years. He was always out wandering somewhere.”

Dearna grinned with amusement, saying, “I finally managed to corral Symin for an examination eight months ago. He was disgusted that he was still so small, but that was his only complaint. My records show that he had gained less than a half inch in height and was only two pounds heavier at nine and a half than he was at seven. There was nothing at the time to indicate that he possessed any magical abilities, so his magic has developed in the last few months.”

Dearna shook her head again at this point. She said, “But I'm getting sidetracked. I was talking about Magic Users and life force energy. A good comparison would be two roads paralleling each other but never joining. A Magic User with sufficient power is able to tap into his life force energy. It's like building a cross-path from one road to the other and that cross-path has to be forced into existence. Once you actually stop holding that path open, it simply collapses. With Symin however, like all Self-Healers, his magic and his life force energy are inextricably bound together. Once his magic is used up, he automatically starts using his life force energy. His magic is only a flicker, very hard to sense and his life force energy is quite low.”

Dearna sighed and shook her head, saying, “Unfortunately for him, even though his problem is the depletion of his magic, his Self-Healing ability cannot tell the difference between that and a natural illness. It’s still trying to Heal him and there’s not enough energy available to do so.”

The captain told her, “The child, according to Lorry, the innkeeper's daughter, has been at the inn since yesterday afternoon. I read the reports from the guards on gate duty on all four gates yesterday afternoon before I was called to the inn. No blond haired child entered the town at any of the gates. People in dis province with blond hair are so rare that it would be such an unusual occurrence that the guards would have noted it. He must've used Concealment.”

“Concealment!!” Dearna nodded saying sharply, “Yes!! From what I have read, that is a very intense spell! It would have put the child in his present condition, very easily!”

“Now to his treatment,” Dearna continued briskly. “He is in a Healing trance, as I said. If left to run its natural course it would take ten days to two weeks. If he was an overweight child, there would be little concern; the trance would turn the fat into energy. As you can see he's slender to start with and has no fat to spare. The Self-Healing would start scavenging from other areas of his body. It would be very debilitating and possibly fatal. I'll have to come here a couple of times a day to give him extra energy using my Healing ability.”

Dearna gave a decisive nod of her head, saying, “That will reduce the time of recovery to perhaps four or five days. He should come out of the healing trance at that point, though he still might require a lot of sleep and rest for several days after that to recover fully. At that point I'll come in to see him once a day but I foresee no problems.”

The captain said, “I'll haveta go to the town hall and inform the Mayor. We'll also have to send a message out to the Ascalon estate.” Dearna leaned down and unbuckled Symin’s belt unbuttoning his waistband and fly and slipping his short trousers down his slender legs and off. Straightening she folded them and placed them on the chair beside the bed. Turning to the Captain, she held out her right hand and the Captain dropped a silver piece into it. Silently she turned and exited the room. The Captain turned and followed her, clumping down the stairs on his way to inform the Mayor.

DAY SIX-Mayor's House-642 AF-7th of Seld

Symin stretched as he woke up slowly. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. He expected to see the whitewashed ceiling of his room and wrinkled his nose when he saw a beige colored ceiling instead. Then he remembered what he had done and jerked up to his elbows, biting his lower lip, fear in his heart as he looked around the room.

It was quite small and had only the bed and a chair beside it and a washstand in the corner with a jug of water. There was a washbasin, a towel and a washcloth on the top and on the shelf below, a chamber pot. While the towns and cities of Camron had good sewer systems, water closets were still rare and many people still used chamber pots. People would take the chamber pots and empty them directly into the sewer system.

The sun was shining through the single window, covered with closely spaced bars. He reached for his magic but it was still very low, even Empathy was not available.

Symin threw back the light cover and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was naked and he saw no clothing in sight. Unconcerned he pushed himself to his feet. He was still weak and he felt somewhat shaky but he felt fairly steady on his feet as he padded to the door and tried the doorknob. Finding the door unlocked, he pushed it open. A man in the uniform of the Town Guard was sitting across the hallway. He looked up and regarded the nude boy inquisitively.

Symin gray eyes were wide; the only sign of his fear and his voice was steady. “I would be obliged if you would tell me where I am?”

The man nodded saying, “This be the Mayor's house youngun and you been here for five days gettin' well. This be the sixth day.”

Symin swallowed, saying hesitantly, “Well I guess you had better inform the Mayor that I'm awake.” He closed the door gently and went back to the bed. He laid down on his right side, arm on the pillow and head resting on his arm, knees bent and feet close to his bottom.

He heard the guard yell down the stairs “Madame. Would ye send one of the maids to the Mayor and tell him the prisoner is awake.”

Symin repeated, in a whisper, as his fear when traveling to Bremen was realized, “PRISONER!!”

Still weary he dozed off but woke and pushed himself to a sitting position when he heard someone lift the latch the door was pushed open. The Town Guard held it open so that the Mayor could enter and then closed it behind him.

The man was dressed in the ubiquitous short trousers. These were a dark blue as was his shirt. His vest was the somber black of a Judge with the red stripe across the left breast indicative of a Judge with the power of High Justice. In other words he had the power to impose the sentence of death, or a punishment that would probably lead to death.

He sat in the chair and looked at the boy on the bed saying sternly, “I sent a message to your family. They advised that they would do nothing. That when your punishment was decided upon to inform them. You are in a great deal of trouble, young Master Ascalon. Unless you can give me a good explanation you face a punishment, which I have already decided upon and it is very harsh.”

Symin's gray eyes were wide as he remembered what Cartan had told him, that there might be spies in Bremen. If he told the Mayor the truth, there might only be a very small chance that any spies would ever find out about it. But Symin wasn't going to take that chance. Couldn't, wouldn't take that chance.

Symin choked out through a tightening throat beginning to tremble. “I can give no explanation, Sir.”

The Mayor looked at the boy's sternly, “Are you sure boy? The Edict itself doesn't give me much leeway, but I have instructions from the Crown that give me even less.”

Symin shook his head and breathed out a tiny “No, sir.”

The man frowned and shook his head, “I have never ordered a child of your age to be executed and I shall not start now. Unfortunately many of the alternatives would also end in your death, so would be no better than execution.”

“I have decided on a punishment which was once used instead of the death penalty. That penalty was the taking of the offender's sight.” Symin opened his mouth in horror staring at the Mayor with fear chilled gray eyes.

The man was uncomfortable under the gaze of fearful eyes and looked away. He said, “I`m sorry, child. I have the authority to send it to the King for a final determination but I take my responsibilities seriously and I shall not do so. If the King decided the punishment I hand down was not harsh enough, he would react with even harsher punishment. The King is a good man, but he is a hard man as well.” Looking Symin in the eye again, “I lived in the capital for over ten years. He would have no hesitation in ordering your execution, despite your youth. Later today Dearna the Healer will give you a sleeping potion and then use her magical abilities to permanently take your sight.”

He got up abruptly as Symin hunched his shoulders and tears began to flow down his cheeks. When he reached the door the Mayor looked back at the nude crying boy shaking his head in pity and opened the door closing it silently behind him.

After he was cried out Symin wiped his eyes on his arm. Going over to the washstand he poured some water from the jug into the washbasin. After using the chamber pot to empty his bladder he washed his face and hands then returned to the bed and lay down again. Hands clasped under his head on the pillow he stared at the ceiling.

Symin's fear and horror were under control now and he wouldn't break down again. From the time, he had said he would deliver the message stone he had expected punishment, in fact he had expected to die and at least he would be alive.

Symin thought briefly on the response his family had given and he didn't blame them. They had had one son executed for treason and had suffered harsh consequences as a result. They were distancing themselves from him as much as possible, hoping to avoid any additional repercussions.

After a while, Symin's eyes closed with weariness and he slept deeply. He didn't awaken when a young serving maid appeared with a tray which she placed on the chair and then returned a few minutes later and draped a pair of dark blue short trousers over the back of the chair. She gave his shoulder a shake before she left the second time and as he was waking up he heard the door close.

Symin pushed himself up onto his elbows and noticing the food sat up swinging his legs over the side and began to eat hungrily. He mused with a bittersweet comment “I guess you can eat before your own execution,” then his voice lowered to a whisper “or worse!!” because he wasn't sure whether losing his sight would be worse than death.

There was a large bowl of stew, a couple of large slices of buttered bread, a glass of milk and two small apples. He finished everything and rubbing his small full stomach, he belched loudly, giggling in spite of his anxiety.

Symin picked up the short trousers and examined them. The belt was his, but the short trousers didn't have the Ascalon crest above the hem. He rubbed the crest tattooed on his right arm. “I guess this is enough to show who I am.”

Symin pulled the shorts trousers over his feet, stood to pull them up, buttoned up his fly and waistband and fastened his belt. They were a little big but not noticeably so. After a few minutes, he began to get very sleepy, not simply with the weariness he’d had since he had awakened and he realized that the food had been drugged. Already sitting on the side of the bed, he collapsed backward as the drug did its work and in a brief period of time, he was unconscious.

Some time later the door opened, the Healer Dearna looking in. Seeing Symin lying back on the bed she nodded with approval, yet there was a sour look on her face. “All right Your Honor. He's unconscious. I can go ahead and carry out the punishment.”

“I don't see why I have to be here. Surely my presence isn't necessary?” queried the Mayor with apprehension.

“Your Honor, this is contrary to almost everything I've been taught!! You ordered the punishment and you ordered me to do it, so get in here!!” Dearna, snarled, “or despite your orders and the fact that you're my cousin, you can find another Healer!!”

He barked back at her, “Damn it, Dearna, I'm just as reluctant as you are about this!! You've been in the capital!! Do you think the King would have any reluctance in having someone chop off this child's head?!!”

Dearna sighed, “No, you're right Tomma, but I'm not going to be alone while I do this and I'll not subject my apprentice to this unpleasantness. That means you're the chosen one, whether you want to be or not!”

She approached the bed, swung Symin's legs onto it and moved him up until his head was on the pillow. Unbuckling his belt and unbuttoning his waistband and fly she pulled his short trousers down his legs and off. She was too distracted to fold them neatly as she had done the last time and simply dropped them on the chair. She took a small stone out of her pouch.

Dearna put the stone to Symin's forehead explaining what she was doing. “We've known for a long time that a nerve exits from the back of the eyes and goes into the brain. I am going to use this stone to concentrate on that area and burn out the sight nerve, past the point of regeneration by even a Great Mage Healer.”

With a look of distaste on her face Dearna reached into the boy's eyes with her Healing ability and did exactly that. It only took about two minutes. Removing the stone from the boy's forehead she spat out, “It's done!! Use more of the potion to keep him asleep for a few more days!! That'll give him more time to recover completely from his earlier use of magic!! That will let me check on him while he's asleep and let me give him additional energy! I don't know whether I could face him, if he was awake when I examined him!!” She turned to the man and held out the stone, “Here take this and get rid of it for me. I never want to see the thing again!! And keep your money!!!" She spat out, "I will accept no payment for doing something this distasteful!!!”

She turned and stalked out of the room and he could hear her sandals loudly clattering down the stairs. He looked at Symin shaking his head wordlessly then turned following her.

DAY TEN-Mayor's House, The Estate, The Plateau-642 AF-11th of Seld

Symin stirred restlessly, then woke up. He was lying on his back. He opened his eyes onto blackness and brought his hand up to his face. Even inches from his his eyes, he could see nothing. His small shoulders sagged and his lips trembled. Then he realized that his Empathy was back, that he could feel someone and he recognized him. “Maxim!!!” he yelled, lurching to his elbows.

Suddenly the older boy was kneeling beside his bed, taking Symin's right hand in both of his, tears splashing onto the small hand of his young Master and the young boy could feel the pity in his mind. Suddenly Symin for some reason felt at peace. During his long sleep, his mind had come to terms with the darkness that would be his companion for the rest of his life.

Pulling his hand from Maxim's he carefully touched his tearstained cheek. “Don't be sad for me Maxim. It was my choice. I really didn't expect to still be alive. It's a time for joy, not for sorrow!” Symin took a deep breath, “What time is it Maxim?”

Maxim's choked voice answered, “It's just before nine in the morning Master.”

“I want to go home, Maxim. Is it allowed?” Symin asked anxiously.

Maxim sniffed back his tears “That's why I'm here, Master. Anya and Atine are in the stables and I'm to bring you home as soon as you can travel.”

“Good!” said Symin. “I want to leave this town. And I never want to come here again!!” he said vehemently. “Help me up.”

On his feet, he swayed for a second but Maxim was there to steady him. He fingered his penis that was hard from the need to urinate giggling, his bladder fit to burst, “I think I need to use the chamber pot first.”

Maxim led him over to the corner and he heard the chamber pot being placed on the floor. Symin giggled again, “I'm afraid you're going to have to aim it for me as well.” He felt Maxim's hand on his penis, retracting his foreskin, and, with a sigh of relief, Symin let go hearing the water splash into the chamber pot.

“That sure feels better,” Symin said as he was led back to the bed. Maxim handed him a pair of short trousers telling him, “These are your favorite brown ones and they returned your dagger too.”

Symin could feel the bed behind his legs and he sat down. Feeling the short trousers, he made sure he had them facing the right direction and raising his leg, he placed his feet one at a time into the trouser legs. He stood to pull them up to his waist, fastened the buttons and did up the belt.

“I've got your sandals as well; do you want me to put them on for you?” Maxim inquired.

“No, I want to do it myself!” Symin said firmly. He took first the right sandal and then the left taking somewhat longer than he normally would to put them on, but not by much.

“Put your hand on my arm and we'll head for the stables.” Maxim told him.

Maxim led him carefully to the stairs and then down. Symin was a little awkward on the stairs and he was glad of the firm presence of Maxim just ahead of him. He could feel three people watching him, but he didn't recognize them. Once out the door Symin took a deep breath and lifted his sightless eyes up to the sun, he whispered, “Oh, I'm glad to be out of doors again. I didn't know if I would ever feel the sun on my face again.” and he could feel the sympathy coming from Maxim.

It only took them a few minutes to reach the stable where the animals were waiting. Maxim said to him, “There's a bench here Master Symin, why don't you sit here while I saddle Anya and Atine.”

He was back very quickly and handed Anya's reins to Symin. She lowered her head as Symin began to caress her, “Hello girl, it's sure nice to be able to pet you again,” he told her.

She whuffled at him and he breathed deeply taking in her familiar smell. He felt Maxim sit down beside him and the anxiety in his mind. Symin turned his head towards the older boy and asked, “I can tell there's something wrong. What is it?”

Maxim took a deep breath letting it out before speaking his voice tense with the bad news, “Your grandfather refuses to allow you back into the castle at this time. He says you'll have to make do with the hut on The Plateau for a while.”

Symin had an amused look on his small face, “Did you think I would be mad? Come on. I know my grandfather lots better than you. I'm certainly not surprised. Besides, I like the hut better than the castle anyway. I'd live there for the rest of my life if I was allowed to and I'd be completely happy.”

Maxim let out a breath of relief, “Minna said that's how you would react, but I wasn't sure. I know I'd miss my family if I wasn't allowed to visit them and I didn't know about you. I'm glad. I'm still going to be your personal servant. One of the other huts has been fixed up and they're moving a flock of sheep up to The Plateau and a shepherd, so there'll be an adult around. Minna insisted on fixing up the hut that's going to be ours and she's going to wait there until we get there.”

“Then let’s not keep her waiting!” Standing up Symin pulled the reins over Anya's head then he grasped the saddle horn. He turned to Maxim and gave a emphatic “No!!” to the startled older boy.

“I know you were going to offer to help me, but if it's something that I can do on my own, I'll do it. Help me only if I ask for it.” Then he grinned, his gap-toothed grin. “Well if I fall on my face I think you can pretty well figure out that I need help.”

Symin grabbed the saddle horn again with his left hand and with the reins in his right hand, he felt down until he was touching the stirrup. Raising his left foot, he placed it into the stirrup and easily swung into the saddle. He cocked his head listening until he could hear that Maxim was also mounted. Symin said absently, “Take the reins and lead the way. Okay then, let’s be on our way.”

It was a bit disconcerting to be on a pony and unable to see anything and the feeling of strangeness only worsened. He was having trouble getting used to the odd sensation.

Once outside the walls Maxim stopped, telling Symin that, “One of the men showed me a way to get from here up to The Plateau's wagon route.”

After about a half hour of riding, Symin said to Maxim, “Stop for a couple of minutes, will you Maxim?” He dismounted and began to hop around a little turning and stretching, inadvertently moving away from Anya.

Maxim looked on with astonishment and Symin could feel his amazement and grinned at him. “It's your turn to laugh now Maxim. Now I've got a sore butt and cramps in my legs too.”

He began to rub his bottom and massage his bare thighs for a few minutes. Finally, he straightened and putting his hands on his hips, “Well I'll be…! Help me Maxim, I think I lost my ride!”

Symin could feel Maxim's amusement as the older boy said, “I think I can help you get back to Anya. Start turning to your left. Stop. Now she's about ten feet right in front of you.” Symin held out his hands and began to walk straight ahead.

“Now turn a bit to your right. Enough, Anya's saddle is about three paces directly ahead of you.”

Symin cautiously advanced until he could actually touch his pony, reached up with his left hand and followed the same procedure as he had done at the stable and was soon safely back in the saddle.

The rest of the journey was without mishap. Though he still had a sore bottom, the cramps didn't return. Finally, on the Plateau close to the huts Maxim said, “I can see Minna waiting for us.”

Finally, they reached their destination and Symin could feel her enormous presence in his mind and threw himself out of the saddle into her arms. Cradled against her enormous bosom the boy began to cry, this time with relief. He was home, after a journey that had changed his life completely and irrevocably was over.

DAY ELEVEN-The Plateau-642 AF-12th of Seld

Symin opened his eyes onto darkness, as he would for the rest of his life. He had accepted his blindness, but still he gave a sigh of regret for what now could never be. He would never be a knight now, never fight for his country. He felt comforted by the steady breathing of a sleeping Maxim in the bed beside him.

Already Symin thought of Maxim as much more than simply a servant boy, hired to be his companion. The life shattering events that he had shared with the older boy had made them much more than simply very distant relatives. Much closer than even the children of his aunts and uncles. There was warmth between the two boys and Symin knew that it would continue to grow and become much more than simply friendship.

He realized that he needed to relieve himself and swung his legs over the side of the bed, trying not to wake Maxim Symin was determined to be independent, determined not to simply let someone lead him around by the hand. Standing up, he remembered Maxim leading him around last night, learning where things were located. He visualized what he had memorized. From the bed where he was standing to the table was five paces; he moved towards it and he was pleased when he touched the side of the table.

Four more paces to the door, carefully down the steps and twenty paces to the latrine. He’d only gone a couple of steps when he knew he should have put his sandals on. He wasn’t used to going barefoot, but he decided not to go back for them.

Symin didn’t make it without incident; he fell once and scraped his knee painfully when he did so. Sitting up he felt the painful area on his knee and realized that it wasn’t bleeding. From what he had been told about his Self-Healing ability, he knew it would be gone in a couple of hours.

Pushing himself to his feet, Symin realized that he had lost track of where he was. He stood with his hands on his hips, exasperated with himself. Then he giggled, becoming conscious that his nose was telling him in which direction to go.

While the little outbuilding didn’t stink, not after Minna had been here, there was no hiding its purpose and following his nose, he soon was touching the rough baked mud brick of the small building and made his way to the door.

The latrine was a two holer, and, while Symin only had to pee, he realized that he would have to sit. It would be impossible to aim the stream of water otherwise, so he sat and pushed his penis down so it was pointing downward and let go and he was much relieved.


Getting back to the hut was easier, sliding one foot forward and making sure there was firm footing before setting it down, holding his hands in front of him. He was concentrating on walking and when Maxim spoke, it startled him a bit. “Are you all right, Master Symin?” and Symin could feel the concern in his voice and feel it with his Empathy.

Symin continued on until his outstretched hand touched Maxim’s chest, before replying. He said firmly, “I’m fine! I can feel you’re a little worried, but you shouldn’t be! Sure I’m going to take a lot of tumbles, but as long as I can possibly do something myself, I will.”

Maxim said in agreement, “Yes, Master Symin.” And Symin felt the concern leaving Maxim’s mind.

Symin said seriously, “Please don’t call me Master. Because of the last few days I think our relationship has already become much deeper than simply Master and servant.”

He could feel the delight in Maxim’s mind as he said, “Yes, Mas.., yes Symin.” And Maxim reached out and ruffled Symin’s hair gently, the already growing love evident to both of them.

Symin felt a spike of glee from Maxim, suddenly he was suspicious and he had every right to be. Abruptly the older boy grabbed him and then they were on the dusty ground and Symin was writhing in uncontrollable giggles as Maxim began tickling him, being very good at it. Obviously, it was something he was accustomed to doing.

Symin found the experience quite satisfying. He had seen his cousins being tickled by their parents or their brothers and sisters on a regular basis. Only a few times had one of his cousins tickled him and he had never found it a joyous occasion as he did now.

After a couple of minutes, he hiccupped a couple of times and Maxim stopped tickling him at that point just sitting on him and holding him down. Symin asked, “Why did you do that? Not that I minded,” he admitted with a grin.

Symin could hear the grin in his voice as Maxim said, “I thought things were getting too solemn for me. This always seems to work with my nieces and nephews.” He hesitated for a moment, then more seriously, “I know you’re an Empath and can feel what I feel for you. I just wanted to test it out, so I could know it as well.”

Symin decided that Maxim needed a good tickling too and with a quick movement, Maxim suddenly found himself on the bottom. He was astonished at the strength in Symin’s small body, realizing that the younger boy was much stronger than he was. Symin began tickling him then. He wasn’t as ticklish as Symin was, but he was still ticklish and he was writhing on the dusty ground, uncontrollable giggles coming out of his mouth.

When Symin felt he had sufficiently evened the score he stopped and hesitantly he leaned forward and kissed Maxim on the forehead. He admitted seriously to Maxim, “I’ve never kissed anyone before except for Minna.” Maxim reached up and ruffled his hair again.

Then Symin grinned, his gap-toothed grin, saying as he got off of Maxim, “I can’t see us obviously, but my suspicion is that we probably need to have a wash.”

Maxim said with an equally large grin in his voice, “Indeed young Symin. Indeed we do.”

Symin asked him, “Would you go get my sandals? It’ll be quicker than me fumbling for them. We’ll go over to the pond and we can do some splashing and get clean at the same time.”

Maxim darted into the hut. When he returned, the two naked boys headed for the pond to do just that. It wasn’t deep enough for swimming, which was fine with Maxim since he couldn’t swim anyway, but the water was refreshing.

DAY TWELVE-The Plateau-642 AF-13th of Seld

Symin held the piece of wood in his trembling hand chewing on his lower lip. Maxim could see the worry on his small face. He knelt down in front of the younger boy and took the small hands holding the wood in his.

He asked with a serious tone in his voice, “Symin. Do you carve because you need to carve, or because you want to make beautiful things?”

Maxim felt Symin’s hands relax in his and the worry was disappearing from his face. Symin said, “I like making beautiful things but more than that, I need to carve.” He gave a giggle, thinking back. “When I first started I certainly didn’t make nice-looking things. It took time before I was satisfied with what I had done.”

He gave a smile saying, “Thank you Maxim!”

Maxim stood up and said gravely, “I liked farming, but I wasn’t very good at it. Oh my farming magic is as good as my father’s or anybody that I know. However, I’m not ruthless enough. When I release my magic to a plant, I can’t force myself to stop before it has everything it needs.”

Maxim waved his hand toward the door of the hut, “Now my path lies in another direction, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop growing things. Like you needing to carve, I need to grow things. There’s a nice spot where there used to be a kitchen garden. It’s small enough that I don’t have to be ruthless as I would with a whole field of crops.”

Symin nodded with a solemn look on his face, “Minna and Sivvin are the only ones in the castle that know I carve things. Sivvin is a woodworker himself and he gave me some pointers. I didn’t want anyone else to know, ever. If my father had found out he might have forbidden me to carve and I don’t know what I would have done then.”

Maxim turned and looked at the stove. It was identical to the one on which he had learned to cook. He said, “Pancakes and honey for lunch and steak and greens for supper with cider to drink. That all right for you?” he asked.

When he didn’t get an answer, he turned and saw that Symin had drawn his dagger and was working on the piece of wood, concentrating fully on the carving, no longer aware of anything else.


Maxim ate a piece of pancake and washed it down with a swig of cider and he looked at the two carvings sitting on the table in front of him. One that Symin had done this morning and the other a couple of months ago.

He shook his head with astonishment and said honestly, “If I didn’t know which was which I wouldn’t be able to tell when they were done.” and looking at Symin he saw the smile of satisfaction an ecstatic look on his small face. He heard a loud, *Hurray!!!* and Symin pumped his fist in the air.

For a second he thought that Symin had yelled out loud, but he realized with astonishment that the younger boy's lips hadn't moved.

Maxim said with amazement in his voice, "I heard that!!!" He protested, "But that's impossible!!!"

Symin showed his amazement as well for a couple of seconds, but being a much higher Magic User than Maxim, with several abilities already evident, he accepted it much more quickly.

He said with quiet satisfaction in his mind as he said in Mind-Speech, a big grin on his face, *Obviously, it's not impossible, because we're doing it.*

DAY THIRTEEN-The Plateau-642 AF-14th of Seld

Maxim looked down at the book in front of him, panic on his face. He said, “I can’t read that good. I never saw any use for it, though some of the family are really good at it.”

Symin said firmly but with a bit of a grin on his face, “I need you to be able to read for me. Obviously, it’s not something I can do for myself. I love it here on The Plateau, but I miss the library at the castle.” The grin was gone and there was sadness on his small face, as he continued, “Not that it would do me any good if I was there.”

“If you read to me a couple of hours each day, then it won’t be so bad. At least I can still learn.” Symin told him.

Maxim gave a sigh, but then said, “I’ll try. Don’t be surprised if I’m lousy at it.”

He began to read, slowly and stumblingly at first but as he looked at the intense pleasure on Symin’s face and then down at the words on the page he found himself talking more smoothly and confidently.

DAY FOURTEEN-The Plateau-642 AF-16th of Seld

Symin slipped his short trousers down his legs and stepped out of them, kneeling on the grass to undo his sandals and naked he stood up. He asked, “Locate me please, Maxim.”

Maxim told him, “You’re five yards from the pool and facing it directly.”

Symin nodded and taking a run, he dove into the pond. After a few minutes of play, he stood up and faced Maxim, saying, “Get your clothes off and get into the pool.”

Maxim sighed, “I hoped you had forgotten about teaching me how to swim.” As Symin grinned at him and shook his head firmly, with resignation Maxim began to undress, though he went barefoot so he didn’t have to remove any sandals.

Soon he was in the pool with Symin, learning how to swim. Maxim found that Symin was a good teacher and he was soon swimming a couple of strokes and since the pond was so small, that was all that could be managed anyway.

Symin said, “After you’ve had a few more lessons we’ll go up to the lake I told you about, to get some real swimming in.”

By this time, Maxim had realized that swimming wasn’t as hard as he had thought it would be and he was now looking forward to testing the lake.

DAY FIFTEEN-The Plateau-642 AF-20th of Seld

Symin stood with the gift he had received from Sivvin, the new Captain of the Ascalon guards, who had accompanied Minna to The Plateau. He asked, “What am I going to do with this?”

Sivvin said scornfully, “You’re blind, Symin, not dead. You have other senses aside from your eyes. My uncle Endin taught me how to use a staff and to the day he died I never beat him and he’d been blind since I was a small boy.”

Symin held up the staff hesitantly and he heard a swish and then Sivvin knocked the staff out of his hands. He bent down and felt around until he had it back in his hands. Standing back up he got ready to return to the lesson in staff fighting that he was getting.

After having the staff knocked out of his hands a few more times, he began to concentrate much more deeply and he was able to hold the staff even when it was struck. By the end of the strenuous lesson was over he was actively using his hearing and something else which he wasn’t aware of at the time. He was able to block the man’s staff on occasion rather than waiting for it simply to hit his staff.

Sivvin said, “That’s enough for now. You’ve done very well. In fact even better than I expected,” and Symin felt warmth go through him at the man’s praise.

DAY FIFTY–The Plateau-642 AF-21st of Rege

Maxim was at the castle for supplies and Timoh the shepherd was out with his flock. Symin was sitting on the front steps of his hut carving, using his dagger. A series of small animal carvings were on a small table next to him. He was presently working on a carving of Clar, Timoh's sheep dog.

He looked up as he felt a presence approaching. It was unfamiliar and yet familiar at the same time. Then he knew who it was. “Cartan, is that you?”

“Now who else would it be, my fine young noble?” the man said with amusement.

Symin picked up the staff leaning against the wall of the hut and stood up to greet the man. The man stopped in front of him and Symin lifted his face up. “Did the message get through?” he asked.

The boy felt large fingers brush over his eyes, “Yes little one. Your sacrifice was not in vain.” Cartan told him, sorrow and admiration in his deep voice.

“Can you tell me what the message was about, or is it still a secret?” Symin asked with intense interest apparent in his voice.

Cartan nodded and said, “Yes, it's still somewhat of a secret, but the Prince has given me permission to tell you what it concerned. Let's sit down.” He sat on the top step and Symin sat beside him. “One of our people in Madron discovered that there would be an attempt on the life of the younger son of the Madron's King and his escort. It was intended to be blamed on Camron. It could very well have worked and it could have caused a war between our two countries. Once Prince Tamen received the message, the Far-Speaker employed by the court sent the message to Madron's King. They were able to spring a trap on the conspirators and defuse the situation.

Cartan sighed with regret, “We didn't know if the plotters had spies in Bremen or not, that's why it had to remain such a secret. If they had learned a secret message had come out of Madron they might have guessed their plot was no longer feasible and switch to another plan that would be more likely to succeed and more dangerous for Camron.”

“But what are you doing here?” Symin asked.

The man smiled looking at the small boy with approval in his eyes, “Prince Tamen learned about your sacrifice and I am here to bring you a couple of gifts. The Edict of Exile will be lifted immediately; all provisions calling for future monetary penalties will be lifted. If you wish, your family will be informed it was because of your sacrifice.”

Cartan looked at Symin and could tell the boy was mulling it over. Finally, Symin said, “No. Maxim knows, he's a distant relative and Minna knows. They're the important ones to me. I don't care if anyone else knows.” He paused examining his feelings, “Besides something is telling me that my family shouldn’t know about what I did, not right now. It would be a mistake.”

Cartan, unaware of how important that feeling would eventually become, didn’t pay any attention to that part of Symin’s statement. He told him, “The Prince thought you might decide not to tell them. Your grandfather has been appealing the Edict on a regular basis. The King will tell your family that he decided to end the Edict early because of those appeals. Prince Tamen gave me a couple of gifts for you alone.” He took out of his pouch a necklace with a silver chain from which dangled a small sapphire in a silver mounting.

Cartan put the chain over Symin's head, telling him, “This stone has been sitting in the Royal Treasury for two or three hundred years. You can attune the stone to yourself by the same method you used to attune the stones to Sinya.”

Symin put the stone to his forehead and concentrated, remembering how he had done it in the past. With a snap things came into focus “Hey, I can see again!!” he yelled excitedly. His excitement dimmed a little and he looked at Cartan sighing a little with disappointment, “But it's not as good as real sight, is it? Things are in black and white and more than five yards away it's as dark as ever.”

“No,” Cartan shook his head with regret, “It can't replace what you lost. All it can do is compensate a little bit for that loss and as you get older and stronger, the view will get better. It will never be as good as having your sight back. What it does is give you a Sense of Perception, which is an ability that some Magic Users have.”

Cartan gave a brief smile, telling him, “Once attuned it gives any strong Magic User that ability. It does have one advantage over real sight. It not only allows you to Perceive the outside of something, you can also Perceive the inside. For example, it will allow you to read again and not only can you read a book, you can read any page without having to open the book. And last,” he groped in his pouch again and pulled out another stone, shaped almost like one of a pair of dice, similar in color to the personal token he had originally given Symin, though a little lighter. He handed it to the boy. Symin felt a tingle as he took it in hand and the royal crest appeared on the stone.

Cartan said with a smile of satisfaction, “This is a Royal Token Stone from Prince Tamen. There aren't many of them around. Now that the trouble down south is abating, the Courier's transferred there are starting to trickle back to their normal Posts. Within two or three months, all of the Posts on the Northern Road will be back up to their normal complement of two Magic User Couriers each. If you ever need aid, take this to any government official who is a Magic User or take it to the nearest Post. They will do their utmost to help you on behalf of the Prince. Many other government officials, even those who aren't Magic Users, are familiar with its look.”

He stood up and gave a bow to Symin, “I salute you little one, for your honor and courage and I hope we will soon meet again.”

At that, he turned and was gone.






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