The grim-faced cleric had returned from his journey to his father’s home that morning. His emotions were stretched tight in a painful knot over what Bronwyn had done. The fact that his friends had let it happen felt like a twist of the knife that had already been slammed in his gut.
He’d read the letter she’d left for him at last when he was alone in his room at the temple. He didn’t know how he knew where he was going as he strode swiftly up corridors and empty stairways in the temple of Torn. His mind was wholly on what she had told him.
The temple was the tallest, largest one in Carn. The temple to Torn here was the most important temple for his god in all the lands, in fact. It was his actions here, as a boy in another life two hundred years ago that had drawn the attention of the god of Chance and Destiny. A simple foolish act to try to protect the high priestess against the kind’s right hand man, Jarvis, and somehow blossomed into hope for the temple and a dream of resistance. Torn had chosen him that day. But despite all their struggles, despite meeting strong and loyal companions, discovering an eternal love for Tristen, they had all failed back then. They had all died.
Destiny had a way of righting itself, though. Now, two hundred years later, he and all his friends were reborn and, it seemed, faced a new challenge.
Rowe passed the occasional acolyte, priest or priestess. They seemed to all recognize him here, though he was not a common visitor. Although his mind made note of this, he did not take time to consider it carefully.
When he stopped, he looked around, as if waking up. He stood now upon a balcony, looking over a carved stone railing into a beautiful, green garden below. Near the center was a small fountain disguised to look like a spring. Next to it stood an old oak tree, nearly as old as the temple itself. It still bore scorch marks from the bloodshed and slaughter that had taken place here over two centuries ago. Flowers and grass covered much of the floor of the gardens.
Near that fountain were several stone benches. He didn’t know how he knew, but he recognized that these gardens were used when near the birth of a child. Their parents would take the newborn here before their a priestess of Primya, an aspect of Torn who ruled destiny. They would ask for a blessing and present a small gift, a token of their faith and trust in Torn’s guidance. In return, the priestess would tell them what she saw of the child’s destiny.
Destiny was mutable. It changed as one lived life and made decisions. It was possible for a single person to have several destinies in life, but only one could be fulfilled. What the parents were really asking for here was assurance of a happy future. The priestess could provide that assurance, speaking of things that may be, and cautioning parents against things that could bring hardship to their child. The happy couple would then gratefully leave the temple with greater confidence than when they’d arrived.
Rowe leaned against the stone railing and hung his head. Although priestesses would provide quiet assurances to newborn parents, the truth was that destiny was not kind.
Sensing his mood, Zayne had been quiet on his long walk up here. He was something he hadn’t told his friends about yet, and the way he was feeling, Rowe didn’t care to talk to them right now. His anger over what had happened still churned in his stomach and he didn’t trust what he might say to them.
Bronwyn and he had been together since they were kids. Having seen only 18 winters even now, they had achieved a lot in a short period of time. When he’d left home, Rowe had taken ship to Xyas. He hadn’t cared where he was going at the time; he just wanted to be away from his father’s judgmental and often harsh eye. Rowe had never known his mother and his father had rarely spoken of her. Yet he knew that his father had really loved her. He suspected his father’s heart had broken when she died giving birth to Rowe and that had never really healed. Rowe had been just a boy when he left home.
He’d been lucky to run into Bronwyn at the docks in Xyas. With only the money he’d snatched from his father’s cupboard change bowl (which had held gold, but a limited amount of it), he was quickly running out of funds. Bronwyn, always a tomboy, had been playing down at the docks when they ran into each other. They’d had a lot of adventures, starting with fending off bullies, and continuing as they grew up. She’d become his best friend and more — she was his family.
Rowe dug inside his shirt and removed the letter she’d sent him to read it again. There it was, written out plainly for him to see, the thing he hadn’t seen before. Bronwyn hadn’t simply loved him as a friend or even like a brother. She’d loved him far more than that.
He lifted his face to the sky, feeling the heat of the Carnish sun warm his face. Tears finally spilled from his eyes and made shiny little streams down his cheeks. She’d never told him. It was that dread word again; destiny.
All this time, he’d hoped and dreamed of meeting Tristen, of rescuing her from whatever cruel fate had taken her out of time and space. He had never seen that Bronwyn had felt the same for him. Did he even have what it would take to save Tristen? And when he did what then? He’d had fairy-tale dreams of happily ever after. But what did he really know. Does love last lifetimes were they even meant to be together this lifetime?
Had he made a horrible mistake and passed up a chance at real love?
Rowe knew Bronwyn had sacrificed herself to do something for him and for Kestra. But her letter said she’d also done it so that she could be where she “needed to be”. She said she would give her life for him. As he stared down at the letter again re-reading those words, a cold feeling twisted in his soul. With shaking hands, he quickly folded it up and tucked it away before treacherous, falling tears would stain the page and blur her words.
It had hurt all the more that Bronwyn hadn’t told him. Not just what she felt, but that she’d spoken to almost every other friend he had and told them, at least in part, what she had needed to put her plan into play. Not one of them had warned him. No one had shared with him anything.
What Bronwyn had said in the letter was right; if she’d told him what she was going to do and how she’d felt, he would have talked her out of it. He would never have allowed her to cast herself into that lion’s den. He feared that Vinneas would destroy her. He felt with awful certainty that what she had down would set something in motion he could no longer stop.