Kestra was distraught and neither sleep nor endless practice would calm her. She accepted Bronwyn’s decision, and even understood her reasons; but she didn’t expect Rowe’s reaction – at least towards her. Despite that, Kestra didn’t hold any ill will toward him or her; yet she didn’t know if she would be staying with her friends or leaving. If they all felt as Rowe did (even her cousin Lucan expressed his disappointment), then she would be forced to depart. Something she didn’t want to do.
To honor Bronwyn, Kestra couldn’t let things simply go sour. She had made some good friends and they had done many good deeds together. By Torne’s will she had gained both important life lessons and achieved a measure of the fame she so craved. She would not let the freedom dearly bought by Bronwyn to go to waste. By Bronwyn’s example she hoped to enjoy and cherish life and freedom more than even before. She hoped to do so with her close friends around her. Rowe, who was most angry at her, was the key. Should he wish her to stay, she would, and by his understanding of what happened that last day of the Crucible perhaps the others would grant her a measure of undrestanding as well.
Finding Rowe wasn’t hard. The followers of Torne, happy people they were, had grown somber in the presence of the distraught Rowe. kestra simply followed the mood. Where acolytes were happy, Rowe could not be found; but where they quickly moved away with a somber mood on their faces, she knew she was close. She saw him in an antiroom reading some text or another; brooding over it’s contents and taking notes.
Kestra, who hadn’t spoken to him since that dreadful night, leaned in and knocked on the chamber’s partially open door saying, “Rowe, do you have some time to talk?”
He raised his face from the tome he was studying and focused his hawkish eyes on the elf. He closed the book and put it back on the shelf. The writing on the spine was in the language of Daemon and revealed nothing of what it was he was looking at to Kestra.
The team had been in Carn for a couple days now, ever since they’d arrived in the middle of the night from the city of Ozur to deliver the box containing the bloodstone necklace to the temple. He done a lot of thinking and work in his room since then, but he’d also been to see his father, and often roamed the halls of this temple as he brooded and worked out a plan for what action he take next.
His gaze took in Kestra’s appearance and mood quickly, reading her almost as efficiently as he’d read the book in his hands a moment ago. He nodded once his affirmative but waited silently for Kestra to begin.
She entered, but did not sit. Walking closer to him she said, “Rowe, it seems Torne has done with me what must be done, but the future is uncertain. Based on your former reaction, and I do not blame you for it, you held me at least partially responsible for what happened to Bronwyn. That is fair. But how do we proceed together now. Or do we?” She had lost her older, excitable nature and was calm in speaking to a man she considered her close friend.
Rowe looked at her for a moment, his eyes seeming to bore into her. But, they were not unfeeling. On the contrary, he seemed to be looking into himself as much as he was looking into Kestra.
“I have to continue. I’d be a fool to refuse help. Ultimately, though, it has to be your choice whether you can continue to help me do what must be done. But before forgiveness can be given, I need you to understand what was sacrificed. She bought a lot with her life, but bought your freedom in a way that was jut for you. She did something for you she did for none other.
“Bronwyn isn’t just my best friend,” he continued. “She was my only family, ever since I left home. I’m 18 now and I’ve been with Bronwyn since I was just a young boy fleeing a harsh father and what I felt was an uncaring home. We’ve been everywhere, done everything together. We’ve risked our lives for each other on more adventures together than I could recount to you now. What hurt me most was that she wouldn’t talk to me about her decision, that she didn’t trust we could find another way. She’s alone now, facing a real threat that I really believe will take all of us and more to stop.
“You put that collar on her, Kestra. You sealed the deal, though I think now the deal had been made well before your part in it was set. I’m sorry I put hands on you. But I think you may still not understand the enormous price that was paid for your freedom. I’m not sure that you understand yet what it means that freedom can only be taken or given. When it is taken, it leaves you with nothing that is yours. Nothing. When it is given back, it grants you everything. Bronwyn gave up everything to help you and those men with you, and to give me … give me what was in the box. She gave you something else, too, when you put that collar on her. She gave you the knowledge of what it feels to take freedom away from another person.”
His eyes seemed to simmer in the pain that burned in his heart. He ran a hand through his scruffy mane. “You are not the only one to bear responsibility for what has happened to Bronwyn. Through my own ignorance, I’ve thrown her to the sharks when I would have protected her.”
“That act was a mistake, but then I’m against Bronwyn’s plan and what she did to put it in place. I will forgive you what you did to her.”
Kestra replied, “Thank you. Though I may understand more than you may know, and I truly appreciate your forgiveness. You should know that I planned on defying Vinneaus and take the consequences if what he asked harmed my friends. I said as much to Bronwyn, but she wouldn’t let that happen.” Kestra proceeded to tell Rowe of her conversation with Bronwyn under the trees in the courtyard of the house they had stayed at.
“And now you know what actually happened. She kept me in the dark until the last second – and you know, I trusted her too; but I don’t feel betrayed by her. I was saved by her sacrifice, as were the others. If I had gone back on my word, I do not know what would have happened, but knowing Vinneaus, it wouldn’t have been pleasent for either Bronwyn or myself. No doubt, things would be much worse. But she wanted me to stay with the group, to support you all – especially, I believe, you Rowe. Please, don’t blame yourself for what happened.”
Rowe had listened to every word Kestra said when she recounted the story of her conversation with Bronwyn. Now he looked away as crushing sorrow threatened to overwhelm him again. “She’s doing what she thinks is right. But I never asked, nor wanted, her to give me her life. Never that. My life isn’t more important than anyone else’s, and certainly not more than that of my friends.
“But she’s still safe — for now. It will be up to us to ensure that her sacrifice isn’t made in vain. And, it will be up to us, to save her. Directly, if we can. At the very least by making sure she doesn’t have to make that final sacrifice. I want her alive, not her life. As long as she has her life, there is still hope. Hope can only die with those that carry it. We are that hope. We must not fail.”
Rowe wasn’t looking at Kestra when he said those awful, ominous things, nor did Kestra know where he could possibly have learned them. It sounded like the grim, final note of prophecy to her admittedly uneducated ears. In fact, in looking at him, Kestra could see now that although on the outside he was still Rowe, on the inside he’d become someone else. Someone dangerous and filled with purpose, who understood what the real price may be.
He turned back toward Kestra and she saw the sorrow and pain had drained away. What was left behind was hard and sharp. The man that was Rowe the Lucky was someone else now. “She’s right Kestra. What happened that night is not the worst that’s going to happen. Much worse may be coming and my path leads directly into the heart of the storm. I need you to know that. Do you still offer your aid to me?”
“You will never need to ask, Rowe,” replied Kestra without hesitation.
“She is my friend who taught me that living life is as important as freedom. I have much to learn on that road, but my road goes where yours does my friend.” answered the young elf. She placed her hand on his shoulder and continued, “Bronwyn told me something when I felt constant anger and rage at Vinneaus. She asked that I overcome my hatred of him and others like him and become a stronger, more opened minded person. I reject what he is and what his ilk stand for, and will fight them, but I won’t let my feelings against them eat me up inside. I won’t let them destroy me. Please, don’t let them destroy you as well.”
He wanted to say, “It’s not what my enemies do that hurt me.” But he didn’t. He held his acidic tongue. He knew he would forgive Bronwyn, too, one day. But first he needed to find a way to save her and to do that, he needed to think more clearly and stay away from such remarks. Instead, he said, “Thank you, Kestra.”
Kestra smiled, “I’m here for you, and you know you can trust me as I have given my word to you. I rarely give my word, but I always keep it.” She stepped back, grabbed a light chair, swung it round and sat down all on one graceful motion. “Well Rowe, I guess we have a lot of work to do; where do you want to start?”
“I have some ideas, but first there are some things I need to finish up here. There may also be clues I need to find at home. My home is where Trysten lived until the temple was attacked.”
“Trysten? Wasn’t than one of the names from the visions. It was one of us, yes?” replied Kestra.
“She,” he corrected, looking away. “She was *the* one,” he murmured. It seemed that he was speaking to himself, and seeing someone else among the books and shelves.
But he drew his gaze back to Kestra. “She is what this is all about, for me. You weren’t there when it happened, but I believe it was Trysten that showed me how to save the others when an army of giant spidery demons nearly caught us. It’s Trysten at the heart of my visions. She was the one that my alter ego, Rowan, loved. And I had loved her back, too.
“Something terrible happened to her two hundred years ago, Kestra. Now something terrible is stirring again and we’ve all come back to try to stop it. This time, Kestra, we can’t fail. The stakes may be even higher than they were then. We have to stop whatever is coming to save Bronwyn and we must free Trysten. I think these two things are tied together somehow.”
Kestra replied, “I can see that. Bronwyn said you were destined for another. Trysten must be that person, but I don’t know much other than the little we’ve shared and my own visions. Have you gotten everyone to tell you their visions? Do we have a rough narrative of what happened to start with?”
“Everyone’s told me what they saw, but it’s still only pieces of the whole. I think we have what we needed to know at the time, but the whole story is still hidden lost in time, hidden by our enemies long ago. We know how we connect to each other and how each of you connects to Trysten and Rowan.
“I know someone who may know the whole story. For Trysten and I, our story began here, in this temple, so I’m looking for clues here before we leave. That’s part of why I’m here in this library,” Rowe said.
“Can I help?” she asked.
He paused in thought. He didn’t think she was probably best put to use in studies, especially when much of what he needed was likely written in Deamonic. That and the fact he wasn’t completely sure what he was looking for aside from rituals that only he could perform in any case.
But he couldn’t do everything himself. He did need help doing the things he could not. “Kestra, I think you can, something that needs to be done without you being noticed.
“I need you to check up on my father. The morning after we arrived here in Carn I went to visit with him. I told him how villagers had been taken and killed in areas outlying Carn by raiders. Sir Kanderus, my father, is a loyal knight of the Arcasian realm and as such is responsible for maintaining the king’s law and peace here. He seems to have been told by someone higher up that they were insurgents and that steps had been taken to put down a revolt. He didn’t know that the raiders and slavers that attacked were not the king’s men. I advised him to look into this, told him that I believed that someone was acting against the king’s wishes and deceiving him. He’s responsible for these people and this city.
“I need to know that he’s looking into this. I believe he will, but if he doesn’t then I need to know why. If he does look into this, then I believe I will have cast him directly into the path of danger. My father doesn’t seem to care about me or what I do, but he does judge me. He always has. So, I don’t want him to know I’m checking up on him.
“And Kestra, if he finds out something, I doubt he’ll tell me. You’ll have to find out what he learns, without him knowing that you are working with me. But you must be very careful, Kestra. If he catches you and thinks you are a spy, you’ll be in terrible danger. My father was knighted by King Tertius himself on my father’s own merit. You should expect that he is one of the most capable men of the realm.”
Rowe sighed. “He could surprise me and actually tell me I was right. But I highly doubt that. He’s never conceded anything to me or praised anything I’ve ever done. But if he does treat me better this time, I’ll let you know so that you can abort your mission.”
Kestra looked enthusiastic, “I’ve been planning on building a network of informants and contacts here anyway. Someone like your father should be easy to track, but difficult to get any details. It will take time to follow-up on this, but I believe it can be done discreetly.”
“I don’t know how long we will be able to stay, but I know you’ll do your best with what you have,” Rowe said.
She nodded, “Rowe, before I start I’ll need as much information on your father and his associates as you can give me. It will help a lot.” She paused, looking pensive before continuing, “Concerning this whole reincarnation thing, I’m still fairly confused about a lot of it – most actually. You said you had pieces of the whole, but you told me before that Bronwyn wasn’t one of us whom were reincarnated, her fate was seperate. Or at least how do you know that what happends to her in Carn and the growing threat from 200 years ago are related? That doesn’t mean I don’t want to go after Bronwyn. To me, in this incarnation, that is the most important thing; but how are they related?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know anything about my father’s business other than what I already told you. As I mentioned, I left home at a very young age and went to Xyas, where I met Bronwyn.
“But concerning Bronwyn’s current fate, I know very little. She specifically avoided discussing it with me. I know that her family’s destiny is tied to an artifact, which she had been searching out her whole life. It was at the core of our adventures until we were branded as wielders and cast into a lake to drown. I know that she didn’t have an incarnation two hundred years ago that directly intersected with ours. But it does today. It very much does. We can be certain of that because she has been important to me and to all of us already this life.
“What she is doing is not yet clear to me. It has something to do with discovering what Vinneas is up to. That much I’m sure of. I have a hunch that Vinneas may be behind the raiders and slaving that happened here around Carn, as well, but proof of that can only come from nudging my father to look into it. That’s why I’ve assigned you this job. Whether my father will tell me or not, I need to know who or what was behind the coverup.
“I think you may also have something confused. She is in Ozur still, though I doubt she’ll be there for long. Vinneas will take her with him and likely keep her close. She is safe for the moment — but I’ll continue to watch over her as best I can.” He shook his head to stave off Kestra’s questions. “No, I’m not going to tell you how I can do that. That’s not important for you to know right now and it would take too long to explain. But the moment I sense she is in true danger, I intend to head directly for her.
“Now, to answer your question as to how what she’s done connects to our destiny. It’s simple, really. Although I have a hunch that what Vinneas is up to will have a direct impact on our own destinies, it doesn’t matter. He has Bronwyn. And now I’ve chosen to never rest until Bronwyn is safely back with us again. She wrote me a letter and told me that she’d give her life for me. If that’s so, then I intend to claim it. I will not let her die for me. I want her to live. So long as she is alive, she still has a destiny she can find, even if she thinks she has fulfilled one destiny.”
Kestra asked, “Are you sure Vinneas is running the slavers or mearly bought me from them? Also, do you think he may just sell Bronwyn. Maybe we could use an intermediatry to arrange a purchase?”
Rowe shrugged. “There isn’t any proof, but it makes sense. He couldn’t be directly tied to it for one thing, but it’s not illegal to purchase slaves from others. Also, the slavers that captured you are not likely to be the same ones that raided this area. Slavers can operate in any part of the world, after all, and there is no indication they are controlled by one organization.
“Sell Bronwyn?” He raised an eyebrow as he looked at Kestra, an odd habit she’d seen Bronwyn do as well. He waved his hand dismissively. “I think that is extremely unlikely. Not after the price he had to pay to get his filthy hands on her.” He did not add that based on what he saw, there seemed to be no chance the infatuated prince would let her go. Rowe suspected that Vinneas would kill her first.
“But what is it about Bronwyn that was worth it to him to give up me, the jewel, and the other three? He told me he likes to possess beautiful things, and while Bronwyn is a beauty to be sure, there must be something more – something she promised him or that she intrinsically possesses. it could be the key to getting her back from him.” asked Kestra.
He smiled humorlessly and nodded. “Now you are asking the right questions. I don’t know, but I suspect it’s tied to her destiny. Because the Hand of Fate does not point to Xyas, I believe she told one of you her secret. I’ll be talking to each of you to find out what you’re hiding for her. But that’s my task. You have yours.” His answer was cryptic to Kestra’s ears, but he knew that someone here had to know what he needed. If they would not reveal the secret to him, then valuable time would be wasted and the consequences for Bronwyn could be dire.
“Well, you know everything I know now, about Bronwyn and about Naya. I’ll being my follow-up with father. Discreetly of course.” she smiled.
He nodded. “Thank you.”
“I may have some more questions for you, but I think we all need to meet as a group and get focused on these goals. I’m not a great planner for these kind of things, but I do have ideas. I think we all trust each other, so you are right that we shouldn’t keep secrets from each other, at least not the important things. So much I’ve learned lately has been a shock. You’re father, Naya’s pedigree, and more. So, for your information, while I may have secrets and a past, I doubt they are in any way related to this situation.” said Kestra.
She could sense his mood darken again. “Tried that already.”
He tried to get hold of his anger again and took a calming breath. “Kestra, I appreciate whatever input you may have, but we’ve got to be more focused than we have been. We never even had a leader until you all chose to follow me into the Crucible, and look where it got us. To work as a team, I can’t allow the kinds of distractions that have happened in the past.
“I’ve told you what you can help me with right now. I’d like very much if you would focus on that task. I’ll handle the rest.”
She seemed non-plused and bright as she answered, “No problem. I’m on it. If you need anything else, you know where to find me.” she started to turn away and halted for a second, “I can’t speak for the others, but you are my friend; and for an elf of my tribe to call someone outside the clan, friend, is rare. I don’t know how important that is to you, but you should know that I would have tried to snatch the jewel from the dragon for you my friend. What you’ve asked me to do today is easy compared to that.”
With that she smiled and began to leave the chamber.
He watched her go with some relief. That had gone well, he thought. He worried that things might not go as well with some of the others, but that was something he would just have to handle in stride.