Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book One: Through the Dark Wood Excerpt

Updated content as of 11.24.2012


How do you begin a story about a boy like Zam? A man like Zam? Frankly once you’re my age all men seem as boys no matter their age. How old am I? Well... I dwell with the ancient ones, among whom few have gray hair, and I do. I am Graffeon, and I have written much of recorded history at the will of Elyon. That is how you’ve found this book in your hand now. Whether the ink has been dry for eons or you can still smell its pungent aroma, it is my truest hope that Zam’s tale will not simply entertain you, but aid you in understanding your own story.
His story begins, I suppose, as most men’s do… at his birth. It was a dark time in the land of Cairemia. His first winter was a bitter one and his entire family died. He would have died as well, but Zam’s destiny lay along another path.
Elyon sent the messenger Angeon to deliver Zam to a childless farmer—who should have raised him as a son. But, a few short years later the farmer’s own son was born and Zam became more or less a servant. He was moved from the family home to a shack bordering the fields where the sheep grazed, and there he served the family faithfully, never begrudging his place in the world. And… when Zam’s eighteenth year approached, the next chapter of Elyon’s plan began to take shape.
It was spring….


Chapter One: Strange Visitors

It was spring. The  late afternoon  sun played  over the hills like water dancing, touching down here and there, leaving wide, shadowy gaps painted by the clouds, which retreated, then returned again, only to be broken by golden light raining down upon the grasses. The wind blew from the north, rustling the cloak of the young shepherd watching his master’s flock. The darkest shadow fell for only a moment before sunlight burst through, scattering the darkness, but the young shepherd felt something.

He scanned the flock for any sign of trouble. There rarely was when he felt this way, but this time… something was different. A lamb was missing. Running to the edge of the hill, he found strange tracks circled around a small group of sheep. He frantically searched for signs of the missing lamb.
He heard bleating in the distance. His heart pounded. His master would be angry if he lost a lamb to some wild creature.
The clouds grew darker and the light ceased to dance as the shepherd ran toward the sound. The farther he ran the more light was driven from his presence, until day was as night, and only one thin shaft of light fell… on the lamb. Wind ripped through the meadow. Trees creaked and bent. The shutters of the shepherd's distant dwelling clapped, and a broken branch from a nearby tree hurtled, too closely, past him. Yet all around the lamb the wind was calm. Within that shaft of light nothing moved.
Low growls began to rise with the wind until a cacophony of creatures just out of sight deafened the shepherd. Paralyzed by fear, he stood in the dark, his gaze fixed on the lamb at the center of the hellish gale.
A flitting shape beyond the light caught the shepherd's eye. A butterfly danced, unhindered by the nightmare, circling the lamb. The animal took no notice. The insect faded, replaced by a firefly, which continued the dance. The lamb cocked its head and followed its glow as it drifted into the dark.
Shuffling in place, the lamb watched the flickering light as it passed again and again, drifting farther into the dark each time. Enamored of the firefly’s glow, it stepped partway out of the light and the shepherd screamed for the animal to stay, but no sound escaped his mouth.
The naive creature stepped fully into the dark and the shaft of light faded. The firefly’s glow—now a malignant green—grew brighter, reflecting in the eyes of a hundred unearthly beasts, each drooling for this morsel that had wandered from safety. The shepherd’s breath caught in his chest and all light vanished. Standing there amidst the storm, deep in the abysmal darkness, he heard the violence that befell the lamb—horrid rending, frantic bleating, and then—

In this, his moment of terror, standing helpless in the depths of the dark, a thin shaft of light fell, slowly expanding, growing, shrouding him with light. The wind stopped whipping. The growls fell silent. His fears began to ebb. He took a deep breath. Outside the light was a deep and evil darkness and the shepherd knew it. His heart sank, yet the light brought some comfort.
Just then, a butterfly flitted by outside the light, and terror gripped the shepherd. He looked away. None of this can be real.
He looked back, and there before him was the firefly. He shuddered, nearly stumbling out of the light. The insect's glow was captivating, tempting him to follow. A chill tore through him as he felt himself wanting to move, being drawn unwillingly toward its evil intent.
The shepherd was uneasy in the cramped confines of the light. Against his will he began to move. He shut his eyes tight, vowing to himself he would not do as the lamb had done. Fear raged inside him and the world became liquid around him. Dread and the echoes of the lamb's demise drowned him in a catastrophic noise.
Then, amid the symphony of chaos, a voice whispered, drowning all other sound. It whispered his name.
The shepherd opened his eyes and found himself standing on the low hill by his dwelling. The sun lit the meadow and all was well with his flock. He stood there a moment, shaken by the vision, slowly realizing that’s what it must have been.
A stranger appeared from just over the hill, walking toward him, wearing a smile of friendship. He was quite old, but also decidedly strong—more than six feet tall and clad as a warrior, though something in his countenance was more fit to a poet. Zam couldn't place it, but he felt somehow he knew the man.
The stranger's voice rang out clear and strong, tinged with the wizened depth of his years. “I thought I would be too late, possibly come in on a fight, when I heard all the growling, but as I should have expected, Elyon had other plans.”
Zam was bewildered, unsure whether his mind was still playing tricks or whether this man truly approached.
The man repeated, “I said I thought I’d be too late….”
Zam had yet to come to himself, so the man moved on.
“Never mind that. Are you all right, Lad?”
Reconciling the reality of the moment, Zam asked hesitantly, “Did you say… growling?”
A different sort of smile crossed the stranger’s face, the sort that follows one who is not letting on all they know. “Did I? Hmm. Odd.” And with that he changed the subject. “Are you Zam Windwater?”
Frustration and curiosity mingled in Zam’s reply. “I am. Who wants to know?” but a sudden recollection of his position in life brought a quick revision. “I apologize. I mean to say, yes, I am Zam Windwater. And I am at the service of Master…?”
The pleasant old stranger smiled again. “Messenger.”
Zam’s brow furrowed at the off kilter name. “Master Messenger?”
“No, no.” The stranger laughed. “Messenger Graffeon. I don’t use the title Master. It doesn’t suit my position. I would run the risk of getting puffed up and looking down on people, when I’m already taller than most. No. I need look no farther down on any person than the distance from my eyes to their heart... eh... head. Yes.”
“Ah….” Zam’s bewilderment seemed only to grow as Graffeon talked to him. Although he felt more at ease as the moments passed, something about the stranger engendered a sense of... of something. He was a character, smiling pleasantly at the young shepherd.
At last Zam returned to his usual polite and welcoming self. “Well, Messenger Graffeon, the sun is nearly down and there are no other dwellings but mine and my master’s for many miles upon the road. If my master’s is not your destination, you are welcome to stay the night. It's a humble servant’s shack, but I do keep it clean.”
Graffeon bowed slightly. “Your master’s dwelling is not my destination, and I gladly accept.” A sheep bleated in the distance.
Zam turned to the flock, “It has been an odd day indeed.” He looked back to Graffeon. “I need to gather the sheep and pen them in for the night. If you’ve traveled far, you may want to begin your rest. I won’t be long.”
Again the messenger bowed then turned and walked toward Zam’s home to await the kind young shepherd. Zam Windwater was about to receive quite a message.

When Zam entered his dwelling, Graffeon already had a fire going to heat the humble living space. Its glow lit the room. Two small chairs, a table, and low reclining cushions—obviously where Zam slept—were all that filled the room. The messenger was already seated at the table.
As Zam looked about, it seemed to him more restful and pleasant than it had in many years. Curiosity arose regarding his new acquaintance as he began heating some food for them to share. “It isn’t much. I didn’t know I’d have a guest.”
Graffeon smiled. “Anything will be fine. Were I not staying here this evening I would not eat at all.”
Zam thought that odd, but continued his preparations. Tentatively, he said, “Messenger Graffeon, a man in your profession must have traveled much in life.”
“Oh yes. I have traveled… perhaps even more than you would imagine. And you may simply call me Graffeon if it pleases you.”
Zam nodded. “Graffeon.” He was still somewhat unsure regarding the strange old messenger.
Graffeon smiled at his awkwardness. “As I say, I’ve been many places and weathered more than one individual’s share of nights in the middle of nowhere.”
Zam listened while he cooked, and Graffeon spoke of faraway lands. Places such as Cree, Kireoth, Turthan—none of which Zam had ever heard of—and of other places Zam would not even try to pronounce. He spoke of kings and queens he had met, noblemen and warlords, and a great battle he had once been forced to fight his way through to deliver a message. He also spoke of mysterious creatures he’d encountered during his travels. Zam had never heard of anything like them, nor of the wars and few of the places, but he was impressed nonetheless.
Setting the food on the table, he sat in the rough-made chair opposite the stranger. They continued to talk as they ate, and Zam was amazed. “You seem quite the warrior and a worthy messenger… aside from being a most excellent storyteller.”
Graffeon bowed his head humbly. “My thanks.”
As they finished the meal, Zam asked. “Are you traveling far this time? That is... to deliver your message?”
“Well, I was in Tarnanis when I received this charge, and I am very near to completing it.” There was that not-letting-on-all-he-knows smile again.
Zam was intrigued. “Tarnanis? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of it. Though I’m certain I have not heard of a great many places that exist.” Zam smiled, just a bit sheepishly.
 “But you do wish to hear of them.” Graffeon’s tone had changed.
Zam looked up. The words had gripped his heart.
Seeing the look in Zam’s eyes, Graffeon continued, “Places like Tarnanis, Gershas, Artolis—and you wish to experience them I’d wager. It’s in your countenance, Zam. You wish to travel.”
Zam couldn’t contain his exuberance. “I would love to travel!” he caught himself, a bit embarrassed. “Ah… yes, I would. The farthest I have ever been from my master’s land was to Sandrey. And though that trip is a treasured memory, Sandrey is only a small village, not far to the east, where my master’s brother lives. It was many years ago, when I was a child. I was actually befriended there by a traveler and a girl my age—Terrice—but they passed to the east, and I returned home never to travel again. I know there is much to see and learn and experience beyond this land, beyond tending sheep….”
“I do love tending them….” Zam sighed, his mind catching up to Graffeon's statement. “Yes. Adventure. But keeping the sheep safe does make me feel as though…” An emotion he had never voiced before rose to the surface, and he swallowed hard to keep it down. “As though I... am worth something....”
Graffeon’s smile changed once more, this time to one of understanding and sympathy, as he pulled a tattered book from his belt and laid it on the table, its leather binding worn from many years of use. “Worth, young Master Windwater, is truly an intriguing thing. Take this book for example. It is obviously old. It has seen much use and more weather than a sea captain. Of all my belongings it would acquire me the least money if sold. It is the least likely thing anyone would ever desire to take from me.” He rested his hand on it and said with deep reverence, “Yet, it is my most treasured possession.”
Zam leaned in, awed by Graffeon's tone. “What is it?”
“A book….” The messenger smiled, aware Zam sought a more precise answer, “A book of poems and proverbs.”
Disbelieving, Zam repeated, “Poems and proverbs?”
Graffeon patted the book. “And a few stories. But that is exactly my point! You seem surprised that this would be such a treasure to me. But I do adore this book.”
The quizzical feelings Zam had earlier were growing again.
Graffeon continued. “To a rich man your sheep would not be worth his notice unless for their wool or for a meal, but you hold those sheep in high regard. You would risk injury, even death to protect just one of them if the need arose.” He was speaking straight to Zam’s heart again.
How can he see these things in me?
“Though you were afraid today, Zam, I know you would have gladly done battle with the creatures that tried to claim the life of your lost sheep... if you could have seen them.”
At that Zam’s bewilderment reached its peak and he had to ask the question that had been growing in his mind. “Are you a wizard? You look nothing like what I hear wizards look like, but the things you’ve said… the things you know… how? How do you know…? Are you a wizard?”
“No.” Graffeon said simply.
“Are you a sorcerer?”
“A fortune teller?”
“Not that either.”
“A prophet? A seer? Something?”
Graffeon responded with his head slightly cocked, and a smile, almost sly but jovial, curling the sides of his mouth. “Something more like that. Yes.”
Defeated, Zam asked, “Who are you?”
This was the moment Graffeon had been waiting for. He stood and bowed. It was the first time Zam had seen him stand inside the shack. His frame suddenly filled the room and he seemed too large a being to fit in such a small space. As he spoke, fear coursed through Zam, though the tone he used was pleasant.
“I am the messenger Graffeon and I have traveled farther than you can possibly know to deliver a message from my master, Elyon. Deliver it to one Zamuel Windwater.” He gave Zam a wry smile and a knowing look as he sat back down and his presence diminished to the point it had been before. “I believe he lives around here.”
“Me?” Zam was more perplexed than ever and a little frightened. “I don’t know any Elyon, nor do I know anyone in… in Tarnanis. I'm confused, and think you must be wrong, or this is some horrible joke. And I do not appreciate–”
 “Worth… as I began to say, is not measured by great successes or the monetary value of a thing.” He paused and looked deeply into Zam’s eyes. “And this is not a horrible joke. My message for you from Elyon starts with this. You are valuable, Zam... you are worth something.”
Zam softened, his brow furrowing in an expression of confusion, bewilderment, perplexity.
“It's in your heart to travel and experience adventure. I am pleased to be the one to tell you, you will do both.” He produced a small scroll from his cloak and offered it to Zam. “This is for you.”
The scroll was barely as large as his hand. Zam unrolled it:

Travel north, young one. The beasts from your vision approach your borders. They wish for you to fear. Do not fear. Leave tomorrow when the sun is above the old maple. No later. I will see to the care of your sheep. Take Graffeon’s book and the staff he carries. You will hear from me.

Zam could hardly think. Did it actually say take Graffeon's book? His most treasured possession? He stared at the small scroll a moment longer, trying to make sense of it. Something about it filled him inside… it felt true. How does this Elyon, or Graffeon for that matter, know about the vision?

Zam looked up at Graffeon and the chair was empty. He was gone. It had taken only a moment to read and contemplate the scroll. Although, it seemed it would take more contemplation to grasp how exactly it was he now sat alone. Zam looked about the shack. It had been his only home for many years. It still felt more inviting than usual, but not so much like home. The peaceful air that filled the place now felt more like the calm before a storm.
He puzzled at all that had transpired. He noted the staff propped in the corner near the door. Graffeon’s staff. The worn old book still lay upon the table. Graffeon’s book. In a daze he opened it and read from the first page:

On this date, (The date was the day of Zam’s birth.)

By the request of Elyon, I dedicate this book and all its contents to Zamuel Windwater, the only surviving member of his father’s line. May he always choose right over wrong, light over dark. May this book help guide him, and may he always know his worth.
Today I’ve hewn a branch from the second tree in Elyon’s garden. It shall be a staff for Zam to use in his journeys. May it never break, and may it serve him always as I serve Elyon.
Royal Recorder and Messenger - Graffeon

Time passed slowly for a while. Zam’s world had changed in a moment. The door to the shack had not opened. Had Graffeon stood to leave, Zam would have seen. The scroll, the message in the book, the ink on both was old and weather worn.
Zam tried to make sense of it, but trying only set his thoughts spinning. He decided sleep was required before he could attempt to sort it all out. Lying upon his cushions, he read through a few pages of Graffeon’s book—or rather his book—and drifted off to sleep.
His dreams were the most pleasant he’d had in years; filled with far-off lands, mysterious creatures and, of course, adventure.

Dathan, the golden haired son of Zam’s master—and would-be brother had life turned out differently—shook Zam awake. It was startling. Zam hadn't seen Dathan in years except as he passed by, riding off with his father, presumably to distant places. Dathan had been crying.
“Zam… I’m sorry.”
Zam blinked, shook his head, and wiped sleep from his eyes all in an attempt to determine whether this was yet another dream. Experiencing the now-familiar feeling of perplexity, he realized he was awake. “Sorry for what, Dathan?” Innumerable sorrows rushed to his heart as he spoke his could-be brother's name.
“I know my being here must cause you pain, but... I had a dream last night.”
Zam simply stared at him, trying to make sense of the visit.
“In the dream I was a little boy, Zam. I was you, when you were little... alone in this shack. My father...” he sighed. “Rather my master, had left me here, content that he had a son of his own… and he didn’t need me anymore. No. Worse. He did not want me anymore. I was no longer a son. I was a servant.”
The story was familiar to Zam and brought up painful memories. He marveled at Dathan having such a dream.
Weak from emotion, Dathan sat at the table, nearly crying as he spoke. “Zam, the dream was so real I can still feel it. I saw me... through your eyes. The could-be brother riding away with Father, smug that I was the important one.” Dathan looked up at Zam, tears welling in his eyes. “Then alone in the shack I felt the years pass. I felt the pain of loneliness, and somehow moved beyond it. I found some way to accept my life and not…” his breath started shuddering. “And not hate my could-be brother and father. I heard of my master-brother’s accomplishments and–” This time Dathan did begin to cry. “And I felt proud of him. You were proud of me?”
Zam’s eyes began to tear as he looked at his could-have-been little brother and nodded.
Dathan wiped at his tears. “But I am appalled at me, Zam.”
“You knew no better, Dathan.”
He wouldn’t hear it. “No, Zam. When I woke... I knew that somehow everything I dreamed was real, that you felt all of those things. And here I’ve sat snugly in my world, not caring an ounce for you.” His voice broke for the sadness. “And all the while you cared for me. That my father and I put you through that… I cried to know it.” He scoffed at himself. “I still cry to know it! I hate it! I know I can never make it up to you, Zam, but I must try.”
“Dathan, you behaved as you were taught to. There is nothing you need to make up to me. The simple fact of your coming here–”
Dathan’s face turned grim. “No, Zam, I must make it up to you.” He stood and motioned as if to the whole countryside. “There is danger here for you.”
Zam startled at that. “What?”
“Before the dream ended, I was watching over the flock. A lamb went missing. I searched for it, and horrible creatures came. I believed they would devour the lamb and there was nothing I could do, but I realized only too late they were there for me... for you. They seized violently upon me and I awoke in tears, my heart pounding. I knew then that I had to come to you, to take your place tending the sheep. I know in my heart that I will be safe, but if I don’t let you go, Zam, your life is in danger.”
Zam didn't know what to think. The dream was a stunningly accurate flash of his life from childhood to yesterday.
 “In my dream, Zam, when the creatures had nearly reached me, a kingly voice filled my hearing and said, ‘See? The sun has passed the old maple.’”
Recognition passed over Zam’s face and Dathan saw it. “That means something to you, doesn’t it? You know my fear is justified, Zam. You must go... to save your life. Leave. Do what you must.”
Zam stood up, unsure of his next move. “What do I do, Dathan? How do I go? I am only a servant. I move at the will of my master.” He sighed.
Dathan smiled for the first time since Zam awoke. “No more, Zam. You are free. I left a letter for father telling him where I would be, that I had freed you from your service, and that I was giving you money for your journeys.” He chuckled. “He may be angry with me.” Emotion caught in his throat again. “But it’s truly the least I could do.”
Zam was dumbstruck. His whole life he had longed for a single kindness from his could-be brother, and here Dathan stood offering more than kindness: freedom.
“I don’t know what to say.”
Dathan placed his hand firmly upon his older—yet less worldly wise—brother’s shoulder. “Then simply say… if ever you return to these parts, you have no master. You have a brother.”
They stood before each other, both with tear-streaked faces, Zam smiling and fighting back an absolute flood. He nodded.
Dathan said sincerely, “I would have liked to have known you, Zam. Please forgive me for the past.”
It was a moment from Zam’s dreams, woven through with irony. I have a brother... but now I must leave. He clasped hands with Dathan. “I do forgive you, Dathan. Thank you.”
Dathan gratefully bowed his head to Zam, then said in earnest. “Now, Zam, whatever it meant the sun will have passed the old maple soon. You must hurry.” He pulled a coin purse from his belt and held it out. “Take this, gather your things, and be safely on your way.”
Zam fought overwhelming emotion as he took the purse, fastening it to his belt, and grabbed Graffeon’s book—my book. He donned his cloak, and took Graffeon’s staff—my staff.
For the first time ever, his brother embraced him.
“Fare you well, Brother.”
Holding tightly, Zam replied, “And you... Brother. Thank you.”
At that, Dathan simply smiled, and Zam set out north.

It was a glorious spring day. The wind moved through the trees like a whisper, barely audible. Long grasses lolled to and fro, and birds sang sweeter songs than any Zam could recall.

Dathan stood atop the hill near the shack, watching over the sheep, watching and waiting for the moment his father would ride up and chastise him for making “so foolish a choice.” It wouldn’t be long now. But he had done the right thing. Of that he was sure.
He breathed in the morning air and looked to the west. A dark cloud appeared, coming his way faster than the breeze and against the wind. As it approached, he saw it for what it was: a cloud of eerie green fireflies out in the daylight. They hovered a few feet above him, and his skin crawled. He had the unpleasant suspicion that these were somehow part of Zam's danger. They remained a moment as if assessing him. A moment more and they frantically swarmed him.
He closed his eyes tight and could not help but hold his breath. If he believed insects capable of emotion, he would have said rage fueled their swarming, for that’s what surrounded him. Rage. Loathing. Hatred. His mind flooded with images of the beasts from his dream. Then, as suddenly as they came, they shot away west.
Dathan opened his eyes and breathed again, his heart racing. He looked about, and the sky was clear. Though he couldn't understand what had happened, he knew the danger had passed. He was safe, and so was Zam… for now.

As Zam approached the stone that marked the northern border, he surveyed the hills and fields he’d called home for so long. Beyond lay a large wood into which he had never stepped foot. Well... here I am.
His heart beat with the thrill of the unknown. He took a deep breath and stepped beyond the marker, beaming. The wide world stood before him. He glanced back to his former home. It was no longer home. A small dark cloud seemed to hover over the hilltop, shifting and moving. He blinked to clear his eyes, and it was gone.
The sun hung directly above the old maple. He’d left just in time—for what, he did not know. But his adventure had begun. He thought of Graffeon's words. It's in your heart to travel and experience adventure... you will do both.
“Thank you,” he whispered to the air, and took another step north.


Chapter Two: The River’s Edge

Zam continued north for many days, first through light and airy woods, then through forest that began to tangle and close in, all while traveling jutting, rocky hills that were pocked here and there with boulders. He grew weary. There had been no signs of villages or people, he'd seen no animals or creatures of note, and he'd found nothing to hunt. Frankly, nothing had brought interest to his monotonous march. Beyond that, the weather had turned for the worse, letting loose great sheets of water from the sky. Zam was now soaked to the bone and feeling impatient. This isn't adventure! He grumbled, “This is nothing but a blind march through inhospitable lands at the word of some... some...” He didn't have a word.What was he even?” 

He stopped his march through the rain and gave that a bit of thought. A moment later he threw his hands up and sighed. “A man who vanished into thin air.” The words reminded him how miraculous the event had been, and that softened him. “And… a man who knew things about me that no one could know... how I feel inside.”
The truth was, in a very brief encounter, Graffeon had profoundly moved him. Not since his childhood visit to Sandrey had his heart connected so instantly with an individual. He’d spent a very short time with the messenger, but now the name Graffeon would be forever written on his heart.
Zam's spirit brightened at the thought and he determined to press on no matter how rough the travel. Around midday the clouds broke and the first glimpse of sunlight came piercing through, lighting a clearing as he passed. The breeze was cool, but the sun slowly warmed his face and hands, further improving his mood.
He sat on a round, flat boulder in the middle of the clearing and bathed in sunlight. “I’d wager many have found this a pleasant enough place to rest when traveling this way.”
“I’d wager not,” a voice said from behind him.
He spun around, startled. Thick trees lined the edge of the clearing with gnarled brush peppered here and there about their feet. An unpleasant feeling crept its way up his spine. He shouted with what he hoped was a menacing tone, “Who’s there!”
He was greeted with wind through leaves and nothing more. He pulled out the small knife he kept strapped to his side. It was more for preparing meals than protection, but it was all he had at the moment. The silence continued and he began to doubt what he had heard. After a long while he lowered his guard and sat upon the stone. A while after that he dismissed it altogether. “Don’t be so jumpy, Zam.”
Still uneasy, he set to eating. Just beyond the clearing a pair of invisible eyes watched him. Planning. Malevolence growing. Enjoying his fear. Waiting for the perfect moment.
Zam put the knife away, pulled some provisions out of his satchel, and opened his book once again. Thumbing through the pages, he read the headings aloud.
“Days? No. Un-careful?” He chuckled at that. “No again. Rest? Safety? Safety… I could use a little of that.” Something about the clearing left him with an eerie feeling. He began to read aloud.
“The truth it seems is unmistakable.”
The waiting eyes narrowed.
“But how it seems it may not be.”
The creature crouched low.
“Though much may lay upon the table,
beware of all you may not see.”
It slithered close behind.
“If you desire to keep your safety,
find out what’s held beneath the table.”
A murky black vision began to congeal behind him.
“Plots and death hid there may be,
but that is such you cannot see, without me.”
Fully visible in its coal black, serpentine form, the creature bared it razor teeth.
“I can see what’s above and beneath the table,
I am able. ~ Elyon”

The creature lunged and struck—nothing. It squinted and looked around the clearing. Its prey was gone and night had fallen. The creature was dumbfounded, wondering how its prey had escaped.

Zam had finished the poem and mostly, but not entirely, said to himself, “I’d like that kind of safety, Elyon.”

If one could have looked from the outside, one would have seen the creature as it lunged for Zam and stopped halfway to its mark, remaining there; all the rage in the world on its face, and an evil glee in its eye at the impending fate of the boy before it. But Zam just turned the page and chomped down on dried meat. The creature remained poised to destroy him—invisible and unmoving.
When Zam finished, he packed up what little food was left and moved on. The beast remained. At nightfall the creature’s attack resumed… to no avail. Its quarry was gone, miles away, taking a well-deserved rest out of the reach of evil things.

Several more days passed and Zam’s spirits improved, as did the weather. One glorious morning, as the sun broke over the mountains, he moved with renewed vigor. Something wonderful would happen this day. He would reach the crest of the farthest in a range of hills he used to glimpse on clear days back home.
This hill was farther from home than Sandrey, which was more to the east, and Zam had no knowledge of what lay beyond. It had long been the most distant point he could imagine traveling to. He’d always thought the likelihood of traveling so great a distance was somewhat akin to making his way to the moon. Now here he was working his way up the side of that very hill. He couldn't help but smile. I've almost reached the moon.
A few hours later he reached the crest. It was nearly noon. He breathed in the crisp, clean air. It felt like freedom. He look out over a small valley split in the middle by a large river. There was only one way to cross: a stone bridge set in the middle of a quaint little town right in the middle the valley.
“People,” he said quietly. He'd been traveling for nearly two weeks, and although he was accustomed to lonely times, lonely times away from home in inhospitable woods seemed bleak to Zam in a way he’d never known—which made the possibility of human contact quite appealing.
He made his way quickly down the slope. Just beyond the bridge was a large inn with smoke pouring from the chimney. He imagined he caught the scent of something delicious cooking inside. The inn acted as centerpiece on the march from some larger place to another place presumably more important. Here the people lived simple lives, except for the travelers whose horses and carriages could be easily distinguished from the locals. A large-ish crowd, some poor and others of seemingly high stature, gathered outside the inn awaiting the chime of the dinner bell. 

As Zam approached, he spied some children playing near a stream that trickled down the hill to meet the river. Not far from them, an elderly man sat against a small, ruggedly built shelter, watching the children—a broadsword resting on his lap. He twirled the sword in lackadaisical circles.
As Zam got closer to the children the elderly man took note of him and the lackadaisical spinning of the sword stopped, a firm grasp replacing it. The children had yet to notice Zam, so once he was within earshot he called out. “Good day to you!”
The children froze, then turned to see Zam approaching and ran to the shelter.
The elderly man stood slowly, the tip of the sword in the dirt as if a walking stick rather than a sword. He was dressed in a simple tunic and trousers with high leather boots. His white hair shone bright in the sunlight. He nodded to Zam and something in his eyes belied the weakness his actions implied.
“And good day to you too, Stranger.” The man hunched over slightly as if trying to stand comfortably. “What brings you to our little shire?” His tone was pleasant enough, but his look was mistrusting.
Zam approached, choosing to match the man’s tone. “I am on a quest. I’ve been traveling for nearly two weeks and your town is the first I’ve come across since I set out.”
“A quest? To where are you traveling?” The skepticism the old man obviously felt crept into his voice.
Zam figured it couldn’t hurt to tell. “That’s just it, Sir. I don’t know the aim of my quest. Merely that I was directed to set out and the quest would find me... I think.” He knew he wasn’t making much sense but he figured honesty would serve him better than pretense.
The old man shifted his weight again, but did not actually put it on the sword. “Hmm... a treasure seeker no doubt, but where is your sword, boy? How can you seek treasure without a sword?”
Zam half chuckled at how ridiculous that must seem. “I was simply told to take this staff and a book that was given to me. I don’t own a sword. And as far as treasure goes, it would be nice to find, but I’m not specifically seeking it.” Zam smiled at the thought and continued. “Truly, Sir, I have yet to determine what my quest is. I was simply told to go north, so north I came.”
The old man looked hard into Zam’s eyes and perceived he was an honest soul. “You don’t have a lie in you, do you, Boy?” He straightened up, flipped his sword into the air, caught it by the hilt, and sheathed it. With all pretense of weakness gone, the old man smiled. “Welcome to Rivertowne. Boring name, I know. Name’s Jacob Galwen Dorria. Townspeople and friends call me Galwen. I own the inn you were spying as you approached. These are my grandchildren.” He glanced toward the children, the elder of whom had crept to the door of the shelter. “It’s all right. This one is safe. Come on out.”
Each child came out and bowed in succession as Galwen introduced them. “This is Dorrin, age thirteen; Keerin, eleven; the twins, Laise and Tannis, both ten; Rheen, eight; Keer, seven, and....” The last was an adorable little girl with auburn colored hair and piercing green eyes. She came shyly out then curtsied, wearing an odd expression as she looked at Zam.
“... this little one's name is Tearis.”
“I’m six.” she said, gazing at him with a smile.
Galwen passed a quizzical look from her to Zam. “She doesn’t often speak to strangers, Master…?”
Zam realized it was a question. “Zam. Uh… Windwater.”
“Well, Master Zam Uh Windwater,” Galwen said with a good-natured smile, making the children snicker. “You say you’ve been traveling for many days… perhaps you could use a room?”
“Yes!” Zam said with more zeal than he intended. “A warm place to sleep and a bed would make this day as good a day as I had hoped it would be.”
“Very well.” A smile added wrinkles to Galwen’s face. “Then… you do have money, eh?”
Zam chuckled and held up a few coins.
Galwen nodded. “Good, good. Wouldn’t want to give you the wrong impression of my establishment. Children, follow.” He picked up Tearis and ruffled Dorrin's sandy brown hair as he passed.
Galwen and the children led Zam down the slope. Soon they reached the River’s Edge, an aptly named inn, as it sat only a short distance from the edge of the river.
Upon showing Zam to his room Galwen said, “I have a good feeling about you, Lad. Perhaps you’ll find the aim of your quest here.” He eyed Zam with a questioning look. “We’ll be having supper shortly. Don’t be late if you want to eat. My patrons don’t have the best manners. When the dinner bell rings, be ready.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
After Galwen left, Zam sat on the bed. Not very soft, but definitely better than the rocks and twigs I've been calling my bed these last few weeks. He opened his book, leaned back on the bed and began to read, but his body had other plans and he fell fast asleep.

He woke to the sound of the supper bell and was up and out in a moment. Two maids were serving food to several patrons and already there were only a few seats left. Zam grabbed one nearest the door, which set him also nearest the bar.
A young woman dropped a plate in front of him. “There you go, Love.” She stood a little too close and her smile was a little too friendly. It made Zam uncomfortable.
A dumpy looking man at the bar called after her. “You don’t look at me ‘at way anymore, Reena. What’s ’is pup got ‘at I aint got?”
“I never looked at you that way, Mort!” she called back, and shot Zam one more overfriendly look as she walked back to the kitchen. Mort scowled at Zam.
The man next to him spoke up. “Don’t worry ‘bout Mort here. He knows he’s too old for Reena, but I tell you what: watch out for ‘er. She’s pretty, but she aint got your best interest at heart... if you follow me.”
Zam thanked him for the warning, and Mort just kept on scowling.
Just then a tall, gentlemanly looking fellow took the seat next to Zam, and Mort and his companion began referring to him in such polite ways as “Fancy Pants,” “Your grace,” and “Oh most esteemed one.” Zam wondered at the man’s patience.
He must have read Zam’s thoughts because a moment later he struck up a conversation. “You have to consider the source of comments like that. It is likely the stubby one was drunk before the sun reached its peak, and will probably pass out before the moon is halfway to its. My name is Phillip Dorgair. And yours?”
Mort was still spouting what Zam would have called fighting words. “Zam Windwater. You are a patient man.”
Phillip smiled. “It pays to be patient in my line of work.”
“Oh… what do you do?”
“I’m the innkeeper.”
Zam frowned. “I thought Galwen was the innkeeper.”
“Oh, he likes to tell people that. I let him work here some of the time. It helps him feed all those grandchildren.”
Zam noticed that Mort and his companion had gone silent. A quick glance to the side informed him why. They were now intently watching Zam and Phillip. Something brushed against Zam’s side and when he turned back Phillip was standing.
“I apologize. I must see to some of the other patrons.”
Zam instinctively reached to his side and found his coin purse missing. “Hey! Phillip!”
Phillip kept walking toward the door.
Zam stood to give chase, but Mort and his fellow were already there in his way.
“‘Ey boy… you aint finished yer supper yet. Where you off to?”
Zam couldn't pay for his room without that money. Then it struck him. “My book is in that purse!” He tried to move around them. “Gentlemen, please. I must–”
“Gen’lmen?” Mort scoffed. “You ‘ear that, Randec? ‘Is pup jus' called us gen’lmen. Them’s is fighting words if I ever ‘eard any.”
Mort drew his sword and Randec said, “Where’s your sword, Boy? A cloak, a staff, and a purse with a book? Well, I don’t see no purse now, but really... that’s no way to go on a journey. How you ‘spect to protect yourself ‘gainst dangerous ruffians?” Mort started jabbing his sword at Zam.
Another voice joined in. “He makes a good point, Lad.” A sword struck Mort’s and swung around flipping it into the air, disarming him. As Mort’s blade came down, Galwen caught it by its hilt and handed it to Zam, who was still trying to catch up to what had just happened.
The old innkeeper’s tone was calm, but intense. “I told the three of you if you caused any more trouble in my inn I’d beat you so you’d remember it. But, as my grandchildren are here and watching, the thrashing I have in mind will have to wait for another day. Now get out. And never cross through my door again.”
Randec took a frightened step back, and Galwen scowled at him. “You can pick up Phillip on your way out. He’s lying unconscious in the hall.”
Galwen tossed Zam’s purse back to him, and Mort stepped toward the old innkeeper. “But ‘at’s my sword! I paid a pretty penny for it!”
Placing his blade alongside Mort’s throat, Galwen calmly said, “Be glad, Mort, that your sword is all I’m taking.” The tone of voice and stern look—not to mention the sword lingering so near to his jugular—made Mort pale.
“Fine… never was much of a sword anyway.” He shouted, “Keep it!” then he and Randec exited. Zam could hear them fumbling in the hall, trying to carry Phillip out.
Galwen turned back to Zam. “Perhaps it would be best if you dined with my family this evening. You really never have been anywhere or done anything, have you?”
Zam shook his head, embarrassed.
Galwen gave him a fatherly look. “Well, we all start somewhere, Lad. You will need my help… but later. Now we eat.”
A new thought struck Zam as he looked around the dining hall at all the people. This adventure thing is going to be difficult.

As they entered the family's private dining room Galwen introduced his remaining family members. “Zam Windwater, may I introduce my late son’s wife, Molly, and my daughter Barea.” They both greeted him warmly, as did the children who awaited their grandfather to begin the meal. Zam was ushered to a seat across from Molly with Tearis and Dorrin on either side. Molly was a beautiful woman. Her amber hair—laced through with the lightest hint of gray—was bound in a kerchief that brought out brilliant flecks of blue in her eyes. Her smile was warm and motherly. Zam liked her instantly.
Galwen took his seat at the head of the table. “This is my family. I assure you none here will pick your purse.”
Dorrin shook his head and spoke, presumably out of turn. “If Raine were here she wouldn’t have let you fall prey to those thieving fools. Reena doesn’t care what goes on.”
Molly’s expression turned instantly sorrowful.
“Dorrin!” Galwen said—his voice raised not so much in anger as in shock. “We do not speak of such things.” He shifted his gaze, indicating the effect the statement had on Molly.
Dorrin cringed. “I am so sorry, Aunt Molly. I wasn’t thinking.”
She half-smiled. “It is well, Dorrin.” She brightened a bit. “And you are correct. She would not have tolerated such things.”
Zam eyed the whole scene curiously. It seemed every member of the family had been shaken by Dorrin’s remark. Heaviness had fallen over the table. All the while little Tearis continued to stare at Zam with an expression he had yet to figure out.
Molly could read the curiosity in Zam’s face and felt it impolite to leave their new friend in the dark. With a bittersweet smile, she said, “Raine is the name of my daughter, my only child. She used to work in Reena’s place, and no traveler need worry, for though she was gentle, she could be fierce when needed.”
“What happened to her?”
Molly looked off as if remembering and stifling emotion. “It is a sorrow that starts in beauty. Raine was graced with a gift… she could heal the sick and the injured. Never did we think to hide her gift because so many in Rivertowne benefited from it, but word spread beyond our little border. Not long after, the steward of this region, Lord Neereth, came with his soldiers requiring a ‘one-time tax.’”
Galwen interjected. “No doubt unauthorized by the king.”
Molly nodded and continued. “It was a sum greater than the inn’s worth. Even more than we could have earned in a week of years. My husband, Tolwyn, had long since been conscripted as a soldier and was lost to us, so there was no way to pay.” She shook her head sadly. “But, it was a ruse. There was no tax. If there was, we were the only family who paid it. It was simply an excuse to claim a member of our family… my daughter… as a slave. Raine was taken from us to serve the steward in Knighton.”
Zam’s heart grew heavy with the hearing.
Galwen continued the tale. “I set my dear friend Darik in charge of the inn and my family so I could inquire in person as to my granddaughter’s welfare. When I found her, she was living in the lord's keep and being treated very well, almost as a royal for the great services she rendered the Steward. She wrote to us at every chance and we received letters often. We thought—” His voice broke and he swallowed hard to keep back emotion. “I thought she was not at risk of harm, but when Lord Neereth’s son was injured attacking an innocent man, the steward discovered that Raine cannot heal at will. It must be inspired.”
Molly concluded. “Lord Neereth’s son died, and Raine was sold as a common slave. It’s been two years with no knowledge of her whereabouts, and we fear for her.”
Zam felt for them. “I am sorry for you all. Such a heavy loss… I–” he choked back an unexpected emotion that rose within him. Here he saw a family that deeply loved, and who had lost a piece of themselves. What must it be like to be a part of such a family…? … What a selfish a thought, Zam. This family is grieved. “I apologize. I am overcome with sorrow for you.” Zam looked at Molly. “And for your daughter Raine.”
Molly took a deep breath and looked at Zam. “Elyon will decide in mine and my daughter’s life.”
The family raised their cups at that, and Galwen said, “Indeed.”
The others agreed. “Indeed.”
Zam sat bewildered at the mention of that name. This family knows Elyon? He looked at them in wonder. I don’t actually know Elyon, yet it was he who set me on this quest. He wanted to ask questions, but felt foolish to do so at such a time.
Molly offered a wan smile. “Let us speak of lighter things for now. Zam, have you traveled far?”
“I have.” He thought better of it. “Well, farther than I ever have before. Until a few weeks ago I was a shepherd.”
Barea asked, with a jovial smile, “And what are you now?”
“To be honest, Ma’am, I don’t know yet.”
Tearis chimed in with a whimsical tone that matched her gaze. “Yes you do, Zam.” And that was all. She went back to gazing at him, whimsically.
Galwen chimed in, “He’s an adventurer. Look, Zam, you even have you a sword now.”
Zam smiled at that, and Dorrin piped up again. “But does he know how to use it? I could teach him, Grandfather. That would be fun.” A good-natured but impish grin crossed his face.
The other children moaned at the suggestion, and Galwen said, “Now, Dorrin, your methods of teaching seem to rely solely on showing off your skill with a blade, and never giving a bit of instruction. That will never do.”
The entire family laughed at that, even Dorrin.
Zam felt oddly happy sitting at this table with these people. Each one asked him questions about himself, and though he felt most of the answers quite dull, the family seemed to enjoy every minute. Later when both the meal and conversation were done, Galwen asked Dorrin to lead Zam back to his room, and to be sure that no one tried to reclaim that sword. Zam puzzled at that.
“Don’t worry, Zam,” Galwen said as he stood. “Neither age nor stature will win a battle. Rather heart and skill are what’s required. Dorrin is an excellent swordsman. Even at his young age his reputation with a blade will keep certain thieving fools away.”
Zam thanked everyone for a wonderful meal and Galwen for rescuing his purse.
The old innkeeper chuckled. “Well, I couldn’t leave you without a way to pay for the room.” Molly gave him a good-natured jab with her left elbow. It made Zam smile.
All the children were clearing out, and just before Zam stepped into the hall he heard Barea say in a hushed tone to Molly and Galwen, “Did you see the way Tearis was looking at him? What was that?”
Galwen said mater-of-factly, “She sees something in him.”
Molly agreed. “That's true, but it seems more as though she knows him.”
Dorrin pulled on Zam's arm. “Come on, Zam… you don’t want to wait around here. You’ll need some shuteye if Grandfather and I are to teach you how to fight tomorrow.”
“Oh, I can fight, Dorrin… just not with a sword.” He listened, but heard no more of the hushed conversation.

The morning dawned with a thirteen year old boy waiting, hovering, at Zam’s door. “Come on. Enough sleeping. It’s time to fight.”
This must be what having a younger brother is like…
“Come on, I said.”
I think I might like that.
Dorrin was ready with two wooden training swords. Once he and Zam were outside he threw one to Zam. “Here’s yours.”
Zam looked around. The morning was beautiful, the brightest day he had seen in weeks even before leaving home. Many of Galwen’s grandchildren were gathered around to see the bout between Zam and Dorrin. Galwen hadn’t come out yet.
Dorrin struck Zam in the back.
“Hey! I wasn’t ready to start!”
Dorrin's impish smile returned. “Your enemy won’t say, ‘By the way, would you mind if I attacked you now?’ Will he?”
“All right then.” Zam set a large grin on his face and took a battle ready stance.
Dorrin took a swing. Zam tried to block it, but Dorrin’s sword came down on his fingers and Zam dropped the sword. “Ouch!”
“You have to protect your hands… they’re important.” Dorrin chuckled at how clever he was and continued swinging. Zam dodged each swing as he reached for his sparring sword.
“You’re pretty fast,” Dorrin said as he moved around for another strike.
For a moment it seemed the world slowed down, and an unpleasant change came over Dorrin. Something crept into his countenance, some ill toward Zam. He violently swung for Zam’s face as Tearis shouted a warning.
Zam moved just in time. “Hey! Be more careful, Dorrin! That would have really hurt!”
Dorrin's eyes were glassy, almost vacant. He didn’t speak at all as he lunged at Zam, becoming more aggressive with each swipe of the wooden blade.
Zam couldn't understand the rancor coming from Dorrin and the darkness that seemed to gather. He blocked several blows in Dorrin’s onslaught, but one struck him in the shoulder. It hurt. He looked for a moment at his shoulder and found blood there. When he looked back at Dorrin to protest, he wasn’t there.
Nor was Zam himself, it seemed. Instead he found himself standing in a clearing, surrounded by a dark and tangled wood. Panic began to take hold of him as he looked about for Dorrin and the other children. They were all gone. Zam turned a circle about the clearing. And when his gaze fell to the place he had last seen Dorrin, a large black dragon with armor-like scales, razor-sharp talons, and teeth like scythes was standing in his place. Terror ran through Zam.
The black dragon spoke. “You will not claim my prize, Boy. I have captured her and she is mine. I will have my supper, and I might add you to the meal. Or perhaps I’ll save you for breakfast.” A swipe of the dragon’s massive talons tore past Zam’s ear as he dodged the blow, but just barely. His wooden sparing sword was gone, and he was holding the sword that once belonged to Mort.
Zam tried to spy the prize of which the dragon spoke. Dodging another strike, he saw: on a large rock at the edge of the clearing, with a wall of dragon’s fire separating her from the rest of the forest, Tearis lay unconscious. Zam was first seized with fear and then confusion as he tried to understand how the dragon had taken Tearis and how he himself had come to be here.
A rage began to boil up in him, and recognition struck. Tearis looks at me as though I’m a hero. Now she needs me to be one. Otherwise she will die, and she is far too young for that!
To this point the dragon had been toying with Zam, but now it leapt on him like a lion on its prey, its right foreleg pinning him to the ground under its massive weight. Its razor teeth snapped shut so close Zam could feel the breath on his face. He wedged the sword between himself and the dragon’s head to keep its maw from closing a death grip about him. The sharp point slipped between two scales and cut the dragon. The beast reeled back.
Tearis awoke and looked around in terror. “Zam!” He turned to her and the dragon swept him aside, coiling most of its frame around his body. It began toying with him again, snapping its monstrous jaws shut inches from his arm, his chest, his head. It repeatedly knocked him to the ground with its horns. Tearis stood on the rock watching in horror.
Bruised and bloodied, Zam refused to give up against this impossible foe. Standing once again, on legs less steady than he desired, Zam pointed the tip of his sword at the dragon’s heart, “Beast, she is not your prize! You may try to claim her, but she... is... not yours....” His strength was failing, and that struck a deeper fear in him for what would befall Tearis, who stood now in shocked silence.
The dragon spoke in a sickeningly peaceful tone. “Boy, you are going to die, as will the girl. But for all your valiance perhaps I’ll dine on you this night and save her for breakfassst.”
“No!” Zam shouted and leapt with all his remaining strength, striking the dragon with his sword. The force of the blow hurt Zam’s hands but the dragon was unfazed. Zam swung wildly at the dragon’s neck, chipping at scales, which threw sparks with every strike.
The dragon coiled back and hissed out a trail of smoke. “Careful, Boy.” The smoke made Zam’s eyes burn so badly he couldn’t keep them open.
Eyes closed and burning from the fumes, he continued swinging, hoping against hope he would strike some weak point. He couldn't see that the dragon was scheming, slowly bringing the lance-like tip of its tail into position behind him.
Sulfurous vapors still blinded Zam, yet slowly he began to see all that played out. His eyes were still closed, he was still swinging his sword without any real aim, and he still felt a mix of terror and rage, but somehow he could see Tearis on the rock, see the tears running down her cheek. He could see the dragon coiling its tail behind him—his own stature so small and weak in comparison. Then, as the last moment of his life was about to pass, he saw the razor tip of the dragon’s tail swing around and strike him squarely in the back, piercing him with a deathblow.
Tearis screamed his name and Zam slumped forward, away from that part of the beast which claimed his life. The scaly lance flowed back down to the ground stained with Zam’s own blood. As these visions passed through his mind, the world slipped into inky black, and Tearis’ sobs echoed through his mind along with sorrow for his failure and the second great loss that Galwen’s family would now have to endure. Then he saw nothing.

“Zam! Zam are you all right?” The voice was Dorrin’s, then Galwen’s.
“Zam, speak to me!”
Zam wasn't yet sure what was happening. Didn’t I just die?
“I only hit him once.” Dorrin said hurriedly. “Well, twice. Once when I gave him the sword, but that was nothing, and once I hit his fingers when he was blocking wrong. I was going to go easy on him, I promise. I didn’t–”
“Quiet!” Galwen held up his hand to silence Dorrin.
Zam was moving, coming around. He opened his eyes to see Galwen looking down on him with concern then noticed that Tearis was also at his side. There were tears welling in her eyes.
Fear for her surged through him as he flashed back to what might have happened once the dragon finished him. But we’re here…! He was more than a bit confused, but thankful.
“There you are, Lad.” Galwen leaned down and whispered, “You should really save those visions for moments when weapons aren’t being hurled at you.”
“What? How did you...? ” Zam was bewildered again, and growing quite accustomed to it.
“Later, Zam... we will discuss it later.”
Zam looked around and saw that the whole clan, as well as several others who dwelt in Rivertowne, had gathered around in concern for him. It was an odd feeling since Zam couldn't recall anyone ever having been concerned for him until recently. He gazed at the family, still disoriented.
From the corner of his eye, he spied Mort standing among the townsfolk, eyeing him, Galwen, and the children. There was malice in his look and he was plotting.
Galwen dusted Zam off and spoke to the crowd. “Look at these sad faces. He’s fine. Go back to what you were doing, and thank you for your concern.”
Some of the villagers nodded and went on their way, but the family all closed in to be sure Zam was truly unharmed.
Keer, the seven year old, asked, “Did Dorrin hurt you? I’ll kick him for you.”
Zam smiled at that, “No, Keer, your brother did me no harm. I’m all right.”
Keer and Tearis grabbed Zam by the hand, attempting to help him up.
Having heard that interchange, Galwen ruffled Keer’s hair playfully and took Zam’s hand also, helping him to his feet. “Breakfast first,” he said. “Then after, Dorrin and I will teach Zam to use his sword.”
Zam agreed, and finally feeling stable on his feet, he picked Tearis up and carried her. He needed to keep her safe. The dragon’s fire and Tearis’ terrified look flashed through his mind. The effects of the vision would linger, as would the weight of Mort’s evil glare.
Zam shifted Tearis to his other side, farther from Mort, and whispered, “I’m all right, Tearis, and I will always protect you.”
She leaned her head close against his shoulder, contented. “I know, Zam.”
This must be what it’s like having a little sister…. I think I would like that as well.

Breakfast was over. The women and children cleared out, and Galwen sat with Zam alone at the table. “There are times when my granddaughter just knows things. She often will not share what she knows, but she knows nonetheless.”
“She knows something about me. I heard you, Molly and Barea talking about it. That was all I heard, but I’ve felt since our first meeting that she knew something about me. It was unsettling at first.” His demeanor was grim. “But now it’s more.” Zam started to choke up, thinking of what would befall her if his vision proved true.
Galwen sensed a deeper issue at hand. “Outside you asked how I knew about your vision.”
Zam nodded.
“Well, sometimes that's just how it is. Like my granddaughter knows things, when you came to, I simply understood what had happened.” Zam didn't understand so Galwen changed tactics. “Do you know Elyon?”
There’s the question of the year. “No... and yes.” He sighed. “It was he who sent me on this quest… but I knew nothing of him until the messenger came….” he tried to find the right words.
Galwen chuckled and shook his head. “Elyon and a messenger? That’s why you don’t know the aim of your quest, Lad. That’s often how he does things, in my experience. Tell me what you can, and I will counsel you as well as I am able.”
Zam shared all that had transpired since his first vision while watching over the flock to his vision of the dragon.
When he was done, Galwen sat deep in thought with much heaviness on his heart. “You have done well thus far, Zam. I believe, though it chills me to say, that this most recent vision may truly be a vision of things to come.”
Zam was heartsick at such a thought, and sorrow filled his voice. “Tearis....”
Galwen paused a long moment, looking at Zam, before he smiled and spoke again. “Do not fear, Zam Windwater—truly. Instead hear this. I just told you, in essence, that you may die soon, and this is the man that you are: your concern was not for yourself, but for my granddaughter. You’ve shown me Elyon’s scroll, and from all I know of him, he would not send you north simply to die—leastwise to die in vain. I believe this is a vision of what might be. You were allowed to see it so you may thwart it. Take heart.” He clapped Zam on the shoulder. “Elyon will decide in yours and my granddaughter’s life.”
Oddly those words did bring Zam comfort; even though they’d said the same about Raine who was now living as a slave in territories unknown. They had moved to Galwen’s study when it became obvious the conversation would consume most of the day. Now, after many hours discussion, Zam and Galwen were exhausted.
Handing Zam a belt and sheath for his sword, Galwen said, “We’ll pick up your training in the morning. Your charge for the remainder of this day is to rest. Think not on dragons or tragedy.” Zam smiled halfheartedly in acceptance of his mandate. They returned to the dining area just as Tearis and Keer came bursting in.
Tearis said. “Zam, come and play with us!”
Keer added. “Yeah. The sun won’t be up much longer. There isn’t much time left to play. Come! Quick!”
Galwen smiled. “Well, that might be just the kind of rest you need. Go on.”
Zam’s heart lightened as the two children took his hands and pulled him out the door.
Molly entered as Galwen took a seat at the table. He shook his head and said, “That boy has a good heart.”
Molly nodded. “He reminds me of Raine.”
“Indeed… though he still needs to learn to use a sword.” Galwen’s brow furrowed. “Molly, ask Darik to keep a lookout for dragons on his watch tonight.”
“There hasn’t been a dragon cross out of Darlandis in your lifetime, Galwen.”
“Nonetheless, ask him. And, Molly… pray.”


Thanks' for reading!