Followers

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tia's Folly Chapter One


Chapter One

 

“I can’t do that!” Tia found herself panicking.

Spots danced before her eyes, and Tia was whisked back in time. Lost in the flashback, she watched herself sitting with her Elder, learning her lessons.

“I am so bored!” She sighed in frustration, slumping down in her seat. “Can’t we take a little break?”

“What is the rule about lesson time?” Her Elder just watched her evenly.

“Lesson time is a time for deep thought and patience.” She recited the rule with a roll of her eyes. “But it’s boring!”

“Okay Tia.” He shook his head at his pupil. “Why don’t we have a little something to eat and I’ll tell you the story of the Druids, and how we came to be?”

Eagerly nodding her head, Tia watched the Elder retrieve a pitcher of milk and a crust of bread. She sighed happily when he slathered her slice with butter, and she felt her mouth water in anticipation of the rare treat. Keeping her eyes on the bread, she squirmed in her seat, impatiently waiting for him to return to his chair and say prayers.

“Thank you, Gods!” Tia cut off her Elder before he could begin, and quickly picked up her bread.

“The story of our people.” His voice brought her gaze to his, and she flushed to see him raise an eyebrow at her behavior. “Are we ready to hear it now?”

“Um-hum!” Tia nodded her head and spoke around the food in her mouth.

“A long time ago,” her Elder shook his head but didn’t address her breach of manners, “The God of War reigned in these lands. He was a selfish God who thought nothing of killing others for his pleasure. The other Gods got tired of his ways, and tricked him into captivity. They thought that with the God of War out of the way, the lands would begin to heal themselves.

“But they didn’t count on the stubbornness of the beings. After being enemies for thousands of years, they no longer knew how to get along. The Gods argued amongst themselves for centuries before they finally agreed to create a new race of beings for the specific purpose of being their voice.

“The Gods searched the Afterworld for the perfect souls to be the first of the Druid race…eventually a handful of Dragon souls volunteered. You see, nobody wanted to be one of the chosen people. The Gods had decreed that Druids would be ugly. The men were to be skinny, smelly, and have facial features that were unattractive. The women were to be fat, overly hairy, and have a smell that most men cannot stand.

“To complicate matters further, we’re basically the slaves of the Gods. No one wanted to risk not returning to the Afterlife. The Dragons are the pets of the Gods and as such, are naturally given a little more leeway than the other races. By volunteering to become the first and then teach the next generation how to be Druids, the Dragons solidified their position at the Gods’ feet.

“It took three generations, but the Gods were patient. Finally, we were ready to take on our true destiny. They tasked one powerful Druid man to bring about the peace. Only the oldest of the Elders were privy to what he and the Gods planned.

“The chosen one sent Dragons with messages to all of the leaders. They were to meet at a special place to discuss the possibility of a truce…” The Elder paused, looking oddly at Tia.

“What?” she asked, confused by his expression.

“It took a very knowledgeable and powerful Druid to mediate peace for the lands,” he began again.

In her innocence, Tia didn’t know that he was altering the story for her tender ears.

“The beings fought against peace,” he paused and appeared to be thinking. “A few fought until they died…Ultimately, the chosen one used a spell so powerful that only the Gods know it. The chosen one was given this spell, and he used it to heal the rift. It was so powerful it drained him of his life force. He lived just barely long enough to finish mediating the peace treaties before he died.”

“Oh no!” Tia clasped both hands over her mouth in horror, her eyes round with shock.

“Yes,” the Elder replied. “With great power comes great responsibility. All Druids strive to live up to his example. Regardless of what the Gods ask of us, we are theirs to command. Never forget, Tia, our lives belong to the Gods.”

“Even if it means we have to go to the Underworld?” Tia was skeptical. Surely they were allowed to refuse the Gods if it meant the worst punishment possible!

“Even then.” He nodded at her. “This story is especially important now. The God of War has escaped, and eventually it will be our responsibility to bring peace to the lands once again.”

“They wouldn’t choose me?” She gasped fearfully at the thought.

“I doubt that would even cross their minds,” he bluntly told her. “I begin to doubt that even I, a high priest, will ever be able to teach you to be as great as the chosen one should be.”

Tia shook her head, clearing away the flashback. She had no doubt she wasn’t as great as she should be! She was emotional, impatient, and unlike any of the other Druids! Why the Gods would chose an outcast for such an important task was beyond her; and she was an apprentice at that!

“I can’t do it!” she loudly repeated herself, growing more upset by the moment.

 “Tia!” The Elder was uncharacteristically emotional as he admonished her. “You must take the task! It is your destiny, and – as protectors of the land – it is our job to-”

            “I am too young to take on my destiny!” she flared back, trying to appear undaunted by his display of emotion while she angrily clenched her jaw. “I am only twenty five! It is unheard of for destiny to be forced on Druids before they are even bonded! Why should I accept this now? I don’t have the experience or the knowledge yet!”

            “That is exactly why the Gods have chosen you!” he explained as he threw his hands up in what looked like exasperation. “You are perfect for this destiny because you are pure and unsoiled. You are still young and idealistic with the ability to compromise. Life hasn’t colored your eyes.”

            “I don’t care!” she snapped, curling her hands into fists and stamping her foot. She just knew the Gods would change their minds if they realized she was too young. “I am bonding with Roland during the next full moon! This can wait until after I am bonded!”

            Her words stunned him into silence, and Tia wondered if she had really won the argument so easily! She watched the erratic play of emotions crossing his face and her heart sank. He was really upset! She had never seen him so upset before!

“Tia! We do not disobey the Gods!” Her Elder was visibly shaking with emotion as he shook his finger in her face. “You will bring death and destruction – with your willfulness – to our village!”

            “I-am-an-apprentice!” She deliberately stressed each word, trying to make him understand her trepidation. “Send an Elder! Someone with more experience! The last thing this village needs is for me to make a novice mistake and bring the anger of the Phoenix down on our heads!”

            “The Gods chose you! We have to send you!”

            “I won’t go!” Tia stood her ground, thrusting her chin into the air despite the quivering in her knees. “I swear…I will run away before I do this alone!”

            Sighing, the Elder walked to his table and sat down heavily in one of the two chairs adorning his hut. She was more than just a little jealous of his ability to turn off his emotions at the snap of his fingers, but right now that ability was making her feel inferior. If she couldn’t calm down enough to reasonably discuss this, how was she supposed to mediate a peace council?

            “Get us some tea,” he directed her as he flashed a bland smile. “Any gray hairs I get, I am blaming on you.”

            Instantly embarrassed by her lack of self control, Tia immediately went to fill the kettle and hang it over the fire. Her Elder was back to normal now but she was still a boiling cauldron of emotions! Keeping her head down, she wondered why she was born a Druid. She didn’t look like a Druid, she didn’t act like a Druid, and she certainly didn’t think like a Druid. All of her life she had felt like an outsider. Her father had drowned trying to save a child before she was born, and her mother had died in childbirth. With no one left, she was lucky she had been raised by her Elder Uren, and not simply left to fend for herself!

The few minutes that it took for the water to boil gave Tia time to calm down. She knew she was being stubborn, and that she was taking out her frustration on the wrong person, but it was hard to confront the Gods.  Seriously, how do you fight with a God? Shaking her head at the ridiculous notion, she poured the water and added the tea. At least Tia knew that Uren would assess the situation as logically as possible. All she appeared to be capable of doing was fidgeting and plucking at her robe whenever she got nervous.

            “Uren-“Tia began hesitantly as she set a cup of tea in front of him. “Are you angry with me?”

            “No, I’m not angry,” he assured her.

            Studying his calm countenance, Tia wished she could be more like him; she wished she could feel like she belonged, just once. Meeting and holding her Elder’s eyes, she silently begged him to consider the truthfulness of her words. As the silence stretched, she watched Uren shake his head at her. Relief coursed through her when he closed his eyes to commune with the Gods.

            “Please, be reasonable,” she begged the Gods helplessly. She knew they were listening; they always listened to Druids. “I am being asked to do something that normally only a High Priest or Priestess could do!”

Tia watched Uren apprehensively until she could hear the noiseless whisper of the Gods permeating the dwelling. At first, a gentle feeling of peace washed over her at the thought of the Gods being here with her, but as she listened to the sound of the whispers, her heart began beating harder and harder. Her stomach clenched as she slowly sat down at the table. Leaning forward and resting her head on the table, she took deep calming breaths and impulsively decided to accept whatever the Gods decreed; after all, she’d made her case, there was nothing more she could do now.

Feeling only marginally better, Tia frowned as she wondered how she could be elevated to the status of Gatherer when she still couldn’t hear the Gods clearly. That was another one of her differences. She was the only known Druid to ever make it to the age of twenty-five and still be an apprentice! Why was that? Because she could only hear the Gods as a whisper…normally, Druid children developed the ability to talk directly to the Gods by the time they hit puberty. Uren had continually reassured her that she was just a late bloomer but now she knew the truth; she was an anomaly. The freak of the Druids.

            “You will go,” the Elder stated firmly, startling her out of her thoughts and confirming her worst fears. “But I think the Gods have heard your plea...they are sending Roland with you.”

            Tia’s heart fell into her stomach at the announcement. She realized this was probably the only concession she would get; the Gods had spoken. Taking a deep breath and feeling her eyes mist over, Tia tucked her chin into her chest and tried not to cry as the doubts came crashing down on her. What if she failed?

            “I’m so scared, Uren,” she sniffed softly, trying to put on a brave front. Inside she was desperately afraid that she would make a mistake and anger the Gods. “I don’t want to go.”

            “If the Gods hadn’t commanded it, I wouldn’t let you go,” Uren admitted as he reached over to pat her hand. “But we are Druids. We are the people of the Gods. The only reason we exist is to do the Gods’ work here.”

            “But this doesn’t make any sense!” Tia was trying to understand the Gods’ decree. She knew she had to go, but she just couldn’t comprehend why.

            “You aren’t just the average Druid.” His words brought her attention snapping back to him. “Your path is different. It is up to you to correct the mistakes that were made before you were born. We had no idea your destiny would be anything as serious as this, but now it is time for you to lean on everything you have been taught, and go save the lands.”

            “There’s no pressure at all,” she sarcastically remarked, even as she marveled at the weight of responsibility that had just settled on her shoulders.

            “What have you been taught about insurmountable odds?”

            “When in doubt, follow the Gods. They will show the way; no matter how unlikely their path seems, always follow where they lead,” Tia automatically intoned.

“If you are the Gods’ chosen child, and they are requesting you, how can you fail?” He smiled at Tia, but she knew it wasn’t sincere.

            “When do I leave?” she asked, as she grasped his hand and held on as though her life depended on it.

            “Tomorrow at dawn.” Uren’s voice shook slightly as his eyes darted around the room. “I know you are not ready for the title of Gatherer; you haven’t had the time to gain all of the knowledge or the training yet. The simple truth is this: the war needs to end now. The Gods are counting on you to accomplish this, and for the sake of all beings, you must.”

 

***

           

            The next morning, Tia and Roland left their village at dawn. Though she cared about Roland, she really did wish it was Uren coming with her instead. This was her first time away from her village, and they were traveling to a ring on the edge of Druid lands. The thought of being so close to the edge of their lands frightened Tia. With the war and everything, she wondered if it was wise of the Gods to have them travel to such a dangerous area.

That morning, with the cloudless sky and Uren’s warning that the ring was a full day’s walk from their town, she had packed lightly. Carrying only a rucksack of food and a container of water, Tia walked quickly behind Roland. She tried to start a conversation with her companion a couple of times, but his terse replies had left her in no doubt that he wasn’t interested in talking.

The first few hours went easily enough. Tia hummed to herself and made up stories in her head to pass the time. A few times she had laughed out loud at her own stories, and Roland had given her strange looks. She’d ignored the looks and allowed herself to get lost in her thoughts, but as the morning passed, it became harder to do.

Sweat ran in rivulets down her body, and all requests for a short rest had been denied. The slight wind that had been blowing that morning stopped, and the still air prevented her from finding any relief. Determined to behave as Druid-like as possible in front of her intended, Tia grit her teeth and stolidly marched behind him.

  Hours passed as the sun relentlessly beat down on her. Covered from head to toe in a black cloak with the hood pulled up over her head, she was miserable. Tia looked up at the midday sun and groaned at the thought that the day would continue to get warmer for hours to come. She was already drenched in sweat! She didn’t know how much more she could take!

Taking a deep breath of the humid air, she desperately wished the delicate skin of the Druids didn’t force them to wear the cloying cloaks. Tia tried to lose herself in her thoughts again and imagined herself sitting in the cool waters of the river. Instead of helping, the thought just made her that much more angry with the heat.

            “Why can’t we just walk through the misted rings and be there already?” she asked in frustration. All morning she’d wondered how Roland could bear the misery in silence.

            “That is a blatant waste of our magic; to take such a short cut when it is not necessary is a show of disrespect to the Gods,” Roland reminded her in the unaffected voice of a Druid. “We should arrive sometime around sunset.”

            “But I am so hot!” she complained testily as she grabbed her flask, grimacing as she took a swig of the warm fluid. Surely a little break wouldn’t hurt! “Can’t we stop for just a little while? Or at least take these blasted cloaks off while we are walking!”

            Roland laughed nervously, but didn’t slow his pace.

            “So on top of roasting to death we cannot talk?” Tia groaned as she came to a halt under a tree and threw back the hood of her cloak. She sighed in relief as the slightest hint of wind blew across her sweaty neck. Just for that tiny reprieve she was glad she had taken the time to braid her hair and pin it up. “We have been walking since dawn. It is now midday and you have barely spoken to me!”

            “Tia, I have not spoken to you because I thought it for the best,” Roland admitted shyly as he turned around and came to a slow halt in front of her. Smiling gently, he reached out and resettled the hood on her head.

            Why?” she demanded as she threw her hood off again. Her innocence stopped her from understanding the look on his face.

            “We are not bonded yet.” Roland took her hand in his even as he carefully maintained a respectful distance between the two of them. “It is going to be a challenge for me to keep my distance and not touch you. In a little less than one moon cycle, we’ll be bonded, and I’ll be free to touch you as much as I would like. Yet here we are, all alone with no one but the trees and the Gods as witnesses, and I’m not allowed to touch you. When you suggest things like taking off our cloaks - when I know we are wearing little underneath - I am forced to pray for the strength to resist your innocence.”

Releasing her hand, Roland pushed back his own hood and stared into her eyes with an intensity she couldn’t understand. “And while I would love to accommodate that wish, the sun would burn our skin in a matter of minutes. I do have to admit though, the lovely image of you frolicking in the sun is sure to stay in my mind the rest of the day. It will make the journey just a little more entertaining for me,” he teased with a mischievous grin.

            “Oh! I didn’t…I mean…” Tia was confused and embarrassed. She grabbed her hood and pulled it up to cover her flaming cheeks before admitting, “I look forward to our bonding too.”

            “We should talk about something else - anything else!” Roland quietly muttered as he quickly resettled his hood and walked away.

            “Well,” Tia paused to think for a moment before running the short distance to catch up with him. Now that she had him talking there was no way she was going back to the tedium of walking in silence. “Can you tell me why we must travel to this particular ring instead of using one closer to home?”

            “This ring is special,” Roland began explaining. He appeared to be relieved that she had changed the subject. “In times of war, the ring we travel to is used to prevent enemies from lying to one another. Once there, they will sign a pact with you that binds them to the Peace Council until you dismiss them. If they attempt to leave before that, they’ll become ill. The further away from the ring they get, the sicker they’ll get. If they have the stamina to get too far, they die. It’ll be your job to make that last part abundantly clear.

            “The ring will protect us from being harmed while we are within,” he continued, walking slightly in front of her. “But be careful of what you say and how you word it in the ring. What is spoken in the ring can only be truth. A lie cannot pass any being’s lips, for the ring will silence their tongue before it can be said. What is more, if Druids try to be untruthful within the ring, the ring will silence their tongues forever.”

            “Oh!” Tia exclaimed, surprised by the extreme nature of a Druid’s punishment. Without giving her words any thought, she blurted out, “I hate our Gods sometimes! Why must our lives be so much harder than every other being’s?”

            “Tia!” Roland admonished her, tripping over his own feet. He caught himself and turned to face her, speaking harshly to hide his embarrassment. “The Gods hear every word spoken by their chosen people! You should not speak ill of them! What is wrong with you today?”

            “I am hot and I am miserable!” Tia snapped, frustrated by his response. Surely she wasn’t the only person who saw how unfairly the Druids were treated when compared to other beings. “The Gods know I have less than a month until we bond, and they sent me away and called this my destiny! They couldn’t even be gracious enough to make today a nice cool day since we are smothered in these damn cloaks!” Tears streamed down Tia’s face as she vented her frustration. “I don’t want to do this! I don’t want this destiny! I just want to bond with you and raise our babies. I am the first Druid woman to be chosen for a destiny - other than bonding and raising babies - for hundreds of years. Why me?!” she railed at the unfairness of it all.

            “I don’t know,” he appeared to be uncomfortable as he tried to soothe her. “I ask myself the same thing. All I wanted was to have a bonded chosen for me and to have children. I wonder why my bonded has to be the first woman chosen for this kind of destiny in centuries. But it isn’t up to us to decide. The Gods have spoken, and it is our duty to fulfill their wishes.”

            “You’re right -” All of her anger melted away and she felt the chill of premonition creeping down her spine. Wiping away the tears that vanished just as suddenly as they had come, she took a moment to carefully consider her next words. “I just cannot banish my doubts and fears…I don’t suppose I could ask Aldeed to come to the peace council?”

            “Your dragon!? To a peace council?” Roland burst out laughing at her.

            “He is my spirit guide,” Tia reasoned a little testily. “Why not?”

             “We are Druids,” Roland cleared his throat and stated it as if that were answer enough, frustrating Tia even more. “We bond with who we are told, we do as we are told, and we obey our Gods in everything. They specifically said they were sending me to guide you. How would it look if you summoned your dragon for advice when you have a high priest at your side?”

            “You’re right again,” she nodded her head and smothered a sigh. Carefully keeping her eyes fixed on Roland’s feet, she faked her acquiescence and smoothly changed the subject. “Can you tell me what I need to know about the other beings?”

            Pausing to look at her, Roland shook his head. Tia took the time to study him further. Even though his skin was oily and his nose was bright red with a crooked hook, she thought his eyes were beautiful. This was the man the Gods had chosen for her and that alone meant he was special.

            “Physically, you will be taller than most,” He pursed his dry, split lips in careful thought before continuing. “While you stand about six feet tall, that is tall for most men. It is likely that you will be taller than everyone but the Falkeries and the Drow.”

            “I thought Elves were tall too.” Tia noticed his acne for the first time and inwardly shuddered. The amount of blackheads on his nose alone was more than she had on her entire body!

            “Elven men usually grow to be around your height. That will also be true for the Trolls.”

            Trolls!” Tia’s attention snapped back to what he was saying. She hoped she hadn’t heard him right.

            “Yes, Trolls! Surely Uren warned you?!” Roland seemed to be startled at her surprise. “The Phoenix allies will all be at the Peace Council.”

            “This is so wrong!” Tia was immediately put on guard by the unexpected news, and she started asking questions as fast as she could think of them. “I don’t know anything about Trolls! What if I offend them? Oh Gods! Drows will be there! Does that mean Vampires will…be there too?” She could feel her anxiety creeping into her voice.

            Tia, stop!” he commanded her. “We have all day to discuss this. I’m sure we can talk about this in a more reasonable manner without the hysterics.”

            Taking a deep breath, Tia wasn’t sure if she should calm down or smack him. Luckily her training quickly set in, and she decided she should probably relax. Roland was her bonded after all…she was going to have to get used to following his orders. Knowing it was best to mollify him, she tempered her emotions and tried to harness the natural calm of a Druid. Tried being the operative word, she thought irritably.

            “Which beings should I be wary of?” She was proud of how serene her voice sounded even though she was bubbling with emotion inside.

            “All of them, Tia! All of them!” he stated emphatically, and then continued. “They are all flawed in ways the Gods could not control. That is why we were sent to protect them from each other.”

            “So…trust no one?”

            “Exactly,” he shook his head at her.

            Tia could almost hear his doubt. Even he knew she was going to fail…after all, she couldn’t see how someone as insignificant and weak as her could succeed! They walked in silence while she mulled this over.

 

***

 

            Having stopped to eat - at Tia’s insistence - they didn’t arrive at the ring until after sundown. Emerging from the woods into a large clearing, she finally got her first look at the massive ring.

Moonlight bathed the large stone structure in an eerie glow. She was stunned to see that it could easily fit five or six huts inside it. The circle of giant stone slabs protruding from the ground pulsed with a power that resonated in Tia’s chest and urged her forward.

Crossing the clearing quickly, she placed her palm flat on one of the stones, and watched in fascination as her hand began to glitter. Slowly, a light purple sheen spread over her body and then began spreading to the ring.

As the structure lit up, a single beam of moonlight focused on Tia. She could feel the tingling, and the heat of something, but she couldn’t name what was happening. It felt like happiness, power, and destiny.

Suddenly, all the light seemed to spill back at her and with a whoosh, she was swept off her feet. Landing flat on her back about ten feet from where she had been, Tia was surprised to discover she wasn’t injured.

“Are you okay?” Roland cried as he rushed to her side.

“Yes?” Tia blinked the spots out of her eyes before accepting his help in standing.

“Are you sure?”

“I think so,” she lightly shook her head. She was sure she couldn’t have seen what she thought she had. “What just happened?”

“It’s complicated,” Roland admitted after a short pause.

“Roland –” Tia sighed in exasperation as she noticed her hands were still sparkling. “Isn’t there an easy version you could tell me?”

“Well…” he hesitated, giving her a sheepish look. “The short version is this – the Gods are the only ones who have the power to use this ring. They chose you to preside over the peace council, but because you aren’t a God, they had to give you the ability to be able to use it.”

“Um-,” that made sense to her but it didn’t clarify why she was glowing. “You didn’t think I needed to know this until after I became a Druid torch?”

“Okay, I don’t think I am explaining this well.” Roland pushed back his hood and ran his fingers through his hair. “This is why apprentices aren’t supposed to be given a destiny! You aren’t prepared!”

“That’s exactly what I said!” Tia growled in agreement before shaking her head and telling herself to get back to the subject of glowing. “That isn’t important right now though! Right now I need to know why whatever just happened, happened!”

“Do you see the ring?” Roland pointed behind him and smiled. “There is no entrance.”

“Wha - ?” She shook her head in confusion.

“Just listen,” he waved off her question and gave her a cocky grin. “You are linked to this ring for the rest of your life. It will not permit anyone to enter without your permission – except Druids. If the ring is open, a Druid may enter. That is why – when the leaders arrive – they have to sign a blood pact with you. That is what binds them to you for the length of the peace council and prevents them from leaving, but if they don’t sign, they can’t even enter the council.”

“I see,” Tia nodded as she thought this new information over. She had so many questions but the one she had to know burst out before she realized she had even said it. “How exactly do I open the ring?”

“You’re asking me?” Roland shrugged as he bent down to retrieve the traveling supplies he had dropped when rushing to her aid. “How would I know? Anyhow, I think it is time to bed down for the night. You can take the hut. I will begin constructing another one – next to yours – tomorrow.”

“All right,” she automatically replied as she mulled over how she was supposed to get into the ring.

“Wait!” Tia snapped out of her thoughts and called to him as he strode towards the hut. “Why did the light knock me down?”

“Normally that wouldn’t have happened but it had to force its way into you.” Roland kept walking as he imparted that news over his shoulder. “That is why you weren’t warned. Uren was worried you might be the first Druid ever to refuse the light.”

Tia stood still and stared at his retreating back. She didn’t know what to say to that.

 

***

 

            The next morning, Tia woke up feeling more apprehensive than ever. She couldn’t believe she was really at the peace council and responsible for ending the five-hundred year war! The other beings were supposed to be arriving today. She expected them to bring servants and such, but that also meant she had no idea how many people to expect.

            Getting out of bed, she rushed through her morning prayers. Tia didn’t want to be caught unprepared and was walking out of her hut in just a few minutes. Squinting into the morning sunlight, she looked around for Roland and saw him walking around the ring.

            Confused, she approached him silently and watched what he was doing. After a few moments of him running his hands up and down the stones, she realized he was looking for a door.

            “If you don’t know where the door is, how am I supposed to open it?” Tia looked at the imposing stone structure and wished it would tell her what to do.

            “I don’t know.” Roland turned to face her. “I was hoping I would find a clue, but so far I haven’t found anything.”

            Sighing, Tia leaned against the stone and just shook her head.

            “What if we don’t figure this out, Roland?” She closed her eyes and lightly banged her head back against the wall of the ring.

            “I-” he stuttered and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. This particular ring hasn’t been used in ten thousand years or so…no one knows how to use it.”

            “Nice,” Tia dryly commented and pushed away from the wall in frustration. “Did they think I could just walk up to it and say ‘Pretty please, open for me,’ and it just would?”

            “Honestly? Yes.” Roland looked embarrassed to admit it.

            Gods! Can I summon Aldeed now?” She threw her hands up in the air and walked back towards her hut. “He might know something! Aldeed I need-”

            “Tia – NO!” Roland caught her and spun her to face him. “You aren’t allowed to summon Aldeed! We’re supposed to do this together!”

            “Do what?” she demanded furiously. “Fail? Because that’s exactly what we are going to do if we can’t even get into the stupid thing!”

            “Calm down.” The even tone he used riled her even more. “This can’t be that hard. We’ll figure it out.”

            “What do you suggest?” Tia ground out, her chest heaving.

            “Why don’t we work together? We can start at the same point and work our way around the ring. If we go in different directions, we should be able to search the entire thing in just a little while.” Roland looked at his hand that was still holding her arm, and let go of Tia with an apologetic smile.

            “Fine.” Tia stalked back to the ring. “Let’s do this. There isn’t much time before the others begin to arrive.”

            Choosing a starting point, they each circled the ring looking for a door or something that would explain how to get in. It took them about twenty minutes to work around the entire structure.

            “Find anything?” Roland asked looking too hopeful to have found anything himself.

            “No.” Tia sighed and ran her hand along the cool stone. Placing her head against the rock she felt herself begin to panic. “Please open for me!”

            With a low rumble and a grinding sound, the wall suddenly opened up and Tia fell inside. Lying with her feet outside and the rest of her body inside the enchanted ring, she pushed up onto her elbows, and peered into the dimly lit room. Seeing nothing but the circular walls, Tia stood up and gestured for Roland to follow her. Spotting something further back, she hesitantly walked towards it.

            “Tia!” Roland called to her. “I can’t enter the ring!”

            “What?” She turned towards him in surprise. “What do you mean? The door is open…”

            “It’s as if the wall was still there!” Roland stood in the middle of the open doorway and placed his hands on an invisible shield. “See, I can’t go past here!”

            Tilting her head in confusion, Tia walked towards him. Stopping in front of him, she chewed the inside of her lip and considered the new predicament. Reaching for him, she grabbed the front of his robe and tried to pull him through the barrier.

            “Ow!” He slapped her hands and took a step away from her. “Ask the ring to let me in,” He suggested.

            “Please let Roland in,” she said, and stepped back.

            Roland moved forward and placed his hands on the barrier once again.

            “It didn’t work.” He frowned in consideration. “You were touching the ring when you fell through, right?”

            “Yeah,” Tia nodded her head and reached for the wall. “Please let Roland enter.”

            Stepping back, she watched as Roland brought his hand up to the barrier and found it gone. Sighing in relief, Tia grabbed his hand as he walked through the door and made her way towards the opposite side of the circle. Approaching the cloth covered objects, Tia curiously reached for one of the coverings.

            “Oh my!” she breathed as she uncovered a golden inkwell and parchment. “What is this?”

            Roland reached for the parchment and squinted at the writing.

            “Rules of the ring as told to me by the Gods.” He began reading, “One, the items within this ring belong to the Gods. If you remove them, the punishment is death. Two, a lie cannot pass a being’s lips within this ring, for the Gods will silence his tongue. If Druids, the Gods’ chosen children, try to lie, the Gods will silence their tongues forever. Three, use of magic within this ring is prohibited. The punishment is death. Four, violence within the ring is prohibited, punishment is death…So, I guess it would be easier just to say obey or die.”

            Tia held her breath and waited for him to continue reading. The moments seemed to drag before he set the parchment down and looked at her.

            “Other than that, it just gives directions,” Roland shrugged. “You are to use the parchment here for the beings to sign their names. There is a special quill that they touch to their finger that will painlessly draw blood for them to sign their names with. Oh, and if you are thirsty or hungry just ask, and food and drink will appear.”

            “Really!” Tia decided she had to try that one. “May I have some breakfast and a beverage?”

            Tia squealed in delight when a bowl of fruit and a glass of milk appeared at her feet. Quickly kneeling, she picked up the glass and took a drink.

            “You realize you haven’t thanked the Gods for providing those.” Roland reminded her.

            “Thank you, Gods!” Tia flashed him an impish grin before grabbing a slice of fruit she had never seen before.

Biting into the tender flesh, she almost moaned in pleasure. Bursts of tart yet sweet juice rolled over her tongue. Closing her eyes, she relished the flavorful fruit, and wondered what it was.

“I don’t know what these are,” Tia took another bite of the fruit before waving the remainder of it at Roland, “but I am asking them for this every morning!”

“It’s called a peach,” he told her dryly. “They only grow in the southern lands. I have only seen them once in my travels. Apparently, they are a finicky crop to grow and they are difficult to transport.”

“Whatever it is,” she grinned at him, “it tastes lovely!”

“I will take your word for it.” He raised an eyebrow. “However, I have already eaten this morning and it is time for us to prepare for the other beings’ arrival. I need to watch for the Druids coming from Gremlaw and get them working on a hut for us men.”

He turned and began walking away. Tia watched him cross the ring, wondering if she had done something wrong. No longer hungry, she pushed her bowl away and yelped in surprise when it vanished. Shaking her head, she rose to her feet and followed Roland.
 


                              Copyright © 2012 Elly Mae Helcl
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.




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