It shall therefore come to pass that the Chosen Ones shall suffer individual agonies regarding the use of their gifts. He in his blood, and she in her mind. For it is only through such terrors that the true art of the craft shall be revealed to them. —page 1,016, Chapter I of the Vigors
Tristan of the House of Galland smiled slightly to himself as he looked down at his twin sister Shailiha. He was watching her sleep, just as he had for so many days now.
They were in the Redoubt of the Directorate, the secret haven where the many consuls of the Redoubt, the lesser wizards of Eutracia, had been trained. It was also the place where he had first reluctantly admitted to both his now-dead father and the murdered Directorate of Wizards the secrets he knew regarding the Caves of the Paragon. He had found that day so painful and difficult, but now he wished with all his heart that he could have it back.
The happy times, he thought. Before all the madness began.
Sometimes during his quieter moments, his weary mind still tried to convince his heart that everything that had so recently occurred had been long ago. As if year after year of his life had already passed. In reality it had only been several months. But because so much had changed, it still sometimes felt as if it were all a dream.
No, he told himself as he continued to look down into Shailiha’s beautiful face. Not a dream—a nightmare. One from which Shailiha is finally waking up.
Running a hand through his dark hair, he uncoiled his long legs and walked the short distance to where Morganna, Shailiha’s baby daughter, lay sleeping in her crib. The baby girl had been born bothhealthy and alert, despite the horrific circumstances of her arrival into the world. Her birth had come on the same day that both the Coven of Sorceresses and Kluge, their taskmaster, had been killed by Tristan. She had been born in Parthalon, before Wigg, Geldon, Shailiha, Morganna, and Tristan had finally returned to Eutracia.
A tear came to one eye as he thought of the one he’d had to leave behind.
The droplet gathered slowly in size until it finally overcame the lower lid and rolled down his cheek. My son, my firstborn, did not survive to come back with us. For that I shall be forever sorry. Nicholas, forgive me.
Taking a quick breath he looked up at the ceiling, remembering what the palace above had been like before the horrible onslaught of the Coven and their Minions of Day and Night. The palace had once been his home, and full of gaiety, life, and love.
He shook his head, staggered by the madness of it all and the confounding fact that he was now the new lord of the Minions. They were the winged army of over three hundred thousand that had butchered his family, the wizards of the Directorate, and much of the populace of Eutracia. The incredibly potent force still resided in Parthalon, awaiting his orders.
So much has changed, he mused. And I must change with it.
Looking up from the crib and into a mirror that hung upon the wall, he saw a man who had matured, who had killed and would kill again, if need be, to protect his family. He also saw a man who had discovered many secrets about himself, but also knew that there were so many more to learn.
He took in the longish dark hair, deep blue eyes, hollow cheeks, and what some would call the rather cruel mouth. Along with black breeches, he wore the same knee boots and worn leather vest that laced across his bare chest in the front that he had worn daily for the last several months. The dreggan, the Minion sword he had been forced to use to kill his father, lay in its black, tooled scabbard across the back of his right shoulder, beside his throwing knives.
The familiar yet at the same time unknown figure in the mirror stared back at him with a calmness that was born of a certain, hard-won knowledge: that he was the male of the Chosen Ones, and the only person in the world who possessed azure blood. Very soon Wigg and Faegan would want to begin training him in the craft of magic. For Eutracia—because his nation desperately needed him.
Their travels from Shadowood back to Tammerland had been arduous, since both Shailiha and the wizard Faegan had been difficult to transport. Shailiha was difficult to move because she was still suffering the lingering effects of her mental torture at the hands of the Coven. Faegan’s journey had been even more problematic because of the crippled legs that kept him bound to his chair on wheels. And traveling with the princess’ newborn further complicated matters. But with the combined efforts of both the wizards and more than a modicum of the use of the craft, they had finally succeeded in reaching Tammerland. And now the Redoubt, the secret place below the palace, had become their home.
They had been accompanied by Geldon, the onetime slave of the Coven, and two of Faegan’s irascible gnomes and their wives. Despite his worries, Tristan managed another little smile. The gnomes had been helpful, if difficult to control. Both the bombastic Michael the Meager, the gnome elder, and the egotistical, ale-loving Shannon the Small had come. They were accompanied by their wives, Mary the Minor and Shawna the Short.
“Tristan,” Shailiha called out sleepily. “Is that you?”
He turned quickly and went to her bed, looking down into her face. Thanks to the constant ministrations of Faegan and Wigg, the Shailiha he had known and loved was continuing to return a little more each day. The blond hair, hazel eyes, and firm jawline that he knew so well remained as lovely as ever.
“Yes, Shai, it’s me,” he answered softly. On the trip back from Shadowood he had begun calling her by this pet name. Somehow it had stuck, despite the expected, vociferous protests from Wigg that one of the royal house should not be called by such abbreviations. But just as they had done in their youth, the two of them had simply smiled at him in his huff. Deep down, Tristan knew Shailiha really liked the name. But sometimes, to tease him, she would wrinkle up her nose when he said it. Just as she was doing now. Then a different concern seized her, and she quickly sat up in bed.
“Is Morganna all right?” she asked anxiously.
“Yes, Shai,” Tristan answered quietly. “She’s fine. Just like her mother is going to be.” He gently pushed her back down into the luxurious bedsheets.
She wrinkled up her nose again, something he loved to see, though he would never tell her so. “I’m hungry,” she said suddenly. “No, actually I’m starved! I have to get something to eat!”
“Then it’s a good thing I came prepared,” Tristan answered happily. From a nearby table he produced a silver tray of breakfast pastries and a pot of tea that he hoped was still hot. “Fresh from the gnome wives,” he told her. “Actually, they’re quite good.” Shailiha grabbed up one of the pastries. He watched as she quickly went on to devour two of them.
Shailiha’s recuperation had been slow but steady, thanks largely to the attention of the wizards. They had worked with her constantly, using the craft to help her both forget her torture by the Coven and regain her other memories and identity. The most difficult part for all of them had been watching her as she learned for the second time that her husband, Frederick, and her parents had been murdered.
It had been especially difficult for her to learn that her father, the king, had died by Tristan’s own hand. The prince’s heart ached for her, and he had vowed to take the best care of her that he could.
Looking up into his deep blue eyes, she put her teacup down.
“Tristan,” she began uncertainly, “Wigg has mentioned to me that we are somehow special. That our blood is the most highly endowed in the world—yours slightly more so than mine. Because of that we are something called the Chosen Ones.” She paused, taking the measure of her words. “I am still unsure of what all of this means. But please tell me something. Did our parents and Frederick go to your coronation knowing that they might die that day? Die in the hope that you and I would survive?” Lowering his head slightly, Tristan closed his eyes against the pain. My tragic coronation day, he thought. The day everything changed.
“Yes, Shai, they did,” he answered. “Even the Directorate of Wizards knew of the potential danger. Their plans were designed for Wigg and the two of us to survive if anything happened. Those plans were not completely successful, and you and the Paragon were taken.” He managed a small smile through the pain. “But Wigg and I came to Parthalon to get you, and we brought you home. And now, thank the Afterlife, not only are you home, but both you and your baby are well. Frederick died that day, but lives on in your child. And our parents live on in our hearts, because you and I are still together.”
She bit her lower lip, and a small tear came to one eye. “Wigg also tells me that your child, Nicholas, did not live to see his birth. And that you buried him there in Parthalon . . .” She trailed off, clearly not knowing how to proceed.
“Yes,” Tristan answered. “I hope to go back one day soon to visit the grave. I would like to return the body to Eutracia, and bury it with the rest of our family.” A short silence followed.
“I forgive you, Tristan,” she said finally, softly.
“You forgive me?” he asked, confused.
Swallowing hard, Shailiha looked down. The next words were going to be difficult for both of them. But she wanted her brother to be absolutely sure of how she felt. “I forgive you,” she said. “I forgive you for killing our father. In fact, there truly is nothing to be forgiven. For I know from Wigg that you were forced to do it. That father even ordered you to do it. I forgive you, and I shall love you always.”
There were simply no words. He just continued to sit there in the moment with his sister—the twin he had come so close to losing forever. His heart was so glad that she and her baby were still alive.
Finally she gave him the impish smile she was so famous for, at the same time reaching out to grasp the gold medallion around his neck—the one that had been a gift from their parents, just before his coronation. It carried the lion and the broadsword, the heraldry of the House of Galland.
“So you still wear this,” she said happily. “I’m glad. And it seems that I have acquired one of my own.” She reached down to touch the exact duplicate of his medallion that lay around her neck. “Although I haven’t the faintest clue of how I acquired it,” she added.
“Nor do Wigg, Faegan, or I,” Tristan answered. “But the wizards feel that it may somehow be the physical remnants of the incantation the Coven used upon you. By some unknown means it remained with you, even after the sorceresses’ deaths. The wizards have examined it closely, and say that it is all right for you to continue to wear it. But what is most important about the medallion is that wherever the two of us may go or whatever we may do, all we have to do is to look down to that bit of gold to know that there is still someone in our family who continues to love us.”
Tristan paused for a moment, thinking back to the many times his own medallion had helped keep him going through the hardships of finding his sister and defeating the Coven. “My medallion is what finally saved you, you know,” he said thoughtfully.
“What do you mean?”
“It twinkled in the light, and you saw it. It apparently sparked something in your subconscious just before I was about to be forced to . . . just before I . . .”
Again no words would come. How could he explain to her what Wigg had told him on that fateful day? That he must steel his resolve and kill his own sister. That her mind and soul were still infected with the Coven’s spell, making it impossible for her to come back to Eutracia with them. But just as he was about to bring his dreggan down upon her neck she had recognized the medallion, and blinked.
“Tristan,” she asked, “will you do something for me?”
He narrowed his eyes, pursing his lips in mock ferociousness. “Haven’t I done enough already?”
She smiled, but he saw the underlying sadness in her gaze. “I’m serious,” she said. “I truly do need you to perform a special task for me. Something important.”
“Anything, you know that.”
“Wigg and Faegan tell me that our parents and Frederick are buried a short distance from here. They also say I am still too weak to travel. I would ask you to visit their graves for me, until I can go there myself. Please let the spirits of mother, father, and Frederick know that I live, and that I love them.” She looked with tearful eyes to the child in the crib, and then added, “Let them also know that there is now another of their blood in the world.” She burst into tears.
He took her in his arms. “Of course I’ll go,” he said quietly. “I’ll leave first thing tomorrow.”
Collecting herself, she pulled away a little, tentatively smiling up through her tears. “Wigg and Faegan probably won’t like the idea, you know.” She sniffed. “Whenever they’re together they fuss at each other like a pair of old scullery maids.”
Tristan just couldn’t help it. He laughed long and hard, for the first time in what felt like forever. “That’s the best description of those two I have ever heard!” he exclaimed.
Before he could say more, they heard a soft knock, and the door slowly opened a crack. “Begging your pardon, Tristan, but the two wizards are calling for you,” a voice said, the door opening farther. “They say you are to come at once.”
Shannon the Small stood rather sheepishly in the open doorway. The little gnome was bouncing from one foot to the other, as was his habit when nervous.
Shannon had red hair and a matching beard, and dark, intelligent eyes. He was dressed as usual in a red shirt, blue bibs, black cap, and upturned boots. A corncob pipe stuck out jarringly from between his teeth. The gnome seemed quite anxious to deliver Tristan to the wizards and be done with the entire affair. “They say it is quite urgent,” he added tentatively.
“It’s always urgent with those two.” Tristan winked at Shailiha. He turned to the gnome. “Very well,” he said with a sigh. “I will come.” He turned to his sister to say good-bye.
“You promise, Tristan?” she asked him again. “To do what we talked about?”
He gave her a kiss on the forehead and then stood up, stretching the sleepy muscles in his legs. “Yes, Shai,” he said. “Tomorrow, I promise.”
From the Hardcover edition.
Copyright© 2003 by Robert Newcomb