Three

When Fate Calls

“What king?” Tehveor whispered, craning his neck to peer at the man. Gregorn slid from the horse, lifting the boy down with trembling hands. The lines around his eyes crinkled as he smiled. “Come with me, Tehveor. Don’t be afraid.”

“Who is that?” Travat stared, wiping strings of hair from his eyes.

Gregorn straightened. “Setta’s son. Speak of this to no one.” He pulled a torch from the wall to light their way as they proceeded through the carved corridors.

Tehveor watched his shadow sneak after him until Gregorn set down the torch, causing it to pounce ahead to stand guard between him and the dark opening of another chamber.

A single candle lit the dim corner where a man hunched over a small table. The flame flickered beneath his breath, but he didn’t look up as they approached. The man had the longest beard Tehveor had ever seen, reaching to his chest and nearly three shades darker than his graying hair.

He muttered strange words, absorbed in a paper with edges so worn that bits of them flaked as he unrolled the scroll. He did not acknowledge them until Gregorn cleared his throat for the third time.

“Yes, Gregorn, who have you brought?”

“Master Skafar.” Gregorn set a firm hand on Tehveor’s shoulder. “Setta has another son. She has hidden him from King Galephy for all of these years until he was old enough to come to us.”

Skafar’s face darkened. “What do we want with the son of an exiled princess?”

“Fate has decreed it.”

Skafar sighed. “I suppose he’s been hearing voices.”

“No.”

“Having dreams?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Then what?”

Tehveor flinched as the man barked the question.

Gregorn stood unmoved. “His eyes, sire.”

Skafar’s head snapped up, staring, before he curled a bony finger. “Come here.”

Tehveor stepped back, but Gregorn gently steered him to the desk. He swallowed, setting one hand on the table next to the paper as Gregorn stepped back.

Master Skafar hardly breathed as he reached for the candle, bringing it so close to Tehveor’s eyes that the entire room dimmed into gray shapes that blurred with the flame.

The candle began to shake.

“What are you called?”

“Tehveor, sire.”

“Tehveor?”

“It means light-bearer,” Master Gregorn informed.

Skafar set the candle down. “Where did she hide him?”

Gregorn’s answer came in strange words. “Tereh ih desent kara Lesonna shi kades.”

“Segar traken?”

Tehveor swayed as the sounds swirled around him. A chill swept through his body as he backed toward the door, wondering why his mother had stayed behind. As the men continued their hushed conversation, he slipped from the chamber, following the sound of footsteps but he quickly lost them.

In a smaller cavern, carvings of men on horses adorned the rough rocks, drawing him as effectively as if they had stepped from the walls and beckoned to him. He traced his fingers along strange markings that formed letters he had never seen. Scratching the dirt from some of the carvings, he tried to imagine a picture out of the squiggles.

“Curve, straight and round…”

A shape in the corner caught his eye.

Tehveor froze.

A black snake slithered toward his shoes, leaving a clean trail in the dust. Tehveor held his breath until the snake was so close that its flicking tongue nearly brushed his sole.

“Tay sa! Be still!”

A boy held both hands out as he crept toward them. He crouched on the floor, then swooped to grasp the serpent’s head.

“It might bite you!” Tehveor gasped as the creature twisted and thrashed in the boy’s hand.

“It can’t.” The boy ran his finger casually down the long body. “I’ve got its head. It can’t do a thing.”

After deciding he was not going to do anything except hold the snake as he would a pet, Tehveor’s stepped toward his protector.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m Decharo.”

Dirt streaked Decharo’s face, and his dark hair hung to his shoulders in oily strings. His feet were wrapped in rags, and his nails were cracked.

“How old are you?” Tehveor asked as politely as he could manage.

“Eleven, I think. Perhaps thirteen. Doesn’t matter.” Decharo shrugged, casually inspecting the black diamond head of the snake. “I never knew my parents, so nobody could tell me.”

“I didn’t know mine either.” Tehveor lowered himself onto a large rock, glancing into the corridors for his mother. “Not until Mother came for me last night. I’ve never met my father.”

“Master Gregorn is my father,” Decharo said. “Almost, anyway. He’s the one who found me and brought me here to take care of the caves.”

“You take care of these caves? Do you live here?”

“Not in this part. There are rooms farther in. It’s really Sentarra, but it would be too dangerous to call it that, so we call it the caves. And I take care of them. That’s what I was doing when I found you.” Decharo readjusted his grip on the snake before standing. “But I must go. I heard you were here. I wanted to see you, but if Master Gregorn finds me shirking my duties, he’ll cane me.”

“May I come?” Tehveor jumped to his feet.

Decharo nodded with a grin. “Come along, then.” He peered back from the entrance of a tunnel. “But you’ll have to keep up. I can’t slow down.”

Tehveor followed him through the dark passageways, stumbling on the uneven ground. Water dripped, and somewhere he heard something that sounded like the roar of a river. Small whirring noises echoed from overhead. Tehveor peered into the darkness.

“What’s that sound?”

“They’re bats.”

Tehveor scrunched his face. “Real bats? What do they look like?”

“Flying rats.”

Sure that he had just discovered a new image to add to his collection of nightmares, Tehveor swung his eyes back up, wondering if bats’ eyes glowed red, the way rats’ eyes did when they reflected candlelight.

The caverns shrank as they walked through hand dug tunnels, until they stepped into a natural chamber where a short rock wall encircled a blazing fire. Decharo dropped the snake into a small box, setting it in the corner before he fished logs from a wood bin. Tehveor glanced toward the ceiling, but didn’t see anything that looked like a rat, so he bent down to grab a section of peat.

“Is this how you keep your caves warm?” he asked.

“It’s the Light,” Decharo answered. “I have to refill it every hour so that it never goes out.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s for you.”

Tehveor straightened to stare at him. “Me?”

Decharo glanced around, then lowered his voice so that the echoes stopped. “I know who you are. I heard them talking.”

“Talking about me?” Tehveor asked.

Decharo nodded. “You don’t have to pretend. I already know of the legend. Master Gregorn told it to me.” He pointed to the letters that curved around the lip of the circle. “Celestion will come to you from the line of leaders, with eyes like melted silver, to ignite the sword in his hand. He shall unite the people of Sentarra and lead them into the kingdom. Wait for him, and keep the Circle of Light burning. He shall surely come.” He tossed in a log. “You are just like the legend says. Except you don’t have a sword. And I thought you’d be older than me.”

“But I’m not allowed to play with swords!” Tehveor said. “Lord Lesonna says I can’t touch them.”

Decharo laughed. “You cannot free a country if you are not allowed to touch a sword. Lord Lesonna doesn’t know that you’re a king.”

“No, I’m not,” Tehveor said. “I’m a korvier. My uncle is king.”

“I’m not talking about an Erish king.” The boy sneered the word with the disrespect of a foreigner. “I’m talking about Sentarra. Haven’t they told you anything?”

Tehveor scrunched his nose. “I’ve never heard of Sentarra until just now.”

“Sentarra is our country,” Decharo said. “And the legend says that a boy with silver eyes will come and be our king.”

Once, when Tehveor had hidden under a tablecloth waiting for Silvah to find him, he overheard the adults talk about a local boy who was sent away to a place in Eirlerre because his mind was not normal. Since nothing could be done about his delusions, he was kept with other people who were like him. Tehveor had forgotten about the conversation until now, but he suddenly wondered if this was the place.

The boy flailed his hands defensively. “Ask anyone in the caves. But don’t mention it at the castle. They don’t know about it, and they must never find out.”

“Tehveor?” Setta’s voice echoed.

“Mother!”

Tehveor bounded toward the entrance, while Decharo jumped to his feet, rushing back toward the wood bin.

Setta stepped into the light, reaching to pull Tehveor into her arms. “Tehveor, where’s Master Gregorn? What are you doing here?”

“He’s talking to an older man, but I don’t know what they are saying,” Tehveor said.

“I’ve been watching him, Princess.” Decharo spoke as he bowed. “Master Gregorn is talking to Master Skafar.”

“He won’t believe I’m a korvier,” Tehveor said.

Setta sat down on one of the large, flat stones that created seats around the circle. She pulled him to stand close to her. “You are the son of a prince. That makes you a korvier.”

“Then I’m not a king?” Tehveor shot a triumphant look toward Decharo.

“Not of Eirlerre,” Setta replied. “But a long time ago, there was another country called Sentarra that bordered Eirlerre. That country stood between Katal Ieill and all the other countries. When Katal Ieill came to war with Eirlerre, Sentarra helped win the war. But so much was lost that the people of Sentarra were forced to live in Eirlerre, and eventually they became part of this country.” Her hand moved to stroke his hair. “But here in the ruins, writings have been found which prophesy that someone with silver eyes called Celestion will come and unite Sentarra into a country again.”

Her eyebrows rose as she waited for him to understand the meaning.

“Am I Celestion?” Tehveor asked.

“Yes.” Setta squeezed his hand. “I think so.”

“But…” Tehveor’s eyes swung up to read hers. “How?””

She shook her head, and whispered, “I don’t know. Try not to think of it now. There’s still much that you don’t know. Things will become clearer as you need them.”

“That’s why I keep the Light burning,” Decharo broke in. “It’s my most important job.”

“What am I supposed to do with the Light?” Tehveor asked.

Decharo shrugged. “I don’t know. But it will be here when you need it.”

Tehveor eyed the rough stones of the circle, the flames and the words that circled. “But I don’t know what to do with it.”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Setta replied quickly. “If you are Celestion, when it comes time, you’ll know what to do.”

“But…” Tehveor’s chest heaved with panicked breaths.

“Shh,” Setta whispered as she pulled him against her chest. “Darling, nothing is going to happen yet.”

Tehveor clung to her, closing his eyes to block his surroundings.

“Does that mean you are going to come back?” Decharo asked.

Setta’s lips brushed Tehveor’s hair. “Well,” she said. “I suppose I must.”