“Ouch!” Lorien gasped and formed her hand into a fist. Drops of blood slipped out from her palm through her fingers. She held her hand close to her body and kept her back to her father, who was seated at a table in the center of the balcony.
“It’s nothing,” she responded.
But, a red line ran down from her palm and spread to her wrist. She grabbed the sleeve of her shirt with her left hand and pulled it over her wrist up to her fingers, grateful for the dark clothes of the Valdaren Guard she was uncharacteristically dressed in. Warm blood oozed from her hand and crawled up the arm of her shirt. The dark splotch on the sleeve grew, and she could feel thick blood pooling up to her elbow. Her hand throbbed. But where had the cut come from? Her eyes scanned the railing in front of her. She had been resting her hands on it only moments before, gazing out over the rushing waterfalls into the moonlit night that was to guide her journey. The marble was polished and smooth.
“There was a sharp piece of rock loose on the banister. I caught it with my palm. It’s just a scratch. It is nothing.”
Her father eyed her suspiciously. Lorien, keeping her back to him, glanced down at her fist. She pulled the sleeve back slightly. There was no blood. She opened her fist. There was no cut on it, not even a scratch. She had felt the sharp pain and had seen the blood; but, even the stain of the shirt sleeve had vanished. She bit her lower lip, then forced a smile and turned to her father, holding her hand up for him to see.
“See, it’s nothing. I just caught it on something. That’s all.”
Still, he watched her.
“It was nothing,” she insisted.
He got up from his chair and walked to her. He took her hand in his own and studied it, touching the spot where she had felt the cut and tracing his finger down the middle of her palm.
“It was nothing,” she protested.
She tried to pull her hand away from him, but he held on, his finger still pressed to the spot she had felt the gash. He looked intently at her, grinned, and pushed her hand gently toward her chest, releasing it.
“I’ve never known a little scratch to cause you to gasp.”
“True, but this isn’t an ordinary night. Consider that I am slightly on edge.”
“Hmm…I’ve never known you to be jumpy whether the night was ordinary or not.”
“I didn’t say I was jumpy, just slightly on edge.”
“You gasped and grabbed your hand.”
“I don’t know what it was, but there is nothing there now.”
“What was there?” he asked.
“Honestly, what does it matter?”
“Lorien, there is a task at hand that requires YOUR hand, but I will not allow you to leave the Northern Realm unless you are honest with me.”
Lorien forced a smile and held her palm up for him to see.
“Do you see anything?”
“Then there is nothing to tell.”
She looked away to avoid the piercing gaze of his blue eyes, but she could feel his probing. She bit her bottom lip and shifted from one foot to another.
“Fine…I felt a sharp piercing. I looked down, and it was bleeding…gushing blood. Then I looked down, and there was nothing.”
He grabbed her hand again, held it palm up between his hands, and he closed his eyes. Lorien relaxed. The strength and warmth of his hands had always reassured her. She was content to stand by him, and she didn’t want him to let go. Without releasing her hand, he opened his eyes and looked deeply in hers.
“A test,” he said quietly.
“Well, that is lovely and nonspecific, Father.”
“I believe you have been the unwitting victim of a little Gat mischief. It is nothing serious.”
“Yes, that is what I said…nothing.”
She laughed, though she tried not to.
“Honestly, I’m going to fix that Gat for good one of these days,” she protested. “He is always meddling…always!”
“He means you no harm, Lorien. Quite the opposite.”
“I know that, but…”
He raised his hand to stop her and nodded his head.
“Lorien, if I didn’t think you were ready, you would not be going anywhere. For all their magic and potions and knowledge, Gats are not Valdaren. They were neither Lightbearers nor Kings. To us were these tasks given, and we have always fulfilled them. The Gat sees a linear progression of life. He does not understand the swirling of the wind or the radiating of light. When the real test comes, what is inside of you will match it.”
They both stood for a time, side-by-side, staring out into the forest of the Northern Realm just beyond the pools and river that collected below the waterfalls of the City of the Great King. On any other night, the two of them would have talked quietly and laughed, remembering stories of times passed or playing word games in a language only the two of them understood. He would challenge her and try to stump her. She would challenge back. They would make a sport of words and strategies, ideas and plans—constructs of a brilliant mind and its singular offshoot. This night, for the remaining moments they had, they waited silently.
Chapter 3, The Task at Hand, from The Legend of the Lumenstones: The Lightbearer
words and cover art © 2017 Tanya Cliff
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