Shira stopped in the door to take in the magnificence that was the Counselor. Even by the oil lamps light, the Counselor’s robes were a whiteness that was almost impossible to clean. Shira idly wondered who had the job of keeping her quarters immaculate and her clothing in such good shape.
Shira dusted off her clothes, feeling shabby in the Counselor’s presence. She strode toward the center of the tent where the Counselor was sitting on a carved wooden chair.
A red pillow peeked from under her seat. A small portable wooden tray next to her held her inks, quills, and books. Shira could tell she had recently used her quill because there was a light black dot on her finger.
When she stood in front of the Counselor, Shira bowed deeply.
“No need for that here, child.”
Shira stood at attention, trying to honor this woman who led the Ahrah. The Counselor smiled. Shira had not been close the Counselor in a long time. Around the Counselor’s lips and forehead, the lines had gotten deeper. Her skin was pale and papery. Her eyes were the colors of bruised grapes and not the normal dark brown of her people. Under the lavender perfume was a slight dark smell of earth and rot.
Shira’s stomach clenched as she saw into this woman, who had taken the Ahrah from a few tents to a large community. She was sick, very sick. Shira waited for her to speak.
The silence became long as the Counselor used a cane to get to her feet. She leaned against the cane and when Shira tried to reach for her, she gave Shira a look that told Shira stay put.
Shira settled back into her position and waited. The silence became longer and Shira wanted to fidget. You didn’t fidget in front of the most powerful woman in your world. She wiggled her toes and waited.
The Counselor sighed. “You are so young.” Now the Counselor was inches from Shira’s face. She looked deeply into Shira’s eyes. Then she touched Shira’s cheek. When had the Counselor become so old?
The Counselor sank back into her chair exhausted.
“I must tell you your origins.”
Shira had wondered where she had come from and who her people were. All her life she had been an outsider with her pale corn-silk locks. Now she would know where she came from.
“We found you, a little baby, near the great veil that is our protection against our southern neighbors.”
The oil lamp flickered and the Counselor’s face became even older to Shira’s eyes. It was not the romantic beginning Shira had thought she would have. She had been a foundling.
They had taken a big risk to shelter a foundling. So many things could have gone wrong.
Oor was not shy about the stories of demon foundlings who had grown up to kill their foster families. He had told her that if she found a foundling to leave it there. It was not safe.
Shira felt an electric shock go through her body. She could have been that foundling.
“We decided to take a risk because you looked so much like our blood-thirsty neighbors to the south. We would raise you, train you, and make you one of our own.”
Shira could see the strategy. The veil had been powered by magic for so many years. Children with magic were rare and in the last few years there were less and less Ahrah mages who could renew the spell that separated the two countries.
“But we can’t keep you.”
Shira wanted to interrupt the Counselor and tell her she would be loyal to her and to the Ahrah for taking in a foundling. Instead of bursting in speech, her training kicked in and she became a statue.
“I had a vision,” The Counselor closed her eyes for a moment. The lines in her face deepened. “You through the woods with a sword in your hand. Under your feet were the skulls of the Ahrah. You were fierce, but a hairy dark man pulled you down to the ground and pierced your throat.”
The Counselor took Shira’s hands in her own.
“Child. Cut your hair. Burn your locks. You are not one of us. Your destiny is not here.
A wetness moistened Shira’s cheek. She took a deep breath and wanted to pull her hands out of the old woman’s hands.
“You leave tonight after the banquet. Tell no one.”
In honor of Liberty Con and the 4th of July— Hilda’s Inn for Retired Heroes will be free from July 3-5.
In Delhaven, there is an Inn run by a retired mercenary. If you are a down-on-your-luck mercenary or men-at-arms, come to the public rooms and Hilda Brant, the owner, will give you a bowl of stew. If you want ale, hand over the coins. Hilda may give you floor space, but she expects you to pay in favors or coins.