The sound of snowmelt dripping off the clay tiles of the roof and splashing into muddy puddles woke Isontra well before dawn that early spring morning. She was drenched with sweat from a torrent of nightmares that had distressed her for the fifth night in a row. Surrealistic images, never clear enough to understand, haunted her. She never considered herself precognitive as her great grandmother had been, but the dreams seemed significant in some alien way she couldn’t grasp.
Rubbing the grains of sleep from her eyes, she listened to the stillness enveloping the Chancery. Unlike herself, her extended family slept peacefully. Sitting up in her bed, her steel gray eyes heavy with sleep, she stared into the blackness of her suite, the smell of pine and clover tickling her nose. She shivered. The room was cold; the embers of last night’s fire only a memory in the hearth.
While listening to the mournful cry of a snowy owl, the old woman tried to make sense of the latest dream. Images of her granddaughter’s pale blue eyes, wide with fear, distressed Isontra. The dreams were likely based on her apprehension concerning the stranger currently housed in the small colony she ruled. Shaking off her anxiety, she reached for the rabbit-fur robe on the chair beside her feather bed. Wrapping the heavy garment around her thin body, she got up to light a taper. The howling of a lone wolf reminded her she needed to send out hunters to ensure her people wouldn’t be overrun with predators by this time next spring, and feared this might be an omen of an even greater danger, a danger to the granddaughter who must be prepared to assume the role of Vice Miral at the harvest Seridar.
At sixteen annums, Kairma was little more than a child, and a child with the handicap of being very different from the rest of her people. Isontra sighed, knowing that being different was only one of many difficulties she would face as heir to the Healing Crystal.
The colony of Survin was once strong and healthy, but a deadly plague had decimated the small village several annums earlier, reducing the total number of inhabitants to just over one hundred and thirty. Isontra worried the colony wouldn’t have a sufficient genetic pool to continue, but religious law forbade the introduction of strangers.
Isontra’s nights had grown uneasy since the stranger, Trep, had arrived. She knew it was a sign of change, and felt it was the one she had been awaiting her entire life, but it carried with it some unfathomable terror. This stranger could be the answer to our prayers or the end of the life we know. Then again, maybe these are one and the same.
Laws had been broken in the past—sometimes to the benefit of the colony and sometimes to its detriment. Now it was up to Isontra to decide which, if any, laws would be broken today, and which unpopular decisions she would lay on Kairma’s shoulders to be defended time and time again. The young girl who was being groomed to become the colony’s leader could not divorce herself from the decisions of the thirty Mirals who had served as Healers before her.
The candlelight threw heavy shadows on the rich bur-oak paneled walls as Isontra made her way to the finely carved pine table and began to write. She usually put off writing in the daily Ogs until she had drunk several cups of terrid, but there was no way she could go back to sleep now. She didn’t want to wake the rest of the household, so like many Mirals before her, she quietly recorded the events of the previous day as the sun crept into the narrow mountain canyon.
ATD 797-3-21. How can I tell my people how different our lives will be, that is, if we survive?