Heir to Power – Chapter 5

Kairma was feeling a little uneasy about probing around the Godstones as she climbed up the stairs on the left side of the fourth head and walked through the narrow crevice that led to the opening of the newly discovered shrine. Seeing Collin and Zedic just finishing their lunch, she smiled brightly.

“Hey, Boo, glad to see you could get away from your studies,” Collin said as he smiled back at her. “What are you learning about anyway?” He jabbed an elbow at Zedic and winked. “Has Isontra told you about the Mating Rites?” Everyone knew that for Kairma the rites would be different. Not only was she a Healer, and hence her mate would become the new Comad, Kairma was different.

Kairma grinned, though she felt the blood rise to her cheeks. “I wish she’d tell me about the Mating Rites. All she does is keep making white veils. And she says …” Kairma began mimicking her grandmother. “‘Don’t worry about it, dear. You will know soon enough. Besides, men are fools and so much trouble, you’ll wish you had never found out.’” Zedic looked almost hurt, and Kairma laughed. “No, honestly, she’s teaching me about history.”

Collin swallowed the bite of bread he was chewing. “So Gramme’s gonna keep you in the dark until the fatal day, huh?”

Kairma sat down next to Collin. “You both passed your Seridar and attended Salina’s mating last Harvest Celebration. Why don’t you tell me about the rites?” She watched Collin turn away. Oh, my stones! Did Collin actually blush? Maybe I don’t want to know what happens.

Zedic chided, “Collin, let her be.”

“It’s okay, Zedic,” she said, removing her scarf and unraveling the long braids. “That’s a long walk. I’m really warm. Do you have anything to drink?” She ran her slim fingers through her hair, gently scratching her scalp, letting the cool breeze dry her sweating head.

Handing her his water pouch, Zedic said, “You know, Gramme isn’t going to let you do this kind of carousing when you’re the Vice Miral.”

Kairma took a drink of water and gave her brother a sly smile. “Gramme wouldn’t let me do this now, if she knew!”

Zedic laughed lightly and shook his head in agreement.

She crossed her legs and leaned back against the rock wall. “Today we talked about strangers and how we should deal with them.” Kairma took a deep breath. “Did you know most outsiders who have found us have been put to death? Gramme was reading from the Ogs this morning, and until recently we have always killed outsiders and those of the colony who have tried to leave the mountain.”

Collin obviously didn’t like the sound of this conversation, and his dark green eyes flashed at her. “What about your father and Grampe? They were both outsiders.”

Kairma picked up a rock and tossed it from hand to hand. “I know. Gramme says that was the initial cause of the split in the church. That helps explain why people shy away from me, but I think she brought up the subject for another reason. We have to make a decision about the stranger. There are many things to consider, and we really don’t know why he’s here.”

Collin got up and started putting the remainder of his lunch back in his pack. “He’s here to study the Ancient Ones—the people he said really built these monuments.” He looked squarely at Kairma, all raillery gone. “Kairma, I’ll defend him, you understand that. I won’t let you, or anyone else, kill him because of some stupid law written hundreds of annums ago.”

Kairma understood and was slightly startled when she suddenly realized Collin spoke as a man, not as the teasing boy who was her friend. It was obvious this discussion was over.

Feeling slightly disheartened, she quietly helped them put away the remains of their lunch and then began to move handfuls of dirt away from the golden doors that guarded unknown secrets. The sun beat down on them, and the smell of sweat and dust filled their noses.

With a little more effort, they were able to move the immense obstacle far enough to pass behind it. For an intense moment, they looked at each other, grinning broadly.

Zedic walked to their packs and took out the ceramic jar that held his coal. Grabbing one of the torches Collin had thought to bring and lighting it, he moved cautiously up to the gaping slit of the entrance and handed the torch to Collin. For a few moments, they stood before the great doors and stared excitedly, unsure of what possible danger may be awaiting them.

It was Collin who made the first move. Leading with the torch, he stuck his head through the opening. “Great Stones!” he whispered.

The room beyond the door was completely free of dirt. The light of his torch threw cryptic shadows, and Collin could make out the shape of a table and various chairs. He quickly stepped back and handed the torch to Zedic, motioning for him to have a look.

Zedic peeked through the opening. “By the Crystal, Collin, what do you make of this? I’ll bet it’s as old as the mountain itself!” He turned to Collin, who was lighting the other torch. “It looks even bigger than the Gathering House. Do you think two torches will be enough?”

“It’ll have to be enough. It’s too late to go back for more. Come on, let’s go in.” Collin’s eyes blazed excitedly as he disappeared through the narrow opening.

Kairma looked at Zedic, shrugged, and stepped through the opening. In her haste, she ran into Collin, who had stopped short, gaping at the sight before him.

Zedic squeezed past Kairma. As he held the second torch high above his sister’s head, lighting the whole room, he said, “Stars and stones! It’s unbelievable.”

The entrance to the shrine was covered with a mosaic of opaque blue lapis and gold that framed bronze pictures of gods, birds, flags, and a myriad of things the three Survinees had never seen before. The immense, rectangular room was at least eighty feet long and sixty feet wide. Its massive walls arched gracefully to a white marble ceiling, thirty feet above the polished marble floor. Around the outer walls, about three feet below the arch of the ceiling, was a finely carved frieze depicting more mysterious objects. Some were battle scenes with men on horses. Other scenes looked like gods or men in strange wheeled carts. The floor was made of the same fine marble stone and felt slick under their soft leather footwear.

Recesses, cut into the stone of the walls to the right and the left of them, were filled with cabinets of an unfamiliar transparent material, framed by the same golden alloy as the outer doors. Inside the cabinets were hundreds of silver cylindrical canisters. Between each recessed bank of cabinets stood statues of gods. Some of them they recognized as the gods of the Godstones while others were unfamiliar. Although the faces of the gods carved into the mountain were male, inside the tomb they found female gods as well.

On the back wall was a large picture that was mostly white with patches of green and smaller spots of blue. The white spaces were divided into smaller sections by dotted lines. The center of white lay between borders of blue and had strange words written all over it. There were red and blue squiggly lines running everywhere. Kairma tried to read the words written across the huge picture. She recognized a few, like north, south, new, and lake, but the rest made no sense to her at all.

A mahogany leather chair sat behind an immense table that dominated the back half of the room, and dozens of smaller chairs lined up in front. Set on the massive table were four of the strange silver canisters that filled the clear cases.

Zedic caught his breath in awe. “How strange and wonderful these gods must have been.”

For a long time the three of them stared around the room, not daring to touch anything but drinking in the reverence of a tomb untouched for countless annums. They could feel, in their heart of hearts, that they were embarking on a wondrous journey of knowledge untold. And while they were wildly excited, they were just a little scared.

Collin walked over to study one of the many statues that lined the walls. “Maybe the Ancient Ones that Trep speaks of built this shrine to honor their gods. Maybe these are their rulers or even the Ancient Ones themselves. These aren’t great giants like those of the mountain. Maybe the Ancient Ones were no bigger than us. Other than the clothes they wore and the things they could build, they seem very much like us.”

Zedic’s tone was sardonic. “Oh, yeah,” he snickered, “other than being able to do magical things, hey, they’re just like us.”

He moved cautiously toward one of the silver cylinders lying on the table and sat down in the broad leather chair. It was comfortable. He studied the construction, wondering if he could reproduce it, and almost fell out of it when the chair seemingly turned by itself. Recovering, he turned his attention to the objects on the table.

With effort he managed to twist the top off of one of the cylinders. “What a strange way to close a container.” He twisted the top on and off a few times and then dumped the contents. His eyes lit up as he appraised all the things on the smooth table in front of him. “Look at this! It’s a girl and a boy, but it’s not a drawing! And look at the colorful clothes they are wearing!” Zedic picked up the picture and turned it toward Collin. “They look real! Like they’re alive in there!” He quickly set it down at that thought.

“At least we know they weren’t White Ones!” Collin joked as he picked up the picture and stuck it in his pack.

Collin walked over to a smaller table in the corner to examine a rectangular box covered with small squares. Most of the squares were embossed with a script symbol. He called to Kairma, “Hey, Boo, come look at this. Can you read it?”

Kairma came to stand beside him. Pointing to a row of squares, she said, “These are numbers. This one says tab.” She didn’t know the meaning of the strange word. “And this says control. Maybe it’s the main square, you know, one to control the other ones.” She pressed on it. Nothing happened. She pressed a few more squares, but still nothing happened.

Collin pondered that thought. “That would make sense because it’s longer than most of the others.”

Kairma looked puzzled. “But this one is longer. It says shi … shift. And the longest one doesn’t have any script on it at all. I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like this before.” She shrugged and left Collin to puzzle over the mystery.

Going back to study the large picture on the wall behind the chair where Zedic was sitting, Kairma asked, “What is this drawn on? It’s not leather. It’s too smooth.” But no one was really listening to her because they were caught up in their own investigations.

Collin had been inspecting a strange box he found mounted on the wall above the mysterious cubes of script. It was about four feet square with a greenish-gray surface. The frame looked like a black alloy, but the center, made of a substance similar to Isontra’s herb jars, reflected the light of his torch. He could almost see through the first layer and on closer inspection he could see himself staring with a puzzled look on his face. It wasn’t as clear as his reflection in the pond, but it was definitely his face.

While Collin puzzled over the large wall mounted square, Zedic busied himself with the contents of another cylinder. Inside were thin sheets of silver covered with writing. “Kairma, look. They kept records the same way we do only on a different kind of alloy. It’s silver not yellow, and it’s really thin.”

The Survinees had discovered the soft golden stone from the caves near their canyon. Once the gold was pounded flat on a smooth piece of granite, the thin sheets could be written on. These were more durable than the hides they usually used for recording information so over the past hundred annums they began the arduous task of copying all of their most important records.

Kairma joined Zedic at the table, and while she examined the silver pages he went on to discover a large drawer that slid out from the table when he pulled on it. Inside he found very thin sheets of hide with script notations all over them. They were very fragile and some crumbled when he picked them up. “Kairma, look at these! I’ll bet you can read this!”

Kairma took hides from Zedic and on the top of the first one she read aloud. “Ma-i-den, e-ar-li-est, beg-in-ing … Oh, beginning, I know those words!” She studied the next word, but it was totally foreign to her. She closed the neatly bound hides and set them in her pack. “I have more script lessons tomorrow. Gramme can read this!”

Collin whirled around. “Boo, you can’t show that to Isontra! Where are you gonna say you found it? We’re not supposed to be here!”

Kairma frowned. “It will take annums for me to know enough script to understand this. There must be hundreds of cylinders in these cabinets.”

She looked so stressed that Collin walked over to her and put his arm around her shoulders, inhaling the scent of her hair. “I have an idea,” he said. “Why don’t you teach us the script too, then we can help you read all of this.” He made a sweeping motion around the room.

“Yeah,” Zedic piped in, “we’ll help you read them.”

“I don’t know the script very well,” Kairma said hesitantly. “This could take a long, long time.” She went back to puzzling over the silver pages before her.

Dropping his arm, Collin found another drawer and began to investigate its contents. He picked up a small gold band from the treasures and studied it. “This is nice.” Collin put the ring on his little finger.

Zedic looked up. “I think it’s made of the same yellow rock we use for recording the Ogs, but harder. Do you think it’s a different kind of alloy? Like what they used on the door?”

Collin looked around the room thoughtfully at the brass-encased cabinets. “I don’t know. Looks a lot like it, but it’s shinier.” He walked over to a cabinet and opened the door. It swung open easily. Fascinated, he opened and closed the door several times. “Kairma’s right. There is too much here to study. Maybe we should show this to Trep. He knows a lot and could probably figure out what all this is much better than we can.”

Kairma looked up at Collin. “Do you think that’s wise? Mother and Gramme have forbidden me from talking to the man. And what if …”

“They don’t want you here either.” Collin reminded her.

“I know, but what do we really know about him?” Kairma shifted her gaze to Zedic as Collin’s stare had become icy. “Maybe I spend too much time around Gramme, but I’m not sure if we can really trust him.”

Collin shrugged and picked a few more things from the drawer and put them in his pack. He opened another drawer. Inside was a small brightly colored box. He lifted the top and gasped as music began to play. “Look! It plays a song. And there’s a little girl on top spinning around in circles.” The sound was high, faint, and tinny. It didn’t sound like any instrument they had ever heard before.

The tune was light and lively but very strange. Kairma gasped. “Is there something alive inside the box playing the music? Maybe the gods are very tiny.” Looking from Collin to Zedic and back to Collin, fear clearly etched in every line of her face, she put a hand over her mouth, and swallowed loudly. As if reading each other’s thoughts, they put down the objects in their hands and quickly walked out the door. Things would be clearer once they were outside.

The three young friends stood there at the opening for some time before Zedic spoke. “We need to get back. It’s late. The hunters will be home soon and I still have to set up the blooding rods.”

Collin nodded as he began to pack his tools. “We need some time to think this through. Maybe I can bring Naturi up here tomorrow.” He glanced at Kairma and saw that she was relieved. “And I’ll see if I can’t find out a little more about Trep before I say anything to him.”

Collin and Zedic pushed the heavy door back into place before heading silently down the stairway, and as they walked Kairma began to braid her long hair into its customary style. A cool spring breeze whistled through the pines, drying the sweat from their dirt-covered bodies. They looked forward to a well-deserved trip to the cleansing station.

Taking the scarf she usually wore over her hair, Kairma wrapped it about her shoulders. “I can’t believe no one has ever found the vault before. What if we were supposed to find it when we first came to Nor. What if it has valuable data concerning the reason for being here?”

Collin reached over and flipped one of her long, now very dirty, white braids at her before she could fend him off. “You mean to tell me, with all the studying you do, you still question why we’re here.”

She tried to punch him in the arm, but he was too quick for her. Sighing, she gave up the chase and said, “Well, I know what the Ogs say, but don’t you think there should be more to our lives than this?”

“Holy Nor, Zedic. I think your little sister has actually heard what I’ve been saying for the last—oh, I don’t know how many annums now.”

Zedic stared ahead but murmured, “It began the day we dug out the huge alloy cart we never could move.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right. I still wonder what that was ever used for.” Collin headed a little way into the forest. “Here’s another good sapling we can use for a rod.”

The three of them worked quickly to strip the small branches, adding it to the rods they’d already collected. Zedic adjusted his pack of rods and they began to walk again. “How do you think Naturi will react when we tell him? He’s pretty cautious.”

Collin laughed. “Yeah! I’d say almost virtuous.”

Zedic matched Collin’s pace. “He’s just more serious than most people our age. Don’t you think Naturi’ll be upset if we tell him we were up here?”

“Absolutely! I can’t wait.” Then, in a more serious tone, he added, “He’ll know what to do though. We sure can’t tell the elders where we were.”

Kairma agreed. “He’s older. I’m sure he would talk to Trep if we ask him. He would never reveal anything about us that Trep shouldn’t know.” But Naturi’s still going to be really mad we were here.

Turning up the narrow path that led to the canyon, they stopped and picked up three rods Zedic had set aside earlier that morning. Collin said, “I think Trep’s safe. We already know he’s here to study the Godstones. He told me that he first heard about the temples from another traveler who came through here a few annums ago. He didn’t even know we were here before he met me. He seems more interested in our language and the way we dress than anything else. He’s never mentioned the Crystal.”

Handing Collin another rod, Zedic said, “That might mean he just doesn’t want us to know he knows.”

“Maybe, but I don’t get that feeling at all.”

Kairma stopped suddenly.

“What’s wrong?” Zedic asked.

“I think I saw a wolf over there,” she said. “By that old stone wall.”

“Are you sure? Could it have been a coyote?” Collin asked.

Pulling out her sling, Kairma searched the ground for a hefty stone. “Wasn’t a coyote. Too big.” Finding one, she handed it to Zedic. “You’re a better shot.”

After staring into the trees for several minutes, Kairma walked quickly. “I don’t see anything now. If it’s one wolf, she probably ran off. We’ll hear her call if there are more wolves in her pack.”

Suddenly the two boys had to hurry to catch up. When Zedic reached her side, he asked, “Do you think that’s a new one? I thought Toric and Canton ran off the one Gramme heard a few days ago.” Zedic never questioned Kairma when she named an animal. She seemed to have an affinity for living creatures, often knowing their sex and their whereabouts without ever really seeing them.

Kairma turned toward the forest. “They looked for several days, but never found her trail. If she has pups, she’ll stay close by them. We’ll tell Gramme where we saw her and maybe the men will run her off for good this time.”

Zedic shook his head. “All the men are hunting.”

Kairma said, “Naturi didn’t go. I think Hiram and Diakus may have stayed behind as well. You and Collin are pretty good with a sling too, but you obviously found a reason not to go.”

Collin shrugged, but his cheeks flushed slightly. “Yeah, we probably should have gone. Maybe Zedic and I will go wolf hunting later.”

At the north end of the canyon, several wide stone steps led to the entrance of the hospital. The stones had been appropriated from the temples hundreds of annums before and now seemed a natural part of the cliff face. They didn’t see anyone as they passed through the ground-level exit of the great hall. The original openings to the stone tunnels were about twenty feet across and eighteen feet high. Shortly after the Survinees had come to the canyon, they enclosed the face of the openings with thick wooden walls and put smaller doors in the center. Most of the doors in Survin were made of heavy fur and leather, but here and at the Gathering House they had hung wooden doors, attaching them with leather hinges that had to be replaced often. This week, Collin and Kaiden had drawn that particular duty.

When the tired, amateur archeologists reached the village center, they found Naturi preparing the fields for spring planting. He smiled and put his right hand to his forehead in greeting as the three of them came up the path. Naturi was a striking man with a square jaw and well-defined cheekbones. His hair was cut shorter than most of the Survinees. It was thick and curled much like Collin’s hair, but was slightly lighter in color. The biggest difference between the two young men was that Collin’s hair and clothing were usually a mess, and no matter what Naturi was doing, he was never a mess.

Naturi stood up, taking a rag from the waistband of his leggers, and brushing the dirt from his large hands he said, “You three look as though you have had a pretty rough day.”

Zedic looked at Collin and Kairma and laughed. In the bright sunlight, he could see that they were covered with dirt. “Yeah, we’ve been discovering things!”

Naturi bent down and gave Kairma a light kiss on her forehead, making her blush a deep pink. “And what have you discovered, beside the fact that Kairma is the prettiest girl on the mountain?” His voice was deep and smooth like black velvet.

Kairma smiled shyly and looked down at her feet.

Seeing Kairma blush gave Collin a feeling of anxiety. Even when hearing the most ribald jokes, Kairma rarely blushed. Something in Naturi’s conduct embarrassed Kairma, and Collin had the urge to pull her away. Forcing the unsolicited feelings to the side, he said, “We found another temple behind the Godstones. There is a long staircase leading to a narrow canyon behind the rightmost head. The tomb is huge and it’s full of really mysterious stuff.”

Naturi was taken off guard. Kairma was still standing by his side, and he lifted her face up toward him. “You were climbing around the Godstones?” His chocolate eyes searched hers. “I do not think you should be playing there. You will soon become the Vice Miral of this community and many people’s lives will be in your hands. You know what the Word says about defacing the temples.”

“We didn’t deface anything!” Collin interjected, now angry. “I told you, we were discovering things, important things.”

Although they had grown up together as friends, Naturi was being groomed to become the next Comad and took every opportunity to express his intention. Collin was far too excitable to dedicate himself to anything for too long and found Naturi’s attitude irritating. Naturi was only three annums older than Collin, but his judiciousness and self-assurance often made Collin feel young and defensive.

Naturi didn’t look away from Kairma. His left eye twitched as it often did when he was bothered by something. “Collin, what is it with you and these foolish explorations? What could be that important that you would risk Kairma? She is the future of this colony. Have you no sense at all?”

Collin’s eyes darkened to a shade resembling fresh spinach. Who was Naturi to scold him like that? He also didn’t like the way Naturi was touching Kairma; it was almost possessive. The crack in his voice betrayed him, making him sound young and anxious. “Lots of things. Really important things, like tombs the Ancient Ones made and huge statues they built.”

Now Naturi faced Collin, his own dark eyes curious. “The Ancient Ones?”

“Yeah, you know, the ones from before us. They built another temple. Only this one is a cave carved into the side of the mountain. It’s filled with all sorts of things. Things like this.” Collin quickly pulled out Zedic’s picture of the girl and boy in the strange clothes and handed it to Naturi.

Naturi straightened, his forehead furrowing when he looked at the picture. He brushed an annoying, silky curl from his broad forehead. “Where did you say you found this? They look alive—it’s as if you could reach in and touch them. The paints and the colors are fascinating. Look at the way it changes in the sunlight.”

Reaching for the picture, Collin said, “We found it in the secret vault behind the Godstones.” He took his prize back and handed it to Zedic. “We were hoping Trep could tell us how it was made. Here, look at this.” Collin showed the ring to Naturi. “There are statues of strange men and huge cases filled with these odd silver containers and more drawings and carvings on the walls too.”

Although he sounded dour, Naturi looked intrigued. “Interesting. I would love to see them. The gods must have used some form of magic to create this.” He turned in the direction of the Godstones as if he could see them through the cliff walls. “But I do not feel good about this. Exploring the temples has been forbidden for countless centuries. There could be a curse on these things. You really should have thought this through, Collin. It may prove to be very bad for the colony—and to endanger Kairma like that. Where would we be without our Healer?”

Hesitantly, Zedic agreed. “Maybe we should put these things back, Collin.”

Collin snapped, “Don’t be so superstitious, and Boo is just fine.” It was obvious Naturi was too conservative to allow his curiosity to get the best of him. “Trep would be the one to ask. He knows about a lot of things we don’t understand. He says that there’s no such thing as magic; that there are just ways of doing things that we haven’t figured out yet.”

“It is quite possible he is searching for the Crystal. This is not a risk we should take at this time. No, you will not tell him about this. He is a stranger.” It sounded like a command.

Collin bristled. “To us, they are all strangers, Naturi.”

Naturi ignored his comment. “Undoubtedly this new discovery will pique the stranger’s interest and if he starts asking questions, we would find it difficult to hide the Crystal from him for very long.”

Zedic nodded in agreement. “Collin, Naturi’s right. I think we need to know why he’s come here before we tell him anything about the vault.”

Collin lamented, “Why don’t we just ask him?” He glanced at Kairma and added flippantly, “If he is searching for the Crystal, you can have him killed, right Boo?”

Kairma blanched and looked away.

Naturi grimaced, and his left eye twitched. He grabbed Collin roughly by the shoulder. “The Law of Fontas is not something to make light of.” He paused, and the deep furrows returned to his forehead. “I do not believe that it is necessary to invoke the law at this time, but we should not take unnecessary risks either.”

Collin shrugged off the grip. “So what do you suggest? Should we wait until he comes and asks us for the Crystal? Or do you actually have a plan?”

“As it is, I am meeting with the stranger tomorrow evening. He has asked to see my drawings. Let me see if I can ascertain why he is here, and if it is safe to tell him about this discovery of yours.”

“Trep. His name is Trep!” Collin said frowning. Then slowly shaking his head, he relented. “Okay, find out what you can.” He knew Naturi was right for being cautious, but sometimes he enjoyed pushing Naturi’s arrogance right to the edge. “He’s really hard to understand. He pronounces his words differently, and he uses lots words I’ve never heard before.”

Kairma nervously touched Naturi on the arm, and he instantly gave her all of his attention, making her blush again.

His dark brown eyes searched her pale blue ones and his perfect mouth said, “Yes, Miss Kairma?”

Kairma looked away, confused, like she had suddenly forgotten her question. Seeing the glower on Collin’s face, it must have come back to her. She looked back up at Naturi, who had never looked away, and said, “Isontra and I would like to know more about his city and its people. Could you please ask him for us? She doesn’t want me to talk to him.”

The corners of Naturi’s mouth lifted. “Of course I will ask him for you. I agree with Miral Isontra. You should not associate with the stranger.”

Collin snapped, “TREP, Naturi, his name is Trep!” Then, giving up the dispute, Collin looked at the sun dropping behind the trees on the mountain peak and said, “We better get home. Pa needs me to get the blooding rods together. I’m sure it will be a good hunt and you know how much I like to celebrate a good hunt.” He jabbed Zedic in the ribs, making his friend smile. “There aren’t many things I like more than lots of food and mulberry wine.”

Zedic agreed, “The only thing that beats the Awakening Celebration is the Harvest Celebration. Put wheels on my chair and let me roll from dish to dish.” They all laughed as Zedic mimicked gliding around a table eating continuously. Then, in a more sober tone, Zedic said, “I’d best be off too. Father will skin me if the rods aren’t up when the hunters get back, and then I won’t be allowed to eat myself sick at the feast.” He looked at Naturi. “You’re one of the best marksmen we have. Why didn’t you go on the hunt?”

Naturi went back to pulling weeds from the field, avoiding Zedic’s eyes. Forlornly he said, “I really needed to tend the fields today. Since Mother disappeared four annums ago, I have learned a lot about growing things and someone has to oversee the gardens.”

Kairma adjusted her scarf, mumbling something about helping Gramme with preparations for the Awakening feast.

Naturi looked up at her, his smile returning. “I am looking forward to the celebration. Will you save at least one dance for me?”

She blushed again and stammered, “Of … of … course I will.”

Collin felt an uncomfortable twinge in his gut and his words came out harsher than he meant them. “Come on, Zedic, we better go.” Taking Kairma by the hand, he said, “Let’s go, Boo,” and pulled her toward the Chancery.

Zedic looked at Collin, then back at Naturi kneeling in the field. He could feel the tension build between the two friends whenever Kairma was around. He thought he understood the cause even if Collin and Naturi didn’t. He thought Naturi would be a fine mate for his younger sister. He was responsible and always had the colony’s interests in mind. Collin was his best friend, and although he loved him like a brother, he knew Collin had a reckless, adventuresome streak. Kairma was nearly as uncontrollable as Collin. She would need stability and a strong mate when she became the Vice Miral.

Once Zedic and his sister reached home, she looked in the pantry for something to eat. She saw Jettena carrying clothes down the stairs to be washed and said, “Mother, we saw a wolf just north of the hospital.”

“That’s all I need to worry about now. Go speak with Hiram in the morning and tell him where you saw it.”

“I think she has pups.”

“All the more reason to catch her now. The winter left the area pretty low on small game. Best you children stay inside the village until we know she’s run off.”

Zedic and Kairma gave each other that Why did we say anything? look, knowing there would be no exploring the tomb for a while. They wouldn’t have been able to go tomorrow because preparations for the hunters’ return and the Awakening Celebration would take all day, but with any luck Hiram could convince the wolf to move on the day after the feast.

Read more about The Healing Crystal trilogy

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