The four most powerful persons in the small village of Survin sat in the great room of the Chancery. The fire burned brightly in the hearth, sending tiny sparks flying into the room. A pot of terrid sat steaming on the rock trivet in the center of the long dining table. Kairma sat with her arms folded on the table in front of her, her head down and her eyes closed. She had seen her parents leave the celebration and joined them right after Efram had made his disgusting remarks. She didn’t feel much like celebrating and knew her elders would be discussing the items Trep had shown them.
When Kairma arrived, her mother and father had been arguing about invoking the Law of Fontus. They were afraid of this man and what he represented. Jettena was adamant, but Isontra begged her to consider the need for new blood.
Jettena held her head in her hands and rubbed her temples while Isontra stared into the fire. Tamron paced as the minutes slid away.
At long last Jettena spoke. “I still see no reason to risk this. How much do you really think we would gain? What is the use of one man?”
Isontra sighed. “You know your father and your mate were both outsiders. We have much to gain. This would be a whole new bloodline, especially if he were to mate with Kairma or Kinter.”
Kairma, appalled by the thought of mating with this stranger, and sensing her mother’s acquiescence, said, “Trep won’t mate with us. They do things differently in the city. Collin says he has a woman there. He would surely want her to come here if he were forced to stay with us. If he went to get her, he could bring us some of the things we saw today as well.”
Jettena shook her head emphatically. “Absolutely not! It’s one thing to allow him to join our colony, but we can’t allow him to leave.”
Tamron faced his daughter. “Your mother is right. We have no guarantee the man would bring back any of these wonders at all. He could just disappear or might even bring back others to take what they want from us.”
Kairma’s lips formed a thin white line. “That is why we need to send someone with him.”
Jettena was shocked, but it was Isontra who replied. “You’ve been considering this for a while, have you? You think we should send our men to the city?”
Not looking up, Kairma said, “Collin wants to go.”
“I know, dear, but that doesn’t make it a wise decision,” Isontra’s said softly.
Jettena’s voice grew slightly louder. “See! What have I always said about that boy? He’s trouble.”
Tamron sat down next to his wife and put an arm around her, pulling Jettena close. “He is a brave boy, and yes, maybe thoughtless at times, but he’s got a good heart. I’m sure he only wants to go to the city because he’s curious. You see the way he’s always exploring the caves, even when we tell him how dangerous it is.”
Jettena’s pursed her lips. “And he’s always dragging Zedic into danger with him.”
Sitting up and facing her elders, Kairma said, “Zedic will go anywhere Collin goes, and Trep won’t wait forever. You heard him today. He’s willing to go back to the city and bring us new clothing and weapons. And we need more of his kind. He isn’t full Efpec blood, but I believe he has enough to make a valuable member of our colony. Maybe he knows others like himself.” She could feel the intensity of her parents stare. They were outraged. It was one thing to send men to the far off city in hope of miracles. It was quite another to let one of those men be your own son.
Undaunted, Kairma held her ground. “Gramme and I have talked about our need for new blood before. We keep waiting for a miracle to save us. Well, maybe this is our miracle.”
“No, Kairma. This is wrong.” Jettena wrung her hands.
Tamron shook his head slowly. “There are so few young men left in the colony. We can’t afford to lose any. This would be terribly dangerous and there is no way of knowing the final cost of a venture of this magnitude. We can’t risk sending men away.”
Isontra spoke quietly, but her tone always carried a sense of authority. “Kairma makes a good point. If we don’t do something soon, there may not be anything to fight for. We have lost four family lines in the last ten annums alone.” Isontra met Kairma’s gaze and she sounded apologetic when she added, “But this is not a gamble I believe we need to take. We can add Trep’s blood, and he will have to forget about the woman he left behind.”
Kairma sat thinking of all the things to be explored in the great vault and all the things they could learn from Trep. She was certain the elders wouldn’t kill Trep now, but she didn’t believe he would stay willingly in Survin for the rest of his life. She also knew that condemning Trep would condemn Collin. She stood up and looked in the eyes of each member of the small committee. “We should let Trep go to the city and bring back his woman at the very least.”
All three of the elders shook their heads. Isontra’s voice was calm, but she wouldn’t be swayed from her decision. “We will let the stranger live, but we can’t risk allowing him or any of our people to leave.”
Kairma was pleading now. “But think of what he could bring back. You saw the karrack. You saw what it could do. Collin says they make things like that. Think of what it could mean to us.”
After the fire had burned to red coals, Kairma finally gave up her arguments. The next day they would discuss the Law of Fontus at the weekly service, but she knew they wouldn’t be sending anyone to the city.
Collin woke early. He slipped out of the house, thankful that Trep was still asleep. He didn’t feel like discussing what had happened the night before, and with any luck he would catch Zedic gathering wood. He headed down the winding path, past the fields where he saw Naturi tending one of the many herb gardens. Collin didn’t wave as he went by. He was still angry that Naturi had done nothing when Efram said those hurtful things regarding Kairma.
Outside the canyon, he saw Zedic walking toward the east pass. Hurrying to catch up, he called, “Zedic, wait. I’ll help you.”
Zedic stopped and waited for Collin. “I was just going for wood. The way my mother cooks, she’s going to use all the wood on the mountain, and that’s just for this morning’s meal.”
Collin laughed. “Yes, but I’d gather wood all day for the pancakes she makes!”
Zedic glanced sideways at Collin. His mother had never been known for her cooking though she was improving daily. “Well then, you’ll be happy to know she’s making some this morning. Start picking up wood.”
“Gladly. I’m sure gonna miss them.”
Zedic stopped abruptly and turned toward Collin. “So, you’re going to try to leave? I thought you might. You’re going with Trep to the city, aren’t you?”
Collin continued to stack small logs in a pile. “Of course. But I’m not gonna try. One way or another, I am going to leave.”
“There are no few people who will stand in your way, not to mention what your father will do to you. You know the laws. We could be put to death for even talking about leaving.”
“Let them try to stop me.”
“They’ll kill both of you.”
“I’m not afraid. I’m gonna get some of the yellow rock Trep calls gold and go to the city with him. I’ll buy a horse and a saddle and see the world. I’ll help Trep investigate the Ancient Ones. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll even come back here.”
Zedic seriously doubted this. He went back to gathering wood and didn’t say anything for a long time. Collin was his closest friend and he couldn’t blame him for wanting to leave the mountain. He’d often wondered what the greater world held as well. “What will you do when you run out of gold?”
Collin thought for a while. “Don’t know. I’ll think of something, I guess. Trep does okay.”
They each picked up a stack of wood and headed back to the Chancery. Collin paused for a moment and then turned to face Zedic. “You saw all the things they have there. You could convince Miral Isontra to let us go. She would understand how important this is, I’m sure.”
Zedic shook his head. “Kairma pleaded with them all night and they refused. You know the laws.”
Collin grimaced. “Yes, I do. I just wish they could see things differently.”
“Our family has already done a lot of things that have caused the rest of the colony reason to question our ability to lead. You can’t expect them to condone something of this magnitude. Just allowing Trep to live is in defiance of the laws.”
Collin hoisted his load of wood to the other arm. “Well, if they’re going to keep him, maybe I should show him the vault. I bet he can tell us about most of those things we found.”
“We’ll talk with him after the service. Just because the Miral and the Comad believe he should live doesn’t mean the rest of the colony will agree.”
Collin thought about sneaking Trep out of the village before the service but realized a trip of that scale would require a lot more planning than he had time for today.
When they arrived at the grand hall of Zedic’s home, Isontra was busy going over last-minute instructions with Kairma. Today was the first time Kairma would perform the service at the Monument of Nor. Although she had attended the weekly meetings since she was a child, she looked very nervous about having to read the sacred script in front of the Survinees. She rehearsed it again and again until she almost knew the words by heart.
Collin couldn’t remember her looking as pretty as she did that morning. She wore a beautifully crocheted lace scarf trimmed with delicate yellow flowers that brought out the cerulean in her pale blue eyes. The long white dress she was wearing was a bit too small for her. It had been passed down from her mother, who was an inch shorter and more slender than Kairma. It was made of velvet-soft suede, and she bulged in some very nice places. He found himself staring at her until his arms began to ache from the wood he was holding. Recovering his wits, he put the logs down by the fireplace and helped himself to a cup of terrid.
Collin enjoyed visiting the Healing family, and even Kinter’s whining about not having anything to wear only made him smile. Zedic helped Jettena get the triplets dressed, and Collin joined him. By the time they had the boys ready to go, Kairma and Isontra had already left for the service.
Kairma mumbled her lines as they walked. She was painfully aware of the stares she received as they passed the other homes. She could see people scurrying about, trying to get things together to be on their way. The walk to the Nor monument was only a little more than a mile from the south end of the canyon, but it was all up hill.
When they reached the Gathering House, Naturi joined them. Holding his hand out to Kairma, he helped her up the steep stairway that led to the village social house. “You are looking quite lovely this morning, Miss Kairma.”
Feeling her cheeks warm at the comment, Kairma’s embarrassment doubled, which proceeded to make her mad. She hated that Naturi had this effect on her. Without meeting his eyes, she softly said, “Thank you.”
As they continued to the monument, Naturi held her by the arm. Kairma could see her mother was pleased. Jettena told her that Naturi would be a fine mate because Naturi had a natural serenity about him. She was certain Naturi would be the stabilizing influence Kairma needed.
Kinter didn’t feel the same. From a few steps behind, Kinter watched Naturi. She was still hurt by his actions the night before, but she couldn’t help hoping he was waiting for her to come of age. Kinter was sure Naturi was more interested in the Crystal than in Kairma herself, and felt something had gone dreadfully wrong. Both Naturi and the healing powers should belong to her—she knew it in her soul.
Strolling causally behind the others with Zedic and the triplets, Collin tried to imagine some way to convince the elders to allow Trep to take him to the city. Keeping the triplets from running off, or finding something dirty to play with, often interrupted his thoughts. Collin would miss these little boys when he left, but he would miss Zedic most. The two of them had been close friends since he could remember. He didn’t believe Zedic would be willing to leave Survin. Kairma, on the other hand, would jump at the chance if she weren’t the heir to the Healing Crystal, but she was the heir and she would never hurt the colony. He could see her well ahead, walking beside Naturi. In six moons, she would be mated so there was no point in even thinking about asking her to go with him.