“Well, that was artfully done,” Greyson commented as they made their way up the cobblestone road to the northern gate of the city.
Ayalah said nothing.
“And how do you plan to punish me if I disobey? Apparently my legs are fair game,” Greyson continued bitterly. “Or my mouth, I suppose. Perhaps my back appeals to you. Really, any part of—”
“Keep quiet until we’re out of the city,” she snapped. His part of the prophecy had better be worth this hassle, she thought. He was turning out to be a bit of a whiner.
They reached the gate, saluted the guards, and continued along the road from the city until the cobblestones gave way to dirt and the path veered to the left, toward Bolladoth. Ayalah had never been to the woods north of the city before—she knew there was no road leading to them, but she didn’t know how far off the road it would be or how long it would take to get there. The few warriors she knew who had ventured in had never come back; she gritted her teeth. “We continue this way,” she said, pointing away from the path to the left and into the field of tall grass beside it, to the right. At least the sky was clear, a blank blue uninterrupted by clouds in pleasant contrast to the yellow grass stretching out before them.
Greyson sighed. The grass reached as high as his chest. “And I suppose I’m walking the whole way?”
She nodded. She wasn’t thrilled with this assignment, either. “Oh, that reminds me.” She pulled a new pair of hardy boots from one of her saddlebags. “These should be more comfortable.”
He accepted them with a raised eyebrow. “Thank you.”
“Don’t look so surprised, smithy,” she said. “Even a warrior is capable of kindness.” Anyway, she didn’t add, blisters and sore feet would only slow them down.
He didn’t reply, but sat on the road and pulled on his new boots.
“Do they fit?” She’d purchased them the day before, guessing that his feet were as large as his arm muscles.
Perfect. “Then on we go.”
It took eight days to reach the edge of the tall grass, where the trees began, and by then Greyson was surly and Ayalah was losing patience with him. He insisted he didn’t know any part of the prophecy, and by the end of over a week’s arguing she was beginning to believe him. If she was wrong about him… but she couldn’t be. Not if she was interpreting her part of the prophecy correctly.
To you, the first, I give this verse; the clues will be within
The couplets that I have dispersed—and you’ll know when to begin.
When the cov’nant fails and the mood turns sour, when the frost begins to tire,
Seek thee out a man of worth with eyes as bright as fire.
A seed you’ll find within his mind that I have planted deep,
For plant I do, within you, too, a knowledge you must keep.
Do not forget, do not neglect, the task that lies before you,
Trust yourself, do not regret; guard the proph’cy in all you do.
Such were the words Ayalah had known her entire life, passed down to her from her parents, and passed down to one of them, she supposed, from their parents. It was said that a great wizard of ancient times, thousands of years ago, split the prophecy into five parts, and those parts, somehow, had been passed down through the ages. When her parents had died and Gavin took her in, Ayalah had chanted the lines to her guardian as something of a bedtime song, not quite understanding the gravity of the rhyming lines, although her parents had impressed upon her the importance of remembering them. It was the only real legacy of her parents she could remember. Gavin had helped her learn to keep her secrets close, to keep friends at a distance, and to never, ever discuss the prophecy with another living soul. Until now.
When the cov’nant fails and the mood turns sour—these lines, Gavin had guessed, referred to the pact between Miltinoth and Olekoth, in which the king of Olekoth would send one of his sisters to be wed to the king of Miltinoth at each new crowning. Until the current king, King Mathais, this tradition had been honored and upheld by all who ruled before him. But Mathais and Tazarah, the current High Princess of Olekoth, had been unable to conceive, and Mathais had taken a second wife in effort to produce an heir. And then a third. Relations between Miltinoth and Olekoth had grown steadily worse once King Tazer had learned of the disgrace his sister was living in; and it was at this time, around Ayalah’s fifteenth year, that she had begun her search for the man with the bright eyes.
After all these years, Retnik Greyson was the first she’d found with eyes that matched the description. But could she have been mistaken? Should she keep looking?