(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Toryn was written by Margot Comte.)
Sunlight glistened on the water as Toryn walked, barefoot, along the rocky shore. Cool waves lapped at her feet, calming the fiery battle going on inside of her. The soles of her calloused feet didn’t recognize the sharp rocks anymore, but she didn’t know whether or not her past had calloused her enough to deal with the future. Some wounds were still too fresh . . . but she didn’t want to think about that right now. Instead, she crouched down in the water and put her hands out into the waves. An errant breeze tickled through her chin-length blonde hair as she relaxed her hands into the salty water. She squinted into the setting sun. Perhaps Aerie would show herself this time; she had promised to come before the battle.
Toryn shook her head and stood, wiped her sea-wet hands on her tunic. She needed to head back to the barracks, to rally those willing to fight next to her. Even though the ferry ride from Aldwyn Island to the mainland of Cambria was a short trip, their march to the capital city would not be. She wanted to make sure that spirits were high and supplies plentiful before she left. She stepped up onto the dock, shook out her skirts, and picked up her sword belt. The diamond-encrusted hilt of her sword glinted in the strong sunlight. She turned toward the white path that led up the hill toward the rest of the island, where the nobility sent all their children to be educated. The springtime grass looked soft next to the hard marble path, and she decided that she would walk on the grass instead of the path.
The sound of waves lapping against the dock caused her to turn.
The ferry came to dock, and people began to unload. Kelly moved with the crowd, but even before the ferry docked, she had seen Toryn meandering around the shore. As soon as she could break away from the crowd, Kelly approached Toryn and offered the woman a kind smile. “You must be Toryn. I’m Kelly Blanchard. Thank you for meeting me. I trust you are well?”
Toryn smiled, a bit surprised. She blushed a bit, but strode her tall frame confidently over to where the other woman stood, held out her hand. “Kelly. Forgive me, I forgot that you were coming today.” Her eyes skimmed over the the traditional priestess garb that Kelly wore; sapphire-blue robes fastened with two bronze girdles that crossed just under the bust. Her hood pooled along her back, and the sunlight glinted off of the bronze diadem. Bronze beads dangled from it across her brow. She shook her head. “For a moment, I thought you were a goddess.” She smiled. “I am well, I trust your ferry ride wasn’t too jostling?”
“The weather was fair.” Kelly gave her a reassuring smile as she shook Toryn’s hand. To be honest, she didn’t understand why, when she first stepped into this realm, that she was immediately in the garb of a priestess, but okay. She wasn’t about to argue.
She then gestured along the path. “Shall we walk? Tell me about yourself, if you would. How did you get to where you are now?” She raised her brows as she observed Toryn’s expression.
Toryn hesitated, but she tied her swordbelt around her waist and set her jaw firmly against the jumping fire inside of her. “Let’s head around the island first. I am not ready to part with the ocean yet,” Toryn admitted. It helped to calm her, especially when thinking about her past. She broke away from the crowd of people heading up the path and stepped into the squishy mud underneath the fresh spring grass. She didn’t care if she got dirty. She would let Kelly have the skinny wooden path along the shore. “My journey has been long,” she began, not knowing quite where to start. “My mother lied to me about my father for my entire life. The town I grew up in was sacked. I watched King Czarlak”– she shuddered at his name– “murder my mother. I didn’t understand why, at the time. Then he turned his sword on me, and I almost didn’t survive.”
That was a lot, and Kelly frowned. She wasn’t quite sure where to start. “I’m sorry about your mother, but why did she lie to you about your father?” She furrowed her brows as she walked along the wooden path beside Toryn.
“It was for her own protection,” Toryn said, clenching her fists, “And mine.” She sighed then, and shook her head. “She told me he was a wealthy noble, so I guess I’m being melodramatic when I say she lied to me. But her family wanted her to marry him so that they could have more power. She did not want that. She also made many enemies. If they had found out she was pregnant before she ran away, we both would have been killed.” A corner of her mouth quirked as her left hand twitched toward the hilt of her sword, making sure that it was still in place. “She faked her own death—by hiring bandits–and ran away with me. We were safe for fourteen years. But then the gods intervened. She was a disciple of Blaize, the god of fire, and had made him an oath to serve him. That’s why she got pregnant off my father.” She paused, shook her head, and glanced at Kelly. “My father was the King of Cambria,” she whispered. It still felt wrong to say it aloud.
Kelly noted Toryn’s reluctance to mention the name of that specific king, and this puzzled her. “What is so…detrimental about this king?”
Toryn straightened and dug her toes into the fresh grass with every step. It took all of her will not to crash past Kelly and sink down into the ocean’s waves. Instead, she focused on her history. “Methos was a non-believer. He did not approve of gods or priests–something about them stealing money that was rightfully his–and anyone who chose to profess belief in gods, let alone become a disciple of a god was put to death. There were quite a few people who wanted him out of the way, but because of his royal birthmark, he was the True Heir of Cambria.” Those last four words seemed to glimmer on the sea breeze, twisting and turning through the sky. “His half-brother, Czarlak, wanted to be king, and so prevented Methos from ever having children. If another True Heir were born, Czarlak would have no claim on the throne.” She looked at Kelly, smiled a bit sheepishly. “This is a lot of history, I’m sorry if it seems confusing.”
Kelly shook her head. “History is fascinating. So, who’s your father—Methoas or Czarlak?” She was confused about that.
A laugh exploded out of Toryn’s mouth and she had to stop walking. She laughed so hard that tears formed in the corner of her eyes, and her legs felt weak. Her shoulders shook as she wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry—it’s not you,” she gasped. “I’m just . . . not used . . .” she giggled and tried to collect herself. “I’m not used to people not knowing. Everyone knows.” She hoisted her skirt and showed Kelly the crescent-shaped birthmark on her thigh just above her knee. “I am the only child of Methos, the True Heir of Cambria.”
Kelly was taken back when Toryn laughed at her, but she nodded in understanding. “Well, the good thing about me not knowing is that you can say whatever you want.” She noted the crescent-shaped birthmark. “So, you are True Heir of Cambria.” Kelly bowed her head in reverence but then lifted her gaze, locking eyes with Toryn–reading her. “But you don’t seem pleased with that at all–as though you despise your birthright.”
Toryn winced. “Is it that obvious?” she asked. Her shoulders slumped, and again her hand floated to the hilt of her sword.
Kelly shrugged. “Well, maybe not to everyone, but I read people pretty well.” She had to offer Toryn a smile as they resumed walking slowly along the path. “So, why do you hate it so? The responsibility? The people of the court? Or what exactly?”
Toryn chewed her lower lip thoughtfully, felt better that Kelly was so understanding. Only one other person had felt like that—but she wouldn’t think about him now. “I am the one who must save Cambria,” she said slowly, trying to put her thoughts in order. “Czarlak started a revolution, killed Methos, and then had to fight off the other contenders for the throne. He was raised in court, raised to do battle, and is a military genius.” She paused, breathed the sea air in deeply. “I spent the first fourteen years of my life believing that I was no one special. I was a peasant. I grew up in a small, unimportant town. I was going to marry a blacksmith and have seven children and stay in that town my whole life. I never had ambition. I don’t want this for myself. I don’t want this for my daughter. But the people want me on the throne. Cambria is falling apart without a ruling True Heir. And I love my country. So I do what needs to be done.”
“Have you received proper training for such a role?” Kelly raised her brows as she cast Toryn a look. A gust from the ocean whipped Kelly’s hair into her face, and Kelly laughed then brushed her hair back to look at Toryn once more. “It’s hard to go from a nobody to a leader in an instant. Who’s there to guide you and help you?”
They were approaching another marble pathway toward town; they probably best head back that way. Toryn’s hands shook as she motioned Kelly to turn onto the marble path. She cast one last longing look at the ocean, but headed up the sloping path toward town. “I was mortally wounded by Czarlak. My city was burned. Everyone I ever cared about died,” she said the last part softly, and paused, closed her blue eyes for just a moment. “Blaize, the god of fire, he saved me. Gods don’t normally appear to humans, but he picked me up and carried me to his forest. When I woke, his son–” her voice trembled here–“was there to nurse me back to health. I thought it had been a dream. But there I was, in the middle of the Fiorenze forest, traumatized.” She cleared her throat. “Kay was a good healer. He helped mend my body and my mind. But he wouldn’t tell me why, and he brought me to this island—“ she motioned around her— “to catch up on the learning that I needed.” They came over the hill and saw the white city spread out before them. Marble temples and halls decorated the streets. Everything was white and green, except for the giant oak tree that sat in the middle of the city. It stood dark against the bright background, tiny buds of green visible on its gnarled old branches.
It was beautiful here although the color scheme puzzled Kelly a bit. She noted the oak tree and suspected it was more than just a tree. Now though Toryn mentioned it, Kelly furrowed her brows. “And where are we, exactly?”
“Aldwyn Isle. This is where many nobles from other countries send their children to learn—though Cambria doesn’t anymore because of all the infighting. And they teach about the gods here. All of them. Czarlak doesn’t want the noble youth learning about anyone other than Tzefanayah.” She shuddered at that name, changed the topic. “They have the largest library in the world, the best tutors, and . . .” she gestured to the tree. “That tree is said to be where the earth goddess, the mother of all life, lives.” She glanced at Kelly as they made their way down the stairs toward the center of town.
“It’s beautiful here.” Kelly couldn’t help bit admire the place as she looked around. “Do you feel you are ready to face Czarlak?”
Toryn reached a hand out to the tree as they passed by it, dragged her fingers through its powerful aura. She took comfort in the power behind the tree, but shifted uncomfortable at Kelly’s blunt question. “It matters less that I am ready, but whether or not the gods are ready,” she intoned, then clapped a hand over her mouth. Her startled blue eyes stared at Kelly, and she dropped her hand to the hilt of her sword, squeezed it. “I am but a pawn in a much larger war. I feel frightened of the outcome of this battle.” Her voice was soft, barely more than a whisper.
Kelly saw her fear. “Toryn,” she said softly then waited for Toryn to look at her, and then she went on, “You wouldn’t have been chosen if you weren’t fit for the job. If they thought you would fail, they wouldn’t have chosen you. It’s good to remain humble, but when the time comes, you will do well. Even a pawn can become queen in a game of chess. She simply has to go through a lot of trials to become that.” She offered Toryn a warm smile.
Toryn closed her eyes and her heart lifted; she felt gratitude toward everything that Kelly had just said. “Thank you for your kind words,” she said. “That is something my mother would have told me.” Her eyes misted over at the memory of her mother, but she refused to cry. Enough tears had been shed over those nostalgic feelings.
Kelly saw the emotions at the mention of her mother, and she hesitated but decided to gently probe. “What can you tell me about your mother? Were you close to her?”
“Mamma was a mystery even to me,” Toryn said, as they headed away from the center of town, down a small back alley. “She read everything she could get her hands on, which a lot of the townsfolk thought odd. Most peasants don’t learn how to read.” She glanced up at the dying sunlight. “She could do large sums in her head extremely quickly. She knew everything about herbal lore and saved more than one person from the brink of death.
“Over here,” Toryn motioned toward one of the smaller buildings in the city. It was her place of residence, a squat building just outside of the city center. The door was carved oak, and the three steps that led up to the door looked well-worn. She opened the door and held it for Kelly. Inside wasn’t much to see; one room with a sleeping palate, fireplace and a small table with two chairs. A small window barely let in any of the golden sunset’s light. The stucco walls would reflected the light of the candles perfectly; they had been charged by magic to do so. Toryn snapped her fingers and the candles came ablaze with fire.
Kelly smiled at Toryn’s use of magic. “Amazing.” She looked around the humble abode and found it a comfortable haven for someone facing all the trials which Toryn now faced. Then Kelly turned back to her. “Were you two close? What’s your favorite memory of her?”
“We only had each other,” Toryn said. She bustled about, stoked the fire, and sat down at the table closest to the fireplace, stretched her frigid toes out to warm them. She motioned at Kelly to have a seat, offered her an orange from a bowl of them sitting on the table. “We were incredibly close. She loved me so much, that’s why she wanted to keep me safe in anonymity.” Toryn took an orange and tore the peel with her fingernails. “My favorite memory of her is that every year, on my birthday, she would sit me down and tell me the story of how she met my father and why she had to leave him.” Her eyes sparkled with tears for a moment, but she sniffed them back. “It was fabricated, of course, but I knew that she really, truly loved Methos, and it broke her heart to have to run away.”
Kelly peeled the orange Toryn had given her as she listened closely, and then nodded. “How did she meet your father, and did he love her?”
Toryn smiled at the question. “According to her version, she ran into him in the marketplace. Literally bumped into him as she was carrying her market wares to back to the family who had taken her in after she ran away from her own family. Apples and pears rolled underfoot. She dropped a rutabaga on his toe. She was angry at him for running into her, she did not know that he was a wealthy noble, since he was dressed like a servant. She yelled at him, and he insisted on paying for everything.” She paused, conflicting memory with fact. “I don’t know for certain if he loved her, but he certainly lusted after her enough to have a scandalous affair.” She looked down at her orange, fingered a slice free from the fruit. “He never knew about me,” she said softly.
Kelly sat down at the gestured chair as she pulled apart the orange. “I’m sorry about your parents—but especially how you lost your mother.” She shook her head, knowing this was never simple to understand, so Kelly moved on to another topic. “Does Czarlak know of you then?”
Toryn’s eyes widened, and she set down the orange onto the table. “He captured me as I was fleeing from another town, about six years ago,” she said. “I was dressed in armor, but because I was a woman, his men were loathe to kill me. They threw me into a small house, stationed guards all around it. I thought that I was lost, that he would see my father and my mother in my face, and I would be put to death immediately. Then Sarthé entered. She had been my arch nemesis back in my simple village life. We both wanted the same man—oh how trivial it all sounds now.” She stood and paced the room, her long strides allowing her three paces before she had to turn. “She said she couldn’t believe it was me, she thought I had died. She’d seen the wounds that I had received. I thought she meant to gloat at her newfound power, but something had changed in her. I begged her to release me, to let me go. And she did.” Toryn stopped her pacing and faced Kelly, spread her hands. “Just like that. I wonder if Czarlak killed her for her decision. But she knew who I was, because she had seen my birthmark when we were growing up, and living at court all those years must have given her some idea of its significance.” She shook her head. “He must know that I am coming for him, that he stands not a chance against the might of the gods and the True Heir.” Her voice shook at the last part, as though she didn’t truly believe it.
Kelly sensed her time in this realm was drawing to a close, so she didn’t have much time to ask more questions. This made her sigh, but she looked at Toryn with a simple question. “Are you ready? Ready to face him? Ready to take your rightful place?”
Toryn closed her eyes, felt the fire’s warmth surround her. She knew, then, that though Czarlak might have Tzefanayah and all his dark powers on his side, she carried the might of Aerie and Blaize. It settled on her shoulders as a protective mantle. When she opened her eyes, they burned with the fire of war. “Yes. I am as ready as my past has made me,” she said, her voice powerful and strong for the first time in weeks.
Kelly smiled at the noticeable change in Toryn. “And you will do well.” But then she sighed and rose to her feet, setting aside the orange she had peel. “And unfortunately, it is time for me to go. I do appreciate this time with you getting to know you, and thank you for answering my questions. You may have uncertainties, you may have doubts, and you will make mistakes, and people will pay for them with their lives, but it is how you respond and what you learn from those mistakes which is important. Be responsible and don’t try to blame, and you will do well. You’re not alone.” With one final, encouraging smile, Kelly stepped back then gestured with her hand, opening a portal in front of her, and she stepped through, closing the portal behind her, returning to her home.
Toryn stared at the place where Kelly disappeared, a slight fuzz coming over her head. She wondered if Aerie had sent the woman to her in order to make her feel ready to defeat Czarlak. She closed her eyes and put her hands to her heart, thanking the goddess for showing Toryn more of herself than she had ever dreamed.
Margot Comte’s story ‘Revelations by Fire’ has no release date set yet, but you can find her on social media and follow her for updates:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/margotcomte.author/