It was the scowl that kept the innkeeper silent. The scowl and the sword at the customers waist. He was a Milta or Warrior, the strange bloody race where everyoneman or woman, is taught to fight to the death. These things all kept the normally chatty innkeeper quiet. A warrior was not one to have a casual talk with about the weather or such. Even worse, this warrior was nervous or deep in thought, for he stroked the long braid of black hair that grew from the back of his head; the braid that, along with his large muscular build marked him as a master warrior.
Amal, the innkeeper, shook his balding head. Warriors made him nervous. One didn't see them often, and if they did, it was a sure sign of trouble. Trouble followed the Milta like a dark cloud. 'And trouble is bad for business' Amal thought. Not that business was good this time of year at the Crossroads. But a warrior . . .?
He glanced at the big man brooding over a mug of florn. He said his name was Sar and that he was on a travel mission. For what reason, Amal had no idea, and in truth, he didn't want to know.
Amal would have been surprised by the thoughts of the warrior. Sar was in search of knowledge, something that no warrior ever did. But Sar had difficulties accepting the fact that the People had no worthy knowledge. He alone doubted the complete superiority of the Milta over Men. But there was more to his search. Deep in his heart, he was searching for a way to make his life full, to complete it and make him feel at ease.
Sar had always looked at the world differently than the other warriors of the fort in Glanifor. This difference made him uneasy as a child but now as a man, his unease had grown and he had begun to wonder about the ways and knowledge of the People. This had brought him here, to the Crossroads Inn on a warm spring day.
Suddenly the door opened. Sar's brown eyes jumped to the slender, fair-haired woman in the doorway. His muscles tightened with the years of training. A Seeker! A member of the race that even animals were superior to!
The slim, willowy woman walked silently to the bar, her white blond hair falling past her waist in the loose braid, typical of Seeker women. Sar studied her as she ordered a mug of florn.
She was small boned like a cloaked delicate bird. Much slighter of build than a warrior woman. Not one to be trusted, he thought grimly.Suddenly, he was locked in the cool gray gaze of the woman. Before he could turn away,she spoke.
"Is there something wrong?" Her voice was crisp and clear, giving no sign of emotion.
"You are a Seeker." Sar rumbled. Amal stood frozen behind the bar and fear paled his face. 'Good, ' Sar thought, 'the innkeeper knows the danger of a Seeker'
"I am so glad that you told me." she replied. Her eyes were still locked with his and showed no emotion, yet her voice fairly dripped with sarcasm. "I had no idea that I was one."
"Do not thank those who tell you that you are cursed." Sar growled.
The woman remained calm and smiled slightly. "And do not thank the beast that bites."
Amal, white faced with fear, leaned forward. "Is there anything else you need, Mistress Seeker?"
"I require a room and a meal. And . . . " she continued, halting Amal's escape, "I am not a Mistress. I am Senior Apprentice Calil." Sar rumbled from his table and she turned to him. "I did not hear you. What did you say?"
Sar stretched his long legs and smiled slyly. "It is early. Do Seekers normally become lazy and stop their travels so early in the day?"
"When a storm is coming, yes." Calil replied softly.
"A storm?" Amal asked.
Calil turned to him and nodded. "A bad one."
"Excuse me then." Amal said as he turned to leave.
Sar guffawed. "You believe a Seeker? I see no clouds."
Amal looked first to Sar, then to Calil and back to Sar. "I am sorry, Warrior Sar, but my
father told me to never doubt a Seeker. Especially about the weather. Now excuse me.
I have things to make ready."
Sar scowled as the innkeeper left the room. "Why did you lie, Seeker?"
Calil turned to face him and sipped her florn. "I do not lie."
"You simply do not tell the truth." he jeered.
To his annoyance, she turned her back to him as if to dismiss him. He got to his feet, the urge to lash out at the rudeness of this Seeker strong within him. But he held back for reasons he did not understand, and walked to the door, gazing out at the clear sky, unable to spot signs of a storm in the brilliant blue.
"You are a fool." he said turning toward her. "There is no storm."
Calil sighed deeply. "I know it is difficult for you to understand but there is a storm coming from the south."
Sar bristled with anger. How dare she speak to him that way? And by what right could she turn her back to a warrior? His hand, in reaction to his anger, hovered near the sword on his waist. He should cut her down now and be rid of her. But, to react to her would only benefit her in some way he couldn't see. Instead, he returned to his table.
Without turning, she spoke. "You were wise not to raise your sword against me."
"You were favored with an undeserved reprieve." he growled as the innkeeper returned.
An hour passed in silence as Sar drank and Calil ate. Finally, Sar broke the silence. "Your storm has not come, oh wondrous Mistress Seeker." He got to his feet and paid Amal. "I think that I can brave the 'dangerous ' storm."
Calil looked at Sar, her eyes piercing him. "I must warn you not to go. For your safety, you should remain here."
"My safety?" he cried, incredulous. "Safety from a non existent storm? No, Seeker. I am of the Milta and I shall travel the south road, through the storm!" With that, he stomped out of the small tavern.
The road was dry and dusty. No wind lifted the heavy air, so that it hung like a weight around Sar's head. His lightweight tunic was wet with sweat pouring down his slightly red face. He paused and gazed around. Ahead, lay a grove of great semona trees, whose trunks were hard as stone. The branches of the giant trees created a living roof, offering shelter from the sweltering sun. He moved on, scowling as he went.
Calil, Senior Apprentice liar of the Seekers. Each time he met a seeker, he came away annoyed but this time he was agitated to the point of rage. He was angry that he could not see the purpose for the lie about the storm. There was a way that she would benefit from the lie but he just could not see it.
But that was not the only reason for his anger, he discovered as he thought. He had not met a woman Seeker before now. He did not dislike women. In fact, he had left behind several women who favored him often. It was the fact that the Seeker was a woman and spoke to him in the way she did. As if he were a child. Warriors never spoke to each other like that, not even to children warriors. And never would they turn their back on someone who was their enemy, as she had done.
But to his shock, he found himself smiling slightly over the words they had exchanged. The conversation between himself and Calil was stimulating to his mind. He paused in his walking, stunned by the realization. He had enjoyed it! He hated Seekers, yet he had enjoyed speaking to Calil. It was as if the conversation was water for his parched soul. Stunned, he turned to look back at the inn.
At that moment, he was hit in the shoulder by a very heavy, hard object. His training caused him to whirl, ignoring the pain and drawing his sword. His blade struck a semona branch that had fallen. He looked around sharply, realizing for the first time that he was deep in the semona grove. He stared at the massive trees in awe. They were the ancient ones, judging by their size. The ancient ones were the ones that were in existence when the Milta race came into being. These trees were the roots of the world. But there was something terribly wrong. The canopy of leaves was thrashing about and branches were falling from the massive giants.
He looked around him, shocked, as the winds raced through the trees, picking up branches and leaves, dashing them to the ground. "The storm!" he murmured, surprised, as he spied a mountain of swirling clouds moving across the sky, black as the legendary cavern of Blandar. He watched in a mixture of awe at the raw beauty and fear as lightening danced crazily from the ominous clouds. Before he could move to find shelter, a loud cracking noise echoed in his ears. Turning, he had only time enough to see the massive Semona falling.
Amal stood in front of the inn's door, preventing Calil from leaving. "You cannot go out there, Senior Apprentice Calil. I can't have your death on my conscience."
Calil silently pulled on her long black cloak, ignoring the innkeeper's frantic words.
"Please, Seeker Calil, you mustn't go! Why do you feel you must?" Amal pleaded.
"The Milta Warrior, Sar, is in need. He has been injured." Calil replied calmly.
Amal stared at the Seeker. "But he is a Milta Warrior! You are a Seeker!"
Calil smiled slightly. "And you think I was unaware of this?"
"No. But Seekers and Warriors hate each other! He almost drew his sword on you earlier!" Amal cried. "And now you will go out and help him?"
Calil turned to Amal and smiled. "But you don't understand, as a Seeker, I am bound by oath to lend aide. He is a person, Warrior or not, and is in need. I have to go."
Amal stepped away from the door and peered at Calil's serene face. "How can you tell that he is in trouble and needs help?"
Calil neared the door and looked at the innkeeper with amusement. "Because I am a Seeker." Then, before Amal could protest further, she disappeared into the torrent of wind and rain.
Wet was the first word that formed in Sar's groggy mind when he woke up. He was wet,cold and numb. Groaning, he tried to move but was held fast to the ground. Puzzled, he struggled slightly, soon discovering he could not move. Something was howling, a shrieking moan that rose and fell. He waited for the sound to come nearer then memory returned. The howling was the storm ripping through the trees. Calil had been right to say it was a dangerous storm. The wind was whipping the massive branches of the semona trees around as if they were maddened. And the tree! It fell on him. In the darkness, he felt around as much as he could and felt the smooth bark of the branch, confirming his memory. He was trapped beneath the huge branch, unable to move in the midst of the horrendous storm, with no one to aid him.
'I am going to die!' his mind screamed in anger and despair.
"You won't die." a voice called to him through the storm winds.
Sar looked sharply around the grove but could see nothing in the blackness. "Who's there?" he said sharply.
"It is I, Calil. I have come to help you."
Sar, trapped beneath the massive tree, did the only thing that he could do upon hearing his rescuer's voice. He laughed.
A silvery shape neared and soon through tears of laughter, Sar was able to make out Calil's face. She gazed down at him, frowning."I am so glad that you find this amusing. Perhaps you are not as hurt as you appear."
Sar stilled his laughter. "I do need aid but how can you, a Seeker barely half my size, rescue me from under this tree? Leave me. I am truly lost to the path way of life."
Calil shook her head. "No. You are not lost to the path of life. You have merely fallen on your way." Sar spied a wisp of a smile on her pale face.
Laughter once more bubbled up from his body. "Never have I seen a Seeker smile. Nor have I heard one make jest. I, at least, will die smiling."
"You will not die." she replied, looking over his body. Then she pierced him with her gaze and frowned. "You do not know much about Seekers do you?"
"I know enough. I know that you cannot get this tree off me anymore than I could. Even if you could, you would never be able to get me to safety." Sar growled.
"You are certain of many things." she said in sarcasm.
Sar turned toward her but she was gone. She had left him to die alone. Fear of this filled his mind. No Warrior was to ever die alone.
"You are not alone." he heard Calil say. Her voice was muffled and he could not see her but he calmed. "I couldn't leave even if I wanted to."
"I don't understand."
"As a Seeker, I am bound to aid those in need. And you, Warrior Sar, are in need."
"Even though I am a warrior?" he asked.
"It doesn't matter what you are. I am bound by the laws of my people." Calil neared. "Even if you were to die, I could not leave. I cannot leave, knowing your people's belief that a warrior cannot die alone."
Sar was surprised and stared at her. "How did you know that no warrior is to die alone?"
Calil paused her movements and sighed. "We Seekers strive to understand all the races. Even the warriors of the Milta. And all I need know is that you are a living thing in need and I shall lend aide to you."
Sar thought a moment and she moved once again out of his sight. Calil was not what he had been taught Seekers were like. She was intelligent and kind, calming his fear and understanding his fear of death alone. "A noble belief, Mistress Seeker."
He heard her sigh. "I am not a Mistress Seeker. I do not wear the crystal belt, nor the ruby belt or the diamond. I wear the bronze belt of the Senior Apprentice."
"There are ranks in the Seekers?" Sar asked, interested. "I did not know that the Seekers had ranks as we Warriors do. What are there order?"
"You seem to want to know about myself and my people now." Calil said, her voice tinged with amusement. "You said you knew all you needed."
Sar smiled, sensing her smile in her voice and wondering at the beauty of the sound of it. A pleasant smile, he thought. "It seems I was wrong and have time now."
Calil reappeared and murmured, "Thank you." He noted that her braid had been plucked loose by the fierce wind that still surrounded them.
"Thank you for what?" he asked puzzled.
"For ... Never mind. It doesn't matter." She knelt beside his head and brushed his hair from his face. "I can free you but you must help me by clearing your mind of all thoughts of the tree. Think of other things."
"Such as what? There is not much else for me to think about at a time like this!" Sar asked. "And how are you going to move the tree?"
"You asked about the ranks of my people. Do you still want to know?" He nodded slowly, surprised. "Very well. First of all, we do not call them ranks. They are called belts. When a young child, born in the Colls, is five years old, they are tested for abilities. Merely to see if they are there. Then later at the age of ten, they are tested again. This time the abilities are sought out. Some children have a talent for healing. Some for foresight. There are many different abilities. They are then placed in the care of a master, who will teach them how to use and control their talent."
"What is your talent?" Sar asked, curious.
"I have several. " She replied. "When our training and learning begins, we receive our first belt of rope. As we mature and learn, we progress through the belts."
Sar winced slightly then frowned. "So the belts mark your rank in the learning process. So what are the order of the belts."
Calil flinched but it vanished as soon as it appeared. "First it is the simple rope belt of the petitioner. Then there is the iron of the junior apprentice, the copper of the apprentice, and the bronze of the senior apprentice. That is what I wear. Following the bronze is the silver of a Journey Seeker. Then the Gold of a Master. Each coll is lead by a Master that has been chosen as the best and wears the crystal belt. All colls in the land are ruled by the Glanifor Coll, which is lead by the wearer of the Ruby Belt."
"You mentioned a diamond belt earlier. Who wears that?"
Calil smiled slightly. "You are very observant. The diamond belt has only been worn by one Seeker in all the history of Glarn. It rests in the coll of Glanifor, waiting for one who is worthy."
Sar was about to ask more when intense and throbbing pain rushed trough his body. His body tensed and he gasped from the sharpness of the pain.
"You are free of the tree, Sar." Calil murmured. "You will feel the pain caused by the tree now. Is it bad?"
Sar felt like screaming but held it back. He clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. "Need you ask?"
"No." she replied, touching his forehead. "Breath and focus on the pain."
"How can I not?" he hissed but did as she said. Mercifully, darkness came and wrapped him in its dark comfort.
Amal was worried. He was still moving about the inn, checking and rechecking windows. He was glad that his wife and children were away visiting relatives. They need not fear the storm that still howled outside. But it was Calil and Sar that kept him up. How would the Seeker handle the large warrior if he were hurt? How in this storm?
To his surprise, the door banged open and Calil staggered under the weight of a large bundle across her back. She stumbled to the fire as Amal leapt to his feet and gently lowered the bundle to the bench. Gingerly, she unwrapped her cloak, revealing a pale and drawn Sar.
"I need blankets for him and hot florn for myself." she sighed in exhaustion as she sat beside the unconscious man.
Amal, wide eyed, brought her the things she asked for and helped to wrap Sar in the blankets. "What happened?"
"He was hurt in the Semona grove." she replied as she cupped the mug of florn close to her face. "He will sleep deeply until morning if I do my work right. But I must complete my work and watch him." She looked up at the tired innkeeper. "You should get some sleep."
Amal, thinking the same thing about her, shook his head. "I have work I must finish as well."
Calil shrugged and drank from the mug, watching the warrior as he slept.
Amal stirred later to hear the sound of a woman crying out. He rushed to the common room and found Calil there, kneeling beside the sleeping Sar. Sar's face was wracked with pain as was Calil's. Amal stepped closer then stopped and called to her.
"How can I help?" he whispered, having witnessed a healing before. "I am here to aid you."
"Blankets" Calil gasped. "I need blankets."
Amal obediently wrapped her in blankets then helped her lie down. Sar's face was relaxed but her face was contorted in pain. He sat by her and watched as her face slowly relaxed. Then he got up and went into the kitchen.
Sar smelled fresh bread and his stomach announced it was empty. He opened his eyes and blinked several times, not believing his surroundings. Gingerly, he sat up and looked around the tavern.
Amal came near. "How are you feeling?"
Sar stared in amazement. Was it all just a bad dream? He gazed down at his hands and body. "I feel better than I have in years." he murmured, feeling a sense of peace.
"I must say that I thought you were dead when I first saw you." Amal shook his head. "You probably would be if it wasn't for Seeker Calil."
Sar looked around the room. "Where is she?"
"I finally got her to go to bed a few hours ago. Hopefully she is sleeping."
Sar nodded absently as Amal offered him a mug of warm florn. "How, in all the ways of Sheridan, did you get me here? I am rather large for the two of you to handle."
Amal looked up in surprise. "Me? I didn't leave the tavern. Calil went to get you and brought you back."
"But that's not possible. There is no way that she was able to carry me here." Sar protested.
Amal shook his head. "You don't know Seekers well, do you?"
Sar frowned. Was he to be forever told he didnt understand Seekers? "Better than I did but obviously not as well as you." Sar grumbled. "What do you know?"
Amal sat down across from Sar near the fire. "Well, I know that they can do things that no other person could do. Wondrous almost magical things. And I know that Seekers each have an abilityand the talents they have are varied. And that the Seekers search for the one to wear the diamond belt."
Sar leaned back gingerly and smiled. "Only one ability to a Seeker? That can't be. Calil told me herself that she has many."
"She is rare." Amal replied, sipping his own florn. "I talked to her a bit before I made her go to bed. It seems that she is an unusual case and she is on her way to Domeroy Coll for more testing and training in abilities she has shown. In fact, there is a chance that she may be the one the Seekers are looking for. The one to wear the diamond belt."
Sat stared at the small innkeeper a moment. "But that still doesn't tell me how I got here."
Amal shook his head. "Do you know the abilities that show in the Seekers? They are as varied as the People. There are healers, and foreseers. There are movers that can move things and far too many to name. Senior Apprentice Calil can do all of them and more."
"So she moved the tree off of me?" Sar asked, incredulous.
"It would seem so." Amal sighed and got to his feet. "I better get you some breakfast."
Sar stared after the innkeeper, and wondered at what he learned. Had Calil truly moved that huge tree and brought him back to the inn? How could that be?
"It is easy for a Seeker." Calil said from the bottom of the steps. She looked rested but walked with a limp. "You are feeling better?"
"Thanks to you. But you are limping."
"I will be fine." she replied, sitting on the bench Amal had sat on.
"You were hurt helping me?" he asked.
"In a way." Calil replied.
Sar frowned then heard Calil state that he would have done the same for her. He chuckled. "Not from what I knew before. I would have helped you now."
Calil paused and frowned. "What?"
"I mean I have learned a lot about Seekers since yesterday..."
"I know what you said but why did you say it?" she asked, her eyes boring into his.
"You said that I would have helped you in the same situation." he explained, exasperated. "Don't you know what you said?"
"I didn't say it. I thought it." Calil replied.
Sar stared at her, smiling slightly. "But I heard you. It would be impossible otherwise." To his shock, he heard her voice echo in his mind but saw that her lips were not moving.
'Could you have Seeker ability?' she asked without speaking.
He stared at her, confusion and fear crossing his face. "But I am a warrior."
"We all came from the same source." Calil replied softly. "Warrior or not, you and I come from the same ancient blood."
Sar stood up, anger rising in him. "This is wrong. I cannot be as you. I am a Milta!"
"That may be, Sar. But you seem to show some of the Seeker blood within you." Calil said softly.
Sar stared down at her, anger rising in him. "What have you done to me?! I am no longer a Warrior. I am something else. How could you do this to me?"
"I did nothing to you but save you." Calil said, slowly rising to her feet.
Sar raged. "You did this! This was the reason for the storm lie! You knew I would not believe you, that I would go out into the storm! You used it as a way to change me!"
Amal rushed into the room and stood in front of Calil. "Back down Sar."
Sar stared down at the small, wiry innkeeper. "You will stand before her to protect her?" Sar growled. "I could break you."
"This woman has saved your life. You should have died. And I forgot to tell you one thing about Seekers. They cannot change another person into a Seeker."
Calil winced and sat abruptly. Amal turned to her and Sar sneered. "Another lie! How did she get hurt in all this?"
Amal scowled at Sar then lifted Calil's robes slightly revealing dark yellowish blue bruises. "She healed you, taking your injuries onto herself! And you thank her by accusing her of trying to ruin your life!"
Sar stared at the yellowing marks and his shoulders sagged. His mind resisted what he was being shown but something deep inside him knew it to be true. "I didnt know." He whispered.
"Of course you didnt." Amal snapped. "I have never known a Milta to fully understand the ways of the Seekers. You feel as though you know everything!"
Sar frowned at the innkeeper. "I know that I do not know everything."
"Then you are unique among your people." Amal grumbled. "I have been in business here for many years and have met many of your people. They all would have killed me by now for what I am saying."
Sar smiled slightly at the visibly upset small man. "Yet you speak to me this way?"
"You are different." Amal insisted. "In more ways than one it seems but you are different all the same. You cannot blame her for the things you were born with. Perhaps it is in your blood. Who knows under the Stars of Jintar why you can do this now. But you can!"
Calil moved weakly on the bench and looked up at Sar. "You can do these things and it is up to you what you wish to do now."
Sar returned to his seat and sat down with a thump, his face a mask of despair. His life had just bee turned upside down. "I cannot return to the Warrior way of life. I will not be accepted. If it were discovered what I have just learned, I would be banished from the Forts."
"This would not happen with my people." Calil said softly. "You would be accepted and taught how to use this gift and to discover any others that may exist within you."
"Or " Amal said softly, "you could go into hiding, never staying in one place for long. For you know what your people would do if they knew of your abilities."
Sar nodded. "I would be marked for death. I should feel that it would be an honorable death but but how is there honor in such a death! I do not know what I will do."
Calil gingerly rose to her feet. "Amal, I will be leaving today, after I have eaten and made ready."
"Truly, Mistress Calil?" Amal said in surprise. "I shall be sorry to see you leave."
"Amal, I have told you, I am not a Mistress." Calil smiled.
Amal grinned back. "For now, Calil. Only for now."
Calil smiled and went up the stairs. Amal went to the kitchens to prepare a meal. Sar was left alone in his solitude to ponder his life and the choices before him.
The sun was dipping closer to the horizon when Calil returned from packing her things. She had come down for a meal earlier then went to clean up in the bath that Amal had prepared for her..
Sar stood quickly noting that Calil seemed to be walking easier now. Calil looked at him serenely. "You are moving better?" he asked.
"Yes I am." she replied softly. "I heal quickly."
Sar nodded then too a deep breath. "I have decided." Sar said gruffly.
"I see." Calil replied. "And you are sure this is what you want to do?"
"I have no other choice and perhaps this will fill the void within me." Sar replied.
"Then may the Goddess Loral smile down upon you, to guide you on your way."
Amal came out from behind the bar. "So you have decided to wander then?"
Sar smiled at Calil then turned to the innkeeper. "I am going with Calil and I shall become the Colls oldest rope belt Seeker."
Amal stared at the warrior in shock. "But I thought But you are a warrior?"
Sar smiled at Calil again and said, "Thank you, Innkeeper. I didnt know that."
Calil smiled at the innkeeper and wondered at the change within Sar. He was no longer brooding and grim. He was calm and seemed to be enjoying himself.
Sar turned to Calil and smiled again. "You never did tell me how you got the tree off of me last night."
Calil smiled a small smile. "I am a Seeker. And you shall learn. Good day Innkeeper Amal and may the Goddess smile upon you and your house."
Amal murmured a goodbye as Calil and Sar took up their packs and walked from the inn. He went to the doorway to watch them as they walked down the road, deep in conversation. He turned, shaking his head. He couldnt tell anyone about what happened. Who would believe the tale of what happened when a Warrior and a Seeker came to the Crossroads Inn?