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Gifts

by Geraldle

Copyright © 2001

Part 1

Day One - The Ascalon estate and The Plateau

Symin, son of Duran and Deian, was out riding. He was a boy of ten riding bareback on a pony. He was wearing only a brief pair of light brown short trousers fastened by a belt, from which hung a small dagger on one side and a small, almost empty pouch on the other, and a pair of sandals on tiny feet. Small for his age, but wiry and tireless. Silky soft straight blond hair bleached almost white from constant exposure to the sun, bangs covering his forehead falling almost into his eyes. The large expanse of bare skin was sun-darkened almost to the same shade as his trousers. On his right arm just below his shoulder, the red Ascalon crest was tattooed on his upper arm. The same crest was embroidered on the right leg of his short trousers just above the hem.

He turned to look back at his companion and a grin lights up the delicate features of his face and his large gray eyes. He was missing two of his top teeth. The boy was his new personal servant, actually the first personal servant he had ever had, a boy of 13 and a very distant relative by the name of Maxim Ascalon. He was riding on a saddled mule with saddlebags fastened to the back of the saddle, and a waterskin hanging down from the pommel. He was over a foot taller than the diminutive Symin and thin as a bean pole. He was also wearing short trousers, grass green in color but also a light weight green shirt of somewhat darker hue, and he was barefoot.

He was obviously unused to riding. He kept rising in the stirrups to rub his behind. Symin said with gentle humor, "It's a good thing that I prefer to ride bareback. It'll be easier to get used to riding using my saddle. I can't remember a time when I didn't ride so I never had to toughen up my butt for riding." His tone changes to sympathy as Maxim rubbed his bottom again and winces a bit. "I'll ask Minna to do something about that when we get back. I know she has something that'll do the trick."

Maxim was somewhat shocked, "Miss Minna don't have time for the likes of me and I sure don't wanna annoy her, especially on my first day."

Symin shrugged his shoulders. "I'll be the one doing the asking and she almost never gets really annoyed or mad at me. Even when she has to have me whipped," he grinned widely, mischief dancing in his eyes. "I can feel her amusement when she 'pronounces sentence'", he giggled at the solemn words. "And she can't look at me at all. She either looks at the ceiling or the floor or over my head. I can feel she's dying to laugh every time I appear in front of her. Once a couple of years ago when I first started getting into trouble all the time, she looked me right in the eyes and she burst out laughing."

"Sivvin was there and he rolled his eyes and just sighed. She pointed at me and said 'you are the spawn of a demon'. She took a deep breath to calm down 'that poor undercook'. He'll always be looking around wondering when he'll be drenched with water and covered with flour again. Now I know you had to have assistance to pull that off, dare I ask you who helped?"

"I put a solemn expression on my face and clasped my hands behind my back, 'The undercook deserved everything he got. He's a mean man. And you know I really love you Minna and you know I cannot tell you a lie, but really I can't tell you the truth either, now can I? After all loyalty to ones comrades, and a nobles code of honor, and all that.'"

I saw Sivvin's lip twitch at that. Then Minna after regaining control of herself, pointed to me. "Take this little mischief maker to his bedroom Sivvin. Double the usual five lashes as punishment."

"But Minna came to my room that night as she always does and talked to me for a few minutes before she gave me a goodnight kiss."

Maxim was grinning widely with amusement, forgetting about his sore bottom for the moment. Symin looked over his shoulder at Maxim observing his amusement. He smiled his slow smile again, "I guess you've heard I get punished a lot."

In a choked voice, Maxim replied "Yes Master, one of the other servants said you get into more trouble and get whipped more frequently than all of the other Ascalon children combined."

Symin turned on his pony so that he was facing Maxim. He cocked his head to one side, smile still on his face, "Now I don't think that's true. I know I get lotsa whippings, but I'm not always in trouble." He paused, then grinned his gaptoothed grin again "Just most of the time."

"It's not too bad. Minna chose Sivvin because he really doesn't like whipping anyone. I know he seldom ever whips his own children and he doesn't wield his belt too heavily." A shiver goes through Symin's small body, and his face becomes bleak.

His speech became thick with emotion, "The worst beating I've ever had, happened about four months ago when Sivvin was away and Minna had to assign the chore to the sergeant. I never had anything against him before, but when he was in my room I could feel his anticipation and knew he was going to enjoy beating me. It sickened and frightened me. When I had to take off my trousers, for the first time in my life I was embarrassed to be naked, I even covered my penis and my balls with my hands. It was really weird."

"When I bent over the side of my bed he must of stood behind me for over a minute before he delivered the first lash. Though harder than Sivvin gave me, it wasn't much harder but I could feel him feeling my pain. I was disgusted when I realized he had some Empathic ability and he could feel my pain and actually enjoyed what he was doing. He took a long time between each lash but after the third one my own Empathic ability shut down and I was so relieved I could no longer feel him, that I didn't even notice the last two lashes. When Minna came that night I burrowed into her arms and cried. That was the first time I can remember crying after a beating, though I occasionally cried a bit during one. When I told Minna what had happened she said she would never have the sergeant or the other corporal give me a beating again. I must have looked confused when she mentioned the corporal, because she told me he was the sergeant's younger brother and was much like him. I hadn't known that. The sergeant is one of the few people in the castle that I've come to hate, and I stay away from the corporal when I can."

The solemnity left Symin as fast as it had appeared and he grinned, "I'll try to be more responsible now that I have a servant and not get you any beatings, but," he shrugged his small shoulders "I never go looking for trouble it just seems to find me anyway, so I expect I'll earn us some beatings along the way." Maxim shrugged philosophically as the young Master had done, "My Da wasn't heavy handed with the strap but we all got whipped now and then."

Symin pointed to a few trees and a grassy area with a small pond a couple of hundred yards ahead. It's bordered to either side by low cliffs though directly behind it was a grassy hillside about a hundred yards wide. The cliff on the left had a small cave at its base out of which a small stream appeared flowing, down a shallow slope into the pond. The steam exits from the pond meandering in a twisting path. Maxim realized that they had crossed this stream several times on their way here.

"We'll leave the animals there and go the rest of the way on foot." Symin drummed his heels into the pony's ribs making it move a little faster. He yelled over his shoulder, "By the way, Minna told me Sivvin wouldn't be beating me anymore. She said that's gonna be one of YOUR jobs from now on."

Stunned to say the least at the last comment from his Master, Maxim shook his head in disbelief. He had never heard of a servant beating his Master before. He followed Symin but didn't try to test his newly attained riding skill by speeding up.

When he reaches the little grassy area Symin was letting his pony drink from the small pond. He looked at Maxim telling him, "There's a couple of stakes in the right saddlebag and some rope and a cloth, there's some food in the left saddlebag in a bag, and bring the water skin over as well. While we eat, we'll stake out the animals so that they can eat as well. When we head for the hut we'll stake them out close enough to the pond so that they can get water as they need it."

Maxim took the items mentioned out of the saddlebags and Symin told him to put them on a small hill close to the half dozen trees. Deciding his pony had had enough to drink for the moment, he pulled her away from the water "Come on Anya, you've had enough to drink for now, let Atine drink now," and he had Maxim hold her halter while he watered the mule.

Once the mule was satisfied, he had Maxim hold both halters while he unsaddled the mule. He carries the saddle and blanket over to the small hill and putting the saddle down carefully, he just drops the saddle blanket next to the other items.

Taking the cloth he went back to the animals and wiped them both down lightly. It had been a short ride and they didn't need a lot of attention. Symin thought to himself with a little grin of amusement on his face. 'It was a short ride, but I think Maxim found it much too long anyway.'

Once the animals were staked out a little way from the water, Symin knelt down and undid the straps of his sandals and stood up to kick them off. Unbuckling his belt, he slipped his short trousers down his slender legs and stepped out them. His abdomen and bottom were as deeply tanned as the rest of him, indicating that he spent a lot of time, naked in the sun. Taking a run, his small bare brown body knifed cleanly into the pond, making only a small splash. He came up in the middle of the pond and turned to face the shore and Maxim.

"Come on in and have a swim," he called, treading water in the middle of the pond.

Maxim flushed with embarrassment, "I can't swim, Master."

Symin frowned and then put a stern look on his face saying, "Well that will have to change. It's the most fun thing I do."

When Maxim drooped with embarrassment and a little fear, he relents with a grin, "But not right now."

He stopped treading water and raised his hands in the water showing that he was standing on the bottom. "See it's not very deep. This is the deepest part and it doesn't even come to my shoulders and you're a foot taller than me. It's a good place to learn because you'll always be able to touch the bottom."

He pointed with his chin at the bank Maxim was standing on, "It drops off quickly there, it's up to my waist within three feet." He jerked his thumb to point over his shoulder, "If you want to get your feet wet, it's quite shallow on that side. It never gets deeper than a few inches."

Going around the pond Maxim paddled happily in the shallow water while Symin swam in the middle not even seeming to care that there was only a very small area in which to swim, diving and spending a lot of time under the water. The two boys played happily for about an hour then Symin took a look at the sun. "We'll eat some of the food now and head up to the hut." Swimming toward Maxim until he came to halt in the shallow water like a beached water creature, he stood in the shallow water, and shooed Maxim out of the water and followed him around the small pond to the other side.

Picking up his short trousers, he carried them over to their gear and after pulling the small dagger from its belt sheath, dropped them carelessly on top the saddle. Kneeling he picked up the bag of food and undid it. "Minna always has Arma pack plenty of food. It's just bread and cheese but Arma really knows how to cook bread."

Cutting the food in half, he said, "There's a nice lake about ten miles from here. Once you can swim halfway decent and get used to riding we'll go up there." He puts the remaining food back in the bag and then cuts the food evenly again, he gives half to Maxim and keeps half. Sharing the dagger they use it to cut off smaller pieces and began eating, drinking occasionally from the waterskin.

"May I ask a personal question Master?" Maxim asked.

With his mouth half full, Symin said "You can ask, but I might decide not to answer."

"You seem to have a great deal of freedom for a boy of your age. Even one from a noble family. I just wondered why? Minna said she was glad she wouldn't worry as much now that you have a companion, just in case something happens."

Symin lowered the bit of cheese that he was about to put into his mouth and closed his eyes in pain. Then he shook his head shrugged and opened his eyes, looking down at the ground he quietly answered the question. "Grandfather has always left the responsibly for his grandchildren to their parents."

"My mother died when I was born. My father blames me for her death. Whether he ever hated me for what happened I don't know but I can feel that he does not hate me now. But he does not love me either. He just doesn't care."

He raised his eyes to look directly at Maxim. The older boy could see the pain in the large gray eyes which were a bit watery with unshed tears. "It hurts. It hurts a lot, but I don't think about it most of the time." Symin wiped his eyes with the palm of his hand and continued once they no longer threatened to overflow. He sighed looking back down at the ground for a few seconds. When he raised them, he shrugged his small shoulders again. "And besides at least I know most everybody else likes me and Minna really loves me. That helps a lot."

"But enough of sad talk," Symin said banging the grass with his hand for emphasis, "this is your the first day as my servant and I promised Minna that I wouldn't get into any trouble today." he said virtuously. He nibbled on his lower lip, for a moment, a nervous habit he had, sadness gone. He gave his gaptoothed grin "Well actually I didn't say that. I promised Minna that I'd try to stay out of trouble but I couldn't give her any guarantees."

He shoved the bit of cheese into his mouth and jumped to his feet chewing on it as he put on his short trousers and sandals and sheathed his dagger. His fine silky hair had become somewhat straggly as it dried so he hand combed it into some semblance of order.

"We'll move the animals now so that they can reach the water if they need to drink while we're gone." Symin pulled the stake that Anya was fastened to and moved it closer to the water, pushing the stake back into the soft ground and Maxim followed his example with the mule.

Symin stretched saying "Even if they pull the stakes out of the ground they've both been trained not to wander off so we don't have to worry about walking home." He smiled mischievously. "Though you might prefer it. We'll eat the rest of the food once we get to the hut. It's only been abandoned for a few months since we no longer have as many sheep as we once had."

He picked up the food bag and threw it to Maxim, saying with mock pomposity "Here, since you're my servant, you can carry this outrageously heavy burden." then he giggled. "We'll leave the waterskin here. It's only about a mile to the hut and it has a good well. It's an easy climb but in a couple of places, the animals couldn't make it. C'mon, follow me."

He turned and lead the way to the hillside, Maxim following. Symin stopped at the base of the hill and pointed alternately to the cliffs. "Actually there's only a couple of places where it would be hard to get up or down. They're very easy to climb without even needing a rope." As Symin said, the hill was easy to climb being mostly a grassy slope, but in two places rocky outcroppings cut across the hillside. They were no inconvenience to a human but impossible for a horse or a mule to manage.

At the top Symin stopped and spread his arms at the beautiful scenery in front of the two boys. To the northwest the cliff was topped by trees curving away from them and spreading out into a large forest in the distance sloping upward toward the distant mountains. Right in front of them and towards the eastern part of the cliff was a large grassy plain spread out before them. "This is what they call The Plateau. I don't really think it qualifies as a real plateau but that's what it's always been called."

Maxim looked around him with awe, saying almost in a whisper "I've heard about this place but I never thought I'd see it." Shading his eyes, he looked around but then he asked in a confused voice. "But I thought this was used for grazing. I don't see any animals."

Symin bent down and picked up several small rocks. Straightening he began tossing them softly underhand, sighing "When the Edict was imposed ninety percent of the animals from up here went to pay off the huge initial fine. Over the years what cattle and horses were left were sent to the main part of the estate and last year the last of the sheep were transferred as well and this area, as rich as it is, was abandoned for the time being. Once the main part of the Edict ends next year we'll have more revenues and we'll begin building up the herds again and this part of the estate will eventually get extensive use again."

He pointed to the trees, "The forest circles to the north then curves around down opposite us, where the hut is. Well actually there's about a dozen huts in all, but over the years they were abandoned one by one as remaining animals were transferred to the main part of the estate. The hut we're going to, is the only one with its thatch roof still intact. This grassy area," waving his arm "looks pretty level but it's not. It goes up and down and to the north of us there a stream which is hidden by a fold of the earth then curves into the trees and flows down through them almost to the huts, where it curves again on the other side of the trees and flow into a large pond. The pond is no good for swimming though. It's only a couple of feet deep. C'mon lets go."

Symin headed across the grasslands followed by his companion. The grass was two to three feet long, and slowed them up somewhat. It took them about a half-hour to walk as far as the trees. The only talking was one question from Maxim, "Master, how did they get the sheep and other beasts up, it would be very hard the way we came."

Symin explained, "There's another way up. You can even get wagons up that way. But it's almost five miles further on," he smiled over his shoulder with amusement. "I didn't think you were quite ready for that long a ride just yet."

Maxim rubbed his butt and grimaced saying with feeling "You're sure right about that Master Symin."

Symin thought to himself, "That Master crap has got to go, but like the swimming, not today."

When they reached the trees they headed south. The huts were in a clearing twenty-five to fifty yards wide and two hundred yards long and were at the southern end.

Symin had a deep feeling of contentment. He was always happiest when he was outdoors. But suddenly his Empathy picked up something. He stopped suddenly putting his hand on Maxim's chest to stop him. He knelt at the edge of clearing concentrating. Maxim knelt as well asking in a whisper "What's wrong, Master?"

Symin waved at him to be silent as he concentrates. Then "Someone is in the hut. He must be a Magic User or I wouldn't feel him at this distance. He's hurting. I must find out who it is. Stay here. I'll give you a wave if it's safe to come, otherwise go for help."

"But Master Symin…"

Symin looked at him, his large gray eyes wide with fear, yet at the same time very clear and cold. In a hard chilled voice, he commanded "You will do as you are told!!"

Maxim swallowed but instantly becomes silent. Symin patted him on the shoulder and gave him a quick smile, the coldness not leaving his face. Symin moved quietly into the trees and made his way toward the hut. As he got closer, he could feel that whoever was in the hut had a pleasant personality which was overlaid with anxiety and pain.

He made his way to the hut and peeks through one of the windows. He sees a very large man wearing well worn dirty clothing lying on the single bed. His right boot was off and his ankle was badly swollen. He seems to be asleep but suddenly he pushed himself to his elbows and calls out "I can feel someone there. Who is it?" Symin had ducked out of sight as soon as the man started pushing himself up. His heart was pounding in his chest and he was thinking anxiously, 'He must have Empathy but it can't be very strong or he would have felt me sooner! He won't be able to move very fast with that leg. I think it'll be all right if I let him see me.' Heart still pounding he stood up and looked in the window leaning his elbows on the sill.

The man looked with astonishment as the blond haired boy popped into view, but smiled at him, "Hello little one. And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing." he asked in a deep pleasant rumble.

Symin’s heartbeat slowed. He could read the man much better now and he could tell that he was in no danger. With a nod of his head in a partial bow, "Symin Ascalon at your service, sir. And you?" He cocked his head to one side as he gave his name but he felt no recognition. He realized that the man didn't have any empathy, it was simply the experience of an outdoorsman, that had told him someone was close.

The man shrugged, "Cartan is what my friends call me," and Symin could feel his amusement as he continued "and what my enemies call me would be somewhat vulgar for such young ears to hear. Are there any adults with you? I have an urgent and secret message that must get to Bremen today, before the gate closes for the night."

Symin shook his head "Just my servant and he's only three year older than me. I'll come in, if you don't mind?"

"I have the feeling that you have more right to be here than I do, so I hardly think that I have the gall to deny you entry."

Symin backed away from the window and moved over to the doorway. He felt a sharp pain from within the hut which took his breath away for a moment. He paused then turned before entering and waved at Maxim, seeing the older boy start to run toward the hut, then lifting up the latch pushed the door open and entered. Cartan had pushed himself to a sitting position, resting his right foot on a pack Symin hadn't noticed from the window. Beside it lay a fighting staff about six feet long.

Symin hang onto to the latch leaning against the door and nodded toward Cartan's injury. "How bad is your leg?"

The man felt it gently with his hands. "It's a pretty bad sprain but I've got pretty good healing so it will fine in two or three days." Symin wondered why he was lying about his leg as Cartan continued, "but as I say I've got a really urgent message that has to get to my contact today. The person expecting it will leave Bremen before the gate closes tonight. She'll stop at the first Messenger Post which was twenty miles from Bremen and send her information off by Courier."

Maxim had reached the hut now and stood behind Symin panting a bit from running all the way. Symin asked "We can take it to the castle and someone with a fast horse could be sent to Bremen. Even if he's already left," "She" interrupted Cartan. Symin nodded "Even if she's already left the servant could take it to the Messenger Post."

Cartan reached into a pouch fastened to his belt and pulled out a round white stone about two inches long and an inch in diameter. "This is a Message Stone used by special agents. Spies." he amends as he sees the questioning look on Symin's face. "They are specially made so the contents will quickly fade if lost, or someone who isn't a Magic User gets hold of it somehow. Only an attuned Magic User can carry it, without it losing its contents. His Magic, or in this case my Magic, provides the energy needed to maintain its contents."

"The only part that I can read, is the part that shouts out its urgency. The person who originally compiled it can't read it either, he can only record information on it and he cannot alter any information he can only add to it. Normally only Prince Tamen and two of his personal assistants can read it. However a powerful Magic User or Mage can sometimes force it to give up its information, so we try not to let them out of our possession."

"I don't know what it contains, except that it concerns northern Madron somehow and that it was very urgent and very secret. Bremen was the first place on the Northern Road between northern Madron and Camara, our capital, that has any significant population and there will be watchers there. I had intended to wait for my contact a couple of miles east of Bremen on the Northern Road. Unfortunately it now must be delivered to Bremen before she leaves. She will actively avoid contact with anyone she meets on the road who she doesn't know."

He continued concentrating on it, rolling it about in his huge hands. "Not all of our Couriers are Magic Users. I know for a fact that there was only one at the post directly west of Bremen. Right now they are spaced out one for every three Posts. Normally there would be two at each Post but most Couriers with magical abilities have been transferred to the southern border because of the war scare down there. Within ten minutes of her arrival at the Post, she will pass it on and the Courier will be on his way. Once she passes it on to the first Courier with the training he's been given he'll be able to deliver it in ten to twelve hours."

"If the message is delivered after the Courier leaves, it would cause a lot of delay. Sinya is a Forest Elf, and like most Forest Elves who become travelers, she came to riding late. She's only been riding for the last five years, since she became a King's Messenger, and doesn't have the specialized training of a Courier. It'll take her at least two to three times as long to travel the same distance as a trained Courier. And once she reaches the Post where the Courier stops he'll only be partly rested and it'll probably take him longer to cover the same amount of ground as he usually would. Then there would be a cascading effect each Courier would be delayed by the about the same amount of time."

"By the time the last Courier reaches the capital it could be delayed by as much as an extra two or three days. You are a Magic User so I could attune it to you." He looked up at the two boys for a moment before lowering his eyes "Is there anyone else at your castle who was a Magic User?"

Symin closed his eyes knowing what he would he have to do, his hands trembling. He had to clear his throat before he can speak but his voice was remarkably steady, "No there's no Magic User besides me at the castle. Minna has a tiny bit of Healing and one of the soldiers has a little Empathy but neither has enough to be classed as a Magic User. Besides Minna weighs as much or more than you do. Even if she could GET on a horse it sure wouldn't move very fast." He couldn't help but smile in spite of his fear as he looked at Cartan sitting on the bed. It was hard to tell exactly how tall he was since he was sitting but he was a good four or five inches over six feet and must have weighed well over two hundred and sixty pounds, while Minna was only five feet tall and weighed as much or slightly more.

He turned to Maxim "The well in back of the hut. I brought a couple of buckets up a while back. I'd like you to go get a bucketful of water."

Maxim frowned not liking to leave at this point. But after a few seconds when Symin barked out, "Go!!" he went reluctantly.

As soon as Symin could no longer hear him, he looked at Cartan, eyes wide "I'll deliver the stone for you."

Cartan looked up a wide smile growing on his face and Symin felt the deep pleasure in his emotions. "I hoped that you would do so once I realized you were a Magic User. Come over here and I will attune the stone to you."

Symin approaches the man and stands in front of him. Cartan presses the stone to his forehead "Pay close attention and you'll be able to see how it's done so you can attune it to Sinya."

Symin closed his eyes concentrating deeply so he could feel what Cartan was doing… Suddenly there was something that felt like a snap, though it really wasn't audible, and suddenly the stone was in focus as the stone attunes to him and he knew how to do the same thing whenever he needs.

Cartan took a second stone from his pouch, a much smaller stone a deep black in color and held it to his forehead for a couple of minutes then said to Symin, "This is my report updated to the moment and I would appreciate it if you would deliver this to Sinya as well." When Symin nodded in agreement, he held this stone to the boy's forehead repeating the process with this stone as with the first stone. "She's staying at the Boar's Head Inn which is on the street directly across from the town gate. Sinya is in the first room at the head of stairs. As I said, she's a Forest Elf and her hair is even lighter than yours. She has pale skin and blue eyes and she's a few inches over five foot."

Silently Symin took the two stones and placed them in his almost empty pouch. He went over to the door and reached it just as Maxim returned. He took the bucket offered and took a long drink. Placing the bucket on the floor, he says to Maxim. "Drink if you want to. We've got to go now."

As Maxim takes a deep drink Symin asked "How were you going to deliver the message if we hadn't come?"

Cartan said "As I said I have some Healing. I could have gotten my leg well enough to walk by tomorrow afternoon and then I would have gone to the closest place to commandeer a horse and ridden to the Messenger Post." Again, Symin knew he was lying. He was pretty sure why now. He shrugged "I was hoping that the extra time it took wouldn't turn out to be vital." Symin gave Cartan a slow deep formal bow, much deeper and more respectful than would normally be given to a simple knight, the rank he knew was given to all King's Messengers. "If I do not see you again, I will say my goodbyes now."

Straightening he turned and walked out the door motioning for Maxim to follow him. Maxim was confused by their sudden leave taking but obediently followed his young Master.

"Why did you ask him what he would do if we hadn't come along?" he asked

"Because I told him that I would deliver the message for him." Symin says calmly, nothing to show that his heart was beating faster then normal from fear.

"But Symin. What about the Edict?" Maxim wailed, forgetting to use Master for the first time and jumping in front of Symin."

"I know what I'm doing." Symin yelled back savagely. Then taking several deep breaths he answers more calmly "I could hardly forget about the Edict. It's been drummed into my head ever since I can remember. I know it by heart."

Standing still he closed his eyes and began to recite, "The Edict of Exile concerning the Family Ascalon to cover the next ten years from the 4th of Sume Year 633. After Founding to the 3rd of Sume Year 643 After Founding A fine of 10,000 golds.

75% of all revenues raised during the period the Edict covers are forfeit to the Crown.

50% of all revenues raised during the following ten years following the period of the Edict are forfeited to the Crown.

25% of all revenues raised during the ten to twenty year period following the period of the Edict are forfeited to the Crown.

All Ascalons who are direct descendants of Armand and Cecily Ascalon are confined to their estates.

Any adult Ascalon who is found off of the estates without specific written instructions from the nearest King's representative and accompanied by that representative's guards is under sentence of instant execution.

Any Ascalon child above the age of reason who is found off of the estates without specific written instructions from the nearest King's representative is to be taken and tried by the nearest Judge who may deal out High Justice. That Judge is free to hand out any punishment he may see fit, NOT excluding execution."

Symin voice had risen during the final clause of the Edict and the last few words were almost shouted. Throwing his arms into the air he took deep breath to calm himself again.

"I know the risks I am taking, but it's important, really important. I could feel that from Cartan. He was lying about his leg. It isn't sprained, it's broken. And he isn't going to wait for tomorrow. He wasn't resting. He was gathering his strength and Magic. As soon as got up enough strength he was intending to use his Magic to make his leg numb and try to get to the nearest place to the rendezvous point, and if that wasn't possible, the nearest place he could find a horse. That would have damaged his leg beyond the ability of even the strongest Healer to repair. His Magic was stronger than mine, but not by much, and at our level Magic is very finite. He probably wouldn't have gotten more than a mile before it began to fade out. Once that happened a man of his determination and honor would have tapped into his life force energy. That wouldn't have given him enough additional power to go much further but I could feel he would rather die than abandon his duty. Now lets go. We don't have a lot of time to play with."

He stepped around Maxim and headed across the grass. Maxim turned and followed him silently. It didn't seem to take very long to reach the animals.

Once they reached them, he had Maxim saddle the mule directing him almost absentmindedly. He pulled up the stake holding his pony and undoing the rope he hands both items to Maxim. He stood holding the Anya's halter and rubbing her neck nibbling on his lower lip for a moment. "I want you to stay here for about ninety minutes and then head back to the castle. Go directly to Minna, she can be trusted to keep a secret. Tell her she shouldn't mention why I'm going to Bremen. Grandfather can't keep a secret from grandmother and she can't keep a secret from anyone. It would be all over the castle and the village in a couple of hours, and all over Bremen a day later."

Taking hold of Anya's mane, Symin scrambled onto her back. He smiled at Maxim though his lips were trembling a little. He turned his pony's head and started off at a walk. After fifty yards or so he turned and waved at Maxim then drumming his heels into the pony's ribs he forced her into a trot.

It took about forty-five minutes to reach the boundary of the estate, which was marked by a streambed about a quarter of a mile wide. He stopped Anya on the bank. He nibbled on his lower lip for a moment shivering from anxiety. Then he started up his pony and rode her down the bank into the streambed. In the rainy season, the bed would have been filled from bank to bank but at this time of year the stream was only about seventy-five yards wide and quite shallow.

As his pony climbed the far bank his fear increased and it never left him as he headed for the main road into Bremen. When he reached the Northern Road, he followed it toward Bremen. Not being a market day, they only met a couple a couple of wagons heading for home and he waved to them, sure no one would recognize him.

His blond hair came from his mother's family, all other Ascalons that he had seen having darker hair, ranging from a light brown to jet black.

But still his heart pounded fiercely until they were well past and he made sure to pass them on his left. Weapons were one of the indications of status and if they had seen the dagger on his right hip they would have been known he was of noble blood. That also hid the Ascalon crest tattooed on his right arm and embroidered on the right leg of his short trousers. A child on his own, with a jewelled dagger riding an unsaddled pony in this part of the country would have to be an Ascalon. While many peasants from this area were distantly related and would probably not turn him in even if they did recognize him, there were no guarantees.

About two hundred yards from the town gate there was a small copse of trees and he entered it and slipped to the ground. He fastened Anya's reins lightly to a branch so she would easily be able to pull the reins free. If he didn't return, and he didn't expect to return, which explained the periods of shivering he had been experiencing ever since he crossed the boundary of the estate, he would have preferred to take her halter off and send her home. But Concealment didn't work with most animals, and she would have been able to see him and might have followed him. Then he began to reach for his Magic. His Empathy was always present but the ability to Conceal took a lot of concentration to invoke and right now, because of his fear, it was even harder to reach.

Then suddenly Symin felt the familiar mental wall rise in front of his emotions, his fear lessening as his ability to Conceal popped into place. The only effect that it had on the boy was to partially mask his emotions, it didn't affect his thinking. Others however simply would not notice him, unless he was unlucky enough to encounter a full Mage.

He was in a hurry now, the strain much greater than his Empathy, and he trots toward the gate reaching it in a couple of minutes. There was a guard holding a spear on either side of the gate which was just wide enough for a wagon to enter. He was careful to stay in the middle of the gate, accidentally touching someone would destroy his effort at Concealment for that person.

Once on the street leading to the gate there were more people moving around and he slowed his pace so there would be less danger of bumping into anyone. Luckily, the Boar's Head Inn was not very far along the street. The door was double width and both doors are wide open.

It was still too early for most people to be eating, so there weren't many customers. There were a couple of men leaning against the bar and one of the tables was occupied. The stairs were at the front of the building and Symin soft soled sandals were very quiet on the floor, then the stairs.

At the head of the stairs, Symin leant against the wall for a moment. He was incredibly tired and pain begins lancing through his head. He knocked gently on the door the sound seeming to thunder through his brain. He was about to knock a second time when the door was jerked open.

He pushed past the slender Elven woman who opened the door. He dropped his Concealment. Her hand flew to the hilt of the short sword visible over her left shoulder and it flashed into her hand as Symin became visible to her. Symin backed away from her further into the room and croaked out in a rough voice. "Cartan sent me." His deeply tanned face was actually gray and there were large circles under his eyes.. The sword in the woman's hand flicked back into its sheath and she closed the door.

Symin swayed a bit, suddenly unsteady on his feet. She took his arms and pushed him down onto the side of the bed, poured some water into a mug and sat beside him on the bed to support him making him drink it. After taking a deep drink Symin fumbled in his belt pouch and pulled out the two stones.

Recognizing them and knowing that he had to attune them to her, she bent so he could hold the first to her forehead. His mind was sluggish and it took him a couple of minutes to remember how it was done, but with a snap the reverse of what had occurred when it was attuned to him, it suddenly went out of focus and a band of pain clamped around his head.

Symin put his face in his hands for a minute then even more sluggishly he put the second stone to her forehead and with a great deal of effort he attuned the second stone to her. When it snapped into unfocus the pain became unbearable, and he lost consciousness.

She stood up rolling the stones in her hand for a moment before putting them in her belt pouch. She too can read the urgency from the white stone. Making sure that he was breathing easily and that his pulse was steady, she moved him so that his head was on the pillow and after undoing his sandals and putting them on the floor, covered him up. She had seen this condition several times before or at least she thought she had, and knew he had simply overused his Magic and would recover after a good rest.

Taking up her saddlebags, which were already packed, she couldn't resist bending over and brushing his cheek with a light kiss.

"Goodbye, little one. I'll pay the innkeeper to let you keep this room overnight and tomorrow." she said to the sleeping boy giving him a salute as she exited the room, closing the door behind her. Ten minutes later after making arrangements and getting her horse, she was riding out of the town gate.

Day Two – Tavern and Mayor's House

It was about ten o'clock the next morning when there came a knock on the door. Symin was so deeply unconscious that he wouldn't have noticed if a blacksmith had set up an anvil right next to his bed and was pounding on it.

A second louder knock came on the door and when it wasn't answered a the door was pushed open. Symin had kicked the light blanket off and was lying on his left side. If anything she was expecting the female Elf and was surprised when she found a little boy instead. The innkeeper's daughter was used to sizing up customers. She noticed the expensive dagger and sheath and instantly looked for a noble's tattooed crest. She recognized it instantly and laying the new bedding she had been carrying on the chair she hurried out the door and clattered down the stairs.

"Da, where are you?" she yelled.

"I'm in the kitchen, Lorry. What's the matter? A demon after you?"

"Where's the Elf woman, there's someone else in her room."

"She left yesterday afternoon when you were visiting your granny. She said someone else would be using the room, and she gave me enough to pay two or three days."

"It's a little boy da. A noble boy." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "An Ascalon boy."

He asks sharply "What! Are you sure?"

"Da you sent me to school to learn reading and writing and figure enough to keep the books. Well we got a little history too and I memorized the Ascalon crest since they was so close and the Exile has less than a year to go!"

The innkeeper, began wringing his hands "What are we going to do, Lorry? What?"

Lorry sighed, her father could never decide what to do. He had relied on her mother while she was still alive now he relied on her. She sighed again, more deeply this time. "He's just a little boy, Da. But we could lose the inn if they found us knowingly harboring an Ascalon. I'll have to fetch the Town Guard."

With the decision made, the innkeeper was no longer distraught and he stopped wringing his hands, "Very well, go, go get them at once. I'll watch and make sure he doesn't leave."

Not commenting, she scooted out the front door and returned within ten minutes with two of the Town Guard. They clumped up the stairs behind her and into the room. He examined the boy who showed no evidence of waking up. "That's the Ascalon crest right enough Missy," pulling the dagger from its sheath he whistled with admiration, "This be very very nice. It be Dwarven work. Too small for an adult, just the right size for a child." Taking it over to the window he looked at the blade in the sunlight. "It were made for the Ascalons. The blade be engraved with their crest."

He looked at the boy again "If he can't say why he be here, he be in deep sh…", he coughed and Lorry couldn't help but giggle. "He be in deep trouble."

"What's to happen to him for now?" Lorry inquired.

"The Mayor don't like to put childer in the jail if he can avoid it. He's a soft 'un. He keeps a couple small rooms in his house which can be locked. He'll be put there for the moment." He resheathed the dagger then undid Symin belt and slid the sheath off and redid the belt.

He handed the sheathed dagger to the second Guard. "You hold onta that Toron. It's wort more than the Mayor's house. And more than you'll make in yer whole life so don't lose it." He took hold of Symin's shoulder and shook it. There was no response. He shook the boy a second time somewhat harder. When he still got no response he stepped back and pursed his lips.

"I don't tink he gonna be walking. I'll haveta carry him I tink." He scooped the boy up into his arms. When Symin arms went around his neck, he blushed and muttered under his breath. "Come on Toron, carry his sandals and no comments from ya." he growled. Toron says with a wide eyed innocent look on his face "Yes Moth, I mean yes sir, captain, sir."

The captain glared at his subordinate and his nephew, his lips twitching a couple of times as he fought to contain a grin. "I'll be sure to find ya sometin' to do when we get back to the guard room."

The mayor's house was in the town square, across from combination jail and guard room. He had Toron knock on the door and it was opened by he Mayor's wife, a nice looking woman in her late twenties.

She frowned at the captain, "What's wrong with the poor boy, Captain." "I dunno Madame Mayor. I know he be in deep trouble but I dunno what's wrong with him physically. We'll put him in one of the rooms your husband keeps and I'll send Toron to fetch a Healer."

She led them to small room on the second floor and unlocked it with a key hanging on the wall next to the door. The three entered the room. Toron dropped Symin sandals on the floor while Captain Sparan put the boy on the bed. After Toron handed the Captain the sheathed dagger he headed for the Healer's residence and was back quickly with the Healer, Dearna.

She gave Symin at quick physical exam and finding nothing physically wrong, examines him with her Healing ability. Finally she straightened up, and gives the mayor's wife and the Captain a smile. "The child has two problems. One was quite common and I've come across several times, the other I've read about but have never come across personally. He’s not asleep, he's actually in the Healing trance of a Self-healer. He has overextended his Magical resources. That wouldn't be very serious, rest and sleep would take care of that quite easily."

"However Magic Users at our level have the ability to tap into our natural life force when we need extra energy. It is not recommended, and it's very dangerous even with training. It gives you a rush of power but it can burn out very quickly with deadly results. But this child." she paused "by the way, are you aware who he is?"

Captain Sparan "We know he be an Ascalon but not which one."

Dearna nods, "He is indeed an Ascalon, Symin Ascalon to be exact. I attended his birthing. Their resident Healer was worried about his mother and asked me to assist. And problems indeed did develop. This little one," she nods at Symin "came out as healthy as any baby though a wee bit small." She sighed and shook her head with regret, "Unfortunately his mother was not as lucky. A lovely woman but not built for child birth. She died from complications. We were helpless to do anything that would help her."

"Their Healer died a couple of years after the Edict was imposed and he was never replaced. I've been out to their estate on several occasions, and I always examined as many people as I can. All of the other children suffered from the usual childhood ailments but even when Symin was a toddler he never had so much as a cold and now I know why. A Self-healer is very rare. Most Healers also have the ability to heal themselves but it is a conscious ability. A Self-healer uses his ability subconsciously and has no control over it. He was virtually immune to minor ailments and scrapes and cuts and bruises heal very quickly. Even major injuries, as long as they are survivable and not crippling, will heal much faster than with ordinary people who don't have access to a Healer. I haven't gotten to see him much in the last three years. He was always out wandering somewhere."

"I finally managed to corral him for an examination eight months ago. He was disgusted that he was still so small but that was his only complaint. My records show that had gained less than a half inch in height and was only two pounds heavier at nine and a half than he was at seven. There was nothing at the time to indicate that he possessed any Magical Abilities so his Magic has developed in the last few months."

She shook her head again at this point, "But I'm digressing. I was talking about Magic Users and life force energy. A good comparison would be two roads paralleling each other but never joining. A Magic User with sufficient power is able to tap into his life force energy. It's like building a crosspath from one road to the other, and that crosspath has to be forced into existence. Once you actually stop holding that path open, it simply collapses. With Symin however, like all Self-healers, his Magic and his life force energy are inextricably bound together. Once his Magic is used up, he automatically starts using his life force energy. His magic is only a flicker, very hard to sense and his life force energy is quite low."

The captain interrupts "The child according to Lorry, the innkeeper's daughter, has been at the inn since yesterday afternoon. I read the reports from the guards on gate duty on all four gates yesterday afternoon before I was called to the inn. No blond haired child entered the town at any of the gates. People in this province with blond hair are so rare that it would be such an unusual occurrence that it would have been noted. He must've used Concealment or Invisibility."

"Not invisibility," mused the healer. "That would have required a full Mage. Concealment. Yes!" she nodded sharply "That was a very intense spell. It would have put the child in his present condition, very easily."

"Now to his treatment," she continued briskly. "He was in a healing trance as I said. If left to run its natural course it would take ten days to two weeks. If he was an overweight child, there would be little concern. All you would have to do was make sure he drank some liquids every day when awake, the trance would turn the fat into energy. But as you can see he is very slender to start with and has no fat to spare. The Self-healing would start scavenging from other areas of his body. It would be very debilitating and possibly fatal. No I'll have to come a couple of times a day to give him extra energy using my Healing ability."

"That will reduce the time of recovery to perhaps four or five days. He should come out of the healing trance at that point, though he still won't be fully recovered and might require a lot sleep and rest for several days after that. I'll come in to see him a once a day but I foresee no problems." She held out her right hand and the Captain dropped two silver pieces into it. Silently she turned and exited the room.

The captain said "I'll have to go to the town hall and inform the Mayor. We'll also have to send a message out to the Ascalon estate."

He turned and clumped down the stairs on his way to inform the Mayor.

Day Six - Mayor's House

Symin stretched as he woke up slowly. Finally he opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. He expected to see the whitewashed ceiling of his room and wrinkled his nose when he saw a beige colored ceiling instead. Then he remembered what he has done and jerked up to his elbows, biting his lower lip, fear in his heart as he looked around the room. It was quite small and had only the bed and a chair beside it, and a washstand in the corner with a jug of water and a wash basin and a towel and a washcloth on the top and on the shelf below, a chamber pot. The sun was shining through the single window which was covered with closely spaced bars. He reached for his Magic but it was still very low, even Empathy was not available.

Symin threw back the light cover and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was naked and he saw no clothing in sight.

Unconcerned he pushed himself to his feet. He was still weak and he felt somewhat shaky but he felt fairly steady as he padded to the door and tries the latch. Finding the door unlocked he pushed it open. A man in the uniform of the Town Guard was sitting across the hallway. He looked up and regarded the nude boy inquisitively. Symin eyes were wide, the only sign of his fear, and his voice was steady. "I would be obliged if you would tell me where I am."

"This be the Mayor's house youngun and you been here for five days gettin' well. This be the sixth day."

The boy swallowed "Well I guess you had better inform the Mayor that I am awake." He closed the door gently and went back to the bed. He laid down on his right side, arm on the pillow and head resting on his arm, knees bent and feet close to his bottom.

He heard the guard yell down the stairs "Madame. Would ye send one of the maids to the Mayor and tell him the prisoner is awake."

Symin repeats, in a whisper "PRISONER!!"

Still weary he dozed off but woke and pushed himself to a sitting position when he heard the latch being lifted and the door being pushed open. The Town Guard held it open so that the Mayor could enter and then closed it behind him.

He was dressed in the ubiquitous short trousers. These were a dark blue as was his shirt. His vest was the somber black of a Judge with the red stripe across the left breast indicative of a Judge with the power of High Justice. In other words the power to impose the sentence of death, or a punishment that will lead to death.

He sat in the chair and looked at the boy on the bed sternly. "I sent a message to your family. I was advised that they would do nothing. That when your punishment was decided upon to inform them. You are in a great of trouble young Master Ascalon. Unless you can give me a good explanation you face a punishment, which I have already decided upon, and it is very harsh."

Symin choked out through a tightening throat beginning to tremble. "I can give no explanation, Sir."

"Are you sure boy? The Edict itself doesn't give me much leeway but I have instructions from the Crown that give me even less."

Symin shook his head and breathed out a tiny "No, sir."

The man shook his head, "I have never ordered a child of your age to be executed, and I shall not start now. Unfortunately many of the alternatives would also end in your death so would be no better than execution."

"I have decided on a punishment which was once used instead of the death penalty. That penalty was the taking of the offender's sight." Symin opens his mouth in horror staring at the Mayor with fear chilled gray eyes.

The man was uncomfortable under the gaze of fearful eyes and looks away. "I am sorry, child. I have the authority in this case to send it to the King for a final determination but I take my responsibilities seriously and I shall not send it on to the King. If the King decided the punishment I hand down was not harsh enough he would react with even harsher punishment." Looking Symin in the eye again, "I lived in the capital for over ten years. He would have no hesitation in ordering your execution despite your youth. Later today Dearna the healer will give you a sleeping potion and then use her magical abilities to permanently take your sight."

He got up abruptly as Symin hunched his shoulders and tears began to flow down his cheeks. When he reached the door he looked back at the crying boy and shook his head in pity and opened the door closing it silently behind him.

After he was cried out Symin wiped his eyes on his arm and then went over to the washstand and poured some water from the jug into the washbasin and washed his face. After using the chamberpot to empty his bladder, he returned to the bed and laid down again. Hands clasped under his head on the pillow he stared at the ceiling.

His fear and horror were under control now and he wouldn't break down again. From the time he had said he would deliver the message stone he had expected punishment, in fact he had expected to die, and at least he would be alive. He thought briefly on the response his family had given, and he didn't blame them. They had had one son executed for treason and had suffered harsh consequences as a result. They were distancing themselves from him as much as possible hoping to avoid any additional repercussions.

After a while his eyes closed with weariness and he slept deeply. He didn't awaken when a young serving maid appeared with a tray which she placed on the chair and then returned a few minutes later and draped a pair of dark blue short trousers over the back of the chair. She gave his shoulder a shake before she left the second time and as he was waking up he heard the door close.

He pushed himself up onto his elbows and noticing the food sat up swinging his legs over the side and began to eat hungrily. He mused with a bittersweet comment "I guess you can eat before your own execution," then his voice lowers to a whisper "or worse." because he was not sure whether losing his sight would be worse then death.

There was a large bowl of stew, a couple of large slices of buttered bread, a glass of milk and two small apples. He finished everything and rubbing his small flat stomach, he belched loudly, giggling in spite of his anxiety.

He picked up the short trousers and examined them. The belt was his but the short trousers didn't have the Ascalon crest above the hem. He rubs the crest tattooed on his right arm. "I guess this was enough to show who I am."

He pulled the shorts trousers over his feet and stood to pull them up and fasten his belt. They were a little big but not noticeably so. After a few minutes he began to get very sleepy not simply with the weariness he had felt all day and he realized that the food had been drugged. Already sitting on the side of the bed he collapses backward as the drug did its work, and in a brief period of time he was unconscious.

Some time later the door was opened, the Healer Dearna looked in. Seeing Symin lying back on the bed she nodded with approval, yet there was a sour look on her face. "All right your Honor. He's unconscious. I can go ahead and carry out the punishment."

"I don't see why I have to be here. Surely my presence isn't necessary." queried the Mayor.

"Your honor, this is contrary to almost everything I've been taught. You ordered the punishment and you ordered me to do it, so get in here," she snarled, "or despite your orders and the fact that you're my cousin, you can find another healer."

"Dammit Dearna, I'm just as reluctant as you are about this. But you've been in the capital. Do you think the King would have any reluctance in having someone chop off this child's head?" he snarled at her.

She sighs, "No, you're right Tomma, but I'm not going to be alone while I do this and I'll not subject my apprentice to this unpleasantness. That means you're the chosen one, whether you want to or not."

She approached the bed, swung Symin's legs onto it and moved him up until his head was on the pillow. She took a small stone out of her pouch. She put the stone to Symin's forehead explaining what she was doing. "We've known for a long time that a nerve exits from the back of the eyes and goes into the brain. I am going to use this stone to concentrate on that area and burn out the sight nerve, past the point of regeneration by even the most powerful magic user."

With a look of distaste on her face she reached into the boy's eyes with her Healing ability and did exactly that. It only took about two minutes. Removing the stone from the boy's forehead she spat out, "It's done. Use more of the potion to keep him asleep for a few more days. That'll give him more time to recover completely from his earlier use of magic. And that will let me check on him while he's asleep and let me give him additional energy. I don't know whether I could face him, if he was awake when I examined him." She turned to the man and held out the stone, "Here take this and get rid of it for me. I never want to see the thing again. And keep your money. I will accept no payment for doing something this distasteful."

She turned and stalked out of the room and he could hear her feet loudly clattering down the stairs. He looked at Symin shaking his head wordlessly then followed her.

Day 10 - Mayor's House, The Estate, The Plateau

Symin stirred restlessly, then woke up. He was lying on his back. He opened his eyes onto blackness. He brought his hand up to his face. Even inches from his from his eyes, he could see nothing. His shoulders sagged and his lips trembled. But then he realized that his Empathy was back, that he can feel someone, and he recognizes him. "Maxim," he yelled, lurching to his elbows.

Suddenly the older boy was kneeling beside his bed, taking Symin's small right hand in both of his, tears splashing onto the small hand of his young Master and the young boy could feel the pity in his mind. Suddenly Symin for some reason felt at peace. During his long sleep his mind had come to terms with the darkness that would be his companion for the rest of his life.

Pulling his hand from Maxim's he carefully touched his tearstained cheek. "Don't be sad for me Maxim. It was my choice. I really didn't expect still be alive. It's a time for joy, not for sorrow."

He takes a deep breath. "What time is it Maxim?"

Maxim's choked voice answers "It's just before nine in the morning Master."

"I want to go home, Maxim. Is it allowed?" Symin asks anxiously.

Maxim sniffed back his tears "That's why I'm here, Master. Anya and Atine are in the stables and I'm to bring you home as soon as you can travel."

"Good!" says Symin. "I want to leave this town. And I never want to come here again." he says vehemently. "Help me up."

On his feet, he swayed for a second but Maxim was there to steady him. He fingered his penis giggling, his bladder fit to burst, "I think I need to use the chamber pot first." Maxim lead him over to the corner and he heard the chamber pot being placed on the floor. He giggled again "I'm afraid you're going to have to aim it for me." He felt Maxim's hand on his penis, retracting his foreskin and with a sigh of relief, he let go hearing the water splash into the chamber pot.

"That sure feels better," Symin said as he was led back to the bed. Maxim handed him a pair of short trousers telling him, "These are your favorite brown ones and they returned your dagger too."

Symin could feel the bed behind his legs and he sat down. Feeling the short trousers, he made sure he had them facing the right direction and raising his leg he placed his feet one at a time into the trouser legs. He stood to pull them up to his waist and fastened the belt.

"I've got your sandals as well, do you want me to put them on for you." Maxim inquired.

"No, I want to do it myself!" he said firmly. He took first the right sandal and then the left taking somewhat longer than he normally would to put them, but not by much.

"Put your hand on my arm and we'll head for the stables."

Maxim led him carefully to the stairs and then down. Symin was a little awkward on the stairs and he was glad of the firm presence of Maxim just ahead of him. He could feel three people watching him, but he didn't recognize them. Once out the door Symin took a deep breath and lifted his sightless eyes up to the sun, he whispered "Oh, I'm glad to be out of doors again. I didn't know if I would ever feel the sun on my face again."

It only took them a few minutes to reach the stable where the animals were waiting. "There's a bench here Master, why don't you sit here while I saddle Anya and Atine."

He was back very quickly and handed Anya's reins to Symin. She lowered her head as he began to caress her, "Hello girl, it's sure nice to be able to pet you again."

She whuffled at him, and he breathed deeply taking in her familiar smell. He felt Maxim sit down beside him and the anxiety in his mind. Symin turned his head towards the older boy and asked, "I can tell there's something wrong. What is it?"

Maxim took a deep breath lets it out before speaking, "Your grandfather refuses to allow you back into the castle at this time. He says you'll have to make due with the hut on The Plateau for a while."

Symin was amused, "Did you think I would be mad. Come on. I know my grandfather lots better than you. I'm certainly not surprised. And besides I like the hut better than the castle anyway. I'd live there for the rest of my life if I was allowed to, and I'd be completely happy."

Maxim let out a breath of relief, "Minna said that's how you would react, but I wasn't sure. I know I'd miss my family if I wasn't allowed to visit them and I didn't know about you. I'm glad. I'm still going to be your personal servant and one of the other huts has been fixed up and they are moving a small flock of sheep up to the plateau and a shepherd so there'll be an adult around, and Minna insisted on fixing up the hut that's going to be ours and she's going to wait there until we get there."

"Then lets not keep her waiting." Standing up he pulled the reins over Anya's head then he grasped the saddle horn. He turned to Maxim and gave a emphatic "No!!" to the startled older boy.

"I know you were going to offer to help me, but if it's something that I can do on my own, I'll do it. Help me only if I ask for it." Then he grinned his gaptoothed grin. "Well if I fall on my face I think you can pretty well figure out that I need help."

He grabbed the saddle horn again with his left hand and with the reins in his right hand he felt down until he was touching the stirrup. Raising his left foot he placed it into the stirrup and easily swung into the saddle. He cocked his head listening until he could hear that Maxim was also mounted. "Take the reins and lead the way. Okay then, let’s get on our way." Symin said absently.

It was a bit disconcerting to be on a pony and unable to see anything, and the feeling of strangeness only worsened. He was having trouble getting used to the odd sensation.

Once outside the walls Maxim stopped. "One of the men showed me a way to get from here up to The Plateau's wagon trail by going due north from here."

After about a half hour of riding, he said to Maxim, "Stop for a couple of minutes, will you Maxim?" He dismounted and began to hop around a little turning and stretching inadvertently moving away from Anya.

Maxim looked on with astonishment, and Symin could feel his amazement and grinned at him. "It's your turn to laugh now Maxim. Now I've got a sore butt, and cramps in my legs too."

He began to rub his bottom and massage his bare thighs for a few minutes. Finally he straightened, and putting his hands on his hips, "Well I'll be…! Help me Maxim, I think I lost my ride."

He could feel Maxim's amusement as the older boy said "I think I can help you get back to Anya. Start turning to your left. Stop. Now she's about ten feet right in front of you." Symin held out his hands and began to walk straight ahead."

"Now turn a bit to your right. Enough. Anya's saddle is three paces directly ahead of you."

Symin cautiously advanced until he could actually touch his pony, reached up with his left hand and followed the same procedure as he had done at the stable and was soon safely back in the saddle.

The rest of the journey was without mishap. Though he still had a sore bottom the cramps didn't return. Finally, on the Plateau close to the huts Maxim said "I can see Minna waiting for us."

Finally they reached and Symin could feel her enormous presence in his mind and threw himself out of the saddle into her arms. Cradled against her enormous bosom the boy began to cry, this time with relief. He was home, after a journey that had changed his life completely and irrevocably, was over.

Day 50 – The Plateau

Maxim was at the castle for supplies and Timoh the shepherd was out with his flock. Symin was sitting on the front steps of his hut and carving using his dagger. A series of small animals. carvings were on a small table next to him. He was presently working on a carving of Clar, Timoh's sheep dog.

He looked up as he felt a presence approaching. It was unfamiliar and yet familiar at the same time. Then he knew who it was. "Cartan, is that you?"

"Now who else would it be, my fine young noble."

Symin picked up the staff leaning against the wall of the hut and stood up to greet the man, a King's Messenger. The man stops in front of him and Symin lifted his face up. "Did the message get through?"

The boy felt large fingers brush over his eyes, "Yes little one. Your sacrifice was not in vain."

"Can you tell me what the message was about or is it still a secret?"

"Yes, it's still somewhat a secret but the Prince has given me permission to tell you what it concerned. Let's sit down." He sat on the top step and Symin sits beside him. "One of our people in Madron discovered that there would be an attempt on the life of one of the younger sons of the Madron's King and his escort. It was intended to be blamed on Camron. It could very well have worked and it could have caused a war between our two countries. Once Prince Tamen received the message the Far-speaker employed by the court sent the message to Madron's King. They were able to spring a trap on the conspirators and defuse the situation.

"We didn't know if the plotters had spies in Bremen or not, that's why it had to remain such a secret. If they had learned a secret message had come out of Madron they might have guessed their plot was no longer viable and be able to switch to another plan that would be more likely to succeed and more dangerous for Camron."

"But what are you doing here?" Symin asked.

"Prince Tamen learned about your sacrifice and I am here to bring you a couple of gifts. The Edict of Exile will be lifted immediately, all provisions calling for future monetary penalties will be lifted. If you wish, your family will be informed it was because of your sacrifice."

He looked at Symin and could tell he was mulling it over. Finally, he said, "No. Maxim knows and he's a distant relative and Minna knows. They're the important ones to me. I don't care if anyone else knows."

"The Prince thought you might decide not to tell them, so he gave me a couple of gifts for you alone." He takes out of his pouch a necklace with a silver chain from which dangles a small sapphire stone in a silver mounting.

He put the chain over Symin's head. "This stone has been sitting in the Royal Treasury for two or three hundred years. You can attune the stone to yourself by the same method you used to attune the stones to Sinya."

Symin put the stone to his forehead and concentrated remembering how he had done it in the past. With a snap things came into focus "Hey, I can see again!!" he yelled excitedly. His excitement dimmed a little and he looked at Cartan, "but it's not as good as real sight, is it? Things are in black and white and more than five yards away it's as black as ever."

"No," Cartan shook his head "All it can do is compensate a little bit for that loss and as you get older and stronger the view will get better. It will never be as good as having your sight back. What it does is give you a sense of Perception, which is a ability that some Magic Users have. Once attuned it gives any strong Magic User that ability. It does have one advantage over real sight. It not only allows you to Perceive the outside of something, you can also Perceive the inside. For example it allows you to read again and not only can you read a book, you can read any page without having to open the book. And last," he gropes in his pouch again and pulls out a another stone, shaped almost like one of a pair of dice. Similar in color to the personal token he had originally given Symin but a little lighter color. He handed it to the boy. Symin felt a tingle as he took it in hand and the royal crest appears on the stone.

"This is a Royal Token Stone from Prince Tamen. There are not many of them around. Now that the trouble down south is abating, the Courier's transferred there are starting to trickle back to their normal Posts. Within two or three months, all of the Posts on the Northern Road will be back up to their normal complement of two Magic Using Couriers each. If you ever need aid, take this to any government official who is a Magic User or take it to the nearest Post and they will do their utmost to help you on behalf of the Prince. Many other government officials, even those who aren't Magic Users, are familiar with its look."

He stood up and gave a bow to Symin, "I salute you little one for your honor and courage, and I hope we will soon meet again."

At that he turned and was gone.