The Great Hall is filled with chatter. A large map showing Kellahn and the surrounding countries covers the table placed at the center of the hall. Men and women sit around the table talking quickly to one another. Meah sits quietly, listening to the discussions, but wishes she could leave. She’s only there to represent one of the advisors who became ill the night before, Jada Boor.
It had been years since she’d been a true member of the council. Memories of her time on the council fill her thoughts as well as memories from the years before Kellahn shifted from a solitary ruler to a group of seven appointed advisors.
Today only six advisors were present. The seventh advisor was visiting Pilian Grout, one of Kellahn’s allies, in the southeast. There were troubles occurring along the border of his land, Akayana, and the neighboring land of Linbodi, ruled by Dardya Candok, the daughter of Aryd who used to be an ally of Kellahn until after the Blood War.
“Expansion of the river has slowed considerably with the approaching dry summer. Water levels have fallen too low for the water mages to effectively carve through the surrounding stone without depleting the river. Earth mages have volunteered their services, but that may lower the levels of the remaining water and disrupt the migration of the local fish. Their numbers are already dwindling from over fishing,” Calston Lito says. He looks to Altan Hogan, head of the council. “If we’re to continue the expansion of the city, it may need to wait until the rains return in the winter.”
“Why are we expanding the river anyway? If it’s meant to flow one way we can’t force it to go wherever we choose. Doing that will only dry it out further down the canyon, making it more difficult for those who live there,” Ringan Shell says.
“The expansion is to help prevent the rampant flooding that have been occurring during the monsoon seasons in the mountains. Unless you enjoy those living along the river’s edge losing their homes?” Bon Lito says.
“Better to have too much water than none at all.”
“We’ve already voted on the expansion. That isn’t in question at the moment,” Altan says, quieting the advisors. He rubs his temple, trying to think through all of the information. After a moment, he leans back in his chair, his graying hair falling back from his face. “Cease the expansion for the moment. Have the water mages focus on keeping the river flowing to keep those further in the canyon safely hydrated. Is that an agreeable solution for the present, Ringan?”
“Yes. But I would like to discuss the expansion further once the water levels return to normal.”
“Is that agreeable with you, Cal, Bon?”
Cal and Bon nod.
“Fine. Last on our list for the morning council is…” Altan checks the papers sitting before him, shuffling through several before holding up one. “A recent interruption in trade between Kellahn and Raspil. What does that mean? A recent interruption?”
An odd feeling tickles at the back of Meah’s mind.
Ringan raises his hand to speak. “One of our caravans went missing several weeks ago. Messengers claim to have passed the caravan heading in one direction, but when they returned the caravan neither passed them nor seemed to have reached its destination.”
“Are the messengers sure they didn’t simply miss the caravan?” Meah asks, the strange tickle changing into an itch.
“The report says they could follow the tracks of the caravan until a certain point. Then the tracks were gone as though the caravan simply vanished.”
“How can an entire caravan vanish like that?”
“It would appear mages are to blame,” Lyrrel says, reading from a separate report. “One of our seers happened to be accompanying the messenger and sensed the residuals of magic in the area the tracks ended.”
“What was the caravan carrying?” Meah asks Altan.
Altan shrugs. “If it was heading to Raspil, the usual trade; fish, vegetables, meat, and cloth.”
The itch at the back of Meah’s head grows larger. As though feeling the itch, Lyrrel places his hand on Meah’s arm. She looks at him, but his eyes are focused on Altan.
“Are there any known bandits along that trading route?”
“Several, but they’ve never made an entire caravan disappear.”
“Gaeren will be expecting the caravan. Has anyone sent him a message relaying the situation?” Cal asks.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Ringan snorts. “Of course. A messenger, along with an air mage for protection, has been sent to Raspil. A response should be returning in several days.”
“I assume the message includes the estimated time a second caravan will arrive?” Altan asks.
“Of course. But with the permission of the council, I’d like to send along a few mages as extra guard until we can discover the culprits.”
“All in favor?” Altan asks. All raise their hands. “Very well, we shall send three mages along with the next caravan. That finishes our morning council. We shall reconvene in three hours.”
With the meeting over for the morning, Meah turns to Lyrrel. “Something’s wrong.”
“I know. I sense there’s more to the caravan’s disappearance than simple bandit stealing. But there’s no need to create panic until we’re certain.” Lyrrel stands. “Would you like to accompany me on a walk outside?”
“Please, anything to be away from this room.”
As she stands, Meah eyes Altan. He struggles to stand, his age becoming apparent as a guard appears at his side to assist. Over twenty years ago, Meah had walked into this Great Hall and found Altan dead. She’d been able to bring him back, along with hundreds of others, with her Life Healing magic.
“Meah?” Lyrrel waits patiently for her, knowing she’s lost in her memories.
“Sorry. Let’s go,” Meah says, following Lyrrel outside.
The city is alive with movement. The people go about their daily routines, the lightheartedness in their voices filling the air with laughter. Those who pass Lyrrel and Meah greet them with bright smiles. The older citizens bow their heads with respect and gratefulness.
Few do more. Two people approach Meah and take her hands. Tears roll down their cheeks and they kiss her hands, thanking her for saving their lives. After taking several moments to calm them, Meah and Lyrrel are able to move on.
“There are still many who believe you and Ime should have become the next rulers of this city,” Lyrrel says.
“And we’ve explained time and time again why neither of us wanted that. Even Altan agreed there should be no single ruler of this city. The council was mainly his idea, remember?”
“I know that, but the people still need time to adjust to that idea.”
“Twenty years isn’t enough?”
The two walk onto one of the many bridges connecting the city’s two sides together. Overhead great birds called Hoks fly. A few bore riders, but the knowledge was dying out. The Hoks had migrated as the city grew and the only ones that remained behind were those who already had owners. There were still a few who bred the great birds, but with the growth of the city they were no longer needed.
“How many more things will be discussed at the council?” Meah asks.
“There is the discussion of how to deal with the rampant gangs forming above the canyon. Apparently, they’ve been growing in size the past few months. There’s also going to be discussion about what to do with the sudden influx of people from the lands to the north, beyond Whitner. More have been arriving than we have space for.” Lyrrel sighs. “Trades with lands beyond Bruelle have slowed considerably. Some blame bandits, some blame lack of resources, but the most blame is placed on us.”
“In other words, I shouldn’t be expecting an early release tonight?” Meah asks, her head spinning with everything.
They reach the other side and head up. Reaching the top of the canyon, Meah’s eyes take in the newer parts of the city. The buildings are built higher with no canyon walls to stop them. Lines stretch across walkways for drying clothing. Children run around, playing. Older citizens sit on their doorsteps, enjoying the warm day.
Meah and Lyrrel reach a building hidden amongst the newer buildings. Its stones are bleached from the sun and smoothed from being weather beaten. The building used to be a watchtower back from when the city first came about. There were dozens more along both sides of the canyon, but this one held a special place in Meah’s heart. She’d spent many hours atop it and though some memories made her heart ache, she loved it.
It took them a while to reach the top, but once they did Lyrrel and Meah forgot their exhaustion when they saw the view. Even with the new buildings threatening to reach the watchtower’s height, the view is still breathtaking.
“How’s Ari doing? I heard she’s been spending a lot of her time up here above the canyon,” Lyrrel asks, sitting on a chair to catch his breath. “Emeka struggles to keep your daughter interested in her lessons. She’s caught her numerous times sneaking away during lunch breaks.”
“So I’ve heard. Ari spends a lot of time in the forest. Otherwise, I don’t know what that girl does. I’ve caught her up here more than once, staring at the mountains.”
“Perhaps she’s waiting for Ime.”
Walking to the edge of the tower, Meah’s eyes stare off at the mountains far to the southeast. “I think it’s more than that. I’ve seen it in her eyes when she thinks no one is looking. She wants to go after him.”
Lyrrel takes a deep breath and rubs his forehead. “And why is that a bad thing?”
“I never said it was a bad thing.”
“You’re thinking it.” Meah turns to face him. A playful smile is on his lips and he raises his eyebrows curiously. “I don’t need my magic to know that, Meah. It’s clear from your expression.”
Hesitating, Meah sits next to Lyrrel. “Something is blocking her magic.”
A brief moment of silence passes. Meah can see Lyrrel’s mind taking in what she means. His smile fades and he leans forward, close to her. “I’ve seen Ari use her magic. It’s true it’s unusually weak for her age, but that only proves to show what Ime and the others are doing is the right thing.”
“It isn’t the source blocking her, Lyrrel. Something else is, but I can’t see what it is. I’m afraid if she goes after Ime before freeing her magic it could be dangerous.”
“I understand your fear, but Ari is strong. She gets that from her parents.” Placing his hand on Meah’s shoulder, Lyrrel pulls a blue crystal from his pocket. “I believe whatever is blocking her magic is doing so for a greater purpose. Sometimes we must place our trust in things greater than us, as well as the unknowable.”
Placing her hand on Lyrrel’s hand, Meah smiles. “I’ll try.”
“Now then, shall we try exploring the disappearance of the caravan?” He holds up the blue crystal.