Raelin watched, transfixed. She had dreamt of meeting Jandar, hero of the alliance, savior of Nastralund. She had not expected to meet him while he pulled Kelda from the twilight of death.
Now that Jandar was before her, she had eyes only for Kelda. She was so delicate, and she had lost so much blood…
Blue light flared from Jandar’s palm again, sparking against Kelda’s injured shoulder. As Raelin watched, the wound softened, the color fading. The edges became clean, and slowly began to flow back together seamlessly. But the wound seemed reluctant to heal all the way. Jandar’s magic faded, and the blood began to flow again.
Jandar rocked back from where he knelt beside Kelda’s bed. He gasped for air, sweat drenching his brow.
“What’s wrong?” asked Raelin.
“Healing was never my strength. The axe went deep and severed some crucial muscles. And even if I could heal her, she’s lost a lot of blood. Maybe too much.”
“Surely you can do something?” Raelin couldn’t quite believe that Jandar, leader of the alliance, found it difficult to heal a small kyrie girl.
Jandar swept long brown hair from his forehead. It was sticky and matted with sweat. Even his wings, powerful and sheathed in white feathers, seemed to wilt somewhat. He studied Kelda for a minute. “Time is of the essence, and I don’t trust my ability to save her. There is… something that might cure her, however.”
Raelin glanced at Mallidon. He hadn’t stirred from Kelda’s side since the sentinels carried her into the stronghold at Varenheim. He had said not a word, but continued to watch her, his eyes never leaving her still form. All the color seemed to be slowly draining from his face with each passing moment.
Jandar stood. Cupping his hands, he conjured a swirling purple light. The center of the light darkened until something small came into view, spinning almost too fast to be possible. The light faded, and Jandar caught the small object: a vial containing what appeared to be clear water.
He turned to Raelin. “I can heal Kelda with these waters, but it will come at a price. You will know why soon enough. For now, know only that she will have to stay at my castle, further north. You and your brother may stay with her, but she will not be permitted beyond its walls.”
Raelin nodded. Kelda might not like being shut up, but she would be safe from the war. Jandar’s castle was said to be impregnable.
Jandar stooped over Kelda, gently opening her mouth. He pulled the stop from the vial, poured the water slowly down her throat, and then stepped back.
Nothing whatsoever happened.
And then, with a terrible rattling, gasping breath, Kelda awoke. She sat bolt upright, opened her mouth as if she were about to scream, and then, quite suddenly, slumped back down on the bed. Mallidon stood still, as if transfixed.
Raelin flew to her side. Even as she did so, she noted that Kelda’s wound was healing. The skin was rippling, almost like water, and from the way the skin was bunching and relaxing, Raelin guessed muscles were being reknit as well.
Kelda lay still upon her bed. Her mouth was tight shut, but her eyes were wide open, and they sought Raelin’s feverishly. Raelin had only to look into those eyes to see how much pain Kelda was in. The pain of the injury had been insignificant compared to the pain of healing, but no cry escaped Kelda’s lips.
It took a full ten minutes for Kelda to be healed. During that time, there was little anyone could do but watch. Kelda never let on how much pain she was in, but Raelin could see it intensify, and then slowly, so slowly, diminish. At last, Kelda gave a subdued sigh, and slipped into unconsciousness. Her wound was gone, as if it had never been.
After a moment, Mallidon stirred from his stupor. He was still covered in blood, though most of it was not his own. Ignoring his own injuries, he turned and knelt to Jandar. Raelin saw that as he did so, his shoulders shook, not with tears, she realized, but with anger. “You are the leader of the alliance, commander of its forces. If you can assure that I will face those responsible for the pain I have witnessed, I pledge my service to you, until the armies of the south are laid to waste, and I present Utgar’s head to you on the point of my sword.”
Jandar, after a hesitant pause, placed his hands on Mallidon’s shoulders, and raised him to his feet. “I accept,” he said gravely. “But I do not require service. I require will, a desire to win this war and fight for what is right. I swore long ago to bring Utgar to justice for the atrocities he has committed. If you will aid me in this endeavor, I will accept your sword gladly.”
A flame seemed to have kindled in Mallidon’s eyes. He returned Jandar’s steely gaze. “My sword is yours,” he said. “Use it to exact my revenge.”
It took three days for Kelda to regain her strength. Jandar remained silent on how he had healed her, though he maintained that Raelin would find out soon enough. Mallidon, having convinced himself that Kelda would recover quickly, was dispatched to join a force in the West. Raelin had felt an emotion she couldn’t quite identify as he took off with his battalion of kyrie, arrayed in white and blue and carrying his new war-hammer. Had it been jealousy? Perhaps, but there had been something else… a strange urge to pull him from the sky and keep him at Kelda’s side.
On the third day, the garrison at Varenheim prepared to empty. They were isolated, and Jandar’s castle provided far better protection against Utgar’s legions. In the morning, Kelda was declared fully recovered. To Raelin’s surprise, one of the first things she did was go to Jandar and swear fealty to him. She said that it was repayment for saving her life, but Raelin felt there was more to the reason than that. She had no chance to find out what it was, however, for Jandar caught up with her in the halls moments later.
“Kelda will not need to stay at my castle,” he said, falling in beside her.
Raelin looked up, surprised.
“You might as well know the truth, Raelin. My castle was constructed to hide and guard something, something extremely powerful. It’s called a wellspring. It looks like an ordinary pool of still water, but it holds tremendous magic. Once you drink from it, you can control that magic.”
“That’s what you gave Kelda,” Raelin guessed. “Wellspring water.”
“Yes,” said Jandar. “It heals the drinker, though the magic it imparts aside from that seems to change with the individual. Kelda, for instance, seems to be able to heal minor injuries with naught but a touch.” Jandar looked into the distance. “If her ability grows, she could save many on the battlefield…”
Raelin stopped. “The battlefield? Jandar, you promised she would be kept at your castle.”
“I said that because her abilities could make her a target. Now that I know she can heal, she is far too valuable to be kept isolated.” Jandar’s voice softened. “I would never have forced her into combat, Raelin. She agreed herself.”
“Then I will change her mind,” said Raelin, determination in her voice. She continued to walk. “I’m sorry, Jandar, but Kelda cannot be a part of this war.”
Silence fell between them for a space. Finally, Jandar spoke.
“Kelda was lucky. She is not the first injured kyrie I have tried to heal.”
Raelin glanced at him. Jandar had saved Kelda’s life, and she trusted him because of that. However, three days had shown her that he meant business. He never said anything without a reason. She was therefore wary of his words.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
Jandar didn’t look at her. He kept his gaze fixed ahead, and while he continued to walk along without slowing his pace, there was hardness in his voice. “My daughter was claimed by Utgar’s advance through Bleakwood long ago. My wife tried to defend her, and the hordes took her too. I arrived too late. They had been tortured within an inch of their life. Utgar knew their connection to me, and knew that they must possess secrets.
“They didn’t. I hadn’t confided in them so that they wouldn’t be a target. It seems it didn’t work.” Jandar swallowed. “I tried to heal them, but I lacked the power to do so. They died in my arms, one after the other.
“I might have been able to heal Kelda, but after that day, I lost faith in myself. I couldn’t save my family. I tried with all my might, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. That’s the way this war has been. A small victory here, an advance there, but in the end, Utgar just marches ahead, sweeping my forces before him.” Jandar stopped and faced Raelin. “That’s why I need people like Kelda, Raelin. We both know there is more to her reason for joining me. I don’t know what it is, and neither do I need to. All I know is that she is determined. She will see this war through to the end. Those are the kinds of soldiers that I need. This war needs morale, something I can’t always provide. Kelda can. Mallidon can. And if your spear is half as powerful as you said, it can too.”
So that was it. Raelin looked up into Jandar’s clear eyes. He was determined. He was very determined, but in the end, he didn’t believe he could win. He knew that, and nothing could change it. He needed soldiers who did believe they could win.
“This war has to end, Raelin. I swore to bring Utgar to justice, to win this conflict. I need your spear. I won’t ask you to join me. You’ve already lost your parents to the war, and Kelda has lost her father. But I need your spear.”
Raknar, Kelda’s father, had never been found after the attack. The village had been burned to the ground, the White River dyed red with blood. It was said that still, three days later, its waters remained crimson. The worst had been assumed, and Raknar had been buried with the rest of the undistinguishable mangled corpses.
Raelin was silent.
“Please, Raelin,” Jandar said, a note of pleading entering his voice. Determined pleading, but pleading all the same. “Think of the lives that could be saved. Think of the pain that could be averted. Remember Kelda. With your spear protecting my men, countless soldiers could go the entire war and never experience such a thing as she did.”
Raelin didn’t need to remember Kelda’s pain. It was all she thought about. Every waking hour it passed before her eyes, the tightness of Kelda’s mouth as she silently endured the pain. Every night, Kelda’s screams echoed in her nightmares. She couldn’t rid herself of the images. She had to make them stop. She looked up at Jandar.
“I go where my spear does,” she said firmly. “But,” she added as Jandar frowned, “if you will promise to end the suffering of the war, the hurt, the pain… then I will join you, and wield the spear myself.”
Jandar looked at her for a moment, surprise on his face. Then he knelt on one knee before her, and took her hands in his.
“On the graves of the ones I love, I swear to you that I will do all within my power to end the war, and all the bloodshed it causes. I accept your spear, Raelin, and I pray that you will use it to save my soldiers from any injury.”
Raelin nodded slowly. “I will,” she promised.
Jandar stood. “I will send word to have armor made for you. You must go with me to my castle, where you will be outfitted, but from there, your spear will see action.”
Raelin felt some of the blood drain from her face. She was ashamed of it. This was what she had always wanted: a chance to fight. What was wrong with her?
Jandar turned and hastened back the way he had come, leaving Raelin alone in the hall. She didn’t move for nearly a minute. She was a soldier. A warrior in Jandar’s army. Raknar would have forced her to resign had he known. But he didn’t know. He couldn’t, and he was part of the reason why she had joined. She wanted vengeance. She wanted to strike a blow against Utgar. But she also wanted to stop the war, the pain. She turned and hurried down the hall, in search of Kelda.
She found her not long after, getting ready for departure with the rest of the garrison. She was packing slowly, hesitantly, but Raelin could sense a determination in her movements.
“How are you feeling?” asked Raelin as she approached.
Kelda looked up, and then shrugged. “It still twinges a bit, but it gets better every day. Those waters Jandar gave me did something strange. Sometimes I feel like I could topple a mountain, other times I’m weak with exhaustion. And I have the strangest dreams at night. But I’m healed, and I suppose that’s all that matters.”
“No, Kelda,” said Raelin forcibly, “that’s not all that matters. Why did you swear to serve Jandar? I already lost Mallidon. I can’t lose you too.”
“He healed me,” Kelda said simply. “It was a debt that had to be paid. Besides, I thought you approved of joining the war.”
“Yes, but not you. Never you.”
Kelda said nothing.
Raelin sat down beside her. “Kelda,” she said quietly, “I know what the world holds. You know I do. It… It took my parents from me, and I know the pain it holds. That’s all that awaits you, Kelda: more pain. The world is merciless. It doesn’t care who it harms. And I can’t let it hurt you, Kelda. I just can’t.”
Kelda had stopped packing, though she didn’t look at Raelin.
Raelin struggled for words. She had to convince Kelda. “I love you too much, Kelda. Please… don’t make me lose you too. Don’t go.”
“I have to,” said Kelda quietly. “No, listen,” she said as Raelin opened her mouth to protest. “The night of the raid, when I was injured, I looked around, and all I saw was blood. Blood and chaos. I was afraid, Raelin. Desperately afraid. I wanted someone, something, to comfort me. I wanted to know that it would be all right. But everyone was just as frightened as I was. There was nothing there.
“If I can be there… be there when people need me… maybe they won’t be afraid. Maybe they’ll see me, and if I can be calm for them… maybe I can be there for myself too. Maybe I’ll stop seeing the blood.” She looked at Raelin. “I have to go. I don’t want to, but I have to… for others.”
Raelin knew she couldn’t change Kelda’s mind. If Kelda had one strength, it was not backing down. “When will I see you again?” she asked.
There were tears in Kelda’s eyes. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “Jandar said it could be a long while.”
Raelin sat back. So this was how things would fall into place. Raknar had spent his whole life doggedly keeping his family from danger. More than once, Mallidon had insisted on joining the army, accompanied at least half the time by Raelin, and every time, he had stood in their way. And now, despite everything, she, Mallidon, and even Kelda, were part of the war, part of the bloodshed. It would be a miracle if any of them survived its unforgiving path.