Glory had been disappointed no letter had come from her father. As the prince visited the small town of Trully just down the road from the Eastern Clan, he began to wonder if Glory’s former fiancé had found another way to detain the family’s letters. He had once before, even going as far as threatening to close down the port of Lexington to prevent travel to the southern borders.
Wisdom scowled. And with that growing storm to the north of us, travel by road is limited even more.
His mood slightly shifted as he entered town. A few of the shop owners greeted him as he passed. This was a change, for no one used to walk the street for fear of the Schevolsky boys. Now, as Wisdom approached a group of young men hoisting up a new sign over a shop, he recognized them as those boys.
“Try shortening the chain a bit! It’s crooked!” Mr. Schevolsky, their father, directed from ground level. The boys, scattered over different parts of a ladder, with two on the roof, struggled to get the sign hooked in place. “What?! Where’s Peter? He was supposed to make the holes even!”
The man let out a loud swear and told the boys to come back down with the sign. When he saw the prince heading his way, he waved a hand in greeting.
“Looks nice what you’ve done so far,” Wisdom commented on several new signs already hanging down one side of the street. The smell of fresh cut wood permeated the air. Toward the end of the street, a few buildings looked more presentable with new siding.
“I’d be done sooner if my youngest would get his act together.” Lorens’ dark eyebrows lowered in disappointment. He wiped a hand across his brow, then pointed to the holes cut into the top of the sign. “I put him in charge of the project. But see what he did?”
Wisdom examined the sign as the boys set it on the ground. Three holes had been cut near the top, one on each corner, and one in the middle. Yet all the holes were uneven. One was slightly up further than the rest while one hole was lower.
Mr. Schevolsky just shook his head. “I explained to him how to measure it, and he does this!”
“Might be because of me,” the prince said. “I did embarrass him when I….” He nodded to the band of young men standing behind him. Peter had been ring leader the day Wisdom first came to Trully. In a show of childish bullying, the youth had his brothers greet the new prince by trying to steal from him. The act ended with the Healer using magic to scare them off. Now the family worked for the prince due to money troubles.
Mr. Schevolsky only nodded in understanding. “I’ll have another talk with him.”
Wisdom crossed his arms. “You could get your…mistress to have a talk with him as well.”
Lorens cracked a smile. His so-called mistress happened to be a dark ‘Keyarx, one of the infamous Black Wings that preyed on their smaller kin. Wisdom could already attest to that, having nearly made her menu on first introductions. The only thing that saved him was Osha, the unicorn whose soul now resided within his own body. That, and knowing the whereabouts of her son, who was currently a prisoner in Sapphire.
“Don’t suppose any of that magic could help, could it?” one of the boys asked.
In response, Wisdom knelt by the sign. Closing his eyes, he opened his mind to sight-read. Present thoughts on how Lorens planned to improve the remaining buildings in town were heard. He lifted a hand to guide illusion across the multiple facades lining either side of the street. An ear twitched, its slightly darker tip covered with white fuzz. Gasps of surprise opened the Healer’s eyes to the transformed town. Even the sign before him had been fixed of uneven cutting. He grinned, pleased at their response.
“Well, I would like to say this is permanent,” Wisdom said as the illusion slowly faded, returning the buildings to their original look. “But I’m afraid magic can’t fix everything.”
“But you saw it exactly as I did!” Mr. Schevolsky exclaimed.
The prince tapped the side of his head. “Heard your thoughts,” he whispered.
He rose to say something further when the call of his name pricked his ears toward the path leading down to the harbor. Turning, he caught sight of Josephine rounding the side of a building. The young man donned a deep blue vest over a crimson shirt as he caught sight of the group. Yet upon recognizing who the group was, he jerked to a halt in fright and let out a girlish scream. He staggered back and rolled around the corner. There came a thud as he collided into something.
The Schevolsky boys burst into wild laughter and slapped each other on the back. Years of tormenting the people had left some of the locals with an undying dislike for the family. While Wisdom only shook his head and went to check on his friend, he could hear their father commanding them to be silent and get back to work.
He rounded the corner to a welcomed sight.
“Blackavar!” he exclaimed to the head of a group hauling cartloads of goods from the docks. As guild leader of an underground home of thieves in Lexington, the raven-haired male carried himself with pride. A set of pouches strapped around the belt led to wonder what new items the Master Thief carried with him.
“Ain’t a bad little location for a starter prince!” Blackavar teased, receiving a wide grin. He motioned for the group to continue following, then turned to Josephine.
Having caught the young man in the act screaming, Josephine’s face had reddened in embarrassment.
“The old man by the shipyard said that’s how he got his name,” one of the men commented.
“Well, if the last name wasn’t Phine,” Josephine returned with a sheepish grin. He shrugged. “Surprised he didn’t go into detail about finding me on his doorstep after a shipwreck. He loves telling that one!”
“Aw, you know he cares about you, Jose!” Wisdom replied.
“I know!” The young man started back down the hill. “I should be getting to work. No telling what the old man is saying behind my back. Oh, and someone took my pie again!”
Probably Peter. Wisdom rolled his eyes. “Thanks! I’ll take it from here.” The two said their farewells, and Wisdom took over as guide toward the Eastern Clan. “I’m glad you received my message, Blackavar. Were you able to bring everything I asked?”
They peered down the slope at the caravan of people hauling carts and carrying bundles from Harbor’s Point dockyard.
“Hope so,” the Master Thief replied. He then opened the flap to one of the pouches and dug around inside. “Speaking of which, a messenger delivered this to meself on board the vessel. Said it was important ye get it.”
Wisdom turned the envelope over to inspect its seal. The emblem was marked from Central Valley Clan, with the seal the signature of Master Roland Elite – Glory’s father. Forgetting himself, Wisdom nearly torn into the letter to read it. When he suddenly realized what he was doing, he quickly stuffed it in an inner pocket for later and cleared his throat.
“It is very important to me,” he said quickly. As the group filed through the center of town, Keith pointed out places still in need of attention. “Might still take a few weeks. I’ve some people working on it now.”
“We’ve a few hands to spare if they need it,” Blackavar replied with a wink. “Us thieves, ye know, ain’t quick for no reason.” He wriggled his fingers on both hands when he held them up to emphasize his point.
At the edge of town, the road began to narrow. Trees lined on either side as the path cut through a wooded area. As the prince lead the way, he halfway pulled the letter from his pocket and whispered, “I’m hoping to obtain approval for courtship from a young lady’s family.”
Blackavar’s eyes widened at the news. “Ye hope? Ye already engaged?”
The prince made a motion to show his doubt. “I…haven’t asked yet.”
“Our Master Mage has a lady friend!” the thief teased in a singsongy voice.
“Wait ’til you meet her.” Wisdom stuffed the letter back in his pocket. “So how’re things in Lexington?”
“Never better!” the thief piped cheerfully at his side. His flowing bell sleeves flapped to the pace of his stride. Black – it was the color of choice, which Wisdom always saw him in: black shirt, black patched vest, black pants, and black boots. It was surprising the thief did not wear color-matching pouches, which were a dark mahogany.
“This isn’t the normal crowd,” Wisdom commented to the line of faces he did not immediately recognize.
“Well, according to yer message, ye need merchants to man the stands once it’s up and running. Ain’t want a thief gettin’ too carried away with, em…” he lowered his voice, “pickpocketing the customer.”
“In my town?” Wisdom glanced behind to those following.
Blackavar waved a hand. “What ye need is storytellers, someone who gets a buyer pulling out coins before they realize they’re doing it. Best in the land right here!”
“Should have brought Jasper. He was always good at that.”
The trees acted as a natural divider between town and clan. About a ten minute walk brought them to the Eastern Clan’s border where the road began to widen. Woods continued to line the edge of the property as the road wrapped around to lead on to Western Clan territory. Blackavar marveled at the gated entrance and trimmed front yard. A stonewall contained a variety of flowering bushes, and followed the road as it lead around the clan.
Wisdom led the group through the freshly painted green gates. On either side of the stone columns was the letter W engraved by Josephine’s grandfather. The prince remembered when it used to be the letter S, when the Schevolsky family owned the clan.
As they drew closer, the prince mentally sent word to Eclipse, a Simpleton who resided in the tower room. It took a few moments for the fuzzy-haired young-man to appear. No longer did he don his usual ragged tunic. At the prince’s persuasion, Eclipse had changed into a gray and brown belted tunic.
Me Prince? Eclipse let his thoughts be heard by all as he approached.
Blackavar seemed used to the mental interruption, having indulged in conversations solely through thought when Wisdom had stayed at the guild. A few others fidgeted nervously. Magic was simply not something they were accustomed to.
“Eclipse, I would like you to meet a very good friend of mine.” He gestured to the Master Thief. “This is Blackavar. He’s come from Lexington to bring things to sell in town, and also for the clan. Would you mind helping me to direct some of the things inside?”
With pleasure! The young man took a swift bow.
There was a strong link between the young man and the rest of the Simpletons. Wisdom could sense their presence every time Eclipse opened his thoughts to him. He had only to think it, and they would come if needed.
“Is everything separated between merchant wares and household items?” The prince turned to Blackavar, who nodded. “We can go ahead and start bringing things in. As for the rest, there’s a stable just on the other side of the clan. Might be a good place for storage until the renovations in town are complete.”
There were many large crates holding a variety of dishes, clothing, and other essentials. As the men pulled up wooden lids to reveal its contents, the prince mentally directed the Simpleton where each should be taken. A few smaller bins contained goods for market, so Wisdom led the way to the stable. A path wrapped around a new addition to the main building, which Wisdom referred to as The Gathering room. The Gathering was a decent sized meeting room started by the Schevolskys, and was completed when Wisdom took over the clan. As he passed, he peered down the walkway through the opened balcony doors. A deep blue carpet led to a raised platform toward the back of the room. Lining on either side of the long carpet were pews set at an angle to face the stage, which contained two high-backed chairs flanking an engraved Redwood throne set between them.
The stable was located across from the The Gathering. Although void of animals at the moment, the prince hoped to eventually obtain some once the town started attracting business. As he entered the structure, he mentally sent a message for Glory to come. Currently, she resided with Western Clan members until the Eastern Clan was fully furnished. Now, with the current imports at his doorstep, Wisdom was sure Glory would want a few things arranged to her liking.
There’s something else you might want to see, he thought to her. He was immediately overcome with her excitement as thoughts flooded in with questions regarding word from her father. Smiling to himself, Wisdom made no promises and closed the mental link as he looked over the stalls to make sure they were empty. Besides some straw littering the floor, it seemed the perfect place for storing the merchant wares.
A flick of an ear confirmed the faintest rustle somewhere in the back stall. Outside, Blackavar and Eclipse were conversing about semi-precious items. He needed to be out there with them, but something drew him to the last stall on the right. As he peered over inside, a figure shrank back in the corner.
“Can we start bringing things in?” he heard from behind.
“You know, why don’t we leave them at the door for right now?” The prince rejoined his companions and pointed to the men lifting out bundles of dishes and clothing. “Let’s get the stuff inside the main building first, then deal with merchant wares later.”
“Need some help?” the voice of Alexander floated from the roadside. Glory was already ten steps ahead of him as she entered the gates. She approached her fiancé with quick strides, her long dress swishing around her ankles.
“Did it come?” she asked eagerly, and nearly grabbed it from his hand when he pulled the letter from an inner pocket.
“There’s that,” he said. “Then there’s this.” He gestured to what the men had brought, then pointed inside the stable and lowered his voice. “I’ve a little issue to deal with first.”
“Trouble?” the Western leader asked, stopping at Glory’s side.
“Nothing a little healing couldn’t handle,” Wisdom replied. “You know the layout of the clan’s interior?”
“Pretty much,” Alexander said. “From all the cleanup we did, I should be good.”
The prince nodded and turned to Glory. “You want to show these men where to put some of the things inside?”
Glory lifted an eyebrow as she glanced over the lot. “You’re letting me decide?”
Wisdom grinned. “You’ll be living with me, Glory. And I’ve requested some…accommodations a nice young lady would require.”
He had never seen anyone glow with as much pride as she did. He relished the moment a bit longer before quickly introducing the Master Thief to his future fiancée and the Western Clan leader.
“Eclipse,” Wisdom directed. “would you mind taking the things I need inside? I’d do this myself, but I’m needed out here for a moment. Anything valuable, just put in my bedroom. Glory, you and Alex start putting your things where you like. I’ll be in soon as I’m finished out here.”
“Something wrong with…?” Alexander inclined his head toward the stable, but the prince only shook his head.
“Temporary delay,” he replied. “Get Eclipse to signal if you need me.” He tapped the side of his head.
Satisfied with the decision, everyone started hauling up belongings. Wisdom waited few moments to see everyone off before returning to the stall.
He found the boy still huddled against the side of the stall, knees drawn up against his chest. The smell of blood drifted from a gash the boy tried to cover with his hand. But upon drawing his knees up tighter, the place on his leg became more apparent. Strands of dirty-blond hair fell over portions of his face. Most of it looked clumped together in a damp mesh with straw sticking out in various places. His simple clothing was dirt-stained, but contained no sign of other injuries.
Wisdom slowly opened the stall door to approach the youth. He tried to keep a friendly appearance with laid back ears, and lowered himself in a crouch to make eye contact.
“Are you all right?” he asked gently. When he received no answer, he tried again. “It’s okay. You don’t need to be frightened of me.”
“I didn’t take it!” was the quick response. “I saw it in the window, but I didn’t take it!”
“You saw what in the window?” Wisdom asked.
“It was homemade, too. Just like my mother used to make. But I swear it wasn’t me!”
Josephine’s comment about the missing pie came to the prince’s mind. When he called upon his sight-reading ability, the boy’s thoughts revealed a blurred version of a blond-haired person swiping a dish of pie from an opened window in town. Peter Schevolsky, will you ever learn?
“You thought I was after you for a pie?” Wisdom cracked a crooked smile. “Where’d you get that cut from? Here, let me see it.”
“I’m not afraid,” the boy replied, but his voice lacked the persuasive tone to otherwise convince the prince. “I’m just….”
“Hiding from someone?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
While the boy slightly relaxed, the prince checked the wound. It was not as deep looking as it looked.
“What’s your name?”
The prince nodded. “I’m Wisdom, Prince here at the Eastern Clan. I think I know who you saw in town,” he said while his sight-reading picked up another image. From it, he saw Peter coming at the boy. He wagered from the youth’s expression that Peter had discovered he had been caught, and tried to rectify the situation with threats. When that did not work, he had relied on violence to get the point across. “He did this to you, didn’t he?”
“All over a pice of a pie.” The boy grinned slightly. “My mother taught me manners, though. I don’t start fights; I finish them. Would have won too if those others hadn’t been nearby.”
Wisdom laughed at the scene in the boy’s mind where Peter was knocked to the ground from a fist swing. When he called to his brothers for help, the fight ended with the boy running to hide from them.
“You thought I’d turn you in, didn’t you?” He held a hand over the cut. “Trust me when I say you’re safe here. Just hold still a moment while I fix this.”
He could feel the earth stirring beneath the floorboards as he extended his free hand toward the opening of the stable to draw Nature’s energy. Just as he had done to open the new road for Alexander’s clan, so too was the same process to heal Ashpin’s cut. Healing energy poured from his hand over the wound, closing it. A faint green glow briefly expanded over the area before fading. When the prince removed his hand, not even a scar remained.
He could hear Glory and a few others returning to gather more goods. It was Glory’s voice who mentioned the sudden brown grass surrounding the side of the building, though Wisdom knew why. As he healed, Nature had surrendered her own growth to his call. The price of life for one resulted in death for another. There was always a balance, which the prince knew all too well.
Ashpin stared at the place where the gash had been on his leg, then up at the prince. There was thankfulness in those green eyes. But something else was there, something a mere boy would not normally know.
“You’ve come back,” Ashpin whispered.
In the moment the words left the boy’s lips, the prince knew there was no need to explain his healing abilities. And yet explanations were needed for his kind’s absence in the human realms. There came a vision of his dying mother, and questioning echo as the boy kept thinking, Why weren’t you there for her?