The chirping of crickets and locust accompanied Dea and Zacairus as they walked the trail back to their camp. A warm breeze stirred the full trees and added to the summer song around them. The two friends walked quietly, welcoming the calm night.
Dea kept up with Zacairus' longer strides. She smiled at the thought of
how he used to slow with a sigh when she would fall behind. Her small
frame and lacking in height made her the minority. In her time with the
Fortis, she learned to keep up with her much taller comrades.
As they neared the encampment, the sound of a passing messenger rushed
toward them. They stepped aside to make way for the horse and rider.
The messenger never slowed. The rhythm of his mount's hooves and
clinking hardware of his tack sang in unison as he sped by. His blue
uniform matched their own.
"I will bet the first round with Cathal that is another notice to piece together a village," Zacairus said.
Dea smiled. He was reading her mind. "Would you rather work your parents' field or patch a villager's roof?"
"I will patch roofs all day long if it meant never setting foot in a field again."
She chuckled with him. Zacairus came from a political family. His
father was Tabor, an Official of the Northern Districts. Even though
the man was wholly dedicated to his office, he also owned and managed
one of the District's largest farms. His wheat was of the best in all
The trail forked as it came to the encampment. They remained on the
central path that would lead them to the heart of their station. A
round at the mess hall would conclude their night.
As they neared the Captain's tent, the front panel was swept aside as
Alton showed a guest out. "I will let you know if I learn anything more
of it in the morning."
Dea slowed her pace when she saw Zeke, her mentor, step out with Alton.
The two could pass as brothers. Both had equally mature yet powerful
builds and dark brown hair. Only Alton kept his trimmed short while
Zeke's was longer and curly.
"Thank you," Zeke said with a nod. "I will not keep you. I know you are busy."
Alton bid him a farewell. Dea and Zacairus stood in attention as their
Captain looked to them. "At ease," he said before turning back to Zeke.
"Stay safe," Zeke said.
"Stay safe," Alton answered.
The Captain returned to his tent when Zeke went to greet Dea. Her
mentor's familiar smile lit up his already bright eyes. As an
accomplished Healer, he was marked by his power. The unmistakeable
gleam added to his brilliant green eyes.
"Good evening, Dea," he said. The long riding coat over his tan tunic
and trousers told her he just arrived from Alistad, the capitol of
Baldorah. "You have simplified my task greatly by finding me. When I
did not find you in your quarters, I should have known you would be out
with Zacairus." He gave an acknowledging nod to the young Validius
Zacairus returned the gesture. "Good evening, sir."
"I trust you two have finished training for the evening."
"Yes, sir," they answered simultaneously.
"Good," he said. "Dea, I need to have a word with you."
Zacairus gave a shrug when she looked to him. "I will let you make it up to me tomorrow evening," he said with a smirk.
"You are too kind," she answered with a sarcastic glare. He gave her a
playful pat on the back and turned away. "Until next time," she called
"Until next time." He bowed his head to Zeke, "Stay safe, sir."
"Stay safe, Zacairus."
Zeke offered his arm to Dea. She took it and let him lead her in the
direction of her tent. She had not seen him for several days. His
unannounced visit either meant he brought news from home or Alton
informed him of her latest misconduct.
"Good news from home?" Dea asked in an innocent tone.
Her mentor chuckled. "News," he said. "Your mother sends a letter, but
that is all. I am afraid my visit was cut short before I could speak
with your father."
"Do you have news for me?" Zeke posed.
"No, sir," she answered. "Nothing new to report."
"We will discuss that later. First, I need to make certain you are ready for your next assignment."
She looked to him. "Assignment?" Her surprise bled into her voice.
"Is that not what you have been waiting for?"
"Yes, sir," Dea answered. "I was not expecting it. I assumed…" She caught herself before she finished her thought.
Zeke was not one to let thoughts go unfinished. "You assumed what?"
She took her time to find the right words. She believed the company was
overlooked because of her presence. Her father would do all he could
to keep her within reach. The thought was one she voiced once before.
It earned her a lecture from her mentor. She hoped to avoid a repeat of
"I know there have been changes in the way the Fortis is
responding to Darien's threats. Our company seems to have served as
reserves as of late, and I assumed that was to be our purpose for the
remainder of the season."
"Did you?" he said with a knowing smile. "Then you will not be disappointed. You will remain as such."
Dea kept her relief to herself. The assignment was not what she
dreaded. Zeke's continued cheer made up for the letdown of knowing her
company would remain idle.
"I am not at liberty to tell you where your company will be going.
Captain Alton will inform you and the others in the morning. I suggest
you take your rest tonight so you will be ready for what you might
"But I will not need to rest for another three nights," Dea said. Part
of training with the Fortis meant adapting to their sleep cycle. One
could operate day and night for upwards of four or five days before
needing rest. It would take two full days and nights to recharge for
another cycle, but it was worth it. Baldorians were known for their
"Take your rest while you can," Zeke said. "It might be awhile before you get another chance."
She studied him. Judging by what he was telling her, the company was
not going on their usual assignment. If they would not be granted rest
for an extended period of time, they would either be traveling a great
distance or heading to the front lines.
"I will not be able to travel with you," Zeke went on. "But I have
persuaded Alton to allow you to carry a Star Tear with you. You will
have to keep it to yourself. They are not readily permitted without the
presence of a Healer, but he is willing to consent to this one as long
as no one else knows of it."
Star Tears were a concoction made by the Healers to hurry the healing process. "We are going to battle, are we not?"
"Dea," he paused and turned to her. He suddenly appeared tired.
Something was bothering him. "You wanted to be a part of this. Your
father agreed to allow it as long as you were safe. You know that is
why I am here. But as a Healer, I cannot go where you will be traveling
She knew the point he was making. Healers were hunted by Darien's
forces. Because they were the reason Baldorians were able to stand
against the colossal army, their limited numbers could not be risked.
Dea was not yet marked by her power, but she was also a Healer. Her
Source was still unstable since she did not practice her powers enough
to control them. Most Healers are marked by her age. It was only a
matter of time before the gleam would appear in her eyes and she would
be banned from the Fortis.
"I understand," she answered. "I will be careful."
"This could be dangerous."
"Is Father asking me to return to Alistad?"
Zeke gave a sympathetic frown. "He is always asking you to return. He
is not yet demanding it. He knows this is what you want. He will
respect that to a point. Dea, if you are captured…"
"I understand, Zeke," she broke in quietly. "I know."
It seemed her secrets would always haunt her. The two titles she
carried would likely mean her death if she were to be discovered by the
enemy. If she were found out as a Healer, they would take her prisoner
as they did with Healers in the past. The following torture would not
end until she either used her power to aide Darien or died resisting
If her lineage became known, Darien himself would cut out her heart. As
the only daughter of King Aien and Queen Belwyn, she was the future of
Baldorah. Few knew of her true identity. It was for her own safety.
She was to remain veiled until the time came for her to rule the land,
as was her mother before her. Such was the way of Baldorah.