Prophecy

Only light in a dark world,

'Tis the hope of man,

And wish of beast,

Gone is the wild wind,

But is all as it seems?

Is the light of man,

And wish of beast,

Really so?

For hope is wild,

Not to be tamed,

Will hope turn against

The ones who have her

In their clutches?

Alas, I cannot see

For the mist has come . . .

But horse of wind

Will come to a call

Echoing through the land,

But will only come,

Like all magics,

For the white, or black.

So decide,

O Moon-child,

For your fate

Shall decide all others.

Just turn not against

The teacher,

Turn not against

The teacher.

Amanda was miserable, leaning on the wall of the bathroom, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose. Girls came and went, and when one or two asked if she was okay, she replied yes. But she was not. Her close friend that she had been friends with for six years had told her, quite harshly, "Go away. I don't want to be friends with you anymore." Over the phone, no less. Caitlin had been there for her when her parents and older brother had died.

And now she didn't want to be friends anymore. Amanda couldn't believe it. But when the bell rang she slowly walked to her next class. She quietly asked her teacher if she could go to the nurse, and he, with one look at the tears pouring down her face, said yes.

She didn't go to the nurse. She just found a secluded corner and drew her knees up, staring blankly into space. People passed by, but did not see her. She was going down memory lane, the last six years. It was when she was twelve that she had met Caitlin. It was the end of summer before sixth grade . . . .

Amanda was walking home after school on a sunny spring day, her mind preoccupied with her friends recent betrayal. It had been a month, and she had stopped crying about it, but her life had become very empty. Her driveway was complete mud and there was a chilly breeze. Still, there were places were the grass and flowers were starting to grow, and birds were singing. She was listening to the sounds of spring, kinda feeling better, not noticing that somebody was right in front of her and watching her.

She suddenly saw a boy in front of her. He looked . . . different. For one, he had dark purple-blue eyes and curly black hair; for two, he had a dark violet cape that whipped in the breeze. The cape added a nice touch of power. He was taller than her by four or five inches, yet he did not inspire danger. She had never seen him before. But she became wary, she had never seen him before, and no one from school knew where she lived.

They stared at each other for a moment and Amanda noticed it was hard to tear her eyes away from the unusually colored eyes.

The boy spoke. He had a slight accent, but not one that she could place. "My name is Zēákel. I am the one to bring you to your destiny. You are to be my apprentice." The words made no sense. She thought, maybe he's crazy. She tensed, thinking of backing up and running. The boy, seeing she was about to run, said softly, "Zolin, I will not harm you."

Amanda narrowed her eyes. The word, Zolin, seemed to strike a long-forgotten chord deep in her. It sounded familiar, yet she knew she had never heard it before.

Zēákel noticed her reaction, and was pleased with himself. He always felt happy when he had Named something correctly. Then he considered the girl in front of him. The last time he had been in human territory was . . . he didn't finish the thought, but became edgy.

Amanda saw deep sorrow enter the boy's eyes. That made no sense to her, so she started backing up. The boy didn't seem notice, so she turned and ran. She got about two steps away when the boy cried, "Zolin!" In that word, there was a command she could not disobey. She turned around slowly, glaring at the strange boy. Then she tried to back up, but now she was unable to move. She was able to blink, to breathe, but could not move her arms or legs. It was like being stuck in invisible mud up to her chin. She began to panic. She had never even heard of something like this, and she began to resist with all her might.

"Let me go!" She was surprised to find out she could still speak. "Let me go! What did you do to me!?" She yelled, fear evident in her voice.

"I bound you through your true name." Zēákel looked at her warily. Amanda had no idea what that meant, and couldn't care less. All she wanted right now was to wake up and find out that this whole thing was a nightmare.

Then Zēákel seemed to figure something out. "Are you a human?" he asked sharply.

Amanda stared disbelievingly at the boy. Now she even more fervently wished for this nightmare to end.

"Are you?" he persisted. When she didn't answer, he continued. "Are you?"

"Of course I am! What else is there?!" she found her voice. She watched as shock and sorrow chased each other over his face, with relief a poor third. Then she noticed that everything went wavy . . . then blackness.

Zēákel cautiously let her go. The revelation of his soon-to-be apprentice was human had rattled him. Plus the liberation of finally knowing that the scientists hadn't said anything of their experiments was . . . amazing. He walked over to where Amanda lay on her back, dark brown hair spread out, looking peaceful.

Zēákel hesitantly gathered the girl into his arms, whirled in place and vanished.

_____________________

An hour later, Amanda's foster mom called the school, looking for her. She hadn't arrived home. A day later, her foster parents were falling apart and Amanda's face was in the media.

_____________________

When Zēákel arrived in the mountains, he landed by a cave mouth in a rocky valley. A man with his hair held back with a headband was waiting for him and said, "About time! Well?" Zēákel silently laid Amanda on the ground. The man bent to inspect Amanda, taking in her long dark hair and blue eyes, half closed.

"This is . . . ?" the man asked of Zēákel. He knew the girl's name of course, but he had to ask. It was one of the more annoying rules of etiquette here.

"Amanda." Zēákel said quietly, then asked, "Why didn't . . . you say she was human?"

The man began, "I did not ken, Z──" And he hadn't. They had watched over her for awhile now, but you must meet someone in person to know if they were elf or human.

Zēákel interrupted him, saying elatedly, "She said, she said that she didn't know elves existed!" He went to go on, but the man stopped him.

"Zēákel! Zēákel, she could be . . . she could be . . . you trust so easily, still?" The man hated himself for saying it; but Zēákel needed to know there was danger out there still, especially dealing with humans.

The man watched as Zēákel's face went blank, and he knew him well enough to know that Zēákel did not relish the reminder. The man sighed, knowing that he'd had good intentions saying it, but he no longer believed himself.

The man asked gently, "Zēákel? I . . . I . . ."

Zēákel said coldly, "I need not a reminder." He stared at the man for a second, then added, "She is my apprentice, Master," in a warmer voice. The man smiled ruefully, but said nothing. Zēákel waited. The man laughed quietly, said, "Thank you," and turned away, picked up Amanda, and went into the cave.

Zēákel stared into the cave mouth thoughtfully, then whirled in place and vanished.

Amanda was dreaming that someone had kidnapped her and brought her to a cave. But then she shifted, trying to find a better position in her bed, when she felt a rock ram into her back. Her eyes opened quickly, hoping to register the familiar contours of her bedroom. Instead, she saw a gray rock ceiling, and cold stone floor.

She was covered in a blanket made out of some fine fiber, and the pattern was mesmerizing. There were thin bars of color winding every which way, and since they changed from one color smoothly into the next, it was almost impossible to follow. She slowly pushed away the cover, and frigid air rushed in. She huddled up again, not wanting to get up. For one, getting up would make this more real, and make it impossible for it to be a dream she could wake up from. For two, she was freezing, she didn't have winter clothes. She was in a T-shirt, very light sweater, and jeans. But she did have heavy winter boots on, so her feet weren't cold.

She squinted at the doorway. It was colored with the gray before dawn. Suddenly there was a silhouette in the doorway. She froze, not moving a muscle, pretending to be asleep. She saw through the slit in her eyelids a man that had a headband and what looked like a long fur cape. He stared down at her with a preoccupied air. Then he slowly turned around and left.

Amanda kept still, but slowly began to look around. There was a piece of sandstone as big as her hand carved with pale letters that looked like old Egyptian hieroglyphics. She slowly uncurled and stood up, wrapping the blanket around her like a cloak; and picked up the stone, puzzling over the hieroglyphics.

She heard a cracking noise, and she looked up from her study of the hieroglyphics to look into the face of her kidnapper.

Amanda quickly backed away. When she spoke, she was dismayed to hear her voice crack. "Don't hurt me . . . Bring me back, now!"

He looked down briefly and his gaze found the rock. She glanced down quickly and was bothered to find the hieroglyph rock in her hands. Zēákel went paler than he already was. He asked softly, "May I see that?"

She looked at him, suspicion in her eyes. She didn't trust him, but she slowly handed over the rock. He stared intently at it and started turning the rock, following the writing. He abruptly asked, "Can you read this?"

She didn't reply, and then noticed that his eyes were filled with trepidation.

Amanda stared at him for a moment, and then shook her head. She quietly asked, "What is it? It looks like Egyptian hieroglyphics."

Zēákel answered, "It is a form of writing we use. It is called Eikeirn." Then he sighed quietly, and asked, "Did you . . . did you ever meet . . . your father?" Zēákel's voice had a little catch in it, and Amanda was curious. She was always asking questions, but knew that this question was one she would not ask, at least not now.

"If I answer that, will you answer my questions?" Amanda shot back, sure he wouldn't say yes.

Zēákel bowed his head to her and answered solemnly, "To the best of my ability."

She gazed at him, wary and confused and more than a little stunned. No one had spoken, or acted like that for years. He was so courtly, almost like he had stepped right out of an old book.

Before he looked up, she hid her amazement by answering him. "Yes. I lived with him and my mother for . . . awhile. But it really isn't any of your business. Where am I? Who are you? Why do you─" she stopped, and then went on. "Why did you ask me if I was human yesterday? Why do you want me?" Her voice went higher and scared sounding on the last question.

"Which one do you want answered first?" he answered politely.

"The last one." She wanted the reply, yet she was afraid of knowing the answer.

Zēákel sighed, and sat down on the rock floor and motioned her to sit down also. She shook her head, drawing back. He said softly, "This answer will be long in telling, Zolin." His gaze was fixed on the blanket that Amanda had wrapped around herself. Amanda grew self-conscious, and snapped, "What?"

Zēákel looked up, puzzled, wondering to himself why he had covered Zolin with his mother's blanket last night. Well, it was cold out, and no one else seemed to care that she would've woken up with frostbite, if at all. Then the sight of the blanket wrapped around Zolin sent him into the past.

Amanda stared at him. Zēákel had withdrawn into himself, his eyes closed, his face a mask for pain. Amanda kneeled next to him, and touched his arm. Zēákel flinched and opened his eyes. Amanda asked softly, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing . . ." whispered Zēákel. "It's just . . ." he rubbed his forehead.

"C'mon, I know it's not nothing." Amanda was worried. Even though this was her kidnapper, and she ought to not care, she did. This boy, who right now did not look much older than her right now, looked like a little boy with all the world's cares on his shoulders.

Zēákel stood up and smiled a little. "I'm okay, really. Just sometimes, everything is just a little too much."

Amanda was confused, but did not ask. Zēákel shrugged, not wanting to elaborate, and said, "Your questions . . .?"

"Why did you kidnap me? And who are you? Where am I? My foster mother's gonna go nuts!"

"Zolin, calm. You are in a mountain unknown to humans. Whoops . . ." he said softly, almost to himself. He wasn't supposed to tell exactly where they were, or bring up the human thing again. He hurried on, before she could interrupt, "As for who I am . . . who really knows who they are? My name is Zēákel, but is not who I am." Here he used his knowledge of humans to calm her. Humans always obsessed over finding who they were. "As to your first question, you were not . . . kidnapped, you were chosen. I, too, was . . . chosen. If it helps at all, I didn't . . . think I was chosen when they found me. And don't worry; your . . . family . . . will be notified that you are okay. We will not be asking for a ransom." Amanda felt sort of relieved, as relieved as she could be under the circumstances. But then another thing occurred to her. Did no ransom mean that she would be held here forever? Or worse? The though was chilling.

A pause which stretched longer and longer like a stretched tight rubber band came between the two.

Amanda finally asked softly, "But why . . . And how did you, like, freeze me yesterday? Why? How? What?"

There was understanding in those odd-colored eyes. He said softly, "I will not harm you, Zolin. I will not harm you." He sighed, remembering that she was human, and added, "Magic, Zolin. That is how I bound you. Magic, it is real."

"What? You're crazy! Magic ain't real! It's fantasy, it's not real!" Amanda shouted, standing up. She stared at him as if he was mad; yet there was something under it, almost longing, maybe longing for it to be true.

"You're lying! You──" Amanda shouted. Zēákel flinched away, and stared at her. But Amanda was past caring, she ran up to him and shoved him, hard, and cried out, "You liar!"

Zēákel said quietly but firmly, "Zolin, shhhh. Calm." Suddenly, Amanda couldn't speak. She glared at him, wishing her gaze had lots of little barbed arrows in it.

Zēákel stared at her, making his mind go completely blank. He did not want to do this, but she had to know he was telling the truth. First, he said softly, "If magic is not real, then how am I able to bind you so you are unable to move or speak? If magic is not real, how am I able to do this . . ." Zēákel sent her images of him flying, and of starting a campfire with a word. He added, "And how, if magic is not real, am I able to send images, memories, like this, to you?"

Suddenly, Amanda stopped struggling and her face filled with wonder. Zēákel watched her; uncomfortably aware that Amanda was a human, and beautiful, when she wasn't glaring at him. Zēákel let Amanda free, and the first words she said were, "Is magic . . . Is that why . . . you brought me . . . here?"

"Yes," Zēákel looked away, and his eyes lit upon his mother's blanket, crumpled at Zolin's feet. He picked it up gently. Amanda followed his movements with slightly narrowed eyes. She did not want to believe him, yet she wanted to, desperately. Then she said fiercely, "Why should I believe you?"

"I cannot lie, Zolin . . ." Zēákel said quietly, looking into her eyes. Amanda looked away, knowing that what he said was not a lie.

"So . . . if magic is the reason that you brought me here . . . . Then what about it . . . Why?"

"You . . . you have magic, Zolin." He said softly, wondering a question that had often plagued him.

"And why do you keep calling me that? My name's Amanda . . ." she said, not really registering his answer. Then finally, it struck, "I have what!"

"Magic, Zolin, magic. And yes, your name is Amanda, but you have a true name also. It embodies what you truly are. Hence the name true name." he smiled and went on, "Each true name has a meaning, only known to the Namer or one who studies true names. And before you can ask your next question, what is a Namer, I'll answer it. A Namer is someone who knows the true name of everything . . . I am a Namer."

Another man came into the cave, the one that had come in before Zēákel with a long fur cape and a headband. Amanda backed away.

"And one of the most powerful Namers in this century, too. Must you be so modest, Zēákel? And, Amanda, don't cross him, he's got the most magic here." Suddenly, the man smiled, and she noticed that he had smile lines by his eyes. She relaxed slightly. She looked between the two, and she noticed that both had black hair, though the man had his in a ponytail. The man's eyes were a piercing blue, like hers.

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind." Amanda said with a small smile.

"Oh, yes, I forgot to introduce myself. I am Almund. Now, Amanda, Zēákel told me your name, and just so you know, he didn't tell me your true name. Whoever knows a person's true name has power over them. They can control you, basically. Namers know this . . . and know this from many years as Zēákel's mentor; he will not deliberately harm you." Almund glanced at Zēákel as he communicated with him by thought.

I hope I did not give her false hope? Almund thought with a faint mental smile, but with an undercurrent of uneasiness.

No . . . but . . . well, I hope not. And do not tell her about my . . . you know. I don't know if I can trust her, but no, I will not deliberately hurt her. She is my apprentice.

Zēákel said quietly to Amanda, "Your training will begin tomorrow. Almund will bring you down." He walked to the cave mouth.

Amanda asked quietly, "What is your true name?" She wondered if Namers knew their own Names.

Zēákel turned to her quickly, his eyes guarded. "True names are not to be given out freely . . ." He smiled softly. "See you tomorrow."

He whirled in place and disappeared. She studied the spot he had vanished in and then turned to Almund. He smiled and also said, "Don't force him, okay, Amanda? But keep asking questions. Tomorrow I will see you."

"What? How long am I going to be here? I've got to get home!"

Almund put a finger to his lips and whispered, "All your questions will be answered tomorrow."

Since she didn't seem to be getting anywhere with that, she said "One last question. Is this where I have to sleep?"

"For tonight, yes. You already have, remember, last night? And Amanda, Zēákel treasures this blanket. You are honored. Tomorrow everything will be sorted out."

"Okay . . ." She said quietly, holding back her questions with difficulty. He smiled warmly, and vanished like Zēákel had.

She picked up and studied the blanket, and then went to the mouth of the cave and looked out. She dropped the blanket and began to walk down the hill. Then she crashed into an invisible barrier. She rubbed her legs, and tried going up, hitting the same barrier. She gave in to panic for awhile, beating on the barrier, and finally gave up, curling in a ball under the blanket.

____________________

Zēákel appeared in a little grove, next to a river. He collapsed onto a rock, his eyes wide. Her last question to him left his emotions in a whirl. The last human he had told his true name to had . . . He wrenched his thoughts away from that part of his life. This was his new life . . . . With a human apprentice . . .

He watched the river, his mind completely blank. When he finally felt calmer, he whirled again, and disappeared from the grove.

He appeared in the ElfHall, and found Almund, who was talking with an elf woman. He walked past Almund, but asked in his mind, Can I see you after dinner?

Yes. Almund looked curiously at the boy, and Zēákel avoided his eyes. Almund knew what it was about, though.

Zēákel was placed between two human men he did not know, which added to the chaos of his mind. He picked at his food, his eyes never moving from his plate. Finally, after dinner, Zēákel was able to corner Almund.

"How in the name of anyone or anything do they expect me?! to deal with this?! I'm supposed to teach her? Was her question about my true name truly innocent?!" His dark purple-blue eyes burned into Almund's.

"Zēákel." Almund put both his hands on Zēákel's shoulders. "If you are not ready for this, you will have to go back . . ."

Zēákel looked down. He whispered, "I . . . think I will be okay . . . it's just hard . . . She asked me my true name." Now Zēákel's voice was laced with desperation, and his eyes were scared.

Almund said quietly, "Do you truly . . . feel ready? Have you truly . . . forgiven?"

"Well, this is the test, isn't it?" Zēákel managed a small smile. He turned away and slowly walked to the doors and leaned against one side of the doorway. Almund watched him go, knowing to leave him alone would be the only way for him to think and heal.

Almund walked up to the cave the next morning, where Amanda was staying. He paused at the doorway, and seeing Amanda awake, turned around and headed down the hill. Amanda paused at the cave mouth, and then followed him. Where the barrier had been, nothing was there. She hesitated and then rushed down the trail.

When they got to the valley bottom, Amanda was amazed. A gigantic forest was in front of her, which she couldn't see from the cave.

Zēákel was leaning on one of the tree trunks, examining a long dark blue sword. He suddenly looked up, and smiled. When Almund and Amanda were next to him, Zēákel said calmly, "I'm getting her fitted, and then we might practice a little. I'll see you at noon?"

"Yes. But is getting her fitted the best thing to do right now?" Almund asked quietly, talking over Amanda's head.

"Yes. It'll get her used to the routine, and the sooner she's ready, the better." Zēákel answered.

"Um, hello? I'm still here . . ." Amanda interjected.

Almund smiled and shrugged at Zēákel. "She's all yours . . ." Almund whispered to Zēákel, obviously not for her ears, and then whirled and disappeared.

Zēákel explained, "Amanda, we're going to get you fitted for a sword, and then we might practice a little. The armory, then the smithy, and maybe to the field later. Any questions?" He smiled, knowing he was going to be bombarded with questions. He started walking along the fringe of the forest.

Amanda was silent for a moment, and then, "Sword? A sword? A sword?" She sounded just a little incredulous.

"Certainly." Zēákel stopped and turned to her. "What else? We do not wish to kill wantonly like you humans. If one must die, then let it be by a duel of skill, rather than by a trigger that anyone can point and kill. But don't get me started on guns, okay? Swords." He strode to a grove beside the river that was snaking through the valley. Amanda followed, seeing a tall, brown-haired woman in the middle of the grove. She was beautiful, with blue-gray eyes and a green headband. As Amanda and Zēákel approached, she turned away and grabbed a bright bronze sword that was hanging on a branch.

"Who shall pass?" She said quickly, bringing her sword up to shoulder height.

"Zēákel with apprentice!" he said determinedly, bringing his sword up to meet hers. She whirled and slashed her sword at his side, but Zēákel blocked her, and moved his sword what looked like horizontally to a stop on the middle of her blade. She suddenly stopped, letting her sword dangle at her side.

"Pass, Zēákel with apprentice." She bowed them on, and Zēákel sheathed his sword. Amanda, awestruck, stumbled off behind him.

"Wow. Just . . . wow. And you want me to use a sword? Like that?" Amanda was able to say.

"Rhianna, that's her job, to guard the entrance of the forest. And trust me; she let me stop her blade to impress you." He looked at her and smiled. "It worked, did it not? She is much better than me. And yes, you will become that good eventually. Do not worry, it is hard for awhile, but it pays off."

When they reached the armory, Zēákel handed Amanda a generic silver sword. She gripped it, the heaviness making it feel weird in her hand. Zēákel told her to try it out. She moved it around, and almost immediately, he handed her a thinner-bladed sword. This one felt better, but it still felt odd.

As they went through the silver swords, Zēákel asked her about colors. And she asked some in return.

"What's your favorite color?" Zēákel asked while handing her different swords.

"Turquoise." She glanced at him quickly.

"Least favorite?"

"Red, orange . . ." Then the questions about color suddenly connected. "Do favorite colors have to do with sword colors? Or eye color?" She looked into his eyes. His sword was the same color as his eyes.

He smiled and said, "Eye color has nothing to do with it. And favorite color sometimes correspond with sword color. Why do you like turquoise and dislike red and orange?"

"Umm . . ." She said self-consciously, still holding a thin silver sword. "Because turquoise is the color of sky, and ocean. Red is blood, fire, death . . ."

____________________

Rhianna watched them leave, and then followed. Zēákel would need her help. She had seen that his new apprentice was human, and almost everyone knew what had happened to Zēákel when he was younger. She smiled when she heard that he thought she was better than him. In reality, Zēákel was getting better; daily practice had made him one of the better swordsmen. My little boy is growing up, she thought fondly. When he had first come to ElfHall, he had attached himself to her, wanting to learn all about swords and fighting. Later, his mentor, Almund, explained why.

After that little trip down memory lane, she watched Zēákel give the silver swords to his apprentice to try. Rhianna knew immediately than the girl would need a rapier-thin sword, with the slight curve of the human samurai sword. As she listened to the questions and answers about swords and colors, she realized the girl would be a clear green. Green had not been used as a color in a century . . . She remembered the last green. He had been a little older than Zēákel was now, had got his apprentice, and went to battle with the humans. He had never come back. Ironic, kind of, when green was life, and he had died so young. She told Zēákel the color that would be Amanda's sword and told him to go to the smithy.

__________________

Zēákel led her away from the armory and deeper into the forest. A dark hole materialized from the leaf-strewn ground. A voice called from the deep in the hole, and Amanda started. "That you, kel?"

"Yes. Hanana-Lera, I have an apprentice for you. " A black-haired woman with black clothes with sooty hands appeared. She glanced piercingly at Amanda then turned to Zeakel.

"Frederick still performing well?" She asked. Amanda started at the name that was normal. Here, amid all the strange names, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

Zeakel said, smiling, "Yes, it is only the welder that is not."

"Oh, Zeakel, you're just saying that. Now, color, shape."

"Clear green, rapier with slight curve." The shorter woman suddenly looked very closely at Amanda. Then she led the way into the tunnel.

Amanda watched her sword start to form, and she was amazed. Hanana was marvelous at her job. The heat and the coals made her uncomfortable, but she was almost able to forget, while watching Hanana. Zēákel finally tugged her arm to wake her up from the almost-trance she was in, watching her sword get made.

They walked back to the armory, Zēákel grabbed two swords that would be similar to hers, and led the way to the field. It was a gigantic green field, with a dozen people at the further end. Zēákel barked, "Zolin!"

He tossed one of the swords at her, handle first. She caught it, amazed at herself. She usually was pretty bad at catching stuff. And this boy wanted to teach her to sword fight. She almost snorted in disbelief.