“Sacrilege! How dare you roast a rabbit over the Sacred Fire!”
We’d found our little Temple again, the three of us, and the fire was still going merrily. I was a journeyman, tomorrow we’d be in Valdis, and we’d be able to foist off the problem of the Leper Village and the Evil Lord Faran on to Raisse. And now this… And irate older gentleman and a young girl, staring at us, angrily.
“But sir… We made this fire! And Anshen doesn’t mind, and we’re hungry!”
“Liars! You cannot have made this fire, it appeared here some weeks ago, and it never dies out. It always burns, even if no new wood is put on it!”
“Though,” said the girl shyly, “I do put wood on it now and then, it’s like Anshen likes it…”
Arni, who saw the discussion getting out of hand, stood up and explained to the old man that, indeed, she had made the fire, when she made her choice for Anshen. And when he didn’t believe her, she tried to show him her flint… But he didn’t see it, he was as gifted as a lump of suet. But the girl, she saw it, and held her hand out. Arni handed it over, and she held the flint, the flint made out of nothing but raw ryst, shaped by semsin.
Well, that was my job, wasn’t it? Isn’t it? Find the gifted, make them learn, anchor the part of Valdyas that was adrift to the Kingdom, with my life, my blood, if necessary. She was gifted, and obviously it was going to be necessary to send her to school in Turenay. So we took them with us to Raisse as well. That involved only a small detour, to their farmstead.
Three weeks later, we passed the fire again. We’d arrived in Valdis, found our room in the Palace still unoccupied, found Ervan a job in the Palace Kitchens, Rusla sent to Turenay, ourselves enjoying a Síthi bath, myself taking some time out because of the effing time of the month, reading half a library, having regular fencing sessions with the Palace Guard and the Order, and, of course, restraining Raisse from riding out then and there against Lord Faran. It takes time to kit out an expedition! Two, actually.
Two companies of twenty veteran soldiers with two sergeants and a captain (and an irate Queen) to put things right in Three Hills.
Two doctors, five journeymen doctors and six nurses, and some carts with supplies to put things right in the Leper Village.
When we arrived at our first campsite, the fire was still burning!