Fare, Era and Aunt Dret sat around a fire at their makeshift camp. After hours of walking through the forest they had settled in a clearing just large enough to accommodate the three of them and a fire. Though he was initially wary of the forest, the monotony of seeing trunk after trunk without a hint of danger lulled Fare into some sense of security. Era still occasionally glanced over her shoulder nervously as if she was expecting an attack.
Aunt Dret had surprised Fare and Era with a small pot filled with potatoes and jerky along with a water skin from her satchel. Her preparedness left Fare wondering, but he did not dare to ask her another question. They spent the next half hour lighting a fire and making their meal. They had since finished, and though Fare was desperate to ask the questions that had been bouncing around in his head for hours, he did not know how to begin. So he sat, considering possible openings, and mindlessly rubbed his side where Derek had hit him. He winced as his back flared up from the movement.
And then he remembered. Derek. Derek was probably dead, likely along with the rest of his picking group. They had left them to die when they rode off on Derek’s horse. Era had resisted; she wanted to help. Fare hadn’t hesitated to leave them all behind. The realization sickened him. What happened to me? How could I have abandoned them? The fear and confusion that he had been fending off since they found Aunt Dret threatened to overwhelm him.
“I would bet that you both have a lot of questions.”
Fare looked up at his Aunt Dret, startled by the sudden interruption. Her face was cast in shadows by the fire making it difficult to read her expression.
“Why did we leave Ustelm?” Era asked.
“Well that’s a ridiculous question. You two rode out of a burning field on a Sult’s horse! You’d have to be an idiot not to see that that’s suspicious. If one of the Hatalts had seen you they would have killed you on the spot.”
“Why were the Hatalts there in the first place?” Fare asked. “Those three soldiers I mean. Tin’Aldu is weeks away.”
Aunt Dret stared at the ground thoughtfully for a moment and then looked up at him.
“I think we should begin with your story. Tell me what happened today and then I’ll answer your questions as I see fit.”
Fare and Era glanced at each other. Seeing that’s she wasn’t going to speak, Fare began to recount what had happened to them in the fields. As Fare spoke, Aunt Dret grew grave. Her wrinkles were elongated by the light of the fire, making her expression ominous. Era glanced between her and Fare nervously, as if she was uncertain as to whether or not Fare should continue. He did. He told her everything from the mysterious outburst of fire to their wild horse-back ride. When Fare was finished, Aunt Dret continued to stare at him. He shifted uncomfortably under her gaze until finally she spoke.
“How did you feel, Fare? When you fought Derek, I mean.”
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “I can’t really describe it. I was angry, I guess. It was like I was taken over by this blinding fury. I didn’t have any control.”
“It’s called Ono. Strangely peaceful word for the experience, I know.”
Seeing his confusion, Aunt Dret continued.
“I think it is my turn to speak now. There are things I have wanted to tell you for some time, but I refrained because I wanted to protect you for as long as possible. It would seem that I can’t delay anymore.” She turned to Era. “Era, I would rather you didn’t hear this yet, but I expect that you won’t have it any other way. Besides, considering what you went through today I suppose you deserve to know.
“I think I should start with the fire. It did not spontaneously erupt as you described it; it came from you. A was a relatively common power amongst the Rhudels, actually. I see the questions forming on your lips, Fare, but please allow me to finish. Once I am done you may ask your questions.
“The name Rhudel has long been lost so I am not surprised by your lack of recognition. But two hundred years ago it was known by even the most obscure peasant. Though the Hatalts would have you believe it, they have not always ruled Voreld. Before them the Rhudels stood at the helm of this once prosperous empire. They ruled Voreld justly for centuries, the head of the family acting as king or queen of the realm and the rest serving as advisers and representatives in every city. They were admired and loved by the people, for under them all of Voreld existed in harmony. No one was exploited for their labor as they are now. There were people that specialized in harvesting, and mending clothing as well as all of the other menial tasks that have now fallen to our class. But they did so of their own volition and they were respected for their work.
“Yet the rule of the Rhudels was not without its flaws. Ironically what made them the incredible rulers that they were was also their most devastating weakness. They were a family of magical ability, which even then was remarkably rare. Unsurprisingly then, most did not understand their power. That lack of understanding bred fear among some families. One such family was the Hatalts.
“Under the Rhudels the Hatalts were warriors; they protected Voreld from wandering tribes, and they maintained peace within our cities. Over time they grew to resent the Rhudels as their power made them feel vulnerable and weak. Still they did not openly oppose them, not until a man named Ineo rose to their highest position. He was remarkably influential, with a silver tongue and a cunning mind, and he convinced the Hatalts that it was unjust for anyone of magical ability to rule. Ineo claimed that as no one could hope to oppose them, all of Voreld was at the mercy of the Rhudels. They were dangerous, he said, and it was the responsibility of the Hatalts as appointed protectors to rid the empire of any danger.
“The Hatalts planned their attack for years. All the while Ineo ingratiated himself with the Rhudels, earning their trust and friendship. Using the information he gleaned from them he decided that their plan would be executed on the eve of Tin’Aldu when the entire Rhudel family would come together at the capital for feasts and games. Ineo acquired a strange poison, the origins of which are still unknown to this day. He had it put in the Rhudel’s food, and as it had never been used in the empire before the servants failed to detect it. Once the poison was consumed the Rhudels magical abilities were suppressed. Then the Hatalts slaughtered them. Even the youngest children did not escape their blades…” Aunt Dret trailed off with a pained expression.
“They killed every member of the Voreld family that night… except for one. A young woman named Eldret, my namesake, escaped the massacre. She had fallen in love with one of the Hatalts, and he saved her from their bloody scheme. He captured her before the feast began and whisked her away to Ustelm. Hoping to avoid the detection of the Hatalts, the new ruling family, they lived there as peasants. They had children, and their children had children. Over time the family grew weak as the Rhudel blood was diluted by that of the Hatalts and villagers. They lost their power.” Aunt Dret remained silent for a moment, and Fare interjected with the question he had wanted to shout in frustration since the story began.
“What does all of this have to do with me? With us?”
Aunt Dret looked at him and continued, “Following the slaughter it was predicted by the greatest fortune tellers of the time that a descendant of the Rhudels would one day rise up and overthrow the Hatalts. That descendant would have all of the power of old. He would be the Chosen One. The One that will free Voreld from the tyranny of the Hatalts.
“I believe that you are that descendant, Fare.”
The declaration hit Fare like a punch to the gut. He had withheld his incredulity for the entire length of the story but he could no longer.
“How could I be the One?” he shouted. “How could any of this be true?”
“I know this all must seem strange.”
“Strange? It’s absurd! Do you think that if there was a person foretold to destroy the Hatalts they’d allow him to live? There would be mass searches! They would leave no rock unturned! And yet nothing has been done. Do you really expect me to believe that they’d sit idly by while such a threat grows in their empire?”
“The Hatalts are not fools. They know that much of the empire wishes them gone. If they conducted the public searches as you just described word of the prophesy would spread. People would be emboldened by hope and may even revolt. The Hatalts can’t afford to risk that. So though they search, they do it under the guise of celebration. Then the people of Voreld are too distracted by festivities to notice.”
“And what celebration is that, pray tell?”
“Well I thought that much was obvious. The celebration of Tin’Aldu, of course. Each year every child is required to participate and the Hatalts observe. They watch hoping to see a child engage in an act of magic.”
“Well then why wasn't I discovered?” Fare laughed. Between his exhaustion and his aunt’s story he felt like he was about to collapse into hysterics.
“The logic of the Hatalts is sound; they are hoping to find the One before he grows into a man. Then they might have hope of defeating him. Unfortunately for them, they are missing one very important detail. Not through any fault of their own, really, anyone would have made the same mistake. For that detail was the greatest secret of the Rhudels; no one outside of the family knew it.
“Rhudel children were not able to use magic until they reached their full maturity, which was usually around seventeen. Obviously that meant that their children were vulnerable, so fearing that the wrong people might make use of the information they kept it from public knowledge. The point is, when you participated in the games your powers had not surfaced yet; you could not use them any more than any of the other children.”
Aunt Dret stared at him, and said calmly “Fare, I know this is a lot to take in, but deep down you have to know it’s true. Think about how you felt today, the power that came over you. That was magic. You made that fire to protect your sister. It was fueled by you. Remember how large it grew? It was going to consume the entire city when suddenly it disappeared. It disappeared when you calmed down and regained control of yourself.”
An image of the charred field flashed before Fare. Fare could not refute her; he had no other explanation for what had happened.
“How do you know all of this?” he asked, exasperated.
“It has been passed down in our family for two hundred years.”
A frustrated gasp from across the fire startled Fare; Era had been silent for so long that he had forgotten she was there.
“Why did you wait until now to tell us this?” she asked. “We almost got killed! Our picking group probably did get killed! They were our friends and now they’re dead. All because you kept this stupid secret.” Tears ran down her cheeks. Fare stood up, walked over to her and draped his arm over her shoulders.
“No one from your picking group died; I made sure of that. The Sult however, what’s his name… Derek. He did not make it. His burns were too severe when I arrived. Though I tried I could not heal him. Still I understand your point. Though things worked out in this particular instance they very easily could not have. But that was a risk I had to take. The fate of all of Voreld is at stake here and I refused to put that fate in the hands of children. For that I will not apologize; you were not ready. Furthermore there was no way to know with certainty that Fare was the One. Even now that he has practiced magic I don’t know that he is. Only time will reveal the breadth of his power.”
Fare looked at her, studying her in a way that he never had. She was like a stranger to him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your Aunt Dret. Now it is time to sleep. You’ll both feel better in the morning.”
Aunt Dret gathered leaves and created a bed for all of them beside the fire. Fare helped, but he was unable to speak. He was far too distracted by his thoughts. Era seemed similarly distracted, for she didn’t say a word either.
When they were done the three of them lay down, and before long Aunt Dret’s soft snores filled the air. Era rolled over and placed her head on Fare’s arm.
“What are you thinking?” she asked quietly.
“I’m trying not to think, to be honest,” he replied.
“Are you managing it?”
“Neither am I. I can’t stop thinking about Derek.” She began to cry again, and he pulled her close.
“Shhhh,” he cooed. “Do you really want to know what I was thinking? I was remembering how brave you were today. Even after everyone else fled, you kept trying to save Derek. He tried to hurt you and you showed him mercy. You were incredible.”
“He was going to kill us, wasn’t he?”
“I don’t know,” he lied. He thought back to the attack. I couldn’t have started that fire. Yet somehow he knew he had. Derek’s face danced in front of him. I killed someone today.
“You didn’t kill him, you know,” she replied. It was as if she had read his thoughts. “He did it to himself.”
A tear fell down Fare’s cheek.
“Are you sure you’re only twelve?” he teased. And she laughed. It was a fake laugh, but the sound of it still made him feel better.
“Do you think Aunt Dret is telling the truth?” she asked.
“It’s an outlandish story, but I don’t have any other explanation for what happened today. Not right now at least.”
“If it is true, will I be affected? She didn’t say anything about me.”
“I’m not sure.”
“What would it mean for you if it were true?”
“I’m even less sure of that.”
“Do you think she actually saved our picking group?”
Fare considered the question for a moment.
“Yes I do.”
Comforted by their embrace they fell asleep. Fare dreamed of the forest and the burning field again that night. Only this time he found the fire. He stumbled upon Derek as he searched the field; he was burning alive. He pointed at Fare and screamed, “You did this!”
Fare woke with a start. It was early morning, and Aunt Dret was sitting by the fire. He carefully extricated himself from Era and joined her.
“I’m dangerous,” he whispered.
“Yes,” she replied.
He saw Derek’s face again.
“Aunt Dret, I don’t think I can control it.”
“Can you teach me?” desperation bringing his voice to a near shout.
“I can’t,” she replied sadly. “But there are people who can.”
“The Nisaow Tribe. They live here, in this forest. You will go and train among them.”
“When do we leave?” he asked.
“No you misunderstand me. You will go, but Era and I will remain behind.”
Fare glanced back at Era. She slept curled up in a ball on the leaves.
“I can’t leave her.”
“You have to. Your attachment to her is too strong. If something were to happen to her your magic would flare up again and I might not be able to stop it. Until you learn to control it you are a danger to yourself and you are a danger to her.
He saw Derek pointing at him, his face contorted by terrible pain. She’s right.
“It was common amongst the Rhudels to train in near isolation at the first showing of magic, Fare. Your powers are uncontrollable right now and it’s only going to get worse.”
Fare studied his hands.
“Do you know what I am capable of?” he asked.
“No, I don’t. As I said last night only training and time will tell.”
“Can I at least say goodbye.”
“I think it would be easier for both of you if you didn’t.”
Fare’s eyes welled up with tears. He wiped them away before they could fall.
“Will I ever see you again?”
Aunt Dret smiled at him sympathetically.
“Yes, Fare, I think you will.”
“But right now you have to leave.”
“I don’t even know where to go,” he replied weakly,
“Just follow your feet. The Nisaow tribe will find you.”
“Aunt Dret I don’t think I can do this alone.”
Words echoed from deep inside him.
Aunt Dret’s eyes seemed to twinkle. A pair of beautiful green eyes flashed before him.
You are not alone.
Fare took one last look at Era and turned from both her and his aunt. He walked to the edge of the forest and paused. The thought of leaving his sister, his aunt and Ustelm all at once was too much to bear. I can’t do this. Fare looked up at the trees. A calm filled him and a woman’s face, familiar yet foreign, danced before his eyes.
All will be well, Fare.
He stepped into the forest and didn’t look back.
Catie Carberry is an English major at the University of Pennsylvania. She was first drawn to literature by action-packed books complete with magic and adventure. Now that she has begun writing her own stories for children she tries to capture that same energy that made her fall in love with reading in the first place. When Catie is not writing or reading she enjoys running, skiing and staying active, which is probably yet another reason why her characters are always in motion.