Jaelyn touched the scarf that she had tied over her hair, making sure it softened her features and hid the slight points of her ears. She held her sister’s hand as they kept their heads down, looking only at the merchandise they were shopping for, and not at any of the merchants. She quietly laid her selection of herbs and produce on the counter.
“That’ll be four bronzes, dearie.” Jaelyn fingered the coins in her purse, counting them. It would be just enough. She laid the coins next to the fruit, but her hand shook and she dropped her purse. She reached down to pick it up, but another hand beat her to it. She looked up in surprise at the young man who held it out to her. With a smile.
“Th-thank you.” She stammered slightly, cursing her nerves.
“My pleasure,” he said. Then his gaze sharpened and he looked at her more closely, taking in the jewel brightness of her eyes. She quickly dropped her gaze back to the purse, tucking it into her belt.
“Wait,” he said. “You’re one of them, aren’t you? The Ancients.”
The air in the market seemed to still. Next to her, Kyra whimpered slightly.
“No, we are not Ancients. We are Others.” A rustle went through the crowded market, and Jaelyn felt the shift in the air. Anger and suspicion melted into uncertainty and worst of all, fear. “We don’t want any trouble,” she spoke softly, barely above a whisper. “We just want to eat.”
The merchant snatched up the coins and shoved the food toward the girls. “Take it and get out of here. Don’t come back.”
Jaelyn quickly put the items in her bag and gripped Kyra’s hand tightly. As they hustled away, she risked a glance back at the young man who had handed her the purse. He was still watching them. The friendly smile had left his face, replaced by … something else. Not the fear she was used to seeing. Curiosity? Eagerness? Kyra squeezed her hand, and they hurried away as the crowd parted for them. They heard bits and pieces of whispered comments: “Unnatural, they are…dark powers…secrets…they don’t belong.”
Once they passed the last of the houses that lined the road out of the small town, the sisters continued to walk quickly. Even at that pace, it would take several hours to walk home. Jaelyn’s heart sank at the realization that they would have to find another town, even further away, to do business.
At first she thought the pounding in her ears was an echo of her racing heart, but suddenly she realized that there was a horse approaching from behind them. “The bushes! Hurry!” she whispered frantically to Kyra, but before they could spring into hiding, a voice called, “Wait! Please!” The voice was filled with desperation, not animosity, so Jaelyn paused. To be safe, she pulled Kyra behind her and whispered a word that surrounded her sister in a shield of protective power.
As the horse pulled up in front of them, Jaelyn recognized the young man from the market. He alighted and bowed his head at the girls, a sign of respect. “Thank God you came to the market today. I am in need of the healing skill of the Others. My youngest brother has been gravely ill for several days, and I fear for his life. Can you help?”
Jaelyn bit her lip. “My power is not very strong yet, and I have little training in healing. My mother is an excellent healer but we are several hours from home.”
“Please, for mercy’s sake, come do what you can. His color is so poor that I’m afraid he may not make it through the day. Perhaps there is no hope for him, but—” his voice cracked slightly and he cleared his throat. “But it is possible that God sent you to this town today for this very purpose.”
Jaelyn hesitated. Her heart went out to the young man and his love for his brother, but years of keeping away from humans had taught her caution. She offered a quick prayer, asking, Is this a trap?
The answer came immediately: Go with him.
She gazed into the young man’s eyes, searching for truth there. “Perhaps you are right. I can’t make you any promises except that I will do what I can.”
When they reached the house, Jaelyn blinked in surprise and she heard Kyra gasp in awe. In a land where most people lived in simple one or two room houses, this place was a grand villa with several wings surrounding a courtyard where a fountain shot a spray of sparkling water ten feet in the air.
“My father is a man of some property and influence,” their companion offered by way of explanation. “He is away from home now, but I’m sure he will offer a handsome reward if you can help the boy.” He led them to a room where the curtains were drawn and sickness hung heavily in the air. A beautiful middle-aged woman turned to them, her face lined with worry.
“Fandin, what have you done?” she asked, eying the strangers with concern.
“They are Others. I happened upon them in the market today and thought they might be able to help.”
She wrung her hands. “What can they do that our healers have not already done? They are so young.”
Jaelyn offered the woman a curtsy. “Please ma’am, I do not have much skill, but I am willing to help if I can.” She caught a glimpse of the boy who lay on the bed and her heart sank. He looked as though he might be very near death. His cheeks held a gray pallor and his breath came in labored rattles. “What is his name?”
“Eldan,” the older woman whispered, then her face contorted with grief. “Do what you will. I am losing him anyway, so what can it hurt?”
She left the room, and Fandin turned to do so as well, but Jaelyn laid a hand on his arm. A slight current passed between them, strong enough that he could feel it, she could tell from the way his eyes widened slightly. “If you will stay, I think you can help.”
“I will do anything,” Fandin promised. “What do you need?”
“A willing heart. You have some power in you. Most humans do, but it is difficult, often impossible, to learn how to use or control it. When the time comes you will know it. Simply open yourself up to be used by God to heal Eldan, if he wills it.” She knelt by the bed and laid her hand on the boy’s head. The sickness that she felt in the room was so concentrated in his body that for a moment it nearly overcame her. She felt the throb of the fever that ravaged his body and tore at his lungs and head. She took a deep breath, allowing the feeling to subside and praying for wisdom. Holding out a hand, she nodded at Kyra and then at Fandin.
“Take his hand,” she spoke softly, and Fandin held the boy’s frail little hand in his own strong, brown one, completing the circle.
“God of all Quinerya,” Jaelyn began, and as she did she felt another presence filling the room, “We believe you have brought us together today for the sake of this little boy. He lies here ill and without hope in the world except the hope that you offer now, in this moment. For the sake of his family and your own name, we ask you to use what power we have to bring strength and healing to his body and mind. For this purpose we have joined together. We leave the rest to your will.” Then, concentrating on the boy, she brought back to mind the feeling of his sickness and imagined it leaving his body. She dug deep into the core of her being, reaching for her own power, imagining it flooding into his body, bringing health and wholeness. She knew in that moment that her own power was not enough, that she would fail. She sent a silent plea to Kyra and Fandin, fueled by the connection of their hands, “Help me.”
“Be well, Eldan,” she whispered, and opened her eyes. For a moment, nothing happened, and she felt a pang of grief. It was too little, too late. But then, just before she gave up in despair, she saw the tips of her fingers began to glow with a soft, yellow warmth. The light spread to Kyra’s hand, and the girl gasped as her eyes flew open. Then Fandin’s hand lit up as well, very faintly, and finally, so soft it was almost imperceptible, it spread to Eldan’s hand. Jaelyn poured as much of herself as she could into the connection, willing the power to spread through the boy’s body. It is not enough, she thought, as weariness pulled at her. Just as she thought she couldn’t keep the connection going any longer, a weak light spread through Eldan’s face and touched her glowing fingers. He opened his eyes slowly, and for a second they blazed with golden light. She sighed and moved her hand just moments before being drained completely..
“Am I dead?” the little boy asked, his voice weak with illness. “Are you an angel?”
“No, I am a living being just as you are. My name is Jaelyn.”
“Eldan!” Fandin cried, crushing the boy to him.
“Gently,” she cautioned him. “He is still weak.”
“Did it work?” he asked, meeting her gaze over the top of the boy’s head.
She took a deep breath, testing the air. “Most of the illness is gone, but his recovery will be slow. I could not remove it all. I don’t know everything that I should have done, but I did what little I could. I think that now he will not die of this sickness.”
“My family is forever in your debt. Please, tell me anything you want or need, and if I can I will do it.”
Jaelyn looked at her sister. The girl was weary, and Jaelyn felt her limbs trembling from the effort of healing the boy. “Could you give us a ride home?”
Fandin’s mother insisted that the girls stay for a meal. After checking on her son and finding him in a deep sleep untroubled by the fever or restlessness that had marked his sleep for days, the burden of care lifted from her, and she became a gracious hostess. Although Jaelyn and Kyra were reluctant to talk about their family, they learned a great deal about Fandin’s. His mother and father were the most influential humans in the region, and their home was usually flooded with visitors. Eldan had contracted his illness from a visiting family, and the house had been closed for the last week.
“I have been so worried,” Sheril confessed. “We prayed that this illness would pass, but Eldan grew so weak. He has not eaten in two days, and I had lost all hope. Praise God you arrived when you did.”
“He is merciful. I am glad we were able to help. I hope that Eldan’s recovery is swift.” She glanced at Fandin before continuing. “You have been very kind, and I thank you for the meal. However, our home lies several hours away on foot, and the work of healing has quite drained our strength. Would it be too much trouble for Fandin to give us a ride home?”
“Not at all! Fandin, please go prepare the horses.” Sheril turned back to Jaelyn with a question in her eyes. “Why did you travel so far from home to come to our simple market? Surely there are other towns nearer to you.”
“There are, but the Others do not find a warm welcome in the world of humans. We have no quarrel with humans, or with any of the races. Still, we bear too much resemblance to your enemies, the Ancients, and people do not understand our powers. They fear what they do not understand. Many of the towns we have visited have asked us to take our business elsewhere. Your market was no exception. My mother and father have both been asked to leave, and today Kyra and I were told in no uncertain terms that we should not return.” She gave a helpless gesture. “We have a small farm and can take care of many of our own needs, but when we must buy or sell something it can be a challenge to find friendly folk. The price of being different, I suppose.”
Sheril leaned forward, a fire in her eyes. “Well, that will change today. My husband will spread the word that you and your family are welcome in any of the towns where we have business. After what you have done for us, how could we do any less?”
“Thank you, but we have not done so very much. We only acted as God willed.”
“Not everyone would have done even that.” Sheril grasped Jaelyn’s hand. “Perhaps this is his will, also. He provides for his servants, yes? Now you can go where you will, without fear.”
Tears pricked Jaelyn’s eyes at the thought. “Thank you, truly. That would mean a great deal to us.”
Fandin appeared in the doorway, and Jaelyn found that her heart beat faster at the sight of him. “The horses are ready.”