by Rob Steiner
Taran did not even want to open his eyes, for that would take energy he did not have. It was a struggle to breathe. His heart groaned with the effort of pumping blood through his body. Taran wondered if he was dead.
But the voices around him were familiar. Fatimah, Melahara, even Dylan Edoss. If he was dead, then so were they. Memories suddenly came back in a torrent—Mara, the journey to the Beldamark, finding the Tuatha, the harrower attack.
His attempt to Wield.
Taran focused his entire will to simply open his eyes. They fluttered open, but the faces above him were blurred. After a moment, he focused and saw Melahara talking quietly with Fatimah—who still had wet hair—on the right side of his bed. He moved his gaze around the room. He was in a Tuathan hospital, for there were shelves full of bottles with strangely colored liquids, powders, and even preserved organs. A Tuathan priest with gray-tinged, rusty hair stood at a table crushing something in a small clay bowl. Behind her, Dylan Edoss and Ollis Gray were arguing about something, for Edoss glared up at the tall Gray who was pointing down at Edoss. General Myndehr stood to the side, watching Gray with her hand resting on the pommel of her saber.
“Taran,” Fatimah said.
With Fatimah’s exclamation, Edoss and Gray stopped arguing and stared at him with worry and confusion. Myndehr’s gaze wandered from Taran to Gray, her hand still near her saber. Melahara could not have been more expressionless.
Taran tried to speak, but his voice came out cracked and weak. He managed to whisper, “What…happened?”
Fatimah grinned. “You Wielded enough Fire to burn down the library.” She grabbed her soaked woolen cloak. “And then enough Water to put it out.”
Taran shifted his eyes to Melahara and Gray. Fatimah shook her head and said, “I could hardly keep it secret after what happened.”
Melahara leaned forward, regarding him suspiciously. “How long have you known how to Wield the Aspects of Ahura, Taran Abraeu?”
“Never,” Taran croaked. “I’ve never Wielded before.”
“I find that hard to believe. Ahura touched you with a tendril that was almost as bright as Ahura itself. Nobody in the Beldamark is that strong yet. Nobody.”
Taran tried to prop himself on one elbow. He felt his strength coming back quickly now, and the effort to rise was less than the effort to open his eyes.
He said with a stronger voice, “I’m not lying. I have never Wielded before tonight.”
Ollis Gray said under his breath, “Zervakan.”
Taran looked at the Worldly Seat, who stared at Taran with a mixture of fear and hope. It made Taran pause, for in the brief time he had known Ollis, the man had never shown hope.
Taran glanced at Fatimah. The Zervakan was the being she had told him about just before the harrower attack on Fedalan began. He did not say anything, though, not wanting to make things hard on her for telling him something she was not supposed to.
Edoss said to Taran, “Isn’t that what the madman in Doare was yelling at us?”
Gray gave Melahara a frightened look, but Melahara continued to stare down at Taran with the same blank face. She swallowed once, then said, “It is a prophecy. When the Barrier went up, the Holy Seat at the time foretold a being who would come if the Barrier should fall. That being would aid us in our fight against the resurgent Fomorians. That being was to be called the Zervakan, which, translated loosely into Recindian, means the ‘bringer of balance.’”
“That sounds like a good thing,” Edoss said, looking from Melahara to Gray.
“It is not,” Eblin said as she hobbled into the room with the support of her walking staff. “The prophecy says the Zervakan will indeed help us defeat the Fomorians. But in so doing, he—or she—will cause much suffering once the fight is done.”
Gray said in a whispered voice, “‘On that day when night returns, the Zervakan will heal, and all will have hope. On that day when light prevails, the Zervakan will raze. And all will despair.’”
Taran swung his feet over the side of the small bed and stood on shaky legs. He steadied himself against the cool stone wall at the head of the bed, then faced the people in the room. All of the Tuatha stared at him as if he were a ghost.
Fatimah said, “You should not have this much strength so soon, especially after how much you Wielded….”
The hospital priest rushed over to Taran with the mixture she had been making and said in Tuathan, “Drink this, young man.”
Taran took the small porcelain cup and sniffed the milky liquid. It smelled like cinnamon.
“What is this?” he asked.
She smiled. “It is something I have been working on to alleviate the Wielding fatigue. Although you do not seem to need it as much as others I have tended.”
Taran sipped the mixture, decided it did not taste too bad, then drank the rest in two gulps. He handed the cup back to the smiling priest, who watched him for the mixture’s effect. Taran did feel a bit more energetic than he had a moment ago.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“Good,” Taran said, which did not adequately describe the well-being he felt at the moment. With all the people in the room staring at him, he should have felt like a cornered lab mouse. But not even their strange prophecies and fearful expressions could dampen his suddenly high spirits.
“Who were your parents?” Melahara asked Taran. “Where did they come from?”
“My mother Jajeh is Levakan and my father Tobias is Gahallian,” Taran said. “My father’s family can be traced back over twenty generations, same with my mother’s. Like I told Fatimah, neither of them are Tuathan.”
Eblin chuckled. “Twenty generations is only four hundred years or so. Not all Tuathan retreated to the Beldamark when the Barrier went up a thousand years ago….”
“No,” Melahara said. “With the power he Wielded, he has to be the offspring of two pureblood Tuathans. Both of his parents must be Tuathan.”
“I can assure you they are not,” Taran said.
Edoss said, “The Abraeu family has been a part of Gahallian and Compact history for hundreds of years. And Jajeh’s family is descended from Levakan nobility.”
Melahara stared intently at Taran. “If Tobias and Jajeh Abraeu are not Tuathan, then they are not your real parents. There are ancient records of Tuathans who left the fold to marry Mundanes. But their offspring were unable to Wield and were sterile.”
Taran had enough. “This is pointless. My parents are Tobias and Jajeh Abraeu. They are not Tuathan. I have phototypes of them with me in all stages of my life. Our family and friends have told me stories of what it was like for my mother when she was pregnant with me.” He said to Melahara, “I am not Tuathan.”
She smiled sadly and said, “The fact you can Wield Ahura says you are.”
“Or he is the Zervakan,” Gray said. “The prophecies never say the Zervakan has to be Tuathan or Fomorian.”
Melahara waved her hand dismissively. “The prophecies say a lot of things, many contradicting the other.”
As Gray and Melahara argued, Taran was so overwhelmed by all these theories about his parents and himself that he did not know what to say. Instead, he started laughing. The others stared at him, but did not join in his laughter.
This was all so ridiculous. He had come to the Beldamark to find Mystics who could heal his daughter. Instead he finds a people in desperate poverty, who cannot heal diseases, and who think he was this Zervakan “chosen one,” all while they could not even agree on what the Zervakan really was. What was there not to laugh about in this situation?
After the laughter had drained from Taran, Eblin said to Melahara, “Whether or not Taran Abraeu is the Zervakan is irrelevant. What matters is that he not only can Wield more of the Aspects than any Tuathan, but that he appears not to suffer from the fatigue after Wielding. At least not in the same proportions as other Tuatha.”
She turned her gaze on Taran, and he felt unease spread down his spine. Eblin said, “What matters is that Dr. Abraeu may be strong enough to help us break this siege.”