A GIFT IN KIND
by A. D. Barncord Doerr
Copyright © 1998
I watched the outsiders unload their bundles from the
barge, from the safety of a farmer's market stall. Every summer,
traders from Kryst would journey up the Spectrum River, into the
Valley of Color, to trade with us "Color Witches". I mentally
scowled at the term. Once, centuries ago, we too were citizens
of Kryst. Until they drove us out from among them, because they
feared our powers.
A strange man stepped onto the pier. His hair was the light color of deer skin, instead of the deep, rich color of bear fur. His skin was burned red and he smiled brightly as he looked around.
I came closer to examine this strange being who had come to my village. Was not a Color Tender also part of the priesthood? And was it not the duty of a priest, or priestess, to oversee the safety of our people? It was therefore my duty to make sure this man posed no threat to us. Deliberately ignoring the fact that I was still just an apprentice Color Tender, I thrust out my jaw and approached the man.
"Welcome to the Village of Green," I said.
"It looks very brown to me," he answered with a grin.
"We name all our villages after colors," I informed him.
The man quickly bowed to me. The foreign gesture was unsettling.
"I am so sorry, my lady. I did not mean to offend. I had just expected things to be more colorful in the Valley of Color."
"Ah!" Realization dawned upon me. "You are not from Kryst."
"Scholar Wendon, of Clarstel, at your service," he bowed again.
"Frina, of Green Village," I said, returning his gesture.
"So, it is that obvious I am not from Kryst."
"Well, you are the first person I have met with such light color hair. Also, you would have known that Color Crafters wear earthtones most of the time, to honor the spirit of the land that nurtures and protects us."
He grinned at me. I wondered why his face didn't hurt from all his smiling. No Krystar or Color Crafter showed that much emotion, unless it was during our holy ceremonies, like the Color Walk. Then he frowned slightly.
"Actually, no one from Kryst would talk to me about your people. It took three weeks and most of my funds to even find someone who would take me here." He sat on a barrel. "Why would everyone in Kryst know that your people usually wear earthtones?" he asked.
"They still tell their children stories of when the Color Witches walked among them. Everyone knows how my people dressed in the colors of the earth to hide from the witch hunters in the wilderness. No one thought we would last a month in the mountains, but the earth provided for us and kept us safe."
"Fascinating!" Scholar Wendon exclaimed. "Frina, could you tell me more of your people?"
Panic seized my breast, as I realized that I may had said more than what was proper to this stranger. Still, I had not said anything that the average Krystar did not know. I did not understand why the Krystars wouldn't talk to this man, but in the Valley, we kept to ourselves. I cleared my throat.
"My master will be expecting me soon," I said. "Perhaps you should ask one of our priests?"
The scholar's face dropped and he sighed. "Then would you be so kind to direct me to your priests?" he asked.
I nodded. "It is on my way."
He followed me as I made my way through the market place. I walked quickly. Master Handen only allowed me a candlemark for my mid-day meal and half a candlemark had already passed, when I had seen the barge. Being the closest village to the Caves of Color, Green was also the largest one. Time was not on my side. I nodded politely to the attending priest and presented the stranger.
"Master Lado, this is Scholar Wendon of Clarstel," I said. "He wishes to learn of our people."
Lado frowned as I quickly ducked out of the temple's forechamber, and took the passage that led to the Color Tending chambers. Master Handen was already waiting for me under the great skylight that illuminated the chamber. He didn't look very happy at that moment, but then he rarely did. His scowl gave the impression that he was my father's age, yet in truth he was some years younger. He narrowed his eyes and pointed to the color gallery leading to my quarters. Every Color Tender had a color gallery, off the main Tending Chamber, leading to their rooms. It was in our galleries that we practiced our power over light.
Unlike the other color galleries, mine was not completed. I had only mastered five-sevenths of my powers and my gallery reflected it.
"It's not fair," I muttered under my breath. "I never asked to be a Full Spectrum."
"Do not scorn your gift from God, child," Handen rebuked sternly.
"If I wasn't a Full Spectrum," I said, "I would be finished with my apprenticeship and you would not be calling me 'child'."
"Greater talent requires greater training."
I snorted and went to my gallery. I had heard it all before and hearing it once more was not going to change my mood. A normal Color Tender was in training for about the same amount of time as a Color Priest. Though a normal tender dealt with half the colors a priest did, their power over those colors were greater, and therefore they had more to learn about each color. I, on the other hand, had to study twice as long as any apprentice, period. While all my friends were now considered adults and enjoying the privileges associated with adulthood, I was studying under my second master.
I reached out with my mind and brought a shaft of light from the main chamber into my hand. I extracted indigo from the shaft and directed it into the blank section after the blue. Carefully, I worked to recreate the Passage of Ink. Three quarters of candlemark into the process, blue light began to taint my indigo shaft. I quickly tried to correct it and failed. In frustration, I threw my hands up, as violet bounced off in various directions.
"Your concentration is worse than normal," stated Handen. "What is bothering you?"
I looked at my Secondary Color Tender Master in shock. Mersa, my Primary Color Tender Master, would often get me to confide in her, but Handen never seemed to care. My mouth opened and shut a few times before I could finally speak.
"A stranger came to the village today," I said.
"So? Many a Krystar comes to the Valley once in their life, just to say that they have seen it."
"This man was not from Kryst. He said he was a scholar from Clarstel. His hair was light brown and his skin was very red. He wanted to know about our people."
"What did you tell him?"
"Only why we wear earthtones," I answered. "When he asked me to tell him more, I brought him to Master Lado."
"Wise action." Handen said as he tapped his chin. "Clarstel . . . Clarstel . . . oh, yes--the City of Magic. I have heard of some of our scholars speak of it. Some say that it resides on top the mesa Orlan raised to house the Orb of Power, at the end of the Third Demigod War."
"Wouldn't that be blasphemous," I asked, "to live on such holy ground?"
"Is not the Valley of Color holy ground? Do we not live on it?"
I bowed my head, acknowledging my mentor's truth. He placed his hand on my shoulder.
"You need to clear your mind," he said. "Get some rest. Maybe you should go to the Village of Orange for a few days and visit your parents."
"Thank you, Master Handen."
"You are welcome, my student. Make sure you clean away your violet first, though."
I nodded and did what I was told. After I had removed the last of my wayward violet, I removed my indigo so I could have a fresh start when I returned from my trip home. Satisfied with the clean up, I packed for my journey.
My stay at the Village of Orange was a peaceful one. My father was still tanning leather and the berries in my mother's bog garden were as sweet as ever. I had brought back several pints at her insistence.
I handed two pints to the boatman as I got off. He nodded and accepted my gift. I had already paid for the boat ride. Then he handed me one of the large fish that swam up the Spectrum River. With a nod, I accepted his gift. Thus was the law of the Valley of Color - a gift must be repaid by a gift in kind.
With berries in my pack and a fish over my shoulder, I made my way through the maze of market stalls to the Temple of Color. I handed berries and fish to the kitchen staff before returning to the Tender Chambers. Several of the other Color Tenders were there and talking agitatedly.
"But he is a stranger!" exclaimed Master Orin.
"He is a seeker of knowledge," stated Master Mersa. "The Holy Script says not to deny the truth to one with powers."
"But this man has Clarstel powers, not the powers of the Valley," Master Gilonla objected.
"They all come from Orlan," Handen said. The rest looked at my master and digested his remarks. Some of their faces were thoughtful. Some were angered. A few showed signs of internal conflict.
"That does not mean that he can be trusted," Orin replied. "I agree with the High Priest. We tell him the folktales and say nothing definite about our powers. He can then have several amusing stories to tell his countrymen, without having any knowledge that could be used against us."
Handen noticed my presence at that moment.
"How fares the Village of Orange?" he asked me.
"In sunshine and dew," I answered.
"Good . . . good," he said. "Your gallery is awaiting its indigo."
I quickly went into my room and put away my things. When I returned to my gallery, many of the other masters had left the main chamber. Handen took his place behind me. Again, I called forth a shaft of light and separated out the indigo. Three hours later, I had the indigo section of my gallery finished. I stepped back and let Master Handen inspect my work.
"Not bad," he said. "Not bad. You need to work harder at the temperature. It is too cool--you're still letting the blue leak in. We will try again tomorrow."
I nodded and began the process of returning the section to its pristine state. Until I did that, dinner would have to wait. Master Handen waited, too, but one tries not to question the actions of one's teacher.
"Before we enter the dining area, Frina, I must speak with you about the stranger you brought to the temple."
I swallowed. I must had done something wrong after all.
"Scholar Wendon has caused a great stir in the temple, as you may have noticed. I am just glad that he had stumbled across you, instead of one of our less mature apprentices. Even so, the High Priest has announced that no apprentice is to talk to him. His announcement includes you also."
Fear was replaced with annoyance. Despite my age and maturity, I was still a whelp in everyone's eyes. I could feel myself scowl.
"Do not take it so personally, Frina," my master told me. "You are only excluded to preserve the order of things. Even the High Priest praises your wisdom in bringing him to the Temple, before he could talk to any of the laity."
"I'm just so tired of being treated like an apprentice," I moaned.
Handen gave me a slight smile and patted my hand.
"A couple more seasons and you will be done, my student," he said. "Then you will be able to take your rightful place among us."
For the next few days, my world revolved completely around the Passage of Ink. Finally, I had completed it to Handen's satisfaction. I did it thrice more to prove my proficiency. My master's smile had a sadness in it when he pronounced me ready to work with violet.
"What is wrong, my master?" I asked.
His face returned to its stone-like appearance. "Nothing . . . nothing at all. Why don't you go to the market and get me some supplies. We will start your last color tomorrow."
He wrote down a list for me. Grabbing a basket from the kitchen area, I went to the market place and started wandering around the stalls. The air was filled with a myriad of odors. I detected the smell of roses and followed them to a stall filled with rose bead necklaces. I was fingering a few, when someone stepped behind me.
I turned around and saw the redden face of the Clarstel scholar. His skin seemed to show signs of healing and I wondered for a moment what color it normally was.
"Greetings, Scholar Wendon," I said.
He smiled and bowed.
"I was afraid I would never see you again. I must thank you for your help my first day here."
"It was my duty, scholar--think nothing of it."
"Please," he said, "call me 'Wendon'."
"Are you an apprentice?" I asked.
"Heavens, no!" he exclaimed.
"Then I cannot call you by your given name, until I finish my apprenticeship," I informed him.
He gave me a sad look and turned his attention to the necklaces I had been admiring. "Your society has very strict rules about their apprentices," he observed.
"We must maintain the order of things," I said.
He nodded at my statement, and for awhile seemed lost in his own thoughts as he fingered one of the necklaces. I cleared my throat.
"I must get supplies for my master," I said, excusing myself.
His head immediately snapped up.
"I was hoping we would have a chance to talk," he said.
"I am sorry, Scholar Wendon, but I must be about my master's business."
I quickly disappeared into the crowd. I had planned to take my time shopping, but I realized it may be wiser to return to the temple as soon as possible. Master Handen was surprised when I came into the Tender chamber almost a candlemark later.
"There was no need for you to rush, my girl," he said, taking the basket from me. "You had a whole afternoon."
I made a face.
"Scholar Wendon wished to talk with me," I explained. "I thought it best to return here swiftly."
My master's face showed concern for a moment.
"Where did he approach you?"
"At the rose bead necklace stall," I answered, slightly embarrassed, and added, "I was just looking."
Master Handen was quiet for a moment. Then he looked at me.
"Would you mind helping Masters Mersa and Olin to prepare the thread for the ceremonial robes this afternoon?" he asked.
I couldn't help myself, I burst into a wide grin. I enjoyed making the magical robes used in the Color Walk. I clasped my hands together to control my happiness, and tried to speak in a normal voice.
"Thank you, Master Handen. May I go there now?"
"Of course, my student," he said.
I flew to the chamber where the robes were made and stored. It, too, was illuminated by a skylight. Mersa and Olin greeted me warmly, before putting me to work. I grabbed a finished spool and began to thread the looms for weaving. As I worked, I watched Olin add pure white light to the wool Mersa was spinning. Though it was not apparent to anyone just watching, I knew Mersa was using her powers to complete the binding of the light to the fibers. When they finished the spool, they switched positions and begun another spool. I started loading the shuttles with the glowing thread.
There was something about handling this thread that had always brought joy to my heart. Mersa says it is the energy of the light that vibrates through it. "Gives a boost to the soul," she often said. I glanced over to where she and Olin were working. They were husband and wife. True, they disagreed often, but no one doubted their devotion to each other. I sighed softly to myself, as I saw a look of tenderness pass between them. If only I had a chance for such happiness, but it was not likely. By the time I finished my apprenticeship, and was able to be married, most of the men my age would already be married. In fact, many of them already were. My choice of mates would probably be limited to the lonely widower or the status seeker. True love was just not in my personal spectrum.
Not even the thread could lift the sadness that at that moment had settled in my heart, I finished my task and asked to be dismissed. Normally, I would have loved to help with the weaving too, but today I could not stand to see the quiet sweetness between Mersa and Olin, knowing it was something beyond my reach. Perhaps I could just stay single, like Master Handen. He seemed content enough.
With that thought in mind, I went to find my master--to see if he had some small task I could help him with. I found him in his study. He was startled to see me.
"Is there something I could help you with?" I asked.
"No," he said, "not really. Why aren't you weaving the ceremonial cloth?"
"I didn't feel up to it."
Handen's brow furrowed in concern.
"Perhaps you should go see a physician."
"It is not that type of feeling," I admitted, with a pit in my stomach. "I am just not in the mood to weave cloth."
He sat back in his chair and studied my face.
"Something has been bothering you a great deal lately," he said. "You have been short tempered ever since you attended your friend Sala's wed-"
He stopped and his face showed the expression of understanding. I realized that there was no point of stalling anymore. I took a deep breath.
"No one marries a Full Spectrum Color Tender for love," I explained. "I am as unusual as the Clarstel scholar."
My master's face darkened for a moment. "That is not true," he stated. "You are one of us--he is not, and he never will be. As for love, do not throw it out of your spectrum yet. Love often appears when one least expects it."
"And does love still exists in your spectrum, Master?" I challenged.
He turned flush, but kept eye contact as he said softly, "Yes, it does, Apprentice . . . yes, it does."
I bit my lip and looked down.
"I have been very difficult lately, haven't I?"
"I do not mind. I understand the cause."
"Thank you, Master Handen, for your understanding," I said. "I will go and ready myself for evening meal."
With shoulders slumped, I walked through Handen's color gallery into the main Tender chamber. Already, the room showed the signs of waning light. It was not really my responsibility, but I went ahead and lit all the candle sconces before going to my own room. Though my talk with Master Handen had not changed things, just getting my fear out in the open made me feel better.
I went into my sleeping room to change clothes. As I pulled a clean tunic over my head, I noticed something reddish brown on my sleeping mat. Kneeling down, I realized it was a rose bead necklace, like the ones I had been admiring earlier. I brought it to my face and inhaled the scent of crushed rose petals.
This was wrong. Apprentices were not allowed to receive such tokens. Who could had done this? The scholar Wendon came to mind, for he had been there when I was looking at the necklaces. No, that was not possible--he would have never been given access into this area of the temple. Master Handen? I nearly laughed out loud at the thought. Handen went totally by the Book. He would never overstep the bounds of tradition.
Who else knew I had been interested in the necklaces? Well, practically anyone who may have walked by the market stall. Then again, they may had overheard Handen as he reported what happened to the High Priest. Like I said, Handen went by the Book. He probably went to the High Priest after he sent me to the robe chamber.
Of course! That had to be what happened. Jamor was attending the High Priest now. The arrogant fool would think nothing of overstepping the bounds of propriety. We had started our apprenticeships at the same time, and he made no effort to hide the fact that he thought himself to be my equal.
For a moment, I considered throwing the necklace back in his presumptuous face, but its scent bade me not to. Besides, I did not know for certain that it was from him, and it was beautiful. I carefully put it on the shelf of my closet and sighed. Maybe by the time I was allowed to wear it, I would know who gave it to me.
I went to the dining chamber, walked to the apprentice table, and took my place. The other apprentices around me immediately went quiet. To them I might as well be a master. I had tried in the past to make them more comfortable around me, to no avail. I was a Full Spectrum Color Tender, and therefore a being to be revered. Finally, I decided the best way to deal with this uncomfortable situation was to eat fast and leave as soon as was politely possible.
I went outside the temple and climbed onto a nearby outcropping of rock. From there, I could see the lights of the Summer Festival below. In my mind, I could hear the music the revellers were dancing to. I closed my eyes and imagined myself among them.
A cough from behind me disturbed my fantasy. I turned around to find Scholar Wendon behind me.
"Mind if I join you?" he asked.
I shrugged as he sat next to me.
"Quite a party down there," he said, "though I don't think I was really welcomed. When will you be allowed to attend festivals?"
"In a few more months," I said, "when I have mastered my last color."
"I have noticed that you are older than the other apprentices. Yet, you are also treated with great respect. The powers you possess must be phenomenal."
I made a face.
"It's hard being different," he continued. "You know, most of the people who come to Clarstel for training usually have a knack for a certain form of magic. Some show an affinity for the three dimensional and become witches. Others have a flair for written symbols and become sorcerors. Then there are the wizard- talented."
Despite myself, I became interested in these other forms of magic. "What magic do you specialize in?" I asked.
I saw his smile in the moonlight. "None," he said, "I am equally skilled in all three. Which is why I chose to be a scholar and teach others. No conflicts of interest that way."
Suddenly, I realized this man and I may have something in common. "It probably took you a lot longer to study all those types of magic."
"Yes, it did," he said "years longer. I also studied mages. Now, I teach the basics to the freshmen, and help them to find their talent."
"How are mages different than the rest?" I asked.
"You can't just become a mage--you must be born one. Mages are linked to the earth and take their powers from it."
"Just like a Color Crafter and light."
"I will take your word on it," he said. "Your people are quite vague about such things."
I wrinkled my nose. I had not meant to reveal anything to Wendon. I decided to change the subject.
"Do you have festivals in Clarstel?" I asked.
"Oh, yes! Though, our dances are different than yours."
"They are? How so?"
He got up and held his hand down to me. "Here, let me show you."
I let him help me up and carefully listened, as he described the steps to one of the dances. As Wendon hummed a perky tune, we danced. In the middle of one turn, I accidently went in the wrong direction and nearly knocked him over.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" I exclaimed, trying very hard not to laugh. He grinned at me.
"That's all right," he said. "Let's try it again."
This time I did it correctly and ended up nose to nose with the Clarstel scholar. I froze, as he looked into my eyes.
"You know, you are a very beautiful lady," he said. "I pity the gentlemen who are waiting for you to finish your apprenticeship."
What he planned to do next, I will never know for Master Handen came from out of the shadows. I have never seen him so angry. I quickly stepped away from Wendon.
"Forgive me, Master," I said.
His angry gaze was fixed on Wendon, like twin daggers of dark flame, as he addressed me.
"We will talk later in my study. Now leave."
He did not need to tell me twice. I flew to the temple and ran to Handen's study. Tears began to flow down my cheeks as I waited for him. Wiping them away, I went to the study's single window and discovered that it overlooked the rock outcropping. In the moon's soft light, I could see Wendon and my master facing each other with anger in their stances. Their voices were too low for me to hear, but I had the impression that they were accusing each other of something. Handen glanced towards the window and I quickly stepped back from it.
I was sitting across from Haden's desk when he entered, a quarter candlemark later.
"I am so sorry, Master Handen," I said softly. "I was a fool."
He stood before me and gave me a strange look.
"It was not your fault," he said at last.
"But I shouldn't had even talked to him," I pointed out.
His eyes hardened.
"I said it was not your fault."
"I . . . I don't understand."
"As far as I'm concerned, it didn't happen," he told me. "Now, get some sleep."
It did not make any sense. Handen never bent the rules. But then one does not question one's master. "Yes, Master Handen," I said, and retired to my room.
The next day had a strange feeling to it. It did not show in my studies, but I found myself on edge as if I was waiting for something. I just couldn't figure out what it was. That night, I laid on my mat for over a candlemark and still I could not sleep.
I got up and pulled on some clothes. Quietly, I made my way through the corridors and out the kitchen exit. With the darkness of night as my cover, I made my way back to the rock outcropping. I halted at the clearing, when I saw the form of Wendon in the moonlight. Before I could sneak away, he turned and saw me.
"Frina?" he whispered.
I swallowed and stepped into the clearing. His worried face split into a smile.
"I'm glad you came back here," he said. "After Master Handen's threats last night, I was afraid I would never see you again."
I weakly shrugged my shoulders and glanced back at the temple. Thankfully, all the windows were dark.
"Masters are responsible for the safety of their apprentices," I said.
Wendon's eyes searched my face for a moment. He seemed about to say something, but then thought the better of it. Instead, he invited me to sit next to him. I positioned myself an arm's length from him.
"Why are you out here?" I asked.
"Just feeling homesick," he answered. "The moon is the same wherever you are on Havor. Looking at it helps some."
"What is it like to live on top of the Holy Mesa?" I asked.
The scholar smiled and started to tell me about his home. I tried very hard to imagine Clarstel, but it was too foreign a place and its customs made little sense. I sighed and told this to him.
Wendon stopped a moment and then began to look around us. He got up and grabbed a hand sized rock. Sitting back down next to me, he held it before him and began to mutter some words. I watched in amazement, as the rock raised itself a few inches above his hand and spun itself into a perfect sphere. He made a gesture with his other hand, and the sphere began to glow. Finally, he stared hard into it, and the glow became a window onto a city I had never imagined could exist. The sphere dropped into his hand and he put it in mine.
"Now," he said, "this is the center of Clarstel. You see that large fountain, gushing water dozens of feet up into the air? That's the main water source for the city. There are a few smaller fountains in the Temple and the Magic Quarters, but those are more for ceremonial use. If you look behind the fountain, you will find the Temple. Looks a lot like your own, doesn't it? Off to your left, is the University of Magic--that's where I spend most of my time teaching . . ."
I was positively awestruck, as the sphere changed our view and took us inside the university. Wendon showed me classes being taught by his colleagues. He told me stories about each of them.
"Of course," he said, "this is a real-time viewing ball. The only reason we can see them teaching, is because the Sun visits Clarstel a few hours later than it does here. In a few moments, we will be able to see the sunset."
He commanded the ball to show us the main arch.
"This is the entrance to Clarstel," he told me.
"Are there carvings on that arch?" I asked.
"Here, " he said, "let me show you how to command the ball. Usually it takes wizard talent to operate one, but from what little I could gather about your powers, Color Crafters are closer to wizards than they are to mages."
I listened carefully as he explained the principles of the ball's magic. Timidly, I commanded it to show me the arch at a closer range. I gasped as it showed me the lined columns and the ornate footings of the arch. I slowly examined the whole arch, while Wendon watched over my shoulder.
"The sky is darkening," I said.
"Tell the ball to view west."
I found myself looking at a set of tall buildings, already in shadow. Wendon chuckled, and commanded the ball to the fountain and then view west. I sighed softly as I watched the sun set on the City of Magic. It wasn't until Wendon spoke in my ear, that I realized I was leaning against him.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
I sat up straight, embarrassed at my behavior.
"Yes, it is," I sputtered. "It's late. I better get back."
"Of course," he said, helping me to my feet. I handed the ball back to him, but he refused it. "No, it is yours. A gift from me for the kindness you have shown me."
I stood there in shock. The scholar had already paid my kindness with kindness of his own. I mentally went over the rules of gifts in my mind. Though I could refuse a gift of affection, I could not refuse a gift of gratitude. There was only one thing I could do, I must find a gift in kind.
"Frina?" Wendon's concerned voice broke me from my frantic thoughts, "is there anything wrong?"
"No," I lied, "I am just overwhelmed by your generosity."
"Please, do not be. If I could, I would give you more."
I fought down the panic in my chest. I was going to have a hard enough time repaying this gift.
"I should go now."
The scholar nodded and I left him on the outcropping. As silently as I left, I crept back into the temple and back to my rooms. I hid the viewing ball under some tunics next to the rose bead necklace. Crawling back under my blanket, I wondered what I was going to do about it.
A few days later, I still had not discovered an appropriate gift for the scholar. As I sat at the loom, weaving the special cloth used for the ceremonial robes, I started to list the attributes of his gift.
First, it was a gift of knowledge, continuous knowledge, no less. Second, it was a gift of magic. Third, it was a gift that only someone from Clarstel could give. So, my gift needed to be also a magical gift of knowledge that only someone like me could give him. I would have to sacrifice the continuous part.
But what? What could I give the Clarstel scholar? Finished with my weaving, I walked back to my master. Handen smiled as I entered the main Tender chamber. He had been a lot less sour lately, but for the life of me, I could not understand why.
"I thought we might go to the market place today," he said. "We are in need of some supplies."
Normally, I went to the market alone, but today it was he who grabbed the basket from the kitchen. We walked side by side down into the center of the village. Handen smiled at everyone we met. I just did not understand it.
As we went from stall to stall, I found myself searching the crowd. I did my best not to blush when I realized I was looking for Wendon. I vowed to keep my mind on our list of needed supplies. Purposely, I began to ignore the people milling around me. We were purchasing quills and ink, when I nearly bumped into the very person I was trying not to look for.
"Forgive me, Scholar Wendon," I said, quickly.
He caught Handen's eyes and his features became frigid.
"There is nothing to forgive, my lady," he said hollowly.
I turned around in time to see Handen's expression of cold anger. When I turned back, Wendon had already disappeared.
"Why do you hate him so?" I asked, without thinking.
My master's face became flush and he swallowed.
"Because he wants something that is very dear to me," he said.
My brow furrowed as I contemplated the statement. Yes, one did not question one's master, and Master Handen did not have to answer my impertinence, but this did not make sense. Wendon wanted only knowledge, yet Handen made it sound as if he was going to take something away. How does one take knowledge away?
I shook my head, as my master took my elbow and steered me to another merchant's stall. We purchase some vellum and went on to get some fruit to snack on. Soon, we were taking our purchases back to the temple. When we entered the main Tender Chamber, Handen turned to me.
"I must speak to the High Priest," he told me. "Would you mind putting these things away?"
"Consider it done," I answered.
He left me quickly. As I put our supplies away, I thought of Wendon's quest of knowledge. Really, it was rather silly in a way--Wendon was a peaceful man, a seeker of truth. He was not a threat to us.
A thought struck me right then. The answer to my earlier problem was right before me. I would explain color magic to Wendon and show him the caves. That would absolve my debt to him. Perhaps the others were afraid of him, but I was not. I knew in my heart, he would never cause me harm.
Smiling to myself, I made my plans. I had everything thought out by the time Master Handen came back with the High Color Priest.
His name was Raylo, though it had been decades since anyone called him that. His face was kind and he had a deep voice that could reverberate the room, but it was soft when he addressed me.
"Frina," he said, "I would like to talk with you. May we enter your study?"
"Of course, Master of Wisdom," I said.
When we entered my study, the High Priest shut the door, and motioned me to sit down. I took the bench under the window and he sat at my desk. He set his elbows on my desk and regarded me.
"Master Handen has come to me with a special request. It is not a normal request, but our records have shown a precedence for it. Since you are a Full Color Tender, such exceptions are understandable."
As he paused, I tried to figure out what request my master made, but the idea of Handen asking something out of the ordinary was beyond my ability to grasp. All I knew, was it had something to do with Wendon. The High Priest looked me straight in the eye.
"Frina, what are your feelings towards Handen?" he asked.
My jaw dropped. I closed my mouth and tried not to imitate a fish.
"Well," I started, "he has taught me well. I would consider him an excellent master."
"Perhaps I should clarify my statement," he said. "What are your personal feelings towards Handen?"
"My personal feelings?" I repeated. "Well, I guess I like him. Why?"
"Because he wishes to marry you."
The High Priest's statement made me speechless. I could not believe we were talking about the same man. What happened to the master who did everything by the book?
"But I am almost finished with my apprenticeship anyway. Why doesn't he want to wait until then?"
"He is worried that the Clarstel scholar may try to entice you to leave our people. Scholar Wendon has shown a great deal of interest in you, and you are young and pretty. I am sure a Color Tender wife would give him great status among his people."
"I think you are being unfair to the scholar, because he is a foreigner."
The words popped out, before I could stop them. I clapped my hand over my mouth in horror. The High Priest smiled.
"You may be right," he said, "but we must protect ourselves, and it would be a great loss if you left our valley."
"I could never leave our valley!" I exclaimed. "My home is here."
"Then will you accept Handen's proposal?"
"He really wants to marry me?"
"He originally tried to turn down the appointment as your secondary master, because he felt it would be improper. I rejected his request, because I wanted you trained by the best."
"I had never thought of Master Handen as anything more than my teacher," I admitted. "I have no idea how I feel about marrying him."
"Don't worry, you will given a few days to think it over," the High Priest said, as he stood up. "We will talk about it then."
I watched as he left my study, my mind still in a state of shock. All this time, Handen was in love with me and I had not even guessed it. If it were not for Wendon . . .
I grimaced. As if things were not complicated enough, how was I going to repay the scholar with a suitor watching my every movement for signs of my final answer? And if I did agree to marry Handen, how was I going to explain the viewing ball? Well, it was tradition and law which insisted I repay Wendon and if Handen could ask for a special request, then so could I.
I went into my room and retrieved the viewing ball, carefully placing it inside a pouch. Nervously, I stepped into the main Tender chamber and looked around. I could hear the scratching of quill against vellum from the direction of Handen's rooms. I swallowed hard. The High Priest must be back in his chambers. I quickly traversed the passages to get there.
I stopped short of entering the High Priest's study. The loud, whiny voice of Jamor pierced the air.
"He should be banished for his actions--not rewarded for them!" Jamor complained. "He has violated the master-apprentice relationship."
"He has violated nothing!" the High Priest boomed. "In fact, he has behaved so honorably that she had no idea of his true feelings."
"But no one else has been given a chance to win her affections. You might as well call it an arranged marriage and be done with it!"
"Jamor, you haven't a leg to stand on. First, she has the right to refuse. Second, he's a good man. And thirdly, she's never liked you anyway."
"That is not true!"
"Then why did she threaten to turn you into a bake goose, when the two of you worked with red together for the winter solstice ceremony? I believe her exact words were, 'Leave me alone or you're going to be the main course for dinner tonight!'"
I covered my mouth to quiet my laughter. I had not realized anyone had overheard that outburst. I could hear strangled sounds coming from Jamor's throat before he turned and walk towards the door. I quickly ducked behind a corner as Jamor stormed off.
Composing myself, I quietly knocked on the doorway. The High Priest turned around and waved me in.
"Have you come to a decision, already?" he asked.
I shook my head as I closed the door. "No, but I have a dilemma I need your counsel on."
"And what would that be?"
I opened the pouch and brought out the viewing ball.
"This was a gift of gratitude and I am not sure how to repay it."
"From the scholar?" he asked.
"What is it?"
"A viewing ball."
I activated it and explained how it worked. I showed the High Priest the fountain and the university. Gently taking it from me, he commanded it to show him some place in Kryst. The ball complied and showed us a busy dock area. Deactivating it, he set it down on his desk and began to pace the room.
"Hmmm. This is a dilemma. Not only has he given you a gift of gratitude, but he has given you a gift of trust. If I believed him to be a scheming individual, I would call this a gift of deception and destroy it, but his aura shows him to be a very truthful man. Had you thought of any possibilities of repayment?"
"Just one, but I don't think you will approve."
"Tell me it."
I swallowed and complied. The High Priest just nodded and sat quietly. After a few moments he said, "Yes, that would be a gift in kind and I cannot think of anything else that would come close. You will have to do it--it must come from you, but I will oversee this gift."
"Thank you, Master of Wisdom," I said.
"We will do it tomorrow. I want you to get an unstained robe and hide it within your own. At mid-day, we shall meet at the Caves and the scholar shall have a Color Walk. It will be educational to see how it affects a non-Color Crafter."
He handed the viewing ball back to me.
"We will make sure he understands that this is a gift of trust," he said. "You may go."
I was shaking when I returned to my rooms. I had only planned to give Wendon a scrap of the special cloth, not a whole robe of it. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that at least I did not have to worry about being banished for my actions.
After breakfast, I took my ceremonial robe to the Robe chamber to mend a small tear. Master Gilona barely acknowledged my presence as she sat at the loom. Another Color Tender was cutting out robe pieces, while two others were sewing them together. I went into the store room where we kept the finished robes and the special thread we sewed them with. Carefully, I place one of the unstained robes inside my own. Without a jeweler's lens, one could not distinguish a stained Color Tender's robe from an unstained one. Then I grabbed a spool and needle and went back into the chamber.
Carefully, I stitched the small tear in the seam, that I had made this morning to justify my being here. When I finished, I put the spool and needle back and walked out with both robes in my arms. I laid the robes on my sleeping mat and returned to my violet practice.
Handen was being quieter than normal, as I worked on the violet. The High Priest had told him that I needed time to make up my mind. I cast a sideways glance in his direction, and was amazed at the expression on his face. Despite all the time we had spent together, I really did not know him.
I took a deep breath and returned my mind to the violet. Violet was a dangerous color to work with, because if you were not careful, you could bring in the light beyond violet, that the human eye could not see. This light beyond light could be deadly if not handled right. Similar danger lay in the heat beyond red. Luckily, only Color Tenders and priests had the power to access those unseen energies.
A quarter candlemark before mid-day, Handen ended my practice. "The High Priest has asked me to perform a task for him," he said.
I nodded and went into my rooms to get the robes. I grabbed a cloak and wrapped it around them, before putting them into a market basket. Casually, I strolled out of the temple and walked towards the market. When I was out of sight of the main temple entrance, I turned and made my way to the hill behind the temple.
From there, I could see the High Priest talking to Wendon. I quickened my pace. I was short of breath when I finally reached them. The High Priest bade us to enter the Caves. Sitting on a gypsum ledge, he addressed us.
"While Frina catches her breath, Scholar Wendon, I will explain what is going on here. In the Valley of Color, we have certain rules about gifts. I know, you are unaware of them. Because of our mistrust of strangers, no one had mentioned them to you and they do not exist among the people of Kryst. We believe that a gift must be repaid with a gift in kind. When you gave Frina the viewing ball, you did out of gratitude, correct?"
Wendon nodded and said, "Such is the custom of my people."
"Ah, yes," continued the High Priest, "and a gift of gratitude must be accepted here as well as there. However, here the gift must be a gift in kind. According to our customs, you had already repaid Frina's kindness to you, by being understanding of her situation as you knew it. Of course, according to your customs that was probably not enough, which is why you gave her the ball."
"You are correct," Wendon answered.
"So, we have a clash of customs here," the High Priest summarized. "To resolve this, I have agreed to allow Frina to give you the only gift that could match the one you gave her. There is one condition, you must realize that this is also a gift of trust. Do you understand what I mean by that?"
Wendon nodded slowly and said, "I gave Frina the viewing ball because I trusted her enough to know that she would do no harm with it. You are also expecting me not to use her gift in a harmful way. You need not worry--it is considered dishonorable among my people to betray a gift of gratitude."
"Good. Now, Frina will explain our ceremony of the Color walk."
I started to explain the basics of color magic to Wendon, casting a glance to the High Priest now and then to make sure I was not going too far. The Clarstel scholar caught on quickly, adding corollaries to his own magic talent. Then I explained the Color Walk ceremony, itself. When I finished, the High Priest stood up.
"You shall be the first non-Color Crafter to participate in the Color Walk, Scholar Wendon," he announced. "Frina, give him the robe."
I removed the unstained robe from the bundle and handed it to Wendon. As he put it on, the High Priest and I put on our own. The High Priest then pulled out his jeweler's lens and showed Wendon the difference between his robe and mine.
"All Color Tender robes glow white," he explained, "But most are only stained with half the spectrum. Frina is special--she is stained with the full spectrum."
"Which is why she has to be an apprentice longer than anyone else," Wendon stated.
"Correct. Because Full Spectrum Color Tenders are rare, Frina had to study under two masters for her training."
"So, normally, you need at least two Color Tenders for the ceremony, but with Frina, you only need one."
"But Master of Wisdom," I protested, "I am not fully skilled in violet!"
The High Priest smiled. "Do not worry, Daughter of Color. Orlan will provide. Now take your first station."
I did as I was told and activated the Passage of Blood. Because it had been used for centuries, it required only moderate effort on my part to work it. It was part of a Color Tender's training to be able to recreate the Caves of Color, in case our people were forced from their homes and sent wandering again.
I monitored Wendon's progress, and was able to activate the Passage of Fire, just as he stepped across. The transition between that and the Passage of Crafting also went smoothly, as did the transition to the Passage of Leaves.
He went faster through the Green Cave than I expected and I had to scramble to activate the Passage of Water for him. Still, I was able to make the transition to the Passage of Ink an easy one. He took longer in the Indigo Cave, which gave me some time to prepare myself for activating the violet. The transition went well, but I began to shake in my efforts to tame the violet.
Then I felt another source of violet enter the cave. Ending my own, I turned to find Handen, deeply entranced in his efforts. Nervously, I kept a eye on the scholar as he walk the Passage of Inspiration, expecting any moment for Handen to burn him with the light beyond light.
But it never happened, Wendon went into the Black Cave unharmed. I turned to my master.
"Why did you help, when you dislike him so?" I asked.
"Because I love you more than I hate him," he answered softly.
I was saved from making a reply by the High Priest summoning us to the end of the Walk. In silence, we waited for the Clarstel scholar to emerge. When he did, his robes, though no longer white, were only faintly stained. The High Priest examined them closer.
"It appears that non-Color Crafters do not call the colors as strongly to themselves," he stated. "Still, it is obvious you have an aptitude for scholarly pursuits. Indigo seems to be your major color. Amazing . . . you seem to only lack green and purple. You are a mutlitalented man, Scholar Wendon."
"Indeed, he is," I spoke up. "He is skilled in three forms of Clarstel magic. The fourth requires one to be born with a connection to the earth."
The High Priest raise his brow in admiration.
"Well, that probably explains the lacking colors," he said. "What do you think of Frina's gift, Scholar?"
"I am speechless, Master of Wisdom," Wendon answered. "It is an experience I have never even dreamed of. I am honored beyond words. Thank you, all of you."
Wendon bowed to us. Then following the High Priest's example, we all remove our robes. Wendon was instructed to put his back in the basket under my cloak. He would be allowed to take the robe with him as long as he revealed it to no one outside of Clarstel. He promised to start his journey home on the morrow.
I was following the High Priest and Wendon out of the caves, when I realized that Handen was not with us. I went back into the caves and found him staring at the gypsum floor. The look on his face nearly broke my heart. Quietly, I walked up to him and laid my hand on his arm. He look into my eyes and I became mute.
When I finally found my voice, it was only a whisper.
"I will," I said.
He furrowed his brows.
"You will what?" he asked.
"I will be your wife," I answered. "I just realized that you are the sweetest and most honorable man I know, and I want to be with you for the rest of my life."
His face showed shock as he straightened his stance.
"Do you really mean that?"
Copyright © 1998, Amanda D. Barncord Doerr