Wayland busied himself applying a salve to the massive bruise on Calix’ shoulder. “You ought to be more careful,” the cleric said. “Lathander is good-natured, but He isn’t one to suffer fools.”
Calix grimaced. “I was being careful. It’s that Nan, she’s vicious!”
“Can you really blame her?” Wayland asked.
“Well, no,” Calix said, “but the other women seem to have . . . moved on. Found new lives. But Nan is like a machine . . . all she does is practice.”
“Her progress has been pretty impressive,” Justus remarked, leaning casually against the fence. “She certainly gets the better of you easily enough nowadays.”
Calix shook his head ruefully. “If you ask me, it’s too impressive. It’s like something is driving her, something more than just mortal anger. It may be dangerous if it gets out of hand.”
“I haven’t sensed any corruption in her,” Wayland said. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“It doesn’t have to be evil in order to be dangerous,” Justus said. “You should know that by now.” Nan walked past the men, still in armor and carrying a walking stick in her hand.
“Where are you going?” Calix asked, scrambling to his feet. Nan just shrugged, her usual method of communication. The other women had gone to some effort to learn alternate means of communicating, but Nan had simply become more withdrawn. She seemed to take a perverse sort of joy in remaining incomprehensible. Calix was loathe to deprive her of it, but it could be infuriating at times. “Well, be careful,” he said.
Nan simply nodded and continued walking, heading away from the relatively safe environs of the school. Sometimes, she would leave for hours at a time, and no one knew where she went. It wasn’t safe, but no one had the heart to try and stop her. Today, she climbed up to her favorite place, a rocky outcrop where a gnarled old tree perched, leaning precariously over the drop. It was a peaceful place, and often she fell asleep watching leaves rustle in the wind.
She leaned back against the trunk of the tree, and it seemed she had hardly closed her eyes when a voice spoke.
“Your heart is heavy within you, child, and I fear this burden is more than your mortal life can bear.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, and in the dream she was not surprised to find that she could talk. “I am strong, like this old tree. I will endure.”
“Some poisons cannot be endured, they must be purged lest they destroy. I know who you are, Jenan ath Soharryd. I know why you hide, and I know how it feels to have the old skills come back to your hands as though you never put them down. It feels good, yes? But with them comes a terrible old grief that makes your new grief intolerable.”
“I gave up that name a long time ago.”
“But the past never gives you up, Jenan.”
“What do you want with me?”
“It is not so much what I want, as what I can offer. I bring you a gift of peace, Jenan.”
“Peace? There is no peace for me.”
“It is not the kind of peace that you seek. There are two kinds of peace in this world, Jenan. One is the peace of solitude, of a world untouched by rapacity or evil. It is an accidental sort of peace, one that is gifted only to a few and then only by the mighty works of others they do not know and do not wish to know. You will never have that type of peace, Jenan, though you spend all your life seeking it in vain. I offer the other kind of peace.”
“And what is that?”
“The peace of seeing your enemies fall beneath your feet in righteous battle! SEE me!” Bright multicolored light flared and took the shape of a woman with golden skin and a furious mane of white hair. Rainbows danced in her clothing, her eyes, and on the blades of the curved swords she held high. “I AM GWYNHARWYF, WILL YOU SERVE ME, JENAN? WILL YOU EMBRACE THE PEACE OF FEROCITY AND BATTLE?”
Nan shivered, awed. “I will. Tell me what I must do.”
“That is not my way,” Gwynharwyf said, her voice subsiding slightly. “You will know what to do. Your fate comes on you soon. I will give you a weapon so that you may face it.” The mighty eladrin held out her hand and a spear took shape. “Sleep now, and dream truly, child. The storm is coming.”