The ring of eman vath, p.16
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       The Ring of Eman Vath, p.16

           Hal Emerson
 
She returned to Owain much the worse for wear.

  Everyone else had left by now for dinner, which, as far as AmyQuinn was concerned, was a very good thing. She hobbled along the long corridor to the Magery teaching hall, trying not to wince or hold her backside, very grateful that she did not have an audience. She did not think she would be sitting down comfortably for at least a week; Taliana had quite a strong arm.

  At first, she thought the teaching hall was deserted. The fire had died down to nothing more than a bank of embers, and the room had been plunged into a kind of twilight. It looked strange – almost as though the room itself was sleeping. Had Master Owain forgotten that he’d told her to return? Maybe he was gone, eating at the upper dining hall with the full Sorev Ael and other Masters –

  “You took your time. Come here.”

  The voice rang out from the direction of the fire, and it made AmyQuinn jump. She immediately regretted her lack of control: a fresh wave of pain made her backside feel like it was on fire, and she only just managed to stifle a groan.

  She hobbled forward in the direction of the voice. When she was at the edge of the carpet, she stopped, as she always did.

  “Come,” Owain said imperiously.

  Wary, AmyQuinn reached out and put a white-booted toe on the edge of the carpet, unsure. When he didn’t protest, she continued forward and then rounded the side of the tall wing-backed chair. She stopped when Master Owain was in plain sight and waited. Slowly, he moved his eyes away from the dying fire and caught her in his gaze. “Sit if you’d like,” he said.

  She grimaced and shook her head. “I’ll stand.”

  He smiled then – almost a smirk – and she felt a sudden urge to punch him too.

  “Who brought you to us?” he asked with no preamble.

  “Master?”

  “Who brought you to Var Athel,” he clarified.

  “A – Sorev Ael,” she said, surprised by the question. “Named Valinor.”

  His eyes widened and his eyebrows rose. “That explains much and more,” he said, his voice colored with an emotion she couldn’t decipher. A long moment passed wherein he stroked his short gray beard, and then abruptly he seemed to decide something. He spoke again: “Do you know who he is? Do you know what it means that you were brought here by him?”

  She frowned.

  “He’s… a Sorev Ael,” she replied. Owain nodded encouragingly, but she had to stop there. What else could she say about him? What he wore? That he’d helped save Dunlow? None of that told her who he was. Why had she thought she knew him? They’d barely talked the entire journey to Var Athel.

  But then something in her mind clicked. It was like a puzzle with a simple answer that, once you saw it, became perfectly clear: Valinor calling the flame, Valinor extinguishing it; Valinor’s ruby ring shining like fire in the sun…

  “He’s a Mage.”

  Owain nodded slowly, still watching with the full intensity of his gaze.

  “Anything else?” he prompted. It seemed clear that there was something specific he was waiting for, some answer he was wondering if she knew, but she could not for the life of her guess what it might be.

  “No,” she admitted, and then decided to tell as much as she could. “He saved my family. He was going south and stopped in my village – Dunlow. It was attacked, and he… well, he saved it.”

  Owain was nodding again, and he did not seem at all surprised; instead, that look of pronounced concentration had increased to the point where she felt as if she were on display, her every move cataloged and filed away for later examination.

  “Do you know his last name?” Owain asked. “Do you know what he’s called?”

  Through the distance of memory she heard vaguely the name the stable boy had said when they’d arrived at the Citadel, though she couldn’t quite recall it fully. Thin? Ther? She shook her head slowly, and Master Owain nodded.

  “Then I will tell you,” he said. “His full name is Valinor Therin, and he is the only living Sorev Ael to have visited the Eryn-Ra. He followed the path of the Sisters into the farthest Wilds, and came back with the ring he now bears.”

  AmyQuinn’s whole body went slowly numb. She felt like she should say something, but nothing came to her. Owain, strangely enough, didn’t notice her reaction. He’d looked away, gazing once more at the embers of the dying fire.

  “Valinor is known in stories up and down the Peninsula, and all throughout Aeon. Have you never heard his name?” He looked back at her.

  Dumbly, AmyQuinn shook her head. She thought frantically through all the stories she’d heard from Lenny, all the stories she’d heard from her father, but nothing came to her. She’d never heard of a man named Valinor Therin. Had she just not listened carefully enough?

  “I think perhaps you have,” he insisted with a growing smile. “He’s better known by the name he was given after he returned from the north and earned the title of Sorev Ael.”

  He paused, and she barely dared to breathe. When he said the next words, they were almost like a sigh, and his gaze was intense and far away.

  “They call him the Mage of the Eryn-Ra.”

  She absorbed the statement and felt the insane urge to tell him he was lying. Surely it couldn’t be true. The taciturn, grumpy man who traveled with her for a week… that couldn’t be the same person. It couldn’t be.

  She’d never heard of Valinor Therin, but she’d heard of the Mage of the Eryn-Ra. Trickles of the stories filtered into her mind, and then the floodgates opened and they all came pouring in together. He was the hero of a dozen tales, each wilder than the last, and she knew them all. The Sack of Cartino, the Peace of the Southern Isles, the Last Journey of Ronan.

  It’s impossible. It can’t be. I did not argue with the Mage of the Eryn-Ra. I did not shout at him and throw a temper tantrum. That’s impossible. I… no.

  Master Owain was speaking again, and she tried to listen.

  “He and I were apprentices together. We were rivals, as are you and Xaior. We hated each other – until we went our separate ways and met again as Mages. He does not waste his time in anything. He is a hard man, and callous, but he is the best this era has ever seen… the best, they say... ”

  His gaze was far away again, but he shook himself and smiled briefly as he focused back on her.

  “If Valinor Therin brought you to us, then I would encourage you to live up to his vote of confidence. The next time you strike another student – even if that student has done something as underhanded as Xaior did just now – you will not get off with fifteen lashes and a sore backside. We learn here Words of such power that we can shake the very foundations of the world if we are not careful. You will not be allowed that power if you cannot show you are worthy of it.”

  He watched her for a moment, examining her face as if looking for an answer to a silent question, and then finally raised a hand and motioned to the door. Numb, she nodded and walked away in a haze of forgotten memory, making her way out into the hall that led to the Tower Court.

  The next thing she knew, she was back at the center of the Citadel, looking at the Tower. The sun shone on the white stone, making it glow. The sky was gray and clouds were coming in from the northwest – winter was taking over the world, and the smell of rain was in the air.

  A sourceless sense of movement rushed through her, though she stood stock-still, and the world seemed to tip and turn around her as thoughts and questions chased each other through her head, culminating in a single litany that went around and around inside her, repeating the same words over and over again:

  Mage of the Eryn-Ra.

 
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