Elinor Strasse

The Gypsy's Fate

Chapter 1

Zynta had been traveling with the gypsies since her third birthday, when bandits had killed her parents and her sister Tav. She was seventeen now. She was tall and spry, with dark raven black hair, tan skin, and sharp grey eyes. It was this that distinguished her from the gypsies, whose eyes were usually brown. If not for her eyes she might still be living here, instead of in exile. But if not for her eyes I would not be here, for there would be no story to tell.

Zynta was sitting in front of the gates of the capital, where the gypsies were camped. It was sunset and she had just finished telling fortunes for the day, when a soldier approached her, “Hey you!” he said, leering. “Witch! What do you think you are doing?”

Zynta feigned confusion, and looked behind herself, “I don’t see any witch.” she said. Too late she realized who the soldier was. The red insignia on his coat identified him as one of the king’s personal guard. The guard wasn’t amused. He grabbed her sleeve and pulled her up so that she was at eye level with him.

“I was talking to you,” he growled.

Zynta was terrified. She turned her face away to escape the soldier’s putrid breath. She had heard stories of gypsies who had been carted off for the smallest misdemeanors and never seen again. “Hel-” she screamed, and then everything went dark.

Zynta awoke in the shadowy regions of time before sunrise. She was lying on some kind of cot in a dank, drafty room that smelled of mold. It was still too dark to see, but she could hear someone else breathing nearby. “Welcome,” said a voice, “to the king’s dungeons.” Zynta attempted to sit up and felt a hand push her down. “I wouldn’t move, if I were you,” the voice continued, “there’s a knife about a centimeter away from your throat.”  The person’s breathing grew louder as it brought its face closer to Zynta’s. “Let me give you some advice, don’t ever ever ever talk back to a guard. Not ever. Even if that guard was going to arrest you for witchcraft anyway. Ti gintashi fino nuu,” it murmured in the gypsy tongue, “I’m trying to help you.”

“Shu nuu e Gyprai?” Zynta asked.

“Of course I’m a gypsy!” the voice replied, “Why else would I help you?”

“If you are helping me why are you holding a knife to my throat?”

“Ri shi gid enoll.” it whispered, “We aren’t alone.”

There was a clanging noise and the sound of several locks being undone, then the room was filled with light. A man in a purple cloak stood in the doorway. “Qetsi!” the man said, “I told you to bring the witch to me over an hour ago! What is taking you so long?”

“Apologies, your majesty.” the girl replied, “It is the prisoner, sir. These gypsies are vicious. She tried to escape, sir. It was all I could do to hold her down.”

Qetsi jerked Zynta up and dragged her out the door. They followed the king up six flights of stairs and into a room where several people sat on benches. The king seated himself on the throne on the dias at the front of the room.

“This is an inquiry on the subject of witchcraft performed by a . . .” The king frowned and looked at Zynta’s eyes, “. . . a gypsy called Zynta. Do you deny these charges?”

“The last time I checked, fortune telling wasn’t a crime.” Zynta said. Qetsi sucked in her breath. It was one thing to be flippant to a soldier, but it was quite another to disrespect the king of Krannon.

“Fortune telling isn’t witchcraft.” the king said angrily, “it is a trick. Magical transportation is.”

Zynta started to protest, but then she remembered the time when she was four and she had accidentally transported herself miles away from the camp. She had been skipping through a meadow, singing nonsense words and picking flowers, when suddenly she had felt a gust of sharp wind. The wind had seemed to wrap around her like a cold swirling blanket. It was made of wisps of silver-green air that elated her and filled her with a feeling of freedom and joy, so that she was too excited to be scared. She had found herself in the marketplace of a village ten miles away and it was a week before she was found.

“Do you deny these charges?” the king repeated  his question.

Zynta attempted to remember the words she had used nine years ago. Suddenly they returned to her like birds returning home after a long winter. “No,” she said, “I have done it once before, when I was four, and once . . .”

“Once when?”

“Once, now.” Zynta knew there was no time to waste. If the spell failed she would be executed, and if she hurried and made a mistake she might split herself between dimensions. A guard rushed towards her. “Alaa!” she said as she ducked out of his way. She seemed to grow blurry. “Hajy!”  Her form faded. Two more guards reached for her, and she ran the opposite direction, but slipped on the polished floor. “Navvh!” she finished and disappeared entirely.

Chapter 2

Zynta found herself lying in corn field. It was the dead of night and the stars were shining brightly. “Gonser, do sho anan.” She whispered to the moon, quoting an old gypsy proverb: “Somewhere there is hope.” Her head was buzzing with the realization of what she had done. The king of Krannon was not famous for his mercy, and besides, ancient Krannona law declared a fugitive of the crown eligible for execution. Zynta stood and looked up at the sky, searching for the north star. Then she started walking east to the border between Krannon and its neighbor, Enle’a.

The next day two decrees were posted in the marketplace of every town in Krannon. People crowded around them, pushing and shoving each other out of the way to get a good look at the new laws. An old gypsy woman carefully nudged her way through the throng to catch a glance of the precepts. The first warned the public not to harbor the fugitive gypsy Zynta on pain of death. The old gypsy simply scoffed at this: as if any Krannona would shelter a gypsy! But it was the second decree that caught her eye:

“BY THE END OF THE THIS, THE SECOND MONTH, THERE MUST BE NO GYPSIES LEFT IN KRANNON. IF ANY GYPSY IS FOUND WITHIN THE BORDERS OF THIS COUNTRY HE WILL BE MADE AN EXAMPLE TO ALL WHO SCORN THE KING 〜 HE SHALL BE BURNED AT THE STAKE FOR THE TREASON OF HIS PEOPLE. LET ALL BE WARNED OF THE KING’S RIGHTEOUS ANGER.”

The old woman hobbled away in silence, but her heart was filled with terror and despair.

When Qetsi heard of the new decrees she packed up her few belongings and joined the flood of gypsies leaving the city. “Where will we go?” she asked the woman next to her, who had twin boys strapped to her back.

“Wherever we are welcome.” the woman replied, “If there is such a place. Perhaps we may go to the south, to Jorn, or the east, into Enle’a.”

They walked in silence for a while, then the woman said, “But, I am not afraid of the future because I know that gonser, do sho anan. Somewhere there is hope. I am called Selitha and my sons are Michael and Xamuel. Who are you?”

“I am Qetsi. I used to work in the king’s dungeon, before the decree that displaced us. Will you go to Jorn or Enle’a?”

“Enle’a most likely. I am a weaver by trade, and I’ve heard they are in need of more of my occupation. Besides, Michael and Xamuel are only six months old, and Enle’a is the closest.”

“Have you no husband?” Most gypsies were betrothed by eighteen, and Selitha looked like she was in her twenties.

“I am a widow.”

Qetsi took a deep breath and let it out slowly. In the gypsy culture, if two women are all alone in the world, with no family or employers, they may declare themselves to be sisters in order that they may help to support each other. “I also am alone.” she said.

Selitha took her hint, “Have you no one?”

“Not on this earth.”

Selitha smiled slightly, “Well then, Sister Qetsi, ser nuu cu togrenu ti ci togreni, where you go I will go; iw ser nuu cu paeldu ti ci paeldi and where you live I will live. And so may it be.” she said, using the traditional words of sisterhood.

“Thank you,” Qetsi said, “I, too shall go to Enle’a.”

Chapter 3

On the third day, Zynta reached Enle’a’s border. There were two guards posted at the boundary. Their uniforms were red and grey, the colors of Krannon. “They must be posted here to keep an eye out for me.” she thought. There was no way she could get past without them noticing her. Suddenly she had an idea. She mussed her hair into a tangled mess and stepped out from behind the tree where she had been hiding. Then she walked quickly towards the border, pretending that she didn’t notice the guards. She muttered nonsense words as she went.

“Hey! You there, stop!” one of the guards stepped towards her.

Zynta glanced up at him with a deranged look in her eyes. She cocked her head sideways like a bird and gave him an evil-looking grin. It only took the guard a moment to notice her grey eyes. As he attempted to grab her, she raised her arms and moved her lips like she was muttering a spell. The guard stepped back a little uncertainly.

“Don’t be stupid,” his companion said, “It's only a girl, seize her!”

“But, Jak,” said the first guard,  “she’s a witch! A witch, Jak! Who knows what she’ll do!”

By the time they had finished their argument, Zynta had crossed into Enle’a and there was nothing that the guards could do.

Zynta tightened her braid and waved at the guards, looking perfectly sane. “Have a good day!” she called.

Zynta came to the town of Lilynth at sunset. The old gate keeper was about to close the portcullis when she arrived. “Greetings, young maiden,” he said in a kindly tone, “Where would you be going at this hour?”

“I am entering the town of Lilynth,” Zynta replied, “Or I was going to, until you started to close the gate.”

“Ah, you are a witty one! Of course you may enter, for the price of a riddle. Because, you see, I am collecting them to tell to my son Mathias, who is returning from the capital tomorrow. He is a witty one as well.”

“I am glad to assist you.” Zynta said, “What has fur, but walks on his hind feet. Gnashes his teeth like a lion, but wears the robe of a man. Has a temper akin to the wolf, but holds the scepter of power?”

“Ah. That one I haven’t heard, but I can easily guess. Is it the king of Krannon?”

“Yes.” said Zynta, “it is the king of Krannon. But you will be more a tyrant than he if you don’t keep your promise and open the gate for me.”

The old gate keeper only laughed and while he opened the gate he said, “Do you have family in Lilynth, young maiden? If you don’t, you may lodge with me for the nights of your stay. I and my wife enjoy a little wit around the house, and when my son comes home tomorrow I think that you will enjoy his company. I am called Saul, by the way.”

“I would be glad to lodge with you,” Zynta smiled at him, “And my name is Zynta.”

Saul led Zynta through the streets of Lilynth to a small house near the town square. An old woman, who must be Saul’s wife, opened the door. As they stepped inside, Zynta’s nostrils were filled with scent of the stew hanging over a fire. “What took you so long to get home?” the old woman asked, while filling three bowls of stew, “I was beginning to get anxious.”

“You worry too much, Mirian,” Saul said, taking the bowl she handed him and sitting down at a table. “I was only talking to this young girl who was at the gate. Her name is Zynta, and judging by her accent she’s from Krannon. Although, she doesn’t display much affection for her king. She’s almost as witty as our Mathias.”

Mirian gave Zynta a bowl, “What part of Krannon are you from?”

“I am a gypsy.”

“A gypsy?” Mirian raised her eyebrows, “I’ve never seen a gypsy this far east into Enle’a. Where is your caravan?”

“Well, I’m not really with a caravan at the moment.” Zynta said, pulling a chair up to the table, “I was on trial for witchcraft in front of the king of Krannon, but I escaped.”

There was a pause, then Saul said, “On trial? For witchcraft?”

Zynta stood up, “I understand if you don’t want to lodge me now that you know. I don’t think that Krannona soldiers would come into Enle’a, though.”

“Oh, Zynta, sit down.” Mirian said, “We don’t care that you were on trial. In fact we were just surprised that someone would be punished for witchcraft. Here in Enle’a those with the gift of magic are respected as having been touched by Fate. We regard it as a blessing of sorts.”

Several hours later, full of stew and the old gate keeper’s hospitality, Zynta fell asleep on the kitchen floor. She was tired from her journey and worn from the anxiety of the last few days, but the quiet peace of Saul and Mirian’s home was enough to make a weary, homeless girl feel welcome and safe.

Chapter 4

Qetsi and Selitha travelled for three days and nights before they reached Enle’a. “Who is that gypsy that the king is so angry at?” Selitha asked after they had walked in silence  for a few minutes.

The question took Qetsi by surprise, and it was a moment before she had decided on a good answer. “She is one who has been blessed with the powers of magic,” she said, “I met her in the dungeons. She was on trial for witchcraft, but she disappeared in front of the whole court. The king considers her a threat and an embarrassment because he was not able to find her.”

“And it is because of her that the king has issued this decree dispersing the gypsies?”

“Probably.”

“If she were not one of us, I would most likely be angry with her.”

“But you are not?”

“No. And I do not think that the rest of our people are either.”

“Why?”

“This Zynta has done what no other gypsy has dared to do. She has not allowed the king and his Krannona brutes to be her masters. She has not been pounded into the dirt like the rest of us. Actually, I think that most of us regard her as a hero.”

“Ah. I see.”

“What do you mean?”

Qetsi stopped walking and looked up at her sister. “What if all the gypsies could be united?”

“Do you mean like in an army?”

“That is exactly what I mean.”

“Hmm. Perhaps. But how would we do it?”

“The world is full of possibilities.”

“Enle’a is peaceful country,” Selitha said speculatively. “But they have a long history of bitterness with Krannon.”

“Ah. Perfect.”

“We are about fifteen miles away from Lilynth,  the nearest town. Perhaps we may speak to the mayor. . .”

“And?”

“And Enle’a has a powerful army. Much bigger and more organized than Krannon’s. If we convince the mayors of each town, and by extension the king, of our plan perhaps we can persuade him of the injustices that are being committed. . .”

“He might intercede for us?”

“No. He might assist us. We will also gather all the gypsies in Enle’a, and perhaps the ones in Jorn shall hear of our army as well.”

Zynta woke up to the sound of the front door being opened. She sat up and rubbed her eyes sleepily. A boy of seventeen or eighteen years with somewhat shaggy blond hair stood in the doorway, framed by the early morning light.

“Hello, Mathias.” she said.

“Hello.” he closed the door behind him and sat down on the floor, “How did you know who I am?” he asked.

“You look like your father.”

“So I’ve been told. But who are you?”

“Zynta, daughter of Kell.”

“What are doing here?” he said, not unkindly.

“Your father told me I could lodge here.”

He looked at her for a moment then said, “You look. . . like you have an interesting past.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she laughed.

“I collect stories. I have an eye for seeing what tale lies behind a person.”

“Well, if by ‘interesting’ you mean harrowing, terrifying, and dangerous, then, yes.”

Mathias smiled. “Tell me,” he said.

By the time that Zynta had finished telling Mathias her story,  the sun was high in the sky and Saul had already left for the gate. Mirian was stirring a pot of porridge and Zynta and Mathias still sat on the kitchen floor.

“And so,” Zynta finished, “here I am.”

“It’s amazing,” Mathias said. “But why would they arrest you because you had the Gift?”

“They hate gypsies. And besides, they don’t like what they can’t understand.”

Mathias shook his head in disbelief. “We don’t have anything like that in Enle’a. We only have one race, and our king is just and kind, even if he does harbor a certain grudge against the king of Krannon.”

“Why?”

“Well, about seventeen years ago, our king, whose name is Raffe, wished to marry. He was in love with a princess of Jorn called Ivire. He sent an envoy to Jorn’s capital to ask for her hand, but near the border they were stopped by Krannona soldiers. They killed the men in the envoy and destroyed the gifts our king had intended for the princess Ivire. King Raffe’s brother was in that envoy. So, he charged the king of Krannon with murder. The king of Krannon responded by attacking Enle’a and forcing the king of Jorn to give him Ivire in marriage. Our king was heartbroken, and so was Ivire, because she had loved him. She begged the Krannona king to let her send a letter to her father, and he agreed. But Ivire sent the letter to Raffe instead, asking him to come and save her. It never reached him. The king of Krannoon intercepted it and when he had read it he cast Ivire into his dungeon. They say she is still there.” Mathias looked at Zynta eagerly, “You didn’t see her, did you?”

“No.” Zynta said, “I did hear two people talking in the cell next to mine, though. One of the people seemed to be begging the other to free her. But the other just swore and left the cell, slamming the door behind him.”

“Hmm.” Mathias said, “Hmm.”

“What do you mean ‘hmm?’”

“I meant something like, ‘yes, that’s very interesting. I think you may be onto something.’”

They both erupted in laughter.

Chapter 5

Qetsi and Selitha were tired and weary by the time that they reached Lilynth. They had been travelling for six days instead of the one that it would normally take to reach the city from the border because they had lost their way several times.

The midday sun beat down on them with a vigor that they had never experienced in Krannon. Qetsi left Selitha in the town square to buy some bread. Selitha shifted Xamuel and Michael’s weight on her back and stumbled slightly. A hand steadied her. Selitha looked up to see the girl with black hair and sharp grey eyes who was supporting her.

“Thank you.” she said.

The girl just laughed and said, “Sure. But who are you? I don’t think I’ve seen you in the city before.”

“I’m Selitha. My sister Qetsi, my sons,and I have just arrived.”

“Qetsi is your sister?” the girl raised her eyebrows.

“Yes. Do you know her?”

“Only acquaintances. But would you like something to eat?”

“No, thank you. Qetsi  has gone to buy some bread.”

Just then Qetsi approached, holding a loaf of bread in one hand, the other hand covering her mouth. “Zynta?” she said in disbelief, “Is that you?”

“Qetsi!” Zynta said, running towards her friend, “How did you find me?”

“We weren’t really looking for you.” Qetsi admitted, “We came to speak to the mayor.”

“The mayor? Why?”

“Well . . . it’s a long story. But we want raise an army to fight against the king of Krannon.”

Zynta looked alarmed, “An army? Are you out of your mind?”

Selitha said, “We wanted to fight for you, Zynta.”

Zynta closed her eyes and took a deep breath, “I don’t want to be fought for, Qetsi. You just don’t understand. If you fight hate with hate what do you think will come of it? More hate!” Zynta paused for a moment, then she continued, “I appreciate the gesture, I really do. But please Qetsi. War results in death and bitterness. Even if you did manage to win, do you think you would be bringing freedom? To the gypsies, yes. But for the Krannona? You’d end up treating them the same way they first treated you.”

Qetsi looked Zynta straight in the eye, “Then what else could we possibly do? War seems like the best course of action, or at least it did last week.”

Zynta didn’t answer her question, she just took Selitha’s hand and started down the street.

“Wait!” Qetsi called, “Where are you going?”

“Home.” Zynta replied, “You can come, if you like.”

“What do you mean ‘home?’ Your home is in Krannon.”

“Not anymore. I live with the gatekeeper and his family. Are you  coming?”

Qetsi followed them to Saul’s house with a heavy heart, wondering whether Zynta was right.

A few moments later, they all sat round the table in Saul and Mirian’s house. They had been trying to think of another way to make life better for the gypsies. They had thought over peaceful invasion, assassination, and revolt, but every option ended with the same conclusion: death.

Finally, Mathias lifted his head from where it had been resting on the table, “I’ve got it!” he said, “The perfect alternative! We could sneak into Krannon and rescue the princess Ivire!”

Zynta looked puzzled, “But what does that have to do with the gypsies?”

“Nothing!” Mathias laughed, “Don’t you see? Why do we need to make life better for the gypsies in Krannon? There aren’t any left! They have been welcomed into Jorn and Enle’a, and life is already better for them there!”

“Ah.” said Selitha, “I understand. But still, how does Ivire connect to this?”

“Well,” Mathias assumed a conspiratorial tone, “Ivire is trapped in the Krannona king’s dungeon, right? She needs to be rescued. Who better than us?”

“Hold on,” Qetsi said skeptically. “Ivire is just a legend. And may I point out that it is impossible to rescue someone who does not exist?”

Mathias seemed annoyed, “Look, Qetsi, Zynta heard her in the dungeons. She is there, and just as alive as you or I.”

“No, Mathias. Zynta heard two people talking. I was a jailer in that dungeon and I know that no one was in the cell next to Zynta’s.”

“Qetsi,” Selitha said in a pleading tone, “I’m sure Zynta isn’t lying.”

Qetsi ignored her and turned back to Mathias, “Do you seriously want us to risk our lives for a legend?”

“No. I’m not asking you to risk your life. But if Zynta, Selitha, and I go back into Krannon and return with Ivire, then you can watch our king marry a legend.” He turned to Zynta and Selitha, “Are you with me?” he asked.

“Wait!” Qetsi interrupted him, “What about Selitha’s sons?”

Selitha looked over at her boys sitting on the floor gurgling at Mirian, who  was playing a clapping game with them. She turned back to Mathias, “I am sorry.” she said, “I can’t bring them with me, it’s too dangerous. I suppose it’s just you and Zynta, now.”

Mirian stood and left the house. Mathias, Qetsi, Zynta, and Selitha sat in silence for a long time, then Zynta said, almost in a whisper, “When do we leave?”

Mathias looked at her for a moment, then he said, “First light, tomorrow.”

Mirian returned, wearing a large smile. She bent down and whispered something in Selitha’s ear. Selitha nodded, “Mirian and Saul have offered to take care of Michael and Xamuel while I am gone.” She told the others, “I guess you’re the only who’s not coming, Qetsi.”

Qetsi scowled at Mathias, “You are insane,” she said, “However, you are also correct in a way. There was no one in the cell next to Zynta’s, but there was a woman in the one under hers, in the next level down.”

“So, what exactly was the point of this argument?” Mathias asked, almost laughing.

“To see if you were determined enough to actually do this.” Qetsi replied standing and walking out the door, “I’ll see you tomorrow at first light!” she called behind her.

Chapter 6

Early in the morning, at that time when everything is grey and rosy pink, Mathias awoke and dressed. Zynta was already up, sitting at the kitchen table with her pack on the floor and boots on her feet. “Good morning.” Mathias said.

“More like ‘good dawn.’” Zynta smiled, “The air is crisp and cool, and not a rain cloud in sight: a perfect day for travelling.”

The door opened and Selitha and Qetsi entered, letting in a burst of cold wind.

“Hello,” Selitha said in a hushed tone, “Are we leaving soon?” She set Michael and Xamuel on the floor as Mirian came into the house, holding the day’s first warm bread from the town bakery. She smiled at Selitha, who said, “I don’t know how much to thank you.”

Mirian just inclined her head slightly, replying, “It has been so long since I’ve held a child. It’s really more your gift to me.”

Qetsi, who had been standing in a corner, tightened the straps of her pack and said, “So, when do we leave?”

Mathias stood, shouldered his bag and gave her a bed roll, “Right now.” he said, and opened the door.

They walked to the gate of the city and bade Saul good bye, then stepped out into their journey.

“Here’s my plan,” Mathias said after they were about a mile away from the city, “One of us needs to get into the dungeons, so that it can let the others in. Now, there are two ways that we can do this: one, one of us could purposefully get captured. This is very dangerous because there's no telling what the new jailer is like. Or two, Qetsi could sneak into the palace. Since she used to be jailer, I’m assuming that she knows her way around the dungeons. She could find the keys and set Ivire free while Zynta creates a  distraction. Selitha would be waiting outside to help Qetsi and Ivire escape from the city, meanwhile, I would go in and help Zynta and we’d meet up in Kiite, which is three miles away from the capital. From there, we would go over the border, into Enle’a. Then we’d go to the capital in order to reunite the king and Ivire.” He paused and looked at the others what do you think which should we do?”

The decision was unanimous in favor of the second plan. They walked in silence to save their breath, but after a moment Qetsi said, “The one thing I don’t understand is how we will get across the Enle’an border after rescuing Ivire. There will definitely be soldiers posted there to watch for us.”

Mathias grinned and glanced at Zynta, “I think I’ll let Zynta take care of that, since she has had some practice.”

Zynta laughed.

They stopped for a quick lunch, then continued on in the direction of the border. They were able to stop at an inn for the night because Mathias had brought some money which he had made in the capital, telling stories. But the next night, after crossing into Krannon, they had to sleep on the ground. Mathias said that they couldn’t afford to be seen, because the king and his soldiers were probably still looking for Zynta. On the third day, they came to the edge of the Krannona capital. It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon and people were flocking through the gates with wares to sell at the market. Zynta, Mathias, Selitha, and Qetsi passed into the city without trouble and slipped behind and old abandoned shop to review their plan.

“The keys to the cells hang in a closet in the jailer’s room.” Qetsi said, “They will be easy enough to get once I’m inside the palace, but how do I get in without being noticed in the first place?”

Mathias smiled, “I’ve already thought of that. I will get in by telling the guards that I’m a travelling storyteller, come to entertain the king. You can slip in with me, and then go down to the dungeons and let Ivire go. By the time you’re finished all the guards will have gone to see what the commotion with Zynta is, so it will be easy to get out of the palace.”

“Do I come in with you?” Zynta asked, “Don’t you think they’d recognize me?”

Mathias thought for a moment then he said, “You should come in with Qetsi and me. Where do you think would be the best place to create the distraction?” he asked Qetsi.

“There is a corridor between the throne room and the king’s private dining hall, that would be a good place to do it because it far enough from the dungeons that they can’t drag her off before you get there.”

With that settled, Selitha stayed behind the shop, while Qetsi, Mathias, and Zynta proceeded to the steps of the palace. Zynta had draped a scarf around her head and kept her eyes on the ground to avoid suspicion.

“Stop!” a guard shouted as they came to the gate, “What is your business?”

Mathias nudged Qetsi gently with the back of his hand and she crept past the the guard into the palace as Mathias said, “I am a travelling storyteller and I come all the way from Jorn just to entertain your king. This is my sister, Disara.” her said, gesturing to Zynta, “ She is insane, but harmless. Unfortunately, I can’t leave her by herself, but she won’t cause any trouble.”

The guard waved them into the atrium, where a servant led Mathias to the throne room. Zynta, however followed a bit behind him and stood in a corner of the throne room so that she could leave quickly without being noticed.

Chapter 7

Qetsi snuck down the hallway and descended three flights of stairs to the dungeon. As always, it smelled of mold, but Qetsi had grown used to clean fresh air and the stink hit her a wave that made her dizzy. She continued on, however until she reached the door that led into the jailer's bedroom. It was open slightly, and from inside she could her two people laughing.

When she peeked around the corner she saw a man in the uniform of a guard and another man wearing the grey clothes of a jailer. Cards were strewn all over the bed and the rest of the room was in disarray. The two men seemed engrossed in their game, but Qetsi was sure that she couldn’t sneak in unnoticed. If only Zynta had already started making the distraction!

Suddenly she remembered an old tale that Selitha had told her during their journey into Enle’a. It told of a gypsy who had been captured by a slave trader. When they reached the city where he had planned to sell her, the gypsy had escaped by screaming that the inn where they were lodging was on fire. Qetsi took a moment and considered her plan, then she pushed the door open fully. “Fire! Fire!” she screamed, “The kitchen is in flames, and it is likely to spread!” The two men jumped up immediately, knowing that the king would not be pleased with anyone who did not help to put out the fire. “You had better go get help from the city,” Qetsi continued, “the rest of the staff are helping the king to escape and there's no one to extinguish the fire.” The men ran off, leaving Qetsi free to go into the bedroom closet and take the keys.

Once the keys were safely in her hand, she crept down to the third level of the dungeons. As she descended the odor grew, but she ignored it and continued on towards the cell that was Ivire’s. When she reached the bottom of the stairs she could see a guard standing at the cell door. “What are you doing?” she screamed at him, as if she were terrified, “There is fire in the kitchen! Go! Help! The king sent me to rescue the Jornic barbarian. I will get her to safety, you go and help to put the fire out.” The guard didn’t hesitate; he handed Qetsi his sword, saying, “The king says he doesn’t care if you chop off a couple limbs to make her obey, just don’t kill her.” Qetsi nodded, “I know.”  Then the guard ran off in direction of the kitchen. She unlocked Ivire’s cell and stepped inside. A woman was sitting on the stone floor huddled against one wall. She raised her eyes when she heard the door whine as it opened, and Qetsi saw that they were a clear, bright shade of forest green. Catching sight of the sword in Qetsi’s hand, Ivire opened her mouth to scream, but Qetsi quickly covered it with her hand and dropped the sword to the ground.

Ivire bit Qetsi’s hand, hard enough to draw blood, and when her mouth was free she said, “What do you want?”  Her voice was strong and fierce, daring Qetsi to even think about hurting her.

Qetsi grimaced, wiping her bloody hand on her shirt, “I’ve come to set you free,” she said, “to take you to the Enle’an king.”  

Ivire narrowed her eyes, “How do I know you’re not lying to me?” she asked.

“I have no way to convince you,” Qetsi admitted. “But if you want to ever get out of here, come with me.”

Ivire asked no questions, only followed Qetsi out of the cell. They ascended the staircases until they reached the door of the throne room from which they could hear the sounds of the confusion caused by the rumor of fire. Qetsi caught Zynta and Mathias’ voice in the fray, but she thought that she and Ivire had better leave before the court realized that there was no fire.

Chapter 8

Zynta had stood at the throne room door for almost half an hour, waiting for Mathias to give her the signal that it was time to make the distraction, when a guard burst in.

“Fire! Fire in the kitchen!” he yelled, “Your Majesty, you must come before it spreads!” To the rest of the court he said, “Run for your lives! You must all save yourselves! It is likely to overtake the whole city!”

The room was silent for a fraction of a moment, as the people registered what the guard had just said. Then suddenly everyone began running around, gathering their reports from where they had set them down, while they listened, enthralled, to Mathias’ stories. As the court erupted in chaos, Zynta remained in her corner, waiting. What should I do?, she wondered.

Mathias edged his way through the crowd to her, attempting to yell “excuse me’s” over the din as he pushed past courtiers and servants. When he reached Zynta, he was out of breath, “Let’s get out of here,” he panted, “Before someone wonders why we’re still hanging around. Qetsi will be able to get out easily in this confusion.”

They left the throne room quickly and quietly. There was no guard at the gate, so they were able to slip out of the palace without being noticed. They had only gone a few yards, however, when a hand suddenly grasped her shoulder. She looked up to meet the eyes of a royal guard. “You’re coming with me,” he growled.

Mathias didn’t move, “Why?” he asked.

The guard didn’t smile, “Our king doesn’t like practical jokes.”

Zynta was genuinely confused. She glanced at Mathias and raised her eyebrows. “We don’t know what you’re talking about.” he said.

The guard frowned and looked as if he might take them by force, but then he said, in a quieter voice, “The kitchen wasn’t really on fire. It was some sort of trick, and the king isn’t happy.  He thought it was you.” he paused, and let go of Zynta, saying to Mathias, “I don’t think that anyone who can weave tales like you would have set a trap like that, but I’m not sure. I’d tell him that I didn’t find you except that I would lose my job.”

Mathias thought for a moment then he said, “I can do nothing to help you, but if you let us go you will be abstaining from a vast injustice.” Then without looking back he and Zynta continued on to the city gate.

When they were out of the guard’s earshot Mathias let out his breath and said, “I didn’t think it would be that easy.”

“Should we go to Kiite, like we planned, or find Selitha?” Zynta asked.

“Definitely Kiite. Qetsi, Ivire, and Selitha have probably already left and besides, we need to get out of here before king sends a garrison after us because of the fire or realizes that Ivire is gone.”

Zynta sighed, “I’m tired of always being on the run. After all this is over, I’m never leaving Enle’a again.”

Mathias only nodded silently in agreement as they walked out of the city gates, toward the east, freedom, and Kiite.

Chapter 9

The people of the Jornic and Krannona courts knew King Raffe of Enle’a as “The Sorrowful King.” And indeed his own friends could hardly deny the truth of that nickname. This was not to say that the Enle’an king was preoccupied or didn’t pay proper attention to his realm, only that he always wore an expression of deep and immutable sadness.  But even those closest to him did not know the cause of his heartache. In those days, marrying for love was uncommon, especially for kings, and so everyone had assumed that the king’s proposal to Ivire had only been for political advantages. Raffe knew what others thought, “Let them think whatever they like”, he thought, “Tt isn’t any of their business anyway.” And so the courtiers went on with their assumptions, with absolutely no idea of their king’s suffering.

One grey late autumn day a man arrived in the Ele'an capital, claiming to have news of great importance to the king. And so, he was led to the throne room where the king was holding court. When the king saw him, he immediately ordered the courtiers to leave, so that he could hold a private council with the messenger. Once the room was empty, Raffe turned to his spy and said, “Well, Radnor? What news?”

Radnor frowned. His job was not an easy one. He was silent for several moments, then he stammered out his reply, “Well, Your Majesty . . .that is . . .you see . . .it’s about Ivire, Your Highness.”

The king sighed and inhaled slowly and carefully, “What exactly about Ivire, Radnor?”

“She . . .she’s missing Your Majesty.”

The king started suddenly, as if Radnor had stuck him with a pin. “Missing?” he seemed to be having trouble breathing, “What do you mean?”

“She is nowhere to be found,” Radnor said, “No one seems to have any idea as to where she could possibly be.”

“The Krannona king as well? He does not know where she is?”

“So it appears, Your Majesty,” The king seemed to be regaining his breath, but then Radnor continued, “Of course, there is no way to know if he is telling the truth. It . . . it is my opinion, sir, that he is the reason she is missing.”

The king was beginning to look angry, “Your opinion, Radnor?” his voice was dangerously low, “There is always room for hope, Radnor. You . . . you may go.”

Radnor left silently, leaving the king to contemplate what he had just heard. He refused to believe, as Radnor obviously did, that Ivire was dead. Radnor did not know why his king wished to know so much about the Kranonna rulers Jornic prisoner, he simply did what he was asked.  But somewhere deep in the king’s heart, he did not think that Ivire had escaped. He had waited too long, and he had given way to despair long ago.

Ivire was not dead, but she had no doubt that she would be soon. The whole affair smelled of murder: the girl capturing her, tricking the guard, meeting the woman in an alley. At least the king of Krannon had wanted her alive! But she shook this thought out of her head, the only reason that that Krannona dog had allowed her to live was that he wanted to marry her. “I’d rather die anyway,” she thought.

The girl and the woman had taken her out of the city and to the east. They went on until the sunset. As the light died in a last burst of red glow, Ivire realized that she knew where they were.

She had visited Kiite once when she was seven years old, traveling with her father and his court to visit the king of Enle’a. They had only spent one night in Kiite, but the sounds and smells of the small, vibrant Krannona village had been burned into her memory. They had arrived on a market day, and the town had been full to bursting with its normal inhabitants as well as farmers from the surrounding area. She particularly remembered a spice merchant from a foreign land across the sea, whose cumin and turmeric had tickled her nose and whose mint she had been longing to try.

Now, in the dim scarlet glow of sunset, she suddenly remembered and wondered why they were stopping here of all places. The girl, who had told her earlier in the day that her name was Qetsi, and the woman who was called Selitha led her through the town gate and down an alleyway. “Here it comes,” she thought, realizing that she had never given much thought to death, even in the Krannona king’s dungeons.

Qetsi sat down in the dirt of the alley and Selitha followed suit. Ivire, however, remained standing against a wall. Selitha looked up at her and frowned slightly, “You’re welcome to sit with us,” she said.

“I think I’ll stand, thank you,” Ivire said, “I’ve no intention of dying in an undignified manner.”

Qetsi looked confused then she whispered, “Sit down, Ivire and stop being silly. Why would we kill you? We’re taking you to the king of Enle’a, I already told you that,”

“Raffe?”  Ivire breathed, “But how?”

“Well, it’s very dangerous, actually,” Qetsi continued, “if I were you I’d be grateful,”

“But how do I know you’re not lying to me?”

Qetsi took a piece of bread out of her pocket, “Why am I having deja vu?” she wondered aloud with mock confusion, “Maybe it’s because I’ve already told you all this,”

Selitha nudged Qetsi gently, “Qetsi, be nice. Imagine how she must be feeling.”

Ivire,  though she had no intention of showing any feeling, asked, “When will we arrive at the capital? When will I see Raffe?” in the way that only someone who is in love can speak.

“We should get there in about four days,” Selitha said, “We’re just waiting for some friends who were helping us to rescue you, then we can leave,”

Ivire nodded, “I see. Are we going to travel through the night, or not? I don’t think that stopping would be safe. That Krannona dog, probably has soldiers looking for me already.”

As she finished speaking, a boy with shaggy blond hair and a girl who appeared to be gypsy excepting  her grey eyes, turned the corner into the alley. As soon as they saw her, the boy dropped to one knee and the girl curtsied. “Princess Ivire,” the boy said, “I am Mathias, son of Saul. My comrades and my mission is to restore you safely to King Raffe of Enle’a if you wish. Or we can take you back to Jorn.”

Ivire’s response was immediate, “Take me to Raffe, Master Mathias.”

“As you wish my lady.”

Chapter 10

They wasted no time. As soon as Mathias and Zynta had informed them about what had happened concerning the “fire” they left Kiite in the direction of the Enle’an border. They traveled through that night and the next without stopping, even to eat. Late in the afternoon on the second day the reached the border. As soon as they were in sight of the border, they hid behind a tree. There were six guards on horses, but soon, two of the guards left in the direction of Anoma, the nearest town. The other four called for them to return, but they only laughed and said something about buying a tankard of beer. The remaining guards sighed and began talking about how irresponsible their comrades were and how they would most likely lose their jobs as a result of their laziness.

Zynta took from her bag a large club-like stick. Mathias smiled, “Don’t hit them too hard, though,” he whispered, “It isn’t their fault their king is a monster.”

“Don’t worry,” Zynta replied, “I know what it’s like to be in the Krannona king’s dungeons.”

She stepped from behind the tree and snuck up behind the two guards. In a split second two of the guards fell to the ground, unconscious. The other two whirled around to see what had happened, and as they did, one received a blow to the head from Zynta’s stick. She raised it again to club the last guard but as she did, he grabbed one of her arms and bent it behind his back. She could not reach him because he stood behind her. He snatched the club out of her hand and twisted her arm so that it joined the other behind her back. Then he crouched to the ground, pulling her down with him, to rummage in his pack for a piece of rope.  

Out of the corner of her eye, Zynta saw Mathias step out from behind the tree. She shook her head violently and nodded in the direction of the border, mouthing “Go!”

Mathias stepped back but neither he nor the others moved towards the border. His face clearly showed conflict between abandoning Zynta and helping Ivire to safety. The guard pulled a long rope from his bag  and he jerked her to her feet as he began tying her hands. Zynta peered through the tree branches and caught Mathias’ eyes again. “Please,” she mouthed, “Go! Now!”

He shook his head. The guard finished and attempted to lift her onto one of the horses. Zynta, who was taller than he was, dug her boot heels into the ground. The guard growled and took a dagger out of his pocket. Zynta had been trying communicate with Qetsi, and didn’t see the knife coming until it was too late.

She let out a muted whimper and looked down: her calf was soaked in blood. The knife had done its job: she could no longer run away, and the shock of the wound had made her loosen her foothold. The guard lifted her onto the horse easily and began to tie the reins to his.

He never reached the saddle.
Mathias had crept up behind him and delivered a powerful whack to his head with Zynta’s stick. Then he began to untie Zynta. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Fine. just a little shaken.”

He had been working on the knots for five minutes with no success when Selitha handed him a knife she had taken from one of the unconscious guards.

He cut the rope easily. Zynta attempted to dismount but began to collapse and Mathias caught her. “Are you sure you’re fine?” he looked down at her with concern.

“I told you, I’m perfectly alright.” she replied, then she fainted.

When she came to herself, Zynta was on a moving horse. As her mind cleared, she was aware of  three other horses with riders near her and someone in the saddle in front of her. For a moment she thought she had been captured and was being taken to the Krannona dungeons again. Terror overwhelmed her and she threw one leg over the saddle, trying to dismount while the horse was moving. Suddenly, the horse stopped and two hands grasped hers, pulling her back up onto the horse. Mathias’ face appeared near her own filled with concern. “Zynta, what’s wrong?” he sighed, “What were you thinking? You could have killed yourself!”

Zynta was breathing heavily, “For a moment, I thought I had been captured. I was trying to escape.”

“Escape? Even if you were captured, how could you escape with you leg in the condition it’s in?”

“I guess you’re right.” Zynta said sighing, “I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

The three other riders that Zynta had noticed before had rode on without them, not noticing their absence, but now they returned and Zynta could make out the faces of Qetsi, Selitha, and Ivire.

“What are you doing?” Selitha asked, “We need to keep going! Besides--” she stopped, seeing Zynta, “Oh, hello, Zynta. How’s your leg?”

“It’s fine. Where are we?”

“About eight miles into Enle’a.”

“How far from the capital?”

“Of Enle’a?” Selitha frowned, calculating, “About ten hours.”

Qetsi nodded, “If we keep a steady pace we should get there by tomorrow afternoon. But we need to start now.”

Everyone nodded in agreement and they kicked their horses into a gallop and rode off, continuing in direction of the Ele’an capital.

Chapter 11

The Enle’an capital was bustling. The merchants had come in from across the sea the night before and today they were selling their wares. Silk, jewelry, dried dates and figs, sugar, salt, turmeric, and saffron were all for sale; the spices in elaborately carved boxes, the foods arranged on silver platters and the cloth wrapped in bolts around light and fragrant rosewood.

The people, inhabitants of both the city and the surrounding countryside, were milling around fingering the wares, asking prices, and haggling. At midday, three gypsy girls, an Enle'an boy and a Jornic woman, entered the city and began to wander through the stalls. They stopped several times to ask the direction to the palace before they found it, towering over the maze of stalls.

Zynta approached the guards nervously, not sure what to say. She turned to look back at Mathias, who shrugged as if to say, “I don’t know. . .”

After several awkward moments, Ivire stepped in front of Zynta and said to the guard, “Master Guard, we have a dire need of seeing the king Raffe of Enle’a. We have found something that he lost many years ago and will be wanting back.

“And what might that be?”the guard asked skeptically.

Ivire leaned forward and whispered something in his ear. When he heard this, the guard bowed low, then disappeared inside. In a few moments, he returned, “Your Majesty Ivire, the king is holding court and is not able to receive you now.” he paused, then continued after taking a long look at Ivire’s ragged dress, “. . . perhaps you’d like to come in and change you garments or take a bath.”

Ivire looked as if she might explode, “Excuse me.” she said politely to the guard, and before he could stop her, she walked past him into the palace to find the throne room.

✴                                                

Raffe was indeed holding court but he was not enjoying it. To be sure, he was giving it all his attention, but he did not and never had enjoyed punishing people. He hated the petty arguments and twisted stories that the petitioners brought before him. They were always a little altered in one or another direction and he detested hearing them. But, it was part of being king, and he did it with a strong and just sense of duty, if little enjoyment.
He was in listening the complaint of a farmer who had thought that his neighbor had stolen his eggs but then realized that he had put them in his cupboard the day before, when the throne room door was thrown open. And there, framed by the bright afternoon sun, stood Ivire.

Raffe was suddenly out of breath. She stood there, more beautiful than he had ever seen her, looking at him with a little smile, as if they were sharing a private joke. She hesitated for a moment, then she ran in long graceful strides across the throne room to him. He rushed to meet her until they stood face to face in the center of the room. The court lay under a blanket of silence for several minutes, then Raffe let out an involuntary chuckle. Ivire’s smile widened, and she covered her mouth, but the laugh escaped. The king’s advisor frowned. Some of the court lords were suddenly very interested in their shoes, report notes, and robes. A few of the ladies who had wished to be the queen grumbled and whispered amongst themselves. The rest of the court dissolved into guffaws and chortles. And at the center of it all stood Raffe and Ivire, overcome with joy.

Chapter 12

That evening, the city was alive with lanterns and torches. The flickering lights gave it a pulsing, breathing impression, as if it had a heart. By six o’clock the whole capital knew about Ivire’s return. The court gossips had lost no time in telling their servants the news, who had then spread the knowledge to the shopkeepers, who told their customers, who told everyone else. And at last they also knew the true story: why the king had gone to war with Krannon all those years ago. That his proposed marriage to Ivire had not been for political advantage.

The king was due to appear on the palace steps after the ceremony, but while they waited, common people cleared away the foreign merchant’s stalls and prepared room for the all to dance in the square. Fiddles and mandolins were brought out. The women dressed in their best clothes and tied bells to their ankles. About seven hundred people gathered in the square that night, whirling through the crowd, stomping their feet to the dance, laughing and talking.

Zynta and Mathias, were silent as they danced, weaving their way through the throng, listening to the quick, giddy strains of song flowing from where the musicians stood. It was not an awkward silence, however, it was the silence of two friends who simply found no reason to speak. After a while, Mathias said, “Why do you look sad?”

Zynta, who had been gazing around at the crowd, grimaced, “I was just thinking that I will never forget this evening. The lights and the song. The sound of hundreds of people stomping their feet in time to the music. And the excitement of spinning through the dance, hoping that you don’t trip on your own feet in the your hurry.” She paused, as Mathias spun her again, then went on, “I don’t think I ever really liked moving around with the caravan. My parents were farmers in the north and we never moved an inch except on market days. My sister, Tav, who was seven years older than me, used to tell me stories about foreign lands and princes. I suppose that’s probably why I joined the gypsies after they were killed. I don’t know why traveling appealed to me, but who really knows what’s in a three year old’s head?”

“So, you would like to settle down someday?”

“Yes, I don’t really think that there’s a would about it.”

“Do you ⏤” he cleared his throat, “Do you think that you’d like to get married. . . someday?”

Zynta started. “Mathias!”

Mathias blushed, “I didn’t say any names, did I?”

Zynta didn’t answer. She pretended to concentrate on the dance, looking down at her feet. But her mind was on other things, and she stepped hard on Mathias’ foot.

“Youch! Zynta!”

“Sorry.”

The air suddenly seemed hot to Mathias, “Do you want to go find the others?” he asked.

Relieved, she agreed and followed him out of the crowd.

When they were in the alley behind the inn where they were staying with Qetsi and Selitha, the air was cooler and a soft breeze blew. Mathias paused at the door, “Zynta?”

“Hmm?”

“I didn’t mean to offend you.”

She laughed, “You didn’t offend me. . . I was just surprised.”

“Oh. But do you?. . . well, you know.”

“Yes.”

The answer was too ambiguous, Mathias stopped again with his hand on the doorknob, “What do you mean?”

Zynta closed her eyes and breathed in the crisp November air. “Yes I’d like to be married someday.”

Just then a trumpet sounded in the direction of the square. “Oh! The king! I’d almost forgotten!” Zytna said.

They ran back to the city center, and arrived as Raffe finished his speech.   “ . . . from the Krannona king’s dungeon. And so it is with the most gratitude that any mortal can feel that I thank my wife’s rescuers. Would they please come now to the castle steps?”

Qetsi and Selitha came out of the crowd and Zynta and Mathias followed them to where the king stood. He turned to them, “Qetsi Serhnadaughter Gyprai, Selitha Ulindaughter Gyprai, Mathias Saulson Enle’ar, and Zynta Kelldaughter Gypㅡ” Mathias laid a hand on his shoulder and whispered something in his ear, “and Zynta Betroth Enle’ar, I thank you with all my heart for restoring Ivire to me.”

Zynta, who had been turning gradually redder from the time Mathias had corrected the king, now descended the steps as quickly as she could and, with her companions following at a much slower pace. When they had reached the inn again, Zynta appeared to be sobbing.

“What do you mean, Zynta?” Selitha asked, “You two aren’t betrothed?”

Zynta stormed into the inn.

Qetsi frowned at Mathias, “Why would you say that if it’s not true?”

“Zynta!” Mathias called after her, “Wait!”

He found her in the room she shared with Qetsi and Selitha, sitting on the bed, bent double.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, sitting beside her.

She was shaking violently and when she raised her head she had tears rolling down her cheeks. “Why are you crying?” he questioned.

“I-I’m not.” Zynta choked out, “Mathias, I’m laughing! Oh for goodness sake!” she said as another fit of hysterics overcame her. After she had composed herself, She turned to him and said, “I didn’t mean now. But. . . thank you.” She laughed again, “Th-this has been the best day of my life!”

Epilogue - Ten years later

Zynta was sitting in her chair, knitting a scarf for the coming winter when the door opened and a girl of about eight years came into the house. “Hello, Ivire.” Zynta said, embracing her child, “How was school?”

“Good. . . Will Daddy be home soon?”

“I expect so. What did you learn today?”

The little girl erupted in giggles, “Oh Mama! It was so funny! Xamuel, Michael, and I were in history class and you’ll never guess what they taught about! The  Rescue of Queen Ivire! But the only problem was that the teacher didn’t know the story very well. She left out all the exciting parts! She didn’t know about how you have the Gift, or how Ms. Qetsi got Queen Ivire out of the dungeon, or how Daddy rescued you from that guard! But it was a pretty interesting lesson, anyway.”

“Pretty interesting, huh?” Zynta laughed. “I will never understand is how rumors are started and stories messed up.” She looked down at Ivire, “Wouldn’t you rather hear the real version?”

“Yes!” Ivire grinned and nodded.

“Well, a long, long time ago I was sitting at the gate of the Krannona capital telling fortunes...”