Caron stood on the edge of nothing, hands tight around her walking stick. They were too late. The node was gone, taken by him. He’d usurped the guardians and stolen away their only hope.

They were always too late…

“We need to leave,” a man said behind her.

She didn’t turn around, “I failed, Finder.”

“This place is going to fall into the sea.” The Finder put his hand on his arm. Not tightly. He couldn’t stop her, no matter what she did. “Come on.”

Slowly, she turned away.

:-#-:

“Come on, sleepy head.”

Her ma. Caron opened her eyes, squinting against blinding sunlight to see her. “Bright,” she croaked. Her ma laughed.

“The sun’s risen and your friends are waiting for you,” her ma said.

“But it doesn’t have to be so bright,” Caron muttered. Waiting for me? she thought fuzzily. Why are they…

“Horsedung!” She jumped out of bed, darting to her wardrobe. They were going to the fair in Canteville. She was late!

“They’re outside,” her ma said. “If you hurry, you can still eat breakfast.” The bedroom door shut behind her.

Caron leaned against the wardrobe door, closing her eyes. If she tried, she could still remember snatches of a great, empty space, a chasm with a broken bridge, the distant pounding of an ocean… the same dream, again. It must mean something, even if the meaning was a reflection of things she was thinking. In her family, dreams mattered.

She didn’t have time to think about it! She couldn’t miss the fair.

:-#-:

Caron climbed up into the cart, travel bag in one hand, gripping the rim of a pasty in her mouth.

“Have fun,” her ma called out.

“I will,” she said, or tried to. Breakfast got in the way.

Rob and Hanson were already waiting – Rob with his tattered old book and Hanson lying down, head on his pack. She dropped her bag on his stomach. He opened his eyes, grinning at her.

“Took you long enough,” he said.

She took the pasty out of her mouth. “Shut it,” she said. “Sorry, mister Handsworth.”

“Settle down,” Old Handsworth said. Sat at the front, holding the reins that kept his two ponies from eating ma’s garden, she saw as much of him as she usually did – his back. Even if he was Rob’s uncle, no one knew him.

“Yeah, settle down,” Hanson said. “And give us a bite.”

She sat down as the cart started to move, cross-legged and back to Hanson, and waved ma goodbye.

“Hey.” Hanson nudged her with his foot.

“Don’t make me sing the duty songs,” she said.

“Ugh! Anything but your singing.” A weight hit her back. She twisted around and grabbed her bag, setting it beside her.

“I like the duty songs,” Rob said.

Caron snorted.

“You would!” Hanson said. The cart creaked. Rob yelped.

They’re not really songs, she thought. More like chants. She was an Anhy and Sight, the gift of a Seer, ran through the Anhy family like flood water through a river. It was easier to teach everyone, no matter how much of the gift they had.

I’ll tell papa about my dream when we get back, she told herself, and enjoyed her breakfast instead of worrying over it.

:-#-:

In the shadow of the temple’s entry way, a ruined slumped arch, they had some shelter from the wind. Below and behind, the sea roared against the cliff. Even the fire didn’t seem to want to be there, flames licking at the wood, low and quiet.

“We need go back to Lord Carver,” the Finder said, not looking at her or their silent, stalwart companion. “Maybe there’s something -”

“There isn’t,” Caron said. “We’re going after him.”

“We can’t fight him. It’s suicide, Caro.” The worn man poked at the fire with a stick. “The node is nearly unlimited power…”

She stared at him until he looked up at her. “Finder Robert Handsworth,” she said. “I am going. I don’t care if you come.”

“I’m with you,” Hanson rasped. She half-turned to look at him. His handsome face was marred by a long scar. It ran down his cheek and neck, disappearing under the tunic. He gazed at her serenely, that impossible peace within him, and Rob shook his head, and that was that.

:-#-:

The inn was quiet, air filled with morning chill, roaring heat rolling out of the kitchen. Caron huddled by the embers of the main fire, cloak wrapped around her.

Finder Robert Handsworth. Yes, he wanted to be a Finder, badly. Even when they were young he could tell you where anything or anyone could be found, and he was always right. If she imagined them all as real adults, that’s what he would be. But Hanson, scarred and hoarse, one hand too close to his sword, the other reaching out like she was his lifeline…

She shivered, clutching at her cloak.

In her pocket she had a set of runes, a birthday product. She dug them out, shaking them in her hands. The polished stone was cold against her skin. She scattered them on the tiled floor, watching their skittering path. Anyone could read runes, if they were taught to, but she rarely saw more than a straight yes or no at the best of times.

This wasn’t one of them.

:-#-:

“Hey,” Rob said. “Are you all right, Caro?”

She looked up at him. They sat on either side of Hanson, who slept sprawled out with his arms crossed over his chest. Rob stared at her, all baby fat and worry.

“I’m fine,” she said, and made sure to smile.

“Oh.” He frowned. It just turned his sweet face cuter. “It didn’t look like you slept much. We’re all sixteen now, and in the stories, you know…”

She laughed. “You think I’m getting visions,” she said.

He nodded, cheeks going red.

“You read too many stories,” she said.

“I do not.” He held up his book. “These are all true.”

She rolled her eyes. “One part truth to three parts lies. You ought to have more sense.”

“I like them.” He hugged the book against his body. “If this was a story, I’d be a Finder, and you’d be the bearer of some terribly secret prophecy.” Rob frowned, a breeze tugging at his hair. For a moment, he looked like the worn man in her dreams.

“Hanson would be the knight,” she said, because it was talk or burst into tears for no good reason. “Every princess needs a knight.”

“You don’t.” He shifted, trying not to kick Hanson. “We’re missing a wizard, I think.”

She shook her head sharply. “No. No wizard.”

“Caro?” Rob leaned forward. “What’s wrong?”

“Read me a story,” she said, gripping her cloak’s hem. Running her fingers over the fine stitching soothed her. “Something with a happy ending.”

 

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