Prophecy Unravelled: Elusive Heir
Chapter 1 – Scrying
To any chance onlooker, there was nothing of interest about the plain, wooden bowl filled with water. In fact, it was almost conspicuous in its ordinariness.
Yet Sean stared at it intently, entranced by something only he could see—a scene being played out half a continent away, dancing across the ripples of water.
Barely visible in the half light of dawn, a blond-haired woman skulked through the stunted bushes surrounding a rough camp. Tents carelessly pitched and empty tankards lay near dying fires, evidence of last night’s revelry.
Sean frowned at the scene involuntarily. He’d expected to find her asleep in bed at this time of the morning.
That was his favourite time to watch her.
He’d looked in on her more than once in the years since their last encounter, unable to make a clean break, even though he’d tried. Now, as the time approached, he found himself checking far too often, and each time he found himself increasingly reluctant to stop the scrying.
Desire, hurt, anger and yearning all warred for attention in his head.
The fact that it had been some time since he’d seen her in person didn’t lessen the tumult of emotion he felt. It was hard to believe it had been twenty years since she’d left, although their grown son should have been proof enough for him.
The shift in his attention caused the image in front of him to change focus.
A red haired young man circled around his opponent in a practice fight. His sword held high, he didn’t break concentration once.
And why should he? He had no idea he was being watched.
Any rancour he felt towards his mother didn’t extend to his son. But seeing the young man closely after her just made the similarities even more obvious. Even his shock of red hair couldn’t disguise the fact that they looked alike.
Another memory intruded on his thoughts. A memory of a woman he still thought of almost daily—someone who bore even more likeness to the woman than her son.
The scene shifted again, this time centring on a vision from the past. Sean started in surprise. He hadn’t known it could do that.
He watched, unable to tear his eyes away, though it felt very strange to see that moment as an observer, not as the active participant he’d been then.
A much younger version of himself smiled down at the woman, her blond hair shining in the sunlight. His heart reflected in her eyes as he took her hands and repeated his vows.
He tried to use this objective view to allow himself to see the futility of it all, but all he could think of was how her hands had felt in his, the way her smile had made his heart jump.
The way it still made his heart jump.
Her similarity to the woman he had been spying on earlier, her many times descendent, was uncanny, but seeing her like this rather than relying on his own cloudy memory, he could see the differences clearly. The angle of her jaw was slightly softer, her hair a slightly lighter shade, but her eyes…
She smiled up at him, then turned to her sister, who reverently handed her a small glass bottle. She hesitated for a moment, looking up at him intently.
He waited, holding his breath as he had then, still half afraid that she’d back out, even though he knew how this scene ended.
He let his breath out in a sigh as she handed the bottle to the officiant, who took it and began to etch the ceremonial tattoos around their wrists.
It had taken so long to convince her to break the traditions she had grown up with, and until that moment, he hadn’t been sure she wouldn’t change her mind.
Neither of them so much as winced at the sharp prick of the application. The officiant painted over the existing tattoo encircling her wrist, then inscribed a matching pattern on Sean’s bare wrist.
She smiled at him, committed now, and they touched their wrists together, blood and ink mingling.
His eyes closed, not needing to see the images to remember. Any attempt at objectivity had melted away in the intensity of the memories that overwhelmed him. His hand covered the tattoo at his wrist, faded now, then he opened his eyes as the couple reflected in the water kissed passionately.
He stretched out his hand involuntarily aching to touch her again.
“Bethany.” The name was little more than a sigh.
As his fingers brushed the water the image rippled and disappeared and he was left with only the memories he’d tried so long to forget.
The unexpected shift was almost enough to make him give up the scrying for the day. The images had shaken him more than he cared to admit. But she was the only salve he could think of for the pain that the visions had conjured up.
Still, it took several minutes and a concentrated effort before he could summon images of the present again.
It frustrated him that this technique was foreign, so very different to the magic that was second nature to him. No matter how many times he had used the bowl, he still hadn’t mastered the level of control he would have liked. Each time he discovered new abilities he hadn’t known it possessed.
Even after the first woman reappeared on the surface of the water, he couldn’t find the detachment he’d been searching for earlier. Especially not as a man joined her in the frame. As the couple in the image were quietly picking up a jewelled necklace while keeping a sharp watch out for anyone who might notice their unwelcome presence in the still sleeping camp, he sighed and stared off into space.
Their actual actions meant little to him. He was already aware that she had been working as a mercenary for close to ten years now, doing whatever tasks took her fancy at the time. He was also acutely aware that the man she was with had been her partner for at least half that time, both in and out of bed.
He accepted that he had no right to feel jealous, but that did nothing to stop the feeling.
In an attempt to remind himself why he needed to keep his distance, he allowed himself to remember the months before she’d left.
The bowl reflected the direction of his wandering thoughts, fragments of screaming arguments and demands, their viciousness not softened by the lack of sound.
It had not been a pleasant time.
For either of them, he could admit at this late stage, although he’d refused to acknowledge her suffering at the time. He’d blamed her for all of it. He still did to some extent.
Could he do all that again? Was there any chance that this time would be any different?
Or would the past just repeat itself again?
Admittedly, she’d changed her mind at the last minute, but he’d never been sure how much of her change of heart had been genuine and how much could be attributed to the overpowering, hormone driven emotions of the moment?
It was impossible to judge, and one could hardly call him impartial.
He hadn’t been willing to give her a second chance then. Could he now?
He carefully drew the bowl back to the present, watching her again, trying to keep his personal feelings out of the assessment. This time, he managed to find some shred of detachment.
The truth was he had little choice. Fate had already demanded their next meeting and to go against fate was to court disaster, the scale of which dwarfed his personal reservations.
The only option which remained to him was to pick the time and place of that meeting, and the level to which he chose to be involved.
Could he simply do the deed then walk away?
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door and he quickly brushed his hand across the water, disturbing the scene.
He’d become too involved, lost track of time. The sun was up and he had an early meeting.
“Come in,” he called, moving the bowl to one side of the desk.
The dark haired young man who entered displayed little of the regard he should have for his prince, and his father. He slouched in the chair opposite Sean, glaring at him. “You wanted to see me, old man?”
Sean suppressed a smile. No matter how many times he’d corrected his son, either calmly or in anger, he refused to show any respect for the father he hadn’t even know existed until puberty.
“How are your studies going?”
His son shrugged carelessly. “The same as usual, as you no doubt already knew. Surely you didn’t call me all the way here to ask that?”
For all the heedlessness, Sean knew that the boy did exceptionally well in his magical studies, seemingly without the slightest effort. He couldn’t help contrasting him with his older brother, who though a devoted and studious youth who never failed to show the correct respect to his father, would likely never reach the skill level that this one achieved with ease.
“No, you’re right, I didn’t call you here to ask about your studies,” Sean agreed. “I wanted to know if you’d made a decision on what to do once you’re finished.”
The young man was silent for a moment, a sullen expression coming over his face. Finally he said with a touch of bitterness, “You know what I want to do. I want to see the world. But apparently that isn’t an option in your grand plan.”
Sean sighed. Why did the boy have such a fascination with the world outside the Dome? It had nothing to offer him. “No, it’s not an option,” he said firmly, “So you’d best start thinking about something else.”
His son shrugged, “Oh well then, I guess I’ll just continue to sit around, flirt with the ladies of the court, and waste my life away.”
Sean stared at him in exasperation. “What is it you want? I’ve told you time and time again that it’s dangerous out there and damned uncomfortable too. I don’t see what the fascination is.”
“You could give me the chance to find that out for myself? Or are you worried that I might enjoy the experience more than you’re admitting?”
Sean sighed. How could he explain the dangers that awaited an unwary young man out there in the real world? How harsh and unforgiving it was?
That in reality, he was more than a little afraid of losing the boy?
“Nothing of the sort,” he said gruffly. “I just don’t trust you to be careful.”
“How about if I swear an Oath of Fealty then?”
That surprised Sean. He would have expected this son to be the last to make that offer. “Why?”
“Because it’s the only way you’re ever going to let me leave, isn’t it?”
“I’m not sure that that’s the best motivation.”
“You let Jon be a Seeker,” his son pointed out. “Why not me?”
“That was different. I trust Jon to listen to what I say.”
“I listen, I just don’t always agree with you.”
“Well if you took Oath, you would have to obey me, whether you agreed or not.” Sean pointed out.
Perhaps this was his way out. If the young man swore an oath, Sean could very easily find him plenty of assignments within the Dome. Exciting enough to satisfy his craving for adventure, but close enough to keep him safe.
“Only on matters pertaining to the state,” his son parried.
Sean began to suspect the boy had already thought this through, and found a way to twist it to his own needs.
He couldn’t trust the rebellious boy to obey to him when it was most important. He was quick enough to know that the usual repercussions that ensured the loyalty of his Seekers wouldn’t apply. No matter how rocky their relationship was, Sean could never order the execution of his own flesh and blood.
“I don’t think that’s going to work,” he said firmly.
The young man shrugged carelessly, “I could always ask King Lisanna.”
Sean laughed at that. “Do you think he’d take you on against my wishes?”
His son shrugged again. “I could always try and see, couldn’t I?”
Apparently he was not going to be patient for much longer. And he came of age in less than two weeks, then Sean would have even less control than he had now. “I’ll consider it. We’ll discuss it later. I don’t have time right now.”
His son looked a little bit hopeful and stood, giving an exaggerated bow. “Is that all then?”
At his father’s nod, he left the room.
Sean stared at the door after he left, wondering how he could keep the boy safe.
But his mind wouldn’t settle to the problem, it kept drifting back to the woman. The water in the bowl was transparent now, no clue to the use it had been put to.
He rose and turned the water to vapour with a thought, placing the empty vessel on the shelves among the other items he had painstakingly collected over the years.
Returning to his work, he tried to put both problems out of his mind. He had promised to have these reports on the king’s desk by dinnertime, and while he could probably get away with being late, it was in his best interests to keep Hugo onside.