The seer lived in the forest, a mere hour’s walk from the castle, as Jonas informed them after breakfast. Natalie was outfitted in a pair of soft leather boots, as her sandals weren’t really up to the task of a hike. Jonas led them on a winding path through the trees. Joshua saw that many of them were slightly charred. Last night’s battle had hurt the forest, too. They walked, making the occasional bit of small talk with Jonas. It took just over an hour to reach the small dwelling in which the seer lived.
Jonas rapped smartly on the door. “Evelyn?” he called. “Evelyn! It’s Jonas.” Joshua saw movement through one of the thick-paned windows. Seconds later, the door opened.
The loveliest young woman Joshua had ever seen in his life stepped outside. Her carrot-orange hair reached her waist. Her eyes were a light green, and seemed to sparkle mischievously as she smiled at them. Joshua’s jaw dropped. So did Jason’s and Kevin’s.
“Good morning, Jonas,” the seer lilted. “I see you’ve brought me the prince.” She looked at Joshua appraisingly.
“Hello, Evie,” Jonas replied. “The prince and his helpers, just like you said.”
“Did you expect it would be otherwise?” she teased. “Come inside.” They followed her in and sat down at a round wooden table. Once seated, the seer leaned forward to study Joshua, resting her chin in her hand.
“Yes, the Artifacts,” she mused. “He will look for them, I see that. But where to begin?”
Jonas opened his mouth to answer, but she cut him off with a wave of her hand. “Not asking you, Jonas. Just thinking out loud,” she said pleasantly. “I think it’s going to take a few cups of tea.”
Joshua cleared his throat. “Do you read tea leaves?” he asked. That was something he’d read in a book.
She laughed, high and clear. “Goodness me, no. I just like tea. You can have coffee, if you prefer.” She rose and put a kettle on a hook above a small fireplace. Jason stared at her openly. Natalie glared at him and nudged him in the ribs. He smiled sheepishly at her.
“Do you have any questions for me?” she asked the group when she sat down again. They exchanged glances.
“Can you tell us more about the Artifacts?” Joshua asked. “All we know is we’re supposed to find some… things.”
“I certainly can,” the seer answered. “Perhaps talking about them will make our path more clear to me. Yes, let me begin at the beginning.” She settled back into her chair.
“Once upon a time- for all the best stories begin this way- our land was ruled by a High King. He was a benevolent ruler who cared for the people and their welfare. His son, however, was a cruel man who delighted in many vices. The High King saw this in his son, and knew that when his son became king he would mistreat the people and the land. So before he died, he divided his land into ten kingdoms, and chose ten of his personal guards as king of each land. He bequeathed unto each new king three Sovereign Artifacts, to represent their power and autonomy.
“The king’s son was furious at his father, and slew him with a sword upon hearing the news that he wasn’t to become king. The new kings were outraged over the death of the High King. A tribunal was elected, with representatives from each land, and the king’s son was sentenced to death.” At this, the seer shook her head sadly.
“It was the last time the kingdoms worked together before going their separate ways. For the most part, they left each other in peace. Over the centuries, however, the kingdoms have begun to lust for power over each other. Rydale has already absorbed Carene, and become the largest of the nine remaining kingdoms. Chanhassen, as the only kingdom now that has lost its Artifacts, will surely fall soon.” The kettle whistled, and the seer rose to pour drinks for them all. She peered at each of the children.
“Coffee for you,” she said to Jason, who laughed out loud. “And… tea for the both of you,” she added, nodding to Danae and Kevin. “I’m sorry I have no chocolate, hot or otherwise,” she said to Natalie, who wore an expression of mixed surprise and disappointment.
“Could I try the tea?” she asked timidly. The seer smiled gently and nodded.
“Jonas? You’ll have to make up your mind if you want me to read it,” she chided. He laughed.
“I’ll take coffee,” he said. “Got you this time.”
“Indeed,” she agreed. “And for our prince?” She looked expectantly at Joshua.
“Don’t you know already?” he asked, puzzled.
“You’re hard to read,” she explained. “It must be your gift. I can’t See what it is you want.” Joshua frowned.
“My gift?” he asked.
“You know about the gifts, do you not?” the seer asked. She looked at Jonas.
“I’ve mentioned them,” he said. “Only briefly.”
“Well,” the seer said briskly. “All in good time. What will you have to drink?” she asked Joshua.
“Tea,” he said.
Drinks were poured, and the seer sat down to resume her tale.