The Torchbearer's Quest

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They found themselves standing before a copse of delicate almond trees abundant with fruit. Willow and Devon directed their horses forward. At the center of the cluster of trees was an orb that burned like a small fiery sun. The trees sent it energy in beams of soft light creating a corona above the golden ball.

The light was the antithesis of the Vanity of Vanities -- free streaming sunlight straight from heaven’s vault instead of captured moonlight -- the seal of all blessings, the light of exaltation that enhanced their vision.

“Whoa!” Rohan said, registering his awe.

Willow's hazel eyes drunk in the splendor. She felt as if they were witnessing a peek into another world, the world beyond Tutis -- peering through a window into the Lord Protector’s realm of glory. She spurred Bellefire forward in confidence, allowing the light to swell over them. She lost herself in the pure and untainted sun, a testament to the Father of Lights -- the great Lord Protector himself.

Devon and Apollo remained in the shadowy shelter of the almond trees. Willow noticed that he appeared oddly uncomfortable in the light’s presence. Everything about this glorious light called Willow near, and yet Devon deliberately averted his eyes. She wondered if he felt this ground was far too sacred for them to walk upon, much as he did at the Sacred Place

She didn't feel like an intruder, but a welcomed guest. At the very heart of the sun was an intricate water fountain carved from solid gold, a wellspring of divine nourishment, the root from which all life abounded.

Willow and Rohan dismounted in reverence. The fountain consisted of four tiered basins; the largest set on the ground, the smallest at the very top. The water was crystal clear, pristine and perfect. It bubbled softly in the bottom basin, sparkling like glass in the dazzling light, flowing continually as it filled the largest basin. The water traveled up the center post which was capped with an elaborately carved cherub, whose wings spread wide in protection and whose head was lifted high. The water sprouted from the wing tips and filled the smallest basin, repeating the cycle.

The bottom basin, embellished with dark red garnets, read: The Fountain of Life. Under these words, etched into the smooth gold it said: These pure living waters -- the very vein of life -- will greatly enrich your soul like a well watered garden¹ and bring healing and life to all those that partake freely in good faith. You shall thirst no more².

“Rohan, your arm!” Willow exclaimed.

“I don’t think it’s meant for me,” Rohan said hesitantly.

“I think it’s meant for everyone – all those that partake freely in good faith.”

“Will you give me a hand then?”

“Of course,” Willow said stepping behind Rohan to remove the shirt-sling.

The inflammation had doubled the size of his right arm which was now bright red. Willow and Rohan walked over to the fountain. She bent and cupped some of the clear water in her hands, gently letting it rain upon Rohan's arm.

The moment the water touched his skin, the swelling shrunk and its color returned to normal.

“Praise to the Lord Protector!” Willow and Rohan said together.

Rohan stretched his arm, twisting and turning it in every direction.

“It doesn’t hurt at all! Unbelievable!”

Willow gave Bellefire's lead a gentle tug. “Let’s see if it works for Bellefire too. That Phoenix did some damage.”

She carefully drizzled the water over the crusty slashes that had festered on Bellefire’s hide. The slits sealed themselves instantly. Bellefire neighed in appreciation.

“Amazing!” Willow said as the wounds healed.

“Hey, look there!” Rohan said pointing at the bottom basin.

Something silvery was glinting where nothing had been a moment before. The water was so clear that the object would have been impossible to miss.

Willow took a step towards the basin and plunged her hand towards it. The water felt absolutely warm despite the chilly air. She pulled out two shinning metal shoes with tapered points. The word Peace was spelled out in pale aqua-marine stones across each of the heel bands.

“The Sabatons of Peace!” Rohan whispered. He pumped his fist in the air. “We're halfway there!”

“We are really going to succeed!” Willow said as she regretfully walked out of the light and back to Devon. She handed the sabatons to him, and he stuffed them in Apollo’s saddle bag.

“Where to next?” Rohan asked.

“To North Port, ninety miles southeast of here, so we can make our way out to sea. Mr. and Mrs. Payton believed that the Shield of Faith is hidden on the Island of Fiducia.”

“That’s the island the stories say is guarded by a Leviathan,” Rohan said.

“All a big myth from what I understand.”

“What exactly is a Leviathan?” Willow asked.

“Some sort of ferocious sea serpent.”
“Again many thanks to your ancestors, Willow. They were a bright bunch, and must have had a heck of a sense of humor to boot!” Rohan said.

“We don’t even know if there is such a monster,” Willow said defensively.

Rohan shook his head. “Call it a hunch, but I’d bet my life on it, that beast is real.”

Willow recalled the conversation they had about this very subject on his first day back from summer break. How many lifetimes ago was that? Rohan had thoroughly dismissed the idea of sea monsters’ existence as all but preposterous. Willow was struck by how much had changed in such a short span of time.

They made camp just outside the cluster of almond trees by a bubbling stream; Devon took extra pains to walk along the outer edge of the light. The trio washed away as much mud as they could, and treated Apollo and Bellefire to a well deserved scrub down as well. Devon killed a small wild hog not far from camp. They devoured their allotment in silence after the long day.

Willow took the first watch in case the boys “forgot” to wake her again. She decided to while away the time by digging deeper into her parents’ journal. So many questions remained unanswered. She walked over to where Bellefire’s saddle rested and reached into the saddle bag which, Willow noticed with a start, was undone. Frantically she searched for the small book but to no avail.

“The journal’s gone!” Willow exclaimed just as the boys began to drift off to sleep. “It’s gone!”

Devon jumped up and said, “What do you mean gone?”

“It was in Bellefire’s saddle bag, and now it’s gone,” Willow said in a panic,

Rohan picked himself up off the ground. “Are you sure you put it in there?”

“Positive! I thought for sure I fastened the bag shut, but when I walked over just now it was open.”

Devon yelled at Willow. “Great! Just great! You couldn’t be a little more careful, could you? I, I mean we, need that journal -- the map’s inside!”

Willow sat down, pulled her knees into her chest, and began to cry.

“Enough!” Rohan shouted at Devon, stepping protectively between him and Willow. He placed one hand squarely on Devon’s chest as if to restrain him. “It’s not like she meant for it to happen. And yelling at her is certainly not going to bring it back!”

Devon abruptly pushed Rohan aside. “I’m not going to hurt her, you fool,” he said in disgust before sulkilystalking off towards the fire.

“Looks to me, like you already have,” Rohan growled as Devon retreated.

Devon laid down and fell silent, his back to Willow and Rohan. Rohan sat down next to Willow and threw his arm over her shoulder.

She cried harder, mumbling over and over to herself, “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.”

“When did you have it last?”

Willow's words came out in a rush. “I put it away this morning when we broke camp. I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to look for any clues my parents’ might have left behind about the betrayer the Dwarves warned us of. It’s in the mire, I just know it. I heard a splash when we were making our way through the bog. I didn’t think anything of it then, there were so many noises, and the fog was so disorienting. Devon's so mad.”

“Forget him. He’s an arrogant oaf.”

“He’s right, though. I should have been more careful.”

“Willow, we all make mistakes. Everything will work out; I’ll make sure of that. And don’t pay that ignorant jerk another thought. I should have left him to the Assassin Weeds. It was Apollo I was saving anyway.”

“Shh, don’t say that,” Willow said, though a small smile graced her lips. Slowly she regained her composure.

Only Rohan could succeed at making her smile when she felts like crying. “Do you want me to take the first watch?” he asked.

“No. It’s alright,” Willow sniffed. “There is no way I can sleep now. You go on to bed.”

Rohan walked back to the fire and the seething Devon.





How could she have been so stupid? After all that they had been through, had she just cost them the quest? Devon would never forgive her, and she could hardly blame him. He gave up everything to first help her parents and then to help her. And how did she repay his selflessness? She lost their only hope of finding the remaining pieces of the armor.

After a few hours of fitful sleep, Rohan joined Willow.

“Want some company?” he asked.


Rohan propped himself against his rucksack and Willow laid down on her side, her head resting in his lap. Rohan ran his fingers through her hair and hummed softly to himself. Drained of emotion, Willow was fast asleep in minutes.

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