Home > The Second Blind Son (The Chronicles of Saylok)

The Second Blind Son (The Chronicles of Saylok)
Author: Amy Harmon

 


PROLOGUE

In Saylok, the Tournament of the King happened every year when the harvest was over and the cold had not yet come. The clan chieftains and their warriors would gather on Temple Hill to compete in a slew of contests designed to measure strength and skill and determine the fiercest clan. The tournament winners became the fodder of legends, and for two weeks, the castle grounds and the temple mount became a carnival. Great swaths of color billowed in the breeze—green, gold, red, orange, blue, and brown for the six clans, and purple for the keepers of the temple.

The flags welcomed every citizen making the yearly pilgrimage to partake in the festivities, but the woman who struggled up the hill, her young son in her arms, had not come to watch the tournament or to sell her wares at the bazaar. She had come for a blessing from the Highest Keeper. She had come for a miracle.

During the tournament, the temple doors were opened and all were welcomed inside. The keepers were on hand to bless and advise, to pray and pardon. In Saylok, the king made the laws and the chieftains enforced them, but the keepers could mete out mercy. Those who received a hearing with the keepers were granted “new life” and absolution from their sins and sentences. Others were healed or comforted.

The absolution granted was usually spiritual and rarely criminal. Justice was swift and severe in the clans, and very few of the condemned actually lasted long enough to claim sanctuary or beg an audience with the keepers. Still, during the Tournament of the King, when the temple was opened, there was always at least one infamous fugitive who was granted pardon.

She was not a fugitive, and she would not seek forgiveness for her sins, though she knew they were many. She would not even ask to be healed, though she knew she was going to die. Her sickness had made her desperate. Brave. And she climbed with a single-minded purpose, heaving for breath.

The crowds were thick and the lines leading into the temple were long. She waited all afternoon for her turn, sipping from her water flask and trying to entertain the boy. He was good-natured and played at her feet, drawing pictures in the dust and eating bits of bread from her satchel. But the journey of days had taken its toll, and her vision swam and her spirits sank. She could not wait forever. She could not even wait for hours.

At dusk, the bells began to toll and the guards at the wide doors started to turn people away so they could close the temple.

“Return tomorrow,” they insisted, shoving a persistent woman to the side. There were many desperate mothers in the crowd.

She hoisted her satchel and took her son’s hand, searching for a bit of refuge, a place to shelter for the night. Stairs and columns ringed the front of the temple, and every step was filled with those as indigent as she. They would be first in line when the doors opened again in the morning. She staggered around the perimeter, hardly knowing where she stepped, clinging to the small hand tucked in hers. A door in the stone wall around the temple yard was unguarded, but when she pulled on the handle, she found it barred. Animals were housed beyond the wall; she could hear them. Smell them. She only needed a bit of straw, a little shelter, and a well where she could refill her waterskins. She rattled the door, hoping someone would hear, but no one came.

She sank down against the wall, trying to gather her strength. The sun had dropped behind the temple, and the stones were cool against her cheek. She pulled her son into her lap and closed her eyes. She would wait for someone to come through and beg them to let her bed down among the beasts. She’d done it before. Many times.

She must have slept, though it couldn’t have been long.

A hand touched her head. She thought it only her son and reassured him wearily. “I am only tired, Baldr. Only resting. Stay beside me.”

“Do you need help, woman?” The voice was gentle and deep, and she jerked, peering up at the man who stood over her. His hair was shorn close to his skull, and his robes were the deep purple that set the keepers apart from the clans. But it was the babe he carried across his chest that convinced her she was only dreaming.

The sling was dyed the same deep purple as the robe, so that it almost looked as if the child’s tiny head floated at the keeper’s heart.

She’d never seen such a thing. A man carrying a child thus was strange enough. Men did not care for infants. But a keeper with a child was beyond comprehension.

She closed her eyes and opened them again, but the keeper remained, his hand extended, the sleeping babe lolling in his purple pouch.

“I have come to see the Highest Keeper,” she blurted, rubbing her eyes. “And I cannot wait until the morrow.”

“I am not Master Ivo. I am only Keeper Dagmar, but I will do what I can.”

He gripped her arm to help her stand. Baldr felt her efforts to rise, and stood as well, patting her leg, searching for her hand.

“Is this your son?” Keeper Dagmar asked.

The child was sturdy and handsome, with dark, curling hair and dimpled limbs, but his eyes were twin pools of empty green, clouded and cold, and people often stared at him in horror and hurried away.

“Yes. He cannot see,” she explained. “Some say he is marked. His eyes frighten people. But he is not evil, Keeper. He is sweet, and he is smart. His mind is not slow.”

“What do you call him?”

“Baldr.”

“Baldr the Beloved. Son of Odin,” Keeper Dagmar said.

“Baldr the Beloved. Baldr the Brave. Baldr the Good. Baldr the Wise. He is all those things,” she said proudly.

The keeper gazed down at the boy without fear and patted him on the head. His kindness made her eyes smart; it also gave her hope.

“I am of Berne, Keeper. And I need a hearing with the Highest Keeper,” she pled.

“You are sick?” he asked.

“Yes.” She knew her eyes were bright and her cheeks were red with fever, and though she tried to suppress it, a deep cough rattled and escaped from her chest. “Yes. I have been sick for a while, and I am not getting better. I am in need of a blessing. But not for myself. For my son.”

 

Master Ivo, the Highest Keeper of Saylok, was irritated.

The doors of the temple are open to all the citizens of Saylok during the Tournament of the King, but the doors had closed and the day was done, and he was an old man who needed his rest.

Yet this woman and her child had found their way into the sanctum, where no one but keepers and kings—and the chieftains on occasion—were allowed. Someone must have let her in.

“You must leave at once,” Ivo hissed.

“I need only a moment, Master,” she said, undeterred, and continued toward him. His perch was more throne than chair, with spikes that radiated out on the high back like rays of the sun or spokes of a wheel. It did not look comfortable, he knew, so it pleased him greatly that it was. It sat on the dais near the altar, and it was where he did all his best thinking . . . and sleeping.

The woman stopped a mere ten feet away, beside the altar, and folded her hands like a beggar.

“I would ask a blessing of you, Highest Keeper . . . and then I will go.”

She had the courage of the desperate, and it radiated from her feverish gaze and pleading lips. Though the dust of long travel and the rags of destitution cloaked her thin frame, the child who walked beside her was healthy and relatively clean.

But there was something wrong with the boy’s eyes.

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