Trial by Fire

Not long ago, two children in Great Park made a quest: a boy who sought a way to walk through the thing he dreaded most and a girl who feared she had lost the One she loved most. And together they discovered the Kingdom within and without, which all do, who have the courage to make the quest.

The War of Fire had been won, but a terrible feeling of evil permeated Great Park. Dark beings seemed to lurk in every shadow and behind every tree and bush.

“Oh, Mercie. It’s all my fault,” Amanda cried, after she had returned to the safety of Caretaker’s Cottage. “I did it. I disobeyed. Great Park has suffered because of me. We will never be the same. Never.”

Mercie rocked the blistered child in her arms and wept, too. She offered the girl the healing draught and applied a poultice. She prayed for kingslove, but Amanda did not receive any comfort. A raw wound festered deep in her soul.

Later that night, Hero hurried to the Ranger Lodge where council had been called. Caretaker, not the Ranger Commander, stood on the platform since there had not been time for becoming; but the elderly man’s eyes flashed bold in the old way. Not one Ranger doubted who it was in command.

“I know you are weary,” Caretaker shouted, loud enough so that those in the back of the hall could hear. “We are all weary. Battle is never in the heart of a peaceable people. We all long for peace. The War of Fire has been won. But now, now, our work begins. The evil ones may come again to Great Park. Protection has been breached!

“There will be no rest for protectors. More care is required after disasters. The Burners and Naysayers will grasp any opportunity to take advantage. Watch must be doubled. Our diligence must be threefold.”

The old man stopped. Hero watched as he lowered his head. He looked worn, ancient, and a little foolish. But the boy loved him with his whole heart.

“We must take time for the Ceremony of Purity. If any lust for battle has entered your heart, if any love of the leaping flames or any shadow has lodged in your soul, it must be called out. No advantage shall be given to the enemy by the protectors! None!”

Caretaker lifted his hands, which were gnarled and veined, in invitation. “Come,” he called, “renew your vows to the King! There will be no Great Celebration until the danger is over.”

Hero watched as the men and women bowed their heads. Silence settled down upon the hall like a great, winged bird that smothers all noise beneath its soft, down breast.

The press of quiet was awesome. Some went to their knees. Some stood with tears streaming down their cheeks. Hero thought about the Viewing Circle where he had seen a faithless Ranger revealed. The boy listened to his own soul. Flames flickered in his mind. An old wound throbbed.

Hero heard footsteps across the wood floor, coming from the far back. Then the sound of other footsteps from another place—and more and more and more.

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