Sunrunner's Fate

Chapter One

Andrade stepped lightly over the grass and flowers, making her way to the pine grove near Goddess Keep. Her steps were careful and measured, but her heart was threatening to leap from her throat with excitement and nervousness. The sunlight was warm on her naked body, and she used the warmth to give herself time to swallow, breathe, and collect herself. When she felt clearheaded, Andrade proceeded toward the pines and the rock cairn, where she might catch a glimpse of her future - if the Goddess willed it.

She drew level with the cairn, caught some water in her hand, and spilled the required drops to the Childtree and the Maidentree. Then she moved her hands into the water of the cairn and called Fire, feeling an exhilarated rush as the flames leaped into being at her command. She tugged on a long strand of her blond hair; it came loose from her scalp, and she dropped it into the water. Then, her breath coming in short intakes of anticipation, Andrade waited, watching her reflection and praying that she would see.

Her face - not beautiful, but determined and strong - slowly slid away from the water. Andrade was barely breathing, her eyes wide. What now? she thought.

Another face drifted into the water in place of her own - a man's face, handsome, but proud and haughty. There was a coldness in his eyes and a sneer touching his lips that made Andrade shiver with fear and loathing. She thought she could see her own face, sadder and worn, just hidden behind his.

She pulled her hands from the water, gasping in shock. Was this to be her future? This cold powerful man who would dominate every aspect of her life? Was she to become that old, sad, tired woman?

The pine grove did not seem so peaceful now. The sunlight, which had been warm and welcome, now felt to Andrade like that man's cold eyes, watching her, appraising her like goods bought at market. Slowly she got to her feet and backed out of the grove, her eyes darting nervously around as though she might spot him hidden somewhere, waiting to waylay her.

When Andrade was clear of the pine grove, she snatched her clothes, threw them on, and ran as fast as her feet would carry her back to Goddess Keep.

***

The Lord of Goddess Keep was a powerful man, in looks as well as fact. His black hair was rapidly going white, but it only added to his impressiveness. His was among the keenest minds on the continent. And through his Sunrunners, he had a hold in the land of every prince.

And it was to him that Andrade went as soon as she returned to Goddess Keep.

He looked up in surprise from his papers when she knocked on his door and then burst in without waiting for his permission to enter. He knew her on sight - Andrade of Catha Freehold was one of his most promising pupils, maybe the most promising. But whenever he had seen her before, she had been in control of herself, and often the situation he encountered her in. The Andrade who slammed his door open and shut without his consent was not the Andrade he had seen before. This was a woman whose face was stark white with fear, whose strong hands were trembling, whose eyes were huge and dark. The Lord of Goddess Keep was a little scared when he looked up and saw her. "Sit down, Andrade," he invited, pointing to a chair in a corner of his room. She obeyed, sinking into the wooden chair with relief. "Why did you need to see me? What was so urgent that it could wait neither for later in the day or permission to enter my room?"

Andrade flushed in embarrassment, but made no apologies. "My lord, I asked the Womantree for a vision of my future today," she began, and quickly described to him the face that had sneered at her from the water. "Can this - will this vision come to pass, no matter what I do? Can it be changed at all?"

The Lord was not so old that he could not feel sympathy for the terror implicit in her voice. He laid down his quill and looked at her intently. "You fear this vision. You fear its coming to fulfillment more than anything else in the world." She nodded and swallowed hard, but her eyes met his unblinkingly. "So I tell you, no vision is written in stone. Your fate can be changed, Sunrunner." Across the room, Andrade gave an involuntary and explosive sigh of relief. "How, I do not know," the Lord went on, correctly guessing what her next words would be and answering them before she spoke them. "That lies with you."

Andrade rose and bowed. "Thank you, my lord," she whispered. She made for the door, and was about to open it when the Lord said her name. She turned. "Yes, my lord?"

A small smile of pity quirked the corners of his mouth up. "I would caution you, Andrade, not to live your life in fear of this vision. Do not run from it your whole life, and forget to live. Humans were not made to be so."

Andrade bowed again, murmured, "My lord," and fled.