Captive Heart

By: J. Anne Mauck

(Originally appeared in EDL 3-2)

She had been at the new temple for only a week and already she had been informed of every piece of gossip and every love story in the town and surrounding farms. Elana was concerned that her choice to stay here in Coelle had been a bad one. Immediately, as every time, she reconsidered, knowing Astendar would not have allowed her to make a bad choice.

Elana had just passed her twentieth birthday and had chosen to keep her childhood name. Perhaps she kept it out of complacency, but, at least in her heart, she wanted her sister to be able to find her. It had been three years since she had left home and with her mother dead and her father missing, all she had left was her sister. Any sense of jealousy that carried her to this place was gone.

It was true that the other questors were like her brothers and sisters, but there was nothing like the blood ties of true family. When Elana had left, she had done her best to sever them, but regret followed her everywhere. Now, her sister was becoming famous. Even the rural people of Coelle were beginning to hear of her, at least those who traveled out to sell their goods in nearby Travar. And Elana felt she had lost her last chance to put things to rights with Saria. She was sorry for a moment that families were not Astendar's domain.

This morning, a young man had come into the temple to offer some fresh flowers to Astendar. He had not seen Elana when he came in, but immediately, she was aware of his need. He more than caught her passing interest when she noted his pointed ears -- quite unusual in this mostly human town. As he turned to leave, she approached him. Quietly, she said, "My Astendar's blessing find you joyous this day."

He was startled, but tried to cover it. "I'm sorry, I didn't know anyone was here."

"It's quite all right, I never expected to be seen. Except when I am needed." She inclined her head to him in lieu of a bow. She smiled.

He sat on one of the stone benches that circled the small temple. "I didn't know a Questor resided here."

Elana smiled. "I haven't been here long." She paused and looked at him sitting there, nervously running his hand through his dark brown hair every few seconds. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"My name is Kilalth Thiamos. I have been traveling from town to town looking..." He stared at her as his voice trailed off. When she cleared her throat to regain his attention, he blinked as if seeing her for the first time. "Have dinner with me tonight. Even questors of Astendar must eat."

She smiled and was about to decline when a sharp wind pushed open the door Kilalth had carefully closed behind him when he entered. "I suppose I should do as the wind bids. You will always find me here."

He came over to her and gently took her hand. With the barest trace of a kiss on her palm, he smiled and left without another word. Excited beyond reason about finding someone to talk to who wouldn't expect the typical debauchery of the more famous questors from her, she decided to work on the trio of statues she was carving for the temple.

As she worked at smoothing out the gentle folds of the female statue's dress, her mind drifted into prayer. Even after three years, Elana still felt somewhat distanced from her Passion. Part of her had expected Astendar herself to come down to her. And every day that she did not, Elana felt a little more guilty for wishing it. As she prayed, she began to feel foolish for accepting the dinner invitation from Kilalth. She had never met any questor who was married or even more than fleetingly in love.

*But that is not true, my child. Those are exactly the hearts I wish following me.* The gentle voice touched Elana's ears like music floating from a master troubadour's lips.

Startled, Elana knocked the statue she was working on over. She closed her eyes tightly, sure that the crystal would shatter when it hit the floor. When it didn't, she looked up. She saw a woman kneeling in front of her, righting the statue on the table. She was beautiful, like her sister who had hair the color of midnight and a face as pale as the moon.

*You are quite strong, with the gift of patience. Love will come to you when it will. Come, I have something to ask of you, daughter.* The apparition before her stood and held out her hand.

Cautiously, Elana accepted it, feeling warm flesh and definite bone. She was unsure whether this was reassuring or more disturbing. "I will do anything that you ask." She was disappointed to hear her voice trembling.

*Kilalth is following a prophecy I gave to him years ago. He is still not ready but he may find the answer here, in Coelle. There is a young woman named Arye who lives in the north of town. Introduce them, encourage them, do what you must to get them together.* Astendar's phantom released her hand and smiled kindly at her. *Have faith, my child. All will be right with faith and love.*

The doors behind Elana blew open again. She turned to look. Seeing nothing, she turned around again, with words on her lips. There was no one there, only a faint scent of roses lingering in the air. There was no question that Elana would do as she was bid, but that was no salve on the ache she began to feel.

Dinner with Kilalth had been delightful. Instead of speaking of herself though, she told him what she had learned of Arye that day and suggested the three of them meet together in a few days. The longer she listened to Kilalth's voice and his tales of his travels, the more she began to resent herself. This was certainly not a proper way for a questor to act. And at the end of the night, after he told her she had beautiful ears as he touched the point, she almost began to cry.

Arye had not questioned Elana's visit to her shop, nor had she questioned her invitation to share a meal. Arye was obviously a very lonely woman. She also welcomed the introduction to Kilalth, though he was not initially pleased. As the two of them got to know each other better, their visits to the temple slowed down until he only visited on the last day of the week.

One morning, there was a gentle knock on the temple door. It was raining outside and Elana thought it strange since no one ever knocked. This was a public place. She opened the door and looked around. Not seeing anyone, she started to close the door. A tiny grey kitten dashed into the temple and began to rub against her legs. She smiled as she bent to pick it up. It wore a pink ribbon around its neck and a small bit of scroll had been tucked into it. It read:

'Until we are together again.'

She looked at the kitten. "Never look a gift... kitten in the mouth, eh, little one?" She untied the ribbon. "Let's get you some food."

For the next two weeks, she did not see Kilalth at all, yet every morning she awoke feeling at ease and to find fresh flowers in every window. Kilalth and Arye were seen everywhere in town, both seeming very happy. The sculptures were nearly finished, except for the faces on the two Name-giver statues and the base of the piece that joined them. Ultimately, she decided to leave the faces blank.

The day Elana finished the statue set, Arye came to see her. "I thank you, Elana," she said, giving her a hug. "You helped me become accepted here. But I am leaving today."

"And Kilalth is going with you?" Elana tried desperately to hide her disappointment.

Arye smiled. "No. I'm going to meet my brother in Throal. I suspect Kilalth will be by soon to see you. He also has some news for you." As the two women hugged again, this time in farewell, Kilalth entered.

Time seemed to stop as Elana watched the two of them say their farewells. The grey kitten jumped up to Elana's shoulder as she watched. She believed, for a moment, she heard the musical voice of Astendar echo what could only be a smile. Arye waved as she shut the door behind her.

Kilalth turned to Elana. "I see the kitten agrees with you."

"You brought her to me?" Elana blushed. The kitten rubbed against her head as it purred.

"The flowers every day, too." He came closer to her and took her hand. "I never told you why I came here."

"You didn't have to."

"I moved into Arye's old home. I'm staying here. I don't have to look anymore." Kilalth pulled her to him. A light breeze pushed at Elana's back.

*Sometimes, we need to hear what is carried on the wind, Elana.* The breeze caused some bells that hadn't been there before to ring. *Listen for me everywhere.*