The Berith Stones
Bryn watched the children playing in the village square. Their laughter usually brought a smile to his face, but not today. Instead, he sighed wearily, pulling on the chain which he wore underneath his tunic. He cradled the milk-white stone in his hand, lost in thought.
Tomorrow Kalon would come, just as he had for the past fourteen years. Each time the old man reminded Bryn of the promise he had made, warning him to keep it faithfully at all costs. He would then assure Bryn that his faithfulness would be richly rewarded.
At first, Bryn had been eager to keep his promise, believing his reward would come quickly. But now, after fifteen years of waiting, what was his reward? What had he gained for his faithfulness?
"Tomorrow will mark the end of another year of waiting Ė waiting for a promise that has not come to pass," Bryn said, studying the sparkles of gold in the depths of the berith stone. "I will give Kalon one more day. If there is no news of Rhianne by sunset tomorrow, I will tear this chain from my neck and throw the berith stone into the sea. I have waited long enough."
Bryn tucked the gold chain into his tunic and rose stiffly. He slowly made his way through the village to the house where he lived alone. Tomorrow he would see whether Kalon spoke truth or empty promises.
Jessie plucked a ripe berry from a nearby bush and carefully placed it in the pouch that hung over her shoulder. She fluttered higher, searching for more ripe berries. As she worked, she hummed to herself.
"There are more berries over here!" a voice called. Jessie turned to see her friend, Merette, pointing to several branches filled with ripe fruit. Meretteís little brother, Torryn, was happily sampling one of the berries.
"Iíll join you in a minute," Jessie called. "There are a few more berries here." Merette waved and Jessie flew higher, searching the bush carefully for more ripe fruit.
When she reached the top of the berry bush, Jessie fluttered downward, scanning the branches one more time. Her eyes were drawn to a deep purple berry near the base of the bush. "I almost missed that one," she said to herself as she flew down to pick it.
Just then, a brilliant flash of light caught her eye. "What was that?" she whispered. She studied the bush carefully, trying to see what had created the bright light.
Jessie fluttered lower until she was hovering only a few inches above the ground. Once again, she saw the flash of light. There was something golden glimmering beneath the leaves.
"What can that be?" Jessie wondered as she landed on the ground. She bent down, pushing leaves out of the way. Lying in the dirt was a gold chain that held a white stone. As the sunlight touched the stone, it exploded into a rainbow of colors.
"A necklace!" Jessie whispered in surprise. "I wonder who lost it?"
Jessie reached down and picked up the white stone. It was smooth and round, with gold flecks. Along one side, however, the stone was flat as if it had once been attached to something else.
"Jessie! Jessie! Where are you?" It was Meretteís voice.
"Over here!" Jessie called.
"Come quick! We found something!"
Iím coming!" Jessie set down the stone and emptied the few berries she had gathered from her pouch. She stuffed the stone and gold chain into the pouch, swung it over her shoulder and flew to where her friends were waiting.
"Hurry!" Merette called. "Over here!"
Merette and Torryn were fluttering beside a bush filled with ripe berries. Torryn pulled back some of the leaves, peering behind them.
"What is it?" Jessie asked.
"There seems to be a cave behind these bushes," Merette said.
"A big, dark cave," Torryn said, his eyes wide.
Merette nudged her brother. "Youíre not afraid of the dark, are you?"
Torryn stood tall and shook his head firmly. "Iím not afraid of anything," he said with a slight tremor in his voice.
"Good," Merette said, nodding. She turned to Jessie. "What about you?"
"Count me in," Jessie said.
"Well, then," Merette said with a smile, "letís go!"
The three Ursa fairies ducked through the bushes into the darkness. As they hovered at the mouth of the cave, their bodies began to glow, lighting the area around them.
"Look how smooth the cave walls are," Jessie said. "It almost looks as if they were carved somehow."
"Maybe it was made by magic," Torryn whispered, fluttering a little closer to his big sister.
"Maybe thereís a magic adventure waiting for us," Merette said eagerly. "Come on. Letís go further in and see what we can find."
With Merette leading the way, the three Ursa fairies fluttered along a narrow tunnel with walls as smooth as glass. The further they flew into the cave, the stronger the sense of enchantment became.
The tunnel snaked its way through twists and turns until it opened out into a shallow room. Here, too, the walls were unnaturally smooth. Strands of green light extended from the floor, ceiling and walls to form a glowing column in the center of the room. The Ursa fairies stared in amazement at the young woman who floated before them, suspended in the strange green light.
"Is she asleep?" Torryn wondered.
"Her eyes are closed, so she must be," Jessie said.
"But, who is she?" Merette asked.
"Do you think we should wake her up?" Torryn asked.
"We could try," Jessie said. She flew to the young womanís ears. "Wake up!" she called. "Open your eyes! Wake up!"
Torryn flew to the womanís face and tried lifting one of her eyelids. But the womanís eye stared ahead without seeing. Torryn let her eyelid close. "This isnít going to work," he said with a sigh.
"Maybe we should ask King Arnon what to do," Jessie suggested. "He told us that if we ever need his help or wisdom, we can call to him and he will answer."
"Thatís a great idea," Merette said. They clasped paws and fluttered in a ring.
"King Arnon, please help us," Merette said quietly. "We want to help this woman, but we donít know what to do."
Although no voice spoke in the stillness of the cave, each fairy heard a quiet voice speaking within their hearts. At last, the opened their eyes.
"I must go and find Abyn," Jessie said. "Maybe he will know what to do."
"Torryn and I will wait here until you come back," Merette said.
"Hurry!" Torryn called.
Jessie nodded. Then she turned and began flying through the twisty tunnel as fast as her wings could carry her. She shot out of the cave mouth, nearly colliding with a tall figure in a travel-stained cloak.
"Jessie, wait!" The familiar voice made Jessie stop. She turned to stare at the traveler.
"King Arnon?" she asked in surprise.
The smiling face was certainly familiar, but King Arnon wore no crown. Instead of a sword, he carried a rough walking stick. His rich clothing had been replaced with the garments of a peasant.
"Yes, Jessie," King Arnon said. "I do not always wear a crown or dress in royal robes. Sometimes my plans are best accomplished by taking on the appearance of a humble traveler."
"Please help us," Jessie said. "There is a woman in this cave who is under a spell. You must come and help her."
"I have an important meeting in Weld, so I cannot stay," King Arnon said. "You must help her for me."
"But, what can I do? I donít know how to break the spell."
"Kazab has been defeated and his power is broken," King Arnon said. "Now you will break his spell with the power of my victory." He reached into a pouch that hung from his belt and pulled out a blood-red stone. "Take this haima stone and fly around the woman in the cave. Free her using the power of my name. Once the spell has been broken, give her this stone and the necklace that you carry in your pouch. Bring her to the village of Weld and wait for me in the square."
Jessie took the stone in her paws. "I will do what you have asked," she said.
"Good," King Arnon said with a smile. "I must go now. Brynís long wait will soon be over." With that, King Arnon pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head. Whistling, he grasped the walking stick firmly and set off through the trees.
Jessie watched as the King disappeared into the forest. Then she turned and flew back through the tunnel. The haima stone lit her way with a steady red glow. The farther into the tunnel she flew, the stronger the light from the haima stone became. By the time she reached the tunnelís end, the light exploded from the stone, bathing the smooth walls with fiery red. Jessie could feel a power that was not her own vibrating within the depths of the haima stone.
Merette and Torryn stared in amazement as Jessie flew into the cave. She flew to the womanís head, the haima stone blazing. "I free you in the name of King Arnon," Jessie shouted, feeling power rushing through her body from the glowing stone.
Jessie began flying around the woman, holding the haima stone in her outstretched paws. As the stoneís red glow touched the strands of green light, they snapped with a pop and then disappeared. When all the green strands had been severed, the pocket of light holding the woman shimmered once and then vanished. The woman floated gently to the ground.
Torryn flew to the woman, fluttering by her ear. "Hello? Are you awake now?" he asked.
The woman blinked several times, then looked in surprise at the mirror-like walls around her. "Where am I?" she asked.
"You were under a spell cast by Kazab, the wizard," Merette answered.
"King Arnon defeated Kazab and set you free," Jessie added. She flew to the woman and held out the haima stone. "This is for you Ė a gift from King Arnon."
"Thank you," the woman said, taking the glowing stone. "But, who are you? Iíve never seen creatures like you three before."
"I am Jessie," came the answer. "These are my friends, Merette and Torryn. We are Ursa fairies. We serve King Arnon." The three fairies bowed as they fluttered in the air.
"I am Rhianne of Weld," the woman said, answering the Ursa fairiesí bow with a graceful curtsey. She shook her head slightly, as if to clear it. "Thank you for helping me. I would like to talk with you longer, but I must go now. Today is my wedding day. Bryn will be wondering where I have been!"
Rhianne smiled and reached up to her collar. But her expression changed to one of dismay when her fingers failed to touch the gold chain she expected.
"My pledge necklace!" she cried, looking around on the cave floor. "Where is it? Kazab must have taken it from me."
"I have it right here," Jessie said, lifting the pouch from her shoulder. She placed it in Rhianneís hand. "I found it lying on the ground not far from this cave."
Gratefully, Rhianne pulled the golden chain from the bag. She slipped it around her neck. "Now we must hurry. Bryn will be waiting."
As the Ursa fairies led Rhianne through the tunnel, Torryn whispered, "How will Rhianne get past all those vines? We can fit through, but sheís too big."
Jessie shrugged. "I donít know. King Arnon didnít say."
But, when they reached the mouth of the cave, the saw there was no need to worry. The vines that had hidden the cave were gone, allowing brilliant sunshine to flood the end of the tunnel. And circling the sunlit opening, the remaining vines were covered with pink, yellow and white blossoms.
"King Arnon has provided a wedding bouquet," Rhianne said, gathering some of the sweet-smelling flowers. Then she led the Ursa fairies through the trees toward Weld and her betrothed.
Bryn sat at the table, his half-eaten breakfast pushed aside. He had tried to keep the memories from returning, but they flooded his thoughts. In defeat, he cradled his had in his hands and let them come. The memories wrapped around him, drawing him into the past.
On that morning, fifteen ears ago, Bryn had been too excited to eat. He waited in his cottage with his best friend, Darrian, as they joked to pass the time. When the church bell rang, Bryn scrambled out the door. He and Darrian hurried to the village square where friends and family had gathered to witness the joining of two lives.
Bryn greeted his guests as he crossed the crowded square. Some smiled and waved, some slapped the eager groom on the back as he moved past. Brightly-colored ribbons and sweet bouquets were everywhere. Bryn drew in a deep breath, his smile growing. Soon Rhianne would join him, here in the village square. She would be wearing the dress she had prepared for their special day. Soon she would become Brynís wife.
A few minutes passed, but Rhianne did not appear. Bryn waited patiently, sure that his bride was making herself perfect for their wedding day. He knew Rhianne would be there soon. She had made a pledge, promising to become his wife in one yearís time. He fingered the berith stone which hung around his neck on a gold chain, just like the one Rhainne wore Ė a symbol of their pledge to each other. The past year had been filled with planning their life together, counting the days until their wedding. That day had arrived at last. Bryn smiled to himself, knowing Rhaianne would soon join him and their wedding celebration would begin.
As the minutes slipped into hours, Bryn became concerned. Where was Rhianne? She could not have forgotten. Had something happened to her?
Darrian and several others set out to search for Rhianne. They went to her familyís cottage, near the edge of the forest. They searched the streets between the cottage and the village square. More people joined them as the search extended through the village. Some even searched the forest itself.
But the search was in vain. It seemed Rhianne had vanished, leaving no clue as to what had happened to her.
A knock at the door snapped Bryn back to the present. His jaw tightened in anger. Kalon had promised that faithfulness would be rewarded, but what reward could there be while his beloved was nowhere to be found. "I will wait no longer," Bryn muttered as he crossed the room and threw open the door.
"Greetings, Bryn," Kalon said in a quiet voice. "Come with me."
"Why should I go with you?" Bryn demanded. "You lied to me!"
Kalon studied him in silence for several moments. At last he said, "I have never lied to you. If you honor your pledge, you will be rewarded. Now we must go to the village square."
Bryn stood in silence, fighting a desire to slam the door in Kalonís face. "Why should I believe you? I cannot honor my pledge without Rhianne. Where is she? For all I know, she is dead and has been for years."
"Come with me and learn the truth," Kalon answered quietly. "Do not neglect your pledge now. You have waited many years. Run the race to its completion."
"All right," Bryn grumbled. "I will come with you. But, after today, you are no longer welcome in my house."
Kalon bowed his head. "As you wish," he said quietly. Then the two men made their way through the village to the square. As they walked, Bryn could hear the church bells ringing, just as they had fifteen years ago.
When they reached the square, the two men found only a handful of people. A few young children played together while their mothers sat on the grass, talking and laughing together. Two old men played a game on a tree stump that served as their table. A young man hurried by on an important errand.
"Why are we here?" Bryn asked wearily.
Kalon scanned the area. Then a smile crept across his face. "Good work, little friends," he whispered. Extending his arm, he pointed to a young woman who was walking toward them.
Reluctantly, Bryn began to walk toward the young woman. She was wearing a simple, but beautiful dress, edged with lace and ribbon. Her hair fell in gentle waves to her waist. In one hand, she carried a bouquet of pink, yellow and white flowers. Three tiny, winged creatures hovered beside her.
As he drew nearer, Bryn studied her face. The brilliant blue eyes met his and then widened in recognition. She gave a cry of joy and rushed toward him.
"Bryn!" she cried, throwing her arms around him. "Iím so glad to see you! But, where is everybody?"
Bryn gently pushed her away so he could study her face. "Who are you?" he asked, searching her eyes for the truth.
"I am Rhianne, your betrothed," she answered, bewildered. "Donít you know me?"
Bryn shook his head. "You cannot be Rhianne. You are only a child. Rhianne would be old enough by now to be your mother." He turned to Kalon, who was watching in silence. "What game are you playing? Is this your promised reward?" He gripped the gold chain, ready to break it, when two hands closed over his.
"Wait, Bryn!" Rhianne cried. She reached for the gold chain around her own neck while keeping her other hand on his. As the sunlight caught the stone, Bryn gasped.
"You wear a berith stone," he said softly.
"The mate to yours," she answered.
Bryn shook his head. "It cannot be."
"It is the truth," she insisted. "Kazab came to my home early this morning. My parents were not there. They left for the village square early so I could have some time by myself before the wedding." She frowned, then shook her head. "When I stepped outside, Kazab grabbed me. He dragged me to a cave in the forest. He placed me under a spell, but King Arnon and these Ursa fairies set me free." She looked at Bryn for a moment, then added, "I donít know how long I have been delayed, but I am here now Ė ready to become your wife."
Bryn scowled at the young woman, then turned to confront Kalon. "This is impossible!" he shouted. "This child speaks as if these events took place today! I have waited years! This cannot be Rhianne!"
"Appearances can be deceiving," Kalon answered calmly. "This woman is who she claims to be. Kazabís spell held her suspended in time for fifteen years."
At this, Rhianne gasped. "Fifteen years?" She stared at Kalon, her face turning pale. "Fifteen years?" she repeated weakly.
"There is a way to prove that this woman is Rhianne of Weld," Kalon continued, still speaking to Bryn. "As you know, berith stones form in pairs. The stone in your pledge necklace has a smooth place along the back where it was once joined to its mate. When both stones from the same pair are placed together, they produce a rainbow of light. However, when two stones from different pairs are placed together, they will simply reflect the sunlight."
Without a word, Rhianne lifted her necklace until the stone touched the one Bryn wore. As the stones touched, a rainbow of light formed around the stones, growing stronger and brighter until it enveloped the couple. Then the rainbow shimmered and faded away.
"The berith stones have confirmed your pledge," Kalon said. "Now, Rhianne, will you marry this man?"
A soft smile crossed her face. "Yes," she answered. "I will honor my pledge."
"And you, Bryn?"
But, Bryn shook his head sadly. "I cannot."
"What?" Rhianne gasped. "I donít understand."
Bryn took Rhianneís hands in his own. "Fifteen years have passed. I am nearly old enough to be your father. It would be better for you to marry a younger man. I will not hold you to your pledge. You are free to do whatever seems best to you." He held her with his eyes as they stood together in silence.
Rhianne studied the face of her betrothed. She could not see what her eyes had previously missed. There were traces of grey in Brynís brown hair. The years of waiting had etched lines into his face. For a moment, fear gripped Rhianneís heart. Fifteen years had passed for Bryn while she had been trapped by Kazabís spell. Had Bryn become a stranger to her? But then, as she looked into the dark eyes that were watching her intently, she caught a glimpse of the heart she knew and loved.
"Time has changed you outwardly," she whispered. "But you are still my Bryn, inside."
Kalon smiled at her, then turned to Bryn. "And what do you say?"
Brynís eyes never left Rhianneís face. "You would still have me as your husband?" he asked gently.
There was no hesitation. "Yes," she answered with a smile.
"Then I will honor my pledge," Bryn said firmly. "I will take you as my wife."
At that moment, there was a loud crack as if lightning had struck. The berith stones began to glow, growing brighter and brighter until the Ursa fairies had to shield their eyes. A shimmering rainbow spread outward from the stones until Bryn and Rhianne were completely hidden.
"You have been faithful," Kalon said. "Now, receive your reward."
The light around the couple sparkled for a few moments before it faded way. The Ursa fairies lowered their paws and stared in wonder at the sight before them.
Bryn was smiling in wonder and joy at his bride. Both were wearing wedding garments that shimmered with light from the berith stones. A garland of flowers crowned Rhianneís head, filling the air with sweet perfume. But the greatest change could be seen in Bryn. He appeared younger now, as if he, too, had been untouched by the past fifteen years.
Behind them both stood King Arnon, the appearance of age cast aside with the travel-stained cloak. As Bryn and Rhianne stood together, holding hands, King Arnon place his hands on theirs, joining them together for all time.
"You are now one," King Arnon said. He looked at Bryn and added, "I have restored to your body the years Kazab stole. The things you have suffered, all you have endured during the past fifteen years, have shaped your heart and spirit. Nothing is ever wasted in my kingdom."
King Arnon turned to Rhianne. "Bryn has learned much in his years of waiting. If you learn from him and love him, you will both find great happiness."
Bryn studied King Arnon thoughtfully. "If it had not been for your visits, I would have given up years ago," he said, shaking his head. "I almost refused to come with you today."
"Yet you obeyed, despite your doubts," King Arnon answered. "And, as I promised, you have received your reward."
"Thank you," Bryn said, joyfully embracing his wife.
And so, the Ursa fairies learned that King Arnon always rewards those who obey his commands. Yet he understands weakness, offering strength and encouragement to those who desire to follow him.