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The Prophecy of the Stones
by Flavia Bujorr
Hyperion, 2004


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HE HAD BEEN AWAKE ALL NIGHT, THINKING. He had gone without rest or nourishment. He did not need them. He had to devise his plan -- that was the only thing that mattered. At dawn, he had once again summoned the Council of Twelve telepathically. The session had been brief. He had simply informed them that the matter was in hand, that the project could not fail, and that he would soon put it into execution. The council members had not dared to ask him what his plans were. They had complete faith in him. After all, he was their superior. He had ordered them to return at noon for a meeting of the utmost importance.

Now it was time to deal once more with those incompetents so hungry for wealth and power. He briskly straightened his long purple robe embroidered with gold thread, and strode off to the council chamber. When he opened the door with his usual abruptness, the room fell silent, as each councilor felt paralyzed by fear. Not one was bold enough to look him directly in the eye.

The terrified Council of Twelve watched him: the Thirteenth Councilor, whose existence beyond those walls was a mystery to all, and who imposed his will on everyone. His image was not reflected in any mirror. He cast no shadow. He was not human.


1
JADE

THE OLD MAN READ THE PASSAGE IN THE PROPHECY once more and nodded solemnly. "Soon, very soon," he muttered. Rising with difficulty from his chair, he turned to face the Duke of Divulyon, who was waiting anxiously before him.

"Well?" asked the duke.

The old man sighed deeply. He seemed exhausted. His face was etched with countless wrinkles. His back was bent, and he could barely stand on his trembling legs. Collapsing into an armchair, he said weakly, "I cannot change a thing. She will follow her destiny."

"Théodon, you are a wise man," said the duke, his voice rising in obvious distress. "You have devoted your entire life to understanding the Prophecy. You helped my father. You have helped me. You have advised me, supported me. Do not abandon me now! She must live. She must triumph, whatever happens. She is so young! To think that soon . . . What can I do to protect her, Théodon?"

Holding his head in his hands, the old man remained silent for a long time.

"I love her as much as you do," he replied at last. "I watched her grow up, and even though it goes against my better judgment, I have become fond of her. But she will not escape the Prophecy. Believe me, if I could have helped her, I would have been the first to do so. You ask me how she can be protected? You cannot protect her! Try to understand that! All you have to do is give her what is rightfully hers when the day comes. Now, go. Go and spend the few moments you have left with her."

"Fourteen years have passed much too quickly," murmured the duke in weary resignation. Then he left the room.

The old man stared at the flames blazing in the hearth. The Prophecy would be fulfilled. Now it was only a matter of days. He had waited for this moment, had longed for it impatiently. Soon all his questions would be answered. He shivered. It was foolish of him to have become attached to the child; he shouldn't have done that. The Prophecy had taken on another meaning: in those obscure pages where he had tried so hard to read the future and to understand the upheaval that was to come, he no longer saw anything except the fate of a girl named Jade.

That same girl was lying sprawled across her bed. She was feeling much too restless to read the book in her hands, and there was a faraway look in her eyes. Roused from her reverie by a sudden knock at the door, she leaped to her feet, calling, "Come in!"

A servant opened the door a crack, and said, "Your father wishes to speak to you. Will you receive him now?"

Surprised that her father was not busy at that hour, Jade gave her consent, and the servant retired.

Jade smoothed down her long black hair, then tossed it over her shoulders. She looked in the mirror and approved of what she saw. True, her smile revealed teeth with slight gaps between them; her eyelashes were perhaps a bit too thick; and she was constantly brushing back a few rebellious stray locks. Whenever she became irritated (which happened often), her cheeks grew red and she lost the self-conscious expression she usually wore. However, she knew she was tall, slender, and beautiful, and she always dressed with care. She was sure of herself. She knew that whatever she wanted, she could get.

While she was smiling knowingly at her reflection, her father entered the room. She went to him, and he hugged her with unusual affection. Although he loved his daughter, he did not normally show his feelings so openly. Reserved by nature, he was always cool and composed. And yet, that day, something was making him behave differently. Releasing Jade from his embrace, he studied her for a moment without speaking. Once again he admired the striking intensity of her green eyes. She is brave and tenacious, he reflected, trying to reassure himself, and she has a strong character. Her features betrayed that character: you could see in her face that she was proud and determined, but capricious and stubborn as well. Lost in thought, her father could not stop gazing at her.

It was Jade who broke the silence.

"Papa, is something the matter? Don't you have any important business to attend to? Why aren't you reading stacks of documents, or dealing with thousands of tasks as you do every other day? Is something serious keeping you from your work? Is it my fault?"

This last question was asked with feigned innocence, and her father answered with a forced smile.

"No, no, Jade, nothing's wrong. I've just got a bit of free time, that's all. I know it doesn't happen very often, but, as you can see, it does happen! So, how are you?"

"Not long now till the party," she replied eagerly. "It's going to be absolutely fantastic! I still can't decide between the mauve silk dress or the white satin one. I ordered a third dress, a splendid one, from the county of Tyrel. If it arrives in time, I shall wear that one. I simply can't wait! Instead of counting the days, I count the hours -- even the minutes! I've given instructions about how the banquet hall should be decorated, and what food and music we should have. Oh! It's such fun to be organizing everything myself! And I've arranged for musicians to come from a nearby town."

She kept on chattering enthusiastically, but her father was no longer listening. She's too thoughtless, he admitted to himself reluctantly. She has never encountered difficulties; she knows nothing of danger. She won't be able to survive. He reproached himself immediately for not having more confidence in Jade and tried to concentrate on what she was saying.

"It's going to be magnificent, superb, spectacular! I can hardly wait. I still haven't decided whether the ices should be served before the macaroons or afterward -- perhaps after would be better, don't you think? By the way, I'm not sure if the Baroness of Carolynt will be coming. It seems she has a fever. She's the only guest who hasn't accepted yet. Anyway, I find her boring -- "

"Jade . . . Do you know what fear means?"

Startled into silence, Jade was annoyed. Why had her father interrupted her, especially to ask a question that was quite beside the point? Wasn't he looking forward to the party?

"Fear?" she replied crossly. "Fear of what? I've never been afraid. It's a hateful feeling. Only cowards and weaklings are frightened. Why do you ask me that, Papa?"

Just then, Jade realized how pale her father was. How could she have failed to notice how tired he looked, with those dark circles under his reddened eyes? And above all, that haggard expression . . . Something had happened. Perhaps his business affairs had not been going well. . . .

"If only cowards and weaklings feel fear, then I am cowardly and weak," said the duke. "In any case, it doesn't matter."

"But, Papa! You're respected and admired by everyone, and for good reason! You are the Duke of Divulyon!" Jade's face lit up again, her green eyes flashing. "I would believe you if you said you were worried about matters of state, but you, frightened? No! If this is a joke, it's not very funny."

The duke did not reply. Jade's spirits fell again. "And now, Papa," she said gravely, "tell me why you don't think my birthday is at all important. In a few days, I shall be fourteen years old!"

"You are quite mistaken, Jade. I am very concerned about your birthday. But . . . "

The duke bit his tongue. He had already said too much. She was not to know anything before it was time. Afraid that he might betray secrets he was not free to explain, he turned on his heel and left, going upstairs to his private suite, where he began to pace back and forth. Every second was bringing him closer to the moment when he would have to reveal everything.

Puzzled, Jade wondered briefly about her father's exceedingly strange behavior, then shrugged her shoulders and decided not to fret about it. Her thoughts returned to the festivities planned for her birthday, and a smile returned to her lips.

Excerpted from The Prophecy of the Stones by Flavia Bujorr. Copyright © 2004 by Flavia Bujorr. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.






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