When Kender started traveling two full moons ago, the shard of Safera sent a thin hum through his mind and body, and the closer they came to the gathering, the more that tone took shape within him and captivated his imagination with tangible shapes. A magnificent woman in white with tendrils of an endless vine draped over her arms. Seven men standing guard in a circle around her pointing their varied staffs outward, mouthes wide open in thunderous calls to seven kings in faraway lands, seated upon thrones of gold, ivory, and stone, each with servants pouring ewers of water over the vine’s roots.
Those distant visions disturbed his insides with fear and hope, but other things buzzed with an immediacy, occasionally compelling him to choose a different direction than other carriers, and lately urging him to make a fine, sturdy staff to raise up in the final gathering, whatever that meant.
They approached the sparse woodlands of Ban.
“I need wood,” said Kender.
“What for?” asked Lana.
They’d been fighting most of the day and Kender was tiring of it. “I need a staff.”
Lana laughed. “So find a stick. No need to get defensive about a stick.”
“Sorry.” There he went apologizing again. He clenched his jaw.
For the next few days he picked up fallen branches, testing them and discarding them until he found a piece of oak that felt good in his grip. He carried it for several days, stripping the bark, smoothening it and shaping it with his knife. Then he discarded it and looked for another.
“Kind of picky for a walking stick, aren’t you?” said Lana.
Kender didn’t rise to the bait. “Yes.” After weeks of covering her shoulders and tattoos with some modesty, she was now letting it fall, wrapping around her back. Her loveliness invaded his thoughts, and he wondered if she did it on purpose.
They encountered a number of new carriers in the next few towns, and many of them had also taken to crafting a staff.
“What is it with you boys and your walking sticks?” said Lana. “Do they make you feel in charge? A man in command with his stick in hand?”
They had become friendly with an elderly carrier named Coham in Pontville. “They don’t make us feel anything,” he said. “They complete a destiny.”
The words excited Kender. “That’s right. That’s exactly right.”
“Seriously,” said Lana.
A few days later, Lana had her own staff, a branch of pine. She sat next to a well, sculpting a variety of flowers around it. Kender worked on a piece of yew, whittling an intricate design of woven reeds winding up to the top where he planned to carve licks of flame. He’d gotten almost to the top when he dropped his head.
“It’s no good.” He cast it away.
“What is wrong with you people?” asked Lana. “That was a nice piece of wood with a great design, and you just threw it away.” She thrust her own staff in his face. “Look at this. It looks like a child carved blossoms using a sharp rock.” She snapped it in half against the rim of the well. “Your heads are all baked.”
She threw the pieces to the ground and stormed off. She disappeared like she often did, insisting on her complete independence—don’t you dare act like her protector. Kender never knew if she’d come back—didn’t really know why she traveled with him at all, but he missed her every time. How could he miss such an endless source of frustration?
The pull of the shard of Safera weakened for a few days, and Kender didn’t know where to go, so he stopped a few nights in Sunny Bowers, spending the day in the town’s pleasant square. He’d gone through seven or eight staffs, now working on a nice branch of ash, his best design yet with vines and grapes and blooms winding up, small creatures hidden in the tendrils, a good broad top which he hadn’t quite figured out.
“Kender,” said Lana.
Kender looked up from his whittling. Lana stood in front of him, her shawl back in place, flaunting a beautiful branch of reddish brown wood with contrasting dark brown patches in a consistent pattern. Kender had to suppress his envy, though he allowed himself a touch of smugness toward her pride.
“This is from a japer tree,” she said. “It’s very rare. My people save it for very special works”
“It’s a noble staff,” he said, and went back to carving his stick.
“Take it, you idiot.”
Kender looked up. “For me?”
“I’m not going to keep one of these stupid things. I got it for you.”
Kender dropped the ash to the ground and stood up. “Thank you,” he said, and reached out.
Lana placed it in his hands, and the tone of Safera buzzed through his hands, up his chest and into his head, the substance of the staff lodging itself into Kender’s visions and taking hold with authority.
Kender smiled. “This is the one.”
His eyes awash with gratitude, all frustration faded away, he looked at her face and her beauty stole his breath.