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“She is very weak,” came a voice that shattered the tense stillness in the room. “She has lost so much blood.” The woman’s distorted facial expression matched the constant wringing of her hands as she continued.

“Is the child still moving?” The young woman’s nearly endless barrage of nervous comments was met by a stern and unforgiving look by the man to whom she was querying. He was dressed in an elaborate deep blue robe complete with an embroidered red border. The sleeves flowed past the length of his arm and over the chilled form that lay before him. Despite his unspoken warning to his female attendant and his otherwise aloof demeanor, his hands were placed gently, almost lovingly, upon his patient. One hand was behind her head, and the other was upon her swelled belly. He was feeling for the unborn child’s position as it was preparing to exit its mother’s womb as well as for any movement—a sign that it was still alive. The child, it seemed, was faring much better than its mother.

The old monk stood patiently, helplessly in the corner of the room. He straightened his simple and worn brown robe and clutched his aged hands together in front of him. Had the queen not been with child, a simple incantation could have possibly restored her to health. But the Nirdehnian monks had learned centuries ago that attempting to heal a hemorrhage with the presence of an infant in the birth canal posed a more serious threat to both mother and babe. No, the monk would have to wait until after the birth of the child. If the queen survived through labor…

The woman slowly backed away from the physician and his patients and leaned toward the monk.

“Tethern,” the young nurse asked the monk in a voice just above a whisper. “How can Straemier possibly go on without her?”

Straemier was a land with rolling hills and thick forests. It was located on a peninsula and was bordered by the Biyama Sea to the west and south and the perilous Bitare mountain chain to the east and north. These borders created an isolation that contributed to the internal security that the Straemierian people had felt. But in recent months this security had begun to wane.

The kingdom had been ruled by a monarchy that had historically been wise and ethical, with very few exceptions. But the most recent king was killed in an accident during mock combat five months ago. The beloved queen assumed the throne, but she had developed a malady that limited her to rule from her own bedchamber. The infirmity had reached such a degree that even the presence of Jetha, the current Healer, had no substantial effect and gave the queen no relief. Even now the Healer was en route to the palace to administer whatever aid she could. But the queen had gone into labor weeks before expected and Jetha could never arrive in time.

The kingdom of Straemier, it had been said, remained secure and peaceful for more than a thousand years due to the continued and unfaltering support of “The Three Pillars.” These three were: a strong, but moral and just, royal family; the Healer, a woman who was uniquely tied to the health and prosperity of the land and its people; and the order of Nirdehna, a group of learned and powerful monks. Tethern Claveun was himself a member of this order.

The Nirdehna had existed for a thousand years, as long as the current ruling family. The monks of the Nirdehnian order possessed great power, but this power had always been used for the benefit of the throne and the kingdom. In addition to lending advice to the throne and participating in stately ritual, their primary responsibility laid in their service to the Healer.

Unlike the Nirdehnian monks who protected her, the Healer did not actually have power at her immediate disposal. Instead she was a sort of conduit for power. This energy would be released from her person, and in her immediate presence, upon the speaking of her name.

There was only one Healer at any given time. Upon the death of the current Healer, the monks would search out for the birth of the child that would take her place. She was then taken from her family to be raised in the temple and be taught the duty of her position. In the days between the death of a Healer and the finding of her replacement, the land would grow steadily more dark and barren.

“My dear Rym,” the elderly monk answered at last, “I am not so certain that Straemier can go on.”