Reina sat by the hearth, chopping onions while Mama cut up chicken, when a shout interrupted them. Mama pursed her lips, wiped her hands on her apron, and went to the door. Only a week had passed since the last raid, leaving them all still jumpy. Reina set down the onion in her hand and sniffed back the tears the onion juice had caused. If it was Bryan or Kylen, it wouldn’t do for them to think she was crying.
Through the open door, she heard another shout. “It’s the Gold Wizard!”
Mama turned to Reina, her eyes crinkling in a wide smile. “Praise be. Safety for a night.”
“And stories,” Reina added, rushing to the door to find Austyn. They both loved listening to the wizard’s stories.
Reina tried to catch up to Austyn and the other young children racing down the road to the town square. The news had spread. As Austyn dashed to her side, talking excitedly, it occurred to her that the Gold Wizard’s presence was strange. Usually he only came at festival time, but the summer festival was still two months away.
“Maybe he’ll tell us a story about dragons! Or maybe griffins.”
Reina nodded, trying to look happy for Austyn’s sake. “Or knights and princesses.” Or maybe he brings bad news, she added silently. She gave the Gold Wizard a long stare. He wore gold robes and a tall, golden pointy hat. His beard was long and white, and his blue eyes twinkled. He sat on the side of the well, smiling—he didn’t seem upset, but rather, excited. When did I become such a worrier? Maybe he has good news. Reina liked that idea better.
The whole village gathered around him, talking excitedly. Reina heard some of the adults wondering about the Gold Wizard’s presence as well. He held up his hands, and the crowd grew silent.
“I have come…,” he paused dramatically, “because I have reason to believe that the Child Warrior, the one destined to defeat the Red Wizard, may be in this village.”
A murmur went through the crowd. When the Red Wizard destroyed the king and queen and conquered the land, the dying chief wizard had uttered a prophecy that a Child Warrior would arise whom the Red Wizard had no power over, and who would destroy him. Since then, the Red Wizard sent out his harpies to find every child in the land, to capture them and bring them to him, so that the prophecy would never come true.
The Gold Wizard waved his staff at the crowd. The crystal on the end sparkled in the sunlight. “Silence!”
“I was there when my master Merlyn, the last Gold Wizard, uttered the prophecy, and I escaped.” The Gold Wizard looked sad, and Reina wondered if Merlyn had been like a family member to him. “I know the specifics of the prophecy, and I now have a way to tell which boy is the Child Warrior. I ask that all the boys come into the field and stand around me in a circle. I promise all you parents that, whichever child is the Warrior, I will guard him with my life and personally train him for his destiny.”
Everyone whispered in excitement as parents led their children toward the field. The older boys ran ahead, each yelling that he was the best and so would be the Warrior.
“Ooooh,” cried Lilia, grabbing Reina’s arm, “I hope it’s Bryan! This is so exciting.”
Reina stopped herself just in time from saying she found Bryan hopelessly dense. You didn’t talk to a girl about her brother that way.
“Or maybe….” Lilia snickered. “Maybe it’ll be Kylen.”
“Yeah,” Reina said unenthusiastically. She hoped it wouldn’t be Kylen—she didn’t like the idea of him in a battle. What if another harpy attacked him and no one could save him? “Hey, don’t you wish girls could be warriors?”
Lilia giggled and shook her head. “I wouldn’t want to fight the Red Wizard! I’d be so scared.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Besides, the hero always marries a princess or a pretty village maiden. That’s how prophecies work.”
Reina wondered if Lilia was right. She thought of the harpy dropping from the sky. It had felt good to do something to protect her village. How hard could it be, becoming a warrior?
Ahead, the boys stood in a circle. Kylen and Ryan arm-wrestled. The older boys, the teenagers, folded their arms and tried to look tough. The Gold Wizard turned in a circle, looking them over.
“Bring out the younger ones too—don’t be shy.”
Reina smiled at the wide-eyed expressions of the younger boys as their parents marched them up to the circle and placed them there. How small four-year-old Davyd looked next to eleven-year-old Kylen! Some warrior he’d make.
A familiar whining caught her ear.
“Oh no,” Lilia said, smirking. “Looks like your brother’s scared.”
“He is not!” Reina protested, although the way he clung to Mama and refused to join the circle showed otherwise.
Reina’s face burned, and she scowled at Lilia. “He’s just nervous, like he should be! Unlike those idiots who think being a warrior is all fun and games, he realizes it could be dangerous.”
She marched toward Mama and Austyn. I’ll show her. Austyn just doesn’t like crowds, but he’s brave too!
She grabbed Austyn’s shoulder, and he latched onto her with a death grip.
“Reina,” Mama complained, looking weary. “He needs to join the circle. Everyone’s waiting.”
“Don’t worry,” Reina said. “I’ll stand with him, to make him feel better.”
Mama sighed, but stepped back.
“I’m right here,” Reina said when they reached the other boys. “Don’t worry.”
“Don’t leave,” Austyn said.
“I’m not leaving.” Reina peeled his hands off her arm. “Don’t pinch. I’m staying right here.”
She ignored Bryan and Kylen, who made faces at them across the circle. She stood directly behind Austyn, her hands on his shoulders to steady him.
“What’s he going to do? Put a spell on us?” Austyn asked, looking over his shoulder at her.
Reina laughed. “No, silly. He’s just going to…uh….” She glanced at the Gold Wizard. He held a medallion in his hand, a round disk on a chain. “Uh, give that medallion as a present to one of the boys.”
“Oh.” Austyn brightened. “Maybe he’ll give it to me!” He turned his gaze to the Gold Wizard.
“Maybe, but I doubt it.” I hope not. Reina’s stomach fluttered. What if the Red Wizard had secret magic that was too powerful? What if the Gold Wizard picked the wrong boy? Would one of her friends die? If he’s the Child Warrior, he has to be safe, because the prophecy said he’d kill the Red Wizard. But for some reason, she still felt terrified.
The Gold Wizard held up the medallion. “This magic talisman will reveal to us the Child Warrior.”
The Gold Wizard twirled in a circle, his staff in one hand, the medallion in the other. A cloud of gold and silver light surrounded him, making the air sparkle. Magic! Fascinated, Reina couldn’t take her eyes off him as he spun faster and faster. Rainbow colors streaked from him, and the air filled with heat. It’s so beautiful! I wish I could do magic.
With a little explosion of color, the medallion whirled up into the air, high above their heads, still spinning. It zoomed around the circle and then flew downwards, like a shooting star with a rainbow tail.
And landed, sizzling in the grass, at Austyn’s feet.