Annis, First Daughter of the Stone
drew all but a little of her magic into herself like a
tightly coiled spring, safe there from prying minds. She
didnít hide all of her magic. That would never do. The
teachers might report that she was Stone-blind, and it
was whispered among the students that Nelari children
with no magic were sent away.
Taking a deep breath, she made a few last-minute
adjustments to her test before sitting down. Annis had
expected the exam to be difficult, and it had been.
Sorting and assigning positions to the forty major herbs
required knowledge of their importance, functions, and
interactions. Still, she was fairly certain she had done
well enough to escape a reprimand, yet avoid being
singled out for praise.
strived to be just successful enough at her studies to
be unremarkable, avoiding notice of any kind. The
teachers who instructed the highborn Nelari children in
the wisdom of the Stones were highly skilled, and they
monitored the progress of the ten-year-old granddaughter
of their high priestess closely.
glanced nervously at a row of older students, while a
teacher inspected her test. Her friend Panya smiled and
gave her a wink.
DaWakanda, can you explain why you have put the cumul
next to the salentra instead of in order by the cumalin?"
Han Belcaís voice carried, drawing attention to Annisís
work and her status.
felt heat rising in her cheeks. Every eye and mind in
the room had suddenly focused on her. "Because cumalin
doesnít like cumul?"
was a brief chorus of snickering, cut short by a stern
look from Han Belca. "That will do!"
looked down at Annis and nodded. "Quite correct, Annis.
Putting cumul and cumalin together is dangerous. Even
rubbing the leaves together can produce a deadly
Belkaís disapproving gaze swept the room. The other
students were uncomfortably quiet. "I had hoped more of
my students would have discovered this fact in their
research. It is not a mystery revealed only in the
returned her attention to Annis. "Now, please explain to
the class why you paired the cumul with salentra." Her
eyes narrowed. And
donít pretend ignorance or sudden loss of memory
Belka had tossed that last remark in focused mindspeak.
Annisís head jerked upward and their eyes locked. Han
Belca smiled in satisfaction. She could now reliably
report that Annis DaWakanda, granddaughter of the high
priestess, DaWakanda Oma, had the ability to receive
mindspeak, and at an early age.
sweetens the cumul," Annis muttered through gritted
aptly put. Salentra neutralizes the bitter acidic taste
of Cumul and makes it quite pleasant in a tea. This is
very important because one of the chief uses for cumul
is as a pain reliever for infants and children."
watched Han Belcaís forehead crease as she looked at her
test again, but she averted her eyes when the teacher
gave her another sharp look.
I am happy to say that you have your first perfect mark
in my class."
groaned, but kept her eyes downcast. She had made four
deliberate mistakes on that test. Han Belca wouldnít
have missed them. Was this another trap or was the
teacher simply trying to curry favor with a member of
the DaWakandaís family? She waited for some further
comment, but Han Belca simply moved on to the next
"Congratulations on the test!" Panya pulled Annisís arm,
bringing her back to reality. The class was over and
most of the students were already filing out of the
room. "Come on! Iíve got a surprise for you."
allowed herself to be pulled along until she stumbled
trying to keep pace with the taller girlís stride.
"Ancestors! Slow down, Panya. Are you trying to kill
on, Annis, weíll miss the Speaking of Leaetteís birth."
Panyaís sister, Leaette was due to give birth any time
and neither girl had been to a Speaking before.
stopped. Children, except for family members, werenít
allowed at a Speaking. "I donít think I should be
gave her an annoyed look. "Iíve already asked. Your Aunt
Madera is the midwife and Leaette doesnít mind."
mention of Aunt Madera brought a smile to Annisís face.
It brought the warm taste of Maderaís magic to her mind.
Of all the adults in her world, Annis loved Madera best.
She grabbed Panyaís hand and the girls began to run.
were laughing and out of breath when they arrived at the
birthing room. Several family members were waiting with
Leaetteís husband for the Speaking to begin.
Madera smiled and nodded toward a corner where the girls
could view the ceremony without being in the way.
Panyaís sister, Leaette, lay on the table covered in
silver gauze. Her abdomen made the covering rise in a
small mound reminding Annis of the low hill sloping up
from the valley behind the village. Her face was rigid
in concentration as she blew out short puffs of air in
tempo to the cadence of Maderaís chant.
reached out and squeezed Panyaís hand. She breathed in
the heady aroma of the incense, trying to identify the
ingredients. Maderaís voice softened and she gently
placed her hand on the mound. It was time for the
silently recited the teaching of the Stones about the
birth all people are one with the ancestors, free from
the confines of time and space, able to see the
beginning and end of their lives. A proper midwife can
speak to a baby just before it comes into this world and
forgets the world of the ancestors. She can give the
parents and the infant a message. Often this message
will give an insight into the childís nature or some
important event in their life to come.
closed her eyes and felt a rush of wind engulf her. She
was there, on the other side, and she could hear Madera
and see the baby inside Leaette. There was pain, sorrow,
and fear. Annis wanted to pull herself back but
couldnít. Maderaís magic was soothing, speaking to the
unborn child with gentle coaxing sounds. Madera spoke
the birth. "This one is much loved by the ancestors. Let
her name mean happiness."
words jerked Annis back from the other side. Annis
blinked back tears and stared at Madera. Then, confused,
she looked at Panyaís excited face. How could Madera say
such false things; how could Panya be happy? Then she
realized that Panya hadnít been there on the other side.
gave a piercing scream and the baby came. Madera turned
aside and washed her hands while her assistants cleaned
and then restored the infant to her mother. Soon they
carried both from the birthing room. The family followed
until only Madera, Panya, and Annis remained.
Madera dried her hands and came over to speak to the
girls. She reached out to stroke Annisís hair. Annis
pulled back. Madera saw the anger and fear on her face.
"Whatís the matter, child?"
Panya gasped. She grabbed Annisís arm and started to
pull her away. "She didnít mean it, Madera. Sheís too
young to understand and it scared her. I shouldnít have
"Enough, Panya. You may go. I will talk to Annis in
gave Annis a reproachful look and fled. For a while
Madera didnít say a word, just looked at her. Annis
realized that she was waiting for some kind of
tried to gather the multitude of thoughts and emotions
storming inside her. Finally she spoke, telling Madera
what she had seen and heard.
didnít want to come out. Sheís going to die young and
there will be so much pain and sorrow in her life. She
was afraid. Why didnít you speak the truth?"
didnít I tell Leaette? Use your senses, girl. Would you
have me burden them on such a happy day? Would that
change what the Stones have spoken?"
looked down. Of course Madera was right, and didnít
everyone say that when someone died young it was because
the ancestors were eager to be reunited with him or her?
Annis threw her arms around Maderaís ample waist, asking
you could hear," the old midwife said gently, returning
was there," Annis replied in a small voice.
Swiftly Madera took Annisís face in her weathered hand
and tilted it upward. She peered into the pale lavender
froze, afraid she had made another mistake. Madera
studied her for a moment, but only said. "I see." She
might have said more, but they were interrupted by Panya
running back into the room.
quick, Madera! Itís the DaWakanda."
Madera was out the door in an instant, leaving Annis to
"Whatís wrong with DaWakanda Oma?"
shook her head. "I donít know. Han Golder came out of
the council room crying that the DaWakanda was dying.
Not that I would believe her report, but when I heard
Councilman Rhyd say that the DaWakanda was truly ill, I
ran back to get Madera."
"Stones!" Annisís mind raced. Han Golder hated DaWakanda
Oma and was sure to spread an exaggerated account of her
illness everywhere. Then a more terrible thought came to
her. What if the DaWakanda was dying? What if her
grandmother was already dead? "Letís go!"
the girls reached the council hall they could see
DaWakanda Oma being carried from the room, her face
ashen, with Maderaís strong magic around her, supporting
and guiding her exit. Annis stopped, unable to believe
what she was seeing.
DaWakanda lay on a stretcher, pain evident on her face,
the aura of her magic waning.
swallowed hard and glanced at the Stone worn around
DaWakanda Omaís neck, the amulet of her power. The
normally brilliant Stone was pale and chalky looking,
even from this distance. Will Grandmotherís Stone
join the Stones of the Ancestor? Annis chided
herself for such childish fears. Maderaís medicine is
strong. The DaWakanda is sure to recover.
council members stayed inside the Hall after DaWakanda
Oma had been taken to her quarters. Word spread and
others joined them. They gathered in small groups,
talking in low voices, some in mindspeak. Annis made her
magic small, stood in an out of the way corner, and
listened shamelessly as the adults talked.
will we do? The DaWakanda has not selected another to
bear a Stone," someone lamented. "If she dies without an
heir, what then?"
we must select an heir." Annis recognized Han Golderís
voice. "The council has pleaded with the DaWakanda many
times to select someone to bear a Stone."
only Aalyisan had lived. She could bear a Stone."
"Well, sheís among the ancestors and we have waited long
enough. There are several young women who carry the
DaWakanda blood. Our families go back together many
about the child? She is Aalyisanís daughter, isnít she?
She is next in line."
Golder was indignant. "Her! Sheís not even pureblood."
aura around the speakers became jittery. "You canít be
sure of that."
look at her standing over there. Have you ever seen
another Nelari with eyes that color? There was no mating
contract and no Nelari male has stepped forward and
only seen eyes that color once before and it wasnít in
the homeland," conceded one of the speakers.
couldnít bear to hear more. She bolted from the hall,
tears streaming down her face. She wanted to run all the
way out of the homeland, but she settled for home.
Madera was coming out of DaWakanda Omaís chamber.
wiped her face quickly with her hands. "Is Grandmother
going to die?"
Madera hesitated. "Not today, but sheís very ill. I am
not sure there is much I can do."
I see her?"
donít know. Iíve given her some girten tea and sheís
can be very quiet. I wonít wake her."
for a few minutes then."
slipped into the room, stopping just inside the door,
not approaching the bed at first. She didnít know what
to do or say. She had never been comfortable around her
grandmother. The unseen wall separating them had always
felt as solid as the temple battlements, and Annis had
respected the wall. She had never tried to breach it.
Nor had she ever blamed her grandmother for putting the
wall between them. It was there because Aalyisan was
dead and she, Annis, was not.
Candles illuminated the four corners of the bed. Annis
walked toward the nearest corner. She could smell strong
magic here, and taste Maderaís medicine in the air. Her
eyes focused on the frail woman tossing fitfully on the
bed, barely recognizable as the powerful DaWakanda Oma.
Her grandmother looked so old. Beads of perspiration
glistened on the wrinkled face. Each rasping breath
threatened to be the bodyís last.
me." The words
startled Annis. She didnít recognize the voice. It
wasnít her grandmotherís, not even her mindspeak.
inched forward. Grandmotherís Stone had spoken to her.
Thatís impossible. The Stone only speaks to
Grandmother, Annis told herself sternly. I
imagine too much.
me, Annis." There
was no mistaking the source or the urgency of the words
now. Annis reached her hand out and gently brushed the
tips of her fingers against the smooth surface of the
stopped. Every organ in her body seemed to explode as
magic was pulled from her and siphoned into the body
lying on the bed. It lasted only a minute and then Annis
was released to stumble back against the wall spent. She
told herself to breathe and did, finally, in hard gasps.
sorry. I needed some of your magic to keep Oma alive."
was the first time that Annis had ever heard anyone
refer to her grandmother as simply Oma. DaWakanda Oma,
yes, and officially as The DaWakanda, or Mother of the
Stone, but no one was ever that bold, not even Madera.
It implied too great an intimacy, an equality, or
looked at the frail old woman lying on the bed.
DaWakanda Oma seemed to be resting more easily. Her
breathing wasnít as labored. The Stone she had borne for
nearly fifty years had regained a little of its color
and luster. "You might have asked first. Will she be
there is evil magic here. You must go for help. Go to
the Shrine of Stones."
canít go there, itís forbidden." Annis shook her head
vigorously. The Shrine of Stones was the burial place of
the Stones of all of the DaWakandas. It was a forbidden
place. Since the first DaWakanda led the people out of
the dark, the high priestessesí stones had been placed
there after their death. She had been taught that it was
guarded by the strongest magic and that anyone who
entered there died. "I can tell Madera, she has strong
no one. You must go alone. The stones of the ancestors
are our only hope. Go to the door and say my name and
youíll be safe. Tell the ancestors that Eleasa has sent
you. Theyíll be waiting."
Madera moved purposefully about the kitchen when Annis
came down. The smell of medicinal herbs filled the air.
She looked up when Annis came in. "How is she?"
think sheís resting. Some of the color is back in the
Madera leaned against the counter. "Thank the
ancestors." She drew the corner of her apron up and
wiped her eyes. She looked down at Annis. "You must be
hungry. I havenít fixed a bite of supper, but there is
bread and some meat and cheese in the cold box. Help
hadnít thought of food, but now that Madera mentioned
supper, she felt her empty stomach complaining. She
fixed a plate of sandwiches and poured a couple of
glasses of milk, then opened the cold box again and
pulled out the last two fruit tarts. They had been in
there a few days but maybe they werenít too stale. When
she was done, she tugged on Maderaís robe. "Come and
they ate in silence, Annis tried to remember the
quickest route to the Shrine of Stones. It was located
behind the temple, which wasnít far, but there wasnít an
entrance on the temple side. She would have to go
around. Heeding the Stoneís caution, Annis waited until
Medera had checked on the DaWakanda and gone to her own
bed before slipping out.
hours later, she stood before the Shrine of Stones.
Looking at the entrance with her eyes, Annis thought it
looked like any other cave opening, but the magic she
sensed was beyond anything she had ever tasted. No
guards were posted here, and none needed. Annis almost
turned and ran home. Sternly she reminded herself that
she had been sent here on a mission and that Eleasa had
promised that she would be safe. Still, her voice
trembled as she spoke.
"Keeper of the Shrine, hear me. I am Annis. I am
DaWakanda. Eleasa sends me to you in time of trouble.
May I enter?"
"Enter, Annis, we have been waiting for you."
went in slowly. The darkness of the cave was deeper than
the night outside, which at least had light from the
moons and stars to see by. She waited for her eyes to
adjust and then she could see well enough.
Shrine of Stones was a large room, partially a natural
cave, and partially carved out by her early ancestors.
Throughout the cave, on little pillows, and on ornately
carved pedestals were the Stones. One Stone for each of
the DaWakandaís who had ever lived and led the people.
dies, they will remove the Stone from her amulet and
place it here. Eleasa will be home then.
good, Child of Aalysian. You are right."
looked at all the Stones. Each was unique in power and
appearance. They began to talk to Annis, telling her
their stories. Sometimes making her laugh. Sometimes
causing tears to flow.
a time the strongest voice interrupted.
"Ö I am Risha, keeper of the
Chamber and Speaker here. Itís time to tell you why you
have been called here."
because Grandmother, I mean DaWakanda Oma, is sick."
Annis turned toward a Stone that sparkled like a blue
star in the night sky.
is not sick. Her magic is being poisoned. Someone has
cut a false Stone and is using it to destroy her life
force. You must destroy that false Stone or she will
die, and whoever has done this will gain control of the
How can I destroy a Stone? I donít have much magic at
have more magic than you know, Annis. Donít be afraid.
You will take one of us with you and we will be your
bear a Stone? Everyone will see. I will be cast out."
must keep the Stone hidden."
Madera has more power."
canít hide a Stone, you can. This is Pala, she will go
with you." A beautiful emerald Stone twinkled. "She is
old, and powerful, and was borne by one of the first,
and perhaps greatest DaWakandas. Hide her under your
robe. Take her magic and conceal it in your secret
place. Keep it there until itís needed. She will guide
canít." Annisís voice trembled
are the only one who can, Annis. Now, take up the Stone.
Go to the council chambers tomorrow and wait for Madera
to come in and say that the DaWakanda is dead. When that
happens, let Pala out quickly. Sheíll only have a few
minutes to destroy the false Stone."
wore three simple chains of woven metal. She carefully
slid the longest chain through the latch on the emerald
Stone and returned it to her neck. She placed these
inside her gown. Annis closed her eyes and concentrated
on the hiding place. Little by little, she began pulling
Palaís magic inside. "Thereís too much."
can do it, Annis, concentrate."
spun around in delight, holding up her hands, the sound
of her own laughter tinkling in her ears. The power of
Palaís magic was beyond anything she had been taught in
school. It filled her up and bubbled over like the Holy
Springs of Aganar. That thought brought more laughter
and she began to sing a holy song.
You must control the power. Put it behind your shield,"
Risha commanded, a hint of laughter in her voice.
darkened her magic and the giddiness passed. Annis, back
in control, felt a sharp sense of loss. With this much
power in her hidden place, keeping the shield up
required a great deal of concentration. Palaís magic
threatened to tear her apart in its desire for freedom.
She said goodbye to the Stones of her ancestors,
promising to follow their instructions, but not entirely
sure that she could.
was unable to sleep. She rested quietly in her room,
waiting for morning. Once she thought she heard Madera
arguing with someone. It sounded like Han Golder, but
she wasnít sure. The disturbance only lasted a few
minutes and then the house was quiet again.
Before dawn, Annis gave up trying to sleep and dressed.
It was too early to leave for the
Council Chamber, but Annis was hungry again. The lights
and cooking fire were still going. Books, pots and pans,
and herbs and potions were strewn about the kitchen.
But, she saw no breakfast preparations. Madera must have
been up all night, searching every healing book she had.
Annis looked at the mess left behind. It canít be
that hard to sort these out, and Iíve watched Madera
work so many times I know the way she likes things done.
That decided; she got to work.
Madera came down the steps, she still wore yesterdayís
clothes, and if she had slept at all it didnít show on
her face. Her eyes widened when she saw that her kitchen
was in order and that there was a breakfast of toast,
fruit, ham, and cheese set out. The aroma of Pecale tea
filled the air, her special blend. Annis sat quietly
finishing the last of her own breakfast. Tears filled
the older womanís eyes. "Stones bless you, child."
poured Madera a cup of the tea. "How stands the
Maderaís knowing eyes acknowledged the request for
honesty in the formal question. She shook her head. "Not
well. Iíve never seen this illness before and itís
almost blurted out the truth.
"Donít tell anyone!"
The warning pounded in Annisís mind. She didnít see what
harm telling Madera could do, but she obeyed the
going to the council chamber," Annis mentioned casually.
"Good, keep your ears open. Troubleís probably brewing."
had never seen so many people in the Council Chamber. It
was hard to find an out-of-the-way place to stand. She
leaned against a wall, trying to make herself as
inconspicuous as possible.
are you doing here?" demanded Han Golder. "This is no
place for children."
not bothering you."
home and tell Madera that Iíve reported her little scene
last night." Han Golder raised her voice. "Madera
refused to let Gilla tend the DaWakanda last night.
Sheíll be lucky if she isnít banished."
doesnít take orders from you and neither do I."
dare you speak that way to me! Leave before I call the
"Leave the child alone," commanded a deep male voice.
Councilman Rhyd had walked over. He positioned himself
in front of Annis.
council has important business today." Han Golder glared
up at him.
"Indeed, and our business is more important than
harassing children. Shall we get to it?"
Golder stalked away.
to stay out of her way if you can," Councilman Rhyd said
nodded. Councilman Rhyd was a strong ally of the
DaWakanda. Annis remembered that he had always been kind
to her and had taken an interest in her schoolwork from
time to time. Are you my father?
he was my friend.
The answer had been soft and he was gone before its
import sank in. Someone knew who her father was. Annis
looked to see where he had gone and would have followed.
Annis itís almost time."
Palaís magic jerked her to a stop.
Madera entered the Chamber and a hush fell on the room.
Her head was bowed. She slowly walked forward and
extinguished the Holy flame that was kept burning in the
Council chamber day and night. DaWakanda Oma was dead.
Han Golder moved toward the front of the room, Gilla
with her, a smile of triumph on her face.
down the shield, quickly. We donít have much time."
let down the shield and felt herself taken over by
Palaís magic. Everyone in the chamber could feel its
power. They stood aside as she walked forward holding
out the amulet.
is the false Stone?" Annis demanded. The
magic drew her toward Han Golder and Gilla. Gilla tried
to hide behind her mother.
continued toward them raising her voice for all to hear.
"I bear Pala. DaWakanda Annilie wore her proudly. You
will not defile the sacred line. Give me the false
the Stone and fight her." Han Golder pushed Gilla
forward. Gilla pulled out an unusual amulet from her
pocket and put it on, releasing the magic. There was no
time to wonder how she had concealed it.
stench like burning pitch filled the Council Chamber as
the Stones clashed. The taste of twisted magic filled
Annisís mouth. She felt a wave of burning heat from the
wall of magic surrounding Gilla. This Stoneís power was
stronger than she or Pala had anticipated. Draining her
own magic and adding it to Palaís, Annis pushed forward.
She felt the wall weaken.
gasped and stumbled back. Han Golda steadied her and
hissed instructions, but it was not enough.
cut through the wall with a surge of magic and reached
out for Gilla. She grasped the Stone and jerked it from
Gillaís neck. Gilla screamed and fell to the floor. The
false Stone began to smolder and then shattered with a
loud pop. The shards lay smoking at Annisís feet.
Golder bent over Gillaís body. "Murderer!"
heard the truth of the Stone." Councilman Rhyd and
Madera were quickly at Annisís side.
"Lies! My Gilla was the chosen one. This girl isnít even
pureblood. Her birth took Aalyisan from us. I say her
magic killed DaWakanda Oma and my daughter. I demand her
payment in blood."
who sided with Han Golder would have taken Annis by
force. An exhausted Madera and Councilman Rhyd tried to
reason with them. It became a shouting match.
help me," Annis pleaded. Pala remained silent.
Destroying the false Stone had taken all of her power.
Annisís legs were feeling decidedly unsteady. She sagged
eager to curry favor with the Han of his district,
Junior Councilman Roth spoke up, "The girl must stand
trial. Han Golder has a right to justice for Gillaís
death if Annis is to blame. Stand out of the way,
"Silence!" No one had noticed DaWakanda Oma enter the
chamber. She looked like a ghost, her face pale, and her
bedclothes dragging on the marble floor. The Stone she
bore burned brightly. Madera shifted Annisís weight into
Councilman Rhydís arms then rushed to relight the flame.
alive, Pala. You did it.
Annisís fingers caressed the Stone.
who had been calling for Annisís arrest were now
cheering the DaWakandaís resurrection. As attention
turned toward DaWakanda Oma, Madera took Annisís hand.
"We can go now."
Later, DaWakanda Oma carefully removed the Stone from
Annisís chain while she was sleeping. The gentle tugging
woke Annis. "Itís time to return Pala to the Shrine of
next day, Annis watched DaWakanda Oma enter the garden.
She waited a few minutes and followed. Pulling in all
her magic, anything that her grandmother could sense,
Annis silently slipped up behind the DaWakanda. She
inched closer, too close for the wall to come between
them. "Tell me about Aalyisan."
DaWakanda Oma showed no signs of surprise. She reached
out and drew Annis to the bench beside her. "She was my
daughter and I loved her more than anything in the
"Except the Stones."
"Including the Stones."
"Isnít that blasphemy?"
"Youíll be a mother one day, then youíll understand.
Sometimes, Annis, you are so much like her that I canít
bear to look at you."
"Because I caused her death."
"Because I couldnít save her."
were quiet for a while. Annis remembered her visit to
the Chamber of the Stones. She thought of all the things
she had learned there. "It wasnít your fault,
Grandmother. Aalyisan chose to go to the ancestors. She
leaned forward and kissed the weathered cheeks. She had
never kissed her grandmother before, but with the wall
down it seemed right somehow. It was.
time I began your training. Eleasa tells me you will
bear a Stone one day."
remembered the hatred on Han Golderís face and the power
of the false Stone. "I donít think Iím ready."
Stones decide when weíre ready, Annis, and we must first
learn not to argue with their wisdom."
stifled a giggle.
is it?" DaWakanda Oma demanded gently.
says that youíve yet to learn that lesson."