Ama led the two men through the streets of Water Gap, finally guiding them to a large, but otherwise unadorned building. “Here we are, Jeremy, the Council Hall of Water Gap.”
Jeremy was unimpressed with the site. “This is the Council Hall? It looks so plain!”
Walter grumped. “I see you’ve got a bit of the showy in you, lad. I s’pose that’ll come in handy in the Inner Valleys if it comes to it.”
It was clear Jeremy had offered some offense to Walter but, as had been his experience since he’d arrived in The Valleys, he wasn’t sure why. “Walter, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Ama placed a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. He hadn’t noticed before, but her touch seemed to calm him. As she spoke he could feel both his anxiety at offending his new friend and his frustration with his lack of understanding ebbed. “Pay no attention to the Old Fox, Jeremy. He likes to think of himself as a rustic Coastal, for whom ostentatious displays are considered uncouth.” As Walter grumbled quietly at Ama’s words the healer leaned in and whispered in Jeremy’s ear, “The truth is, child, Walter also thinks the hall is a bit plain – and that he thinks this annoys him.”
“I can hear you Ama.”
The healer smiled brilliantly as she turned to Walter. “As I hoped you would, Old Fox. Self-understanding can be so freeing, and you’ve be lying to yourself for quite long enough.”
Walter crossed his arms. His face display an odd combination of a grimace and a grin. “Meddlesome healer.”
Ama cocked her head, feigning shock. “Is that what you think of me, Old Fox? Well, if I’m ‘meddlesome’ then I say you are as stubborn as granite. I believe this is why I keep you among my friends, Walter. I do love a challenge.”
Walter made a slight bow, “I am at your service, Meddle.”
“Yes. Yes. She is meddlesome and you are stubborn. If your bickering is finished for the hour, I should like to usher you inside now. The council is waiting.”
Jeremy was startled by the announcement. He turned and spied a man of average height standing on the steps just above his position. He wore a uniform of some sort, a dark blue shirt and the grey trousers made of the same material as Jeremy’s. His face was not unpleasant, but he did appear hurried. Jeremy imagined there must be other tasks the man would rather be doing than waiting to usher three guests to the council.
“Ah, Stout. Yes, the pleasantries are finished. Would you please usher us to the Council, then?”
To Jeremy’s surprise the man called Stout offered his arm to Ama, which the healer accepted. He then guided her up the few steps into the Council Hall and motioned for the two men to follow. He led them through a pair of wide doors and into the main room of the building. It was large, but as unadorned as the exterior. Rows of chairs filled the room, but Jeremy couldn’t guess as to how many were set up. At the opposite end from which they entered was a raised platform, upon which were seated at least a dozen people around a table.
“Get ready to see politics in motion, lad.”
“You don’t like politicians much, do you Walter?”
The old trader shrugged. “Eh, this group isn’t so bad. There’s even a few perceptive one’s on the council here. At least, they were perceptive the last time I met them.”
“When was that?”
“Oh, a few years back. I don’t think the council has changed all that much, though.”
As Stout led the trio toward the platform an older man glanced up and took notice of their approach.
“And here is the Old Fox himself!” The man rose and grinned beneficently. “It’s been too long, Walter. Welcome.”
Walter paused his approach and bowed slightly, motioning for Jeremy to do the Same. Ama neither paused nor bowed, but ascended the platform and seated herself at the table.
“Minister Kalson, it is my honor to be granted this audience.”
“Nonsense, I thank you for indulging our request to meet our mysterious stranger. I know you have important business with The Ravine.”
“That I do, sir. That I do. But as your Ama has insisted on accompanying me on my trip, I thought it best to accept the invitation.”
“Yes. Yes, very wise as always, Old Fox.” The man motioned Jeremy and Walter to ascend the platform, pointing to two open seats at the table. “Please, gentlemen, come and join us.” As Jeremy approached the seat pointed out to him, Minister Kalson took his hand and shook it vigorously. “And here is our mystery youth! Welcome, young Jeremy. Welcome, indeed!”
Jeremy didn’t know why this Minister seemed so eager to greet him, but he did notice that the council members had ceased their interactions as he sat. All eyes at the table were upon him. Once seated, Minister Council brought the session back into order.
“Now, thank you all for coming today. We have unusual circumstance here and thought it best that the council hear the story first hand, in case The Ravine would later like to investigate these events on their own. Now, would you like to recount your tale, Jeremy?”
Jeremy glanced at both Walter and Ama, both of whom nodded encouragement. With that, he recounted his story of Walter waking him alongside The Boulevard, his profound lack of Memory of where he was from or how he had gotten to that point in the road, and his experiences with Ama attempting to restore his memory. The council members nodded appreciatively, showing keen interest in his tale. At points members asked Jeremy questions, and he answered as best as he could. Whenever he stumbled, Walter would step in and fill in any gaps. Ama also supported Jeremy’s claim that he had no memory of who he was or where he was from, other than his name. She did, however, leave out her discovery of Jeremy’s being a Pathfinder. With the tale told, the council collectively sat back in their chairs. They seemed satisfied with Jeremy’s rendition, and turned toward Minister Kalson as he spoke once more.
“A well-told tale, young man, even though you have little to tell. I am very glad Walter found you when he did, I have little doubt what would have happened to you if you had been lost on The Boulevard at night.”
Jeremy nodded. “Yes, Minister. Walter has been good friend to me, though he had no obligation to treat me as well as he has. I am very grateful to him.”
Jeremy noticed Walter smile in gratitude as the Minister continued. “The Old Fox is known for his compassion and care for the wayward, Jeremy. You could not have been found by a more opportune person.” Kalson then shifted his gaze to Ama. “You are certain Jeremy’s memory cannot be brought back by your restoratives, Ama?”
Ama nodded. “Yes, Kalson, I am. Whatever is blocking his memories is beyond the restoratives I have at my disposal. I am hoping one of other healing houses in The Ravine may be able to help him where I have not.”
“Yes, that is what you have said. Loathe as we are to see you depart our city, we do not begrudge you your call. Especially considering the sacrifices you have made to stay with us for so long.”
Ama nodded. “Thank you, Kalson.”
Kalson waved a hand in acknowledgement of Ama’s thanks. “We would, however, know Jeremy’s whole story before you depart with him.”
Walter cleared his throat. “The whole story, Minister?”
It was a middle-aged woman, seated directly opposite Walter and Jeremy, who responded to Walter’s inquiry. “Yes, Walter, the whole story. You say you found Jeremy sleeping alongside the Boulevard, far from any real settlements. Normally when something like this happens we’d soon get a report from the Inner Valleys about a youth who’d run off to chase the dark – putting our guards on a seek mission. Yet, with Jeremy, we have no such report coming to us.”
Jeremy was beginning to feel uncomfortable as another minister continued. “No youth from the homesteads would be found where you located Jeremy taking a nap, nor would a Coastal. As Ama vouches for your character and lack of memory, Jeremy, this council is forced to come to one conclusion.”
Minister Kalson finished the thought. “You, Jeremy, must not be from The Valleys at all.”
Jeremy’s eyes widened. He glanced briefly at Ama and saw her face was a pleasant mask. He turned to Walter and discovered the old trader rubbing his forehead, as if warding off a headache.
“I told you, Jeremy, this lot can actually be perceptive.”