Time ran out for them, the summer that Meghianna's sons turned fourteen and fifteen.
To the rest of the world, she was the Widow Ianni, who ran a small, clean inn in a quiet, respectable quarter of the growing port city of Quenlaque. Her dark-dyed hair had a strong reddish cast, which neatly explained her healing talents to her neighbors and friends, and her two suitors, Kaldar, a merchant sailor captain, and Ector, head of the garrison in Quenlaque.
Technically, only one of her sons was her son--Lycen, the elder. The younger boy, Thrarin, was Ianni's little brother, orphaned when he was three years old--at least, that was the story Meghianna told her friends when Mrillis, disguised as a horse trader, brought the little boy to live with her one blustery winter night.
In truth, Thrarin was Athrar, Warhawk's heir. The attempts on the boy's life had grown severe enough to prompt Efrin Warhawk and his queen, Glyssani, to send the boy away into hiding, just as Meghianna had predicted nearly four years before.
She had prepared for that need, establishing herself as a healer and innkeeper and widow with a son. Enemies would expect the Warhawk's heir to be hidden at the Stronghold. They would waste resources, magic, and years trying to break through the protective spells enfolding the Rey'kil fortress. Meanwhile, Athrar would grow up believing himself the orphaned brother of an innkeeper, safely hidden in Quenlaque.
Meghianna had adopted Lycen, the orphaned infant son of Lysette, one of her ladies who had left the Stronghold to set up a school in the foothills of the Wayhauk Mountains. She and her Valor husband, Syndal, had died defending their Encindi and Rey'kil students from pureblood fanatics who preferred murder to cleanse the land, rather than allowing Encindi and Noveni 'invaders' to pack up their possessions and leave. They justified the murder of the Rey'kil students by calling them traitors to Rey'kil purity. Meghianna planned to tell Lycen the truth of his parents' identities and lives and deaths someday. She wasn't sure when. It was the sweetest joy in her life to have the fair-haired toddler follow her about the inn, determined to help with little chores, asking for stories and calling her Mama.
When Thrarin joined their household, Lycen was duly impressed with the responsibilities of being an older brother. He made Meghianna want to laugh and cry at the same time when he immediately took Thrarin under his wing and insisted she was to be called Mother, not Sister.