The First, the Second and the Third met again at the Twistroot Glade - the ancient meeting-place so familiar to the three companions, and totally and absolutely unknown to anyone else in the whole wide world. They met at midnight between the third and the fourth day of the week, as they had done every fortnight since joining the Secret Three, each at their own time. The Third had missed one of the gatherings shortly after joining the Order twenty four years ago. No one knew exactly what the cause of that absence had been, but by the way he walked and spoke two weeks later it was clear that the reason had most likely had to do with fighting for his life in one way or another. The Second, due to a persistant and dangerous illness, had had to miss three secret meetings in a row, and even now, a decade later, he still felt shame for such infamously lengthy non-attendance. The First had never missed a single one of the Midweek Councils in his long and dedicated life. But no life, no matter how long and fulfilled, could measure the history of the Order of the Secret Three.
It was a bit of an irony that secrecy had literally become the Order’s most characteristic feature, for there had been times when this society, minute is numbers but great in wisdom, was very well known. Now, however, it had become so respectably old and prudently inconspicious that people barely remembered of its existence in the olden days, and were totally unaware of the fact that three people still religiously assembled every two weeks to honour this longstanding custom. And no one, except for the three honorable members themselves, knew that such gathering was taking place this midnight, deep in the forest, within a circle formed on the ground by tangled tree roots.
The moon was kindly throwing its light over the glade so that the Three could see everything clearly: everything except for their faces that were hidden under the hoods of their grey cloaks. They could not see each other’s face that night. They had never seen each other’s face before. Neither of them, in spite of all the guessing and suspicions over the years, had the faintest idea of who the other two were.
After a general greeting that seemed more rushed than usual the Second said:
‘The Tilians are going all the way this time. They either gain Arbora back or they leave it forever. As a mound of ash.’
‘Back!’ the First laughed softly. ‘These people cannot even remember the times when Arbora was theirs. It has never been theirs. Their great grandfathers’? – yes. Some of them. But most of those who are fighting there now have never even crossed the borders before. The Tilian cities have grown bigger, stronger and more prosperous than Arbora has ever been. And yet they want it. Want it back, as they would put it.’
‘When a branch breaks a branch, when a root strangles a root, they...we must act,’ the Second delivered as if quoting from a book. ‘I’m afraid that happens to be now.’
The Three stood in silence for a while. They had been indulging in their knowledge of history of these lands and people for years, wondering whether a day would come when the history woud make itself known again, and the knowledge prove valuable. That day had come: as they were standing in the glade where every little sound of nature could be heard in the quiet of the night, miles away in the city all subtle sounds were muted by cries and commands, clashing swords and breaking walls. The citadel was at war. And burning.
‘Where do we start?’ the Second asked in a deflated voice, lacking any pretence of dignity that had coloured his speech at previous meetings. He felt none of the sensation he thought he would at a time like this. There was no excitement. Only will to withdraw, desire to be useful, and the annoying reality between the two. Had he grown old? Was that why this did not seem like an adventure?
Another streak of silence followed before the First broke it.
‘The two of us who are counsellors to the sovereigns must speak to them. That is what we do: speak and hope they will listen. You...’, he turned his head towards the Third, ‘...must find the children.’
The Third smiled. He alone knew he did it as his face was still covered: the extraordinary circumstances were not a reason to break the code.
‘The children. Yes, of course I'll find them.’
That’s what they had been when he last saw them nine years ago. Children.