The tall foreigner always wore the same tattered tan robe. It had been months since his arrival and nobody knew where he had come from or why he was in the small northern hamlet of Maplewood. The man did not speak with anyone and spent most of his time wandering the packed dirt streets of Maplewood as though he was lost. He did not stay in the local inn but preferred to spend his nights in the woods with his loyal horse.
His pale white horse, sun darkened skin, bald head and long light robes made the people suspect that he was from the southern desert -- although none of them had ever ventured farther south than Kinstock. The children called him the "crazy desert man" and none of the adults objected.
As the chill of autumn threatened, the stranger spent less time wandering the streets and more time in his small lean-to constructed of evergreen branches and twine.
While the women insisted that the stranger be watched, after the first weeks he was largely ignored so that everyone could return to work at the lumber mill, the only real industry in Maplewood.
Maplewood was the northernmost community in all the kingdom of Denall and the only place where the large maples grew. The wood exported from Maplewood was famous for its strength and quality. The saying "a woman's resolve and young boy's heads are the only things stronger than Maplewood lumber" had spread to all parts of the kingdom.
The men took pride in their work and they were the best at what they did. Although they all had small farms, and modest herds of livestock, each made some living working in the mill just west of town.
Some men cut and hauled selected trees from the woods, some planted new trees—for the harvest of future generations. Others skinned and ripped the wood into planks. The final crew delivered the green planks to the drying barns where they would dry for at least six seasons. At the end of every season a new load of cured wood was loaded into wagons headed for the medium sized village of Kinstock. They all shared in the work so they also shared the supplies that their harvest brought.
With the warm summer months coming to an end, Jon was loading planks from the drying barn into the wagons when he was startled by a sound from across the mill. Almost out of breath a young boy slid on the sawdust that covered the floor of the mill. "The baby's coming! The baby's coming! Come quick papa!"
"There's a good lad. You must be tired from running all this way." The mill manager turned from the boy to call for Jon but saw that he was already on his way, wearing a wide grin.
Jon grabbed his boy in his arms and rushed out of the mill to head for home. With all the excitement of the moment he did not consider how he looked -- covered in sawdust and sweat from his morning's work at the mill, nor did he think to glance backwards to see the robed figure silently following them home.
The rain started shortly after they entered the cabin. The birth maid had matters well in hand and practically pushed the father and son to the upstairs lounge to anxiously await the new family addition. "When is my brother coming?" Jon had heard this question over and over since the moment they arrived at home.
Taking a deep breath, he turned to his son knowing that excitement was building up in the boy (and he could not fault him for that). "Soon," was all Jon could answer.
The rain clouds had brought an early darkness to the afternoon and as the sun lowered Jon lit some lanterns and candles in the loft.
While pacing across the well-worn maple floorboards, he passed by the upstairs window just as a flash of lightning lit the front yard. Thinking that he saw something out in his yard, he pressed his eyes close to the window. After seeing nothing for a moment, he surveyed the yard by straining his powerful hearing. The light red dots on his left ear darkened to a deep shade of maroon. After a moment or two Jon repressed the gut feeling of being watched and blamed his eyes for playing tricks on him. This momentary concern was instantly lost with the sound of his newborn son crying.
Jon rushed down the stairs and his gaze rested first on the baby boy and then he lovingly looked at his tired but satisfied wife. "I love you more today, than I did the day we met."
"And I you my husband." She closed her eyes for some well earned rest as the birth maid took the baby and placed him in his fathers' steady arms.
The years of working at the mill and farming a small plot of land had made Jon's arms bulky, strong and completely awkward with anything small, especially this fragile moving cargo.
A rare tear escaped the mill worker's eye as he held his son close. "Are you crying Daddy?"
Coughing, Jon answered, "No I'm just trying to see his mark."
"I bet I can see it. Can I hold him?"
"In a minute, Junior," Jon said, savoring the time holding the new child. Then curiosity started to pique his interest and Jon began to look the boy over, straining to see his newborn’s small left ear lobe. "It's far too dark in here," he complained, and then to the birth maid he continued. "Can you see his mark?"
Much to Jon Junior's distress the large woman took the child back in her arms and began the tests.
Each child was born with a mark that showed his special gift in life. Marks were said to be located in six places, the left ear lobe, the outside corner of the left eye, the left side of the nose, the left wrist, the left shoulder, or across the forehead.
Though it was not a certainty, the marks on the ear were the most common in the Northern Forest villages and hamlets. Both Jon and his wife had ear marks, so it was no surprise when the maid announced that the child was a listener. The real question was the number of marks, indicating the level of the gift. The more marks a person had, the more powerful their gift. Most people were level two or three meaning they had two or three marks and average to strong gifts. If a child were born a level one their natural ability was very weak. A level four was extremely rare and would be renowned in the surrounding towns. A level five was legendary and almost fictitious. Nobody in Maplewood had ever had five marks and few believed it possible.
The parents were very proud of their level three son when the birth maid made the announcement.
Lightning flashed and the door swung open as if by its own power. In the doorway, not seeming to notice that he was drenched in frigid rain, stood the strange desert man. He walked into the cabin uninvited and ignored the father's polite yet firm demand for the cause of such an invasion. The man surprised everyone in the room when he spoke. None had recalled hearing him speak before and his voice was surprisingly calm and melodious:
"Six riders from my land left our homes seven seasons ago carrying the only hope for the future of our people. We traveled with all haste to deliver treasures -- not knowing to whom they would be given or from where they came. More accurately, we did not know who they would choose. We each felt the pull of the owner as we raced to the farthest corners of the known world. When we parted I felt a connection to each rider as if we were tied to one another by an invisible string. As each treasure was delivered I have felt the strings cut and I am here to deliver this last sacred stone to your new child."
As he pulled out a small black stone from his pouch he continued. "To any untrained eye these stones are simply six identical polished black pieces small enough to be concealed in the palm of the hand. The power of these treasures lies in their magnifying capacity and their prophesied destiny. Each stone is connected to the six gifts. When a visor holds this Sight Stone," holding up the small polished stone in his hand he continued, "his gift will be magnified and enhanced. To all else the stone provides no immediate aid." The man paused for a moment placing the polished stone next to the newborn.
"Greater than the magnifying power of each individual stone, is the united power they hold. This power will only be shown when the six are once again reunited. They can turn the tide of evil when the marked man comes. Keep the stone safe, and keep it secret."
The family looked down at the polished black stone in wonder, then Jon stood up and addressed the man. "This is the stone of sight?" he began, somewhat confused, then continued. "Why not the stone of hearing? This village has not had a visor in ages."
Without another word of explanation or any further delay the desert man exited the front door into the rain never to be seen again.
Across the plains of Denall, to the sea on the west, up steep mountains of the east and far north to the oldest forests, all six stones found their masters in different ways. Many did not know the meaning, reason or worth of the gifts that were given. Some cherished the stones as rare antiques and lovingly passed them from generation to generation while others, not knowing their worth, sold them for a sack of grain or morsel of bread.
Some traveled far with their stones to confirm their magnifying powers. There were some who desperately sought the stones and would stop at nothing to get them; they spent their lives in the pursuit of the stones that were largely evasive. Some sought the stones for the glory or fame that they would receive by having a superhuman ability. Others sought the stones to study them and learn of their meaning and origin or to discover if the stones were just a myth. The fiercest stone seekers were on Mordyar’s errand and they sought among all the countries and islands of the world for any sign of the stones' locations. They were paid well for reporting any rumor, but they often kept the rumors to themselves, so that they could pursue the promise of much greater wealth and power if they were able to obtain a stone and return it to Mordyar.
As time passed the purpose of the stones and the power they possessed faded from memory. Records of the stones eroded with time. Most people thought of the stones as ancient folklore, if they thought about them at all. While the stones moved from owner to owner they, like much that is sacred and important, were forgotten by most men but not lost.