The light of the flaming sun rippled through the sky like a glorious bird, and Elia began walking faster. She attempted to swat a bloated blue dragonfly away with her viciously scarred left hand, though she only managed to make it more interested in her. It buzzed in spirals around a nearby tree, and then flew back to her, trying to land on her bright yellow hair. Elia gritted her teeth in annoyance, and continued walking toward the outline of a small town on the horizon. The dragonfly flew off into the sunset, leaving Elia alone save for Kashi, her obese pet rat.
The moon was high in the star-riddled sky when Elia reached the town. The first thing she noticed was the smell of horse dung and ale. She followed the almost overpowering smell of ale past a few houses, and to a stone building from which loud banging and drunken laughter were coming. Elia walked up to the plain wooden door and pushed it open with the thin, smooth staff that she had been using as a walking stick. Inside the building were six clearly intoxicated men throwing curses at each other in rough, grating voices. There were several upturned tables and chairs, but at one of the only upright tables sat a brown-haired man calmly watching the six roughs. His hand was vigorously clutching a mug filled with a red liquid, and every few seconds he gleefully took a sip of it. Elia studied the man for minutes, ignoring the fight, until he finally finished his drink. Elia trotted over to him and sat herself down at a chair across from him.
"Ello," said the man in a screeching voice, curiously eyeing Elia, "Does ye want something to drink?"
"Not tonight," sighed Elia over the clamor of the six men. "All that I want tonight is somewhere to sleep."
"Sleep, eh?" The mancs eyes drifted around the room as though he had no control over them. Elia noticed a faint, though still repulsive, smell of rotting fish. "Not an easy thing to find lately. Why, it seems like I haven't had a good night of sleep since I left Aluahn."
"Aluahn? Where's that?" inquired Elia.
"It was great. Such a small, pretty town. Loved it there. Wonderful, I could actually sleep..." At this, the man's eyelids fell, and a quiet, rhythmical snoring began emanating from the oversized melon that was his head. Elia glared at the man for a moment, silently reprimanding him for falling asleep while talking to her. The man continued to snore through Elia's glaring, the wild roars pouring out of his bulging nose like the wind howling above a river.
The fight had now dwindled down to sullen glares, and the tables had been set upright by a stocky man who had scurried out of nowhere and vanished along with the light of the sun that had been creeping in from under the door. Elia silently walked over to the grubby, smudged counter, behind which a fish of a man was standing. He was mixing a bright colored combination of drinks, and as he was pouring a startlingly yellow liquid into the mix, Elia barked at him, "You!" The small man gracefully turned toward Elia and looked at her questioningly. "What's the price of a room here?"
"I'm trying to run a tavern 'ere missy, not an inn." The barkeep's soft voice only seemed to make the room quieter
"Then where can I find an inn in this humiliating shipwreck of a town?" Elia growled violently.
"There ain't any inns 'ere in Braslin. We don't get many travelers in this corner of the world. If ya really want somewhere to sleep, I'll give ya a sheet and ya can sleep by the fireplace, but It'll cost ya a double piece." Elia nodded gratefully and pulled a tiny coin out of her deep pocket. She tossed the silver coin to the barkeep, and he snatched it out of the air with his dirt encrusted hand. The man flashed Elia a toothy smile, and scuttled to a back room, returning with a thin sheet. He handed the sheet to Elia, and shakily pointed to the small hearth that was sitting in the corner of the room.
"G'night missy," said the barkeep, and with seconds he had disappeared into a back room. Elia dragged herself over to the hearth and set her sheet and staff down. Pulling her bag off of her back, she laid down on the sheet, the flickering light of the fire melting into her pale skin. Elia sighed, and with that sigh went a small bit of the pain of years past. Soon I shall find home, thought Elia, and her eyelids slipped closed with the weight of the night.
Elia woke feeling full of life, and craving more of it. Within minutes she was ready to set off. She flew out the door and ran through the town to the west end of Braslin. As she slowed her pace and trotted past a few decrepit stables, a tainted smell filling her nostrils reminded her of something. A town that the man in the tavern last night had mentioned, Aluahn. The mere name of it intrigued her. Elia roughly grabbed a passing woman on the shoulder, and asked her, "Do you know of Aluahn?"
"I do," snapped the finely dressed woman tartly, pulling away from Elia. "Five miles straight west of here. Now, please, don't bother me any more, peasant." The woman haughtily walked off, and Elia heard the faint giggling of children in the distance. Elia scowled, and Kashi, who was sitting on Elia's shoulder, hissed softly.
Elia quickly marched out of Braslin and into the marshy area surrounding it. She slowly waded through the mud, hoping that it was a short five miles to Aluahn. The rancid stench of rotting matter rose up from the mud in overwhelming wafts, and the sky threatened to crumple the world into a wrinkled wad of dirt. There were dozens of leafless, claw like trees scattered throughout the mud. Elia had now lost her craving for more of life, and had realized why Braslin did not have more visitors. The whole landscape radiated gloom.
Elia did not know how long she had been walking, and she did not care. The sun disappeared behind a gigantic cloud, and Elia shivered. Elia morosely continued west.
Out of the sullen land drifted a sound, a faint singing. Then came the sound of a flute, and people clapping. The sounds merged, and Elia recognized them as a song often played at festivals and weddings, Love Returned. From where the music came, there appeared a town, brightly painted buildings cutting through the cold land. Elia grinned wildly, and began towards it.
Elia could see joyfully dressed women and men dancing in a circle, their arms linked. Their tramping feet left wide gaps in the mud which instantly filled themselves up again. Elia hopefully sprinted to the muddy green on which the people were dancing, stopping just a few feet away from the dancers. The women had wreaths of yellow flowers in their hair, and their eyes were closed tightly. The men were dressed in short yellow breeches and their chests were free of clothes, even though Elia could feel the wind slicing through her. Standing outside the circle of dancers was a thin, lightly clothed man with a pinched face and wide eyes that seemed to swallow his entire head. He was playing a silver coated flute and bobbing to the jumpy rhythm of his song. His song sped up to a dreadfully fast beat, and then suddenly stopped with a piercing note that filled the air with the sweet feeling of joy. Elia chuckled as the couples dropped hands and kissed. Slowly, the men and women went off in their own directions, most likely to a warm hearth and a hot supper. Elia watched the people trot through the grass, and then she realized that there were two people still there on the green with her. The flute player had begun playing again, this time a slow, sad tune. He was silently swaying to the haunting melody, and watching him as he swayed was a short girl. She had a chubby face that reminded Elia of a baby's, adoring green eyes, and red hair that was put up into a bun. She was wearing a large tawny apron with small bits of meat scattered on it, a red skirt, and and a worn yellow scarf embroidered with a pattern of lush flowers.
The girl swayed towards the young man, her burning red hair slipping out of its neat bun. She stood in front of him as he played, his eyes pinched shut in concentration.
"Pevlin?" said the girl, and the boy abruptly stopped playing and his hazel eyes flew open, falling upon the girl. The boy's mouth cracked into a joyful smile.
"Sarah." Pevlin's smile split even wider as he gazed at the girl. Elia looked at Sarah as well, and realized that her scarf seemed to have suddenly changed from a lazy yellow to a blushing shade of purple. Pevlin's eyes flashed at the scarf, and his mouth curved downward with a tint of worry, but then he looked back up at Sarah's glowing face, and his smile was slapped upon him again.
For a few long moments they gazed at each other, and Elia stood to the side, resting her head on her fist and silently chuckling to herself. She had once known love like this, the innocent kind, when there's someone whose eye you look into, and you feel that glow inside you telling you that you love this person and you want to be with them for the rest of your life.
The couple stood barefoot on the lone hill, happily wading through the small, trickling creek, holding hands. The sun was escaping into the horizon, and the two stared at each other with expressions of complete love. The young man lifted his hand and slowly, gently, brushed the girl's long blonde hair out of her face. With a last, flaming wave of farewell, the sun crept away from the empty sky and the couple embraced each other, love pulsing through their entire bodies like a fruit, a wonderful, sweet fruit that would last forever. As the ripples of wispy light faded away, the two stood in silent remembrance of a thing good and pure among all the evil in this world, and a small, insignificant droplet of a tear silently slid down the girl's cheek and onto the dark earth below.
Elia winced as a stab of pain ran through her, and suddenly her eyes seemed to be flooding up with water. She brushed a wisp of hair out of her face, like her love had done all those years ago. It seemed like only a week ago yesterday that she had still been in Angkor with him. Elia sighed slowly, painstakingly, using up every ounce of her breath to emphasize that this was a real sigh. Abruptly, Elia glanced up from her self pity to see how Pevlin and Sarah were faring in their own little personal quest.
They had moved on to dancing now, and seemed not have noticed Elia yet. They were stepping back and forth in a slow 1-2-3 rhythm, ultimately going around in a wide circle. Splatters of mud had apparently crawled onto Pevlin's leg, and Sarah's scarf had reverted to its original shade of yellow. Elia made a quick mental note of this and decided to ask about it when she had recovered from her emotional trauma. Pevlin's eyelids were clamped tight together, and Sarah's long, pale arms were wrapped around Pevlin's thin neck. Suddenly a raven made a quick, hungry sounding cackle, and Pevlin's eyes burst open. A swarm of black, bedraggled ravens leapt from a faraway tree and flapped into the sky, towards Braslin. Pevlin's wide eyes relaxed, and then he saw Elia. With a glare of annoyance, he pulled his arms off of Sarah's waist and stopped dancing. Sarah stared at Elia strangely, absently toying with her scarf, and then suddenly, as though she had remembered some task that she was meant to do, she muttered something to Pevlin and scurried away, deeper into the town. Pevlin stared after her with a look of disappointment on his face, and then suddenly rounded on Elia.
"Who are you?" said Pevlin slowly in an extremely high voice. "I've never seen you in Aluahn before."
"I am Elia Teravnon." Now that Pevlin was closer to her, Elia noticed something strange. Pevlin had extremely tan skin, but somehow its color was off, and Elia could see a tiny tint of blue or green. She shivered, and continued speaking. "From Angkor."
"From Angkor?" screeched Pevlin with a hint of bitter disgust on his voice. "You're a Morgon then. What's a Morgon doing in the Free Lands? I thought Morgons hated us Free Men."
"Not all of them," Elia stated acidly. "And don't call me a Morgon. I hate the name almost as much as I hate the terrible people of that country. Wretched patriots." There was a long silence that twisted and spiraled up and down in the biting wind, and soon the silence itself was blown away, leaving the hissing wind alone with Pevlin and Elia.
"Anyway, I'm Pevlin Aleanne." Pevlin's voice was much calmer now, though it still retained its screechiness, and the bitterness seemed to have been whisked away by the wind. "So why are you down here in the Free Lands, in this barren spot? We barely have any visitors besides those messengers that King Gerad from up in Tenerra is always sending, trying to get us to sign some useless treaty."
"I am here because of a personal matter," replied Elia with a scowl so forceful that Pevlin immediately stepped away from Elia. At this, Kashi slowly crept out of Elia's deep pocket, nibbling shyly on a stale piece of bread. He nibbled his way up Elia's sleeve and clambered onto her shoulder, proceeding to stare Pevlin directly in the eyes with his whiskers flapping as he chomped down on the hard bread. Pevlin stared back, eyes wide and his nose curled up in disgust. Elia was still scowling as Pevlin began to speak.
"Mistress Teravnon," started Pevlin uneasily, "Did you know that there's a rat on your shoulder. And a fat one, at that."
"Oh, you mean Kashi?" stated Elia, now smiling. She glanced down at Kashi fondly, and gently stroked his head and neck. Kashi made a soft gobbling sort of noise and rubbed up against Elia's neck. "Would you like to hold him?" Elia snatched Kashi up from off her shoulder and held him out to Pevlin.
"Ahh!" shouted Pevlin, reeling back from Elia's outstretched hand and gazing down at Kashi with pure terror on his tight face. "Keep it away from me! Don't rats carry all sorts of diseases and whatnot?"
"Not Kashi," sighed Elia, placing her rat firmly back on her shoulder. "Well, boy, can you lead me to a tavern in this damn town? I haven't had any ale yet today, and I'm starting to feel...well...not good." Pevlin stared with concern at Elia, and continued worrying about the diseases that he would have when he woke up the next morning. He motioned for Elia to follow him, and started off north, towards a small yellow painted building, from which a loud, harmonic whistling was emanating. Elia followed the boy, poking the soft ground with her staff as she trotted along.
"By the way, Mistress, my name is Pevlin."
"All right, boy," said Elia. "Pevlin."
They came to the wooden building, and Pevlin jostled open the frighteningly yellow door. He lightly stepped into the small room, followed by Elia and Kashi. The whistling was now sweepingly loud, and it seemed to have absolutely no direction to go in, as the tune flitted back and forth from slow and heart melting to fast and heart pounding. The source of the whistling was a large, round woman sitting on top of a cracked and bent wooden table and staring off absently at a gouged wooden wall. She had bright red hair like Sarah's and piercing green-blue eyes, and her face was sharp and alert looking, while at the same time looking full of joy. She was wearing a long, pale yellow tunic covered by a thick red cloak. Suddenly the whistling stopped, and a voice emerged from the woman's wide mouth.
"Hello, dear," she rumbled, her eyes darting from Pevlin to Elia, and back again. Her voice reverberated throughout the small tavern, and Elia thought she could hear glasses rattling from deep within the plethora of cupboards. "And who's your little friend here?"
"This is Mistress Teravnon," Pevlin squeaked, his eyes still burdened with worry. "She's a Morg‾" Immediately Elia cut Pevlin off.
"I'm traveling through the free lands on personal business." Elia spoke acidly, her eyes burning at Pevlin. Stiffly, she bowed to the woman, Kashi digging his claws into Elia's shoulder, preventing himself from falling to the hard floor.
"That's nice dear," boomed the woman, her eyes cocked curiously at Elia. "And I'm Bella. 'Ere, why don't you two sit down? Miss Teravnon, Pevlin?" Then, as Sarah had before, Pevlin suddenly seemed to remember something.
"Sorry, Bella, but I have to get to your husband's shop. Work, you know." at this, Pevlin deftly dashed out of the tavern and into the chilling afternoon air. Elia silently plopped herself down in a rickety wooden chair.
"Bella, get me some ale," barked Elia, looking up at Bella thirstily. Bella stared down at Elia harshly, and the pronounced simply, 'We don't have ale."
"What!?" shouted Elia, her dry mouth hanging open.
"I said we don't have any ale. We have milk though. Fresh this morning, and we have excellent cows, I'll have you know. An' then there's some water that I carried over from the well myself." Elia growled with disgust and stared down at the table, unmoving.
"Give me the milk then," muttered Elia, defeated. Elia continued to stare at the table as Bella fetched her a jug of milk.
Glumly, Elia sat drinking the thick white milk, trying to pretend that it was ale.
"So Miss Teravnon," bellowed Bella in her ravaging voice, "Why are you here in Aluahn? No doubt dear Pevlin told you that we don't often have strangers coming through her. Where are you from?" Elia finished her milk with a loud, rude gulp.
"Ah, well, I just came here from Braslin." Elia stopped abruptly, and an odd feeling hung in the air, like there was something else that Elia was going to say, but didn't.
"Surely you weren't born in the Free Lands, eh? You certainly don't look like any Free Woman I've ever seen. Thinking of it, you don't really look like anything at all. Tellars have that sort of strange 'I'm better than you' feel, which I don't like at all, and Morgons have that incredibly tan skin, and their clothing isn't a'tall like yours, and Darans always look like a piece of the sky just fell on them, I suppose that's because of their terrible government, going around an' killing anyone who so much as raises a finger against that vile king. So, which country do you come from, my dear?"
"I'd rather not say," stated Elia firmly, swishing the remains of the milk around in her mouth. Bella looked down at Elia softly, motherly, and then comfortingly said, "It's alright dear, you can tell me. I don't share all the prejudices that my fellow Free Landers have." Bella was smiling warmly now, reassuringly. Being unable to stand the friendliness of the gaze, Elia guiltily looked down into her empty clay mug. Sighing, Elia gave way.
"Alright Bella," Elia smiled weakly up at the red-haired woman, "I'm a Morgon. From Angkor." Elia was silently scolding herself for giving up this easily, but she kept the smile on her face.
Bella was looking curiously at Elia again and roughly scratching at her cheek. She continued like this for nearly five minutes, with Elia just sitting on her rickety chair, until Bella finally pulled out a chair, sat down and stopped scratching.
"A Morgon, eh? You're not a'tall what I had imagined them to be like." Bella paused for a moment and took a long, wheezing breath. "So what's yer business down 'ere in the Free Lands? I can imagine that you might have summat to do in Braslin, but in Aluahn? That couldn't be." After a moment's pause, Bella added, "An' don't just tell me that bit about you bein' 'ere on personal business. I like to know the full truth about Aluahn's visitors."
Elia looked moodily at the wooden table, chewing on a bit of food that had been stuck in her teeth from breakfast, and then suddenly exploded with tears. Maybe it was the fact the she had not had ale yet that day, or maybe it was Bella's friendly nature, or a combination of the two, but whatever it was, she was crying. Bella stood up and shuffled over to the sobbing Elia, frowning. Biting her lip, she patted Elia on the back and as comfortingly as she could manage, spoke to her.
"I'm sorry Miss Teravnon, ah, um, I did not mean to offend you, but, um...what did I say?" Elia's head was down on the table, and through her tears she said, "Nothing, Bella, nothing. It's just...nothing." Bella looked down at Elia with worry in her alert eyes, and then patted her on the back again.
"Are you sure its nothing?"
"Well, it's just..." Elia looked up from the table at the guilty looking Bella. Elia's eyes were red with tears, but the water had almost stopped streaming out of her eyes.
"Tell me, dear. Sometimes when we speak of our worries it may ease them."
"Bella, it's about my childhood, w-when I lived in Morgon. It's why I left there. You see, one n-night, I, my, well, my house was b-burned down, and m-my parents w-were in it. T-they d-died. I-I had n-nothing l-left there, b-b-but a man."
"Y-yes, a m-man. B-but I c-couldn't b-bear to stay. Y-you see, I-I w-was never v-very c-close to my parents. I-I regretted it, and t-thought I could leave, and f-forget..." Elia burst out crying again, holding her small head in her hands. Bella simply stood there, helplessly wondering what to do. Being able to think of nothing else, she patted Elia on the back again.
"I-I also g-got this in the fire. I-It'd be w-worse, had I n-not escaped as s-soon as I d-did," trembled Elia, holding up her left hand, which she had kept hidden under the folds of her wispy green cloak. It was a perfectly normal arm, except for the long, wrinkled burn marks crawling up it. Bella gasped.
"Oh, ah, I'm sorry m'dear. I'm sorry." Elia looked up at Bella, wonder in her eyes.
"Are you really, Bella?"
"Yes, yes I am MissTeravnon, dear.""I d-don't think anyone has ever truly said that to me before. Thank you, Bella."* * * * *"You're welcome, dear."
Elia left Bella's tavern happily after many hours of conversing, relating her life to Bella, who was remarkably sympathetic after Elia's breakdown. Elia walked north towards where Bella had said her husband's shop was, in search of Pevlin. The sun was low in the western sky, and was slowly creeping down to rest for the night. Soon after she had left the tavern, a small brick building entered Elia's view. The sign in front of it featured a fat, pink pig roasting on a spit over a malicious fire, and standing just outside the building was Pevlin and Sarah. Pevlin was silent, and his mouth was hanging open in surprise. His wide eyes were even wider than usual, and his long, tan arms were hanging limp at his side. Sarah had her hands on her hips and was ranting at Pevlin, her mouth moving in a blur and her words slurring together like a drunk's. Her thin eyebrows were arched in a display of raw anger. Suddenly, Sarah stomped her small foot down and 'harrumphed' while spinning away from Pevlin. She stalked off into the distance as the sun tucked in its covers and disappeared, and Pevlin was left alone with the pig.
Elia watched Pevlin, waiting for some sign of recovery before she approached him, but none came. No sign of tears came from his eyes, but he remained paralyzed in shock. Sighing in aggravation, Elia walked to the stunned Pevlin.
"Little fight with Sarah?" questioned Elia. Pevlin jerked his head towards her, surprised.
"Oh, h-hello Mistress Teravnon," greeted Pevlin shakily, looking somewhat annoyed. "Ah, no, it wasn't really a fight. It's just, she-she doesn't like me."
"She said we should only be friends, that it wasn't working out. And she shouted at me, you saw that didn't ya? And after I tell her I like her, a hell of a lot, and that we should stay together, she just shouts at me some more and then stomps off! Leaving me in the dust!" Pevlin waved his arms around angrily, and then stomped down on the ground.
"It's alright Pevlin, I know how you feel," Elia declared.
"I mean, like she has the right to do that! Just leave me here like what's that? You know how I feel?"
"Of course, Pevlin. I had to leave a loved one once, you know. No, more than once."
"But that's different! It's not like some‾"
"No, Pevlin," objected Elia, "Believe me, it's exactly the same."
"Well, if you have so much experience with these sorts of things, what should I do? Eh?" Pevlin smirked.
"Um, first of all, um, you'll have to, uh, actually I have no idea," confessed Elia. Pevlin's smirk grew to an enormous size. "I suppose you should just, um, wait, or something. Maybe being friends would be the best option." Pevlin glared at Elia. "Oh, by the way Pevlin, I've been meaning to ask you something. You know Sarah's yellow scarf?" Pevlin's face grew pale. "Ah...good. Would you happen to know why it turned that ungodly shade of purple when you were talking with Sarah? It's been nagging at the back of my mind for a little while now." Pevlin vigorously shook his head.
"Are you sure you don't know? Because I can't figure out why it did that, and I was hoping you could." Pevlin looked like he could pass out at any moment. "As far as I know, only certain people can do things like that, such as sor‾" Pevlin loudly and quickly cut Elia off.
"Shh! Don't say it, you fool! Right, you figured me out. I'm a sorcerer. But don't go blabbing it, you know how people hate sorcerers! Like lone wolves they are, if they're found out. Hunted down and killed. Burned." A strange fire seemed to have arisen in Pevlin, a powerful will to survive, to come out a winner. It blazed in him as though it had never had the chance to before, and never would again. And suddenly, Elia saw standing before her not Pevlin, but a powerful old man, a sorcerer, wielding all the wonders and power that nearly none had come to know. This man had a presence that filled the air around him with energy and life, and he scared Elia. Elia stumbled back in fright, but the man was gone, replaced by plain and simple Pevlin. He was still angry.
Pevlin was shaking with rage, but underneath all that anger, from the soft ground beneath him, came a small green stub. The stub grew upwards, reaching towards the darkening sky. It twisted and turned, sprouting three hairy leaves, and as it slowed its growth, a small white bud popped from the end of it. The bud peeled open, revealing a rich white flower, like a blessing upon the barren earth. Elia stared in wonder at the flower, pointing. Pevlin angrily looked down, and instantly his anger melted into amazement. The two stared at the flower for what seemed like hours, until out of the darkness Elia spoke slowly.
"I had no idea..."
Accra stepped out of the freezing breezes and into the welcoming warmth of Gerad's castle. She silently padded through the stone castle, walking stiffly as though there were a long, pointed stick poking into her back. After a small period of padding through the massive halls, she reached a looming set of iron double doors. The two armed guards standing on either side of the doors bowed slightly to Accra, and then mechanically opened the doors for her. As the doors were slowly pulled open, an enveloping draft leapt at Accra like bath water on a fall morning. She shivered, and stepped into King Gerad's throne room.
"Edgar," came a deep, scolding voice that Accra fondly recognized as Gerad's. "You have no right to tell me what to do, considering the fact that I am the King of Tellar, and you are merely my brother. You are dismissed, Edgar." Gerad steadily gazed at the silver haired, middle aged man standing in front of the throne with unblinking eyes, and the man indignantly swirled away from him and thundered out of the throne room, swishing past Accra and letting his long red cloak fly out behind him. The air stood still for a moment as the guards near Accra let Edgar out. When Edgar was gone, Gerad's gaze softened a bit and he sighed, staring at the huge doors that now stood between him and his brother, Edgar, serving as a reminder of the decades old feud between them. Accra again began walking towards the richly decorated throne that Gerad sat upon, but then the old, tired man started saying something to himself, as he had not noticed Accra yet and did not seem to care about the guards.
"Oh...why did I have to be King?" breathed Gerad through his furry black beard. "It's not as though I asked father for this duty. For all I care, Edgar can have the throne, but..." At this point, Gerad trailed off until he ended up just muttering incomprehensibly into his bony hand. Finally, Gerad's head popped up from his muttering, regarding Accra with tired acceptance, and he beckoned at her to come all the way up to the throne. The massive stone chair that was the throne of Tellar sat at the far end of the throne room, and was decorated with glittering emeralds and silk, draped over the ancient stone. Most of the fascinating riches had been imported from the north-western country of Daran, as things like the emeralds and silk on the throne could easily be found on the black market there for a cheap price. Of course, neither Accra nor Gerad knew this.
"Hello Accra," said Gerad wearily, "How are my soldiers faring? Any interesting word from them?" Gerad slowly stood up and stepped onto the red carpet rolled out in front of his throne.
"No, not at all," replied Accra in her usual stiff voice. "They are merely a little off schedule. When were they supposed to be in Aluahn? A day ago?" Gerad replied with a little 'hmmph' and a nod, and Accra continued, swishing her long black hair out. "Well, they're no more than a day off schedule then. I think their dawdling has been caused by the bottles of ale that their general decided to bring along for the trip." Accra snorted in disgust. "He could at least have brought some wine." Gerad laughed quietly through his muffling beard, and walked to Accra. His face seemed to be glazed over with a nagging sadness, and suddenly, he hugged Accra. Accra returned the hearty embrace, patting the king on his back.
Gerad had been like this ever since his wife had died, over a month ago. Gerad's wife, Carren, had been sick with a strange pestilence that had hit many people in the palace. Carren was one of the last to catch it, and she was sick with it for nearly half a year before she passed away quite suddenly at the end of summer. Carren had been sitting with here husband, talking about life and her regrets when out of nowhere, she just died. Just like that, she fell down into her mug of tea and was dead. Accra had been there, watching Gerad and Carren when it had happened, and she thought it was a horrible thing for someone to just suddenly die like that. Carren had been feeling a little better than usual, and it had actually been one of her best days since the sickness had struck her. And that was the strange thing about the sickness. It didn't constantly hound the person who had caught it, instead it just decided to come in leaps and spasms of vomiting and terrible moaning. Gerad had taken the whole thing incredibly well, Accra thought, until Carren actually died and Gerad finally gave way. It was like a tower that leaned just a tiny bit, managing to stay up, but then something struck it and it fell to the ground, taking everything around down with it. And indeed that was what Gerad was doing. He had taken to ignoring the problems of his country and barring himself up in his throne room alone. He would spend entire days sitting in the throne room, immersed in his dreams of the days when Carren was still with him. This wouldn't have been good in any situation, but in Tellar's current state, with the Morgons threatening war, it was devastating. And now Gerad was trying to find a sorcerer, someone with the power to let Gerad speak with the dead, to speak with Carren. Gerad was a fool to look to sorcerers for help, and besides, anyone with any good sense knew that sorcerers didn't exist, and if they did, how would you expect to find one? But because of some childish folly, Gerad seemed to think there was a sorcerer in the Free Lands, in the town of Aluahn. Yes, there were many rumors about 'magical' occurrences in Aluahn, but what kind of a king believed rumors? A desperate king, that's what kind.
Suddenly, Accra heard the iron doors burst open and the sound of someone hurriedly shuffling into the throne room.
"King Gerad, your majesty!" A tall, armored guard armed with an evilly sharpened spear was kneeling at the entrance to the throne room. He stood up, panting, and continued. "It's that pesky jester again! He's trying to gain a personal audience with you, and when we didn't let him he starting going on about the people's rights and other such nonsense! He's terrible!" Gerad ended his embrace with Accra, and rolled his tongue around in his mouth, thinking.
"Hadas," proclaimed Gerad to the armored soldier, "Send him in. Now might as well be the time that I get this man away from here for good. Yes, send him in." Gerad slowly nodded to himself.
"Yes, your majesty," responded Hadas as he turned and left the throne room. Accra and Gerad still stood in the same spots that Hadas had left them in. Less than a minute later, a short, black haired man strolled into the throne room. He was dressed in bright, baggy clothes, and had a small multicolored pouch hanging from his belt that contained several round objects. He was frowning and looked like he had just been shouting at someone, as his long hair was puffed out and his green eyes were excited, darting about the room.
"Gerad, do you know what injustice your guards have done me! Refusing me my right to speak with your majesty!" bellowed the man, bowing and twirling his fingers around in extravagant patterns, "Until, of course, you ordered them to let me in. And that tall one, I wouldn't trust him. Acts like a little weasel, that one. And he looks the part too." Gerad held his breath in, trying to hold back the aggravated outburst that was building up somewhere in the region of his chest.
"What do you want this time, Zelim? You know I'm not going to give you the gold for that fool school of yours." Zelim looked pained, but puffed out his chest and snapped at Gerad, "It wasn't just any old school, it was a school for jesters." Zelim spoke indignantly, as though Gerad knew absolutely nothing. "Really, Gerad, do you want your people to live un-entertained? At the present I am the only jester at large in Tenerra! And to think that it's called the City of Wonders! What wonder is there if you don't have any jesters?"
As calmly as he could manage, Gerad declared, "What do you want Zelim? You know I didn't want to see you again."
"Yes, I know Gerad, but, it's just..."
"Just what?!" trumpeted Gerad, the force of his voice shaking him. Accra leapt to his side and steadied him, muttering something about this not being good for his health.
"I'm a bit short on silver, you see," breathed Zelim, "And, well..."
"Spit it out Zelim! I'm not pleased with your presence here."
"I was wondering if I could perform at your midsummer feast in three days, for a bit of extra silver...or gold." Zelim spoke the last word with a tiny smile on his face, rubbing his fingers together.
"No, Zelim," proclaimed Gerad harshly, "You know that I've already got the performers rounded up. The very best in all of Tellar." A look of disappointment and pain appeared on Zelim's face. "Now get out of my palace or I'll set my weasel guards on you." Zelim stood on the stone floor, viciously staring at Gerad. "Now."
"No, Gerad. I'm not getting out until you've given me a job at your midsummer feast." Zelim puffed his chest out again.
"Alright Zelim, you can have the job." smirked Gerad, and a smile formed on Zelim's thin lips "You can wash the dishes." Zelim's smile instantly disappeared.
"Funny, Gerad. You always have been quite witty. I'm still not moving." as Zelim spoke, a strange idea began to formulate in Gerad's mind.
"Zelim," said Gerad, "Why don't we make a deal? You can perform at the midsummer feast, if after the feast I never see you again. Not in my palace, not out on the streets, not anywhere." Zelim grinned, his eyes wide.
"And you'll pay me...how much?"
"How would you like three gold pennies?" Accra was frowning behind the King's back and looking disgustedly at Zelim.
"Four," bargained Zelim. Accra snorted.
"How about three gold pennies and twenty double pieces?" Zelim's eyes gleamed.
"Hmm...that seems suitable," concluded Zelim happily.
"Good," smiled Gerad, and then suddenly he frowned. "Now get out of my palace!"
"Right away Gerad," agreed Zelim, bowing deeply. "See you at the midsummer feast!" Zelim practically ran out of the palace and into the dark streets of Tenerra, the City of Wonders.
"Accch..." groaned Gerad, "I hate that man."
"Yes, yes, my King," murmured Accra, "Now how about we get you to bed? You have treaties to sign and ambassadors aplenty to meet tomorrow, so you best be getting some sleep." At this, Accra led the old King to his chambers high up in the palace, where he quickly fell into dreams of warm bread and bothersome jesters.
Back in the throne room, a small, twisted little man was beginning to creep through a secret passageway to the chambers of the King's brother, Edgar. The small, dirty man was thinking of how his master would reward him with his newly found information. His master liked information, thought the little man, and he would be rewarded greatly for what he had found out. Master was smart, thought the man, much smarter than old, stuffy Gerad. The little man's master would use the information wisely, for the benefits of both him and the little man, yes he would.
"Ahhhh..." breathed the little man as he thought of the wonderful food he would have when his master had gained his power. The little man liked food, yes he did, he liked it very much.
He knew that when he told his master that there was a sorcerer in Aluahn that he would be rewarded, and he knew that when he told his master that the King, his brother, was trying to find that sorcerer that he would be rewarded. He knew that his master would be wise. Yes he did.
Less than an hour later, Edgar's horse was galloping through the chilling night air with Edgar's worn red cape billowing out behind it. Edgar silently sneered to himself as his horse pounded through the half-light toward the soldiers that Gerad had sent out. This was his big chance, thought Edgar, once he had gotten the sorcerer in Aluahn for himself he would finally be able to do something about Gerad's undeserving reign. With the power of this sorcerer, he could finally take the throne of Tellar for himself and go on to become the greatest ruler in the history of the world. Much better than that stuffy old fool Gerad. Edgar was basking in these joyful thoughts, when suddenly, his horse stopped moving, and he went tumbling to the ground violently, landing in a sticky puddle of mud. Wiping himself off, and groaning in disgust, Edgar spitefully stood up and lit a torch to see what had happened to his horse,
Waving his torch through the air, he came across his wild-eyed horse standing in pure terror just where it had stopped. Edgar could find no visible sign of his horse's sudden panic, but listening closely into the night, he could hear a faint howling from beyond the outline of a few scraggly trees. The many howls pierced the fabric of the sky, covering Edgar's long arms with tiny goose bumps. Shivering, Edgar quickly remounted his horse and kicked it on its flanks. The horse did not move, and the howling continued, a little fainter now. Edgar kicked his horse again, harder this time, but still the horse would not move. Grumbling and looking ahead into the dark, Edgar noticed the warming sight of a small yellow-red dot in the distance, a fire. Grinning now, Edgar firmly thwacked his horse on the side of the head, nudging it towards the fire. This time, the horse began galloping full stride towards the fire. As he drew closer, Edgar was able to make out the forms of a small regiment of soldiers spread out around the crackling fire, sleeping. There was one man, however, that was not.
Sitting on a boulder next to the still blazing fire was a stocky man wearing a cracked and ripped leather coat. There were several bottles of ale lying next to the boulder. He had a bush like beard that curled up as though to touch his nose, which was surprisingly small and gnarled. He was staring into the quickly vanishing flames, his furry jaw set at a contemplating angle. Still sitting, he picked up a cracked acorn and threw it into the fire, and a few moments later there came a loud 'pop'. Edgar sneered, and edged his horse, and edged his horse closer towards the sleeping soldiers. As Edgar came closer, he noticed that the man on the boulder was wearing the crest of Tellar on his jacket, signifying that he was a general in Gerad's army. Edgar sneered again, thinking about how Gerad's army would fare once he had a sorcerer under his command. From somewhere just beyond the path that Edgar was on there came more howls. Edgar trotted his horse into the full light of the fire, their shadow creeping onto the general. The general, startled, jerked his head at Edgar, and screeched hoarsely, "Who are you?" His eyes drifted absently , as though the man had no control over them.
"It's alright, King Gerad sent me." The general leered at Edgar, one of his eyes quivering suspiciously.
"You look a lot like the King, don't you now? Eh, you're 'is brother, isn't you?" Edgar noticed that the man's words ran together like sickly porridge.
"Yes, I am. Your regiment is looking for the sorcerer, correct?"
"Yes, youse is right," the man hiccuped. "But I thoughts only us an' the King knew that, not youses."
"Oh, well, that doesn't matter." Edgar blurted nervously as he dismounted his horse and tied it to a nearby tree. Edgar looked down at the bottles next to the boulder, pretending to notice them for the first time. "Say, general, is that ale?"
"Yesses, it's ale. Ye wants the some?" The general hiccuped again.
"Oh, yes please, general. I haven't had good ale for nearly an day now."
"And thissus is the finest in Tellar, yes it is," hiccuped the general, handing Edgar a nearly empty bottle of ale. Edgar took it and finished the last of it while keeping his eyes latched onto the general, waiting for the perfect moment to make his move. Just as the last drop of ale slid down Edgar's throat, he lunged at the general, swinging the bottle with all the force he could muster behind it. The bottle hit the general's neck hard, breaking into dozens of pieces. Edgar grabbed a rather large and jagged piece while forcing the general down flat on the ground among the sleeping soldiers. Edgar could hear a scream welling up in the general's throat, but he quickly put a hand over his mouth. He held the broken piece of glass to the general's throbbing neck veins, and slowly, coldly said, "I'm sorry, but I am not someone who's way you want to be in. Good night, my friend." With these words spoken, Edgar thrust the glass into the general's neck, tearing the flesh like long, jagged teeth would, and as the rich red blood poured out of the general's neck, a bloodthirsty howl tore through the night.
Elia awoke with a large, gray rat sitting lazily atop her nose. Gagging, she tore Kashi off her face, despite his obvious reluctance to move, and sat up. She was in Bella's house, in her guest room. After recovering from the shock of her discovery about Pevlin, she had come here and gone right to sleep. Shock can tire people out very easily. Sitting on her stiff cot, staring into the grayness of the early morning sky, she heard a vaguely familiar sound from off in the distance, possibly from the north. It was a sound that reminded her of when kings and armies had visited Elia's hometown when she was a child. It was a sound that could put small villages into shock for days, it was the sound of the mighty trumpet. Elia wrinkled her eyebrows, wondering what an army would be doing in Aluahn. Elia supposed that the army could be from Tellar, but Elia doubted that King Gerad would be trying to invade any part of the Free Lands, as he had been trying to form an alliance with them for years. Sleepily, Elia's thoughts drifted to the early morning birds soaring above and under the autumn colored trees, and fat pink worms creeping out of the dewy ground. And then, timidly, Kashi crept onto Elia's shoulder, jerking her back into the world.
Suddenly, Elia noticed dozens upon dozens of men outside her window on the grassy hills of the Free Lands, stiffly marching towards Aluahn. Actually, there were only forty-odd men in the makeshift army, but the way they were lined in freakishly neat columns made them seem much more numerous than they were. They were clad in the red tinted armor unique to Tellar, and there seemed to be a certain air about them resonating with confidence and power. The man riding at the head of the soldiers was extremely gangly and sat upon a brown haired horse that dragged itself forward with no attempt to hide its contempt for the man atop it. The man on the horse had startling silver hair, though he looked young, with smooth face and small, tight features. Flowing out behind him was a long, fur lined red cape. He had flaring green eyes and reminded Elia much of the descriptions she had heard of King Gerad from Tellar. As they came closer and closer to Aluahn, Elia suddenly realized she should find out if anybody else had seen them, and if they hadn't, she should tell them.
Quickly, Elia threw on her clothes and dashed out of her room, and into the living room of Bella's house. Bella was sitting on a rotting old chair, knitting something that look suspiciously like a sock.
"Bella!" shouted Elia, "Have you seen them, have you?" With embarrassment, Elia realized she sounded like a child.
"Oh, hello, m'dear. Seen who?"
"The army!" yelled Elia.
"What?" boomed Bella, peering wonderingly at Elia.
"There's an army, marching towards Aluahn, right now!"
"Really?" queried Bella calmly, but loudly, as usual, "Well, why don't we go we go out and have a look? We can just let my husband sleep, he doesn't like to be waken by trifles like this." Bella stood up, and shuffled out of the room, with Elia following her. As they stepped onto the soft ground, they could see the soldiers marching straight towards them. Now that they were closer, Elia noticed something strange about the man on the horse. His hair was neatly combed back, his regal clothes had not a wrinkle in sight, and everything about him was obsessively neat, except for a few small splatters of deep, rich red on his shirt.
"That man is King Gerad's brother," Bella whispered in Elia's ear, "His name's Edgar." Elia nodded slowly, quietly examining Edgar. Up close, Edgar's horse looked even worse. The trumpeter on the side of the soldiers blew into his long trumpet and then pulled out a parchment and began reading off of it.
"Presenting the magnificent, wonderful, marvelous, witty, and excellent Edgar, brother of King Gerad and would-be heir to the throne," shouted the trumpeter, clearing his throat loudly.
Edgar trotted his horse out to about ten feet away from Bella and Elia, and then suddenly a short, fat man who looked remarkably like Pevlin burst out of a small white house and waddled to Bella, his nose wrinkled.
"What's this all about?!" demanded the man to Edgar as Pevlin came running out of the white house and stopped in shock when he saw the soldiers. "The sun's just barely risen and you're here bothering us? What do you want?" Edgar dismounted his bedraggled horse and walked to the fat man, looking him up and down with spite in his eyes.
"I need to talk with the mayor of this...town, if you can call it that."
"That'd be me," growled the fat man.
"Good," said Edgar, eying the rest of the people standing there and watching. Elia eyed him back. "I'd prefer if we went somewhere private to talk."
"No sir, not while your army's in my town. Not meaning any disrespect or anything, of course."
"Okay, right. I'll get straight to the point then." Edgar paused, letting everyone gaze at him, waiting expectantly for an answer. He began feverishly whispering to the fat man. As the whispering continued, Pevlin joined Elia and quietly said to her, "That's my dad, Stell, the man talking to the King Gerad's brother." Elia noticed that Pevlin's father, Stell, was turning a ghostly white. Suddenly, Edgar stopped whispering, and Stell shouted, "Not in my town, Edgar!" He was fuming, and he started to advance on Edgar, pushing him back. "You've got the wrong place, fool! There ain't any sorcerers here! Now get away!" Flecks of spit were viciously flying off of Stell's tongue and onto Edgar. Now Pevlin was beginning to turn white. "Don't come looking back here again, you hear me! No one in my town is a sorcerer!" Stell growled, and spat on the ground in front of Edgar. Edgar blazing green eyes were boring holes in Stell's head, and suddenly Edgar's left hand flicked out from under his cape and into Stell's belly. Edgar moved his hand, and sticking out of Stell was a long steel knife. Blood began pouring down Stell's legs and onto the ground beneath, sliding down towards Pevlin. Pevlin stared at the tiny river of blood, his body quivering weakly, and he looked like he was going to collapse. He did not, but Stell did with a sickening crunch. Edgar sneered at Bella, Elia, and Pevlin, and Elia could see Pevlin leering in disgust. Pevlin stood in disgust, and then, without warning, he suddenly screamed in rage, and with nothing but his bare hands, he charged at Edgar. It was a terrible, heart wrenching scream, like one that haunted people in nightmares. But as Pevlin ran at Edgar, he tripped on a small crack in the earth and fell into a small puddle of blood, and as he fell, the knife in Stell's gut flew out and jumped at Edgar, blade first. Surprised, Edgar leapt out of the way just in time and grabbed the knife's handle. Edgar and the knife fought there for a few short moments, but Edgar managed to thrust the blade deep into the ground. The knife stood there quivering, trying to break free, but it could not. Edgar remained shocked, until abruptly, he snickered, and looked at the fallen Pevlin.
"So you're the one, eh? You're the sorcerer." Edgar walked to Pevlin and lightly kicked him on the head. "Stand up kid, I'm not going to hurt you. Not if you listen to me, anyway. And I don't want you using any of your powers on me, 'cause if you do, I'll gut you." Edgar gestured to two soldiers holding a pair of iron manacles and a thick rope. When Pevlin did not stand up right away, Edgar pulled him up with his own hands. The soldiers put Pevlin in the manacles and tied his legs together, loosely enough so that he could walk, but tight enough to prevent him from running away. Pevlin obediently stood there, his head hanging down.
Elia and Bella watched this silently. They just watched, being too shocked too cry out or make a move to help. Edgar yelled something to his soldiers, and they moved into position, surrounding Elia and Bella. Edgar, holding the defeated Pevlin by his arm like a prize won at a carnival. He looked at Elia and Bella, grinning widely, and waved at them.
"Goodbye!" said Edgar, mounting his horse again and pulling Pevlin on behind him. "Thank you!" Edgar started riding away to the north, to Tellar, and as he rode he was laughing, and until he faded away from sight, he was still laughing, Pevlin sitting limply behind him.
For hours they rode, Pevlin sitting limply on the back of the exhausted horse. Pevlin's head was hanging down low on his bloodstained shirt, and he could feel the thick, sticky blood running down his skin, contaminating him. He had no idea where he was being take, nor why. All he knew was that, for some reason, King Gerad's brother had been looking for him, had killed his father, and knew that Pevlin was a sorcerer. Pevlin had only admitted this to himself recently, as no one in their right mind would want to be a sorcerer. Yes, they had amazing power, but they were hunted down and killed like fat cattle. Pevlin had only come to accept himself as a sorcerer by watching everything around him carefully, learning what he could do, and what he couldn't. He wasn't able to use his powers at will, as things only happened when was exceptionally angry or sad. Since his discovery of this, he tried to keep his emotions locked up, so they wouldn't run wild, and turn some bean into a pig. It didn't work though. He had never turned a bean into a pig, but things liked to change color on him, and coins sometimes decided to just start walking across a table. Pevlin was extremely lucky that no one had found him out until now.
Nobody ever talked about sorcerers, but the fact that they existed lurked in the shadows of most people's minds. It was a taboo topic, and adults often had occasion to quiet children sharing their fancies about magic and sorcerers. Pevlin often wondered why this was, but nobody ever seemed to want to discuss. Adults would just find some chore that Pevlin had to do, and people his age glanced around nervously, staying silent. All he had ever been able to gather was that it had to do with a war of some kind, something earth shattering.
Suddenly, Pevlin heard Edgar snicker. Pevlin was growing to like this man less and less as they traveled, what with his constant snickering and smirking. It was a wonder that a King had a brother like this. Pevlin weakly kept his chin resting on his chest, when something on the edge of the path caught his attention. There was a small, round stone lying on the soft dirt next to three bottles of ale. It looked like the earth beneath the stone had been hastily dug out and then stuffed back in, maybe as a shallow grave. As they rode closer and past the stone, Pevlin read on it in the Tellarian script which he had learned through his extensive schooling in Aluahn, Here lies Morden Basall, a faithful general in the army of Tellar, killed by the wretched wolves of the plains, may he rest in‾the writing cut off abruptly, as though someone had to leave before they could finish. As they trotted past the grave, Edgar snickered again. Pevlin stared at Edgar's back in disgust, wondering if he had somehow been involved in this man's death. Having witnessed his own father's murder by Edgar, he had no doubts about what Edgar would do to other men. Pevlin's face grew hot at the thought of his father, and of the man behind the knife that had dealt him the fatal blow. Pevlin wanted to lash out at Edgar, kick and punch him until he was lying on the ground half-dead like his father had been, and then kick him some more. But he couldn't do that now, due to his bindings, and he doubted that he would ever get the chance to. Pevlin had not been close to his father, but he had still loved him like any boy loved his father. His loss of Stell pained him unimaginably, and he wondered how his mother would take it.
His mother was a tiny woman, sensitive and sweet. She cared for Pevlin endlessly, through his sickness and through his sadness, even though nobody had ever done that for her. Pevlin imagined that she would be shattered by Stell's death. Even though Stell had hurt her an uncountable number of times, she loved him dearly. As Pevlin thought of his mother, he remembered a poem in one of his mother's many musty old books. As Pevlin remembered, it went like this:
The poem had been in a book that Pevlin had never been allowed to read. It was an old, yellowing tome that had been kept on the bookshelf's highest shelf. Once, when Pevlin was about nine years old, he spotted the ancient book sitting open on the floor, as though it had fallen from the shelf and no one had noticed it. Pevlin was the only one in the room at the time, and in his childish curiosity, he began reading it. He only had just enough time to finish reading the poem before his mother walked into the room. She scolded him, and carried the book away. Pevlin never saw it again. Throughout his seventeen years of life, the poem had always stuck in his mind like a tiny, clever splinter that managed to dig its way so far into your flesh that it could not be seen. And for some reason, the poem had come into his mind when he had first met Elia. Thinking of Elia, Pevlin wondered how she was doing, if she had been killed to, and what about Bella, Sarah's mother? Pevlin closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he thought of the terrible things that may have happened to them. And then, there was Sarah...
In a small, yellow tavern sat a red haired girl, sobbing. Her hair was puffed out, and her eyes were red with her constant stream of tears. A round woman who looked much like the girl was standing behind, patting her on the back. In a corner of the tavern, surrounded by rows of cupboards marching along the walls, stood a tall, pale woman pacing back and forth, muttering to herself. She tore at her long yellow hair angrily, and her blue eyes blazed. She held a long, polished iron staff, and seemed angry enough to use it on anyone who bothered her. Every few minutes she would stop pacing and shout a loud string of curses, but nobody paid any attention. Even the soldiers didn't bother her, as they knew when to leave a woman alone. The tavern was filled with soldiers, playing dice and drinking whatever they could get their dirty hands on. They weren't happy about the fact that there was no ale, but they made do with the wine. Through all her pacing, Elia counted the soldiers to be twenty-one total, with nearly all of them being drunk, except for two soldiers standing guard at the door like a pair of looming gargoyles.
After Pevlin had been cruelly hustled away, the soldiers had taken over the town. The soldier whom Edgar had put in charge, a young, fiery eyed man called Jarl had told Elia that they had orders not to allow anyone to enter or leave Aluahn. This had started Elia's worry.
"Oh...what am I going to do?" muttered Elia to herself. "Finally, I find a town that I like, and what happens? Some king's brother comes along, murders a boy's father, and then takes the boy! Oh..." Suddenly, Elia began violently swearing at the floor. Just as abruptly as she had started, she stopped, and resumed muttering, and thinking. "I can't leave...but I can't just stay here waiting for something else to happen! Oh...damn." Elia banged her head on the wall, hoping it would give her some insight, but nothing came to her. She groaned, a deep, rumbling sound that tumbled out of her throat. She felt as though she didn't deserve this...all she was doing was looking for a home, and thought she had found one!
She began silently longing for the years when she was still in Angkor, a child, when her parents were still alive and she had been with...him. She longed for him, she longed to feel his warm embrace again, but she was afraid of him. Afraid of the memory of him. Her mother had always told her, 'You must not dwell in the past. There is life ahead and no time to dawdle!' But as she thought back into the past, she suddenly realized what she was doing, shutting out the memories of the past. She did not want to shed another tear. And yet...she wanted to remember them, to remember love. But she would not.
Angry with herself, she shook her head, and looked to Bella. She was still hovering behind the tearful Sarah, whispering consolations to her. Elia gazed upon the broken girl, the small, innocent Sarah, wrapped up in the loss of Pevlin...and suddenly Elia realized something. There were others too. She wasn't the only one across the stormy oceans and over the icy mountains who felt like this. There were others who didn't deserve the blow that life had dealt them. There were others who didn't have a home, others who didn't have someone to love. Through her long, miserable twenty-seven years of life, Elia had thought she was the only one who cried herself to sleep at night, the only one who trudged through the deep mud because she had no place to stay the night. In her misery she had forgotten the others. Memories of filthy beggars huddled on street corners rushed back to Elia. All the children out in the cold, all the contemptible thieves with no other way to survive. For the first time in her life, Elia realized what had surrounded her as long as she had lived, and she knew what she was going to do.
Gathering up her breath, Elia stopped pacing and walked over to Bella and Sarah in a few quick strides.
"Bella," mouthed Elia, making sure no soldiers were paying attention. "I must talk to you.
"Oh, what," boomed Bella so loudly that all twenty-one soldiers fell silent and glared at her. Elia gritted her teeth. Bella turned red, and then nodded her head as if in apology. Looking around the tavern nervously, Elia whispered to Bella, "Maybe we should go into the wine cellar to discuss this..."
"Alright," said Bella, hoarsely, but quietly. Clearing her throat, she yelled into the drunken air of the tavern, "I'll just go get some more wine now, eh boys?" There were shouts of approval, and a few men clinked their glasses together joyously. Sarah was still crying. Bella waddled down into the dusty wine cellar, Elia right behind her. The cellar was filled with racks covered with wine bottles. On the far wall hung a small, square window, through which the noontime sun was shining, illuminating numerous specks of dust aimlessly floating through the air. As they stepped fully into the cellar, the laughter and shouts from the tavern grew faint, and despite all the dust, the air somehow seemed clearer, purer. Elia could smell mildew underneath the cellar's stone floor. She stepped into the bright, clean light from the window, and then suddenly remembered what she was down here for. Smiling, Elia turned to Bella.
"Bella," said Elia animatedly, her blue eyes bright, "I'm going to do something about this."
"What?" drawled Bella curiously.
"I...I'm going to rescue Pevlin." Bella's mouth jerked open as though she was going to say something, but she merely stared at Elia silently. Bella squinted, as though trying to make sure that it really was Elia standing before her. Elia chuckled, and continued speaking.
"That's right Bella, I'm going to find Pevlin." Elia's body rippled with confidence as Bella stared at her, trying to say something.
"But...you can't..." Bella's roaring voice echoed off the stone walls of the cellar, "...no. You can't get out of Aluahn right now, the soldiers won't let us. An' even if you could get out o' here, how would you find Pevlin? Ya don't know where Edgar is taking him!" Loud laughter rushed in from upstairs, and Elia's eyes darkened as she realized that Bella was right.
"Well, I have to do something..." said Elia weakly, her strength quickly vanishing from her body. "I can't just sit here like some stone, just waiting for something to happen." The two stood in silence among the dusty racks of wine. Outside, far above the cellar, a black bird cried, and flew like a shadow across the sun. Elia gazed at the glittering sun, which was slowly beginning to lower in the sky. The bird passed in front of the sun once more, cawing as though searching for something, and then suddenly turned north, beating its wings mercilessly.
"Bella, I will go by darkness," began Elia, felling her confidence returning. "I'll leave before dawn. And then...Tenerra is the capitol of Tellar, right Bella? If Edgar's the king's brother, he must live there...that is were I will go." Bella stood still, thinking. Elia felt it now, her energy was back, bursting to the top, "I'll find him Bella, even if it's not possible, I'll find Pevlin, and keep him safe." Bella drew a long, deep breath, and then nodded, as though giving Elia permission.
"Yes dear. You will keep him safe, won't you? Stell would have done this, but since he cannot, I suppose you will have to be the one to do it." There was silence again. Suddenly, Bella scurried to a corner of the cellar behind a few racks, crouched, and Elia heard stone scraping against stone. The smell of wet earth drifted from the corner. Bella stood up and came over to Elia, holding a green bundle of cloth covered with clods of dirt. Bella shook it out, revealing it to be a crimson cloak, somewhat tattered and worn, but otherwise magnificent. It was laced with gold, and on the right breast was embroidered the ashen gray sword and shield within two elaborately intertwined circles fashioned as hands reaching around to themselves. Elia stared at it. wordless.
"I want to give this to you, dear. It isn't much, but it'll keep ya warm, and maybe if your search proves hard, it'll serve as a reminder to keep looking."
"How did you get that, Bella? It must be from ages ago, it has the symbol of the Seven Kingdoms on it..."
"My father gave it to me. It's been in the family forever...." Bella opened her hand up, revealing ten small silver coins. "And this money, I want you to take it as well, dear." Elia's breath caught in her throat, and her eyes widened.
"Bella, ten silver pennies?" questioned Elia. Bella nodded fervently, and thrust the gleaming money as well as the cloak into Elia's hand.
"You'll need it more than I..." Suddenly, Bella grabbed Elia in a gigantic hug. Elia felt Bella's soft, warm flesh against hers. Elia rested her head on Bella's fat shoulder. The clamor of the soldiers upstairs seemed to fade away and the sun disappeared into a dreamy haze as the two friends said goodbye.
The silent night air stood still over the freshly turned earth, waiting for one of the living to cross its threshold. The air held its breath, hiding in the dark. When finally the soft patter of human feet did come, the moon was getting ready to go to sleep and make way for the sun and even the last hooting owl had fallen asleep. The small woman padding across the damp earth was silent as the distant mountains, telling nothing of what she had suffered. She came to a wet mound of soil, and knelt in honor to it. The air sighed above her, but she did nothing. She knelt until the dirt beneath her had embedded itself in her formerly clean apron, but she did not care. Finally she stirred, gently placing two withered and gnarled roses on a slab of stone with these words engraved on it: Stell Aleanne, may he rest in peace.
Silently as the falling moon, Elia crept out into the night. The cold night air of the Free Lands bit into Elia as she traversed the dirt road leading out of Aluahn, to the north. A cutting wind swept across the night, and she felt Kashi nestle deeper into her pocket. She knew Edgar's guards would be out, so she kept out of the silver moonlight and under the welcoming shadows. Only an owl could have seen her dark figure as she sneaked through the sleeping village.
The night was silent, and Elia could hear her own heavy breath within her chest. Though the winds carried an icy chill, Elia could feel her hands sweating. She stepped softly, coming ever closer to being out of Aluahn. A breath of wind swept past Elia, and she stopped. The black night loomed.
Like a ripple in water, the sound of someone speaking crept into Elia's ear as she padded north. She stopped, searching for the source of the muttering. Roughly twenty feet away under the awning of a house hunched two shadowed figures. They were rapidly speaking to each other and excitedly pointing towards Elia. Elia felt a cold sweat gathering on her soft skin as the eerie wind swooped about her. One of the figures stood up to their full height, about six feet, and began walking towards Elia, making loud plodding noises as he tromped across the dirt. Elia stood frozen. The figure's hand was held ready by a weapon sheathed at his side. Elia watched silently, not breathing, not moving. The figure stopped abruptly, peering into the half darkness. A breath of wind rose, and Kashi sneezed, a sound like thunder in the silence of the night. The figure ripped its sword out of its sheath with a metallic screech and leaped forward, slashing at the air. The sword tore through the air above Elia's head, and she instantly realized what was happening. She saw the figure pulling back its sword for another swing, and she ran. Sprinting blindly like the disappearing moon, she ripped through the night. Her feet pounded into the ground, tearing away dirt. Kashi hissed wildly, clawing desperately at Elia's pocket. A shout echoed behind her, but she kept running, her breath heavy and short. Ahead of her stood the North Road. A sudden light appeared behind her, rippling through the darkness, but Elia ignored it.
She ran as time passed away without notice. She was tired, hungry, and her feet were covered with raw purple blisters by the time she slowed. She felt like collapsing in the middle of the road where she stood, but thinking of her purpose again, she forced herself to continue. She gazed long upon the wretched landscape as she dragged herself north. It was still dark and gray and the fog was abundant, but the sky was beginning to open on the eastern horizon, revealing the clear blue of day. Chittering animals silenced themselves in awe of the unfolding joy before them. Like a cacophony of angels, a small glimmer of orange appeared on the edge of the world, filling the sky with vibrant tangerine beauty. A tall, crooked tree swayed in the wind, leaning over to get a better view of the sunrise. Far away to the east, light swirled above the everlasting plains and deserts. The band of orange light grew, filling the sky and multiplying like a farmer's crops after a rainfall. A huge globe of light strode up, following the bands of light. Slowly, the startling orange faded away into the light blue, leaving the sun creeping into its throne. Birds chirped and flew off, blindly embracing the sun. The day was born.
As Elia tromped over the ground, two birds gently swam through the air above, cackling at each other. Elia felt a cold morning breeze sniffle past, and the birds drifted away. The smell of flowers growing along the road filled Elia's nose sweetly, inviting her to come and pick them. The further north Elia walked, the more flowers there were sparkling at her. Every now and again she passed a stumpy tree burdened with uncountable green leaves. She heard the chittering of birds and squirrels in the trees. A lone bird flew over Elia, flapping desperately and calling out to its friends, the ones who had abandoned him. It swooped like a sigh over the alluring flowers and bushy trees, and all was silent. Elia began to pass rows of small, content trees, sitting obediently, rooted to the ground. The trees' leaved branches, bent low by the swirling winds, pointed their long fingers northwards. The sun was growing brighter and heavier, and the winds were lessening, though they still beat upon the earth like a drum.
Elia plodded along the hard packed dirt for hours without meeting a single person. The sun gleamed far above the clouds, whispering its warmth to earth. Soon the ever present winds of the Free Lands were gone, and Elia knew she was getting closer to Tenerra. By the road stood a single melancholy willow tree, towering over the flowers. Its long tendrils formed a plot of welcoming shade that hovered lazily around the tree. Finally, Elia gave into her weariness, collapsing against the unsuspecting willow tree. Kashi wearily crawled out of her pocket and stretched out onto the damp grass. He too, looked beaten and bedraggled. His fur was mangled and gray tufts stuck out awkwardly. Elia lay against the tree in silence, gazing down the dirt road. There was still no one in sight. Sighing she pulled the loaf of bread that Bella had baked her out of her backpack and bit into it viciously. It was hard and somewhat sour and there was a tangy cheese baked into it. Elia ripped off a small piece and dropped it in front of Kashi, who gobbled it up immediately. Slowly, Elia drifted off to sleep.
Elia awoke to the clomping of hooves against the packed dirt. The dull, rhythmic sound plodded through the air, bringing Elia to her feet, yawning. She picked up the sleeping Kashi, and peered down the road where the noise was coming from. A loud, carefree humming could be heard, and two full grown broad shouldered horses pulled a cart tramped into view. A short, chubby man was sitting on the cart, holding the horses reins and staring off into the sky. He had a stubby black beard and plentiful shaggy hair that almost covered his beady eyes. His mouth was fixed with a large grin, and he had small, sharp ears. His cart rolled closer to Elia, and she merely watched him. Elia began to grin as she watched the man, and then started laughing softly. She tried to muffle it as it grew, but she couldn't stand it any longer. She exploded with laughter at the small, happy little man. Suddenly he stopped humming, and looked towards Elia, noticing her for the first time. He glared at her, and croaked extremely indignantly, "What?" Elia stopped laughing, and an embarrassing silence fell in between the two.
"Umm...hello," murmured Elia cautiously.
"Hello to you too." The man spoke in a thick accent that Elia had never heard. He looked Elia up and down seriously, and then saw the fat rat sitting in her hand and smiled. "Hmm...what are you doing here anyway?" Elia looked behind her and realized where she had been sleeping.
"Well, I just fell asleep here by this willow, I guess, yes, that's what happened."
The man shrugged uncaringly, and flicked his horses with his switch, starting off north again.
"Wait!" blurted Elia, thinking that she might want to stay with the one friendly person she had seen all day. The man reined in his horses slowly and turned them around to face Elia.
"What?" said the man, exasperated.
"Are you going to Tenerra?"
"Yes..." The man looked strangely at Elia, "You want a ride with me, don't you?"
"Umm...yes." Elia murmured sheepishly.
"Well then, hop on!" The man scooted over making room for Elia. Elia hesitated, and the man lightly smacked his horses on the rump with his switch. They began trotting along, and Elia promptly grabbed her backpack and staff and jumped on. The journey continued slowly, and the two talked little. The man seemed more involved in his own ponderings than in getting to know his passenger.
"So...what name do you go by?" wondered Elia, not being able to think of anything else to converse about.
"Hmm...Berrit." sniffled the stumpy man as the cart rumbled along, the extra fat on his cheeks jiggling. Elia gazed long at the man, and observed that though he was vertically challenged, he was quite a large man. His belly's girth protruded from underneath his clothes, bouncing up and down along with the cart.
"May I call you Bear?" Berrit cocked his eyebrow at Elia.
"You may call me what you wish," grumbled Berrit, staring off ahead intently as though he had spotted something. Silence fell in again.
"Ah...so what is your calling Bear? What do you do?" Elia saw nothing on the cart giving a clue as to what Bear's occupation was.
"I trade furs," stated Berrit simply. Elia could tell that he wasn't much of a conversationalist.
"Oh...of course." Elia looked off to where Berrit was staring. She saw a solid form shining in the distance, high above the ground. The form revealed itself slowly, growing into a majestic spiraling tower, jutting up into the clouds. Its purple and gold spirals seemed to go on forever into the sky, leaving the trees and flowers forgotten on the ground. Elia stared in awe, and slowly more buildings began to reveal themselves, more tall towers and wide, flat roofed buildings. Every color imaginable was present, and all sorts of shapes and patterns covered the buildings. As they approached the metropolis, a great clamor arose from within. Voices praying, shouting for you to buy their goods, and angrily yelling all melded together, tumbling out of the city and onto the travelers. Horses' hooves clomped on cobblestones, and steel rang out against stone
"Look lady, see that?" questioned Berrit, pointing to the multitude of structures. Elia nodded in awe. "That's Tenerra, the capitol of Tellar. The city of wonders its called. Fits the name, doesn't it?" Elia nodded again, her eyes locked on the grand city.
Berrit and Elia arrived at a looming gate, outside which stood six young guards talking amongst themselves. They were fitted in leather armor and held long poles with an ax head attached to the end. One of the young men was gesturing excitedly to the others.
"...and there's news about the king's brother too, something happened down in the Free Lands..." The man spotted Elia and Berrit halfway through his sentence, and abruptly stopped, standing up straight and driving his pole axe into the ground as though claiming the ground as his. The others did the same. Berrit eased the horses to a stop and sat silently, waiting for one of the guards to say something.
"What is your business here?" barked the soldier who had been talking.
"I am a fur trader. I wish to stay in Tenerra for a few nights and then continue on to other places to trade," Berrit explained calmly. The soldier leaned forward, searching the cart with his eyes.
"I see no furs on your cart."
"No, of course not. I sold them all in the Free Lands. I have come here to buy more furs." The guard grumbled, but stepped to the side.
"You may pass." Berrit slapped his horses and they entered the city.
A flood of smells, sounds, and sights washed over them as they rolled onto the stones of Tenerra. The smells of strange, sweet herbs and flowers pummeled Elia, as well as reeking unwashed bodied of the sweaty masses and fresh blood of animals being butchered. The stench of feces rose up from the sewers, and flies swarmed around fresh droppings on the streets.
Small children ran through the city barefoot, chasing each other. Housewives shook out rugs from windows, and beggars lay against buildings, mumbling their requests for money. So this was the city of wonders, thought Elia, how...wonderful.
When Berrit and Elia had entered the city, the sky seemed to have suddenly darkened. Elia looked up, and discovered that the towers and houses were so large that they blotted out the sun, casting a dark shadow over the land. Elia shivered.
Berrit turned the cart into a reeking stable, hopping out and unbridling the horses.
"Well, this is where your ride ends," said Berrit.
"Thank you, Bear." Berrit grumbled, but nodded in acknowledgement. He began conversing with the stable keeper, and Elia left with her staff in hand and Kashi in her pocket.
She strode through the streets confidently at first, searching for an inn or some place where she could find lodging, but as she walked through the throngs of perspiring bodies she began to feel closed in, and she remembered how much she hated cities.
She had grown up in the gargantuan city of Angkor, a metropolis spanning miles across. She never quite felt free in large cities, as though there was some invisible weight dragging her soul down hellish places beneath the sewers. Elia felt a thin layer of sweat gathering on her forehead, and she glanced around nervously. The masses pressed against her, trapping her in the unceasing flow deeper into the city. her breath came in short, huffing gasps, and she began feeling nauseous. Moaning she squeezed out of the river of people, crumpling on the stone wall of a house. She lay there in defeat, and slowly her breath returned to normal. She stared out into the crowds, and her panic drifted away.
"How does it feel?" croaked a voice from next to Elia. Elia whirled her head around to see a withered old lady lying next to her. The lady was wearing a ragged red shawl over uncountable layers of ratty clothing, giving her the appearance of possessing tremendous mass.
"What?" wondered Elia, staring at the old woman.
"How does it feel to be one of them?" asked the lady, placing her frail hand on Elia's shoulder. "One of the beautiful people. How does it feel?" Elia didn't respond, but merely sat staring at the dirty woman.
"Here, come with me daughter," commanded the lady, and immediately stood up and lurched away and into a shadowy alley. Elia hesitated before following, but as the sound of the lady's footsteps faded away, she leaped up and ran into the alley.
The lady stopped a few dozen feet into the alley, and turned towards the wall. Suddenly, a door shaped portion of the wall vanished, and the woman stepped into it. Elia stared in awe, but entered.
It was a small room, and Elia had to bend over due to the low ceiling. A hearth sat at one end of the room, above which was a cauldron that the lady was tending to.
"Sit down," heaved the woman, pointing a gnarled finger at the stone floor. Elia sat cautiously, noticing that the entrance had closed up. It startled her, but did not worry her. She felt calmer in the room with the strange lady than out on the streets with the huddled masses.
"You are the wanderer?" crooned the old lady, stirring the bubbling liquid in the cauldron. Elia stared at it curiously, and thought she could detect the scent of something dead.
"Um, I suppose I do wander...if that's what you mean." The woman looked at Elia, smiling slightly.
"Good, good. I knew you were the one, I could see it in your eyes. You are, truly, one of the beautiful people." The woman ladled the liquid from the cauldron into two bowls and handed one to Elia. "Here, eat this." Elia gazed at it for a moment, and then slurped it up. "You know of the Kamora?" Elia looked up from her soup at the woman.
"The bearers of magic, sorcerers. Do you know of them?" Elia recalled Pevlin, and the white flower.
"I do...I know little of them though." The woman's eyes gleamed at Elia.
"Good." The woman scurried to a small box and drew something out of it, keeping the object hidden in her hand. "Look at me. How old am I?" Elia gazed at the woman's face, staring into her wrinkles and floppy skin. "Tell me daughter."
"Oh...you could be my grandmother..." muttered Elia, hoping she would not offend the woman. The woman laughed.
"No, daughter, I am no older than thirty, that I am sure of." Elia's eyes widened. "This is what the magic does to you, daughter. It eats away at your body, and if you use it enough, it begins to eat away at your mind. I can feel the rotting already. Sometimes I see things that aren't there, or I can't control myself. The magic takes control of you, daughter." Elia listened in awe.
"But what does this have to do with me?" wondered Elia, knowing the answer would concern Pevlin.
"It is the boy." The woman opened up her hand, revealing a small chain on which hung a clear blue stone. "This is a sakka stone, give this to him. It shall help contain his magic-until he has learned. Tell him Atira sends her goodwill."
"How do you know about..." gasped Elia, but Atira cut her off
"Hush, daughter. I know many things, I am Kamoran. Listen to me now, I want you to find the boy and keep him safe. He has a great fire within his heart, and he shall accomplish great things. Whether they shall be good or evil, I do not yet know. He has the capacity to follow both paths, and you must be the one to help him decide. I want you to be beside him until his death, to put your life before his and make certain that no harm befalls him." Atira pressed the sakka necklace into Elia's hand. Elia let the necklace swing from her fingers for a few seconds, and then thrust it into her pocket, from which a soft nibbling noise issued.
"Atira, I will do what I can." Atira smiled at Elia, her clothes forming a hump on her back. "But how will I find Pevlin?" The hole in the wall reappeared.
"The boy is in the palace, in the heart of Tenerra. You shall find him there." Elia wondered how exactly Atira knew this. "Now go!" Atira shoved Elia out into the black alley, and the wall sealed shut.