Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Book One: Broken Ties
Copyright 2004 by J.E.D as Common Law Literary Property.
Lightening shattered the sky, rain lashed the windows. Lieria panted, fending off the urge to scream as her contractions mounted. She was sweat soaked and tired, and the worst was yet to come.
Tsoka looked to Alwen, her eyes tight with pain. Alwen worried her arthritis was acting up.
"We'll need all our wits about us for this one, girl. The nights a bastard waiting for our doom."
The old woman's words sent shudders down Alwen's spine. She stared numbly at the woman before her. She was a beautiful woman, even with her features contorted in pain. Her stomach was massive, rippling with the force of her contractions. Alwen's throat went dry as she forced away memories. Another chill slithered its way down her spine, lingering at the base. Her heart beat a tattoo against her ribs, her palms were damp.
"Tsoka, I don't know if I can do this. It's so similar." Alwen took a deep breath against the hysteria in her voice.
"I need you! I can't do this alone." Tsoka gripped the young woman's shoulders and gave her a quick shake. "I need your hands, child. Mine don't work so well as they used to."
Alwen nodded, gaining control of herself and set to work.
Thunder rattled the windows as the three women labored to bring life into the world. Alwen smiled as she wiped sweat off her brow.
"Well done, child." Tsoka said softly from where she sat, sipping tea.
Alwen looked to Lieria, a soft smile on her face. Although tired, she looked extremely please with herself. Eris looked down at the tiny form in his arms.
"Beautiful, simply beautiful." His eyes were wide with wonder as he stared down at his daughter.
After bottling some herbs and leaving instructions for Leeonka, Alwen made her way home. The rain had finally stopped and faint pink hues could be seen on the horizon. She felt her steps quicken as the cabin came into view. A nicker of welcome brought a smile to her lips and warmth to her soul.
"Long night, love?"
Alwen's steps faltered at the sound of his voice. She sighed in gratitude as he stepped forward and handed her a steaming mug of tea.
“It’s strong, but I had a feeling you’d need it.” He grinned as he helped her into the house. “There were two?”
Alwen nodded, stepping into the house and collapsing into a chair.
“Yes, two healthy twin girls. Completely identical.”
“And did the first born have a birthmark?” Rikard inquired, settling on the arm of her chair. Alwen opened her eyes and looked up at him.
“On her right shoulder. Rikard, have you seen something? Will she be alright?” Alwen sat up straight, worry in her eyes for the tiny infant, gripping his hands.
Rikard looked down at her, his eyes heavy and tired. “For now.”
Alwen nodded, rising and finishing her tea. There was nothing more she could do for the girls tonight. Leaning in, she pressed her lips to Rikard’s cheek.
“Thank you for the tea. I’m off to bed.” She stopped in the doorway when he called her name. “Yes?”
“What are their names?”
“Eirian and Esian.”
“Twin daughters born under the Gemini moon. Interesting.”
Alwen slept fitfully that night. Plagued by dreams of Tucker and the child Muldora took. She dreamed of a young man, dark of hair and eye. He sat in a throne of stone. A woman was by his side, her hair black with blue streaks, her eyes glittered with evil.
Screams filled her ears, pain and torture. Smoke filled the air, catching in her throat, choking her. Stumbling, eyes blurred as she ran. Bare feet crunching on charred grass. An explosion, tremendous white light. Now falling, falling forever.
The ground reaches out her arms, embracing her. Laughter surrounds her. Evil, maniacal, it floods her brain. Two violet eyes looming above her, hands reaching out choking the life from her…
Alwen woke screaming. Hysterical sobs wracked her body. The blankets were strewn about, her sheet and night dress sweat soaked. Biting her lower lip, she pressed a trembling hand to her chest. Or was it just the force of her heart that caused the trembling? It had been years since the massacre. Her nightmares made it seem like yesterday. The screams of her people filled her mind once more, wrenching a soft whimper from her lips.
Her door opened slowly, illuminating her in candle light. She clutched her knees to her chest, shaking her head.
Please, she thought desperately, let him not see me like this.
“Alwen?” His voice was rough from sleep, and yet somehow soft at the same time. His scent filled the room. He smelled of the forest after the rain. The bed bowed slightly with his weight. His sigh was soft, and yet said so much.
“Alwen?” Rikard inquired once more, tilting his head toward her.
Reluctantly she lifted her tear streaked face to his. This was the downside of living with him; he suffered through her nightmares as well.
“Again, love?” He cupped her cheek in his palm, running his thumb over the apple, catching her tears.
“Nothing stops them. She’s up to something, I know it. Don’t you see that?” Her eyes were wide with hope, her body yearning for his touch.
Living with him had done nothing to diminish her love. If anything it had made it stronger. People naturally assumed they were married, and it broke her heart to have to correct them. She was a woman of twenty-seven years, she wanted the marriage, children. What she wanted now more than anything was for him to take her in his arms and kiss away all her fears and worries.
“I’m sorry, Alwen. I’ve seen nothing. I wish I could tell you differently. I’ve been trying to force the visions…” His voice trailed off, brow furrowed in thought.
“Rikard!” Alwen gasped. “Doesn’t that hurt? Didn’t Seamus say that could cause you great pain?” Leaning into him she placed her hand on his arm.
Rikard stiffened at her touch. Her skin was so soft. Lifting his hand he took hers, looking at her slender fingers.
“There is some discomfort.” He mumbled, turning over her hand. How was it that such small hands held such strength? Giving in he pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her waist.
Alwen looked up at him, shock registering in her eyes as her body folded naturally against him. She turned her face up to his, tentatively brushing her fingers along his cheek.
“Rikard,” Her voice was soft, her eyes heavy and dark with emotion. Their faces were inches apart now, she could taste the sweetness of his breath.
Rikard wasn’t sure who had spoken, or if it was a plea from his own mind. Uttering a soft oath he gathered her closer to him and pressed his lips to hers.
Her lips brought about a wonder of emotions. His heart slammed against his ribs, his hands fisting in her long hair.
A soft moan escaped her lips when he pulled back, caressing her face. Their breath came in soft pants, mixing together.
“Alwen,” He breathed her name, almost like a prayer. He was almost lost to emotion staring at her beautiful face when he noticed the dark circles under her eyes. Her lashes were wet with tears, her body shuddering.
Damn him, he’d scared her. How could he possibly expect her to respond any other way? She was exhausted, frightened for her life, and he’d taken advantage of her. Jerking back as if he’d been slapped her rose and quickly stepped away from the bed, before he could frighten her anymore, or do something stupid.
“Forgive me.” He muttered turning and racing from the room.
Alwen stared at the door swinging closed. Her brain was muddled from lack of sleep and blooming passion. What had she done wrong? Her body trembled from his touch, wanting more.
Tears slid down her cheeks as she fell back onto the bed, pulling her knees to her chest. She wanted to ask him to come back, wanted to beg him to hold her, to kiss her like that once more. But he’d seemed so shocked; maybe he didn’t even want her.
Confusion flooded her mind. Hadn’t he kissed her? Or had she kissed him? She didn’t even know now. Part of her hoped this was all some elaborate dream, but she knew it wasn’t. Curling up on the bed, she pulled her blankets over her and resigned herself to crying herself to sleep.
Morning dawned bright and tense for the small cottage on the hill. Breakfast was fast and silent. Before Alwen could open her mouth, Rikard had finished and left the room.
Alwen cleaned up their dishes and got dressed. She wanted to go and check on Lieria and the twins. Grabbing her cloak she made her way toward the small stable.
Carbon and Brisa nickered at her, trotting up to the fence in greeting.
“Hello, my beauties.” Alwen smiled as the coal black stallion shoved his nose under her hand, wanton for attention.
“And a good morning to you too, Carbon.” She laughed when he tossed his head and nickered, sending his silky mane flying.
“Yes, I know you’re beautiful.” She laughed again, patting his shoulder, before moving over to her pride and joy.
“Hello, my love.” She whispered as Brisa gently pressed her cheek against her own. Alwen stroked her smooth nose, enjoying the closeness.
“Feel like a ride today? Come on, let’s go.”
Brisa stood patiently as Alwen adjusted her saddle and packed her saddle bags. The sun was warming her back as Alwen finished her preparations. She was about to climb up onto Brisa when the hair on the back of her neck prickled. Turning, she looked toward the cottage in time to see Rikard closing the door.
“Cowardly man.” She muttered, swinging into the saddle. “I don’t understand why things have to be so complicated.”
Clucking her tongue she turned Brisa onto the path to town. It felt wonderful to ride. The wind caught her hair, teasing and tugging at it. The sun warmed her skin, even as the chill pulled out the color in her face. She squeezed her thighs, urging Brisa faster, wanting to feel the hum of the wind in her ears.
She didn’t take the pleasure of riding nearly often enough, choosing instead to walk to town most days. They reached the border of town quickly as Brisa flew over the roadway, her feet seeming to never touch the ground. Reluctantly Alwen reined the mare in as they reached the town proper.
She inclined her head to vendors and patrons who called out to her, steering Brisa toward the Jade house. Brisa’s hooves clicked on the cobblestone, echoing off the close buildings.
“Hello again, Miss Alwen.” Aric, the Jade’s valet beamed as she pulled Brisa to a stop before the house. The young man reached out and ran his hand along Brisa’s neck. “Didn’t expect you back so soon.”
Alwen dismounted, smiling at the young boy. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen summers old, and if she were correct, had a bit of a crush on her.
“I wanted to check on the Lieria and the twins.”
Aric smiled as he accepted the reins from her, his hand staying near hers a moment longer than proper. “They’re the most beautiful babies in town. Never a fuss out of them, unless they’re apart! Head on in, Miss Alwen, I’ll see to Brisa for you.”
Alwen stepped into the great house, taking off her cloak and passing it to the waiting maid. She wondered what it would be like to constantly have someone there to serve you. She shuddered at the thought.
The house looked no different from the last time she’d been there. Had it been a month already? Shaking her head in wonder she made he was down the hall to the back bedroom.
“Lieria?” She called softly, opening the door a crack.
“Alwen, come in, please.” Alwen could hear the smile in Lieria’s voice as she entered the nursery. Lieria sat in a rocking chair, a blanket covered babe at her breast. A mass of curling black hair was visible above the blanket. Tiny pink lips were wrapped greedily around her mother’s nipple. Alwen smiled as the babe opened her eyes and peered up at her. They were a startling green, and wise beyond her years.
“Esian’s a good eater.” Leaning down, she ran a finger along the child’s perfect black eyebrow.
Lieria looked up from watching her daughter, shock coloring her face.
“How did you know this was Esian? We ourselves have a hard enough time telling them apart! And you’ve seen them only once before.”
Alwen shrugged and lowered herself onto a couch beside Lieria, still watching the child.
“Her nose is slightly longer, and she has a freckle on her left eyebrow. Plus Eirian has a birthmark on her right shoulder.”
Lieria looked down in wonder, tracing her finger over the small dark circle under her daughter’s eyebrow.
“Where is Eirian anyway? I’d love to hold her if I could.” Alwen asked, looking around the room. The crib the twins shared was empty.
“Eris took her for a walk in the garden. It’s so lovely outside.” Lieria shifted Esian to her shoulder, lightly running her hand along the babes back.
“Oh.” Alwen toyed with the sleeve of her dress, trying to hide her disappointment. Lieria positively glowed. She looked happy and healthy, and very well rested for a new mother of twins.
“Are you having any problems with the girls?”
“No, they’re perfect. Not a peep out of them unless they’re apart for too long. Then they’ll scream until you get them back together.”
As if on cue, Esian threw her head back and let out an ear piercing scream. Lieria jumped, then began bouncing and cooing.
Alwen covered her ears with her hands, amazed that such a sound could come out of something so small.
“Shall I go look for Eris?” She cried, attempting to pitch her voice over the wails of the baby.
“What?” Lieria called standing and pacing with Esian. Tears filled her eyes as she quietly begged for the baby to calm down.
Then as suddenly it began, it ended. Esian lifted her head and looked expectantly toward the doorway. Not a moment later Eris and Eirian stepped through. Eirian was pressed close to his chest, her tiny lips pursed, tiny pearlescent tears sliding down her dusky cheeks.
“I believe she’s hungry, love. She just started screaming. She didn’t stop until we were almost at the door.”
Alwen kept her eyes averted as he stepped into the room. Her back stiffened as she felt his gaze on her, lingering.
“Alwen, it’s good to see you.” His voice was warm as he passed off Eirian to Lieria. “I was wondering when you were going to come see us.”
Book One: Broken Ties
Copyright 2004 by J.E.D as Common Law Literary Property.
Muldora swept through the grand entryway, her heels clicking on the polished marble, she strode purposefully toward her destination. Servants ducked their heads and scurried into the shadows as her gaze slid over them.
A tight smile curved her blood red lips at the abject terror upon their faces. A cruel laugh bubbled up slipping past those dangerous lips, reverberating along the cold stone walls and sending chills down the spines of those within hearing range.
The doors to the throne room slammed open at her approach, and a small hunchbacked man scurried into view. His greasy hair hung in lifeless clumps around his ghastly face. Dark, glassy eyes trailed the curves of her body in a mix of lust and revenant fear as a smile twisted his fleshy lips.
"Welcome home, my Queen." He dropped to one knee before her, lifting the hem of her velvet dress and pressing his lips to the gold trim.
Muldora turned her head from the disgusting man, her eyes lighting with glee at his submission. "Enough Oark. You know how I feel about your…Displays."
Lifting her hand she slapped him full on the face. His cheek immediately turned an angry red. Oark wore the mark proudly, straightening as much as his disfigured form would allow, he peered at the bundle resting in the crook of her left arm.
"Please, Mistress. Let me look upon him."
Muldora rolled her eyes, heaving a great sigh. "Oh, very well. He is, after all, your son."
Bending at the waist she pulled the blanket aside and allowed Oark to look upon the babe.
Round, jet black orbs stared up at them. Oark gasped, gripping fistfuls of his filthy shirt.
"Oh, Mistress, he's perfect, just perfect. I am gracious to have this opportunity to please you." He bowed, wiping a tear from his cheek, leaving a trail of clean skin among the grime.
"Does my son have a name?"
"I have named him Sama'el. Our deliverer." Muldora's eyes gleamed as she lifted the child into a shaft of sunlight.
Oark pressed his dirty hands as he once more looked over the child. "His name brings to mind images of kings, my Queen."
Muldora smiled at the babe, moving toward a large ornate iron crib.
"He will make a fine King." She ran a finger along the child's cheek as he drifted toward sleep. Ignoring Oark, Muldora continued to stare at the child. She had worked so hard for this child; put forth so much of her magic. She was tired, so very tired. She knew she needed rest.
"Mistress? Your promise?" Oark shuffled forward, twisting his hands together.
Muldora straightened to her full height, turning her piercing gaze upon him, lifting an eyebrow. She crossed her arms over her breasts as she stared down at him.
"Mistress?" Oark whimpered, retreating a step.
"Yes, I did promise you a reward for a job well done. And I always keep my promises." Her voice held a menacing lilt as she towered over him. Her dark eyes went white as she concentrated on Oark, placing her hands on his crooked shoulders.
Oark gasped as snake like vines of white light poured into his body. He screamed as she brought him to his knees, her nails digging into his skin, drawing blood. She smiled a gruesome smile as his face began to contort and his body convulse. His scream increased in pitch as his body shuddered.
Twitching and stretching, he shrieked as he pulled himself into the fetal position. Muldora stared down at him as his lank, greasy hair sucked back into his bulbous head. His back began to straighten, his hair grey in glossy black curls. In a matter of moments the transformation was complete. His skin was a glowing olive complexion, his eyes bright. Slowly, he stood standing tall for the first time in his life. He looked down at his hands, strong hands, touched his face. His eyes filled with tears as he crumpled to his knees, pressing his face into the hem of her dress.
"Oh, thank you, Mistress." Oark sobbed.
Muldora stroked his glossy black hair, staring happily at her newest creation. Her body wanted to tremble with exhaustion, but she ignored it. It wouldn't do well for a minion to see his Queen tremble.
"You did well." She patted his head, then turned and started toward her chambers once more. Stopping, she looked over her shoulder at the half naked man sitting on her polished marble floor. Her lips curved into a vicious smile. There were all kinds of ways to rest.
"Come to my chambers in an hour." The clicking of her heels echoed as she strode from the room.
The day dawned bright and warm. Birds sand and flittered from tree to tree. The sun warmed Alwen’s cheeks, rousing her from her dreams. She blinked trying to rid herself of the last remnants of the dream, but it wouldn’t budge. It was then she noticed Rikard’s arm wrapped around her waist. A smile pulled at her lips as she listened to the steady beat of his heart. The rise and fall of his chest was comforting, and yet their closeness filled her with a budding desire.
Closing her eyes she slid her hand up his chest, resting it above his heart. She jumped slightly when his fingers closed around hers, causing her to look up into his honey brown eyes, her heart tripping in her chest at the smile hidden there.
“Morning, Love.” His voice was rough from sleep, the light wind ruffling his curly hair. He leaned forward, kissing her softly.
His actions shocked her into silence. She must still be dreaming, and yet the gleam in his eye was real enough.
“Good morning.” She stuttered, reluctantly pulling herself away from him. Pulling her knees to her chest, she wrapped her arms around them, watching him. They’d been close before on their journey, but this was the first time they’d ever slept together. She hoped it wouldn’t be the last time.
The wind picked up then, lifting her hair and throwing it back into her face. Without thinking Rickard leaned forward and brushed the wisps away, tucking them behind her ear. He let his finger tips brush along her skin, amazed at how soft her skin was. She smelled of a spring night, her scent clinging to his clothes. He longed to pull her close and kiss her, to just hold her in his arms and call her his own. We’re so young, how could I bind her to me now? What if she should change her mind? His eyes clouded over at the thought of her leaving him, his heart clutching. He couldn’t imagine his life without her in it. Until her could be sure of her heart, and his ability to provide for her, he would have to remain her friend and nothing more.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, better than I have.” Alwen smiled over at him, puzzled. His voice had changed, for a moment it was touched with emotion. But it was gone so quickly she must have imagined it. The horses nickered and shifted restlessly.
“I suppose we should get going soon. Will we reach Maringanoh today?”
“We should, unless something comes up.” Rikard smiled at her, stirring the coals of the fire to life.
The morning passed smoothly and the scent of biscuits soon filled the air. Camp was broken down quickly now, as they were well into a routine, and soon they’d put a few miles behind them. The forest began to thin out the further south they traveled, the spaces between the trees growing more prominent.
“I’m going to miss the forest. My tribe traveled a lot, but we always kept close to the forests.” Alwen looked around sadly at the sparseness of growth. Brisa snorted and bounced her head, as if in agreement.
Rikard flashed a smile at her as Carbon danced along the road. They would have to pick up the pace soon, or the stallion would never be happy. He chuckled and patted the horse’s strong neck.
“Don’t worry, Alwen. The cottage isn’t far from the wood. You can still frolic in the trees.” He regretted the words as soon as they left his lips. The image of her dancing in the woods at sunset was all too appealing.
Alwen giggled and shook her head, her long pale hair glinting in the sun.
“Do you think my healing skills will be useful? I’ll need to find someone to continue teaching me how to control my empath abilities.”
“Grandfather said there was a healer, but I don’t see why she wouldn’t take on an apprentice, especially someone as skilled as you. And I could always help you with your empathy, if you would let me.”
“I would like that, Rikard.” Her heart pounded at the thought of the closeness that training would require. She couldn’t have wished for a better teacher.
“Carbon looks, restless. Shall we pick up the pace?”
Rikard beamed at her, his eyes flashing as he gave the stallion his head. Dust trailed behind them as the horses flew over the road. Time was forgotten as Alwen lost herself in the ride, the fluid movement of her mount.
The sun rode high in the sky when they stopped to rest the horses. A shaded area by a small pond made a perfect rest stop, and they broke for lunch.
She couldn’t see. Smoke blurred her vision, burned her lungs. Screams surrounded her, filled her with panic. Her heart slammed against her ribs, beating a painful tattoo. She couldn’t move, couldn’t run, trapped in a world of pain and terror. And then laughter. A harsh, bone chilling sound that crept into her very soul. Hands with snakes for fingers reached for her, enveloping her in death itself.
Alwen woke screaming. Her heart pounded in her chest as if trying to break free. Placing a hand to her damp brow she struggled to control her breathing.
Her heart jumped again when her door opened and Rikard walked in. The flickering light of the candle he held cast shadows across his handsome features, teasing shades of blonde from his thick hair.
“Are you hurt?” His voice was soft, warm and gentle as a lovers caress. It was strange how a voice alone could fill you with such longing.
Alwen shook her head not yet trusting her voice. Her body shook, whether from the remnants of the nightmare or his closeness, she wasn’t sure.
His honey toned eyes remained on hers, worry filled. She reached out a trembling hand to his cheek, felt the night’s growth of beard.
“Just a nightmare.” Her voice shook despite herself, and because of it she squared her shoulders.
He caught her hand when she would have pulled it away, and pressed his lips to it, sending her heart tripping.
“I could feel your pain. It broke my heart.” He left his lips against her skin, sending chills climbing up and down her spine.
“That’s what happens when you live with an empath.” She chuckled softly, her pulse beating rapidly at the slow, absent movements of his thumb on her wrist. Some part of her wondered if he knew what he was doing to her. Their eyes met, and she caught the mischievous glint in his honey depths, she knew.
“Yes, but fortunately for me, pain is only one of the stronger emotions you project.”
It was then she realized he was shirtless. The candle light flickered over the hard plains of his abdomen. Color flooded her cheeks. She tried to pull away, but he held her wrist in an iron grip. Velvet lined, but iron none the less.
“Alwen, I-“ She shook her head, placing a finger on his lips. For fifteen years she’d been praying to hear the words she feared he would say now. She’d expressed her love to him when she was a child of thirteen. The year before her world fell apart. Now she was a woman, and smart enough to know things uttered in the relief of night took on a different hue come morning.
“Have you had any more visions?” Alwen asked quickly, toying with the blankets pooled around her waist, avoiding his gaze.
Rikard scowled and stood to pace the room. He pulled his fingers through his hair, the muscles in his arms bunching.
“It will happen sometime soon. Something important. Vital. But I can’t get any more than that. It has something to do with the full moon.”
“Women give birth on a full moon.” Alwen said absently, pulling at a loose thread. She looked up when he stopped moving.
“Midwife, remember? Full moons tend to be busiest. Something to do with the force of the moon.” She shrugged, her white blonde hair cascading down her slim shoulders.
“In my vision I keep seeing a round ball. An orb of some kind. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! The full moon. It’s going to come to pass on the full moon!”
“What is? Rikard, how can we prepare if we don’t know what’s coming?”
Grinning, Rikard leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“I know. It’s in here.” He tapped his temple. “Somewhere.”
With that he was off, leaving Alwen confused, amused, and alone.
Alwen stood on her small front porch, watching the sun climb up from behind the hills to its anointed position in the sky. She warmed her hands with a cup of herbal tea. The scent of jasmine and chamomile calmed her. The night had been restless for her, plagued by her nightmares and Rikard’s closeness had left her hormones raw.
It was a new day full of hope and promise. Maybe today she could forget the pain, lose her deamons in the quiet mist of the hills and valleys of Maringanoh.
“And maybe pigs will fly.” She muttered, shaking her head.
“I once knew a magician who claimed he could do that.” The quiet playfulness in his voice had her spine going stiff. It didn’t seem to matter to her hormones that she’d lived with the man for the past twelve years. His scent alone made her heart skip several beats.
“Good morn, Alwen.” His breath was warm against her skin as he pressed his lips to her shoulder. He smiled at her, his eyes soft and warm. Did she know? He wondered. Could she know how beautiful she looked standing in her white gown with the sun rising around her. He could see her body through her night dress. The sight took his breath away.
He’d watched her grow up, personally protected her through most of his life. Was it any wonder he felt so strongly? She’d told him she loved him once. They’d been children then, and she’d scared the breath from him.
He thought, hoped, she still had feelings for him, but she’d never brought it up again, never said those words.
How many times had he gone to her in the night, held her while she slept? Done everything in his power not to push her, even when his body screamed for hers.
“Good morning Rikard. There’s hot water on the stove. I can make you some tea?”
Rikard shook his head, offering a smile. “You don’t have to wait on me, Alwen, we’re not married.”
His words stung. Embarrassment colored her cheeks.
“I enjoy making you tea. And you’ve never before complained when I’ve cooked or done the wash!” Her white blonde hair fanned around her shoulders as she spun around. Tea sloshed, spilled over the rim, unnoticed. Her bare feet slapped against the floor as she stormed into the kitchen, reining in her temper just before she smashed the cup into the sink.
Her shoulders shook with frustration. She heard him step into the room, forced herself to take deep breaths.
“Alwen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I appreciate everything you do.”
She turned slowly. She wanted nothing more than for him to take her in his arms.
“Were you able to clarify your vision?” She kept her eyes lowered, her voice soft. Those two acts, simple though they were, caused Rikard’s stomach to drop.
“It’s a birth. Are any of the women in town pregnant?”
Alwen gave him an arch look, laughing softly.
“Only about five of them. A pregnancy doesn’t narrow it down by much.” She tapped her finger against her lips, her anger forgotten.
“The full moon is only days away, there are two women that should deliver around that time. Tsoka and I are supposed to go check on Lieria Jade today. I’ll know more after that.”
Rikard nodded, chewing his thumb nail in thought.
“Yes, keep me informed.”
Alwen smiled as he turned toward the back of the house moving toward his room, knowing she’d lost him. It was one of the things she loved about him. How completely focused he could be. She just wished he would turn that focus on her. Sighing, she walked to her bedroom to dress. Tsoka wanted her at the Jade’s today, and she had little time left to prepare.
Tsoka was waiting outside the large house when she pulled Brisa to a stop. Tsoka was a skilled if out dated healer. She taught Alwen a great many things in her first two years, and in turn Alwen had taught her. Alwen enjoyed working with the townsfolk every day.
Healing their wounds brought her feelings of joy. Before she knew it twelve years had passed, and in that time she'd delivered six babies, cured four small children of pox, and healed an old farmer's broken rib. Each night she made the two mile walk home feeling equal parts rewarded and exhausted.
She beamed down at Tsoka as she slid off Brisa, tying her lightly to a post.
“Good morn, Tsoka.” Her voice was cheerful against the older woman’s narrowed eyes.
“What’s good about it?” Tsoka spit rudely to the side, sniffing as she hitched her shoulder. “I just want to get this over with.”
Alwen rolled her eyes and fell into step with the older woman.
“The Jade’s aren’t that bad. Lieria is quite sweet.”
“Lieria isn’t the one I’m worried about. It’s her blasted husband.” Tsoka spit out the words, as if they left a bad taste in her mouth.
Alwen pressed her lips together, trying to keep from laughing. She struggled to get herself under control as Tsoka rapped on the door. Tsoka had barely stepped back when the door flew open reveling a tall, well built man. His hair was jet black, his eyes a brilliant green. His skin was a dusky gold, a mix of heritage and working outdoors.
“Eris,” Tsoka sniffed, looking up at the imposing man.
“Lady Healer, Alwen.” Eris inclined his head to each in turn, moving away from the door and ushering them inside. The room was dim and cool, the furnishing plush. Lieria relaxed on a chaise before the hearth.
“Tsoka, Alwen, I wasn’t expecting you today.” She struggled to sit up, her girth making it almost impossible without help. Tsoka tsked at her and hurried forward, placing her gnarled hands on either side of her massive stomach. Alwen stood to the side, looking around the room as Tsoka spoke softly to Lieria.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled, causing her to look around. She was shocked to find Eris’s eyes on her, his look piercing. She felt as if she were being undressed. She couldn’t understand the look in his eye. Was he really looking at her like that? Or was she simply unnerved by the intensity of his stare.
“Alwen?” Tsoka’s sharp voice broke into her thoughts, snapping her back to attention.
“I’ve just told Lieria I’ll be staying with her. I need you to remain ready. The birth could be any day now.”
Alwen nodded, then said her goodbyes to Lieria, nodding once to Eris as he showed her out. She stroked Brisa’s neck as she untied her and led her up the hill toward home. Her mind wandered as she listened to the sound of the town around her. She couldn’t wait to see Lieria’s child. The poor woman had waited long enough to conceive. Alwen prayed that nothing would go wrong during delivery. She would do all in her power to make it so.
Three days had passed since she’d been to the Jade household. Her nights had been restless, waiting for a message from Tsoka. The fourth night was like any other night. She'd helped their neighbors, a lovely young couple, deliver their first child.
Rain pelted the ground and a bitter wind turned the drops into icy needled. Her cheeks stung from the onslaught and she was soaked to the bone. She'd hoped the storm would hold off until she'd made it home. She could just see the light of the lantern Rikard had hung outside when she heard her name being called. Turning, she tucked her rain soaked hair behind her ear, her eyes straining in the night.
"Yes? Hello?" She called out. She longed for home and the warmth of the fire.
"M'lady healer! Please!" A young man not fifteen summers old ran toward her, panting. He held his lantern higher illuminating their faces.
"Ian, what is it? It's a miserable night."
"Yes ma'am, but Leeonka's gone into labor. We need you."
Alwen sighed, pulling her drenched cloak closer. Leeonka wasn't supposed to deliver for a fortnight. Something must be wrong if Tsoka had sent Ian for her.
"Yes, of course I'll come." Her chill seemed to worsen as they reached the Jade house. Chills raced down her spine. The home of Eris and Lieria Jade was warm and brightly lit. The furnishings were just short of royal, the Jade house being the largest in town.
Tsoka was spooning amber liquid into a cup when Alwen walked in.
"Good, you're here. I've a need of you it seems. Watch him until I call for you." The old woman's lips were tight as she looked up from her herbs. Alwen's chills increased at the strained look in her eyes. Tsoka shot Eris a scowl as she shuffled past him into the back room.
Eris glowered at the older woman, and then stormed toward the hearth.
"Blasted old witch won't let me back there, says I'm in the way." He pulled a large tanned hand through his inky black hair. He was an attractive man, his brilliant green eyes held a soldiers horrors. His stance was military, and it was that same training that kept his voice quiet and remarkably calm.
"Bitty." He muttered staring into the fire.
Alwen eyed him warily, unsure. Beneath his calm exterior, the man was a bundle of nerves.
"May I offer you something, Sir? I could make a tea? Perhaps something for your nerves?" Alwen fought the urge to step back as the large man turned toward her. Her heart raced in her chest as she awaited his response. She couldn't understand her reaction to him. He wasn't overtly frightening, he was tall yes. And strong. There was a power about him, one that frightened her more than it should. She had a feeling this man could have anything he wanted. The look in his eyes at the moment made goose bumps crawl along her skin.
Eris stared at her. She was impossibly small, and soaking wet. Looking closer he noticed the dark circles blooming on her pale cheeks. Her white blonde hair was tousled and dripping and she was shaking. From the cold or fear? She was lovely, he couldn't deny it. Like an overgrown fairy. The child had to have elfin blood. His blood stirred hot in his veins, shaming him. His wife was laboring to bring his child into this world, and his blood stirred for this woman? He opened his mouth to respond when Tsoka stuck her head into the room.
"Alwen, I need you. It's time."
"Go." Eris whispered, his voice rougher than before, his eyes filled with emotion.
Alwen nodded and hurried after Tsoka. She couldn't think about the odd interlude just now. She needed her mind clear for the task ahead of her. She ducked into the delivery room, letting the door fall closed behind her.
Eris sighed as the door closed behind Alwen. He didn't know why, but he'd felt calmer looking into her pale blue eyes. Everything was pale about her, and yet she'd left such a vibrant image in his mind. He forced out a breath as he forced thoughts of her from his mind. He was a married man, a married man about to be a father. Pouring a glass of brandy, he looked once more at the door to the room where his wife labored to bring life into the world.
"Gods be with them." He toasted softly, tossing the spicy liquid back.
Night surrounded them. Wrapped in a blanket of darkness, Alwen and Rikard moved down the empty road, putting silent miles between them and the
The night was alive around them, but Alwen felt as though she were dying inside. Tears slide down her pale cheeks as she moved numbly with the motion of the mare. Glancing over her shoulder, she looked down the moon kissed road. Unbelievably, she had lost two homes in a matter of days. A strangled sob escaped her throat. She missed Widdowa. She knew the old woman had sacrificed herself to save her. A tear slipped off her cheek and hit the saddle with a muted plop. She wished so many things. She wished for her mother, for her father, for Tucker.
Closing her eyes she willed his image to her. His face bloomed in her mind’s eye. His tousled hair, eyes bright with mischief and glee. Suddenly, his face contorted, shifting from a smile to a silent scream. His twinkling blue eyes filled with terror and pain. A blinding white light filled Alwen’s brain. Crying out in pain, Alwen shook herself violently, tumbling from the mare. The horse cried in surprise, tossing her head and dancing to the side as Alwen toppled to the ground.
Rikard pulled his horse to an abrupt halt, turning at the commotion. Seeing Alwen laying on the ground, he dismounted, hurrying to her.
“Alwen? What is it?”
“She’s in my head.” Alwen’s voice was weak and tear choked. Rikard lifted her from the ground and wrapped her in his arms, stroking her hair.
“Alwen, she can’t hurt you now. I would see her coming.” Smiling, he tapped his head. “Oracle, remember?”
Alwen nodded, chewing her lower lip. “I was just trying to think of Tucker, my brother. But she’s tainted my memories. I want my family back, Rikard.” She sobbed, collapsing against him, wetting his shoulder with her tears.
Rikard held her while she cried, stroking her back and placing soft kisses to her forehead. After a time, her shoulders ceased shaking, her tears stopped, and she lay limp against his chest.
“I apologize. You must be weary of drying my tears.” Alwen attempted a watery smile as she lifted her eyes to him.
Rikard wiped a stray tear from her cheek with his thumb, smiling at her. “I’ll dry your tears anytime, little one.”
Her heart stuttered at his touch, a small smile crossing her face as she met his gaze. She wanted to say something, but words left her in the wash of his warm brown eyes. She cleared her throat, then rose slowly, dusting off her dress.
“Uh, here horse,” she called, her voice light as she moved cautiously toward the mare. The horse whinnied and tossed her head, sending her silver mane dancing.
“There, there. I’m sorry I frightened you.” Alwen stroked the mare’s smooth cheek, whispering to her as she calmly lowered her head onto her shoulder.
“She needs a name you know.” Rikard said, mounting his stallion. “This boys name is Carbon.” Rikard grinned and patted the stallion’s neck.
Alwen mounted the mare, lifting the reins and moving her to stand beside Rikard.
“I suppose it would be alright. I mean, she is mine now, isn’t she?”
Rikard clucked to Carbon and the duo continued down the road. Alwen watched him as she was lulled by the movement of the horse and the rhythmic clicking of her hooves. Alwen’s eyes began drooping as her mind floated away from the pain of the last two days. She just wanted to sleep. She was so tired.
Leaning forward, she laid her tired head against the horse’s neck. The warmth of the animal spread through her, she smiled when the mare nickered to her. Alwen stroked her shoulder. “You need a name girl. How about Brisa? It was my mother’s name. She was beautiful like you.”
Alwen wrapped her arms around Brisa’s neck and let sleep take her.
The hard packed earth bit into the tender skin of Alwen’s back causing her to awaken with a moan. Feeling as if she’d only been asleep minutes instead of hours, she sat up stiffly, wondering when they’d stopped to make camp. She placed a hand to her aching head as another moan escaped her. The sound of the horses swishing tails and soft snorts calmed and comforted her. She blinked against the oppressive darkness, shivering against the tingles in her spine.
The night air caressed her exposed flesh, chilling it instantly. Whimpering, she pulled her cloak tighter around her, pulling her knees to her chest as she cocooned herself, fighting for warmth. Tiredly, she watched the last of the dying embers glowing fruitlessly, fighting a loosing battle for life.
Yawning, Alwen closed her eyes, pondering what had awoken her. She cried out as a blast of icy wind hit her, chasing the breath from her lungs, throwing her back against the hard ground. Alwen fought to catch her breath, screaming with her mind for Rickard as she was blasted again, this time by light. Brilliant and blinding shot out all around her, causing her to squeeze her eyes shut with pain. Whimpering, she lifted her arms in a feeble attempt to protect her from the harsh white glare.
Slowly, she lifted herself into a sitting position, opening her eyes a squint. Immediately tears flooded her vision. She sniffled as she struggled to stand against the constant push of icy wind.
“Rickard!” She screamed, only to have her voice swallowed by the furious wind. She blinked, opening her eyes and looking around for the source of this sudden gale. Rikard sat six feet from her, his legs crossed, hands calmly resting on his thighs. His brown hair tossed about his head, his cloak billowing behind him like dark, sinister wings. His eyes once warm and brown, were now distant white orbs. Alwen stared at him in shock and fear, her fingers white knuckled on the ties of her cloak.
“Rikard?” the sound was a whisper, her voice strained through her fear. Her eyes darted up and down him as she took a tentative step forward. Blinking against the harsh light, she closed the distance between them. Her heart pounded against her ribs, feeling as if it were trying to break free of her chest. Swallowing her fear, she leaned toward him, arm extended.
As her fingers brushed his shoulder a blast of wind hit her hard in the stomach, throwing her backward and slamming her into a tree. Collapsing at the base of the tree, she gasped for air as pain erupted through her body.
Her eyes lifted as a distorted voice filled the air, rendering Alwen speechless. Tears slid down her cheeks as she realized the voice was coming from Rikard.
“A prophecy is told this night
Know its truth by blinding light.
In eight years time a child divine
Faced with greatness beyond her time
To fight a power of darkness grown
Marked is she with gifts unknown.
Only she will upset the throne.
But heed these words of caution dear
For one alike you soon will fear.
Power a lustful thing you’ll find
If her eyes you do not bind.”
Rikard gasped as the white light left his eyes, returning them to their natural color. His eyelids fluttered as the driving wind ceased. Groaning, he collapsed to the ground.
Alwen rushed to his side dropping to her knees beside him. Gently lifting his head she rested it in her lap. Murmuring his name she stroked his soft brown hair as tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Rikard, please wake up.” Her voice was soft as she cuddled him, rocking back and forth. She had never before witnessed an oracle receiving a vision. It had frightened her. But what frightened her more was Rikard’s unconscious form.
The night wore on and still Rikard slept. Alwen sat next to him, stirring the small fire now and again. She drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. The soft noises of the horses were comforting in the quiet night.
Her stomach grumbled painfully, but Alwen ignored it, not wanting to leave Rikard’s side to get her pack.
Every so often he would stir and groan before going silent again. Pulling her cloak tight around her shoulders she rested her head on her knees to wait out the night.
Sunlight broke through the surrounding trees to rain down warm rays upon the duo. Alwen stirred, wincing at her tight, stiff muscles. Rolling the kinks out of her neck she inhaled deeply the savory scent of roasting meat.
“I won’t ask if you slept well, but are you hungry?”
Her eyes, sore from grit and lack of sleep, watched him in disbelief. Was this the same boy from last night? Pulling at blades of grass, she watched him.
“Are you feeling alright?” Her throat was sore from the chill of the night, her voice was full of concern.
“I feel great. I can’t remember the last time I slept so well.”
The grumbling of her stomach prompted her to move closer. Sighing she lifted a fresh, warm biscuit to her lips. Taking a bite of the fluffy biscuit she pondered over his mood. He seemed perfectly fine. She felt suddenly foolish for worry. He had been going through this most of his adult life.
“We’re out of water. I believe there was a stream not far from here.” Alwen stood and collected their canteens, then headed in the direction of the stream. She stood watching the crystal clear water rolling over rocks worn smooth by years of the endless flow.
Her eyes followed the water as it dipped and turned flowing around a bend and out of sight. Dropping to her knees on the soft grass, she dipped her fingers into the sweet, cool water. After a time, she heard Rikard approach.
“Don’t you tire of chasing after me?” Her voice was soft, her eyes locked on a river salamander, but she had no doubt he heard.
“I wouldn’t have to chase you if you would stop running.” Flashing a grin she couldn’t see, he settled beside her. Reaching out he took her hand, absently running his thumb over her knuckles.
She started, as if in a trance. She was surprised to find her cheeks were wet.
“I was just remembering. Do you remember last night?” She lowered her eyes to their joined hands. She wondered if he realized how easily he touched her.
The babble of the brook and the call of birds filled the ensuing silence. Finally Rikard sighed, running his fingers through his wavy brown hair.
“It was bad.” It wasn’t a question.
“It scared the hell out of me.” She looked up at him then, her pale blue eyes large as saucers. Impossibly blue. Rikard brought her hand to his lips, brushing them against her skin.
“Sometimes they scare the hell out of me too.”
“Do you know what it means?” Shivers danced along her arm. His lips were so soft.
Rikard’s eyes clouded over, making her sad. She loved the honey brown of them.
“Sometimes the meanings are so clear it hurts. Other times, I have to blunder through them. And that can take a while. This one will take me a while.”
“I’d like to help. If I can.”
Rikard pulled her close, an easy gesture that turned her world upside down.
“You’re helping. Just by being with me, you’re helping.”
Time stood still as they sat together by the stream. Birds called and sang, curious squirrels came to investigate.
“We should get moving. We might reach the outskirts of Brownstone by nightfall.”
Nodding, Alwen gathered the canteens then followed Rikard back to camp.
The day turned out to be a complete opposite of the previous night. Long monotonous minutes turned into equally long hours. The soft thud of the horses’ hooves sent Alwen into a trance. When Rikard suggested they stop for lunch she sent up a prayer of thanks as she slowly dismounted. Rubbing her sore bottom she tethered Brisa loosely to graze.
“Do you think Muldora will come looking for me? I suppose she saw me, Widdowa did call my name. She must know I survived.” Chewing her lower lip in worry, Alwen stroked Brisa’s neck.
Rikard heaved a frustrated sigh; taking her hand he led her toward a fallen log.
“Sit.” His voice was commanding as he knelt beside his pack, removing the leftovers from breakfast.
“Eat.” He thrust a biscuit and meat at her. Saying nothing more, he sat beside her and bit into his own biscuit.
Alwen chewed slowly, considering. Their pace had been painfully slow, making her worry she was at fault. Throughout the night she was plagued by night terrors, making sleep something of the past. Even now, Alwen struggled to stay awake. Her body yearned for nothing more than to rest. Stretching out before the log, her eyes slid closed throwing her into blissful darkness.
It was dusk when she opened her eyes. Firelight played over Rikard’s features. White smoke ringed his head, wafting into the night from the ornate pipe he held.
Shivering against the chill, she pulled her blanket tighter around her shoulders and moved closer to the fire.
"Thank you for the blanket." She said softly, unnerved by the distant look in his eyes. "Why didn't you wake me? And when did you start smoking?"
"I didn't wake you because you need the rest. Do you think I don't know how little you sleep at night? If you do sleep, that is." His voice was matter of fact, keeping his gaze on the dancing flames. "And I've been smoking for over a year now. It helps me think."
"I feel like I'm slowing us down. I fall asleep every time we stop. If not for me we'd have been there by now. I feel like you're mad at me." Alwen hated the whine in her voice, yet she couldn't stop it.
Rikard tore his gaze from the flames and pinned her with an icy stare, causing her to shiver at the cold penetrating look.
"Damn it, Alwen. I know you've been through hell, but where has the brave young girl I once knew gone?" Dropping to his knees before her he gripped her shoulders, his fingers digging into her tender flesh.
"You are but a ghost of yourself."
Tears filled her eyes at his words. She leaned into his hand as he brushed at her hair off her face, his voice softening.
"We must stay strong if we are to succeed. I've been thinking about my vision. It's about both of us. I fear our part in this puzzle is only beginning.
Rikard opened his arms in invitation enveloping her when she pressed against his chest. Unable to resist, he pressed his lips softly to her hair.
Alwen smiled, curling into him, listening to the steady beat of his heart.
"Never let me go." She whispered her grip slackening as she drifted once more toward sleep.
"Never." Rikard murmured to the night.
The Eirian Chronicles
Book One: Broken Ties
Copyright 2004 by J.E.D, as Common Law Literary Property.
Night blanketed the mountain, but none slept. Firelight flickered over the tents inhabited by the migratory tribe of the Leekas. Shadows of the curious danced along the midwife’s tent, causing their grotesque forms to fall along the ancient remains of cars.
No one dared enter the tent during the birth. Rumors spread through the superstitious tribe like wildfire. The child is evil, the old one’s whispered, and should not be allowed its first breath. Huddling in their tents, the people of the tribe had much to ponder as screams of pain split the night.
The laboring woman gasped and spat out the willow bark she had been given for pain.
“Midwife, is it not yet time?” She closed her eyes and bit back a wail as another contraction mounted and pain swamped her.
“Almost my dear,” The midwife said softly, patting the girl’s leg. “Your passage is almost wide enough to allow the child.” Patting the woman’s leg again, the midwife moved to a waist high wooden table strewn with herbs and bowls. She added herbs to a dark amber liquid that had been seeping, and looked up at the small form huddled in the corner. Alwen, her young apprentice, sat in wide eyed worry. Unfortunately, an encouraging look from her mentor was all the reassurance she would receive, as the midwife moved back to the woman.
“Drink this; it should help ease the pain.” Tilting the cup toward the girl’s lips, she ran a hand through her damp hair.
“I feel as if the fires of hell will burst from within me.” The woman panted after gulping down the bitter liquid. “Widdowa, why is there so much pain? Do I deserve this pain for my mistake?”
“I cannot say, Tika.” Widdowa whispered her face as calm and reassuring as her thoughts were grim.
There was much discussion about this birth. Tika was to be married to the Chiefs allies son, but after she’d become pregnant the deal was off. No one, including Tika, knew who the child’s father was. And for a tribe as superstitious as theirs, this spelled trouble.
Tika’s strangled scream brought Widdowa out of her grim reverie. Hurrying to the end of the bed, she checked the girl’s progress.
“The time is now, Tika. Your child is beginning to crown. Alwen!” Widdowa’s sharp command made the girl jump in response. “Run to the well and fetch fresh water. Quickly!”
Alwen grabbed a large, deep bowl and darted out of the tent in a flash of pale blonde hair. Screams echoed after her.
The paths of the camp were mostly empty, save for the night watch and curious. Alwen’s heart jumped as yet another scream reverberated though the darkness. Reaching the well she dipped the bowl into the cool water and prayed that the poor woman’s pain would soon end.
People milled around the water hole, using late night laundry as an excuse to gossip. Alwen caught snippets of the conversations flowing around her. Try as she might, she couldn’t ignore the evil words filling her head.
Lifting the heavy water bowl, Alwen turned carefully toward the tent. She had taken no more than five steps when a small body darted past her. Startled, she jumped, sloshing water.
“Bloody hell! Tuck! How many times do I have to tell you to watch where you’re going?”
The little boy skidded to a stop, turned slowly, and faced his sister’s stern look.
“Maybe just one more time, Alwen?” His green eyes twinkled in the flickering light of the torches. Alwen felt the beginnings of a smile tug at her lips.
“How could I ever stay mad at you?” Alwen relented, kneeling to set the water bowl on the ground and open her arms to her baby brother. Laughing she stood and spun him around.
“Alwen, when will it be over?”
“I don’t know Tuck. I just don’t know.” Shifting, she glanced toward the tent.
“Have you heard what they’re saying?” Tucker whispered.
“What who are saying?”
“The elders, about the baby.”
"What are they saying, Tucker," she humored him. At six, he was always coming up with stories.
“Come with me. I’ll show you.” He wiggled out of her arms, took her hand, and pulled her to some bushes.
“Tucker, I don’t have time-“
Alwen rolled her eyes, but obliged her brother. Squatting down, she leaned forward.
“I've never heard such commotion. And the heat! Never been so bad in all my memory.” A woman said, peeling off her stockings and dipping her feet into the cool stream.
“Been nothing this bad since the birth of little Tucker Mintoura.” A second agreed.
“They’re saying the babe’s evil.”
“Yes. Whole pregnancy’s been tainted since the beginning, you ask me. The Chief’s daughter no less!”
“She never was one to follow tribal law.” The second replied, with a shake of her head.
“I always knew something like this would befall her. Brought it upon herself she did.”
“Oh, come now.”
“Don’t you sit there, acting like she was some virgin. We all know she’s not. Only thing we don’t know is who fathered the bastard.”
“Oh, such language! The child’s already fated to a doomed life. Must you slander him before his birth?”
“I’m thinking it would be best for all if he wasn’t allowed that first breath.”
“Oh, you know the Chief would never murder a child.”
“Might be better for him. He’ll be looked upon as a leper. Mother’s title removed.” The woman tsked. “Sad really.”
Alwen sat back, her eyes wide. She glanced down at her brother.
“This was wrong, Tucker. Tucker? What’s wrong?”
Alwen’s distress deepened when he scrubbed at tears.
“Alwen, did I kill mommy?”
“Oh, Tuck. No, baby.” Gathering him close, she pressed a kiss to his soft, dark hair. “Don’t you ever think that Tucker.”
“Father says she went to see the angels.”
“That she did. But Lord knows she’d have fought heaven to come back to you. To us.” Alwen placed a hand upon his cheek, her chest contracting as she fought to keep the tears from her voice.
“Now, how about you go find Father and leave me to my work, eh?” Patting him lightly on the butt, she stood and moved to her water bowl. Lifting the bowl, she watched her bother dart off, calling for his dog. Love swarmed her, and a smile managed to wash away some of the sadness around her heart. Though they were seven years apart, his six year old mind never ceased to surprise her with its wisdom.
Alwen had made it almost to the tent before she became aware of the silence. Odd, she thought, if the birth was over.
White light shot out from the tent, throwing Alwen to the ground and the bowl of water into the air. She sat in the grass, stunned and drenched. Shivering in the light wind, she stood and cautiously made her way toward the tent. Pulling back the door flap, she watched in silent horror the scene unfolding before her.
The being standing beside the woman’s limp form was tall, her black hair streaked blue. She was holding the child, but he did not cry as newborns did. He was silent, as his mother was silent; but he was not dead and that was eeriest of all. Widdowa stood with her back pressed against the wooden table. Her arms and clothing covered with blood. Medicine bowls and herbs were strewn across the floor.
Alwen's breath caught when she noticed the blood, the paleness of body. She said a prayer for the lost soul.
“Thank you, Widdowa,” The strange woman said, her black robe shimmering in the flickering light of the fire as she shifted her view from the dead, to the living.
“The child would not have been born were it not for you. I am grateful.” She inclined her head.
“I did nothing for you, Muldora.” Widdowa said with biting rancor. She stood taller, straightened her shoulders and raised her quivering chin.
“The child belongs with his clan.”
“That is where you are wrong, midwife.” Muldora spat.
“This, mortal was simply an incubator. The child is mine. I created him. She merely carried him.”
Muldora ran one long, red tipped finger over the child’s face, her dark eyes glowing with evil promise. “A life for a life.”
“I will not allow it!”
“Halt!” Muldora threw out her hand and a wall of blue, transparent flames rose from the ground.
“I do not wish to kill you Widdowa, but if you do not find your place, I will.”
“Why did you let her die?”
“I had no more use for her. She'd done her part. Besides, you know what the villagers say of her already. She will be shunned even more now. I did her a favor."
Alwen trembled as she watched in terror, something within her urged her to run, but she was spellbound.
“I beg you for the child. Allow me to raise her son. I could make him into a good man.”
“No. I have plans for this child. He is, after all, mine.”
Widdowa sobbed and sank to the floor weeping, her pepper grey hair slipping from her tightly woven bun.
“Oh, Widdowa quit blubbering! She was mortal! She would have died anyway. I don’t see why you allow yourself to become so attached.”
“You have a black hole where your heart should be, Muldora. I am shamed to call you sister!”
“Insults, Widdowa?” Muldora raised one perfect eyebrow, and stared at her sister. “I must say, I’m shocked.”
“I wish you dead.”
“Now, now, let’s not be rude.”
“Be that as it may, do not provoke me sister. I know not what I might do.” Muldora’s dark eyes locked firmly on Widdowa’s light ones. The gauntlet had been thrown.
Alwen gasped. Her mentor's eyes filled with a resolve she had seen many times before, one that meant there was no turning back. She watched horrified as Widdowa charged the wall of blue flame. “Run, Alwen! Do not turn back!”
“Run!” Widdowa shouted one last time, leaping into the wall of fire.
Alwen stumbled through the tent flap, fleeing into the night. Her heart raced. She sprinted down the slope to the river. A loud crack, a terrible gust threw Alwen to the ground. She crawled, dazed, terrified; still she turned back. She would see. She had to see.
Her scream was lost in a sea of others as the camp slowly became engulfed in the blaze. Everything was in flames. Figures ran mindlessly, cloaked in a coat of fire. Stumbling, eyes wide with fear, Alwen made her way up the slope, calling desperately for her family.
“Father! Tuck! Can you hear me?”
Smoke billowed in the wind, stinging her eyes. Crying out Alwen shielded her face as another blast of wind hit the inferno. Flames towered above her, screams of pain filling the air. There were no answering shouts. Her heart wept. She would never see them again. Father. Tucker. Never.
Tears streamed down her face as she stood in shock. Everything within her urged her to find her father and brother. Yet she stood, unable to move in either direction. Sobbing, unsure of what to do, thoughts of her mother filled her mind. She had been gone for five years, but for Alwen, it was as if she’d never left. Desperately, as she often did, she cried out for her guidance.
“Mother! What do I do?” Falling to her knees, Alwen lifted her tear streaked face, helplessly watching the smoke and flames.
“Run my child.” A voice whispered.
Choking on the smoky air, Alwen stood, unsure if she could do what her mother asked of her.
“Run? If I am to run, give me a sign!”
The flames climbed higher into the sky, casting ever changing shadows over the ground. As if born from the smoke itself Widdowa’s white mare emerged, a radiant, glowing figure racing toward her.
Blinded by grief and terror, knowing this was the sign she had called for, Alwen reached out and gripped the horse’s silky mane, then threw herself onto the animals back.
The horse charged into the safety of the neighboring woods of her own accord. Alwen held on numbly, trying to drown out the screams of her family, as the immense heat licked her back. All she had known, all she had loved would be reduced to ash come morning. She was now alone, save for a horse.
* * *
The night grew deeper, closing in upon the woods, casting shadows upon the forest floor. The mare trudged onward, keeping a steady pace. Alwen sat slumped forward. She had a dim idea of where the horse was taking her.
The forest was familiar to her. Unconsciously her eyes scanned the road for landmarks.
She laughed humorlessly as they passed the remains of a large car, something the old ones called a “minivan”. The shell had a large ‘T’ scorched on its side and an arrow pointing southeast. She was being taken to the village of the Taureans. Widdowa would have known to send her there. There the people would welcome her, and she would have Rikard to watch over her. Alwen smiled a bit at the memory.
It had been four years since she had last seen him. The last time had been at the gathering of the Blessed Ones. She had been nine, he twelve and just beginning his training as an oracle. The two had hit it off from the moment Widdowa had introduced them. Though she was only a child in most eyes, Rikard had treated her as an equal, and she fell in love with him for it. Over time, the love of a child bloomed into the love of a woman. And with that love came a longing, a desire for him to want her, as she craved him.
Alwen closed her heavy eyes, willing her mind to bring forth an image of Rikard. But horrible images seared her minds eye. Tears spilled down her cheeks as the images repeated themselves in her mind. Shaking her head, Alwen tried to rid herself of them, but the persisted. Moaning, she clasped her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut.
The wind lifted her pale blonde hair off her shoulders as a voice entered her mind. She knew this voice. It came to her when she needed guidance. The voice of her mother. The bond they had shared in life had proven stronger than death.
“Mother,” Alwen sobbed, “they are gone. Everyone. I am alone.”
“No my child,” A soft, warm breeze rose upon the chill night air, caressing Alwen. Pressing her eyes closed, she imagined her mother’s warm embrace.
“The mare will guide you. She will lead you to those who will protect you. Trust in her Alwen. Her orders come from a higher power.”
Alwen’s tense muscles begin to relax, her breathing to slow. Too late she noticed the breeze leaving her.
“No. Mother,” she whispered sleepily, “don’t leave me.”
“Hush now, my darling, you need to sleep. For tonight you will remember nothing. This is my gift to you. Tomorrow you will face this pain. Tonight, you will sleep.”
“I love you, mother.” Alwen murmured, her head drooping, inches from sleep.
“And I you, my daughter.”
Clinging to the horse, her fingers tightly fisted in the silky mane, she drifted off. Remembering nothing of the pain and sorrow she had experienced. Instead, she dreamed of what could have been. Of the flat by the river; of her mother sitting on a red blanket, laughing; of her father, gesturing wildly with a tale; her baby brother climbing into her lap to whisper his secrets.
And in sleep, a single tear slid down her pale, soot covered cheek, and fell silently to the ground.
* * *
Alwen awoke to the sound of people. Opening her sleep crusted eyes; she stared at the unfamiliar surroundings. Sitting up she found she had been covered with a smooth, warm leather blanket and placed on a pad of equal softness. Disoriented, but more curious as to what she might find, she stood and walked toward the tent flap. Drawing it aside, she stepped out into the bright afternoon sun.
The brilliant sunlight stung her eyes. Lifting her arm to shield her face, she looked around the unfamiliar camp.
It took a moment for it all to register. The unfamiliar became familiar, the strange normal. The village of the Taureans was bustling with activity. There were buildings as far as she could see. Anxious and hungry, she searched the crowd. Remembering her mother’s words, she decided it would be best to search for the white mare.
Walking in what she remembered to be the general direction of the stables, Alwen surveyed the people. They were all very tan, a deep contrast to Alwen’s own pale skin. Their hair was dark, their bodies muscular.
She hurried along, allowing her mind to wander. She was passing through a particularly dense batch of people when a hand grasped her arm. Her eyes widened, and a startled cry slipped from her lips.
“Alwen! Calm down. It’s me.”
Alwen gazed in shock, as his face came into focus. She shook her head once to clear it, but still he stood before her, tall and tan, his brown hair mussed, his clothes dirty from working with his father’s pigs, was her Rikard.
“Hello, Rikard.” She smiled up at him, all too aware of his hand upon her arm. His fingers, rough with calluses, contracted slightly before dropping away.
Her eyes slid down to the spot where his hand had been. The roughness of them upon her soft skin sent rippling sensations through her body, adding to her longing for him. She imagined throwing herself into his arms, if only to feel the sensation of his body pressed to hers.
The feelings were so strong; she almost didn’t realize he’d removed his hand. With the realization came disappointment. His deep eyes probed her until she felt as if he were reading her soul, her heart. Unbidden tears filled her eyes.
“Oh!” Embarrassed, she turned and fled blindly. Dimly she heard him call for her to stop, but she continued on, dogging people. She didn’t stop until her feet hit soft grass, and the gurgle of water reached her ears. Dropping down beside the stream, she sobbed breathlessly.
Time crawled by. Her tears dried. Emotions worn raw by the long night were soothed by the music of the stream, the quiet song of birds. She didn’t jump when his hand came down upon her shoulder; she’d expected he would come for her. Lowering his frame to the grass, Rikard turned his deep brown eyes upon hers, silently questioning.
She looked up at him. He was so handsome. At sixteen he had the wisdom of a man twice his years. A wisdom that came from seeing things only he could see. His eyes were sprinkled with gold; his tousled hair streaked with gold. His shoulders were wider, his chest broad. His body had filled out. No longer a lanky child, he was beautiful. Completely male and beautiful. Fleetingly, she wondered what he thought of her.
“They’re gone, Rikard. All of them.” Alwen lowered her gaze, her fingers restlessly toying with blades of grass. Her eyes filled once more, but this time it was not mortification she felt.
“A woman came. She wanted Tika’s baby. She let her die.” Alwen locked her eyes on Rikard’s, unable for the moment to continue. Closing her eyes, she fought for composure and the strength to go on.
“She fought with Widdowa. She said they were sisters. Widdowa told me to run, so I did. And when I turned back, everything was in flames. And I knew. I just knew…”
Expelling a strangled sob, she broke off, hugging herself. Her skin iced as she recounted the horrible images of the night before. Reliving the horror and confusion was murder. A vise had placed itself around her heart, making it hard to breathe.
“I am alone.”
“No.” Rikard said softly, moving closer to her. “No, you are not alone. I’m here.” Placing a finger under her trembling chin, he brought her gaze back to his.
“You were sent here for a reason, Alwen. I will protect you. Always.”
Sliding his hand down her arm he interlaced his coarse fingers with her own small, smooth ones. Staring down at their joined hands Alwen felt calmer.
It felt so right, sitting there with him, her hand in his, him pledging to protect her. All at once Alwen realized she was not alone, and never would she be.
“Rikard! Where in the bloody hell are you?! There’s still work to be done. Rikard!”
Rikard glanced over his shoulder, heaving a sigh at the sound of his father’s voice, then turned back to Alwen.
“I have to go. But I’ll come to your tent as soon as I can.” He stood, their hands still linked, leaning down, he placed a soft kiss on her cheek.
“Wait for me.” He whispered. Then, like a deer sensing danger, he was gone.
Alwen sat stunned. Her whole world had turned upside down in a night. But with a simple kiss, some aspect of it was right again. Though nothing, not even a kiss from Rikard, could ease the pain coursing through her veins.
He had asked her to wait for him. Gazing out over the stream and meadow, she knew with startling clarity that she would. She would wait for eternity if she had to.
Standing, Alwen left the stream and headed into the crowd. Returning to the tent she had awakened in, she sat upon the bed, feeling emotionally exhausted. Lying down, she closed her eyes and was soon consumed by sleep.
“I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to like it.”
“Well, I don’t like it either. I say she should leave.” Raul Peabody muttered gruffly.
“And where is she to go? She has no family, Raul. Her village was destroyed.”
“If what she says is even true! How can you believe her?” Raul countered, pursing his thin lips and scrapping his walking stick along the dirt. The meeting had been pulled together at the last minute. The large hut that served as their meeting house was filled with members of the village. Most, like Raul, were nervous about the new member of the village.
“Why would she make up something like that? What would she have to gain?” Trudy Tarvin inquired in frustration.
“It doesn’t matter. If she stays she could lead the source of evil to us. We want her gone! Who’s with me?” Raul stood, his arthritic knees trembling under his weight as he scanned the room. Cheers and grunts of consent erupted from prominent members of the town.
“I’ve heard enough.” Bishop Tarvin stated. The voice was quiet and clear. The hand he raised for silence was unneeded, as all talking ceased at his words.
“It seems to me that this girl will be the cause of much uproar if she stays. Being that she was the student of Widdowa Lightfeather, she will be given the proper essentials needed to make the trip to the next town.”
“But Bishop, you can’t just turn her out!” Trudy cried incredulously, stepping forward.
“Father!” She screamed, her hands curling into fists when he continued to ignore her.
A sharp look was all that was needed to silence Trudy’s objection.
“That is my decision. We will offer our condolences for her loss, give her what she needs, and send her on her way. My word is final.” He concluded, aiming a look at his daughter. “This meeting is adjourned.”
Trudy stood to the side as people cleared the room, her arms crossed over her chest and an angry look upon her face. How could her father do that? How could he just send away a child? A swift movement caught her eye. Shifting, she saw Rikard Brody darting through the people and out the door. A smile had her lips curving. It looked as if the girl had at least two people on her side.
Moving quickly she followed Rickard out of the hut. She had to jog to keep up with him.
“Rikard! Rikard, wait!”
Rikard stopped and turned at the voice. He sighed inwardly when he saw Trudy jogging toward him. They’d grown up together, and he’d known for a while that she harbored feelings for him. He’d found it easier to just ignore that fact, rather than to break her heart. Usually, he could put up with her mindless chatter, but tonight his mind was solely on Alwen. He wasn’t going to let anyone send her out on her own.
“Trudy,” He began when she was close enough, “I’m really sorry, but I just can’t…”
“Just hear me out before you blow me off.”
Rikard was stunned by her forcefulness. Trudy had always been quiet and reserved. In all the years he had known her, he’d never know her to be so outspoken and her sudden intensity caught him off guard.
“Alright. I’m listening.”
“I think I might know of a way we can help your friend.” Trudy said, taking his arm and leading him away from the crowd of people. “But there isn’t much time.”
“What are you thinking, Trudy?”
“I’m thinking of your grandfather. Doesn’t he still have that cottage in Maringanoh?”
“Yes, of course!” Rickard slapped a hand to his forehead. “The cottage would be perfect. And grandfather never uses it anymore. You’re brilliant, Trudy!” Rickard threw his arms around her and pressed his lips to her cheek.
“Thank you for helping us.”
“It’s nothing.” Trudy looked down, hoping the dark night and flickering torches would hide the blush creeping up her neck. “I’ll meet you at the stables in two hours. I’ll make sure your horses are prepared.”
Having reached the fork in the road, Trudy stopped and took a deep breath. “I guess this is my stop.”
“Thank you, Trudy. Seriously, you’ve been a wonderful friend.” Rikard leaned in and placed a soft kiss on her cheek, then turned and jogged up the path to his grandfather’s hut.
“Always the friend.” Trudy whispered, sighing at his retreating back. “God, give me the strength.” She turned and made her way into the crowd of people. She had packs to prepare.
“Alwen. Alwen, wake up.” Rickard’s touch and whispered voice jolted her awake.
“What? What’s wrong?” Alwen murmured groggily, sitting up and rubbing her eyes.
“We have to leave.”
“What? Why?” Alwen came abruptly awake. Her eyes fought to adjust to the dim light in her hut. Reaching out she grasped Rikard’s arm. “What’s going on?”
“The Counsel held a meeting tonight. They’re worried that with you here, Muldora will come after you. They want to send you away. I won’t allow that.” Rikard took her hand in his, his voice soft, his eyes intense in the flickering light. “Come with me.”
Alwen swallowed hard, scared and unsure. Her eyes found his and their gazes locked. Her heart beat so hard she feared it would leap from her chest. Slowly, she nodded. She would have to trust him. He’d sworn to protect her.
“Where is the white mare?” Alwen asked, rolling the leather wrap she’d been given. It and the mare were her only possessions.
“In the stables, we must hurry.” Rikard urged, lifting the tent flap to check the rotations of the night watch.
Rikard smiled and took her hand, leading her quietly out into the night. They moved through the camp, creeping around the night watchmen, heading toward the stables.
Trudy whistled, waving at them from her post in the shadows of the stables.
“Hush girl. No one must hear us.” Rikard griped Trudy’s elbow as he ushered the girls into the stable, shutting the door behind them.
“Here, you’ll need this.” Trudy handed Alwen a rope bridle, then lifted another and placed it over the head of a tall, black stallion. Gently, Alwen slipped the bridle over the mare’s nose, then followed Trudy’s movements and lifted a saddle from the wall and placed it on the animal.
When both horses were saddled and the packs Trudy had arranged for them stored, the trio made their way out the back of the stable. Before them stretched a broad meadow, beyond that, Alwen could only guess.
“Where are we going, Rikard?” Alwen asked, looking from him to Trudy. Her voice trembled and she shivered in the chill night air. The light of the full moon cast eerie shadows upon the trees and shrubs, bringing to life the crumbling remains of buildings and cars.
“To Maringanoh, my grandfather said we could stay there as long as we need. I spoke with him after the meeting.” Rikard squeezed her hand reassuringly.
“I will take care of you.”
Alwen smiled, then turned and hugged Trudy.
“Thank you for your help.” Alwen turned and mounted her horse, glanced once at Trudy, then at the village that had been hers for a day. She sighed, then walked the mare up the path.
Rikard took Trudy’s hand in his, then pulled her close in a hug.
“Thank you, Trudy. I know this is hard for you. You could come with us?”
“I can’t…” Trudy looked down, gripping his hands and fighting tears. “It would be to hard. Being with you…And her.” She offered him a sad smile, placing a hand on his cheek. “You look at her the way I’ve always longed for you to look at me.” She sniffled, and then broke the connection.
“Good luck to you.” And with that, she turned and ran, finally allowing her tears to fall.
Rikard stood and watched Trudy running into the darkness, and then he mounted the stallion and moved to where Alwen waited on the moonlit path.
Each gave one last look at the village, before moving wordlessly into the night.