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.