Shadow and Light

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Shadow and Light

Postby Hern » Tue Jul 10, 2007 10:52 pm

ooc: This is a book I've been working on recently. It's a very slightly edited rough draft, and I know where I'm going with it, but I kinda have writers block. I have issues with the filler parts.

Tell me what you think, or any suggestions.





Prologue
Condemnation

Khanti Amneti woke up in a fog, with her head pounding ferociously and her tongue dry and swollen. She cracked her bloodshot eyes and groaned as the torch light pierced through the fog, adding to the headache. Lifting her head from her chest seemed to take a feat of strength. Her raven black hair was a rat’s nest and as she tried to steady her breathing Khanti realized she could smell her own stench. Body odor mixed with the metallic smell of blood, and she could feel it caked onto the side or head. Her wrists were chained to the wall above her. Confused, she tried to grasp the strings of memory that would lead her to what happened. She realized that behind the swollen and dry tongue there was a faint, bitter taste. Wormwood. With the revelation, Khanti desperately tried to reach for the shadows with her abilities. As a high ranked Shadow Adept, she should have easily been able to take control of the shadows, but with the Wormwood in her system, she couldn’t even make them flicker beneath the torches on the wall. Panic began to set in and Khanti rose unsteadily, rattling her chains.
A guard appeared in front of the gate to her cell, with a smirk on his face.
“It’s ‘bout time you woke, though they said the Wormwood worked you Shadow-spawn over something fierce. Imagine that, normal tea for those of us who follow the light, but for you…well, I think you already know what it does.” The guard laughed cruelly and started to walk off down the hall. As his footsteps echoed off into the distance, his voice bounced back to her. “Don’t worry about being to patient, we’ll get you soon enough, seeing as your trial’s already started.”
There was a loud clang at the end of the hall and Khanti was alone again with the bitter taste of Wormwood in her mouth. She could still see the flashes from the few nights before, Athealus bloodied on the floor in front of her, and one of the Kings Guard smashing her skull in with the pommel of his sword. She whispered to herself as she sank back down to the floor.
“Athealus, forgive me. I failed you.”



As the guard promised, Khanti did not have to wait long before she was brought to her trial. The hundred magistrates were seated as Khanti’s escort half drug her into the courtroom. Her legs furiously tried to keep up, but between the head injury and the Wormwood, it was impossible. The hushed whispering turned into a thundering, angry roar as she was brought to her seat. The head magistrate’s gavel pounded into the desk sending the rest back into a detesting whisper.
“Khanti Amneti, you are here-bye charged with the murder of King Athealus.” The magistrate’s voice boomed through the marble courtroom. He stood on the dais in his robe looming down on Khanti who now sat chained to the chair in the center of the courtroom.
“Do you have anything to say in your defense?”
Khanti lifted her head proudly and met the magistrate’s gaze. Her once groomed hair fell away from her ice-blue eyes as she lifted her chin.
“Does it really matter if I do? You have your evidence. It seems that’s all that really matters.”
“Your cooperation in the matter may reduce your sentence,” he sneered at her.
“I didn’t murder the king.”
“You were standing over his dead body. Your viper lies won’t help you now.”
Khanti sat in silence while the hundred magistrates hummed in the background. She was torn between the terror of being convicted and the confidence that Connell the high lord of Shadow’s Keep would not let her be condemned. Athealus’ kingdom always battled between Shadow’s Keep and Light’s Manor. The opposing powers were almost akin to religion and there was always a delicate balance to maintain. King Athealus had been a master of keeping the two in harmony. Khanti was Connell’s right hand Shadow Adept, and her conviction would be a devastating blow to Shadow’s Keep already dwindling numbers. The amount of apprentices had declined over the years while Light’s Manor had swelled to extraordinary numbers. Much of it had to do with the dark association that people gave Shadow Adept’s with the demons. Shadows equaled evil and evil equaled the demons, at least in the commoners’ point of view. It didn’t help that they dwelled on the edges of Draneth Forest. Unfortunately, for Khanti the magistrates were mostly controlled by Light’s Keep.
“Why would I assassinate my number one advocate?”
“Why don’t you tell us.” The statement was more a command then a question and before Khanti could form a response the chamber doors swung open and a pimple faced messenger in the midnight blue livery of Shadow’s Keep hurried into the courtroom. Khanti watched him as he scurried across the rose marble, realizing she recognized him. It was Orvel; she had tested him for abilities when he had come to the Keep a few years back. He wasn’t able to command the shadows but he was touched by them. Unable to weave the shadows Orvel was ushered into the inner workings of the Keep and offered a place as a permanent member of the household. Hope sprang in Khanti and as he walked past her, she looked urgently at him for a sign. Orvel wouldn’t meet her gaze. Her chest constricted and the panic started to set in.
Orvel reached the dais and handed a letter over pressed with Connell’s personal seal. The head magistrate broke it and quickly scanned the contents and the messenger made a hasty retreat out of the courtroom.
“Well, it seems, Khanti that even your own lord won’t come to your aid.” He relished the words as they came slowly from his mouth. “In fact, Lord Connell has sent word that you had confessed black thoughts to him about the king.”
The stunning news didn’t detract from Khanti’s reaction.
“LIE’S!” She spat in fury at the man before her, trying to rise. The chains prevented her so she turned her attention back to reclaiming her hold on the shadows. They kept slipping through her mental reach, but she knew the Wormwood was wearing off. Soon she’d be able to at least summon one of her creatures. Just a little while longer.
“Honorable magistrates,” Khanti’s judge turn to address the others, “In light of this new evidence and all that has previously been presented to you, I believe that we should quickly deliberate.” The others buzzed in consent and they swiftly scrawled their personal verdicts on their ballots. After they had all been collected and tallied the head magistrate cleared his throat.
“Khanti Amneti, Shadow Adept, you are here-bye found guilty of the murder of Athealus Von Royan, King of Brython. Your punishment shall be swift and exact. In fact we have devised something suitable for one of your…talents.” He motioned for the man behind him. The robed cleric strode forward, carrying a silver tray with a strange carved sphere in the center. It was delicate and precise craftsmanship; a lot of care had been put into this piece. The magistrate adjusted movable wooded pieces opening the puzzle box. “This shall be your prison. It’s a Bastille created for you by the Clerics of Light.” The magistrate paused to let the judgment sink in.
“It seems to me that you were well prepared for a guilty verdict,” Khanti hissed at the judge.
He ignored her and continued. “The Bastille will absorb your body and conscience and hold it until the end of earth. For the rest of time you shall not need nor receive food, water or any sustenance of any kind. Sleep will elude you and all you’ll have for company are your own thoughts. For eternity you will be bathed in the brightest cleansing light, void of all shadows. Maybe one day you’ll even know salvation and the will be shadows sucked from your soul. Your sentence begins immediately.”
Khanti sat in shock at her judgment. Uninterrupted light without shadows? Was it even possible? As the guards drug her towards the sphere she realized she was wrong to fear for her life; she should have feared for her sanity. As the magistrate moved the last wooden piece away, a white light started to glow with a fierce urgency. It grew quickly enveloping Khanti and the last thing she saw before she was sucked into her eternal prison was the magistrates mocking face.

* * *

It was seven days after the murder of Athealus and a mere five days since Khantis’ sentencing and the capitol city of Landon was in full mourning. Black cloth filled the streets like an oppressive beast and voices never rose above a slight whisper. Athealus had been loved well by his people. The blood lust of his ancestors was replaced with a peaceful reign. War ended in the name of an empire that never truly existed and even the desert kingdom of Krill and the snowy kingdom of Manarch acknowledge Athealus’ greatness. Now there were murmurs that it was all at an end and the hungry conquerors would be attacking when they pleased.
Athealus left behind three legitimate children in his wake, all boys. The eldest Gavin, a boy of eight and prone to sickness, was his acknowledged heir. The middle child Silas was showing early signs of being a prodigy in combat at only four, and the youngest Tristan was still just a babe.
The palace courtyard was filling with nobility and commoner, both taking their respective places around the funeral pyre. The King’s Guard surrounded the royal princes, all of them red eyed. Not a hint of color infiltrated the solemn occasion. Touching effigies were given before Gavin took a torch and lit his father. Flames licked up quickly and sent the monarch quickly towards the heavens. Gavin looked up at Thalon, the chief of the King’s Guard and spoke.
“Thalon, I plan on being as great of a king as my father.”

* * *

Olivia sprinted through the forest, ignoring the stones and thorns that pierced her feet as she fled from the creature. She couldn’t let him catch her, it would be her death. She had been a fool to leave the safety of the carriage in the middle of Draneth Woods. She had foolishly left the protection of her guards, as allotted to her as the only daughter of Duke Wallesh, and wondered if they had discovered her missing yet. She hoped so. It was well known that travelers disappeared on a regular basis and much of it was suspected to be attributed to demon attacks. That’s what she feared was chasing her right now. Olivia could hear the guttural calls as it crashed through the trees some distance behind her. Timber cracked as pines were thrust to the ground.
Stupid! All for the sake of a rare midnight blue Moon Flower for her uncle. Branches lashed at her brutally, but she knew it would be nothing compared to the torture that the demon would inflict on her. It was known that they didn’t always kill. The full moon raced with her overhead, illuminating the small deer trail. There wasn’t a sound in the forest except the crashing of the beast. All of the other creatures had been wise to the roaming evil and stayed in their homes.
Suddenly Olivia broke through the tree line and stumbled into a rocky clearing. She stopped, panting and realized that this was the end. Before her was a cliff plunging down into a valley. A sob caught in her throat as she saw the distant lights of Shadows Keep. She had avoided the demon for several miles but now she had nowhere to go. If she tried to go back it would surely get her. Then she heard the crunch behind her.
Olivia whirled, tears streaming down her face, and she saw the glowing red eyes through the blackness. The stench of sulfur filled the air. Steam rose from its steady breath and it spoke to her in its demonic tongue. She didn’t understand a word, but after he finished Olivia heard him grunt in the Old Tongue.
“Sweet meat.”
He stepped into the moonlight, rising from all fours to his cloven-hoofed hind legs. Straitening his spine, he rose to a good twelve feet. Long, hairy arms ended in wicked claws and an almost human face was framed by massive rams’ horns. Olivia’s eyes soaked in her fate. Hysteria was overwhelming her as she backed away from the hell-spawn.
Her heel knocked pebbles over the edge of the cliff, and the tumbled to the ground. Making a split second decision Olivia whirled and dove over the edge. Feeling a strange kind of release in her choice of death over torment, she closed her eyes. Expecting to feel the impact of the ground, she was astonished when her body jerked backward. The demon had claimed his prize out of mid-air.
Screams bubbled in her throat as demonic laughter filled the air. He thrust her to the ground and rent the clothes from her body with his claws. Olivia thrashed wildly trying to get away, but all she succeeded in doing was being taunted with his voice as he violated her young body.
“My sweet meat.”

* * *

Lord Connell stood on his balcony looking over the courtyard. A cool breeze rose from the east and he could see the sentries making their rounds on the walls. Moving to a high-backed chair Connell lowered himself. He puffed gently on his pipe and waited patiently for events to unfold. As time passed slowly, he looked over parchments, and scanned over one especially, even though he had a thousand times before. This was a letter he always kept on his desk to remind him of everything. It was crinkled and the ink was starting to fade. It had come over five years ago from a courier on a bellowing horse. He had ridden hard for days from the capital city with the tidings. Khanti Amneti was found guilty and was already imprisoned in the Bastille. Upstanding, self-assured Khanti who was once his second, found guilty for the murder of the king. Who would have known?
Shadow’s Keep had thrived under Athealus’ rule. Relegated to the edges of Draneth Forest because of the superstition, Brython always feared the Keep. Rumors of shadowy creatures fledged into sworn statements of demon sightings. Once sharing the capitol city with Light’s Manor, bigotry had shoved the Keep to the farthest reaches of Brython. For centuries they had sat at the edges of Draneth and took on the duty of wiping the demons from the closest edges of the forest. When Athealus began his reign, he had invited Shadow’s Keep back, but Connell’s predecessor had declined and kept the barrier between the demon’s forest and the rest of Brython.
The message had actually been useless. He had posted his own shadow creatures in the courtroom to spy and they had told him the outcome almost as soon as it happened. Useless, but the paper made it all seem real. Inhaling more on his pipe, he beckoned to the shadows that were dancing silently in the lamplight. The small imp-like forms pulled themselves from the still dark and surrounded his chair. They waited obediently for instructions, but Connell never gave any.
“Master?” One particularly clever shadow inquired to him. “Something troubles you?”
“Just reflecting, my pet,” he answered.
“On Khanti again? It is sad. She was powerful and her Illa were just as strong and helpful.” Illa was the name the shadows called themselves. It was always a mystery how a creature with no real substance could have a name. These particular creatures had the intelligence of a child of ten but they were extremely helpful, particularly in the field of information procurement. There were other, more powerful Illa but many weren’t fond of helping mere humans often. Not without encouragement anyway.
“Yes, on Khanti and on other things. There are many changes on the horizon.”
There was shouting from the sentries on the wall, and the gate guards were raising the portcullis. Connell looked down to dismiss the Illa but they were already melting back into the dark. A coach came clattering into the courtyard, and various servants and men-at-arms were rushing around. A groomsman grabbed the lathered horses’ bridals, trying to calm the beasts while one of the carriage’s escorts called for a physician. The once calm courtyard was now bustling with activity.
Connell sat patiently in his chair.
Shortly his serving man entered through the carved doors in a tizzy. “Lord Connell, your niece has arrived, but I’m afraid that there’s some tragic news. Olivia exited her carriage and decided to explore Draneth. She was…attacked by one of the demons that haven’t been driven from the forest.”
“She’s alive though? That’s amazing in itself.”
“Alive yes, but there’s more to it. She’s unresponsive. They’re trying to revive her but it’s as if her mind has fled her thirteen-year-old body.”
“Fled? Why?”
“Olivia was raped by the demon, my lord.” Connell sat in silence at the news and the serving man quickly left the balcony.
Changes were most certainly on the horizon.



Chapter One

Silas stood thigh high in the sludgy water. The cypress trees loomed overhead and swamp moss helped hide the sky above. The prince’s sheathed sword was perched across his shoulders, pressing gently against the back of his neck. Gloved fingers held the precious steel securely, keeping it out of the murky water. Silas began to move forward slowly, trying to keep the swamp as still as possible; he wouldn’t want to disturb the crocodiles. His soldiers followed beside him, just as carefully. There were more than just crocodiles here in the Roanoke swamp.
Difficult years had followed the death of his father. His brother Gavin ascended the throne and ruled as wisely as a boy-king could. The first few years were peaceful enough and the princes grew into their born positions. Gavin learned the fine points of politics, Silas the inner workings of war, and when Tristan grew old enough, started grooming for a position in Light’s Manor. Peace swiftly shifted into dissention and the natural course of life took place. It began with a drought that lasted almost two years. Farms withered under scorching suns, and once free flowing rivers dried to just tiny trickles of water. Landon’s own river that ran through the center of the city completely disappeared. You could walk the gap between the split city. Riots started in the cities and there were reports of horrendous acts in the countryside. The mobs set fire to the Magistrates Hall, and burned most of the king’s advisors alive. Silas hadn’t thought that a big loss. How many people did it take to tell a king that his people were in trouble? Soon the rains came again, though, and the kingdom of Brython settled within itself.
That’s when the raids at the edges of the kingdom came. It was bound to happen with a king a mere thirteen years, and the prince destined to be Field-Marshall barely nine. The desert kingdom of Krill started picking at the south-western edges of the kingdom. Several provinces were lost before they were neutralized. Years went by this way. Krill, Manarch, Roanoke, even the nomadic tribes of the Sunset Plains, his mother’s people, picked at the edges of Brython. Mighty Brython who Athealus nurtured into greatness. It was the shining jewel in the center of the continent of which everyone wanted a piece. The most unexplainable were disappearance of nobleman. Most just up and vanished off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again. A choice few just as mysteriously reappeared with no memory of where they’d been or what they had done.
The sons of Athealus persevered through it all. Gavin quelled dissentious nobleman who scoffed at a boy-kings rule, and brought them to heel. Tristan began his apprenticeship at Light’s Manor and showed a natural affinity for the light. Silas had a difficult obstacle to overcome himself. He rose through the army ranks quickly, despite his age.
In most cases, the sons of the noblemen were older then he, and jealous of his royal status. Silas was destined to command the armies but he still had to achieve it. He out rode, out fought, and out thought the older boys. Combat history, tactics, geography and sheer physical prowess were his mantle. By the age of sixteen he had earned the rank of Colonel, and with the crushing victories against the surrounding kingdoms, it wasn’t long after that he achieved the rank he was born into. He decided as Field-Marshall he would never general his troops from the back. His brother was the one whose skin was precious, not him.
It was about the time Silas became Marshall that King Gavin’s illnesses started to become noticeable. His whole life Gavin had been plagued with sickness after sickness. The greatest physicians couldn’t explain it. Over all he was healthy but crippling headaches would send him to his chambers for days, and the occasional incident of falling sickness would overtake him. All of this was kept in the strictest of confidence. Even most of Gavin’s own trusted advisors were unaware of his plight. Weakness in a king was not something that was good for a troubled kingdom. When Silas took full command of his armies was when the lesions started appearing on Gavin’s body. Only the trusted King’s Guard and Gavin’s personal physician knew about those. Moreover, Silas, he doubted even Tristan knew about the sores. Tristan had a propensity of not being able to keep his mouth shut. Silas loved his brother dearly, but felt there was something dark lurking in the depths of his soul. Silas had only a few memories of his father, but Tristan had none, and Silas had the pleasure of his mother for a few years more before she was overcome with the lung sickness that plagued the country along with the droughts. Tristan though, had almost no time with either of his parents.
Such was the life of a prince.
Now it was three years since Silas’ promotion, and the appearance of the king’s lesions. They had spread quickly and were becoming difficult to hide. The skin eating sickness of the king was soon going to be learned by all and it would be inevitable that the other kingdoms learned of it. Through it all Gavin had refused to marry, despite the need for descendants. He said he would never put some poor woman through that torture. Silas was soon acknowledged as heir, much to his displeasure. He knew war, not politics and if in the tragic course of events, his brother died, Silas would be completely lost to the politics of the kingdom. He had little patience for the wordy dances of nobles and even less for the simpering of courtiers. He was a general not a king, and he wondered at times if his brother’s sickness affected his brain.
Gavin had been unable to dissuade Silas from taking the field with his own men, but with the promises of not displaying his personal banner and accepting half of the King’s Guard as a permanent escort he grudgingly accepted it. Silas looked to his right where Radamus of the King’s Guard trudged beside him. They were all good men, trained well and hard, and he gave no doubt to their ability. At least his escort was useful.
So here they were, deep in Roanoke’s swamps. They chased a small group of men in here that had been harrying a few mines in the eastern part of the kingdom. It was the last of a decent sized army that thought they could take the Canel province with its rich gold mines. Silas’s troops had cut through them brutally and now chased the last of them into this forsaken swamp. He had decided to leave the shallow-bottomed boats further back so they could cut through this part of the swamp. It was a risky move with the dangerous wildlife in these parts, not to mention the chance of getting lost, but Silas hadn’t earned his position by playing it safe. Birds gave their cries freely into the afternoon air and Silas heard a fox bark in the distance. He grimaced as he stepped in a low spot in the water, sinking to his armpits in the swamp water. Radamus gave him a hand back up to higher ground. That was when Silas noticed the birds had gone silent. He signaled his men to take cover. They scattered carefully, archers in the trees if they could reach them, and the rest in what cover they could find.
A bullfrog croaked irritably and Silas was about to give the command to move forward when he spotted movement. There was a group of men in a half-a-dozen boats weaving their way through the low hanging limbs. They looked haggard, dejected, and completely unaware of the troop of men they were rowing toward. Silas waited until they were in prime position before he stepped from behind his chosen tree, calling out confidently.
“Surrender now and I shall spare your lives.”
The bedraggled men scoffed at the single man in simple leathers calling for their surrender. That quickly died as the rest revealed themselves, swords drawn from their sheaths and a few arrows sunk in the side of the boats. The wretches in the boats looked around them and realized they were out numbered four to one and their weapons rapidly dropped to the boards. Without even a signal, Silas’ men gathered the discarded weaponry and bound the rogues hand and foot. Silas placed his own sword back in the scabbard. It was his father’s sword, adorned with a simple leather wrapped grip and a plain cross-guard. It was forged for war and wasn’t etched or ornate as most noblemen preferred. The only excessiveness was the large, deep green emerald set in the pommel of the Von’ Royan house color. The reoccurring regret that he didn’t remember his father more was shoved aside when Radamus approached him.
“The outlaws are secured your highness.”
“Are they considered outlaws in their own land, Radamus?”
“They have been raiding the king’s mines and killing his people. I don’t care if they’re considered heroes in their country, “he said with ferocity.
“Peace friend. I’m just thinking out loud,” Silas gripped the King Guard’s shoulder affectionately.
“This was easier than I thought it was going to be. Not that I mind, I’ll be glad to quit the gods-forsaken swamp. I’ve heard rumors that these Roanokens have demon circles deep in their swamps.”
Silas grunted in obscure acceptance and watched the rest of activity. The prisoners appeared dejected as they herded together onto two of the flat boats. “This was rather easy, wasn’t it Radamus? Not even a curse or a reference to the smallness of our manhood’s.” The prince continued to watch his captives and one caught his eye. It was a scrawny, rat-faced man with crooked teeth who whispered into his companions ear, smiling.
“Radamus…” Before he could speak further there was a hissing in the air. An arrow struck his right shoulder, spinning him sideways. He gasped in angered pain as his soldiers shouted in surprise. He should have seen the ambush coming; no one ever gave up that easily!
“Silas!” Radamus cried out as he pushed his prince to the ground. More surprised by his escort’s response than the arrows in the air, Silas swallowed a mouthful of rancid swamp water as his head went briefly under. He came up sputtering angrily, shoving Radamus off him and drawing his sword with his left hand. A mistake on their part they had hit the wrong shoulder. The swamp-rats were swarming around them already when he exploded up out of the water. The arid smell of the swamp was now accompanied by the heavy iron smell of blood. Silas gutted a man that dropped from the trees in front of him, and kicked the body aside as more came towards him.
It was a brief and bloody skirmish. It was masterfully planned but these rogues couldn’t compete with the training of men from his army. Soon the ambushers were dead, and floating in the murky water, along with a few of his men. Silas stood panting as he looked over the scene. Radamus remained at his side, despite the brief flurry.
“You’re lucky; it went clean through, my prince. Grit your teeth.”
“Hmm?” Before he could inquire further, his question was preemptively answered as Radamus snapped the arrow’s head off and pulled the shaft out of his shoulder. Silas growled indignantly at him.
“You should warn a man before you do that.”
“I did,” Radamus said simply.
“General,” a captain called to Silas. “What do you want us to do with these men?” He pointed to the few prisoners that were still alive in the boats. They were cowering on the bottom of the wood, disbelief in their eyes that their plan had failed.
Silas regarded the men. “You should have surrendered in truth. I only extend mercy once, and I don’t take kindly attempts on my life.” Silas turned back to his captain. “Kill them and dispose of the bodies. The crocodiles will feast well this night.”


Chapter Two

Olivia roused from her restless sleep to the faint, early-morning sunlight streaming through the slits in the shuttered window. Faint sounds wafted from the market square through the closed shutters, and the shuffling of the household could be heard below. She lay there for a moment looking at the slightly faded canopy overhead. Blinking a few times, she felt like she had just wandered through a complicated maze without even coming close to the center. Images from her recent dreams were fading even as she rose, Her chestnut hair fanned across the satin pillow case as she rolled her. The fine sheets slipped away from her as she left her bed in her simple linen shift. Her hair spilled down her back as Olivia pulled on her blue silk robe. Deft fingers searched through her jewelry box, finding a small key and she padded over to her desk by the still shuttered windows. Carefully opening the secret niche embedded in the main drawer, she pulled a leather bound book from its hiding place and started to scribe.
“I feel like I can almost remember, but the stifling of this life holds the memories at bay. At night the severity fades a bit, and allows dreams to slip their way into my unconsciousness. I wrap myself in their comfort, and drift away to the lands only they can take me.
“It’s all fades into inconsistencies. There’s a blur of color, a faint, yet familiar sound in these strange dreams. My senses are dulled to non-existence, and thoughts have slowed to a sloth’s pace. Every so often there will be a glimmer of recognition of who I really am, what I’m really about, but then, as everything else has, it will fade back into the gaping maw that is the void.
“The void really isn’t that terrible. It is...nothing really. It’s the brief moments of sensation that hurt. Memories return for mere seconds. It’s then I realize what I’ve lost, and scramble desperately to retrieve it, but then they fade as it they always do. Life once again becomes a blur, moments are hard to discern from other moments, and months are harder to remember.
“I had sensations tonight though...it was wonderful the moments it lasted. Nevertheless, I still remember my dream. I could see the torches dancing and flickering in the breeze. The air smells of autumn, yet feels like spring. A few fireflies blink their random patterns against the night sky. I see the gardens, with delicate blossoms covering the ground. There’s a wooden door set far back in the wall, hidden by the hanging vines, but I know it’s there. I have to get through that door. All the secrets are held in that place. Pebbles skitter down the cobblestones, kicked by my boots, and at that moment, I could see why this place is charming. Why it holds a mystery, and why, while one is far away, it holds fond memories, of baking bread and the soft lowing of prized cattle.
“Then the sense fades as does the memory. The door and the garden moves a thousand miles away.
“I’m thrown back into a world of bright, cruel light. A light I’ve never been accustomed to. My sight fogs over, and then I go through the motions once again.
“The light always returns though, and I struggle desperately to hold onto the dreams. In the dim light of consciousness, I always believe I will remember the fantasies, but as everything else does, they fade into the void sooner or later.
“Someday.”
Olivia wanted to sign her name to her journal, but like every morning as she wrote, her own name escaped her. She took a brief moment to flip through previous pages, trying to piece it together. Olivia dreamed every night. Most of the times they were mundane, normal dreams for a woman, but every so often she would have what she thought was a true dream. Those would wake her from the dead of sleep and fade quickly, but they held the key to her lost memories. She’d write quickly in her book before they’d disappear. Her father had learned of this once and had been furious, burning the book instantly, only adding to the mystery of what happened those fifteen years ago. She held no memory of what happened to her before she was thirteen. No one seemed to know, or at least would not tell her. Her own life was a dark secret.
Olivia rose from her chair and paced over to the doors to her balcony. She tightened the silk sash to her robe and pulled on the curved handles to the slotted shutters, she opened the doors, letting in the young summer air. Padding from the rich wood to the balcony, she could feel the temperature change. The sun was just starting its ascent, warming the stone beneath her feet. Wandering over a table and plush chair, she sat beneath a canopy of fragrant summer flowers that climbed over the frame of a wooden awning. It was still very early. Her balcony overlooked the family’s small, private garden, but she could still seen Market Square from her vantage point. Stalls had just opened in the city of Ithaca and farmers were lumbering with their oxen and their carts into the city. The smell of fresh baked bread and the sound of smithies clinking filled the air, mixing with the sharp sea air. She heard a noise behind her and Olivia turned to see her maid, Roslyn, entering her suite with her breakfast.
“You always rise so early m’lady. Not at all like those other noblewomen I’ve waited on before I came into your father’s service. I swear those ladies could sleep ‘til noon if I let them.”
Roslyn continued to chatter idly as she slid in front of her the tray of fruits, soft breads, cheese and jams, cold fish, and a very bland tea. Olivia nibbled on a strawberry while she listened to her maid talk.
“All of Ithaca is aflutter about the fair. There’s supposed to be fire breathers from Krill and some of those fabulous horses from the Endless Plains.”
Roslyn gushed on about the upcoming fair, reciting every rumor she heard about entertainment and special guests. There was a soft rap on the chamber door. Olivia adjusted her robe as Roslyn strode over to admit the visitor. A tall and handsome, if somewhat graying, man entered the room. He was clothed in fine cut fabrics and carried himself with a confident and chilly air. Ice blue eyes hung over a hawks’ nose, and a thin line of a mouth that rarely smiled. He paced around the room fingering trinkets and studying some of the tapestries on the wall.
“Good morning father, what brings you here?” Olivia murmured pleasantly.
“Good morning my dear, I trust you slept well?”
“Yes father, quite well, though I’m restless about the upcoming festival. I hear there’s supposed to be Plain’s horses this year.”
“Perhaps I’ll purchase one for a gift for you this year; Papale is supposed to have an ample stock of them. But that’s not why I’m here. I would like your company this evening, and for you to look stunning. Count Golleth will be attending us for supper. A new gown should be arriving shortly in your measurements, and please do wear pearls.” Duke Wallesh’s requests were rarely anything less than commands. Pearls were a staple for their family’s wealth, and her fathers owned the most pearl beds on the entire isle. Olivia knew what this was all about. Her father turned and left her suite leaving her and a quite Roslyn on the balcony. Roslyn moved to refresh her tea.
“I believe my father has a marriage contract in mind Roslyn.”
“That is one thing I’ll never envy you ladies for. Fathers have all the choice of who you marry.”
“Mmm, it could turn out to be good or bad, and I’m starting to get to old to be turning down marriage offers. Some fruit shouldn’t be too ripe.”
“Nonsense m’lady. You’re as beautiful as the day I came into your service.”
“It has nothing to do with beauty Roslyn.”
Roslyn nodded and at Olivia’s consent, started clearing the breakfast dishes away. She had several hours before her dinner engagement, so she had plenty of time to reflect on what might possibly happen. All of it Olivia took in with the general apathy that ruled most of her life. Either the marriage contract would go through and she would soon move into her new husband’s home, or it wouldn’t and she would still be stuck in her father’s household. Either way her life would go on and she would accept with as little trepidation as the dress she would don this evening. Olivia tried to remember what it was like to feel even the tiniest bit of fear. It had been years since she had felt any real emotion. There was a flutter of excitement or sadness here and there, but most of anything was bottled deep in her soul.
She hoped so anyway.
Her lack of emotion came in useful quite often. She didn’t swoon at the slightest anxiety like a few of the other highborn women. There had been a time when Olivia was hunting with her father and a small group of other noblemen. She had been separated from the party and was completely lost in the wood. Wandering, completely unruffled through the wood, she roused a bear from his honey-dipped meal. The grizzly was less than thankful for Olivia’s interruption and stood on his hind legs, growling and chuffing at her. She sat calm and collected on her horse during his display, when she should have been terrified. After a few minutes, the bear grew disinterested in the creature that seemed to be neither prey nor predator and turned to roam off. That’s when the hunting party found their lost member. Arrows and hunting dogs made vicious, if slow, work of the grizzly. Everyone as astounded at her bravery; the lady who stared down a bear. Everyone except her father. He sat on he leggy dun and stared at her with that icy stare, as if he knew of a secret only Olivia and he shared; only Olivia couldn’t seem to remember. Perhaps that enigma was also locked away in her dreams.
Olivia was quite convinced that if she had panicked with that bear in front of her, she would have been mauled on the spot. She just whished she knew why.
The morning passed quickly and Roslyn returned to draw Olivia a bath. They began their scrubbing and primping, and while she was bathing, the gown arrived. As she dried herself, Roslyn pulled the dress from its box. It was in the Wallesh House green, cut amply to show her bosom, and decorated with vine embroidery that ended in seed pearls.
The day marched on as the two women prepared Olivia for dinner. The time was near and she was painted as beautiful as a portrait, and her chestnut hair was curled and piled on top of her head, with a few ringlets trailing down to her bare shoulders. They finished with pearl earrings and a five string pearl choker. Shortly after they were finished, there was a knock on the door. Her father entered in a coat that matched her dress.
“Come my dear, let us introduce you to your soon to be husband.”


Chapter Three
Garrett stood in the room surrounded by hundreds of tiny windows. The sunlight filtered in through them, creating an ethereal glow. His mentor and three others were in the room with him. The young man watched as strings of light swirled in the air overhead. He could see as each person added their personal weavings to the swirl of colors, every strand blending perfectly into the next. It was a beautiful thing to watch Light Mages at work. It was as if all the sunsets in the world had decided to take up residence in this one room. After a few moments, his mentor called for the display to end. Light and color sparked vividly and then settled into dullness. The world was less beautiful.
“Thank you ladies and gentlemen, that was seamless work. And that, Garrett, is how you combine weavings with other Light Mages.” Jarvis, his mentor, stated matter of fact.
Garrett sighed dejectedly as higher ranked students, and one Mage in his own right shuffled out of the room. One of the students snickered at him as she walked by, pointedly reminded Garrett of his inability to grasp the concepts of Light weaving.
“Join me for dinner tonight. I have a rousing game of cards set up and I plan on taking every coin you have.”
Tristan, the full-fledged Mage, gripped his shoulder comfortingly as he walked by. Garrett consented as the two of them left the room, Tristan to do whatever he did in his spare time, gambling, drinking, womanizing, and Garrett the odd jobs that every apprentice had to endure no matter his families status. It was odd for a royal prince of Brython to befriend a simple counts’ youngest son, but maybe that was what drew them together in the first place. Tristan, being a youngest son himself, was sent to Light’s Manor and the tender age of four. Having little need to know the deeper intricacies of the royal court, unlike his elder brothers, spent almost all his time studying and practicing, and like his brothers, achieved great things at an astoundingly young age.
Garrett came to the Manor much later. He was fifteen when he came, after he had shown a complete ineptitude for anything in his fathers’ household. He was only fair at academic studies and a horrendous swordsman. Being just passable in archery and riding, his father had sent him to the Manor in hopes that his fifth son would find talent in something useful. The last five years had not been kind; every student outpaced him. He could see every strand in microscopic detail but it was all he could do to bring a simple globe of light into existence. In fact, the only thing that Garrett was capable of doing was watch. At least he did that well. During exercises he could follow every light strand to its owner, and even the weavings that were meant to be hidden, Garrett could pick out of the light. Jarvis couldn’t explain it. Seeing hidden weavings was something even the highest Mages had difficulty doing, and sometimes it was impossible for even them. But he could see them without even an exerted thought every time.
Garrett suspected that was the only reason they tolerated his presence here. It was a mystery they hadn’t figured out, and until the Light’s Manor hierarchy did, he had a home. He hadn’t even heard from his father in over a year, and wondered if someone asked the count how many sons he had if he’d only say four. Garrett was torn between misery of being denied his family for something as stupid as his lack of ability in anything useful and between joy of not having to deal with court intrigues. It all got so complicated and he never took pleasure in lying to get what he wanted. He knew he was simple compared to most of the other highborn, hell, all of them in fact. All of them had ambitions and raced for their place in the sun, while he just looked for a place. He should have been born a farmer. The thought passed quickly and he laughed at it. He probably couldn’t even till a field if his life depended on it.
Garrett meandered his way through the stone corridors of the Manor. Dark granite gave abruptly to pale limestone, marking where the Manor had been added to. It had happened several times over the centuries. Students came by the hundreds now. Growing superstition in the demons, and the vast decline at Shadow’s Keep helped. In the past, only a handful would come at a time, and only the most talented would be admitted. Now almost every person who knocked was accepted. Few ever turned into Light Mages, but most stayed on as staff or servants to those who did. The Manor was almost bursting at the seams. In fact, Garrett was to off to that chore right now.
He descended a flight of well-worn stairs to a deeper level. Despite centuries of use and abuse, the stone here deep in the bowls of the Manor was almost white. Garrett idly wondered why the rest of the place wasn’t of the same stone as he strode down another set of stairs. He almost began to think he had taken a wrong turn in the haphazard labyrinth when he came on a hall of heavy black walnut doors with brass fixtures. Against the pale stone, it was an odd contrast.
“Here the dammed rooms are.”
Jarvis had sent him down here to clear out the entire hall. They hadn’t been used for anything but storerooms for years and with the extra tenants in the Manor there was need for more rooms. Most of the rooms were supposed to be filled with old furniture and a random assortment of useless junk. Garrett pushed the first heavy door open and gaped at the mess that was delegated to him. The room was crammed full of odds and ends, furniture, books, threadbare rugs, and it looked like the essence of dust itself had thrown up. It was rumored that the few remains that were scavenged from the burned ruins of the Magistrates Hall were somewhere in these rooms. He went from room to room opening the doors and each was in it’s own state of disgrace.
“This is going to take weeks,” he sneezed as he started in on his work. Several dusty hours Garrett crawled out of the first room and turned to look at his progress. It looked like he had barely touched the room. He scowled and threw a broken chair leg he had found back into the room and walked back up the many flights of stairs to bathe before dinner. It didn’t take long to wash up in his room the size of a prison cell, and he quickly dressed and made his way up to Tristan’s private quarters. It always amazed him how rich the prince’s rooms were with blown glass from Krill and the richly woven rugs and tapestries from Sadaleen, but succeeding an entire afternoon of dusting in the pits of the Manor, it was doubly impressive.
“Ahh, Garrett! I was beginning to think you weren’t going to join us, “Tristan exclaimed.
“I was just stuck on one of Jarvis’s quests to make me into a Light Mage.”
“Was it mucking the stables again?”
“No, thank the gods, though I believe after it’s all over dust bunnies are going to be chasing me in my dreams.”
Tristan chuckled and he invited Garrett to join him at the cherry wood table. An open letter sat on the prince’s empty plate and he didn’t seem to be in an amiable mood.
“Bad news?” Tact was also another thing that Garrett never got the handle of.
“Same old princely news from the capitol city, across the river. Gavin is still ill and Silas has collected another scar to impress the ladies from his campaign in Roanoke.”
“I’m sorry Tristan.”
“Don’t be, it could be much worse, “he said as he handed Garrett a goblet of wine. “My family may live only a river away and never see me, but at least they write.”
“That is very true “Garrett laughed. At one time, he would have been bitter over it, but now he knew that it was just the truth of his life.
Tristan grabbed his own, gilded glass and clicked it against Garrett’s
“A toast; here’s to absent families. May everything turn out as it should.”
Garrett barked a laughed. “Now the only thing is to figure out how it should be.”
“Ahh, my friend. I know exactly how it should turn out. To the very last detail.”
Garrett was still chuckling as he sat down at the table, oblivious to the dark look in the prince’s eyes.



Chapter Four
Silas returned to Landon victorious.
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