Prologue

The girl’s chestnut ringlets fell over her golden forehead wrinkled in concentration.  Small lips puckered against the salty sour liquid she had just forced past her teeth. The young girl held the wooden bowl with the dredges at the bottom waiting with her eyes wide open darting back and forth though she had them down cast.  A sharp sound was forced out as the small body went taunt then fell straight backwards. She like all the others was only eight rains old, the age all girls came to the Umbel, but she unlike most had come in the old way, unnamed.  It seemed like not so very long ago it was her drinking the liquid self conscious but unaware, the thought brought a catch to her throat.  Even on today the day she became a full adult in the Umbel she longed for the smiling eyes that she was so sure would beam in approval.  The hallow thud meant that unlike many of the nervous girl-children this one had remembered that the bowl could not touch the dredges, that had been thrown forth, nor could the swirling mass of hair.  It was a credit to her that she had accomplished both.

The swirls of her hair so brown it was almost red were intoxicating the way the candle light appeared to move down the tendrils as if marking a trail.  All the light drained from the room save the flickering reflection that was rolling through the curls, she barely felt the impact as she slid to her knees and never heard the the sound of inhaled surprise drawn from all around her.  Without hesitation her right hand began tracing out with intense care the symbols which seemed to pulse with an inner light that flowed seamlessly from one shape to the next.  Her mind so focused on the pattern of light that she no longer paid her hand any notice as it moved unbidden.  It was her own ragged breathing and the tingling in her arm that finally ended the surreal sensation of floating through light.  Blinking and purposefully ignoring the collective sigh of the elders she looked upon what she done.  On first glance it was nothing more than a mess of swirling lines it was not till she stood that the symbols became clear.  Everywhere were the tongues of flames and in some crude trifecta a household bobbin, the all seeing eye, and the knot of power.  The last shape threatened to topple her newly regained sense of balance.  Quickly she looked out to the elders feeling slightly ashamed that she had  acted out of turn, but the image of the sleeping child on the ground pulled at her attention such symbols were rarely seen at simple cuttings.

The strong feelings had started to fade as the group disconnected and went toward the hall where the other children, who had already awoken from their readings, awaited the cutting of hair.  The shortened locks would signify the children as apprentices to the Umbel until it grew back to length eight years later when the next decision would be made.  How hard that decision was for the young woman when it went an undesired direction; she found herself again thinking of those smiling eyes that had helped raise her.  Was it truly a comfort to her to think that at least the Umbel would teach the girl-children all that would be needed to govern a house as well as the beliefs to pass on to their own children, or just the quiet musing of an apprentice finding herself newly aware to the mysteries.  The deep silence broke as if with a clap of thunder.

“Digitalis!”

The word was a command not a question of concern.  The young woman dropped her eyes and bowed her neck, “Yes Mother?”  The room was almost empty, but for the stern woman at the doorway who was crowding the room with displeasure.  Digitalis ran to her begging with an apology, “It was not I who was to read for her Mother.  I, I am so sorry, but I could not stop myself.  Forgive me I know I…”

“Hush child do not tell me what I already know.” At these words the young woman’s face fell.  “What was done, was well done, few I think could have read more.  Wait with her…Sister, and Talis think on her name.”

Talis sat next to the girl-child as her mind reeled it was one thing to become a full fledged member of the Umbel it was another to be counted among the Mother’s sisters.  Her mind wondered with the idea of becoming a foster mother adding another layer of conflicted feelings which seemed to be suffocating her.  Talis sighed as the wind picked up around the stone room however it did not however have the cooling effect it should have had.  Instead while the gust flickered the candlelight the room became stifling and hot.  The girl-child gasped in surprise and whispered, “Stop the dark.”

With those words her eyes shot open reveling large round green eyes with dark brown rings then nothingness as the open panned ceiling was covered over.  Digitalis pulled the girl closer to her, unable to process what she had seen or what was happening, as the hard click of feet hit the floor near them.  A scream caught in her throat as an open hand collided with her face knocking Talis backwards.  She clutched her face momentarily forgetting the child, until she again head the sharp sound of flesh hitting flesh followed by the moan of lost consciousness.  She reached out only to be kicked away as ropes hit the stone floor.  Digitalis did the only thing she could think to do, call out, “Mother, Maja!  Come back!”

At once the room was flooded by light both from the now opened paneled ceiling and the wide open door.  Mother once more stood on the thresh hold, “Talis what,” her voice failed as she took in the room.  “Call the Canna and the Guard.  Now!”

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