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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The Canna went with the Larkspur Guard splitting into six small traveling groups with one going towards every horizon in a vain attempt to overtake the bandits.  All on the search realized that there was never any real hope of finding this girl-child who had no name to answer to, while her description was one that people would remember seeing there were many trails that would take the bandits well outside populated areas.  One small searching group which had headed toward the deserts and the setting sun had came upon horse tracks at dawn.  In the direction of the tracks a noticeable heat rose from over the dune, an unusual occurrence this early in the day.  As the men and women slowly crested the hill their horses reared with fear and blood lust as the gruesome scene was reveled along the valley floor. Below the rescuers there was a mix of scorch marks and live flame which painted the tiny oasis in a lurid mix of blacks and orange.  Only one horse remained standing  nervously pawing the ground in a crisped saddle surrounded by the dead and dying.  Nearly 20 men littered the ground some now in oily ashes others still writhed in flame, but none moved.

The horse quickly flicked its head back and forth bucking weakly as it tried to no avail to free itself from the tree it was tied to.  It was the tree, however, that stood out starkly against the background, as it was both alive and green.  Near the tree in its shade sat a young girl amidst the scrub grass.  Her head full of chestnut ringlets lifted showing a tear stained face, and a slightly open mouth, which held handful of little fingers, raw and red at the ends.

The mixed company of Canna and Guard exchanged dubious glances, how was this possible.  One of the Canna, an imposing woman with long golden hair, stepped forward to talk to the girl, “Child where did the fire come from, and…and how, how are you not hurt?”

The girl shook her head back and forth vigorously as if she did not understand then started to talk.  “I told them I couldn’t see, and that I wanted down.  I don’t know what they said back, but I knew they were funning with me, and I got mad.”  She looked up at the woman as if pleading with her to understand.  She extended her hand and looked at it intently.  “It got hot, I got hot, and one of them threw me here.  Then came the fire I heard it eating the plants and…,” her head tilted to the side allowing the light to shine upon her eyes green ringed in brown which swam in tears.  Light seemed to form within those eyes wavering between rage and youth, but all she said was, “Where did they all go?”

The woman with the golden hair felt herself tremble at the girl’s wide-eyed wonder, where did they go?  Did she truly not know?  “I will not harm you girl. Come to my horse and sit before me.  Many people await you little sister, do you understand me?”  Her response was to lift her unhurt hand to the woman who with noticeable reverence and care took it as she said, “You will go to Digitalis, who is to be your foster mother,” she whispered the last part, “and surly to the Phlox.  Sleep now in the saddle I will keep you.”

As the child drifted to sleep the awe turned to fear in the woman as she thought, what is to be, as a slow but unmistakable warmth bloomed inside of her where she held the child against her.  All the woman could hope was that Mother would know what to do, and that she could reach the Umbel with haste.

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Chapter One

Maja awoke with the stink of smoke still in her mouth without conscious thought she fought her way to the window and threw it as wide as it would go.  Gasping in the cool fresh air she began to obsess, always the same dream and the same questions, and before reality truly set in, as if with instinct, Talis still taken by sleep stood in the doorway with concern upon her face.

“Talis how did I manage to wake you?  I only walked to the window.”

“That may well be so but don’t you pretend that you cannot feel the tension in this house child we both could choke.”  She smiled as if the two shared a joke, but turned suddenly serious, “What bothers you Maja dear?”

“I had the dream again,” shyly she looked at the floor embarrassed to still nightmare when she was no longer a girl-child of eight but a young woman of sixteen.  Digitalis gave her a knowing look but only said, “We should dress; the morning waits for no woman.”  She steeped forward to help her dress as she always had and stopped dead in her tracks saying, “Maja can you manage, I must get everything ready,” as she hurried from the room.  The girl responded to the question after the door had closed, “I must learn.”

Maja looked down on the layers of cloth she had set out the night before, they were the finest woman’s ridding wears she had yet to sew.  There was the soft flax white under shift with capped sleeves, seemly for a lady in summer, and a flounced long underskirt.  Then made of thin wool was a jade colored tunic with two split skirts one of pale yellow and one of jade green. Looking at the pile of fabric with their ties and fastenings she smiled.

“If only I was still young and in smocks.”

Maja pulled the shift over her head straightening the hems as she went and then stepped barefooted into the ring of her yellow skirt, which took a full five minutes to tie properly.  The last layer of skirt went over her head and buttoned up to the middle of her ribs, and the tunic laced up the sides and fell to the middle of her stomach.  The soft tan leather ridding boots were much less trying as she was quite used to the well-worn wood soled shoes.  She also took the time to neatly tie her hair into loose knots with waxed cloth.

She wound her way down the hall and the low stairs wondering what it would be like to live anywhere other than Larkspur.  Maja found herself standing still looking at everything as if to preserve it this way in her mind forever as a nameless sense of foreboding washed over her.  With the final turn of the stairs she found herself facing Talis who sat at the table with Mother talking over herb tea. The scent of marsh-berry bread and spice cream soup filed the room and fried avis covered the table.

“What are you thinking on?”

The simple question quickly brought Majalis back to the present, “I was wondering, nothing more.”  However the simple the answer did not have the desired effect instead of calming the older woman she was now in outrage. “That may be but you have not just yourself to think about, but rather what can be done where you are to go.”

“Yes Mother but where is that, not a soul has spoken of it?  I don’t even know if I will be ridding back with Digitalis.”

The woman’s face had softened slightly at the girl’s last words and a quick glance at Talis caused her eyes to blur as if she was now looking afar.  Softly she said, “Eat child and I will talk,” as she gestured to the seat across the table.  “It is my wish that Digitalis goes to collect the young girls who will be joining us this cutting from the East.  You will accompany her on this trip to Vesper, however you will not be returning.”  The older woman registered Maja’s shock and anger quickly moving forward effectively cutting off the girl’s response.  “I am not sending you to be married off to some stranger, child control yourself.  I am no longer able to make such decisions for you.”

A quiet followed Mother’s last words that was filled with questions, and Maja’s restraint wore thin.  “No one breath’s a word of this to me, no time to prepare myself for this…this dismissal, and then you say you can not decide for me.  Have I slipped into a fresh nightmare?  None of this makes sense.”

“You forget yourself, child.”  The steel applied to each of those words worked to force Maja back into her seat and into an outward appearance of calm though the tempest still raged within.  “I would have thought that the dying wish of your mother would at least have your respect.”  It was here that Mother stopped.  She appeared to be quite beyond finishing as she sipped at her tea in the silence.

So it had come at last, how was she not ready for this, the girl deserved answers, but they truly were not hers to give.  No, they were her mother’s, and she was no longer alive, but it was not fair to send her out with no knowledge of why.  Looking up from her tea Mother could read the questions in Maja’s eyes and answered.  “I can only tell you what I myself know.  Your mother was my own fostering and I was there when she had you.  Dahlia died shortly after you were born, living long enough only to tell me what she would of your story.  Your father’s name is Dronocum, and they were to be married.  However, as you will find, most things do not go according to plan, and instead of walking that path she went to her mother’s to wait out the birthing.  Dahlia refused to see him again which means that you were never known to him.  She told me to have you fostered in the Umbel in the old way until . . . until you were of age.  Now that you are, you leave for Demesne Vesper; we do not put you out because you are unworthy or unable, but because this is as it must be.”  Quietly Mother placed her hands in her lap and awaited Maja’s response.

“I had the dream, again, last night but I remembered more of it,” Mother now wore surprise written across her face shooting a quick glance at Talis as Majalis continued, “There was a woman, the one who found me, we talked.  She told me,” the girl hesitated as if unsure she should continue, “Mother why would I go to the Phlox?”

While it was not the response she had expected from the sixteen year old it did please her and she even allowed herself a moment of pride; good she knew.  “As you know the Phlox is known to the Umbel as the High Seeress of the Demes, but to the nobility she is known as a teacher of young heirs and heiresses.”

“What would any of that have to do with me going to see the Seeress?”

“You will go to your father and he will either accept you into your noble life, or you will live a life as you will apart from the Umbel.”

The information did not so much sink in as Maja just reacted to it.  “But what if he does not want me, no what if I don’t want him?  Will I be left with nothing not even Talis?”

“Of course you will not be left with nothing, we are not heartless.  As your cousin, Digitalis will give you a dower.  If you are put away, by your father, she can bind you to another or take you into her home, but not the Umbel.

“You exile me because of an unknown father and blood.”

“No I exile you because if I held you I would be killed, I sent word child, as your mother requested at your birth.  Would you harm us so?”

“Never.  I go freely but not willingly.”

“I release you to go and fulfill what has been laid at your feet.”

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The first day of travel had elapsed much as Talis had expected it to with a small and silent storm brewing around her Maja.  The girl sat in her saddle with creased brow and angry motions ignoring all around her throwing what, Digitalis begrudgingly admitted to herself, was the best fit she had ever seen.  None of their armed company found it necessary to try to relieve the tension with light heartedness and as such they quickly shifted to the rear of the little procession so as to entertain themselves without fear of the girl shifting her sullen anger their way.  In the quite Talis found plenty of time to batter herself with useless questions about what she should have done.  While she had been acting on Mother’s orders, which had come from her cousin’s last request, she still felt guilt for keeping the secret.  It hurt to not be on speaking terms with the girl whom she had been through so much with.  Majalis did not know it but before when she had been touched with the sight on her cutting she had seen that this girl-child had been destined for a life above, one not of the Umbel.  However, knowing that her charge would not remain beyond the required eight years of training had become a lot less bearable after those nights of terror when Mother had confided in her all that Dahlia had left in her care.  It was decided, that first night, that should the girl child, now named Majalis, return whole, that Talis as the girl’s only remaining blood relative would keep the child.  However, under the rules of the Umbel the girl would know her as faster mother, nothing more.  No matter how hard Talis had tried that bond of foster mother was very quickly surpassed by one of sister like camaraderie.  After all she and Dahlia had been like sisters and at that moment in some small way she had had that back.  The allure of making the relationship more than that of fosterlings proved impossible to resist.  Adding insult to injury Maja had been her first foster, and at the age of 24 Talis had found herself more adept at keeping a friend than controlling a foster daughter.

After spending the whole day even meals suffering both her internal dialogue and the malice of Maja’s glares; Talis left the company of the young woman and instead hung back with the two women of the Canna and the men of the Larkspur guard that were accompanying them to the borders of Vesper.  In the midst of such colorful people Talis could not keep to her worries over much, but at the next midday meal the winds of the silent storm shifted; Maja’s mood had turned from anger and rage into denial and despair, which seemed to hang upon her like the weight of the world.  Now when the girl looked in her direction she sensed fear radiating out of the mournful eyes that darted so quickly side to side that even horses seemed effected and easily startled.  Again she had to remind herself that when Maja was ready she would come to her, and that forcing the girl to deal with her emotions before then would create even more issues.

It had taken nearly three days, but just as Talis had been sure it would, the silence and the first sightings of castle Vesper had shaken Maja.  Immediately Majalis turned in her saddle to look over her shoulder and say, “Digitalis,” quietly, sure that the woman would not respond and that they would never talk again.  However, it seemed as if Talis had been waiting for just this sign to leave the slightly more subdued group of Canna and Vesper guards, for as Talis started forward the rest of the company retreated to lend privacy to the conversation.  It seemed to Maja that the small gap between them took her foster mother forever to cross, but soon she was asking, “Yes Maja?”

She had tried to restrain herself but everything broke free in a flood of emotion.  “How could you not tell me, what right did you have, did any of you have?  Mother, my mother, or you the only person I’ve ever known as friend and family of my choosing.  Eight years, and you never found the time or the way in eight years!  Do I truly mean so little to all of you that you can put me away and decide for me without my consent or fore knowledge?  Even a maid with little more than hearth and home before her is consulted as to what she would like best in a pairing,” Maja could tell that her voice had risen but seemed unable to control her hysteria, “I got demands and unfair requests.”  She paused for breath and some composure, but before the girl could continue Talis replied, “No.”  “What do you mean ‘No’?  What is that supposed to mean?  No to what, to me, to my questions?”

“Child you will please refrain from starting outright gossip in my presence. You forget yourself. Am I not still your elder, do I no longer deserve respect and a chance to plead my case before I am brought to punishment?”  At this point Talis turned her young Vicuna mare around and approached the guards and arranged for the final midday meal to be taken.  As tents were erected for the cleaning and eating of all on the trip Talis sat her mare silently with the young woman a step behind looking warily at her back every few moments, but when the dried meats and cheeses were brought out Maja followed Talis readily into their tent.

“No, I could not tell you, even after eight years, and at first I did not even know myself.  I was still in the first eight years of my training when you were born, I did not even know my cousin was with child and was not even allowed a pass for the funeral.  I was not told how she died Maja.  Mother kept me in dark as well.  Even when I read for you she never told me why she was not surprised, or why you had such an affect on me.  I named you and still knew you not as blood of my blood.  It wasn’t till you were taken that she told me.”

“But why would that matter?  Why would Mother wait till that time to tell you, she was the only one who knew I existed at all no one would ever have known who I was or where I came from?  How could a missing child be so important?  She should have just let me go it would have been better.  At least it wouldn’t have been as if I had lost anything or anyone.  Before the Umbel I would have been safe.”  Maja whispered this last thought caught in her own emotions over what was being done and how helpless she was to change any of it.

Talis, however, apeared as if the words placed before her had caused actual pain.  “Safe, really Maja.  Perhaps you would prefer to be dead or bound to one or more as a slave, but there are others, myself included, who would rather see you only unhappy but able to live on.  Your mother gave her life to see you come into your gifts, and who are you, I ask to throw the gift of life away.  Do you claim that the Essence knows not Her own mind and what would be best for this world of Hers?”  Seeing the fear that leapt into the girls eyes at the mention of knowing more than the Essence Talis softened her tone saying, “Truly are you so unhappy to have known me, have I wronged you so?”

“Oh Talis never, I only wish I did not hurt so much at the idea of leaving you and all I know.”  Maja smiled shyly looking out from under her lashes slightly unsure how the truth of the statement would be taken.

Talis sighed loudly before continuing, “I was given you as my fosterling not because of the love we might share for each other but for our shared blood.”  The woman saw Maja start to speak but hushed her with a gesture, she knew this had to be said but still it hurt to speak these hidden truths.  “Mother said that as you were, gifted, there were some who could sense that gift and upon finding you could use the gift through you how they saw fit.  I am of the blood of your mother and through her you with me the blood of your father would be hidden beneath the roots of your Umbel mother.  Dahlia must have guessed this was true too because you were sent in to a home with roots not to your father while you were still young.  One…once you leave the shelter of my home and live with your father things will become much more complicated.  In the Umbel all are equal with no power over another, but this is not so where you go, Maja.  Your father, Dronocum, is nobility and with noble birth comes a second name, responsibility for others, and powers.”

No sooner had the word left her mouth had Maja had a feeling of the world slipping out form beneath her.  “Powers…but the Phlox is a seer not a magician.”

Talis calmly shook her head, “She is the High Seeress to the Umbel but to the nobility she is a teacher of power.”

“But I, I have no powers Talis,” these words seemed to be a life line to Maja, “if I have no powers then there is no need to even see my father.  He will surly put me away, and then I can work in your house and be with you even if I cannot be within the Umbel.”  Satisfied with the new outcome of events Majalis started to eat with new vigor.

“Even I can see the holes in that theory child.  You told Mother that you have lately seen more to the dreams than you used to including a woman of the Canna who brought you home,” at the mention of this unknown woman Talis’ eyes glistened in the filtered light.  “If you remember her words you will also remember what you are choosing to over look.  Either way child we can keep the guards waiting no longer.”

Talis raised herself to wash away most of the trail dust from her face and arms when she noticed that Majalis had not stirred, “She’s dead isn’t she?  You said that part of noble birth was responsibility for others but you meant for the lives of others.”  She turned quickly a slight tremble was noticeable in her hands as she lunged forward and grabbed the Talis by the shoulders, “I’ve killed, no do not lie to me I see it in your eyes.  There’s more, but . . . why won’t you let me see?”

“Because you are not ready yet,” the woman said removing herself from the girl’s grasp, “no I will hear no more on this.”  Maja followed Talis out of the tent once again in her green riding frock but as the things were packed away the girl noticed that her travel trunk and bags were being placed on a small pica that the guards had brought.  She sought Talis out with her eyes and slowly approached her, “Are you not accompanying me, does it all end here, will I never see you again?”

“Such drama my dear one, you will go to the castle.  I will ride as far as the gates, but no farther.”  Finally it seemed that small amounts of the girl’s despair had started to stick to Talis weighting her down as well.  “Maja, my gifts to you in this new life of yours are in a small pouch in your trunk, it includes enough for your dower if you should need it.  Let us away now dear child.”

The small party entered the city surrounded by watchful eyes as it was near dark, but Maja caught the look of pride in Talis’ eyes and tried to be worthy of it.  She followed the banner bearer through the streets holding herself as well as she could until they reached the gate, where silent sobs rattled her resolve.  She felt Talis’ touch on the back of her neck and felt the leather throng loosened from her throat, it was the symbol of Digitalis and her fostering.  Maja turned to ask why but Talis held her firm and placed another throng around her neck, this one was made of soft metal and fell to her heart where she could feel the residual warmth of Talis’ body.  This time Maja felt her self turned to look in to Talis’ eyes.  “It was your mother’s, it was given to me after she had died, and now I am giving it to you so when you need to you can feel us both watching over you.  Go with your fate and may the Essence guide you, Maja, my darling.”

As if the darkness had swallowed them hole the two Canna and Talis were gone into the night.  Maja lifted her head defiantly as tears the size of rain drops slid down her cheeks.  “Guards, if you will, I require an escort to the castle I must seek my father’s,” the word dripped with scorn, “advice in lodgings.”

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Chapter Two

The Larkspur guard had brought her through the gate a tedious and slow process as suspicions had risen with the falling darkness.  Though a well guarded woman did attract some unwanted attention the explanation that she was to be delivered to her father had proven plausible enough that they were allowed into the walled interior of the city.  This portion of Vesper was filled with stands selling food and businesses, mostly closed for the night, which gave the place a slightly claustrophobic feel as if she were lost in a labyrinth.  She found herself glancing over her shoulder, back at the outer city, filled with farms and homes, where she had last seen Talis, with great longing.  It was not until Maja noticed a breeze that she realized they were crossing the final clearing to the castle.

The men who had accompanied Majalis gave her apologetic smiles as they left her in line at a well guarded door begging leave so they might  make their lodging arrangements before everywhere was full.  As the final tie to her home was severed she began to ache as if a part of her had been pulled away forcing her to become fully aware of how alone she was.

It was then that the watchmen meet her with a weary look in their eyes.  The dark hair one said, “She looks of a lady, but no lady would ride forth so late.”  With these words they seemed to have decided her fate, “What’s the likes of you wanting here?”

She wasted a moment trying to find her voice before answering, “I…I wish to see Dronocum.”  There she had said it no going back; now the realization brought with it crushing dread, what have I done.

“Who are you to speak on such friendly terms with the King?  Come now who should I tell him is at his door,” asked the youngest man on guard.

The jeering pounded her ears as Maja’s head swam, a noble father was one thing, but the King was another.  Her confusion threatened to unseat her.  Bravely she lifted her head and caught the man’s eyes and held them.  “His daughter,” she answered with a silent roar behind her words.

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Dronocum sat at a table set for two piled high with avis and chamois, fruit, pudding, and sweet wine, he hoped at least one of the items would tempt her palette.  Since receiving the letter that they were traveling to Vesper he had been on alert quietly shifting from his planning to his childish fear of what it meant to come face to face with part of..her. He looked up from his lap as the door was opened to allow a page in then the girl.  Dronocum had time to take in her the red-brown curls set off by a jewel green ridding frock as she crossed the open space between the door and the table, and then she looked up modestly.

Strength and anger surged in her eyes as they meet with his.  She took his measure swiftly; he was tall and strong of structure, had dark nearly back hair, and eyes that left her no questions.  His eyes glowed in a pale reflection of her own.

“Come, I fear we are long over due for a talk, but first,” and here he raised his head causing the servant to stand at attention, “Tell Lady Haddie that we will expect her presence in two hours of time, and ready the girl’s bags to be placed within the palace walls.”

“Yes, of course sir,” the page declared loudly and was gone in a flash.

“Now sit with me,” he gestured grandly, “and we shall not fast while we talk.  You can call me father.”

“I have only known of you for three days and then only as Dronocum, but can you not call me by name for I know it was given to you?”

“Do not be angry Majalis, but here you have no name other than your mother’s and that I can not speak.”

“Am I then to believe that you loved her?”

His voice dropped low as if he strained to speak, “More than you can know.”

“But I killed her you know; she lived but hours after having me.  Don’t you hate me for taking her away?” Maja had hopped that this reminder would release her from the closing walls around her for while she had to admit they were beautiful every time a door was closed behind her she felt it jar her very bones.  Escape seemed to be slipping through her fingers.

“No, not at all.  Even if I could blame you, which I cannot, I could not hate you, because she loved you enough to make that trade.  I would not mare that love.  Let me call you daughter, let me give you my name.”

She held herself aloft from the promise of love as she answered, “Who am I to order the King?”

“Did they tell you nothing where you were kept?  You daughter are my first born and heir by birth.  What would you wish?”  He sat looking at her with his arms wide and a small smile on his lips, but his eyes remained weary.

At this Maja locked eyes with Drnocum and spoke with a heart felt intensity, “Do you believe it my choice to leave, in exile, all I hold dear to come here to tell you my wishes.  No, Father, I am very much here at your will and await your decision.”

“You are my first born was I never to know you, what would you have of me?”

“The only right I ask for is that of the Great Seeress, I was told that those of noble blood can seek her out as teacher, there is much I have yet to learn.”

“So, child of the ground you have the spirit, but daughter do you hold the power?”

With his words the block she had placed between her and her dreams fell away and she saw herself clearly for the first time.  “I was not sent here because of my noble blood nor was I stolen in childhood for only that reason.”

“You were taken, I did not know.  How is it that you are here before me?”

Before she could even attempt to answer that question the heavy door that had remand shut during their conversation swung open with a resounding thud.  Standing in the doorway was a woman with a livid shock of white hair who seemed to crackle with energy.  “Dronocum how dare you!”  She practically exploded into the room, causing Maja to slip from her seat.  She rose with neck bowed.

A wind of power blew Maja’s hair from its lose knot in long strands, her hands touched to her forehead.  Then she grew.  Her spirit filled the room as she drew away her hands.  Maja threw back her head revealing black eyes, a white chiseled face, it was no longer Majalis, and in her hands, at the level of her bosom, blazed a ball of fire.  The ball was a white center licked all over with red tongues of flame.

“Hear me!” The very floor trembled.  “Quibble no more, it is mine to decide.  She is more than this time has seen.  She will be queen but not of a castle; she will rule much more than land.  I set the future before you do not fail.” She then caught Dronocum in the darkness of her eyes.  “Beware the loss from which you shall gain; death does not wait for the appointed time.  My eternal flame burns bright; go, not from me but to me, my Fierya.

The flame pulsed outward then smothered itself and the girl, Fierya, fell.  The woman reached out to her shyly, pulling the girl towards her, pushing the hair out of the girl’s face.  As Fierya’s face was exposed Haddie shrieked and fell backwards holding her hands before her.  Dronocum jumped forward to catch the hysteric woman, but instead fell with her open mouthed.

The door which had not been shut was now filled with concerned faces.  A dark haired girl pushed her way through concern radiating out of her, “Father…Haddie Mother,” it was at that moment that she noticed the girl on the ground, “what has happened, who is this?”

Dronocum tried to untangle himself from Haddie who was still staring at her hands in disbelief, “Stay away I, I don’t know…”

But already she had dropped down beside the girl with a pitcher of water, from the table.  She pulled the worst of the burned pieces of cloth from the girl’s body and washed her face with the hem of her own skirt.  As the grime and soot were wiped away the once golden skin now shone milk white, and her once brown hair was blood red under the scorch marks.  She held the girl’s head and poured water past her cracked lips.  The burned girl sputtered and started to sit up.

Fierya opened her eyes to strange surroundings then she started to remember.  Se felt a hand on her back and turned as far as she could.  A shock of black hair and green eyes meet her with concern then curiosity.  However she paid the dark hair girl no mind as unbidden thoughts were crashing upon her, burned, I burned her, I burned myself alive, as her body shuttered.  She felt everything clasping inside her, no this could not be, she must be dead, and with that thought she fell to the ground as if the very thought had struck her down.

Again the dark haired girl held her in her arms as well as her father with her eyes.  He looked away.  Haddie went forward holding her hands palms up, they were seared red.  He took off his jacket and wrapped it around the girl before gently picking her up.  “Since you can tend her, I place her in your care Auria.”  As soon as she was laid down in a bed within Auria’s suite Donocum excused himself assuring his daughter, Auria, that she would be able to do more than any one could hope for.

He left the castle at once there was much to do.

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He had been running full tilt since the watchful eyes of the palace guard had faded into the night. Fear had driven him out, but it was the guilt, which was turning his stomach, that guided his feet towards the most eastern edge of his city.  He stopped short before a path lined by herbal gardens, as if the heavy perfume in the air had weighted his legs.  However, Dronocum knew better than that, no matter what he tried to tell himself, it was fear of the reaction his message would bring which stayed his feet.  Questions whirled through his mind as he paced the front of the path alternating between resolve and despair; when a shadow darker than night stepped into his field of vision.

“What business do you have here,” the shadow demanded.

The sound of metal being drawn from its leather decided him.  “I come to beg an audience with Digitalis.”  Once the words were out there was no taking them back as the shadow had already gestured for him to follow her into the night.

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Mentally Talis ran over a list of what was to be done.  One of the children had been waiting at the keep when she arrived, but the others would not be here for at least a week, living on the opposite outskirts of Vesper.  They, however, should all be here by the beginning of the next moon phase giving her time to relax on the way back to the cutting rather than rushing the girls.  Also, it would give her time to get everything in order for Maja which ever way the rain fell.

Talis had two trunks before her bed, each spilling out different items which awaited their final packing.  She had told herself it was necessary, but she knew enough to admit that the second trunk was more for her sake than Maja’s.  It held all the homely things she would need if Drono put her aside, but it was the first trunk made from sturdy and ornate wood and leather that kept drawing her attention.

She felt the air change as her door was opened by a small woman who stood waiting on her door jam. “Have you time for an audience, a young man seeks your council,” the woman asked stifling a yawn.  Talis looked out the window and sighed, “A message at this hour can only bode ill, show him in.”  She was turned to gather refreshments from her sideboard when she heard him enter.

“I’m glad to know that after the years I still have your friendship.”

She inhaled sharply and nearly over turned the platter she held as she meet the man face to face. “Drono!  How is it that you are here?”

He took the platter from Talis and sat it down before turning to look her up and down, though never quite meeting her eyes.  “The years have done nothing to you, Talis, which I don’t fully approve of,” here he stopped to smile.  “Can you forgive me the harshness of our last parting of ways?”

“Perhaps you now have a better understanding of why I could not leave with you,” Talis replied regaining her composure.

“Yes, but not why you never accepted my offer or at least told me why you declined.”

“I always believed that you were just trying to replace her with me, I think so still.”

“That may have been true at the beginning when she would no longer speak to me, but when I sought you out for marriage it was you I wanted.”  When Drono finished his eyes glistened with memories.

Talis laid her fingers across his arm.  “This is not what brought you out tonight; you’re staling.  What is your decision?  Is Maja to become part of your world?”

“No.”  He had kept his eyes lowered, but Talis could sense tension rolling off of him in waves.

“Look at me Drono.  I have yet to see your eyes this night.  What has happened?”

“She is Fierya now.”

The name bothered him but why, it was of his choosing.  “Drono?”

“She, she changed.”

“Drono?”

“Changed her, She changed her.”  He was almost pleading with her.

“Look to me!”

He lifted his eyes and whispered, “The Essence,” with awe in his voice.

Their eyes locked.  She saw it all through the tears that streamed down her face, the girl’s body rigid against the pain of fire searing through flesh.  Talis gasped aloud as Drono pulled her to him, “I, I should have warned you, her gift.”

“She’s…neither of us can lay a claim to her now.”

Talis pulled back and collected herself, “I know what you would do.”  The statement sounded vaguely threatening.  “I will be there early on the sixth day, and will leave the next morning as they leave.”  Dronocum looked at her with something akin to horror in his eyes, but she did not stop.  “I know more than just what you’ve seen.  Did Dehlia teach you nothing?”

“Stop!”

“Tell your wife, or not, but I will tend the girls that day.”  Somewhat frantic Talis began to wonder the room placing items within a wooden trunk and muttering to herself, “none should know her face.”

He had been so focused on trying to unravel a meaning from her actions that he was caught unawares when she rounded on him, “Drono, do you hear me?  This naming will be private,” she cut him off with a glance.  “Do you want another scene; She named her anything could happen.”

“Never.”

“Then hold your public event after the official naming.”  Talis stopped suddenly feeling the dizzying waves that preceded a seeing.  Her voice went flat and cold, “You will lose, lose many things many times; what happens to the flame without air.”  Talis felt her eyes widen, what had come from her mouth.  When she spoke again her voice held real warmth laced with concern, “Dronocum, what must pass will be, but know I’ll be here for you always Drono.”

“My offer still stands,” he looked away unsure of how to continue.  “I must return there is much to put into motion.  Shall I tell Fierya she is to see you soon it may lighten her spirits?”

“No, do not let her know.  She must find herself within Fierya and with me near she would always be Maja.  I shall not forget Drono, the rains be merciful.”

As Drono walked back lost in thoughts of what needed to be done he silently prayed that more than the rains would be merciful.

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Chapter Three

“I don’t even know who you are and already I hate you, you who are so full of mystery that no one will even breathe a word as to what it is you  are doing here.  Father won’t even tell me a thing.  All he says is that I have done more than he could have hoped.  What ever that means, all I did is what anyone would know to do for a person with a fever, but why should a fever patient stay in my rooms, it’s not as if I ever had the patience for the sick room.  Though truly I would have sworn that you were a salamander taken human form the way you cut through the ice presses.  It’s as if you lay there and will yourself dead…Fierya.

That’s right did I forget to mention that while I know nothing about where you come from or why you’re here I do know something, your name.  Well Fierya, it’s been days three to be exact that you’ve been here, and I don’t care who you are no one gets to grow roots in my room.  Get up and get out you useless lazy clout!”

“My regards to the King’s wake up call, but do be quiet.”  The response had been quiet but filled with anger that the simple words could not conceal.  She slowly sat up looking much worse for her days abed and stared directly at the other girl.  “I do hope you are talking to yourself or perhaps you have found yourself most decidedly in the wrong place.  I am Magalis, and my roots go deeper than you could imagine.”

Curiosity won out over anger and the dark-haired girl returned to talking to the other.  “You’re awake, good now you can answer my questions, Fierya.”

“I told you I am Magalis not this Fierya.  Now where am I?”

“Where are you?  You are in the exact same place you’ve been for three days, in my room,” as this was met with only a confused look she continued, “at the palace.  Do you truly not remember?”  Turning slightly to the side she spoke more to herself than the girl in bed, “how can I find anything out if you don’t know yourself?”  She sat down hard on a cushioned chair, between the door and the bed, thinking and watching the other.  The other girl sat propped up by pillows not looking at herself, at all, only the room.  As she watched the girl’s survey her eyes went wide remembering how terrified her father and Haddie had been that night.  Unsure but determined she started slowly, “Um…what did you say your name was, Magalis?  I’ve never heard such a name before where are you from?”

“Well that I can answer,” the other girl said as she turned from looking out the window her eyes sliding past the large mirror, “I am from the Umbel near the Lakes.”

“Then why would you be here,” the question was out of her mouth before she had finished the thought.

The girl’s face flushed in anger, “Talking to Dronocum about where I should stay…”

“How dare you!  No one names the King.  You, you insolent girl.”  She was on her in a flash, “I don’t know who Magalis is but you’reFierya now!”  As she finished her sentence she forced the girl to meet the looking-glass her eyes had avoided earlier.  The results were not what she had expected as the girl’s scream echoed off the walls piercing the castle; Dronocum was there before she stopped.

As he entered the room she turned on him.  “What have you and you’re she bitch done?”

He stood stunned, though he had never felt anything but cold dislike for Haddie he had never voiced his opinion and the truth of the statement held him captive, and the anger more than worried him.  He tried to sound calm but her emotions beat against his resolve, “You were at dinner with me do you remember?  We were talking about names…”

“Spit it out or I’ll rip it from you!”

He knew this to be no idle threat so he did the quickest thing he could, he opened his mind to her as he had to Talis.  Before it was over he was on his knees with tears in his eyes.  Fierya paid him no head as she rose from the bed looking only at the glass.

“How?”

“How can I think to know child?”  He was slowly standing the tears still dancing in his eyes.  She shook her head as if trying to physically clear it, and turned to look at the other girl.  “You are my sister by Dronocum.”  There was no question in her voice, just an unloading of truth.  She then reached out and touched the smooth surface fully disproving any illusions as she scanned herself, “I need to bathe, no,” she quickly cut off the others, “I’m sure I can manage.”  She swiftly went to her trunk and gathered a bundle running into the other room without a backward glance.

With Fierya gone a spell seemed to break as everything suddenly clicked in the girl left staring at where the angry girl had been standing.  “She’s my what,” Aria demanded as she faced her father, “How could you not tell who she was before she woke up?  How…”

“How could you not know?  She has my eyes and you must have heard the talk.  Please,” it was the first time she had heard him so exhausted, “come to dinner tonight we all need to talk.”  He moved as if to touch her arm then stopped his hand floating in the space between them, “Auria, I never meant to hurt you.”  Then he was gone.

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In the time it had taken to call three separate maids, to tend to the stale bedding, bring the noon meal, and plate her hair, Auria had still not puzzled out what had taken place in her own suite.  Not much had actually changed.  She still knew next to nothing about the girl, her sister, and her father still had not answered her questions.  Although he had left her father had promised to talk to her unlike the angry redhead in the bathing room.

Quietly she watched as the girl finished her hair which seemed to remain a source of hostility for her.  The girl’s unresolved emotions hung on her sleeve as she walked head held high but with eyes unsure from the room where she had hidden for the past two hours.  Auria looked up and met those eyes, they were indeed her fathers’.  Before this moment he was only one she had even seen with eyes like that though Fierya’s eyes seemed brighter if possible even fierce, her sister it appeared held many secrets.  Sister, huh, it was amazing how little the thought soothed her rather more like salt in a wound Aria thought.  “So you’re the bastard they’ve all been talking about,” she tried to remain neutral or at least non confrontational but her anger kept seeping out.  “I thought you would be a male, come to take my place,” she wasn’t calm but she held herself together.  “I took the liberty to have the noon meal brought up,” she stood facing the girl motioning for her to take the seat opposite her, “there is much to talk about.”

Fierya watched as the other girl sat down looking up expectantly.  “I am a child of the Umbel and no one’s bastard.  I was happy where I was, and did not ask to change my lot in this life.  How could you possibly think that I would want to take this from you?  Perhaps you do not fully understand what has happened.”  She hoped the words rang with the truth and pain she felt when she said them.

“How can I?  No one feels the need to tell me what is going on, why should I have to be calm and sensible,why can’t I scream at you till I’m content that you are what you say you are?  Answer me girl or I swear that is exactly what I will do, there is no reason to wait till supper with you here in front of me.  Help me to understand what has happened,” she paused chest heaving in the attempt to rein in her anger, “I’m not accustom to being made to wait Fierya.”  In the distance she heard a rolling clap of thunder to her it seemed as if she could see the tension in the air as the storm gathered.

“Answers you seek sister those I have, I need only see your…” she was upon her before Auria had time to react her center finger resting gently on her temple looking deep into her smoke gray eyes till they filled with light.  Smiling Fierya stepped back, “Yes, no, and caution even when things appear to go according to your plan you should remember that it is not to your plan that things truly go.”

“What in the name of all did you do?”  Without meaning to she had dropped her head, but feeling that it made her look weak fought to meet the girls stare again.  The light that still shone from Auria’s eyes surprised Fierya and did much to improve her opinion of the girl she did not know, nodding she walked toward the offered seat.  “Where is Dronocum,” Fierya asked not fully trusting the quiet intense girl.

“My father is not in the habit of taking lunch in my rooms,” Auria let contempt color her words without really thinking about it, “Why, is that what you did to him?”

“What I did to him, I did nothing to him or to you for that matter.”

“My father does not cry…”

“Auria he forced that on me I did nothing,” Fierya stopped momentarily wondering how he would have learned to do that not many knew and even fewer cared to make a practice of it we usually just met walls when we interacted with those who knew what we could do.  Warily, Fierya sat suddenly exhausted, “What do you want to ask me Auria?”

It was hard to reconcile the image of this girl with that of the imagined rival she had worried over for the past two weeks.  However, if Auria let herself she could imagine being friends with this wild girl, who was obviously not going away as she had first hoped.  Perhaps things would come to that point, but not till she figured the girl out.  “You don’t add up.”

“Which part,” Fierya answered eying Auria suspiciously.

“Any part.  You say you’re just a girl, but you brought my father to his knees.  No ordinary girl could do that, and what was thathokum you did to me I don’t care what you say you did something.  What are you!”

“I’m not ordinary in the way most people mean it,” Fierya began, “I am a child of the Umbel here against my desire and better judgment,” Though they were only there for a second Fierya had glimpsed the questions in Auria’s eyes.  “How is it that you know noting of the Umbel when there is a Keep within the walls of Demesne Vesper?  Did you never wonder where the other girl-children were taught, or did you assume they all went unearned into their marriage beds?”

Auria suffered the hurt in the other girl’s voice before she responded, “Then what learning does the Umbel give to the girls?”

“Depends,” Fierya felt much safer talking about what she knew than mulling over what she did not.  “Girl-children are brought to the Umbel for three main reasons; to receive names and therefore be blessed by the Mother, to gain cunning craft that will pass on through home and family, or to stay the eight years allotted learning all that can be.”

“Did you say eight years?  What takes eight years to learn?”

“How to hold your own destiny, or to become as strong as and more agile than any man, or to see.  To see what others either cannot or will not see for their selves, but never to have power over another.”

“Then the Umbel does not deal in power?”

Fierya’s voice broke and a tears slid down her face, “It is for this reason that I was not allowed to stay.  I have been gifted.”  The last word hung on the air as if her hatred for it had given it substance.  It seemed as if time had stood still while she let her words sink in before she next spoke, “And what, Auria, are you?”

She sat her tea-cup down and looked straight ahead.  “I am Highness Auria Shasta-Nocum of Vesper. I am daughter, of my mother, heir of Dronocum King and Ruler, and princess unbound.”

The other girl’s eyes were opened quiet wide.  “So many names how does anyone remember what they are going to say to you if they must repeat that string of titles first?  I know it is more than I could remember all at once.”

Auria laughed out loud at the girl’s statement, “I suppose that is true, you may use my given name, Fierya.”

“Please my name is Magalis or Maja, not Fierya.”

“Not here, here you are Fierya and you must learn to come to terms with that.” Auria could see the tension returning to the girl’s frame and decided to take a different approach.  “What do you mean come for a name, I mean I get wanting your child to be blessed but,”

“That comes from a very old belief that naming a child at birth can be a kind of curse as no baby shows personality and even kids do not show their true selves till they have matured a little.  So it became the custom among the non-nobility to name their boys when they entered their apprenticeship and girls when they came to the Umbel.”  An unsure quality crept into Fierya’s voice as she continued, “I came un-named to the Umbel without knowing any true family.”

Auria glanced sideways, “He’s all I know of my true family, my mother died shortly after I was born.”

The silence between them seemed a live a growing thing as each girl sat transfixed by her own memories.  Finally Auria spoke, “A gift do you mean a power?  Is that what you did to my father?”

“No, I only saw what he could not put into words,” Fierya shivered at the thought of what had happened to her body.  “I have been gifted as they say in flame.”

“You mean that fire is your element.  Mine’s air.”  Auria stayed very matter of fact while she tried to calm Fierya’s unnecessary fears.  “Fire is a rare gift to have, but it is not unheard of.  The Phlox will know what to do with you and your power.  If you are to truly be a daughter of the King you will surely see the Phlox.  I must go to her for three turns of the seasons, to learn what I will need to help the people and the land when it is mine to rule.”  Auria thought it was good for her to remember that while father may accept her as his daughter she would not be Queen.

“You’re a fire,” Auria could not reason out why it was important but she kept going.  “How is it that you become Fierya?”  Fierya dropped her head so quickly that the answer no longer seemed worth the asking.

She replied softly, “Much like the phoenix I suppose, Fierya rose out of the ashes of Maja.”

Auria knew that those words held answers “stop talking in riddles Fierya no one likes for their questions to be answered with only more questions.”  Fierya walked over to her trunk and rifled through it gently extracting a small oval, which she handed over with a grimace.  Auria looked down in her hand at a small photograph of a woman embracing a girl with pride etched in her features.  The girl was holding a thin curved knife and had smiling eyes that were green ringed in brown, her head shot up so fast she felt dizzy.  It could not be possible, if this was Maja then…her thought splintered as a maid entered in a swirl of curtesies and “begging you pardon highness.”  Auria shook her head to alleviate the maid’s worries and to clear her mind of the now useless thought pattern.  “Not at all, continue.”

The maid sifted her pose and recited the words she had been given.  “If it would please both the young miss and her highness dinner shall be at dusk in the private dinning hall.  Also the King sends his regards and asks if both would be inclined to accept his invitation.”  Once she was done the maid looked expectantly at the two girls.

“Of course, what silliness, besides if I may say so it is he not I that should mind the dinner time,” Auria paused to smile at the maid who nodded in understanding before turning her attention on the other girl. “And you?”

Fierya had not stood expectantly at the maid’s words like Auria had and felt no need to do so now.  “If it is so desired,” was her only response.
The maid looked unsure but took the sarcastic response and left as Auria went to the mirror where she finally caught the other girl’s attention, “I really must get ready.”

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Chapter Four

Once again Haddie had been sulking in her rooms, but not Dronocum, no, he was busy doing something he would not talk about, yet.  However, late in the morning Drono had sent her something that had made the not knowing much more bearable.  He had sent her favorite seamstress to her rooms with the only limitation that what ever she had made must be formal.  Though the dress was only partly an apology she took full advantage of his giving mood.

The woman may have ten of the nimblest fingers in town, but she was rather set in past fashions.  It was not, however, long before Haddie had her in complete agreement to what ever she wanted.  After two hours of decisions the cut, color and decoration were finalized for the sultry midnight and sapphire blue ball gown complete with crystal beading.  The woman had hurried away opened mouthed at the deadline, only four days away, and that was if you counted the rest of today.

Smiling to herself Haddie allowed her mind to travel to the surprise gathering that was four nights way as a woman sat twisting her white locks into a coif that when done, and stuck with jeweled sticks would resemble the crown she wanted so badly.  She knew why he said she could not be his Queen, he had already lost too much to the title, but she always suspected that it was something else.  However, she had accomplished quiet a bit even without the official title including her ladies in wait, who were more than wiling to help her in every way.  Haddie stopped her silent musing with a tea cake halfway between the plate and her mouth as the door to her garden opened wide.  A young page entered and bowed with bright eyes which absorbed everything.

“Lady-Consort Haddilyn a message from the King.”

She replaced the cake and put on her mask which showed her to be both unconcerned and bored.  “Continue.”

“His Highness sends his word to his lady that he will hold dinner in the private hall at dusk, and asks if she would give him the pleasure of her company.”

“You may tell him that I shall see him soon.”  Haddie raised her hand in dismissal.  She rose her refreshments forgotten and collected her women from their various tasks with one statement.  “We have three hours before dinner.”  While the women surrounded Haddie in a cloud of perfume, make-up, and cloth the majority of her mind was on the girl.  It was ten to one that she would be there as well and she would not be missing that conversation for anything.

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“We are about the same size; you could wear one of my dresses or gowns if you want.”

“Do I really need a gown just for dinner?”

“Not at all I just thought I would offer,” Auria said in a casual tone while she watched the other girl out of the corner of her eye.

At the foot of the smaller bed sat a cloth travel trunk still slightly dusty from its travels.  It held all that she had left, everything that was still hers, but no gowns Fierya thought as she looked over her shoulder to see what Auria would be wearing tonight.  Even the girl’s slips were made of finer materials than most of her dresses.  She looked down into the trunk and sighed.  “I only have one truly formal dress.”

Auria turned from her closet to see the dress cradled, at least she assumed it was a dress as she could only make out the varied colors of the heavy cloth, against Fierya.  She was sure that it was pretty but it stood out like a lurid bruise, in shades of bluish purple, against Fierya’s bright white arms the color of pale marble, and without meaning to Auria cringed.  Fierya caught the look, “Its the one I wear for the Winter solstice,” she said apologetically as she went into the bathing room.

Auria quickly pulled her choices from the wardrobe and as a maid began lacing her double skirt over her camisole her eyes raced marathons  trying to search out anything that would compliment red hair.  Finally the maid curtsied and left Auria facing the mirror.  She felt stronger in her formality as if the chignon and silver ribbons were armor she would be protected by, however it was the fawn colored summer frock she was holding that she intended to use as a shield.  The door opened and Auria fell back into the post of her bed with a rush of breath blinking fiercely.  Skin once bright and sickly now shimmered like pale moonlight, and the dress whose cool undertones which had sucked the life out of her now perfectly matched her eyes and skin.  She flowed into the room wearing an ivory capped tunica, a full burgundy skirt, and a lilac apron, which covered the swell of her breast and draped down to her shins.

“This is not the dress you took in there.  How did you do this?”

“I didn’t do anything Auria, now you think me to be some kind of street conjurer, honestly.”

But all Auria could do was continue to shake her head, this was not possible.

“We should go we don’t want to keep him waiting,” Fierya tried to sound exasperated, but if she was being honest she too had been pleasantly surprised when she forced herself to face the mirror.  Confusion was eating away at her resolve and she silently prayed that the night would be full enough to avoid her sister’s questioning eyes.

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The room looked inviting and comfortable with the candles and full table.  He had arrived early to compose himself and to clear his mind.  When the door opened he expected the girls, but instead Haddie entered in a formal sky blue gown.

“It’s just dinner Haddie,” Dronocum teased.

“It’s never just dinner Drono, besides a meal with the King is always an event.”

At that moment the girls walked in and he realized an instant too late what had happened.  Today was a court day and he was dressed befitting his title, Haddie had echoed his court attire, and though Auria did not wear a gown she was dressed as a princess.  However, Fierya was dressed like a child of the Umbel.  Drono spared only a second to shoot Haddie a look of extreme distaste before breaking the silence, “Let’s eat then talk, conversations always seem to go better with dessert than with soup.”

Fierya was crestfallen.  It was obvious she did not belong here.  She didn’t blame anyone; Auria had even offered her a court dress: but she had not accepted, wanting the comfort of home not the fashions of nobles.  So she had worn the solstice gown she had sown with her own hands.  It was this realization that finally comforted Fierya finally lifting her head, eyes pinning Haddie to her seat, and nodded consent to Dronocum.

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Fierya had been counting down the seconds till she could make her escape, unimpressed by the string of never-ending courses.  Finally, sugared fruit tarts and sweet warmed cider were placed before each person.  She looked down at her plate wishing she could enjoy the treat, but instead Fierya started the conversation, “What are your plans for me Dronocum?”

He picked up his cider with a careless gesture and sipped at it thoughtfully.  “Let me begin somewhere else Fierya.  You are without a doubt my daughter, one need only look at your eyes to see that, and you most decidedly have power.”

“But why does this mean she must be your responsibility,” Haddie cut in.  “I am sorry to be the one to say it, but it does seem questionable that your bastard child appears only in time to usurp your legitimate heir and be sent to the Phlox.”

Auria could almost feel Haddie’s fingers upon her strings as if she was no more than a puppet, but she could not help responding.  “In three short years I am to be named Queen Heir, and you would find me hard pressed to give that up.  Father, it is all I have ever learned, I do not know how to be anything else.”  As quickly as the words dried up on Auria’s lips, tears welled in her eyes, which she unconsciously wiped away.

“We’ve been through this,” Fierya said exchanging looks with both Auria and Dronocum, “I want nothing from you.”

“Then why are you here?”  The hate in Haddie’s voice colored each of her words.

Fierya pivoted in her chair to take the white-haired women on face to face.  Drono tried to break their eye contact with a wild but unfortunately useless gesture.  “Have you something to say to me girl?”  A half-smile played across Fierya’s face, but her eyes were empty and unforgiving.  “I’m not like you.”  The words were simple but they seemed to hang upon the air heavy and full of meaning causing the smugness to fall from Haddie’s face as if she had been hit.  However, before she could say anything Fierya continued.  “How did you ever get those snow-white locks?  I wonder?”  The way the words rolled off her tongue left little to no doubt that Fierya did more than wonder.  “And, why suffer the humiliation of being the Queen that wasn’t?  I am nothing like you, and you will do well to remember it.”

The silence that followed rang with the same finality that Fierya’s threat had.  “Enough!  Fierya?”  Dronocum was torn she now had answers to the questions which often kept him up at night, but this had to end.  “You are my daughter and shall be named as such on the same day Auria will be named as my heir publicly in four nights.”  The King then spoke to Haddie, “I shall escort my daughters to their room and then will receive my Lady-Consort in my suite.”  He rose stiffly but without hesitation, and holding an arm out for both girls left supported by their youth.

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Chapter Five

He could still feel the surge of anger that Haddie had awoken in him at the end of dinner.  However, it was something else that had a hold of his attention, and it was more than the barely controlled rage building inside of eldest daughter.  That, Drono could feel beating against his right side like an open flame.  He kept easy conversation going about the weather and such while his mid continued to search deeper into the mess he had made of the night.  The idea of how bad things had actually gotten made his stomach turn, but it had been enlightening.  Fierya might be his child, but the rash straight forwardness was something he could only dream of…and her abilities.  The Essence be merciful if any one ever found out about what she could do.  Haddie had been at the other end of the table and within seconds she had more out of her than he had managed in all of their years together. Dronocum shifted back into conscious conversation as the small group neared the doorway of Auria’s rooms.

The second that she saw the familiar hallway Fierya began slowly removing herself from Drono’s side, no easy task when you consider the man was deep in conversation with both his daughter and himself.  Just as she had made the final move to distance herself from the others she felt him react.

His head shot to the side as Fierya released his arm and pivoted, sending the edge of her burgundy skirt up against his leg.  “Fierya,” the word had slipped out before he had given himself to time to consider what to say next.  She stared back at him unflinching waiting for any excuse to lose what restraint she had.  “That dress suits you very well.  Did you make it yourself?”  Drono hoped that he had covered the surprise in his voice.

“Yes I did; it was for the Winter Solstice.  It may not be fitting for royalty,” at these words she allowed her eyes to trace back down the hall as if she would find Haddie spying around the coroner on them, “but it’s mine.”

While that answered one question he knew there were more  catching the concerned look lurking in the shadows of Auria’s eyes.  “Well since dinner went so well,” Drono said with good humor smiling as Auria nearly tripped on the hem of her dress at his comment, “I thought I would wait till we were alone to let you know what’s really going on in three days.”  Holding up his now Fierya free hand he continued, “You will both be named officially, and then will go to the Phlox for training as you are both of age.”  Just as he had hopped Auria seemed flushed with excitement, and for once he thought Fierya looked hopeful.

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Ever since Drono had told the girls that they would be going to the Phlox Auria had been at wit’s end.  She had sat red-facedwondering aloud if she really was ready for this, and recently had begun dancing around the room making plans.

“Do you know what this means?” Auria asked practically spinning in place, “Landon must be home.”

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Dronocum opened his study door silently to watch the young man pacing urgently before his fireplace.  Landon looked more serious after his time spent on the border lands than Drono had anticipated, but the tan skin and sand colored hair told him that little had changed.  The boy had arrived during dinner and it did seem cruel now that he had made him wait while walking the girls back but patience was a virtue everyone needed to relearn now and again.  “Should I have sent you to the trenches to wear them away with your pacing rather than to the boarders Landon?”  The boy turned with a start but relaxed into a smile that transformed his tired face.

“Your Highness, I came as soon as I received your summons.”

“Sit,” Drono said while gesturing, “I may have said to make haste, but I did not mean for you to ride through the nights.  You look tired.”

“You called for me that’s all the reason I needed for haste, but I will admit I felt you wanted more than my company.”

“Of course Landon, how is it with the boarders?  Well, I hope,” when he received only a polite shrug he understood that nothing had happened which would demand going outside of protocol, and that a report would be on his desk by the turn of the moon.  “Let me ask you a more personal question then, while you were near the lakes did you hear about any raiders taking children rather than provisions?”

“Highness?”

At that moment Drono lifted his hands and scanned the room, “I see no reason for such formalities.”

“I…sometimes I just don’t know what to call you, Drono?”  Landon looked up and saw a spark of laughter in the man’s eyes.  “Alright then,” he said while clearing his throat, “I don’t know why you ask, but no nothing like that happened.  However,” here the boy paused looking into his memory with distant eyes, “there was one man, older now in age, that was something of a story-teller at night for the barracks.”

“Who was he and where was he from?”  Drono knew he sounded anxious and must be confusing the boy quite badly, but he had to hear the story if there was one to hear.  “Did he ever say anything about a raid for children or perhaps a child?”  Landon would respond honestly he knew though surely he was unsure of what was wanted, but there was no way to tell him the reason yet.  Instead of jumping across his desk and rattling the story out of Landon he reclined and tried to look more nonchalant.

A million thoughts whirled through Landon’s mind, of all the stories the retired soldier had told that one had stuck the most because it seemed like fairy tale not truth as the man assured them all it was.  “One night he did mentioned a call to arms to rescue a girl child without a name who had been stolen out from under the Umbel.”  Landon paused as he took in the rapt attention he was now the focus of before continuing.  “The man said the demesne’s guard road out that very night with the Canna.  He was with a group that went towards the desert and at dawn they came upon a small oasis in the bottom of a valley.”  Landon stopped and looked away from Dronocum, who started forward with questions written across his face when the boy stopped.  “I’m sorry but the rest is too unbelievable for me to repeat to you as fact.”

“Then tell me the rest like a story, after the scene Haddie caused at dinner tonight I could use a little escape.”

Landon sighed at the lie wrapped up in truths and continued, “She does that quiet often doesn’t she?  Well according to the storyteller one man was thrown from his horse before they realized that blood fear had gotten into them.  So the rest walked down to the oasis and found it burned black; the grass, trees, horses, and men.  He said it was as if lighting had touched down, but it couldn’t have because one spot was left untouched, and in the spot was the girl with no name, unharmed.  I only remember it because of how he told it, all quiet awe like the story legend or myth become true before his eyes, and quiet frankly I didn’t believe him.”  Landon looked up and smiled though it did not reach his eyes, “I hope I am not being too forward Drono, but the whole way here I felt like I was being pulled or pushed in this direction is there unease in Vesper?”

“No, not truly, only good news for you Landon it is time to go and finish what is necessary to be what you must be; you shall go to the Phlox.”  Drono watched as the boy’s demeanor changed automatically before continuing. “Whatever the reason you felt drawn here, you are here now, and I…have great need of you.”

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It was mid morning the next day before a knock sounded at Auria’s door, and she was quickly upon it.  “Father?”  Obvious disappointment laced Auria’s voice as she let him in and a slight flush rose past her collar.

“Not who you expected?” Dronocum asked in amusement with a half-smile crossing his face.

“I know you better than you must think I do; Landon has to be here or we would not be going.”  Auria nodded with an all-knowing look that bordered on smug.

He grinned but only said, “I come to beg a favor and…to offer a distraction,” looking first to Fierya then to Auria.  Once he had both of their attentions he began in earnest.  “First, since you have great skill with your stitches I had hoped that you might consent to making something for me.”  It was barely a request more of a compliment, but Fierya nodded and looked thoughtful no doubt what would require her brand of stitching.  “Good then all will be here when you return.”

Auria now lounging near the fire perked up immediately, “Return?” she asked with her eyebrows raised in mock surprise.

“Have you forgotten that you are to travel but shortly and be long away daughter?  Where else might you need to go but to market where all can be in your grasp?”  Drono opened his arms in a grand gesture with a wide smile upon his lips.  Which was in direct contrast to the O of wonder written all over Auria.  “Besides it shall accomplish two very important things at once for me; keeping you from building up clouds of distracting nervous energy and out from under foot and overly watchful eyes.”

“How will you ever accomplish the later of your list watchful eyes will most defiantly see my banner?”

Drono cast a sly glance at the door before turning to face the quiet red-head to say, “I had an idea.”

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While Landon would make good on any wish of the King’s this one had him at a loss, but it had been done none the less.  Six non uniform guards were set up to walk a parameter around a four person group.  The group would be consisting of two girls and two uniformed guards, one would be him and one would be young and new to the castle but capable and trustworthy.  As soon as the two girls appeared he walked forward to introduce himself.  “My name is Landon, and I am a member of the Vesper guard.  There will be nothing to fear at the market so do not worry.”  Then he looked up.  These were not the maids they had appeared to be, but the Princess and a girl with the King’s eyes.

“I couldn’t worry with you here to protect me Landon,” giggled Auria.

Very quickly all the extra and seemingly tedious directions made sense.  “How did you talk your father into this,” Landon said as he looked from side to side warily.

“It was his idea believe it or not,” she said trying to look hurt.  “Perhaps introductions are in order,” Auria said mischievously, “Landon, have you have not met my sister?”  She watched as his mouth fell open.  “Well since mums the word about Fierya, and well everything we had to leave the walls to get anything done.”

Landon tried to say anything but the word sister kept rolling around in his head.  “Talk about an understatement, all he said was that Haddie had caused a scene.  I can’t even imagine.”

Fierya who had been watching quietly finally interrupted the two smiling individuals slightly to her right.  “Perhaps we had better get on our way before you two start calling anymore attention to the fact that we are leaving.  I for one do not want to be locked back up in there before I have to be.”  Before she had finished Fierya walked forward leaving the other two no choice but to follow in her wake.

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The first half of the morning had been spent in unnecessary necessities as far as Fierya was concerned.  She had watched impatiently as Auria carefully inspected Rowan arrows fletched with blue-gray feathers.  Fierya could tell that her sister knew what she was doing in the selection though she doubted she had much actual experience.  Walking through the weapons shop sent Fierya back in her memories to the summers when all the Umbel girls went to training with the Canna where only a select few would remain, as long as their drive held out that was.  It was not immodest of her to say she had skill with most of the hand-held weapons but her personal favorite had always been the traditional athame of the seers, which could save as easily as kill.  Her head fell forward in despair thinking that it was not very likely she would be able to find that blade here among such obviously ostentatious weaponry.  However, as the group changed their direction from the Eastern outskirts towards the center of the market Fierya noticed a young girl working bellows as women tended the forage.  She could not help the swelling of tears that caught in her eyes as she hurried forward reaching out to the nearest woman in a leather apron.

“This is a place with deep roots is it not?”

The woman with the apron turned from her work looking slightly annoyed.  “And if it is,” tension rose out of every syllable.  Then she noticed the tears silently running down the girl’s face and changed her mind softening her tone.  “What have you need for girl child?”

“You make anthame here?”

The woman looked at her outstretched hand and then back at the girl’s eyes, “I do, but what need would you have of one,” she asked quietly as she guided her towards the small collection she kept in her shop.

Without hesitating Fierya went to one with a copper-colored blade and an alabaster handle and without looking back said, “Great need.”  The words surprised her as she turned the anthame over in her hand, but they felt right, “I will be traveling and this,” she said turning to face the shopkeeper handing her the blade hilt first, “will suit me best.”

The woman accepted the girl’s coins in a shaking hand sure that the she had been right to help the child but unsure about the girl herself.  For when she had tried to see what need the girl had the woman saw nothing, but the nothing was not blankness rather it was the pressure of so many things that nothing was clear.

“The essence be merciful,” she whispered trying to regain her composure as she watched the red-headed girl walk lightly back out into the sun.

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It was still difficult to think of the King with another daughter, and as soon as he was given leave he would get to the bottom of it, but as it was he currently had his hands full. Landon had wanted to run after the girl with the eyes but had stayed at Auria’s request as she entered the lady’s forage.  While he had gone to great lengths to appear unconcerned on the surface Auria failed outright as Fierya walked back out carrying a blade bare in her hands.

“What have you done,” Auria practically screamed.  “Do you know how unusual and for the most part unseemly it is for a woman to carry a, a, well that’s nearly a sword.”

“This is nothing like a sword,” Fierya replied without concern.  “A sword is heavy and useful only against armor; this is light and can be used for anything, if you know how to use it.”

Landon was shocked to his core and from the look of his secondary guard something had to be done before the girl was believed infirm.  “If she knows how to use it,” he began talking to Auria but asking the question of Fierya.

“For three full years I have been at master level,” she said.

“Then I suggest as she can not be seen carrying it as such through the market place we guards will take up your baskets so they…remain safe.”  It sounded lame even to him, but in his defense he would never have expected a King’s daughter to choose that out of any line up.

“I think that only makes sense and honestly mine is getting rather heavy already,” Auria said as she handed her basket to the quiet guard who more often than not had his head down.  “Since that’s settled,” she sighed dramatically, “we really must find some placed to get you a scabbard or something to cover it with, and I can get a quiver to match my fletching.”

Landon held his hand out for the basket which Fierya pushed at him and then slowly gave the blade handle first to him as well before quickly walking away while hissing, “Here you better hide it fast wouldn’t want anyone to know.”

Landon swallowed as the acidity of her words ran through him, but before moving on he looked at the blade.  It reached from the palm of his hand to the crook of his arm, was curved into a crescent moon shape, and was the color of spun cooper, but very solid.  Unsure he placed it in the basket and followed three steps behind.

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Auria stopped at the first tanners she found it was at the end of the row and looked like it would be full of antiques and unique pieces, which was something she always prized.  “This looks like a good place to find a quiver and a sheath of some kind for the blade.”  Distaste colored her words as she continued, “You must cover a blade that size even if you can use it.”

“If it’s for protection why would anyone want something ornate getting in the way when you draw it?”

“Then we shall just have to hope it never needs used,” Landon answered from the rear of the group.

Fierya sighed at the thought of covering the craftsmanship, but followed Auria without protest.

She had tried to wait patiently while Auria shifted through piles of colored leather searching for the appropriate one for her quiver, but she soon found herself wondering away from the group.  Fierya had looked through bins of scabbards, but not one suited her anthame.  Just as she had decided to give up and find her way back to Auria she noticed a section of out of fashion styles.  Behind many heavy and cumbersome leather pieces hanging on the wall was a woman’s sword belt.  The belt was made form a thick slice of sueded leather worked with interwoven fall colored throngs.  Fierya placed the belt around her in a way that caused it to angle at her hip, and stood testing its restrictions.

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Chapter 6

She stood proud almost unworldly with the sword belt on her hips.  The sun warmed her profile in golden fire that licked her face.  Landon stood awed on his feet torn between throwing himself at her feet and just throwing himself at her, but the vision was rudely jerked from his sight as Auria entered the picture.

“Where has everyone gotten to, I” she stopped mid sentence and swallowed.  The Essence be merciful this girl was more than she had ever had to deal with.  “That isn’t a scabbard,” Auria said calmly trying to not get angry.  She turned to the young guard who seemed confused and on the verge of hysteria.  “Is it?  I mean I don’t even think that would cover the blade itself.”  There that was as much of an attempt at not hurting Fierya’s feeling as she was willing to give, did she not realize what she was doing.

“No, dear girl, that is a belt, built for function and just a little show,” the brawny man in the leather apron said as his eyes glinted in the light.  He noticed as Auria turned an unfavorable eye his way and stopped.

“You are here to get a scabbard, not something like that.”  Against her better judgment Auria had allowed some of her contempt to leak out, but the look it left across Fierya’s face made her cringe inside.

“What do I care what I am supposed to get,” Fierya said bitterly.

Auria could stand it no longer, “Because you are under the banner of the King what would he think, what would anyone think who saw you this way.”

“I know not, and care less.”

The words sounded like she ground them out rather than having spoken them which startled the man, but he still moved forward.  “Miss the belt was made with the purest of intent,” he said as he glanced at the girl who had just made him a very nice offer on some one of a kind work, “but you had better not be angering the King, child,” he said to the girl with red hair.

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It was gorgeous and finely wrought made from some of the softest leather she had ever felt.  The sheath was rich orange that blushed crimson at the edges with a design worked in crush velvet to match the butter yellow of the interior.  She would have found it beautiful if it hadn’t been forced upon her.  Fierya walked with her head down sulking over the life she hadn’t asked for, the education she didn’t really want, and the rules made by men in power as they finally made their way to the next stall.

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Just as Landon started for the door he heard the man make one last comment and it stopped him dead in his tracks, “Sir?”

The man turned surprised by the question perhaps thinking himself alone, “I only said that the one with the red hair must have roots.  It’s a shame I couldn’t just give her the belt, but I would want the King’s anger on me.” He smiled slightly almost like a question.

“You would have given it to her?”  So unprepared for such generosity Landon lacked his usual candor.

“Yes, it was to be for my daughter, but she died before I could make a gift of it.”  The man’s face closed in with grief but he continued.  “Growing up around this,” the man’s arms swung wide, “I was always pulling wooden swords out of her hands so her mother could wash them.  So, when she was old enough we sent her to the Umbel and their Canna, I’m sure you’ve seen ‘em though I guess the guards usually call them warrior women like they’re another breed.” Exasperation had started to leak into the man’s words which gave the impression that each one drug it’s feet as he uttered it.  “She was so excited to be living with a Canna Mother.  She earned her sword and I started the belt, then everything went wrong; we were told she was dying.”  Landon’s face fell as the man continued.

“It was years ago now, but maybe you’ve heard the story nearly a legend I’d think for the oddness.  She was standing guard at a cutting and a girl child was taken, didn’t even have a name yet,” the shock of hearing the same ludicrous story again told as fact must have registered on Landon’s face because the man stopped to explain.  “That’s right some send their girls like that.  Well when it happened she followed after the bandits and was even with the group that found the girl, she rode the whole way back with the girl-child in the saddle with her.  When she got back she fell into a kind of delirium, we only just made it in time.  Before we got there she had managed to write a letter for us and one for the Phlox, who came and blessed her herself.  All we were ever told was that she had become a prophet by fire.”  The man could clearly see the question on Landon’s mind because he elaborated.  “I know it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to lose her, but she had scorch marks on her shoulder above her heart and covering her hand so it must have been true.  The story goes the child sat among still live flame and blackened men unhurt except for the tips of her fingers on her right hand.  The girl with the red hair let me find some peace today.”  Here he paused the intensity in his gaze holding Landon in such a way that all else fell a way, “The belt will be here when she has the coin to get it.”

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Fierya hated to admit it but the speed at which Auria ordered all the necessary things for them both amazed her, which meant it had taken very little time to make it back to the front of the market.  However, it seemed that there was one last stop to make before this little trip was over, but no one was taking the first step to get there.  Landon and Auria were whispering quickly and quietly much to Fierya’s enjoyment it looked like Auria was on the loosing end of the discussion, but before she could guess why, Landon started talking to the other guard.

“Since you covered for me when I got caught up at the back of the market,” here he paused while Chrestop smiled widely, “let me return the favor.  The ladies would like to look in at the jewelers before we return and the four of us will be a tight squeeze why don’t you relax here and then when we all go back neither of us will feel cheated.”

Chrestop agreed and went quickly away from the group which now headed toward a small shop with windows filled with interesting and ornate items.  Once inside the shop the cramped feeling dissolved away leaving behind an open room filled with glass display cases which caused the space to seem as if it was floating.  Immediately a small bejeweled woman rushed out form behind the counter.  “Your highness, what are you doing here,” the woman asked in hushed tones.  “We, we did not know, we were given no message.”

Auria raised her hand to quiet the now frantic woman before speaking, “No notice was sent ahead of me Shreeann you need not worry.  I came quietly in order to not be noticed.”  Here Auria paused to give the small woman time to realize that there were others in the room.  “We,” she gestured to Fierya, “have need of a few things.”

“Of course you do, forgive my thoughtlessness your highness, I’ll bring Edwin out.”

“Is that what you two were arguing about?  What to do when she recognized Auria.  Well why are we flirting with such danger, according to the window this is nothing more than a pretty bits and bobs stand.”

“Fierya, we are here to find your focus.”  Auria said from across the room already peering into a display case.

“What here could possibly help me focus, Auria?”

Landon tried to smother his laugh and failed.  “No, Fierya it will become a focus not give you focus.”  He turned towards the other girl and sighed loudly, “Auria get over here you can search later.”  She looked back reluctantly at the counter but walked over to the small group anyway.  “This is my focus,” Landon said as he held his hand out, “It is a stone that for some reason, which I do not understand, amplifies my abilities.  It is also a sign of my power and rank.”

Auria smiled an apology as she too held out her hand to Fierya.  Fierya while confused was still able to register how finally crafted these items were.  The stone on Landon’s hand was a swirl of greens and browns and had a heavy and solid look to it, but Auria’s stone was delicate and looked almost like trapped smoke.  “They are very different from each other.”  She reached out to touch Auria’s ring fascinated by the design which appeared to be in constant motion.  Auria jerked back as Fierya touched the ring and shouted in surprise, “No you mustn’t!” But she already had Auria in hand.  Fierya looked up to see them both exchange worried glances.  “I wasn’t going to hurt the ring I just wanted to look at the design better,” Fierya said in hurt tones as she released Auria’s hand.

“You touched it?”  The question fell from Landon’s mouth like lead.  “Fierya can you touch mine?”

Auria was wringing her hands and looked terrified but Fierya ignored her and took up Landon’s hand turning the ring this way and that in the light.  “Is that your family crest on the side?  Auria had no such markings on her’s.” Fierya finally asked as she let go of his hand.

“No it is a mark of my rank.”

That was all that could be said as Shreeann returned with Edwin, a broad-shouldered bespectacled man.  “Auria what a pleasant surprise for us both I think.  I hope you don’t mind but I caught word from a rather important bird that you might be in need of something worthy of a ball.”  With a flourish he procured a small box which when opened sparkled in the light.

“They’re gorgeous Edwin I’ll be sure to wear them thank you.”  With those words Auria ran forward and hugged both man and woman who helped her put on the new earrings.

“Landon I trust all is well even if they are confusing,” Edwin said looking at Fierya.  Landon turned a shade of red that was very unbecoming as he tried to avoid the non-question, “Why yes things could not be better Edwin, yourself.”

“Interested at the moment quite interested,” was the man’s only response.

It was at that moment that Fierya decided that she was tired of this and of this man way of turning all comments in to barbed questions.  “I am uninterested in buying a trinket to use when I have a talisman of my own.”  The words had the desired effect as every one of them stopped what they were doing; however, they all then turned to face her.  At first she was as shocked as the others not knowing where she would have gotten that idea, and then she felt the warmth at her breast and relaxed.

Edwin regained his composure first and gesturing grandly at the rude girl and spoke, “My I see this talisman?  You see a beloved piece of jewelry is far from the talisman which you shall require if you are to be among these two.”  He smiled wanly as Fierya reached around her neck pulling on a long gold chain.

Fierya was as curious as every one else as in all the confusion of her first days here she had neglected to examine the necklace like she had first intended.  The chain ended below the breast in a pendent.  The pendent was shaped like a teardrop and was the color of a sunset with a woven knot carved into the center.  Fierya was lost in her emotions, a gift like this was irreplaceable and priceless and without meaning to immediately wondered at how her mother could have possessed something such as this, but only said “It was passed down to me from my mother and foster-mother.”  Auria inhaled sharply when she saw it sure of its import, but not of its meaning.

“I…I’m, I am so sorry miss I had no idea,” Edwin stumbled as he tried to think.  “Of course that is a talisman I would never dream of suggesting otherwise, however it is not in a setting perhaps we can have one made for you by the ball.  I shall call on your father Auria and seek his advice on this, I think, and you shall finally have a use for the setting I made for you years ago if I understand what is to take place at this ball.”  He smiled and winked trying to lighten the mood which had fallen on them all.  “I do have a small ring with a fire ruby in it, as I assume that you may want to keep this one as a pendent, in wearing the ring you can still appear to keep to the traditions of the day.”  Edwin eyes were wide as he took up a bit of leather to fold the stone in before taking the necklace Fierya offered him at arm’s length.

Fierya did not understand the attention now being placed on an object which she knew nothing about, but she changed her mind immediately about the man.  “I would like that very much.”

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Though Fierya had decided to immerse herself in the project he had left for her rather than come to dinner with Landon and Auria, he now, at least, had a clear picture of what had happened on the little distraction he had thought a good idea.  Distraction was a perfect name for what had happened because he now had three more people to deal with before the ball, and that was only two nights away, now that the early morning hours were upon him.

Edwin and Shreeann were no problem to talk to, and with the ball only days away his appearance at a jeweler’s would not arouse Haddie’s suspicion.  Landon wouldn’t mind a day off of duty to prepare all that he would need to travel soon, and while he was at the market Drono was sure he could take care of all that need to be done at the tanner’s shop at the back of the market which they had visited the other day.  However, he had no idea how he would be able to meet with Talis to find out about the charm his daughter now wore around her neck and what it meant that she had it.

Finally Dronocum had to lie down, as sleep threatened to take him at his desk, thinking that no matter how complicated all would wait till light.

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Chapter Seven

It was mid afternoon before he had enough time to complete his errands due to the amount of time and effort he had put into making the trip seem unplanned.  Drono hated being rushed and that was exactly what was happening today.  He had gotten up at dawn to meet Landon as he went on duty to let him know what he needed of him, unofficially, and to give him the necessary funds to make it happen.  Dronocum had then continued on to the Master of the Gurad’s quarters where he explained Landon’s pending departure.  He also sent two hurried messages, one to Haddie and one to the kitchen, for a resplendent brunch to take place after his morning rounds.  “Stupid brunch,” he quietly mussed to himself almost running to keep his appointment.  It had taken more time and effort than he had expected to give to it, but it had solved one rather tedious and problematic problem, that of a sulking Haddie.

Drono tried to rationalize with himself as to why he had circled the market before reaching his destination, which had put him in the situation that required him to be less than unobtrusive as he jogged through the crowd.  It wasn’t very likely that Digitalis would be wondering that market after all, but it was a chance he would take because there were still so many things he needed to know.

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Shreeann smiled broadly as Drono walked into the store and off to the side with his hood still up as the rain had yet to stop, but the smile slid sideways as she realized she couldn’t allow herself to curtsy in acknowledgement.  With strained words Shreeann watched as the lady left with her bag and child in tow not even noticing him.  He laughed out loud as the door was shut and locked behind the little boy.

“I am so sorry Your Highness,” Shreeann said in a rush of words as she turned away from the door stumbling into some mess of curtsy and bow.

“Don’t be Shreeann I enjoy a bit of anonymity now and again.  Now where has that husband of yours gotten to I have much to talk to both of you about.”

“First allow me to share with you what you ordered, and then we can discuss why else you are here, if it pleases you Sire,” Edwin said in casual tones walking out of the back room not even breaking stride as he differentially inclined his head.

“Of course, of course Edwin.  What has already occurred can wait a little longer still, I assume, right,” Dronocum said with a raised eyebrow as he approached the counter.

Edwin began slowly, “Based on what we talked about earlier and what I saw yesterday I believe these will suit your purposes, exactly,” here he paused to allow himself a rather self-indulgent smile, “if I may say so.”  He then snapped the lids open of the hat boxes in front of him each of which held a circlet.

The similarities between the two were what hit Drono at first but slowly he saw slight differences.  The first circlet had the grace of a coronet, it was made of a metal which shone like white light and the bands wove through each other in a way that brought to mind the swirl of leaves in a strong wind; it was very traditional almost light and airy.  However the other one made with rose gold and yellow gold bands that did not follow the same path as before instead they fought each other almost like the brier vines; though it was more wild with an earthy weight about it every inch of it demanded attention.  “Edwin these, these were more than I could have hoped for.  It would seem that you have quite outdone yourself.”  Drono let his worry over the next part of their conversation fall away as he tried to earnestly show his gratitude, “I am in your debt.”

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