First Chapters of the Splendor of Dawn

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Backs against the setting sun, Velaria and Arlyn approached the small, yet expanding village of Cor’lera, after just crossing the narrow river Bethyl and drawing an end to their journey north. The river was more of a creek, and it was astonishing how it was permitted the title river...

Prologue

The Line of Feolyn

 

Backs against the setting sun, Velaria and Arlyn approached the small, yet expanding village of Cor’lera, after just crossing the narrow river Bethyl and drawing an end to their journey north. The river was more of a creek, and it was astonishing how it was permitted the title river.

         A simple wooden wall protected the majority of the village and its people, while buildings no older then thirty years stood outside the walls, evidencing the recent growth of the small village. A dozen partially completed constructions were paused due to the snow and would presumably resume when the snows melted and the land thawed in the spring.

         Farms were scattered in every direction outside the village. They had a dulling effect on Velaria, in comparison with the start of their northern journey, she gazed upon them with fascination, but as the journey north drew on and the distance between villages increased, the familiar scenery became repetitive as she longed to return to Ceurenyl or even better, her home city of Lucillia.

         Velaria’s thoughts drifted to the wooded structures of her home and how the buildings simply grew from the very trees, the palaces, buildings, magnificent walls and above all the Royal Palace. Each building had its own identity, yet they all belonged and complimented each other in that magnificent city. Even the common buildings shared the same attention to beauty. The twining wood gave a fluid motion to the city. Velaria half expected to see the very buildings move on their own accord one day.

         As lively as the buildings were, the people of Lucillia were the true heart of the city. An eagerness to live was shared amongst all. The Lucillians had an incredible energy for living, a quality which dimmed with every town they passed in their journey north from Lucillia. Village after village, the people abandoned that quality for gloom; the greater the distance grew between them and Lucillia, the greater the despair and fear of the people.

         Disturbing Velaria’s thoughts, Arlyn brought her attention to the small gate of Cor’lera and the man standing guard and the rough looking soldiers, obviously foreign to this region, standing on patrol closely behind the guard at the gate, not too far ahead of them, but still out of hearing.

         “Before we enter the village,” started Arlyn, “remember, the people here must not discover that you are training with the Ei’ana. The rumors of whole villages tossing out Ei’ana and any other they suspect a Wielder from the Abbey Schools are true. It wasn’t all that long ago when the Ei’ana were exiled from Cor’lera by the villagers themselves.”

         The man at the gate ordered them to halt as they approached. The guard was unlike the rough soldiers beyond the gate; rather he shared the features common to the people of this region. His age could be no more than thirty, yet the grease covering his body along with his disheveled appearance could make one wonder. Most appalling were his eyes; hatred was their only identifiable feature. Even their color was not memorable.

         He glared at the newcomers with evident disdain, as they required him to perform his simple duty at the gate, he opened his lips in a snarl and spat out, “Quickly state your purpose.” There was no mistaking that voice with its owner; it was as fowl as his appearance.

         Arlyn spoke before the guard could refuse them admittance and send them off unwelcome. “My daughter and I are simple travelers seeking a safer home to the north, far enough away from the growing turmoil in the south.”

         Eyeing the two newcomers suspiciously, the guard responded, “You look to be of wealthy stock. Why would you desert your lands to head to the cold north?”

         “I have no lands to the south. It could be said that I’ve been stripped of them and my possessions do not surpass what we carry,” said Arlyn.

         Velaria stared blindly at him in disbelief. I thought he wasn’t allowed to lie, she thought.

         “A man should have a firm grip on his property. Well, move on, I don’t care to hear the rest of your pathetic life. If it’s north you’re heading, set out before dawn and leave our village,” chided the guard before grimacing towards Velaria. “We don’t indulge in your kind, witch. All you Ei’ana Witches are the same, carry yourselves thinking you’re higher than Nobles. I hope it’s out of wisdom that you flee north to rid yourself of those witches.”

         Without pointing them in the direction of an inn, the guard stepped aside and permitted the pair to ride through the small gate. How does he know, she thought.

         The foreign soldiers gave Velaria pause. The hatred in their eyes somehow managed to surpass the guard at the gate. Without stopping they rode past the cluster of men and into the village, which had a pleasant look about it, and surely at an earlier time it was. The buildings were of either a rough stone or timber topped with thatched roofs showing signs of neglect.

         The streets and gardens were littered with rubbish. The trees and plants within the village walls were also in poor condition. Several years must have passed since they were last tended. The few villagers found outside their homes had the same appearance as the guard. None stopped to inquire about the two strangers. Rather, they spoke amongst themselves. Velaria picked up only their tones without hearing the words, but it was evident that they held no trust for the two strangers.

         They strolled warily through the streets, twisting around the buildings until they finally arrived at an inn towards the center of the village. The inn was one of the better maintained buildings in Cor’lera. I recognize this building, she thought. While she unsuccessfully wracked her mind, Arlyn spoke for the first time since their encounter with the guard. “Welcome to the Cor Inn, or as it is commonly known, the King’s Inn.”

         The familiarity struck home. The inn resembled those structures she knew all too well in Lucillia, except of course this building looked to have actually been built by Elven or Human hands and not melded out of the very Wood. The details and the masterful carving could not disguise the origin of the inn. Delighted with her discovery, she shared it with Arlyn.

         “You learn quickly for a student. I had grown accustomed to lecturing the same point on several occasions before my students remembered,” returned Arlyn playfully. Velaria joyfully received the praise from her teacher. “It’s said that the builders of this inn came from your beloved city, Lucillia. So inspired were they, that they could not help but replicate the architecture. This inn also happens to be the namesake of this village.”

         “That’s incredible, I feel closer to home already,” said Velaria.

         “As do I,” replied Arlyn recalling a past from long before.

         Before they entered, Velaria asked the question she had withheld since the gate, “Why did you lie back there?”

         “Where, tell me, did the deception dwell? Was not every word I spoke truthful?” inquired Arlyn.

         “Well for one, you called me daughter.”

         “Do you not address me as father? Is not daughter a loving term for a pupil? Especially in relation to an Ei’anaceur Steward,” The answer to the riddle was plain, yet she still could not hide her amazement. “Remember, your whole truth does not need to be spoken to the world.”

“Alright,” said Velaria before pausing a moment and looking around before continuing in her hushed tone. “Should I be concerned about the guard?”

“I doubt he would have named you so if he wasn’t certain. I didn’t think any in this small village would recognize an Ei’ana, but he must have lived in one of the great cities where they’re a common sight. We’ll simply have to be cautious. It would be wise to refrain from wielding, lest we stir anything here.”

“Where do you suppose the family lives?" asked Velaria, only just realizing how many questions she was asking of Arlyn. "None of the villagers seem eager to speak with us.”

         “I’ve been here before. In a time that seems a lost memory. It was before I entered the Temple of Ceur all those years ago,” answered Arlyn, sounding older by the second as he referenced his age. “She was only a girl at the time, and the shadow had just begun to creep into this village. She has all the qualities you would expect and more. She won’t be difficult to recognize.”

         Without further discussion, they left their horses in the stable with the cheery stable boy with black hair and silver grey eyes before they entered the Cor Inn. He gratefully accepted the horses into his care before they entered the inn through a finely carved wooden door, relieved to finally escape the cold winter air; the two hurried inside and breathed in the warmth. The Common Room was comfortable with a fire roaring in the hearth on the far wall. Tables and chairs were scattered throughout in an orderly fashion with several couches, appearing most inviting to the wintery travelers. Regular benefactors were enjoying a meal, a drink or two, or simply the warm atmosphere. Secretly, they peered toward the entry and the two that walked through. They showed little interest in the weary travelers, aside from what they might possess of value.

         A fellow standing behind a counter to the right of the entry was the only who showed a genuine interest in the new benefactors. He’s probably only interested with what our purses conceal, thought Velaria. As they closed the distance between the entry and the man at the counter, she began to notice something peculiar about the man; he actually looked happy. His grey eyes were alight with energy. She grew accustomed in the past month to find such qualities belonging only to Arlyn. The startling surprise wiped away her previous assumption as the merry man greeted them.

         “Good day to you fine travelers. Would you be interested in a room this cold afternoon? We have mighty fine rooms, some better than others mind you,” the man said before quickly adding, “there is a nice beef stew for supper if you haven’t other plans. Nothing better than a hot stew next to the fire after a day of traveling in this weather.”

         “That would be most welcomed,” returned Arlyn. “Would you mind showing us to our rooms first though? It would be nice to rest a bit before supper.”

         “Certainly, let me just call my eldest son from the stables to keep an eye on things here,” said the man with a broad smile before he went to the front door and hollered out for his son, whose name was no mystery as he yelled, “AYDEN! Quick, come here son! Those horses can manage without your eyes constantly on them.”

Shortly after, Ayden strolled through the front door at his father’s request, bringing with him a chilled breeze. “How can I help Dad?” asked Ayden.

“I need you to look over the Common Room while I show these guests to their rooms.”

“Of course.”

         “Please, just this way. The name is Abire by the way,” he said as they parted ways with Ayden and headed up the stairs behind the counter. “Fine young man that boy of mine is, and he knows it too, bless the lad! Reminds me of his mother he does. It’s a shame he didn’t have the chance to meet her. Died giving him birth she did. Fortunately, my wife, who I married some years after, embraced Ayden as her own. He was only nine at the time. It’s her who runs this fine inn by the way.”

         Abire continued to talk in his merry tone the entire way up to the third and highest floor of the inn, until they reached a pair of adjacent rooms. “Here we are, some of the finest rooms we have to offer.”

         Velaria was very pleased as he unlocked the door and caught her first glimpse inside. Abire withheld none of the truth when he described the quality of the rooms on their journey up. While the room was modest in size, the furnishings were finely made and intricately carved.

         Before Velaria was granted a chance to rest in the bed close by and soothe her back from the constant motions of riding horseback, Arlyn's tone changed as he addressed Abire. “Abire, my name is Arlyn. We never met before, and truly that pains me. We travelled north from Lucillia to speak with your wife, Evellyn; it’s of critical importance we speak with her privately, without any eager ears.”

         Abire’s merry mood dampened slightly as his tone also shifted in light of the change of conversation. Nevertheless, he responded as any would when addressed by Arlyn in such a manner. “Arlyn… I thought you looked familiar. How could I miss it? Your face and those eyes of yours. Please, forgive me Steward, this way. My family lives in the private quarters in the back of the inn, just beyond the kitchens.”

Without any further questions they made for the kitchen, taking the maid’s passageway down. It was a narrower stair and well hidden from the view of the main hall. Nearing the kitchen, Velaria’s nose was consumed with wondrous aromas, likely the stew Abire had mentioned. Down the back stairs, the kitchen came into view, along with a beautiful wooden door, just as masterfully crafted as the front door.

Abire led them through the entry into the private quarters of the Cor Inn, reserved for the Innkeeper’s family. Velaria was shocked at how easily the massive door opened without any suggestion of a struggle. Upon entering the parlor, Abire let out a warm call for his wife. Before she had an opportunity to respond, two children came sprinting towards their father. Abire’s face broke into a smile, bracing himself as two of his children collided into him. The union of the three brought an easy smile to Arlyn and herself.

Abire looked down to his two children and asked surprisingly sternly, “Does your mother know you’re out of bed?” The two shook their heads in denial. “You know she’s gonna blame me for your late night don’t you?” Again the two shook their heads in denial. “Do you really want me to get in trouble with your mother? She’ll toss me out in the cold if you two loose a minute of your precious sleep.”

Together the two children began protesting and declaring all sorts of promises stating they’ll take the blame. Before their words were able to progress past babbling a voice resounded from deeper in the quarters demanding the two children return to their beds. The voice only a mother could make.

“You two had better listen to her or else you’ll get me in trouble. But, before you do, how about greeting our two guests. This man is named Arlyn and this young lady here is called… I’m sorry miss, but I never got your name. Pardon my manners.”

“That’s no fault of yours master Abire,” said Velaria before bending down to the level of the two children with a small smile on her face. “My name is Velaria. And might you tell me yours?”

"My name is Leilyn," piped up the girl first. "But I'm not so little you see. I'm already six years old." The younger boy was struggling to form his own words, but was still too young to manage as he stuttered trying to form the first syllable, which sounded like ‘deb.’ Leilyn spoke on his behalf saying, "This is Devlyn. He's almost two. Much more littler than myself." The last part spoken on her tip toes.

"Oh, what beautiful names," Velaria said to the two children. As the children said goodnight, Evellyn called again for the children. This time they hurried away without further debate. Unable to restrain herself, Velaria complimented Abire on the beauty of his two children.

They were, without question, the most beautiful children she had ever seen. Their heads were full of golden brown hair, with hints of red, blonde, and black woven through it, but the brown was dominant. Their sparkling eyes were much the same as Arlyn’s, a silver iris that shifted to a stunning green around the pupil. Before she could dwell on the two children any longer, a gentle voice replied to the compliment before Abire had his chance. "They are beautiful aren't they? I might be biased as their mother, but I can't help but admire the two of them," came the voice. In the direction of the voice appeared a woman of remarkable beauty. The features of the two children were clearly gifts from this woman, yet matured and amplified. "My name is…"

"Evellyn, oh Evellyn. I can’t begin to say how much I've longed to see you again," interrupted Arlyn as he crossed the room towards the woman.

"I've missed you too brother," began Evellyn. Velaria's mouth dropped in astonishment. Incredible as the news was, it was not difficult to make the connection between the brother and sister. Both had the same golden brown hair, yet, unlike the two children, there were no shades of black or red in theirs. Arlyn, however, was showing some silvery threads, most prominent at his temples, from his advanced age. Where Evellyn exemplified feminine grace, Arlyn displayed masculinity. The brother and sister complimented each other's own beauty. Even the slender feminine lines on her face reflected the firmer masculine lines on Arlyn's. Velaria assumed the two kids would grow and one day resemble their mother and uncle.

The eyes were most remarkable, a jubilant silver giving way to a forest green encircling the pupil. Their eyes were all but shimmering. Surely, thought Velaria, such eyes are only found among those who can trace their lineage to the royal line of Lucillia. Such eyes were only discovered among the wise nobles and the royal family itself. As the two women shared eye contact, Evellyn ended the silent connection by saying, "You behold my eyes in the same manner as one would our Queen in Lucillia."

Unprepared for such an assertion, Velaria stammered as she struggled to find the appropriate words. "I do apologize Ma'am, but you and our virtuous Queen, descendant of King Roendryn the Great himself, share the same eyes. I've looked upon her eyes much in my life, and never have I seen such a resemblance as I see in your own." Unable to restrain her growing enthusiasm, she added, "Surely a common relation must exist between the pair of you."

“His name is Feolyn. An old story that is and the connection you refer to is just as old," started Evellyn, as she gestured the guests towards the couches to recline. "Please, have a seat if you would. The tale is not brief and you could both benefit from a comfortable couch. There's tea if you would like a cup."

Without waiting for their response she gathered up four cups and poured hot tea already prepared into each. She brought the tray carrying the cups filled to the brim with tea over to the small table between the couches. "Nothing better than a hot cup of tea after a cold wintry day. Cream and sugar?" They all answered gratefully with their requests and received their cups, now overflowing onto the saucers from the recent additions.

 

 

 

 

 

The First Chapter of the Splendor of Dawn

Dawn’s Stranger

 

The sun hung low in the Western Sky and Devlyn awaited it to sink below the horizon, yet the evening kiss between sun and land never came. The golden rays of the setting sun colored the sky in an assortment of shades and colors. The clouds caught in the rays swirled and danced about the sun exhibiting colors more vibrant than the trees of the Wood sprawling out beneath. With a closer look, Devlyn perceived something other than a cloud or a fragment of light dance about the sky. It moved not as the clouds nor shift as did the golden light; yet the form belonged and complimented the sky claimed by the setting sun.

A Lady of unsurpassable beauty glided from the setting sun atop a knoll waiting to bid the world good night. As she slowly approached, the object dancing in the sky drew closer as well. The Lady’s hair was of gold and silver and she was clothed in what appeared to be the light of the sun himself. Dancing about her was a magnificent bird of light, whose feathers shifted between various spectrums of color depending on the light; amidst the lesser colors, gold out shone them all. Devlyn felt a familiarity with the bird, yet he could not imagine why. As it fluttered closer, a stream of golden fire alight in the sky trailed behind. Slowly the tale of light faded as the bird flew closer.

But a few more strides and the gap would close. Just as the setting sun refused to set, so too the Lady and the bird of light refused to close the gap. Her legs glided elegantly atop the ground and the wings of the bird fluttered through the air, yet no closer did they come. Devlyn maintained eye contact with them both. He saw the longing within their eyes and knew the same was true of his own.

Unable to endure the separation, Devlyn extended a single foot forward, to greet the pair and join with them at last. As the gap diminished from his effort the setting sun fell at last below the knoll and the evening lights faded taking with them the Lady and the bird of light.

*       *       *

A dark room greeted Devlyn when he opened his eyes; a familiar steady rumble was heard from the far side, not uncommon at this dark hour. Not quite ready to move from bed, Devlyn decided to listen to the slow rumble of his cousin Alex's snore. The rhythmic sound of the noise tempted Devlyn to drift back into his own dreams, with hopes of returning to the one he had just woken from. He remembered vividly the Lady and the bird of light, whom had become fairly familiar figures.

         While the dream was common, the frequency of its recurrence the past weeks caused Devlyn to wonder. He never recalled drawing so close to the Lady and the bird of light. Typically, once he made to move a single leg the sun would set with him waking. Yet he actually came close enough to see the Lady’s face along with the bird of light. He drew so close that he could actually feel them within himself, beating within his very heart

         The near silent early hour allowed Devlyn the rare opportunity to ponder his recent dream in drowsy leisure, absent of any responsibility. He was well aware that once the rooster crowed, the luxury of lying in bed with only his thoughts would be lost. The rooster always served as an alarm for the Abbey School, most especially for Devlyn, who shortly following his crow, was expected to report to the barn for the early chores. Such as gathering eggs and milking the cows. The average day saw the majority of the Abbey School moving by the time Devlyn was well into his morning chores. Abbot Entiel was the exception. He had the habit of rising from bed once the rooster was heard and saw it as his divine mission that Devlyn was not sluggish in beginning his morning chores. Devlyn felt that Abbot Entiel looked forward to the morning hours, just to be the first to cause him grief.

         Devlyn expected this day to resemble every other, despite this particular day ought to be set aside in remembrance of his birth, as it was for every other Human being. No empty hopes were held for any sort of celebration. Such wishful thoughts passed away while he was still a boy and his only present was an apron to clean the dishes.

         He expected the Ei’anaceur and the students of the Abbey School to treat him just as every other day. If anything, they might be harsher simply because it was his Birthday. If he were not born, they would not have had to take him in after the incident fifteen years prior. At least Alex and Brother Bernard would share a kind Birthday greeting, he thought before rolling onto his side to gaze out the window facing east, overlooking the quiet village of Cor’lera nestled along the edge of the Illumined Wood. He knew the sun was still a few hours off from bringing forth a new day. The night covered the land beyond his window in darkness and the only lights visible were those of the stars, no moon was visible this night for a new cycle had just begun.

         Devlyn always enjoyed the New Moon, for it allowed the stars to shine ever more brightly in the night sky. Curiously enough, one of the stars refused to remain stagnant, as did the others; it danced about the night sky in a most peculiar fashion; rising and falling as if it had a will of its own. Devlyn began to consider whether or not he still dreamt, for he knew full and well that stars simply do not move in such a fashion, not even the few that fell. While still groggy, he was able to recognize his own thoughts, and he was aware of the dream he had woken from.

Determined to identify the light, Devlyn sat up in his bed and strained his eyes out the window towards the small light. The star moved about the sky in a harmonious array, dipping into the leafy canopy of the Illumined Wood and rising to soar above the trees for a time before diving yet again. It can’t be a star, Devlyn thought as he watched the aerobic light in the sky. It could be a bird; perhaps the one who accompanied the Lady I dreamt of? Devlyn strained his mind to recall the bird from his dream. What kind of nonsense is this? Birds don't fly about the sky as if set aflame like a...

Before his thought could come to fruition the features of the bird magnified as his eyes adjusted. The bird was leagues from where he sat upright atop his not too comfortable bed in the highest room of Abbey School's lone tower, yet appeared as if it was just before his window. The bird continued to draw closer and before he knew it he was engulfed in its golden eyes.

No longer did he look upon the world from his own, but rather from those of the bird; he saw as the bird saw, and to his shock he looked upon the world in a brightness he never experienced. Even though he knew the sky was still blanketed in the darkness of night, it seemed completely natural for the world to be seen in this manner.

The world was ten times brighter than the brightest of days. The additional light, seen from the eyes of the bird, revealed a light that was not present in the night sky. The New Moon shown with such splendor that Devlyn had never looked upon her in such light. The Moon, along with the stars appeared more natural through the eyes of the bird than through his own, as if a greater light was required to look upon the lights of the night sky. Devlyn was startled that the brightness of the light was not blinding effect.

         As the bird of light flew through the night sky, his body, back in the tower window kept coming into focus; he stared at himself from a pair of eyes other than his own. His light brown hair was all a tangle and faced every which direction resulting from a long night’s sleep. As he looked upon his eyes, the silver green he was accustomed to seeing in a mirror or a pool of still water were replaced by a golden color and they produced light of their own from the perspective of the bird, but not so strong as the light permeating from his chest. His vision drew closer to his body, as if the bird flew towards the tower window.

         He blinked in the brightness of the light permeating from his chest, just as the bird was about to crash into him. When he opened his eyes, he once again saw from his own, and with the loss of the bird’s lighted vision a sudden dimness filled the room and the landscape outside the window. His vision felt empty, blind even, as if he should see more.

         Devlyn searched for a trace of the bird of light outside his window yet found known. It had simply vanished from sight. Knowing that he would not fall back to sleep again, he forced himself from his bed to get an early start on his morning chores, rather than spend the next couple of hours regretting the loss of that incredible light.

         He made every effort possible to rise from his bed quietly, but was fairly certain his bed was the oldest the Abbey School offered, including the ones left unused. It proved impossible to rise silently as a series of loud squeaks followed his slightest movement. Devlyn nervously looked in his cousin’s direction and regrettably saw him roll onto his stomach and proceed to pull his pillow over his head.

         Dropping his head in failure, Devlyn moved across the room to where he left his clothes the previous day, conveniently discarded on the dresser next to Alex’s bed.

         Once he approached the dresser, Alex rolled over once again; his eyes visibly open. “Sorry Alex. I tried to avoid making a sound, but you know what that old bed is like,” said Devlyn in a low voice, which was returned by a few unrecognizable sounds from Alex, not unlike a grunt. “Those weren’t words were they?”

         “Oh don’t be smart this early,” said Alex, clearly making an effort to annunciate every word this time. “I said, why are you moving about so early? The rooster won’t crow for at least another hour.”

         I thought I would get an early start on the day. Besides, how often am I given an hour or two without the old Abbot breathing down my neck?” said Devlyn in the same hushed voice. “It can be his Birthday gift to me, although don’t mention it to him, he might try and take it back.”

         “Oh,” Alex began before a hearty yawn escaped from his mouth. “That’s right, I forgot about that,” he finished as he moved to get out of bed with considerable less noise than Devlyn’s attempt. He made his way over to his own clothes to get ready for the day. “Well in that case, I’ll give you some company. Consider it my gift to you.” The two cousins quietly laughed together before making their way down from the tower, out the dormitory and through the Abbey School.

         As they walked towards the barn and stables near the gate of the Abbey School’s grounds, Devlyn told Alex what he remembered of his dream. “That doesn’t sound too unusual. I have beautiful women visit my dreams all the time,” said Alex once Devlyn finished.

         “That’s what I thought, just a normal dream, but something was weird about it. It felt...real. And that Lady! There was something about her; she looked like a Queen,” said Devlyn, not wanting to mention his encounter with the bird of light, both within the dream and after, fearing what his cousin would think.

         “So let me get this straight. Not only are you having vivid dreams, but you think there’s a Queen out there in love with you?” said Alex raising a single eye brow. Rather than pushing his point, Devlyn decided to drop it. The two joked about the possibility of marrying a noblewoman and leaving the small village of Cor’lera for one of the great cities. Amidst their juvenile laughter, they reached the gate and looked down the eastern road, which led to Cor’lera. A figure was shrouded upon the road in the early mist. Already, the predawn light was making itself known. The stars of the night were fading, making way for the promised light of the dawning sun.

         The two cousins waited in silence as the figure drew closer and more distinct. Devlyn was taller than his cousin, but tended to slouch to make himself appear shorter. His height, along with others with Lucillian ancestry was mocked among those in the Abbey School, leaving Devlyn and the other Lucillians to try and make themselves appear shorter by slouching. Noticing the large size of the approaching figure, Alex was the first to break the silence and say, “He’s on a horse.”

         Both squinted to better discern the features of the approaching rider, and as they did, Devlyn was shocked to discover that it was no man who sat atop the horse, but a woman. He quickly shared his observation with Alex, whom after spending another moment of squinting, realized his cousin was correct. “Maybe it’s your noblewoman. But if she falls in love with me first, you have to accept and support us,” said Alex before they both laughed.

         Their hushed laughter quieted down and they awaited the rider in silence. Several minutes passed before the rider was close enough for the two boys to make out the sounds of the horse trotting upon the crunchy snow. Once the gap between the two parties closed, the two cousins were astounded by the rider’s beauty and elegance. Her blue riding cloak was simple, yet Devlyn caught a glimpse of what looked like leaves cascading from her sleeves, not concealed by her cloak. Long fiery red hair was easily seen beneath her hood. Before drawing near the cousins, she concealed the greenery, which did not belong in the wintry scene, leaving only her cloak exposed to the cold elements.

         The woman resting atop her horse was soon before the two cousins and said in a kind soft voice, “Good Morning,” before they were able to greet her. Her eyes were of a silver grey, and they appeared to know everything about the two boys before them. They responded simultaneously in the same proper manner, instilled in them by the Ei’anaceur running the Abbey School. The woman chuckled softly before asking their names.

         “I’m Alexander Vaerin, son of Clyde and Vine Vaerin, student of the Abbey School of Cor’lera.”

         “My name’s Devlyn, son of Evellyn and Abire Vaerin. But I’ve lived here at the Abbey School since I was young. Once I was old enough the Ei’anaceur permitted my studying here.”

         A look of interest spread across the woman’s face, but not terribly obvious. Devlyn thought it resembled someone at the market, who had just come across what they were looking for, yet still wanted the seller to think they were not interested with the hopes of acquiring it at cheaper price. “It’s curious that you mention your mother first. There isn’t a reason behind that, is there Devlyn?” asked the woman.

         Out of everything the woman could have been interested in, she wants to know why I spoke my mother’s name first, thought Devlyn. Unprepared to answer such an obscure question, he found himself saying, “I suppose it has to do with how widely my mother is spoken of.” He paused and took a deep breath before continuing as if preparing to dive into a depth of cold water. “Well, it’s a long story, one I’d rather not burden onto a Lady such as yourself. And you’re probably familiar with the incident from the gossip of the villagers. If I didn’t know better, I’d say all of Perrien knows of it.”

         “We all meet misfortune in our lives, Devlyn. I’m sorry it’s visited you so young. I regret to say that such stories grow more common,” said the woman. “As it turns out, I have not heard any here speak of it. As you can see, it is still early, and I have not yet reached the village. The gates are still closed off from the night. My name is Velaria Treyven, and I assure you, I am not of noble birth, so you need not treat me as such.”

         Both cousins shared a look of disbelief between each other. The thought of a woman such as the one before them not belonging to one of the noble families was beyond recognition. “Surely you’re connected to the nobility. You’re obviously not from Perrien; you don’t look like anyone else here. But, what of the great cities to the South?” asked Alex in disbelief. “After all, you are riding a horse at leisure; such sport is unheard of.”

         A small smile made its way across Velaria’s face before she said, “I have not enjoyed a time of leisure, as you say, Alexander, for several years now, let alone the past months. I’ve been traveling at great speed and with little rest.”

         “Please, call me Alex,” he began. Few, other than his mother, referred to him as Alexander, and even that occurred too often in his preference. “I’m sorry to ask, but what could be so urgent as to travel through Perrien in the winter months. Surely the mountain passes have all been blocked by snow and ice for the better part of the past months.”
         “It is certainly dreadful to travel this far north during the winter. Even if today marks the official beginning of Spring; it’s a shame it takes so long to reach this far north,” said Velaria, not seeming to mind the onslaught of questions. “Fortunately, not all the passes were blocked. The cause of my urgency was given me by their Majesties, the King and Queen of Lucillia themselves.” Before Devlyn and Alex were able to respond to the exhilarating news, Velaria continued in the same manner. “They sent me to the eastern provinces of the kingdom of Perrien, what was once Parendior, to inquire about a particular family, namely, within the village of Cor’lera. A family to which Evellyn belongs.”

         A confusing array of emotions fell over Devlyn at the sound of his mother’s name. Not knowing how to respond, especially, as he considered the gravity of a situation requiring the attention of the King and Queen of Lucillia. More concerning was the fact that Devlyn was the last of that family remaining in Cor’lera. The object of urgency to this Lucillian woman and a king and queen was himself. “I’m sorry, but all I know about my mother is what I’ve been told from others, and none are worth the inquiry of a king and queen from a foreign land. Especially, since all I’ve heard are horrendous accounts connecting me to a dreadful woman,” said Devlyn with difficulty.

         “It saddens me to hear Evellyn reduced in memory to the word dreadful. Do not believe all you were told Devlyn, we live in an age of deception,” said Velaria. Both cousins stared at the woman not knowing what to think, for she was the first to ever condemn something as a lie in their village. The Ei’anaceur at the Abbey School preached that those who did such were the true deceivers. “Would you like to hear how the truth sounds?”

         “How could I take what you say as truth if you so quickly condemn others for lying.”

         “Even a lie can imitate the truth, but it cannot replace it. Only the truth can expose a lie of its nature. If the truth is unknown, and remains unknown, the deception endures. Does that make the deception true?” asked Velaria in her matter of fact way. “There is something else you must know before I begin Devlyn.” He looked unwillingly into her silver grey eyes as she continued. “This is not the first time the waves of time have witnessed our meeting.”

         “Waves of time or not, how is that possible? Surely I would have remembered us meeting before,” said Devlyn, not attempting to conceal his doubt.

         “Not even the best of memories can recall events at so young an age, your sister had to tell me your name you were so young. You were a toddler at the time, no older than two. Those were different times though. I first came to know you surrounded by a loving family. And what a beautiful family it was. Evellyn possessed such beauty that she could be mistaken for a queen, and indeed I did. And Abire was her fitting spouse; if any could be a suitable match for one such as Evellyn it was your father. Such fine gentlemen are difficult to find, even in the grand courts.”

         The words she said did nothing but stir strife within Devlyn, for not only did her image of Evellyn contradict every image of her he was told, but it also stirred an emotion within which longed for such a family; the very sort of family taken from him, by none other than his own mother. The nightmares within returned to the surface once again. The connection to such a woman as Evellyn and his half-brother Ayden drove him wild. He feared that he would continue the destruction they began. He grew up hating his mother because of that fear and all the detestable acts she and Ayden had committed.

         Unable to contain the nightmare within, he found himself speaking his shadowy past, as it was passed on to him. “I’m not sure which family you visited all those years ago, but it certainly could not have been mine. My mother and father were both known in the village as odd. Their reputation of family life was barbaric at best. Hatred and greed fueled the relations within my family. The struggle reached its climax when my mother and half-brother had had enough, and in their vile nature murdered my father along with mutilating my sister. Witnesses saw her screaming and running from town towards the Illumined Wood leaving only a trail of blood behind.

         “They say that someone her age had no chance of survival within the forest. The pair vanished into the night, along with all of Evelyn’s relatives, leaving me within the nightmare of their making. Abbot Entiel and the other Ei’anaceur said that my father wrought his own trouble by wedding Evellyn and later having children with her. They supposed that he did so in order to collect the profits of the Cor Inn. They said that he received an appropriate price for marrying one of Evellyn’s kind, and that he should have stayed in Gneal with his motherless son after leaving Cor’lera in the first place. And the Abbot, my uncle, says that I’m no relative of his. Even among them I’m a stranger!”

         Devlyn found himself panting as he concluded his account. He was somewhat surprised at how worked up he had gotten over the affair. Throughout his entire telling, not once did Velaria try to argue her own position or interrupt, rather she remained quiet with a posture of authority and superior knowledge, which spoke volumes of her own disagreement.

         Devlyn did not have to wait long for his assumption of Velaria’s doubt to show itself, for once he had taken a few gasping breathes she responded for the first time. “Is that what you believe?”

         Anger flared within Devlyn. How could this woman take this as a lie? There were witnesses, he thought. “You’re the first to disagree with that story. There is no reason for me to doubt the entire village, simply because you have another opinion,” said Devlyn, counting his breathes to calm himself.

         “I have said nothing to disagree with your account,” said Velaria, continuing to fuel Devlyn’s anger, her calm tone only intensifying it. “However, I’ll not concede to such a tale that disgraces a woman like Evellyn and a man such as Abire. As their son, you should be ashamed of yourself for continuing the spread of such scandal. And since we’re on the topic, have you yet considered that I might be one of the few able to share the truth with you?”

         The simple utterance of the word set Devlyn in doubt and uncertainty. All these years he was fed ugly stories, passed on to him from others, but never were they accompanied with explanations. Whenever he inquired about such details, all he was told was that it was his mother’s vile nature. Always displeased with such answers, he continued searching throughout his early years. Probing different villagers each time.

         There came a time when he was thirteen when he ran out of new villagers to ask. He had asked them all the same questions and had learned nothing new. Every story was the same, nothing new and nothing left out. It was as if they read the story from a pamphlet word for word. The years since, he embraced what was given him as truth. But now, a new version of the story was available to him. He doubted its veracity, yet was eager all the same to hear different. A small part buried within ached to hear of his mother’s innocence, yet that would not return his father from the grave.

         “Would you like to hear what I have to share with you?” asked Velaria in a patient voice with a small smile.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

The Unspoken Tale

 

A few moments passed before Devlynconceded to the proposal. “Shall we go for a short walk then. The invitation is open to you as well Alexander,” said Velaria as a small smile broke across her face.

         “I’m not sure. We have chores to do and our uncle isn’t the most forgiving when it comes to tardiness. And please, call me Alex.”

         “The choice is yours Alexander,” said Velaria, either not hearing the last phrase or choosing to ignore it. “I do think you would benefit if you joined us.” The way she mentioned this led Devlyn to think that she was not simply referring to listening to a story.

         Alex’s uncertainty was evident. It was easy for Devlyn to see the struggle between following orders and listening to this stranger who claimed to possess knowledge held by none in Cor’lera. The skepticism in his eyes was not a rare trait among his family, and Devlyn thought that if he did not intervene, his cousin would surely leave him alone with this stranger.

         “Come on Alex, join us. It would be nice to have another set of ears to hear what she has to say,” said Devlyn before Alex had a chance to respond. “And besides, you’ll never believe it if it came from my mouth later. She might be fabricating a wild story, but it might also hint at the truth! You know how deeply I want to understand what happened all those years ago. Everything is fogged over as it is.”

         Eyes downcast in thought with his brow set, Alex bided his time before responding. “Alright. But when we’re finished, you’re taking the heat from Abbot Entiel if we’re late,” Alex finally answered, if not stubbornly. “All this before breakfast nonetheless! You’re lucky it’s your Birthday, Devlyn.”

         Velaria waited as the two bickered about chores until deciding it had gone on long enough and interrupted them both. “Well, if it’s all settled, how about that walk.” They both nodded in agreement and once she saw their confirmation, she turned and began to walk away from the road. Devlyn and Alex quickly caught up with her; they realized she had no intention of slowing her pace. The three walked quietly as they made their way west towards the Bethyl River, hidden from the Abbey School and the village of Cor’lera.

         Alex could remain silent no longer. “Well?” he interjected quite rudely after they walked a fair distance.

         Velaria seemed amused by Alex’s impatience, yet Devlyn wasn’t certain whether it was from rudeness or politeness on her part. Such thoughts vanished when Velaria began to speak. “To begin, its best you know that Evellyn is no murderer. She’s actually a very loving individual.”

         Relief washed over Devlyn as he heard that simple phrase, even though it was spoken by a stranger he did not necessarily trust. Some unknown emotion sprung at hearing such a statement. It was actually the first time he had ever heard anyone say it. He dreamt of hearing those words, but never dared to hope it.

         Noticing the expression upon his face Velaria continued, “Yes, it truly is wonderful news isn’t it? I too find it spectacular, even though I’ve known it along and have never thought otherwise. I can only imagine how welcoming it is for you to hear such words. For surely, you can sense the truth behind them.”

         “It certainly is nice to hear, but how could you know this and none other?” asked Devlyn.

         “Yes, how could you know this? We were told that no one was present except those involved. And Devlyn here is the only one left in the village,” said Alex, implying that Velaria was somehow involved.

         “Regrettably, I was not present. Surely if I was, history would have been recorded differently,” said Velaria in a somber tone. “And you Devlyn, would still call the Cor Inn your home, filled with your family and mirth a plenty.” Before continuing, her tone shifted back into her authoritative manner, which seemed most appropriate for her. “Fortunately, I had a very reliable source, who witnessed the event without being seen. Some of what I’ll tell will be old news to you; yet it’s vital that you know the truth from the deceit.”

         Velaria looked over both boys before beginning the story, making sure that neither had any objections. “What happened first is common knowledge, namely, a struggle took place and a man was found dead on his living room floor with a toddler crying atop his chest and a bloodied girl fleeing from sight into the Illumined Wood. Yes, your father resisted a struggle and answered it with his life. What is not common knowledge is who caused the struggle and eventual murder of Abire. At the time they were foreigners, unknown to most in these parts, but they were sent from Gneal. It was believed that the group was sent from the capitol city to ensure better security for the village. However, their purpose and true identity was concealed.

         “It just so happens, that when I last saw you, Devlyn, I came to visit your family with one of Evellyn’s brothers, Arlyn. As we passed through the gates we were confronted by unfamiliar men, dressed as soldiers of the Kingdom of Perrien. We decided to remain unknown, to not raise suspicions. Anyway, they were easily recognizable, Humans who once called Dwonia their home. The involvement of such people with the Kingdom of Perrien could result only in trouble. Terrible suspicions were raised in Arlyn and myself.

         “As for their purpose, rumors were going about Cor’lera concerning its name; a name that stretches back to when the Ancient Language was still used, and only just beginning to fade. A legend of a mythical treasure has always accompanied it. I believe that those men were none other than treasure hunters. What was unknown all those years ago is clear today, the fallen Cyndinari Empire is regaining its former strength and searches for a powerful weapon which could lead to their undoing, as it did all those years ago. They believe that their defeat was dealt by a power of incredible strength and that after order was returned, the Luminari Elves, now calling Lucillia their home, had it secreted away. They believe that weapon was concealed within Cor’lera. They crave it something fierce.

         “The Cyndinari Elves felt so strongly about this, that for the first time in over a millennia, they rose their arms once again. Abire was the first to fall in open murder at the hands of that Dark Empire. Since their purpose was to ascertain the location of this mythical treasure, their priorities were of those who could locate it. And as it happens, your family stretches back to those early days of Lucillia and in fact migrated to this very village at the time when Roendryn, the first King of Lucillia, renamed this village Cor’lera. We believe the enemy thinks your family to be the guardians of that treasure.

         “The only villagers of interest to them were those who could direct them to this treasure. Your mother was believed the key to locating it. Following your father’s death, they abducted her and anyone else who might be of use to them. Your brother and all of your mother’s kin were spirited from the village under the secrecy of nightfall. The treasure hunters did not consider you and your sister useful, primarily because of your age. Miraculously you were both spared from death. To insure that Leilyn would not reveal the truth to the villagers, she was blinded and made mute by a dark magic. As you know, she was last seen running into the Illumined Wood. You were so young at the time, Devlyn, that they left you wailing upon the corpse of your dead father, unconcerned that you might recall the events.

         “Well into the night you were discovered crying upon Abire, while Evellyn and Ayden, along with all her kin had vanished from the village. As I’m sure you’ve heard, it was told that the force of Perrien soldiers present were said to have heard the commotion of the struggle and pursued Evellyn and her kin into the night before any were aware of the events. That force never reported back to Cor’lera. Rather then return and inform the villagers of their pursuit, they journeyed all the way to Gneal. It was never reported here that their alleged pursuit was actually an abduction.

         “That is the extent of my knowledge. I hope it can help you see and believe the truth,” concluded Velaria. She turned her back from Devlyn and Alex and gazed in the direction of where the sun would soon rise. Devlyn found himself starring in the opposite direction, he knew little of geography, but from the few maps he had seen, he knew that Gneal laid far to the west, across the River Arvil. While many of the historical details confused Devlyn and would have been very interesting at another time, the city of Gneal consumed all his thought. If Velaria speaks truly, then my brother and mother are no further than Gneal, he thought in wonder.

Noticing that Devlyn was lost in thought, Alex approached Velaria with his own doubts. “Let me get this straight,” he began in a hushed skeptical voice so Devlyn might not overhear, “this source of yours is the only witness. Out of everyone in Cor’lera, this source claims to know the truth, while the entire village is in error. And to top it off, all of Evellyn’s family taken to Gneal to unearth some mythical treasure.”

Alex paused, hoping to show his doubt and display all the obvious flaws in Velaria’s account. Rather than responding to his rant, Velaria simply continued her gaze to the east, awaiting the sun to rise. Enflamed by her silence, Alex took up his rant again, “This is nonsense! We both wasted our morning and an early start on our chores. Worst of all, Devlyn will be lost to his dreaming for a month! I’m leaving.”

In a quizzical tone, not breaking her eastward gaze, Velaria finally spoke, saying, “Devlyn would be stricken if you decided not to accompany him to Gneal.”

         Gasping in disbelief at her presumptuousness, Alex could not help but respond curtly, “Are you out of your mind? What makes you so conceited as to think Devlyn would join you on some hunt for his murderous family? There’s no way my cousin believed that rubbish you spat at us. And to follow you to Gneal, wasn’t that wretched story enough harm on your part?”

         “Perhaps, you should ask him before continuing to place words in his mouth for him. I believe he is quite capable of his own,” responded Velaria in her same mellow tone.

         Just as Alex was about to fire back, Devlyn approached them both, unaware of their heated discussion, and asked Velaria, “Would it be possible to go there; Gneal that is. I’m exhausted of living in the shadows of lies. The worst that could happen is returning with no more certainty than I currently possess.”

         “If you’re so convinced by this woman, this stranger, than go on your silly quest, I’ll have no part of it,” said Alex, still fiery from his interaction with Velaria.

         “What,” exclaimed Devlyn. “How could you be so selfish? Don’t you understand what this could mean? This woman revealed more of the truth than we’ve ever heard. And just think about it, all the pieces fit.”

         “I believe our neighbors. You know, the people we grew up with. The one’s that have taken care of us our entire lives. I’ve no reason to doubt them!”

         “What if they themselves don’t know all the details? They might not be actively deceiving us, simply passing on what they were told. All they could know is what they saw, and what they saw was me crying as a toddler atop my father’s corpse and my mother’s family vanished in the night.”

         “That could be true. But leave Cor’lera for Gneal. Abbot Entiel would track us down before we made it to the closest village.”

         Devlyn, looked down at his feet in failure, until he at last looked up with confidence and spoke with finality saying, “I have no one else to ask. The entire village looks at me as the son of a murderer. There’s no future for me here, you now that. There’s no saying what sort of trouble we may get into crossing those hills, and even worst once we reach Gneal itself, if we even reach it. Alex, I need you.”

         “The choice belongs to you alone Alexander,” said Velaria, interrupting the dialogue. “Remember, this will not be an easy journey and your aid would prove most beneficial. I must warn you both though, if you decide to embark on this journey, the life you know will end. But a memory from a distant past.”

         “Alex, I have to find out what actually happened,” said Devlyn. He took a deep breath before continuing, “I can’t do it on my own. I fear that if I try, something terrible will happen. Please Alex, won’t you come?”

         Alex took a few moments considering his cousin’s plea, although not as resistant this time around. “Alright, I’ll go as far as Gneal, and help however I can. But you know very well what the conditions in Gneal are like. They are said to have abandoned their alliance with Lucillia in all but word. You and her both have the looks of Lucillians. If they discover that Velaria is in fact from there we won’t be leaving Gneal to return to Cor’lera, we’ll end up in the same dungeons as the rest of your family. If they’re even down, there.”

         “Thank you, Alex. There might actually be a chance to save my mother, Ayden and the rest,” said Devlyn with an elated tone. “Velaria, when can we leave and what should we do before leaving?”

         Eyeing them both up and down as an inspector would, she finally said, “The clothes you’re wearing are fine for travel in the snow. Horses would be useful, but they’ve grown rare in this region in recent times, so we’ll have to do without. Perhaps we could purchase some the closer we get to Gneal, or even in the city itself. Our pace will regrettably be slower than I had hoped, but nothing can be done about that. Saying any farewells would prove disastrous. We should leave after the sun sets, when everyone sleeps or is preoccupied. Luckily, the Abbey School is west of the village, so we shouldn’t run into anyone as we leave.

         “Make sure to rest as much as possible today. I doubt sleep will greet our eyes until the following night. We will have to travel as far away from Cor’lera as possible. And we must reach Gneal well before word of your disappearance becomes known there.” Devlyn and Alex both remained silent and attentive as Velaria passed on her instructions. “I will make my presence in Cor’lera known, that way when neither of you are found, they will assume that I took you both south across the mountains to Lucillia. They’ll never suspect us to head west towards Gneal itself. Meet me at the low hill due west of the Abbey School, the one standing beside the River Bethyl. Wait until the night is quiet. Try to avoid coming into town, it would be best if no connection could be made between us. Just because we want them to make that connection, doesn’t mean we should make it easy for them. I’ll gather what supplies I can and I’ll meet you both here tonight. Take care and good day.” With that she turned her horse south and was off, but not before adding, “You really shouldn't slouch; it’s bad for your back and quite unbecoming.”

         Left speechless after their encounter, Devlyn and Alex walked back to the barn where their chores remained incomplete, Devlyn with his back straighter, revealing his true height. “And to think, the rooster hasn’t even crowed yet. I never thought so much could happen before the sun rose!” said Alex in a visibly improved mood, excited almost. Shortly following the rooster was heard and the two cousins went to the barn door to watch the sun climb slowly above the Illumined Wood, casting wondrous colors across the Eastern sky, reflecting off the trees beneath.

         Returning to their chores after leisurely watching the sun mark the beginning of a cold wintry day, Devlyn could not help but think of never returning to the Abbey School and that awful Abbot Entiel. While the future remained unwritten, the idea of returning to the Abbey School seemed absurd. As if today marked an end and beginning at the same time, just as the rising sun marked the end of night and the beginning of day.

Devlyn and Alex spent the first sunlit hour of the day completing their morning chores. Once everything was gathered, they made their way for the Abbey School; it had a single tower, and only three wings. The pompous Abbot awaited them as they walked to the back door. He looked prepared to scold when he greeted them. He first looked at his nephew, Alex, and then to his other nephew, Devlyn, but the Abbot recognized him more so as a ward than family, and lastly to the eggs and milk carried between them.

Abbot Entiel seemed disappointed at the lost chance to hassle Devlyn before his morning meal, but without fail he shortly contrived a plan to fill that gap. “Well, since Alex pitied and aided the poor Lucillian this morning, you can start by following me to the kitchens,” he began, rather than with a pleasant greeting. “But since it is a special day, you need only stay a short while.”

Devlyn dared not inquire of the reason, but followed the Abbot timidly to the kitchens. “Now, several items must be collected from town for this evening’s party. Since we must remain here and make final preparations for the coming events, you are the only one able to run to town and back. All before classes begin today of course,” said the Abbot.

Fairly familiar with the early annoyances, Devlyn held a small reserve of hope that the Abbot might hold back on his favorite past time. Devlyn followed Abbot Entiel through the kitchen door and placed the eggs and milk atop the counter. Since, this was the first he heard of any party, he decided it best to focus on it rather than the errand itself. The Abbot’s tone changed remarkably at the mention of the party. He grew excited over the coming celebration, explaining in fine detail the luxuries, along with a guest list, whose end Devlyn did not hear. Amongst the incessant rambling of names, Devlyn interrupted the Abbot asking the purpose of the party, for he was still uncertain of it. What he did know, was that it was not for him; the thought did not even cross his mind.

“Bloody Lucillians! Never have I known one so rude. One would think that an extended residence at an Abbey School would have taught some manners,” sneered Abbot Entiel, making it clear that Devlyn was more of a ward of the school than a student. “Natures such as yours, I’m afraid to admit, simply cannot be corrected. Even after years of reformation. You really are fortunate that we agreed to your staying here, even amidst all our failed attempts to properly educate you. While such failure weighs heavily upon us, we know the fault belongs not with us. Your mother’s blood simply runs too thickly through your veins. As for the purpose of the party, my brother, he’s a general you know, will be stopping by our modest village later this afternoon on a routine inspection of Cor’lera. Being born and raised here, the Council of Perrien agreed that he would best serve the Kingdom with the protection and security of this region. The party was my dear sister’s idea, truth be told. Once she found out that Lex was returning to Cor’lera for a visit, not a moment passed before she began making preparations for a party of sorts.”

Devlyn lost focus as the Abbot continued his monologue of his siblings, and shifted his focus on putting the eggs in their proper place, until another Ei’anaceur walked into the kitchen, interrupting the Abbot mid-sentence. “Is this the same general that hunted down that murderous Lucillian, Evellyn, and her family?”

The interruption bothered the Abbot little; it actually delighted him, especially since it was the favorite of his brother’s achievements. “Oh yes, he is most recognized for that. Especially in this region of Perrien, he was the head of the village guard at the time and the first to organize the town guard on that awful night when Abire was murdered. He led the hunt for that wretched woman and her vile kin.”

“Pah, they should’ve taken this one as well. Leaving a toddler to be cared for by Ei’anaceur. What was that brother of yours thinking?” said Professor Elias.

I bet you would have liked that, Lex leading me off to Gneal in chains with my family, thought Devlyn. A smirk had spread across the Abbot’s face, as if he heard Devlyn’s thoughts. The look in his eyes suggested that there was nothing more he wanted than to see Devlyn locked up in the cells of Gneal. Rather than speak his longing desire, he said with an emotionless voice, “No, Perrien is far too preoccupied to concern itself over insignificant boys. He will simply have to remain our ward and hopefully his foul nature might be realigned while under our care. Speaking of which, it’s time you made your way into town.”

Before turning away from Devlyn, the Abbot drew a piece of parchment from a pocket concealed within his robes and held it before Devlyn’s face in an intimidating manner. “Not one item is to be overlooked. My sister personally drew up everything on this list. She’ll have only the best for our dear brother, so remember that if one item is not up to par, you will make a second trip following your classes.”

A single glance at the list was enough to overwhelm Devlyn. Its length was unbelievable; he wondered how so much was required for a simple party. “There’s no way I’ll be able to haul all of this back from town,” said Devlyn, not daring to mention the amount of time it would waste.

“Always complaining. Very well, you can take the donkey and cart if you must. Now get on with yourself. There’s no doubt you’ll be late as it is.”

“Yes, hurry along. And you’re not to be late for my lesson either, boy,” said Professor Elias.

“Yes Professor. Is there anything else Abbot?” Devlyn said obediently. Without receiving a response, Devlyn left the kitchen. Happy to be away from the two Ei’anaceur, Devlyn was soon out of the Abbey School and in the stables where a donkey was stabled. Without wasting any time, Devlyn drew the donkey from the stall and hitched him to a cart and was soon guiding the donkey to the village in the cold winter morning.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Cor’lera

 

Thoughts coursed through Devlyn’s mind as he traveled across the small country road to Cor’lera, particularly about his uncle, General Lex. His involvement fifteen years prior left him quite famous. His leadership was well known in the apprehension of Evellyn and the rest of his family. It was rumored that he personally dragged them before the Council of Perrien for trial in Gneal, which resulted in their permanent incarceration within the walls of the capitol city.

The version of the story Velaria told him that very morning troubled him greatly. If her account was true, then Lex was anything but a hero. Despite the conflicting stories, he was most concerned over the arrivals of both Velaria and Lex on the same day. It seemed coincidental and simply unfortunate, but Devlyn doubted it; it was all too convenient.

The clopping of the donkey’s hooves and the high-pitched squealing of the rusted wheels went unnoticed as his mind raced. The road required little attention; he travelled it frequently and knew it better than most, especially in the winter months when few were willing to brave the cold and snow covered road connecting the Abbey School and many of the farms to the village. However, it was uncommon for him to ride atop a donkey with a cart hauled behind. A cart was typically not necessary for the errands required of him.

Devlyn was lost within his own thoughts and paid little attention to his surroundings as he rode atop the donkey with his head down and his hood drawn. The road that stretched from the Abbey School to the village was rarely used and when it was, it was used as a passage between the one and the other. The farmers in between travelled atop it with their wares for sale, but they sparsely left their land during the winter months. The main road to Cor’lera came from the south, leading to other villages and eventually west across the Arvil River.

Before the west gate of Cor’lera became visible, the buildings outside the walls came into view obstructing his view of the original village. Devlyn swore that every time he visited the village on one of the Abbot’s errands he saw a building that was not previously there. Cor’lera was growing quickly and it was unclear when it would slow down. As Devlyn lowered his hood to get a better grasp of his surroundings, which he had previously been ignorant of, he heard heavy galloping from the direction he came from. Not hearing them slow or give any inclination or intent to, he steered the donkey and cart to the edge of the small road and continued at the donkey’s slow and steady pace with the swift rider soon upon them.

The rider paid no attention to Devlyn, but was easily recognized as a soldier of Perrien. If the grey cloak with the white emblem did not give away his identity, the large Grey Courser he rode upon certainly did. Such horses were reserved for Perrien’s military. History once saw the iconic Grey Coursers of Perrien and Parendior as a common horse available to all. However, the past several decades saw the Council collect every last one and reserved their use for soldiers alone, and any who could afford their new premium tax. The Grey Coursers were actually where the crest of Perrien came from: a grey rider upon a horse, of the same color, galloping upon a white field. The strong Grey Coursers of Perrien were objects of envy to the other kingdoms.

Devlyn soon arrived to the edge of Cor’lera, the part that stood outside its walls, too newly constructed to possess a wall of its own. At the pace the village was growing, it was uncertain just how far out the new wall would have to stand from the original. This section of the town possessed one of the steeper slopes of the hill upon which Cor’lera stood. The original section of the village was mostly flat atop the hill, while the new construction’s only choice was to build down the slopes, some sections steeper than others. The part of the village outside the walls was larger than what stood within. Many travelled from across the River Arvil into the hilly region of Parendior shortly after the Council of Perrien claimed the vast land east of the Arvil as their own.

Many of the newcomers looked into monopolizing the ice grapes, known to only grow between the Bethyl and the Illumined Woods. Since their arrival, much wealth travelled with them to Cor’lera and shortly following their arrival there was need to expand the village beyond its walls. There simply was not enough room within. Soon the construction outside the walls boasted a population larger than within, and unlike most towns, the buildings outside the walls possessed more wealth than those within. Most of the shops in this district were wine shops selling the Ice Wine, but since the Abbey School had their own vineyard, he had no need to purchase the unique bluish wine from any of the shops here.

Devlyn visited a few of the shops in this district before arriving at the gate where an aged man stood guard. When Devlyn approached the gate, the old guard easily recognized him and granted him entrance. The old guard seemed unsettled, Devlyn could only assume it was connected with the soldier who galloped up to the gate without slowing until the last instant.

The street opposite the gate displayed a view of the typical buildings of Cor’lera with their thatched roofs and wooden walls. Devlyn located the first of the shops he had to visit, just a few buildings from the gate. Since the gate he entered was originally intended for the many farmers in the surrounding area, most of the buildings along this road were the shops they favored, boasting places to sell their wares. The road would eventually cross the main street, and the two formed a spacious square. Devlyn visited a few of the shops and managed to put a small dent into the Abbot’s list prior to reaching the village square.  The amount of noise coming from the square startled Devlyn as he drew closer. Such noise was uncommon for this time of year. Typically, the villagers of Cor’lera spent little time in the harsh winter chill, however, such was not the case this morning.

Amongst all the voices, a single voice was heard above the rest. As Devlyn reached the outer rim of the square, he recognized General Lex atop a newly constructed platform. The soldier Devlyn recognized from the road stood at the general’s side. Along with him were no less than twenty additional soldiers of Perrien, all fully armed and clad in the grey cloak.

Devlyn listened to the general speak of the superiority of the Humans of Perrien and their enemies to the south. He also caught wind of what the general called foul souled Wielders. Devlyn had only heard rumors of Wielders, but had never met one. He asked the Abbot once if they actually existed and in response was hit full across the face and forbidden from ever mentioning the Witches. Following that incident, Devlyn abandoned all inquiry into the Wielders, although his ears were never fully closed.

People in Cor’lera were prone to gossip, and more often than not, in hushed tones, Wielders were mentioned. Some spoke hopefully of the Ei’ana returning, but others spoke in critical tones of the southern witches.

Today was such an occasion. The General himself proclaimed to any with ears to hear his denouncement of Lucillians and Wielders alike. He spoke of them as corruptors of nature and destroyers of peoples. Special attention was given to a kingdom far to the south, left in ruins by its own Wielders. The act of wielding was since outlawed as a crime punishable by death in that country. Devlyn was unfamiliar with the Southern Kingdom himself, but that was not the case for many in the gathered crowd, for they stood proudly and cheered the General on.

Devlyn could not help but notice that the only ones in the crowd choosing not to cheer were by and large the slouching Lucillians as they tried to diminish their height along with many of the simpler folk whose ancestors had lived between the Bethyl and the Illumined Wood for many generations, unlike this new folk who could only trace a single generation within the village.

Growing weary of the hateful ranting of the man on the platform he guided the donkey and cart around the outskirts of the crowd and down the main street, where many of the shops he still needed to visit were.

Side street after side street, Devlyn entered into one shop after another. It finally came to the point where the cart was decently full and only one item required purchasing. It just so happened that the last item was only found in an obscure shop filled with objects of a foreign nature on the easternmost edge of Cor’lera, largely inhabited by the Lucillian population. He always wondered if there was any connection between the Lucillians and the Illumined Wood, which sprawled vastly to the east. He remembered hearing that those with elven blood in their veins had some sort of intimacy with nature. Never truly feeling sentimental about trees, Devlyn simply doubted it all together, but if what they said about the Elves were true, then the elven blood in him and the other Lucillians must have run dry with their immortality, leaving behind only slanted features, long pointed ears, and a freakish height.

The particular shop he headed for carried his Aunt Vine’s favorite candies. The owner claimed to import them from a city to the south, whose exact location he refused to disclose. The shop keep was friendly enough and most people paid only as much mind to him as he paid to them, which was quite miniscule. They left him to mind his own business as they minded theirs.

The neighbors found him very curious, after all, he and his daughter were the only people to have moved from a kingdom other than Perrien to Cor’lera as far back as the villagers could remember, and their memories were quite long, stretching back generation upon generation. The shop keep refrained from sharing his own opinions on the broader world and never mentioned the Lucillian Alliance. He seemed to care only for his small shop, which served the villagers well, especially since many of them enjoyed the unique wares he would collect from the south, Aunt Vine above all.

For reasons beyond Devlyn, the shop keep even managed to stay out of the debate surrounding the superiority of Perrien and full blooded Humans. Since Devlyn had reason to visit the shop somewhat frequently, the shop keep had embraced him in friendship and insisted on being called Walei, even though the rest of the village knew him as Master Wallus.

Devlyn walked through the shop door and saw Walei stocking and organizing the shelves, as was his custom whenever customers were lacking. “Hello Master Wallus. How’s everything today?” Devlyn inquired properly.

“Just Walei, Master Devlyn,” replied the shop keep without so much as turning his head from the shelves. The back of his head showed his greying hair. It was doubtful that Walei had ever been mistaken as thin; he had a round body, with an even rounder face, no less than three chins were found on a regular basis, on some occasions, Devlyn swore he could count four. “Are you here for another batch of my candies for your Aunt? Who, just so happens to be my best patron mind you.”

“You know my visits are conditioned on the Abbots supply of my Aunt’s favorite candies. Although, if the Abbot heard you refer to her as my Aunt, you would get an earful of how it simply is not plausible for Lucillian blood to mix with a full blooded Human. I’ve also heard him say that once his supposed brother married my mother, the relations between my father and him ceased to exist. Any way, the order is quite large today,” he said changing the topic away from the Abbot and his familiar relations.

“Ah. Its not for that party the good ol’ Abbot is throwing tonight is it?”

“Well yea, how’d you hear?”

“Call it a lucky guess. Although hearing all the villagers gossip about it also helps,” said Walei with a smirk on his face, finally visible since he stepped away from the shelves and turned towards his customer and friend. “Well, what might be the amount this time.”

Pulling the list out of his pack, Devlyn looked to the bottom of the list and showed the amount listed to Walei. “That is a bit more than usual, I wonder how much is intended for the party and not just your Aunt,” said Walei as he made his way towards the storeroom, chuckling the entire way. It could not be said that he walked, but rather waddled as he laughed to himself. While Devlyn waited in the front of the shop he peered at the shelves holding various items of all shapes and sizes and colors. As he browsed amongst the shelves, Walei hollered from the back room, “By the way, it seems that I’m not the only foreigner in Cor’lera this week.”

“What makes you say that?” replied Devlyn paying more attention to a small glass figurine shaped as a bird engulfed in flames than to his friend. The bird and the fire appeared to dance before his eyes the longer he looked at the figurine.

“You mean you haven’t heard? There’s some noblewoman strolling about town. Her face looks Lucillian, but her hair's all wrong. Never have I known a Lucillian to have locks of red such as her,” hollered Walei.

Taking his gaze off of the figurine, Devlyn shifted his attention back to Walei, realizing that he was speaking of Velaria. “Do you think she’s up to something? I mean, where do you think she’s from?” said Devlyn attempting to cover his tracks.

“Couldn’t say. Haven’t seen hair that red in any of my travels. Couldn’t rightly place her. Although her stature and physical features do remind me of the Lucillians, perhaps she has some of that elven blood in her,” said Walei as he returned from the storage room. “Have you met her yet?” Walei held a suspicious look in his eyes as he waddled closer to Devlyn.

Uncertain of what to tell the man before him, Devlyn decided it best to deceive his friend. He figured the fewer people who knew of his meeting with Velaria the better. Eyes downcast, Devlyn turned slightly away from his friend in a nervous manner. “Hmm. Perhaps you’d be a better liar if you didn’t care about the person you were lying to,” said Walei.

“What are talking about?” said Devlyn in an attempt to play dumb.

“You really shouldn’t lie,” began Walei before continuing in a hushed tone, “but I suppose it was a necessary precaution. It’s all right; you don’t have to explain yourself. Velaria and I are old friends. She’s a secretive woman, like as not, she probably requested you to not mention you and her meeting. Although she would never lie, she detests the very act. She finds her way around saying the whole truth without uttering a single untrue statement. Any way, I won’t say too much here, its not safe you see. She’s trustworthy. You have no need to worry about her steering you astray.”

“How,” Devlyn began without knowing what question to follow with.

With a kind smile, Walei looked at Devlyn and said, “How indeed. You’ll know when we meet again. But that won’t be for quite a while I think. You should be on your way. May we merrily greet each other again one day.”

With more questions than he started with the confused Devlyn was kindly hushed from the shop. He made his way to the cart and placed the box of candies inside. He was about to climb atop the donkey when the poorly kept Cor Inn caught his eye. Overwhelmed by unanswered questions he led the donkey and cart to the side of the old abandoned inn and sought a back entrance. 

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