Betrayal of Blood
She could hear the loud thud of her heart as it beat a rapid rhythm against her chest. It was almost painful to swallow past the lump that occupied her throat.
All she could think was, how she could have been so stupid.
Until recently Sle’niazza and Kallesezza, her twin sister, had been joint heirs to the Seat of Power of the Dhyaeri.
Now they were the lowest of the low; even common criminals were treated with more respect. For by their actions they had been declared traitors.
She knew that for what they had done, they deserved worse than death.
Sle’niazza glanced at her sister. Unlike her, Kallesezza boldly stared at the surrounding Dyhaeri with utter contempt; her hands twitched as she yearned to Wield Fire on those who dared judge her. Sle’niazza shook her head with shame.
A murmur of voices in the Royal Court heralded the arrival of certain senior Dyhaeri and Jahlaniin—the King of the Dyhaeri and the father of the accused. Sle’niazza found it harder to breathe as her eyes followed her father. The pale green-skinned monarch walked slowly to the Seat; but he did not sit down. He stood beside it and stared at it for a long time.
King Jahlaniin had lived for eleven human centuries; he had led his people to war against the Alkynaia, who were known as the dreaded ‘sea serpents’ by the land mortal humans, and settled age-old disputes between the Holds of the Dyhaeri.
Yet the once-proud monarch had never looked so vulnerable. His naked broad shoulders were slumped, and his usually-immaculate shoulder-length dark green locks were unkempt.
Jahlaniin eventually straightened to address his people.
The blue-tinted crystal underwater cavern was full with Dyhaeri who pressed against each other, yet gave much space to the accused.
No one wanted the shadow of the sisters to fall upon them. It was bad enough sharing the sea with betrayers of blood.
The King’s emerald gaze rested on his daughters for several moments; Sle’niazza dropped her tear-filled eyes out of shame and even Kallesezza discovered she could not meet her father’s stare for long.
“People of Dyhaeri: we have gathered here today to judge Princess Sle’niazza and Princess Kallesezza. Their crime is known to all; there is no need to retell the series of events that have led to this regrettable moment.”
The King paused; it was clear from the tightening of his handsome features that the following words would cause him great pain.
“The Seers, the High Priest and the senior commanders and I have reached a verdict. From today, the princesses are to be stripped of all privileges and territories; they will be taken to the surface and exiled to the land of men.”
Sle’niazza couldn’t prevent the sound of horror that left her lips; her sister was pale-faced and for the first time in several decades…scared.
The king continued, “My daughters shall be changed into the humans that exist on the land. They will share the frailty and mortality of man. Never again will they be permitted to touch the waters of the Dyhaeri; a violation of the verdict will be met with dire consequences.”
Sle’niazza fell to her knees, unable to stand any longer; she stretched out a hand to her father.
“Please,” she pleaded through a veil of tears. Jahlaniin’s eyes held unshed tears; unconsciously he lifted a hand towards his daughter.
“NO!!!” screamed Kallesezza as she wielded and in one fluid motion flung a large fireball at the king. Jahlaniin calmly lifted his right hand and a sphere of water enveloped the fiery missile, eliminating the threat. Kallesezza didn’t have a chance to follow up before several Dyhaeri restrained her with Soilan bracelets.
There was no need to restrain Sle’niazza, she had lost the will to wield a long time ago.
An elderly Dyhaeri stepped forward from the council members, he went to Jahlaniin and presented a tray made of pure white crystal. Resting on it was the ceremonial bronze dagger used in the crime. With it, the king was to perform the binding act that would mark the expulsion of the sisters.
Jahlaniin turned away from the offering. “Take it away,” he snapped.
Hope flared in Sle’niazza’s breast, it died when he regarded his daughters with dead eyes. He lifted his right hand to his bare, muscular chest and wielded, lengthening his slim fingers to sharp, watery talons. He pressed the five points into the flesh of his right shoulder and began to move the hand diagonally downward, lacerating the pale green skin and causing reddish-green blood to flow. Through it all, the king’s voice was lifeless.
“As I rend the flesh from my body, may the accused be cleaved from the realm of Dyhaeri for all eternity.” Jahlaniin turned his back on his daughters.
Sle’niazza shook her head in disbelief, she tried to move forward but firm hands held her and began to drag her and Kallesezza away. She could dimly hear her sister curse the king and the council.
It was late into the Change that she finally remembered to scream.
Matrell shaded his eyes to look at the sun. It was past midday, and they still hadn’t found what they were looking for. He sighed and hurried after the man ahead of him.
“Uncle, it’s getting late. We have to go back to the ship.”
The middle-aged sailor with olive skin grinned at his nephew. “Ahh, already feeling land sick, aye?”
Matrell smiled dryly. “Not as much as you are.”
Captain Geharn sniffed. “Cheeky lad.”
He turned and walked further inland. Matrell had no choice but to follow, wondering for the umpteenth time why they had stopped at this deserted island in the middle of nowhere.
Several days ago, their ship, the Ocean-star, had met a Dyhaeri. This was common for anyone who sailed the Heldiar Sea. The Dyhaeri were magical humanoid inhabitants of the sea, they had pale green-skinned, lithe bodies that cut through the waves like a knife. The males usually wore tunics and breeches woven out of seaweed, while the same material covered bosom and groins of the females. Many believed they used magic to breathe under water because of their lack of gills. Their territories had unseen borders which sailors had learnt centuries ago to respect—and fear.
When a ship approached one of these borders, a Dyhaeri appeared on the deck and waited for someone to approach. After the disastrous war between humans and Dyhaeri centuries ago, a treaty was reached. The Dyhaeri would only let ships cross their territories provided that there was at least one wielder on board. The Dyhaeri usually asked the name of the wielder, the name of the ship, and its purpose for being in Dyhaeri territory. Many believed that true answers that weren’t threatening to the Dyhaeri assured safe passage for the ship. This belief resulted in every ship employing at least one wielder.
As usual, the crew gathered to hear the Dyhaeri question Ciriad, the only wielder on board the ship. Matrell noticed that the well-built male Dyhaeri had an ugly scar running diagonally from his right shoulder to beneath the left nipple. It looked like some vicious sea creature had mauled the Dyhaeri. After the usual questions were answered, Matrell expected the Dyhaeri to return to the water; but he lingered and had a brief dialogue with the Captain.
Geharn had gone pale, and immediately ordered everyone to return to work. Matrell noticed the stern look on his uncle’s face and made himself scarce.
From a distance, he watched the scarred Dyhaeri converse with Ciriad and Geharn for a few minutes before the sea dweller left. When Matrell cornered Ciriad later and asked what the Dyhaeri had said, she told him to ask the captain.
Matrell, to her surprise, did just that.
Geharn’s response was evasive. “He just wanted to tell us where we can stop for supplies.”
The answer left Matrell speechless. The Ocean-star had enough supplies for the next eleven months, for Weltonians tried to spend as little time as they could on land. For them, the sea was their home; the city people nicknamed them “Dyhaeri-born” because of their dislike for land.
The captain’s blank expression discouraged Matrell from asking more questions. Afterwards, the captain changed the course of the ship and brought them close to an island that was not on the map. Geharn had wanted to go ashore alone, but Matrell insisted on joining him.
The captain stared at his nephew for a long time; at one point, Matrell thought he might have to disobey orders, but finally Geharn nodded reluctantly. The two Weltonians then spent several hours searching the small rocky island; it didn’t take long for Matrell to realize the place was deserted except for animal life.
Matrell decided it was time he was told the truth about why they were on this island. He knew it had to do with the scarred Dyhaeri.
“Captain, I believe it would help greatly if I knew why we’re on this particular island.”
Geharn continued walking towards a pile of rocks. “We’re looking for someone.”
The young man’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “What? Who would be stranded out here?”
“I don’t know,” muttered Geharn tiredly, as he bent down to examine a piece of dried up seaweed. He picked it up and stared at it for several moments before giving it to his nephew.
Matrell touched the dry plant, he guessed it had been there for less than a week. It wasn’t brittle.
“I think we should split up,” suggested Geharn. “Take the right side of these rocks, I’ll look to the other side.”
Matrell was alarmed at the idea. “Is that wise?”
“Don’t worry, I don’t think there are any dangerous animals on this island,” assured Geharn.
“Are you confident about that?” asked Matrell.
Geharn shrugged. “Not really,” he said, then he left to begin his search. Matrell stood in the same position for a long time before forcing himself to go in the opposite direction. He reluctantly realized the quicker they searched the whole island, the sooner they could return to the ship.
He turned the corner and saw a small opening just small enough for a man to crawl into. Matrell would have walked past it, but for some unknown reason he decided to take a look. He first poked the hole with a thin long stick, in case there was a ferocious predator within the crevice. When there was no response, he withdrew the stick, got down on his knees, and crawled in.
The interior of the cave was dark, however, his eyesight adjusted quickly to the limited natural light that came from outside. He straightened up to his full height and looked around the spacious cave. It appeared empty except for a pile of rocks in the shadows at the back, he had just decided to leave when he saw the rocks move.
Matrell froze, a low, weak moan quickly turned his fear to concern. He walked toward the sound and stopped when his leather boot hit yielding flesh. Matrell bent and touched a warm human foot. He had found the person they’d been searching for.
“Drink this,” said Ciriad gently, as she helped the girl drink water from an earthen bowl.
Matrell and Geharn stood in the background, watching the two women. When Matrell had found the girl, he left the cave and ran shouting for Geharn. Fortunately, the captain had not been far away, and quickly responded to his nephew’s calls.
Several minutes later they were removing the unconscious girl from the cave. Matrell instantly recognized the signs of dehydration; her lips were chapped and cracked, and her pale pink skin was dry and feverish. But what drew his attention most was her clothing; she wore only what looked like woven seaweed covering her breasts and groin region.
Like a Dyhaeri.
He looked at his uncle and was surprised to see a scared look on the captain’s face. Geharn pushed back her dusty red hair and tried to get her to drink water.
“She’s too weak,” said Geharn. “We have to take her back to the ship.”
Mantrell agreed. He removed his cloak and covered the girl’s body to preserve her modesty.
Ciriad was waiting for them on board the ship and, to Matrell’s surprise, already had a bed made for the girl. Like Geharn, she took one look at the young woman and turned pale.
“Who is she?” whispered Matrell, as he and Geharn watched Ciriad clean the girl’s forehead with a wet cloth. “And don’t tell me you don’t know, because the fear I’ve seen on your faces tells me you know plenty.”
Geharn glanced at his nephew with mock approval. “My, you have grown; next I might just see you commanding a fleet.”
Matrell’s face coloured with embarrassment, but he refused to back down. “Uncle…” he began.
“All right,” interrupted Geharn. “Since you’ve asked so nicely, I’ll tell you.”
He hesitated. “I don’t know who she is.”
Mantrell’s eyes narrowed.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, I’m telling you all I know. She’s just dressed…like someone I’ve seen before.”
Matrell saw the skin around his uncle’s eyes tighten with anxiety.
“What did the male Dyhaeri tell you?”
Geharn didn’t have to ask which Dyhaeri he meant. “He asked Ciriad and I if we wanted to trade.”
Matrell’s jaw dropped. The Dyhaeri traded with no one, merchants had tried, hoping they could convince the sea dwellers to let them salvage the countless treasures from sunken ships. They always refused.
“And…and what was your reply?” stammered Matrell.
“I declined, instead I asked him if we could help him. That was when he said we should check this island using certain co-ordinates, that there may be someone we could help. He refused to say any more on the subject.”
Matrell nodded in approval. There were men who would sell their souls to get a chance to trade with the Dyhaeri, and yet his uncle had refused to do so.
All Weltonians believed that once the sea had claimed something, it belonged there for all eternity. This included treasure. Matrell’s uncle had stood firm in his beliefs in the face of material gains, when most would have fallen.
Matrell turned to look at the strangely-clad girl. “So, what happens now?”
“We get some answers,” replied Geharn. The captain approached the bed where the girl lay covered with a light blanket.
Ciriad pursed her lips in a displeased line when she saw the two men. “She needs to rest,” she stated firmly.
Geharn smiled at the wielder. “I promise this won’t take long.”
“Where am I?” asked the girl in an oddly melodious tone.
“You’re on board the Ocean-star, a Weltonian ship,” answered Geharn.
The girl fixed emerald eyes on the two men, staring at them for a long time.
“You are humans,” she said in a slightly shaken voice.
Geharn and Matrell shared a puzzled glance.
“As are you,” said Geharn. The girl shook her head and leaned back against the bulkhead, she closed her eyes wearily.
Ciriad glared at the captain. “Are you finished now?”
Geharn smiled back at Ciriad. “Not quite.”
“Forgive my manners. I am Captain Geharn Vlenia. This is my nephew, Matrell Vlenia, and you’ve met Wielder Ciriad Sedea.”
The girl’s eyes opened at the word ‘wielder.’ She turned to Ciriad. “You’re a wielder?” she asked in a stronger voice.
“Yes, a water wielder,” answered Ciriad pleasantly.
“And what is your name?” asked Geharn.
The girl hesitated for some time. “Sle’niazza… an air-wielder.”
Her attitude worried Matrell. The name sounded strange, he looked at Geharn and Ciriad and saw from their expressions that they were concerned as well.
Geharn leaned closer. “Sle’niazza, where are you from?” he asked in a soft tone that demanded an answer.
She stared at him defiantly, then her gaze dropped. She shook her head, refusing to speak.
“Maybe we should let her rest,” suggested Matrell.
“No,” Matrell stared at Ciriad in shock. “We must know now.”
The young man turned to his uncle. “Sir, she’s exhausted. We can come back later and…”
“I am Dyhaeri,” the weak voice cut Matrell short.
“I am Dyhaeri,” wailed Sle’niazza a second time. “But now I’m human.” The last word was said with disgust. Tears streamed down her face as she looked at them with anger. “You should have left me to die!”
Matrell leaned against the side of the ship, and stared into the rushing water beneath the ship’s bow. He didn’t turn when he heard footsteps behind him.
Geharn sighed as he stopped beside his nephew. “I knew I would find you here.”
Matrell said nothing.
“Are you all right?” asked the captain. The answer took some time coming.
“No, not really.”
Geharn nodded. “That’s not surprising, after all we’ve heard.”
Matrell closed his eyes, he wished he could forget what he knew now. It had taken some time for Sle’niazza to calm down before she could tell her story. She and her twin sister, Kallesezza, were once joint heirs to the Seat of Power that governed the Dyhaeri.
But before they could ascend to such an exalted position, certain respected, senior dyhaeri had to decide if the heirs would make suitable joint rulers. Unfortunately; the sisters were found wanting and declared unworthy of the throne. Naturally, this decision stunned and then angered the sisters, especially when they realized that their sire agreed with the council.
The king and the council decided that they should wait a couple centuries before re-evaluating the princesses’ characters. But the sisters were impatient—and still very angry. They hatched a plan to discredit their father’s ability to rule by rendering him insane.
The plan would have worked, if Kallesezza hadn’t decided to change it at the last minute by attempting to kill the king with an ensorcelled ceremonial dagger instead. The sisters were caught and tried for the worst crime in the realm—the betrayal of blood.
The trial that followed was swift and ended with a horrifying sentence—they were to be transformed into humans and exiled to the mortal world. The fact that their ability to wield wasn’t taken from them also remained a poor consolation, to the sisters, death would have been kinder.
Sle’niazza woke to find herself on a small deserted island. Upon realizing that her sister wasn’t with her, she simply found the nearest cave and crawled in to die. She would have been successful if the Weltonians hadn’t found her.
Matrell was beginning to wonder if saving her wasn’t an act they would live to regret.
“We did the right thing,” said Geharn, as if he could read his thoughts.
Matrell looked at his uncle with troubled eyes. “Did we? She was exiled for trying to kill her father, her own blood! In any human kingdom, she and her sister would have been executed on the spot!”
Geharn nodded. “True, but this is the Dyhaeri we are talking about—the immortal folk of the sea. Note the word ‘immortal’: they turned the sisters into humans and left them on the place they hate the most—land. I believe the sentence was cruel enough.”
Matrell stared at the captain. “You actually feel sorry for her!”
Geharn smiled sadly. “Of course, I do. She might have wanted her father mad, but not dead.”
A puzzled frown appeared on Matrell’s face. “What do you mean?”
“She said Kallesezza changed the plan at the last moment. Sle’niazza didn’t want to kill the king.”
Matrell gaped at him. “And you believe her?”
Several seconds passed before the captain replied. “Aye, I do.”
Sle’niazza heard the cabin door open behind her, she refused to turn away from the ship’s bulwark and tried to make herself smaller under the blankets. There were audible footsteps as someone walked up to the bed and stood over her.
A few seconds of silence passed before the visitor spoke in a hesitant manner.
“H-how are you feeling?”
Sle’niazza felt irritated by the question—she refused to turn.
The man raised his voice a bit. “I-I asked how are you…”
Sle’niazza finally turned her head in the direction of the voice. “I heard you the first time.”
“Oh,” said the human male in a low voice.
Sle’niazza expected him to leave, and got angrier when he didn’t. She sat up and faced him. It was one of the men who had found her—the younger one. She recalled the distrustful look that had appeared on his arresting features when she told her story. Now, the expression on his face was one of pity.
She preferred the former expression.
“What do you want?” she asked in a harsh tone.
The Weltonian’s dark brown eyes were calm. “To help you.”
Sle’niazza gave him an incredulous look. “How?”
“Living among…humans will be difficult, however, I’m sure you will get used to it.”
She glared at him. “What makes you think I will stay with humans? I was all right by myself before you came along.”
“Yes, you were doing quite well at dying alone,” said Matrell softly.
Sle’niazza lifted her head and fixed him with an icy stare. “How dare you…”
“State the obvious?” asked Matrell in the same gentle tone. “The way I see it, you have two choices—to die or to live. Either takes effort, but what differs is the rewards reaped.”
“Like what rewards?” asked Sle’niazza, interested despite herself.
“Death will give you nothing, life may give you everything…if you sail with the right winds.”
Sle’niazza laughed bitterly. “The right winds, huh? I have apparently been sailing with the wrong winds. Is that what has brought me…this?” She pointed to her human appearance.
Matrell’s eyes were grave. “You know the answer to that question.”
Sle’niazza looked away and stared at the light blue blanket on her lap. She lifted her head. “How did you find me?”
The young woman stared at him. “Someone told you, of that I’m sure. Who was it?”
“A male Dyhaeri,” Matrell replied, eventually.
Sle’niazza’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “That’s impossible, describe him.”
The weltonian complied, describing the man to her. She turned pale when he described the scar on the dyhaeri’s chest.
“You lie,” she gasped in shock.
“Who is he?” asked Matrell. For a long time, he thought she wouldn’t answer.
“My father,” she replied, her voice barely audible.
“I see,” said a stunned Matrell. The fact that the king of the Dyhaeri had graced the deck of the Ocean-star to ask for help was a little hard to take in.
“Please,” his thoughts were cut short by Sle’niazza’s bleak voice. “Please leave me. I need to be alone.”
Matrell nodded silently and left the cabin.
Three days passed before Matrell saw her again. After he told Geharn and Ciriad what he had found out, they advised him to leave Sle’niazza alone for the time being.
Then one windy evening, as he walked on the deck, he saw a lone figure leaning over the side of the ship. He approached, intending to call out, but stopped when he recognized the distinct wind-swept red hair. He walked up to her slowly so as not to startle her, stopped beside her, and glanced at her before greeting her as calmly as he could.
She looked at him, then turned back to stare at the rushing waves below. The two stood side by side for several moments in silence.
“Do you think he’s here watching?” asked Sle’niazza softly.
Matrell didn’t have to ask who she meant. “I don’t know.”
Sle’niazza smiled sadly. “I…used to know, certain dyhaeri could detect other dyhaeri over short or long distances. All you had to do was feel,” she paused, her face drawn by irreplaceable loss. “Now, I feel nothing.”
Matrell’s heart ached at the raw pain in her voice. “Do you feel the wind?”
She looked at him, her unbound hair blown back by the strong breeze. “Of course.”
Suddenly, the sound of the whistling wind was muted, and her hair settled about her heart-shaped face.
As always, those with the ability to wield any of the elements never failed to impress Matrell.
“Not bad,” he said with a smile. He was surprised to see Sle’niazza blush and mutter a thank you. Then she looked at the waters and her countenance became solemn.
“I wonder where Kallesezza is.”
Matrell wanted to tell her that she was much better off without her sister, but held his tongue.
“I’m sure your father saw to her safety as well,” he said instead.
“Why would he do that?” asked Sle’niazza softly. “Why would he save the very people that tried to kill him?”
Matrell chose his words with care. “It’s probably because you and your sister are his blood; no law or verdict is going to change that.”
As he spoke, his heart broke when he saw the tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. Matrell looked away, clearly uncomfortable with her pain, and angry with himself for saying the wrong thing. He thought it best if he left.
“I…have to go…I’ll…” His words were cut short when she grabbed his right hand.
“No…please stay…just for awhile,” she pleaded.
Matrell patted her hand gently. “Of course, I’ll stay.”
Days, then weeks passed, and Sle’niazza slowly became one of the weltonians.
By mutual consent, the captain, Ciriad, and Matrell decided not to tell the others who she really was. Such information was sure to endanger her life and those of the weltonians.
Sle’niazza made a few changes of her own by insisting that everyone call her Slenea. She also spent most of her time with Matrell, when she wasn’t wielding to increase the ship’s speed. Oddly enough, no one thought it strange that she was always below deck when a dyhaeri came on board to ask the usual questions.
A year passed with Slenea becoming a well-integrated member of the ship’s crew, finally, the captain’s nephew nervously approached her, asking her to marry him.
She raised one eyebrow, smiled and simply replied “It’s about time.”
The wedding was a joyous event, but when it came to the final part where she and Matrell were to be thrown into the water by family and friends, Slenea was justifiably frightened, remembering the curse that her father cast when she was made human.
Fortunately, Ciriad had thought ahead and suspended a huge sphere of water above the deck. The happy couple were tossed into the watery ball, where they swarm for the required five minutes.
Time passed, and their family grew to include a lovely baby boy, named Lanead. His mother was very protective of him, and always turned pale when he swam in the sea with his father or friends. But nothing ever happened, and she came to believe that her curse didn’t extend to her offspring, which relieved some of her worries.
For seven years, Slenea lived a contented life as a human, even though she never again entered the water.
Then one morning Matrell woke her early.
“What is it?” she asked sleepily.
“Pirates,” answered Matrell. That single word in addition to the worry in his eyes made her forget sleep.
She sat up quickly. “How long ago?” She hurriedly reached for her breeches.
“About half and hour.”
She gaped at him. “You should have woken me sooner!”
Matrell walked towards their cabin door. “I didn’t think there was need to, Ciriad increased the distance between us and the ship—but now it’s decreasing rapidly.”
Slenea followed him out on deck; her eyes scanned the people rushing about. “Where’s Lanead?”
A child’s voice answered before Matrell could say a word. “Over here, mother.”
The two parents turned to the left to see their six-year old staring at them.
“Lanead, I told you to stay with the captain,” scolded Matrell.
The boy shrugged, his black curly hair and emerald eyes making him look older than his years. “He was busy.”
Matrell pressed his lips in a thin line of disapproval. Slenea bent down to hold her son gently by the arms.
“Son, right now we have very, very big work to do, I need you to go with your father below deck.” Lanead glanced at the crewmembers running about.
“Because of the pirates?’ asked the child. Matrell smiled, their son was a quick one.
“Yes, dear,” said Slenea. “You’ll play with the other children while we work.”
Lanead’s adorable face scrunched into a frown. “But those kids are boring. I want to stay and watch you wield.”
Slenea shook her head. “No, son, now go with father.”
Lanead sighed. “Yes mother.”
He took his father’s outstretched hand and begrudgingly left with him. Slenea immediately ran to the aft of the ship where Ciriad was sure to be. The grey-haired wielder’s hair was in disarray, as she manipulated the waves and used them to propel the ship forward.
“Would appreciate some help, if you don’t mind,” said Ciriad, without turning. Slenea was already boosting the speed by applying wind to the sails. Then she turned to look at the pursuing ship. She couldn’t see it very clearly but thought the sails were greenish in colour.
She felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather.
“Those sails…” she muttered.
“Are green in colour,” added Ciriad grimly.
Slenea felt her heart freeze. There was a notorious pirate known as The Red; his ship had distinct green sails and was known as the Emerald Spear. The Ocean-star had been fortunate to never run into the pirate ship, for it was rumoured that it left no survivors in its wake.
Slenea tried to wield harder. “We can’t let them catch us.”
Ciriad’s face was drawn with strain. “Then pray they tire of this chase soon enough…for I don’t think I can hold out much longer.”
Slenea looked back at the ship; it was getting closer. Hurried footsteps announced Geharn’s presence.
“It’s the Spear all right,” he stated bleakly. He looked at the two women. “Ladies, I believe we may have to stop and fight, if we keep on this way, you will run out of strength.”
Slenea shook her head quickly. “We can’t stop and fight, Captain. That would be suicide!”
“I agree,” said Ciriad.
Geharn looked at the two women, then at the pursuing ship. “That ship is still going to catch up with us.”
“We’ll cross that sea when we come to it,” stated Slenea firmly.
The captain continued to watch the oncoming ship. “I believe that time will be all too soon.”
Slenea turned to look, and gasped when she saw the ship had gained rapidly. But that wasn’t all; a huge ball of fire was launched from the pursuing ship toward the Ocean-star.
It fell about 20 feet short.
Geharn’s face was pale with fear and fury. “They’re using a fire-wielder; I’ll tell the crew to prepare for boarding.” He left the two wielders as they desperately tried to increase the ship’s speed.
Another fiery missile was launched, it still fell short but was closer than the last one.
“They’re checking the range,” said Ciriad.
Slenea said nothing, her attention on the rapidly approaching ship. A third ball of fire was launched. Slenea knew this one would hit the ship; she wielded and was able to deflect the missile, but several more were launched in rapid succession.
Slenea had to leave the sails to concentrate on protecting the ship. Ciriad continued trying to increase the ship’s speed, but it was too much for her. She slumped to the ground. Slenea cried out her name as she narrowly deflected a fireball.
The air-wielder had to stand and deflect the deadly fiery rain, while her friend lay a few feet from her.
“Slenea!” called Matrell. From the corner of her eye, she saw Martell run up to her, sporting two long knives on his belt.
“Help Ciriad,” shouted Slenea, as she focused on the task before her.
Matrell quickly knelt beside the water-wielder and tried to revive her. The pirate vessel was much closer now, she could see the eager, bloodthirsty faces of the men that waited to board the Weltonian vessel.
The Spear drew alongside the left side of the Ocean-star, dwarfing her in size. Fireballs began to rain from the port side. Slenea was too exhausted and far away to Wield effectively, and watched helplessly as the blazing missiles hit the deck. The vessel trembled violently, and she lost her balance as the screams of those unfortunate enough to be engulfed by flames sounded in the background.
She slowly rose, dazed, as several spheres of water rose from the depths and quenched the fire.
Slenea coughed. “Ciriad?”
“Right here,” answered the water-wielder weakly.
“Great job in dousing the fire, Ciriad,” praised Slenea.
“Nothing to it,” coughed Ciriad.
Slenea realized someone was lying beside the wielder. “Matrell?” She felt a sharp pain in her heart. She rushed to her husband’s side and turned him over. He had a small gash on his forehead.
She almost wept for joy when she saw him open his eyes.
“What’s happened?” he said groggily as he tried to sit up.
“They’re preparing to board,” replied Ciriad weakly as she tried to stand. “That’s if their wielder doesn’t turn us to ashes first.”
Slenea stood. The deck was covered with smoke, yet she knew the pirate ship would soon board. She had to get to Lanead before the pirates harmed him. Slenea ran towards the smoke.
“Slenea, wait!” cried Matrell as he hurried after her.
Surprisingly, the fire-wielder hadn’t struck again, but hooks and ropes were being used to attach to the Ocean-star. The weltonians tried to cut the robes as they landed, but there were too many of them.
It wasn’t long before bloodcurdling cries were being issued from the throats of the pirates as they swung over to the damaged ship. Soon Matrell was fighting for his life; it was hard to see, then suddenly the smoke cleared as if being blown by a strong wind.
Matrell was grateful for his wife’s quick thinking, but despaired when he realized that his people were outnumbered by four to one. Matrell searched for Slenea as he fought to stay alive; occasionally, a water-spear would impale a pirate or an unseen force would topple several pirates overboard.
Yet it wasn’t enough. Eventually he saw Slenea in the corner of the ship, she had the children behind her, and was throwing the pirates that tried to reach her into the sea with her ropes of air. From where he was, he could already see the strained look on her face, it was only a matter of time before she wielded to the point of no return.
Matrell continued to fight his way toward his wife, leaving devastation in his wake. Pirate after pirate fell before his long knives, until a small pirate wearing a red vest and a wide-brimmed black hat blocked his path. Matrell instinctively knew this was The Red; he charged with a roar.
Then the pirate looked up into his eyes.
Matrell halted and stared in shock. “You…” he began, before a hard blow from behind landed on the back of his head.
He fell into pure darkness.
Slenea’s wrists ached from the tight ropes that bound her hands together. She and the other few survivors were under guard. Slenea and Ciriad were separated by a small distance from the children, she tried to smile at her frightened son. The little boy huddled beside his unconscious father. Slenea had seen Matrell fall before the small pirate in the red vest and wide black hat—something about the pirate was familiar, but she couldn’t recall what it was.
All she wanted was for her family to be safe. Matrell and Lanead were alive, but for how long? She turned to Ciriad, who sported a bloody lip similar to Slenea’s. Both had been too weak to wield, but that didn’t stop them from fighting.
“How are you feeling?” whispered Slenea.
Ciriad winced. “I think some teeth are loose.”
Slenea’s eyes showed her sympathy. “That’s terrible.”
Ciriad looked at the pirates watching them. “Not as terrible as what they are going to do to us. Do you realize they wanted the two of us alive?”
Slenea shivered. “Unlike the Dyhaeri, wielders are rare among humans, maybe they will sell us to the highest bidder.”
Ciriad’s face paled. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Footsteps made the two women look up, a tall, hefty pirate stood before them. Slenea recognized him, he was the one who gave her a bloody lip when she resisted being tied.
He pointed at Slenea. “The Red wants you.” Slenea’s throat felt dry as her heart beat a rapid rhythm.
“Why?” she managed to ask calmly. The pirate leered at her, and hurled her to her feet without answering. He began to drag her away, she finally managed to stop him when she wrenched her arm free.
“I can walk,” she said coldly. The pirate gave her a mock bow and pointed at the captain’s cabin. Her steps faltered when she saw Geharn’s corpse across the doorway, his body was being used as a doormat.
She heard the pirate laugh mockingly. “Why, my lady, care to wipe your feet?” She ignored him and bent down to remove Geharn’s body, in a show of respect.
The pirate’s eyes bulged in outrage. “Why, you little…”
He moved to stop her, when the captain’s door opened.
“What’s all this noise?” asked a feminine voice.
Slenea gasped and looked up to stare into a face that was identical to hers. Kallesezza returned the stare.
“It’s good to see you…sister.”
The pirate straightened quickly when the Red spoke. She stared at the captive wielder for several moments before touching her bloody lip. The captive flinched. The Red turned her cool green eyes on him.
“I assume she struggled, hence the bloody lip.” It wasn’t a question.
The blonde pirate swallowed nervously. “Yes, Captain. I had to…to… hit her to get her to keep still.”
A strange light appeared in the Red’s eyes.
“Ahh…so you hit her; thanks for telling me, that saves you from extra work.”
The pirate looked pleased and puzzled by the strange praise. “Eh…work, Captain?”
The Red smiled coldly. She walked up to him and softly caressed his chin and his broad naked chest. She bit her lower lip, the pirate smiled, thinking he knew what was to follow.
“Yes, because you’ll be too busy…” said the Red. “…living with pain!”
Immediately the pirate was hit by burning pain in the areas touched by her hand. The huge man felt to his knees and screamed.
Slenea saw nearby pirates tremble and quickly turn away. Her sister bent down until her head was close to the pirate’s ear.
“Never hit a captive that I want alive until I tell you to—is that clear?” The sobbing giant of a pirate hastily nodded. The Red smiled.
“Good,” she ruffled his hair, which made him flinch. “Now off with you, get cleaned up. You have soiled yourself.” The pirate pulled himself up and staggered away.
Kallesezza turned to face Slenea. She grinned at her. “I’m so sorry about that, it won’t happen again.”
Slenea said nothing.
Kallesezza’s smile slipped a bit. “Why, sister, I’m getting the feeling that you’re not happy to see me.”
“Why did you attack us?” demanded Slenea. “These people never did anything to you.”
Kallesezza walked over to Slenea and lightly touched the ropes at her wrists, they fell away with the faint smell of burnt fibre. Slenea rubbed her wrists.
“Sle’niazza, don’t you realize I’m a pirate now? This is our way of life—to plunder and raid each and every vessel we meet.”
Slenea shook her head. “I don’t believe you. Kallesezza, this isn’t you. What do you gain from destroying innocent lives?”
Kallesezza’s eyes glittered with suppressed rage. “You’re right, this isn’t me. I was once the heir to the oldest civilization in this world, but now that’s all gone because you decided to back out at the last moment!”
Slenea glared at her. “We betrayed our blood, sister, that is the worst crime we could commit. Even if we had succeeded, the people would never have accepted us no matter what reason we gave for taking such drastic action.”
Kallesezza’s eyes narrowed, head shaking. “You’re gotten really soft, we used to think alike, but now you’re different.”
“I disagree. How did you end up with pirates?” asked Slenea.
Kallesezza looked at Geharn’s corpse. “I was on some godforsaken island when some Weltonians showed up and rescued me. Later I found out that our father,” a bitter look appeared on her face, “actually gave them directions.” She turned back to her sister. “I guess the same happened to you as well.”
Matrell had been right; their father had seen to the twins’ safety. Slenea stared at her sister, something had happened to the weltonians who had saved her. She was certain it wasn’t beneficial to their health.
Kallesezza laughed. “I know what you’re thinking, you’re wondering what happened to those poor people who rescued me,” she paused. “We ran into a pirate ship…and I just had to join the pirates.”
She looked amused at the shocked look on her sister’s face. “Of course, none of the weltonians survived.”
Slenea felt sick to her stomach.
Kallesezza continued. “I, naturally, became captain when I showed the crew just how capable I was.”
Slenea took that to mean that her sister had killed the previous captain.
“Ever since, we have been raiding under my command,” she stated breezily, “and the plunder has been good.”
Her exquisite face suddenly darkened. “But, there remains one problem.” She eyed her sister. “Do you know what humans lust for more than anything?”
Slenea was afraid to ask, so she kept silent.
“Immortality, dear sister.” Kallesezza stared into space, for the second time in her life, Slenea saw fear on her twin’s face.
“Immortality was what we both once had, we took it for granted…but these humans crave it so much,” she laughed bitterly. “You can’t blame them. I have seen how quickly the human body is destroyed by disease and age. I am determined not to share that fate!”
Slenea felt there was more to what Kallesezza just said. “What does that have to do with us?”
Kallesezza turned to stare at Slenea. “You still don’t understand, do you? Our beloved father turned us into humans! Already I can feel the aging of this body!” She pointed at herself violently. “We have...what? About two decades more and the grave will be calling us!”
Slenea looked at her sister with sympathy. At first, she too had been depressed by her mortality, but had learned to accept it. Kallesezza could not do that.
“Sister…” she began carefully, “this is our life now. We can’t change it. No one can. I know how you feel. All we can do is make the best of what time we have.”
Kallesezza narrowed her eyes. “It’s your human mate, isn’t it? That’s why you’ve changed,” she looked at the small number of survivors. “And I bet he’s still alive—in fact, I think I know which one he is.” She walked towards the prisoners.
Slenea hurried after, her heart pounding in dread at what she’d seen in her sister’s eyes.
“Kallesezza, he’s my husband… he means no harm. We have a son.”
The last words stopped Kallesezza in her tracks. Slenea’s heart lifted, maybe she had reached a saner part of her sister.
Kallesezza turned to face her.
Her eyes were blazing with barely held shock and fury. “A son?” she breathed.
Slenea felt a chill form around her heart; she realized instantly that Kallesezza must never see Lanead.
The pirate captain gripped Slenea’s arms. “Do you know how many weltonian ships I had to hunt down to find you? Do you know how many people I had to torture to find your location? And you had to risk your life and youth to bear a human animal!?”
Slenea looked into Kallesezza’s insane eyes and ignored her painful grip.
There were more important things to worry about.
“Why did you look for me, sister?”
Kallesezza removed a strange, silver-looking armlet from her pocket. Slenea gasped when she saw it. It was an ancient healing armlet.
She recognised it as the oldest one ever made—and the most powerful. Slenea and her sister had planned to use it to make their father insane, and thus unsuitable to reign, but Kallesezza had changed the plan to murder instead. The loss of the armlet had led to an unsuccessful ocean-wide search.
Slenea looked up at her sister, unspoken questions in her eyes.
“Yes, sister, I stole it,” said Kallesezza. “I have changed its primary function to act as a fountain of youth and health.”
“That’s impossible,” said Slenea in a weak voice.
Kallesezza smiled coldly. “Yes, it’s impossible—without a host.”
Slenea stared at her in shock as her sister calmly continued her lecture.
“You see, the armlet’s former function was that it would completely heal an injured or ill patient. However, after four years of intense study, I wrought blood runes into the very fabric of the armlet. Those runes now make it possible for the armlet to be worn permanently, and also for the youth and health of the wearer to be renewed continuously, which will be transferred to me. Thus, prolonging my life.”
“For how long?” Slenea heard herself asking.
Kallesezza’s face assumed a thoughtful expression. “Hmmm… I believe it will be for as long as the host is alive, and, since the wearer will be kept healthy and young by the armlet…I guess that will be a long time indeed. To be honest I’m still tweaking the damn thing.”
“But…but eventually that person will die…there’s no way that the host can live forever,” argued Slenea.
Kallesezza sighed dramatically. “I know, however, I’m sure that by then I would have found a replacement. But I’ve yet to find a suitable host.”
Slenea had a bad feeling where this was leading.
“Why is that?” she managed to ask in a calm voice, though her heart raced.
Kallesezza beamed at her. “Why, I thought you would never ask! You see, I have tried it on other wielders and they all died. I decided maybe I needed someone very closely related to me by blood and power. You fit the specifications,” she looked towards the survivors “and maybe you having a son is not without use; his offspring will certainly wield, too…”
That was about as far as she got before Slenea delivered a blow to the back of her head. The nearest pirates were several metres away, which gave Slenea precious little time to act. She knew she hadn’t hit Kallesezza hard enough.
Fear lent her speed and strength she didn’t know she had. She rushed to the survivors.
Matrell was now conscious but still tied. “Get Lanead!” he urged.
She hesitated for a second, then she heard Kallesezza yell her name. Slenea rushed to her son and pulled him up, giving thanks that the pirates had thought he was too small to be tied. She dashed to the side of the ship. From the corner of her eye she could see pirates running towards her.
“Mother!” wailed Lanead. “What’s happening?”
Slenea looked at her son, certain this was the last time she would see him.
“Don’t cry, we love you. Swim hard.” Then she threw him into the water. Lanead screamed as she let go. The sound ripped through her like a knife. A nearby ripple in the water made her gasp.
An Alkynaia—known to humans as sea serpents—was in the water. She prayed it wasn’t hungry.
A roar from a nearby pirate brought her back to the present, she coiled a rope of air around him and threw him toward the tell-tale ripple. Before he hit the water, a huge serpentine head emerged and caught the pirate. His screams were silenced in seconds.
The other pirates slowed their advance. Slenea risked a quick glance and saw Lanead was swimming away, the serpent’s head turned in his direction.
“Hey!” yelled Slenea. Amazingly, the serpent turned back to her.
“Have some more pirate!” she lassoed the nearest pirate with another rope of air and flung him overboard. His fate was similar to the first. The serpent’s head bobbed repeatedly, eagerly awaiting its next meal.
“Easy boys, it seems my sister is a little upset at the moment,” drawled Kallesezza. Slenea turned to see her sister slowly approaching her, despite the recent attack, she had an amused look on her face.
Slenea wished she had hit her with a heavy rock.
The female pirate stopped a few feet from Slenea. She glanced at the waiting sea serpent.
“You know that two men will barely fill the belly of an Alkynaia. It will still go after your son.”
Slenea felt her eyes water as she stared at her sister with pure rage. “Better for him to die by my hand than be a slave to your madness!”
Kallesezza laughed. “I was wrong, you’re not as soft as I thought.” She looked at a nearby pirate. “Bring the husband.”
Slenea frantically tried to grab the man with a rope of air. Nothing happened.
With sickening dread, she realized she had used up all her power. She saw her sister’s knowing smile.
“What’s the matter, dear?” taunted Kallesezza “Feeling drained, are we?”
Some of the pirates began to inch closer; Slenea tried backing away, desperately looking for a weapon.
“Why not just jump overboard?” continued Kallesezza.
The pirate that had left earlier returned, dragging Martell. Fresh blood on his lips showed evidence of the rough treatment he’d been given. His hands were still tied.
Slenea stared at her husband.
Kallesezza smiled coldly. “It’s amazing that you still think you can rescue your mate—or, maybe you’re still here because it would be suicide for you to touch Dyhaeri waters.”
The female pirate made a gesture and two more pirates grabbed Slenea.
“Whatever the reason, I can’t take the chance of losing you.”
“Slenea!” moaned Martell as he struggled to reach his wife. The pirate holding him punched him again.
“Please,” begged Slenea. “You have me, let him live. There is no reason to kill him.”
Kallesezza tilted her head. “Really?” she turned to Matrell. “Do you know your wife threw your son to a sea serpent?”
“No!” cried Slenea in denial.
Martell glared at Kallesezza. “You lie,” he spat. The female pirate gave him a pseudo-sympathetic look.
“I’m not lying, she said that she would rather kill him then let me touch him.”
Martell stared at the Red with eyes of hate. “My wife would never do such a thing.”
Kallesezza placed her hands on her hips. “Then tell me, where is your son? The last time you saw him, your wife was carrying him. So, how do you explain the presence of a sea serpent by your ship?”
Martell turned to see the serpentine monster that still lingered at the side of the ship. His face paled. He looked at his sobbing wife for several moments, then turned back to Kallesezza’s triumphant features.
“You are a monster and a murderer; your words are nothing but lies. May your soul never find peace, in this world or the next.”
Slenea’s heart grew cold as she saw the effect his words had on her sister. Kallesezza was no longer smiling; she had a thoughtful look on her face.
“It’s good to see that my sister chose a mate with a spine,” she walked over to Slenea. “Permit me to give you a belated wedding gift.” She produced the ancient armlet.
Slenea tried to draw away but the pirates held her fast. Matrell didn’t know what the device was, but it clearly frightened his wife.
“What are you doing?” He shouted, “leave her alone!” He tried to stand but was violently held down.
Kallesezza smiled as she calmly placed the armlet on Slenea’s left arm. “Don’t worry, sister, I’m sure this time, it will work.” She looked at the two pirates holding Slenea. “Hold her tightly.” Then she stepped back.
Almost immediately, Slenea felt a tingling sensation in her left arm, it developed into an itch she ached to scratch, then progressed to a deeply unpleasant burning sensation. Slenea stared at her arm, certain to find it red and swollen, but it still looked normal. The burning sensation worsened then began to spread rapidly to her face and the rest of her body. That was when the screaming started.
Matrell yelled his wife’s name and struggled in vain to free himself from his captors as Slenea began to fit. He yelled at Kallesezza, who observed Slenea’s seizures with clinical curiosity.
“How can you do this? She’s your sister! Your blood!”
The Red ignored him, the pirate restraining the Weltonian clubbed him again.
“What do we do with him, captain?” Kallesezza didn’t answer for a long while. Her attention was wholly on her sister. The fits had stopped and Slenea’s eyes were fixed in a vacant gaze. The pirates that held her were now supporting her.
Kallesezza approached Slenea and looked into her dull eyes, she snapped her fingers in front of her. Slenea didn’t respond.
“What have you done?!” shouted Matrell before he was silenced by another blow.
The Red was breathless with excitement. None of the other subjects had reached this stage; the process would be final once she touched the armlet. Kallesezza slowly reached out and touched the piece. At once, she felt warmness fill her chest and then dissipate.
Kallesezza heard her men gasp and knew it had worked; she felt so alive!
The Red appeared to her men even more beautiful and radiant than before. Kallesezza faced the pirate who had asked the question. He was staring at her with a dumbstruck look. Matrell, on the contrary, stared at her with abject horror and hate.
“Tirane, I do believe I have an excellent idea of what to do with him.”
A few seconds later, Kallesezza held her sister upright, making sure she watched as Martell was thrown overboard to be eaten by the sea serpent.
At first Slenea’s face remained blank as Matrell’s screams filled the air, but eventually, a lone tear slid down her face. Kallesezza noticed it and smiled.
“Don’t worry sister; we are going to live a long time, thanks to your sacrifice.”
The Red turned to the pirate beside her. “My sister and I will return to the Spear. You boys can have your fun with the prisoners; just remember, when you’re through, I want no survivors remaining.”
The pirate leered in reply. “Aye, aye, Captain.”
THREE DAYS LATER…
Captain Derian rubbed his eyes wearily as he went over the star charts again.
The young Namiran had not slept in days. Several months ago, the royal declaration by King Olnanier of Namira, calling for the head of the nefarious ‘Red Pirate,’ had Derian’s ship and other vessels of His Majesty’s Royal Navy scouring the seas for the notorious Emerald Spear. Once he had caught a glimpse of its signature green sails, but the pirate ship had escaped.
All Derian had found in its wake was the wreckage of ships that had been unfortunate enough to cross its path.
Survivors were never found—until now.
A day ago, they’d found a 6-year-old Weltonian boy clinging onto a piece of wood, floating in the water. What was even more amazing was the fact that the child had survived in an area known for sea serpent attacks.
A knock on his door returned him to the present.
“Enter,” he said. The door opened to reveal Rynora-Dane, his first mate and a water-wielder. It was she who had first noticed the child in the water.
She stared at the captain’s strained expression.
“Any luck, captain?”
Derian shook his head, he pushed away the charts with a sigh of frustration. “I have no idea where the Spear is. The pirate of that ship has fantastic luck. I doubt we’ll ever catch him.” He peered at his first mate.
“How’s the boy? Has he said anything?”
Rynora-Dane’s dark-skinned face was still, but her hazel eyes glittered with anger. “Not much, but enough to convince me that it’s the same pirates we’re after. He fell asleep and woke up screaming about ‘green sails.’”
Derian nodded grimly. “And now he’s an orphan. I wonder how he survived.”
She hesitated before answering. “You may think this silly…but I swear I saw pale green hands holding up the boy before we pulled him out of the water.”
Derian narrowed his eyes. “Are you certain?”
“I…am,” replied the first mate.
“Did anybody else see…these hands?” Rynora-Dane shook her head.
Derian was silent for several moments. Why would the Dyhaeri help? They weren’t known for helping drowning humans.
“The child hasn’t said anything in relation to this?”
Rynora-Dane sighed and shook her head. “Nothing, sir.”
Derian scratched his closely shaven skull for a few moments.
“Then it doesn’t matter, I guess. See that the child is well cared for until we find Weltonians who will take him in. We will continue the hunt for the Spear.” He turned back to his desk.
“Yes, sir.” Rynora Dane left the captain to his charts.
Far beneath the waves, in a breathable city made of many-hued crystals, a lone figure sat on the Seat of Power. The seated dyhaeri ignored the sound of approaching footsteps. The newcomers stopped three feet from the throne and bowed deeply.
“Your Majesty,” called the foremost Dyhaeri. “The Alkynaia King agreed to our terms and granted us temporary immunity in his territory. Your grandson is now safely with the humans.”
Jahlaniin looked up with the eyes of a broken monarch. He had wanted the child brought to him, but the council had refused, claiming that the child’s destiny lay with the humans instead.
“My daughters?” he asked quietly. The lead Dyhaeri hesitated before answering.
“They both live, but…” Jahlaniin stopped him with a gesture. He wasn’t eager to know anymore of Sle’niazza’s enslavement to her twin sister—the list of atrocities committed by Kallesezza was long enough.
“Leave me to grieve in peace.” The Dyhaeri looked sadly at each other, then bowed deeply before withdrawing silently.
Jahlaniin leaned back and closed his eyes, recalling and treasuring the times he’d watched his grandson swimming happily in the water, from afar.
No one was present to see the tears that flowed down his face.
Deep beneath the surface of the Heldiar Sea exists an ancient kingdom. The inhabitants are known as the Dyhaeri. They existed for several millennia before man crossed the seas to colonise the fertile lands of the Oldenian continent. They have seen the rise and fall of different human kingdoms and yet little is known of them. Even though the Dyhaeri minimize their interaction with the humans, they endeavour to keep abreast of man’s activities for past encounters have shown them the folly of being ignorant of the land dwellers. However, a certain ‘prophecy’ is about to become reality.
In a chamber within the largest underwater Dyhaeri city, seven individuals meet in secret. One of them is King Jahlanniin and the Three Sisters of Fate. The remaining three individuals are the most trusted Dyhaeri on the king’s council.
The king took a deep breath before walking up to the Sisters. “Why have you summoned us?”
The three female Dyhaeri turned to face him at the same time yet their eyes remained closed as the one in the middle began to speak.
“Four lives we saw, three born at sea and one on land. Now they have grown and soon they will meet. However, one is about to awaken and it is vital that she prepares for the chaos that is about to come in her wake. She will cross the seas three moons from now. She is untried and untaught but will awaken after her sixteenth cycle.”
King Jahlanniin frowned. “She is yet to come into her gift?” The three individuals behind him shared concerned looks. “Then how will she aide the lost heir?”
The middle Fate Sister opened her eyes and all saw the blinding light of bright orbs that her sisters also possessed. “It’s simple really. One of the two already present and known to thee must go to her.” She fixed her gaze on one of the three Dyhaeri behind the king.
“Choose wisely or you doom us all.”
Sixteen-year old Britea D’Tranell raised a dark-skinned hand to pet Storm-born, her cat without looking away from her book. The indignant meows changed to purring as the young girl rubbed the ears of the large tabby cat.
“Let me guess, you couldn’t find someone else to pester, could ya?”
A contended purr was the only response.
“I thought as much.” Britea used her free hand to turn the page. She only had a few more moments before the trip to the market. She was determined to do as much reading as possible because very soon she was going to be quite busy.
The young girl sighed. “Time to go Storm-born, we’re off to the market.”
She rubbed the cat’s back once more before standing up. “I’m here dah!” Storm-born began to meow again as its human walked away. Britea shaded her eyes from the sun as she walked towards her father, away from the shade of the pear tree in the courtyard.
“Where’s your sister?” He handed her a straw hat. Britea sighed as she tied it on.
“Dunno, probably trying on a different dress for the hundredth time.”
Valden D’Tranell sighed. “Well, tell her to hurry up. I can’t be late for the meeting because of her. If she’s not out soon we’re leaving her behind.”
“Oh, she’s not going to like that,” said Britea in a sing-song voice as she ran into their home. She took the steps two at a time before reaching her sister’s room.
“Knock before coming in, you oaf!” screeched her eighteen-year old sister.
Britea tried not to sigh. “Dah wants us both downstairs right now or he’s leaving without you…”
“But I have nothing to wear!” yelled Carlina.
Britea frowned at her much prettier sister. “Oh, for Light’s sake just pick one or we’ll be late…”
“Leave me alone! I’m trying to make an important decision here!”
Britea opened her mouth to speak when she heard her name being called again. “That was father’s last call. It’s your own fault if we leave without you.”
She left to cries of “Don’t you dare leave without me!” To be honest, she hoped Carlina got left behind. Her empty-headed sister only cared about clothes, spending and boys. She quickly ran down stairs.
Her mother had joined father. “Where’s Carlina?” asked Samera.
“Upstairs trying to pretty herself up.”
Both parents shared a weary look. “Leave her behind,” said Samera.
“Good idea,” agreed Valden. He nodded to a beaming Britea, who quickly climbed into the driver’s seat beside her father.
“Now don’t forget the Madam Elsteins cranberry jam!”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Valden as he flicked the reins and the two large horses began to trot. Britea waved at her mum as the wagon moved away. She kept looking back, hoping Carlina would appear on the doorstep, but her senior sibling was nowhere to be seen. For some odd reason, Carlina had been looking forward to coming to town that day.
Part of her felt sorry for Carlina, however excitement replaced that feeling as the horses set off at a steady pace that soon left the modest homestead far behind. The air was clean and bright, as it should be for the start of summer. Even the dirt road appeared well tended, which was essential for the few citizens living in homesteads on the outskirts of Weldaros Village. Britea soon lost interest in the rolling green hills and dived back into her book. At this pace, it would take at least thirty minutes to reach the village centre.
Valden kept his eyes on the road, but glanced at her for a brief moment. “So, what are you reading?”
Britea replied without looking up. “The Lost Histories of the Deep by Erina Seaworth.”
Valden frowned. “She’s weltonian?”
His daughter finally lifted her gaze with barely concealed excitement. “Yes, which is amazing in itself because there are very few Weltonian writers who publish their work for all to read.”
Now her father looked interested. Samera, was descended from Weltonians. Though fully human, they lived mostly on the high seas and hardly interacted with their landlocked human cousins except to trade. It was rumoured that they had more in common with the Dyhaeri, hence the moniker ‘Dyhaeri-born’ which was one of the nicer nicknames. The Dyhaeri were the mystical undersea dwellers who resided in certain parts of the Heldiar Sea. They were rumoured to be immortal and had magical wielding abilities. Historically, there had been a combination of disastrous and peaceful contacts between the two races. Fortunately, at the moment it appeared the Dyhaeri bore no ill will towards the humans.
“Dah, can I get a few__?”
“Books?” completed her father with a smile.
“I brought all my pocket money that I’ve saved for the past six months! Four silvers and fifty-two cente.”
Valden laughed softly. “Well done. Though I must say that you go through books the way your sister goes through clothes if she had the chance or money.”
Britea closed her book with a smile. “Books are much better than clothes.”
“I agree, but try telling that to someone without a coat during winter. So, what’s Erina got to say about lost histories?”
“She’s talking about why Dyhaeri are never seen in certain parts of the Heldiar Sea, for those areas are where the Alkynaia reside.” Valden hid a shiver at the name of the giant sea serpents which had been responsible for a lot of lost ships in the early days of exploration.
“Of course, she would know about that.”
Britea wasn’t done. “She says that there was a great war between the Dyhaeri and the Alkynaia thousands of years before man travelled to this part of the world and that the war ended after a peace treaty was made between the two races.”
“And how is she privy to this?”
Britea shrugged. “She failed to mention that.”
“Why am I not surprised,” said Valden dryly.
“I wish Mama Chloe was still alive, I bet she could have told us more.” Chloe was Britea’s great grandaunt. She had passed away two years ago. Aunt Chloe’s own mother had been weltonian before leaving her people and settling on land. It was a decision that was not to be taken lightly, for it was akin to self-imposed exile.
Valden saw the sad expression on his daughter’s face. “I’m sure she would have.” He tried to change the subject. “So how many books are we talking here?”
Britea’s face brightened up at her favourite topic.
The village square was busy and already decorations were going up for the wedding taking place in less than a day. Britea and her father exchanged greetings with friends as they made their way to Elsteins’ General store.
“Morning Valden!” shouted a portly looking gentleman. “How’s Samera and Carlina? You ready for the meeting? It’s to start in half an hour! Also, I cannot wait to taste your wife’s cooking for the wedding tomorrow. It will be a fine day indeed!”
“Morning Drel. My family is fine and yes, I’ll be there for the meeting once I get a number of things for the missus.”
“Of course, of course!” Then Drel noticed Britea “Morning my dear! Tomorrow is a big day for my family and I bet in a year, we’ll be celebrating your own joining.” With that and a huge smile he walked away.
Britea and her father shared a weary look. The legal age for marriage in Malaquey was seventeen-years-old which was probably why Drel was overjoyed his daughter was finally getting married. Drel Tress was a distant cousin on her father’s side, and his first daughter, who was twenty-two years old, was the one getting married, which was why Valden had a long list for the occasion.
It was tradition that the girl’s family provided the food and drinks while the boy’s side of the family secured the location. Britea tried to picture her sister cooking on her behalf and failed.
“Just between you and me, I can’t wait for this to be over,” whispered her father.
Britea hid a grin as they entered the general store. To her surprise, it was almost empty. Madam Elstein’s store was the biggest shop in the village and it stocked all manner of things. Those rare spices you wanted from Raven’s Fall? She had them and they could be yours as long as you were ready to pay a lot for them. You want a special toy for your child? Madam Elstein would surely have something ready for you. The store even had a section for some new clothing lines. Oh, Carolina was going to be so upset she missed this trip!
However, the biggest section in the store was for fresh and preserved food stock. Once a week, her father and other farmers delivered fresh produce from their farms to Elsteins’, but today was an exception because of the upcoming wedding. Britea was about to make a beeline for her favourite part of the shop when her father called her over.
“Here.” Her eyes widened as he dropped some silver coins into her hand. “Enjoy.”
“Thanks, dah!” She hugged him before dashing off to the books. Spying the new books, she wanted to squeal with delight. There was even a new one by Erina Seaworth called Wielders Tales Volume Two! Britea grabbed that first and made five more selections. After a quick calculation, the cost totalled twelve silvers and twenty-three cente. She smiled with relief when she realized she had enough money. With her small pile of books, she turned and suddenly felt the world tilt.
No! Not again! She would have fallen if not for the bookshelf at her back. Britea chanced a scared looked at her father, who was busy going through his shopping list with Madame Elstein. She wanted to cry out for help as her vision blurred and her chest tightened. Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. With her heart beating rapidly and the books forgotten in her hands, it took several moments for Britea to feel brave enough to stand on her own.
She looked around quickly. No one had seen her brief episode. They had only started a few months ago, and at first, she thought it was related to her bleeding cycle, but now it was more frequent. Britea was worried something was wrong with her and she hoped it would go away on its own.
“I’m not crazy. I’m okay,” she whispered to herself as she walked slowly back to the counter.
Madam Elstein saw her first. “Morning Britea.” Her gentle smile turned to a frown. “Are you okay, child? You look a bit pale.”
Her father looked at her closely. “Did you eat this morning?”
Britea grinned with relief. “No.” That must be it! She had read somewhere that hunger could lead to collapse. But she didn’t feel hungry.
“Well that explains it,” said Elstein as she grabbed an oatmeal cookie and gave it to Britea. “Here eat this now.” She took the books from the young girl and nodded when she saw the titles. “Ahh, what a fine collection you have, my girl. Which reminds me of one more book I’m sure you don’t have.” She pulled out a book from under the counter.
Britea’s cookie was forgotten when she saw the title. “Doomed Love Stories of Time and Legend by Erina Seaworth. “But I only have enough money for six books.”
“It’s on the house,” said Elstein as she added it to the pile. “I kept it especially for you as it’s the last one.”
Britea was at loss for words. She looked at her father, who nodded.
“Thanks so much, Madam Elstein!” She paid for the rest of the books and packed them carefully into her bag. Valden was already packing the precious cranberry jam into a wicker basket along with a variety of spices that had been on his list.
“Ready for tomorrow?” asked the shopkeeper.
“As well as can be,” Valden tightened the cover on the basket. “You coming to the meeting, Kara?” The elderly shopkeeper nodded.
“I’ll be there in a bit.”
Britea made sure to thank her once more before leaving with her father.
The meeting hall was already packed and it took some time for Britea and her father to find seats. Britea was eager to get home and read her books but there was a lot of work to be done and she suspected she would end up doing it alone, as usual.
Levi Stross, the village mayor, stepped on the podium. “Morning everyone.” Just like that, the meeting started. Britea pulled out a notebook and took notes, Valden smiled approvingly. Every three months the farmers, grocers, shopkeepers and the small blacksmith guild had a meeting to discuss concerns and ways to improve the livelihood of the residents of Weldaros. The other farmers had come with their firstborns as well, even the grocers and the blacksmiths.
Carlina should have been here. She was the eldest, but she sure didn’t act like it. Britea pushed that thought away and tried to concentrate on the meeting, but then she noticed Tyler Stross, the mayor’s son was surveying the audience, as if looking for someone.
Britea’s eyes narrowed. No. It couldn’t be, surely not him and Carlina?
“And I have some news,” Mayor Stross said. “A Weltonian family has asked for permission to rent some land for food planting. Do we have any takers?”
Britea’s eyes widened at the irritated murmuring from the crowd. She looked at her father who had a weary expression. She knew the reason. Once every two years, a Weltonian delegation came to their village asking for land to rent to grow crops for a whole year. The downside was that the local farmer who owned the land made less profit. Valden had volunteered the last three times and yet the other farmers behaved as if they were the ones losing profit.
Valden stood up and turned to address the rest of the village. “For the last six years I have done this and not complained once, so why the long faces? It’s just for one year…”
“If you’re so happy with that one-sided arrangement, why don’t you lease your land again to them? We’re not stopping you,” interrupted one of the farmers. Britea turned in her seat to glare at the owner of the voice.
“Say, isn’t your wife part Weltonian…” started one of the grocers.
From her corner, Madam Elstein coughed loudly. “We came here to discuss ways to help the community, not argue about others’ lineage. Besides, do any of you know how the store gets the wonderful spices and other rare knickknacks that we all love so much? Lemme give you a hint. That stuff sure didn’t sail down here by itself. The Weltonians have been kind to us for decades and provided much needed medicine during troublesome times. So, what’s a one-year lease of a small plot of farmland in comparison?”
“But it’s one year…”
Valden rolled his eyes and lifted his hand. “No worries, I’ll do it this time.”
“Eh thank you,” said Mayor Stross. “Now on to the next item on our agenda.”
Britea was pensive on the way back home. That meeting had been disturbing. “Dah, why do people hate Weltonians so much?”
Valden was quiet for a long time as the full cart moved steadily down the dirt-road. “What do your books tell you?”
“Not much, to be honest. Even Erina Seaworth never wrote much on the topic. She just said Weltonians liked to be on the seas and away from the land and its people. I read elsewhere that it’s because of their religion, but they worship the Maker and the Lords like we do. So that doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re actually answered your own question,” said Valden. “The Weltonians have mostly kept to themselves even though they interact with landlocked folks like us for trade. So, when you think about it, not much is known about them, hence the fear and dislike. Man tends to hate what he fears. Also, in the past, Weltonians have been persecuted because they were different.”
“The Dyhaeri and Alkynaia are different but we don’t hate them.”
“And how many Dyhaeri or Alkynaia have you seen?” asked Valden.
“None,” replied Britea then she realized where her father was going with this. “But I…we have seen Weltonians a lot.”
Valden nodded. “You can’t exactly hate what you rarely see, especially when one hears wild tales of the wondrous ways the Dyhaeri wield the elements.”
Britea nodded in agreement. wielding involved control of the four elements; water, fire, air and earth. There were human wielders but they were rare. Britea had heard stories claiming that every Dyhaeri was a wielder. She found that hard to believe.
“And as for the Alkynaia,” continued Valden, “they are monsters of the deep and many consider them as wild tales to scare unruly children.”
“But, but they are real! Erina says they do exist!” said Britea.
“True, but humans have a way of denying the existence of living nightmares.” For some reason, her father’s words filled her with dread. She remained silent all the way home.
Britea’s heart sank the moment she saw her sister’s face. Carlina was fuming and stared daggers at her younger sister when their parents weren’t looking.
“So how did the meeting go?” asked Samera.
Valden grinned. “Ask Britea she took notes like the dutiful daughter she is.’” This earned another glare from Carlina.
“Em…Dah volunteered to lease land again to the Weltonians.”
Samera and Carlina stared at Valden. He held up both hands. “The meeting was going nowhere. Besides, a one year-lease is not a problem.”
“Of course, it is!” cut in Carlina “We stand to lose money that year, dah! You should have got someone else to do it.”
“Maybe you could have said something if only you had bothered to go,” admonished Samera in a soft but firm tone that had Carlina muttering her apologies.
Britea used the opportunity to escape to her room to change for supper.
The confrontation she had been dreading occurred while she and Carlina were doing the dishes.
“I cannot believe you left without me! Do you know how much work I had to do today? That is all your fault!”
Britea took a deep breath. “I warned you that dah was going to do so. It’s not my fault it took you forever to decide on a dress because you wanted to impress Tyler Stross.”
The way her older sister froze confirmed her suspicions. “What…did you speak to him? What did he say?”
“Carlina, he is betrothed already…”
“Keep your voice down, you fat oaf!” hissed Carlina. “What message did he give you?”
Britea shook her head, hurt by her sister’s words, but determined not to show it. “No message. He just came over to dah and I after the meeting, said hello, and then he left. He didn’t mention you at all.”
Carlina stared at her intently then focused on her side of the sink. “Finish up the rest, I’m tired.” She wiped her hands clean and threw the wet dishrag at her sister before walking away. Britea said nothing as she tried to quell the odd feeling in her chest as she continued cleaning the dishes.
“And I now pronounce you joined in the Light of the Maker and the Lords! You may kiss!”
Britea clapped politely as the young couple embraced. Around her, the other villagers were celebrating and shouting well wishes to the couple. To be honest, she just couldn’t wait for it to be over. She hated weddings, especially the ones where she and her mother had to cook.
The D’Tranell family had woken up at an ungodly hour to start roasting the meat, which had been marinating for the previous two days, followed by peeling countless potatoes and washing tons of rice and vegetables before the cooking began. Carlina somehow managed to get away with doing minimal work and Britea barely got any reading done.
By the time they got the prepared food down to the village centre, the guests were already arriving for the celebration. Britea kept falling asleep as the couple exchanged their vows. Not even her mother’s nudging was enough to keep her awake.
And now it was time for the feasting to begin and she expected it to continue into the wee hours of the morning before the D’Tranell family could return to their homestead.
“Britea, time to start serving the food. By the way, have you seen your sister?” said Samera wearily as they went to their stall. The young girl looked around, searching the throng, to see Carlina speaking to the blushing bride, probably congratulating her on her nuptials.
“She’s with the bride and her maids.”
“Hmm,” was all Samera said as they put out plates and cutlery for the villagers, who were lining up.
“Mah, should I tell her we need her here with us?” prompted Britea.
“Leave her be. She will join us soon enough,” said Samera. Britea stared at her for a moment and shook her head. Britea had to remember to smile as she heaped food on a plate for the villager before her.
By the time the last guest was fed, it was time for dancing and Carlina was still nowhere to be found. Britea was past caring at this point, she was too tired to be angry. She wearily sat down on a bench and struggled to keep her eyes open.
“You’re not dancing.” She turned to face her mother, who sat down beside her. Britea smiled wearily and leaned against Samera as she put an arm around her.
“That’s because I’m too tired mah, I just want to go home and sleep.”
Samera laughed softly. “And you deserve that after all the hard word you’ve put in. I could do with a nap myself before we start the clean-up.”
Britea groaned. “Please don’t remind me.” They sat in companionable silence as they watched the guests dance around the new couple.
“They look happy,” said Britea.
“Someday that will be you.”
Yeah right, thought Britea. More likely that would be Carlina soon. To be honest she could not think of one person in the village that she was close to. That made her realize she hardly had any friends. Her closet friend had moved to another village three years ago when the family acquired a bigger farm.
“Give me books and that’s all I need,” she said without thinking.
Samera looked at her closely. “You may not find your path here in Weldaros. Maybe your destiny is somewhere else.”
Britea stifled a yawn; she was way too tired to argue. “Anything you say, mah.” With her mother’s arm around her and the music playing, she soon found her eyes closing.
No. It was way too early to get up, especially after the events of last night. Britea burrowed herself deeper under the woven wool blanket as she clutched her book.
“Britea!” The insistent voice was annoyingly louder. She sat up with a groan. The last time her older sister physically shook her awake, it ended in a fight. She knew that their parents would not appreciate that again. As she slowly stood up, the door swung open to reveal Carlina. She glared at her younger sibling.
“You should have been up ages ago! The livestock needs seeing to and breakfast is yet to be prepared!”
“Funny you should say that considering that work has never been a favourite pastime of yours, unlike flirting.” Britea knew she spoke without thinking, but in this she was justified.
During the festivities, Carlina had been absent from the massive clean-up, which had continued long after the party was over. Britea had a good idea of who Carlina had been with.
Her older sister gasped. “How dare you speak to me like that?! Why you brat...!” She raised her hand.
“What’s all the ruckus?” demanded a gruff voice.
Carlina dropped her hand hastily. Valden D’Tranell stood behind his firstborn child.
“Morning, dah,” chorused the two sisters.
He studied both girls for a long moment. “It’s way too early in the day to start a fight. Your mah is still asleep. I do not want you waking her. She has worked hard these past few weeks and deserves some peace and quiet.”
Britea hid a quilty wince and glanced at her sister. To her surprise, even Carlina actually seemed ashamed.
“But dah, Britea needs to be up so that we can do the chores before mah wakes.”
Valden stared at her. “You mean, both of you will work, or just Britea?”
Britea hid a grin as her senior sister gaped like a caught fish. She struggled to speak.
Their father held up a hand. “Weddings are wonderful occasions, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect your duties.” Britea could not hide the grin now. “And Britea, remember respect is important.”
“Yes dah, I apologize,” said his second daughter as meekly as possible.
“To dah or to me?” Carlina said tartly.
“Enough,” said Valden curtly. “No more needs to be said. However, the chores still await.”
He gave both sisters a meaningful look and left them alone. Britea did not give her sister any time to restart the argument and quickly left the room. The sound of footsteps behind her told her Carlina would not give up that easily.
Britea ran out of the house to the smaller heating house. She hugged herself tightly to brace herself against the early morning’s chilly winds. Fortunately, the wood logs were already cut and stacked up inside, most likely her father’s handiwork. Britea already had the day planned out in her mind as she started the fire to boil water for everyone, which meant numerous trips from what she liked to call the ‘boiler-house’ to the main house. It would go a lot faster if a certain person pulled her weight.
Britea fumed as she pumped water into a bucket and poured it into a large metal kettle. She lifted it with both hands and put it on the stove to warm. As she turned, she caught her reflection in the small, precious mirror father had bought for their mother.
Britea had darker skin, than her mother and sister and was not as slim. Carlina had remarked on more than one occasion that Britea had inherited those ‘unattractive features’ from their distant Weltonian ancestors, but her older sister made sure never to say those words in the presence of their parents. As for Carlina, she was the pretty, slim one with fewer brains than a goat. The thought made Britea smile. Her sister would explode if she knew what she was thinking.
The boiler-house door swung open.
“What’s taking so long?” demanded Carlina, the would-be-princess.
Britea counted silently to five before answering. “I just put the water to boil. It’s going to take a while.”
“Well, if you had woken up earlier we would have hot water by now!”
Britea stared at her. “It’s really not that hard to do, Carlina. You just start the fire, then pour water into the kettle, and put it on the stove.”
Carlina smiled sweetly at her. “Easy enough for you to say and do, after all you’ve got the fat ...oh sorry, the muscle for it. Our distant Weltonian ancestors would be so proud. In fact, you’re wasted on us, you should be toiling away on some boat out at sea instead of being a useless younger sister.”
Britea pictured immersing her sister’s head in the kettle and quickly squashed the idea before she acted on it. She counted to five before trying to speak in a calm voice. “You need to learn how to do this chore someday, sister. A wife is supposed to know how to boil water, cook, clean and a whole lot of other things.”
Her sister leaned against the wall and examined her nails. “Not really, I will have servants.”
Britea gaped at her. “You do recall that we’re farmers. Gentry tend to avoid our kind.”
Carlina smiled secretly. “Oh, you’ll see.”
Britea suddenly had a horrible suspicion. “It’s the mayor’s son, isn’t it? That’s who you sneaked off to see last evening while mah and I did all the work.”
Carlina dismissed her. “That’s none of your concern or business.”
Her younger sister rolled her eyes at the ceiling. “Lords of Light give me strength. Carlina, people talk. Besides, I saw him dancing with a certain gentry girl yesterday and her mother said the betrothal has been finalized.”
Her older sister shook her head firmly. “He’ll change his mind for me. You’re just saying this because you’re jealous.”
“Excuse me?” asked Britea incredulously.
“I’m amazed at how dense you are, despite all those silly books you read. Let’s face it little sister, you can never be like me. You’re fat and ugly and hardly have any friends. The only way you will get a man is by impressing him with how strong you are. Thus, it’s highly unlikely you will ever get someone who can stand you.”
Britea felt an odd, tight sensation in her chest and felt the world tilt. It was like last time in the bookshop only this time it was stronger. No! Not now.
She waited for it to pass, hoping Carlina didn’t see her fear, but the feeling grew stronger, as if she had to let something out.
Carlina continued talking. “I ask myself how we could be related. Are you sure you weren’t abandoned as a baby by some Weltonians? I bet they couldn’t stand the sight of you and dumped you the first chance they got...”
“SHUT UP!!” yelled Britea as the pressure in her chest mounted. Suddenly, a column of water shot out of the kettle, bent and flew towards Carlina’s face. At the last moment, it split and slammed into the wall on either side of the girl.
Carlina was dripping wet with lukewarm water and looked utterly shocked. Both sisters stared at each other in horror. Then, Carlina ran out of the outhouse screaming for their parents. Britea stayed behind staring at the now empty kettle.
She was still in a daze when her parents showed up with a hysterical Carlina.
Britea ran to her mother and buried her head in her chest. “I didn’t mean to! I swear! I didn’t mean to.” She repeated those words while Carlina kept yelling that Britea had tried to kill her.
“Carlina, calm yourself,” ordered Valden.
His first daughter screeched in reply. “Calm myself!!? She threw scalding boiling water on me without touching the kettle! She’s a__”
“Wielder,” Samera stated in a calm voice.
“I didn’t mean to, I swear...” began Britea badly shaken.
“Shush,” said Valden softly “It’s fortunate the water was not scalding hot or else,” he looked at Carlina “your elder sister wouldn’t have much of a face left.”
Carlina seethed. “You always take her side! Why is that?”
“Let’s all go inside and Carlina, grant us silence for a few more moments,” said Samera in a calm and firm tone.
Britea sat in the corner of the kitchen, shaking as her mother tried to get her to drink some tea to settle her nerves. Through the turmoil of her thoughts, she could dimly hear her father ordering Carlina to go to her room and have a lie-down.
Yeah, she would love that. Fat chance of her doing any work now, thought a small part of Britea. Another part of her was shrieking inwardly.
She had just done the impossible. She had wielded.
In all her sixteen years, she had only seen one wielder. It was a fire wielder at a county trading fair two years ago.
Wielders were few and precious and considered blessed by the Lords of Light and Shadows, thus every wielder had to go for training in one of the three colleges in Malaquey. Britea was so intrigued by them that she had been disappointed when she’d found out that the school library did not have any books on wielders. She had been fortunate when she’d found the first volume of Erina Seaworth’s Wielder Tales in Madam Elstein’s shop. That volume was filled with thrilling achievements of these extraordinary individuals and even explained why every wielder had to go for training.
Now she was one of the select few.
Her parents talked softly while trying to reassure her with smiles that did not reach their worried eyes.
One thing was certain, her life had changed forever.
Throughout the day, Carlina avoided her like the plague, which was fine by her. The last thing she needed was her older sibling calling her more awful names. But their father left the house quickly and when Britea asked her mother why, she had replied. “He’s going to ask a friend of ours on what we must do next.”
Something in her mother’s face warned her that she also dreaded the answer. “Mah...I’m scared.”
Her mother grabbed her and hugged her tight. “I know. It will be all right. Do you remember the Fire Wielder who attended the festival two years ago?”
Britea nodded through a haze of tears.
“Did he look scared to you?”
She shook her head.
“He looked happy wielding. But for him to do it so well...someone must have taught him. So, there is nothing to be afraid of.”
Britea felt her spirits lift a little. She remembered that day well. She watched, fascinated, as a young man strode forward to light the bonfire that was to signify the start of the week-long, annual festivities. Her father had told her that the bonfire was usually lit by ordinary means but this young wielder was passing through on his Year of Discovery and the mayor had asked him to honour the village with lighting the bonfire so as to bring them luck.
The fire wielder had looked blissful as he released balls of fire to entertain the onlookers. It was done so elegantly that all were in awe of him. Even her sister had agreed that to be able to wield an element must be the best thing to ever happen to anyone. Britea tried to hold on to that memory because she feared that there was a lot more to come.
Britea tried to keep herself busy with chores, but got more worried when the hour grew late and her father had not returned.
Eventually after supper, their mother forced her and Carlina to go up to bed. Britea quickly went to her room to avoid another confrontation with her irate sibling. Once inside, Britea stayed by her window so she could watch for her dah to come home.
Hours passed and eventually she heard the clip-clop of old Erden’s hooves on the paved road. She waited impatiently, knowing that her dah would take the mare to the stables, rub her down and feed her before coming into the house. When she saw him leave the barn, she tiptoed out of her room. Moving steadily while praying that the wooden floor boards wouldn’t squeak, she reached the stairs. The front door swung open. Britea wanted to go down to ask her father what he’d found out but she was supposed to be in bed, sleeping.
“What do you think you’re doing?” whispered an all-too familiar voice.
Britea closed her eyes briefly before turning to face her frightened older sister. “I’m waiting to speak to mah and dah.”
“You’re spying on them!” hissed Carlina. “I’m gonna tell them!”
If she expected Britea to be alarmed, then she was in for a surprise. “Sure, go right ahead. They are downstairs.”
Carlina narrowed her eyes.
“I’m not stopping you. Go on, do what you want.”
Both sisters glared at each other. Carlina smiled coldly. “I bet they are planning to send you away. That would be the best thing ever.”
“If I leave, guess who gets to do all the thousand and one house chores.”
Carlina’s smile faltered.
“Aha,” said Britea with a small smile. “You’re just realizing that, aren’t you?”
“I hate you,” hissed Carlina before she quietly walked back upstairs.
When she was sure her sister was gone, Britea allowed herself to feel the pain of Carlina’s hurtful words. She didn’t want to leave Weldaros. It was her home. She had always seen herself becoming more involved in the farm work as she got older, helping her parents with the book keeping. Dah had even started teaching her how to drive the cart to town so that one day she could do it on her own.
She hadn’t thought of marriage yet because she thought half the boys in the village were idiots, but now she was scared that the option of marriage was going to be taken from her. Because she was a wielder. The law in Malaquey was clear. All wielders had to trained. Any delay was frowned upon.
“Britea.” The soft voice of her dah startled her. She had been so absorbed in her thoughts that she hadn’t heard him approach.
He had a gentle expression on his face. “Come downstairs, daughter. Your mother and I are just about to have supper.”
Now she was scared, but she walked down the stairs. When she saw her mother’s worried expression, she burst into tears.
Samera hugged her daughter. “Hush now, let’s sit with with dah and he will tell us what he has learnt.”
It took some time for Britea to calm down enough to listen. The news would be hard to take. Valden ate very little, and from the tired lines on his face, he had been through a lot in the last few hours.
“I went to an area outside Weldaros to find Healer Marlen. He had been called to deliver a child.”
Britea remembered him. He was the only qualified healer in the area and was thus constantly on duty. “Did the birth go well?” asked Britea.
Valden smiled gently at her. “Yes, it did. I told him about you when it was over and he said…” He took a deep breath. “He said your wielding is a precious talent but that you needed to be trained.”
Hope rose in her chest as she recalled a passage from one of Erina Seaworth’s books. In exceptional situations, one didn’t have to enrol at the colleges to be trained. Number one: being a Weltonian was an exception because they had their own system of training on the high seas. For some reason, the Royal Crown of Malaquey allowed only the Weltonians to exercise this right while it was rumoured the Namiran government forced Weltonians to enrol. Number two: a resident wielder in a faraway town could take on students as long as they were capable and submitted regular reports to the nearest college. Option one was out of the question.
“Healer Marlen can train me, right?”
Samera shook her head sadly. “Healing, while a rare art in itself, is quite different from wielding. We have no local Wielders and according to the Creed, all wielders must attend one of the three wielding colleges. The nearest one is the Syla College of Wielding in Raven’s Fall.”
Britea felt faint at the news. “B-but Raven’s Fall is the capital of Malaquey! That’s very far away from home!” She was close to bursting into tears again.
Even Valden appeared upset. “I know, but if you don’t train…you may not be able to control it and it can harm you and those around you.”
His daughter stared at him in horror. “You’re sending me away…you’re sending me away.” Samera tried to comfort her but Britea kept wailing.
“It’s to help you Britea. Your mother and I are only trying to help you, please understand.”
But she kept crying. The water in Valden’s cup rose and spiralled towards the ceiling.
Samera gasped as the water from the pitcher on the table also twisted upwards. Even the hot water from the kettle followed suit.
“Britea.” Her daughter was sobbing softly. “Britea!”
The girl looked up. She cried out in alarm and the spiralling water collapsed on the floor.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
“Hush, it’s all right. Take some deep breaths,” said Valden in a soft voice. He exchanged a silent look with his wife.
Britea definitely needed wielding training.