Before he spoke Rafel looked out at the river, letting the rushing water help him to focus his thoughts on something other than the young woman sitting beside him. He cleared his throat, and looked to Tirena again. “We’ve told you a little of your parents, of Dom Talven and your mother Eiren, haven’t we?”
“Before you were born, the clans were warring with the humans whose lands border ours. The humans wished to eradicate us, calling us abominations of Nature. Your father was leading a pack against the village of Marona, and your mother, Jes keep her, would not be left behind even though she was very much pregnant.” Rafel paused then, frowning. “My father was part of that pack, and told me this story many times until he passed three winters ago.” Continue reading →
Morning was heralded by noisy roosters, hounds baying and the whickering of horses in the stables. Tirena realized her windows were open when she awoke to a cacophony not unlike what she would have heard in the village she was raised in, though upon opening her eyes she was reminded her entire life had changed. She frowned, certain that they had been closed when she went to sleep, and reached for the dressing robe laid at the foot of the bed. She realized then that someone had been in the room, for there were fresh flowers on the bedside table, and the fire had been kindled to warm the room.
Quickly wrapping the robe around herself she called out hesitantly. “Is someone here?” Continue reading →
Tirena readied herself for bed and doused the candles, leaving only one to light her way to the bed. Her bed. The bed that had once been her mother’s. The evening’s events whirled in her mind, conversations with Talven, with Dureil, and with Rafel especially replayed in her thoughts as she donned a sleeping shift and settled into the mattress. As her thoughts drifted more and more she realized that she hadn’t even thought of herself as Alanna, the girl from the village, since the night prior.
Rafel wandered the halls of the keep after leaving Tirena to her slumber. He had not wished the night to end, but knew he could not rush matters. Already it was clear, the growing attraction between them, but he dared not press the clanlord’s daughter. She was too precious to them both.
“You look as though you are lost in the stars, Rafel.” It was Dureil’s voice, and it brought him back to himself. He chuckled, smiling at her.
As Alanna walked through the open doors the room fell to a hush, and she felt every eye upon her. There were a dozen clanfolk, mostly older men but a couple of women also, seated at a large table that dominated the center of the room. At the far side of the room was another table, smaller, and there sat Rafel and Alen with another woman at his side, and another older man who stood slowly when she came in. Alanna found herself unable to move, staring at the man who she assumed must be her father. His hair was the same russet hue as her own, plaited at the temples but otherwise left unruly. His eyes were the same startling blue as her own as well.
“Tirena!” The clanlord’s cry was overjoyed, and he nearly stumbled in an effort to step around the table to move toward her. Dureil gently pressed a hand agains the young woman’s back, as though to urge her to go to him. She found herself unable to move at first, her gaze wandering a bit to the other clansfolk. When she caught Rafel’s gaze though she smiled, and with a steadying breath she moved forward. Continue reading →
Even before they reached the gates of the stronghold Alanna could hear the clamor within, news of her arrival being spread quickly. Men in leather and chain armor and dark hooded cloaks came out to greet them, bowing reverently to Alanna. Rafel urged her to keep moving, lest the crowd deter her from reaching her father. The way the clanfolk seemed to exalt her when none of them had ever met her was confusing, and a little intoxicating, and so it was good that Alen and Dureil kept the folk from coming close, and that Rafel took her arm and kept her moving until they reached the keep.
Her father’s home, as she assumed that’s what it must be, was a large stone building. Iron gates swung open and a heavy wooden door slid to one side to admit the four of them within, closing swiftly to keep the rest of the clan from following. Two young women approached then, speaking to Duriel in a language Alanna didn’t understand. The exchange was brief, and Dureil looked at Rafel. “Go and let him know we have arrived.” She turned back to the clanlord’s daughter and smiled. “Let’s get you a bath, and some clothes, and something to eat. Your father’s health has improved.” Continue reading →
Rafel’s voice drew her again from her thoughts, the younger man touching her shoulder to get her attention. “Doma-sha, is there anything you want to ask before we reach the stronghold?” he asked.
Alanna paused a moment, then pressed her lips together in thought. “I wouldn’t begin to know what to ask,” she admitted.
He nodded in understanding, squeezing her shoulder lightly. “Of course. Perhaps if I tell you what to expect when we arrive, it will help,” he offered. When she smiled at him he nodded and walked at her side as he spoke.
“Your father is the clanlord of the witken. Do you know what the witken are?” Continue reading →
The travelers continued on unmolested for several hours, riding over the increasingly barren terrain at what would seem lightning speed to anyone else. Alanna was left alone with her thoughts, since Rafel was now remaining a length behind her alongside Dureil. Though she was loathe to admit it she was troubled by him remaining so aloof now. His presence had been comforting.
Alen, leading the small group, slowed his horse at last, but there seemed no reason for it. They were in the middle of what appeared to be a petrified forest. Tall columns of stone rose into the sky, some of them easily twenty feet high. Others were little more than stumps, having collapsed into rubble.
“We must travel on foot here.” Dureil explained as she came up beside Alanna. Continue reading →
Dureil pulled her mount to a sudden halt, reaching for the reins of Alanna’s to force hers to do the same. She nearly fell from the mare’s back, and let out a surprised shriek. The older woman looked at her apologetically, but then hissed “Get down, doma!”
Rafel and Alen were already riding ahead, towards the approaching figures, with weapons she didn’t know they had gripped in one hand. Alanna slid out of the saddle, trying to look around the great beast to see what was happening. When Dureil drew a sigil in the air she watched curiously. It seemed to be visible for a moment, a shimmer like she used to see over the glowing coals in the blacksmith’s workroom. Continue reading →
Alen heard how Rafel addressed the young woman and shot the younger man a warning look, at which he bowed his head slightly and turned to climb onto the back of the tallest horse, a strong black stallion. “You can ride, doma?” asked Rafel, ignoring the steely gaze of the older man then.
“Yes. I’ve always ridden.” She smiled at him then, though she did notice the tension developing between the two.