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Chapter Six

"The Bion Mountains were the highest in all Arsinuae,

Save for Mt. Furyew in Sonaro.

They stretched across the upper-half of Menilan,

crossing over into Chail, and were the quickest passage between the two

although they displayed hidden perils, as Purnan gypsies dwelled

in such mountains, and were known for their fierceness …"

—The Pasegean Scrolls

Keori watched as Camryn and Garvin attempted to drag their small cart over the Bion mountains, his mouth curled in disdain. So weak, these mortals are. Strange to think that I once walked in their midst … but, of course, I would never have been stupid enough to travel in such ways. I’ve always believed that magic is more useful than brute force, and I wouldn’t expect their feeble minds to comprehend such an idea.

He rolled his eyes as he thought of Sidhe and her vengeful attitude. Some people simply don’t deserve the gift of magic, using it for pettiness instead of power. Sidhe was an easy target for someone such as Keori: a good person to please until she was willing to meet his conditions and do his bidding. She was simply a pawn in his game, she was disposable once she had done what she needed to do, and he could destroy her on a whim.

Keori was immortal, and being as such had caused him to lose his emotions. He had not had many to begin with, living in a family full of cold-hearted Sonaran sorcerers. Until the day he had been called out to fight against the Nulian forces in the Trade War of 165, Keori Apheli hadn’t cared even for the pride of his country. Then, he had cared even little, but saw an opportunity in it which could not be refused. A chance for immortality … and he had taken it. He had made the elixir needed, making him invincible for only a day, then begun to duel with one of the faery population of Nuli’s finest mages. Unwittingly his opponent had cast a spell to kill himself and Keori, thinking this would help his province, but had instead fused his life force with the other mage, making him immortal until he so desired.

And Keori felt that he would never want to die. Why would he long to die when such power could be possessed in the world in which he lived? He had commanded the Sonaran dictators ever since, helping them to rule with harsh rules, black hearts and immense magical powers. They worshipped him in their temples, believing him to be the God who had created their universe, not realising that he was merely a magician who had happened upon a loophole in the magical world.

Keori had come to believe that all humans were imbeciles—why else could they have worshipped him for fifty years without discovering his secret?! He controlled them, not caring for what their fate may be, only what they achieved for him and his cause. Eventually he had managed to spread his influence to areas of Capurna and Tonuka, pleased with his progress until the day he saw Sidhe Pasege.

She was beautiful, he knew that much, and with great magical skills. Acting quickly, he had converted her to his side before she could manage to find him on her own and become an adversary. Sidhe had problems of her own, and Keori had helped her with them, encouraging her to form a bond of debt to him, eventually persuading her that death was the only way she could ever escape her destiny to be nothing more than a powerless ruler. So, she had killed herself, gaining her spirit form through Keori’s interference. Sidhe had been delayed in forming her coven, but time didn’t matter to Keori—as long as he became supreme ruler of everything, Arsinuae and beyond, he would be content. Besides, he was immortal … he had all the time in the world!

And so he watched, as the mortals struggled, feeling nothing but intense hatred for each and every one of them, longing to control them, longing to destroy their puny bodies with a mere twitch of his hand …

But he stopped himself, for something within him still couldn’t bring himself to it. Some feeling that still hadn’t left him, even though he had tried hard to push it far from his mind, hoping it would never return. It was the feeling which could bring his doom …

Little did Keori know, but his doomsday maker was right around the corner.

Camryn and Garvin heaved the cart into a small clearing off the edge of the track, and collapsed to the ground, exhausted. The girls trudged in behind them, tired from the long walk they had experienced that day. Mrs. Penwhite called to them from her cushioned perch inside the cart that there was still enough daylight left for them to get further that day, and that they weren’t as tough as people had been when she was young. They all ignored her, as they were used to this speech by now, and instead lay on the ground and rested for a while before going off to collect wood for a fire.

Several hours later, all of them were seated around a rather small fire save for Mrs. Penwhite, who was tired from yelling at them all day and had finally fallen asleep in the back of the cart under a rather worn woollen blanket. This left the other six to sit around the campfire, desperately trying to get close to the feeble warmth it provided. They were all sitting there, silently eating a modest dinner of warm bread and butter when Catalina cocked her head to the side, and appeared to be listening for something. After a little while, Llyne could stand the curiosity no longer. "Catalina, what are you doing?"

Catalina, her head still to one side, replied: "I think I can hear something coming from the forest … it sounds like music."

Tierna looked nervously towards the shadowy forest to her left. "Wha’dya mean, music?"

"Tambourines, I think. And a guitar." The brown-haired girl moved her head back to the normal position, before adding, "probably just gypsies."

Llyne began to shiver uncontrollably. "Just GYPSIES?!" she cried, her face flushed. "Father told me that the gypsies in these mountains like to—" she gulped "—eat travellers while they’re asleep!"

Samandia rolled her eyes. "Llyne, I sincerely doubt that the Purnan gypsies are cannibals. I believe that it’s more they don’t like people disturbing their camps, and if you keep away from them they’re harmless."

Catalina seemed to be listening intently for the music again. Even Samandia could hear strands of it floating from the north. "I think it’s getting louder," Catalina murmured. "Either that or it’s getting closer."

Garvin jumped to his feet as Llyne hid her face in her hands and began to sob loudly. Catalina and Samandia smothered giggles while Tierna inspected Llyne strangely, as if she were examining an insect of some sort. "Well, I’m going to go and see that they don’t disturb us!" Garvin cried loudly, inspiring Camryn to stumble up as well, and announce courageously that he would accompany Garvin, and sent a glance at Samandia, waiting for her reaction. Samandia simply rolled her eyes again and listened for the music again.

"If yeh wan’, I’ll come along with yeh and help." Tierna stared at them defiantly, daring them to refuse her assistance. However, both Camryn and Garvin were rather intimidated by Tierna, because they had heard that her father had been a general for Lord Tream before his death, and had taught all his children, Tierna especially, how to defend themselves both in armed and unarmed combat. After learning this, they had decided that getting on her bad side would be an incredibly stupid idea if they wanted to keep all of their limbs intact.

The three of them trudged off into the forest, Garvin and Camryn both sporting small daggers and Tierna relying on her skill alone. Wordlessly they all went off in different directions in the forest, Tierna eventually cursing that she hadn’t brought a dagger with her so to carve a way through the thick forest that seemed to be closing in on her. Was that a pair of eyes in the bushes? Tierna berated herself for being so paranoid, and turned around, trying to find her way out of the seemingly endless rows of trees. The music seemed to be getting louder in her ears, and her nerves were clearly getting to her as she nearly fainted from fright.

Finally, she saw the light of a campfire in the distance. She hurried towards it, thankful that she had found the right way back. As she stepped out into the light, however, Tierna felt that something was wrong. She stopped dead in her tracks as she looked down at the fire, burning brightly, and realised that this was not her camp. Men and women, brightly clothed stepped from the shadows, and the flickering firelight gave them wild looks on their faces. Tierna could do nothing but scream and run for the safety of the shadows in the forest.

As she ran, she bumped up against something and fell backwards. She hit her head on the rock-hard ground of the clearing, and the person she had run into bent down beside her. His hair was black and matted, his eyebrows thick and his face slightly gaunt in the light.

He was a Purnan gypsy.

She screamed again, and several more gypsies appeared at her side. She tried to scramble to her feet, but her head hurt too much and she couldn’t get her bearings right. One of them, a woman, placed a hand on her head and muttered a few words in a language Tierna couldn’t understand and the pain from her head dissipated. She felt herself being carried back to the campfire, and put gently back onto the ground. Someone handed her a cup of warm broth and nodded for her to drink it. Even though the pain in her head had gone, Tierna still felt woozy so she drank the broth in an attempt to regain her strength.

After a little while of sitting by the fire, an old gypsy woman cradling a baby in her arms came to sit beside Tierna, and turned to her. "My dear, what is your name?"

Tierna raised her eyebrows. "Why d’ya wanna know my name?"

The old woman laughed. "Ah, you are a very cautious girl, I can see. Not a bad trait, just rather unfriendly." Tierna started to apologise for her words, but the woman shushed her and laughed again. "I know you didn’t mean it, child. Caution is good in these parts, for there are many unsavoury types lingering around." Her eyes twinkled in the firelight and Tierna found herself laughing. "I only wished to know your name because, being that you are the first outsider we have met since the birth of this dear child—" she gestured at the baby "—it is to be given your name, in honour of you visiting us."

Tierna was surprised, as she thought that Purnan gypsies were known for their reclusive behaviour. "But I thought tha’ yer groups hated ter be disturb’d by others outside of yer band?"

"Well, for special occasions we make exceptions, of course." The old woman smiled down at her. "Normally, if the child is a male, it will be given its father and grandfather’s name, and with a female the name of its mother and grandmother. However," her eyes lost their twinkle for a moment, "her mother died in childbirth, and it is consider unlucky for the child to be named after the mother in such a case. So, my dear, what is your name?"

Tierna frowned. "Well, my name’s Tierna, but I’ve always hated my name, and I’d hate ter ‘ave to burden ‘er with it too. Might I give ‘er another name?" The old woman nodded, and Tierna smiled again. "Then I’d like ter name ‘er Zekeria, ‘cause I’ve always wanted ter be a queen, and the Queen of Chail’s gotta be the prettiest o’all of ‘em."

The woman nodded, then climbed to her feet. She cleared her throat, and got the attention of all the other in the camp. "Our visitor has named the unlucky one. She shall be given the name of Zekeria Elisabette Bríd!" The gypsies cheered, and the child was passed around to each of them in the camp, which appeared to be a custom to Tierna. The old woman helped to her feet, then suddenly hugged her. "Thankyou," she murmured, tears shining in her eyes. Tierna smiled at her, then began to walk out of the camp in the midst of the confusion. Just as she got to the edge of the clearing, she turned and called back to the woman. "Wait, yeh never told me yer name!"

Still crying, she smiled sadly. "Elisabette." With that, she walked away into a crowd of joyous gypsies, her face stained with tears. Tierna stared after her, realising the pain her grand-daughter would’ve caused her, and hoped that she would cause happiness for her too before walking off into the forest to find her own companions before they began to worry too much for her.


Copyright 2000 M. Lees

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