The sad thing is, I'm so far behind updating that fairly soon I'll be adding a CS4...I have a lot to update and I really hope you all like it. We're in the final stretches of November. Everyone keep their fingers crossed!
A Song of Change
Though we went inside, we didn’t sit down right away. Daemon took me around the table introducing me to people whose names I would probably forget moments later. They were all lords of this or nobles of that or merchants of whatever. There were very few women as well. I hadn’t noticed earlier, but Naida was there as well, towards the end of the table. She conversed almost merrily with someone whose eyes had a similar color tendency but were not nearly so distinct. However, unlike me, she got to wear her usual clothes, something I definitely envied. When introductions were over with, Daemon guided me back towards my seat. But just then, the music drifted into my consciousness, a song I knew. Or rather, a song I recognized, the song of change. Could it be?
“Daemon? Is it okay if I go now? I really don’t like crowds very much and…I don’t know…it’s starting to get to me. I’d like to go for a walk and then head to bed if that is alright,” I said.
He thought for a moment, “Yes, that is fine. If you need anything, come find me, or Naida, or Orion. Look for anyone you know. These people are…good people, but some of them—as you have already seen—have other ideas as to what would be a good plan of action.”
I nodded, “Alright. I’ll be careful.” It had been a warning, I knew. Daemon nodded, satisfied.
“Good night, Calvary,” he said.
“See you tomorrow probably,” I replied. With myself properly excused, I made my way towards the source of the music. It wasn’t in the room, but it had to be somewhere close. If it was Janus, I had plenty of questions to ask and I also had to return his coat. But more importantly, there was the threat that he might be a spy for Oliana. Of course maybe he was a spy, but like Orion. Whatever the case, I had to know and I didn’t think he’d hurt me.
My ears brought me through a few hallways, but right to a wall. All I could see was stone, but the music seemed to come right through it. And it wasn’t as if there was a convenient torch or some such thing nearby indicating a secret passage of some sort. Plus, the wall appeared to be completely seamless aside from the mortar keeping the stones together. So involved was I in my inspection that I didn’t notice someone behind me until a hand came down on my shoulder. I jumped a few feet and then spun around, managing to bump right into the person.
“Good evening, Lady Calvary, Shadow Dweller,” Janus said, steadying me.
“Janus!” I exclaimed, unable to bring any other words to my tongue.
He smiled and inclined his head in a small bow, “I’m flattered that you would remember me.”
“I…umm,” I stammered before regaining my head, “I heard the song. I was kind of hoping it was you. I still have your coat.”
Janus nodded, “Yes, I was hoping you would remember the song as well. I wish to have words with you. As for the coat, keep it as a welcome to this world, at least for as long as it serves you well.”
“You…wanted to talk to me?” I asked just a little nervous and keeping Daemon’s words in mind. But looking into Janus’s kind face, I remembered how friendly he had been and how he had treated me so nicely before.
“Yes,” he replied, “will you follow?”
“Umm, I guess so,” I said, “where are we going?” He didn’t answer, just walked on without an explanation. It seemed like things tended to happen when I followed guys without getting an explanation first. Then again, that was only one time and Janus just didn’t seem threatening. It was almost like an aura about him that told you that you could trust him. He wouldn’t hurt you.
We ended up in a little corner that, from the hallway, seemed like a dead end. Well it was a dead end, it’s just that it appeared to be an aimless hallway, but it actually turned and there was a small space where one could sit, just a small nook off of the hallway. An optical illusion made it seem as if nothing was there. I wonder if sound was taken into account when this little nook was made. Could anyone hear us beyond the small corner?
“How are you doing Calvary?” Janus asked, an innocent question enough.
“Alright. At the very least I get to do what I want here. Maybe I won’t even have to wear these dresses all the time. I mean, where I came from we generally only wore dresses on special occasions, and even then you could sometimes get away with slacks,” I responded.
He looked at me for a minute, “You’re nervous, why?”
I shrugged, “Well, there’s the ever present option that these people have of killing me to end their problems. That kind of wrecks my mood just a tad. And then…well I have been led into a corner that you’d have to know was here to find by someone I don’t really know that well. No offense.”
“Understandable,” Janus responded, “but I have things to tell you that they may not want you to hear.”
“Did Oliana send you, Janus?” I asked.
“No, I’m not a spy,” he answered, “and I do not want to take you back to the keep.”
“Then why do you want to tell me anything?” I questioned.
“Out of friendship?”
“We’ve only met once before,” I pointed out.
He sighed, “Out of professional interest then.”
“What professional interest could a bard have in a Shadow Dweller?” I questioned. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate him thinking to share information with me. I was merely curious and his answers did nothing to satisfy me.
Janus’s face almost seemed to change in appearance as he said frustrated, “Don’t try me, Calvary, you’ll regret it.”
I glared, “Is that a threat?” Janus ran his hand over his face as if to calm himself.
“No, no. You misunderstand. Please, just take me at my word, I wish you no harm,” he answered, “as for what professional interest? A bard is only as good as his story, and there is one unfolding around you, my dear.”
“No,” I said, “or at least I hope not. It’s not like these people want anything irrational, Oliana will see sense. After all, she’s not a bad person, she’s just new at this. She has a lot to clean up after from what I’ve heard. It will take time, but that should be all as long as everyone stays calm.”
Janus laughed, “And since when has the human race—on your world or in ours--ever stayed calm? Since when has the tiniest slight not lead to chaos and bloodshed? Our history is bloody at best. Isn’t yours? Or has your world accomplished that long sought after thing called peace?”
“No,” I replied, “my world is anything but peaceful. We have war like anyone else…maybe worse.”
“Worse? When killing is involved, how can there be a better? Life still ends no matter how the methods change,” Janus stated, “but that is not what we are here to discuss.”
I nodded, “Okay, what did you want to tell me?”
“As you said, you must be careful because there are many who see a simple solution in your demise. All who appear to be kind are not, as you probably already know…”
“Umm,” I interrupted, “so far you’re telling me stuff that I’ve learned already…even before coming here! Well, except for the first one.”
“I’m getting to it, have patience. There is another here that is as you are,” Janus continued, “and that person has answers that they would not readily impart.”
“You mean someone here is a Shadow Dweller like me? Who?” I asked.
“Don’t you think I would have told you if I could have rather than going through all the trouble of speaking indefinitely?” Janus asked.
“Oh, right. Why can’t you tell me? It really doesn’t seem like you don’t know,” I replied.
He smiled, “Some things are left up to you, my dear. However, when you need me you will find me.” I had been glancing at a tapestry that hung on the wall behind me as he said this. When I turned back, he was gone. I looked around the corner, but still no Janus. Either he moved really quickly or this world was stranger than I knew.
Time seemed to move quicker here than it had in the keep. I had a lot more freedom here and more to keep my occupied. Most of the people were very friendly and some of them seemed almost grateful, though I in myself actually was doing nothing to help. It wasn’t for lack of trying though. For a few days, I could be found on the drill range with wooden poles or with some of the young boys with the wooden swords. Orion said that I was improving, or at least he did until one day I got a splinter, which reminded Orion that I wasn’t supposed to do anything that might hurt me. There had been no incidents before that, but Orion reasoned that it was easy enough to accidentally crush fingers or break bones if one was hit hard enough and in the right spot. Eventually I had to admit he was right. Although sometimes, when no one was looking, I practiced with the wooden swords and sometimes convinced one of the boys that just a little friendly sparring wouldn’t hurt.
There were other things to do as well. Naida would sometimes take me out for walks, showing me useful vegetation. She knew quite a lot about things that could be used for healing or for harm and she seemed glad for someone who would sit and listen. That sort of thing had always fascinated me but I had never had a reliable source of information before, so we both enjoyed ourselves immensely. Naida also took it upon herself to teach me a bit of archery. When Daemon found out, he argued that it was not wise, that something could happen—the string could snap or catch my arm as it flew or some such thing. Naida insisted, however, that under the right instruction and careful use, I would be perfectly safe. Since she intended to instruct me herself, Daemon—with some reservations—agreed. So when there was nothing else to do and Naida was free, I could be found in the range working my way up to targets at farther and farther distances.
There were some days that were slower than others, like days when everyone seemed busy. Orion might be leading a drill or sparring match with the more experienced soldiers. Naida would be nowhere to be found. When they were busy, I usually hung around in the courtyard where it was busier. In this case, the crowds didn’t bother me. People smiled if we passed glances but they didn’t stare. Sometimes I talked with some of the women doing this or that. I learned a few games from some of the older people, like one that was similar to chess. And since they had cards, I also taught a few games of my own like BS. They seemed to get a kick out of that one, though it may have had something to do with the name. Bullshit wasn’t slang for something being wrong or untrue here. And when there was nothing else to do, I played with the kids that ran around or told them stories. Everything I told them sounded like faerie tales, even if every word I spoke was true. I told them about airplanes, cars, telephones, CD players, and a bunch of other stuff. I wished that I still had my CD player with me because I bet their eyes would have popped right out of their heads. Of course I wasn’t sure if they would have appreciated my type of music.
Of course, Daemon was almost never available to hang around with. Daemon would be discussing stratagems with his captains or allies or what-have-you. Or if it wasn’t that he was trying to figure out why Oliana had not responded to our letters yet and feared why our messenger had not returned. This latter possibility made me nervous and so I generally avoided trying to find out what Daemon was doing unless he actually sought me out. He did that sometimes, asked me to join him for a meal or something. Often times, in that case it would be with the rest of the figureheads of the rebellion. Other times it was with the soldiers, I guess as some sort of morale boost. Some sort of ‘they may have bigger numbers but we have one up on that’ kind of deal. But there were those rare occasions when it would just be him and I. We would talk—we were getting better at that—and sometimes there would be music. And we would dance again. But those times were rarer than when he and I dined alone together.
And then one day Aerin approached me and asked, “Ah, Lady Calvary. How would you be liking the idea of an afternoon outside these walls?”
“I’d like that a lot, of course I’d like to know what I’d be getting myself into first,” I smiled. Of any of the rest of the people here—besides the ones that I had come to know better, like Orion and Naida--I believed that Aerin was the least likely to do me any harm, contrary to what his appearance might suggest. It was just a matter of what the old guy might think was amusing versus my idea of fun.
“Just a bit of hunting,” he replied, “have you ever tried your hand at falconry? A party of us is going out for awhile and I thought you might be having your fill of these walls.”
“A party? Who’s going?” I asked. No, I did not think he meant a celebration type party, it was just a another matter of my idea of fun.
“Ah, I of course, Orion, Bran of the Sightless—you sort of met him the day you arrived—a few others. Oh, and Daemon of course,” Aerin answered. Part of me wondered if this was Daemon’s idea or if this was going to catch him completely by surprised.
On the hope of the latter, I replied, “Hmm…me and a bunch of guys attacking little animals with death from above? Sure, sounds like fun. I’m in.”
Aerin laughed at my reply and responded, “Ay then, we set off in an hour.”
“Alright,” I answered, “I’ll be there.” On that note, I returned to my room to trade in the simple dress for something more like the attire that Naida typically wore. On occasions that I got to go into the woods or do more active things, I had been allowed to darn these more maneuverable clothes. It had been amusing the first time that Orion had been teaching me drill techniques. He had assumed—due to my multiple mishaps in the dresses—that I would be a little clumsy and slow. Quickly he was proved wrong when I caught him in the ribs unawares. Orion liked to complain he was still sore from that one good thwack I managed. However, I never managed to get in quite such a good hit again for the rest of my training. The comfortable trousers, light blouse, and durable boots were a whole lot closer to my usual attire than those dresses were. It wasn’t surprising that I found excuses to be active quite a lot.
“Ah, then the Lady has traded her dress for something I would wager more towards Naida’s choice of wear,” Bran greeted me. The fact that he could do that unnerved me greatly and I told him as much.
“Now how did you know that?” I questioned.
Bran laughed, “That one was easy. The rest of us are here already and we were just awaiting yeh. Footsteps approached but I heard no rustle of a dress, but the footfalls were not those of Naida’s. And they were no male’s steps either.”
I blinked, “Oh you’re good.”
“It’s just a matter of paying attention to yer surroundings, Lady Calvary. With enough patience, anyone can get a knack for it,” Bran replied.
Orion laughed, “But it takes a Sightless to get it with such accuracy. You don’t give yourself enough credit, Bran. Even among the Sightless you were an amazing talent.”
“So yeh say, Orion,” he replied, “but there’s no need to be boring the lady with such stories.”
I smiled though he could not see it, “Oh, I don’t know. I like learning about knew people, new places, and this world since I’m going to be here for awhile. If you don’t mind sharing, I would be glad to listen sometime.” As much has Bran’s unusual—or unusual to me at least—gift unnerved me, it was also amazing. I was sure that he probably had a lot of interesting stories, no matter if he could witness the events with sight or not.
Daemon approached me then, “If I had thought you would actually have been interested, I would have invited you myself. As it is…”
Aerin let out a jovial guffaw, “As it is I beat you to it, lad!” He then elbowed Daemon in the ribs good-naturedly.
“That you did, Aerin,” Daemon said laughing and taking it in stride. Then he turned back to me, “I’m glad you decided to join us.”
“Thanks,” I replied.
Aerin moved up beside me, “Come, lass and we’ll be setting you up with a mount, a bird, and a glove.” I blinked as he led me off towards the stables; I had thought I was just going to watch the hunt, not participate.
“Umm, okay,” I replied. There wasn’t much to setting me up with a horse as there weren’t many horses to begin with. However, Aerin led to one stable that held a lovely chestnut mare with a black mane. The horse regarded me with warm eyes that seemed like they would reserve judgment on me until I was up on the saddle. I gave it a look and said jokingly, “You’re not going to throw me, are you?” To my surprise, it actually shook its side, whickering quietly as its mane tossed. I jumped back a little.
Aerin let out his loud, jovial laugh again, “Aye, that’s Naida’s mare, Night Myst. She be a smart one. Some say she be bred from the Púca, those are the shapeshifters that usually take the form of a horse. They’re ones that at best will take you on the ride of your life and at worst will take you on one you might never return from. Thing is, those sorts of beasts can only be ridden safely by fae folk and their kin, except for the first of November. This one responds well to Naida, but Naida be no fae folk. Of course, the horse will only be letting another ride her if Naida gives the say so.”
“And did Naida?” I questioned, eyeing the horse a little distrustfully.
“Aye, aye. That she did.” With that, Night Myst was situated with a saddle, a blanket, and a bridle.
I looked at the horse again, “You promise you’re not going to throw me?” The horse threw its head up and down again. I turned to Aerin, “That’s a little more than just smart!” Aerin just let out another laugh. He handed me a pair of gloves—one with a longer forearm than the other—for me to put on. Then he aided me in climbing up onto the horse, who stayed perfectly still for my benefit.
“You be alright up there?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” I replied.
“Good, then you be heading out to the group while I get my horse.”
“Okay,” I replied. A little pressure from my legs and the horse moved comfortably out into the courtyard. Daemon eyed me nervously as if he were watching for any indication that I might fall.
“Are you alright?” Daemon asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, looking down warily at the horse, “I’ve ridden a little bit in the past. Just not enough to be completely comfortable.” At that moment, Orion showed up with a bird on each arm. Both were hooded, but one resembles a gyrfalcon and the other looked like a peregrine. He transferred the gyrfalcon over to Daemon and then approached me.
“Hold out your arm,” Orion said.
“Umm…are you sure about this?” I questioned.
Orion grinned, “What, you’ve never hunted with falcons before?”
“No,” I answered, “can’t say that I have ever participated in this particular sport before.”
“Don’t worry,” Orion responded, “the bird does most of the work.”
“Uh huh,” I replied, holding my arm out. Orion coaxed the bird onto my arm. I started wondering how long I could hold my arm up under the bird’s weight. Also, the question of steering the horse arose in my mind. While I was pondering this, the rest of the party either got their birds or mounted. There were four birds total with us and about twice as many people. As it was, I didn’t really have to worry about directing the horse, it obediently followed the crowd. Daemon rode beside me while Aerin and Bran led the team. The rest took up the rear and sides of the group, putting the two of us in the middle. Part of me wondered if that had been planned upon my addition to the hunting party or if it had just kind of happened like that. Maybe it was a little of both.
After awhile of riding, enjoying the scenery, and wondering exactly how long I was going to be able to keep my arm up, Daemon said, “We’re almost there. If you’re tired, though, I can take…your bird for awhile.”
“You can steer without using your hands?” I questioned.
He nodded, “It can be a little more difficult, but you just basically use leg pressure.”
“Well,” I answered after some hesitation, “if it really isn’t that much farther, I think I’ll be fine.” He nodded and looked ahead. Every so often, however, I noticed that he’d look over at me. Probably making sure I wasn’t about to slip or something. Just as Daemon had said, we arrived in a clearing very soon after. The others let loose their birds, one and then another. Daemon showed me how to remove the hood safely and instructed me on how to work with the bird. His bird was let into the air and soon soared high above us. Then it was my turn. I removed the hood just as Daemon had said. The peregrine regarded me with piercing gold eyes. It then turned to Daemon and almost seemed to glare for a minute. Daemon either didn’t notice or was very good at pretending not to. I wouldn’t have wanted to get that sort of a look from anything, whether it was a bird or not. In moments however, my bird was off into the air along with the others. On the ground, we watched the falcons fly lazy circles, locating their prey.
Bran’s bird, as if sharing in some of the man’s extra perceptions, was the first to find and take down an animal. It was amazing to watch, though brutal. With very little scuffle, the animal was killed. Bran went to retrieve the animal and its prey, a medium sized rabbit. He then hooded his bird and awaited the return of the other raptors. Daemon’s bird was next, bringing down something in the brush which turned out to be a grouse. We all waited for the other two falcons.
“How do you be liking this so far, Lady Calvary?” Aerin questioned.
I smiled, “Well, it certainly is amazing to see the birds fly and hunt. I’ve never seen anything like it. At home, hawks and falcons are kind of rare to see in the wild.”
Aerin opened his mouth to respond, but right then one of the birds let out a cry just as brush crashed to the left of us.
“Horses!” Bran replied, just as they burst forth from the shrubbery. An arrow took him in the shoulder.
More fell amongst us before we heard, “Stupid! You’ll hit the Shadow Dweller!”
“Shit!” I hissed.
Daemon turned to me, “Run! Get out of here!” I started to ask what about them, but Night Myst heeded Daemon better than I did. The mare shot straight away from the party ambushing us. Just before we reached what would hopefully be the safety of the trees, I heard the screech of a hawk. Suddenly something—or rather someone—landed behind me. Thinking someone had been lying in wait for us in the tree line, I let out a cry of surprise.
“Shh!” I heard, “It’s just me! It’s Naida!”
“Naida? But how did you…?” I began.
She interrupted, “I’ll explain later. Right now we have to get you out of here. You aren’t hurt are you?”
“Other than my heart beating like a hummingbird’s, I’m fine,” I replied.
“Good, give me the reins,” she commanded. I picked them up and passed them to her as best as I could. We raced through the woods, sometimes doubling back and other times running zig zag. We didn’t stop until we had crossed a shallow river and had traveled down it a couple dozen yards. Then we were out and Naida dismounted. She pulled me off and said something to the horse. The horse seemed to nod and then ran off. Naida pulled me down into the brush.
“Can you…” I started.
“Shh,” she hissed, “wait a moment.” So I did. Moments later, the sound of riders approached. Then I could see the legs of the horses. If I looked up a little, I might have been able to see who rode them, but if I did, would they be able to see me? I didn’t take the risk. They paused for only a minute, probably checking the trail, and then they were off once again. For a good long while, Naida and I sat in the brush in silence. Finally, Naida said, “Alright, they’re gone. Go ahead and ask what you will.”
I nodded, “Where did you come from? Were you collecting herbs in the area or something?” Just all of a sudden, she had landed right behind me on the back of the horse.
“No, I wasn’t collecting herbs. I did not just happen to be in the area,” she replied, and after a paused continued, “I was there with you the whole time.”
“With us? But I didn’t see you, where were you?” I questioned. She didn’t answer, so I looked at her to try to read her face. However, I was brought eye to eye with her. And in her eyes held the answer. Her golden piercing gaze. Her eyes staring at me waiting, her eyes that had glared at Daemon and had regarded me coolly earlier. I didn’t know how it was possible, but she was the peregrine. “You were the falcon!” Naida nodded. Something Aerin had said to me earlier came back to me, “Are you a…a Púca? A shape shifter or something?”
Naida chuckled, “A good guess, but no. No, it is the nymph blood in me that allows me to change shape. A falcon earlier and before that I was a wolf when Falan brought you into the keep.”
“And that’s why you hadn’t even broken a sweat when I looked at you before they hustled me off into the keep. Wolfish endurance,” I guessed.
She nodded, “Indeed.”
“So your parents were nymphs…or part nymphs? They could change too?” I questioned. It was funny, really, I think every child fantasizes about being able to change into an animal. But Naida could actually do it. She could fly, she could run fast, probably faster than any human, and who knew what else she could do.
Naida answered me sadly however, “I don’t really know. I don’t know if they could change or not. And I don’t know exactly everything about my family history. Only what I’ve found in the few books left in the Krievsh hold.”
“I’m sorry, Naida,” I said, “there’s nowhere else you could look? The library at the keep was huge, maybe there would be something there. And when this is settled, I’m sure you could look if you wanted to.”
Naida shook her head, “Our records would only be at Krievsh, aside from perhaps a stray history of how our clan originally came to hold this land.”
“Then,” I started thoughtfully, “it was your home? Those dresses were yours? And…and Marinus…he…”
She nodded, “Yes, he killed my parents.”
“Geez,” I muttered, “but I thought you said the hold had been abandoned. Where did you go? What did you do? Oh, shit, I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to talk about it. I understand if you don’t.”
“No,” she replied, “it’s okay. It was a long time ago, I suppose that really doesn’t mean anything, but I learned to deal with it so…anyway. When it happened, I was young. Old enough to remember, but young enough that I didn’t know about my abilities, my family, or any of that kind of thing. The only thing that really seemed to exist to me was my mother and my father and if they weren’t available, then my nursemaid Sylvianne. That night that it all happened, I was in bed when an alarm first arose. The king’s men were let into the hold to be shown the proper hospitality due to them. I suppose it was thought that they were out hunting and were caught out in the night. But then they attacked. When the noise woke me up, I ran looking for Sylvianna, but rounded a corner in time to see her cruelly cut down by the king’s men. Luckily they didn’t see me, but I didn’t know that, so I ran and ran until I reached a place where there would be no other human life. I ran to the falcon’s roost.”
All I remember is hiding in a corner, wishing and hoping that they would leave, that they wouldn’t find me. Wishing I had a better way to hide, that I could turn into one of those birds and then I’d be safe because I could fly away. I prayed to all the deities my young mind could think of. I don’t think I even realized when I changed for the first time into the peregrine. Eventually it began to quiet down in the hold, the men turned from killing to looting. They found their way up to the roost. My family had a reputation for having fine hunting birds. When they came I thought it was over. They began to load up all the birds for transportation to the keep and somehow they didn’t seem to notice me. Not until they had gathered all the rest anyway, then one of the men looked right at me. At that moment I thought I was going to die too, but I didn’t move. But he just carried me off with the rest of them. Imagine my shock when I realized my transformation. Then my realization that I was still trapped. They took me to the keep.”
I stayed there for three months in the body of a falcon. It really wasn’t that much of an effort keeping the shape; it was as natural to me as my own after awhile. But I couldn’t fly, not yet. Luckily, they just figured the soldiers did something to me on the trip and since it didn’t seem to be anything major they decided to wait to see if it would heal on its own. And eventually I did learn to fly because it was then that I escaped. My luck stayed with me, because I found my way to an old medicine woman. I had perched on her fence to rest. To this day I’m not sure if she had some sort of other sight or if she just recognized me for a nymph or part nymph. She helped me remember who I was…all the time as a falcon had made me forget after awhile, I had to forget to stay sane. All I remembered was that I wanted to be free, that there was something beyond those stone walls. Something in the skies. Even the bird part of me could understand that. It was difficult, but the old woman helped me to change back. But I never lost the eyes, I was stuck with the gold of a falcon’s and will be for the rest of my life,” Naida finished.
“Geez,” I said, awed yet sympathetic, “so when you…you must have learned first hand what really happened at the castle…I mean the keep?”
Naida nodded, “I heard some of the guardsmen discussing the events one day while they were getting birds for a hunt. And the worst part was that they didn’t care what had happened. They were going to get the keeps that had belonged to the murdered nobles. And most of the killing had occurred at the keep so they had no worries about what vengeance might be wrought against them.”
“But if that’s so, then why was Krievsh abandoned?” I asked.
Naida smirked, “That is actually the only hint I have that my parents may have had something of my heritage in them. There is a…a sort of spell on the hold making those hostile to the members of the family forget it or overlook it. So those who would wish us—and in essence me—harm cannot find us, not easily in any case. That’s my inheritance I suppose. A place for us to stay so we can fight and see that something like what happened before never has a chance to happen again.”
“For all their sakes,” I remarked, “I hope that Oliana isn’t like her father. Maybe this can end without any more blood shed.”
Naida nodded, “Yes, but we should be getting back to the hold. They’ll want to know that we made it out of there.”
The Price Paid
We arrived at the hold of Krievsh without incident. Naida’s horse had made it safely about ten minutes before us, or so we were told. However, though they were relieved at our safe return, we were quickly hurried into the hold itself. Someone had been hurt and they needed Naida’s help. We were rushed down a hallway into a room with a bed that had probably originally been used for servants quarters. Now they housed Orion’s still form laying on a pallet bed. Daemon was by his side while Orion grimaced in pain. Naida muttered something harsh and darted to Orion’s side to take stock of the situation.
“Calvary,” she said, “go boil some water and get the herbs from my room. If you can get the right ones that would be a help but if you don’t remember just bring the basket. Daemon, you show Calvary where to get the water.” I nodded and headed in a rush down the hallway. Daemon followed on my heels. We paused where the hallway split.
“The water is down this way, to the right,” Daemon said.
I nodded, “Naida’s room is in the opposite direction. It would be faster if…would you get the water while I get the herbs?” He nodded and went right while I turned down the hall to the left. A stairway and a few turns down hallways and I was in Naida’s room. She kept the herbs in a basket by the window. Different herbs were kept in different hide pouches. The pouches were labeled in ink. It really wasn’t a matter of remembering what herb was supposed to do what. I could remember that easily enough. It was just a matter of remembering which blasted squiggles stood for what herb! I may as well have been illiterate and I hated the idea of that. Being on this world had taught me a whole lot about the frustration that must be felt by one who cannot read. Finally, figuring haste was better than accuracy, I grabbed the basket and raced down the hall, telling myself that I would dedicate the next few days to trying to at least learn the basics of whatever system the Corenian people used. Daemon was already back in the room and the water was heating over the small fireplace.
I delivered the basket to Naida, “Here it is…I’m sorry I couldn’t remember the words.” She nodded and opened one of the pouches. A bit of leaves went into her hand and then into a bowl. She repeated this a few times with some roots, leaves, and flowers. I watched with interest. As soon as the water was heated, she poured some of it into the bowl and started to mash it into a paste with a pestle that was in her basket. I moved close enough that I could respond to command but far enough away that I wouldn’t get under foot.
In moving closer, however, I caught sight of Orion. An angry red slash stood out on the skin of his chest. His side was bleeding profusely and the top half of an arrow stood from his shoulder. Luck had not been with him this battle. Naida took the herbs from the bowl and applied it to the slash wound, which wasn’t bleeding all that badly. If any of his wounds could be considered a scratch, it would have been that one. Naida called me closer.
“Hold this cloth to his side and try to stop the bleeding while I tend to the arrow in his shoulder,” Naida said. I paled but nodded. Orion was hurt because he had tried to stop those people; the least I could do was help him now. I would not quail at a little bit of blood. Okay, a lot of blood, but I was determined not to let him down. The cloth pressed against the side wound, I tried to concentrate on the wall in front of me. It was stonework like all the rest of the castle. The stone was grey the mortar was slightly lighter. It was solid and…I cringed as I felt Naida tug and Orion cried out. I was willing to concentrate on anything as long as it would block these images, these sounds, even the smell from my mind. A hand came down on my shoulder and I jumped a little before realizing it was Daemon. I looked back at him gratefully. But then I felt the warmth of blood against my hand. It was going through the cloth, why the hell wasn’t it stopping?
I pressed harder against the cloth while Naida continued to tend to the wound in his shoulder. Daemon’s hand remained on my shoulder, anchoring me to calm sane thoughts. If I thought on anything but what was going on I was fine. But I couldn’t ignore Orion either. I took a chance and glanced down at his face. Unlike before, he was conscious now and cringing. Then he saw me though, looking and concerned. He managed a weak smile.
“Hey there, Miss Shadow,” he managed.
I pursed my lips, “Shut up, you shouldn’t talk. Well, I don’t know that, but they always seem to say that on TV…” He laughed—I had had to explain TV to him earlier—and then cringed.
“No laughing,” Naida said, only half joking, “Orion, it would help a great deal if you stayed conscious. Calvary, give him something to focus on.” Orion grinned at me a little and I smiled weakly at him. Something to focus on? Was I just supposed to talk to him?
“H-how did you manage to do that?” I questioned, “You fall on your sword?”
Orion grinned, “How did you know? Heh, no. Falan made it his mission to make my life hell for a moment once he saw me. That and an arrow caught me before they called for them to stop.”
“Falan did this? Why?” I asked.
Orion made a look that seemed like it would have been accompanied by a shrug if his shoulder hadn’t recently been punctured, “In his eyes I’m a traitor. In my eyes I’m just doing my job, no matter if I’m a guardsman or just some rebel. Guardsmen are supposed to protect the royals but they’re also supposed to protect the people. I’m trying to that, whatever way possible. Right now, that means protecting you, keeping you here. And if I’m protecting you, in both respects as a guardsman I’m doing my job.”
I pressed harder with one hand and with the other I took his hand, “I’m sorry you got hurt, Orion. You’re an awesome guardsman and anyone would be stupid not to see that. Falan’s a jerk anyway.”
He grinned in a pained way, “Yeah well, he’s a jerk who’s good with a sword. A bad combination if you ask me. And I’d say I’m pretty qualified to say that right now.” At that point Naida and I switched places. She began to work with the wound on his side, her lips pursed. Glancing just for a moment at the wound, I winced.
“That looks like it might need stitches,” I murmured.
Naida nodded, “I think you might be right. It hasn’t stopped bleeding enough for me to want to try a poultice or a plaster.”
“Stitches?” Orion questioned, “Like…sewing up my skin like some sort of embroidery piece?”
I nodded, “Basically, yeah. It doesn’t hurt though, not really. I had to get them once, it’s ok.”
“Did I say I was worried?” Orion asked sheepishly, “I never said I was worried.”
“Calvary, go to my room and get a needle and thread,” Naida directed. Nodding, I ran off to her room again. Daemon followed.
“Are you alright? You look pale,” he commented.
“I’m fine enough. If I need to, I can faint or whatever later. Right now I’m worried about Orion,” I answered as I reached Naida’s room. Quickly as I could, I found a needle and some thread and then raced back to Orion’s side. “Here you go, Naida.” She nodded and set to work. I kneeled by Orion’s side and held his hand. No matter how brave one acts, comfort is almost always appreciated. I tried to talk to him to take his mind off of it. Also, his eyelids kept drooping down and I was half afraid he was going to pass out.
Orion shook his head finally and groaned, “I don’t want to talk anymore, Calvary. Leave me be for awhile.”
I shook my head, “No, you gotta stay awake for just a little while. I’ll worry otherwise.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“Then…then just listen to my voice and keep your eyes open,” I replied. Orion let out a sigh and grimaced a little.
“I just want to close my eyes for a minute,” Orion replied drowsily.
I pressed my lips together, trying to think of something, “Look, if you promise you’ll keep your eyes open I’ll sing for you. And I don’t like to sing in front of people so you know you’re getting special treatment. So just stay awake and I’ll sing a song for you.” It was the only thing I could think of, but then I was kind of worried he would just fall asleep.
Orion nodded slightly, “Okay, I’ll try to stay awake for that.” Trouble was I really couldn’t think of a song. It was never an easy thing for me to do. I knew a few in other languages, but nothing that good. Finally I just decided to go with my old tried and true, the one I had sung for a Cabaret Night with my drama group, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” I sang, keeping an eye on Orion, who in turn stared wearily at me. By the time I got to ‘I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you’, Naida was done stitching. Orion let out a sigh, “That was nice. Thank you.”
“You can sleep for a little while now, Orion,” Naida said, “but we’re going to wake you up every now and again to see how you are faring. Alright.”
“Perfect,” Orion muttered, his eyelids drifting closed.
“Calvary,” Naida said, “I’m going to watch him for awhile. You can go clean up. Do you think you can come and watch him for awhile in the evening?”
I nodded, “Yeah, of course.”
“Good. I’ll see you then,” Naida replied, settling down by Orion’s side. I let out a breath and then turned to leave. Daemon gave Orion a final look over probably to assure himself that he was ok, and then followed me out.
“You did well in there, Calvary,” he commented.
“Naida did all the work,” I answered, “I just got him hurt in the first place.”
Daemon grabbed my arm to stop me, “Don’t say that, Calvary. Orion chooses his own path. It’s because of that that Falan sought him out today. It had nothing to do with you.”
I sighed, “Maybe. But that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“Whether you feel better or not, you helped him. You still look pale.”
I smiled a little, “I’m not that great with blood. Or maybe it’s just the idea of what all that blood means. He’s going to be ok right?”
Daemon nodded, “Orion’s strong, he’ll be better in no time. I think he’ll probably give Naida a lot of trouble trying to be active before he should, though.”
“It’s been a long day,” I replied, “I think I’m going to wash up and take a nap before I go watch Orion.”
“Alright. Perhaps we can talk later?” Daemon asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, “I think I’d like that.” With that, we parted. I went to wash my hands and then flop onto my bed. I had faith that my internal clock would wake me up in good time.
I managed to get my eyes opened as the last rays of sunlight were disappearing. I couldn’t see any light from my window aside from the dimness of twilight. If I leaned out the window a bit, I could just see the edge of the hold where a few rays still existed. After a bit of fresh air, I made my way towards where Orion was still sleeping.
“Thanks for coming, Calvary. I’ll make sure someone comes after awhile. You don’t mind staying here a few hours do you?” she asked.
“Of course not,” I replied, “I’m glad to help.”
Naida smiled, “I woke him up about an hour ago, let him sleep a bit longer and then make sure he’s still doing fine.”
“Will do,” I answered. Naida nodded and left. I sat down by Orion’s pallet and just kind of stared off for a while. When I got sick of that, I noticed that Naida had left her herb basket. Since I knew what some things were by looking at them, I decided to try and learn a few of the words if I could. I picked up one pouch and looked inside. Licorice root. With that solved I stared hard at the pouch. If I had some paper I could actually write it out and that would help. Then I grinned as I realized the fire had burned down. Removing a bit of charcoal, I hoped that no one would mind if I wrote on the floor a little bit. After a bit I got pretty into it, trying to make some sense of what to me seemed like meaningless symbols.
“What are you doing?” came a groggy voice.
I looked up to see Orion looking over, “Trying to learn how to read…sort of.” He started to turn to see better, “Hey, hey, hey! Don’t you move, you can see just fine from there.”
He smiled wryly, “Fine, fine. I understand what’s there on the left, though it’s a bit rough. But what are those shapes and squiggles on the right?”
I laughed, “That’s my language. To me, the stuff on the left is the squiggles. Ones that I’m trying to decipher.”
“So where it says ‘ginger’ on the left, what is to the right says the same thing?” he questioned.
“Yup,” I answered, “I keep trying to try to figure out letter to letter but I don’t think it works that way.”
“I can help if you want,” Orion said, still sounding tired but curious.
“Really? You’d help?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he answered, “sure. No problem.” So we spent the next couple hours teaching each other different words and quirks of our written language. At one point, I even took off the necklace in order to learn a bit of pronunciation. I had always rather liked languages and had a pretty good memory, so I thought I did pretty well. Even Orion admitted that my pronunciation was rather accurate. But then I noticed that Orion was looking pale and tired again.
“I think we should stop for awhile. You need to rest. Naida will have a fit if she sees me wearing you out like this,” I said.
He sighed, “You’re probably right. How about we do this again sometime?”
“Yeah, that would be awesome.” Orion closed his eyes and soon his breathing evened out. I watched him for a while. For some reason, I kind of felt an almost sisterly affection for him. And I think he saw me in the same light. It was fun talking to him, and we had gotten into a comfortable bantering conversation. Orion was a nice guy, I hadn’t been wrong about that. And thought I tried to keep Daemon’s words in mind, I couldn’t help but feel a little responsible.
It was starting to get on the late side so I started watching for whomever it was that was going to relieve me. While I waited, I started trying to clean up the scribbles on the floor. Which is where a petite woman wearing a apron found me a little while later. Her hair was caught up in a bun and she gave me a slightly disapproving look.
“Yeh can be going now, Lady,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, standing and brushing off my pants, which had their own share of charcoal dust.
“There be food in the kitchen if yeh be wanting any. Naida told me to be telling you,” she said, looking at the black smudges on the floor.
Now that she mentioned it, I was pretty hungry, “Right. Umm, he just went to sleep about and half hour or so so…”
She nodded curtly, “Yes, yes. Yeh better be off now.” I took that as a hint and started to head off towards the kitchen. The halls were dark aside from the flickering light of the torches. Actual torches; there were times I had to just stop and consider the fact that I was practically in the medieval period. No electricity, no real air pollution or really pollution in general, no automobiles, no nothing. In some ways it was hard, I missed listening to my music, just sitting and having a CD blare through speakers. In other ways I really enjoyed the simplicity. And yet in its own way it wasn’t simple. There were customs and titles and all sorts of things to keep in mind, at least if you were on the upper edge of things. And there were the evil corsets of course. I decided if I had to stay here long, the first thing I would do is invent the bra so women everywhere could breathe again.
My legs carried me as I thought; it was getting easier for me to get places. I was starting to remember where to go and which ways to take. And this is why it took me so long to notice Berin in the hallway. We must have been ten feet away from each other before we made eye contact. And I didn’t know why—or rather I did but I didn’t have any indication of why I should just then—but a feeling of dread passed over me. He showed no sign of malice or ill intend, but I got the shivers. First I took one step backwards, and then I just decided to just turn and book it back down the hall. And I heard him follow me. I thought I would have the advantage because of my track experience and the fact that I wasn’t wearing a dress certainly helped my case. However, Berin proved to be very fast. And surprisingly strong, as I found out when he grabbed me, spun me, and slammed me against the hall wall.
“Let go of me!” I demanded.
“And where are you off to in such a hurry?” he snarled.
I glared right back, which threw him off for about half a second, “Where ever I damn well please as far as you’re concerned! So get your hands off of me!”
“Shut your mouth!” Berin ordered, “It’s because of you and your smart trap that Orion is out of commission!”
“My ‘smart trap’ had nothing to do with it! It was an ambush and it’s not like I don’t feel bad about it anyway!” I retorted.
“If you weren’t an issue it wouldn’t have happened.”
“Well unfortunately I’m going to be an issue until Oliana agrees to talk or until I’m not her main shadow anymore or whatever, so deal with it and let me go!” I replied, unwilling to mention the third option, my death.
Berin had no such qualms, “Or if someone shuts that mouth of yours permanently! An answer that has always best suited me an many others.” And I knew by his look that he meant to do it. He would kill me if he got the chance…which he did at this moment. To some I may have been a symbol, but there were definitely those who saw me better off dead. Berin was one of them and apparently had no qualms about doing it himself.
I gave him one more chance, “You let me go or I’ll scream.” I said this very calmly, very evenly, and without looking away from him. I meant business whether I was terrified—which I was—or not.
“And who will be hearing you? And who will care?” Berin sneered. It was true, I had walked long enough before coming across him that I was somewhere between the room where Orion was and the kitchen. There was no place really near here, not near enough for sound to reach anyway. Someone would have to happen to be passing by, and most people kept to the courtyards. I was in deep shit, so I screamed.
For a moment wordless until my mouth formed, “HELP! Someone! HELP!” Berin struck me hard across the face, right against the cheekbone and the force knocked my head against the wall. My vision dotted and blackened for a minute before returning to me.
“There’ll be no need for understanding where you’re going,” he said, tearing off my amulet. And then what he said became meaningless. What I said became equally so to whoever might have come. Even if someone heard me, would they come if they didn’t understand the cry of emergency? I yelled anyway, earning another strike, this time to my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. Panicked now, I tried to double over; only I couldn’t because Berin had me by the throat. And the fact that he was trying to kill me didn’t stop him from taking advantage of my helplessness. His hands pawed at my chest through the cloth of my blouse.
Tears ran down my cheeks and I wasn’t sure if they were from the pain or from fear or from humiliation. I wasn’t sure that it really mattered at this point. I tried to blink away the sparkles starting to float before my eyes.
“Yeshtv er heiubin,” Berin said, a smug, triumphant look on his face.
“Go to hell, you sick bastard,” I somehow managed to wheeze. And some things are universally understood; maybe it had something to do with the tone. His grip on my throat tightened as he glared at me.
“Aechkna,” he said. That detached part of me, the one that seemed as if it was watching from somewhere above me wondered if that was supposed to mean ‘die’.
“Berin! Tyluhini yin!” yelled a voice before the pressure on my throat suddenly disappeared. The voice was familiar even if the language wasn’t. I fell—though it felt more like floating—almost to the ground before being caught in strong arms. My mind felt as if it were suspended somewhere between waking and sleeping. And sleep seemed so inviting, it was on that side the throbbing of my throat and face and the ache of my stomach dimmed. Then vaguely I felt lips on my open ones, breathing air into me where it was hard to do before. Gradually, my vision cleared and all the pain came back, but something in me realized that that was a good thing. Pain meant I was alive. And—blinking away glittery blanks in my sight—I saw that it was Daemon who held me, concern etched in his face.
Then I looked out of the corner of my eye, though it managed to hurt as well, I could see Berin lying unconscious on the floor. It served him right.
“Yeuhir uin heul?” Daemon questioned and though I could not technically understand, I could see by the way he was looking at me that he was asking if I was okay.
“Ow,” I croaked, “other than almost dying, fine.” This seemed to mollify him, but he didn’t put me down, something I was glad for. He found my amulet on the floor, retrieved it and handed it to me. I didn’t put it on; I really didn’t care for understanding anyone at the moment. It was tremendously nice just being in Daemon’s arms for now.
For a moment, he looked at Berin, as if trying to decide what to do with him. Then he picked me up completely and began carrying me back towards where Orion was sleeping. He said something to the lady sitting with Orion, who promptly got up and raced out, glancing at me with actual concern as she did so.
Orion was awake again apparently, but somehow I couldn’t find it in me to look at him. Or really anyone for that matter, I turned my face into Daemon’s shoulder. They talked for a minute in kind of low tones, but more grave than them not wanting me to hear or anything. It’s not like I could understand them anyway. Then Daemon said something to me, tried to get me to come out from what I had made my hiding place. It wasn’t happening.
When he continued to try, I said, “Please don’t. Please just take me somewhere else…somewhere safe.” It hardly occurred to me that he wouldn’t understand. But as if he had, he said something to Orion and then we started to move again. I paid attention to nothing, nothing except the sound of my breathing as it brushed against the fabric on his shoulder. Daemon wouldn’t hurt me; I had to tell myself that to keep calm. He didn’t want me dead. I heard a grating sound, like stone against stone, and still I didn’t look. It wasn’t until I was placed down on something soft that I opened my eyes.
“Calvary,” it was said with strange intonation and accent, but there was no doubt that he had said my name. I twined my fingers across the back of my head, my forearms becoming effect for blocking sound. My heart was beating hard inside my chest. “Calvary, behuin.”
I shook my head, still holding the amulet in my hand, “No, no, no.”
“Calvary,” he said again, gently. When I didn’t respond, he took my amulet from me, gently pried my hands away from my head and put the amulet’s chain over my head.
“No!” I said.
“I’m sorry, Calvary, I’m so sorry. I knew Berin’s opinions but I never thought he would act on them,” he said.
“You said…you said…” I said, hiccupping a little on sobs that had finally caught up with me.
He hazarded a hand onto my shoulder, “I know. I know. I’m sorry. And he will not get away with what he did! I…I just wish I had gotten there sooner.” My mistakes were echoing in my head, I shouldn’t have mouthed off, I shouldn’t have ran—maybe he wouldn’t have done anything then—I should have…I should have…
What I didn’t realize was that I was saying all of this out loud. But I was alerted to the fact when Daemon said, “No, Calvary. This is not your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong. And it will be fine now, I promise. Berin is going to be imprisoned. We may be rebels but we are not without law.”
I let out a shuddering breath, “And yet those that have the same ideas aren’t going to see it that way. What if…”
“Calvary, that is mine to worry about…and later. Right now my only concern is…is you.” Even in my distraught state, I had to look at him. His voice was…different than it should have been for simple concern. His eyes were earnest and worried and…and…
“Daemon, what do you mean? I need to know what you mean,” I said, though my voice cracked and wavered more than I wanted it to. I pulled Janus’s coat around me more tightly, not sure what I wanted his answer to be. Oddly enough, though, I felt myself beginning to calm down. Maybe it was shock, or maybe it was just my mind recuperating on its own. I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wanted to hear what Daemon had to say.
He sighed and ran his hand through his hair, which was freeing itself from the strip of leather that bound it, “You don’t make this easy, Calvary. You…you’ve just been through something traumatic, maybe now isn’t the best time.”
I managed a wry and probably very weak half smile, “I’ve just been…been…been groped and nearly killed. If it’s something good…well I could really use some good news.”
“What if I’m not sure you will think it is good?” he questioned.
“Like I said,” I continued, “it really can’t get much worse.”
He reached towards my face then, as if to touch it, but then seemed to think better of it, “Calvary I…I’m…I’ve come to…come to care for you…very much.”
“Oh?” I questioned, the meaning of his words not quite getting to me yet.
Daemon made a sound of frustration, “Calvary, I think I love you.” That one made more of a mark and yet I had less of a reaction. I think it was the straw that broke the camels back, or at least was more than my mind could take in.
“You…love me?” I questioned. He nodded, reached toward me for a moment, started to stop, then finally went through with it, wiping a tear from my cheek.
“I’ve…wanted to do that since we got in here,” he explained.
“Thanks,” I said, sniffing a little, “I must look horrible. T-took a few punches.”
Daemon’s face hardened momentarily, then softened as he replied, “You aren’t…well I know you are but…are you alright?”
“I ache mostly,” I replied, trying to breathe evenly and calmly, “I’ll probably have a few bruises. And yeah, my pride is worse for the wear.”
As if this triggered the memory, Daemon said, “You said he…touched you…forget imprisonment, I’ll kill him myself.”
“Appreciated, but I’ll probably want to do that later when I…I can think again…for now maiming is fine,” I replied, trying for weak humor. Unfortunately, sitting up was starting to hurt my stomach, so I leaned back. Daemon was in the way, but at the moment I didn’t care, I just leaned against him. He put his arm around me.
“You…you saved my life, Daemon,” I said, “I guess my luck is improving if you happened to be nearby.”
Daemon sighed, “I wish I had been closer. But I was with Orion when I heard you yelling.”
I blinked in surprised, looked at him and said, “How could you have heard me from there? No matter how much the sound bounced it still shouldn’t have been possible.”
Daemon shrugged a little, “I don’t know how and I don’t question it. I’m just glad that I was able to get to you in time.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “I guess you’re right. And frankly I’m glad you got to me in time as well.” He smiled at me, a kind smile. I felt safe in his embrace, though if it had been anyone else, I think I would have been less inclined to be held right then.
“Do you…want to go back to your room now? Or are you hungry? Or…” his sentenced trailed off to include any need I might possibly have. I hadn’t realized until then, however, that I wasn’t in my room. It was a little bigger than mine was and the only light source I could see were a few torches, although I couldn’t quite see the whole room from where I was sitting. The most curious feature of the room, though, was the fact that I could see no exit.
“Where are we?” I asked. I felt like I should have been afraid being trapped in a room with him like this, but somehow I wasn’t.
Daemon looked a little sheepish for a moment, “We are…in my room.” He quickly tried to explain, “You see, you said that you wanted to be taken somewhere safe. Very few people know how to get into this room and…well…you are safe with me.” What he said was very sweet and romantic in itself. If I could ignore what the circumstances were that brought it about, I would have felt better. And then something he said struck me.
“Daemon,” I said curiously, “you said that I said I wanted to be taken somewhere safe.”
He nodded, “That’s what you said.”