It was an early Monday morning, dawn broke innocently over the Sokolfitz Sea’s horizon as the footsteps of a young girl, aged four or five perhaps older, slapped the shore’s dusty brown sands. The trees thinned gradually to shrubs the nearer Phin closed onto her destination. She had been running for a kilometre or so led on by pure youthful enthusiasm and exuberance, the running interrupted for moments only by a couple of skips and hops. Such pride Phin felt that morning; she was a big sister yet again, and wanted to tell the world.


Being a big sister, again, to most wouldn’t seem like any stretch of pride to a young child. In fact, most children of Fend weren’t very fond of large families. Many siblings often meant sharing toys, food, clothing, and well, just about everything. Nothing sacred, nothing private. Phin grew up as an only child, however not intentionally.


Running, she could just smell the fresh water mist wafting off the sea if she let herself do so. With her heart pounding a frenzied tattoo inside her wee one’s body: it would be a miracle if she could notice anything else. Every of her five senses concentrated on making it to the little weathered hut on the cove, ignoring the dawn’s the rare opportunity to see Mercury, Venus, and Saturn conjoined as a skewed triangle of bright dots against the pinkish dawning sky or the shrill cry of an owl snatching it’s last snack before bed.


As every second year would come to pass, give or take a handful of months, Philomene (Phin’s mother) became pregnant. The tall beauty emanated a feel of natural motherhood, never was there a moment any of the Filcrin house feel as though another child could possibly tax their united patience with such a nurturing woman around. As with every healthy pregnancy and any happy family, the period is a joyful one filled with anticipation, excitement, and eager expectations to meet and greet his little bundle of human flesh and blood whose feverish screams do little more than melt your heart. Such a solemn thing to expect a new child, unfortunately it happened all too often there.


All too often, and have it snatched away after a mere three days, too soon to give the baby a proper name. If only it were more common of an event amongst other families.


Phin was not the first child. There were two boys and one girl prior, one boy and three girls post. This pregnancy, baby number nine, was the last and to be kept secret. Prilge (Phin’s father) Filcrin worked hard to keep this news hidden, avoiding communication from family and friends at all cost lest he, or Phin, let it slip. They didn’t want anyone to know. No one was to know.


Forty weeks is a long time.


The general clientele visiting Prilge the Ironsmith in the home were, thankfully, not nosy. However, the same could not be said for the nobility who often stormed the doors in the earliest hours looking for custom armour or other such things nobles rarely ever use. They often scoured the house for hospitality, begging questions such as “where is the lady of the house? I demand tea!” or “Your wife, is she not well? I daresay I’d hoped she could tell a tale as I waited whilst you did your business.” Nobility keeping to itself in Pomur (the village in which Phin lived) was not a common virtue. By nothing more than luck, giving Phin some tea before bed, and the fact that Philomene’s mid-section had slackened to permanently look the part of twenty-eight weeks in gestation, kept the pregnancy hidden.


Not a word slipped of the pregnancy. Phin buried the promise in a little tin box, which she shoved under her bed, to be opened a few days after the baby’s birth.


This morning, Phin thought of none other than the little fisherboy whose name escaped her with every mention of it. His name did not matter because he was a friend, Phin’s only friend. Her little feet grew ignorantly sore with every step, her lungs began to ache, and the little auburn curls pulled into tails at the top of her head shook loose giving her a tired yet satisfied look. Phin had to run to tell him her good news before he set off for the early rounds on Sokolfitz Sea; they left when the sun crested their house. She wanted to get there soon, before someone discovers she had left home.


A wind-ravaged hut sat stoically in view, not far from it was a little rusted tugboat with blue paint chipping and peeling from its keel. If Phin squinted hard enough, she could see Monsieur Beauparlant, the fisherman, preparing the boat for launch, bailing water with a crude bucket. His frame consisted of lard, much lard. The fish catching business was good and he kept most of the profit holed away for some imaginary rainy day, the rest he squandered in food... into his stomach. The man, although rugged and muscular from hauling enormous nets and taming fish twice as large as himself, he retained a semblance to a snowman propped up onto pegs. Head round and balding, belly rotund… all around his backside, he had a large apron of flub covering his groin, and all gathered atop thin legs. So disproportionate he looked that one could not help stifling a snicker when their eyes first fall upon him.


Soon Phin no longer needed to squint and the sun had nearly crested the horizon, she could smell stale driftwood and dried kelp. Slowing her pace, Monsieur Beauparlant took notice of her by raising his greasy, whiskey-fog filled head, but did not wave as he continued to toss more water onto his ruddy-brown boots. At the threshold of the door, poising her hand to knock, M. Beauparlant’s voice boomed from the weathered dock obviously drunken and confused.


“Knocking won’t do you no good, dere. Da mutt needs to fo-cuss on get-ting ‘is deriere out ‘ere.” He sniffled irritably and scratched his rear, attempting to properly stand.


“Bonjour Monsieur.” Phin greeted him politely with the few French words she knew. “I have something important to tell him!”


“Aimportahnt? Hah! Dere iss not-ing more aimportahnt dan get-ting dis boat on da road. Miserable little bums, my boys. Da firs’ one goes an’ gets ‘imself kill’d in da stupid war and now dis one tinks ‘e can still sleep in t’ill it lunch. I tink not, me.”


M. Beauparlant grumbled mercilessly to himself, cursing his offspring in words Phin could never imagine while he shoved things here and pulled ropes there, doing things only a boat’s person would know.


Phin smiled nonetheless. Nothing could squash her spirits, not even the cruel musings of a disgruntled middle-aged man.


“How long will he be, Monsieur?” She inquired, hoping it was soon. Hoping that M. Beauparlant’s drunkenness wouldn’t keep him from remembering she was there.


"Da mutt is ins-hide. D'bum. H'its getting late. Dere is work to do out dere on d'sea!" He tossed a small red buoy onto the poop of his old, rusted tugboat. "You see 'im la-ater."


He hiccoughed.


Feeling a little impatient and disappointed, she pulled at her skirts deliberately, making herself look a little more cute and pleasant. Favours are best met with pleasance.


“Can you leave him a message for me, please Monsieur?” Phin batted her eyelashes sweetly, knowing full well the old man couldn’t see her anyway.


M. Beauparlant spat to the ground, angling his head so he could take a long, uncomfortable glance at Phin and walked a few paces unsteadily from the boat. His greasy thinned hair fell into his eyes. “Shoore.”


“Thank you. Tell him, tell him my mommy had her baby this morning.” With the last syllable, she knew it was a bad idea to tell him and quickly covered her mouth with her hands, Phin’s violet eyes crystallized with tears. He was an adult, he could tell people, and she could lose the baby with this one stupid act. “You know what, forget it. Never mind I said that. I’ll… ah… I’ll just wait until he comes out.”


Phin spoke quickly and eagerly, hoping to over-ride her last spoken words, yet it was too late. Flustered and embarrassed, she folded her arms against her chest, and sucked on her upper lip as she turned on the balls of her feet to find a suitable spot to sit and wait... away from M. Beauparlant.


“Scared of dem Onodites, ah?” Monsieur Beauparlant straightened and spoke softly, gently, as if he even cared.


Phin stopped stock-still.




The word was a cuss in her home. Philomene and Prilge refused to use it in her presence yet she knew of its existence.


Phin had no brothers or sisters due to these Onodites. She feared them, hated them, but of all else, wanted to know of them. Answers of the serious variety were hard to find when one is but four or five.  


“I, I dunno.” She attempted to speak without a stutter, keeping her back to the aging fisherman.


“Da baybee iss on-lee a day old, ah?” He looked to the rising sun through slitted dark eyes. “You still ‘ave a day or two. Moss’ people ‘ave only a day or two.” M. Beauparlant snapped his head to stare hard at Phin. “Anyting special about dis one?”


“I, I dunno.”


“Yor Mama and Papa ‘ave not ‘ad mush luck. Tellin’ no one won’ ‘elp. Dey know, dem. Dose tings know everyting and no-ting all at da same time.” He shook his head slowly, keeping his dull eyes fixed onto Phin. “Dem Onodites don’ like your famille, or may-bee dey do, eh?”


M. Beauparlant smiled to himself, keeping his rancid teeth to hidden, for once.


“I’ve never ‘eard of a famille lose so ma-nee baybees to dem. One every tird generahshion, may-bee.”


He stood straight, erect and looked to the open waters, which surprised Phin immensely; she didn’t believe he could. The tubby man paused stonily for a moment as if pondering the great beyond, he could never do so, he wasn’t that smart, and however there was something on his mind that morning. Phin, to this day, could not tell you what it was. All she could tell you is that the conversation was over and she was to return home.


And that’s what she did.


















Phin closed her textbook with an exasperated snap and sighed. Her mother rolled her eyes and mentally prepared herself for yet another useless battle, which would probably end in hurt feelings, several slammed doors, and fifteen more grey hairs if her memory served her correctly. Age caught up with the woman, no longer a tall beauty, but one who slouched more than she’d like, her long raven hair now cut short, more grey than black, with wiry crinkles. Her face no longer bore resemblances of blossoming fertility, but now like a tired crone-in-training, pleasant nonetheless.


“What now, dear?” Philomene said with forced love and kindness, hoping kind words could diffuse the next of Phin’s terroristic verbal bombs, who was obviously suiting herself up for the third row that afternoon.


“Is there really any point in learning this? I mean the properties of copper. This is Da’s stuff, man’s stuff.” Phin sighed irritably, feeling the need to chuck the stupid book into the roaring fireplace at the other end of the woodsy family room.


Holding back from rolling her eyes anew, Philomene gnashed her teeth. “It is necessary, or would you be pleased to walk the rest of your life with blinders on? The Blinders of poverty and ignorance like those on whom you spit during your walks to the palace.” She paused to find her point. “Not everyone is fortunate enough to have education.”


Philomene paused again redressing her posture and taking an authoritative glance to her daughter, difficultly I may add, as it is hard to look threatening when one’s eyes have become droopy and one’s mouth is forever in the form of a disgusted frown.


“We could perhaps, take a break from your studies and resume making your dress for Emmanuelle’s ceremony next week. Much still needs to be done if we wish to go by your standards.”


It was hoped, but it didn’t happen, Philomene’s finalizing tone did little to end the conversation. Phin’s knuckles tensed as her fingers clenched the closed book on her lap, interpreting “a long way to go” on her gown as a gibe at her lack of tailoring skills.


“If you’re so damnably talented, why don’t you finish my gown?” she spat, her face flushing. Phin knew that cursing at her mother would only infuriate the woman more, but she could not help herself. How dare she undermine her dressmaking abilities?!


The words hit home and Philomene stood with the most grace she could muster and spoke quietly through tight teeth, “Never. Curse. At. Me. Again.”, and thrust the pinned pieces of ruffled lavender satin into Fin’s hands. “You will finish it yourself, with or without my help. Now I suggest you go to your room and work on your gown’s patterns.”


“But Muuuuum…” Phin whined pathetically, knowing that this tactic often gotten her what she wanted. “…Your gowns are always so pretty. Please, please, please can you make mine?” The young woman glided from her wicker seat to her mother and opened her arms inviting a giant caress, head cocked to the side in coquette cuteness.


It wasn’t as if this scene was new to Philomene, it happened nearly every second day like clockwork.


Firstly, Phin would argue about her lessons, her mother could never quite understand the reasons why the argument took place. Sometimes they geared toward gender specific roles or general reluctance to listen. “A teenage thing” she told herself. “Stupid hormones…”


Secondly, Philomene would often offer options to study something else, attempt to keep the peace. If a gender specific topic would arise, they always seemed to maintain an air of sensitivity. Sensitive because they lived in a home where the genders were not exactly equal. Prilge, Phin’s father, suffered from an injury he sustained while working his forge. The ironsmith once made fine wares such as armour and household machinations and not ornate cutlery, which took him days to finish. For all Phin knew, he was a louse who did little more than bark at her and her mother all day and resided in his den where he worked with his hands and plotted odd theories for their family’s misfortunes. Men, in Phin’s mind, were not of house mind and thus, women were not to know of the “outside” world.


Thirdly, and yes it was always in this sequence, once a day, everyday. Thirdly, Phin would either curse or say something abhorrently cruel to her mother, not that she always knew what she was saying, however Phin had issues when dealing with her anger.


Fourthly, Philomene would, obviously and not without reason, react sternly, however always feeling guilty for being so angered and allowing such hatred come between herself and her young woman of a daughter.


These discourses would always end in number five. Fifthly, Phin’s pouty lips and large, rounded eyes never failed to swell cutely as she attempted to smooth things over with compliment and/or praise in such a way to gets her own way.


Sixthly, Philomene would either give in or remain firm. Remaining firm did no more than ensure a repeat from two to six until either Phin stormed to her room loudly, or Philomene surrendered.


Arguing with Phin was like playing a game of dodge ball against a very quick and agile opponent, if you were lucky, you’d actually get the ball.


“No”, she said, needing to turn her back to Phin who had put on her very best puppy dog eyes. “I will not, I shall not, and I think it would be best if you did it yourself. You have the talent and the means to make your own gown.”


Phin would always answer, “But you’re still much better than me.”


Much like fighting with a brick wall, Philomene soon gave up and simply laid to the rest idea that Phin could potentially make her own gown. It would have served the family greatly if only she would, since the Filcrin family was of middle class (however, no less respected) who could not afford to buy fancy dresses from other villages. In fact, Mother did formal gown commissions for the wealthier ladies in Pomur and still had a fantastic stack of orders to fulfill within the next week.


Either way, Phin felt she had to compete with most wealthiest, revered, and respected of Pomurian families, the Crin, a family bred of nobility and blessed by the mysterious Onodites. They were held on a social pillar, although never formally put there, as if it was simply known that they were most worthy to lead Pomur.


Do not make the mistake of labelling them as royalty in such a way that we know them. Quite the opposite, the Crin would be simple and normal people, however when in the presence of a member of the family one can’t help but feel solemn respect and majesty in the air. A blessing, in the eyes of most, a curse in the eyes to Crin family member, and a nuisance to be revered for doing nothing of more importance than the beggar down the street would do.


Phin’s best friend was of the Crin family (and not purely by accident either) and so was the object of her affection, a forced affection, a plotted affection. She desired nothing more than the power and divine gifts this family held, often blaming her own comparatively simple heritage for any social shortcoming. Thus presenting herself in a gown of her lesser Philomene Filcrin’s standard would be entirely unacceptable. 


As these cookie-cutter arguments never ceased to change, Philomene, nearly losing her nerve, sent Phin to her room without supper. The young woman of eighteen wept pitifully while covering her face with her small hands, half shame, and half indignation. The thought of being refused dinner angered her in such a way she rarely fumed, it insulted Phin greatly, “How dare she”, she thought.


Sitting quietly in the solace of her closet, her anger simmered, her thoughts wild and destructive. Thoughts of tearing her gown to tiny pieces, which lay crumpled on her vanity, entertained Phin to no end, and there were several instances those thoughts materialized enough to force her from the confines of her favourite “crying place”.


Once in the light of her room, the anger went from simmer to boil, and the simple violent thoughts turned into defiantly destructive behaviour; she slipped out of her room’s window quietly and onto the front lawn and out of the family’s toward the palace. “They won’t notice I’m gone… not since I won’t be having supper”, she rationalized.









Phin folded her arms with impatience, taking in, lazily, the late-summer flowers blooming in the lush gardens surrounding the red brick Crin palace. “Don’t understand why she won’t make my gown,” she mumbled, unable to repress a smile knowing she was able to escape from her home unnoticed.


Emmanuelle sat on a stone bench, stiff backed and fidgety, staying silent but responsive to her friend’s ranting, as most good friends do. Dressed in a plain cotton gown, she was a vision of simplicity and complexity at the same time with her white blonde hair tied up in ornate braids at the crown of her head and some of her hair allowed to flow down her back. Emmanuelle was, obviously, mentally somewhere else. The late afternoon sun shone deeply in Emmanuelle’s grey eyes, imploring her to blink, yet she let tears of irritation run down her fair, rosy cheeks, with Phin’s words playing like white noise in the background of her thoughts.


Huffing and sulking, Phin’s fingernails bit into her palms, she paced wildly, pondering ways to make her mother’s life most miserable, raving all the while; mouth going one way, brain going the other. She often did this, and just as often, fuddled those to whom she spoke by switching subjects faster than one could blink.


Clouded by anger, mind swirling in a torrent of muddled shards of facts, she came upon an epiphany. Not so much a stroke of genius, this idea, but a means to get what she wanted even more quickly; nothing that had anything to do with her gown.


“Are you listening to me? Hullo! Emmanuelle, if you aren’t going to pay attention to what I am saying to you; I’ll find someone else.” Phin’s slippered foot stamped the ground in child-like fury as she placed her hands on her hips and let her eyes roam around, looking for someone else would find her epiphany worth a listen.


“Sorry, Phin”, she mumbled, not so apologetic but more or less pleading for understanding. “I’m a little preoccupied right now and don’t really have much room left in my brain for the troubles of my friends.”


Now, a good friend would say “it’s quite all right, I know that you’re about to go through something great, my worries can wait”, but Phin, she’s another friend all together. One would say she is selfish, one would say she is immature; she would say she is ambitious and knows who is number one.


Either way, Emmanuelle endured jumbled mess of splutters of indignation, puffs, and threats that Phin ought to leave, seeking to join herself with Emmanuelle’s younger sisters who were frolicking amongst the flowers and gossiping as youth do.


“Please, Phin, do forgive me, but I must retire...” she sighed patiently, wringing her waist length blonde mane absentmindedly.


Phin quirked an eyebrow unbelievingly, placing her hands delicately on her hips.


“…I have a lot to learn of politics in the next week. As it is, I was lucky to be allowed out due to your ‘crisis’ at home”, she added a chuckle which did seem to cheer Phin a little.


“Fine then, I –suppose- that I could find something else to do,” said Phin as she took another furtive glance at Emmanuelle’s sisters and shivering deep inside, loathing to spend time with the giggly girls several years her junior. “But first I have something to ask of you.”


“Oh, really?” said Emmanuelle, again with the most softest of voices, a voice which spoke volumes of patience.


“Yes, and it’s, uh, a little…” said Phin, wringing her hands as she quickly moved herself to sit next to Emmanuelle on the stone bench fanning her rosy skirts as wide they could go (even covering Emmanuelle’s simple smoky cotton gown). “… a little, ah.” Phin blushed despite herself.


As if Emmanuelle knew of what Phin was hinting, she pointed to the large red brick palace with her thumb over her shoulder, a sly grin playing on her pale lips. “I have heard rumour that Derien will be arriving this evening from his hunt, if that’s what you want to know.”


“So I have your permission, then?” asked Phin.




“Permission” Phin nodded expectantly, violet eyes wide “to pursue Derien!”


Emmanuelle sat there for a moment, chewed a fingernail or two, and shifted uncomfortably, mulling over the word “permission”. It could mean so much, could be so serious, and knowing Phin, giving her “permission” maybe a blessing for strange things.


“So?” Phin played with a long curled lock of her hair, braiding it, actually. “I didn’t think that was such a loaded question. For a so-called sage, you aren’t exactly quick of mind.”


“Please,” Emmanuelle begged, “you sometimes ask things innocently, but I know you better.” She poked Phin playfully on the thigh. “Besides, if he weren’t my elder brother, I would think he was nothing more than a pretty face who could speak the right words. He’s not exactly the kind of person I’d wish you to date, no matter how cute I find it that you fancy him.”


As Emmanuelle expected, Phin did not take her point of view all too well, however secretly, Phin was not surprised. If Derien had not been of the Crin family, she would think much the same of him. No, Derien had his benefits. Regardless, she could and would pursue him so long as no one had any objections, no one who mattered, that is.


“If that’s how you feel, I will forget about him, as” she stopped to insert a well-timed sigh of heartache and despair, “hard as it will be.”


“Don’t mope.” Emmanuelle rolled her eyes and checked her friend in the shoulder. “This doesn’t mean that I do or do not give my permission. I simply haven’t given it much thought. Really, you aren’t that serious about him, are you?”


Serious? Yes. She wanted a piece of the Crin pie.


Once upon a time ago, so long ago that this time no longer exists in legends, there were a brother and a sister of the name Crin (this long was before the Onodite blessing). They did feud as most siblings do until Sister became pregnant; father unknown, Brother banished her in his grief. In this land, as opposed to ours, women can hold their family names if they wish, and give their family names to their children if they so desired it.


It is whispered that she had found a village to live in and give birth to her child, spawning a newer generation of Crin, however due to her scorn for her brother who exiled her, had adopted the prefix “Fil” to the name. As the generations grew out, others have changed the name yet always keeping the “Crin” since it felt most serene and ominous.


Phin still felt this pain through the ages, perhaps yearning to inherit what should be hers as well.


She took her time, but nodded slowly. “I am serious,” she spoke in nearly a whisper, hardly able to convince herself to say those words.


“If that’s how you feel, follow your heart, but don’t go blindly. Derien has many,” Emmanuelle coughed out a chuckle, “admirers.” She stood gracefully, her gown rippling in the early evening breeze, made ready to leave, the sun’s tears still staining her face. “I leave you with those words of wisdom. Good night.”


“Hey, wait!” Phin grasped Emmanuelle’s arm lightly, feeling the grainy cotton with the tips of her fingers, losing her train of thought, pulled away from her conscious self.


“What?!” said Emmanuelle with a tone of mild impatience.


Phin had to shake her head for a moment once she let go of Emmanuelle’s arm. “What a queer sensation” she thought to herself, is if the cotton called out and held her mind prisoner.


“What?” repeated Emmanuelle, impatience dripping off her tongue.


“Sorry, didn’t mean to lose myself there, but your dress is, is, it is queer!” Phin grinned despite herself.


“And your point is?”


“These admirers Derien has, would they be of any competition to me?” Phin attempted to look uninterested by picking at invisible threads on her sleeve, knowing full well that she had taken care of his “wholesome” reputation with some of the plainer village girls ages ago.


Emmanuelle shrugged, rather irritated that Phin still insisted discussing her brother, “perhaps, their numbers have shrunken over the last month or so. Derien’s a little distraught, however not overly” she said, and quickened her minute footsteps to the palace.


It was no secret that Derien held every lady’s eye, and as such, underwent each day being surrounded by the most available bachelorettes in Pomur. Phin was always “special” being his sister’s best friend; however, whether or not she held any more of a key to his heart than the others was a lottery at best.


As a young sage, Emmanuelle made sure to stress that winning her brother’s heart would be no easier than finding gold in a marsh. Phin took the advice well by changing the subject abruptly.


“Oh! I also wanted to know: how long until your, you know, ceremony?” she asked breathily.


Emmanuelle’s quick paces to the palace stopped as if tethered to Phin’s haphazard question. She turned to quirk her eyebrow disbelievingly, Phin’s immense jealousy of her appointment meant one tried to avoid the topic at all costs. In fact, it was the first mention of the ceremony Phin has made since she heard the news one murky morning less than a month ago.


It made Emmanuelle smile, honestly, for the first time that day even though she did not believe Phin to be sincere in asking.


“Not for another week, Wednesday at dusk.” Emmanuelle pierced Phin with a searching stare that made the younger girl nervous and uncomfortable. “Why?”


Phin twiddled her thumbs and averted her gaze. “Just, uh, curious.”


Emmanuelle frowned.


“No one’s told me is all,” Phin added in a small whispery voice. Truth was she simply wanted to know how long she had to finish her gown; however for a brief moment she realized it would be incredibly insensitive to say so.


Emmanuelle was, indeed, her only real friend. As much as she enjoyed tormenting Emmanuelle with stories of her popularity, spreading gossip, and threatening the sage and future Lordess with abandonment for her sisters, she knew deep down inside that all the others were mere pawns in her grand desire of popularity and power. Emmanuelle was different. Not a true-to-Phin’s-heart type of friend, but one worthy of trust and who would help her the most in her ambitious quest.


This quest of power was that of influence which she had always felt denied to her by birthright. The Crin were an old wealthy family gifted by magic unknown from the Onodites, positions of authority over the populace by virtue of speech, finances innumerable, divine beauty, and fertile women.


These gifts Phin coveted beyond all others things one could imagine. Being intelligent wasn’t enough. Being beautiful wasn’t enough. Being… you get the idea. Not one thing, in and of itself, was enough. Phin wanted the whole package. Having a nice singing voice would be nice too, she often chuckled to herself in those moments that her mind trapped itself on its ambitions. Don’t want to push it, though.


By all means, Phin wasn’t hard on the eyes, in fact she was, by best definition “cute” with startling violet eyes and shimmering bronze hair so thick and curly it would take an hour to clean. Single child of lower-middle class parents, money was never an issue; however, it was never in abundance either. She was intelligent, one of her greatest and most foul of prides which she abused to no end.


Her jealousy, however left her bitter, and Emmanuelle understood and respected this character flaw, and forgave it.


“Ah, well now you know.” Emmanuelle pulled out and stole a quick glance at a small pocket watch that spoke pages of the ancients who created it. They used minuscule rubies and drops of white and yellow gold to make look like a tulip blooming in early spring, complete with morning dew. Another of the Crin artefacts, which Phin desired, this was.


“I really must go.” Emmanuelle snapped the watch closed and sighed. “Derien shall be here within a handful of hours and he will be more than pleased to see you. If I understand it right, father, Aaron, and Lybb had ulterior motives to taking him for the first hunt of the equinox, even though that won’t be for another month. Men!” She sighed audibly, playfully as she left “I do hope he’s not afraid of women now.”














True to Emmanuelle’s words, the hunting party arrived not long before nightfall and Phin found herself in Derien’s companionship quicker than she could have imagined. She had long forgotten her feud with her mother and had spent time in the village square at the northern most point of the town, soaking her feet in the magnificent fountain, which portrayed a raccoon cowering under a toadstool, Phin preened her rosy linen skirts just right, to be a vision of stunning beauty when Derien arrived.


The anticipation of the moment he would call her from Köln, his steed with which he never left the palace, gave her the sweetest daydreams. She held visions of his dark olive eyes alight with joy upon seeing her loving face. His soft sandy brown hair would float in the breeze and dance in front of his nose playfully. Derien’s shoulders would flex when in the saddle. Ah, and his complexion would be flushed after riding all day, sending her into trances which could guarantee to walk headlong into a wall or closed door.


Much to the amusement of Phin’s parents, these momentary lapses of judgment shamed her greatly. You see, and I tell you this of the strictest confidence, she did not actually enjoy Derien’s company. No, she found him as a means to an end, thus convincing herself that she truly did care for him. This plot nearly worked, for the most part, as it is one of those things that if you convince yourself enough: you eventually begin to believe it.


It would be a complete lie to say she was entirely uninterested romantically, for he was an object of great desire to most the courting aged women in Fend such as herself, and this sparked much jealousy from Phin. He spoke with grace and flair, one would say he had a gift with words and always knew what to say. This coupled with his lean physique, broad squared shoulders, and smile that could make angels sigh, it would be a surprise if he knew what loneliness could be.


However, his personality had its shortcomings. For example, he would prattle on endlessly about things which are of very little fact or consequence to anything, which irritated Phin (and his siblings) to no end. It was the act of watching him talk where the attraction lay. Phin often found herself gazing intently on his every movement for example, the way his mouth quirked to the side when he caught himself divulging information that just may be confidential. Not that the slip would matter; Phin was never listening.


Fresh from the forest, his breathing was deep and controlled; Derien’s voice was like that of a hungry lion to Phin’s ears as he called out to her from her Pomur’s northern gates, following distantly behind his father, his eldest brother Aaron, and his second elder brother Lybb.




Oh how she loathed the moniker. 


Within seconds, Phin ran out to greet him, saying “hello” and bowing to the rest of the Crin men. Aaron the eldest and most immature (somehow he’d managed to marry the most patient woman in Fend), an individual who could never be considered as reticent, indecisive or half-hearted, he donned a vibrant red tunic. Lybb second born who’s twin was Anaria the Frugal, was never without company and always found himself at the center of any possible gathering, the most attractive of the family second to Derien, he wore a flamboyantly designed tunic coloured in various shades of green and gold. Last but not least, Derien’s father Alphonse the Noble rode behind his three oldest sons (which there were six sons altogether). He was simply known as one big paradox, or more precisely as a whole series of smaller paradoxes, loosely strung together with individualism and all wrapped up in lashings of the unexpected, bearing a simple and worn tunic of deep blue and black.


All four men covered in perfectly tanned leather jerkins, expertly sown and stitched with fine embroidered details and many pockets. Their respective colours suiting them in an ethereal manner, as if the fabric itself contained the essence of the wearer’s personality.


Phin saddled up behind Derien, his perfectly pressed and refined tunic was coloured a pale, smoky yellow and smelled lightly of lily of the valley. Within minutes the two scampered away on Köln through the square, down several dusty lanes hidden behind rustic, thatched roofed houses, and were on their way out of Pomur’s southern gates and into an arboretum owned by the family many of kilometres south of the palace.


The arboretum was a sight wasted upon the likes of Phin, for she never particularly enjoyed the staggering variety of trees, or appreciated the scenic potentials. No, it was simply an incredibly romantic area, and she giggled internally at the thought of her first kisses being in the moonlit shadows of a willow. Greenery swelled in every nook and burrow, rich scents of olives, citrus, and cedar that contrasted the clustered hints of yellow and orange spattered randomly like flicks from a paintbrush.


Köln slowed to a gentle trot at the gates covered in foliage of the richest greens; a gentle breeze stirred the early evening air and rustled the leaves from the poplars and mulberries immediately on the other side. The shadings the trees projected onto the downy, carefully manicured, lovingly grown and tended lawns were impressive to anyone with an eye for nature. Moreover, the pruning so precise and careful, the hedgerows surrounding the arboretum, separating it from the rest of the tamed forest at its sides were full and lush, aching to be touched and admired.


The couple dismounted and strolled arm in arm to a near-by brook past the poplars and mulberries to just beyond the willows, keeping companionable silence until the trilling music of starlings made Phin gasp in awed surprise.


This brook was a favoured spot of the Crin family, Emmanuelle often went there to meditate, Llewellyn (mother Crin) had been discovered to sleepwalk there muttering words foreign to natives ears, and it was the spot where Aaron met his wife several years ago. It was of no surprise; the water had a mystical quality to it, sweet and cool when drunk, warm when swam in, and smelled of fresh peaches and cinnamon when the moon was full. Every person to come across had known it by a different name, and as such could never be accurately spoke of, other than “that brook”.


Phin kicked off her strolling slippers and sank her toes into the water (Phin loved doing this) as she sat carefully on the bank, breathing deeply, almost fearing the reasons Derien may have to bring her to such a special and solemn place. They conversed playfully about their respective popularity. Derien noted, with the tone of his voice growing softer by the syllable, that he was lonelier than ever; his male friends were off playing “hero” in neighbouring villages, perhaps courting girls, and the female entourage to which he had became accustomed was dwindling.


“Actually,” he said as he shoved his hands into his pockets as his shoulders hunched over, “you are the only non-family person who still talks to me.” He swallowed a sigh and postured himself.


Phin’s mind had already run away with itself, jumping to conclusions the reasons for Derien’s excursion into the middle of the arboretum. Thoughts of marriage proposal first came to mind and her stomach clenched with unease.


I’m not ready for that…” she thought to herself, as she stared at her reflection with a look of fear mingled with pity, and noticing Derien, pacing uneasily meters behind her “…regardless of my age!”.


“Please, sit down. You’re making me nervous,” said Phin.


As if he did not realize she was there, he started at the sound of her voice breaking the silence, which existed beyond the running waters.


“Uh, I’d rather stand,” said Derien, his voice weak and breathless, far from the strong and confidant one he used to call Phin from the village square’s fountain. “I’m just gathering my thoughts.”


“Don’t make me ask again, Derien. Please, sit down. What troubles your thoughts?” Phin bristled. Derien’s lack of composure did, indeed, make her nervous.


His pacing stopped, however he did not sit.


“Phin,” he began, “what do you know about the Foirian Winz?”


“I beg your pardon?!” Phin spluttered, not expecting some ludicrous words to come from his mouth. “Did I just hear you say Foran Winds?”


“No,” Derien’s voice quieted to a near whisper. “Foirian Winz. I’m not even supposed to know about it.”


Phin sat with her mouth slackened, unladylike, and mildly confused. “I can’t say I’ve heard of that nonsense.”


Derien sighed a sigh that spoke more than tiredness, but one that spoke of worry, fear, and foreboding.


“On the hunt, my father took the three eldest Crin sons to tell us a tale passed down to him from his grandfather whose grandfather told it to him as a bed time yarn. Father believes it to be a secret society bent on usurping Emmanuelle’s post once she assumes the place as Lordess of Fend.”


“Oh! Are they the ones responsible for the Baby Wars twenty five years ago?” Phin grinned despite herself. Woo hoo! A topic I know!


“If only it were that simple. Hunting down the men responsible, be it a whole race of individuals or not, for wanting to kill my sister was,” he scrunched his face ponderously for the right words to vocalize his utter disgust. “It was by comparison easier than what my father believes is being plotted as we speak.”


“Come now, I thought this foolishness was over.” She craned her head suggestively over her shoulder to catch Derien’s eye, and give him a soothing look of reassurance.


“My sister’s life is not a toy! Many of those men disappeared and a good handful of our men lost their lives so Emmanuelle may live. Never call that battle “foolishness” or “the Baby Wars”. It was so much more than that!”


Phin shrugged non-committingly and snatched a handful of long grass, tossing it into the brook.


Looking away from Phin, perhaps hoping to find courage in the shadows of the long willow branches, he swallowed and continued slowly his story that spoke of men and women plotting in villages much like Pomur, who had put their lives on the line to hide or destroy the Stone of Truth, which selects those who ought to lead Fend. Those who began the “Baby Wars”.


Derien’s father speculated that the nobleman who had first discovered the new message on the stone was a member of this Foirian Winz. Altogether, Derien was unsure of the society’s intentions or motivations, however he had gotten the gist of the danger his sister would be facing, as well as the dangers the citizens of Fend could endure if divine balance was unattended. However, there was more than the politics of lunatics.


“The story speaks evils such as we have never seen, of a cleansing…” he choked on a sob. “…there is much poverty and chaos. Not even Emmanuelle… even if she could.” Derien quieted so uncharacteristically, it made Phin worry.


“What are you trying to say, Derien? You are making no sense.” She turned her head to face him and saw Derien hunched, looking more vulnerable than she could ever have imagined him to be.


“A lot of people are going to die, Phin. A lot.” Derien mumbled into his chest, all pretence of confidence lost. 


“And why are you telling me this?” Phin’s curiosity was peaked however, she could not help but feel as though there were something he was hiding, and this, she would find out if she had to beg it out of him.


“Father is getting the family together and we’ll be leaving the palace for distant shores soon after Emmanuelle’s ceremony. Apparently, this society is as old as the Stone of Truth itself, and they could be hiding anywhere; he feels he has no reason not to believe it. You must understand that my father is not a foolish man and would not abandon Fend for anything, but this has him frightened more than I have ever seen him afraid in my natural life, Phin.


“He has already dispatched Aaron and his wife to spread the word to close friends in neighbouring villages. Lybb and Anaria are to prepare the young ones but not scare them. Moreover, I am to stand vigil over Emmanuelle; she is not to know, although Father fears she has gotten wind of it. She is smart and wise. We want to keep her mind on the task at hand.”


Moments of silence followed. Derien apparently deep in thought, and Phin oblivious to what would be appropriate to say next. However, one word pushed itself forward to the front of her mind. A word being so vivid: it took an enormous amount of strength in attempt to push it back whence it came.


Phin resolved to wait impatiently with her mouth shut tightly as a bear’s trap to keep her words to herself. She could only speculate if this word was involved, and if it were, it would be news she didn’t want to hear.


Those who took my family… gave him his.” She thought bitterly.


Derien’s uncharacteristic display of silence began to press on Phin’s shoulders and mind; she could not keep quiet for long. Be it a rumble of babble or a monologue of Shakespearian proportions, quiet is something he never was and so Phin’s mind began to wander with the wind that whistled through her hair.


Phin pondered while wrapping cooling arms around her chest, breathing in the dampness of the evening air.


“But I don’t understand why I’ve not heard of this before,” she said searching for where she had dropped her slippers. “Fend is riddled with old wives tales insisting upon good morals and equality, they keep the world safe from divine intervention. Those are merely things to keep children in check and such.” She found the pink satin slippers. “This is utter nonsense.”


Phin gathered her slippers into her hands and made to leave, the chill unbearable. Infuriated, she was, for being brought to the most romantic location she could imagine and simply be told of warnings from an elderly man generations ago.


Why won’t he just kiss me?” She shot a look of contempt at Derien who was now staring at the blooming stars in the heavens, the sun’s orb hardly visible on the horizon. “What could they have said to him to turn him into a living vacant lot, incapable of seeing how I’m looking at him or of the way I smelled when I wrapped my arms so tightly around his waist when we rode. Look at me, will you?” Phin began shouting at Derien in her mind, needlessly, knowing that he was no more intuitive than a dead log.


Taking matters into her own hands, Phin walked with purposeful and important strides to Derien’s side and pulled his hands into her own, tearing his hypnotic gaze from the stars. Soundlessly, she drew herself to face him until they were less than a breath apart; cocking her head gently to the side, she said, “Whatever happens I’m here for you.”


A little voice in the back of her head began to cheer and shout out encouragement as it looked as though, perhaps, Derien had gotten a clue and would bend over (not like he had far to go) to kiss Phin; Phin’s first kiss.


His eyes, they did not twinkle, nor did they smile, but looked afraid and tense as leaned forward slightly, barely brushing his lips upon her’s. All Phin had to do was push herself onto the balls of her feet and they would have contact, in fact, Phin began to close her eyes expectantly, pushing away the discomforting look on Derien’s uncertain face.


This will make him feel better”, she thought with pride.


As the balls of Phin’s feet began to teeter upwards, Derien placed his hands bracingly on her shoulders and pulled himself away.


“Phin, please. Now is not the time for that. We shan’t do this. I’m sorry.” Derien still held Phin’s shoulders in a tight grip, perhaps to keep her from acting out violently because that it what she certainly wanted to do.


Her mind screamed so loudly its frustrations that it threatened to give her a headache. Reeling from rejection and the indignation of it all, Phin grew near to tears. She wanted to say such things as “What, you don’t like me?” or “Are you insane?” or “Trust me, you’ll like it” and “Forget you, bring me home.”


Pride damaged, Phin did what she felt all she could do and mumbled sadly, “Please take me home.”





With two quietly solemn raps on the thick oaken door at the front of her parent’s home, Phin announced her arrival, a sober and sombre arrival. The sun’s dusking light barely shown as reflections on the clouds as the moon opened her glowing arms to the village of Pomur; Phin felt like the moon’s brilliant fingers were readying to wrap themselves around her neck. Guilt tore through her stomach; Phin clenched her fists tightly to her side.


Guilt, embarrassment, indignity, failure, and all things superficial which female teenagers, from thirteen to nineteen, feel in a magnitude farther than any adult could ever comprehend, is what she felt as the knuckles on her left fist lay on the worn oak. Tears threatened to drip to her cheeks, but she was stronger than that. No tears, not a one dared to drop. She gave herself a supportive sigh, the moon’s brilliance shown stronger, the sun dipped further past the horizon bringing his supportive warmth with him.


“I’m going to die”, she whispered softly under her breath as she’d heard faint footsteps emanate from deep in the house. Or was it just behind the door? She could not tell, her head was so swollen from emotion that her auditory depth perception failed her.  


Phin felt unwell. A general sense of malaise usually crept up whenever she did wrong: a typical guilt response. However, this was different. Phin’s mind grew cloudy. Her eyes began to play tricks on her. Where those knots in the wood really dancing? And why did they resemble lions?


Suddenly she felt the need to sing to those lions. Yes, they needed to sleep. This new desire seemed both surprising and natural to her at the same time, knowing that she held no musical talent to save her life, nor could she write a song given the greatest shock of inspiration. She sang, and sang as best she could. If there were anyone standing near her, they would be glad to know they would not be able to hear it, for she sang morbidly off key. It was not the tune; the lyrics were important. These words aught to calm the dancing lions, for they needed sleep and only those words could send them to slumber.


I’ve met a man from the stars

A man whom I should know


I’ve met a man from the stars

My song shall reach wond’red ear


I’ve met a man from the stars

Orion points me not


I’ve met a man from the stars

He lay ‘neath woman’s bloom


By justice’s hand

By Crater’s shoulder

He and I shall meet


She attempted to shake her head, however doing so assured a one-way trip to the ground. Instead, half way into the first shake, Phin leaned forcefully onto the door and burst in, regardless if she were allowed into her home or not. Niceties aside, she needed her bed most desperately.


Philomene came crashing to the threshold as Phin’s knees had released and the young woman collapsed like a heap of wet rags into her mother’s arms.


An eerie calm swept through the air. Philomene unsure whether to be upset with Phin, or to cradle and cuddle her as any mother would to her child in such a circumstance opted to kneel on the floor quietly as Phin’s rusty curled hair draped over her satin clad lap like steel wool. Biting her tongue and holding her patience, Philomene spoke quietly, so softly Phin barely heard her.


“What’s happened?” Philomene’s voice, a little more than a whisper exposed no emotion, no concern, only query.


Phin’s mouth, face, body, arms, lungs, and even heart succumbed to her delusion. To Phin, it felt as though she were mind and mind alone, the body was a separate entity in its entirety. Nearly feeling as though she was naught but a spirit in the void, her inner voice cried out in mercy.


Move lips, damn you!


Not matter how hard she tried, her body would not move.


Move arms, damn you!


Her mother was now but a voice in the distance, a white noise… like rain onto fresh spring grass. So soft, so distant, yet you know it is there.


Breathe lungs, BREATHE!


Every natural function of the body needed to be dictated or she feared her life might end there on her mother’s lap. As if by some major magnetic force, Phin noticed her shoulders shift, or her legs move, never of her own accord. Once and a while she’d hear a voice call from the heavens “Come on… that’s it… one foot. Other foot. Watch the stairs! Good lord you need to go on a diet… Prilge!”


Once safely inside in the house, the scents of burnt roses and rosemary filled her nose so that she could taste it, and hungered horribly for roast pork. The lights were dim. Candles, Phin could identify from the glorious view behind her eyelids, flickered with a soft breeze wafting in from the open window… “In my room!” Feeling faintly with the tips of her fingers as they grazed the silken top sheet of her bed did she finally realize where she was.


Electric shocks of pain and adrenaline zapped her every nerve at once. Phin’s body shook, still in her mother’s arms. Hearing another loud and near “Prilge!” she opened her eyes wide and fearful.


Another battery of shocks ricocheted up her spine and into her brain, her eyes rolled to the back of her head and she could feel her tongue loll out of her mouth with a few dribbles of spittle running down her chin.


Her eyes opened wide again, and this time she noticed how the underlying of her bed was made of mahogany, and wondered why this was.


Again, electricity froze her body in pain and fear once more. Phin grew certain that she was ready to die: she needed to get onto her bed, dying on the floor would be too embarrassing.


Once the last attack had finished, the young woman sprang to her feet, forgoing her mind, and thrown herself onto her bed. Shivering madly, her mind resumed function, gave a quick physical assessment, and carried out orders to particular areas of the body.


Mind: remember.


Lungs: breathe.


Heart: status copasetic


Body damage minimal, permission to carry on with sleep: granted.


Although lying still and quiet, under pretence of sleep, she was not. Oh, Phin thought she fooled them all… her body assuming it was sleeping, her parents assuming she was sleeping! Phin was wide-awake and more lucid than she could ever remember being! Lucid like a cloudless, lightless, trafficless, windless, and all around silent night. She could hear all. Smell all. Feel all.


An insect, most likely a housefly, perched itself on her bedstead and cleaned its wings. Her mother paced five steps in each direction, sordid and rhythmic footsteps on the canvas rug beside her bed. A small batch of brown bats fluttered atop the ceramic-shingled roof in search of breakfast.


The smell of rosemary intensified, burning her taste buds. If her body woke, it would hunger insanely. The scent of roasted roses dissipated most likely, Phin figured, when she knocked over Philomene’s pot of herbs. “Mum always was into aromatherapy”.


The feel of her blankets, more specifically her golden silk top sheet that she has had since Phin was a little girl, became the only sense that comforted her. The sheet, whose history is long with healing nighttime frights and boo boos on little girls’ sensitive hearts, custom made to resemble the sun at midday, was circular in shape and its colour had never faded. Her body settled, relaxed, and confidant. If she were to die, this is where she wanted it to be.


Her waking mind snapped back to the present with the slamming of her father’s den door. The footsteps stopped short beside her head and could somehow feel her mother’s tension level rise along with her heart rate.


This was not going to be pretty.


Inwardly, Phin cringed. Prilge Filcrin, once a jolly fellow now stood a spiritually decrepit man. He had lost eight out of nine children, the full use of his back (a steel sliver to the spinal column would do it), and the respect of his wife and only child. The respect not lost from deeds, however due to the degeneration of pleasant demeanour the man used to carry. At one time in Phin’s memory, she could recall days he would carry her on his shoulders as they walked through Pomur, delivering his goods to a client. Memories like that are few, yet cherished as the last vestiges of a lost man.


He thundered throughout the house, stomping his booted feet rudely. Philomene’s hands busied by twisting themselves in the handkerchief she carried which was now soggy with Phin’s sweat and spittle. Phin’s innards writhed like trapped worms. Prilge stood in the doorway, bracing both of his calloused hands on the wooden doorframe.


He took a few rapid intakes of breath before speaking. “What the bloody hell’s goin’ on!” Prilge bellowed ill considerate to his “sleeping” daughter a few meters away.


“Well?” he spat. “Answer me, woman.”


“Prilge, dear.” Philomene began, more nervous than ever, appreciating the spit flying from her husband’s mouth as he spoke the least. “I believe Phin’s ill. She’s never had such a fit!”


Feeling a little more comfortable now that she was in control of the conversation, and seeing the unconvinced gaze her husband held, she sat at the foot of Phin’s bed and stroke the sheet affectionately.


“I saw the front door fly open, Phin collapsed. Carrying her all this way to her room was not easy.” Eyes downcast, she fisted the sheet she was just caressing.


“That bloody child has never been anything but trouble! Prob’ly hungry ‘cause she was too a fool to eat. Then she runs off and ‘spects us to coddle her. No more!” He threw his hands into the air as if to wash them of her responsibility. “They cursed us by leaving her behind.” His baldhead left the room quickly followed by his rigid torso and gimpy legs.

Not another word was exchanged.


Philomene sighed, releasing the sheet. “Phin, if you can hear me, I think you’ve upset your father for the last time.”


Internally, Phin froze. Her mother didn’t fight for her. She always fought for her! It was worse than the slaps on the bottoms or the dinners without food. This was real.


I’m going to die tonight.”








































Wednesday morning came quickly and quietly as though a bird had to simply flap it’s wings to make the day break, skipping hundreds of hours. Phin stretched luxuriously on her over-stuffed bed blinking out a thin sunbeam sneaking its way through her velour curtains. Wiping the crust from her eyes, she wondered aimlessly how she had gotten into bed escaping the foreseeable wrath of her parents, however did not dwell on the thought; a plush violet gown was lain upon her vanity’s accompanying chair.


A slight gasp mixed with a hearty yawn sent Phin into a coughing fit; her mother did finish the gown, and with such magnificence, that she would gain the envy of all the court. Imagining the green faces of the young women made her smile from the corner of her mouth.


Mother finished the gown. Even after the stunt I pulled the night before? Phin had difficulties wrapping her mind around her mother’s logic yet didn’t care. The most beautiful dress her eyes had befallen was now waiting for her to throw on and parade about like a giddy schoolgirl. It didn’t take much convincing to get Phin to wear it.




Within a handful of minutes, Phin choked down a meagre breakfast of buttered toast, bathed, and sat herself in front of her vanity.


She debated for a little while whether to put her hair up or to leave it down in a cascade of rusty ringlets. Phin took a few pins between her teeth and began the process of separating her hair into threes and twisting the soaked locks aside. Drips of water made her naked back shiver from the cool morning breeze from the window. She brought the middle twisted chunk up, tightening it hard to her head and pinned it there, allowing the wet ends dangle off her nose. Next, she took the left piece, brought it over in a lighter twist, and pinned that one next to the first at the back of her crown. Lastly, grabbing the right piece, she merely folded it over gently to cup, hid the last two twists, and pinned it discretely.


After a few moments of fiddling with the drying curls, placing them this way and that, imagining herself with the wiry tiara settled on top, she settled on removing the pins completely. Allowing the hair to drop freely onto her shoulder blades, shivers ran up her spine again, however not from the wetness. It was a feeling of anxiety that shot to her stomach. Bending quickly to the side, she dry heaved, clutching her towel and her hair against her chest. A small bouquet of orange blossoms that sat on the vanity fell crashing to the floor, spattering her feet with marigold petals and water.


Phin squinted through the tears in her eyes. The flowers on the floor felt, somehow, significant. The breathed deeply, the urge to heave again brought itself to her throat and she could taste bile, and yet it never came. So long as her eyes locked themselves with the flowers, all would be fine, and this Phin could swear nothing were truer.


In one swift motion, she sat up and recited to herself into the looking glass:


'Herb of the Sun, and under Leo. They strengthen the heart exceedingly, and are very expulsive, and a little less effectual in the smallpox and measles than saffron. The juice of Marigold leaves mixed with vinegar, and any hot swelling bathed with it, instantly gives ease, and assuages it. The flowers, either green or dried, are much used in possets, broths, and drink, as a comforter of the heart and spirits, and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them. A plaister made with the dry flowers in powder, hog's-grease, turpentine, and rosin, applied to the breast, strengthens and succours the heart infinitely in fevers, whether pestilential or not.'


The words left her lips quickly, and Phin crisply forgot them the moment her breath hit the air. So foreign, yet…she knew those words. For the blood that pulsed through her veins, she did not know where they came from.


Looking back onto that moment, it was to be the first of many odd occurrences of the day.
































Phin glared at Derien in disbelief, eyes twitching in sorrow and confusion.


“From the age of babes, this time has been foretold: the wings of change and destruction, to take over the land and reclaim it for the gods while sacrificing all those unnecessary for the land’s survival. Such is the calamity that is Fend.”


Amid the leering stares and scrutinizing, Phin took one last look as she scampered out of the palace. No tears stained her cheeks but an aching in her heart and stomach reminded Phin that this shame, although devastating, would be nothing compared to the demise they would all suffer by nightfall. Now was the time to leave, leave Derien, leave her parents, leave Pomur… leave Fend. The absence of her parents made this duty that much easier.


The laughs and raucous noises followed her into the stables where she loaded as much as she could fit into Köln’s saddlebags. Slipping one leg over the moulded saddle, gripping the reins with all her might, Phin commanded the beast to run as he had never ran.


Stealing one quick glance to the palace, massive funnels were taking shape in the darkening clouds above Pomur, brilliant bolts of lightening flashed randomly through the sky shortly followed by a dull rumbling of thunder. A lump formed in her throat. She flicked Köln’s reins harder and dug her heels desperately into his sides.


The winded picked up ferociously. Branches whipped about passed her head and soon Köln’s hooves were crunching a floor of leaves, twigs, and small bushes. Like racing a tidal wave, her mind did not dwell with the debris coating the only trail out of Pomur. Followed by the newborn twisters, pelted by rain, hail, and sleet, she saw wooden houses near the outskirts of town lift off their foundations and shatter in mid-air. Three large twisters fought over the remains like starved vultures.


Sleep poked at her temples as night drew nearer, as fate and destiny dealt out more cards, Phin remained gripping Köln’s reins with white knuckles, a roaring ripped across the sky, spooking the frantic horse. Köln veered off course, crashed through under brush, ferns, and poison ivy. Breaking trail. Phin screeched in abject terror.


Quickly, another roar tore through the heavy clouds and ripped open the heavens with a loud boom and lightening flash that left Phin, not only frightened for her life, blinded and deaf. Unable to hear and with nothing but foggy whiteness in her eyes, a renewed sense of panic washed over her heart and soul. Köln sped through the thickening forest, wild and wary. At this pace, Phin was certain he’d soon fall over, dead. Foamy froth covered his muzzle. A steady string of drool crept along his bit and bridle.


Pieces of shrapnel, wooden splinters, and the remains of Pomur continued their morbid spiralling dance now blended with human and animal bodies. Phin covered her head the best she could with her arms with her fists firmly clutched onto the reins; hiding in Köln’s mane. Blood feel from the sky in thick coppery droplets mixed haphazardly with rain, which spattered in circular patterns onto the trees through the whirling air.


Opening her eyes fully, through the long shadows of the trees she was able to recognize that she was far, far from home. The destruction, she began to surmise, came from surrounding villages, however Pomur certainly no longer stood.


The young woman sobbed deep into her throat knowing that all those whom she loved (or pretended to love) were dead. Slowing Köln’s pace to a leisurely gallop, Phin could smell and taste wood mingled with salty blood that stuck to her face, hands, the horse, her gown…


Another whiff of the sickening smell shallowly in her nose all the way down to her belly, Phin retched for the second time that day. This time, it was not dry. The lavish lavender gown she wore so proudly hours before lay torn and sticking to her leg from the rain, blood, and now vomit. It itched horribly. Phin bent over to scratch her leg and heaved some more; her hand and hair caked with partially digested dinner.


Phin wiped her mouth and shivered.




Twilight drew a bough of glittering and dazzling stars over a backdrop of onyx sky, cleared of clouds or chaos. Eeriness wrapped the young lass in a shroud of chills and paranoia. She heard whispered voices echoing behind trees and small boulders. The blackness bore down, Phin rubbed her arms fitfully, feeling as though she’d never feel properly warm or dry ever again. Cursing out loud, she thought she heard her name called out from the burrow belonging to a family of rabbits. Silent whispers from nocturnal creatures… “Silliness”, she thought.  The visible lack of moonlight did little to soothe her fright.


Köln found an old, beaten path that saw very few travellers, apparently untouched by the storm. With a spare arm protecting her head from low lying branches, her back arched and bent with the craggy, rough terrain and over-grown ferns. Köln, himself, had issues negotiating with the random potholes that appeared spontaneously or fallen trees hiding in the dark.


A clearing appeared at the end of the trail past an ancient oak tree. A mystical spell floated tangibly through the air, and if Phin allowed herself, she could see flickering lights (similar to those of fireflies or glowworms) dancing on the light breeze. Directly down the path and through the clearing, in the center lay a small pond of crystalline water filled with fish of all colours. The surface of the pond reflected the light strewn in from the stars above, lighting the entire area.


Next to the ethereal body of water sat a child, a boy child clothed in oiled Bracken and bark. He stood onto the balls of his feet in one swift motion as Köln’s majestic head poked out of the dense forest. The boy smiled to Phin as though she were an old friend for whom he was so patiently waiting.


“My loneliness was killing me, Phin.”













































He spoke clearly, carefully, and mirthfully with his eyes smiling their worth in diamonds.


“I have waited so long to see you,” he said. “I do hope the storm was not too inconveniencing.”


Phin’s auburn curls fluttered mindlessly across her vision, and as she quickly tucked the stray strand behind her ear, the boy stealthily made his way to her and was feeding the horse some grains. She started seeing him so close so soon.


His hair was short, black, and curly. If she squinted hard enough, she could see strings of silvery hair in the dark curls. “Odd…” she thought.


“How did you…?” Phin spluttered, somewhat indignant. She was unsure what to make of the boy.


He placed a steady hand on the horse’s bridle and thumbed Köln’s muzzle gently as Phin looked to him with confused awe.


“No, I’m not mad.” He laughed despite himself. His joy was filling to the brim and spilling over, his voice held a chuckle. “Not a sprite either. My name is Gillis; I am but a humble servant and guide to you.” He bowed his head low showing more slivery curls hidden in the blackness of his hair.


Phin gripped the reins, preparing a quick escape, thinking the boy had gone insane.


“Yes. I know.” Gillis spoke lovingly and quietly to Köln, still patting the tired steed with a soothing rhythm. He snapped his eyes up to Phin. “It does seem a little odd, doesn’t it?”


He smiled again and chuckled, showing his large, crooked, and splotchy teeth. Gillis paused in thought and moved closer to the frightened young lady and offer his hand, which she kicked away ferociously in fear.


“I’m not here to hurt you; guide you. That’s it! Please,” he begged. “Take my hand.”


He proffered his hand again, palm up, however she kicked it again for the second time and disembarked from the saddle.


Phin spat, thick with emotion, “I don’t trust you.” She was sure it was his fault; he was to blame for the chaos erupting all around.


“Phin, please, I need you to trust me here. I’m the only one who knows your destiny… well, at least a good part of it. They”, he thumbed further into the forest, “know the rest. Apparently you’ve been spared as some sort of, I dunno, twisted ‘thing’ they’ve got goin’ on.” Gillis shrugged his shoulders. “There are a very few who’ve survived this mess in Fend.”


He closed his eyes for a quick moment, growing sombre in thought, retraced his steps and plopped himself at the edge of the sparkling pond.


Gillis’ black hair shimmered green turning to blue and violet in the light of the water. His deep eyes bore the same colour morphing quality reflecting the many fish swimming about in the deep. Touching the tip of his index finger to the water, a gold and silver speckled koi swam up to the surface to meet him. A couple of bubbles escaped its mouth and just as quickly swam back down with the other fish. They clotted around the koi for a moment and dissipated slowly.


He looked up to Phin in the near distance, staring searchingly, watching her face and body language. She shivered. Her gown was wet and stinky, the last thing she wanted was for someone to look upon her as she is, feeling slightly violated. Gillis noted, mentally, that her mood was most likely beyond foul.


“It may be hard to believe this, but you are one of the very few who are pure.” A rustling nearby startled him, his head darted from side to side anxiously. “That’s all I can tell you, for now. Please, carry onto Zerla’s Inn. It lies not far to the west.”


He pointed with his arm stretched as far as it could go; it looked as though he was trying to part the way. When Phin looked over to which way he was directing, there lay a small path she had not noticed before.


“I warn you though,” he said with his deep eyes still squinting, “they are not loving (rather rude if you ask me). But will feed and clothe you willingly.”


His ears, Phin had just noticed, were larger, rounder than normal, and twitched nervously.


Gillis strode past Phin with a small skip to his step and snatched Köln’s reins, which he shoved quickly into near-catatonic face.


“Hurry,” he whispered loudly, “you aren’t out of Fend just yet, and the storm is getting closer.”




The sun slowly crept his head over the rolling hills of Xela, unbeknownst to Phin whose last memories were of rain, wind, and Gillis who implored her to leave, rush from the forest. Apparently, she had fallen asleep while riding. She was amazed the horse found his way. A small part of her suspected Gillis had something to do with it.


Giant redwoods, Douglas firs, and tiny (by comparison) alders dotted the long cobblestone road to the bustling town known as Julian.  The trees, some enormously thick and tall, flocks of starlings passed from branch to branch and tree to tree (sometimes half a kilometre apart), and a canopy of green needles shaded the road slightly, which was peppered with seed-bearing cones. Phin’s eyes widened curiously, feeling as though she’s never used them before.


“Where am…?” Her words were cut off by the boisterous music of a densely populated town. People conversing idly (“didja see that sale?!”), carts moving about, mules braying, doors opening and closing, bells ringing, children playing comfortably in the streets, babies crying… all sounds felt new yet old at the same time.


Pomur wasn’t nearly this noisy.” So she thought.


Phin rubbed her sleep-crusted eyes. She reeled from the lavish gowns worn by the women (“much like Mum’s… but there’s no party!”), and the fantastic elaborate hats and doublets worn by the men (“a fashionable town… didn’t think these existed”). The children were dressed in similar finery, unlike the Pomurians who wore little more than burlap sacks and no shoes!


Trotting her way passed bakeries, butcheries, tailors, and a grand variety of produce carts, she marvelled at the clean buildings and newly painted signs on the outside of each establishment. Phin felt grossly out of place. The ragged scraps that remained of her gown, holed slippers, filthy face and hands, and most of all her vomit-matted hair (it was more the shade of brown than its glimmering deep red) drew in looks, some frightened, most revolted.


All the buildings were uniform and brown clay bricked. Each window could probably be interchanged easily if one wanted to. And if it were not for the clearly visible signs, she would have assumed each place was the same, and would find herself lost in no time. So Phin took careful considerations of the signs and had gathered a pattern to which areas held what businesses.


By noon, her stomach growled fiercely and the sun cooked the remnants of last night’s dinner that was still lodged in her hair. It was so gross. Phin was tempted to give up and ask for directions (she didn’t want to talk to anyone… seeing as disgusting as she was) when a pudgy little boy caught her attention and ran into a nearby building marked “Inn”.


She smiled and sighed at the same time, and veered Köln to the hitching post


Knocking on the door politely as she pushed it open, Phin was surprised to see a large common room. It was adorned comfortably with vivacious tapestries depicting courting lovers, a roaring fireplace sparked peacefully in the far end, and a long service bar stretched along the wall near the entrance. Taking a couple of demure steps inside, she felt a rush of eyes turn to her direction; all conversation stopped abruptly.


“Ex… excuse me”, she stammered. “Is, ah, is this Zerla’s Inn?”


Not a single person acknowledged her question, that didn’t stop them all from staring however. The plump little boy who lured Phin there stood up and jogged to greet her. Face to face, way too close for comfort.


“Yeah, lady”, he said. “This is Zerla’s place. I’m Posisto!”


The boy held out his hand proudly to shake Phin’s.  She took it, and shook it, although reluctantly. The feeling of disgust with herself came on strongly and she stepped away from Posisto quickly.


“Is Zerla here? I was sent to see her.”








…to be continued



Full blossoming sleeves reaching inches past her fingertips, satin, ribbons and bows, modest and rounded collar embroidered small colourful stones with silver thread, high waist just below the bosom, four hole corset, generally loose gown which flowed gallantly to the floor and would swish around playfully at her ankles as she walked, flat shoes garnished with lace flowers..