Prophecy Story Index

The Prophecy
Part One
by Becky
January 1997

~~~~~~~
Prologue
~~~~~~~

Dorien pushed open the tavern door and stepped inside, shutting it quickly to keep the heat in and the cold night air and swirling snow out. As he shook the snow off, he looked around. It was a typical tavern -- half-filled with groups of people over a meager, but nourishing, evening meal and a mug of hot cider to warm the blood. Times had been hard lately, especially further out in the country. It seemed that the farther away from the capital city he'd gone, the worse things had been.

He took in the room with a glance as he shrugged back his dark blue bard's cloak -- barkeep behind the counter, cook and a few helpers in the back, a few buxom waitresses serving the tables. He scanned the assorted customers, mostly in groups, men playing cards, telling stories, a few traveling couples, a mercenary or two sitting alone in the shadows against the back wall. Pretty much the normal crowd those days.

A low voice interrupted his thoughts. "Looking for someone?" He turned and saw a figure shrouded in a long black cloak leaning against the wall next to the door. Ah, yes, the security for the tavern. In a moment, his quick green eyes picked out the hefty sword pommel above one shoulder and the fact that the security was a woman! Very interesting. It was not often you saw a swordswoman anymore.

Raising his lute, he smiled politely. "No, actually, I'm a minstrel and wondered if I could sing myself a meal and a place to sleep for the night."

She gestured toward the bar with her chin. "Talk to Patric. He can help you, no doubt." He nodded his thanks and went to the bar.

***************************

Patric looked up as the stranger, a minstrel he gathered from the lute, approached him. The man stopped and laid his instrument gently on the counter, introducing himself.

"My name is Dorien. I was told to ask you if I might find a meal and shelter for the night by entertaining your customers."

Patric glanced down at the lute, hiding his surprise. The lute was a very fine one and an old one. This Dorien was no ordinary minstrel. More likely, he was one of the last bards trained in the Bardic Academy before it had been closed. But who am I to argue over such small facts? The less I know, the better for all concerned.

Patric looked back up at Dorien. "It would be a pleasure to have some music and singing from you, good sir. We get very little in the way of entertainment in these parts. Would you like the meal now or later?"

Dorien replied after a moment. "Later. Let me play a few sets and then I'll eat during a break."

Patric nodded his acceptance. "Very good. You can set yourself down next to the hearth while I pour some cider to wet your throat with." Patric disappeared into the kitchen as Dorien walked over to the hearth to settle himself down. By now, most of the customers had noticed him and had positioned their chairs for the best viewing and listening pleasure. Patric seemed to be correct in his statement that the traveling minstrels didn't get out this way much anymore. But he had never been one to let what others did affect how he did things.

Patric went into the kitchen to find Meg, his wife, and tell her about the minstrel, or bard, or whatever he was. Perhaps they would hear some news of what was happening in the outside world. As much as minstrels entertained, they also brought news to tell those on the outskirts of the kingdom what was happening in other places. His sharp brown eyes picked out the short, still slender form of his dark-haired wife pulling a tray of breads out of one of the ovens. He walked over to her and took the tray from her to set on a side counter. She smiled up at him, wiping the sweat from her brow with one forearm. He smiled back at her.

Wiping her hands on her apron, she asked, "What brings you back here?"

He replied, "We have a minstrel guest and I wanted to make sure everyone back here knew so you could take turns listening. I'll leave the times up to you. During a break, he'd like a meal, so make him something special as a thank-you."

Patric kissed his wife on the forehead quickly, then went back out to tend the bar. Meg watched him go, then turned back to her cooking, thinking. A minstrel. It's been a long time, a very long time, since any of their sort visited out here. After the war, most dispersed and disappeared into the far hills. They knew too much, especially if they had bard training at the Academy before it was closed. Perhaps he will have news of what's happening, if life has gotten any better in the Capital. She sighed, shaking her head slightly, and concentrated on her cooking.

***************************

Dorien played several sets of songs, singing some, just playing others. Most were the old standards from times past, approved of by the current government. True to Patric's internal guess, he was one of the last trained in the Bard Academy. He had barely escaped with his life when he had taken the extra time to save this lute. But he hadn't been about to let it fall into profane hands or be destroyed by the fire that destroyed the Academy. It was too special and unique for that to happen.

During his break, he ate the meal prepared by the cook, Patric's wife Meg. It was wonderful, especially compared the travel rations he'd been living on most of the time. He finished in good time and was sitting back, nursing his hot cider when one of the customers, a young man, started to speak.

"Minstrel Dorien, do you know tales from before ... the histories?"

Keeping his face neutral, he nodded. "Yes, I do. I know many histories. What would you hear?"

The young man hesitated, then burst forth rashly. "A true history of recent times, the reason for where we are today, of what we are, of the history between Rillanda and Bornath."

Shocked silence pervaded the front room as Dorien blinked a few times. He hadn't expected such a blatant request from anyone. All bards were trained with the knowledge of histories. He had lapped up such training and memorized more than anyone else in the Academy at that time. His mentor, Master Tulan, had seen what was coming and had gladly poured everything he knew into him, hoping he would carry the truth with him and pass it down to following generations so that someone would always know the truth.

Histories were varied, some true, some stories, some ideas. It could be dangerous to tell true histories. It was nearly unheard of to tell the true recent history of Rillanda and Bornath. It had been tried once and the Academy had been burned to the ground as a result. However, Dorien was bound by the bardic code to tell what the audience wanted to hear unless the request was withdrawn.

The young man looked straight at him, defiance and daring in his posture. "I want to hear the true history, not the lies we are told by ... him."

Dorien looked down at his hands, feeling all eyes upon him. He looked back up and around the room. Meg had come back out of the kitchen when the young man had made his request. She was now looking up at Patric who had his arm draped around her waist, a worried frown on his face. Dorien's eyes touched briefly on the swordswoman near the door. She appeared to be a little tense and met his eyes in a steely glance. Dorien looked back at the expectantly waiting young man.

He sighed. "So be it. I will tell you the true history." He set down his mug and settled back against the hearth wall, taking a deep breath to center his thoughts. He reached down inside himself and pulled forth the history requested and began:

"It began a long time ago, in the year 1366, during a similar snowstorm in the kingdom of Bornath where a prophecy had been handed down through generations, never understood by any, but puzzled over by scholars continually, including Arven, the son of Queen Dariella..."

Part One -- Gwyna
~~~~~~~
Stranger in the Forest of Nartha
~~~~~~~

Arven rubbed the bridge of his nose again, trying to relieve the tension behind his closed eyes. Why did I have to choose this parchment, of all parchments? I could have picked something else, something easier, but no, I had to solve IT, The Prophecy. He sighed and opened his eyes to look down at the few words, gasped out by a dying sorcerer so many centuries ago:

Three shall there be that bring Fate and Destiny to Bornath:
A king's treasure stolen, a hidden jewel found, a royal sword bespelled;
I have seen and I have spoken. Be ye warned and prepared, for truth it shall be.

So few words, but so much it could mean. That particular sorcerer always saw and spoke truth. He had foreseen great things for the king he had served and great prosperity in the many years and kings to follow. Everything that had been recorded and attributed to him had come true. But then as he lay dying from old age and sickness, he had spoken those words and died. His successor had scribbled down the words and tried for years to discover their true meaning, but to no avail. Copies had been given to the Scholars eventually, but neither did they have any luck. And so it had, for the most part, been passed off to the confusion of a dying man and forgotten. Only the highest Scholars and the few sorcerers left still remembered it and hunted for its meaning.

Feet clattering up the stairs to his tower room brought him back to the real world. His door was pushed open, and his sister Gwyna stepped inside. She was dressed in his cast-off trews and tunic along with riding boots, her long black hair hanging in a single braid down her back. She walked over to him and started to tug on his arm. "C'mon, Arven, it's time to go. Seth and Dani are waiting for us at the stables."

He slipped on his boots and grabbed his cloak and followed his excited sister down the stairs. He and Gwyna, age 20, were twins, though you wouldn't know it by looking. She had dark black-brown hair and dark brown eyes. He had brown hair and dark brown eyes. Seth and Dani were their brothers ... sort of. The current King of Bornath, Sonall, had married their mother, Dariella, a few years after his first wife, Noranne, had died in childbirth. Seth, age 23 -- or more properly, Norseth -- was the King's son by his first wife and heir to the throne of Bornath.

He and Gwyna were their mother's children by her first husband, Josef, who had been killed just after they were born. He had been a soldier assigned to the palace. Assassins had come to kill King Elric and then-Heir Sonall when he was on duty. Their father had thrown himself in front of the Heir, as he was the nearest, and taken the knife meant to kill him. The King was not so lucky as the other assassin was a better aim and a quicker throw. And so the young Heir, only 25, had taken the throne. With the next Heir, Norseth, a young 4 years of age, his councilors had urged him to remarry.

And marry he did, though not in the manner his councilors would have liked. He decided to marry the widow of the man who had saved his life. The councilors could do little but grumble at his decision. He was of age and not under any kind of protectorship. At least the widow was young and decently pretty, even if she was a peasant, with her blonde hair and dark grey-blue eyes. They had one totally royal Heir. They would just have to protect him better, unless they wanted some future ruler to be part peasant. The widow, in shock at her husband's sudden death, agreed to his proposal, knowing that at least her children would now have a home, food on the table, clothes to wear, plus so many other things they would never have had as peasants. And the marriage went forward as the new King planned.

No one expected for them to fall in love as well or that they had started to on the day of that assassination. But they did and had a son together, Danilon, more commonly known as Dani, now age 16. Their mother had died a few years ago of a wasting sickness, leaving the King to rule alone. Each year saw him more surly, more impatient, more bitter at the loss of two women he had loved.

Arven and Gwyna arrived at the stables where Seth was already on his horse, obviously impatient to get going. Arven really had no idea why he had agreed to go along, other than to please his sister who had wanted his company. Seth liked the hunting, while Gwyna enjoyed the nature, and Dani enjoyed the riding. Arven didn't really enjoy or like any of it. He was an okay rider, but not the greatest. And he deplored hunting for sport. He would much rather stay indoors and work on that prophecy. But he had promised Gwyna that he would come today, so here he is. Dani swung up on his horse, as did Gwyna. Arven was the last to mount with the assistance of a stable hand. Seth nodded once, then turned toward the forest, saying, "All right, let's go."

***************************

Not 20 minutes into the forest, the temperature dropped and the wind kicked up alarmingly, followed by snow. So much for hunting today. Before they could turn back, it became a full-fledged snowstorm. At that point, they dared not turn around for fear of getting truly lost. Seth pushed forward through the snow, urging his horse to keep going. He glanced behind him to make sure Dani, Gwyna, and Arven were still with him. They were, and he looked forward again. There was an old hunter's cabin up ahead a few turns where they could wait out the storm in relative warmth. Where did this storm came from? The weather-watchers had predicted clear, though somewhat chilly weather, which is why I planned this little jaunt today. He huddled down in his cloak, trying to keep the snow from getting under his collar.

Quite suddenly something detached itself from the side of the road and fell into his path. His horse came to a halt, shifting nervously. He straightened and reached for his sword. Before he had it half out of its scabbard, he heard Arven say, "Gwyna, no, don't..."

Gwyna went by him before he could react and was down on her knees beside the lump in the snow. Throwing his reins to Arven, Seth dismounted hurriedly and joined her as she turned the lump over to reveal a somewhat frostbitten-looking, unconscious young man. She looked up at Seth, "Seth, we have to help him."

Biting back several choice things he would have liked to say to her right now, he replied, grinding his teeth some at her impetuousness. "Gwyna, we don't who he is. He might be dangerous."

She insisted, her dark eyes flashing stubbornly. "We have to. He'll die out here."

Reluctantly he agreed, hoping he didn't regret that decision later. "All right, all right. We'll take him. Let's get him up on Dani's horse."

Between the two of them, they got him up on Dani's horse, while Arven was holding the reins of Gwyna and Seth's horses. Once secure, they remounted and continued on their way toward the hunter's cabin.

***************************

Gwyna quickly stoked up the fire with the wood Seth had brought in after stabling the horses. Arven and Dani were in the far corner, pulling wet clothes off the unconscious, half-frozen stranger, then wrapping him in warm wool blankets. After the fire was going, she brought over a pot of water to boil.

Seth came back in with a final load of wood. He deposited it next to the hearth, then secured the door firmly, shaking snow out of his short black hair. He removed his cloak and draped it over a chair to dry, then went over to stand next to the fire to warm his chilled face and hands. Riding gloves didn't take well to wood and so he hadn't worn them or any other coverings on his hands. Gwyna stood up next to him and took his hands between hers, rubbing them briskly to warm them.

Seth just watched her bent head through lowered lashes. She was quite beautiful, with her long black hair, loosened from its braid, drying in the warmth given off from the fire. He had been watching her for the last few years, seeing her grow up to a lovely young woman. He knew that someday he would be the King of Bornath, and he wanted a pretty Queen by his side and in his bed. Gwyna would make a good wife and a good Queen, once tamed a bit. He had been talking with his father about possibly marrying Gwyna, and surprisingly enough, he had agreed to the plan. Gwyna didn't know yet that they were to be betrothed at the Winter's End Festival and would probably fight it when she was told about it, but she would do as the King ordered her to. She must.

***************************

Dani sat back as Arven tucked the stranger in the cot warmly. He glanced back at Seth and Gwyna, then looked quickly away, feeling somewhat embarrassed at catching them holding hands, however innocent it appeared to be. He had realized some time ago that Seth had been eyeing Gwyna as a potential wife and Queen. He wasn't sure Gwyna had noticed yet, but she would soon. Seth's looks had become more and more proprietary, especially at the socials and dances they held at the palace. Seth watched her and the men she talked with, danced with, looked at, walked by even, with the eyes of a wolf stalking its prey. He shivered slightly -- just thinking about that icy blue-eyed stare gave him the willies.

Ever since the Queen had died, Seth had become more bold in what he did, in how he looked at Gwyna. He would never had done such things when the Queen was alive, for she would have noticed and told the King. Dani sighed slightly -- his mother, his kind, gentle, wonderfully wise mother. How he missed her. He knew his temperament took more after her than the King and for that, he was glad. Seth could be like the King enough for all of them.

When the Queen had died, Gwyna had taken over as Lady Mistress in all but name, making sure things ran as they were supposed to, delegating the appropriate duties to those who kept the palace going, housekeepers, maids, menservants, cooks, butlers, etc., etc. The King knew what she was doing, but chose not to acknowledge it. And Gwyna, though she was definitely not a malleable female, was understanding and had chosen to avoid causing a fuss by letting the King's silence on the matter stand as it was.

As for Seth marrying Gwyna, Dani didn't really see how that would work. Seth was so different from the rest of them and sometimes had problems seeing things their way. Gwyna was more "willful" and "opinionated" than any woman should ever be. Arven was "too dull" as he had more interest in books of ancient history and lore than hunting and the "manly" things in life. Dani himself was so much younger than Seth that they really didn't talk much or did much together, unless in a group. Dani had always figured Arven would become some sort of Scholar or Councilor. Gwyna he had always seen marrying only for love and ruling her own private kingdom, scandalizing all of Bornath in the process. As for himself, he didn't know yet what he wanted to do, other than maybe travel, at least for awhile. As much as he loved the people of Bornath, he wanted to see other places, other things. Then maybe he could settle back down and do what he was supposed to do -- whatever that ended up being.

***************************

Andrel forced his eyes open just enough to look around. Where am I? Let's see, my horse balked, threw me off when the storm hit so hard last time. He took off, probably trying to find his way home, silly beast. And then ... then I got lost and fell face first into the snow. Voices, I remember voices. Then I must have passed out. Oh, my head hurts.

As he shifted, he could tell he had nothing on beneath the blankets tucked around him. Oh, well, my clothes were probably so sodden as to be of no use to me anyway. His movement drew the attention of the figure sitting next to him. The figure sat forward and a gentle hand touched his shoulder, whispering, "Hello. You're awake. Are you well?"

He squinted up into a girl's, no, woman's dark eyes surrounded by a cloud of dark hair. He blinked a few times to be sure he wasn't seeing things, but the vision didn't disappear. A frown drew down the corners of her mouth. "Sir? Are you okay?"

He cleared his throat quietly, then nodded. "Yes, I'm okay, I think. Where exactly am I? I got somewhat lost in the forest."

She replied, "You are in the southern part of the Forest of Nartha."

Nartha. Oops. I am in Bornath. A long way off course, nowhere near where I'm supposed to be.

She had continued talking. "My brothers and I, we found you on the trail and brought you here with us to wait out the storm."

He smiled. "Thank you very much, my lady, I am much obliged to your kindness."

She blushed prettily, then said, "My name is Gwyna. What is yours?"

He replied, "Andrel. I am, was, traveling through northern Pakara selling my wares, but I must have gotten turned around in that storm. It came out of nowhere. I didn't mean to get this far north. I am from Rillanda and have never been in your kingdom before, nor am I familiar with the odd weather patterns this far north."

Gwyna's eyes widened. "Rillanda. I haven't been there, but I have heard things about it from those who travel there from time to time. Is it as pretty and green as they say it is?"

This being the known kingdom of snows, Andrel could understand her interest. He nodded. "Yes, it is. Green rolling hills full of life of many colors, flowers and trees and animals and insects even, though we tend to avoid a lot of the insects. They like to bite."

She giggled slightly at the aggrieved look on his face. Then she straightened. "You must be hungry, let me get you something to eat."

She rose and went off to the hearth to dish him up some soup from the pot. Her brothers were all sleeping on the other side of the room. As they all tended to sleep rather heavily, she was not concerned with waking them. She took a bowl of soup, some bread, and a cup of warm cider back to Andrel to eat. As he ate, they continued to talk, sharing bits of information about each of their two kingdoms. After he was finished, he fell back into a heavy sleep and Gwyna let him, knowing he must be exhausted.

After putting away the dishes, Gwyna sat back in her chair to watch Andrel as he slept. She supposed he was a rather plain specimen of a man -- brown of hair and eye, darkish tanned skin, and slight build. His hands were callused from hard work unlike the nobles she'd grown up with. She supposed her real father's hands would have been rough and callused as well. She inspected her own long-fingered delicate-looking hands -- soft, smooth, not a callus to be seen. The hands of Seth, Dani, and Arven were the same, though Arven's were invariably stained with printer's ink. Andrel never told her what exactly he did, but with those strong, well-used hands, he must make something beautiful.

This man was nothing like the men she was used to seeing at court. Seth was well-known as the handsomest man in the kingdom with his coal black hair, icy blue eyes, sculptured features, and perfect body. This man was nothing like him. When she had been warming up Seth's hands earlier, she had felt him looking at her, very intensely. She had looked up and caught something in his eyes before he smiled thankfully at her and withdrew his hands. She had seen something in his eyes that she hadn't expected from him. She did recognize it, though. She had seen that particular look given Seth from both attached and unattached women in the court -- desire.

Now as she thought about that look and the past few years since Mother died, she realized that Seth had looked at her that way for some time. Things that had happened in the past few weeks now made more sense. Two days ago, the King had been talking to her about marriage, settling down, having a few babies. Seth had mentioned the same ideas only yesterday when they had talked briefly. He had inferred that she needed to "settle down" and act more "womanly," more "genteel." Boring is what I call it.

She shook her head, no, that just wouldn't be me. I want excitement and adventure in life. I don't want to stay in this snow-covered kingdom for the rest of my life. And if I'm right about the look in the Seth's eyes, I certainly don't want to be Queen of it! And she could never marry Seth. He was an okay brother, most of the time, but he was a little too brusque, too quick to brush things off, too cold sometimes about sensitive things. She didn't want to spend all her time trying to make up for his lapses in politeness. And she didn't love him, could never love him in that way.

~~~~~~~
Awakenings
~~~~~~~

The next morning, Andrel woke slowly. Where am I again? Memory returned sluggishly as he heard the storm raging outside. The storm, the snow, Gwyna. Ah, yes, now I remember. He forced heavy eyelids to open to look for his benefactors. His eyes focused on the face of a young man with short, wavy blonde hair, soft grey-blue eyes, and kind smile, which got wider as he saw Andrel's open eyes. "Well, good morning, Andrel, I believe Gwyna said your name is."

Andrel smiled back. "Yes. Good morning..."

The young man supplied. "Dani. Are you feeling better? You didn't look too good last night."

Andrel nodded. "Much better thanks to you all." He paused, then continued. "I would feel even much better if I could possibly get dressed."

One side of Dani's mouth quirked up further in an amused, but understanding, grin. "Clothes, ah, yes, I can see how they would. Just a second, I believe they're dry now."

Dani rose from the chair and stepped over to the small table next to the hearth, where he gathered up Andrel's clothes and then brought them back to him. Andrel took them and Dani withdrew, pulling over the dressing screen to give Andrel some privacy. Andrel dressed quickly, realizing that his stomach was complaining of its emptiness. He ran a hand through his short sandy brown hair, trying to make himself semi-presentable. Ah, well, it will just have to do. He pushed aside the screen and took in his surroundings with a quick judging glance.

Dani was squatting next to the hearth, dousing the fire. He could see Gwyna sleeping, curled up in a large blanket next to a young man with brown hair. Husband? No, she said she came with her brothers. The door opened and another man, dressed in unrelieved black, stepped inside. The new man, most likely the same age as himself, met his brown eyes with eyes of ice blue steel. Andrel straightened automatically, that is certainly someone used to being in charge if I've ever seen one. The other man shut the door and walked over to Andrel, eyeing him calculatingly. "Good morning."

Dani turned with the sound of Seth's voice. He stood, dusting off his hands on the sides of his pants. He stepped over to Andrel's side. "Seth, this is Andrel. Andrel, this is my brother, Seth."

Andrel nodded at him. "Thank you for helping me, Seth. It was most kind of you to assist a stranger during this storm."

Seth's eyes narrowed slightly and a light blush inexplicably brushed his cheekbones. "Hmm. You're welcome. What were you doing out in this weather in the forest anyway?"

Andrel answered, "I was traveling through Pakara and got turned around. I wasn't prepared for that storm when it hit so suddenly. I'm actually from Rillanda. My horse got away from me in the forest, and I found myself quite lost."

Dani interjected, "Well, we can take you back with us. Surely we can find a way for you to get back home."

Seth was about to protest when Andrel replied, "I am a silver smith. Although most of my wares were on my horse, I do have a few items with me, or I did. Did you happen to find a small belt purse on me?"

Dani paused a moment, then said, "Oh, yes, we did. Arven has it with him. Let me wake him. It's about time for them to get up anyway. We need to get going before our father worries too much."

***************************

Arven was dreaming of treasures, jewels, swords, and portents of disaster when Dani shook him to wakefulness. He pulled himself to a sitting position, stretching tired muscles, rubbing one hand over his face. I've obviously been studying that prophecy too much. Maybe Seth is right, maybe I need to get out and do other things. Gwyna tried to bury herself back into the blanket, resisting Dani's efforts to wake her. Arven stayed his hand from shaking her shoulder again. "Let her have a few more minutes sleep. She'll be ready to get up then. Is our guest awake?"

Dani nodded. "Yes, he, Andrel, is. And he would like his belt purse. Apparently he has things in it he can sell to buy a new horse to go home on."

Arven stood, slipping on his boots, and joined Seth and the stranger, Andrel, at the doorway entrance. He pulled the purse out from inside his vest and handed it to Andrel, smiling politely. "Good morning, Andrel. My name is Arven. I think you've met everyone now."

Andrel smiled back. "Yes, I have. Thank you for helping me last night and thank you for keeping this safe." He opened the drawstrings on the purse and dumped a few of the small items into his hand. The three men looked intently at the jewelry lying in Andrel's hand. A set of earrings, a few small charms for necklace chains, a pin or two. All very fine, very delicate silverwork.

Arven, the only one really understanding the work it would take to get jewelry that fine, nodded in approval, impressed, "Very, very nice. I don't think you'll have any trouble selling those and buying yourself a horse, my friend, none at all."

***************************

As they rode back toward the palace, Seth took the lead and listened intently to the conversations behind him. Dani and Gwyna were riding Dani's horse, and Andrel was using Gwyna's horse. Arven rode silently next to Seth, the two other horses following behind them. Seth was not sure he liked the instant camaraderie among Andrel, Dani, and Gwyna, especially Gwyna. She seemed somehow taken with the silversmith. As for Andrel, he was definitely enchanted with Gwyna, but that was true of most men who saw Gwyna. Nevertheless, it still made his stomach churn. No one had told Andrel who they were yet, that Seth was the Heir, or that Andrel was making easy conversation with Seth's half-brother, who was right now the "backup heir," as the court called him. Well, he'll find out soon enough and then he won't be so cocky.

***************************

Within a few hours they had reached the capital of Bornath, the royal city Darcabé. Arven slowly pulled back on his horse to let Seth take the lead alone. It just wouldn't do to have the peasant stepson of the King riding equally next to the Heir, no sir. He slipped back next to Dani and Gwyna, saying, "Gwyna, slip over and ride with me. Dani, I know you hate this, but it's got to be this way."

Dani scowled and let Gwyna maneuver her way onto Arven's horse to ride in front of him, adjusting her skirts to sit sidesaddle. Dani sighed heavily and urged his horse forward to ride next to and a little behind Seth.

Andrel just watched this all, very confused. Then he finally caught sight of the dragon standard on the edge of the saddle as it becomes visible when Dani rode forward. He paled in shock, then colored in embarrassment. I have been riding with the royalty of the Bornathian kingdom. He glanced over at Arven and Gwyna. His memory finally dug up what little information he knew about Bornath. He remembered the brief bit of news he'd heard some years back. King Sonall had married once and his wife had died having the Heir. He had got married again a few years later to a widow with two children and had another son by her. She had died just a few years ago, if memory served him correctly. He muttered darkly to himself. "I could just kick myself."

Gwyna leaned over and touched his arm lightly. "Don't be so hard on yourself. It's not as if we did anything to tell you."

Andrel shook his head. "I should have known. Every fiber in my being knew that Seth was someone important. It is so obvious to me now. I don't know why I didn't see it before."

***************************

Ahead of them, his face out of their view, Seth just smiled to himself. There, that will put you in your place, little silversmith.

~~~~~~~
Stories at the Fountain
~~~~~~~

Over the next week or so, Andrel endeared himself to several noble ladies. He sold all he had brought with him, and then the requests began for special creations. As long as those who asked provided the silver and paid for the labor, he was willing to do what he could. He had stored up enough money to buy a horse now, but it couldn't hurt to have a little in reserve for the future by earning what he could here.

During the evenings, he spent much of time with Gwyna and Dani and sometimes Arven. Seth, he saw only rarely, but he wasn't sad to miss that ice blue stare glaring through him like daggers. He found the other three to be good conversationalists and hungry for any kind of news from the rest of the world. He told what he could, what he knew, and they always wanted more.

Their talks could go on for hours and several times Andrel and Gwyna were left alone in the courtyard of the palace, sitting on the edge of the fountain that dominated and stood guard over it. Gwyna just listened to him tell his stories drinking up every syllable with her eyes and ears like a child as he wove her into his words.

Andrel found himself attracted to the dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty. He was single and did want to get married sometime soon. His parents had died several years ago, and he had no other true relatives left, though his friends were many. He was alone and wanted the companionship a wife would give him. And children, he wanted children. And just when he thought he would find no one he could love, he found Gwyna, with her quick and intelligent mind, her lively and caring spirit, her listening ears, her wide eyes, her ... everything.

But there was no way he could even consider courting her. She belonged to Bornath. And he to Rillanda. And besides, Seth would probably kill him. He was not blind, even though Gwyna was a little. He could see the jealousy burning in Seth's eyes, the look of possession, even some lust. He was content with being her friend. He had to be.

***************************

One evening after Arven and Dani had left them, Andrel was telling a particularly humorous story from his recent travels. Gwyna sat on the fountain edge, laughing heartily as she listened and watched the way he described things with his face and hands. When the tale was finished and she finally calmed down, she wiped tears from her eyes with the back of one hand, still slightly giggling. "Oh, my, that was just too good. You are such a good storyteller, Andrel." On impulse, she leaned forward and hugged him. "I'm so glad I got to meet you."

Andrel's hands curled around her shoulders, hugging her back lightly, ignoring the voice in the back of his mind shouting warnings at him. She pulled back, broad smile still on her face, and their eyes met before she pulled back all the way. And she caught a small glimpse of ... something in his eyes before he blinked it away. That was the second time that it had happened in as many weeks. Only this time, she liked what she saw.

As Andrel released her, Gwyna asked, "Andrel, are we friends?"

Andrel nodded. "I like to think so."

She raised one hand and touched Andrel's cheek with two fingers. "Can we be more than friends?"

He inhaled sharply, lifting his own hand to bring hers away from his face, the touch of her fingers making the butterflies in his stomach do somersaults. "Gwyna, I ... I think I should be on my way home to Rillanda very soon."

Gwyna frowned, not expecting that answer. He tried to turn away from her, but she grabbed his arm. "Andrel, wait, I'm sorry. I thought there was no one waiting for you at home. I didn't mean to embarrass you."

He gazed out into the gathering darkness. "There is no one waiting for me."

She tilted her head. "Then why do you turn away? I know you feel ... something more for me."

He looked down. "I can't feel anything like that for you. It would be wrong. I have no right. And Seth, he..."

Gwyna interrupted, waving that name away. "Seth does not own me. And he is my brother, I can't love him like that. I have a hard time dealing with him as a brother sometimes. Andrel, please look at me. This is important."

Andrel sighed heavily and lifted his eyes to meet hers. Smiling shyly, she reached up and touched his cheek again. "I would like to have the chance to discover if the small liking I have for you can grow into something more. I don't care about conventions. Bornath nobility cannot dictate terms to me. I never let it in the past, and I won't let it now."

He just searched her eyes for long moments before raising his hand to again bring her hand down, this time curling his fingers around hers gently, breathing her name. "Oh, Gwyna." And then he leaned down and ever so softly kissed her lips with his.

***************************

In the shadows of the courtyard entrance stood a tall dark silhouetted masculine figure. The figure twitched his cloak around him and swirled away. Before he disappeared, the light from the single candlescone hidden behind him touched his face briefly. Seth.

***************************

After Seth left, another figure tiptoed over to where Seth had stood. It was Dani, his young face creased with worry about Seth's reaction to what he had seen. Dani glanced back at his sister and Andrel. He had come down here by an alternate route, seeing Seth heading angrily in this direction after a few whispered words from one of his personal servants. Dani had only left Andrel and Gwyna in the courtyard about 20 minutes before and had followed Seth to see how the older man would react to the obvious attraction between Andrel and Gwyna.

Dani had seen the budding mutual attraction between his half-sister and Andrel and had decided to keep an eye on them. He approved of it, as he had seen the true love shining in Andrel's eyes, and he wanted only happiness for his sister, no matter where it came from, peasant or royal, Bornathian or Rillandan.

However, he was very much concerned what Seth would do if he knew. He looked down the corridor that Seth had disappeared into -- what will he do now that he does know? He looked back again at Gwyna and Andrel as they talked quietly in the darkness, hands lightly entwined -- and what will they do?

~~~~~~~
Proposals and Replies
~~~~~~~

The next day, Gwyna was called by the King into his private receiving room after lunch for a "little talk." She was surprised, but not worried. He did this from time to time. All she could think of was that some servant saw her one innocent kiss with Andrel and had reported it to the King. Either he was curious about what Andrel meant to her, or he was going to reprimand her. Oh, well, he would have to find out sometime about it. The sooner, the better. I know I am falling in love with Andrel. It will give him more time to get used to it if he has found out now.

Gwyna stepped inside the room and saw her stepfather seated in his desk chair, with Seth standing next to him! Well, she hadn't expected to find Seth here, and for some reason, she tensed up, suddenly worried about this "little talk" and just what it was about. Sonall turned at her entrance and gestured for her to close the door. "Come here, Gwyna. We have something to tell you."

Gwyna closed the door and walked slowly over to them, throwing a quick glance at Seth, wondering whether the "we" was royal or if it actually included both he and Seth. She stopped a several feet away. "You asked me to come. What is it you wanted to tell me, Stepfather?"

Sonall smiled slightly, and replied, "Seth has been talking with me about the two of you getting married. I have agreed to what he proposes. You will be married at the end of the week." He turned away, his word on the matter now proclaimed, expecting her to obey him.

Gwyna's mouth fell open. Married? To Seth? At the end of the week?

Seth put in, talking more to Sonall than to her. "Thank you, Father. I will begin putting the arrangements for the wedding in order."

Gwyna found her voice, halting Seth's steps toward her with an upraised hand. "Hold on here a minute. Don't I get a say in this? No offense, Seth, but I can't marry you. You're my brother."

Seth replied smoothly, "There are no blood ties between us. There is nothing improper about this."

She continued. "But I don't want to marry you. I don't ... I can't love you that way."

Sonall turned to look at her again, a frown forming on his face. "You will marry Seth, Gwyna. It has already been decided. Love has nothing to do with it."

She shifted her gaze to him, so-called unwomanly stubbornness entering her eyes. "Love has everything to do with it. I will not do it. You cannot order me to."

His frown deepened. "You will do what I tell you to. I am your father..."

Her voice sharp with anger, she interrupted. "You are not my father. My father died many years ago protecting you."

Sonall stood in one royal motion, his stance at once regal and imposing, his mouth set in a stern line. "I am your King. You will do as I tell you. You will marry Seth. That is my final word on this matter."

Gwyna glared at him a long moment, her face and clenched hands whitening in suppressed anger. Then she whirled away and dashed out of the room, her long black braid slapping smartly against the leather vest she wore over her skirt and casual tunic.

***************************

Gwyna stormed down the long hallway, ignoring the sideways looks given her by various servants and even a few toadying nobles. She needed to get out of this enclosed space, to get out into the open where she could think and look for a way out of this ridiculous marriage. I cannot marry Seth! How could either of them even suggest such a thing? I mean, I expected Seth might bring it up sometime, but to me first, not to Stepfather.

She threw open the doors that led to the stables and ran along the path to the horse stalls. A ride on Dani's racing stallion ought to clear her mind. She stopped outside the stable and peered around the corner into the building. No one inside. Good. The stable hands would probably try to stop her if they knew she did this every now and then. Dani and Arven knew of course, but they also knew how good a rider she was. She dug out the cast-off trews of Arven in her secret place and exchanged her skirt for them.

She didn't bother with a saddle or bridle, just mounted the tall chocolate brown stallion bareback, then leaned over to open the stall door. She maneuvered the horse outside the stable doors, got a good grip on his mane, then sat forward to whisper in his flickering ears. "Go, Teva, go like the wind!" And go he did, tearing off down the field and jumping the fence with ease to take off into the trees beyond.

She kept Teva at a gallop far into the trees. As she neared the river that ran through the forest, she brought him down to a trot and then to a walk. After letting him walk for several moments to cool down, she dismounted and led him to the river to drink his fill of that cold crisp water before fulfilling her own thirst.

She leaned against his side, whispering, "Oh, Teva, what am I going to do? I just can't marry Seth. He..."

Her voice trailed off, not wanting to admit to herself the main reason she could never love him very strongly, not even as a brother. She finished her statement as Teva turned his head to whicker comfortingly at her, touching his wet nose to her cheek. "He ... frightens me sometimes, especially lately, now that I have found myself drawn to someone that I could love."

She recalled Andrel's hesitant and oh-so-sweet kiss from the night before. Yes, she was definitely beginning to fall in love with him. She knew that then and she knew it now. She looked up at the trees around, at the nature, at the country she grew up in, the only place she had ever known.

A month ago, if Seth had come to me and asked me to marry him, I might have said yes. I'm not as blind as I might appear. I saw what was happening, what was expected of Seth, of me. But now...

But now there were limited options: forget Andrel and marry Seth; refuse to marry Seth, but stay here; or... She really only had one choice if she wanted to live her life as she wanted to, the only way she would ever be truly happy.

I will have to leave.

That realization hit her like a draft of cold air drifting down from the northern provinces. She sighed once, then straightened in determination, calling upon the strength of will and stubbornness she inherited from both her parents. Remounting Teva, she turned the stallion and began the ride back to the palace.

~~~~~~~
Decisions
~~~~~~~

Andrel carefully wrapped up the last few items before putting them in his small pack. Its twin was already packed, sealed, and sitting on the floor next to the bed. It was time to go. Last night had shown him that. He had finished up his last few work requests quickly and refused any new ones, explaining to his new patrons that it was time he returned to his own country. He had very little to pack beyond some food for the trail, a few keepsakes, one change of clothes, and some small amounts of unique metals he had purchased in the marketplace. He had set aside the money he needed to buy a good horse, which he planned to do right after he finished packing. He had to leave now before he fell any more in love with Gwyna and provoked someone's anger, be it King Sonall's, the people's, ... or Seth's.

He was just straightening up when there was a soft knock on his door and Gwyna's voice calling his name. He hesitated, then stepped over to open the door. Gwyna stood there, cheeks flushed, still in trews and a leather vest over a long white tunic shirt. Obviously she had been out horseback riding. Her long black hair was coming loose from her braid, and he could see a few small green leaves stuck in it.

She came inside and closed the door without waiting for permission. He tried to protest. "Gwyna, I don't think--"

Her eyes immediately latched onto his packed bags lying on the floor and she interrupted him quickly, sharply. "You're leaving."

He forced his eyes to stay locked onto hers. "Yes, it's for the best. I'll leave tomorrow at first light."

She didn't say anything for a moment, then she continued on in a rush. "How well do you ride at night? Can you be ready to leave tonight?"

Gasping, heart aching, he turned away, mistaking her words as anxiousness to get rid of him. "I can ride okay at night, but during the day is better. Tomorrow morning will be better."

She latched onto his upper arm, her fingers closing tightly. "No, it must be tonight. Tomorrow may be too late."

He looked at her again, finally seeing the panic in her eyes and hearing the urgency in her voice. He frowned, concerned. "Why?"

She replied slowly, "I'm coming with you. I have to--"

Andrel pulled away from her, shaking his head as he stepped away from her. "No, Gwyna, this is your life, here in Bornath. You cannot leave."

Gwyna's voice lowered, desperation entering her tone. "If I don't leave, Stepfather will make me marry Seth."

Andrel queried, his forehead furrowing. "Make you?"

She nodded, eyes on the floor. "Yes, make me. I cannot do it. Seth ... is a good man, in his own way, but he's not... He is missing the warmth that I crave, that I need. He only wants to own me, he does not truly love me. I can see it in his eyes."

Andrel glanced out through the small window overlooking a corner of the courtyard terrace. He could see the fountain where he had kissed Gwyna last night. His heart was crying out for him to take Gwyna in his arms, hold her, comfort her, kiss her, confess the love he feels for her. But his mind was telling him that it could not be, that it was a wild fanciful dream, that it was too dangerous a risk for both of them.

Sensing his inner struggle, Gwyna came up behind him and laid one hand one his back and whispered pleadingly. "Please, Andrel, I know nothing but Bornath. If you don't take me with you, I will still go somewhere and perhaps get lost or die or be killed. I ... know you care for me. And you must know I feel the same about you. Could you live with the knowledge that you could have helped me and didn't?"

Andrel finally turned around to face her and took both her hands in his, holding them tightly. He raised them to his lips and kissed the back of her fingers softly. "No, I could not... Very well, I will take you. But pack lightly, I can only afford one horse. And I don't think we dare take one from your stepfather's stables."

The door opened suddenly behind Gwyna, and they both gasped in surprise, both expecting to see an angry Seth. Instead, it was Dani, looking very grim and sad for one so young. He stepped inside and shut the door quite firmly, hearing the latch click as he did so. He joined Andrel and Gwyna, noticing their entwined hands and fingers with a small smile. "You must learn to shut your door tighter if you want to keep these kind of conversations private."

Gwyna released Andrel's hands and started toward Dani, who held up a hand to forestall her words. "No, I won't tell. I, um, heard from the servants what happened this afternoon with Father and Seth. I know that Father has said you are to marry Seth. I also know that I disagree with that decision."

Both Gwyna and Andrel wilted some in relief.

Dani continued, a small smile playing on his lips for a moment. "I may be younger than the rest of you, but I know what happens in this palace. I see things that many others don't. I knew several years ago that Seth had his eye on you for a wife. And I knew that you would refuse."

He shifted his glance to Andrel. "But I never expected someone to from a different place to come and claim your love, to take you away from all that you know."

He looked back at Gwyna, whose dark eyes were wide and soft with tears. He took her hands in his. "Take Teva. He can carry two with ease. And he is faster and will last longer and take you further than any horse Andrel could buy..." He smiled wryly. "Besides, he always liked you better anyway."

Tears slid down Gwyna's cheeks and she threw her arms around Dani's neck, hugging him tightly. She whispered as Dani's arms go around her waist. "Oh, thank you, Dani. Thank you."

She released him and wiped her face with her palms. Dani watched her a moment, then said softly, slowly, "And now, we'd better go see Arven."

Gwyna folded her hands together tightly in front of her as Andrel draped an arm around her waist lightly. "Yes. Arven."

***************************

Arven looked up from the parchment of The Prophecy when a quiet knock sounded on his door. He called, "Come in."

Gwyna, Andrel, and Dani filed in quietly, somberly. Dani closed the door softly, firmly, behind him, and leaned against it.

Arven looked them all over once and then carefully set down his quill before rising to his feet to meet Gwyna's large dark eyes. "You're leaving, aren't you, Gwyna?"

She nodded once. "You heard about Seth then."

He nodded as well. "Yes, Dani filled me in. I wish I could say that I saw it coming, but I didn't. Too much time spent with these drafty old books and scrolls, I suppose."

Gwyna stepped closer to him and grabbed his hand, "Come with us, Arven. We--"

He stopped her before she could continue. "No, Gwyna, I can't. When Seth discovers you've left, he will search for you. You need to ride as far away as quickly as possible. You know that at best I am only a passable rider. Dani told me he was giving you Teva. He can only handle two if he is going to go at his best speed. No, Gwyna, I will stay. I will be safe in the Scholar's Guild. Seth cannot touch me there. Don't worry about me. Perhaps someday..."

Gwyna's eyes teared up again, and she wiped the wetness away, annoyed that she was crying.

Arven continued. "I will, however, ride with you to the edge of the forest as long as Dani agrees to remain here and keep and an eye on Seth."

Dani nodded in reply. Arven smiled his thanks and then looked over at Andrel. "And thank you, for taking my sister away from this."

Andrel stepped to Gwyna's side and held her hand in his, meeting her eyes briefly before looking at Arven. "I care very much for Gwyna. I promise you that I will get her to safety and will take care of her."

Arven nodded once, satisfied with that answer. His eyes went back to Gwyna's as he forced a small smile onto his face. "Well, then, you better get to packing, Gwyna. You have along journey ahead of you and the adventure you always dreamed of."

~~~~~~~
Packing Up Memories
~~~~~~~

That night, after supper, Gwyna packed silently and quickly in her room, alone. Andrel had only two small packs which he planned to put into saddlebags, so she needed to pack similarly. She packed the few essentials, still dressed in Arven's trews. She exchanged her long tunic for a shorter, more sensible one and pulled back on her leather vest. She dug out a long dark hooded wool cloak for warmth, planning to wear it, along with her short riding boots.

She then turned to her vanity, her jewelry strewn about it in various jewel boxes. Most unremarkable and not really wanted. But there were two pieces she simply must take with her. Sitting on the stool, she picked up a small cherry wood box from inside a drawer and placed it on the vanity top. She opened it to see two small silk-wrapped bundles. She took the larger of two out and carefully folded back the material to expose a simple, sturdy, but beautiful silver cloak pin -- the design being that of a sword over a circle. It had been in her family for generations, passed down through the female line, always to the eldest daughter. Her mother had reclaimed it from her father's body the day he died. She could remember vividly the story her mother had told her and Arven when they had asked how their father had died. She could still hear the soft melodious voice in her mind...

"I was there when your father died. I had come to see the processional of King Elric and Prince Sonall. I also went to see your father. He was so handsome in his uniform and so proud of his position of guard of the Heir.

"They had all passed by and were standing on the steps of the front palace entrance. The King was speaking. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came two men with short knives. Your father was the first to see them just as the knives were thrown. He jumped to the Prince, putting his body between him and the knife, pulling him down to the ground at the same time. The guard for King Elric was just a moment too late, and Elric died in an instant when the knife pierced his heart.


"I remember screaming and breaking free of the other guards and running to your father. He lay so still but he was still alive, barely though. I knew he was dying and so did he. I could see the point of the knife protruding from his chest.

"Prince Sonall was on his knees beside your father, his young eyes wide with shock, and his face was so pale. He had already seen death when he lost his wife, but this was more cruel. Your father took my hand and held it to his lips. He whispered that he loved me.

"Then he looked at the Prince, now the King, and asked that his family be taken care of, which included me, and you two, just babies. Sonall promised that it would be so, taking his other hand in his, holding it tightly, thanking him for his life. Your father smiled and looked back at me. He drew me down to his face, and we kissed one last time. When I pulled back up and opened my eyes, he was gone.


"As I lay weeping on the chest of my dead husband, the new King finally looked up to see that the other guards had caught the two assassins. He had them beheaded on the spot for their crimes. And then he proclaimed your father a hero, as he gave his life to protect and guard him.

"I took the cloak pin from your father's cloak before they took him away to prepare him for a state burial, along with the former King's body. Sonall gave me his hand to help me to my feet. An unheard of thing, royalty helping a peasant, a soldier's wife, widow, no less. I thanked him graciously, gathering myself together again. I think it may have been then, when our eyes met in shared sorrow, that we began to fall in love."

Gwyna sighed and turned the pin around in her hand a few times. It was such a simple-looking thing, but so special. No one was quite sure where it had come from. When her mother had first shown her the cloak pin, the only story she could tell her was that it was given to a female ancestor centuries ago by a mysterious figure robed in light who had given the instructions on how it was to be passed on and that it would return to her when its task was finished. That was all anyone knew.

Gwyna rewrapped it and put it in her pack, then turned to the other smaller silk-wrapped bundle. Unwrapping it revealed a small rose pin, no stem, just a top view of the rose itself, done in some kind of darker metal, but not gold or silver. It was her father's betrothal gift to her mother. She wore it constantly, up until she died. The King had allowed it, even though at times it made him a little uneasy, being reminded of the death of the man who gave her that pin. Gwyna had reclaimed it from her mother's jewelry box before the funeral, worried that it might disappear forever into the royal treasury. She ran a finger over it once before rewrapping it and stowing in the pack as well.

Next, she stood at the door to her wardrobe, so full of beautiful dresses, so many of them belonging to her mother, the true picture of grace. Although she could be a tomboy sometimes, Gwyna still loved the feel of silk and satin and lace and beautiful things next to her skin sometimes. She ran a hand over the dresses. There was simply no way to take them. Her hand stopped on a dark blue silk dress, really only a very simple shift dress, but one of her favorites. She pulled it out, staring at it, then at her packs, considering. Perhaps...? She folded it up carefully and placed it in her pack. Well, she rationalized, it can be extra padding for the pins.

After adding her small diary and sealing the bags, she grabbed them and her cloak, took one last look at her room, and then left, heading for Andrel's room to meet him and her two brothers.

~~~~~~~
Freedom's Price
~~~~~~~

That night, late, after saying a tearful and painful goodbye to Dani, Gwyna and Andrel, along with Arven, headed out to the stables, each covered by a dark wool, hooded cloak. Gwyna hurriedly saddled and bridled Teva while the two men saddled one of the nondescript stable horses for Arven. After loading their sparse amount of baggage, they led the two horses out of the stable and into the night. Gwyna and Andrel mounted up on Teva and Arven mounted his horse. They began with a walk, getting further away from the palace before breaking into faster speeds as they neared the trees. They took a route Gwyna knew would avoid any of the guards surrounding the palace grounds.

Eventually they reached the beginning of the heavily forested area, where Arven would leave them to travel on their own while he returned to the palace. There was small clearing leading to the trees set into the side of sloping hill, with a drop-off on one side. They all dismounted to exchange farewells before going their separate ways.

***************************

Gwyna clung to Arven tightly, burying her face in his neck. He was the last family she had left. To leave him was so painful. She finally released her grip to look up at him. He smiled crookedly at her, ignoring the "unmanly" tears running down his cheeks. "Well, I guess this is it, Gwyna. You take really good care of yourself, okay?"

Gwyna wiped her own tears away with the back of one hand before replying. "You take care of yourself, too, Arven. I'll miss you a lot. I do so wish you would come with us."

Arven just shook his head again. "No, I can't. I like this country and it is my home. I will be safe here, Gwyna ... but I'll miss you as well." He looked over Gwyna's shoulder at Andrel, where he stood next to Teva, nervously fiddling with a saddlebag strap. He continued, as Andrel met his eyes. "And Andrel, you are a good friend. I have been honored and privileged to know you. I ask only one thing of you before you leave, that you take care of my sister for me."

Andrel released the strap and stepped over to Arven, grasping his outstretched hand in a firm shake as Gwyna leaned away. "I will, that is my promise."

"I knew you would try this, Gwyna."

The harsh voice startled them all into turning to look back into the trees behind Arven. A dark-cloaked figure appeared from the shadows, leading a horse. As the sparse light of the stars touched his face, Gwyna gasped. "Seth."

Seth threw the reins of his horse over a nearby tree branch and walked a few feet closer to them, then stopped. Arven didn't move from his stance in front of both Gwyna and Andrel, as if protecting them. Seth glanced at him only briefly, dismissing him as a non-threat, then surveyed the saddlebags on Teva and the traveling attire of Andrel and Gwyna. His eyes narrowed in anger. "Not only are you running away, you are running away with the silversmith, on Dani's prize horse. Such dishonesty and theft is not becoming to you, Gwyna. I could give you anything in the world--"

Gwyna broke in heatedly, pushing around Arven to glare at Seth. "I will not, cannot, will never marry you, Seth! I do not love you. I can't."

Seth nearly shouted, his blue eyes blazing. "And you love this little silversmith, with his carving tools and pretty jewelry?!?

Chin lifted in pride, Gwyna answered with a single, sharp word. "Yes."

Seth was quiet for a moment, then with a cry of incoherent rage and jealousy, he yanked his short stiletto sword from its sheath at his side and rushed them, intent on killing his rival. Arven jumped in front of Gwyna, pushing her off-balance, and moved towards Seth to intercede. "Look out!"

Gwyna realized a moment too late what Arven had done. As she stumbled back into Andrel and knocked him against Teva, she watched the thin blade stab through Arven's heart as he threw himself in Seth's path. She screamed as if her own life had been ended.

"Noooooo!"

***************************

Dani had been riding silently behind Seth for the past several minutes. Somehow Seth found out about Gwyna and Andrel's decision to leave. Dani had watched him storm out of the palace toward the stables from his hidden position in the shadows at the edge of the forest where he was keeping watch.

Because Teva was no longer available, he had taken another horse; unfortunately, he had chosen a horse who had difficulty obeying his commands. Seth got further ahead then Dani wanted him to be. Seth was going quietly to avoid alerting Gwyna, Andrel, and Arven. Dani was going quietly to avoid alerting Seth.

Dani was held up at one point by his horse munching on some grass and stubbornly refusing to move. After trying everything else, Dani ground his teeth in annoyance and thumped the horse between the ears with his fist. That certainly got the startled horse's attention and they began to move again. He had an idea where Seth was heading -- the point where Andrel and Gwyna would continue on their own, the clearing. He pointed the horse in that direction and hoped to get there in time to stop whatever Seth had in mind.

He arrived just moments too late.

Upon reaching the clearing, he tied his horse out of sight and was just parting the foliage at the edge of the clearing when Seth pulled his stiletto. He watched in frozen horror as Arven moved to protect Andrel and Gwyna. Gwyna's anguished scream echoed in the night air, matching the pain he felt as he watched Arven realize he would die because of Seth's impetuous move. Still in shock, Dani stared as Seth, off-balanced by Arven's lunge, tripped backward and fell off the cliff into the thick snow drifts several feet below. And then he was on his feet and moving toward the others as Arven slumped heavily to the ground.

***************************

Andrel looked up in alarm as Dani rushed to them, expecting more trouble, but then, relieved that it was Dani, fell to his knees beside the weeping Gwyna. He helped Dani carefully turn Arven to his side. Dani pulled the wretched stiletto out with one long slide and flung it aside in anger. Then they laid Arven on his back. Even on his dark tunic they could see the dark stain of blood spreading rapidly, too rapidly.

Dani whispered. "Oh, Arven, why did it have to be you?"

Gwyna reached out and touched Arven's cheek. He was still alive, barely. They all know he didn't have much time left to him.

Arven, his breath coming in painful gasps, cracked open his eyes to look up at Gwyna. "Gwyna, please, don't cry. I love you, sister. Please remember that."

She nodded, holding his hand tightly, bringing it to her face, whispering back. "I love you, too."

Arven looked at Andrel, pale in the starlight. "Andrel, remember your promise."

Andrel nodded. "I will."

Arven looked at Dani as his eyes began to cloud over. "Dani, please keep my journal, my studies, safe. Take my notes. Someday ... they will be necessary, needed, and ... true..." His voice trailed off, and his eyes shuttered closed as his breathing and heart stopped.

Gwyna collapsed on his chest, sobbing terribly. "Arven, you promised me you would be safe, you promised..."

Dani raised sad eyes to meet Andrel's. He swallowed hard, then spoke. "I saw ... the very end only. What exactly happened?"

Andrel stroked Gwyna's back in vain comfort. "Seth, he confronted us. He tried to attack us, but Arven ... protected us, bought our freedom with his life."

After a moment, Dani stood and walked over to the cliff where Seth had disappeared. Leaning forward, he could see a black shape in the snow below. The drop-off was not all the high and most likely Seth survived the fall, cushioned by the powdery snow. Definitely unconscious and perhaps injured, but alive. He felt a brief surge of resentment against fate that Arven had to die and Seth got to live. He shook his head. Right now other things must take precedence over this.

He went back to Andrel and Gwyna. He said to Andrel. "Take her on to Rillanda with you, Andrel. I will care for Arven ... and Seth."

Gwyna raised her head, sobbing out. "No, I won't leave him."

Dani knelt down next to her. "Gwyna, he's gone. There is nothing here except a shell. He is now a part of our memories, our hearts. He won't be forgotten. But you must leave. It isn't safe for you here. I'm pretty sure Seth is still alive. Father might decide this was Andrel's doing and have him killed. You would still have to marry Seth, unless, of course, you were implicated in Arven's murder. Please, Gwyna, dear sister, you must leave. I will take care of everything."

She looked down at Arven's body, already chilling in the cold night breeze. She nodded. "All right." She touched Arven's cheek once more and then stood, turning to mount Teva.

Dani touched Andrel's shoulder. "Andrel..."

Andrel nodded. "I will take care of her. I love her."

Dani smiled slightly. "I know. And thank you."

Andrel mounted behind Gwyna who turned to ride sidesaddle, wrapping her arms around Andrel and burying her face in his chest, still sobbing.

Dani laid a hand on her knee. "Safe journey, Gwyna, Andrel. Farewell."

And they rode off into the trees on Teva, disappearing into the darkness.

***************************

Dani stood silent over Arven's body for several moments, trying to decide what he was going to do. Should he tell the truth? Who would believe him? If he kept quiet, he might be able to keep whatever influence he had on the ruling person, be that his father or his half-brother. He would have to forfeit any kind of real life as he could not risk endangering a family or close friends if Seth ever discovered that he knew. He could feel his life's dreams of travel wither away into the cold snow still falling quietly on his shoulders, each flake adding responsibilities and secrets to his life.

He heard a moan issuing from the below the cliff. Seth was coming around. With a final glance at Arven's half-snow-covered body, he headed back quickly to his horse, untying it and leading it back through the trees to the palace. He would keep this secret for the time being. He would watch, and he would wait to see what Seth would do first and then would make his own decision.

~~~~~~~
Interlude
~~~~~~~

Dorien finished the first part with a brief narration:

". . . . And as Bornathian history records, Seth returned from the forest early the next morning, bearing Arven's body on a second horse, saying that he and Arven had gone out to follow Andrel and Gwyna to convince her to stay. She had refused and the silversmith had killed Arven with a sword and knocked Seth off the cliff. When he awoke, they were gone.

"Dani decided to keep what he knew was the truth a secret for the time being. He willingly gave up any hope of ever having a safe and good life of his own to guide the lives of his King and Seth, trying to make life in general easier for the people in the country of Bornath.

"As for Gwyna and Andrel, they married as they traveled through Pakara and then continued on to his home village of Rosewood. A year and a half later, Gwyna gave birth to a daughter whom she named Raven. As Raven grew, she looked more and more like her mother -- the same face and black-brown hair, though her eyes were grey-blue as opposed to dark brown. The past slowly receded into memory and Gwyna regained much of the sparkle she had lost with her brother's death.

"However, fate had not finished with them yet. When Raven was seven years of age, the Petuban flu hit Rosewood and the surrounding area, a simple childhood ailment that all got and recovered from in short order. No one realized, though, that Gwyna had never been exposed to it or how this supposedly innocuous discomfort would affect an adult. Just as the children recovered, Gwyna sickened and by the following day had slipped into a deep coma and died in another day's time. All the village mourned the loss of the mysterious Bornathian beauty who had entered their lives and left again in such a brief amount of time. Raven coped as only a child can, and Andrel could only hope and believe that he would someday meet up with her in the hereafter to once again dance and sing and laugh together.

"Andrel considered sending word to her family in Bornath that Gwyna had died, but decided not to quickly. No one but he himself knew of Gwyna's connection with the ruling family of Bornath, and he wanted it to remain that way. Of those in Bornath that would want to know, only Dani was left and trying to get a message to him could jeopardize his position, and possibly his life, with Seth. It could also endanger himself and Raven, if Seth were to discover that Gwyna had a child and where that child lived. No, it was safer just to let things lie, to let Seth go on in ignorance. If he ever saw Dani again, he could only hope that he understood his caution.

"And so, time passed and life went on."

***************************

Kellessan shifted uneasily against the bare wall, then finally sat down in the chair provided her by Meg, who had always insisted that she didn't need to be standing all the time. She settled back, but didn't totally relax, always ready for something, anything, to happen. The weight of her sword pulled her back into the chair as she drew her cloak around her legs. She stared from the darkness at the minstrel telling his tale. He was taking a few moments in-between parts to drink some of the cider from the mug resting next to him. His listeners were rapt with attention, impatient for him to continue, but willing to wait a few moments for him to begin again. She wasn't so sure this was such a wise decision on anyone's part. This 'true history' of his could get us all killed, if the wrong people find out.

She scanned the room and the people in it, trying to figure out if anyone here could be a spy. Well, if there is a spy, it's not anyone who works here or lives in this village. That leaves the travellers that regularly stop by here, the mercenaries, and perhaps the newer people in town. Not Kirinn, he has no love for our "beloved" ruler. I can see the anger in his eyes. It was our ruler's soldiers that killed his wife. Geof? He's new. He doesn't say much, just watches, maybe I'll have to watch him a little more. Lynna, maybe? She is a mercenary and works for whomever pays her, but I don't think she would betray her own kinsmen. Who else?

Her musings were interrupted and blue eyes drawn away from the customers as Meg neared her with a mug of hot mulled cider and a half-loaf of bread. She set them on the side table, then sat down next to her, whispering, "What are you thinking about?"

Kellessan gestured at the minstrel with her chin. "Him, and his tale. This is very dangerous, you know. Who knows who could be here, spying on us, listening to this, so they can report it? This is a huge risk, one we shouldn't take."

Meg nodded, following her gaze. "Yes, I know. So does Patric. But we cannot stop it. It is what they want to hear. And he does tell it well." She paused, then continued in a soft whisper. "Patric believes he is a true bard, one of the last trained."

After taking several swallows of the mulled cider, Kellessan flipped her long braid of dark blonde hair back from where it had fallen forward over her shoulder. "Well, I have a feeling he will cause us trouble. I want to know what brought him out here so far. What is he running from? No minstrels, much less bards, travel this far out for a good meal and a bed unless something bad is behind them."

Meg shrugged. "That may be. Just be nice when you talk to him, Kell, as I know you will. Don't break him, like that customer that was in here last week."

Kellessan half-smiled. "He had it coming, hitting on poor Samie like that. She didn't know what to do with that drunken slob. Poor child, she's only 17. But don't worry, I promise to be nice in any case."

Meg smiled back at her and patted her arm. "Thank you." She rose gracefully and went back to Patric's side to continue to listen to Dorien's tale.

***************************

Dorien rolled the mug between his hands, leaching its warmth into his still cold fingers. He cleared his throat one last time and began again:

"Many years passed. Andrel became known as the foremost silversmith in Rillanda. His work was sought after and desired by many, from the rich to the poor. He lived as a simple peasant in Rosewood, raising his daughter with help from a few women in town. He traveled to Brightstar, the capital and royal city, to trade his wares twice a month, refusing to sell anywhere but there.

"Raven continued to mature, gaining the height, poise, and beauty, if not the stubbornness, of her mother. She was a gentle, soft-spoken, somewhat shy girl, never exposed to life outside Rosewood. However, as she got older and neared marrying age, she began to get curious about life in Brightstar, in the bigger towns. Andrel saw this and knew that the day was coming when he would have to let her go, to let her learn on her own, to marry, to have children.

"Little did he know that day would be coming sooner than he realized..."

***************

Continued in Part Two....


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