Prophecy Story Index
Part Two -- Raven
Raven sat at her weaving loom, humming quietly to herself, listening to the contented purrs of the cat sleeping at her feet. Sparks popped occasionally in the hearth fire which warmed the small cottage. She was by herself at the moment. Her father had gone into Brightstar to trade his wares for a week, which he did each month to earn a living. Now that she was older, he didn't worry leaving her alone while he was gone. Her mother had died ten years ago, when she had been only seven. Wind roared outside the walls, the snow and ice pinging off the metal parts of the roof. Their two large guard dogs dozed peacefully in front of the fire, oblivious to the weather outside.
Suddenly there was a loud knock at the heavy door. She jumped at the sound -- who would be out on such a horrible night? She shushed the startled and barking dogs and slipped out from behind the loom. She caught up the candle and went toward the door, calling, "Who's there?"
The knocking came again, sounding more urgent. Of course, whoever was out there wouldn't be able to hear her quiet voice over the noise of the storm. She reached the door and set down the candle on the small table next to it. Pulling back the bolt, she opened the door slightly, repeating her query. "Who's there?"
A man's muffled voice replied. "I am a traveler who has quite lost his way. Could you find it in your heart to let me in until the storm passes?"
Realizing that the man was half-frozen and not knowing any reason not to let him in, she quickly opened the door wide and he stepped inside gratefully. She shut and rebolted the door again before too much snow came in the front step.
The man shook all over briefly, attempting not to scatter too much snow around him. He unwrapped his cloak, scarf, and other wet accessories, and then wasn't quite sure where to put them. Raven took them from him and put them on the hat rack beside the door, spreading them out to dry. She turned back to look at him, judging him to be not older than 20. He had a short cap of medium brown hair and warm brown eyes.
She invited him in further. "Please, come in, sir, and sit near the fire to warm yourself. Would you like anything to eat or drink?"
The man smiled politely. "Thank you. Something hot to drink does sound very nice."
She seated him on the carpet in front of the fire after getting the two large dogs to move unhappily out of the way. Then she made him a mug of hot cider, as she always had hot water hanging over the hearth fire, and pressed it into his hands.
He took it, saying, "Thank you, my lady. My name is Stefan. Thank you very much for letting me into your cottage."
Raven reseated herself behind her loom, her hands picking up where she left off automatically. "My name is Raven. What were you doing out in this nasty weather?"
He shifted and settled back against the front of the chair opposite her, sipping at the cider. "I was traveling back to Brightstar when this storm hit. I knew it was coming, but thought to beat it back. My horse decided to abandon me some time ago. And I found myself, by pure luck, on your doorstep, my lady rescuer."
He inclined his head to her, and she found herself blushing pinkly. "You are much welcome, Stefan. I couldn't just leave you out there in the snowstorm. My father has taught me that I must give aid to any who ask."
Stefan cocked his head. "Your father? Then you don't live here alone?"
Raven shook her head. "No. My father is usually here as well. He is in Brightstar at market right now. He should have been back today, but I suspect the sudden storm kept him in the city. He is a silversmith and sells jewelry once a month in Brightstar."
Stefan perked up. "A silversmith? Jewelry? Is your father, by any chance, the great smith Andrel?"
She nodded both proudly and shyly. "Yes, he is."
Stefan smiled widely. "How amazing, how simply amazing. My father buys some piece of his handiwork every time your father comes to market. It is the only jewelry Mother will wear. Your father is a truly gifted artist, Raven."
She looked down at her loom, whispering. "Thank you."
Silence fell as Raven renewed her weaving, and Stefan relaxed against the chair front. He watched the girl from beneath half-closed lids. She was very beautiful and somewhat ethereal with her long brown-black hair held back from her face by a headband. Her eyes were soft dark grey-blue, very rare, set in a heart-shaped face with a pixie nose. He glanced around the small cottage, picking up much about the inhabitants. Neat and tidy, educated, very close, intelligent. Very few of the other people he had met in this journey could measure up to that.
Even though King Randal's reign was one of peace, he liked to send out a single person every year to travel throughout his far-flung kingdom and talk to people, from farmer to merchant to noble. And he preferred that no one know just who he was sending out or that he did s it at all, though some had figured it out from time to time. So Stefan had had to make his way through the kingdom with his own ingenuity. He had a small store of money to help him if need be, but not too much. He usually tried to do one- or two-day jobs to earn his way and his keep in the places he stayed. The route took some time, normally one or two months in duration, depending on weather and availability of work.
His route had taken him further out and therefore he had been out for three months. Boy, would he be glad to get home and sleep in his own bed. As fun and interesting as this trip was, he was glad he only had to do it once. The King chose experienced guards or soldiers from his small standing army to make this yearly trip and once chosen to do it, you were never obligated to do it again, unless, of course, you wanted to. A small few had done it more than once, as they enjoyed the traveling. Not for me, thank you very much, I would much rather be at home in front of a nice fire. I'll take my adventures from now on close to home.
Raven watched Stefan from behind her weaving. Very polite and nice-looking as well. She could see that he had done of lot of traveling recently as his clothing looked slightly worn and his hands were calloused from work. He had only one bag with him, probably the only one he could get off his rebelling horse. She saw him trying not to yawn and began to feel tired herself. It had been a long day, as getting ready for the storm in the village was always a hefty job.
Stefan suppressed a yawn and watched Raven's slight and graceful hands wove the thread back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and... He shook his head as he began to get mesmerized and fall asleep. He failed to hide his yawn this time and Raven caught it.
She stopped and looked at him. "Why don't I put you up in my father's room. He wouldn't mind."
Stefan shook his head, patting the floor. "Oh, no, this will be fine right here in front of the fire."
Raven was shocked. "But..."
Stefan smiled. "Really, it's okay. It's much better than I have had on many nights."
She sighed. "Very well. I will get some bedding, at least, to cushion the floor."
He nodded his thanks. Raven got him a pile of blankets and the comforter from her father's bed. She waited to see that he was comfortable, then headed back to her own room to get some sleep.
The next morning, Raven was up early like normal and quietly began to prepare breakfast. The storm had stopped, though she supposed the entire village was filled with snow. As the food was cooking, she went to the front door, unbolting and opening it. There was about a foot of snow outside, but not as much as it could have been. There had been times she and her father, and half the village, for that matter, had been trapped in their houses until someone from the taller houses could dig them out.
She looked to the side as she heard a whinny. A large black horse -- a stallion, she decided -- complete with black saddle, bridle, and saddlebags was standing placidly next to the house, swishing his tail in equine displeasure at the cold. After a moment, she laughed. This has got to be Stefan's horse. Who else would have a horse that followed him to where he slept?
Stefan stirred when he heard soft laughter. For a moment he was confused as to his location. Then he remembered -- Raven. He sat up and looked over at the door where he saw Raven standing in the doorway, a warm shawl thrown about her shoulders, laughing at something he couldn't see. He rubbed his eyes and stood up, walking over to her. "What is it?"
She gestured outside and stepped away from the door for him to look, which he did in curiosity, then amazement. "Wind Dancer! Where did you stay last night, old boy? And just how did you find me?"
The horse whuffled a response and rubbed his nose against Stefan's hand, searching for food. Raven said, "There's feed in the barn, if you want. Right behind the house."
Stefan glanced over at her. "You sure that's okay?"
She nodded, waving him toward the barn. "I'm sure. Go on. By time you're done, breakfast will be ready."
He yanked on his boots and coat and took Wind Dancer around to the small stable, where he gave him a quick, brisk rubdown, and poured some feed into a feedbag, hanging it on a peg. He made sure there was water in the water trough, then headed back to the house, trusting that Wind Dancer, intelligent horse that he was, would know when he'd had enough of each.
Over breakfast, Raven and Stefan talked more, trading stories. Stefan decided that Raven was indeed a very intelligent and quick girl, just the kind of daughter he would expect Andrel to have. His parents knew Andrel better than he did. He'd met him a few times, but hadn't really had any reason to spend a whole lot of time with him, as he didn't have anyone to buy his type of jewelry for. At least not yet, though Mother had been none-to-subtly suggesting just such a thing before I left.
Soon enough, breakfast was over, and Stefan knew he had to be on his way. The King would be expecting his report that afternoon. Since he was supposed to have been home a few weeks ago and had only been able to send messages here and there, he was sure his parents were worried about him, which made him all the more anxious to get home. He was their only child, much as Raven was Andrel's only child.
Raven stood in the doorway to watch him prepare to mount his tall black stallion. She thought he would look quite good, seated on that horse, all that black, plus his black cloak thrown over his clothes. He turned to her, stepping over to stand in front of her. "My lady, I thank you again for extending to me such kind hospitality. I won't forget you."
He took her hand and kissed it gently. She blushed again and tucked her hand, when he released it, into the folds of her skirt. He inclined his head at her once, then turned and mounted his horse in one fluid motion. Magnificent, just like I thought. He looked down at her. "Farewell, Raven. Perhaps we will meet again someday."
She smiled at him. "Perhaps we shall. Goodbye, Stefan. Safe journey."
He rode off in a gallop, Wind Dancer's hooves kicking up snow into the air. She watched him until he turned the corner at the end of the road. And then he disappeared. She sighed, smiled, and went back inside to prepare for another day.
Invitations and Tales
The next morning, Andrel rode back into the village in late afternoon. He had been forced to remain a day longer than usual in Brightstar because of the snowstorm. He was anxious to get back to Rosewood and had left as soon as feasible. He shifted his weight on Chaina, the dappled mare he rode. Chaina was descended from Teva and was a very sturdy riding horse. Teva had died only a few days after Gwyna, as if he knew that his beloved mistress was gone. He simply didn't get up one morning when Andrel went out to feed him. Andrel missed the spirited stallion, but Teva had earned his rest. Chaina had her grandsire Teva's spirit, but she also had her granddame's sturdiness and dependability which was what he had been looking for when he and Gwyna bred Teva years ago.
He looked around the village as he rode in. The snow was stacked up against the sides of houses still, but it didn't appear that anyone was snowed in. Good. We had plenty of that last year. He reached his and Raven's small house on the edge of town, nearest the trees and stream in the distance. He went straight to the barn to put Chaina away. As he brushed her down and left food and water for her, he noticed that there was more feed gone than should have been. He frowned. Did someone come while I was gone? Guess I'll have to ask Raven.
Andrel headed back out of the barn, latching the door securely, then went to the small house he had brought Gwyna home to so many years ago. By time they had reached Rosewood, Gwyna had more or less grieved enough about Arven that she hadn't broken into tears constantly. But she had never mentioned his name again and flatly refused to speak of where she had come from to others and sometimes to him. Andrel had honored her choice and left her past a mystery. Not even Raven really knew where her mother had come from, other than she was from Bornath. Someday he would have to tell her the whole story, but not yet.
Andrel opened the door, calling out, "Raven, I'm home."
Her voice resounded through the house. "Father!"
She appeared from her bedroom and rushed across the small family room to throw herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. "Father, I was worried about you. The storm, did it keep you in Bornath? Did you see the King and Queen? Did you talk to them?"
Andrel laughed as Raven released him. "One question at a time, Raven. Yes, the storm did keep me a day longer than I thought. Yes, I did see the King and Queen. And, yes, I talked to them."
Her eyes widened. "What did they say?"
He gestured toward the couch, "May I sit down first?"
Only a little chagrined, she grabbed his arm and hauled him over to the couch, plopping down beside him, and looked expectantly at him.
Andrel reached into a vest pocket and pulled out an envelope. "I talked to the King and Queen and they told me it was time to invite you to a royal banquet and dance."
Raven took the envelope reverently and just looked at it a few moments, speechless. She raised hopeful, shining eyes to look at her father again. He chuckled. "Go ahead, open it."
She carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a small card to read it softly aloud:
You are hereby invited to attend the annual Winter Dance
at the Crystal Palace in Brightstar on the fifth day of this month of Vendikar
She looked back up at Andrel, eyes wide and dark. "The Winter Dance? Truly?"
He nodded at her, his own eyes twinkling. "Truly."
She threw her arms around his neck, hugging him again. "Oh, Father, this is wonderful!" She pulled back suddenly to look at him. "Will you be coming?"
He pulled out another envelope, his own invitation. "Of course I will. Couldn't let you be introduced to society by yourself. Who knows who might want to carry away such a beautiful girl?"
Raven blushed at his praise, then said slowly, "Do you think ... could I wear Mother's special dress? I think it might fit and Megan can probably fix it if it doesn't."
Andrel smiled softly at her request. Gwyna's special dress was the one dress she brought with her from Bornath. She didn't wear it very much, just kept it basically to remember what good times there were in her years at Bornath. Looking at his daughter, he knew it would fit her and it would only make her look more lovely.
He nodded. "Yes, of course you can wear it. Your mother would be proud to see you do so. Go on, now, go check to be sure it fits. The Dance is only a week away. Megan will need a little time if there any adjustments to be made."
She kissed him on the cheek and dashed off to find the dress in the small chest of Gwyna's keepsakes from Bornath that Raven now had in her room.
Andrel watched her go, his brown eyes suspiciously wet. Ah, Gwyna, she looks so much like you. And acts like you too, at least before Arven died, except that she lacks your stubbornness. A smile of memory touched his lips as he chuckled low in his throat. Oh, but that stubbornness was probably half of what made me love you. Sighing, he rose to his feet and headed down to the bathroom to wash up and then to his own bedroom to change into fresher clothes.
That evening, Andrel and Raven had a quiet, simple dinner. Andrel was tired from his trip, but wanted to spend a little time with his daughter before he headed off to bed to catch up on his sleep. As they were eating, Andrel remembered the low feed in the barn. He queried, "When I put Chaina away, I noticed that the feed was lower than usual. Did someone need some?"
Raven paused with her fork halfway to her mouth. "Oh, the feed. Yes, someone did need some."
She put down her fork and continued, a small smile on her face. "During the snowstorm, a young man named Stefan came to our door. His horse got away from him in the storm, and he found himself here. I let him stay here overnight. The dogs did not appreciate being ousted from their spot in front of the fireplace. His horse showed up the next morning. I let him feed and water him in the barn. After breakfast he left."
Andrel nodded. "I see. Did he say what he was doing out during such a horrible storm?"
Raven replied, "He said he was on his way back home to Brightstar. He has been traveling for the past few months, just seeing what he can see, he said. He's seen so many things and met so many people, Father! It sounded very exciting. He was very happy to be finishing his journey though. He said his parents would be missing him."
Andrel looked down at his plate a moment, smiling to himself. He must have been very unique to draw her out like that. Then he looked back at her. "He sounds as if he was a very nice young man."
To his surprise, she blushed pinkly and looked down at her own plate, moving her food around with her fork. "He ... was." She looked back up at him and changed the subject. "When we were talking, he found out you are my father. He said that his mother will not wear any jewelry except yours. He was very impressed that he was sleeping in our home."
Andrel frowned slightly to himself as Raven began to eat again, her eyes leaving his face. Stefan. Do I know a Stefan? No, I don't think so. Hmmm, well, next time I go into Brightstar, I will just have to keep my eyes and ears open for a Stefan.
Wonders at the Crystal Palace
A week later, Andrel stood in front of his mirror in his bedroom looking himself over. Oh, I wish you were here today, love, to see our daughter so grown-up and so beautiful. Gwyna's voice whispers over his shoulder, I'm always here, Andi, in your heart, always. Andrel smiled to himself, and then turned to his bureau. From the top drawer, he pulled out a long, thin, small wood box, a rose carved on the lid. He caressed the light-colored wood with one finger. Maybe it's time I give this to her. He took his cloak from the peg next to the bureau and headed out to the front room to wait for his daughter.
Raven joined him in the room only a few moments later. He gazed at her with a love and pride only a father could truly feel or understand. She positively glowed in the shimmery dark blue silk dress, which set off her long brown-black hair and grey-blue eyes stunningly. The dress was a simple, long-sleeved, handkerchief-hem shift with a wide rounded collar, tucked at the waist. Raven had added a delicate silver belt that laid around her waist, the ends of it trailing to one side. Her long dark hair was held back from her face by a simple clasp at the nape of her neck.
She stood in the entry way, hands clasped in front of her, waiting for his reaction. She knew that this could be painful for him. This dress hadn't been worn since Gwyna died so long ago. Oh, please let it be all right, please let him be okay with this. He just stared at her for a long, long moment, then a slow, sweet smile spread across his face.
He whispered, "You are beautiful, Raven, my daughter."
She blushed with his praise, even as she sighed inwardly in relief. She walked over to him as he picked up a small wood box on the back of their couch.
He presented it to her. "This was your mother's. I think she would want you to wear it tonight, if you would like."
Raven took the box gently and opened it to reveal a necklace. She lifted it up with trembling fingers. I remember this. It was a delicate silver heart on a silver chain. At the top of the heart was a small sapphire, twinkling in the low light given off by the candles in the room.
She looked up at Andrel. "Oh, Father, it is beautiful. You made this, didn't you?"
Andrel nodded. "Yes, it was my wedding gift to your mother. It was the first thing I ever gave her after we came here."
Raven turned around and held the necklace to her throat. "Help me on with it, Father, please."
Andrel fastened the clasp and Raven turned back to face him, smiling, memories of her mother obvious in her eyes. Andrel pulled his daughter into a quick warm embrace before letting her go to pick up her own cloak, dark blue to match her dress. He threw on his own cloak and fastened it with the sword cloak pin that was Gwyna's wedding gift to him.
Much later, Andrel and Raven arrived in Brightstar. Andrel's income had allowed him to rent a coach for this trip, knowing it would be ridiculous to attempt to ride horses to this event and arrive in good state. He left the coach with the footmen out front, showing his and Raven's invitations. The footmen immediately recognized his name and promised that it would be well-cared for in his absence.
Andrel turned to look for Raven. She was just standing at the bottom step of the Crystal Palace, her mouth open in awe at the dazzling display of light before her. He chuckled low in his throat. He had felt the same when he saw this place years and years ago as a young man, before he had ever met Gwyna.
He took her arm in his and urged her up the steps to the entrance. "Come, Raven. The dance is inside."
After a moment's hesitation, she fell in step beside him, head turning rapidly around to take in all the colors, the lights, the people, so much that she had never been exposed to before. Shortly they reached the front entrance. Andrel again produced the invitations and the guards waved them in. Though this was the midwinter feast day for the entire country, only so many could fit into the Crystal Palace and to receive an invitation was a great honor and not to be taken for granted.
Andrel steered Raven inside the Palace, guiding her away from other people and posts that she might have run into as she was trying to take in everything at once. He nodded at people he knew as he passed them. Raven began to pay attention to her immediate surroundings again and the people her father seemed to know, many of whom were the nobles in the country, judging by the clothes they wore. She also began to notice that her father was leading her toward the throne dais.
She resisted his leading for a moment, questioning, "Father?"
He turned to look at her. "King Randal and Queen Tayna wanted to meet you. And they did invite you. You should thank them, should you not?"
Raven nodded slowly, biting her lower lip. "Yes, I guess I should."
He nodded once at her in agreement, and they continued on. As they neared the dais, Raven made out the two who must have been the King and Queen, judging by the slender gold circlets around their heads. From what her father had told her, the heavy crowns were for more formal state functions. The circlets did well for these kinds of things. King Randal was a tall man, with only a few extra pounds on him. He had dark brown hair, greying at the temples, a closely cut beard, dark green eyes, and a cheery smile. Queen Tayna was shorter and slighter than her husband, with very fair skin, clear light blue eyes, and long light blonde hair pulled back into an elaborate braid. She seemed to have an aura, a serenity about her that spoke of peace and stability. Both were older than her father by several years.
Randal spotted Andrel first and his face lit up. "Andrel, I am so delighted that you could come. It has been a long time since you attended a Winter Dance."
Andrel inclined his head toward Randal. "I know, my King, and I regret missing so many of them in the past."
Tayna added her own welcome softly. "Yes, Andrel, we do so enjoy your presence here. You are a dear friend to us."
He smiled gently. "Well, then, I must simply make it a point not to miss any further Winter Dances." He reached into an inner cloak pocket and pulled out a small, silk-wrapped bundle. "In the meantime, a gift for you, my Queen."
He folded back the silk to reveal a woven silver bracelet. She picked it up with a graceful, long-fingered hand. "It's lovely, Andrel. Thank you."
As she snapped it around her wrist, Randal chuckled, laying a hand on Andrel's shoulder. "You must simply stop spoiling my wife, Andrel, it just isn't proper."
Andrel laughed softly with him, feeling an easy friendship with the King that most did not have. "I only seek to enhance her beauty by gifting her with small tokens of my friendly affection."
Randal shook his head, then changed the subject. "Speaking of beauty, are you going to introduce the one trying to hide behind you?"
Andrel turned slightly and tugged Raven forward. Raven was hardly able to believe that her father was on such easy terms with the King and Queen of Rillanda. Oh, she knew he had met them and talked to them and made things for Queen Tayna, but she had never imagined anything like this.
Andrel was saying, "This is my daughter, Raven."
Eyes wide, Raven remembered to curtsy gracefully, whispering, "Your Majesties."
Randal smiled. "Welcome, Raven. Your father told us that you have wanted to attend a Winter Dance this year."
She nodded shyly, still talking in a soft voice, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "Yes. I had heard much about it in stories. Your palace is very beautiful, and the colors, and the lights, and the people, it's all so wondrous and new to me. I..."
Her voice trailed off in embarrassment at her enthusiasm, and a faint blush colored her cheekbones as she lowered her eyes. She finished. "Thank you for inviting me, Your Majesties."
Tayna smiled slightly, seeing the awe in the young girl's eyes as she tried to pay respectful attention to she and Randal and still manage to look around at everything at the same time. She turned to her husband. "Randal, why don't I show young Raven around a little? You and Andrel can talk business in the meantime."
Andrel and Randal exchanged a look, then nodded together in agreement. Raven's eyes got wider. A personal tour? From the Queen? Andrel squeezed her hand in encouragement. "Go on, I'll be here."
Tayna looped her arm through Raven's and led her off through the crowd of people, pointing out things and speaking softly to her, explaining things, just talking to her, trying to put her at ease. Randal and Andrel watched them disappear into the throng, fond smiles on their faces.
Randal said softly, "She reminds me of how Tayna acted when I first brought her back to be my wife. So reticent, so quiet, so shy, hardly ever speaking to anyone."
Andrel looked back to meet his eyes. "I think your Queen may have seen that as well and took pity. Raven has led a very sheltered life. Perhaps I was wrong in doing so, but it is the only way I knew how to raise her after her mother died."
Randal's smile widened into a grin. "Well, I'm sure before the night is out that Tayna will have your daughter caught up on all the latest things. She'll probably introduce her to the younger set of the court, help her make some new friends."
Andrel nodded. "I think she would like that. And I think I would as well."
Tayna led Raven around the edges of the grand dance floor, pointing out various nobles, introducing her to a few as "Raven, daughter of Andrel Silversmith." Raven was quite surprised to discover just how many people knew her father. And how many there were wearing her father's handiwork.
To give her a break of meeting so many new people, Tayna guided her charge into a side hallway, where portraits and statues of previous Rillandan kings and queens graced the walls and niches. They had stopped in front of a large painting of a man and a woman. The man was standing, draped in furs and royal robes. The woman, appearing to be much younger than the man, was curtseying in front of him, eyes lowered, one of her hands in his. A heavy gold crown was on the man's brow, while a silver circlet was on the woman's.
Intrigued by the painting, Raven asked, "Who are they?"
Tayna explained softly. "That is King Helv, one of the old kings of Bornath, many, many years ago. The woman is Princess Seyna, oldest daughter of the king of Rillanda. She was a seeress, much ahead of her time and very wise for her young age. She and Helv met during his ambassadorial visit to Brightstar. They fell in love and married. She returned with him to Bornath and ruled by his side many years. After his death, their son became king, and she returned to Rillanda and lived out the rest of her years here. She painted this just before she died. It became the beginning of this Royal Ancestor Hall."
They continued walking down the hallway, the muted noise of the celebration fading the further they went. They stopped again in front of a much newer painting.
Tayna smiled in memory. "That is Randal and myself, just before he first brought me to Rillanda, oh, so many years ago."
Raven turned to her and asked, "Where are you from, my lady, if I may ask?"
Tayna replied, "A land called Shionan, far, far from here. When Randal's father still ruled, Randal at age 21, took some men and sailed the high seas, in search of adventure, I suppose, like all young men. They traveled for many weeks and then found our land, much further south than you have ever been, my child. When he landed, I was there, on the beach, gathering seashells. I was only, what, 16 years old, so very young. I had never seen a stranger in our land, much less one like Randal, so tall, so dark, so bearded. I just stood there, barefoot, in a simple cotton shift, staring at the huge ship and the strange men that rowed to land in a smaller boat. When they got out of the boat, I suddenly realized I was alone and ran away, as fast I could."
She paused, chuckling to herself quietly. "Randal and his men followed me as I ran through the brush to my home. I could hear them, thrashing about, trying to avoid the muddier places. I ran very lightly, hardly making a noise, knowing where to step and where not to. I reached my home long before they did and ran to my parents, to my father with the news of the strange men I had seen. Not long after, Randal and his men appeared. They didn't look quite so imposing anymore, drenched in sweat, muddy, clothes torn. My father laughed and invited them to stay for awhile and enjoy our hospitality. My father was the local chieftain, I guess you could say, of the towns in the area, sort of a sub-ruler. I got to know Randal. And we fell in love. And then I came back with him to Rillanda. I have never been back again; this is my home now."
Raven looked again at the painting, understanding it more now. It depicted a young girl with long light blonde hair blowing in a breeze, dressed in a white shift, standing barefoot on the shore of a beach covered with small shells. She was holding out one delicate hand to a tall, dark-haired, bearded young man as she stepped into a small boat, one foot in the boat, one foot still on the sand. The sun rising in the background cast orange and yellow sparkles across the painted water. People were all around them, the girl's family on the beach behind her, and men in the boat behind the man. But as the two looked at each other, at that moment, they were alone in the world.
Raven asked as she gazed at that painting, "Who painted this?"
Tayna replied, "Our son did it for us about five years ago. He is quite the artist, always sketching or drawing something..."
Another set of footsteps sounded behind them. Both turned to see a young man approaching them. Raven's eyes widened as she realized the young man was Stefan, he who had stayed in the house during the storm only a few weeks ago. He looked wonderful, dressed all in dark green, with gold highlights and piping.
Tayna smiled. "Stefan. I knew you had to be around here somewhere."
Stefan reached them and took up Tayna's hand, kissing the back of it regally. "My Queen." He then turned to Raven and took her hand as well, kissing it. "Raven, my lady rescuer, how nice it is to see you again."
Raven blushed. "Stefan."
One thin, elegant eyebrow raised, Tayna queried, "You know each other?"
Stefan explained, grinning slightly. "When I was on my way home from my travels, I stayed the night in her and her father's home during the terrible snowstorm as I passing through Rosewood. She was very kind and took care of me quite nicely."
Raven colored more at the praise, looking down at her clasped hands. "It was nothing, really."
Tayna smiled at Raven's shyness and then turned to look again at Stefan. "Have you come to steal my guest then?"
Stefan nodded slightly. "If I may. I knew she was here and wanted to know if I could beg a dance or two from her." Raven looked up at him slowly. He met her eyes and asked, "Will you dance with me, Raven?"
She bit her lower lip and nodded. "I would love to, Stefan, if that is all right, Your Majesty."
Raven glanced at Tayna, who had an amused look on her face. "Go, children, dance away and have fun." Stefan held out his arm for Raven gallantly and she threaded her arm through his as they walked down the hallway to rejoin the others on the dance floor.
Tayna watched them go, then walked slowly down the hall as well, intending to claim her husband for a dance, maybe even get Andrel to dance with her once. She had seen him dance with Gwyna the one time she had come to the Winter Dance. She didn't think he had danced since. Perhaps he would enjoy doing so again with her.
Dancing in Winter
Stefan pulled Raven gracefully into his arms as the next waltz began on the floor. She had danced formally very little in her life, but her mother had made sure she knew how to do most of the well-known dances and steps. Her knowledge of the waltz and her innate grace took over as she gazed up at Stefan as he held her so close to him as they danced.
He smiled down at her, noting her absorption and study of his face. She blushed and looked down. Always blushing. This is getting to be ridiculous.
After a few more steps, her face had cooled down enough that she could look back up at him. His deep brown eyes met her grey-blue eyes calmly.
He whispered, "You dance very beautifully, Raven. I had not expected that. It is a pleasant surprise, though."
She replied softly, eyes looking beyond him, into her memories. "My mother taught me how to dance when I was little. She said that I might need to know how to one day."
A hint of a smile appeared on his lips. "Your mother was a wise woman for here you are now, dancing with me."
She nodded, her eyes meeting his again. "Yes, so I am."
They were silent for a long time, their eyes just looking into each other's, before Stefan pulled her head into his shoulder and they continued to dance.
The waltz ended and a lively gig began. Stefan whirled Raven around, enjoying her laughter and her spirit as she kept time with him. Once that was done, she begged off, wanting to catch her breath. He led her over to a side table, where refreshments were laid out. He handed her a tumbler of a cool fruited drink and got one for himself as well.
After they finished their drinks, Raven remarked, "I mentioned your name to my father when he returned from his trip. He wanted to meet you. He said he didn't recognize your name. I wonder if he is still with King Randal."
Stefan's height gained him the advantage as he spotted the silversmith on the dais with Randal and Tayna, each nursing a drink of their own. "Yes, he is on the dais with the King and Queen. Would you like me to meet him now?"
She nodded. "Yes, if that's okay."
He set their empty tumblers aside, took her arm, and led her to the dais, making a path for the two of them through the crowd of people holding court at the edges of the dance floor.
Randal was the first to notice the two young people making their way to them. "I see that Raven has found herself a companion."
Andrel and Tayna turned to follow his look. Tayna smiled. "Yes, he asked her to dance with him while we were in the Ancestor Hall."
Andrel just stared. Stefan. She said his name was Stefan. Surely not ... this Stefan.
They reached the dais and Raven smiled brightly at her father, her cheeks flushed from the recent dancing. "Father, this is Stefan. He is the one who stayed in our home during the snowstorm."
Andrel blinked, speechless for long moments.
Stefan smiled politely, inclining his head toward him. "Sir. It is nice to finally meet you. I have heard much about you from different people."
Raven, confused by her father's stunned reaction, pulled away from Stefan and touched Andrel's arm. "Father, what's wrong?"
Andrel turned bewildered and disbelieving eyes on his daughter, inquiring in a quiet, but demanding, voice. "This is Stefan? And he slept on our floor?!?"
Raven nodded once, stammering slightly. "Y-yes, but he insisted. I told you I offered him a bed. What is it, Father? Do you ... know him?"
Randal and Tayna glanced at each other, both beginning understand why Andrel was reacting the way he was. Tayna turned reproving eyes to Stefan. "Did you not tell her who you are?"
Stefan hesitated, then offered, shuffling his feet some. "Well, no, not exactly. I thought maybe she knew, that she'd seen a likeness or something..."
Randal frowned and sighed. "And just how would a likeness of you turn up in a such a place?"
Stefan shrugged. "I don't know. Besides, how was I to know she hadn't traveled to a larger city and seen one."
Raven followed this exchange with wide, apprehensive eyes. Something was definitely wrong, something everyone here but her knew. Alarmed, her eyes went back to her father, the source of answers to all her questions and fears. He had regained his composure and seeing her confusion, decided to tell her the truth before this went any further.
Gently, he touched her arm, saying, "Stefan is the son of the King and Queen. He is the Prince."
Raven's wide eyes widened even more, and her mouth dropped open in astonishment. "What? The Prince? Stefan?"
She looked back at Stefan, realizing for the first time that he was wearing the royal colors of the Rillandan court. She finally identified the tiny gold collar pin at his neck as a hawk, the standard of the Rillandan kingdom. Pulling together all that she knew of him, all that she had seen of him, she realized that he had always behaved as she would expect nobility to behave, the grace, the politeness, the refinement.
Raven dropped into a brief curtsey, lowering her eyes, whispering in mortification. "Your Highness, forgive me for not recognizing you. I should have known."
Seeing that her eyes remained glued to the floor, Stefan sighed to himself. All that work and now she won't even look at me. Again. Ignoring the looks of the other three adults, he stepped forward and touched Raven's shoulder. She flinched unexpectedly under his fingers. He frowned slightly. Not good, not good at all. He looked around them. Not exactly the most private place in the world.
Turning his eyes back at her lowered face, he cleared his throat softly. "Raven, can we go and talk somewhere? Please."
Raven looked sideways at her father, who nodded at her encouragingly. From what he knew about Stefan, he was a good man. He could see the apology in Stefan's eyes and knew he wanted to speak with Raven alone, somewhere away from all these people. He said, "Go on. It will be okay."
Her eyes lifted slowly, meeting Stefan's only for a moment, before skittering away. Her voice was almost inaudible. "As you wish, Your Highness."
Stefan tucked her arm gently under his and led her away, through another door, into a side hallway, beyond the crush of people. Randal, Tayna, and Andrel watched them go in silence. After they were out of eyesight, Andrel sighed heavily, letting a small worried frown appear on his face.
Randal asked, "What is it, Andrel? What worries you? Surely not Stefan... I am sorry he didn't see fit to tell your daughter who he was."
Andrel waved the apology away. "No, that is all right. I should have made the connection earlier. I just somehow didn't think about connecting the name I knew with the person she met. I was just ... surprised, that's all. No harm done."
Randal's brow furrowed. "Then what is it that worries you?"
Andrel continued, rubbing once at his forehead. "Raven. I am concerned about her ... reaction to the revelation of who Stefan really is. She seemed very ... troubled by the fact that Stefan is the prince. I don't know why she should be, other than it is somewhat of a shock to her, I'm sure."
Tayna asked softly, slowly, "Did anyone you know of ever have a bad experience with someone of nobility and perhaps tell her, perhaps give her a reason to fear?"
A brief flash of ... something went through the silversmith's eyes and was gone before it even had time to barely register. Andrel shook his head. "No, not that I'm aware of. She has lived in Rosewood all her life, as have most there. The people in our village travel very little. I am the most widely traveled of any living there. I chose to live there because of the stability of the spot and the safety. If something had happened, I would know about it."
Andrel excused himself to find something to eat. Randal and Tayna watched him go, then met each other's eyes. Both had seen that glimmer of ... knowledge, of memory, flit through Andrel's eyes. Their friend had always been a very private person. At least in some areas, but especially in the matter of his late wife.
They had met Gwyna only once, so many years ago. Tayna had talked with her and found her to be a charming, if quiet, woman, very cultured, very intelligent. She had been willing to discuss any number of topics, except when it had come to her past. All anyone really knew was that she had come from Bornath, that Andrel had met her during his trading route. They had fallen in love, and she had returned with him to Rillanda, to Rosewood. Other than that little information, the topic was firmly closed.
Andrel had respected her wishes during her life and beyond her death. Tayna had believed then that he was protecting her, from what, she was never sure. He was still protecting her memory now and additionally protecting their daughter with his continued silence on the topic of Gwyna's origins. The only thing Gwyna had never able to hide had been her own self, the way she had held herself, the way she had acted. Tayna had known what she saw, even though she couldn't really understand it. She had kept her beliefs to herself, somehow knowing that Randal had not seen what she had. Gwyna's intelligence and knowledge had shown that she had been instructed in the finest of schools. Her manners and speech patterns had been impeccable and eloquent, more training in evidence.
Although Tayna could never quite decide on the exact truth, she knew one thing for certain. Gwyna had been raised in a royal court. And in Bornath. Certain peculiarities in her behavior said that much. Tayna had held her silence and kept her knowledge to herself. But now Gwyna was gone. And her daughter was undoubtedly being courted by their son. What better time to let the truth be known. But that was up to Andrel, as it had always been.
Raven looked around at the small sitting room as Stefan, still behind her, closed the door. Elaborate landscapes and seascapes adorned the walls which were not covered by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. There were two small couches and several chairs, all trimmed in the royal colors. A desk was at the far side of the room, closed windowed doors behind it, looking out over what she imagined was the garden of the inner court. She surmised that this must be some sort of private receiving room for King Randal and Queen Tayna.
Stefan came up beside her and took her elbow, directing her toward one of the couches. She sat primly, eyes concentrating on her hands which lay folded in her lap.
He sat down at her left side, facing her, or at least trying to. For the moment, he just ignored the fact that she wasn't looking at him and began. "Raven, I'm truly sorry I didn't tell you the whole truth. At first I thought because of your shyness, that you did know who I was. But later I realized that it was just the way you were and you probably didn't know and I couldn't figure out a way to tell you without startling you unduly."
She raised her eyes briefly, before looking back down at her hands, saying softly, "Why didn't you tell me when you first saw me tonight?"
He smiled slightly. "I thought perhaps your father had figured it out and told you. Failing that, I thought that the royal colors and the standard would do it for me or that my parents would have said something. However, it seems that none of those options were effective. Again, I apologize. I should not have taken it for granted that you would somehow know. It was ... unkind or perhaps unwise of me to do so. Can you forgive me?"
Raven glanced up at him, under the cover of her eyelashes. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth at the sight of the pleading look on his face, the sorrow in his eyes for causing her this discomfort. She blushed lightly at the attention he paid her, especially after he caught her eyes and just looked into them intently. She lifted her head all the way, meeting his gaze boldly, as she replied firmly in her soft voice. "Apology accepted."
Stefan let out a small sigh in relief. He then casually, slowly reached out his left hand and laid it over her two hands. She tensed slightly in reaction and her eyes dropped to his hand on hers. Then she unclasped her hands to let his hand curl over the top of her left hand. He lifted it and turned it over to bring it up to his lips, his eyes only leaving hers as he placed a soft, lingering kiss in her palm. His eyes raised back up to meet hers as he lowered her hand back down, but not releasing it.
Raven swallowed hard, feeling like her whole body, much less her face, was aflame with ... something, she wasn't sure what. She forced her lips into a tremulous smile, not trusting her voice to say anything understandable right now. What am I getting myself into now? Is it right? What will Father think? What does Stefan want from me? Is he teasing me? Is this all really just a strange dream? Oh, Mother, what do I do now?
Stefan could see all the questions dancing around in her eyes and smiled softly to put her at ease. He stood and brought her to her feet as well. "Come, let's go for a walk. I would like to talk with you. But somewhere away from here would be better though."
She hesitated a moment, glancing back toward the ballroom, then followed him, gathering the folds of her skirt in her other hand as they slipped out a side door, into the garden area beyond.
The sun had set, casting its last lingering rays of pink, orange, and yellow light across the foliage in the garden. Stefan was silent as he led Raven along, her arm tucked securely in his. She let her eyes wander around her, taking in the beauty of the trees and flowers and bushes and assorted sculptures on either side of the cobbled pathway.
She whispered, unwilling to break the serene peace she felt in this place. "It is very beautiful, like a paradise untouched by anything outside."
He nodded once. "Yes, it is a sanctuary for my parents and for their parents before them and theirs before them. Every reign has added something to this place, to enhance it, to make themselves part of its history. It is said that Seyna, after she returned from Bornath, began building this garden, planting a few of trees with her own hands. It was a place she could meditate in, to think back on her memories of her husband Helv, to write her prophecies in."
Raven smiled slightly. "Your mother told me of Seyna and Helv when we were in the Ancestor Hall. She must have been quite an interesting woman, to have already been an accepted seeress and then to marry a foreigner and go to his country and then return after his death to take up residence here again to begin traditions for her own country."
Stefan agreed quietly. "Yes."
They finally reached the far edge of the garden, where a manmade waterfall poured softly and musically down into a pond, where various fish swam in circles around each other. Stefan led Raven to a bench near the pond, and they both sat down on it.
After Raven smoothed her skirt out, Stefan began slowly. "Raven, I'm sure by now you must be a little ... confused at the things that have happened this evening."
She inclined her head, eyes looking down at her hands. "Well, yes, I would have to agree with that."
Stefan reached out a hand and tipped her head up so he could see her eyes. "Please look at me, Raven. I won't bite, I promise."
She smiled hesitantly, whispering. "Okay. Sorry."
He continued, folding his hands in his lap. "Raven, you are a very sweet young woman and although we have not known each other for very long, I feel I know you so well. I would like to get to know you better, if that is all right with you."
Her eyes widened with every word he said and she managed to whisper hoarsely, "Your Highness, I..."
He winced slightly at the royal address. "Please, just Stefan. I never was one for titles."
She tried again, forcing his name out. "S-Stefan, I don't understand. What are you trying to tell me?"
He swallowed. "I would like to see you again, socially. Perhaps it may lead to something else, something ... enduring." He reached out again and touched her cheek with two fingers, trailing them across the softness of her skin as he whispered. "You're so beautiful." Unexpectedly, she flinched away from his hand. He frowned. "That's the second time you've done that, Raven. What is it? Do you want me to stop? I'll leave you alone if that is what you want. Just tell me."
Raven stood and walked away from him, looking out into the garden, trying to find the peace and tranquility she had felt earlier. It had vanished in the last few moments. She touched the leaves of a ivy plant twining its way around a column as she finally replied. "My mother died when I was very young. What I remember of her is very little. She used to tell me stories of when she was a little girl. She grew up in another place, a place like this."
She gestured toward the walls of the Crystal Palace, taking in the garden as well. Stefan remained silent on the bench, sensing that this was important, that he'd better pay attention and understand. She continued, not looking at him at all, the distant look of memories in her eyes. "She never talked much about her later years at this place. She told me of how she and Father met, but even at my young age I knew something was missing from her stories, something that made her sad, something she didn't like to remember."
She paused a long time, then sat on the opposite bench, picking up a leaf that lay next to her and turning it restlessly in her hands. "One day I was playing dress up and wanted to pretend I was a princess or some such thing. I remember saying how I liked it and wanting to go live in a castle because all princesses and princes were nice. She just ... looked at me for long moments, like she was seeing someone else, then said softly that she wished that were true. Father was there then and he quickly shooed me outside to play before I could say anything. But I knew from her look that someone in the past, someone royal, had hurt my mother very badly."
Her eyes stayed focused on the leaf as she ran her fingers along the spines. "I never played being a princess again. Not long afterwards she died from Petuban flu."
Stefan was quiet, absorbing her story, letting it become part of him, as Tulan had been trying to teach him for the past several years. Finally he stood and joined her at the opposite bench. She looked up at his approach, eyes wide in the moonlit darkness. He went down on one knee in front of her, taking both her hands in his. "Thank you for telling me that story. I think I understand you a little more now. I would never hurt you, Raven, never. I'm not asking you to hand over your life to me or even marry me. I just asking that perhaps I could come see you. We can learn about each other, and then let things progress as they will. Okay?"
She nodded, a small smile on her face. "Okay."
He smiled up at her and brought both her hands to his lips to kiss her fingers lightly. He then stood and raised her to her feet as well. He tucked her arm in his again, saying, "Come, there is so much I want to show you. Did Mother tell you that we have a huge library here?"
Her eyes lit up with interest. "A library? Really?"
He grinned. "Yes, really. Would you like to see it?"
She nodded several times, tightening her grip on his arm. "Oh, yes, I would, Stefan, very much so."
He swung his arm out toward a side path. "Then follow me, your personal guide to the wonders of the Crystal Palace."
She laughed softly, like tinkling bells, and let Stefan lead her where he may.
Chaina whickered impatiently as Andrel poured oats into her feeding trough. As he pulled aside, she went for the tasty grains, nearly shoving him out of the way. He smiled at her and touched her mane once before leaving the stall. He reclosed the bag and put it away as he looked outside the open barn doors to the early pre-dawn morning.
Raven was still in bed, asleep, or at least she had been when he had checked on her before he had left the house. They had departed fairly late from the dance last night, and she had fallen asleep in the coach. He had let her remain asleep and only woke her when they got home. She had barely managed to slip off the dress before she fell into her bed in a sound sleep. Andrel had pulled the heavy covers over her and hung the dress on the coated wooden hanger on her door hook. He had kissed her softly on her forehead, then closed her door quietly.
Last night at the palace, he hadn't seen her again after Stefan took off with her until it had been time to leave. There had been no time to talk to her. She had appeared happy, some might say glowing, so at least he was relieved that she wasn't hurt or upset anymore. But as to what did happen, well, he was at a loss. Stefan had seemed cordial and polite enough, but there was something in his eyes, something that spoke of something more than mere friendship...
He shook his head, trying to rid himself of overconcern. Again, he could almost hear Gwyna's voice lilting to him from the past, speaking her own special wisdom, Oh, Andi, you worry too much sometimes. Everything is fine. Raven is simply falling in love, is that so bad, my love? Did we not raise her to recognize love, just as we did?
He smiled to himself, answering her in his mind. That we did, Gwyna, that we did. But then it's in my nature to worry. It always has been. That isn't going to change now.
One last whisper touched him. Life can be short, my love -- don't let your worrying prevent her from seeking her happiness.
Chaina whickered again as he felt cold horse nose touching his shoulder. He turned again and touched her white-gold forelock, whispering. "No, never that, my heart, never that."
Later, Andrel opened front door of the house to the smell of breakfast in the air. He smiled softly. After he and Gwyna had arrived in Rosewood, he had discovered that she hadn't known anything about cooking, had never had to learn in the palace. Well, he had lived on his own for quite some time and had been forced to learn how to cook or else starve.
He'd tried to teach Gwyna how to cook and had succeeded to a point. But she had never really enjoyed it, had never flourished in the kitchen, preferring the outdoors and horses to about anything else. And so, seeing her happiness was to be elsewhere, he had graciously taken up the cooking duties, though she did cook when he was gone on his trips. She had to. Raven was still learning at that point.
Raven. She had inherited her mother's beauty and love of nature and animals and his love of cooking. The best of both, certainly. She far excelled him in the kitchen, creating wonders that took his breath -- and tastebuds! -- away sometimes.
Andrel removed his work jacket and boots, putting both near the door. He slipped on the more comfortable padded and lined house shoes and strolled across the room, into the kitchen. As he neared the entranceway, he could hear Raven's soft, slightly off-tune, meandering humming. His smile widened slightly. Well, with neither Gwyna or I musical, what would one expect? Reaching the small entranceway, he leaned against the doorjamb and looked in at his daughter, dressed in long, green woolen dress, sleeves pushed up above her elbows, an apron tied around her waist, a smudge of flour across one cheek. It didn't seem that long ago that she was watching me make breakfast, standing on that stool, asking all sorts of odd questions. Where has the time gone?
Raven looked up, feeling his presence in the room. "Good morning, Father."
Andrel pushed away from the doorjamb, walking over to her, bending his head to kiss her unfloured cheek. "Good morning, Raven. I didn't expect to see you up until later. You looked pretty tired last night."
She looked back down at the counter, concentrating on stirring the batter, hesitating over her words. "Well, you know me, always hungry. My stomach informed me that it was time to get up and fix breakfast."
He eyed her downturned face for a beat, then chuckled softly. "Hmm, that much is true. And I would guess that you didn't eat very much last night at the Dance."
A light blush rose onto Raven's cheeks as she beat the batter faster. "N-no, not exactly. I got sort of busy. So much was happening that I just didn't have time to really eat. I got a few things from the buffet now and again, but..."
Andrel laid a hand on her shoulder. "Whoa, it's all right. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to drill you. Just my curiosity getting the better of me. What happened ... well, that's your business, not mine. You don't need your old father butting in where he doesn't belong."
Raven looked up at him. "No, it's okay. I wanted to ... talk to you. I'm just not ... used to being so ... flustered, I suppose."
He smiled. "What say we finish getting breakfast ready and we can talk over the meal, hmm?"
She returned his smile. "Okay."
Raven pulled a nibble-size bite of from her bagel, popping it into mouth, chewing thoughtfully, then said, "I guess just seeing Stefan there was shock enough. To find out he was, is the prince, well, it was a little ... unsettling. I didn't know what to think. It brought back to me how Mother felt about royalty..."
Andrel looked up quickly, his fork clattering his plate. "What--? Why do you say that?"
Raven bit her lower lip. "Well, remember how I liked to play princess? And that one day I was doing it, I said I wanted to go live in a palace with all the princesses and princes because they were always nice?"
Andrel nodded, memory returning slowly. "Yes."
She continued. "I remember Mother getting a little pale and saying that she wished that were true. You sent me outside then, but not before I realized that something had upset her, something to do with what I said. Didn't you notice that I never played princess again?"
He nodded again. "Yes, I did notice. And I think Gwyna noticed too and I think she was secretly glad. But I never realized that was why. I thought you just ... outgrew it or something."
Raven rose from her chair, laying her napkin on the table. She walked around the small oval wood table and pulled the stool from the wall over to sit in front of her father. She clasped his hands in hers, loving the feel of the calluses on his fingers and palms. She had always associated calluses with strength and safety as a child and she still did now. She gazed up into his face. "Father, please, tell me, who was Mother before she came here? I know there is some thing you've never told me about her. What is it? I know it must have something to do with royalty. But what? Please tell me."
Andrel looked into his daughter's face a long time. Do I tell her the truth? Is it truly time that she knew? Is she ready to hear what happened so many years ago? Oh, Gwyna, would that you were here now, with me, with us. Do I dare?
Her voice again answered from somewhere within him. Yes, my love, tell her, tell our daughter of my life, of our love. It is time she knew.
Andrel smiled and stood to his feet. Raven let him draw her to feet and then released his hands as he spoke. "Let's move to the front room, where we can be a little more comfortable. This may take awhile."
Raven curled up on the couch, an afghan drawn up around her feet, while Andrel settled in his large padded chair, after stoking the fire. He looked at her and was again reminded of Gwyna, of how she used to sit on the edge of the fountain, legs pulled up to her chest, eyes wide, drinking in every word he said.
Andrel drew a deep breath, then began. "I met your mother Gwyna quite by accident. I was traveling during the winter and somehow got lost and ended up in the Nartha Forest on the southern border of Bornath. My horse had left me stranded in the snow and eventually I passed out, flat on my face. When I next awoke, the first thing I saw was this young woman with black hair looking down at me, asking me if I was all right..."
"...The last I saw of Dani was him standing in the snow, Arven's body at his feet, watching us go. We never saw him again, though I know from the general news about Bornath that he is alive and working in the King's Council. I don't know that he ever married, though I believe Seth did, but I'm not sure who to. Anyway, we took Teva into Pakara and got married at the first village we came across. I don't even remember its name anymore. Gwyna was ... shattered, shocked, not really even aware of what was going on for several days after that. We went on, riding throughout the day, staying at various out-of-the-ways inns at night until we got to Rosewood. I had built this house for myself a few years before and so I brought her here. A year and a half later, you were born. Life got better, Gwyna got better. But she never spoke of Bornath, or Arven, or anyone else there, again. It was as if they never existed. All anyone knew was that I met her in Bornath while I was traveling. It was the way she wanted it, and I respected that and so no one ever knew the truth."
Raven quietly brushed away a few tears from her cheeks, then whispered, "Most of what I remember about Mother is very happy, full of laughter. But I have a few memories of seeing sadness in her eyes. I remember asking her why she was sad, but she would never tell me. Being the child that I was, I gave her a hug and went back to playing. I guess I just must have decided that whatever it was could never be that bad."
Andrel smiled. "Raven, when you were born, you became the beginning of a new life for Gwyna, for us both. Gwyna began to live life again, truly live life. She went back to riding Teva wildly through the hills and got the idea of breeding Teva, which gave us Chaina and a few other horses that we sold to neighbors and at market one year. Always remember the love, the laughter, and the joy that you gave her. She had lost so much in her life. You were the affirmation she needed to have to find that happiness in life again."
She protested. "But the two of you fell in love. Was that not reason enough?"
He shrugged a little. "It might have been if Arven had not been killed. But I think she needed to see life replace death, which is what you were in part. No one could replace her twin, but the love she had for me and the love she held for you helped to heal the wound in her heart."
Andrel paused a moment, hesitating, then rose to his feet. "There's something I need to show you, to give you. Wait here while I get it."
He went down the hall to his bedroom, heading straight for his bureau. He opened the top drawer and pushed aside various folded shirts to lift a small, cloth-wrapped bundle. He smoothed the dark burgundy heavy silk, then reclosed the drawer. He walked back to the front room and sat down beside Raven.
Raven straightened and looked down at what her father held in his hands. "What is that?"
Andrel folded back the silk to reveal a small plain book covered in burgundy fabric. He said reverently, touching the soft cover. "This was your Mother's journal. I never knew she kept one until I found it a few days after she died. It wasn't until several months later that I was able to sit down to read it."
He laid the book in Raven's hands. "I think she would want you to read it as well. I think it might help you understand her a little better."
She touched the cover with a few fingers, then held the book to her chest. "Thank you, Father, for everything." She leaned forward and embraced him fiercely, then stood, going for the front door. He watched as she slipped her feet in boots, grabbed her long woolen cloak, and left the house.
He leaned back into the couch, closing his eyes for several long moments. Then he sighed and opened his eyes, whispering to the air around him. "Grace go with you, my daughter."
For once there was no reply, and he headed into the kitchen to clean up the breakfast dishes.
Gwyna's Journal (excerpts)
Raven settled herself down in Chaina's stall, resting up against the back wall. The mare, used to this behavior, ignored her presence and continued to munch on hay and oats. Raven opened the well-worn book after a few moments and began to read.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I am 10 today. Mother got me this journal to write things down in that I think of. She said it can be for all sorts of things, like important things, private things, silly things, or whatever. Neat.
I wish I was as old as Seth. He gets to do so many fun things that we can't. Sometimes he takes us with him and we all have fun together. He's a nice older brother, even if he isn't really my real brother.
(writing style changes)
Fourteen now. Mother is getting sick more and more. I'm scared. Seth even looks worried. He lost his own mother before he even got to know her. I don't think he wants to lose another. Dani is too young to really understand. Arven tries to be strong, like Seth, but he's scared too.
(writing style changes)
Sixteen now. Arven and I asked Mother about our real father, Josef. She told us how he died protecting King Sonall. She said that he loved us and wanted us safe. He asked Sonall to take care of her and us for him. Sonall married Mother against the wishes of his councilors and then they fell in love. She said that her love for Sonall is different than her love for our father was. She knew our father all her life. Their love was strong and that their love would live forever, into the Beyond. The love between her and Sonall was true, but it was more in the way of comfortable. His great love would always be his first wife, Noranne, Seth's mother. I think she was trying to help us understand why she chose to marry Stepfather.
Seventeen now. We all got new horses this year. Of course Stepfather got me some proper lady's horse. Bleh. Dani got a racing horse he has named Teva. I hope Dani will let me ride him some time.
Mother is very sick. She called me to her room last night. She told me the story of the cloak pin that she keeps in her dresser. I had seen it before, but never knew what it was. She said that someone gave it to one of our female ancestors, instructing her to pass it down through the oldest daughter of each generation, that each daughter was to give it to her betrothed to wear. The last first daughter was to wear it herself. And after its task was completed, it would return to its place in the Beyond. She told me that after I died to take the cloak pin and the rose pin Father had given her and keep them for myself. Even through my tears as I promised.
Mother died this morning. And I did as I promised.
(writing style changes)
Nineteen now. I'm really beginning to dislike Stepfather. He gets so mean sometimes. Seth is the only one who can ever be around him.
Arven has found something to do to make him happy. Some kind of Bornathian prophecy. Whenever I go looking for him now, he's always hunched over some dusty old book or scroll either in his tower room or the Library, muttering under his breath and writing notes. Well, whatever it is, it will keep Seth from bothering him all the time. If only I could do the same...
Dani and I went riding way out in the far fields today. Out there he let me ride Teva. Oooh, he's so fast! I felt like I was flying. It was exhilarating! I begged Dani to let me ride Teva more often. He laughed and said yes. I can't wait!
Twenty now. Seth is beginning to make me nervous. He's seems to be watching me all the time. But whenever I look, he looks away. I don't know what's going on. I tried talking to him, but he just acted like nothing was different.
Wintertime. Again. It seems like it's always winter here. Always snowing. I want green fields year round and flowers and trees and blue skies. I want sun on my face and a warm breeze in my hair, not snow and ice and cold wind.
Seth has planned a ride today. I want Arven to come along. Maybe Seth won't watch me so much if Arven is there. He needs to get out more often anyway.
We found someone on the trail yesterday. A silversmith from Rillanda named Andrel. He somehow got lost and ended up in Nartha Forest. He's with us now in Darcabé. He has a few things he can sell so he can buy another horse to get back home.
Seth is watching me more now than ever before. I try to stay away from him, but I can only stay away for so long before he purposely starts hunting me out. What happened to the Seth I used to know? The wonderful big brother that would take us adventuring? The Seth I could love? He's not like he used to be anymore. He ... scares me.
Andrel tells such marvelous stories. I could listen for hours. Actually, I think I have listened for hours.
I think I'm falling in love.
He kissed me tonight at the fountain. It was ... so wonderful, so sweet, so ... something I can't name.
Stepfather wants me to marry Seth. I can't, I can't, I can't! I took Teva out for a wild ride into the forest. The snow has stopped for the last few days and it was relatively nice. Cold, but not windy. Out by the river, I listed my options. Stay and marry Seth. No. Stay and refuse to marry Seth. Not a chance that would work. Marry ... Andrel? Here? Impossible. So I have only one option left. Leave.
Andrel and I are leaving tonight. Dani gave us Teva. I tried to get Arven to come with us, but he said he would be safe here, in the Scholars Guild. I hope so. It's bad enough that we'll be separated. At least I will know he is alive. I could not lose him too, not like we lost Mother. I will pack after supper and then we'll leave at full dark.
(writing style changes)
(writing style changes)
We are married. Joy should be ringing down my soul, but all I can feel is darkness, emptiness, and sadness. I feel so alone in the world, even though I know Andrel loves me and will never leave me.
Andrel and I have settled in his home village of Rosewood in a small cottage. It is not all what I'm used to, but it is comfortable and warm. It will do. This is my home now. Bornath is of the past.
Andrel tries so hard to make me happy, to make me laugh. I try not to show how sad I am. He loves me so much and wants to make things okay again. I miss ... and it still hurts. But life goes on. I will learn to adapt.
I think I'm pregnant. I haven't told Andrel yet. I want to be sure. I know how much he wants children, as do I, and I don't want to bring him false hopes.
I am pregnant. I told Andrel. He was a little surprised at first, but happy, very happy.
The baby is kicking. I don't know that I've ever been so happy. Andrel goes around with a silly grin on his face every day. I know he still worries about me though.
I am so huge. I don't think I'll ever be thin again. Andrel tells me I'm beautiful, that I am always beautiful to him. He's so sweet to me. I love him so much.
Finally, the baby is here. She's adorable. Black-brown hair like mine and grey-blue eyes. Her name is Raven. My last good memory of Bornath.
The village midwife told me that I shouldn't try to have another baby. The labor was so long and so hard. She told me that they almost lost me. Andrel was frantic, she said. Once, I wanted to die. Now, I have reason to live again. So I agreed to take the herbs that the midwife gave me to prevent me from ever getting pregnant again. Andrel can never know what choices had to be made.
Raven is growing so fast. She makes me laugh like I haven't laughed in what seems like a very long time. I catch Andrel watching us sometimes. I think maybe I can be truly happy once again.
Raven is five now. Such a lively, intelligent little child. But she is very shy. Unusual for a child, but not terribly so. Andrel says she reminds him of me, except without the stubbornness.
She asked me the other day about Andrel's cloak pin. Strange that she should notice it so young. I told her the story my mother had told me. She nodded seriously, looked up at with those wide grey-blue eyes and said in her little piping voice, "It will be important some day." And then she skipped out to play. Strange.
Something called Petuban flu has struck the children. From what I understand, it is a common childhood ailment and that all children get it. I can't recall every having such an illness.
I feel very weak. I don't want to tell Andrel. He would only worry. Raven should be better by tomorrow, I think. She's anxious to get back out and ride Teva again, since we started letting her do so just recently.
Raven is well. I'm watching her play with Teva and Andrel from inside the house. They are so happy together. And their laughter makes me happy. To think it all began the day I met Andrel. I don't feel too good right now, so tired. I think I'll go lay down for awhile, just for a little nap.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Discoveries in the Woods
Days passed. After Raven had read Gwyna's journal several times, she discussed what she read with Andrel a few times as they shared their memories with each other. Raven came to understand just who her mother was before she came to Rillanda, to Rosewood, and had become simply Gwyna, wife to Andrel Silversmith, mother of Raven.
Two weeks after the Dance, Stefan began to show up weekly in Rosewood to see Raven. Oftentimes, Andrel sat in the house with them and told them of things he had seen and people he had met when he had been younger and traveled more, when his reputation as a silversmith had been in its infancy. Sometimes, it was just Stefan and Raven, talking, reading together, walking or riding through the town and woods. Other times, the two of them went back to Brightstar to visit his parents, letting them all get acquainted with each other.
In Rosewood, only Andrel and Raven knew exactly who Stefan was. The townspeople only knew that Stefan was from Brightstar and had showed up during the bad snowstorm and stayed overnight in Andrel's home. Stefan preferred that his privacy remain and so he was careful about what he wore, did, and said.
A month and a half passed. Spring arrived and with it the weather warmed some. One day in early spring, Raven decided to go riding in the low foothills that the village was set against. Dressed in loose-fitting pants, a long-sleeve shirt, her sturdy riding boots, and a heavy woolen cloak, she stood outside the stable, checking to be sure Chaina's saddle was secure. Knowing that Chaina was ready for a good hard ride, Raven had pulled her hair into a heavy braid secured with a short brown leather strip. It was mid-afternoon, the snow had mostly melted away, and the sky was clear. It was actually quite chilly outside, but she wanted to ride while there was no snow.
Raven was just preparing to mount Chaina when she heard the sound of hooves pounding down the road. Looking up, she saw a tall, black stallion thundering in her direction, with a rider similarly dressed in dark colors, though as they neared her, she could see that he was really dressed in dark green.
As the horse and rider came to a stop in front of them, Raven smiled. "Stefan, hello. Beautiful morning, isn't it?"
Stefan nodded. "Yes, it is. Going riding, are you?"
She touched Chaina's mane. "Yes, I needed to get out for awhile. Father is working on his newest creations, so I thought I'd take a ride."
He asked, "Might I and Wind Dancer join you?"
She mounted Chaina in one effortless movement, taking the reins firmly in one hand. "We would be delighted if you would."
Together they started off towards the woods behind the house and the paths within it. As they rode into the trees, Stefan smiled, shaking his head at Chaina's precise steps. "I just can't get over what a wonderfully trained horse Chaina is."
Raven replied, smiling proudly. "Thank you. When Father and Mother began to breed Mother's horse, they looked for a way to get his spirit and still be trainable. Teva could be too much to handle at times. Mother was the only one who could really ride him with real success."
Stefan commented softly. "Your mother sounded like a very beautiful and interesting person, Raven."
She threw another smile at him. "That she was." Then she looked back out to beginning of the trees, her smile turning mischievous. "Race you." And she took off, laughing as Stefan kneed Wind Dancer to catch up with the swifter-footed Chaina.
An hour later, they were on their way back to Rosewood, both tired and relaxed. As they rode through the woods again, this time in silence, enjoying the sounds of nature, Raven suddenly pulled Chaina to a stop. Stefan stopped a few feet in front of her and turned slightly, questioning. "What...?"
She put her finger to her lips. "Listen..."
He shook his head, unable to hear anything.
She slid from Chaina silently, whispering into Chaina's ear. "Remain." Then she dropped the reins to the ground and walked to edge of the path.
Stefan dismounted Wind Dancer and draped the reins around a nearby branch, then quietly walked over to Raven's side as she knelt down in the path and parted the foliage there. He whispered, "What is it?"
At her sharp gasp, he looked down into the parted leaves to see a small brown and white rabbit, a doe, lying on her side, panting heavily enough to be audible. One of her back legs had been caught up in the creeping vines so tightly that she couldn't get loose, no matter hard she was pulling and struggling.
Raven bit her lower lip. "Oh, poor thing, will you let me help you, little one?" She reached out hand slowly, not wanting to scare the rabbit into biting her or making her predicament worse.
Stefan stayed her hand. "Wait, I have some food, maybe that will help. Wouldn't want you to get bitten." He dug out a small pouch from his belt and opened it, pouring a small amount of a mix of seeds and nuts into her hands. He explained. "Trail food, for snacking."
She put some it in front of the rabbit's nose. The whiskers twitched several times, then a small pink tongue shot out and lapped up the seeds and nuts. Raven deposited the rest on the forest floor and touched the rabbit's ears softly as she quickly ate up the rest of the food.
Stefan handed her the pouch of trail food. "Here, keep her occupied while I get her foot loose."
Between the food and Raven's calm and soothing hand, they kept the rabbit still enough for Stefan to free her foot from the vine. Stefan grabbed the rabbit by the scruff of her neck before she was totally free so that he could put her away from the vine.
Once free, he lifted her up into the air and out on the edge of the path. He said as he set her down onto the path. "Now, stay away from those vines, okay?" He released her and she hightailed it down the path, disappearing among the trees, without even looking back. Standing, Stefan shook his head, chuckling. "Some gratitude that was."
Rising quickly to her feet, Raven turned to him, laughing at his wry comment. She threw her arms around his neck impulsively, hugging him briefly. "Oh, Stefan, thank you."
A moment later she realized what she was doing and started to back away. Too late. Stefan's arms had gone around her waist. She looked up at him, realizing his face was only inches away from hers. His brown eyes seemed to be even darker, almost black, unreadable as she watched them flicker to her lips and back up to her eyes. She didn't know what to do next and just waited for him to do something, which he did in short order.
Stefan's head lowered to hers, and Raven closed her eyes reflexively. And then his lips were on hers. He had kissed her before, but they all had been short, chaste pecks on the cheek. This was different. His kiss was soft, sweet, evocative, tender, and spoke to her of love. All too soon it was over and Raven opened her eyes to see him gazing down at her, his heart in his eyes.
He smiled at her, and whispered, his voice a little hoarse. "Oh, Raven, I think I'm already half in love with you." He lifted one hand and brushed his thumb across her cheek.
Raven raised her hand and wrapped his hand in hers, pressing a kiss into his palm, whispering, as she met his eyes. "Only half?"
He swallowed nervously, then continued. "No, I'm all the way in love with you, Raven. I have been since the Winter Dance. I just didn't know how to tell you." He paused, then asked, both wanting and not wanting to know her answer. "How do you feel, Raven, about me, about us?"
For a long time she was silent, just looking up at him, then she sighed and closed her eyes, turning her face away from him. His heart stopped a few moments. I've pushed it too far. She doesn't feel that way for me. She's going to break my heart. She...
Her soft voice interrupted his destructive train of thought. "Stefan, I..." She looked up into his face, her eyes meeting and searching his. She released his hand and raised her hand to trail her fingers across his cheek, brushing his hair behind his ear. She smiled gently, seeing the turmoil in his eyes. "I love you, too."
Joy exploded in Stefan's heart and eyes, and he gathered Raven close to him, embracing her tightly, pulling her feet from the ground in his exuberance. She laughed and returned his hard embrace. He dropped her back to her feet and held her face in his hands to give her a much more involved kiss than earlier. She returned it shyly, but eagerly.
He released her after a bit, smiling widely. "Oh, Raven, you're so wonderful. For a moment there I was beginning to question myself about what I thought was true."
She blushed. "No reason to do that anymore. What do we do now?"
Stefan was quiet for a few moments, just thinking, then he surprised her by dropping down to one knee, holding onto both her hands, as he held her eyes with his. "Will you be my wife, Raven, will you marry me?"
Her mouth dropped open in astonishment -- she hadn't expected this. Well, she had, but not this soon. She found herself nodding. "Yes, Stefan, I'll marry you, gladly."
He pressed, wanting her to realize what she was agreeing to. "Even if it means becoming Queen someday and living in the eyes of the people for the rest of your life."
She nodded again, tears coming to her eyes in happiness. "Even if."
He brought both her hands to his lips and kisses her fingers warmly, intensely, then he stood, saying. "Let's get back to your house. We need to tell your father and I would like to get his blessing."
She smiled. "I somehow think we've had his blessing for a long time, Stefan, a very long time."
Dorien's voice lightened as he wrapped up the last part of this section of the history:
"...Of course, Andrel gave his blessing with tears of joy and a smile of expectation. He had seen this coming and knew it was only a matter of time. After Stefan had gone back to Brightstar for the evening, Andrel gave Raven the sword cloak pin, explaining that it is hers now, to give to her betrothed, in this case, Stefan.
"The next day, Stefan came back to take she and Andrel back to Brightstar for an evening of celebration with his parents. Before they left, Raven gave him the pin, explaining the story behind it, as she remembered from her mother's journal and her father's memories.
"Only a few months later, in the late spring, Stefan and Raven were married, with all the pomp expected of the Rillandan royalty. During the ceremony, only those with a good view noted the sword cloak pin attached at the V of Stefan's dark green, gold-edged cloak. Most remember that the bride glowed with an inner light as she walked down to kneel before the throne dais to present herself to her betrothed. Stefan had waited for her on the last step and raised Raven up by both hands before they both turned to face the priest that married them."
Kellessan glanced over at Patric who was still behind the bar counter, keeping the customers' mugs and pitchers full of whatever they were having. Meg had vanished back into the kitchen area, not too surprising. She always was the romantic; probably didn't want to be seen crying on the barkeep's shoulder, even if he was her husband. Patric seemed to be concentrating very hard on wiping down the bar, not wanting to look up. After a few long moments, he felt her watching him and lifted his eyes to meet hers.
She raised a questioning eyebrow toward the minstrel, knowing Patric would understand her inquiry -- should I get rid of him before he gets to the part of the tale that is the most dangerous? Patric hesitated, looking at the minstrel a moment, then shook his head once in negation before taking a few full pitchers out to replace the empty ones scattered about on the tables.
Kellessan turned her eyes back to the minstrel, narrowing them slightly as she caught him looking away from her. He saw. And he would be the first to ever see such an quick and silent communication. She and Patric had figured out several methods of talking across a crowded, noisy barroom without the need for voices, just small, conservative motions and subtle body language. It was simple enough that most missed it. But this minstrel -- or bard, as Patric believed him to be -- had seen and most likely understood.
She would have to keep a closer watch on this Dorien and see just what she could pick up from his body language.
Dorien leaned back against the hearth, sipping at his cider. He certainly had seen the short silent interchange between Patric and the swordswoman. They didn't trust that this was such a great idea, to let him tell this tale, this true history. The tale, so far, had not really got too dangerous. The first part, maybe, was a little so, but it was from so far in the past that he didn't believe it could harm anymore. The second part, nothing in there could cause problems.
The last part of the tale... Ah, yes, there's the catcher. Everything and everyone came together and split apart in so short a time as to be breathtaking and cataclysmic. He felt vague unease himself in telling the last part. And not just because the swordswoman was watching like the proverbial hawk stalking its prey. It was outlawed and if word ever got back to the capital ... well, things wouldn't be pretty.
But through all this, he knew it was time to tell the history. It had been propitious that he had been asked to tell it tonight, in this place. It was destined. Master Tulan had said that the day would come when he would be asked and on that day, the tale, the history, the truth must be told. And then, only then, would the time come for things to be set right again.
Dorien set aside his mug, leaned forward, and surveyed his captive audience again briefly, seeing that everyone had resettled themselves as he prepared to tell the last part of this history. His eyes took in Patric behind the counter, Meg joining him, leaning against his shoulder.
He glanced once at the swordswoman, still hidden in the shadows, peering balefully out at him. She is the one to worry about. The customers know it only as history and tales from afar, living so far out from the capital as they do. But the swordswoman ... she has been around. She knows of what I speak, knows of the penalty for speaking this tale, knows what could happen to me, to the owners of this establishment, to the customers who heard the tale, to the entire village.
He cleared his throat and began that last part of his tale:
"A year passed. Stefan and Raven were gifted with twins. The first, a boy, whom they named Terel. The second, a girl, was given the name of Linet. Four years went by. Andrel visited Brightstar so much to see his daughter and grandchildren that Raven finally convinced him to move into the palace. He did, and he and King Randal spent much of their free time playing with their grandchildren or discussing events of the day.
"A year later, King Randal made Andrel the Chief Councilor, arguing that his great wisdom was needed for the kingdom. Andrel was embarrassed, and at the same time, pleased by this change in events. He continued to ply his silversmith craft, making the delicate jewelry that was so popular with the people of Rillanda.
"However much peace and prosperity there was in Rillanda, things were not like that everywhere, especially not in Bornath. Several years after Gwyna left, Seth had married under the pressure of his father; however, that union had never produced any children. He had become King two years after Andrel was made Chief Councilor.
"During the time before he became King, negotiations had begun between Bornath and the neighboring country of Pakara. To seal the treaty of nonaggression between them, Seth took Opella, the youngest child and only daughter of the Pakaran King and Queen, as a second wife. His first wife Zarena had died just a few months earlier.
"And at the age of 51, he was finally King, finally free at last to seek his vengeance against the wrongs he felt were done to him so many years ago. But where to look? He knew that Andrel was from Rillanda, but not where in Rillanda. He sent out spies and informants to discover his whereabouts and perhaps those of Gwyna, as well.
"Dani, now 44, had matured into a steady and intelligent man. He had gone on living in Bornath, trying to balance out his father's and half-brother's excesses in whatever ways he could. Only he knew the awful truth of Arven's death so many years ago. Seth was unaware that he knew what had happened in the forest that night or he could have been silenced years ago. Dani had a love for the people of this country and felt a loyalty toward them and so had remained. As long as he didn't bother either the King or Seth, he was fine and let live as he wanted to.
"Over the course of time, he had received news of Rillanda through his own contacts. Nothing personal of Andrel or Gwyna, just general news. He heard before Seth did of Rillanda's newest Chief Councilor named Andrel, also a silversmith. It had to be the same man. Now was the time to leave, before Seth heard. Seth, as King, now had the power to do whatever he wanted. He had to warn them of Seth's desire for revenge before it was too late for anyone to help them. And so gathering up Arven's old journal, with the notes about The Prophecy inside, he left, disappearing into the night..."
Continued in Part Three....
Prophecy Story Index