Chapter 1: Flight
The steady thumping of soldier’s boots rang out, turning a once quiet and peaceful night into a whirlwind of activity. Multitudes of creatures woke and rose from their slumber, racing over themselves to flee from the intruding presence and noise that was slowly creeping upon them. Birds called in fear, and the barks and squeals of animals rung out into the night like a wicked cacophony, signaling danger. Signaling death.
The echoing thuds soon made their way to a secluded glen, nestled against the side of a lush mountain. A quiet and clean stream ran through the clearing and back into the woods, the tinkling of its waters a balm in the night air. Butted up against the stream lay a small hut, its walls made using the trees as support. The structure was so integrated into the nature surrounding it, that it looked as if it had rose out of the very ground itself. Curled vines draped over simple wooden beams, with wildflowers making their homes wherever they liked. It was simple, small, and above all else, beautiful.
As the stomping boots grew louder in the glen, the very walls of the hut seemed to shake with the noise.
“Rael, get up! Quickly! We haven’t much time!”
“Mamon...?” The little boy’s eyes were thick with sleep, and his curly blond hair was tousled about his face at odd angles. With heavy eyes he looked over at his mother, quickly dashing about their small home, shoving items into a bag at her feet. Her long golden hair was fanning about her shoulders in disarray, and her vibrant blue eyes were clouded with worry. Rael knew something must be terribly wrong, because the tips of her fingers were sending out crackles of electricity, sizzling in the still air. His mother never lost control of her magic.
“Mamon, your magic-”
“Never mind that. You have to leave, right now!” She was now frantically shoving a couple water skins into the bag, before rushing over to his pallet in the corner. She hurriedly pulled him off the cot, and began layering clothing on his small frame, before tugging on his boots.
“Mamon, I don’t understand-”
“You don’t need to! Just take your sister and go! You need to get as far from here as you can. It’s not safe anymore! They’re coming for me, and I can’t protect you.” She stood and turned from him, rushing to add something else to the pack, her shoulders shaking slightly with emotion.
“But, Mamon-” His voice was small and frightened, and in her heightened state, Lissande snapped.
“Do as I say!” She flung her hand to the side and a sharp crackle of energy leapt to the floor with a dull thud. It sizzled for an instant, before a small trail of smoke rose out of the scorch mark on the hay-thatched floor. Rael’s eyes widened in shock and he staggered away from her, fear written all over his face. His terror made way to tears, and his small frame was soon rocked with sobs.
“Oh, my darling...” Hurrying across the small room, she knelt at his feet, her hands smoothing his features, wiping the tears from his eyes, her regret almost palpable.
“Shh. I’m sorry. Mamon’s sorry. I don’t want you to be frightened. It’s going to be an adventure! Just you and your sister, like the characters in your story books!”
“But-but- Isolde is just a baby, Mama! She can’t have adventures!”
“Then you have to make sure to take care of her, you understand? You need to make sure to keep yourselves safe!”
“Mamon, I... I don’t want to go without you!”
“Rael, you can do this. You have to do this.” Reaching behind her, she found the pack and pulled it forward, hanging it on his thin frame before pulling the hood of his cloak up around his chin.
“You have to leave here, and stay safe. You have to keep Isolde safe.”
Fear strained Rael’s features, but there was a spark in his eyes that belied something more. Resilience. Determination. His shoulders were shaking, but he stood as straight as his small body could. Lissande’s heart swelled with sadness and pride as she looked at her son, and she wiped the last of the tears from his face.
“Okay?” Lissande could barely keep her voice from breaking on the single word, but with sheer will she kept a smile on her face. Rael nodded his head once at his mother, and grunted his assent, before shifting the weight of the pack.
Tearing her gaze away from him, Rael’s mother stood, and walked to a large cushion in the corner. Her infant daughter lay sleeping, unaware of the emotional exchange over the last few minutes. Lifting her gently from her bed, she held the baby to her face, kissing her a last goodbye. Barely a yearling, her daughter retained the chubbiness of her birth, while some of her features had started to show. Golden hair lay in curls on the baby’s head, and if she were to wake, Lissande would be able to see crisp, bright blue eyes, the same color as hers. She prayed silently that her daughter would grow to be a beautiful, capable woman, and her son, her rambunctious, silly, and creative little boy would reach the grace of manhood. But she knew, with a deep, stinging painful thud in her heart, she knew she would never see it.
After a moment, Lissande gently wrapped Isolde in a few blankets and furs, before kneeling in front of Rael and placing the baby in a sling around his shoulders.
“It’s time to leave, Rael.” Her voice did not waver, but the pain in it was clear.
“Yes Mamon.” The five-year-old looked aged somehow, and Rael’s mother bit her tongue to prevent a sob of grief from coming up from her heart. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and cupped his face in her hand.
“Go North. Alsenrein is only 3 days journey from here.”
“Al-Alsenrein?” His voice wavered and his eyes widened, looking every bit his age. Alsenrein was the largest city in the Kingdom of Artreas, and Rael had never been to a town, let alone a bustling trade port such as Alsenrein.
Lissande wanted to scoop him into her arms and comfort him, to take away his reason for the panicked expression, but she couldn’t. Only two people were going to leave this glade tonight, and she vowed that it would be her children.
“You should have plenty of food and water in the pack to last until you get there. When you do, find someone to apprentice you. Beg them if you must. If they won’t listen, I want you to give them this.” She reached around her neck and pulled off a beautiful necklace. The simple unassuming chain was nothing special, but the gem it held sparkled in the dim room like the light of a dying star. The many faceted surface shone in a myriad of ways, almost making it look alive.
“Give them this, and demand that they teach you, Rael! Do you understand me?”
Rael nodded and held his sister tightly. With shaking fingers, his mother fastened the necklace around his small neck, tucking it inside of his clothes.
“I’ll follow the stream.” Rael’s voice was confident in that statement, and it assuaged some of the tremors wracking Lissande’s resolve. With a deep sigh, she smiled in ascent, before pulling his small body into her arms. She breathed in his scent, fresh, clean, and slightly woodsy, like the smell of a summer’s morning. She took a moment to commit it to memory, and prayed silently for his and her daughter’s safety. She prayed for their future, and for the strength to send them into it. She gave herself one moment to hold her son in her arms, and she willed her strength into his tiny frame. And, after a moment that could never have lasted long enough, she kissed the top of his head and let him go.
Ruffling his curly hair, Lissande forced herself to smile and adopt a calmer, easier tone. One that she hoped would instill confidence and peace in her young son. “That’s my boy. Remember to follow the stream, and go North. Keep the rising sun on your right shoulder.” Rael nodded in understanding, and Lissande’s heart swelled with absolute pride.
“You’re going to be fine, darling. Just fine. You’re going to grow up, and have adventures, and live a life of wonder and joy. I promise you that. Keep your sister close, and watch out for each other. She needs you, and you need her.” She wiped a single tear from his cheek and smiled at him, before pressing another kiss to his forehead. Pulling back, Lissande sat on her heels and released him, brushing a few specks of dirt from his clothing, and straightening the sling that held her daughter. She brushed the soft wispy hair away from Isolde’s face lovingly, and then pulled her hand back, separating herself.
Rael straightened his shoulders and held his sleeping sister tight to his chest. His small frame stood as still as she had ever seen him, and he walked to the door of their hut with his spine straight. He turned once, and met his mother’s eyes a last time. A single moment, a single look of doubt in his gaze. Lissande forced herself to smile, even though her heart was shattering into a million pieces.
“I love you.” Lissande put all of her emotion behind her words, pouring her very soul into the simple statement. Pouring her courage, her hope, her dreams for his future. She couldn’t be there for his growth, or his struggles. She wouldn’t be there for his life. However, Lissande could make sure that Rael knew he belonged to someone. He was cared for, cherished. He was loved. Lissande had just given her son the only gift she could. Assurance of his worth.
Rael’s form looked so small standing at the door to their home, his expression wavering from worry to fear, that for a second, Lissande doubted her choice. Then a stronger, more confident thought broke free from her subconscious, and strengthened her resolve. She was assuring their survival, and it had to be done. She did what she could to keep her expression calm, and made a vague shooing motion, as if she were simply telling him to go out and collect berries from the bushes outside, or water from the stream as she had done countless times before. That simple, comforting gesture, that sense of normalcy, seemed to ease whatever fears were racing through Rael, and without a word, he turned from her, opened the door into the unknown, and was gone.