Chapter One: The Fairfield
Dunlow was a quiet place – sleepy, some might say – and it had no aspirations to be anything else.
It was a large village, possibly a small town, and known vaguely throughout the Peninsula as a place of people both hardworking and stubborn. Located a good distance south of the great city of Caelron, and also a good distance north of the sprawling inland city of Londor, it was just far enough away from both that most people could say they’d visited it even if they never had. It was exactly the same time and distance to both cities, in fact – five days by wagon; three if you had a good horse – and though no one really cared, the people of Dunlow loved to tell anyone willing to listen that their town was in the exact, dead center of the Peninsula.
Existing in-between as it did, Dunlow managed largely on its own, save for occasional trade with other towns. It had not seen a tax collector in over fifty years, and neither Caelron nor Londor seemed certain whose influence it fell under, so, in the name of good manners and shrewd politics, no influence was exerted. This left Dunlow to take care of itself, which it did perfectly well, thank you very much.
A streak of pride ran through the population of Dunlow – the stubborn kind that comes from rising before dawn and working past sunset. It extended to every aspect of their lives: Dunlowians were proud of the harvest, proud of each other, and by and large proud of their place in the world. They elected their own council to run the town and to ensure a fair shake for any accused of wrongdoing, and they were quite proud of that too.
They were also, it should be noted, proud of their humility.
Though the duly elected town council was enough for most matters, there was also a mayor for bigger events of smaller importance. Dunlow was just large enough of a village to need a mayor, and just small enough of a town that he did not have much to do. In the years of King Malineri’s reign, the office fell to the lot of Eldric Stonewall, owner of the Fairfield Inn.
Eldric was a bold man, though not particularly cut from heroic cloth. He was dark of eye and middling of height, and he tended to thoughtfulness instead of laughter, though he was courteous and affable enough for a good reputation. As a boy he earned his spending money mending odds and ends around Dunlow – a chair here, a wagon tongue there – and the older generation took note. The young Eldric was good with his hands – indeed, rather brilliant at times – and that meant he had a future. When the boy became a young man, the Council spoke to his parents.
The aging Stonewalls took the town’s advice and apprenticed Eldric to a carpenter in Ouldin, one of the fishing villages that lined the coast. He was gone for five years, visited briefly before his two-year stint as a traveling journeyman, and then returned for good several years later with Guild papers in hand.
His parents were delighted to have him home, and Dunlow at large was ecstatic. A man with Guild papers was a man employable anywhere throughout Aeon – even in Aginor or Londor or Caelron itself. The fact that Eldric had chosen to return home after earning the rank of Master was a huge boon for Dunlow; only a handful of people in its long history had been officially sanctioned by one of the twelve Guilds. Not that they thought such finery was needed – most of them got along perfectly well without such pomp and nonsense – but to turn away an official sanction would be unthinkably arrogant, which they most certainly were not.
When Eldric’s parents heard he was returning, they set aside space on their property for him to open up a carpenter’s shop. They were quite beside themselves with excitement. They beamed at him when he strode through their door and offered smiles and awkward, aging-elbow hugs. Old Rubin Stonewall fought to hold back tears at the sight of his full-grown son, though his wife Eda wept openly.
Eldric was glad to be home, or so he told himself. He ate well and drank, speaking deep into the night about the shop he would build and the tools he would order on credit with the backing of his Papers. He dreamed aloud about how he would help raise up the rest of Dunlow so that it would never again be considered just a backwater village but fully acknowledged as a town of solid reputation. When finally his parents retired for the night, leaving him alone, he went to the bed and room of his childhood and watched the stars through his window.
There is a constellation in the land of Aeon that has never been seen elsewhere – a constellation called the Sisters. It consists of two starry women holding aloft a single Sorev Ael staff. It is only visible at midnight and only on the horizon, like a dream that fades as each new day begins. The story of the Sisters was always a favorite of Eldric’s, and as he lay on the soft wool blankets, his heels hanging off the edge of the short child’s bed, he remembered the story and grew sad.
There were men of learning in Aeon, men called Sorev Ael who studied the hidden powers of the world in the city of Var Athel. Var Athel lay just north of Caelron, opposite the Shining City on the other side of Maiden’s Bay. From the Sorev Ael had come some of the great legends of Aeon, and the story of the Sisters was one of the most remarkable. Their deeds and adventures were many, but what Eldric remembered as he stared up at the bright white stars that hung in the black velvet of the night sky was that the Sisters had been issued Papers just as he had. They had been trained as clothiers to inherit their mother’s store, but when the time came for them to do so, they found themselves unable. They saw what the years had done to her, how she was bent, gray, and lonely, and they spoke to each other in quiet whispers about what they wanted for their lives instead.
The scene of their announcement played itself out in endless permutations in Eldric’s head that night. He wondered if they had quarreled, wondered if their mother had been so disappointed that she’d wept. For in the morning, the Sisters told her that they couldn’t stay – that they were only back for provisions before they departed again to report to Var Athel.
It was a lie, of course. In that day women were not tested for the spark of the Sorev Ael, the Servants of All. Still, the Sisters knew that to tell the truth – that they wanted nothing to do with their mother’s life – would have been unnecessarily cruel. Their mother was understandably distraught, but she could not oppose what she thought was the will of the Sorev Ael. The Sisters left her what money they had received with their Papers – several years’ wages – and told their mother to do with it as she would. They left immediately after, desperate to escape.
They arrived at Var Athel penniless, with only the clothes on their backs. They had no proof that they had even a shred of talent, had never shown any signs of power, and had never even given the Sorev Ael much thought. But when they arrived at Var Athel they demanded testing – even though women were not allowed into the Sorcerers’ Court in that day. They were, of course, denied entry.
They stayed at the gate of the Citadel for three days and three nights, sleeping in shifts. Finally, it was Rothoc the Bold, then head of the Circle that rules Var Athel, who went out to test them himself. The Keeper of Var Athel, an ancient being part man and part enchantment, appeared before them and held out his staff. They both placed hands upon it without hesitation, and a brilliant light flooded the whole of the courtyard, blinding onlookers who had come to watch two foolish women be taught a lesson.
When the light faded, Rothoc came forward and embraced them like long lost daughters. When he released them, he smiled and said simply, “You have come home.”
Eldric fell asleep thinking of that story, and for the first time was confused by it. There was a sick yearning in his heart and a war in his mind between what was expected of him and what he wanted. He slept very little, and what dreams he had were dark and full of fear.
When he woke the next morning, it was to the misty gray light of pre-dawn that had seeped into Dunlow. He tried to push away his thoughts from the night before along with his wishes for the future. Stories were for children, and he had grown up. He splashed water on his face, tore off a chunk of bread on his way through the kitchen, and went out into the morning.
The air was crisp, though the cold did not seem to touch him. He was divorced from his body as only those on the verge of a profound change can be. His mind was awake despite the hours of lost sleep, and he went to the plot of land laid aside for his shop, tools in hand, and made ready to build according to the plans he’d drawn.
But then he stopped and began to think.
Eldric was of that strange and bygone breed of men that enjoys contemplation. For many in Dunlow, contemplation was at best a pleasant diversion when no conversation was to be had and at worst a dangerous distraction from the constant necessity of work. Not so for Eldric, though. Thinking was a part of him, as much as his skin or bones. He had old blood in him – the ancient blood of the men who had made the first fire and looked at the world in wonder. So when he stood on that plot of land, the flat and level earth behind his parents’ modest home, thoughts rushed in on him the way that first love does: all at once, encompassing.
He thought again of the Sisters – how they had turned away from the easy life that well-meaning others had tried to force on them. He thought of his parents and what they expected of him; thought of the years he’d spent training in Ouldin and later throughout the Peninsula. A typical man of Dunlow who had such thoughts would have dismissed them, for thoughts of such nature interfered with work and work was the height of virtue. Eldric, however, was not a typical man. He was perhaps more and perhaps less, but either way makes up a difference.
He slowly turned and looked around the family plot, held in the grip of something beyond his understanding. The Stonewall plot was old – one of the oldest in Dunlow – and the house had stood for generations. The road that traveled the Peninsula from Caelron to Londor was just visible from where he stood. The smaller road that branched off of it and passed through Dunlow all the way to the foot of the Windy Mountains ran right by the Stonewall plot. The Village Green was nearby too, and the oldest, biggest shops as well. Everything from the blacksmith to the clothier was within walking distance.
And so it was that in the fine mist of a breaking day, Eldric Stonewall realized what he was going to do with his life.
He woke his parents and told them what he planned, speaking feverishly, his cheeks red with excitement. They listened in dismay as he made clear his intention to throw away a solid profession in favor of an ill-formed dream, but as he spoke, their minds began to change. He saw the spark in their eyes when it flared to life, and he did not let up until he had fanned it to a full blaze. He spoke through morning, afternoon, and night, unfolding to them his vision, and when finally he fell silent, they were bursting with pride and urging him onward.
He worked nonstop over the next week, as only a man devoted to a dream can do. He drew up more plans in a feverish daze, sleeping in sporadic bursts that were broken by lightning bolts of inspiration that threw him back into frantic motion. When finally he was done, he slept for a day and a half straight.
He went to Lare, the town builder, and unfolded his plans with no less enthusiasm than when he’d spoken to his parents. Lare, gnarled with age but still strong of eye and limb, was impressed. He too caught the fever, and the number of dreamers increased to four.
Together they went to the Village Council, a group of some dozen men and women from the most influential families in Dunlow. If Eldric had come on his own, a young man with a head full of strange ideas, he no doubt would have been dismissed. But together with his parents and Builder Lare, he drew their eye.
Soft-spoken as he was, and prone to bouts of quiet contemplation, not many had heard him speak before that day. But Eldric, when overcome with passion, spoke with the fire and eloquence of men several times his learning; and as he had done with his parents, so too did he work his magic on the council.
There was little on the docket that day, and Lilibet Struan, the current Head, thought that when the floor was opened for petitions the meeting would soon be done and over with. There was only old Lare and the Stonewall family in attendance that night from all the village, save for Poal the scribe, and she was looking forward to an early night. She went through the normal proceedings with extra speed, then opened the floor for comment. As soon as she fell silent, Eldric stood.
They greeted him with smiles – a young man with Papers is always considered an upstanding citizen by default – and commented on how much he had grown. He thanked them and began to speak.
At first, there was only stunned silence. The announcement that he did not wish to live a carpenter’s life shocked and appalled many of the older and more conservative members of the council, but as he continued, not stopping to allow for protestation, the silence turned from shock to captivation. He spoke the same way he had spoken to Lare and to his parents, for that was the way he spoke to everyone when the passion of a thing was in him. He painted a picture of what he intended to do and spoke of how the idea had come to him. He spoke until his mouth was dry and all his dreams had been laid bare, and when he finally fell silent the sky outside had turned from the amber-gold of sunset to the pitch-black of night.
It is doubtful that the council had ever heard so audacious a plan before, but though the people of Dunlow are proud and stubborn, there runs in them a streak of imagination like a vein of gold buried deep beneath the earth. If it is uncovered and brought to light, there is much of wonder and excitement there, and such was on display that night. Lilibet Struan broke the silence:
“How can we help?”
Eldric grinned and told them.
The very next day a town gathering was called, which old Mayor Appledown helped to organize. When everyone was in attendance, Eldric laid out his plan. Some shook their heads in reluctance, and some seemed angry that time would be wasted on such a scheme, but most were excited, and soon Eldric had the help and supplies he needed.
It was on that day that he met Jaes Heatherfield.
Her father, Chester Heatherfield, came up to Eldric after he finished addressing the village and told the young man that he regretted his inability to help. He was just on the far side of middle-aged, and so was his wife. The only child they had ever had was Jaes, and if they left the fields they owned at the foot of the Windy Mountains, they would never pull in enough crops to feed themselves, much less make a profit when the traders came.
But Eldric heard very little of this, because Jaes had come up beside her father, and as soon as he laid eyes on her he knew, just as he had known about his future, that she was what he wanted.
She was tall and curved and strong: a farmer’s daughter with no older brothers to help with the chores. She stood straight and looked him in the eye, and when she smiled her whole face beamed and his heart melted.
Chester Heatherfield, no fool, stopped speaking when it became clear that Eldric, while doing his best to appear attentive, was only hearing one in every twenty words. Mr. Heatherfield made the introductions straight away – for there is very little that will stand in the way of a Dunlow farmer seeing his daughter married well – and when Eldric took Jaes’ hand in greeting, they fell in love immediately.
It took three years to build the inn, which, actually, was quite a feat for such a small town. It was three stories tall – audacious in that time and place – and had a common room, three stables in back, and one whole side made of the same stone wall that had given Eldric his family name.
Jaes came every day to help him work. Chester Heatherfield, a clever twinkle in his eye, told her that Eldric had begged him for the extra help, and that if she worked well she could continue going. Jaes, no fool herself, went along with the ruse.
The inn, already a fantastic vision, was inspired to new heights by the presence of Jaes. Eldric built it as much for her as for himself – he pushed himself to new heights of ingenuity in order to show her what he could do, and every time her expression turned to one of surprise and wonder, he fell in love with her all over again.
Jaes, for her part, was Eldric’s equal in many ways, for she was as good with people as he was with ideas. She was known far and wide throughout the town and knew each and every resident in turn. She convinced Blacksmith Thomil to work practically for free and made sure Builder Lare was always on call but out of the house when Mistress Lionel was around. And when the Council met she was often in attendance, her ear pricked for any noise the older and stodgier members of the village cared to make about the racket or the way things were changing too quickly. For those who were leery of the inn, she often had a soothing word that put their minds at ease; and for those that downright opposed it, she had a sharp-taloned scolding ready to let fly.
But it was when she returned to Eldric and told him what she’d done – how she’d organized a meeting or turned a thorny protestor into an intrigued proponent – that she earned her true reward. His eyes would light up and he would stand a full inch taller, as though he’d been filled with excess life.
There are much worse ways to fall in love, and little better.
Three years passed all too quickly, and when they were done Eldric realized he had a simple choice before him: let Jaes return to the Heatherfield farm or ask for her hand in marriage. He chose the later.
Their wedding took place the day the inn was opened, and the whole village turned out for it. It was a grand affair, as only country folk can put on, with freely flowing ale from Danil Greer, apple tarts and fresh-churned cream from Village Head Lilibet’s sister-in-law Alice, sizzling meats from Lopin Buie’s stock, and fruit fresh-picked from the Appledown orchard brought by Mayor Appledown himself. There was dancing and music and beauty, and the midsummer stars watched it all with a twinkle in their eyes.
The inn was named the Fairfield, and it was exactly as they had imagined it.
The little girl came scarcely a year later – it is perhaps unsurprising to say that there was a fierce and constant effort to make her in those early months of marriage – and she was the talk of the town. Both Eldric and Jaes were well-regarded citizens by then, and many had heard Mayor Appledown speaking openly of retirement now that a fine young man had come that could easily take his place.
But Jaes’ pregnancy was not an easy one. Despite the best help and care from Ellen Buie, midwife of the town and one of Lopin Buie’s wide and ranging brood of children, she was forced into bed rest, where her condition only worsened. Fear filled the Fairfield then, try as Eldric might to frighten it away with song and drink and guests.
The day of the girl’s birth was horrible, fraught with pain and suffering. It drove Eldric nearly mad to hear the screams that echoed from the birthing room, and he was well and truly in his cups by the time night fell, surrounded by a dozen well-meaning men who had been through such fathering before.
Little work was done in the village that day – Eldric and Jaes lived in the consciousness of the town as the prime example of good Dunlow folk, and not a single person could hear of their troubles and not offer up a word of prayer to the Creator. Many gravitated to the inn, as if drawn by a magnetic force, and though few entered, they all made excuses to be nearby.
Finally, the girl was born, but Jaes could not stop bleeding.
Ellen Buie, the midwife, grew desperate and sent for Doc Staevns despite the well-customed prohibition against men in the birthing room. He was known as a levelheaded man with steady hands and years of experience treating both man and beast. It is lucky that he came, for it was Doc Staevns that saved Jaes’ life. But after, when he came to Eldric, the doctor’s face was grim.
Jaes lived, but she would never again conceive.
It was at this point that all eyes turned to the newborn girl.
“All that is left is to name her,” Jaes said when she and Eldric were finally alone. Their tears had dried as they held each other, and now in the aftermath of the ordeal there was finally time for thought. Jaes was still weak, but she was young and her spirit strong, and you could see from her eyes that she was determined not to let this gift go to waste. The baby girl was laid between them on their wide bed, the best and widest in the village, and as they spoke she slept softly on, oblivious.
“We wanted to have two,” Eldric said, careful to speak gently. “I never told you, but I dreamed of naming them… well, it sounds foolish now.”
“You’re always foolish,” Jaes said as she tried to hold back tears. She smiled softly even though she wished to cry.
He smiled back and spoke slowly. “My parents told me stories when I was younger. One set of stories in particular.”
He looked at her, asking without words whether he should continue, and she nodded her assent, a watery smile pushing its way across her face. He nodded back, self-consciously cleared his throat, and told her of the stars.
“There were two sisters – one named Amyl and one named Quinyl. They were Sorev Ael – the first women, or so the story goes, and rarer still for their strength. Both of them earned the Staff and Ring only years after coming to Var Athel. Quinyl was one of the most skilled Namers the Citadel had ever seen, and Amyl became a Mage. She was even offered a position on the Circle itself… ”
He told the stories late into the night, going through the various tales, their storied parts in the early days of the war with Charridan, their travels through the Northern Wilds to the land of the fabled Eryn-Ra, and their rumored romances with princes of Calinae and Laniae. She listened to it all, rapt with attention.
“You remind me of those stories every day,” he said quietly. ”You make me feel like a boy, hearing them over again for the first time, and I cannot help but love you.”
Jaes cried in earnest then, and the tears were the bittersweet kind of slowly healing sorrow. But she held his head between her hands and spoke back fiercely.
“There is no better man than you in all the world – and I love you with all my heart. Is it your wish to name our daughter after one of these women?”
“No,” he said slowly, holding her hand to soften the blow, “since there will be no sister to follow her.” Jaes’ face fell and she looked down, feeling as though she were a broken thing that could no longer live up to its purpose. But Eldric raised her head again and looked into her eyes.
“I wish to name her after both,” he said. “And she will be enough.”
Jaes smiled through her tears and nodded. She looked down again at the sleeping child.
“AmyQuinn,” she said. “AmyQuinn.”