Chapter 1: Prophecy
The great chamber was quiet, only the slow trickle of water over rock could be heard and everybody present tried to stand still, not make a sound. The pool in the middle of the room was crystal clear, the water almost impossibly pure and cold and the raised dais in the middle was lighted by one single ray of moonlight from above. This was the one night of this century when the moonlight would hit the dais and it was a sacred night to every race within this realm. Everywhere around the pool people were gathered, all wearing the same white cloaks and all being caught in a sensation of awe and peace. This room was a sanctuary, and it had been for ages countless. The walls were natural but here and there small carvings had been made, depicting the gods and their powers and the entire room was rather dark. The only light came from that beam of moon light but all there could see rather well in spite of it. The water reflected the pale light rather well.
The dais held a throne, very simple and not at all very elaborate but nobody dared to look at it or its inhabitant. She sat there with her eyes closed, naked and covered with her long bluish hair. She wore no jewellery, no adornments and her skin was unmarred and perfect. She did look like a young maiden on the cusp of womanhood but everybody knew she was ancient. A power older than any of the ones present on this day. The girl on the dais opened her eyes, they were pale blue and piercing and she started to chant. The water around the dais became milky, lost its transparency and it seemed to almost boil along the edge of the pool. Then it fell quiet and she got up, walked down the few steps towards the water and stepped in. It should have been deep, way over her head but it wasn’t, it just reached her calves and she stopped and raised her arms. “Hear ye, I am here, I am ready, I will see.”
A tall figure on the edge of the pool bowed deeply. “So it shall be, tell us o lady of the moon, who is chosen. Who is it that fate watches and favours? Whose future will be decided today?”
The girl stood there like a perfect image of unspoiled beauty, her hair so long it dragged behind her and she had the long elegant limbs of her race and the delicate features. But she also radiated strength and power and nobody would ever dare to question her right to change destiny itself. All bowed to her will, mortal and immortal, kings and pawns. She smiled slowly. “Hear me brothers and sisters, the gods have spoken to me, Dih’rien of the first walkers, and told me the name of the one in their favour.”
She raised a hand and pointed at one of those gathered there, a very tall figure who stood in the middle of the crowd. “Step forth brother, the will of the gods cannot be denied”
The figure seemed to shiver if only for a moment, then he did step forth. “I will not question the will of the gods”
He dropped the cloak and was as naked as the girl, they all were. The cloak all that covered their flesh. He was very tall, even for one of his race and if the girl was a picture of perfect feminine grace he was the epitome of masculine elegance and strength, the body looked as if it was carved by an artist and he moved with the unrestrained elegance of a predator. Only a few scars did mar this tall male and he seemed to extrude raw power and majesty. His hair reached his knees, it was unbound and he wore no jewels, just as the girl. Nobody was allowed to carry any sign of status or wealth while in this most holy of caves, here all were equal. His skin was rather dark, like oiled leather and his hair a deep colour of gold, like a ripe field of wheat. He was as beautiful as the girl, just in a more ragged way. He walked forth and stopped at the edge of the pool. “Step forth Ahravan and do not fear”
He swallowed visibly and took a tentative step into the pool. He didn’t sink, his feet found solid ground where there should have been none and he walked slowly across the pool, towards her. Everybody knew that if a person who was wicked and dark of soul and mind stepped inn he or she would fall to the bottom and drown. The girl was almost as tall as him, which was rather odd considering that he was the tallest person of the crowd. She cocked her head. “Ahravan, son of Nirhaen, are you ready to hear the words of the gods? “
He nodded, his head held low in respect and nervous reverence. “I am o high one!”
She smiled and laid her hand on his head, closed her eyes. To be the one called forth thus was a tremendous honour but one with a somewhat bitter taste, you didn’t always like what was being told and whence the prophecy was heard it couldn’t be undone. What was said would happen, one way or the other. He was shivering from head to toe and everybody there were silent, you could have heard a leaf fall. She opened her eyes again, a tender expression on her face. “Assembled, listen to my words and remember them, this is the prophecy, this will be, and nobody, mortal or immortal must stand in its way!”
The crowd mumbled as one. “Nobody!”
She took his hands, held them loosely in her own. “The gods have spoken and their will is clear. You will send some of your best men to the mountains, in the valley where the winds meet they will find a girl, she has the mark of the gods in her skin. She has seen few summers but is no child and her soul is carrying a rare gift of which she is unaware. Use the crystal of truth and the mark will be visible, placed at the back of her neck. That girl must be brought to you and you will take her as your spouse and her presence will cause great change, and her gifts will flourish. What was lost so long ago may be found through her. Go now, and make it so, the gods have spoken”
The male gasped and his eyes revealed his shock and confusion but he nodded. “The gods have spoken, so it will be, so it must be!”
The girl bent a little closer, placed a swift kiss on his forehead. “Go, and be blessed. I see great joy which will come because of this”
He didn’t answer, he just bowed deeply and turned around, walked back with slow steps, everybody could see that it had upset him though. The girl climbed up onto the dais again and the light from the moon suddenly disappeared, as if it had never been there. The dais seemed to disappear as well and the crowd started to chant slowly and in a whisper as they all made their way to the entrance. The tall male stood there, looking a bit helpless, he seemed to breathe with some difficulty. Then he pulled the cloak back on, almost clumsily before he joined the rest. It was said, it would be done. That didn’t mean that he in any way loved the idea. The valley where the winds met, that could only mean one thing, his future spouse was human.
The sharp autumn wind did bite her bare skin and she pulled her shawl tighter around her, the huge net on her back was heavy but she was used to hard work and proud of her strength. It was filled with dry grass and she fought her way up the steep slope and found the narrow path where she could take a few deep breaths of air before walking on. Her father came up onto the path behind her and he smiled and looked pleased. “Just three more loads left, then this field is done”
She grinned and started walking, this area was so steep and full of cliffs they had to gather the hay for their sheep using a sickle and such nets. It was the only way for they couldn’t even swing a slingblade where it was steepest. They had used to harvest a field a little to the west of this but it was almost vertical and they had to tie themselves onto ropes when doing something there. The land wasn’t very fertile at all and sheep and goats were their main source of wealth, if one could use that word. Here every straw had to be harvested and gathered for the coming winter and the survival of the herd depended upon it. The farms lower down towards the valley bottom kept cattle and they were way more wealthy and much better off but Ulfar had always been stubborn and he had made it there. The farm was small and the buildings rather tiny but it was all well made and he knew how to farm this land, even if the fertility of the area he owned was very bad. They could farm grass and some vegetables and everything else they needed they had to trade for, exchanging it with wool and cheese. The barn was placed in one of the very few spots on the property which was relatively flat. It wasn’t large but it was already filled with hay and the building which housed the animals was next to it and all of their animals were inside. They had thirty ewes and some goats, one pig and some chickens and geese and that was it. It was all that this little piece of the land could feed.
They emptied the nets into the barn and Ulfar sat down, took a sip of water and the girl got one too, the sun was sharp and even if it was cold there you could feel its sting. She pulled her braid back and straightened her skirt, it was a bit short and rather worn and she felt very self conscious about this. Ulfar sighed and petted her knee. “Come on, we need to get the last loads back here, it will rain tomorrow “
Wenja smiled and grasped the net, it was woven from the thin hairs of the goats and weighed next to nothing, her mother Sina had made them and she was an expert at this type of weaving. She even made fishnets. The path back to the field wasn’t long, the whole property was large but they only harvested the fields closest to the farm itself. Those had the best growth conditions and thus they could keep the best hay for the winter when the sheep had to be fed each day. Ulfar was a bit quiet this day, his usually merry whistling absent and Wenja knew that something was wrong, but she didn’t ask him and she knew that he wouldn’t tell her unless he wanted to. So she held her mouth shut and tried to be efficient. It would be dark soon and they had to be done by then, not only was the terrain in itself dangerous in the darkness but the area did house dangerous beasts like wolves, mountains cats and the so called wraith wolves which were huge canines which hunted not in a pack but as solitary beasts. They got the last hay in and she saw that the sun did set into the skies, he was right, it would rain the next day for sure. The farm house was small, it was cramped already and Sina was on her way with their next babe, that was why she wasn’t allowed to go outside and help with the hay. The rules there were strict, a woman couldn’t leave the house when she was pregnant for it could make the spirits jealous of her and make her lose the baby or even worse, make the baby weak or sick.
Sina sat by the bench with her knitting pins and she was busy trying to fix one of Ulfar’s sweaters, she was a good wife and mother and Wenja loved her dearly. Halda lay in her bed and Wenja cringed, the rasping breath had been there for months now and it didn’t get any better, not even by a bit. The local wise woman, Luda, had given them herbs which were to be burned and the smoke inhaled but it had only eased the girl’s breath for a few days. Wenja went over to sit by Halda’s side, the girl smiled and held up a small embroidered patch of cloth. “Look, is it not pretty?”
Wenja smiled and stroked Halda’s hair. “It is very pretty, you will make a good embroiderer sister”
Farkur was busy repairing some tools, he was eight and a bit of a rascal and his brother Surun sat at his feet, wailing because he wasn’t allowed to play with the knife. He was only three so it was no wonder. Their sister Idah at five was trying to knit some socks but the result didn’t really look that much like a sock at all, more like a pouch of some kind. Here everybody had to pull their weight if they were to survive and Wenja swallowed her feeling if despair. Halda was thirteen, a very thin and reed like girl with a very pretty face and a wonderful voice but she had been confined to this bed for three years now. She had slipped and fallen down one of the very steep canyons and broken her back and her legs were paralyzed. She couldn’t even sit in bed and Sina had to help her relieve herself and even wash the girl each day. Her hands were agile enough and Halda did make her contribution to the household by embroidering and knitting and even making beautiful braided ribbons for clothes and to tie back hair with.
Wenja felt so sorry for Halda, she would never get married and never see a better future for she was not going to survive the winter. Luda had said so much, the girl’s lungs were weakening and sometimes she would cough for hours. It broke Wenja’s heart but there was nothing they could do, nothing at all. They were too poor to buy medicine and the nearest real healer was weeks away. Luda was wise in her own ways but she couldn’t cure this and she didn’t try to fool them by giving them false hope. She was straight forward and even Halda knew the truth, this autumn would be her last unless a miracle happened.
Ulfar helped Sina prepare some food, it wasn’t much they had. Just some porridge made from wild wheat, some dried apples and some mutton. The meat had been dried and salted and was hard and looked like black wood but they were grateful for what they had. They drank some sheep milk and Sina moaned as the baby kicked her rather hard. She would be due in just a month now and Wenja wondered how they were gonna make it with one more mouth to feed. When Surun was born Sina had had very little milk and the boy had grown very slowly, he was still small for his age and he didn’t really speak, there seemed to be something wrong with him. Wenja knew that the local women despised Sina, the reason was that she was of a rather poor family who didn’t own land and just worked for others and still Ulfar had fallen in love with her and married her. Ulfar wasn’t rich, far from it but he was still better than Sina in the eyes of the village and thus everybody looked at Sina with suspicion. Surun didn’t look like Ulfar, he was dark and his eyes almond shaped and many of the local gossip makers said that Sina had been unfaithful and slept with another man to have a baby that dark. Ulfar was blond and tall and even though his back was bent from hard work many thought that he was handsome.