Nobody knew where Alucia Dal Am hailed from. She was as timeless as the elves up north and as mysterious and secretive as the Angels away to the west. For as long as she had been known in Denari she had been a white-haired crippled old woman. Time seemed to have little effect on the seer and while those around her grew older still and eventually passed into the lands of the dead, Alucia Dal Am seemed frozen. Though she was an old woman she never appeared to grow older still to the passing generations.
Before Gallus’ reign Alucia Dal Am had been respected in a number of circles. There were those who found her alarming and steered clear of the maverick, but there were an equal few who found her readings and consultations enlightening and sought out her words and her wisdom. This had all come to a stark and abrupt change on what ought to have been a day of celebration to the whole nation: a royal wedding day.
On the day Gallus wed his immortal bride the seer alienated herself from royal favour. It was many years before she became a true outlaw, but become one she did and she was so hated that she had not left the sanctity of her chambers in the alley with no windows since. There were those who knew of her station there, yet never did this knowledge reach the ears of those who might have the power to remove her from them, or so it seemed. Whatever the reason, Alucia Dal Am had never been forcefully removed from the city, despite Gallus’ widely understood wishes to have her done so.
Thais had pondered many a time how so fearsome a seer might look. However, now she stood confronted with one of the most notorious fugitives in the city she found herself remarkably disappointed.
“You think me not as you expected,” the seer spoke; her voice a hoarse rush of air, her parted cracked lips revealing a toothless mouth.
Thais’ eyes trailed up and down the frail hunched figure, hidden beneath a mountain of rags and scarves. She took in the wispy white hair, the sallow skin, the yellow claw-like fingernails, the shortness in stature and those white unseeing eyes. After hesitating momentarily she nodded.
“I was expecting more.”
“So many do. Come, come and sit down by the fire. Your friends may come of course.” Without glancing back Thais followed the hobbling figure into the depths of the chambers. Though the room housed many tantalising sights and artefacts the young girl’s eyes remained trained on the seer as she was led to a low settee, positively covered in feline bodies. Carefully the princess moved several of the cats to the side to perch uneasily on the edge of the red fading silk. Rachel and Kaio decided to hover behind their friend, unwilling to play along with the farce that they might be made comfortable and at ease in their peculiar surroundings.
“I must repeat my words,” the seer spoke softly once she had found her own place within the depths of an enormous arm chair that appeared to swallow her small frame up whole leaving only her shrunken withered face revealed. “I never truly expected to see you walk into my midst.”
“I’ve come seeking advice on a matter I’m sure no one else can help me with,” Thais replied firmly, keeping her dark eyes level and trained on the seer’s unseeing ones.
“A matter even your father has no expertise in?”
“A matter he’s refused to give his expertise in.”
“Ah.” A broad smile revealing the toothless mouth of the seer spread across her ancient face. “The intrigue deepens. Your disobeying of his rules are a direct plea to delve into an element of his life he has no desire to share with you.”
“I haven’t come here so that you can judge me,” Thais stated, her tone gravelly.
“Indeed you have not.” A deep sigh escaped from the elderly woman while she dropped her unseeing gaze to the floor. “What makes you so certain I will be able to give you the answers you seek?”
“I just am.”
“You depend on your active imagination far too readily Thais. One day it might lead you astray. You have heard stories of me no doubt and feel me suitably involved in your father’s past to have an insight into the workings on his mind and private existence.”
“Don’t presume to know me seer.”
“Similarly do not presume to address me in such disrespectful terms. You may enjoy a supremely superior station in society young lady, but you are in my home. I will abandon you to your questions if you cannot contain your arrogance.”
Rarely had the royal girl been challenged in so blunt a fashion, particularly by a stranger and in spite of her fiery mind Thais felt humbled. The slight hanging of head signified her abeyance and almost instantly the seer removed the stern expression from her cracked face.
“Your spirit is a wild one child, there is no denying that. Your mother’s blood runs strong in you.”
“You knew my mother?”
“Do not build your hopes to such high heights Thais. Everyone knew your mother while she graced the throne of Titua. She was a beautiful soul, lively and spirited. She truly was loved here in Denari.”
The blonde child’s eyes were falling to the seer’s indistinguishable form hidden in the deep armchair, before quite suddenly her keen gaze lifted once more.
“Is it because of my mother that papa has gone to the northlands?”
“Has he cause to travel in aid of your mother child? Is she not long departed from the lands of the living?”
“Truly I have no idea why he’s travelled north,” Thais replied evenly, though the strain of having to keep the cheek from her tone was causing her to sound a little strangled. “That’s why I have come seeking your help. Please, won’t you help me?”
A smoky silence descended over the occupants of the chamber while Alucia’s eyes seemed to delve deeply into the very soul of her young visitor. There was such fire in that child’s heart, such passion and virtue.
“I must speak with you alone,” the seer finally spoke, her eyes avoiding the affronted expressions on the faces of Thais’ comrades.
“Absolutely not!” Kaio spoke first. “Wherever Thais goes we go.” The white eyes flicked to the boy’s face for a moment before returning to settle on Thais’ uncomfortable expression.
“Kaio, maybe you’d better…”
“No Thais! Are you mad? We’re not leaving you.”
The fair girl rose from her seat and turned to face her loyal friends, who at this moment seemed more akin to sworn enemies by the scowls that they wore. With a sigh Thais looked from one cousin to the next and then back again.
“Rachel you know I can’t leave this place unanswered. You know that.”
Appealing to the more level-headed of the two had been a strategy Thais had many a time employed in successfully evading her friends’ often over bearing protectiveness. Though Rachel loved Thais no less than her cousin, she at least had respect for the girl’s autonomy. It would seem though that the prospect of abandoning Thais in Alucia Dal Am’s lair was nearly too much for Rachel to bear and her eyes creased under the strain of her mental strife.
“We’ll be right outside the door,” the flame-haired girl finally spoke, ripples of emotion straining her voice. For a moment her eyes met the seer’s unseeing ones and warned of the pain that would ensue were her closest friend to come across any mishaps.
“What?” Kaio it would seem was not entirely happy with the arrangements. “No we won’t!”
“Kaio,” Rachel sighed and she pressed her hand against her cousin’s arm, pushing him away from the object of his protective hostility. “Leave it be, you and I both know Thais is perfectly capable of defending herself against a frail old woman.”
“Well what if she’s a sensitive?”
“She isn’t,” Thais herself cut in. “I would be able to sense her Kaio and I can’t.”
“What if she’s hiding it though? She could be a Witch! Or worse, she could be…”
“A harmless old woman who is growing impatient?”
The three children slowly turned to look at the shrivelled shape in the armchair. Thais smiled at the elderly seer’s sense of humour before she turned a warning look on her overbearing friend.
“There’s nothing for you to be concerned about Kaio, I promise.”
Kaio Greenwood was a proud young man and at his friend’s direct request he inhaled deeply, his whole body shuddering with the wave of air rushing in, before he turned on heel and departed with as much dignity as he could salvage.
Rachel watched her cousin leave before her green eyes sought out the seer’s expressionless face. Without so much a word to either Alucia Dal Am or her friend the gangly girl followed in Kaio’s wake. At the sound of the door closing Thais felt immeasurably weakened by comparison before she shuddered herself into submission and resumed her previous seat.
“If you cannot now find the strength in yourself to stand alone before an old woman I worry you will not be able to do what I have seen.”
Suddenly strengthened by her resolve the princess lifted defiant eyes to meet the seer’s.
“I’m not a coward. Far from it! What have you seen? Tell me, please.” A chuckle of sorts slipped through the cracks in the elderly woman’s lips.
“I called you no coward. Tell me Thais, why is it you wish to travel to the elven lands?”
The princess frowned deeply and shook her head.
“How do you know I want to travel to Khaled-Dîn. Have you seen it? Is that where I’m going?” The seer simply stared at the girl with her white unseeing eyes, making the youngster fidget.
“What lies in those mountains that you would risk everything to reach them?”
“You already know that,” the girl replied in a whisper. “Don’t you?”
“Is recognition truly so important?”
Thais narrowed her eyes and hung her head slightly. Recognition? Is that what she sought? Yes, she was proud, but to risk everything she held dear in order to force a man she cared little for to acknowledge her, this she could not do. Sil’Vein had destroyed her mother and for this Thais wanted to find him. He needed to know that his actions could no longer go unpunished. To discard Mai Avani as though she meant nothing and to allow her to die alone and heart broken, this had been a sin in Thais’ eyes. Ever since Mai Avani’s death Thais had secretly vowed to go to the elven mountain and find justice for her mother. Sil’Vein could hide no longer from his granddaughter. He could no longer pretend nothing had happened. She would not let him ignore her anymore.
Thais looked up sharply in surprise, her suspicious eyes trying to see into the seer’s mind.
“Yes,” she finally spoke icily. “I do want recognition. I want him to acknowledge me and pay for what he did to my mother. How did you know?”
“I know many things.”
“But how did you know that? Even I didn’t.” Alucia Dal Am smiled serenely, but remained silent. “Fine, keep your secrets and I will mine. I will go to Khaled-Dîn and whatever the cost I will make him see that though my mother died, I live. He cannot run from that.”
“Whatever the cost?”
Thais hesitated for a moment.
“Yes, whatever the cost.”
“Very well,” Alucia Dal Am spoke firmly. “I will tell you what I have seen. You will walk from this city alone. You will reach the city of Khaled-Dîn alone. The path you will traverse is narrow. It is only wide enough to accommodate one. Leave this place Thais. Leave as soon as you can arrange your escape. Travel to the White Sea where you will find your guardian to take you the rest of the way.”
“But you just said I had to walk my path alone,” Thais interjected with a wrinkled brow.
“Indeed and that is so. Your guardian will not be with you long, bear that in mind. If you stumble before the very end and in weakness allow your guardian to join you for longer than you ought, I cannot foresee what their fate will be.”
“How will I know when the time has come to walk alone?”
“That my dear child, will become evident as soon as the moment strikes. I have always heard tell of your bravery. I do hope that the stories have not been embellished.”
“I can assure you they have not,” the girl spoke firmly, her jaw jutted out in a display of defiance. Then feeling humbled by the unchanging blank expression on the seer’s face, Thais shrunk back slightly. “What I meant was, even though I don’t know every tale spread about me, I can only hope they haven’t been embellished.”
“Perhaps there is hope for you,” Alucia Dal Am uttered through a low chuckle. “You may yet grow into a diplomat like your father.”
“And when I get there will my grandfather acknowledge me?” Thais asked when she realised Alucia Dal Am had finished telling her of her vision.
“That I do not know. Thais I must warn you, there will ultimately be a price to pay for this journey, a journey where the outcome is uncertain. You must decide whether this is a risk you want to take.” Thais bit the insides of her cheeks and nodded awkwardly.
“You won’t tell me what price I will have to pay will you?”
“That is not my place little one. You have been warned.”
Thais fell silent for a moment, the memory of her mother’s kind sad face flickering in and out of her mind’s eye. Her mother had always been sad. Sil’Vein had done that to her.
“Even if he won’t acknowledge me, I need to go. I need to go for my mother’s sake. She died alone knowing her people hated her. I’m not going to let him get away with that!”
Alucia Dal Am merely nodded in the face of Thais’ anger. A swell of silence overcame the pair. The girl started fidgeting once more.
“Yes, you may go now,” the elderly woman spoke, fluidly reading Thais’ thoughts. Without a word the girl stood to leave. “But remember Thais. It is imperative that you leave this city alone! I cannot foretell what will happen to those who step out with you. Your journey will be dangerous. Rely on your bravery. It is the strength from within that will lead you to the silver city.”
“I’ll remember,” the girl spoke softly, a feeling of isolation and fear snaking under her skin and taking hold of her heart. Without another word the princess walked steadily from the depths of the abode toward the door. With every step the girl felt herself returning to normal and by the time she had reached the exit her fortitude had been very much restored. Whatever powers the seer had not seemed to possess at their first meeting, were evidently very strong indeed. Thais could understand why people feared her so. Looking back seeking out the seer through the maze of organza veils the heiress was flooded by respect.
“Thank you Alucia Dal Am,” she called out, before she wrenched the door open and fled into the corridor beyond, readily embraced by her friends and bolstered out of the alchemist’s shop into the safety of the alley with no windows.
The three children sat along the riverbank in front of the Greenwood home, their legs dangling over the ancient stone ledge, swinging to and fro in the cold winter air. The heavens had clouded over with dark grey shapes, swirling around one another, wrapped up in a battle of majestic proportions. Three sets of young eyes kept watch of their movements, each knowing that soon a fresh blanket of snow would be deposited over the city.
Rachel and Kaio had recovered quite happily from the events of the alley. Both had pestered their friend for news of what had happened after their departure, but Thais was remaining very coy about the whole thing. Indeed, the heiress had spoken only a handful of words in the hours that had passed. Her mind was otherwise occupied.
“Now your father is away, will you be able to stay out late tonight Thais?” Rachel enquired, seeking for the umpteenth time to engage her unusually silent friend in conversation. Thais had not heeded her. Instead the girl’s gaze lay fixed steadily on the fast moving clouds, her mind detached from her present state and engaged in possible futures.
“Princess!” Kaio growled loudly, delivering a blow to the girl’s ribs with his elbow.
“Ouw!” Thais complained furiously. “Kaio you brute! What was that for?”
“What do you think it was for Thais?” the boy countered, his annoyance at being left out of the girl’s plans evident on his face. “You’ve ignored us since we left that awful place and have refused to tell us what she said.”
“It’s none of your business Kaio,” Thais countered hotly. “I needn’t tell you everything that happens to me. You’re not my father!”
“Thais please don’t, my cousin only meant that you have been rather ignoring us since we left the seer’s. He isn’t trying to force you to tell us what happened.”
“Yes I am!”
“He certainly is!”
Rachel’s eyes darted between the feuding faces of her friends and quite willingly she withdrew herself from their conversation by climbing to her feet and walking across the street to the doorway of the Greenwood home, where she could watch their battle free from the danger of being implicated in it.
“Your father isn’t the only one who cares for your safety,” Kaio was continuing, his tone firm. “He’s not the only one who would sway you from galloping headlong into a terrible mistake.”
“Since when have I listened to my father’s warnings?” The boy dropped his gaze slightly, knowing that rarely had he seen Thais do anything of the sort. “Exactly. So why should I listen to you?”
“Because this time it’s serious Thais. You’ve already disobeyed your father in a way I’m sure he won’t easily overlook and now you plan to follow a mad old woman’s no doubt perilous advice and throw yourself into an adventure that might be the end of you.”
The truth in his words stung Thais more than his elbow had and without another utterance she jumped to her feet.
“I am going home,” the girl announced as a cold white fleck landed on the tip of her nose. Startled she stared upwards for a moment, catching sight of the grey haze of impending snow swirling in the high winds. “Goodbye.”
Kaio reached to grab the girl’s moth-eaten cardigan and held her back while he climbed to his feet also.
“Let go of me!”
“Just listen Thais, please.”
“I will if you let go.” Slowly Kaio released his strong grip on the wool, before he held his hands up in surrender. Thais stayed true to her word and did not move while the snow fell around them.
“Are you planning on leaving the city?” The girl held Kaio’s gaze icily, but finally she nodded. “Can we come?” Through a pained expression Thais managed to shake her head.
“I can’t explain why, but no, you can’t come with me. Please Kaio, trust me. You’re not to try and come with me, both of you. I must do this alone.”
The girl had no more to say and quite suddenly she turned from her friend and ran down the road leaving Kaio calling after her,
“Thais what if it’s a trap? Who will look after you?”
Thais though, had clamped her hands over her ears, silencing the cautious minority of her mind, which was urging her to listen to her friend.