Chapter One, Grocery Day
Alessandra groaned and pulled the covers over her face when the birds outside her window insisted on chirping even louder, occasionally pecking at the glass. After a few moments of rolling around, Alessandra finally pushed herself off the bed and got dressed. Today was grocery day, her favourite day. She fluffed up her curls and headed up stairs to the main floor of the house. A few of the maids were already cleaning and setting the table for breakfast. Nelli, the senior maid of the house nodded over to a piece of paper when she noticed Alessandra from the kitchen doorway, “Lady Belle and Lady Mia will be down in a moment. I’ve already written a list of ingredients we need from the marketplace for dinner.”
Alessandra nodded and took the list from the kitchen bench, “I’ll leave now and try and get there before all the best fruit is picked first. Plus, I want to get some of that fancy bread they brought in from the Capital.”
“Do not get anything that isn’t on the list, I will not cover for you again if you go over budget like last time.” Nelli grumbled, moving around the kitchen.
“The starfruit was worth it.” Alessandra protested, folding the note in her pocket.
Nelli rolled her eyes, directing one of the other maids to set the cutlery, “You’re lucky I like you child, you are such a pain in my side.”
Alessandra giggled and headed towards the door when she spotted the carriage pulling away from the front of the house, down toward the gate. “Is Magistrate Tomson leaving already? I thought it wasn’t for another week?” She turned and looked at Nelli, who simply shrugged, “He received a letter, and all I know is that he has a long ride ahead of him to the Capital.”
She watched as the horses and carriage disappeared down the gravel path, making up a thousand scenarios in her head. Alessandra often wondered what it would be like to be important, to have a purpose and something exciting to do every day. There was nothing wrong with grocery day and spending time in town, but other children her age were attending school and learning skills she could only dream of having. She loved watching the only daughter of Magistrate Tomson, Mia, learn to ride a horse. Watching the stable hands saddle up and prepare the horses for a day of riding from her window made the hours pass quicker on days where there wasn’t much to do.
But this life was good, Alessandra considered herself luckier to be a part of a household than on the streets, even if it was just as a sitter for Mia and purchaser of groceries.
“I’ll be back soon.” Alessandra waved, checking to make sure the list was still in her pocket. She started down the path, a few of the stable hands were walking the horses for their morning exercise. The gardeners were working on the row of trees by the gate this time, trimming off the dead branches and some were tending to the rose bushes that were nestled under the front windows.
She turned around, trying not to burst into laughter when she saw Nelli, one hand holding her skirt and the other waving a small purse around. “You do this every time child!”
Alessandra grinned as she took the purse, “Thank you Nelli! What would I do without you?”
Nelli only grumbled again and waved her off, smiling once the girl was out of sight.
The marketplace was busier than normal, which could only mean that new produce from the Capital, and neighbouring cities had been delivered. The town of Armadara was perfectly situated to receive imports from all over Laravella, by land and sea. The docks were constantly bustling, especially when new shipments arrived, and the roads in and out of Armadara always had wagons and traveller merchants coming in and out. Alessandra’s eyes widened in delight as she moved through the crowd. The array of food jumped out at her, bright fruits and vegetables were aligned neatly by colour, different styles of cheeses were cut into triangles served on wooden boards for display. Alessandra stopped to look at every store, not wanting to miss out on anything she may have not seen before. She snuck a piece of cheese as she pulled out the list Nelli had given her.
The weather was perfect to spend the day out, the sun was high, and the smell of the sea was in the air. Alessandra had already picked up the ingredients she needed and began making her way out of the plaza when something shimmering caught her eye. She took a few steps back and cast her eyes upon the glimmering and colourful display of crystals, stones and gemstones. There were jagged crystals with hues of purple and blue swirling throughout. Other crystals were smoother, where bright pinks faded down into white. On one side of the table were rows and rows of small gemstones in every colour Alessandra could possibly think of.
“Is there anything that catches your eye lass?” The boy sitting behind the stall set his book aside and began to stand from his chair when and older gentleman grumbled, “Oh sit down Leif. Don’t bother my customers you little shite.”
The boy shrugged and smiled, picking his book back as he sat down. His dark chocolate, wavy hair sat messily on top of his head, the sides cropped short. Alessandra blushed only a little and turned her attention on the older man. He tipped his broad-rimmed at up slightly, “Names’ Jacob Dennan and pay no never mind to my very lazy assistant over there.” He gestured over to Leif who only smiled and shook his head.
“All my wares are freshly mined back home in Embria, so you know the quality is superb.” His accent was thick, and he was dressed superbly. His white button up shirt was tucked neatly into his brown slacks, even his suspenders matched. The boy, Leif, on the other hand, was dressed similarly as far as Alessandra could see, only he was wearing a long grey coat.
Alessandra nodded, looking at back the gemstones, until she stopped at one, set by itself on the top shelf. This gem was a perfect sphere, flecks of gold and ruby looked like they were painted on the dark grey exterior with a fine brush. “What’s this one called? It’s so beautiful.”
The man scratched his groomed beard, “Ah, this beauty I got from a travelling merchant passing through from the North actually on my way down here. It cost a pretty penny mind you. She called it a Golden Bloodstone on a count of the colours going on.”
Alessandra kept her eyes on the gem for a moment, then finally turned back to the gentleman, “Thank you for letting me have a look at your wares sir, but I should start home.” The basket on her arm was becoming heavy. Alessandra bowed her head slightly as the man reached up and picked up one of the small gemstones on display and offered it her.
“This one’s an Agate, for good luck. Now off you go lass.”
Alessandra rolled the gem between her fingertips, admiring the smooth texture and ashy grey colouring. Swapping her grocery basket from one arm to the other, she put the gemstone in her pocket, excited to show Nelli. Alessandra made her way down the streets towards the edge of town when bell chimes echoed over her. Jumping out of the way, Alessandra frowned and cursed when a few boys nearly knocked her over as they sped past. She started down the road again when the ground suddenly shook with such violence Alessandra was knocked from her feet, all her produce falling out of the basket. The ground quaked again and again, and Alessandra cried out, trying to regain her balance.
It was then she heard yelling and shouting. Finally, back to her feet, Alessandra cried in shock as fire raged before her and thick black smoke bellowed above. She turned on her feet back towards the marketplace when the sounds of frantic people were growing louder and a crowd began to form. Giant rocks hurled into the sky, crashing into buildings and houses before crushing anyone unlucky enough to be in their path. Bricks and stone crashed to the ground in front of her, while the fire was making quick work as it blazed through the streets. Alessandra rubbed the tears from her eyes as more and more smoke flowed overhead. She had no choice but to move with the confused crowd of citizens back toward the marketplace.
“What’s going on!?”
“Are we being attacked!?”
“Who is causing this!?”
Frightened people yelled their confusion, some crying out for lost loved ones. The crowd started to grow and move into the centre of the plaza. All the stalls were destroyed, food and debris littered everywhere. Alessandra’s heart was racing, and she clasped her shaking hands. She could feel the heat from the spreading fire when a blood curdling screech cut through Alessandra like a knife. For one moment, not one soul uttered a sound. Looking up, all Alessandra could see were several enormous snake-like heads looming over in the sky. Their murky scales shone in sunlight when the heads moved simultaneously like spears, tearing through the mass of people. Once the anyone had realised what was going on, it was too late. Blood spewed into the air and people scattered, fleeing in every direction.
Alessandra scrambled, and ran as soon as she saw an opening. She ran as fast as her legs could take her, not daring to look back despite desperate pleas for help ringing in her ears. As she turned a corner, Alessandra tripped over the piling rubble and tumbled forward. Alessandra moved to her knees, her hands and arms stinging with cuts and scratches. She stared and the soot filled ground for a moment, she didn’t know if it was her body or her mind not allowing her to move – probably both. She slowly lifted her head and watched as a woman screamed in front of a pile of stone. The woman shrieked as she desperately to move the stone, blood seeping through the cracks onto the ground.
“Please, stop. You have to run.” Alessandra whimpered as she dragged herself to her feet toward the woman.
“Get away!” The woman snarled; her eyes wild. “My boy is here! He is! I’ll get him out! My baby boy!”
Alessandra shuffled back before the pooling blood could touch her feet, when the woman fell silent. A long hiss crawled up Alessandra’s spine when half of the woman’s body fell to the ground in front of her. Alessandra heaved and scrambled back only to find two dirty yellow eyes staring at her. One of the giant serpent’s heads stared at Alessandra, pieces of flesh falling from its mouth. It hissed again, inching closer, its hot, metallic breath filled her nostrils. Up close Alessandra could see rows of spikes on either side of its long, blood spattered neck. Another explosion rang through the air and Alessandra caught her breath and ran. The serpent screeched and slid its head and neck along the ground behind her. She ran and ran, falling into a mass of fleeing people, the serpent right behind her.
From the corner of her eye, Alessandra saw someone get dragged away, their legs trapped inside the jaw of the serpent. All she could do was keep running as women, men and children were snatched by the jaws of serpent heads. Alessandra pushed her way through the stampede. Her breathing was hard as she was shoved forward, the force of clambering people knocking her to the ground. Crawling on her hands and knees, desperately looking for an opening to get back on her feet, Alessandra felt something push down against her back. The breath was knocked from her lungs, and the bodies of frantic townspeople started to pile up on top of her.
The light started dimming, Alessandra couldn’t keep her eyes open, her breaths becoming shorter and shallow. She thought of Nelli and her cooking, how bossy and secretly caring she was. She thought of the horses going for their morning exercise. She thought of the smell of roses and how bright their green leaves were. Alessandra thanked Magistrate Tomson and Lady Belle for taking her in, she thanked little Mia for being kind to her even though she was younger than her.
Alessandra breathed in and closed her eyes when the last of the light was gone, when she felt a rough hand grab her by the sleeve. Alessandra gasped for air and fell into strong arms.
“Now come on lass! Get up! Move, come on!” The boy from the crystal stall shook her, until her eyes focused on him.
“Damn it Leif! Get a move on!” The older man growled, Leif and Alessandra to their feet.
“I couldn’t just leave her Jacob!”
“Just move you shite!” The man that owned the stall scruffed them both by their shirts and guided them quickly through a small alleyway until they came up on to the harbour on the edge of Armadara. The boy held Alessandra’s hand tightly as Jacob moved them forward towards the last boat on the dock.
The harbour was filled with crying, frantic and scared people. Women and children wept as they were rushed to the ships. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters cried as they called out the names of their missing family members. Others screamed desperate pleas when they were refused on the ships due to quick overcrowding. Alessandra watched as those desperate enough launched themselves from the dock in attempt to board the ship, only to fall into the shadowy and violent waves below.
“This way, quickly!” Jacob yelled over the crowd.
“Where are we going?” Alessandra yelled, her voice lost in the shrieking and cries.
“Jacob knows the captain of this ship, he can get us out of here!” Leif moved so Alessandra was in front of him, following closely behind Jacob as they stepped on to the bridge connecting the ship to the dock. Before she knew it, Alessandra was shakily crossing the bridge onto the ship, the waves trying to snatch her up and pull her below.
As they stepped on board, Jacob was already making his way to the rear of the ship. The crew were scattered, manning their stations as the anchor shot out of the water. Alessandra wrapped her arms around herself, the cold sea breeze sliced through her. Alessandra looked back over to the town, smoke was filling the air, flames spreading across the rooftops. She could make out the massive shadows of the several serpent heads and watched as the town of Armadara was rapidly becoming smaller in the distance. Alessandra could her Leif speaking to her, but she couldn’t concentrate on whatever he was saying.
Alessandra closed her eyes for what felt like forever and opened them again. Leif was still beside her, but his coat was now around her shoulders. He had stopped talking a while ago and only the rumbling thunder in the sky could be heard.