Chapter 1: The Conclave
Sylvia woke up to the delicate and heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread, at first she felt at peace, wrapped in a blanket, warm and sheltered in the winter, but then she remembered. She jolted up in a stranger’s bed she was laying in and found herself in a stranger’s house. A rush of memories flooded her mind, reminding her of why she is where she is.
“Mother, she is awake.” a girl sitting in the room called out and then handed her a cup with liquid in it.
“Here, drink this up, it’ll make you feel better. What’s your name?”
“Sylvia,” she said as she cautiously took the mug from the stranger.
“I’m Gwenvieve, you can call me Gwen.” sensing Syvia’s reluctance towards the cup she spoke up. “It’s warm water with some ginger and honey. You were in the snow, unconscious when we found you. Mother was afraid you had caught a cold.”
Sylvia nodded and drank the liquid, trusting her sense of smell. She had caught all the ingredients that Gwenevieve had listed. As she drank up the cup Gwen had her eyes on her, longing to ask her questions about how she had turned up out of nowhere.
Sylvia rested her hand on top of Gwen’s and closed her eyes. Soon Gwen’s questions were visible to Sylvia, with this Sylvia got an idea of what kinds of questions she will be asked. Now she could make up a story accordingly.
“Are you alright?” Gwen asked taking Sylvia out of her trance. “Perhaps you are still unwell.”
“No, I am of better health.” Sylvia clarified. “I am drowsy, meaning I have slept a lot.”
“That you have, you have been in slumber for two days straight. The village healer said you went through something harrowing, and that you were entitled to your rest.”
Footsteps were ringing through Sylvia’s ear, she could hear them from quite a distance, coming closer and closer. Sylvia turned to the door to see a woman, she looked older than Gwen, her mother, Beatrice she had learned from Gwen’s mind.
“Oh, good lord.” The woman said as she made her way to Sylvia. “You’ve woken from your slumber. You did have us all scared, staying like the dead for two nights.”
“I’m sorry to have burdened you.” Sylvia humbly apologized. “I am grateful to you, and your family, to have taken me in when I was in a vulnerable state.”
“You make my cheeks rosy child.” The woman said laughing. “You have been summoned by the chief to attend the town conclave. You are to tell explain your reasons for how you ended up here, and then you will be granted permission to stay in our village.”
The blood from Sylvia’s face drained when she thought about representing herself in front of the town she knew nothing about. They were not to find out what she was, it would lead her to her grave, she must hide her true nature. In order to stay in the village, because she knew she had nowhere else left to go.
“You are not to be afraid,” Gwen assured Sylvia as she sensed her hesitation. “The town’s people are very fond of you as of now.”
Something about her tone made Sylvia uncomfortable but she chose to ignore it and put more thought to what she was going to say tonight at the conclave. She hated the thought of lying, but she couldn’t tell the truth, not if she wanted to live.
Why do I have to be like this? Why wasn’t I normal like all the other girls? I’m always hiding who I am, I am forced to lie because people will hunt me to the ends of the earth if they find out the truth.
Her thoughts were like poison, spreading around in her mind. She had turned on herself, on her morals, confused and alone, she wanted to belong somewhere after the tragedy that had befallen her.
“We will leave you to your thoughts.” The woman said. “Come, Gwenvieve, we must leave our guest some room to breathe, after all, we will find out her mystery at the conclave.”
“There is bread and soup ready on the stove,” Gwen called as she exited the room. “Make yourself at home.”
Sylvia smiled at Gwen and her mother, they were such kind people to help her, a stranger. Her thoughts were disturbed when she heard cheerful laughter. Immediately she looked out of the window, where she saw a couple of children playing. They were rounding up the snow in their palms and aiming them at each other. One girl sneaked up behind a boy and threw some bunched up snow in his back, under his sweater. The poor boy shrieked out loud as the cold snow slid down his back, the rest of the children were laughing loudly. Sylvia kept observing the village full of curiosity from the wooden window, unaware of the smile spread across her face.
When she stepped away from her window she paid attention to her attire. She was wearing a loose white robe, with a white slip underneath. She felt vulnerable and scared without her two daggers, she had them in the belt of her clothes. She looked around the room frantically, but they were nowhere to be seen. She walked out of the room and into what seemed to be the lounge, there was a fire at the end, with a pot hanging over it. She scanned the small wooded area and there still was no sign of her clothes.
“What is it you’re looking for?” Gwen asked.
“My robes.” She said. “The ones I had when you found me.”
“Oh, they were soiled, we put them to wash.”
“There was a belt.”
“With the daggers?” Gwen asked raising an eyebrow and Sylvia nodded instantly. “I gave it to the blacksmith, he said he wanted to sharpen and polish them for the town guest.”
“The blacksmith?” Sylvia asked. “Where does he reside?”
“To the east of the town, his building isn’t hard to miss, it has a big sign.” She said. “I would accompany you, but I have chores to finish.”
“You have done more than enough for me, Gwen,” Sylvia said, hoping Gwen knew how grateful she was to her.
“Take my coat from the front, we are greeted by the cold winds today.”
Sylvia nodded and made her way to the front of her house, she found the grey fur coat and wrapped it around herself, her boots were lying on the rack beside some other shoes. The coat covered most of her sleep gown, that no one would pay notice to it.
She opened the door and stepped into the snow, the cold had no effect on her but she needed to seem normal. She needed to blend in with the people, act like them, including not using her powers, or a limited amount. She walked through the streets that were new and unexplored to her, following the directions that Gwen had given her she now stood in front of a cabin. There was a big sign at the front, it read Blacksmith and a sword was painted beside it. She made her way through the big wooden door and stepped inside the shop. She found herself amidst metal scraps and weapons, clamps and screws were set varying in shapes and sizes. Sylvia scrunched her button nose as the smell of molten metal stung her nostrils.
“What do I owe the pleasure?” A man asked making her jump in her skin. “Sylvia is it?”
She turned around slowly, embarrassed that she had gotten startled. “Yes, I hear you have a hold of my possessions.”
“Ah, the silver daggers.” The blacksmith spoke as he recalled the extravagantly build weapons. “That craftsmanship is rarely known of. They were blunt and covered in all sorts of filth, I sharpened them up before they could turn to rust.”
“I appreciate your help.” She said. “May I collect them?”
The blacksmith pointed, and Sylvia followed with her gaze, she saw her belt with the daggers, resting neatly upon a wooden table. She hastily walked towards it and inspected the daggers, making sure they were done no harm. Satisfied with them, she tied the belt around her waist. “I thank you again.”
“I did my duty.”
Sylvia stopped in her tracks when she caught a whiff of a new smell in the room. It was another person, she didn’t want to look suspicious by looking around. Before her curiosity took the better of her she decided to head back where she woke up. She said her farewells to the blacksmith and closed the door behind her.
“Who came? I do not know of her.” She heard a voice asked, it was deep and rough, a man she thought.
“The girl they found.” The blacksmith answered. “She has been summoned to the conclave to explain her situation. Will you be joining?”
“No, I have some errands to finish.”
Heavy footsteps made their way to the door, getting quicker and closer. In the quickness of the moment, Sylvia jumped behind a barrel and hid there. She heard the creak of the door as it opened, she could see the top of someone’s head. Dark brown curly hair. She put her fingers on the top of the barrel and pulled herself up slightly so she could take a peek. To her disappointment, his back was towards her.
“Sylvia there you are.” she heard Gwen’s voice causing her to jump up from her hiding place.
The man had already turned and was amused at Sylvia’s actions, slightly confused too.
“Count Weston, how do you do?” Gwen asked.
“I am well, what about yourself?”
“Good as always.” She said then turned to the embarrassed Sylvia. “Are you alright? Your face is as red as mother’s tomatoes.”
Weston chuckled out loud, but his amusement was put to an end when he got a glare from Sylvia. Her green eyes were sharp enough to pierce through him.
Gwen stood there confused at the scene unfolding in front of her, she shook her head and spoke. “Come on, you have to look presentable at the conclave.” She grabbed Sylvia’s arm and started walking away from the blacksmith shop.
Weston saw the two girls hurry off, he had found Sylvia’s appearance from behind the barrel amusing, but she could’ve been a spy, acting all innocent, only here to catch the words and pass them back to where she came for, or she could be a strange girl. He smiled as he remembered her shocked expression.
Sylvia took a quick glance behind her, where she saw Weston smirk as he turned around. His laughter had made the heat rise up, causing her cheeks to become beet red. She kept following Gwen until they reached the cottage.
“Sit down,” Gwen said as she set down a warm bowl of soup and a piece of bread. “You have to eat up first.”
Sylvia looked down at the meal set in front of her, the steam was radiating from the soup, carrying a scrumptious smell to her nose. It had been ages since she last had a warm and proper meal, without a second thought she dug in. She tried to remind herself of her manners as she gulped down the soup. After she finished in the quickest time possible, Gwen offered her seconds which she reluctantly accepted. Done supper, Sylvia helped Gwen with the dishes and then followed her to the room.
“This one will do nicely.” Gwen chirped as she laid a gown on the bed.
The gown was in the shape of an A, a green corset on the top and a flowy beige skirt. The sides were hemmed with a golden thread, the sleeves were long with bell sleeves. Sylvia pictured herself in the lavish gown set in front of her, the corset hugging her chest tightly, the skirt flowing gracefully over her lower body, the green color matched her eyes, and the beige would emphasize her pasty white skin.
“Are you certain I am granted permission to wear this?”
“Why on earth not?” Gwen asked. “There is plenty where this came from. Hurry now, we are behind schedule.”
The girls began getting ready together, firstly they helped each other tying the corsets in the back. Beatrice could hear them struggling, so she assisted them at the painful and awfully hard task. After a long time spent on getting ready the girls were happy with the results. Sylvia caught sight of her reflection in the window. The rouge on her cheeks and nose made her look more lively, her chestnut brown hair was naturally curled at the bottom, she had tie half of it in the back and let the other half down, reaching to her waist.
“Would you like a mirror?” Gwen asked.
“No, it’s alright.” She said. “I have seen myself in the reflection of the window, might I add that mirrors are so rare and expensive, and I am known for being cloddish.”
“I will go look at myself then,” Gwen said excitedly as she exited the room.
After cleaning up the mess the girls had made they went towards the town hall where the conclave would be held. Sylvia followed the two into the snowy night. The blizzard had gotten stronger and swept around the town with force. The town folks were wrapped in blankets and warm clothes as they headed to the building. Sylvia looked up at the newborn moon, the thin crescent looked like a small luminous line amidst the darkness of the night sky.
The conclave was held inside the town hall when it was too cold to stay outside. Even with all the chatter, Sylvia could hear the crackling of the fire in the back. The children were playing in the corner, the adults were taking their seats and saving some for their friends. Sylvia was summoned by a guard and told to sit in the middle, which was right in front of the chief’s seat. She felt her heart jump inside of her chest, unlike her parents she had always been a nervous speaker, stuttering and muttering her speech.
The man was tall and heavy, on his sides were two guards. The three of them were expressionless as they walked down the middle. From Gwen’s mind, the man in the middle seemed to be the chief, his dark brown hair in loose curls, the scar on his right cheek, and the way he carried the scarf around his neck. Sylvia’s gaze followed the chief as he sat down in the big chair. Unconsciously she had stood up along with the crowd of people, only sitting down after the chief.
“May the conclave begin.” He said in an authoritative voice. “What is your name?” he asked looking at Sylvia with his pitch-black eyes.
“Sylvia.” She answered, trying her best not to choke on her own words.
“How did you end up here?”
“My village was attacked in the summer, I don’t know much about it because my father had gotten me into the woods. I have been running since,” she told half the truth while the other half was a lie. “I must’ve passed out, but I don’t remember entering your town.”
“You were found on the outskirts by the hunters. Beatrice was a kind soul that took you in.”
“I am grateful for what she and her family have done for me.” She paused and then continued. “If you don’t mind me asking, why is it I am to answer these questions? I have no complaints, it is out of curiosity.”
“It is a necessary step to ensure that there are no spies among us. Our town is the closest to the city, and the king trusts us dearly. We have to go to lengths to keep the king and our village safe.”
“I see.” She added as she understood the security.
“Now, what are your plans? You are welcome to stay in this town as long as you pass the trial period.”
“Trial period?” She repeated with furrowed brows.
“If you stay in this town for a fortnight following the rules, then you will be granted permission to stay here as long as you like. However, if you fail this trial then you must leave.” The chief explained. “What do you say?”
“I don’t see a better place for myself,” Sylvia said knowing that she had no home left and she had to find somewhere to stay, at least until she regained her powers and recovered from the side effects. She shuddered at the thought of what had happened, the images were frozen in her mind, not able to burn away the memory.
As she walked back to sit in the pews, she sniffed out the familiar scent. Unconsciously she scanned the big hall, her eyes looking over everyone until they landed on him. He stood in the shadows his face covered by the hood of his black coat. She couldn’t make out if he was looking at her, his face was covered by the shadow. She recalled him saying that he had some errands to run making him unable to attend the ceremony. Thinking nothing of it, Sylvia sat down beside Gwen and observed the conclave. She was fascinated by the systematics and regulations of the village, their basic way of living. Her village had been quite different from the mortal ones, she didn’t see much of her own village, being the child of the chiefs she had to abide by strict rules for her own safety.
When the chief had called it a night, the rows started to flow out towards the door, people headed back to their homes for a goodnight’s rest. The night sky was still stuck in the blizzard, the snow had risen in the short two hours they had been in the hall. Sylvia frantically looked around the room for the count but he was nowhere to be found, he had fled early. She had to find a way to talk to him, if he was truly the count then her task would be simplified. She had tried talking to Gwen about it but She didn’t tell anything about the count, saying that he likes to keep to himself. Perhaps she would visit his home at first light, she had to speak to the king for the safety of the kingdom.
At home Sylvia was helping Gwen start the fire, the house had gotten collar for Gwen and Beatrice.
“I shall get some oil from the neighbors in the morning,” Gwen said as she lit the match to light the fireplace. “This stubborn thing will be the death of us.”
Joy lit in the girl’s eyes as the fire roared to life, they smiled at each other. They had wrapped blankets around hot rocks so that they were warm. Gwen had left to give a warm blanket to Beatrice, though Gwen doesn’t show it much she loves her mother dearly. The passing of her father had been a big ally to the gap between her and her mother, but it didn’t last forever, slowly it was restoring. Gwen entered her room where she found Sylvia fast asleep. She looked so peaceful, like she was having a joyous dream, filled with happiness and pleasure. She fixed the blanket that was falling off of Sylvia and proceeded to lay down on the bed next to her. She closed her eyes and listened to the silent night, the wind howling against the window, and the sound of wolves. Slowly her sleep deepened and she slipped into her dreams.