A lone traveller wrapped in a black woollen cloak rode a chimera through the grey sands leading to the T’tahrea bridge, the last conduct in the lands of Baelac Cari to its capital. The bridge itself was made from the skeleton of an ancient dragon conquered in these lands long ago. It’s great wings and belly rested on towers of rock raised from the river bed far below, while the spine leading from the head to tail rested on the opposing cliffs, making way for passers to cross over.
The chimera snarled at the skull, as though it were a living breathing dragon still, yet it obediently crossed the bridge as fast as its master commanded. Once they made safe passage, it would not be long before they reached Dufhal., the traveller was sure. He would be glad to shed the wool that irritated his skin, though the cloak was necessary protection against the ash and sand storms he perilously travelled through.
Onwards man and beast trekked for a few more hours, the sun barely able to shine through the thick, grey clouds blanketing the sky. At times it was difficult to tell the boundaries of the horizons when the wind picked up the loose grains of the land and made them dance in miniature cyclones. Then the traveller saw a forbidding tower of obsidian between two hills, guarding whatever lay behind it.
He had arrived at Dufhal.
As if his arrival was expected, the gates at the bottom of the tower opened to allow the traveller directly through it. On the other side, the hills gave way to land full of dark towers, rickety buildings, and a grey gravel path stretching in one direction, uphill to a large cave sat above the city. Men, women and children made busy on the streets of the capital ahead. Most were either workers, slaves or criminals. If they were slaves, they suffered chains, toiless work, and the dark deeds of thieves, rapists and murderers who ran the city.
The traveller felt a presence come to his side and he turned to see tall, thickly built figure that he couldn’t quite determine as either man or goblin. Likely chances were that the figure was a hybrid of both. It wasn’t uncommon in Baelac Cari for goblins, trolls and orcs to mate with humans, though the results often left offspring grotesque to the eye, or crippled.
“The master will see you first. Follow me.” The creature’s voice was low, guttural and barely understandable. The traveller wrinkled his nose at the gastly smell that reached his nose, yet he did not disobey. Urging the chimera forward, they followed the creature through the city.
Most of the citizens in the streets parted fearfully away, leaving a clear path for the chimera to walk through. A choice which came as a blessing for them in any case, for the creature leading was eager to exercise his power on any who got in his way. When he could not find anyone on whom to crack his whip, he resorted to growling through the crowds.
As for the city of Dufhal itself, many in the twelve kingdoms would like to believe it to be entirely decrepit and unbearable to live in. But the traveller considered himself to be ‘enlightened’. He did not care for the propaganda spread by the royal families in the twelve kingdoms of the East, especially as he could see now that the city was just like any of the others he passed through. Slums existed as the underbelly, where the peasants and slaves made their living. The rest of the city was made up of vendors, shops, buildings for officiates, guards of the law and prisoners, all run by people making a living like the rest of the world.
A gust of wind swept up the street and the traveller hissed as a cloud of dirt hit his face. The creature in front of him ploughed on regardless, as if the wind were of no consequence. Eventually, they reached the edge of the city and the last passage to the cave was granite steps, bordered with burning staffs and severed heads of traitors mounted on pikes.
“Leave the beast here.” The creature grunted at the traveller. The chimera snarled and flapped its wings at him, red eyes flashing.
Although slightly indignant at the tone of command, the traveller stayed his ride and dismounted in silence. As he did so, two guards came down the steps. Both were tall, thuggish brutes clad fully in steel armour. The one on the right had a black cape, the left had a purple cape. Their eyes were not visible to the traveller.
“State your business with the master.” The black caped guard pointed his spear at the traveller.
“That is a matter only for your master to hear.”
The purple caped guard then also drew his spear forth.
“Then how do you expect to enter the master’s keeping, if you will not state your business?”
“I am not armed and I will follow you at will. What you and your master decide to do with me is your choice. My answer will not change.”
The purple caped guard went to make a move but the black caped guard put an arm in front to prevent him. “Let him through. The master can deal with him if necessary.” He said.
“But what if the master punishes us for not clarifying business?” The other replied.
The right guard looked back to the traveller. “You are not armed?”
Lifting his cloak to reveal only his clothes underneath, the traveller said, “I have no weapons”
If he was an enemy, then the master would quickly see an end to him, the guards thought, seeing that indeed there were no weapons to be found. Satisfied that the traveller appeared to be harmless, both guards dropped their spears and beckoned him to follow. The creature who escorted him grabbed the chimera by the reins and forced it away. With any luck, my beast will make mince meat out of him by the time I return, the traveller thought as he caught the baleful look the chimera gave to his captor.
The traveller entered the cave after the guards and was astounded to see that the walls had been chiselled away until the obsidian within was as smooth as glass. Sconces lit the dark corridors leading to each chamber in the cave. The guards stopped outside large double doors emblazoned with the sigil of a ring of chain links, carved from violet charoite. The centre began to glow as a whispers of an incantation filled the atmosphere, and then a burst of bright light sprung from between the seam of the two doors.
Once the light disappeared, the traveller’s vision was blurred. He could just about make out a throne, the colour of it black, probably also made from obsidian. He could also just see a tall figure stood before it. The guards ushered him into the throne room and quickly left, closing the doors behind them. The figure ahead began to speak.
“It is quite a useful tactic, blinding any visitors before they arrive. If you are a friend, then it is a…minor inconvenience. But if you are an enemy, well…”
Slowly but surely the traveller began to see more clearly. He could now see that the figure was a man, tall and broad shouldered, long dark hair, ivory skin.
“So tell me, stranger, who has wandered into our midst unarmed: are you friend, or are you foe?” Asked the man.
The traveller did not pull his hood from his face, knowing that it was a risk to insult a high-born man. He still looked at the man directly.
“I am neither.”
Raising an eyebrow and twisting the thick heavy rings on his fingers, the man took a seat on the throne.
“That is quite the conundrum, I must say. Not many visit I, the Lord of Baelac Cari, who do not immediately declare their allegiances. Then this I must ask also: what is your purpose here?”
“There has been chaos in the twelve kingdoms outside of Baelac Cari since the fall of Emperors. The world as we know it needs to be brought back to the old ways. It has been too long.”
“Interesting.” The Lord of Baelac Cari curled two fingers on his left hand, beckoning the traveller towards him. The traveller obeyed and stopped just before the steps of the throne.
“I too share these views. Perhaps you are more friend than foe.”
The traveller once again refused to affirm. “We have only just met, my Lord.”
The Lord smiled coldly. Usually he found such vague answers to be insolent, and those who would utter in such kind did not often leave free people. But the Lord was no fool. While he could not see the traveller’s face, he could just make out the rich trimmings of gold and ermine on a tunic, and a gold pin depicting a sigil of one of the twelve kingdoms. Yes, if this traveller did not come directly from royal blood, he was most certainly in the service of one of those royalties, the sort who had long ostracised Baelac Cari and it’s inhabitants.
“True, indeed. But tell me, stranger, who do you think has power enough to remedy your concerns? Why come to me, to the far outreaches of my lands? Can the twelve kingdoms not offer you resolution?”
The traveller, whose face still remained hidden by the hood of his cloak, began to smirk. Good, he had the Lord’s full attention.
“I have heard rumours that the Lord of Baelac Cari was praised in his lands for things I desire: bringing order, bringing discipline, being the master and controller of one’s own destiny. It would appear that I have come to not be disappointed.”
“Hmm.” The Lord leaned back in his throne and began to think. What could possibly bring this traveller here, to prattle about the state of the twelve kingdoms which the Lord had already observed for many years?
“You are also a descendant of the last Emperor, are you not?” The traveller continued, finally making clear where this conversation was steered.
It was true, however. The Lord of Baelac Cari did indeed have the blood of his ancient imperial forbear, the last of his kind who had once ruled the twelve kingdoms as one, with families of royalty or some other nobility serving under him for each kingdom. But ever since the tradition was brought to nought, the Lotd’s family had remained in hiding for centuries, disgraced and loathed by the other twelve royal families, who had been quick to take up the mantles of independence for their own kingdoms, and broke the unity which had once held them all together.
Now the kingdoms, as far as the Lord could perceive, were fragmented, often suspicious of each other, but most of all towards the lands of Baelac Cari. Reminders of the shame that had befallen his family left a constant simmer of rage in the Lord’s belly.
“My family has remained in obscurity for some time. What do you propose I do, stranger?”
“Reclaim the birthright that has been your family’s for centuries. Conquer the kingdoms, restore order and the rid the chaos that currently reigns.”
The Lord suddenly laughed out loud, smacking the arm of the throne. The guards either side of him looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
“Another interesting notion. Though I must say you are beginning to grate on my patience.” The Lord’s face became snarl as he rose from his throne.
“You see, I have already begun my journey to my rightful place in this world. I have made my presence known in kingdoms far in the East and I will not stop there.”
The Lord began to descend from his throne.
“Yet here you are, only days on, with the very suggestion I have started to implement. Do you know what I call that?”
He stopped just in front of the traveller, towering over him.
“Convenient. Especially as you refused to reveal your face before a Lord. Did you think I would not see eventually that you have also come from East? If so, you are a fool. But if not…your purpose is still unclear and I am running out of good will.”
The traveller, seemingly unperturbed by the Lord’s display, looked up from the ground.
“So I ask again,“ The Lord dropped his voice to a calm murmur, “Are you friend, or are you foe?”
The traveller finally brought his hands to his hood and pulled it back. The Lord’s expression remained stony as he looked upon the face that was now revealed to him. The traveller continued to smirk as he finally came to the crux of the matter.
“Give me my brother’s head and his kingdom, then you will find no greater friend who will see you through to becoming Emperor.”
Eirene jolted awake, instantly feeling that her back and her legs were sore. The battle to kill a manticore followed by sleeping rough were catching up with her fast. She looked down. She was mounted on a horse and leaning against someone’s chest. She turned her head slightly upwards to see Cendril behind. His arm lay around her waist as they rode onwards, keeping her from falling from their horse.
“We are not far from home now.” Cendril suddenly spoke, his deep voice reverberating from his chest through to her back.
Home. It was so far away for Eirene. But she was too weary to feel. It was easier to close her eyes and hope wherever these men were taking her, she would be safe. At least for the short while.
She said nothing in reply and instead closed her eyes once more. Cendril did not press her further, though the questions he had for her were numerous.
He looked at her face resting on his shoulder and sighed. She was a strange little thing to him. Her youth and clear lack of knowing the real world was oddly coupled with what seemed to be an inner resilience, a stubbornness that he…rather liked. She didn’t leave them when the manticore was near ready to tear them to shreds. In fact, whatever she did to conjure up that storm was the key step between their defeat and their victory. Was that why Haru and Ket were eager to have helped her too? Did they see it? Or did they like that she would stand up to them as well as any woman from the Hoeada tribe?
Cendril decided in the end, with a great deal of thought, that Chieftain Denyy would know best and that he and his retinue should keep their noses out of it. After all, he was only a warrior. He fought, he bled, and he continued on, always dutiful, always steadfast. It was not his nor the others’ business what happened to this young girl who had happened upon them once she was in their Chieftain’s hands.
“What do you think the Chief will do with her?” Liulf asked as he rode up beside Cendril, thinking that Eirene had fallen back into a deep slumber.
“She will do what she sees fit.”
“And if she turns out the young girl?”
“Then that would be her judgment,” Cendril looked to Liulf with an indifferent stare, “I do not know this girl and if she can fit in with the rest of us, or is not fit to be around us, so be it. Now let us keep moving.”
Liulf remained quiet as he studied Eirene for a few minutes, and then fell back to join Haru and Ket.
Eirene, although her eyes were shut, had heard every word between Cendril and Liulf. She was safe with them for now. In her heart, however, she dreaded what was to come from the Chieftain known as Denyy. With nothing else to do or say, she let herself fall into another empty sleep and gratefully, not feeling the pain in her back and her shoulders.
Eventually Cendril and his companions saw smoke rising from above the trees in the distance. They were home.
They entered the camp and were almost instantaneously greeted by the tribeswomen, yodelling and wailing with pride to see their best young warriors return from the rotting woods, safe and for the most part unharmed. But how perplexed they were when they saw the young woman mounted on Cendril’s horse, unconscious. Where had they found her? Who was she? And what odd clothes she was wearing!
Their questions were not answered as they fell silent upon the arrival of Chieftain Denyy. Everyone parted ways to allow the wizened old woman through to see what the commotion was about. As expected, she took her warrior’s extra load with a glare.
“I see you found some life out there. Not that we can eat her, however.” She stated coldly, looking at the unconscious girl.
“She was all alone.” Haru offered by way of explanation, though he halted his words when Denyy’s hard gaze fell upon him.
“I will find that out for myself when she wakes.” She walked up to Cendril’s horse. “See that she is found a suitable place to rest. As soon as she arises, I want her brought to me.”
Nodding, Cendril carefully brought himself and Eirene down from his ride, almost cradling her. A few of the elder tribeswomen came forward to show him to a spare tent. Once he was inside, he laid the young girl down on the furs and wool on the ground. He considered wrapping her up in them, but thought the better of it. She was a maiden still, that much was clear. Being around men, especially warriors, with their chatter and their mannerisms was not familiar to her, that much was clear during their recent travels. When she saw them in the forest, it was as though she had never seen warriors such as they before, entirely masculine and capable of brutish things. When she had stumbled upon him naked and washing in the river this morning, her gaze was one of surprise and – he swore he saw it – mild fascination. It was best not to lay a hand on her in any way while she was still unconscious.
Kneeling down beside her, Cendril brushed Eirene’s hair from her face and his hand lingered on her cheek for but a moment. She would have to wake soon, but until then, he took his hand from her and leaned back onto his buttocks. He sat there waiting and never once did his eyes leave her.
Warmth and the smell of spices. The senses were foreign yet welcoming to Eirene as she slowly arose. Beneath her was bear’s fur and the wool of sheep; the former was soft to touch, the latter was scratchy. Judging by the dim light that shone in her eyes, she was inside somewhere. She blinked and she could see a veil of cow’s skin between her and the sun outside. Slowly, she sat up and there was Cendril, sat by her bedside, sharpening a knife.
Eirene did not jump in fright, but she did cast him a wary glance. He looked up from his machinations.
“The Chieftain wishes to speak with you, now that you are awake.”
Remaining silent still, Eirene kept her eyes fixed on the blade she had in his hands. Cendril looked down at his knife and then at her again, understanding her silence.
“I will not harm you.”
“Will she?” Eirene finally found her voice. Cendril thought, then put the knife down. Even he could not predict what the Chieftain would do and the young girl had every right to mistrust the intentions of strangers.
“I cannot say for certain.”
This was not reassuring for Eirene in any way, but it was out of her hands now. She stood up from her resting place.
“Then you had better take me to her.” She suggested, pushing past him to exit the tent. Cendril followed after her and lead her to the Chieftain’s tent.
It was the largest of all in the camp, with two staffs bracketing the entrance and bones strung from ropes that encircled the tent. A black flag flew from the top. On it was a red phoenix, surrounded in flame, rising from an erupting volcano. The staffs were carved with the heads of phoenixes. Their eyes, though they were not real, were baleful and almost hypnotic if one stared at them for too long.
Eirene strode into the tent ahead of Cendril. Inside, torches hung from the ceiling and cast eerie shadows as their light shone between skulls’ eyes and teeth also hanging above. Ahead of her, an elderly woman with a stern brow and greying hair sat on a wooden throne, her gaze neither threatening nor welcoming.Elder tribesmen and women surrounded the inside edges of the tent, staring at her as she walked past and murmuring once she had walked past them.
When Eirene stopped before the old woman, she knelt down and kept her gaze on the floor. Even though she didn’t know where she was in Syvina, or the customs of the tribe, she knew where respect was due.
A middle-age tribesman came forward and pronounced, “Rise, child.”
Eirene rose to her feet and kept her gaze ahead, not meeting the silvery eyes of the old woman.
“I present to you our Chieftain Denyy, leader of the Warriors of Hoeada, the greatest and most powerful tribe in all of the kingdom of Syvina.”
Warriors of Hoeada, vicious and renowned for their skills in combat. Eirene remembered little else, but of what little High Priest Eldwin had taught her about lands outside of Astrum, perhaps she would find more useful. Maybe, just maybe, she could persuade these people to guide her home. All she needed to know was the way to get there, and how.
The old woman leaned forward slightly in her chair and said, “Your name?”
“Eirene.” The priestess answered quietly.
“Speak up, girl, so I may hear you.”
“My name is Eirene.” She said louder. The Chieftain nodded satisfactorily.
“And you are not from these lands?”
“No, I am not.”
The Chieftain raised an eyebrow and looked at Cendril.
“I presume I am not allowed an elaboration?” She asked dryly.
Feeling her ears burn, Eirene finally raised her gaze to look at Chieftain Denyy and did not falter. She opened her mouth and spoke clearly,
“I am a priestess from the Isles of Astrum. My mother had also been a priestess, my leader a High Priest. On a day like this, nighs before, a great wall of water from the ocean came upon Astrum and destroyed my home and killed the people I knew. I myself was swept up with these waters and found myself on these lands. I am the only one I know of to be alive.”
There was another great murmur amongst the tribespeople. The Chieftain looked to Cendril once again. The warrior returned her gaze and nodded. Denyy might’ve pitied the girl long ago when she was of a similar age, and despite her fine-tuned instincts telling her that the girl could be trusted, she could not be too sure.
“You say you were a priestess?” The Chieftain looked to Eirene again.
“I was taught healing arts, languages, and some spells. I have not completed my formal training yet.”
“Sorcery was included in your training?”
“And who taught you?”
“Eldwin. High Priest Eldwin.”
“Now that is a name I have not heard in a long time.” The Chieftain suddenly rose from her chair. “Did he not teach you of these lands or any others outside of Astrum?”
Eirene felt a twinge of sadness.
“He had briefly over the years. But he was to teach me in more, after the feast that day…he saw fit for me to become a High Priestess one day.”
The Chieftain sighed and shook her head.
“A pity.” She uttered softly. Suddenly, she swept away from her throne and was in front of Eirene within moments.
“Look at me, girl. I want to see your eyes.”
Eirene did as the Chieftain commanded and looked at her.
Denyy grasped Eirene by the chin and took a good long stare into her eyes. Eirene felt a strange energy emanating from the old woman’s hand, a sensation that almost tingled. This girl’s eyes are most unusual, Denyy thought. Ocean-like. Not quite blue, perhaps more grey, and able to shift between the two depending on mood. Most people possessed eyes brown as the soil, or green as the trees. Not hers though. They were not even a pure blue.
An abundance of energy also, the sort that was natural to youths, but how powerful? Could it create, destroy and change a world as some of the greatest warriors, sorcerers and more have done before her?
Unusual, indeed. No one was unusual without having unusual paths to find or to come. But would they be all good? Power did not always come without a chance to do bad either. Throughout images that flashed in her mind, she saw Eirene shrouded by light and shadow all at once, flickering between the two in waves and waves and on and on they went, an uncertainty Denyy could not decipher until she could see no more and felt a dizzy wave flood her head.
Finally, she let go of the girl’s chin and swept away.
“I see you why you men picked her up,” The Chieftain suddenly turned and addressed Cendril, Liulf, Haru and Ket, “A pretty little thing, think you not?”
Although this was aimed at the warriors, the question invited the other tribespeople to answer too. Some laughed in good humour. The others either murmured in agreement or said nothing. Cendril and Liulf remained blank-faced, their comrades shifted nervously on their feet.
“No? Then that is not all the reason why you picked her up, is there, Cendril? Liulf? Haru? Ket?” The Chieftain continued, a smirk now loosening her stone-like face. She looked at Eirene again, continuing to study her.
“Her hands are apt for healing and sorcery, of which I have no doubt she will be master of with ease – perhaps you have already seen it. She is quick of mind, yes? Has ears that listen very carefully - a rare thing in itself. But it is none of these things that draw you into her.”
The Chieftain paused, her eyes now focusing in further on Eirene.
“It is those eyes. They are beautiful, oh yes…but she can drown you. And she will learn one day to do so. This is what we will all admire and fear.” The Chieftain turned away from Eirene. “What stars were you born under, girl?”
“Ah. Fitting for a maiden born on Astrum, the winter stars of the healer.” The Chieftain murmured.
Eirene’s eyebrows furrowed. What did it matter?
“You have experienced a great deal of hardship, child, and I feel your mourning. I did not know Eldwin so well as you might have, but I can assure you in the realms of Syvina and all others, he will be greatly missed.” The Chieftain declared. “So until a time that you wish to move on, you may remain here.”
Blowing out a quiet sigh of relief, Eirene knelt down again in thanks.
“How may I earn my keep?” She asked, humbled by the kindness and hospitality.
“If you were a keen student of the beloved Eldwin, then this tribe would be very grateful for apt healer and sorcerer. Would you all agree?”
The tribespeople answered in agreement, their eyes all now fixed on Eirene. The Chieftain then smiled and the young priestess finally felt at ease.
“Welcome to the lands of Syvina. Welcome to Hoaeda, to the greatest tribe of all.”
Denyy finally dismissed the tribe and rose from her chair. Eirene made to go after Cendril but a wrinkled old hand promptly drew her away towards a door in the tent.
“We have much to discuss, young maiden.” Denyy said, releasing Eirene once they were through the doorway covered with by dangling chains.
“What do you want to know?”
Denyy stopped before a large table. A map made from reeds and sheep skin covered its entirety; on top, scattered, were odd valuables such as coins, gems, scrolls and other trinkets that had come from distant lands. Behind the table was a roaring fireplace, with thick black smoke rising through a hole in the tent roof.
“You have more than just powers of sorcery and healing.” The old woman began, taking a quill from an inkwell. Eirene remained confused for a moment, watching the other woman intently as she began writing on a spare slip of parchment.
“You can hear voices of nature, can you not?”
“How did you know?”
“A little songbird called Linne came to be last nigh, with whispers that a girl from Astrum had happened upon the Seosais forest with not much explanation for how she got there.” Denyy finished her writing and then turned back to Eirene. “When I heard this, I remembered the last time I had spoken to your High Priest Eldwin, about a young girl in his keeping who could speak to nature as we are now.”
Denyy sat herself down on a nearby chair.
“After you told me of your circumstances, I knew you were the girl Eldwin had mentioned all those years ago. It was a blessing to hear that Eldwin, I and few others now had a new prospect.”
Eirene was astounded. “You can speak to nature also?”
“I was quite hopeful when Eldwin made this proclamation to me. We had long been one of the very, very few with this ability. To learn that you were as young as four in years to handle such an ability…I had hoped that maybe he would allow me to meet you one day. But it would appear I was wrong.” Denyy shook her head and looked down at her weather old hands.
Taking a chair on the opposite side of the table, Eirene looked to Denyy, her eyes brimming with questions.
“Why would you have wanted to meet me? I am only a priestess from Astrum and nowhere near as learned as Eldwin or yourself.” She asked. Her question was met with a croaky laugh.
“Only a priestess from Astrum? Why, child, I don’t think you understand just how rare our gift is.”
“Unfortunately for you, Eldwin sought to keep you sheltered. I warned him many years ago that this would be to your detriment. You see, once he saw how you had mastered so quickly the ability we share, he understood as I did that you could be quite capable of many other things.”
“But it is the only ability I have mastered. What reason would Eldwin have had to shelter me?” Eirene protested.
“You said it yourself: mastered. Do you know how often it is that our ability is learned so young?”
Eirene shook her head.
“The truth is, child, I have never met any with our ability who has become a master so young and so quickly. No one. Apart from you.” Denyy then picked up a rough amethyst gem. “Now if you can master that, who knows what else you would be able to turn your hand to, hmm?”
“I do not know. I was never given the opportunity…”
Eirene began to think. She could not deny that she had often felt frustrated by not being able to excel further in her studies of sorcery and healing. At one point when she had taken a fancy to learning combat, like the rest of the boys on the Isles of Astrum, Eldwin quickly put to dust that idea. He had always said that she would have to wait until she became a High Priestess, and she for her part assumed that he was doing it for her own good. After all, she had started out in life as a bit of an unruly and headstrong girl. At least maybe what she could learn from now on would be more controlled.
“I do not mean to criticise your High Priest Eldwin, child, especially as his grave is not yet cold.” Denyy finally spoke, this time her manner was a lot softer than ever since they had first met. “He was a dear friend and partner in our learnings. But he has left you unprepared for many of life’s challenges. Though to his credit, we may never know what he could have taught you once you had been inaugurated to High Priestess.”
“There is much to learn.” Eirene murmured quietly. Denyy finally smiled a little.
“I will help you do so, child. But for now, I suggest you take sup and rest. Your training will commence tomorrow.” Denyy then clapped her hands three times. Another old tribeswoman came through the chains in the doorway and waited patiently for instruction.
“Take Eirene to the wise women, Gauusi. She needs to be suitably clothed and fed.”
“Yes, my chief.” The old woman bowed. Denyy rose from her seat.
“I will see you tomorrow, child.” She said to Eirene and then left the room, her silvery hair glinting in the firelight.
Gauusi rose from her bow and smiled kindly at the young girl before her. “Please come with me, child. I hope you are hungry.”
Smiling back faintly, despite the rapid run of thoughts overwhelming her mind, Eirene replied, “I would be grateful for any sup at this moment, thank you. May I find you outside in a few moments?”
“Of course.” Said Gauusi, turning and walking out of the room without further word.
As she stood up from her, Eirene looked briefly at the map. She recognised it to be the formation of the twelve kingdoms, each marked with their sigil and capitals in beautiful cursive script. She trailed a finger from Hoeada in Syvina to the Eistr Mariskh temple in the Isles of Astrum and the now familiar twinge of sadness returned to her bosom. When she returned home, she would make sure both Eldwin and her mother were given graves. They deserved that much.
Onwards her finger trailed across the map, until it reached a land she did not recognise on the outskirts of the twelve kingdoms to the West. It was marked out as a grey area with nothing in it except one city, marked with a black dot. In jagged red paint across that area, the words of that land spelled Baelac Cari. Eirene frowned. She would have remembered that name if she had learned it from the maps Eldwin had provided her, yet if memory served her correctly, no such land was ever written or mentioned in her studies.
Even though Denyy had spoken fondly of Eldwin, Eirene could not help thinking about what the old woman had said about him keeping her sheltered as a child. Was this land one of the things that he not allowed her to learn about yet? Why was it never mentioned?
Eventually deciding that she would get no answers by ignoring her need for food and rest, Eirene took Denyy’s advice and left the room to find Gauusi. After all, her learning would begin tomorrow and she wanted to be ready. She had a feeling that Denyy would not be an easy teacher to be around.