Chapter Six- LIVIA
My eyes fly open. Morning light begins to creep through the canvas flaps. A subtle buzz radiates over me and a strange pulse flows through my veins. The golden mirror, the mist--was it all real?
Throwing my furs off, I rush to the opening, and stumble over our packed supplies.
Amah rushes over from feeding Rosie.
“En Oli, are you...”
She falters slightly before climbing up and grabbing hold of my face.
“Well, I’ll be. It’s happened.” Her eyes roam over me.
“How can you tell?” I ask.
Amah promptly goes into the back of the wagon. I hear her rummaging around. What is she doing? Finally, she pops back out and hands me her hand mirror. Confused, I take it and peer at my reflection.
“Holy Maker! My eyes!”
“I can no longer deny the prophecy. It’s true after all. I never imagined I’d see the magic return. But here it is. My En Oli, a true heir, and a true joy.” She takes my hands.
A tingling sensation shoots through me and I jerk my hands back.
“When you grabbed my hands, I felt something.”
Her brow rises. “Try again.”
I take her hands hesitantly. This time when the tingling comes, I don’t let go. An amused smile lightens Amah’s features, and I know she feels something too. Curious, I close my eyes.
My world vanishes. No sound. Only darkness. Amah’s hands are luminous in front of me, floating in the air by themselves. I notice the many layers. Her hands are translucent. I see everything.
A red hue pulsates from the joints of her hands. Something pulls me along, pushes to reach out. As if knowing what to do, I sweep the redness away. A golden tint takes its place.
I open my eyes.
Amah inspects her hands, spreading her fingers out in front of her.
“Did you feel it?” I ask.
She nods slowly. “It felt warm, almost hot. Then the feeling vanished, and there was nothing--no warmth, no pain.”
“My gift is healing! The gift of Guardian Pynth!”
For so long I’ve dreamed of this, and now it’s my reality.
Amah beams. “Knowing your parents didn’t die in vain helps lift some of the sorrow I’ve carried all these years.” She shakes her head in giddy disbelief. “Happy Birthday, En Oli.”
She grabs the reins, laughing to herself. This is surreal. Magic is back. And in me!
“I’m glad you decided for us to go to Pynth. I definitely need Regent Grif’s protection now. When word gets out, King Kgar will send more than just one assassin after me.”
“Yes, he will. We must keep you hidden as best we can until we reach the city. Trust no one.”
“Except for Annie. Right?”
“Yes, except for Annie. She’ll be as vigilant as I am to make sure you are kept safe.”
A light breeze pulls some of my long hair across my face, and I brush it away. Amah once told me that Annie was the only person she could think to take us in those many years ago. They grew up in an orphanage together and always relied on one another. So when Amah escaped with me, she remembered that Annie had moved to Kale. Fortunately, Annie knew of an abandoned cottage out in the pines. For Annie, too, knew the danger I was in.
“Do the people of Pynth know I’m alive?”
“They do. The Regent celebrates your birthday every year in your honor and in hope for your return.”
“That’s what I’ve been told.”
“Will he and the people expect me to become queen immediately?”
“It’s not my place to say. But I’ve prepared you, so you’ll be fine.”
“Prepared me? You haven’t taught me anything about governing a kingdom.”
“I’ve taught you history.”
“History? How can history help me?”
“History is the foundation you need. So you might learn from past mistakes. It’s important to learn how the kingdoms trade among themselves. Or learning the different seasons in which our kingdom thrives. Believe it or not, En Oli, but those history lessons will come in very handy when you sit before the council and discuss matters at hand.”
I think back to all my boring lessons. That the West relies on Northern furs to get us through our winters, and the North relies on our farming and herbs for their healers.
At the time I couldn’t have cared less. I was just a girl in seclusion, far away from the worries of court. We hunted and farmed for ourselves. The items we bought in Kale--I never gave thought to where they came from.
“What about the people?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“How am I supposed to rule a people when I’ve no experience with them?”
“You’ve been around people.”
“Amah. Seriously. All you’ve ever allowed me to do is sit in the corner of the tavern and watch. You never let anyone speak to me. My people skills are lacking.”
“Your skill of reading people will be useful. And talking will come easily enough; you haven’t stopped since we left.”
My unapologetic scowl makes her laugh. She points up ahead. “Look.”
Beyond the trees, a haze of smoke comes curling out from behind a stand of pines in the distance. The town of Kale.
My feet begin their ritual bounce against the foot rail. Soon we will be enjoying the warming comforts of Annie’s food.
My all-time favorite dish is crowberry pie. The berries come from the Northern Kingdom, and Annie has them delivered every year for my birthday. I can’t wait!
I discovered these small blue berries the same time I discovered walking. A crate of them had just arrived, and Amah set me down for only a moment to help Annie with something. I walked over and stuffed my chubby cheeks with those sweetest of all berries. Annie couldn’t even be mad. The blue stains all over my face were punishment enough, and she and Amah still laugh at the memory.
Ever since that day, Annie has made time for this one thing for me on my special day. She cares for me as much as Amah. I know if anything should befall Amah, Annie would be the next best thing.
We come to the first cottage on the outskirts of Kale. Looking past it, cottages dot the snow-covered hills, sitting between trees poking up like jagged green spikes. It’s a beautiful scene.
Amah clicks her tongue, speeding Rosie up. As I watch Rosie’s slender limbs grace down the road, I can’t help but admire how her white coat blends in perfectly with the scenic view.
As we enter the main road into town, not a single mark disturbs the white blanket on the dirt road. With dusk quickly approaching, shops along the road have already closed for the day. It’s as if the town has been put to bed, hushed down by the weather and the depleting light.
Bear Horn Inn sits at the end of the road, its perimeters lit a buttery glow from lanterns hung outside between its windows. The inn is three stories, its wood a flawless white pine. Usually the place is busy, but now, on the first day of winter, it seems unusually quiet.
Kale is a diverse village, and people from all over travel through it. Merchants often set up stalls to sell their wares. I loved it when Amah would take me with her to do her shopping. It wasn’t often, but those are times I will always remember.
I remember one time when a large caravan came through with brightly colored wagons. They had scarves made of silk and beaded jewelry fit for any young girl who wanted to feel beautiful. One of them being me.
No matter how hard I begged, Amah refused to buy me a single item from the long-haired women. It was the first time I ever thought of running away; I was tired of the tight hold she had on me. Now I understand why she’s been so strict.
Amah pulls around in back, where a lantern swings from a barn’s entrance. A young boy comes out, the puffs of his breath rushing out like smoke from a chimney.
In a hushed tone, Amah tells me to stay covered. I pull the hood of my cloak over my head and bring it forward slightly to hide my face.
He signals for us to follow him into the large covered barn. Instantly thick walls block the frigid evening air. He unhooks Rosie, then leads her over to some fresh hay and water. He doesn’t look familiar and I wonder when Annie hired him on.
When he comes back over, I notice a face covered with freckles and ears too big for his head. He pushes long curly black hair away from his face, and peers up to me.
“Boy, we would like to get inside as soon as possible,” Amah says quickly, grabbing his attention. “If you wouldn’t mind taking our bags up to a room, we will go on ahead.”
“Of course, My Lady.”
We leave the stables and cross over a small courtyard to enter the back door of a kitchen, where the aroma of food greets us. My stomach clutches at the rich aromas. A chunk of meat swings back and forth above flames, dripping fat onto a stone hearth.
“My, oh my, look who it is.”
My head turns as a heavyset older woman comes bustling in from the front. Annie embraces Amah, and they have a quick exchange of words. Amah leaves promptly, and Annie makes her way over to me--a huge smile spread across her face.
“Livia, my dear.”
We fill in the space between us and she wraps her arms around me. She smells of herbs and spices--a comforting aroma. Pushing me back to arm’s distance, she takes me in.
“Oh, your eyes! Is it true? For so long I’ve hoped to see the magic return. And to see it in you? I just know you’ll be a great queen.”
“And don’t you worry, you being queen won’t stop me from giving you crowberry pie.”
She sets pie in front of me, then turns to the chunk of meat hanging from the hearth. She saws off the joint, plops it on a plate, and adds a wedge of cheese to my meal. I waste no time filling my mouth.
By the time Amah comes back, I have already inhaled everything. She proceeds to tell Annie of our encounter with the Silent Watcher while I wait in silence.
“I haven’t heard a whisper about intruders. How could he have got past The Wall?”
“I thought the same thing,” Amah replies.
“I wonder,” Annie continues, “if the Violet Guard is starting to become too relaxed at their posts. I’d mention it to the Regent.”
Amah gives a firm nod. “I sent him a message hoping to get an escort within the week. I hope you don’t mind our intrusion?”
“Of course I don’t mind, you know that. If these assassins are getting through, I would rather have the two of you here rather than out there alone.” Annie shifts in her chair. “I’m not supposed to say this, but I think it might help put your mind at ease. The Regent’s right-hand man is here. He arrived four days ago.”
Amah straightens up. “What’s he doing here?”
“His mother passed away a couple of weeks ago, up north. He came by to collect his brother and they are just passing through to go back to the city. You met his brother only moments ago--the young boy in the stable. He loves horses, and his brother asked if he could help. I couldn’t say no.”
A pang sweeps through my chest. How awful.
“If you want, I can let him know you are here?”
“I’ll think on it,” Amah replies. “Thank you.”
After a few more pleasantries, Annie takes us to our room. We find comfort in the softness of our beds before I fall asleep. I can only hope these next few days fly by fast.
I awake sometime in the night, startled by a disturbing dream. Turning on my side to face Amah, I discover her gone. I often wonder if she ever sleeps at all.
No longer tired, I go to the window. The silver moon is high in the sky giving off the only light shining over the quiet town. Before long, I’ll be in my own city, finally getting to experience my own form of community. Every time I think of it, a thrill of excitement courses through me. And to know I have the gift?
A movement down the street catches my attention. A large man steps out from the shadows. My blood turns ice cold. He’s the size of the assassin I saw two days ago. An alarm goes off inside me. I must warn Amah.
Pulling on my trousers and boots, I grab my cloak and rush out the door and down the stairs. The tavern is dark and empty. Staying in the shadows of the room, I keep clear of the moonbeams that cast light across the floor. Through the window, I see the Silent Watcher move toward the back of the house.
Dashing through the kitchens, I open the back door. A soft glow comes from the barn and I rush towards them in hopes of finding Amah.
Instead, I find the boy from earlier, brushing Rosie down. He has no idea what danger lurks around the corner.
Not having much time, I hurry to his side. He startles when he sees me, and I press my finger to my lips. His eyes widen but he keeps quiet.
Whispering as softly as I can, I tell him that we need to hide. I point to the covered wagon and we both quickly climb inside.
The assassin steps out from the shadows. I’m unsure if he’s seen us. All I can make out is his large frame.
I feel the boy shaking next to me, and I reach over to calm him. Despair flashes through me. This boy’s pain feels deep.
He covers his mouth, and I’m sure he felt my gift. But when his pale face looks over my shoulder, I look back to the assassin’s silhouette up against the canvas. All he has left to do is peer behind the loose flap, to see both of us sitting inside.
I frantically look around for something I can use to defend us, when I hear the ring of another blade drawn.
“Are you lost, assassin?” It’s a man’s voice.
A second blade is drawn. Taking a chance, I creep forward and peak through the gap. I can’t see the man who spoke because the bulk of the assassin fills my view.
The assassin attacks. The challenger sidesteps and blocks him--he’s probably hoping to get him away from us. But then again, does he know we are here?
The assassin advances again and the man pivots back, blocking his blade a second time. Footsteps approach from behind them and I instantly recognize Amah’s gait.
The assassin swipes his blade towards Amah. Horror fills my chest. I scream out.
Amah’s sword comes up to meet his and they turn to see my head poking out from behind the flap.
Aggression from the assassin comes full force. Amah and the challenger meet his advance, determined to keep him from me.
“Grab horses, and go!” The man yells.
Amah drops back and hurries over to me.
“Quick Livia, get on Rosie. I’ll grab another horse. Hurry!”
“No time to discuss. Go!”
Reaching back, I grab the boy and pull him forward. I can’t leave him behind. Amah’s lips press firmly together seeing my dilemma.
“I’ll take him with me. Now go.”
I climb out from the back and hurry to Rosie. In no time, we are riding swiftly out into the night, escaping the night’s sudden terror. I can only hope the stranger has our same luck.