Battle Village, Battling Country
They arrived in Battle Village, bordered by the Warwood and the runnel. They made their way through town.
Chavias voice pressed Chastain on. “You’re going to have to say goodbye. It’s a Dread door.” He told her. “I have friends, brothers, where you are taking them. I’ll get each of these girls as close to one of them as we can. They’ll be drawn to protect your sisters.”
Chastain looked up at him hesitantly.
“They will be safe.” He assured.
Serdephe watched Chastain staring up at nothing as though listening. But sensed this was not the time to ask.
Chastain saw the well in the open block. Telling her they would soon be arriving at the old bell tower in the center of Battle Village.
“What am I supposed to be seeing?” Serdephe spun around in confusion.
“Take them.” Chavias urged, for Chastain’s ears alone.
“Go in.” Chastain said certainly. The voice in her mind screaming pressing urgency.
The bell tower was a construction of Oakwood beams supporting it and heavy supports holding the large iron bell, perfectly formed so high above. Swirling designs and strange writing engraved the rim of the bell branching out into the carvings on the supporting beams. Testament to its importance. There was a door that opened to the winding steps going up to the bell. Above the door was a sloping metal sign deeply engraved with words Chastain didn’t understand. The same lettering was reflected down both beams parallel the door.
Chastain grabbed Ebony first, as she was the nearest. Putting Meralee back in Serdephe’s arms.
Ebony stared up at Chastain, trustingly. Quivering slightly, the brunette girl clung to the hand of the eldest sister. Led wordlessly toward the impossible darkness. As they neared the gaping door it creaked further open. Pale light pouring from within. Framing the three steps in a silvery luminescence. Chastain looked over her shoulder and observed the sun not yet rising.
Chastain and Ebony stepped through the strange doorway, tentatively, leaving the others behind. Chastain’s body shook as the earth quaked beneath her feet. Darkness closed in and wrapped around them for a moment before the sky brightened again and they stood on the edge of a road.
A beautiful woman looked at a boy standing next to her. She eased close and took Ebony’s little hand, smiling tenderly down at her.
“This is her.” She told the boy before looking to Chastain. “He told me. He said she’d be here.” The woman smiled at Chastain and nodded.
“Where-where am I?” Ebony looked around in confusion. “You’re in Mane Country, My Dear.” She softened her tone. “There’s a Lord, a kind man that has prayed for another child to keep his own company.” She gestured to the boy next to her. “This one here. Would you like to be that child? He’s wanted a sister a long while and will help take good care of you. I promise.”
“Ebony eyed her warily and looked back at Chastain who nodded slowly. “You’ll be safe Ebony.”
Looking back at the woman, Ebony nodded slowly as they walked away.
The voice in her ears assured her Ebony was safe and Chastain gasped covering her mouth to cover a sob as she took a step back and watched the view before her fade back to the inside of the church.
Once more she found herself back in the town square with the girls staring at her, mouths agape. As she watched their expressions grow saddened as they registered Ebony was gone. Understanding dawned. Those bright young eyes grew wide and fearful.
“We did not get to tell Ebony goodbye!” Riaura cried outraged.
“Do it now than.” Chastain said harshly to mask her own pain. They quickly hugged each other while crying mournfully.
“We haven’t time to be said.” Serdephe said her own voice sounding resigned. “Chastain is right. Already the sun is cresting.” She gestured to the tops of the trees now turning yellow in the distance.
“Every moment is precious.” Chastain asserted. Swallowing hard.
“I don’t ever want to go back to that cottage!” Riaura cried.
Meralee was, thankfully, awake now. Sitting quietly on the ground with her doe eyes intent on Chastain.
So, it was Riaura’s hand Chastain took next. Huge green eyes lifting slowly to meet her pained expression.
“Not Sabine?” Riaura’s brows drew together and her eyes watered instantly.
Chastain gave her head a shake.
When they entered the doorway this time it was to see the face of an old man sitting on a rock near a pond.
“So, you’ve come!” He smiled kindly. “I have been seeing your face in here.” He tapped his temple. “And I knew you would need my help. And oh, how I have wanted a child of my own to take my kingdom, Nightway, when I am gone. Would you be that girl?”
Riaura beamed but looked up at Chastain.
“Go.” Chastain urged.
Chastain only spared a few seconds to watch as they headed across a drawbridge into a lovely castle. A woman waited in the entryway of the castle with dark hair and dark eyes. A look that made Chastain’s stomach sink, but she trusted the voice in her mind assuring her Riaura would grow.
Chastain heard the old king murmuring soothingly to Riaura. “That will be your mother, my lovely Queen Marod.”
Then Chastain followed the glowing light back into darkness. Grasping Serdephe’s hand.
“But Meralee?” Serdephe objected.
Chastain shook her head. “She’ll be fine if we hurry.” She told Meralee to wait for her to come back and prayed they’d be fast enough.
Serdephe pulled her hand away, meeting Chastain’s long look. “I’ll go. You don’t have to take me.”
“If I don’t then I’ll never know where you are to come find you someday.”
“If we are meant to meet again, we will.” A flicker of rare emotion flitted over Serdephe’s face.
A strange old woman welcomed Serdephe warmly promising to teach her all the secrets of the water.
Sabine was guided through a land where snow fell in soft flakes, and lead to the loving arms of a widow woman. Chastain felt her small fingertips sliding from Chastain’s grip.
“It’ll be okay.” Chastain whispered.
The woman shed a tear upon seeing the incredible beauty of the young girl. She bit her lip and collected the child in a warm hug.
“He told me you would come. I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet one of your kind. One look at your face and it is plain to see what you are.”
“Wait until you meet my fiancée, Little Dove. There’s no man finer. Together we’ll be a family.” She smiled; brown eyes soft as she stared at the lovely blue-eyed girl.
Sabine turned back through the sheet of white and looked forlornly back at Chastain with her impossibly blue eyes. Chastain forced herself to trudge back into the gleaming flow of light.
Finally, it was, Meralee and Chastain entering the church. Immediately they were transported to a bustling street. High canyon walls surrounded the village.
Even Chastain looked around in confusion.
“Where are we?” Meralee asked fearfully. Her sleeping plait already coming undone on both sides of her youthful face.
“I’m not sure.” Chastain caught the attention of a passerby. “Where are we?”
“Why, you are in Grier Kingdom of course.” The woman shot Chastain a dark look, but her face softened upon taking in the scruffy look of the two children. “Are you Dears alright?”
“I think so.” Chastain looked around in confusion as the woman walked away. “Who-who is meeting us?”
“Meeting us?” Meralee asked softly.
Two muddy boys plowed through the crowd. “It’s her!”
Chastain spun and faced them. They were a little younger than her.
“We been dreaming about today all sennight.”
“I did not know it was a girl. I was hoping for a little brother.” The smaller one scowled.
“We were supposed to be here earlier.” The bigger one said as he hit the other. “But this one ’ere is always late.”
He shrugged. “Tis true. I’ll be late for me own funeral. I thought I’d have a little brother.”
“Does it matter? Ye know she needs our help.” The older one glowered.
“No. But can I raise her like a boy?”
“She’s not a pet.” The older one whacked him again.
“You want to go home with us? He what told us bout ye said you ain’t got no home.”
Meralee looked at the boys then up at Chastain.
“Trust.” Chavias’ drawn-out breath ran through Chastain’s mind as she clung to the frightened little girl.
“They’re just boys.”
“They will look after her.” The voice promised.
With a trembling hand, Chastain handed Meralee’s tiny hand into the dirty outstretched one of the bigger boys.
“You’ll like home. Our ma and da give us whatever we wants.”
“We’re spoiled rotten.” The older assured. “But ma always says she wanted a girl and got stuck wit’ us.”
“I always wanted a ma.” Meralee blurted. Blinking huge brown eyes up at them as they walked off.
Chastain was shivering. “Please. Please look after them.”
“We will…” The voice whispered.
Chastain had the nearly overwhelming urge to grab Meralee and take her back. Terrified this was the wrong path for the littlest of them.
“Please.” She called after them.
“We will.” The older boy tossed over his shoulder as though he knew her intent. Tears streamed Chastain’s cheeks. She resisted the urge to collapse to her knees.
Chastain followed the hazy glow of the light back.
And was greeted by the horribly distorted face of the woman that had raised her, dared call herself mother. Udora stalked to Chastain. Her fur cloak making her terrifying snake eyes luminesce. Certainly, she was pure evil.
“Where are they?” The bearded man next to her demanded. Dark little eyes glinting.
Chastain glanced over her shoulder at the light behind her. A mere step away.
“Don’t!” Radix Malorum outstretched a hand.
“I will help kill you both one day!” The young girl screamed right before her body was yanked back through the doorway. Still vowing that one-day Udora would suffer what she had reaped on the children.
As Chastain flew back, she felt time slow as Radix approached her. His face twisted with rage.
Just as he could’ve reached her, the warm arms and pale hands erupting from the light behind her, tightened around her chest and stomach. Jerking her back faster, in a grip so warm and comforting Chastain immediately felt sleepy. Radix lunged with a shrill roar. But Chastain moved through bending time and foreign lands to a place of safety.
Her last few blinks were a memory of bright reflections and a single floating white feather trailing past her as though everything was not moving at the speed of light.
Her black-haired savior’s voice rose in the confusion of light and movement. “Calisto…Thank you.”
Dizzying reality was cold and wet as Chastain stumbled a dark path toward light. A glance behind her revealed a black burn mark on gray stone.
She vaguely recalled the name Chavias had called out.
Once she stepped into the last rays of morning light she fell to her knees. Sick from the extreme travel she wretched in the dirt.
Her hands were muddied by damp earth and a morning dew. Climbing back to her feet she steadied herself on shaking limbs. A tall wooden fence loomed before her. So long it appeared to extend forever. Rising she willed her exhausted feet to move. Fumbling along the fence until she found the wooden doors. A hearty shove opened into a lovely garden. The last of her energy was used to stumble a few rushed steps onto the open path.
Two women turned from where they stood near the gate plucking blooms from a nearby tree. Now they stared, jaw agape, at the sopping wet urchin.
One woman rose, her flowing dull colored robes twining around her.
“Where am I?” Chastain mumbled.
“Dread Hideout, My Dear. Bordering the Netherlands.”
The women will keep her safe.
And he will. Chavias told himself. Glancing over his shoulder in the direction of the cave deep in the woods beyond the gates.
Overexerted and relieved, Chastain dropped her face to her hands and wept profusely.
One of the women dropped down next to Chastain, lifting her chin.
“Come, little one. Let’s find you a chamber and get you warm.” The lady put an arm around the girl’s shoulders and began turning her.
Chastain laughed to herself. It was as if a wild red-headed child appearing at their gate was the most natural thing in the world.
Chastain lifted her gaze to greet the rising sun. Letting the heat warm her face from within the beautiful garden. Peace washed over her in a warm stream.
The older woman hushed Chastain’s stuttering words.
“No need, Love. Some things go without being said…” She smiled softly. “My name’s Margaret.”
Chastain lifted sorrow-filled eyes and a hesitant smile moved her lips. Margaret offered her hand. Taking it hesitantly, Chastain felt such hope as that hand wrapped hers.
“What is it Dear? It’s only a hand.”
“Never has an adult offered me one before.”
The woman clucked. “Then it is high time.”
“You cry, Love. It seems you could use a good one.” Margaret’s hand was soft and comforting as she led Chastain up a barren staircase.
“These rooms are slight and cold. But I’m afraid there all we have.”
“They are far warmer than what I’ve known.”
“They are?” Margaret asked softly. Regretting the question as soon as the girl’s sad eyes fell. “Shall we see if we can find you a warming block?”
Chastain’s voice sounded choked even to her own ears. “Thank you. Thank you so much” She whimpered as the other woman materialized in the doorway.
Offering a calm smile, they turned to fetch her a block from the fireplace on the lower level.
Chastain collapsed onto the soft cot. Hearing the crunch of rushes under her. Upon returning Margaret sat on the edge of the cot and tenderly caressed her hair while the other woman carefully tucked the covered block under the blankets. Chastain pressed her feet to them and wrapped her arms around her body. Only moments later she surrendered to blissful sleep.
A smile danced about both women’s lips as they exited the chamber.
“And you said she wouldn’t.” Mags said.
“There are still rare occasions when I’m wrong.”
“Do you think he sent her here? Like he did us?”
“I don’t think so.” Agatha shook her head. “If he didn’t what will he think of her being here?”
“He won’t want her to know about all of it.”
“Then we shan’t tell her.”
“Agreed.” Mags nodded decisively.