Chapter 1: Flight
81st day of Winter, 16th year of King Odyssen
My name is Imalion, of the family Solayne. I don’t know what’s going on.
Mother told me to pack some of my things in a satchel to go on a journey. She said I was going on an important quest, but she must have been trying to make me feel better, because her eyes looked everywhere except into my own.
Father handed me a little box and told me to keep it safe. He said perhaps one day I would find a key. The box is odd. It is dark and smooth, and there are shapes of horses and crowns and swords carved on it. Under the horses’ hooves are what might be corpses, but they are hard to make out. On one side there is a little hole that would fit a key, but Father didn’t give me one. The box is only a little bigger than both my hands put together. I wonder what’s inside it.
Mother and Father hugged me, and Mother draped a thick cloak over my shoulders and told me to keep the hood on. I said she was silly, because I wouldn’t take the hood off in such a cold wind. It was freezing – heartless puffs of wind invaded the castle through every crack and doorway. The servants were told to close the shutters, but some of the frosty breath still lingered in the halls for a while. The kitchens were working on both the noon meal and warming the castle, and that meant that the smells of baking bread and spitted meat and oils and herbs all floated around, too. I hoped the journey wouldn’t take long. I wanted to be back in time for supper.
When Mother and Father were sure I’d keep warm they sent me to the stables, where I met Aena – Father’s relative, a lady who arrived only a week or so ago. She talks to me sometimes, and she seems nice. She’s not as old as Father, either, and she says she’s traveled. She wears a sword, chainmail, a white tabard, and a black cloak. The cloak bears a white moon sigil.
Aena helped me put my things into saddle-bags and get onto my horse, then she mounted her own and we waved to Mother and Father. Mother came up and grabbed my hand and kissed it as Aena nudged her horse forward. She led the way out of the stables and out of the city and onto the southern road, which according to Father had the least danger of wolves. We didn’t stop until night, and luckily we found a tavern. I hate to think of what sleeping out in the cold with wolves would be like, but Aena has a sword strapped to her saddle, so we might have been okay.
The tavern is a smelly, shabby place, but it’s warm and the beds seem to be made with fresh straw. I was going to take off my cloak, but Aena said to keep it on as my mother had said. I asked her why. She said just to obey Mother. I am confused.
Where are we going?
82nd day of Winter, 16th year of King Odyssen
Aena wouldn’t meet my eyes in the morning, and her hair was messed up. I asked her what was wrong, and she said that Mother and Father are dead, or would be soon. She said she’d been sent to take me and keep me safe. She said Mother and Father loved me very much. She said to be brave. She said to take a wash in the river. She said so many things, so many useless things.
All I can think about is that Mother and Father are dead. I will never see them again. I can’t go back to Midpas. My whole life is suddenly very small and sliced away from everything I ever knew.
Aena took me to my horse and helped me up and rode close beside me. She held the reins of my mare and led her. I can do nothing but follow her and go where she goes, for she has become to me the only familiar thing in all Rylacia.
83rd day of Winter, 16th year of King Odyssen
Aena tells me she is taking me to some of her friends. She says I will be safe there, and taken care of. I don’t care. I am a shard of a soul. I am broken. Can she see that I don’t care? Can she tell that nothing matters to me now? I’m not important. She should just leave me and go.
Trees and rain go where we go. I do not go, I merely stay. I stay where Aena goes. I also stay at the castle with Mother and Father. I also stay at the inn where my heart shattered. I am scattered to the world; how can I ever be whole again?
Aena says the place we are going is near King Odyssen’s city, Yamlen. She said we would be riding for another two days. Father only had to travel for a day, perhaps two, to get there. We must be riding slowly. Father should have given us strong horses if he wasn’t going to come with us. Father…
84th day of Winter, 16th year of King Odyssen
Wisdom is a gift. My mother and father had great wisdom. Would that I were so blessed; I’ve spent so much of my life fleeing wisdom to enjoy what I can.
Love is another gift, so wonderful that it might be divine. In fact, Maister Colman once told me that the Grove-keeper of Falamorna gifted love to some people of Rylacia. Once again I fall short, but my parents… they loved me so much that they sent me away to save me.
But wisdom and love aren’t enough to make us gods. Mother, sweet Mother… as whimsical, pestering, tender, warm, and caring as she may have been, is dead. As is Father, who was strong and tall and weathered… ready for anything, yet still a gentle father and husband. They were not cruel, and they always listened. I don’t think Father taxed his subjects much at all.
Or perhaps they are not dead! But then… maybe this is all just a test, to see if I am strong. I must be strong.
We couldn’t travel at all today. We stayed under a tree and held our cloaks over our heads. It was pouring with rain and gusting and thundering, and the smell of mud was everywhere. It’s a nice earthy smell at first, but after a whole day of it you start to feel like you can drown merely by breathing the air.
85th day of Winter, 16th year of King Odyssen
Even though we are traveling south-east, it feels colder today. Also, there’s an annoying dribble of water in my left boot, which now sloshes and squelches when I walk on it. Aena says I need to dry them out.
There were soldiers along the road, dressed in purple tunics and a gold-trimmed armor I have never seen before. Aena says they are from the southern kingdom, Brucia.
In one of the towns along the way, Aena pointed out a sign outside a tavern. It said that my father’s household servants were wanted as criminals and traitors. There was a 500 silver reward for their heads. Aena held me and told me that for the moment I was safe, because the other three rewards had been slashed out in red paint. Whoever was after me thought I was dead.
Aena said I’ll need a new name. Solayne is like to get me killed. I think I shall be Soulshard. A million glass pieces of my heart are scattered in the wind. Every time I think of how I can never go back, another shard of my heart is lost in the storm. I am lost.
We are staying at the next town’s tavern for the night. I can’t sleep because I keep thinking of all my friends who would die – Cook, Nurse, Yoleg the plant-tender, the castle armorer, Sam the kennel-boy, the maids… and Mother and Father were already dead. I wonder who is still alive. Maister Colman wasn’t there, though. Maybe I will see him again someday.
86th day of Winter, 16th year of King Odyssen
When we left town, Aena turned the horse off the road. We traveled over fields gleaming with frost and hills of dead grass and through scattered patches of skeletal trees. Mother used to say that in summer the hills looked like swells of water in the ocean, and the trees looked like islands. Father would laugh and say to watch out for dangerous fish, then he would disappear in the shoulder-high grass and make growling noises while mother laughed. I miss them both.
I was thinking about the smell of mother’s cakes when we heard a sort of whining shriek echo over the hills. The sound was followed by something between the purr of a kitten and the way Jarbian traders tend to roll every “r” sound. Our horses broke into a gallop, and Aena tried to soothe hers and then mine for ages before they finally calmed. By then we could see the source of the noise. In the air, gliding like some massive, hungry lizard-eagle, was a scaled creature. It had a narrow head, and its ears were fan-shaped and flattened backward behind its jaws. It had a long, pointed tail with what looked like an arrowhead formed at the end. Around its belly was a stripe of brown, but otherwise it was light blue. I asked Aena if it was a dragon, like in the stories. She laughed and said no, it was just a wyvern. She said the way to tell the difference was the size, the call, and the legs. Dragons were huge; wyverns were small. Dragons roared instead of shrieking. Dragons have four legs and their wings are separate, but wyverns have two hind legs and their front ones are part of their wings. I wondered how she knew so much about dragons and wyverns. Although the wyvern shrieked again and sent my mare into another panic, it didn’t follow us. By nightfall there was no sign of it.
We camped at a cluster of trees. Aena lit a fire, but most of the fallen wood we collected was slightly wet, so the smoke is everywhere. It is hard to write while I keep coughing and rubbing my eyes.
87th day of Winter, 16th year of King Odyssen
All day I was reminded of the campfire, because my clothes smelled as though they were threaded with smoke. It was a nice smell, warm and snug like sitting in a blanket by the fireplace during a storm. The air around us was crisp and cold and empty. It felt dead. The smoky remnants were more than welcome.
The wyvern was also on my mind. Why wasn’t it hunting for us? Wasn’t it hungry? Surely it had seen us, and I thought winter would have made it savage. When I asked Aena where it had come from, she said that the only wyverns left in the three kingdoms were those of the Wyvern Lords in Brucia. The one we saw was one of them, and she explained that the brown stripe around its belly was actually a saddle strap.
Aena kept us moving, even when the sun kissed the horizon behind us. I can barely see the parchment I am writing on, and every now and then the world tilts and blurs and then snaps back again. I almost dropped the quill last time. The rocking back and forth, back and forth of the mare alternates to the rhythm of her steps. The wind is laced with occasional slivers of biting rain. My coat protects all but my face.
It is getting darker.