1: The Maiden
She was finishing her story. “As sir Hyles Trant, turned his head from the mountain, he knew that one day Drakroth would rise and avenge his brothers and sisters.”
The girl stared at her mother in amazement as she lay in her feather bed. “Mother I wish I could have seen a drag-on.”
Her mother only smiled at her. “Alyssa, my child, the dragons have been extinct for many hundreds of years.” She said while she stroked her daughter’s hair back.
“But you said that Drakroth did not die during the fight at the Great Peak.” complained Alyssa.
“People said that Drakroth died in its cave many years ago.” Alyssa’s mother replied.
Alyssa eyes grew with excitement. “Then, can I be a warrior too?”
“My dear, I have told you time and time again. Fighting is for men. Some things should not change.” She scolded her daughter. “Come now, it is time for bed.”
“Very well.” Alyssa frowned and crossed her arms, vexed. “She never lets me do anything.”
Alyssa was a comely girl of fourteen who lived with her mother, Mylene. They lived in an old rugged wooden house with a stone foundation on the eastern side of town. Alyssa had long brown hair that never curled, with pale green eyes that shimmered in the sunlight and looked nearly black at night. She was a curvy girl and skinny as she was tall. Alyssa was a high-spirited girl, and she loved to laugh. She was greatly courteous. Her mother had seen to that. Her favorite thing to do was spend time with her friends in the forest just outside town, but some days she liked to go alone. She grew fond of the woods. The creatures grew accustom to Alyssa’s presence and her to theirs.
Her mother got up off the bed and leaned over to kiss her daughter on the brow, then blew out her bedside candle.
Alyssa’s mother was nine and thirty, but she looked ten years her age. Her once long dark brown hair is now streaked with grey, and her once smooth skin is slowly starting to wrinkle, but for all that, Mylene still remained a strong and determined woman. When Alyssa’s father had died in a hunt but was never found, her mother grieved for several months. She would barely eat or sleep, and she would sob many hours a day. The memory pained her and left her scarred.
Mylene shut the door. The old floor boards creaked as she walked away from her daughter’s room. It grew dark when her mother shut the door, but the full moon shined that night and light streamed in through the cracks in the shutters. The night was slightly cool, but the glow of embers in the hearth kept her comfortably warm beneath her sheets.
She shut her eyes and sleep followed. Alyssa dreamed that she was standing in a grassy field with the morning sun at her back. She wore a steel breastplate over a shiny ring mail coat, tanned leather boots, breeches and gloves all plated with steel. She held a sword in her right hand and had a dragon scale shield strung across her back. In the distance, she could see the outline of many trees standing in a straight line across the horizon. She heard the forest call to her. Compelled, she walked towards the trees. It felt as though she walked for hours, but the trees never seemed to get any closer. Suddenly, the ground under her feet began to tremble, and the trees came rushing up to where she stood. She tripped back and suddenly the trees were straight in front of her. The trembling stopped, but before she could get up, the sound of a deep growl gave her pause. She heard something stir in the brush before her. The growl got louder, and she glimpsed a pair of deep purple eyes glowing like diamonds held up to the sun. They seemed to burn like flames. Alyssa stared at them, stricken with fear. The growl broke into a thunderous roar that shook the trees. The sheer sound could make anyone’s heart stop. What followed was an inferno of purple fire that came roaring straight at her.
Alyssa woke gasping, kicking and lashing at her sheets. Her entire body was covered in a silhouette of suet. The hearth had gone dark, yet she felt as though she was on fire. Alyssa threw her blankets aside and got out of bed. She opened the shutters of her window to let in some cold air. The air felt good. She stuck her head out and inhaled then exhaled. “Awwwee, Crisp.” she felt rejuvenated.
The night was gloomy, and the earth was covered with a thin sheet of mist. The streets were empty, and the torches were doused, yet the moonlight shone against the stone paved paths, giving sufficient light. The wind whistled through the leaf-less trees that stood near her house. Alyssa looked up into the tree that stood out-side her window. She saw a black bird perched up on a branch. It was a rather large bird with small beady eyes and feathers that shone jet black under the moonlight. The bird looked straight into her eyes. It did not move. Alyssa stared at it in wonder. Looking deep into its eyes, she began to feel a sense of dread. The bird flew off the minute Alyssa felt scared. It is as though the bird knew how she felt. Alyssa quickly closed the shutters and ran back to bed, pulled the sheets over her head and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Alyssa and her mother broke their fast on warm bread with honey and a little milk to wash it all down. Alyssa had thought to visit the forest today, but her mother had need of her in town.
When Alyssa’s father died, Alyssa’s mother had to abandon their home in Ruinpine’s town center at the southern end of The Green Valley. They moved to a small wooden house at the eastern side of town.
Ruinpine was the way waypoint of the south. It stood on the western side of the valley river surrounded by tall grey brick walls. The gates were always open since the town is used as a crossroad for the trade routes of the north, south, east and west. The trade routes ran straight through Ruinpine and crossed at the market square, where merchants would raise their tents and sell their goods. The northern road led to the Capital, where the king of the Green Valley sat on his throne and the lands beyond the valley. To the south, the valley flattened out into endless grassy fields that met the Lowland sea and the trading harbor. The eastern road led to the ferry where travelers crossed the valley river to make for the city of Ceptai which is renowned for their rich wine. Ceptai is built on the shore of a great lake called The Eye. The western pass led through the Valley Mountains to the sandy lands of Pryganta.
Mylene worked in the market square selling meat for the butcher. He was a robust man with a bald head, small eyes and a grim face. He always wore the same apron that was tarnished with meat juice.
Today, Mylene was not working, and she needed Alyssa to help gather and bring supplies back from the town market. “My dear, can you fetch me the basket from the larder?” Asked Mylene. “And gather your things. We leave on the hour.”
Alyssa never liked the larder. She would avoid going in there when she could. As she approached the door to the larder, she noticed that the latch was un-done. She stopped in front of the door and pushed it open a cracked to have a peek. The room was empty but for the food that was there. The door creaked open as Alyssa stepped inside. Sunlight streamed in on her right where the shutters were open. The cool air and warm rays calmed her mind as she turned to her left to find the basket. As she picked up it up, she heard a flutter behind her. Startled, she quickly turned around clenching the basket with both hands. There it was again, the bird. It stood on the window sill staring at her. Alyssa did not say a word, but when the bird let out a “quaw.”, She jumped and away flew the bird.
“Alyssa?” she heard her mother cry. “We must get going.”
“Coming!” She shouted back still staring where the bird had sat.
Their walk to the market was pleasant. The sun felt good on Alyssa face. When they arrived at the market square, they found themselves in the middle of a large plaza. The streets were buzzing with people. Traders shouted their stores when they walked past. In the middle of the square was a large fountain carved out of polished stone. In the summer time, children would play in that pool, but today the pool was empty and the air too cold. When Alyssa was younger, she would play with the other children in that pool while her mother had errands in town.
“Alright, here is a list of the food we need.” Mylene said as she handed the small piece of paper to her daughter.
“You’re not coming?” Alyssa asked, confused.
“I need to fetch some things at the tailors. Please, wait for me at the eastern entrance of the square.” Her mother kissed on the brow and departed.
On her way to the grocer, Alyssa took a detour down Forgers Way. She had a fascination for the local smiths. Most of the smiths made horse shoes and farming tools, but others made weapons and armor. She loved to walk past the shops and see all the goods that were for sale and to hear the ring of steel on steel and the feel the heat of the forges.
As she was walking past a shop called Smith’s Crow, she saw the same black bird perched up on the sign above the entrance way. The bird flew away as quick as their eyes met. She did not understand why she was seeing this crow everywhere. She lowered her eyes from the sign towards the open door and she got a glimpse of an arsenal of weapons and plated armor. Curiosity took her as she found herself walking into the shop. Two candle torches hung at each end of the shop. The light reflected off all the polished steel which gave the room an awe inspiring glow. Swords, axes, and spears hung from the walls in various shapes and sizes. Armor, shields, bows and crossbows, every weapon and armor imaginable, some things Alyssa had never seen.
She gazed about the shop as though she were in a dream when a man at the far end of the store walked out from the backroom. “Can I help you, m’lady?”
“Huh?” she said, surprised. The man was dressed in a rough-spun robe of dusty black and wore his hood up. Alyssa could not see his eyes nor could she make out his face, except for the long grey pointed beard that fell past his chest. “Who...who are you?” she hesitated. The man ignored the question.
“Did my friend scare you?” he asked.
“Friend?” she asked, confused.
“The bird, child, who else?” he replied.
Her eyes widened, and she began to step back. “I... I don’t know what you mean.”
“Ohhh, but I think you do. In fact, I know you do.” He curled his lips. “Pity that you haven’t taken note of him be-fore.”
Alyssa did not say a word. How does he know?
“How do I know!?” the man said in astonishment.
She backed up into a suit of armor that was perched up for display. She had lost her words. Her hands began to tremble. All she could do was reach around and clench the breastplate in her hands as she stood there paralyzed with fear.
“Please, do not be afraid, m’lady. It was not my intent.” The man lowered his hood. He was an old man with large wrinkles and grey hair that ran around his head. He was bald on top, but it was his eyes that gave Alyssa pause.
“Those eyes.” His eyes were as black as night. Astonished, she released the armor at her back. “You’re a Mind-Walker.” she declared in amazement. “I read about your kind in tales of legend. It also said that your kind had long disappeared.”
The man smiled. “Aye disappeared, waiting is more accurate, my dear. It is no mere coincidence that we meet today, Alyssa.”
“You know my name?” She was taken aback by that.
“Of course I know you Alyssa Rothaide, daughter of Grimald Rothaide. Our meeting is no mere coincidence. Our little friend has been keeping me informed on you.”
The idea of this old man spying on her frightened her. “Why? What do you want with me?” Her hand began to tremble again.
“I have seen your future child. It is a grim one.” He paused as if lost in thought. “Alas!” he shouted. “There is some destiny about you. I have seen what is to come!”
Her hands stopped trembling, and her eyes widened with curiosity. “Yes?”
“On the night of the crescent moon, your…”
“Alyssa, There you are!” It was her mother’s voice.
Alyssa turned around to find her mother standing in the doorway. “Mother!” she said, surprised.
“Where have you been?” said Mylene, upset. “I asked you to go buy the food.”
“I was just…I’m sorry.” She looked back at the man, but he had disappeared. “Huh? Where did he go?”
“Come along child, we still need to buy food and get home before dark.”
Alyssa followed her out of the shop, but as she crossed the doorway, she heard a whisper in her mind “Follow the crow”. She stopped and took a last look at the inside of the shop, but no one was there.
Her mother called out for her. “Alyssa, come along.”
“Yes, mother.” She said and followed her mother back out into the streets in search of the food market.
They made their way through the streets and back to the Market plaza. At the south eastern end, they found the grocers shouting out their supplies. Onions, carrots, potatoes, and much more! Get them while they’re fresh! Alyssa was taken by the vigorous smells. Merchants lined the streets with their baskets full of goods. There was every kind of fruits and vegetables. She could smell the fresh loaves of bread and mouthwatering scent of pastries.
Mylene preferred one grocer more than the rest. He had everything one needed under one roof. As they entered, the man behind the counter greeted them with a smile on his face. The man had a long mustache that seemed to bounce when he spoke. “Welcome, my ladies.”
Mylene nodded in reply. “Good day.”
The shop was filled with many en-chanting smells. The baskets on the shelves were full of different assorted delicacies. Their stay was short; they picked up what they needed and made for home.
It was mid-afternoon when they neared home. Alyssa saw the mysterious black bird sitting on the same branch as it did last night. Once again, their eyes met, but this time the crow did not fly off. It only sat there and squawked. She remembered what the old man told her. Follow the crow. Simply, she was not sure what the man meant by it.
When Alyssa and her mother got in-side, they made preparations for supper. “Alyssa, I need you to fetch water from the well.” Mylene demanded.
“Yes.” Alyssa replied, without question. She picked up the empty wooden bucket that sat on the kitchen floor and made her way out the back door to the well. As she stepped out the door, the sun greeted her nicely, and a warm breeze flapped her skirts.
The well was a made of stone and had a wooden roof. It delved deep into the earth to the spring that flowed below. She strung her bucket to a long rope and lowered it into the well. She pulled, bringing up the water-filled bucket, focusing to make sure she did not spill any water. Suddenly, she heard the sound of flapping wings. She looked up, and the crow sat on the other side of the well’s ledge. Her eyes widened, and her mouth tightened. Their eyes met again. “What do you want!?” she yelled at it.
The bird cocked its head. “Quaw! Quaw! Qu… come.”
“It talked”! Her hands loosened, and the bucket fell back into the well. The bucket hit the water below and sent echoes up the well. The bird flew away east towards the forest. Alyssa had just enough time to catch the rope before she forever lost it at the bottom of the well. “No, I’m just hearing things.” Quickly, but carefully she pulled up a bucket of water and carried it back to the kitchen.
As she entered the kitchen, her mother was cutting up vegetables for the stew. “Who were you talking to?” Her mother asked.
“No one, mother, I almost dropped the bucket is all.”
“See that you do not, it’s the only one we have left.” Mylene frowned. “Put some water in the pot and get a fire going. I want that water boiling tonight.”
“Yes.” she sighed. “May I go out and see my friends after?”
Her mother frowned again. “No, my dear I need you here tonight.”
Ever since Alyssa’s father had passed away six months ago, her mother became overprotective and angry. She would keep Alyssa from leaving town and rarely let her see her friends. “You never let me do anything! You never let me see my friends!” she shouted. Alyssa had con-fronted her mother several times before only to give in to her mother’s wishes, but this time she did not let up. “Father would let me...”
Mylene cut her off. “Do not speak of your father in this house!” Mylene yelped. “I will hear no more of this! You are to stay here! If your father were here, he would not put up with this.”
Anger swelled in Alyssa’s voice. “No.” her voice was grim with disobedience. “I just want to see my friends in town.” She lied. She intended to find the crow. “It’s not as though I want to go out and get myself killed in the woods!”
Her mother swung her arm and slapped Alyssa in the face. “Enough!” she shouted. Mylene was breathing heavily.
Alyssa stood there stunned, holding her cheek as tears welled in her eyes. She did not say a word. She picked up her skirts and bolted for the door, crying.
Realizing her mistake, Mylene cried out to her daughter. “Alyssa, my child, come back!” She ran to the front door to try to catch her. Alyssa slipped her mother’s grasp and ran out into the evening air.
When her legs ached, and her tears had dried, Alyssa realized she had run a long way. The night was dark and cold. A new moon was in the sky, which made it impossible to see. All Alyssa heard were branches hitting each other and the whistle of the wind. She was surrounded by tall pine trees and other trees that were as naked as she was on her name day. “Where am I? How far did I go?”
Suddenly, Alyssa realized she was lost; stranded with no memory of the way she had come. Alyssa knew the eastern forest well, to a set point. She always stayed within earshot of the towns ruckus roar. She stopped for a moment, to listen, but she heard nothing.
Alyssa did not have the heart to go on; she found a tall pine tree with branches that hung low to the ground. She crawled in under the pine canvas to keep the cold wind off her. Then, she sat with her back against the tree and tucked her knees up to her chest, pulled her arms into her sleeves and slowly drifted off into a rest-less sleep.