|This is not a fanfic, but insted an original story. Danielle would like feedback so e-mail her with suggestions.
The obtrusive noise roused the hushed Sunday silence, Tomos stirred once then returned to his latter stance of fear, he had not known his wife was with child, and with the local midwife's sudden visit to a distant relative he was just glad that he had managed to find someone to replace her. He daren't knock on the door, the oak door looked ominous even in it's stillness, the noise stopped and he gazed entranced as the door opened with a resounding creak, the woman came out.
She stooped to meet Duke Tomos' gaze, her eyes hinting at sympathetic pleading but it didn't quite reach them, her thin grey hair was pulled back though a few stray wisps clung to her face with sweat. Her shirt sleeves were rolled up and her coarse skirt was creased and ruffled from her earlier journey, she was just passing through. She seemed weak even in her being, frail and withered yet some kind of strength radiated from her. Tomos signalled her dismissal with a nod and he strode purposely forward.
The room held it's own chill, no window was open, the dying sun held on to it's last glimmer of hope outside while inside it's actions were mirrored. A woman lay on the sweat-soaked bed her face only beginning to show the wrinkles of late life, a faint smile appeared upon her drawn face, she opened her mouth only to release a small gasp instead of words. Tomos clung to her hand as if he could stop her decent by will alone never looking directly at her.
A hoarse whisper struggled it's way up from silences' grasp.
"Don't let her be alone".
16 years later
The steam from the nostrils of the horses rose in tufts until it was stopped shortly by the low lung branches of nearby trees. "Tell me again, why did we have to ride out at this time in the morning," she paused for the impact which her small tentative voice did not give, "at this time of year." A tired groan resounded from the nearest rider, "oh my darling, beautiful, loving and dutiful wife, Lord Falo of Rainsburgh, wished us to meet as soon as possible, his raiding problem will not lessen without the crowns personal intervention."
"You are not the King, just an advisor."
"I am his chief advisor, and friend, I am trusted by the King, I am"-
"The problem will not lessen, but surely it cannot worsen," came the pert reply.
As one might have guessed the conversation drew on like this till the woodland and fern underhoof cleared, and the rarely visited track suddenly became well used and encased by the boundaries of the local farmers whose livestock would occasionally take it upon themselves to roam free until some arrangement could be made for recapture. As the three horses speeded up into a brisk trot, the sun painted it's morning hues along the seemingly endless sky.
Outside of the dense forest the area of Rainsburgh could be seen quite clearly, the distant village in the distance was followed by Lord Falo's house, though it looked more like a fortress. The Rainsburgh fief was bordered by a long stretch of disputed land, no one wished to take responsibility for it's upkeep, for what could be seen of it was not much, yet the story's told of it were of such mysterious terror that the few that did venture into it's grasp either never returned or worse still returned with only some recollection of their past life. No-one spoke out about this, it was not their problem, they would argue when faced with such a terrifying prospect.
"Squire Pero, please do tell me of the recent history of Rainsburgh and our purpose and cause of us being here, before you say anything it is your duty as a squire, and perhaps we can attempt to fill that empty head of yours," this prompt voice came the man, his rough breeches and simple jacket gave no clue to his nobility. He was a proud man, it was evident in his posture, his body became part of the horses fluidity by instinct, he was trained to do so. Years and years of his masters drilling and short tempers had taught him the art of fighting, his diplomatic ways came from his father. His deep russet hair with its subtle sun washed highlights framed his face in a short crop, the style of most young nobles. He stood high among men in title and in stature like his father before him, and like his father, it was his eyes that drew the avid gazer. They were intensified by their size and enhanced by his dark eyebrows which raised in a curious arch. They were of such a type of blue that they could seemingly turn into a lustful green or a timid grey. It wasn't only what he wore that affected the colour, dependant upon mood and situation were his eyes, just as they were with the late Duke Tomos of Herotie and Peolam the elder.
"Tomos I am 18 not ignorant, and only one year `till I be bossing around those little squires like you", chuckled the tall youth upon the gelding. His red hair was cut short like that of his knight master. The freckles of his youth remained upon his skin. Tomos' cough alerted Pero to his forsaken task.
"Ah yes, Rainsburgh , I do believe that moth bitten thing between my ears recalls something of what I have learnt during my years," he said sarcastically. "Rainsburgh is situated past the Braul mountains towards the north-west of Mikall. It's Lord being Falo, son of Yodri, father to two sons Rako aged 14 training for knighthood, and his heir Falo is two and twenty having completed his training in knighthood he resides with his father and learns the ways of his fief. Rainsburgh was once two separate fiefs Rainsel and Jolburgh and during the Battles of Mikall and Brauna land differences in the year of King Ripshas reign in the year 769 of the gifted age. After the battles, the people of Jolburgh having been ruined by the war took to raiding Rainsel, which seemed to flourish in Jolburghs crisis, to solve the problem they merged the countries culminating in the marriage of Grato of Rainsel and Frelia of Jolburgh creating the Rainsburgh today." Dropping his text-book voice Pero added, "good enough for you," and gave a lustful wink for effect alone. "Very good Pero, I trust you also know of the disputed stretch of land which borders the very North-western edge of Rainsburgh?"
"The disputed land has no name," Pero began again in his mockery of a teachers voice. "Though to many it is known as part of a collection of lands and islands around us otherwise known as the `damned lands'," Pero added a "wooooohhhh" with a flailing of the arms which caught him off balance and left him clinging to the side of his horse. The party erupted into not so restrained laughter, Tomas' wife, Elia giggled uncontrollably. She was a small person, her brown hair hung long down to the mid-way of her back her face was almost elf-like though engaging in itself, she had been married to Tomos little over ten years. She was born of a rich merchant family, and was lucky when it came to her marriage, it was not one of the many arranged couplings which was common throughout the lands. Deep breaths began to be taken in order to control the laughter, it was a pleasant change from the drudgery of the journey and the loneliness of being away from their two children for Tomos and Elia. "Carry on Pero, and leave out the dramatic gestures," Tomos said authoritatively.
"These lands were said to have been where the few gifted ones lived before our present age. There greed was said to envelop some of their own land until as the tale goes, Quero the Liberator, a most powerful enchanter, who believed in the concept of equality and with the help of many of the commoners he destroyed their power which spread over the lands in all directions, placing gifts upon the next generation, gathering to such a great extent in many lands that it spoiled the land for forever they became known as the damned lands. Our knowledge of their content is hazy, though many are said to flee there where all hope has gone from their lives, they are said to be not quite human, and lure the few chosen into their grasps stripping them also of ho-", Pero was interrupted.
"That is superstition, the tales of the uneducated, stick to the little that we know of the damned lands and not the travellers tales, Pero," Tomos said bitterly. Silence followed only to be cut by the treading of the horses hooves.
The modest street in the village held it's own gathering. Laughter came from it's depths which intrigued the newly arrived visitors, there arrival had seemingly been overshadowed.. The party dismounted and walked over to the group. Pero whistled, "who's the rose," he said directing the comment at the girl within the huddle. "That's no rose, that's Iris."
The voice came from a stocky though reasonably tall man. His dress was that of a humble noble. "We have been anticipating your arrival, Duke and Duchess of Herotie and Peolam and if my brothers letters have not lied you must be Pero." The noble chuckled. "Indeed I am Pero of Boula, and your brother, I suppose you have realised ,has caused a lot of trouble for such a small lad."
"Yes I do know of Rako's erm, little expeditions." He smiled revealing a set of white teeth and winked flippantly.
"You're my kind of person, Falo of Rainsburgh," Pero replied with an equally bold wink. A cough alerted them to Iris who was standing amidst the crowd.
"Good morrow dear friends," she cried sarcastically.
"Ah, dear Iris may I introduce you to Pero of Boula."
"Enchanted," Pero took her hand and kissed it.
"Oh, Pero how daring," she replied touching her cheek mockingly. They both burst into laughter, though controlled it after seeing the contempt look upon Elias' face.
"And of course, Duchess Elia of Herotie and Peolam."
"I have heard much of your husband and am delighted to meet you," Iris curtsied just the right amount for a greeting of this kind. If this shocked any of those around, none showed it.
Iris was dressed simply in a soft shirt, it's sleeves rolled up to show the last part of her summer tan and a rough skirt that rose above her ankles to reveal tough, worn-in leather boots. Her hair was extraordinary long, it's wheat colour was interrupted by the occasional streaks of reds, coppers or lighter ash colours which caught the light. It straggled down her back and two large braids hung at either side of her face which was framed by a sparse fringe. Her lips were of a deep pink which was mirrored in her cheeks.
"Where has the Duke gone?" enquired Elia passively.
Tomos was absently stroking his horse while staring towards Iris mesmerised. His eyes on her, he turned away and fumbled in his saddle bag. He found what he was looking for, a small framed picture. It was always taken with him on his journeys. Elia came over, empathy upon her face. "Tomos," she started tentatively, "what's the matter?" He didn't reply, he handed her the picture. "Goddess," Elia whispered awe-struck. "H-h-how can it be?" Elia had seen the picture, she had often glimpsed this picture, it was of Tomos' mother, and to her knowledge she had died when he was sixteen. But Iris was the very embodiment of his mother. It was well, beyond belief.
"Excuse me, you must be Duke Tomos of Herotie and Peolam, it's wonderful to meet you, forgive my rudeness but I am Iris," she curtsied to the half-turned away figure. Tomos turned around slowly until there eyes met.
"Aaarrrggghhh!" Iris screamed as she groped at her neck ripping off an amulet that hung there. The crowd gathered around her in a stunned silence, Pero looked inquizically on.
The amulet shone in a dazzling white light as it hummed it's soulful tune. Those whose gifts were among the strongest, shielded themselves from the sheer power that radiated from the amulet. As Falo covered his eyes he shouted, "what is going on?" They all heard Iris scream a word and the light and sound were gone. They all looked up in wonderment, one question on each of their minds, what just happened?
Pero looked at both Iris and Tomos, they were standing opposite each other. He gasped suddenly. Their eyes, it was their eyes, they were identical. It also seemed that Elia had also noticed this as she took Peros' cue and gasped.
"Y-y-y-you're my brother," Iris spluttered out.
"You mean to say that your father told none but the King of Iris' birth?" Lord Falo the elder said.
"No, he was, well, grief-stricken he only told me near to his death," replied Tomos.
"Surely if he had told more people of the kidnap, searches would have been organised?"
"Possibly so, I just don't think he could bring himself to do so."
The delegation were seated at the long table within Lord Falo's banquet, though modest in size, many fires had been lit, proving it one of the warmest places in the coming winter and sun-down festivals. The table seated Tomos, Elia and Pero on one side of the table, Falo the younger next to Iris on the other side and Falo the elder at the head of the table.
Seeing the uncomfortable silence take hold Elia tactively said, "so Iris how did you end up here?"
Iris surprised by the sudden question flustered, and Falo seeing her momentary confusion saved her. "She just appeared here one day, also bringing along my son, Falo upon the horse she was leading. Quite a shock really. It turned out that she had found him in the forests not far from the track, though dangerously near the damned lands. He had been attacked my raiders and left for dead, he was unconscious, and by the time Iris had found him he had been missing for two days. So I couldn't really force her away and she fits so well here, the village people love her, she's like an extra healer for them, we are going to be sad to see her go she's been here for over two months."
Iris looked worried suddenly, `going away', she was perfectly happy here. Again the intuitive Falo realised her panic, "you'll be going to Aila for your presentation at court, you will be a great success, and Iris you have been awfully quiet tonight you usually thrill us with one of your tales."
"Sorry," she apologised, "it's just been a rather hectic day." The delegation nodded in agreement.
"Now Falo we better stick to plans, we shall be leaving the day after tomorrow so what about these raiders?" Asked Tomos, as if stirred by duty out of his trance.
"The raiders we believe camp very close to the border of the damned lands, of course many say they are from the damned lands, though all we know is that crops have been damaged, houses destroyed and livestock killed. Our main fear, as you will realise, is that we worry that one of the people will be murdered next, we cannot take this risk."
"I understand your problems, though the only thing we can do is to post a squad of the Kings' Patrol to assist your squadron. There is little more we can do, but do feel obliged to write for more squads if the trouble persists. Though be prepared to wait, raiders are becoming bolder these days, not to mention the serpas' that accompany them, those snakes with men's feet and arms apart from being detestable also have there stare. Many of the gifted cannot watch, a bit of a disadvantage."
The conversation carried on like this for many hours though the guests slowly left leaving both Falo the younger and elder and Tomos. As Iris walked down the cold corridor to her room she heard the quick footsteps upon the cold stone, she instinctually drew herself to the side of the wall backing up against a nearby pillar. She noticed, however, that it was Pero, she couldn't help but smile.
"Hello, so you managed to escape then Iris," enquired Pero.
"Yes, thank the goddess, I could have been there all night listening to them talking about the state of the lands," agreed Iris, she smiled feebly. "Good-night."
"You'll like it in Aila, I'll make sure I keep an eye on you," he gave another one of his wink and walked back down the corridor to his room. Iris walked into her room and covered herself with a variety of blankets.
So this is it, she thought, I've finally met my family, it's very small. Oh who am I kidding I'm terrified, how am I supposed to tell them, they won't understand. I'll be at another court wearing uncomfortable dresses. What am I supposed to when I am called? But I have finally found my brother. What would Bria say.
She settled her chin upon her knees and prepared herself for an uncomfortable night's sleep.
Mikall- Aila 896 (The gifted age)
They followed the course of the River Juko to Aila. It stretched out in front of the party. The fields thinned out the closer they came and small houses became visible turning into clusters which soon became organised streets. They were lined with many stores and market stalls selling just about everything. Sadly Tomos thought it better to take another route to the palace to avoid any trouble, they slipped unnoticed into a side street and followed it's weaving through the back-streets of the city. Children played in the streets though they parted when the group neared them. "The King's Patrol regularly use this road as a quick way to the Palace, it saves causing alarm," Pero added leaning over to Iris after seeing her puzzled look.
Soon the streets cleared and they approached an almost endless wall, Iris squinted up, past the low winter sun and marvelled at the palace. It rose from the walls, it's many turrets and spires reaching towards the darkening sky. Iris gaped and admired the palace, she had seen many palaces, but Aila palace was amazing. Figures of the gods were cast into the stone. It stood in it's magnificence, a colossal structure, a testimony to mans genius.
And over the great steel gates, through which the palaces traffic passed under was an awe-inspiring carving that shadowed the others. It depicted the defeat of Fidelo by Quero the liberator, portraying Quero calling upon the ground to open and spurt forth its power and the sky to join it, thus creating a tremendous force, of which Fidelo was caught between causing him to disappear into nothing, granting the people their freedom.
After this great event, there was a mark left, upon each of the next generations heads was placed the gift, others more powerful than some, but all possessed it. Many could not use their magick, but those who could did not keep it unto themselves, or as the curse of Fidelo proclaimed, `they that greed hath swallowed, shall thus be swallowed themselves'. So many, not the few prospered, giving birth to the `gifted age'. Of which still spurned the disheartened individuals, petty differences, and brief outbreaks of war, a cause of both the latter. Perhaps to the seemingly ageless earth they were brief, but upon the land and people remained the scars.
Mikall was indeed a country that prospered, it's land was governed by one, King Valio at the present time with his queen, Trianta, they had an heir and a daughter to grant allegiance with another country.
Their country, however, was split into fiefs, each fief was in turn governed by a noble family. They swore their faith in the king, leaving it their duty to care for their fief and it's people.
This system had proved it's worth, in times of war fiefs separate squadrons were easily organised and put into movement. Fiefs would pass down through a family. The fiefs would often send their heirs to the palace where they trained in knighthood. Their daughters were sent to one of two retreats within the Braul mountains, so in the years of 11 and 16 they learned the ways of a lady, and were then presented at court and married, preferably to a knight and heir of a fellow fief.
The gifted age was rejoiced through learning and wisdom, and Mikall was very proud of itself, thankyou very much.
"I-I-it's-" Iris stuttered.
"Staggering?" Tomos offered.
"Pero, wake up!" cried Lord Caylo. "Surely Lord Tomos hasn't let you sleep these past months?" Lord Caylo, Pero thought was an unusually happy man at this time in the morning. Pero offered him a slight smile- "Ow!". Pero looked up into as Dario of Magan smiled. He was almost two years younger than Pero, though over a head taller than his gangly friend. His brawny appearance may have fooled the observer into thinking he was more brawl than brain. Quite the opposite. "Has all the high altitude around your fort gone to your head?", inquired Pero.
"Doubt it, his book's resting on the fence," this chuckling voice came from an older page. He was of a stocky build and his dark blonde hair rested in a short ponytail.
"Ah, Rako met your brother while I was away," Pero said fumbling in his pocket and on producing a bit of paper added, "here's a letter from him."
"Get back in line!" Came a slightly off tone voice from the rear of the practise courts. Yet to the trained ears an order was an order and Pero returned back into line between Dario and Rako, then on second thoughts he turned around.
"Oh, it's you," he said in sarcastic tone hidden through a smile. Iris smiled and walked purposely forward, "good morning Pero," she added with a grin.
"You are far too cheerful at this time of day, and far too much like Lord Caylo in that respect." A cough reinformed Pero that there was 20 squires and Pages standing around.
"Oh, this is Iris, if you ignore her she might go away," Pero replied sarcastically.
"Well I don't want her to go away," sighed Rako.
Iris walked over to Rako, "Good morning Rako of Rainsburgh," she curtsied, again the right amount. This certainly shocked the small ground, since Iris was dressed in her usual attire of shirt, skirt, and worn in leather boots there was no clue to her status. "How did you know my name?" Spluttered Rako nervously.
Iris smiled unaware of the stares, "you look too much like your brother and father to be anyone else," she added chuckling.
"The practise courts are no place for you, get back to your work," came an authoritative voice. It came from a slight squire whose small eyes gave him the appearance of a mole who had suddenly seen the sun.
Pero strode up to him, clearly irritated, "you must greet Iris with more respect in the future Jola of Cleomite," spat Pero. Jola took a step back, Pero followed.
"What is going on, here!" Iris could have kissed the person who that voice belonged to, she certainly didn't like this awkward situation. The crowd parted, revealing a tall dishevelled looking man of about 30. "I'm sorry, I just came to wish Pero a good morning ," Iris apologised. The squires and pages around her remained silent suddenly Lord Caylo spoke.
"Goddess, Tomos was right," Lord Caylo gasped, seeing the puzzled face on the surrounding boys faces he went on, "treat this Lady with some respect, please," he ordered. He himself took the lead and bowed to Iris who in turn curtsied back head poised proudly. "Excuse me sir, if I may be so bold as to ask who this lady actually is," asked Jola spitefully. Lord Caylo drew his breath to speak though Iris beat him, "I am Iris of Herotie and Peolam, I trust you have met my brother Duke Tomos?" That had done, suddenly Jola seemed even smaller than he was.
"Yes, yes," Lord Caylo added, "I thought perhaps it was false, but Iris had was fortunate enough to have met your mother when I was a squire myself and there is no doubting your parentage you are the very mirror of your mothers beauty."
Iris cheeks were reddening as he said this, Pero stepped forward and stood behind Iris in a protective brother way. "Can't you see your embarrassing her," Pero said half laughing.
"Well," said Lord Caylo, "she better get use to it at court."
Iris awkwardness got the better of herself, "I better be going, I'm hunting for a book, Falo said it was in the west library last time he was here so I better go and search," she spoke up. "Great! It's back to the daily slog for us, but I'll see you later," Pero shouted to Iris as she walked toward the west buildings, she turned around and waved back. She couldn't help being thankful for getting out of that awkward situation.
"Well there she goes off to the Library," said Rako in awe, "she's a woman after your own heart, eh Dario?"
"Back into line!"
Iris walked down the barren corridor leading to the library. I haven't exactly lied she thought to herself, I just implied I was going to a different library. The western wings of the palaces were the places of learning, those with a strong magical gift were mostly sent here, many were of noble birth and would eventually end up in court. The other sections were used for the squires and pages education, but where Iris was going she doubted if she would see anybody, well she hoped she wouldn't. Iris headed down the winding stairs, the temperature seemed to plummet even in these dying months.
She steadied herself, the steps seemed to be shrinking as she descended them, she jumped off the last step and heard the soft thump of her boots upon the chilled stone. She surveyed the area in front of her, the dust seemed to have leached itself to all of the walls and to any object who paused their long enough. It smelt slightly damp as she stooped to turn the corner, she kindled magick light in her palm and held it up, and after a few more twists and turns she reached her destination.
There was no door leading into the room. Iris looked pained, she hadn't wished to use her gift to enter, but on the other hand she needed the information which was inside there. She whispered a short, though a powerful rarely used, incantation in the bygone language, no noise followed and she stepped hesitantly forward. Iris practically fell into the room, she felt as if she had been pushed by thousands of hands. She cast her eyes over the room, then gaped.
The ceilings stretched out far above her head, and no dust settled amongst the piles of books, and the long bookcases which lined the room. In the centre of this seemingly endless room sat a long table. It's intricately carved legs stood it steady upon the marble stone floor. It's heavy oak frame looked as if it had been there for endless years, yet still it looked newly polished it's gleam reflecting the lines of books, the collected knowledge of many.
This wasn't however a library open for many, more like the very select few. It held within it's doors books, papers, maps that predated all others, many of the pages that surrounded Iris now had been written before the gifted age, by those who oppressed the many.
That's enough for now but please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org because I would really like to know what you think and critical comments and not just plain roger nastiness. thanx