(c)1 Breedheen O’Rilley 2003 Of Dragon’s Fate : Emergence 1

Of Dragon’s Fate : Emergence

A fantasy novel by: Bréedhéen O’Rilley Draft #3

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Chapter 1

Looking out the window, Mathanera, the duchess of Brahn studied the contours of her homeland in the pale moonlight. It was late, but she could still see lights on in the stable. Was it possible that visitors had come in the night and she had not been told? She sat alone in her study as she had on so many nights before when sleep would not come to her. At seventeen, she had come to her post only six months ago when her brothers the duke and his chief counselor had disappeared. She had no family left. She was alone now, and nothing but sorrow showed on her face and her eyes had the look of a woman far beyond Mathanera’s tender years. Her parents had died a year earlier when a plague swept though the land killing thousands of people. Mathanera still regarded herself as a child when they died. Sometimes she even wondered if she truly remembered her parents or if she had pictures in her mind of them created by the stories told to her by her brothers. Her parents had been busy in life and she had spent most of her life away from them and the business of ruling the duchy. Most of all she missed her mother. Sometimes Mathanera could hear her mother’s lullaby on the wind, and when she looked in the mirror, she could see how much like her mother she was beginning to look, thou she often had to use the paintings in the castle to remind her of her parents appearance. Often she couldn’t remember them on her own, but sometimes she seemed to remember if someone brought it up to her, she had only painted memories of them. When she died, she asked her cousin, Lady Calen Rubaent to act as a mother to her. But as kind and loving as Lady Rubaent was, it was no substitute for her real mother.

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Her brother’s disappearance, a fresh and open wound in her heart, was more mysterious. By tradition and further by principle, the rulers of the Duchy of Bren have always been close to the hearts and minds of its people. Open conferences for commoners with the duke and duchess were a matter of tradition as well, and when farmers began coming to audiences reporting livestock missing or seemingly stolen, the Duke, and his brother were quick to act. It seemed that they were set free from their pens by some strange force and then they were mysteriously lured into the depths of the woods by some strange light that many farmers had reported seeing. The brothers decided to go after the animals themselves. They waited for nightfall and then followed the lights into the darkened abyss of the woods. They never returned, but whatever had caused the lights never brought them back to Silvercrest again. They were heroes in their people’s history and now Mathanera was their leader. Now all she had was Lady Rubaent and her children as distant as they were related, they were still her mother’s cousin and her children, and that made them family. She had her uncle the king, and his son, Prince Roterra, but they lived in the capital city of Bren and she had never been to court. She knew that would change when the time came. Mathanera was lost in her musings when she heard a knock at the door. “Somebody did come,” she thought and then she answered the door in a numb voice saying, “Enter” The door opened and her trusted confident and best friend came through the door. Lady Rubaent surveyed the room as she tiptoed in. The room was a mess. There were books strewn all around. They covered every flat surface in the room. The room itself was terribly dark. Mathanera had few candles lit in the cavernous room, and the moonlight coming in through the window was little help.

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“Have you slept any, milady?” She asked. “No, I haven’t been to bed yet.” Mathanera replied weakly. “It’s not healthy for you to lurk about here in the darkness. You need sleep, and a meal wouldn’t hurt you either. None of this will bring them back, you know.” “Calen, I know it won’t bring them back, but I miss them so. How can I sleep when my whole life has died, my parents turning to dust in their coffins and my brothers lying dead somewhere in the forest without a proper grave? The animals have probably strewn their bones to the four winds. How can I eat when my closest family will never eat again? I wish I were with them.” “You don’t mean that milady. You are just overtired and hungry. However, I didn’t disturb you at this hour to lecture you. There is news milady.” “Visitors on horses?” Mathanera asked. “Yes. They brought grave news. The king lies dead in Bren. We must prepare for the journey. You will be queen.” Lady Rubaent said with an air of ceremony in her voice. “You know I don’t want to be queen. This is my home. These are my people. Who will care for them while I’m stuck at court? How can I abandon them like that? Who will hold conferences with them?” “You have no choice, milady, but my son, Nersop will take care of the duchy. He is your closest relative available to fulfil the task. It will be just as we planned after your brothers died and we found out about them arranging your marriage. Who is there with blood worthy enough to be joined with a king? There is only you. He is as alone in the world as you are, maybe more. He doesn’t even have a cousin around to take care of him.”

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“Mathanera, being a lady has required much of you, and you have risen to each occasion well. I am sure it will be the same when you are crowned. I will be proud to have you as my queen.” Lady Rubaent said in a voice that she always used when she was leveling with Mathanera. “If only Pedun hadn’t arranged my marriage for me. I wish I could pick a husband of my own. To meet and fall in love and marry. That was my dream, but our noble blood has dwindled to a trickle and it must live on. So many of the nobles died in the plague that took mother and father. Ever since there have been so many conflicts though the remaining family, but no one has been immune to death and there are too few of us now to be foolish enough to wish for love.” Calen retorted, “Every noble woman wished to marry for love, but perhaps you will love Prince Roterra as well in this arranged marriage as you would in a marriage of choice”. “I will try Calen. I will try. Have my things packed and made ready. What time is it?” “Still a few hours before dawn. I thought you would want to know right away. I came as soon as the groom woke me up and the messengers were seen to.” “Wake the servants. We leave this morning. I must be there for the prince. Everyone must dress in black. Everybody! Do you understand? There can be no color. We must show proper respect for the late king.” “I will see to it your highness, can I send breakfast in to you?” “Yes you can bring in breakfast, but I have work to do here so you must oversee the servants.”

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The door closed quietly behind Lady Rubaent and Mathanera sunk into her big chair. The king was dead and now she would be queen. Of course she had known that she would be queen someday, but her marriage was planned for next year, and that had seemed so far away. This was too soon. Mathanera knew that the people had been expecting Prince Roterra to marry for many years now. He was a man of thirty and had yet to take a bride. Mathanera began going through her books, deciding what would come with her neo and what would be sent on later. She loved books and wasn’t about to go to a new place without at least a few precious books to be her retreat. She was a good ruler, but she was shy and preferred to be alone rather than the center of attention she knew she would be once she reached Bren. She was pretty even in her state of depression. In fact, she was beautiful. Her skin was milky white. Her hair was like stained cherry wood. She always wore her hair in complex braids with jewels hung in her locks. Her eyes were a striking deep blue that enchanted anyone looking into them. Not only was she beautiful to look at, she had a beautiful demeanor. She had been taught by the traditions of her land to be very generous, and her people had been prosperous under her guidance. She would leave Nersop behind along with a council of her already chosen to take care of her people in her absence, but she did not intend to simply abandon her people to them. She fully intended to make her presence felt even from her throne in her people’s affairs. The truth was her people loved her and as such they were worried that she would forget them once she became queen. Standing amidst her books, Mathanera realized that she must address her people and assure them that she would not forget them. She sighed heavily at the thought. She didn’t have time to sort books; she had to write a speech. She had to give her people

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hope and yet she had none herself. She rang the bell by the door. Almost immediately a knock rapped on the door. “Enter” she answered. “You rang for me. What can I do for you milady?” Asked a servant whose face she barely remembered seeing before. Of course he had been waiting there all the time to answer her call. “We are leaving a little later than I expected. Call the people of Brahn together into the square. I wish to address my people before I leave for Bren and become their queen.” “Is that all, milady?” “No. I asked for some breakfast to be brought here, but I will take it in my bedroom. I have to get dressed and see that my things are in order. When things are better I will have the rest of my belongings sent to Bren, but I must see to that which is essential.” “It will be done milady.” Mathanera hurried to her chamber and was pleased to see that the packing was nearly completed. She was surprised that her things were packed up so quickly. She had planned on sorting her belongings months in advance of her wedding so that she only brought what she needed in the first batch and the less essential things could be sent for when she was settled into the palace. But she had no notice here, and it put her ill at ease. Her study was cluttered, but Mathanera was very organized and liked to plan things in advance. Still, as she looked through the trunks that had already been packed. She found that her servants had made many choices that she would have made if she were choosing for herself.

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Three black mourning dresses were laid out for her to choose from on her bed. It seemed to her that all she had ever worn were mourning dresses. Many gad been made for her when her parents died and she wore them until her brothers died and then she had some more made. Though the dresses laid out were definitely mourning dresses, she would enter this New World looking like what she would be. She would enter as a queen. She chose a dress and put it on, then she picked at her breakfast as she wrote her speech. Soon all was ready. Many people of the city were gathered together to hear what would be the Duchesses last words to her people. She walked out before them with tears in her eyes and said, “My people, I am sorry to tell you that the king is dead. I have to leave to attend his funeral as soon as I am done addressing you here. I want you to know that I love my subjects well and you will not be forgotten. I am sure many of you fear that with me gone to Bren to be queen that things will not run here as I would have them run. I am to be your queen. You will be no less my subjects with me as queen than you were when I was your duchess. I will keep you as I have always kept you, close to my heart.” She returned to her room as they were bringing the trunks and boxes down to the carriages. She followed them down to where the caravan was being put together. She inspected each horse and had the servants replace one that didn’t look up to the long journey. And so, Mathanera started on her way in the caravan. She was thoroughly, but haphazardly packed, and she had brought Lady Rubaent with her. She knew what was her duty to do, and the sooner she made her presence felt, the better it would be for the kingdom. The new king must appear strong, steady, and powerful. The two of them

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were all that was left aside from the king’s sister, Princess Treyen, a spinster. So the people did not consider her in line for the throne. Mathanera was next in line to the throne after Roterra. What better way to strengthen the royal line than to produce an heir from the two leading heirs? Duchess Mathanera and Lady Rubaent rode along the winding road at breakneck speed, even with the burdens the caravan carried along with them. Lady Rubaent accompanied Mathanera wherever she went and would follow her to court to act as a mother to her. Lady Rubaent had five children of her own to raise, but she had fostered out four of them and Nersop would rule in her stead to care for the people. They rode with a heavy guard, both in front of and behind the coaches. The security must be very heavy. They were carrying the next queen with them, a queen whose face was drawn with anxiety and excitement. She often sat with her eyes closed as if in sleep, but Lady Rubaent knew that no sleep was coming to the frightened child who sat beside her. Mathanera had never been fond of traveling by coach. She much preferred riding horses to get where she needed to go, but it would not be seemly for the next queen to arrive straddling a great beast. It had always been her nature to ride a steed on her own where the wind could fill her nose and play with her hair. The black draped coaches were filled with warm and stagnant air. Further, there was no way for her to see what was ahead of her or behind her. The coach had been built for security. There were no windows built into the coach, and even the door was covered with a thick black cloth. She was further veiled in the thick air. It all seemed to be closing in on her. Superstition held that a maiden meant to be the new queen must not be identified before she is unveiled by the king himself at the wedding. From now until she was wed, she must appear with a second veiled lady at all times.

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After riding at a painful pace, the caravan neared Bren the next morning. They didn’t even stop in the cold of the night or to eat. Bren was a great walled city with a palace lying in its center. It was built of shimmering granite, and there the rulers of Bren had lived for centuries. Prince Roterra lived comfortably in his illustrious dwelling. The dead king had been a kind and just ruler for the people. Most thought that Roterra would be the very likeness of his father and expected him to rule in much the same way. They knew little of their new queen and were unsure what to expect from a woman so comfortable in her prowess. They rode through the gates of the palace. The guards immediately opened the gates and trumpeters sounded the arrival of the new queen. A veiled Mathanera and a veiled Lady Rubaent were helped from the coach and led to chambers where breakfast was laid out for them. It was there that they were to clean up and prepare for the funeral of the king scheduled for just an hour away. “What a grand place this is!” Mathanera spoke under her breath with awe. “Now don’t go losing your head like a country bumpkin, you will be queen of all this and will have the whole of it at your disposal. Just sink into the luxury.” Lady Rubaent giggled, trying to cheer Mathanera The room was large with several side rooms. One room housed a tub and tables filled out with all the preparations for the rituals preceding her wedding. It was clear that these were to be her chambers until the wedding was completed. Lady Rubaent helped Mathanera change into her mourning gown for the funeral of her fallen uncle. Calen dressed in a black gown identical to Mathanera’s. Calen braided the veil into Mathanera’s hair and then into her own in the exact same way. They were just ready when a bell rang in the distance, and then there was a knock at the door. It was time.

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“Enter.” Lady Rubaent answered as if she was Mathanera and giggled secretly. The door opened and a guard entered with a gaggle of maidens all dressed in black with veils on their faces. All the women dressed as if they were to be the next queen. Apparently Prince Roterra was superstitious. “Have the duchess complete an address to the people. One of these ladies will present it to the people for you. I will return in ten minutes to take you all to the temple for the king’s final journey.” He announced. She had to prepare a speech and teach it to a stranger in ten minutes. How could it be done? “You girls, you know each other do you not?” she asked. “Yes milady.” “Who among you is the best speaker?” The room parted and there stood a woman ununique in the throng of girls, but with intelligent eyes that could be seen just above her veil. With no time to teach her each word, Mathanera scrawled a letter to the people expressing her sorrow for all that had known the king and loved him. She barley had finished when the guard returned. She gave the scrap of paper to the chosen woman and began to follow the guards out the doors. He led all the ladies through many hallways and doors. Anyone who happened to be in the hallway at the time jumped up against the wall as soon as they saw the ladies in their veils, painfully aware that their new ruler was among them. Mathanera smiled below her veil, though not out of conceit. She just felt compassion for a people who already respected her so thoroughly. Finally they came to some large doors that were propped open and guarded. Her guards let her into the temple and sat all the ladies in seats of equally high honor. There

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she was seated in the center of a guarded prayer box where all could see the throng of ladies concealing the new queen. The ceremony began in front of her, as was the custom of the land. The girl she had chosen stood before the people and read her letter to the people and shed tears for her uncle as if he truly had been her uncle. “I never had the honor of meeting my uncle who lies dead before you, and I have never been here in court to say what manner of person he was. However, with what I have seen here today before me, of a people who loved him so dearly, I must say that if I judged by his people, I would say that he was a great and powerful ruler whom we are sure to miss. May the light of the world bless his successor.” She sang tears for him with reverence, grace, and love. Mathanera could not have done better herself. Many others had something to say about the fallen king, and the remembrances ran on hour after hour, but finally the turn fell to Roterra the king who had been crowned very early the previous morning. It was the first time Mathanera had seen a man like him. He was a man well over eight feet tall, with a large barrel chest and muscular arms. His face was tanned and handsome with fine lines beginning to show his age. Already thirty, his dark hair was sparsely streaked with grey and it was curled at his brow and ended in a braid down his back. His crown was made of the finest platinum encrusted with cobalt spinels. His eyes were sharp and green. The feel of his presence hung in the air around him. Every detail of his being seemed to whisper to you, “I am a man of power.” He stood before them for some time silently and finally said, ”My father always tried to make me remember, ‘No man’s knowledge can go beyond his experience. He worked hard to ensure that I would have the experiences I need to succeed him. That is

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how I will chose to rule you, with experience as well as in knowledge in honor of my father.” And then he sang tears for his father long, low and sorrowful. He sang such beautiful words, she saddened and she sang tears for her uncle and his son at once. She cried to for her lost family. The women all around her all began singing for the lost king and the new one standing before them. Remarkably, the women all sang in harmony with Mathanera so that no one would know who the new queen was. It was both eerie and beautiful, the chorus of queenly women all veiled and dressed in black. When the funeral rites were over, Mathanera and Lady Rubaent were lead back to their chambers along with all the other women. It seemed they were staying with her whether she wanted them to or not. She could say nothing now, but she wouldn’t be silent once she was queen. They were to eat, and then the rituals would begin to prepare Mathanera for her wedding. In the main room a table was laid out with dinner certainly for a queen. She had hoped that the girls would leave with the guards so she could have private dinner and could prepare in private with Lady Rubaent as her aid, but they didn’t leave with the guards and Mathanera found herself wishing that she could be rid of them. Were they going to stay while she prepared for her wedding? Were they there to ensure that every ritual was carried out, that she was worthy of the king? The women crowded around Mathanera and one by one their veils came off. It was then that she realized that they were not only going to stay for her purification. They were going to perform the rituals themselves. “We will be with you until its time. We will prepare you, though we will let your lady oversee your preparation.” A lady with a round face and golden hair said.

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Mathanera and Lady Rubaent unveiled and went to the table where all the other ladies joined them. The food was delicious and they had made enough of this queenly food for all the ladies in the troupe. There were many meat dishes, succulent deserts, vegetables and fruit, bread and wine. It was a full meal at the worst and a grand feast at most to Mathanera. She had such little appetite these days. They all ate quickly, knowing that the rituals would take most of the night. First, Mathanera took a bath in nearly scalding water with prepared herbs steeped into it. It was meant to purify the skin and draw any poisons out. Her long hair was taken down and brushed through five hundred times and then was washed in water infused with other sweet smelling herbs. Finally it was brushed out another five hundred stokes. Never-ending streams of teacups cane to Mathanera for her to drink and they were taken away as soon as she emptied them of their contents. They were made to purify her body and soul. This was a marriage for the people and therefore had sacred significance in the hearts of the commoners. Every part if her body was scrutinized and had some ritual to be carried out to ensure the luck, fertility, and love between it’s marriage partners. The teas made Math sleepy, and in the midst of the rituals, she simply passed out from the exhaustion of her sorrow, her lack of sleep, and her mind full of worry. She slept the rest of the way through the rituals. When Mathanera awoke, she was anxious. It was early in the morning and the wedding wasn’t scheduled until midday. She had finally finished the stringent, exacting, and in her opinion irritable ritual-bathing rite all royal brides must endure. She had slept nude and went to sit at the vanity, inspecting her poor skin that had been scrubbed until

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she was red and sore all over. She looked in the mirror and wondered if her king would be pleased with her. “Now wait just a moment before you dress, I’ll put perfumed salve on your skin. You look worried child. I know your skin is red and sore now, but this is guaranteed to give your skin soft like a babies bum.” Lady Rubaent said reassuringly. “I’m not worried about my skin, Calen, I’m worried about being a good wife. I have little experience with romance. How will I know what to do?” “IM sure that when the time comes your body will tell you what is right.” “I don’t just mean my wedding night, I mean as a wife all the time.” “You are a beautiful strong woman. You will do him well. I’m sure of it.” Lady Rubaent brought a ceramic bowl of heated salve over to the vanity where Mathanera sat and began smearing the nervous girls body with it. She put the white concoction on with thick swipes of her soft cloth. It made Mathanera feel as though the skin was literally drinking in the salve. At times it made her shiver though the room was warmed well. The fragrance seemed to calm all her fears and set her mind at ease. She had nearly fallen asleep when Calen spoke again. “There angel, I’m sure you feel better now. Don’t you?” she said as she shook Mathanera’s shoulder bringing her back to the waking world. “You’re right,” she said groggily, “I do.” “You just let me dress you like a doll. That is the easiest and quickest way to get into it.” Lady Rubaent led her over to where her wedding dress lay ready for her. It had been her mother’s before her. It was composed of layers upon layers of cloth; each put on one at a time. The outside layer was a silky and silvery blue stated to give honor the

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fertility the sea provided. Below the show cloth, the layers grew into purple hues. The very core layers were scarlet to honor the family of her father and new king, as it was also the color of Roterra. Around her arm she wore a black band, the sign of mourning for her king, her parents, and her brothers. Lady Rubaent led her back to the vanity where her hair was styled into a crown of braids from which she hung spinels, the stone of her father’s line. She would not wear a real crown until her coronation after the marriage was consummated. In honor of her mother’s family, she wore a cream veil that had been her mother’s favorite. The duchess of Brahn was a remarkable site. She had gotten some sleep and with all the preparation, she positively glowed despite her own doubts about being Queen. When the time was upon them, a knock came at the door, and Mathanera was led again with her gaggle of ladies to the great hallway with the guarded doors propped open where the funeral was held the day before. This time, she entered the aisle as the center of attention. She was terrified as she made her way to the altar and her future husband. The commoners and nobles alike had risen at the sight of her and they bowed low as she passed them. Only when she reached the altar did they rise from their prostrated positions and sat down. Mathanera was in a daze from the medicines she had been given in the rituals. She felt little and managed to get through the ceremony. As nervous as she was, the people saw her as a stately woman whom they were growing to love already. And so they were married and her veil was lifted so that all could see her face. People were enchanted by her and her remarkable eyes that reminded people of their precious sea. They began calling out saying, “She is the mistress of the Silver Sea.” They continued to call out to her as she walked up the aisle with her king and husband.

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Arm in arm they walked down the corridors, making several turns and twists and finally they came to a large door. The guard opened it and she was led in, the door closing behind her emitting an ominous snap shut, as if a trap had closed in on her. The room was cavernous. It was covered everywhere with scarlet. A huge bed dominated one wall of the room. She was in awe of such finery and standing with her back to the door when Roterra grabbed her and slung her towards the bed. She landed just shy of the footboard. He was on her like a wild animal and she could feel his need pressing against her. She had been nervous about her wedding night, but she had never thought to worry about being thrown about like a rag doll. He picked her up and bit her right nipple completely off. She was crying and screaming but he wouldn’t stop. He threw her on the bed, lifted her skirts, and entered her forcibly. Her hymen burst and blood soaked her mother’s wedding gown, and he remained unrelenting. He pounded her hard as she cried and begged for him to stop. Finally he finished with her and threw her on the floor. “Clean yourself up and come to bed.” He bellowed She pulled herself up and to her feet. The dress was ruined and it was only one of a few things she had left of her mother. She cried as she pulled the bloody ripped pieces of fabric of her dress off. There was a hot bath already drawn in the next room, so she got in and cleaned herself up. There were a few of her things at the ready for her. She dressed and then brushed her hair, crying the whole way. She stayed in the other room until she could stop crying and then she went to bed beside the monster she had taken as a husband. When she woke in the morning he was already gone. Servants came in and began preparing her for her coronation. They dressed her as a queen, but she felt like a whore. She was led again to the room with the big doors. Her lost nipple ached under the

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pressure of the tight bodice and she had several bumps and bruises that were hidden but still painful. She walked down the aisle and accepted her crown letting no one know her secret pain. She was queen for better or worse. She just hoped that an heir would come soon so he would leave her alone.

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Chapter 2

The people were happy with their new king and queen. The king was much as they expected him to be. No one knew his true nature but Mathanera. As a ruler he was much like his father. The people had come to love their kind queen as well. Over the years, the people had come to love her throughout the kingdom for her virtues. Shortly after coming to court, she began going to the local market by herself and delivering her purchases to the poorest people in the city. Sometimes she even had all the children, even those begging in the street, brought together. She had feasts prepared for them, gave out new clothing, and hired puppeteers to entertain them. The queen loved her people, even if she hated her king. But the people had a great desire to show Queen Mathanera their gratitude. Years had passed since the fateful day of her marriage, and over all, the people were happy with their rulers and truly loved them. But there was one cloud of darkness hanging over their reign. The king and queen had been married for 13 years and they had not yet given their people an heir. The people were unsure who would take over the kingdom if the aging king were to die. There was only the king’s unmarried sister who lurked in the palace while rumors circulated that she had evil powers. People said that she had rejected the light that is with in us all and had turned to darkness. Some even thought that she might try to dispose of the king and queen in hopes of taking the throne for herself.

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After thirteen long heir-less years, the people were all talking about the royal family and its missing children. The market was full of worried and hushed voices of those who cared for the state of the land. What was to become of their kingdom? “What would happen if the queen didn’t produce an heir?” some whispered. “What if Rotor’s sister took over? What horrendous toll might she take upon the people and the land?” others worried. “If there is no heir, and Treyen doesn’t take over, who would rule them?” some wondered The idea itself was circulated in back rooms for years before, but now it wasn’t just the king who was aging, the queen was getting older now too, but speaking openly of such a dark and looming fear was something altogether new. These problems didn’t seem to bother the king. While his nation moved towards revolt, he was obsessed with clearing more of Silvercrest to expand the farmlands surrounding Bren. Silvercrest had always fascinated the king. Many claimed that the woods had cast an enchantment on him long ago, and that was the force that drove his notion of progress. The story of his first excursion into the woods was the stuff of legend and folklore in the kingdom. He was a young man on a bright and clear morning, sitting at his books with his tutor. His father came into the room, liberating his son from the toils of studying for the day. With a bright and cheery voice, he announced that the prince would accompany him hunting for the first time in his young life. Roterra had been begging his father for years to take him hunting. That day he got his wish, bit he was never quite the same person once it was all over.

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Soon father and son were in the stables with the horses already saddled and ready to go. The hunting party was armed with longbows, shortbows, and crossbows. Prince Roterra was given a crossbow, a weapon easier to handle in young and inexperienced arms. It wasn’t long before they were all mounted and the expedition set out for the edge of the forest. The hunting party proudly rode though the gates of the city and down the wellworn road towards the woods. Prince Roterra was overjoyed to be traveling in the woods with his father, the knights, and a few nobles. At that moment, he felt mote like a man than he did a boy, and perhaps that arrogance is what causes all the trouble in the first place. Roterra had been following directly in the path of the other horses, but gradually he began to make his own path. At first it was easy, and he kept within sight of the others, but as they traveled deeper into the woods, the prince began to stray from the others, though he had been told not to. Soon he had wandered away from the rest of the party. What happened next, no one really knows but Roterra, but the story goes that panic struck him in his heart and he rode his steed faster and faster trying to find the others. It had already been a long ride and it didn’t take long for his horse to tire. He was forced to stop and rest his animal. He dismounted in a small clearing with a large oak tree in the center of it. He tied his horse to the tree and began picking up and eating the berries growing all over the clearing. As he traveled through the clearing, he paused and sounded the whistle he had been given incase he were to become lost. He heard no answer to his call. He was too far away for them to hear her. There was the only the echo of his own whistle.

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He blew his whistle less and less and began eating the berries more and more. When his belly was full of the sweet berries, he sat at the base of the old oak to think. He lay there with his eyes closed trying to figure out what to do. Gradually he became drowsy and was nearly asleep when he felt a light pressure on his shirt. He opened his eyes and saw a tiny creature standing on his chest and looking into his eyes. She had magnificent green eyes that seemed so inviting, yet he felt a twinge of danger as he looked at her. Startled awake finally, he saw another flying above his head. As he surveyed the land about him he saw many, many, more. They sang a soft and happy tune. Prince Roterra was listening intently but he couldn’t make out the words. The fairies enchanted him sot that his own people could find him. He was found asleep at the base of the oak tree. He came home spinning his tale about what had happened in the woods and the fairies that he had seen. He was punished for such fantasy, but no matter how much the people at the palace tried to get him to tell the truth. He always held that the fairies had rescued him. No one believed him, and he resented that, causing him to hate everything about the forest, and the story spread far and wide. From that day forward he hated the forest and called it evil. He wanted to kill the woods and its magic to prove that he wasn’t crazy so many years ago, at least to prove it to himself. The efforts to clear the forest were only partly for personal gain. He liked clearing the forest. To him, the more farmland he cleared from the woods the farmers would have more ground to tend and more food to eat. But in reality, Roterra felt that the more land he reclaimed from the woods, the less of a mystery and threat the woods would become. He was obsessed with the woods, and the queen obsessed about having a child. She had endured his bedroom abuse every night for years, and yet no child. She knew

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that he resented her for the lack of an heir and he only became more brutal in his attempts to get an heir from her. She sat among her ladies each day watching them with their children, seeing how they grew and prospered. The questions about an heir didn’t just wag wildly among the commoners; they lived in the palace as well. Each day, the queen sat with her ladies in her parlor to gossip, spin sew and weave, as well as other crafts suitable for ladies of high birth. The ladies were compassionate to their queen. They knew that she felt barren and withered with no child to bring up. The ladies brought their young ones with them every chance they got because Queen Mathanera loved all their children. Her heart ached to be with child. Every month she and her ladies would count the days until her cycle was to begin each and each month she was sorely disappointed. She had not missed even one of her courses in the thirteen years she had been married to the king. She felt like a useless whore. It was her job as queen to provide the kingdom with a rightful heir. The king brutalized her nightly in hopes of an heir, but over the years he had grown bored with her. When they were first wed, he couldn’t get enough of her, raping her many times in a single day. Despite his brutality in the bedroom, at first he included her in his plans for the country, taking Brahn into special account for her, but now he only allowed his sister in on his plans. He was the only person that Treyen spoke to on a regular basis. She was a bit of a recluse; however, she acted as his friend and confidant, but most of all she acted as the king’s advisor. Tradition gave the seat of chief advisor to a mother, aunt of sibling of the king. She was his main source of ideas and political schemes to keep the king in the people’s favor. The kingdom had sewn the seeds of revolt and now they were beginning to take root on an early spring day. Roterra seemed oblivious to the turmoil bubbling around

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him. He had a strategy meeting scheduled with Treyen. She could see what the king would not. She saw that if the king didn’t produce an heir, a male heir, that the people would have to replace the current monarchy. The people were tired of waiting. Something had to be done. The people love stability and where there is no heir, there is no stability. King Roterra had called the meeting to discuss further plans for cutting down acres of Silvercrest and to discuss the summer celebrations that tended to inspire his subject’s love. They were to meet shortly after he “dined” with the queen. Such a late hour would insure there would be no interruptions. Their strategy sessions often carried on far late into the night. Her preparations to see her brother had lasted all day. Treyen was a sorceress. That much of the rumors is true, but whether or not she had turned from the light, only she knows. The king was close to his sister. Treyen knew that Roterra had suffered from an odd lust for their mother. She knew also, that as she aged, she looked more and more like her mother every day. She knew that the king fanaticized about her when he was with his wife. It was a forbidding and flaming impulse to him, which he sometimes wondered if he could control. Yet he had not given into his temptations for he knew his sister would never agree and he knew that he loved her and could not force her like he forced the queen. Treyen intended to use this lust to her advantage. She sought to pull her mother’s strength and influence from beyond the grave to make her brother see the necessity of an heir. She dressed herself carefully that day. She drew her powers about her. She dressed in scarlet, as was her custom and her mother’s before her. Her gown was long, flowing and of a light material that rippled in the slightest breeze. She plaited her hair in the style her mother had worn. She hung cobalt

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spinels, the gem of her family, in her locks. She wore jewelry that had been her mother’s favorite. Treyen was beginning to look very much like her mother. Her hair was beginning to gray and her face was starting to betray her age with fine wrinkles. When Treyen looked in the mirror, all she saw now was a younger version of her mother, however her eyes were still as bright and beautiful as they had ever been. Treyen did not see an ugly woman when she looked at herself. She retained much of the beauty that she had possessed all her life. Her frame was tall and thin. She was a mere three inches shorter than her brother was. That height was tall even among other Brentanian men. She got that from her mother as well. Treyen began to meditate once she had completed her pursuits of setting the scene. She reached out with her mind, concentrating on that she remembered feeling with her mother. She searched the air around her, searching for the essence of her mother, that she left behind while she was alive. Treyen’s room had been her mother’s private sanctuary. There was much left of her in that room. Treyen’s heart became sorrowful, calling out to her mother like a newborn babe crying out for affection. She focused every part of her being towards the memory of her beloved mother, and gradually the feeling of her mother’s presence seemed to grow. At first the change was almost unnoticeable, but it grew, slowly first and then crescendoing to an overwhelming control over her mind, heart, and body. She heard her mother’s voice saying, “Treyen, my beloved child, I am with you. I see you filling the shoes for your brother that I filled for your father. Roterra married a silly girl not strong enough to fulfill her responsibilities. Roterra himself is a silly boy. Oh, that you had, my firstborn, were a man. You would make a much better king than

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Roterra. I am with you. I lend you my power and influence. I will be here as you speak to your brother. We will make him see what must be done.” Suddenly the paralyzing power abated and Treyen fell to the floor. She was sweating lightly from the exertion of the meditation. She wiped the sweat off, straightened herself up, and sat in her favorite chair to await the king’s arrival. The king showed up later than she had expected. At least he had come on the right day. Roterra was dressed in a long Prussian blue colored cloak that followed him trailing on the floor as he walked. Under his cloak he wore a scarlet cassock, the color of his birth, that reached his knees. About his waist he wore a chain belt with blue spinels hung from it like those he wore in his crown. His green eyes were focused and cold. “Treyen! How is my favorite sister? I haven’t seen you in near a week, and I swear you grow lovelier every day.” He said in a warm voice as he embraced her holding her close to his body for an awkward moment. Treyen was smart enough to know that her brother had an agenda of his own. She would have to be shrewd if she wanted to make her points. He always had been thick headed. She was well aware of what his agenda would be. He would want to know how much land had been cleared and would be cleared from Silvercrest and what festivals they should hold to curry the favor of the commoners. Then he might ask how much game could be taken this year to feed the people and not deplete the wildlife population, or which of his knights he should name his chief protector. He might also bring up some other sport that he felt was imperative, but no true strategy would be discussed unless she could guide him into it. She smiled when she realized how close to the mark she had predicted his worries.

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The first words out of his mouth were, “How many acres do you think we can fell this summer? How much new farmland for my people”. She let him carry on for quite some time, making plans and debating what the best celebrations would be. Treyen gradually began to steer him away from his own agenda. At first, it was very difficult, but she began searching for her mother with her mind again. Suddenly Roterra himself steered the conversation away from the usual issues and right into where Treyen wanted him. He asked, “What kind of king do you think I have been? Am I a greater king than our father was before me?” Treyen saw this as the manifestation of her mother that had been promised to her. She pulled her powers around her again. She seemed to grow taller and more imposing. She continued to drew her powers about her as she decided how best to answer her brother. Treyen wanted to answer the question carefully. She didn’t want to ruin the chance her mother had provided her. She also wanted to make her point clear, but she knew that Roterra would become unreasonable if she answered that he was not as good a king as their father was. There was a pregnant pause as she collected her thoughts and drew her power, then she said, “I do not think you equal to father, for you do not yet have a son like the son he left behind him”. Roterra’s jaw clenched as he looked at her angrily. He stared at her for some time, and then, he was not looking at his sister, he was looking at his mother. He gazed upon her trying to resist the power that flooded over him. Lust welled up in his loins and his thoughts grew dim with excitement. Finally the magic hit its mark and his demeanor softened immediately. He began to see her point. He thought of himself as others must

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think of him, as a king who had not fulfilled his responsibilities. He felt ashamed and had a great desire to right the wrong done to his people. “What is to be done about this? Can you use your powers to make the queen conceive a son?” he asked worried. “I can make a charm that will get her with child, however it won’t work unless the queen wears it and not take it off until the child is born. I must also warn you that it may not work the way that you believe it should. The end justifies the need. But I will make the charm and guarantee a child.” “I will go to Mathanera at once. She will consent. I will assure you of that.” He said as he gathered his cloak and headed for the door. As the door closed behind him, Treyen’s mouth turned up into a cunning smile. She had convinced the king to use her magic. That use of power would make him forever in her debt. Now she had earned protection from exile for sorcery as long as the queen bore him an heir, no matter how she used her powers. She smiled also at the prospect of her ending up being the child’s educational instructor. She would have her influence over the next heir as well as the present ruler.

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Chapter 3

Roterra finally felt something more about not being a father and knew he must finally breach the subject with his wife. He figured that she knew he blamed her for their lack of children. They had never discussed her empty womb before. It was a shadow lurking in their stormy relationship, often seen but never confronted. Some of the secrecy was due to his superstition. Though they never spoke of it, both felt that they would be cursed forever if they ever mentioned it. However, armed with the information Treyen had given him, and urged on by the lust boiling in his loins caused by his sister’s treachery, but now had the courage and occasion to make her pay for it. Both were well aware that their people must have an heir before it was too late. The king hurried from Treyen’s chambers and made his way to the private rooms of his queen. He was almost out of breath from the pace he kept. As he reached her door, he knocked loudly. “Mathanera! Let me in! Your king awaits you! I have come again to visit my queen! Mathanera your husband has come to call!” He bellowed at the doors. He stomped his feet and banged his fist into the door and until it opened and Mathanera appeared wearing only her shift with a sheer robe over it. She answered with put on sincerity saying, “Come in my lord. I wasn’t expecting you again tonight. I thought you would be up late with Treyen.” The view revealed by the door only excited the king more. She took him by the arm and led him into the bedroom, closing the door behind them. She recently had changed the furnishings in her room changed rapidly approaching the summer season. Roterra looked around the room; almost studying the changes she had made in the few

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hours he had been gone. The chambers were dressed in deep sapphire and sky blue. The curtains that hung heavy over the window where a deep navy color that kept the sun out in the morning and pale blue sashes to pull the curtains back to catch the light if the sun. Her large four-poster bed had sky blue curtains around with sheer white veils the whole way round the bed. She had been clever and chosen his favorite color for a bedroom. Perhaps she thought she could gain leniency from him if she played his game. He was pleased by her eagerness to please him, if only she could please his deepest urges. She led him deeper into the room to a table where the remains of the queen’s dinner waited to be taken away. He sat down, picking the remains of her meal fitfully. He wanted her now, but he had to make himself clear first, he was just debating how to make her pay. Restless, he stood up, but continued to pick at her meal. There seemed to be a thousand moments passing by as he chewed and looked at her with his cold eyes. Suddenly he hit her sending her to the floor. “You miserable woman. Why don’t I have an heir? You vindictive bitch you probably take herbs to send my seed away from you! Get up! Get on the bed! You will pleasure me and you will wear the charm that Treyen will make for you and if you take it off I swear I’ll throttle you like I never had before.” She obeyed and he was on her in an instant. He grabbed her by the throat and squeezed until she was gasping for air. He forced himself into her and, as usual the damn bitch cried, but he was in frenzy after his meeting with his sister. She had pushed him to the breaking point of his lust. He continued choking her until she passed out, then he released her neck and went on brutalizing her. When he had spilled his seed, he left her there unconscious, not now caring if she lived or not. The need had passed and that was all he could think of.

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Not close to her sister-in-law and strongly against magic, Mathanera found it hard to believe that any charm of hers could get her with child when they had tried for thirteen years to have a child. She had also heard the rumors that Treyen was an evil sorceress wanting to rule the kingdom as he own, but in the end she decided that a charm couldn’t hurt her and she felt better about being ordered to wear it. Roterra had bathed and changed his clothes. He wore a scarlet cloak and cassock because he felt like honoring his sister’s plan with clothes of state. He wore the belt of spinels and carried a scepter fashioned in gold and dark blue jewels. He quickly made his way to his sister’s room after ordering breakfast to be served in Treyen’s room. He entered her room without knocking. He grew angry when he realized that she was not there to greet him. “Treyen! Where are you!?” shouted the king to the empty room. “Its Roterra! Show yourself to me! I know you are here!” he commanded at the air. Just then, a column of fiery smoke materialized before the king. Slowly the smoke cleared and there stood Treyen with her face clearly showing anger. She had not expected him to return to her for the charm so soon. Treyen thought it would take days, even weeks to get the queen to agree. Setting aside her anger at being disturbed while working, she ate breakfast with her brother when it came to the door. Soon they were discussing the charm. She would create a charm full of magic of added strength and determination to overcome the long emptiness of the queen’s womb. “I’m going to make a charm with one of my strongest spells. I must warn you once again that the charm may not work the way you think it should. I cannot say what may happen. I believe it is a chance you should be willing to take to ensure your throne

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will have an heir. We don’t want your kingdom overthrown, someone else put on the throne, and we will be tossed out on the streets! If you do not do this, I foresee terrible things for those of our line.” She hissed at him. “I don’t care how the damned thing works, I just want to make sure she has a child. I order you to make the charm immediately. I want to give it to Mathanera before I am with her tonight. I don’t want to waste any time waiting for the charm. We need her pregnant as soon as possible. The people are restless and that shows me a cloud on the horizon I’d rather avoid.” He bellowed as he left her room. The king went about his business for the rest of the day, anxiously waiting for nightfall so he could get the charm and join with his queen.

Treyen sat for a moment. She would need all her strength for the task at hand. She picked at the remainder of her breakfast and rang the bell to have it taken away. She would begin work on the charm immediately as she had promised and as Roterra had commanded. She was unhappy about the time limit he placed on her. She had planned to make it over the course of a few days, but she knew it could be finished in the allotted amount of time. A knock came at the door and she answered, “Enter”. The door opened and a serving girl entered the room and began clearing the dishes away. Treyen rarely spoke with the servants, but she would need some supplies for the charm, chiefly a length of hair from a fertile woman and some hair from her child. “Tell me, have you any children?” Treyen asked in a honeyed voice that seemed to set the nervous girl at ease. No doubt she was afraid of Treyen’s magic. “I have three boys, milady.” She answered softly.

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“Well then, perhaps you can help me. Your hair is such a nice shade. Do your boys have hair like yours?” “Yes, milady. I don’t mean to be cheeky, but why are you so interested in me? I am only a humble serving wench.” “I save my hair and plait it into barrettes and such for my hair. I would simply love to have one in your shade. I would pay you well, but you don’t have enough, I will need the hair of one of your sons too.” “Milady, you are welcome to my hair and the hair of my son. Any price you name will be sufficient. Should I bring my son here?” “Bring the boy and I will cut the hair of both of you then. Hurry now, I want it right away.” Treyen said as she dropped some gold coins into the woman’s hand. In hardly fifteen minutes, the woman had returned to Treyen with her son. Treyen cut their hair off as short as she could, slipped the woman a few more coins and told the woman to tell no one. Luckily it was spring and the earth would provide everything else that she needed to make the charm. She threw a cloak on and headed for the stable with a pouch of herbs. The mares had been bred last fall and many of them were near time to foal. Treyen got strange looks as she passed through the stables, inspecting every pregnant mare on the way. Treyen seldom went riding, and she had never been to the stables by herself, she usually had a page saddle her horse and bring it to her in the courtyard. People were wondering what she was doing in the filth of the stable when someone else surely could inspect the horses for her, as she seemed to be doing now. She paused in front of a black mare that was so heavy with foal that she might be having twins. The mare was obviously miserable. She stood in her stall with her head

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hung low and a sad expression on her face, none-the-less she knickered at her new visitor as if she were a long lost friend. Treyen knew at once. She would use this mare. Treyen began feeding the horse the sweet smelling herbs she had brought with her. The horse ate them greedily. Soon the horse whinnied and shrieked at Treyen. The mare was suddenly ready to foal right away. Treyen sat on a stool and watched. She needed the membrane of a newborn animal for the charm. The newborn would then be sacrificed to amplify the power of the object. Treyen would do all the work with her own hands, she would bring the foal into the world, and then she would send it back from whence it came. Hours passed as the mare labored to deliver her baby and Treyen sat patiently and watched as the head crowned. Then she entered the stall and helped the black horse deliver its baby. She delivered a jet-black foal and soon after a second was born just like him. She had been provided for again. No one would question her about killing a foal. One or the other of twins usually died shortly after birth. She collected the membrane that she needed and then she cut the umbilical cord off the first foal and strangled him with it. He was soon dead and she removed the cord from its neck leaving it lying on the stable floor. She cut a patch out of the skin of the foal and soon she was finished with her work there. Treyen was covered in blood by the time she called for a stable boy to clean up the mess. No one questioned her as she walked back to her quarters all covered in blood. Now, along with the secrets held in her room, she had all that she needed to make the charm. She began on the charm immediately after getting to her quarters. She didn’t even take the time to clean herself up. She chose a bloodstone from her assemblage of stones, herbs, and sacred things. She braided the hair of the mother with the hair of her

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son. She cut the braid in half and wound one half around the bloodstone. Then she set it in the membrane along with a mixture of herbs. Then she lit the hair on fire and watched as the pungent smoke filled the room. The light of the fire illuminated her darkened room with a strange orange light too intense to be from a normal fire. The power was there. The magical fire consumed all that was put before it, leaving only a cooling mass of melted bloodstone. As the spell cooled, Treyen cleaned the patch of skin she had taken from the dead foal. She made a pouch from the black skin to place the charm in. Inside she put the remainder of the braided hair and stuffed it with sweet smelling herbs to calm the queen’s nervous womb. When the stone had cooled, she placed it in the pouch. Next she used her magic to form a chunk of pink Phenacite into the form of a pregnant woman. She strung it from a golden chain along with the pouch and then the charm was completed.

When night fell, a waning crescent moon hung in the sky full of cool spring stars. Roterra hurried to his sister’s room where he found her with the completed charm. She was happy that she was providing her brother with magic, but magic had its dangers and she was certain that her brother didn’t understand the risks. “The queen must wear the charm until the child is born. I warned you before I made the charm. It may not work the way you think it should. I must remind you of this. The charm will work, but there is a measure of danger involved. You may loose the queen to gain your heir. What the charm may do, I am unsure. Are you still sure you want it?” she asked cautiously.

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“I want it. I’m sure that whatever it does will be good. You made it and I am certain it will work.” He said as her took the charm form her hands. Then he said, “I must be off to see Mathanera. I must give her the charm as soon as possible.” “Very well, good luck.” She answered as he walked out the door almost oblivious to her presence at all. The king moved quickly to his wife’s chambers where dinner had already been served. She opened the door and let him in. He grabbed her and put the charm around her neck. “Don’t take this off until you deliver me an heir!” he bellowed as he let her go and made his way to the food. She sat down and ate with him. She drank goblet after goblet of sweet wine, trying to get at least a little drunk so she could handle what she knew he would do to her. The charm hung around her neck fell into her cleavage. When the king was done eating, he took her as he always took her, harsh and cruel, but the queen felt certain that she would conceive that night.

Time passed and the queen and her ladies counted the days. When she expected her cycle, it came, and her heart was broken. Her illusion of a child growing within her was shattered when the courses came. The queen was frantic. She sent all her ladies away and said that she was ill. She shut herself in for many days, and a rumor began that she was with child and experiencing morning sickness. By tradition, the king isn’t told the queens news until she announced it herself. The ladies were excited for her and they told their maids. Their maids were stimulated, and they told the shopkeepers in the market. Soon everyone was speculating on the queen’s delicate condition.

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The queen knew that she must conceive or forfeit her life. She had never been down to the legendary Mystics and Seers Council far below the earth, but she decided that since Treyen’s charm didn’t seem to work, she decided she would seek advise there. Mathanera didn’t know the etiquette to see them, but the Mystics and Seers Council and had long ago offered their constant advice and foresight to the nobles who ruled Bren. She knew that there must be a way for her to give the king an heir, and she was determined to find it. That night, after the king was done with her and under the cover of darkness, Mathanera made her way down through the castle, into largely unused dungeons, and into the realm of the Danementian race where the council and their people lived in harmony with their surface dwelling neighbors. Most Brentanians, the name commonly used for Mathanera’s people, believed that the council was a myth. Few rulers ever consulted them, at least not publicly. Still, there were a number of people who believed that there was truth to the legends, many of them believed them to be a dark force that hid in the darkness of the earth because they had forsaken the light with in us all and despised the light of day. The council was inaccessible to the common man, so it was said among those who believed in their existence that they were corrupt and evil. This was not the case; however, the council was concerned with the greater good of all races. They were largely misunderstood. Despite the rumors, Mathanera had hope that her answer could be found among them. She summoned all her courage as she traveled down the well-worn flight of stairs below the darkest dungeons and deeper still into the earth. The path was lit with torches as if someone expected her or someone else to use the path this night. She found that the caverns were cold, and soon she was wishing she had brought a cloak along with her.

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Following the path that lay before her, not entirely sure it was the right one, she came to an underground river and found herself standing on its banks. The path led upstream and she followed it carefully, afraid of what might be waiting in the water, fearing still more that she would fall in and be swept away in its strong current. Soon she came to a dock with a canoe and a gnarled old man standing beside it. He seemed ancient to Mathanera. He had a comically long graybeard with dull brown eyes. A large mast stood at the bow where a lantern was hung illuminating the dark waters. The light caught the sharpness of his features. He looked more than a little frightening at first, but then she began to realize that he was waiting there for her. Mathanera was too puzzled to speak at first. There was a long silence as she stared at him. “The path ends here. I’m supposed to get on the boat now right?” she asked to which he only answered with a nod. The queen walked out onto the dock and the old man helped her into the small boat. He got in after her, covered her with some blankets already in the boat, and began to row against the current. The boat moved gracefully and forcibly through the water. She was surprised at how quickly they moved. The sway of the water lulled her into a sense of safety. She began to feel drowsy as the warmth of the blankets enfolded her. The ride seemed to go on forever, and she dozed as they moved. A sudden bump knocked her fully awake and she realized the boat had stopped. She opened her eyes and found the boat at a dock much like the one she had left behind. For a moment she wondered if he had taken her in a great circle and she was back where she started, but standing by the dock that seemed also to be waiting for her. The rowman helped her out of the blankets and onto the dock. Mathanera was surprised

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to find the air much warmer here. It had the feel of being lived in, unlike the deserted passages she had gone through to get here. As she walked towards the man, he spoke, saying, “Welcome. I am Dranlory. I have been waiting for you Mathanera.” Dranlory was a thin man, standing seven feet tall. He was very hansom with golden hair and sparkling green eyes that reminded her oddly of Roterra. Like Roterra, his presence was regal and stately. Mathanera found herself drawn to him like she had been drawn to no other man before. Suddenly, she realized that she was standing before him staring. She was puzzled at him knowing her proper name and wondered how much else he knew about her. “How did you expect me? I only decided this morning to come today, and I have told no one.” She asked. “I know many things. I know that you come in search of a child. I know how to help you. That’s what you came here for isn’t it. You need my help.” “I came looking for the Mystics and Seers Council, but I have found only one man. I came for their help, not yours.” “OH, but I am the head of the council. We aren’t in session now. I came personally to help you. I have your solution, if you want it.” “I would do anything to have a child. It is my one failing as queen to my people and spouse to my husband. A child must be born to be his heir or there will be no one to take the throne when he dies. He is an older man already. I should have given him a child long ago. I am a poor wife and a poor queen.”

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“NO, milady, you are a wonderful wife and a spectacular queen. You have searched out a way to fulfil your responsibilities. But I wonder, you say you’d do anything to give him a child, is that true?” “I would do anything.” She replied earnestly. “Then come with me.” Mathanera followed him as he led the way. Soon they came to a large palatial stone archway, but instead of leading her through it, he led her off on a path to the side of the arch. The path led to a smaller stone archway with a stone door closing it. Dranlory raised his hand to the door and it opened to him. Mathanera was surprised but she said nothing, not wanting to give away her amazement and interest in this man. She followed him into a room that looked like it had been waiting for her as well, but its contents made her a little nervous. There was a table laid out with food and wine, a fireplace where a mysterious blue flame burned and warmed the room. There were chairs setting close to one another before the hearth, and then there was the bed. It was a large and inviting bed. She was tired after her journey and hungry too, but it felt strange to be in a bedroom with a man she had never met before. She was attracted to him and that made her even more nervous, wondering what he had in mind for her. “Are you hungry? I had this laid out when I sensed you coming.” “Yes, I am a little hungry, but this is business. I’ve never been unfaithful to my husband, even in my mind. I need you to know that.” “Then let me fix you a plate. Please sit by the fire and warm yourself. It must have been a cold journey. You didn’t even bring a cloak.”

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She sat down, and as he promised, he fixed her a plate and brought it to her. Then he fixed a plate for himself and joined her by the fire. They ate in silence until they had both finished. Then he took her plate away and returned with warm wine for them both. “Now, to get to business, as you called it?” “You know how to help me? Please tell me.” “Mathanera, tell me, has Roterra fathered any bastard children that you know of?” “No, none.” “Do you think he is faithful to you always?” “No, I know that sometimes he has ladies come to his chambers, but that is what kings do sometime to blow off steam and clear their head. I don’t hold it against him.” “Were you ever curious why he has no illegitimate children, not even any rumors of one.” “No, I never wondered. I just thought he was careful not to produce any. All we need is some street urchin trying to become king.” “Mathanera, I hate to tell you, but you will never bear a child fathered by Roterra. He cannot have any children. It is him who is barren, not you. If you want a child, someone else will have to father it. You say you will do anything to fulfil your duty to king and country. I must ask you now if that is still the case. I have fathered many children and would be happy to provide you with one.” Mathanera stared at him in silence with a blank look on her face. She didn’t know what to say, and she was more than a little worried that he was toying with her and would take her like Roterra would. But the words began to sink in, and she knew he spoke the truth. She felt full of life and knew in her heart of hearts that she could be a mother. The solution had been presented to her and as wrong as the means was, the end

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seemed to suit her. She knew that she must have someone else father the child and who better than a man that Roterra was likely to never see. It was in that instant that she made her decision. “You mean for us to couple here and now don’t you? What if it doesn’t work? What will happen then? I can’t be coming down here all the time. The king would grow suspicious.” “When you leave me tonight you will be with child. A seer has foreseen it.” “A seer? Who else knows about your plan?” “No one, and the seer will tell no one. He is safe.” Mathanera was suddenly enchanted by the whole idea, though she was afraid that Dranlory would treat her as the king had. Roterra slept with other women, why couldn’t she bed another man, especially if it was only to beget a child. The charm that Treyen had made was still around her neck and suddenly it felt heavy between her breasts. She was completely enchanted with Dranlory, being the hansom man that he was. She realized that he was waiting for her answer. She smiled coyly and said, “ Well then, pour the wine. It seems I’ll be here for a while.” “Excellent”. He answered as he filled her golden goblet to the rim. This wine was different from any wine she had tasted before. It wasn’t made in the same manner as surface wine and had a secret recipe which was closely guarded. I t was made solely out of ingredients found only deep in the earth. The wine was stronger than she was used to and soon her body felt warm and loose under its effects. He took his tunic off and soon he was naked beside the fire. He caressed her shapely body as they sat on the floor drinking their wine. He kissed her lips and she

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reached out for him. The room seemed terribly hot to her and she began to unlace her dress down the front. Soon her breasts were bare and Dranlory was suckling on them, first one and then the other and finally both together despite her missing nipple. She felt delightfully bad and let herself be consumed by the wine and the newness of this gentle man. She had never been with any man other than Roterra and this was all different to her. Dranlory seemed to be as consumed by the moment as she was. He reached around her waist and untied her bodice, exposing all that lie beneath. His hands roamed over her drinking in the warmth of her body and the perfume if her scent. The red highlights in her hair shined with every flicker of the fire burning in the hearth. He hair remained up in a complex pattern of braids. Her dress had fallen away against the roaming of his hands and her eyes like turquoise sparkled and shined with lust and love as she looked at the man who had saved her. She moaned softly as his kiss grew deeper on her skin. He picked her up and cradled her in his arms, carefully lying her on the bed. Her naked skin was like porcelain in the light of the fire, plus it hid her years well. He kissed her neck and made his way back to her exposed breasts. He kissed and sucked her nipples longingly to the sound of her soft cries of pleasure. He worked his way down to her secret places and entered her gently. He made love to her tenderly until he had spilled his seed inside her and had completed what he promised. They coupled again and again until it was nearly dawn. Dranlory led her back to the dock, tucked her into the blankets, and sent her on her way home. Time passed and soon she announced to her husband that she was with child. Both Treyen and Roterra rejoiced, knowing that the charm had worked and they had

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achieved their goal, not knowing how it truly had worked. It was time to announce it to the people. They knew they must plan the announcement carefully.

On a balmy and pleasant late spring day, with the people building closer and closer to revolt, an announcement was made for an impressive feast at the palace for all Brentanians to attend. The king planned the celebration though there seemed to be little to celebrate, at least to the disenchanted people of Bren. Celebrations seemed inappropriate in a kingdom that had no future. Still the people were curious, and many planned to attend solely on the pretense of a free meal. When the people arrived in the glorious feasting hall, the huge clinquant credenza and long wooden tables were filled with food of all taste and description. The people saw that this was indeed a convivial celebration, but foe what they wondered. When supper had ended, the king rose before the people and held hi goblet in the air. “My people,” he began, “you have given us your faith and support in all that we have done and we have done all we could to fulfill the responsibilities of our station. However, we have failed to fulfill all that those responsibilities entail. On this night, I a, pleased to tell you all that this is the last appearance our queen will make for quite some time. I am pleased to formally announce that we will provide our people with an heir. My queen is with child and will bear my long awaited son. After this meal she will be cloistered with her ladies until he is born.” The king turned to Mathanera and took her hand and she rose to her feet for all to see. She stood before them in a green constellate gown that showed the subtle differences in her body for all to see. She was radiant, so beautiful, and so full of life.

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Many said that the queen looked more beautiful that night than she had on her wedding day so many years before. Suddenly everything seemed to be cause for celebration. The people seemed infected by it and soon the revelry began. A consent cheer of delight and relief went up throughout the hall. The people and minstrels began to play their happy spring tune. The people danced and sang deep into the night and the royal couple with them. This would be their last meal together until the child was born. Joy spread throughout the land. The people fell in love with their queen all over again. Every old woman had predictions; every old man had his tonics for her to take. Farmers gathered their best crops and delivered them to the palace with instructions that it was for the queen. Butchers sent their freshest and choicest cuts of meat for her. The palace cooks prepared their most succulent dishes for the queen to dine on. Little boys played at being the prince’s knights with their wooden play swords their fathers had made for them. Little girls played quietly inside, at their mother’s feet, pretending that they wold one day marry the prince. Maidens sewed clothing for the babe as gifts for the queen to show their love. The mothers in town flocked to the door of the palace insisting that they should care for the queen and deliver the baby. The news of the barren queen now with child spread far and wide throughout the kingdom, and through the forest, over the Cliffhead mountains and into the vast and barren desert beyond, and finally to an oasis in the desert where lived a band of elves.

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Chapter 4

In the barren desert stood a rare and beautiful oasis set on the shores of the sea. The elves had been there for millennia. It was the same sea, in fact, which the Brentanian’s lived on. News came of the queen’s condition, but among the elves, the coming of a special child was already common knowledge and they had already sent someone to be in service to the babe. Serrusia sat alone in the forest with her copper hair flowing in the wind as she cradled the small bulge in her stomach. Her hazel eyes were sad in her serene face. She was tall and thin, maybe too thin for her child. She had left home three months ago and sat on a rock thinking of her hurried departure from her home. Serrusia’s mother Sarrenna had foreseen the birth of a child. Sarrenna was a powerful woman among her people. She and her husband, Tarrient, worked together to keep order among the elves of the oasis. They also worked together in matters of future sight. Together with Serrusia they saw the coming of a soul in need of help. They were very careful to confirm the truth of the vision. This was too important to make a mistake. The child had been prophesied in many cultures. They examined their charts and made calculations, seeing not only was the child of the prophecy coming, it would be a weak child born far from where the elves lived. The child would come to the far off city of Bren across the silver sea, born of noble blood to the king and queen of the land. If the child was to survive, it must be delivered and suckled by a master midwife. The child’s fate spoke its great potential. The babe was to be the fulfiller of many prophecies transcending many races of people. The trio knew that they must send one of their own midwifes to deliver the child. The

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midwife sent must be carefully chosen, and she must be with child herself so that she could suckle the babe along with her own, becoming the child’s milk mother. Suckling the child would lend it the strength and immunities of the Elven people. It was a long journey to Bren. Someone must be sent right away. There were several women, in various stages of pregnancy that could be chosen to go. Serrusia was among them. She had been given to her husband, Planehhin only recently. They had grown up together and had always been best friends. They had played at being married as children and were thoroughly enjoying belonging to one another for real. They loved each other completely and though Planehhin was yet unaware, and they had only been married for three months, Serrusia was with child. Sarrenna knew what must be done. As little as she wanted to send her daughter, and her first grandchild away, she knew that Serrusia was as much a player in the prophecy as the child was. Sarrenna told no one of her choice until she and Tarrient called a meeting of the people and their elders. Though the elders had the final say of who went, they relied heavily on Sarrenna’s advice in most matters. Everyone gathered around the fire in the twilight, anxious to see who would have the honor of going. The elders consulted with Sarrenna and Tarrient in a private tent. The village was hushed waiting for the decision to be made. People ate the feast that had been prepared until finally the leaders of the community emerged from their meeting. Sarrenna spoke in the doorway of the tent saying, “The decision has been made, and though we are losing our best midwife, we are certain that she will fulfil her duties and be a great service to the child. We must give the child the best help we have. Serrusia, Planehhin, please step forward.”

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Serrusia was terribly shocked to hear her own name being called but stood up immediately and stood before her mother and the elders with her mate. “My daughter will be blesses with a child at the appropriate time, and though there are others who fulfil this requirement, we have chosen her for her skills as well as her strength. I above all else will sacrifice my daughter and my first grandchild in the service of the child of prophecy. Serrusia my child, you must take this journey and you must make it alone. You will deliver shortly before the queen of Bren.” She said with an air of sorrow in her aged voice. “My house will mourn the passing of Serrusia and her unborn child, as they may never return to us. The child of prophecy may need her for an indefinite amount of time; she may never return to us. I will take Planehhin into my home as a widower. I send the child t he very best I have. Now, let us prepare her for her journey. Anyone with advice or information that will help Serrusia on her way will be given opportunity to share it with her tonight. You cannot go by sea for the great coral barrier stands in the way and there is no way to cross it. The only way is long and treacherous. The queen is not yet with child. Of you succeed you will reach her shortly after he announces it to her people. I hope you are proud to be out representatives both to the child and to the people of Bren. Know that you must succeed. This child has been awaited since time long forgotten. The babe must survive and be lent all of your strength. Now, let us give her all the knowledge we have about the people beyond the sea.” A long silence fell over the crowd; Serrusia was well loved among her people. There would be many more that mourned her than those in her own home. She was the best midwife and the best healer they had, plus like her mother, she could see things. Finally, knowing there was much to impart to her, her own husband began.

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“As you know, we live on the shores of the silver sea. On either side of this sea lie mountain ranges known as the Cliffheads. Both sides of the ranges are dark and forbidding. They are stony and treacherous, full of mysterious caves where dark things hide and outcroppings harboring things unseen in their darkness. You have often ventured into their shadows and even onto their slopes. I am confident that you have the knowledge you need to pass this obstacle, but at the base of the mountains on the far side, there is a regal forest laden with mystery. The forest stretches herself up to join the inner slope, and in it place the dangers of the mountain range meet the perils of the forest causing travelers to be as wary of one landscape as they are of the other.” As she listened to her husband’s voice, she felt herself floating over the desert sands towards the Cliffheads. She began to see the sea and the mountain ranges on her shores. She passed many landmarks she knew, but they were soon left far behind her. As she floated along in her vision, she noticed that the voice speaking to her had changed from her husband to the voice of an elder woman who joined her vision for a while. The elder spoke and Serrusia could now see the forest filled with mighty trees all covered with a strange silvery moss that clung to everything and shadowed the stony ground below. Wise old oaks lived there in groves, populating the forest alongside their sisters, the sweet sad willows. Cedars stretched to the heavens, mixing with aspen laden with delicate leaves rustling their own music on the wind. Growing up in the desert, Serrusia had never seen such an abundance of plant and wildlife. Animals seemed to love the sanctuary provided by the trees, blocking the hot glare of the sun. She saw herds of deer, elk and moose grazing their way from clearing to clearing feeding on grass, roots, vegetables and herbs growing in abundance both in clearings and in the shadow of the trees. “This is Silvercrest “ she heard someone say and as they spoke, various flocks

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of birds took flight over the ridges of the forest. There were pheasants, grouse, rare flying wild turkeys, falcons, and even eagles populating the skies above the woods. And in between the trees on the forest floor lived boar, rabbits, and foxes along with cougars, wolves and bears hunting their prey in the stillness of the valleys. Serrusia came to herself a little and the vision faded some. She heard someone else speaking, thou she hadn’t noticed the change. The voice called her back from the vision saying, “Although Silvercrest seems like it would be beneficial to the people living near it, and it seems ordinary enough not to draw too much attention from what you have heard, there is more to the woods than mere trees, herbs and animals. You must stay on well-traveled paths. Few places in the woods are safe. Silvercrest is strange. It seems to be somehow more alive than the other woods in the world. Brentanians have legends that things of magic populate the woods. Stories chronicle tales of fairies, dryads, nymphs and other beings of the like. We have no conformation, but several generations ago some of out own left for the forest and there are tales of elves living there too, if you see them, regard them as your cousins. They say there are dwarves there too. These tales run rampant through the bedtime stories told to the children in the area with many other magical spirits of all description. There is no way to tell exactly what lives there and what does not. One thing is certain; many that are foolish enough to stray from the marked safe paths never leave the forest. Stories say they are transported to another world from which there is no escape.” That was all the man had to say. Kalin, a long time friend and teacher to Serrusia spoke next. “The people you will meet are called the Brentanians. Like us they settled on the shores of the silver sea. They settled on the outskirts of Silvercrest. They are often equal in size to elves. Their healthy population often approaches eight feet tall. They are a proud people with strong

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stalky arms. They pride themselves on their great strength and size. They are happy, if suspicious people. They have learned the great dangers of the forest. They named it Silvercrest because of the silvery glow caused by the moss growing on the trees.” Kalin’s mate spoke next, “You will find their culture and traditions are shrouded in the teachings of a force referred to only as the light. The light is the mysterious force that pulls people to the virtues of trust, optimism, compassion, equity, circumspection, moderation, and courage. The light, they believe, is a mostly kind force, but it is capable of great fury in the face of sinful arrogance, carnality, avariciousness, jealousy, gourmand, ire, and laziness.” “Their culture is also full of legends of old,” he continues, “where the hero stirs your soul so that he seems to gallop out of the very legend itself and into reality where it sweeps you away. The Brentanians are a people filled with old men and women said to hold the answers to questions asked throughout the ages. A few people believed that nature spirits created by the light hide in every shadow and float on every breeze. There are also those who believe, in contrast, that evil spirits, set in opposition to the light, wait in secret to influence the world around them with their evil. They are people whose fancy is easily swayed by anything that seems to be a sign or symbol of things to come. Men and women die by that tide of hysteria.” The next woman began to speak, “Silvercrest is not the only mystery of the Brentanians. As you know, deep in Silvercrest lies a body of water called the Silver Sea. It’s a vast expanse of freshwater water forming the self-same Inland Sea we live on. The only rivers that flow into the sea originate from springs high in the Cliffheads and no streams lead out of it. The silver sea is the only water source available outside of a few

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natural springs and a few wells dug long ago by people long forgotten in this land using techniques that dies along with them so long ago.” She continues, “Local folklore speaks of a sacred spring lying deep in the silvery waters. The spring is said to dip into the very womb of the earth to feed the sea. Many believe that they are the purest, most sustaining waters anywhere. Many have taken the dangerous trip over the Cliffheads and through Silvercrest and onto the shores of the silver sea seeking healing. Yet, the sacred waters are not calm and serene, rather she behaves more like a spoiled child, gentle as a lamb one moment and with little or no provocation, she started screaming like a banshee in the next. Far out in the waters of this remarkable sea grows a coral reef which no one can gain passage on any side. As you know, we live on that same water and the coral reed grows on our side too, so there is no way to reach them by water. It grows in a pattern mirrored by the way the Cliffheads separate the outside world from the land of the Brentanians. The coral reef makes passage to the center of the Inland Sea as impossible to the Brentanians as it is to us.” Someone else took over saying, “Each night, the fishermen leave port from Bren and the smaller city of Brahn to go about getting their catch. All kinds of fish live and thrive on their side of the sea. Like our own waters, many of the fish are harmless and many more are fierce. Each morning, the fishermen return with their nets full of fish. Fishing in such turbulent waters requires much skill, but if you were to ask any mate on any ship, they would give all the credit to the light calming the temper of the living sea. Fishing here is a prosperous, if perilous endeavor for anyone daring enough to try.” She paused for a moment, then said, “People have their legends about the Cliffheads and they have legends about Silvercrest, but Oh, do people have legends about

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what exactly lies beyond the coral reef in the sacred waters of the silver sea. Some people are skeptical and are content to believe that there is nothing beyond the barrier in the sea, but more people believe that there is indeed something out there. Over the years, strange things have washed ashore. A child collecting seashells on the shore of a bright summer morning came upon a stone mask with the symbol of a dragon on it. Fifty years later, on the same shore, the lighthouse keeper found a richly designed dagger encrusted with jewels and symbols no one could make out or understand. A poor widow woman was collecting crabs to sell at market, when she took them home to clean them for sale, she found that one was made of stone. The list of strange and beautiful objects washing up on shore goes on and on in the pages of their folklore, each having its own story and controversy as to the significance of each object.” “Artifacts wash up on the shores of both Bren and Brahn. People from both towns share interest in the artifacts, so a temple to their mystery was constructed at the midpoint between the two towns. People make pilgrimages to the temple to bask in the glory of the unknown. Each citizen seems to have their own theories, but over all, the locals believe that the barrier was created to keep them away from a doorway to something or somewhere else of spiritual significance. Some believe it to be the doorway to heaven, others the gates of hell. There are many other theories that people share with one another. Another theory is that the Cliffheads, Silvercrest and the sea are all under the same enchantment and that the sea would swallow you up and take you to another world as quickly as the mountains or forest would.” “Over the years, many brave men have set out to test their fate in the center of the sea. All who returned reported that it was impossible to cross the barrier with out running aground on the coral reef and perishing. One man who washed up with the tide,

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half drowned and barely alive, claimed he had been beyond the barrier. He reported that a mysterious storm of fire had formed and swept the entire crew off the boat, and prevented them from going any further beyond the barrier. The bodies of his crewmates were never found. Another group of three crewmen went out to sea one day and came back that night clinging to the wreckage of their boat. They claimed that a water nymph had prevented them from crossing the barrier by playing with their boat, but these sailors were known for their drunkenness and were believed to be fools. Many more sailors ventured out to the coral reef and never returned. Their stories we will never know with their voices silenced by the temper of the sea for all time.” Finally, the head elder spoke and said, “The vast city of Bren is the Brentanian seat of power. There, not only do fishermen bring in huge hauls of cargo home, but industry thrives there too. The Brentanians are great silversmiths. Bren trades with several bands of dwarves who mine silver and make the journey over the Cliffheads yearly. The dwarves are more than happy to come to Bren for trade. Bren has things that are commonplace to Brentanians, but are of great esteem to dwarves. Dwarves also bring commissions for complex pieces from people all over the world. The Nolden family has lived and worked in Bren for generations. I have sent commissions there myself. The Noldens seem to have a gift unsurpassed by any other silversmith in the world. However, the Brentanians don’t have the knack for refining metal and the dwarves do. Brentanians are also interested in a variety of precious and semi-precious stones from the dwarves to use in their silver. The royal jeweler, who outfits the royal family with their treasures, always gets first pick of the dwarf stones. Take cares Serrusia. This is all the knowledge we have to impart. Remember it well.” And with that the crowd was silenced. The fire burned low and it was now time to rest.

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“Remember it well.” That is what he had told her. She sat alone just remembering. Serrusia hadn’t wanted to leave her father mother and lover, but she never uttered one word of protest. Her family had helped her prepare for the journey and they had all cried as she was sent on her way. Now she had made it over the Cliffheads, down their slopes and into the heart of Silvercrest. Soon she would make it to Bren, but for now all she had were her memories. Her life would be different now and she was afraid as she sat alone and remembered her home. The wind felt cool on her face and her hair flowed in the wind. She ate the last of her traveling food and was on her way, hunting as she walked. Soon she would come to Bren and her new life would begin.

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Chapter 5

Serrusia’s long journey was finally at its end. She looked up at the walled city and wondered if she could fulfill her duty. She found that she was not alone coming in hopes of serving as the queen’s midwife. Many others had begun showing up at the palace gates, refusing to leave until someone was chosen to care for the queen. There were so many of them, in fact, that the queen’s ladies were holding interviews in the main throne room at the king’s behest. After weeks of looking at largely gnarled old women professing to hold strong magic of one kind or another, the ladies grew tired. They were just about to stop seeing the women and make their decision. Many women came that weren’t even midwifes, there were healer women claiming all sorts of powers. The ladies were about to choose when Serrusia came before them. She was young with her belly swollen from early pregnancy. They stared at her as she walked towards them. The ladies noticed that even with the ungainly form caused by the added weight of motherhood, she had a stately grace about her. Serrusia walked toward them down the long length of the throne room to where the ladies were sitting. She drew her powers around her and the ladies seemed to notice that the air in the room began to crackle with her unknown power. It grew stronger as she walked towards them. She was tall and very thin except for the curve of her belly. Her skin was a creamy mocha color and her hair was a mane of glorious copper. Her large hazel eyes were captivatingly beautiful in her kind and serene face. The ladies found they couldn’t look away from her. She was an exotic beauty with power they could feel. It was easy to see that she was not Brentanian by her ears that were pointed as all elves, yet their souls seemed drawn to her. They sensed peace and wellbeing in this woman and felt compelled to hire her to look after

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Queen Mathanera and deliver her child. Serrusia stood before them in silence as they discussed the fact that no one knew her origins or where her loyalties lie. Finally Lady Rubaent stepped forward and spoke, “We have decided to hire you though it is not our tradition to let any outsider near our pregnant women, let alone care for a royal pregnancy. You must promise to uphold our traditions and take good care of the queen. Do not expect to be popular with the people, though I am sure they will begin to soften in time and they will eventually come to accept you. Childbirth is a sacred rite to the Brentanian people and it requires a ritual separation of the mother from all men. We believe that by following this tradition we can affect the sex of the child. We believe that if you surround an unborn child with female influence and always refer to the child simply as “he” the child will be inspired to be male. A curse will visit mother and child should a proper name be spoken to the child or if the child is spoken of as a female. Children born to such a curse are often female, sickly and many die soon after birth, or worse are born dead or disfigured along with any number of horrible ailments. These aliments are caused by improperly directed influence on the unborn and must be avoided at all costs.” Serrusia agreed to their terms and began her work at once. It was a happy time in the palace; the queen seemed to radiate the light of the life that grew in her womb. Her ladies attended her and gave her what childbirth knowledge they had, trying to prepare her for what was to come. Serrusia gave her more than that. She was a more than a competent midwife was. She was a healer as well and was able to care for all the queens various ailments. Soon the people were proud of their new midwife and began boasting that the best midwife in the world was treating their queen.

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Time passed and soon the radiant figure of early pregnancy in both women gave way to the figure of approaching motherhood. The queen’s belly grew too large to appear before the women in public with any semblance of dignity. Her appearances to the kingdom’s women slowed and then stopped. It was time she was cloistered among her ladies until the child’s birth. Only her ladies and Serrusia could see her now. Queen Mathanera received noted from Roterra each day wanting to know the status of his heir, but of course she couldn’t answer them. King Roterra would receive no word from her until she delivered for fear that the father’s strong male influence would overshadow his son and cause him to be female. For kings this tradition was especially important to ensure that the proud father didn’t become so enchanted with the growing child that he couldn’t rule the land giving treacherous men a chance to position themselves around the royal family. Mathanera stayed in her chambers with Serrusia and her ladies and dreamed of the babe below her heart. She often sang softly to her baby, not knowing if he could hear her. “I’ve waited so long, and soon I will see the son that the light has sent to me.” She said suddenly one day while working on needlepoint with her ladies. They were quick to agree with her. They spouted fountains of support, council, and loving care on their queen. “My sister says that if you carry high it will be a single birth, but if you carry low it twins.” One lady remarked. “No you’ve got it wrong. If you carry tall it is a single son and if you carry wide its twins.’

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A waifish blonde girl, new to court, sat off in one corner listening to the ladies bicker. She had a simple beauty but was in no way remarkable. She had bright attentive sky blue eyes and a pale complexion with hair like spun gold. Her name was Gwenette. She had been among the queen’s ladies for less than a month. She was not of high birth as most of the queens companions were, but the queen had taken pity on her. Gwenette’s mother had died when she was young and her father had never remarried. She had never had the benefit of having ladies around to teach her how to behave like a lady. Queen Mathanera promised her father that her lessons would include all Gwenette needed to know about being a lady and if she served well, she would be given the honor of her hand offered in marriage to a man of higher birth. “My grandmother used to say that you could tell with a pendulum. If it swings back and forth it is one and if it circles it is twins.” Said the younger and single Gwenette. “OH Gwenette! You are a silly girl. What do you know about pregnancy?” scolded Lady Rubaent with a disapproving frown on her broad face. Lady Rubaent now had eighteen children to her credit. She was a large and imposing woman, much more so than when she came to court with her queen so many years ago. She had sharp, cold cerulean eyes. Her clothing was dark and unadorned. Everything about her seemed to project a stern authoritative figure. Gwenette’s voice was silenced immediately. The ladies burst into sudden laughter. Serrusia sat silently among them wondering how many other silly traditions this culture had based on pure superstition. The ladies quieted and the queen went back to their needlework humming a tune to her baby. The ladies continued their spinning, sewing and chatting in low voices to one another. Gwenette’s curiosity was piqued. She had never heard women talk about

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pregnancy and childbirth before. There seemed to be rules about these mysteries and she wanted to learn all there was to learn for her own benefit. She would be married sometime soon and would become a mother herself. She didn’t want to seem rude or impetuous, but finally she asked, “My queen, why do you call the baby ‘he’? Is it not just as possible that he is a she?” There was a long, tense, and ominous silence in the room. There was a look of something between terror and loathing on the ladies faces. Serrusia had been warned of this and had carefully stayed away from it, but this girl brought their fears to the surface and she wondered what they would do to her. The queen swooned where she sat and Serrusia struggled to catch her. “Vile child!” the Lady Rubaent hissed with angry passion, “Why do you speak such evil upon the house of your king?” A great fuss surrounded Gwenette and she was bound by the ladies and taken out to the guards. Lady Rubaent gave them orders to place Gwenette in the dungeon until it could be decided what would be done with her. The ladies turned their attention back to the queen. They buzzed around her with tonics and charms to ward off the curse that silly girl had brought down upon them. When the queen awoke, she found herself in bed with Serrusia sitting at her side. She opened her eyes and looked at her growing belly. Tears filled her eyes as she hugged her stomach. “My precious son, how can I right the wrong that has been done to you? Now we are cursed. The impudent wench cursed us! She cursed us!” the queen sobbed uncontrollably. Mathanera cried and screamed herself sick. Serrusia stayed at her side and tried to comfort her, being careful not to let the queen know how she felt about it. Serrusia

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thought it nonsense. Still, no one had ever seen the queen angry, let alone in a rage like this. The ladies brought her tea to soothe and calm her. They tried to get her to calm down, but she would not. She screamed and cried until she didn’t have the strength to carry on. She collapsed onto her pillows and cried herself to sleep. Serrusia was worried about the queen. Her getting all worked up like that would do more harm to her than some silly curse she believed had been put on her. She sat at the queen’s bedside all throughout the night so she could calm her if she awoke. In the morning, Lady Rubaent came into the room and found Serrusia asleep in the chair beside the queen. “We certainly found us a good midwife,” she thought, “She stayed by the queens side all night though her own belly was swollen with child. She couldn’t possibly be comfortable.” Then she spoke, ”My queen, I hope you will forgive me for disturbing your slumber, but Gwenette’s fate must be decided.” “Let the king decide.” The queen mumbled groggily. “The king cannot know about Gwenette unless you want another curse brought down on your head. You know the king can’t have any word of your pregnancy until you deliver. You have to decide what is to be done with her.” “Oh very well!” Mathanera mumbled as she sat up in bed, “Have her held in the dungeon until I deliver. If my son is cursed, she will die for treason. If he is healthy, she will be released and restored as one of my ladies.” The queen was terrified that her child had fallen under the power of the curse. She absolutely refused to get out of bed. She even had a bed set up in her sitting room so she could be in the company of her ladies and still protect her precious baby.

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Winter came and thick furs surrounded the queen to ensure the warmth of both mother and babe. The fire burned brightly day and night. All was warm and comfortable inside the palace, but the queen’s heart was as cold as the winter drifts outside where the fairies dwelled painting with their ice. The bushes were spider-webbed with ice crystals and all robed in white. Just after New Year, the queen grew very tired. The concept of her cursed baby had poisoned her mind and become too much for her. She was constantly sad, robbed of all the joy and pride she felt in the beginning of her pregnancy. Being pregnant felt warm and safe and wonderful then, but now she was cold, round and sore. She gradually stopped eating. She said she had no stomach for food. On hearing this, the cooks in the kitchen worked diligently at preparing meals for the queen attempting to coax her to eat. They created magnificent treats in hopes she would eat at least a little bit. A few weeks later, Mathanera ordered all her ladies away and would see no one but Serrusia whose son had been born only a few days earlier and was carried in a sling wherever Serrusia went. All the ladies presumed that Mathanera was worrying too much, but they didn’t know the dangers she was pulling down upon herself and her child. Serrusia knew the dangers and worked diligently to keep the ailing queen and her child as healthy as possible. In the second week of the second month 'neath a starry bitter cold winter sky, the royal heir decided to make its presence felt.

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Chapter 6

The night was particularly cold. The wind howled and rattled the shutters on the heavily draped windows. The fire burned hot in the hearth and the queen lay in bed covered with many furs. She had been unable to keep any food down for days. Serrusia was worried for both mother and child. She needed nourishment and so did her babe. Dinner arrived and just as she promised, the queen dragged herself out of bed. She was making her way to the table when a terrible pain ripped through her body. Mathanera doubled over in pain as she uttered a low and terrible moan. “Milady! Are you alright?” a worried Serrusia asked. “I’m…. Fine… I… just… had… a pain…” she managed to gasp in reply “Your son is coming! It’s too early! You have another three weeks at least! Your highness, this does not bode well for your child.” Serrusia warned as she helped the queen back into bed. “Now lie flat and try to be calm. I must check the baby. Just breathe slow and deep.” Serrusia demanded of the frightened monarch. She examined the queen’s belly with great care. Her trained eyes could tell that the time had come. Mathanera was in agony and began to arch her back against the pain. “Milady, please try to be calm. It will be better for your son that way.” The queen closed her eyes and tears of pain and fear ran down her cheeks, but she was silent. She swallowed her moans doing her best to appear calm. She fought to stifle the sobs that seemed to well up endlessly from her chest. All at once, she tightly arched her back and let out an agonizing moan accompanied by the release of her water. Serrusia began to spin and weave her magic about both queen and babe. She stoked the

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fire and warmed water in a huge pot hung on the hearth. She lay blankets and rags near the fire to warm. She took great care in setting the scene for this new and long awaited life to enter the world. Serrusia began to chant in an ancient Elven tongue used only for high magic. Serrusia called to the magic and clam music sprang out of the air and into the queen’s ears. The air began to smell of roses and sacred incense though neither was present in the room. The scent seemed to awaken Mathanera’s senses and made her more aware of the new life about to enter the world. The room grew warm and was filled by a gentle red glow. The reassuring atmosphere seemed to calm the queen. Slowly she came back to her senses and began to float along on the music at the same time. She opened her ryes and saw Serrusia kneeling by the fire. Serrusia looked up and met eyes with Mathanera. She felt drawn into the queens deep blue eyes. What she saw there was a woman that was far removed from the regal woman she had come to know. This woman was terrified of what lie ahead. She was a woman who didn’t feel her own worth. Serrusia knew that the queen would pass these flaws to her unborn child. Serrusia had seen enough. This birth was going to be even more difficult than even she had expected. She would have to use her most powerful magic if both mother and child were to survive. She broke her gaze with the queen by looking down at the tea she was brewing. It contained powerful painkilling plants and herbs to speed her labor along. Serrusia picked the tea up and carried it to the royal bedside. Then she said, “Drink this down Mathanera, it will ease your pain and strengthen the child.” Silently she drank the tea. It was sweet and heady like the honeyed wine Mathanera was so fond of. It warmed her stomach and radiated out to her extremities.

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Soon she felt calm and was more comfortable. She felt calm and relaxed, but not drugged. The herbs that Serrusia used were specifically chosen to not dull the mind of the mother or the child. Mathanera was intensely aware of all that was happening. She felt each contraction as an event, not as pain. Serrusia’s magic made her feel like a flower making ready to bloom. Her labor was surprisingly serene and peaceful. Mathanera was uneasy emotionally at first. She had expected labor to be much different than this. She had expected enormous pain that went on for hours. She expected pain and delirium, but she was comfortable in Serrusia’s care. Gradually Serrusia assured her that all was well. She nursed the queen attentively all through the night. Finally in the second hour of the new day, the child made its entrance into the world at last with a quiet mewing cry. “I hear him! I did it!” exclaimed Mathanera, “Let me hold my son!” Serrusia handed the tiny child to its mother to meet for the first time. As the queen proudly counted fingers and toes, she realized that though the heir was born, it was not a prince. It was a girl, a very tiny princess. They had waited for so many years to have a child and they didn’t dare try another pregnancy after all the difficulties Mathanera had endured to bring this life into the world. But as Mathanera looked at her daughter, her heart softened. She found that though she was small, she was perfect in every way. Her tiny perfect fingers and toes were miniature but unflawed. Her head was covered with dark hair and framing her still closed eyes were perfect little lashes. Mathanera fell in love with the tiny princess. She suddenly felt happy that fruit had finally come to her acarpous womb, even if it was a tiny and fragile fruit. Her heart was filled with joy.

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Serrusia got word to the king discretely that his heir was born but there was a problem. She said that he must come in secret. He quickly and stealthily rushed to her chambers enveloped in fear, knowing that it wasn’t time yet for his son to be born. “AH, where is my son? Is he all right? Large and healthy like his papa I presume!” Roterra said as he walked to the bassinet to look at his child for the first time. He stared into the roomy basket and exclaimed, “What is this? My son is no bigger than an imp!” Serrusia didn’t answer, but smiled knowingly until the king demanded, “What in the world is the matter with him!?” “Her” replied Serrusia softly. “What did you say?” he questioned angrily “You have a daughter, not a son.” “A daughter!” he bellowed and then was silenced by his own shock for a moment. He regained composure and then exclaimed, “Well? What in the world is wrong with her?” “She was born early. With careful attention and plenty of milk she will grow larger. She isn’t out of danger yet, but she has a good chance at survival.” It took the princess’s father some time to get over the shock of her early birth, but when he did he realized that she was his and despite her shortcomings as an heir, he was quite taken with her. They were worried, but they tried to be happy that they had and heir diminutive though she may be. Being so delicate, they decided not to dare to name her for fear that if thy gave her soul a name that it would be enticed by the fairies to run away and play leaving her body behind to die. The weak and tired queen refused to let her tiny child be taken from her. She held the whole of her child lovingly in her outstretched

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palm. She coaxed milk from her breasts and fed it a drop-full at a time into her daughter’s tiny yet ravenous mouth. Mathanera began to cry as she realized she couldn’t make enough milk even for a tiny child such as she had. She felt so helpless. She wanted to be everything to her new child, and yet she couldn’t fulfill the princess’s basic needs. “I have been cursed!” she shrieked, then she whispered to her tiny bundle, “and you along with me my child. You will come back to me my love, but for now you must go with Serrusia who will give you all you need to survive. OH! I am not good enough. Please forgive me for letting that silly girl near you. I cannot make enough milk to feed you. I am too tired to go on. Perhaps we both will be spared any further sorrow.” Tears continued to fall down her cheeks as she lay the fruit of her body, the prize she had waited for and needed for so long into the arms of Serrusia who would now be the child’s wet nurse. Serrusia would be the child’s milk mother just as Sarrenna had foretold. Mathanera was distraught. She had carried the princess under her heart and she felt deeply intertwined with the new life that had been within her and now she had to let the baby go. Finally the queen’s tears abated and she drifted off into slumber while watching Serrusia lovingly feeding her tiny child. Serrusia was not allowed to see anyone but the royal parents and the babe for fear that she would spread the news of the premature birth before the parents had a chance to announce it in their own time. With the princess coming early, the king and queen decided to hold her birth a secret in hopes that she would gain enough size to be considered a healthy heir. Roterra only visited the baby under the cover of darkness so no one would find out about the birth. The town of Bren was eagerly awaiting the queens appointed time. The whole

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shoreline, indeed the whole kingdom sat poised for the celebration of a new heir looming on the horizon. The queen’s appointed time came and went with no word from the palace of a birth. With each passing day, the mood of the people grew more excited and full of inflated anticipation. Carrying a child beyond the appointed time was counted as a great fortune for both mother and child. Longer terms meant generally larger babies and large babies are the hope of all Brentanians. The king and queen were running out of time and the princess had not gotten much bigger and she still hadn’t opened her eyes, not even a slit. They couldn’t keep the queen pregnant forever. They realized, if painfully, that they must present the people with an heir to the people soon. The people wouldn’t accept the tiny sickly infant, and so they decided to seek the direction of the Mystics and Seer's Council. Mathanera insisted that they try their luck there.

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Chapter 7

The next night was the full moon. The royal family bundled themselves against the cold and began the long journey to the Danementian City deep with in the earth. Their journey began under their own feet in the dungeons and catacombs of the palace. Mathanera carried her tiny bundle and said nothing to Roterra of her previous trip down in the depths. She followed him silently through the winding passages as if she had never been there before. Finally they reached the underground waterway. The same canoe waited for them there and the same gnarled old roman with it. If he remembered the queen, he did not show it. He said nothing to her or to the king. The caverns and river were much older than the city of Bren. The Mystics and Seers were all that was left of an even older race and civilization that had thrived in this land for centuries before and their population had shrunk for some unknown reason, the Danementian population on the surface moved underground to survive. Some people believe that passing into Silvercrest would take you back in time to their era and their world, never to return to the land of Bren. Mathanera handed the baby to Roterra as the roman helped her into the boat and gently passed the yet unnamed princess from her father’s hands to her mother’s hands. When the king was aboard, the roman got into the boat and pushed off into the darkness atop unfathomed deeps that lurked with unseen dangers. The roman fought the current and they moved upstream smoothly and quickly. Soon, under the light of the lantern on the boat, another dock came into view. They had reached the home of the few remaining Danementians in the world. The roman tied the boat to the dock and helped his passengers ashore.

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“Isn’t much farther now. Just follow the path through the archway.” He instructed in a low slow baritone voice. Just the same as when Mathanera had visited before, the pathway was lit in anticipation of their arrival. They followed the path to the large carved stone archway. It was covered with knot work ending in heads of different beasts. It was huge, a truly impressive example of stone work. The family paused in awe of it. It had been poorly lighted when Mathanera had seen it before, but now, as she saw it in all its glory, she wondered about the people who had made it. If they could do this, perhaps there was a way they could make her child a suitable heir for the people. Once through the archway, they found themselves in a long corridor with huge carved double doors decorated in much the same fashion as the archway. When they reached the doors, they swung open before them. The doors moved as if by magic and the royal family entered the sacred chamber of the Mystics and Seer's Council. The chamber where the worried parents had carefully brought their tiny bundle to was bitterly cold. The baby shut her eyes further and snuggled closer to her mother’s breast. They looked up at the walls covered with crystals in all colors and crystals of ice that cooled the air. A few dimly lit candles burned mysteriously on the outskirts of the chamber. The sparse light bounced through the crystals and reflected the light throughout the room. Before them the mystics were gathered and behind the mystics were four seers tied to rock pillars. Dranlory was there, presiding over the council. He spoke, and it didn’t take long before the council confirmed their deepest fears. “The seers have seen your child and know that your people will not accept an heir such as the one you have. They will see her as a sign of evil to come. They will call for

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her blood in sacrifice to the light and her body will be sent back to the light by setting her adrift on the sea at outgoing tide. Worse still, the people will likely call for a change in the blue blood and will execute you both and appoint someone else in your place.” As he spoke, the light in the chamber grew brighter, gradually at first, then more intense. Suddenly the room warmed and the ice could be heard melting with a slow methodical drip, drip, drip. The illumination grew brighter still. The seers who were tied ceremoniously to the pillars began to cry out and moan; still the light grew brighter. Dranlory and the rest of the council seemed as surprised by this happening as Mathanera and Roterra were. Suddenly a beam of light focused on the tiny infant’s eyes where she lay in her mother’s arms. The babe began to fuss and cry, but as the light shined on her face, she calmed, cooed and then opened her eyes for the first time. She opened them wide to take in the magical light of the holy room. The seers continued to wail and cry out in languages so old that no one remembered their existence. Just as suddenly as the light had come, it was gone. The light returned to a soft glow. And all the water from the ice traveled down into trenches and holes dug to drain the room if this ever happened. Within seconds, all the water had disappeared. The mystics gasped as the princess’ perfect lavender eyes stared out of the blanket at them. Mathanera was still overwhelmed by what had happened and she hadn’t looked down at her daughter yet. When Roterra did, he cried out in surprise and when Mathanera did, she almost dropped the girl, then pulled her close to her breast and was lost in the baby’s eyes. No one had ever seen a person with lilac eyes, though there were some legends. “She has come at last!” cried one of the seers.

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A tall blonde woman among the mystics gagged all the seers tightly with lengths of fabric so they couldn’t reveal any more, then she said, “This is not for you to understand yet.” “You see! I knew we were cursed! I wanted a beautiful son, and I got a child whose beauty only a mother could see!” whined Mathanera in dismay. Dranlory was serving as chief mystic at the meeting, though he usually shared the duty with his wife Alsadera. She was absent from this meeting however. The king looked at Dranlory, who was tall, thin, and over seven feet tall, for an answer. His presence was powerful and full of status as he stepped forward to the royal couple. “All is well milady.” Dranlory said gently, “You are the mother of a child whose coming has been foretold in the prophecies of many cultures. The prophecies are not for you to know now, lest fate is tampered with and all is lost. I am afraid; however, your people will not accept her purple eyes and small frame. They will say she is an imp or a changeling or under enchantment. They will never accept her as their heir. You must foster her here among my people if she is to survive. She has much to learn if she is to fulfil her destiny.” “That’s fine for you, but what do we tell our people? They know that Mathanera is too weak to try for another child. I fear the same fate will befall us if we have no child to present to the people as if we presented her. They will surely kill us both.” The king remarked. Roterra and Dranlory looked deep into each other’s eyes over the course of a long, solemn silence. Roterra felt as if Dranlory was looking deep within his very soul and was afraid of what Dranlory would find there. Roterra sensed that the mystic could feel all the desperation to retain his life and rightful throne for the good of his family and

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the good of his people. Dranlory saw that the king was kind and just to the people even if he was abusive to his wife. As Dranlory looked deeper, Roterra grew uncomfortable and broke the intense gaze. Dranlory took a deep breath in and said, “My wife… Alsadera… she is absent from council today. She delivered me a child early this morning. It was a boy and none of my subjects know of his birth yet. I propose a trade. We will foster the princess for you. We will raise her as our own. We will present her to our people as our true daughter. We will teach her all that we can to prepare her to fulfill the prophecies. For allowing us this great honor, we can of course never repay you. However, in gratitude for the gift of your precious heir, we will save your lives. You may raise my son to be your son, but you must agree to take him as your true heir and prince. He is large and healthy. Your people will love and adore him. His name is Freis. I will go and speak with Alsadera. I will be back with your new son.

Alsadera had not been pleased when she discovered she was with child again. She had already mothered five, and she hoped that this would be her last. She found the chore of motherhood almost unbearable. The pregnancy had seemed less of a joy to Alsadera and more of a burden, which she was too old to bear. Carrying a child was an obstacle that prevented her from having as much influence on the Mystics and Seer's Council as she would usually have. She had married Dranlory shortly after her first husband had died. She did it in order to fill his position and keep the council under her control. However, in the years since the marriage she had learned that he was not all that he seemed. He used every opportunity to sway the council to his thinking. Alsadera

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concluded that he wanted to take control of the council for himself alone rather than pass it to Alsadera’s oldest son by her first husband. With council meetings occurring only once a month, she had plenty of time in between meetings to speak to the other mystics and read over the transcripts of the Seer’s visions and predictions. But her pregnancy had been long and hard and she had been in bed the majority of the time. Alsadera was eager to be back where she could watch Dranlory and make sure he didn’t get the council on his side. She was determined that her son would inherit the head council position, and no pregnancy would keep her from it. She was angry that she had gotten pregnant and she blamed Dranlory for it. She was certain he had tampered with the blend of her tea. He likely had put fertility herbs in it to take her from the council. Her time was spent trying to catch up on reading the scrolls taken by the scribes to find out what the seers had been saying. She could see that there was change that would come and bring both the king and queen of Bren down for the council’s advice. She wondered if Dranlory knew and what his plans for him were. Unlike the queen above, Alsadera delivered her son with out the comfort of a midwife. She was utterly alone when she delivered. She had been sleeping soundly when the familiar pains of impending birth come upon her. She sat up and turned the hourglass to time her contractions. When the pain had subsided, she went to the hearth and stoked the blue flame with magical stones. She shivered as she lay before the fire on an old blanket. This was where she would deliver her child. She heated water to cleanse the child once it was born. It was only midnight and Alsadera knew that she had a troublesome morning ahead of her. She suffered through contraction after contraction, noticing their intensity, duration, and spacing and knew that she was nearing the time of birth. She breathed

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through contraction and watched herself open in a full-length mirror set beside the hearth. When she could see that she was open enough, she began to push. She counted to herself as she pushed and wailed. Now she eagerly awaited each contraction, knowing that her labor was nearing an end. She pushed down hard one more time and heard her son’s

first cry. She sat up and picked her son up for the first time. Still bloody, she laid him to hr breast and got him to latch on and feed. Another contraction and the afterbirth came out after the child. With the afterbirth out, Alsadera knew it was safe to cut the cord. She cut his cord after pinching it with a golden clamp. She them bathed him and set him in the bassinet she had ready. Then she went about cleaning herself and the room up. She would call a servant to carry the soiled blanket and rags away later. Once she was clean, she picked up her son and looked at him. “Your name is Freis.” She announced to him to which he replied with a lusty hungry cry. She took the baby to the bed and lay down with him as he suckled her breast. She called for Dranlory and he came to see her and his newborn son, but only stayed for a moment. It was time for the council to meet and he was their leader tonight. Hours later he returned, hurrying to her chambers from the meeting. He found her resting in bed with her son sleeping peacefully in her arms. Alsadera looked exhausted, but the glow of motherhood was strangely evident on her face for a woman who hated motherhood. Dranlory explained to her, and was eager to take on the girl, but Alsadera was opposed to giving up Freis until he said that the child of prophecy had come to them. Then she was eager, as he was to make the trade. Alsadera pulled Freis to her breast and kissed his forehead. She whispered in his ear never to forget his true mother. He cooed at her voice and gave her what looked like a toothless smile.

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There in the darkness of the ancient caverns deep within the earth, a pair of parents traded a princess of prophecy for a prince the people would love. The king and queen returned to the surface with their new son.

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Chapter 8

The exchange seemed to bother both Mathanera and Roterra. The king had always been honest with his people and the deception he was about to commit bothered him. A feeling of grief afflicted the queen who had grown attached to the tiny princess. She had left part of herself deep within the earth, so far from the sunshine of her world. Would her dearest love ever see the flowers as they bloomed in spring, or would she grow up in the cool of the earth and curse the light of day? Would safety find her in the protection of her new family, or would the dark things that live deep in the earth taint her soul? Serrusia had been told nothing of their plans to visit the Mystics and Seer's Council. The queen had told her that she could manage alone for the night and had sent Serrusia to rest a luxury she had little enjoyed since the babies had been born. She took her son and went to bed. When she came to the queen in the morning and found her with a huge thriving boy, she was shocked and heartbroken. She had been sent to be the princess’ milk mother and now she had been taken away from her. She had failed her people and no matter how she pleaded, Mathanera would not reveal the princess’ location. Serrusia had come to know the queen intimately and had become her friend. Her loyalty still lie with the queen and she quickly set about helping in the deception. She took one look at Freis and insisted on holding him in hiding for another week before presenting him to the people. They must have a child appearing to come at a logical time for his size.

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Freis was a round and chubby who drank greedily from Serrusia’s breast. He was such a glutton, in fact, that Serrusia couldn’t feed him along with her son. Serrusia and Mathanera decided that they needed another wet nurse so that Serrusia’s child could be satisfied as well. Freis had the eyes of his father. They sparkled like polished Verdelite. He had golden masses of curls on his head so abundant that he looked almost girlish. The royal couple found their people responded to Freis just as Dranlory had promised. When they presented him to their people, his appearance was met with joy and cheer. They released Gwenette from the dungeon and restored her as a lady to the queen although the child had been cursed, but the people could never know that. Mathanera’s heart was enraged at having Gwenette back. She had cursed her true child and now punishment could never find her. The queen was civil to her, but only with cold indifference. Serrusia knew that she held a secret dear to the hearts of the king and queen. She had been milk mother to their true heir. She knew that they would try to keep the secret at all costs. So Serrusia packed her things and somewhere in all the celebration she and her babe disappeared in shame into the night. She made her way into the forest to begin the long journey home. But she had failed her people. She had only been the child’s milk mother for a few weeks. She was unable to fulfill all that the child needed. What would happen to her now? She didn’t even know the child’s name. How would she find her even if she could be found? Serrusia knew that it was unwise to stray from the path, but also knew that the king would send guards to find her. She also remembered tales of elves in the wood and decided she would put her fate in the hands of the magic forest. And so, she and her son

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ventured into the body of Silvercrest, ensuring that she would live, but perhaps condemning her and her child to death in the same blow. It wasn’t long before she was hopelessly lost. The woods seemed friendly and familiar to her. She decided that she would raise her child here rather than go home and face her shame. That way she would be close to Freis, who had also been her milk child.

Back in Bren, her passing seemed to go unnoticed. The king and queen were astonished by the reaction of the people. Everyone felt like a guardian of the young noble. He was largely cared for by his wet nurse. The people were so interested in their favorite son that they followed his progress closely as he grew. Mathanera missed her little princess greatly. There were many times that she had begun the trip down into the bowels of the castle to reclaim her daughter. She always talked herself out of it by the time she was halfway there. She was a child with some destiny that Mathanera did not understand, but certainly seemed important enough and she didn’t even know her name. What would happen if she interfered with that destiny? These thoughts consumed her mind much of the time. The longing for her baby left her sad and sorrowful. She refused to go into the sunlight and grew pale and sick. Some said she had begun to go mad. “Why would the light do this to her?” she often asked herself. She tortured herself believing that she had done something wrong to bring this ill fate down upon her. She cursed her womb in all its maternal glory and secretly cursed her husband for making her wear Treyen’s charm and agreeing to give up the princess. At times she felt she would rather be dead than living a life longing for what she could not have.

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She couldn’t confide her sorrows in and of her ladies, not even Lady Rubaent. If she did, it would destroy the illusion of Freis as their heir. So she suffered silently for a long time with no one but the king knowing why the queen was acting so strangely and so unhappy. The queen began praying her sorrow to the light. There was no one else to whom she could unload her burden. Yet, as time passed, outwardly she appeared less and less strong. She secretly longed foe Serrusia to return and cast her gentle enchantment on her once more. Doctors were ordered to her bedside only to order her absinthe tonic to soothe hr nerves. That was all they could do for her. Soon she was taking the absinthe tonics on a daily basis though it was known to make some people go mad after taking too much. Her ladies learned that the queen did better if they mirrored wherever the mood she presented them. They grew to be a quiet group around the queen, but they were busy hatching plans to cheer the tired, sorrowful mother. They were organizing comic plays and a ball. Players made the journey through Silvercrest in droves on the promise of a great reward to anyone who could please the queen. Clowns came, jesters came, puppeteers came, bards came, master storytellers came, and minstrel came to sing their tune. Yet she never smiled or laughed at the players. They planned a splendid

masquerade ball and invited all the best people. They brought delicious food for all to feast on. They designed a beautiful costume for Mathanera as mother earth, but she came to the ball dressed as the dark mistress of the underworld. She ate very little and refused to step out and dance. They tried sewing bright and vivacious clothing for her to wear. They ordered delicate silks brought in on the trade route through Silvercrest. They ordered fabric of

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spun gold and silver from the far side of the silver sea. They ordered bells and charms of silver and gold and precious jewels. They fitted each gown carefully to make the royal lady look her best. The ladies worked on the queen’s wardrobe for many months. Nevertheless, she never wore any of them and the ladies ended up altering them for themselves. They tried bringing her companion pets. They brought her a small dog to keep her company while the ladies chatted. However, instead of holding it in her lap, as was custom, she trained the dog to sit at her feet, never beg, and seldom bark. They brought her a beautiful white long hared cat to cuddle up with her in bed, but she let the cat loose in the castle to fend for itself chasing mice. They brought her a cage of nightingales to sing to her and soothe her pain in the evenings, but she just sang back their song, opened the cage, and released them out the window. It seemed as though the queen was doomed to the sadness that hung heavy about her like a sinister spell.

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