I doubt anyone actually slept the night before the Trial of Colors, though some of my friends made sure to get imperceptibly drunk so they could sleep. I honestly didn't see any of them in the top five wearing any suits either. If you're one of the top five, you get the dubious pleasure of more education and longer service to the crown. But yes, I have earned the crown since I was born; I am one of the Blood Royal, an heir, okay?ofHeir apparent.
Everyone greets me, yes, I try not to take myself too seriously. Trust me, being an heir can be rewarding, but it's also very boring and limited most of the time. In many ways, I wish my mom and dad had more kids because it would give me so much more freedom. If desires were fish, would you be a vegetarian out of sheer stubbornness or is that rebellion? Still, I've fought for every inch of relative freedom I could squeeze out of the rules, not to mention my family.
I could have skipped the coloring season, my education as an heiress included more than all the basics, laws, stories, and weapons taught during the season. Although the only thing that being an heir does not give him is a lot of time to earnGenuinefriends, and yet there is always that suspicion; that the few friends you make have their own agenda. That's why I pushed my dad so hard to get into color season on my eighteenth birthday.
Ironically, one of the Blood Royals plunges your life into the laws so deeply that you could use them to gain some freedoms if you wanted to. And I wanted more freedom, so I spent a lot of time learning the laws and distracting my parents with them. Hey, someone has to test the laws for justice, right?
I played with the fertility charm attached to my belly button ring. It was a side effect of testing the laws of equality. I smirked in the dark: my family was more than a little shocked when I announced that I would be turning seventeen as a woman. I learned much more than how the laws affected women in the Empire. I also learned that a woman's life is multifaceted and sometimes it isergiogratifying. So much so that I kept the Ring of Changes that he had been wearing since that year. He still uses it occasionally; sometimes it feels great to bespoiled.
I was sad because I loved men and women, well, a lot of sadness.Inhe had quickly shifted from violence to pure rude comments after the first few days of practicing with weapons and self-defense. Although a couple ofdiethe lessons had taken place out of sight of the gunsmiths. One of my best friends during the season, Thomas, was the result of one of these sessions.
Granted, Thomas wasn't entirely to blame, as his family had some open parochial opinions on the matter.arvand sexual customs. Unfortunately, not all the countries of the empire had easily adapted to the change in laws that redefined women's rights. My father blames the lack of education in those parts of his kingdom; I personally blame the residue from all those years of contagious magic.
Which brings me back to Thomas, the ever so loud snorer. Thomas's parents and family are largely isolationists; his bloodline focuses more on building the gifted Mage and removing the ungifted branches. As a result, they have an almost pious cult of genealogy that strictly dictates who they can and cannot marry; far fewer have children with them. Of course, husband and wife have clearly defined roles for them, and relationships that don't bear fruit are frowned upon. Needless to say, my love for men and women didn't sit well with his upbringing.
Of course, I could have happily trampled his ethics with a royal decree and sent him home to await next year's trials. It would also have deprived me of any chance of making real friends, which was mostly what this whole adventure on my part was about. That and the fact that I had to do something to prove it, at least to myself if not to anyone else; that he had more than just a good lineage.
Lucky for me, aside from his great brewing skills and amazing wizardry, Thomas lives strictly on honor. He surely he could have knocked me down with a wave of his hand and a word, but as it was in his words, "Limited by your lack of strength." He chose to fight me with swords, blunt.
It may have been a bit unfair of me to suggest swords. Since I had been working on my sword work since I could barely hold a sword; not to mention other soldier skills like archery. Admittedly, I was more than a little disturbed by his attitude at the time, and while he wasn't exactly a gossip with a knife, he wasn't anywhere near my level of training. One thing about honor, if someone really sticks to it, once you're done with a fight with them, it's really over. I'd say I gave a lot more than I received, though we both walked carefully for a few days afterward.
His honor effectively led to a reluctant friendship once he got over his initial dismay at losing to "a powerless fool". I admit that I like elegant or even flowy clothes, so to speak. One thing I learned during my year as a woman was that clothes don't have to be uncomfortable or boring. Much to my father's dismay, as it seemed to upset his sense of style. But then he used to dress like he wasstillin the army.
It also didn't hurt that he offered Thomas a few lessons on how to fight without powers in exchange for a better understanding of the gifts of wizards and what they could and couldn't do. Of course, he could have gotten a stifling lecture about it at home, and I did at one point. Yet it was something else for those who lived and breathed to teach. During one of these sessions he discovered that my lineage was as rich as his.
One of his conversations with me was about secrecy and detection magic. Being an heir also meant trying to stay alive against assassins and the like, who often used occult magic to get closer to their targets. It was during a counter-magic demonstration that he managed to make my royal signet ring and earring appear.
Yes, I had the dubious honor of having to wear or wear a ring all the time. One of those hereditary magics you just receivedgrandewith if you are from Blood Royal. It serves two purposes: it makes you instantly recognizable when the oxen part from the plow, and it also declares you free of the wizard's gift. You can almost be a Blood Royal and have the mage gifts; the circles are just so people know if you have it. If the gems are burned in it, no one will accept you.assetmanagement in events that are not emergencies.
Oh those who are real and gifted cansuggestthings, recommend and enforce the laws of the country. Gifted women have turned subtle forms of persuasion into an art form. Unfortunately, blood mages are less free than enlisted mages. Being royal also means that your life is dedicated to one thing, making sure the kingdom lasts. Whether in arranged marriages, having children or acting as judges in various courts. As long as you're king or queenesa limiting role, no one tells you who to marry, when to do it, much less where.
So you can imagine Thomas' shock and dismay when he found out he was teachingthe heir. It was almost comical to see him go from dazed shock to brilliant crimson and then completely pale. One of the kingdom's laws had this annoying little detail that you lose your life if you attack a Blood Royal member… Of course, I had no intention of claiming life from him, even though I swore to secrecy.
In private, he later began addressing me as "Your Royal Fop-ness." He has a wicked sense of humor and a distinct advantage that he sees when the daughters of a family come forward to consider him for a competition. In their case, they appear with huge genealogy tombs. It is very difficult to hide your intentions when your servants follow you in a small library. In my case, it quickly becomes a matter of polite conversation that avoids all discussion of union, marriage, relationship, and last but not least, pollination.
A lovely lady had revived the language of flowers and bent down to catch me. Getting around this suggestion had required skillful social work and a highly creative redirection of love. Not to mention a royal appointment among the palace gardeners, which I still thank my mother for inferring what she really is.eraafter. I still receive flower arrangements from the lady in question, although there is some humor in it. That and the pollen dusters have the lady for surestyle.
Yes, I digress, I blame my overly fertile mind, that, and some very silly advice from one of the early judges from last week's trial. "Follow an invisible path." It is common for those in the top five of a given suit to complete the test; to offer bizarre but semi-practical advice to the next group out. It so happened that I sought the advice of a First who was entering one of the many priesthoods. He seemed a bit distracted when he said that, though it could have been all the drinks he had at the celebration.
The tests start with a random lottery in which each person who goes through the test chooses a token. The token indicates the order in which it can start. Unfortunately, I had the dubious joy of having my tokendeliveredme. To my chagrin, I was the last to die.
Each test has a route that you choose from a variety of posts. Each post has a ring with a ribbon attached to it. There are a multitude of colors, your path is chosen based on the ring you take and the color that is attached to the ring. There are up to eleven rings for you to collect if you can get to the eleventh of that suit before someone else does. There are five of these final rings for each color.
Needless to say, the competition for those ultimate rings is fierce. If you have one of these pairs of rings, you are one of themgreengrocers, and sends you to higher education and schools. Yes, there is a burden of proof for a longer benefit or a benefit for that education, but those who want it so bad are not giving up.
There's no real time limit to completing the path you choose, though many people stop if they don't see a way forward. Or decide that the elements are too much for them. The only real losers of the test are those who don't try at all. AlthoughInIt is my personal view of things. The general rule of thumb is that if you are older than ten days and don't have more than eight rings, you can pack them together as well. I had already sworn an oath to myself; I receive eight bells, I go for eleven, even if I arrive and the mail is empty. If I got there and it was empty; I was going to engrave my initials on the damn mail.
Be that as it may, I'm going last because my father the king intervened and made his will known by personal message to the Color Factors and to me.
Your education is secured, I know you don't want to hear this, but the person who might lose their chance with you would hardly think it fair to be denied the opportunity. I would rather you be mad at me than have someone denied their rightful chance at success. So, with everyone's welfare in mind, I have made my will known in this matter.
Remember, if you get a scoop, it's because you have more drive than the person will. I don't doubt your drive or your own willpower, you wouldn't be here if you weren't as stubborn as your parents. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but there may be one path that is much harder to find than others. Finding it, if it exists, is of course its own challenge. Regardless, I hope you do as well as some of your other adventures. When you get home, I await your assessment of the colors of the season.
Reginald the Just
P.S. Your mother tells me that you have not been as frequent with your letters as she would like. Take a moment and spare her old man a knot in the tongue? Also, I only found nine rings in my test, so if you have half the mind I think you do, match or make me proud and take home ten.
Reginaldo the Just, was his way of making clear the essence of the letter. My father worked as a judge in the country for many years before the gods called his father home. His courts were particularly noted for their impartiality and strict application of the law as it stands.best servedthe country. Rarely did a criminal escape justice, though in some cases where the law had prescribed a firmer hand, he was lenient.
No, my father was not a soft judge; because he had no qualms about hanging or worse those who deserved it. He made a point to look to the needs of the country in all things. He also had his own views on what was considered a fair refund. As such, some crimes are almost non-existent during his long reign. Rape is one of them. No, you don't want to know the details of the punishment, let alone make it fit the crime completely.
With luck, the land would remain in his possession for another fifty or a hundred years. N'relvian blood runs heavily through our family's veins. Not only did we inherit longevity, we also had overly pointy ears and faint golden-bronze skin tones. I never had to worry about tanning or burning too much in the sunlight. Although I could have done without the mixture that dyed my hair brown and copper. Admittedly, as my female self, it was quite remarkable. If my eyes weren't a solid blue instead of the tri-tone shades of some of my cousins, I'd fit right in with the tall families of N'relv.
I used to have long hair, which makes me a little sad; because i have to get up at dawn to have enough time to brush and braid it for the day. Of course, my father thinks that my way of dressing is a bit clumsy, but he accepts that I am an independent person. Something of that; he made a point of settling for itherselfwhen he was younger. My grandmother just smiles and tells her in a low voice that her father's sins will be paid for in her due time. She said that she would understandInwhen I was much older.
I smiled a little, because of the hints that my grandmother left from time to time, my father was as crazy as I wanted to be. Okay, if you ask some people, I came pretty close to being a spoiled brat. Honestly, I don't know, the few of my friends at court that I cantoleratebeing close for more than a few moments; he is much wilder than me. Yes, I admit that I love the good life and that perhaps the hardest days of my life were actually ahead of me in the process of succeeding on my own without padding or subtle guidance from the sidelines.
Part of my indulgence may have to do with it ifII wanted to do or learn something, I made sure I learned itthe right direction. Being the only son of the King, and being protected from all possible danger and evil; Or do you suffer from it? Or you worked from all kinds of angles so you could have the freedom to do whatever you wanted. By doing so, it seemed like I had been labeled a spoiled brat. Honestly, unless you enjoyed living your life in a velvet box, you'd probably be as bad as me.
One of the reasons I fight to the best of my ability is because I found out that my knife work instructors made sure I won all my fights. Of course, it was great for your ego if you were happy to have your wins handed over to you. I don't remember being as angry as when I found outIn. Personally, I think my father got a little upset when I walked into his yard and announced what my instructors were doing.
I made a very loud and blatantly profane speech about their mistakes and the fact that they basically made my training worthless. By their standards and protests, I should have outwitted almost anyone who came at me with a sword. Naturally, I challenged the most skilled person I could see in court at the time to test their training. He was a N'relv B'radian or, better known, a Ranger of the Land.
I argued that if I could hold my own against such a warrior, then his training was valid. If their training was not enough, he demanded that they be rejected. Okay, so I interrupted a dish that wasn't very important to make, it was a bit cheeky, and although yes, my dad listened to me in private about my manners. He also agreed that if I wasn't properly trained when it came to needing these skills and they were inadequate, the Kingdom would suffer.
I'd like to argue that my skills were more than a match for my mouth at the time, but I can't. For someone who was supposedly in shape, I could hold my own, but hold my own against him. I managed a small number of decent close touches, though his skills clearly outclassed mine. He also fought to the limit, needless to say: he was very ruthless, efficient and nothing to do with the nicer rules I was trained under.
Then, after several rounds of humiliation, I was rudely awakened by a well-placed bucket of water. As you can imagine, I was completely defeated. My father was amused and very angry at the same time, amused that he had learned his lesson so effectively: he chooses his opponents carefully. And angry that he was so poorly educated. I think if it wasn't for the humor of my defeat, my father would have been more than a little vengeful towards my so-called knife masters.
Personally, he was grateful that he didn't drive B'radian crazy by choosing him. He later learned that he had studied the Red Path of the Sword for over a hundred years. Although to this day I carry the small scar under my right eye from his hands; the evaluation he gave me of my abilities made up for it. In his words, "The heir shows clear promise in his abilities if he takescorrecttraining." Which sealed my fate.
My later years of weapons training were very brutal and required many salves and conditioners and long hot baths to recover. Still, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I really felt alive during those lessons, because any success or victory was truly mine and mine alone. Although I never saw the B'radian in question again, I determined to be sparing with those who came to our court. I lost more than often though, which isn't exactly surprising considering they often had decades of practice.
The idea of a hot bath sounded good, so I calmly got up from my bunk, put on a robe to cover my nudity, and grabbed a towel. The tunic fell nicely around my thighs and covered my modesty nicely, normally you would wear a belt to keep it manageable. The tunic was raw cotton dyed yellow because he had a weakness for the color of the season. The colors cover the entire spectrum of the rainbow and your birthday and birth month usually determine which color you end up with. There are some exceptions due to weather, disease, and transportation to testing countries. Technically, tests can span the length of the realm, even if they all start from one point.
The 'class' for each color begins two weeks after the next. So I would go through the wet holes in the color class above and let my hair down. Or that was my plan. I had taken advantage of the brief time of the walk to put on my Ring of Changes and enjoy the more than pleasant sensation of change when I heard a female gasp of pain from the Red Class bathhouse.
Almost immediately a strong feeling of anger came over me, I wasn't sure why until I entered the bathhouse. I've never really enjoyed fighting as a woman, for one it throws me off balance, for another some parts are more susceptible to abuse than others. However, those thoughts quickly disappeared when I saw three tough-looking men holding a girl firmly to the floor of the bathhouse.
Pin was a soft word for what the go-between did to the girl. Since the girl in question couldn't scream, I did it for her. With a deafening cry of "rape!" Then I kicked the intermediary hard in the back. It howled in pain, I liked the effect so I did it again, though I could tell by the sudden pain in my foot that I didn't get the right angle when I kicked it. Unarmed combat isn't really my forte', which I sometimes regret, this was one of those moments.
When his two friends drew daggers, I decided that a towel was not an effective offensive weapon. Two things are certain in a knife fight, being unarmed is not good, the other is that you are going to get stabbed even if you are lucky. I took a few steps back and quickly wrapped my free hand in the towel, not as good as an armored forearm or shield, but it was what I had.
"Look here we have another whore in front of us, a N'relv even." I gave my approaching enemies a quick ride; They didn't have the attitude of someone well trained, but from the way they held their knives I could tell they knew a thing or two. Two against one was a bad chance if you weren't armed, so I let out another loud yell. "Thursday mana toh Ara!" Cousins of Arms, in the high language. It did nothing to slow his advance, but the sheer traditional ferocity gave me an emotional boost.
A step to the left placed me squarely between my new enemies and the only door. One of them took a few steps and was within my reach and quickly grabbed my towel covered arm. I let him grab the towel and stepped forward, slamming my free hand down, palm flat against his nose. He choked on the pain and swept the edge of his dagger against my chest.
I registered the touch of fire and took advantage of the space his clumsy cut gave me. I slammed my knee into her crotch and stepped back out of her reach. Although he managed to stay upright and conscious, he slowed down drastically. So I used his slowness to steal the knife from his less consistent grip. Another kick to the inside of his knee rewarded me with a sharp pain in my already bruised foot and my ears with the sound of his knee.
The strong smell of bad beer was the only reminder that he hadn't been paying attention to his friends. I desperately tried to pull away from what I knew was my sudden death when a flare went off into the flesh of my right shoulder. I let the spindle lead me away from the man with the knife, though he tore the wound much deeper; then I freed myself from his knife. He was hurt, so bad that if he didn't stop me so soon, he would die.
I dropped the towel from my good arm and switched the blade to my left hand. They say that pain can be a good focus, that fear can make time slow down and slow down. She didn't want to know, all she felt was anger.
Or the girl will die. I watched as the rapist put a knife to the young woman's throat. For one terrible moment, all I could think about was the needs of the country, an heir versus the life of a nameless girl. For a moment of terror I considered the attack. I knew what choice my father would make, the faint sound of running feet made my decision easier.
I dropped the knife. 'Okay, let the girl go. You can't escape right now. To make sure the searchers would find us, I yelled, "The Red Bathhouse!"
"Bitch". The leader of the trio scolded me, then ran his knife firmly across the girl's throat. For a moment of shock I saw the moment of her death in her brown eyes, then she fell to the floor, letting blood run unevenly down the walls and tiles.
At that time, the gate was opened under the attack of various armed factors. I hid under the sinks again and let the elements take their toll, all I could do was stare at the lifeless but trembling body of the dead girl. Absently, I saw an anti-fertility charm next to me, took a look at the dead girl's navel, where there was a trickle of blood, and called out to her owner. A single green vine leaf with a red pearl told me that she had been a virgin before it was forcibly taken from her.
In the bathhouse, the lights came on when someone cast a spell to light up the room or dazzle the men, the sounds of fighting faded. For a while I rested there with her charm in my good hand. For a long moment I prayed for the girl's soul and sent her into the arms of the goddess. I had failed her and myself.
Clearly, I was aware of a supervisor calling me: "D'ne'Ari, D'ne'Ari!" It was Neil Antagon, supervisor of the yellows, and one of the few who knew my real name and that I was the heir. I was safe, somewhere in that realization I lost the surveillance war and passed out.
Little by little I became aware of the scent of flowers, earth and grass. For a moment I just lay there enjoying the warm sun that filled me with its soft rays. The absence of noise or wind was somewhat disconcerting but not alarming. I opened one eye as a shadow passed over me and I looked up at the sky; a lone cloud floated across a deep blue sky.
As for being dead, it wasn't bad. She was in no pain and, for as long as she could remember, she would have screamed in pain. I looked around for a few minutes, turning my head from side to side. Definitely a garden, it was a bit of a relief, I was sure I must have woken up in some kind of hell. I failed, though I could have sworn I made the right choice, one my father would have made.
A voice interrupted my train of thought, it was gentle, soft and full of love. "It was the right choice, daughter."
I slowly sat up and turned to face the woman who had spoken. She was light and life and above all love, although her form was hidden I knew who she was. I looked at myself, she was still in my female form, strangely not bothering me except for my bloody yellow robe.
"Sorry goddess, I did my best, I really did."
"I know daughter. My poor Ari, don't you know that people will die even if you make the right decisions?"
"It wasn't the war, it wasn't even up to me to command," I protested.
“She was destined to die at that time, like this. My child, she died knowing that hope was close, that she was close to liberation. She is at peace and she will live again after a while, isn't that enough?
"If I said I'm not sure, would you be mad at me?"
She laughed and a warm feeling echoed in my heart. "The truth never offends me daughter. Your time here is limited, you must return soon."
"Because I am here?"
"Oh this is the Ari I know and love, always quick to question and challenge," she paused. "I called you here to give you a warning and a choice."
A warning and a choice? I thought that the gods never directly interfered in the affairs of their children.
"We do it when it suits us, we even maneuver events so we can get involved from time to time."
"Ah, so I'm your pawn?" I asked cautiously.
Not a daughter, maybe a servant if you like, but never a peasant or a puppet. Free will only works if you can exercise it.'
I felt something pull me. "Maybe you should call me Goddess, I'm good with puzzles, but I feel like time is moving strangely."
"Certainly. Listen carefully and keep this close to your heart. A wizard king has been reborn; unfortunately you and your family are against his plans. Within you and your quest lies the key to defeating the wizard king. I also give you a gift though I think for a while you will be angry with me for giving it to you. In time you will come to see the need for it knowing that I will always love you. I have always loved you my child.'
She smiled with a touch of sadness and humor on her lips: "In time you will know, child.
I froze, trying to figure out what he was telling me, "So this search?"
"In the riddle of your way, the answer is found hidden in the grass that grows. PrettyInit's just the beginning of the path to your search. Go my daughter, our time here is over, be at peace."
A dark cloud seemed to descend on me and the ground gave way, causing me to fall deeper and deeper into my flesh.
"The choice, my child, is to act or not. Be willing and strong of mind, dear Ari."
I woke with a start from the faint touch of fire and ice. The fire came out of my wounds and the ice was a cold hand that rested between my breasts and over my heart. I gritted my teeth and opened my eyes to enjoy the view. A priestess of the goddess was in a healing trance, her eyes were closed and a white fire surrounded her body. The dark green robe of her order was dimmed by that fire and a delighted smile appeared on her face.
I wasn't dead. That thought crossed my mind for a moment. Daylight streamed in through the window; I could tell by the shadows on the wall that it was still early morning. I had left the girl and had missed seeing my friends go their separate ways.
The fire from my wounds drifted away like a lazy summer cloud on a light wind. A moment later, the priestess removed her hand from hers and smiled kindly at me. "Best sister?"
"Yes, thank you, Blessed Mother."
"It was just my duty. Although I think you would recover soon enough; mother's hand was on you."
"His hand is upon all of us," I replied almost from memory.
'Really kid, really. Have you thought about a life at your service?
I smiled slightly, "My life may be at your service, but not within the walls of your dream."
"So you've seen your way?" she asked.
"Not exactly, but if I remember correctly, it could be the way the grass grows."
'Ah, a service among the N'relv. Are you looking for a country healer or ranger?
"I am not sure if my hands are given to heal."
"I'm sure your path will become clearer to you in time." She got up from the stool next to my bed, "I will take care of the men who have been injured so they can answer for their crimes." She didn't seem pleased with the prospect.
"I'm surprised they're still alive." Me too, as I expected, they would have hung themselves from a suitable tree and attacked one of the Blood Royals with a view toesan automatic death sentence. No judge needed, just the whim of the royal in question.
"They were waiting for your recovery. Are you of the blood?"
"Yeah." I raised my left hand with my signet ring to touch my ring and reveal both parts.
"I would like to ask you a favor for your healing."
"Justice must be served in this matter, but if it is fair, I will allow it."
"The two men who attacked you, when they were not actually rapists, participated willingly."
"Do you want me to change his sentence?"
"The girl who died was an orphan, she has no family to avenge. She was also a faithful servant of the goddess, if compensation is due, it is to the goddess."
While a part of me longed to avenge the fallen child with the blood of those men: the good of the earth would be better served by their lives in motherhood. I sighed, The country above all. "I will do what you ask, Blessed Mother, although a part of me seeks blood for his blood and mine."
"My heart is heavy in this case as well, she was very dear to me. However, justice is better tempered with mercy."
"What was her name?" I asked.
"Jonne, she didn't have a last name." She bowed, "If you'll excuse me, I must accept those who will vouch for you."
"Go to the goddess."
"You too my sister."
I lay on the bed for a few seconds, then got up and went to a table where a bowl and pitcher awaited me. Blood, whether your own or someone else's, is difficult to clean with cold water, so I was relieved that the water was quite warm when I poured it into the bowl. I took off the scarlet yellow robe that I was still wearing and wiped away the remaining blood with a soft cloth.
A part of me wanted to banish the image of the dead girl with that same canvas from my mind. Unfortunately, the blood from her can take a while to wear off. Someone had prepared clothes for me; I winced at that, apparently wanting to be here as mine.officiallyyourself.
The bandeau was a soft white cotton fabric that I tied tightly around my breasts and secured with a small clasp. The tears were more of the soft cotton, I went in and ripped them open using the string to hold them in place. Thankfully, I didn't need a bud before my period nor did I need a separate belt to hold the awkward but necessary extra pieces of cloth and spices in place. Of course, I could have skipped the breaks, though one thing I learned the hard way was that an extra layer of fabric between you and the saddle is a good thing. That and leather will burn, even if they're made of soft leather.
Snake trees were the next hard choice, ease of movement or practicality. I hadn't given up on my judgment, I was more determined to see it through. Both have their advantages, the snake allows thigh high boots to be worn which are good for wading through thick bush. Pants would be easier to maintain, but more of a pain in the ass in other ways. Part of me suspected there would be a lot of brush to traverse if the path ahead was as unkempt as I'd hoped.
With all the foot traffic onto the various colored trails every few weeks, much of the undergrowth would be torn down to one degree or another. Even with various wizards encouraging the brush to grow again. In reality, wizards and the like are not allowed to force nature to act against itself, although it is acceptable to encourage it to do so. So, once the first few points are clear, nature itself dictates the rate at which things darken. Although there are some people who absolutely cannot navigate to find their own butt in the dark, the lack of a brush would be a good thing for them.
I wasn't expecting that luxury, so I added a pair of tall, dark brown leather boots to the gray tights and slipped into them. If I were to be a man again, I would have to change my boots, something else to wear. The hose could be easily loosened or tightened to the thin strips of fabric that held as tight as needed.
Thinking I was still part of the Yellow Trials group, I chose a bright yellow warrior shirt and spent some time lacing up the sleeves. I simply tugged slightly on the laces that opened above the clasp of my bandeau and let those laces hang down, the last few days promised to be warm and under a gambeson or leather gambeson it would be hot.
To show off the royal face, I chose a deep blue velvet coat. My family's coat of arms adorned my right breast. Coats of arms are pretty simple considering the depth of history they cover. A simple, broken crown on a round field of blood red, a rising golden phoenix rising from the broken crown. I donned my jerkin and then buttoned up all the once elegant but mostly annoying gold buttons, leaving the top cuff open to keep cool. Then it took me a few seconds to pull the wide collar of the warrior shirt out from under the coat and snap it into place.
I took a moment to check my knives; I preferred a solid clamp with just a little bit of flex. While fancy mangoed hilts were all the rage, I found they were good for bruised fingers when practicing against expert swordsmen. You quickly learned to protect your hands when fencing if you intended to hold a knife for more than a few minutes.
So my knife was a simple rapier with a strong but simple metal scabbard and crosshead, favored by the B'radians. Although the knife's beautiful wire was gold, it was a practical and fast knife, although it was not designed for prolonged combat with the heavier two-handed blades. But it was good to go in, kill and come out alive. Another reason I kept that style was that a grappling hook was an effective weapon for both men and women, very useful when I was crossing the gender line as much as I've been used to lately.
A gouache on the head was the custom in mourning circles. For me, however, I chose a solid metal throwing dagger with a simple crossbar. Of course, I could stand up and mix him face to face with both knives, though he wasn't a thick person in any of my ways. So speed and sheer efficiency dominated my weapons style. If necessary, I could drop the dagger and run to safety, or deal a fatal blow that a thrown blade could open me up.
I usually wore a thin braided stiletto in my hair unless otherwise instructed. Yes, it hurts to braid my hair in and around my vagina, if I'd had it last night, the girl might still be alive. But the "those not yet on the way" gun ban policy prevented me from taking it to this day. For the most part, it was a sensible rule, since the different cultures of the Kingdom occasionally clash. Add knives to a heated argument and there was regular bloodshed.
Realizing that my blades were sharp, clean, and oiled, I took a moment to remove my ring and brush, then braided my hair. If you're curious, while my hair is more or less what holds the blade in my hand, braid and a leather wrap keep the blade upright. I wrapped the loose end of the braid around the back of the scabbard in a fairly tight spiral behind the knife and made a neat chignon with a couple of leather ties. Yes, it's a bit feminine, in my two guises, although it helped me so my hair wouldn't fall into other people's hands when they broke, and well; I think it looks so good.
Changing the circle relieves the pulling sensation on my scalp due to the weight of the blade. If it wasn't official, I'd wrap myself up and tie a long black leather thong around my head, which helps with the weight of the blade and also controls sweat.
Fortunately, the warrior's coat and shirt are knee-length, even with the necessary straps to carry the sword and dagger. So my modesty was assured, even if the women at court were shocked by my choice of a coat over a robe or gown. Royalty's place is to define style, not live up to other people's visions of style, my mother tells me. So in your jurisdiction I set a priority, which of course makes seamstresses scream.
I rarely bother with makeup, no it's not because I don't look good, it just seems over the top with my family's natural beauty. I took a small brush and drew the mark of justice on my left cheek with bright red paint. If I had sought justice for myself or another, I would have been painted black; today I wentright nowThey represent the kingdom.
I turned to a standing mirror. Yes, everything was in the right place. If it wasn't for the slightly tired look on my face, you'd think I was out for the night. Unfortunately, unfortunately, I was away to act as a witness and possibly judge of yesterday's events.
One thing about being a member of the Blood Royal and acting like one, the only people you can helpais the king or queen. As such, everyone expected me to take my place at the front of the crowded cafeteria. Since the really injured and therefore dead party was the Jonne girl, the color class of her was present. As well as all the guard people who weren't needed to guard her troops, and a handful of N'relv B'radians dressed in the colors of the forest.
I narrowed my eyes slightly at the presence of the rangers, apparently I was going to have guards at my trial whether I wanted them or not. Several of my father's not-so-subtle maneuvers clearly show favoritism with N'relv, sometimes too much. My mom is a bit more subtle, she would have her own guards but they didn't show up unless there was an emergency.
The trial started off easily enough, as yesterday's events unfolded before the class that had lost a friend and sister. They seemed more than a little shocked and sad, which told me a lot about the young woman whose life was lost. From time to time her eyes fell on the white-wrapped body lying on a table, accompanied by a silent mourner, blessed by her mother.
Some of his eyes were filled with anger; I understood it too well. When they met mine, I left my face intact and let the sigil speak for me. When in the initial rounds, the law was broken and the punishments were explained to the class, they were a bit taken aback.
When all was said and done, the old patron who explained the laws turned and bowed to me. "Your Grace of him, hathright of lawin this case, since you are both the offended and the richright nowrepresentative."
I stood up, "Thank you Senior Proctor." I nodded to him and he retreated wearily to his own chair, his night must have been long too. I turned to address the class.
I hesitated for a moment and then took a few steps towards where the girl lay. "One of the hardest things a judge has to accept between men is that his duty often comes too late to save or protect a life."
I placed a hand on the head of the shrouded girl, "The king, through his representatives, as I or as some of you may become, imposes a heavy burden. The needs of the land are tempered by the need of the grace and the reign of justice that protects the kingdom as a whole. Justice, rightly measured, prevents the kingdom from being ruled by force and hate alone. As once we were at the near end, never again will we be ".
I turned to the N'relv guarding the room, "Cousin, get ready." As swords were drawn and bows readied, I spoke aloud to the far gates. Bring the suspect.
I tried to wait passively while the trio from the night before was brought to me. They were naked and showing the chains, which resulted in some rattling noises. I looked around the assembled class and soon the only sounds were those of the chained men and their marching guards. In front of me, I motioned for the two attacking me to move a few steps to my right, after which all three dropped to their knees.
I spoke to the rapist for myself. "You are brought before me, arrested under rape and murder. Your body still bears the stains of your deeds; the blood is virgin and the lifeblood of the girl you killed. By the evidence of my own eyes, and the blood you bear, You are irredeemable. Do you have something to say?
He knelt before me silently, shaking with what appeared to be rage. Then she said: "I want to know the name of my judge so that I can curse him with my last breath."
"Since you have nothing worthy to say, I have been given to hold you to the full force of the law. That your death is, to some degree, a warning to others who wish to keep you in your way."
I looked at the man, "Tomorrow at dawn you will be castrated through the flame and your manhood will be debased. Your body will be debased and imprisoned until the elements destroy your body and take your life. In a year and a day your remains will be burned." and scattered so that not even the gods can find you.
He collapsed for a moment, then rose to his feet angrily against his chains. I took a few steps back as she opened her eyes and began to sing. A dark red mist enveloped the chained man.
A voice from the class shouted, "Tran Dalath!" Kill the magic!
Amid sudden screams of terror, three arrows fled, and my own throwing dagger was lost. Although I can't tell you whenCorrectI drew it and molded it. The man stared stupidly at his chest, where a pair of arrows protruded from behind him; the third arrow obscenely pierced his throat. My own dagger protruded from a socket where his left eye had once been. A taut heartbeat stopped, then fell forward as the red mist around her crackled and died.
I took a few more steps back and pulled out my grappling hook. I studied the other two men, they were looking at their dead leader with the same shock and fear as the class. In the noise and commotion of the moment, I studied every face present for possible threats. Finding none, I left the tip of the tweezers on the cafeteria floor.
A glance at N'relv showed balanced arrows and a hint of terror and fear within himself. Normally, the B'radian are largely unmolested, so I took a few more steps away from the prisoners. I then turned to the other two men: "I have to finish you off now, even though our Blessed Mother has asked here that I spare your lives. If you try to speak, you will be cut off, so nod or shake your head." head if necessary. You understand?
They nodded vigorously.
'Good. If he knows exactly who this man was and what he was for, he should nod again.
One shook his head while the other nodded.
I waved the nodding man away from his friend. "You can write?"
He nodded again.
"Good. Proctors, go and shut this man up and put him to paper and pen, if he falters in his efforts or suddenly lacks the will to write, he will be handed over to torture, bare hand of course for writing. One Once his testimony is given and the truth spoken by a cleric of truth, he will be transformed into the fair sex and tied to his person in the service of a temple to the goddess.
I turned and looked at the other man. "Since you cannot write or be trusted to speak in my presence, you will speak for a Cleric of Truth. If you hesitate, you will be tortured until you decide thatable totalk. As soon as the priests are sure that you have no more truth to tell, you, as your countryman, will be bound to the service of the goddess."
I gestured to the various supervisors to move the men away, then sat down, placed the knife in my lap, and addressed the class as they did so.
"This was not a normal court." There was a hint of rude laughter in the classroom. "As Blood Royals, for their attack on me, their lives had already been taken by my will. Torture, by virtue of its harsh nature, is usually not an appropriate punishment for most crimes or an incentive to say the least." "That's true. But as in my case," I pointed at the dead man, "he deserves it once in a while."
Circumstances often dictate the search for complete answers. Sometimes the good of the country demands that you, as a judge, order the death or torture of those who deserve it. Sometimes you even have to act directly or in a way that seems unfair to ensure that the good of the country is preserved. It is at such times that one should think carefully and ask the gods and goddesses for guidance."
I took a deep breath, "To those who have served, I am grateful, as is your king and your country. May your path be more peaceful after this day, the court is overthrown."
I was quite happy that my food stayed in my stomach, even though my nerves had caught up with the actions of the previous few minutes. As the crowd dispersed, I rose to my feet and returned my rapier to its scabbard, viewing the task of retrieving my dagger with some distaste. I grabbed the hilt, took a deep breath, and yanked it back, the remnants of the eyeball making a sickening splash as the blade came loose.
After a few deep breaths, I opened my eyes again and examined my knife. Somewhat nonchalantly, I tapped the point of the dagger against the tile until debris slid off the blade. At death, all human beings are stripped of their dignity, and the added odors of entrails and such gave me a few involuntary spasms. I focused on the task at hand. I didn't want to vomit because that would be undignified.
A deeply tanned hand pushed a stained cloth into my hand: "Here, use this."
"Thank you." I stood up and was very careful not to think about the materials I was about to remove from the sheet. A few light strokes removed the debris from the dagger, and a few more made sure it was clean. I took a careful look at the scabbard, making sure it was safe from my still unsteady hands, and put it back on my belt.
I turned to see N'relv's archers retrieving the ends of the arrows by breaking them appropriately and releasing the pieces. If they wanted the arrows intact, they could have cut them from the body. Messy but useful if you are missing arrows.
I handed the cloth to one of the archers when he got his point back. I quickly looked at them and nodded to the two men and a lady, "Gentlemen, ma'am, never miss your target." I bowed my head before the dead man. "Very good recording."
"Your own release is also very well done." I nodded to the lady of N'relv.
Half expecting what the answer would be, I asked, "I take it your presence wasn't exactly accidental?"
"Well, your father is worried about his heir." His nose wrinkled as he said this: "We must clean up this mess and return the reverend to his place of mourning."
"Yeah." I signaled to a couple of supervisors who were immobile, "Make this room presentable as befits our guest and our dead sister." Sometimes it's good to be free of blood, plus lately I'd been cleaning some latrines and wasn't aware of it.somea bit of revenge
I took a few minutes to remain silent next to the dead girl and the one blessed by the mother. If it were an omen, I would pack everything and rush home to the castle. A little later I gave the Blessed Mother a tender hug. "Fred, if you need anything, just ask us and we'll make sure Jonne gets help quickly."
She squeezed my hands lightly, "Thank you daughter, I'm glad you defended so appropriately and that your own skills kept you safe."
"Me too. I rested my head on his shoulder and then spoke quietly, 'Mother warned me that a Wizard King has been reborn.' At his sharp inhalation, I made a soft, reassuring sound, "I know he isn't. It's only fair that I force you in your pain, I want you to tell the sisters what happened."
She nodded and a dim white light surrounded her head, "Speak softly daughter and the sisters will hear you."
"Blessed Mother of the Goddess, hear me and know that my heart is heavy. The Goddess who loves us all has told me in a vision, a terrible warning. A magic king isreborn, opposes the Royal Blood and our country. It is possible that he once struck against the heir, and luck is on our side, he failed.
I took a deep breath and continued: "I go as heir to my colored path in search of an unknown path. By doing this, I hope to attract the hand of our enemy to myself, buy blood and land, time for our enemy."
"Give my father and mother all the help and support in this dark moment. I only seek the benevolence of our goddess and her blessing on all of us. Always be vigilant my sisters, the goddess protects us all." I gently squeezed the mother's shoulder, and her white glow disappeared.
"Aren't you asking for a blessing for yourself, child?" she asked.
"His hand is upon me, blessed mother, need I ask for more?" I kissed him on the forehead. "Also, if I'm reading the writing of the winds of fate correctly, we may all need her touch."
"I hope not, daughter. Unfortunately, this miserable fate has befallen us, but death is a part of life."
"She will come back to us when the time comes. Blessed," he said.
"Ah, thank you daughter, I forget in my sadness that everything comes back to us".
"Sincere pain is a balm for the soul and a tribute to those who have preceded us."
She smiled, "So the rumors about your time with us aren't rumors?"
"No, no blessed rumours, I have spent a few months in the goddess's service learning her mysteries."
"Not all children do, but we can wait." She laughed, "So Ari has decided who you're going to be?"
I shook my head remorsefully, "No, sister on the way, I haven't seen a clear pathInchoice."
"It will come, it will come. In the meantime, you have my blessing and my thanks." I knelt down and rested my head on her knee. “By the Goddess I know you, in my heart I keep you, in my prayers I support you. Know that you are loved by me, my sisters and the Goddess, our hand is on you”, she drew a circle in my head. with her fingers "In the fullness of time we will meet, we will know and we will embrace again. As she wants and as we, she will be like that".
"So it's sister." I stood up and wiped a tear from one eye, "Stay safe, mother blessed."
I blinked as a sudden hot pink glow engulfed her for a moment. "And you, daughter, find your way among other paths, the grass tells a strange story."
"Thank you, Blessed Mother." And the lady herself, I added silently. When she closed her eyes and returned to her prayers for the deceased child, I took a few silent steps away from her vigil and turned to go out into the hallway.
The N'relv looked at me warily but unreadably. I gestured for them to come out and followed them. The sun was firmly overhead, my day passed and I still hadn't picked up my mission pack, I changed out of my top and left.
Lady B'radian turned and looked at me with wide eyes. "I couldn't help but overhear."
I nodded, the hearing of the relatives better than most. "AND?"
"You'd be risking a lot if you went your way now," she sounded disgusted with the idea.
"I'll go anyway, if only to buy time for our people to get ready. When I run home, all our eggs are placed in one basket, making it easy to get everyone together in one go." I pointed to the posts where a single yellow garland awaited me, "If I give in to fear, what kind of leader will I be."
"If you end up dying, you're not leading anyone," she looked at me a little annoyed as she said that.
"True, but knowing that my mom and dad sent you all to take care of me doesn't make my path any less real."
They had the grace to laugh. One of the men said, "Oh, they'll hear us when we report back at the end of it all, I'm sure."
I shrugged, intending to drop them as soon as I entered the woods, if possible. They were Bradians, after all, the best scouts and trackers in the Empire. I sighed and kicked a stray rock, sending it bouncing across the path again. "I don't think if I told you to visit a brewery for a few days, would you go?"
That led to a trio of soft laughs, and then they said in unison, "Hardly."
"I thought so. I have at least an hour before I'm ready. I need a meal and to get my things together. I hope I won't see you for a while?"
"Who can see a B'radian if they don't want to be seen?"
"Just another B'radian," I joked.
As a group they nodded and began to talk among themselves. I think they bet how many rings I would collect. I was a little happy to see that there were more than eight.
I ate my meal in the room where I had dressed earlier, a hearty lamb stew, bread and cheese, and a glass of wine. Normally I would have skipped the wine, but I wanted something to wash down the little case of nerves I had. I looked around the room until my eyes fell on a painting of the posts with many garlands and rings from an initial search. A copper plaque at the bottom estimated its age at over four hundred years.
I studied the painting for a moment, then went to the window. For a long time I stared at the lone yellow ribbon, then looked at the painting again. I blinked a few times and looked out the window again. There were nine studs in the painting; outside there were eight in a row. Seeing that sight, I went back and filled my glass with a pitcher of water.
So four hundred years ago there were nine. Now only eight... Nine is a significant number among wizards and priests, while eight is meaningless. I drained my glass, refilled it, and drank thoughtfully. Too many coincidences, for some reason just the thought made me shiver like a cold draft descending on me.
Thinking about all the strange prints and paint, I changed into a simple but strong leather jerkin. It also reached below my knees and was made more like rough brushing than formal velvet. I left the collar in leather because the sleeves were bright enough to show people where you were.
I was roused from my reverie by the sound of a loud argument or debate coming my way. I had finished strapping on my weapons when a loud knock on the door echoed through the room. Grimacing, I returned to the ruins of my food and sat down. "Get into."
The older patron entered the room along with some priests and some of N'relv. "Your Highness of him." The supervisor leaned slightly in my direction. “We think it would be unwise for you to seek your way at this time.
"Oh, and your reasons for this?" I frowned at the B'radians, they didn't seem happy that I was glaring at them.
"The prisoners were not exactly presented with information and died as if they were under a death curse." He was still glaring at the B'radians. "We also received a message that he had received a warning."
"A warning I heed." He had a clearly angry tone when I spoke next. I do not stray from my path, it is my right under the law. You know the law better than anyone, Proctor.
“Your Highness, at this time the good of the Kingdom demands that you be prohibited from doing so.”
"Ban it if you want, I'm still going." I yelled a bit as my face heated up.
"If you don't have a color to follow, how are you doing?"
I looked out the window at the bars; the only yellow streamer was missing. "You had no right."
He didn't seem very happy with my anger. "I am here, Proctor, even an heir must submit to the laws that govern the roads."
I took a deep breath and frowned, "Okay, get out of my sight, your news and your intention to interfere with my business is making me sick."
"Your Highness," he paused, recoiling from my seemingly mean glare.
I pulled my dagger from its scabbard and hurled it into the painting, clear through the ninth pillar. 'Leave. Before you do something more rash.
"D'na'Ari! Your behavior!" he protested.
"Often a concern for my father and mother, but that is their concern and no longer yours. I will stop with your instructions, since you have ruined my path, you will not ruin the rest of my day. Leave immediately or I will my mixed nephews will get you eliminated." I glared at the B'radians as she poured me a glass of wine.
"But you can..."
"Can you what? Try again another time if you can interfere again? I don't think so." I considered throwing the wine at it as it would be in keeping with my so-called "spoiled nature", although I hated to waste decent wine.
My eyes flew to the rod in the paint that my dagger pierced. I forced my eyes down to my mug and bit my lip to keep from laughing. To hell with them, he didn't need his blessing if he found the right path.
"I'm sorry, Your Highness," he said, regretting his behavior.
"I doubt it." I pulled the stiletto out of the sheath of my braid. I chose one of the B'radian and took aim at it. "Take him and yourself away, I'd be alone for a while if you stay much longer in my sighthas todo something rash."
I looked at the priests and then chose the oldest of them. "I want to talk to you sir, the rest have to go too."
"As you wish." He didn't seem happy about being chosen for an interview. Although I did like the colors of his box, intense red and a single embroidered gold flame.
When the Procts and the B'radians left and the door closed again, I motioned for her to sit down. "Forgive my anger, jury."
"I can't say that he isn't a completely unfair child." She smiled and saw my stiletto.
I took a moment to retrieve my second dagger, prying it out of the painting with more care than I threw it, and putting the stiletto back in its place as well. I should have thrown this at the supervisor, although I think he might have understood.
"Forgive an old man's curiosity?"
"If you give me your name."
"Oh, I'm Denali, I serve in the Temple of the Sword."
"And your question?" I asked.
"You're not going home, are you?"
I laughed, "I'm not trying to lie to a priest or priestess, so if you'll excuse me, I choose not to answer that question."
"Fine," she suddenly seemed cheerful, and I crossed the room and grabbed my glass of wine and then sat down next to her.
"If I said to follow what a higher authority told me, would you feel slighted?"
'Strong child. I was afraid you'd give in to the pressure put on you,” he replied, pointing to the door through which the lead supervisor had been led.
I took a sip of the wine and savored it for a moment. I usually do what I want. If the halls weren't full of ears, I'd say more.
"Right," he chuckled deeply, "I heard that from you."
I smiled a little weakly at his comment, "And honestly, if I can't find my way, it doesn't matter."
"Sometimes it doesn't have to be an act to act according to one's nature."
"Your aim was true," he replied, pointing to the painting.
"Ah, more guidance from above?"
"Let's say you're about to, if my words make sense, act. If not, you'll only fail if you don't search."
"Is there?" I indicated the painting.
"You've reached your goal, haven't you?"
Oh boy, was that right. "Believe."
'Then act. You have everything you need to get started, right?
For a moment I thought, "except for a few things, although I might be cold and hungry for a while."
"Isn't it a worthy task without some difficulties?"
"Forget about Blood Royal gifts, you can hide some things in plain sight." She hit her head and got to her feet. With a mischievous smile, she turned and looked at me, "I will now remove my mixed self from your presence. If you find your way to a Sword Temple, there may be some things available to you." The river. 'Or not. Find your way, girl, for all of us.
"Travel safely, Oathsworn."
"Oh, I think I'll be safer than the others. If you must go, wash your way quickly and often."
'I'll think about that. Best wishes.'
"And his hand protects you." She then muttered out loud about young people not caring about their elders. I gave him a look and he blinked before slamming into one of the B'radian. "Get off me you assholes, give the girl privacy or I'll blow your tongue off."
When the door was closed, I bit my lip for a while and quickly took inventory of my belongings. I found some little bags of coins that I put in my doublet. I found a partially filled wineskin and slid it over my shoulder along the rope. I took a small wet stone and put it on top of a boot.
As much as I wanted one of the blankets, I didn't think I could take one without it being obvious what I was doing. I took an apple and the bread and cheese and wrapped it in a cloth so I could take it with me. I smacked the signet ring against my crown twice, knocking it out of sight.
One of the magics of the circle is that if I hit it three times, then two more times, it would make me invisible for a few hours at most. A useful spell if you needed to hide from a murderer or an angry man. It's only happened once, and well, the lady in question lied to me about her.it's notto be married
I added a little water to the partially filled wineskin as it would dilute the wine. It serves two purposes, I could swallow it and not get drunk, and once I got moving it didn't dehydrate me as much as straight wine.
I went over to the window, glad I wasn't on the second or third floor, so with the help of a comfortable chair and a few necessary taps to make myself invisible; I was gone. Through the window passed all the annoying supervisors and b'radians.
Suppressing the urge to laugh out loud, I cautiously moved between the various groups of people. When I got to the stakes where the rings would have hung, I slowed down and looked at the scraped dirt and grass. I stood there for a while, then leaned against a fence post.
'Patterns in the Grass', a wonderful track. I lowered my head and studied my boots, then my eyes went to the fence. Or rather the grass that grew around the fence posts. For a moment I tried to imagine what the grass would look like around a pole, then I squashed the grass as if it had been trampled by many feet. The flattened grass formed a strange spiral around the fence post. I felt a slight sense of disorientation as I looked at the eight posts.
I went back to them and tried to get on the line with them. They were about five long steps apart, so I closed my eyes and took six long steps. Nothing. I went to the other end and repeated the process. Step, look, wait for someone to pass, a few more steps and there was a circle of grass. To be sure, I closed my eyes and took a few more steps.
I stopped abruptly when I ran into something about chest high. I hit it so hard I didn't see any stars, but hitting something hard on your breasts hurts if you didn't know. Although at that moment I did my best not to scream with joy. I looked down to see the circle of flattened grass and it was all I could do not to jump with excitement.
Cautiously, I knelt down to find the base of the post and carefully made my way to where the rings would hang. I found the first hook, it was empty, just like the next one. It took what seemed like ten long days, though I'm sure it only took me a few minutes to find a strip of threadbare clothing and the ring it was attached to.
I took a deep breath and pulled it out of the post, exposing the mail; I took that as my cue to move away from the starting posts. Surely someone would notice her sudden appearance, and I didn't want to be found loitering around like a bewildered fool. I took a quick look at the top of the post where several arrows indicated a direction, my direction was east. There was also a number there, well worn but visible, eight. Which meant that he had eight leagues to get to the next marker.
I felt some marks on the ring as I moved away from the posts. The rings themselves provide clues to help you find the right place where you were supposed to be. The supervisors were kind enough to have a little sandbox map showing the local region. A bit of magic made it pretty accurate. I put my finger where the ninth post would be, my post, and looked to where the east would be.
Fortunately, it seemed that he could travel quite easily, as one path headed east for four miles before turning south. A road that fortunately was also quite busy. That traffic should blur my path a bit. Looking at the map, it also seemed that I would be moving away from the color path region.
I shrugged and turned to walk towards the road, ignoring the calls of my name and the sudden flurry of activity. I had to get off campus before someone bumped into me and vice versa. As I was walking I heard some laughter and some cries of alarm that I missed. If they hadn't been such idiots, they could have discreetly followed me. Personally, I felt good, I just had to trust myself, the whims of the gods and good luck. I was free and I felt good.
I stayed off the road for a while and ran over the side, hopefully I was able to run a couple of kilometers before the invisible went out. I put the ring on one finger and tied the strip of cloth loosely around my wrist, not wanting to lose it or the ring. Surprisingly, the ring fit very well on my right index finger.
When the few hours with my crown of invisibility had definitely passed and he still couldn't see me. I hit the road and counted myself lucky that the ring worked as well for me as it did on the pole. Part of me wished I had brought a blanket, but if the weather was still good, the worst I'd suffer would be some dirt and grass stains.
From time to time he had to leave the path as he walked, as men and women galloped past. I recognized the clothing of the Messengers of the Kingdom and several light cavalry troops when they arrived at the Color Campus. Inwardly I complained because it was clear that some people were determined to make it much more difficult.
I didn't want to have to worry about dodging Kingdom Patrols, Wizards, and B'radians. Granted, I wasn't too worried about the random patrol finding me, and I had a head start on the B'radians. The wizards on the other side, I sighed, the wizards could probably see where I was, though hopefully I'd be deep in the woods soon.
That thought made me laugh, since most human mages never set foot outside of a city, so they tend to see the forest only for the trees. So if I wandered into the woods unnoticed, they would have no idea where I was. If he was in a city they probably could tell what beer he was drinking let alone when.linksme.
But if they used a gifted magician for divination, he might be in trouble. Divination is the art of locating all kindsWhat, sometimes wizards ventured into the ways of the future. Although they often choose to see only what is happening 'now'. They can be a real problem because they can tell others where to find me at all times.
Over time, I changed my pace from jogging to walking. I tried to cover the twelve or four miles at a pace fast enough to reach the woods at the bend in the road before dark. She didn't want to be anywhere near the road when the enchantment on the ring wore off.
Finally the last few days took their toll and I stopped jogging and just walked. I felt more tired than I thought I should be. Although I walked and did and acted, which is more than I would have done if I had bowed to the various pressures placed on me.
I took a moment to study the road, for the most part it was well compacted, although I did leave an occasional footprint in the dust. Rather than leave a solid trail of dusty stairs, I left the path and walked along it for a while. The land is filled with a riot of color in summer, from a single flower to the deep green of trees and various grasses. If the rebirth of the Wizard King wasn't overshadowed, this trip would be quite pleasant.
For a long time I just walked and let the scenery and the warm, calm air wash away my worries. All the pressure of the day came back though as I approached the area where the road turned south out of my way. A line of staked horses and the presence of men camping for the night startled me wide awake.
I stood there in a cloak of rage for a few long minutes, sending the various members of that camp to the various hells. A part of me wondered how they could have found me, the other part of me pushed me to go into the woods. So I moved slowly from the side of the road into the woods, making sure not to leave too many footprints.
He was really upset, and that was putting it mildly. I took my time and sat down in some deep brush and leaned my back against a tree. As my stomach rumbled, I absently remembered the bread and cheese. Thinking I was stuck, at least until dark, I went ahead and ate. Honestly, I complained.
The Goddess and Gods put me on this path, so why should everyone try to ruin it? I made sure to note that the Goddess herself had given me instructions as she relayed the message through the Blessed One. So I didn't think my current situation was because of them. Either my family considered me a child or the supervisors tried to stop me.haring tu, as I'm sure they would say.
I wasn't sure if the Bradians would actively interfere with me, but if they felt compelled by their orders, they would. I sighed softly in annoyance. This was by no means going to be easy, it was on that note that I fell into a weary sleep.
Night found me rudely awakened by the loud hooting of an owl. When my heart stopped beating like a racehorse, I went to see where the camp was set up. For a moment I wondered if a guard had been posted, then noticed a hint of movement where there should be none. Well, my father would be pleased with his diligence; I, on the other hand, was really upset.
I really didn't want to wade further north or south into the woods than at night. Although it seemed that he would have no choice. I looked up at the sky, the moons hadn't risen yet so I was blessed in that regard. There was no point in tempting fate more than necessary, so I turned and headed south, deeper into the forest.
A few hundred paces later I reached the road and looked north. Fortunately, the curve of the road obscured the northern part of the road where the camp was located. Seeing no nearby patrols or guards, I crossed and went further into the forest.
Once on the other side I yearned for a compass, for walking blindly through a forest was a sure way to get lost. But once the moons rose, he would have a trail to follow. Since I didn't have a good path or route, I took my best guess and walked in that direction for what seemed like hours. As much as I wish I could move faster through the trees and brush in the forest, I couldn't. Well, shut up about it anyway.
At night, time passes strangely in the depths of a forest. When the first moon rose, I didn't really realize that I was seeing better. Although the second climb allowed me to move quickly through the brush. The twin moons were named Vonne and Venne after the two gods of love they represented. I counted my luck that they were almost full as it made my trip so much easier. Due to the season, summer, they easily marked a path in the sky with their own travels.
Vonne travels northeast a bit and Venne travels southeast a bit. After they have touched and passed, if you draw a line from them on your head or on the ground, you can zoom in from the other directions. Venne is said to be much further from the world than Vonne is, so the two never really touch each other; but in the light they caress us all. I could see east and did my best to remember them as I went.
One thing I learned from my time with the B'radian and my N'relv cousins is a small number of field ships. A noisy night, and the night in the forest is certainly not quiet; it also means that there is no real predator or dangerous beast on the hunt. That's why I froze when things stopped dead silent.
A few hundred heartbeats weighed heavily on the silence over the forest. I knelt down and placed my hands on the hilt of the sword and dagger. In the distance I heard a loud crack and then all the frozen life in the forest came out of hiding and flowed in one direction.
The Bradians proclaim a law of nature. "If nature flees from an area, it is best to flee with it." I took a deep breath and ran after the various fleeing animals. there are still so many bad thingslivingfrom Near Ending, so when nature is running away, you didn't want to stick around and find out what caused it.
In these eternal moments of fear, man, N'relv, and nature are in harmony. We are all looking for a safe place and a safe direction. I pushed past a charging deer and ran with it until it left me far behind. Heart and lungs burning in sync with my legs, I finally climbed out from under a deep brush bank and waited for my lungs to catch up. My ears pricked up at the sounds that indicated that danger was still near.
Sweat poured out on me in the heat of the summer night as I tried to calm my breathing and listen. As I slowly caught my breath, I heard the slow return of life to the earth. Either the danger had passed or this area was far enough from danger to be safe. I was happy to stay there and just live.
I counted a few hundred heartbeats, then climbed out from under the brush and found a tree to rest in while I relieved myself. Anxiety has a nasty way of making you lose a few pounds. Fortunately, I didn't have to find a stream to wash my breaks. Although it was close. It is true that I am not very brave, although it may seem so to others. In the company of myself, I let the tears come and the blows come and go like they used to.
In the comfortable embrace of another tree, I leaned back and watched the stars twinkle between the trees. "Goddess above as my witness, I will continue, I will persevere. Although the gods are within me and around me, this is not what I have planned." I sighed and brought my knees up to hug them. Sweat had soaked through my clothes and I was a bit chilly, but I fell asleep among the roots of the tree.
The rising sun found me partially buried in the leaves of last winter. I guess I unconsciously lay under them to warm myself, although they also gave me some shelter. I checked that I had my suitcases and my wet stone. The apple, the bread and the cheese had disappeared during the long walks of the last day.
I also noticed that it was visible, although the ring I received in the mail was not. I felt for the strange but hidden marks to get a clue as to their nature and then tried to remove them. I quickly realized it wouldn't come out, but when I turned it to the left, it came up. A right turn and he was out of sight, as was my finger for a moment.
I cast to the left and moved my finger as the magic seemed to regenerate over time. That comforted me a little, though I wasn't sure what to make of the marks on the frame. The ring was supposed to provide clues as to where the successor would be found next.
Turning to the left, there was a clearly defined beginning where the black work on the silver belt began. The first symbols were a pair of overlapping disks, one smaller than the other: Vonne and Venne. The next symbol escaped me entirely, though it was clearly known, and to the Ston'Kinder or Dwarves, so to speak.
The next marker was of a reclining person with a cup outstretched in one hand, strange but unclear. Next was the N'relvian symbol for pure water. It was followed by a copy of the figure with the cup facing away; create a matching set around the symbol of water. The last symbol was union or marriage, taken from many altar garments common at weddings.
With these mysteries in mind, I stood up and shook the leaves from the various places where they were. Although I had to do a bit of dancing with a boot to realize how some idiot had taken a good third of the boot. I suspect there's a law of magical contagion somewhere that any foreign object will find its way to a hard-to-reach place.
It was fixed, I looked around the forest, trees, trees, bushes and more trees. When I was hungry and basically wasted; the search for food seemed to be the order of the day. Since it was summer, there was a wide variety of fruits and berries, although nuts would be in short supply until the following spring. The thorns make berry picking a bitch, so I'd rather someone else do it for me, because some time later I wish I'd remembered to bring gloves.
As long as he nibbled on the berries and only ate a few mushrooms, he'd be fine. Although eating too many berries would make me stop too often to visit the trees. I didn't really need a laxative or its effects during the march. So I wrapped most of the berries in the same cloth in which I had brought the bread and cheese.
Looking at the sun, I made a rough attempt at picking east and went for it. With luck, I would take a road or a river, or head to a town or place that I would surely remember from the long lectures on map reading. But you would have to climb some trees to find the distant landmarks.
I definitely didn't expect that as I really don't like heights. Although I can climb, my N'relvian cousins had a blast shouting encouraging advice like "Don't look down." or my favorite, "It only hurts when you land." While I may have N'relv blood, I don't have his love of heights. Being trapped several hundred meters above the ground wasit's notone of my best childhood memories.
So with some trepidation I chose a probable tree. It was magnificent in itself, a towering giant that could easily have been standing at the time of the Near End. I studied the great old man in the forest and chose a reasonably safe, acceptable, and easy route to the top. I loosened my clamp and leaned it against the wood, then added grape skins and berries. I didn't want to be hanged, well, hanged any more than my fear would hold on to me.
I stood with my hand against the tree for a while and asked permission to climb it. It may sound strange to you, but among the N'relv it is considered a necessary and courteous act. Although for some reason they are not sure why the tradition started or continues. I then pulled myself up to the first branch and started the winding path up.
I would like to say that the climb was easy and any child could have done it. Unfortunately, when you can go all out and think about what your next move or hold is, you tend to become critically focused. In my case, I was breathing quite hard and the sweat formed its own river down my back.
For a good two-thirds of the way I had to stop and pretend the world wasn't spinning and remember that the light breeze was just that and not a storm. I clung to the tree and leaned my head against the trunk. It had a soothing aroma of maple and a strange spice. I drank it down, letting the smell distract my mind from the certain death a fall would bring.
When I was able to open my eyes again, I was greeted by a strange sight, in the distance was an ornate spear. From the wound in the tree, a small amount of sap dripped out at the same time as a hidden heartbeat. The spear itself looked brand new, which worried me. Many of the weapons that survived the Near Ending were magical and contained some pretty nasty enchantments.
For a long time I studied the runes that were aligned on the axis. My knowledge of runes and the like, while not comparable to that of most magicians, is quite adequate. Though I couldn't for the life of me see the purpose of a wood binding. If it really was the first rune. Runes change like any other language or alphabet, though he was pretty sure it wasn't a spell aimed at humans or N'relv. It made me curious.
If I have a flaw, I would consider curiosity one of my biggest flaws. If a cat dies from those things, I'm lucky I'm not a cat. But if you ask my mom, that's moot. Oddly enough, he wasn't so much concerned with the strange effects of the spells on the spear as he was with the fall.
At a strange moment I found myself reaching for the spear. I guess it was the lure of the forbidden or some unknown impulse that finally made me reach up and grab the shaft. The strange tingle it gave me only made it that much easier to pull the spear back out of the woods.
For a brief moment, my mind and heart trembled in sheer panic at what I had done; then I felt like I was slipping and falling. I unconsciously dropped the spear in a desperate attempt to find something to hold on to, in that long, horrible moment of sinking something wrapped around me and stopped my fall.
After a while I realized two things; one I must have gotten wet, and two I was wrapped in all kinds of branches and tree branches. In those two thoughts I got carried away for a while, just enjoying the fact that I was alive. When a deep, ancient voice spoke to me, I almost lost my mind with fear.
"You are safe, Child of the Leaves." I looked around frantically trying to find the source of that voice.
'Uh, thanks, I guess. Who are you and where?"
A deep laugh made the tree convulse and I grabbed the branches that held me. I am the one who holds you. I am Ammot Tree-Kin of the Lasages, and so are you?
'D'na'Ari. Sorry for my confusion, but I thought the Tree-Kin were just myths.
"Do I feel like a myth?" He gave me a little shake and my heart stopped for a moment.
"N-no, p-please don't," I quickly stammered.
“Is a leaf child afraid of heights? What's wrong with the world?"
I tossed around a bit, trying to regain some feeling in my leg that was threatening to make me fall asleep. "Well, if you put me down, maybe we could talk more easily? Or at least I could."
"Oh, indeed." For the third time in as many moments, I found my heart in my throat as the branches swayed before I lay gently on the ground.
"Thank you very much, kind sir, is it, sir? Isn't it?"
'Yes', and for the first time I could see the big eyes and mouth in the tree that had spoken to me.
"I beg your indulgence, kind sir, I must, uh, take off some clothes."
"Don't be afraid, child, your modesty is safe since you are barely of legal age and you have the qualities that I would look for in a partner."
"Thanks i think."
He laughed heartily and I felt his eyes move to look around the forest. While looking distracted, I took off my soaked pants. Somehow I was glad I didn't get them dirty too, although it was disappointing that I had peed on them. I have used some of the wine and water mixture to rinse the breaks with no success, hoping that the scent would be easier to absorb once they are dry.
When I finished I looked at my benefactor, "So Ammot, aside from my ignorance and confusion, how can you be huh…"
"Isn't he dead or isn't he a myth?"
Well, I think, blushing with embarrassment, yes.
There was silence for a moment: “Well, if that spear is any indication, we were forced to sleep. We really can't die except by fire and thenInrequires effort.
'Oh, then I guess the next question will be asked; is there more of you?
"Yes, even if they are sleeping too. I think we owe you a debt of gratitude, young D'na'Ari."
"Please call me Ari, I've never liked the full sound of my name when I'm just talking."
"Oh, don't you like court life because you're one of the high N'relv?" she rumbled with a hint of humor in his tone.
“No, not particularly, I do my best to escape from the court. Although this exhaust is not exactly one that I would have liked.
'You seem discouraged, the wars are over, aren't they? It seems as if she had sensed the times while he was sleeping.
"Yes and no."
"A strange answer. However, there seems to be a grain of truth in it."
I placed my breasts on a convenient bush and turned to retrieve my hook and a bunch of berries. "Well, several hundred years ago, N'relv and the people were only a fraction of what we once were."
"How so? I remember the days when all I could do was keep my limbs free of your boy," my ears rang in surprise.
"Well, from what has survived the history of that time, the Magi in their war against the other races sent us, their own people, almost to extinction."
"I remember the beginning, though I'm not sure why the tree family fell asleep." He turned around, lifted his roots out of the ground, and put them back down. He picked up the spear and broke it. "A nasty job."
"Yes, as I recall from the legends of the time, the Magi feared something beyond their control. If I can guess, they used those spears or something to prevent you from helping their enemies."
"I can feel my relatives sleeping here and there, even though the distances are small for people like me."
"So you want to wake them up?"
"Actually," he stopped and turned to look at me. "What brings you so far from any enclave or city, young Ari?"
"I'm on trial and it looks like I'm running from a new Wizard King."
"A new Wizard King?" his concern in that matter roared quite a bit.
"That's what the goddess told me." I shrugged halfway. "I warned the blessed ones to keep going. And still."
And yet you run only when you could be safe. You are a strange Ari.
I shook my head. "Not really, remember death sentences?"
"Death Magicks, there is no such thing," the disbeliever said.
“I wish you were right, unfortunately they have been discovered and used. As it is, someone is turning them against the important families, and if I can find my way back, I could stop them. I took a deep breath, "May the gods grant me success."
"Find your way? Surely a leaf child never gets lost in the wilderness?"
They are if they are me. Something has set the forest in motion, and he wasn't about to find out what it was.
"Does that also apply today?"
"Yeah, there's still too much stuff left from the Wizard Wars. Like that spear, so we learned when to run. A good wizard could stop some of that stuff, though."
"Don't you have a present?"
"Not enough to light a candle."
"Yet you are full of magic."
“Some rings and other little things yes. None of them are my own gift.
"I did not mean that while you have those things, in my eyes you shine quite well with the gift."
I sat up abruptly, "I don't mean that badly, but I hope you're wrong."
"The gift is the wish, right?"
"No, neither for me nor for my family." I used my signet ring to reveal my crown, then removed it to reveal the gems. Luckily they were dark. I held up the ring to show the dark gems. "If these were on fire, he would not be fit to rule."
"What kind of nonsense is that? Surely a strong mage is a better defender than a talentless leader?"
"Once we've had enough of the Three Kings, the laws are made to protect people from their return."
"Yet you say that one is reborn?"
"Unfortunately it is."
"You must have wizards?"
"Oh sure, but they are given to preserve the land, not to rule it."
"That doesn't sound like a misguided system, so in time your 'Kingdom' will withstand this threat."
"If this Magic King doesn't bind people into slavery like the first one did."
"Oh, that would explain the runes on that spear. I thought they looked like your relatives."
"Sad but true, our people, humans and N'relv, were little more than fodder for the whims and wills of the Magi."
"And the goddess has left you alone for this task?" it sounded confusing.
"Yeah, I guess I just get lucky that way. Still, if that's any indication that I've found the first step in my process.
"This process is something new to me. I guess it's not unlike the growth tours N'relv used to do though. They used to work in teams though."
"Well, for the most part, a test is supposed to be a solo effort."
"If something is common, it usually has a good reason."
“I suppose, then, with the Wizard chasing me; it would be better to keep it solitary.
"Can you give gifts or help along the way?" she asked with a hint of thought in her voice.
"Yes and no. I can't ask for instructions or help leading me directly to the next phase of my experiment. Food equipment and such depends on the nature of the gift. The experiment must be a test after all."
"You don't seem particularly well equipped for your 'Trial', a set of clothes and some weapons. Don't you expect your young to survive these 'trials'?"
I told him about the events of the last few days and how the main supervisor had tried to deny me the trial. Looking back now, I felt kind of silly for not posting a lot of things. Ah, I'm not a thief.
After a while, he commented, "So you went anyway. You're either very dumb or just stubborn, if not a little brave."
I laughed out loud, falling back as I did so, I looked at him. "Oh, if you asked my parents, they would say that they are stubborn and foolish."
"Yes, but it seems to be the language of youth."
I nodded slowly, I think. My grandmother tends to mention it to my father from time to time. Still, a part of me is irritated by the supervisor's interference.
"So how are you going to find your way?" she asked her.
"Well, I planned to find the road or a river and work from there." I shrugged, "Somehow I got distracted."
He laughed out loud, "Happy for me and my family. Hmm, we owe you if only for Chances Favor, you set me free."
"It was just a coincidence." I protested.
"Would you refuse a gift?" it sounded a bit bitter.
"Uh no." Who was I to disturb a family of trees, especially one this big? I stood up slowly, "No offense meant."
"I'm not mad at you young Ari, but if my family weren't sleeping I'd be talking to your supervisors."
I frowned slightly and then laughed, "Oh, I'd love to see the look on his face when you show up to discuss the matter." I shrugged, "He thinks he's doing the right thing."
"It's more like I'm scared," he said, turning to look around.
"There is something wrong?"
“Not as such, I've been in one place too long and some roots run deep.
"Ah," I took a moment to check my tears, maybe washing them with a mixture of water and wine wasn't the best idea. They were a bit sticky.
"Then how will I reward you?"
I turned and looked at him and took a moment to think. My mother believed that friends were worth more than any gift. Lately she had discovered among friends of my color that she was right. "Well, Ammot, I really can't think of a better gift than friendship. If you think I'm worth it, I'd be your friend.
"What, no jewelry or gold?" she asked herself with a bit of humor in her voice.
I looked down and looked up again, "Ammot, I can get gold and jewelry any day of the week, it's much harder to find friends."
"Heavy is the head that wears the crown?" she asked.
"Something like that." I turned in what I thought was the general direction of the Campus. "Part of the reason I bothered with the process was to make friends."
"And did you pass?"
"Yes, although most people don't suspect who I really am."
"And you expect those who don't know you to change their minds?"
"Let's hope not, although it would show me what kind of person they are if I changed them."
"So you wanted to try who you're friends with?"
"Well, experience has shown that the effect of not trying such things leads to painful endings."
"It has the bitter note of pain, Lass."
"Really, it has happened too many times in court. I even hoped to avoid beingdiolike Royal Blood. Even if duty requires it.
"Is duty that hard?"
"I can have a face for one occasion and another for another. Sometimes I can be myself, even if I have to be a woman."
"Aren't you normally a woman?" he sounded a bit incredulous.
"No," I had to laugh. “Usually I am, if hot-headed members of the court are to be believed; a spoiled young man who seems to be in a bad position to take the crown.” He bowed, "although I'm not exactly what I seem."
"Ah, so you're playing dumb to hide the real you?"
I nodded, "Most of my mom and dad see right through me and a friend or two. The others…" I paused as if pushed aside by a dangerous beast, "I dodge it deftly."
"Our kind do not grant our friendship or loyalty to kings," he stopped and crouched down so he could meet my eyes. "But a not-so-foolish young man or a wise young woman is easily allowed."
I touched my head and heart with my hand: "May I never betray your friendship or your trust."
"That would really make sense because I have a long memory."
I laughed, "As expected."
He rose to his full height, "So, young Ari, can you find your way?"
I touched the ring, "With some backlash, yes." Not to mention a bit of luck, I added cautiously. I tucked the semi-dry brakes into my gun belt.
"So Ari, if you had any sense, you could go southeast even if I didn't tell you," she chuckled. "All that vibration on the road, it's a miracle you didn't hear it yourself."
I tilted my head, "Oh yeah, I must have dirt or something in my ears."
"Really, my friend, you should wash them because people assume that you have stones in your head too." She burst out laughing.
"At times I've been accused of being a bit of a fool. I guess I'll have to get back to my joke." She pantomimed putting on a mask, "See I'm hiding once more?"
"You have to make sure the mask doesn't become the person, young Ari." He took me a while to study myself: "Although a fool acts like a king, it is not always appropriate for a king to act like a fool."
"God willing, I'd rather remain a fool for a long time than become a king or queen."
'You'll do well, young Ari, now I must leave you to wake my kin. Have fun and go quietly,' she lifted a branch and waved far and wide into the woods.
I waved at him as he turned and headed into the woods, I stood there for a while. I was surprised that something so large could move so easily and silently. I shook myself and looked around, luckily no one saw me yawning like an idiot.
I looked up at the sun and watched it, because it was still early in the morning. Finding the southeast was just a matter of looking at the sun and then turning south. Forest, trees and more forest, because if it were easy everyone would be doing it, right?
How anyone manages to tell epic travel stories and leave out how incredibly boring those trips are is beyond me. This was my predominant thought as I walked a bit through the forest undergrowth and varied flora. When the sun came up around noon and I still couldn't see the road, I wondered how far I had run in the wild last night.
Admittedly, I had thought that I was only of average fitness compared to some of my class. So when I stopped to make a crude attempt to guess how far I had traveled on that crazy flight last night; I reviewed my assessment of what my overall condition was. Either that, or he had been going around in circles for a while. On a good day with clean roads, you could run a fast-paced mile in about an hour, give or take 15 minutes. In the woods maybe an hour and a half, and that was being generous. So when about three hours passed, I got a little worried.
Frankly, I hoped I wasn't wandering aimlessly; I kept the sun on the left side of my face as best I could. It should have made me look more or less south-southeast, not to mention it gave me a little heat that promised to turn into a slight burn by the end of the day. Anxiety certainly adds a lot to what a panicked man or woman can accomplish, so I wasn't exactly depressed when I stopped by for a while in the afternoon.
I broke my fast with a few mushrooms and a handful of berries, which I washed down with the warm, diluted wine. I think on my next big round I'll be emptying out a pantry on the way out, a nice ham or sausage would certainly be nice now. I sniffed remorsefully and considered the probability of achieving such an escape again. The words thin and not straight rolled around in my head a bit.
Being grateful for what you have and not for what you want is the basis of many religions; none of which I fully subscribe to. Yes, I thank the lady and the lords of her, I just don't do my best to suffer for it. From what I myself read in the holy books, the gods ask more that you use your common sense and respect them, not that you wait for them to offer you a banquet.
I was a little hungry because all my thoughts seemed to be focused on food or the party, which wasn't a bad thing in and of itself. It doesn't help, though, if you try to forget that mushrooms aren't game, let alone berries aren't jam on a loaf of bread. My temper was almost as sour as the last berry I ate, so as I debated a series of distant diplomatic positions to send a senior supervisor to 'supervise'; At first I was very happy when I saw a little wild pig coming towards me.
Mind you, I was only happy for a brief moment, as the idea that Mama Boar probably wouldn't be far behind sank as well. The sound of something heavy moving in the undergrowth did wonders to banish my fear of heights. So it was with some dismay that I found myself in a tree for the second time that day. I'd like to say that my sudden lack of fear was due in no small part to an effort of will and iron determination, but I'd be lying. The real drive for my sudden lack of fear of heights was to do everything possible to damage the tree I was sitting in with his big, razor-sharp fangs.
Morsvin was not happy with me, to say the least. If I had words to say, I'm sure they would fill the valley with things like baby killer, murderer, and the like. Because after a long moment of recovery and breathing, I took a moment to throw my dagger at one of his piggies. Yes momma pig was crazy, I on the other hand planned to enjoy a delicious dinner of roast pig over a warm fire. Of course, Mom and the rest of her just left the area, which could take a while.
A long time... a long time. So long that in many ways she was quite happy to be completely alone on this journey. If only to save my once great pride from the social anxiety it would cause from all the crude jokes about being bombarded with wild boars. No, I'm not particularly proud, although you do have to do your best to keep a bit of a sense of humor about yourself in the worst of situations. Apparently I was in a big comedy and hadn't realized it yet.
Still, finding myself in a tree came in handy, even if you disowned my angry audience for the moment. In the long minutes after the shock of being chased by a tree and the population of a herd of wild boar dropped by one, I found that I was in a fairly robust pine tree. I also found out the way Ammot sent me.
For a while I filled the air with some of my own swearing, and I can assure you my vocabulary is pretty colorful when I say it. I looked with some disgust at the "path" mentioned by Ammot. No, I did not curse Ammot. Give me credit for knowing not to spew profanity at creatures that can easily reach the bow. Yeah, he wasn't there to listen to me. but the forestdohave ears
What really pissed me off was the fact that the path he let me explore was overgrown. invaded by a fewhundredyear. Although maybe that was an exaggeration on my part. In truth, I was not very upset with my discovery, since I now knew where I was within a few miles. Unfortunately, I was now much further from my destination.
It showed up last night in my fear-inspired frenzy sprint, it had made a big semi-circle. He was trapped in the vast expanses of the Color Campus. A look at the surrounding hills and several outpost towers scattered in the distance along the path only confirmed this. I once thought to look them up, because there are times when my own stupidity surprises and annoys me.
On the bright side of it all, I honestly doubted anyone would be looking for me on campus. On the downside, I had several extra miles to get to campus itself, and still the same eight miles to get to my original destination. If I were chosen by the goddess for this task, I'm sure she would laugh a lot.
I chuckled a little, remembering the old joke that said: "Those who destroy the gods first drive them mad." No, he wasn't crazy, okay, maybe just a little 'off'. Still, I had to give the gods credit for what a joke they had pulled on my life. I also promised that I would never again suggest to the gods while in a temple that I was bored with my life.
Somehow I made it safely to the base of the tree after the swineherd had left. It took me a while to find my dagger because while the boars hadn't been cannibals, they had been sniffing out the dead piggy for a while. Stripping and cleaning the suckling pig took a few minutes, leaving the guts and such in the dust. Normally I would prefer to bury such things, although nature tends to clean the earth of such things. With nothing but a dagger to dig, such things will happen.
I considered myself lucky to know where I was and that I ate a few meals to avoid starvation. I went outside for a while, if only to save myself the burden of walking through the bushes. Somehow, I scolded myself for trying to rush the gods' schedule.
They say; "In time, the wheel will turn." I inwardly shrugged, lectures and platitudes abounded, I would have preferred a solid map and compass. So when I tripped and fell on a Ston'kinder, I was kind of shocked.
The stone child, or if you will, a dwarf, imitated something that was not yet quite dead. Oh, he was breathing, if the nauseating snores were any indication. Although the Ston'kinders as a whole would be a tough reddish race, not pale and gray. I took a moment to gasp in disgust at how the gods had maneuvered me. Still, you don't argue much with the gods when they insist you live or die.
I was pretty sure they intended to let the Ston'kids live, why else would I have fallen for him? Some might argue that fate never rolls the dice directly; In my case many times I have thought that he plays regularly. So it was with a bit of confusion that I set out to find out what was wrong with him.
Ston'kinder, they are not very tall by nature, nor too fat. If one were less generous, one might say that a tall rain barrel would make a fine coffin for Ston's son. Although you may not agree with the unfair and unkind statements about the race as a whole; he had a certain grit about him that made shaking off the pack a challenge.
He had jet-black hair on his head and traces of a jet-black beard. One look into her eyes showed that, apart from being a slightly unhealthy shade of yellow, they were dark blue. She wore a dark green robe, which due to her short beard and almost boyish appearance put her age at around a hundred years, a few decades. He would also place him as a member of one of Color's earlier classes.
I appreciated it with a low hiss as I saw a thin metal chain around her neck with eleven rings attached to it. The ugly little bastard was the first. Granted, that was unfair, but if I were to judge Ston'kinder's beauty against a High Court N'relv, it would be so unfair. If I were to compare him to another Ston's son, he might be handsome; I myself called it rude and let it be.
The pale yellow glow in his eyes worried me a bit, as it suggested a poison or some kind of infection at work. I had a little trouble getting it out of the boiled leather breastplate I was wearing, though I did notice some odd nicks on one side. Another glance at his pants and bottom made me stop.
The opening over her tall boots had several small leak holes in the fabric of her trees. I shook my head a bit and shrugged, his modesty not my concern. So I took on the tedious task of dropping their trees to reveal their axes.
Although cacti are not native to this region, but to the entire continent, I had only seen a few special gardens abroad. As for the thorny plants, there were some trees, flowering bushes, and a very ugly relic from the Wizard Wars. The trees themselves are largely non-poisonous, although Onwak was a carnivorous shrub with thorns. If I'm not mistaken, it collided with one of the few stumps of thorns sticking out of the wounds on one cheek.
Some people believe that Onwak was designed as a kind of natural protection wall or aggressive fence for a place that you want to protect. In fact, some people place blackberries and roses around their house to act as such. But if a wizard created the Unwaks as such, he's made a big mistake.
The Onwak plant appears harmless enough, although it is a large predator, if not immobile. A colony can span a few hundred feet in diameter, and with the various vines and thorny branches, they do quite well. The fragrance of its flowers is intoxicating and much sought after for perfumes, and although the intoxication of the flowers is not the danger, the thorny thorns are. Luckily, the spikes don't launch or launch other than getting caught on moving vines. So the poor guy at my feet had run into him.
Lucky for him, it takes a lot of spikes to kill a hardened human. Even more to kill a Ston'Kinder. As it was, he was probably just very sick and possibly suffering from an infection as well. I counted about six places where he oozed a transparent fragrant liquid, and I thought he was very glad that gangrene had not developed.
I spent a few minutes dumping his backpack and taking out the first aid kit that contained all the lessons.supposedto know how to use I found a small pot, a flint and steel and set them aside. At the bottom was a brass hunting horn, although I didn't like to use it, your health would suffer if you didn't call for help.
I brought it to my lips and blew two long notes, a quick triplet and another couple of long notes. Whereupon I took the blanket from the heap and covered him with it. A minute later I heard a faint horn in the distance. I repeated the call and tucked the earpiece into my belt. I had to gather things for the fire if I was going to be up most of the night with a signal fire tending to his wounds and my dinner.
A part of me was very angry, I admit. I know, you shouldn't be mad about saving a life, I was just frustrated with the whole process and events. But if he were to use the ring and ring magic once more, he would elude all seekers. I've had enough trouble with having to do everything against the grain, so to speak. Nor did I have to deal with a phalanx of angry supervisors.
Once I built a good fire, a pot of water for the compress, and a portion of suckling pigs on a stick. I found I would be forced to roll up my sleeves to make bandages, as the Ston'kinder had evidently used the few clean ones he had obtained for nothing more than bandages. I made a loud noise and took my time looking with some irritation at the solemn Ston'Kinder.
By the time the sun went down, the spines on her buttocks had been cut, cleaned, and sewn together. In the middle, I honked to bring the rescuers closer. I took a few things from her pack, namely the arrowheads and the few sinews that she clearly didn't need, along with the flint and steel. I also released its canvas and the included ball. Then I packed up the rest and kept the medicine on hand.
I thought the fire and the blanket would keep him warm and safe when I had to plunge back into the woods. I admit that I felt guilty for bringing the other things, although I don't think he complained much about the services rendered. I made sure to make a fair share of the piggy for both of us and for the finders as soon as they arrived.
From the sound of horns in the distance, I was able to keep an eye on him for a few hours before I had to leave. I killed time by drawing the ring symbols over and over again in the dirt. After about the tenth time, I was shocked at my introspection of symbols when my patients woke up coughing.
I spent a few moments pouring the diluted wine from my skin into his mouth. A little while and her cough progressed to where she could talk. "An elf?"
I rolled my eyes, "Please, if you'll be so kind as not to call me an elf, I won't call you a squat." I touched her bandaged buttocks with one hand. "You have to be nice to your healer, you know, because they tend to know where it hurts the most."
She almost screamed out loud when I didn't touch her bottom very lightly. "If I had my axe, I'd rip your hands off your body, girl."
I grabbed his beard and gave him an unkind tug, "If you want to keep this, remember your manners, Ston'Kind." As he weakly greeted me, I stepped out of his reach.
I walked over to the fire as he growled and described me in very unflattering terms, not to mention slandering my heritage. I did my best to remember the few curses that were unusual and ignored the rest. I consciously made it a point to eat slowly in front of him and out of his reach. "So you've exhausted your vocabulary and want to go back to a more elegant form?" Yeah, I sort of teased him, once he got excited enough to get the rest of the crap out of his lungs, he'd be in better shape.
Predictably, another verbal attack started, which turned into the coughing fit she expected to follow. When I was sure that he was done coughing and still had some wine, I handed him a stick with some chilling pork on it. He gave me a very somber look, but he ate the first portion quickly and slowed down to a deliberate pace on the next.
For a while he ignored me and I ignored him. I went back to my reverie as he lay still, though his eyes followed the patterns I drew over and over again. I blew on the earpiece and waited for the call to be answered, much closer. Well, I took some time to put together the tarp and the bag that I made with the other things.
"Thief," he growled.
"That's a bad attitude to take. I should note that if I were to see you safe and sound, you'd have to put some common sense into your head."
"Ha, a puny thing like you?" she giggled a bit, which I took as a good sign.
"I'm not lean, lithe, lean and lithe, but never skinny. Oh fat, bulky bastard," I replied on Twitter.
"I am not a carpenter. I," he stopped, "my."
"Ah gnaw in the dirt, you mean?"
"Argh! The demons got your elf!"
They could have had you, show manners, or I'll give your rescuers a merry chase and you'll have to bear my company for a few more days. I went to the fire and made a move to put it out.
"Geez, anything but that. Granted, you're a prime example of all things N'relv, right down to your cursed triple ring eyes."
The allusion to having three rings in my eyes was a minor point, but I bowed gently. "Was it that difficult, sir?"
"Bah, you're worse than my mother." OMG he completes me I guess.
"So you have a name, oh first ducksentOf the greens? -I asked for.
"There is no such thing as too late. I would honor you with my full name, but your lips would desecrate the noble house from which it springs.
I scooped up a handful of the powder and let it glow slowly on the fire.
"Wait wait. God woman, don't you have a sense of humor?
I blinked, was it humor? "Apparently not as you would admit, kind sir." The sarcasm washed over him for a moment in the dark, then he laughed.
“Oh, too bad you weren't my class, unlike the other trio. Always so loaded and dry. She looked at me, “My friends would call me a little crazy if I let the only N'relv get away with humor without sharing my name. My name is Okann, what I would call a friend. She extended her hand.
I walked over and shook him seriously, "My name is D'na'Ari, although my friends call me Ari."
"D'na..." He looked at me for a moment, "D'na'Ari, as in the heir?"
I nodded and sat up, "I have that accident."
"Kill my ass. I went and made a mess, didn't I?" He sounded almost regretful.
"Not that I remember." I smiled at him. "I wanted to touch you hard, but you had to get the cobwebs out of your lungs and head."
N'relv remembers everything. He laughed and shuddered a little. "I take it you don't have painkillers?"
"No one is safe to hit you here. It would make you weaker than you should be right now." I pointed to his buttocks, "Unwak's spines, if they had been removed quickly, would not have made you so ill."
"I know. I didn't mean to bulldoze the forest either, is all your land so untamed?"
"Well, the trial lands are mostly wild, otherwise there's no trial for the trials. It shouldn't have had any Onwak colonies though."
“Oh, I think maybe it was my fault, I went a little off course. Although the result was worth it.”
"Be the first?"
"Yes, I'll be able to loot your kingdom's libraries for a few measly extra years of service."
"Well, I'm going to read a bit."
"So you're literate?"
"Are you kidding me, ma'am?"
"A little," I admitted with a laugh.
"I'd like you to know, Ari, that I'm quite erudite and that's why I was able to get my last ring."
"I thought you were a warrior."
'I certainly am, but not to the same extent as some of my relatives. I intend to be a leader, not a follower. Your kingdom produces worthy generals.
"Thank you. So, will you go to the capital once you've recovered?"
"Yeah and a good brewery too."
"You may find the company of the Flaming Dragon a bit harsh, if not strange, even if the potion is good." Weird was a soft word for it, but hey, a good joke is usually subtle.
"Well, if I find you there, I'll basically shove you down your throat and we'll sing until we're kicked out."
"I'm looking forward to." I tracked things on the ground again.
He looked at the symbols and after I drew the second one he said, "Temples or bars?"
I blinked, "Excuse me?"
"A coin, you flip it, temples or bars. You'll find that mark on the Kren piece." She pointed to the symbol. "The Kren piece, I think is the equivalent of the sovereign, a gold."
I sat there for a moment shaking my head, if I had looked at my coins I might have figured it out sooner. "I'm so stupid sometimes."
"Oh, don't be so stupid. Only a scholar would know this mark for its meaning, since it is over four hundred years old.
"Fate rolls the dice," I commented with what looked like a wide grin on my face.
"Yes and indeed." I got up when the horn blew and then sent my reply after that. "They should be here soon and that's why I have to go." I put some larger pieces of wood on the fire to increase it, put the horn in his hands.
"Turn off, why?"
“If you see a pastor on campus, ask him, otherwise talk to the pastors. But for my sake, I ask you not to tell anyone else my name for a few days.
"If they ask me who helped me, who should I say was here?"
"A N'relv named Jonne." I slung the rolled tarp over one shoulder and stepped out of the circle of firelight.
"Take care Ari, I'll keep the peace, but I want the story later."
I called him back, "See you later."
I paused and listened to the night, while my eyes adjusted, I quickly ran into the forest and hid under a thick bush. I would stay there until I was in the hands of the rescue team, then I would leave.
After a while.
(This is how the chapter ends, but not the story.)
Historical clothing glossary:
I did some searching online and such an accuracy, the following information can be omitted if you wish :) -Renae
bandeau- A strip of fabric used to cover the breasts and/or to provide a degree of support and security to those who are gifted without the need or desire to wear a corset. In the time of our own world, such things were often worn or not, depending on the modesty of each and the cost of clothing.
braies- are linen shorts over which pants (long stockings) are worn. Pretty much the predecessor of modern underwear. Hardly glamorous, and if you need a good mental picture, take an old pair of sweatpants and cut off ¾ of the legs, then add extra string and some knots to hold the hose up.
Break- Women's underwear for the lower part of the body. These were a bit like running shorts or swimming trunks, but of course with strings instead of elastic. Very similar to Braies. A familiar example of European history comes from everywhere; STREET. Joan of Arc's own clothing.
pants (trousers)- Socks were used instead of the modern pants and jeans that we know so well. To a large extent, they were specially made to fit their owner or wrapped with a ribbon or ribbon to keep them in place. In our own history, the snake(s) were largely carried by men. They were attached to the panties only with buttons or a lower belt.
Trews- pants, pants whatever you want and whatever you want to call them again, mostly held up by a rope. The belt used to be worn over the outermost tunic or garment in parlance, when everything is in the right place the outermost belt holds more. A second lower belt can also be used, although the use of belt webbing has not yet been invented.