Chapter 1

Mira slowly drifted into consciousness and out of her deep sleep. “How unusual,” she thought “to dream of that night.” It had been so vivid, as if she were back in time; again only five years old and sneaking out of bed. The Oracles said that dreams of such clarity have meaning and should not be ignored. But their credibility had weakened significantly since the last key had been lost sixteen years ago.

Once out of bed, Mira dressed quickly. It wasn’t very often that she had the opportunity to spend the weekend at home. She had been living in Arrnava for the past three years in cramped military quarters, and had missed the openness of the fields at her parents home. Equain kept one of the largest of the four Eachann stables that served the Oshyian people, his also being the farthest away from the city. He had been cautioned that its location was too remote for adequate protection, but Mira was glad that he hadn’t listened. It was peaceful here as no where else could be. She was far away from everything. Away from training, patrols, and the endless duties that came with being a member of the Fiach, and she wasn’t going to waste any of it by dawdling in her room. It felt good to be in the soft leather breeks and loose cotton top that her mother made sure to have freshly laundered and waiting for her. They were broken in and comfortable and a far cry from the stiffness of her uniform. Her boots took the longest to put on. They laced all the way up to her knees and took considerable time to secure, but she would never wear another pair. As a small child, her legs had been slightly bowed. With the lack of Healers, small medicine shops and herbalists had tried to take their place, but none had had an answer to her misshapen stance. It was her brother, Rainier – ever industrious and inventive – that had designed her first pair of boots. The tight lacing was meant to force her legs straight and correct the problem. She had had to wear them for three years before the change seemed to take hold. After that, she wore the boots out of habit and because her calves felt bare without them. When she grew out of a pair, she would plead with her brother to fashion another. He fought it at first, thinking that she hadn’t faith that the straightness of her legs would last, but no one could say ‘no’ to Mira for very long.

Because she spent so long lacing her boots, Mira didn’t waste much time on her unruly hair. It had a natural wave to it that her mother raved about, but Mira had never understood its appeal. Tendrils always found a way to creep out of anything that bound it, which she found extremely annoying. She wove it into a hasty plait and tossed it over her shoulder. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply – a practice that she made a habit of performing each morning before starting the day. Her dulais always seemed more persistent in the morning, like a river that had had too much rain through the night, and she found that the moment of meditation helped keep it at bay.

Her family had always teased her about her emotions being plain as the nose on her face. Extreme emotions, be they good or bad, seemed to escalate her dulais and her tatu markings would begin to light. The more intense the feeling, the brighter she shone and the blue light against her fair skin was not easy to mask. Besides a little bit of harmless teasing, her weakness had never really been a problem until Mira left home. The other Fiach never said much, but their side glances and occasional awkward stares had told her enough. She was afraid that word would get out and her Eachann would think she lacked focus. She had tried many routines, but the deep breathing had seemed to work the best. After a few weeks, she noticed a difference in herself as well as the others. Mira was rather proud of her little discovery and smiled smugly to herself through her last breath. She patted her face with water from the wash basin then made her way to the family kitchen.

“Good morning, Mum. Can I help with anything?”

Daralian was already bustling about the kitchen preparing a large breakfast. Although only three of her children were currently home, preparing meals for five growing boys had instilled habits not easily broken.

“Why don’t you start on the bacon? I think I have the rest in hand,” Daralian answered abstractedly. “No, no, never mind. Go get your father and brothers instead. I’ll be done by the time you wrestle them away from the stables. A foal was born last night, and I’m not sure even breakfast will lure them from a new charge!” Mira smiled at the simple truth of that statement. She quickly grabbed one of the warm flapjacks, unceremoniously stuffed it into her mouth, and dropped a kiss on her mother’s forehead as Daralian shooed her out the door. She had always enjoyed visiting the stables, and didn’t mind the errand.

Mira took her time crossing the space between the main house and the stables. There were already trainers bustling about the corrals and she enjoyed watching them at work. Mira had thought she had risen early this morning, but these equestrians redefined the term ‘early risers.’ Most of her father’s workers, like himself, were retired from their military duties. Equain preferred it that way. They were used to the disciplines of battle and could follow without questioning leadership. They had outgrown their desire to ‘show-off’ as Da put it, and they had spent a lifetime waking early, so the schedule he set for them required little extra effort. But most importantly, they had spent the majority of their lives working with horses, therefore better seasoning them to train and care for their charges.

The smell of oats and fresh hay washed over her as Mira swung open the solid double doors of one of the smaller barns. She knew her mother would frown on the detour, but Mira couldn’t pay homage to the newest member of the stables, without first greeting her favorite. “Good morning, Phiero.” Mira crooned to her snow-white stallion as she undid the latch and slipped into his stall. He tossed his mane and nickered a hello. “Don’t you worry – they’ll fuss and fret over that little one for a few days, but they’ll soon remember who’s the prettiest warhorse this side of the ocean.” Phiero stamped his foot in as if in agreement and she rubbed his muzzle affectionately. “You vain animal!” Mira laughed. But he had every reason for vanity – he was truly magnificent. She led him out to the nearest pasture, turned him loose for a trot, and watched the sun glint off his back. Equain’s steeds were usually intended for the Eachann, and the ones unclaimed were kept for breeding. But Phiero had been a rare exception to the exception. Mira had been there when he was born, and she was immediately smitten. He was white from head to hoof – not a single mark upon him – and piercing eyes. Ice blue like her own. Mira had begged Equain to let her have him. As a doting father, his heart had ached that he couldn’t comply to her request, but a horse to an Eachann is a type of soul-mate and he couldn’t risk breaking both Mira’s and the horse’s heart if one day someone came to claim him. Equain had made her keep her distance in attempt to lessen her attachment, but she snuck apples to him while he grazed, and stood on the rail of the corral when he was broken and trained. Mira’s heart had always belonged to her bow and quiver, but for once she understood her father and brothers’ love for these graceful creatures. It had been her fifteenth birthday that her father gifted the stallion to her. With no visible marking, he decided that after three years of waiting for a birth connection and having none appear, it was safe to allow Mira to have him. She had named him Phiero because he reminded her of a rare white flame – graceful yet dangerous. Equain had been right to keep them apart until he was sure there would be no claim, for Phiero took to Mira almost as quickly as she had to him. They had been inseparable until Mira had come of age and left to join the Fiach. It had been hard on them both, and Mira half expected to be shunned by the proud horse each time she came for a visit, but he was too glad to have her home to waste their precious time together being persnickety.

Mira called Phiero to her with a high whistle, and he trotted to her outstretched hand. “I’m on an errand of reconnaissance my friend, and if I don’t get to it, Mum will have my hide.” Mira reluctantly left the stallion with a final stroke of his gleaming hide. She waved over her shoulder and left him to enjoy the morning in the sun.

Once inside the largest of the family barns, Mira stood on her tip toes to get a better vantage. Equain’s stables were sizable, but Mira had no problem locating which stall the new foal was in. Her two brothers were hoovering outside the door, staring inside like the walls were lined with gold. She guessed that her father was inside with the new family. “Should I have brought one of Mum’s mixing bowls to collect the drool?” Mira teased.

“Come and look at her, Mira. She’s the prettiest thing!” This was from Finn. He was the fifth son and the closest in age to Mira – four years her senior and in Eachann training to be like their father and oldest brother, Leolin. His excitement was contagious and Mira pushed a stool over so she could peek in on the mother and baby.

“Need a boost little sister?” Mira stuck her tongue out at her second brother, Conell. Ever since she could remember, her brothers had affectionately referred to her as the runt of the family. They all stood head and shoulders above her, and took every opportunity to remind her of her small stature. But she never really felt picked on even with all the teasing, because underneath was always a thread of affection. She knew that any one of them would give their life to protect her.

“When was she born, Da?”

“The mare started into labor around 11:00 last night, and this wobbly little lady made her grand entrance at about 3:00 this morning.” He sounded tired from his sleepless night, but he smiled brightly as he arranged fresh hay around the resting horses.

Mira loved to watch her father work with his horses. He was so gentle that she sometimes found it hard to believe that he had once led one of the largest and most successful legions of Oshyian warriors. In his final year, they had succeeded in breaching the outer wall of Skenruil. That was as close to Lucian that their forces had gotten in a long time, but it had cost dearly and the memories still caused Equain anguish to think of the loss. Especially since they had come home with nothing to show for their labors except a new record of advance. Still, it had succeeded in motivating their people and keeping the hope of eventual victory strong. She had always looked on her father as one of the greater heroes of their time.

Mira leapt down from her perch.“Well, I hate to break up the party – especially because you are all acting like simpering milkmaids in the throws of true love and if I stick around, blackmail material is sure to occur. But Mum has prepared a veritable feast for breakfast and my stomach is revolting at the thought of staying a moment longer and letting those flapjacks get cold.” Mira swept a deep bow and extended her arms to her brothers. “Will you join me sirs?” They laughed and accepted her escort.

“Tell your mother I’ll be only a minute or two” her father said, his head still bowed over the new foal. “I know she’ll be upset at my tardiness, but that’s nothing to the wrath I’ll face if I track mud onto her floor.”

So, the three siblings, arms linked, made their way to the main house. They placed wagers on who could eat the most flapjacks, and were playfully arguing when Mira heard a strange call cut through the pleasant morning. She would have simply ignored it had her brothers not frozen in fear beside her. In an instant, both Finn and Conell flew into action. Their tatus flared blue; their muscles tensed in readiness. Conell grabbed her by the arm and thrust her toward one of the outlying barns. “Run, Mira! As fast as you can. Finn, get to Da and make sure he heard. You’ll need to find Leolin – he was on watch today so it will be him that raised the alarm.” All this was shouted over his shoulder as Conell forced Mira forward at a break-neck pace.

“Where are we going Conell? You’re hurting my arm!”

“Don’t argue, Mira. Please don’t argue – not now. There isn’t time.”

Mira was about to protest, when she caught a glimpse of her brother’s face. His eyes gleamed fiercely and against the brilliance of his dulais, his skin was ashen and piqued. She kept quiet and did as he asked. By the time they reached the barn, she understood their haste. Drochan forces came pouring into the grazing pastures and corrals, screaming their terrible war-cry and brandishing weapons.

Conell had opened a small door hidden in the siding of the building. Mira had never noticed an opening there before and was curious until she realized that Conell was forcing her in. “Conell, no! We’re wasting time! I have to get my bow and…”

“I said don’t argue, Mira!” Conell shouted. “Get in, stay still, and don’t come out unless the building is on fire. And if that happens, run like hell. Do you understand me?” He was borderline frantic by now and panting with adrenaline. “We have been expecting this – waiting sixteen years – and I won’t have your pig-headedness get you killed when there is something we can do about it!” He slammed the door in her face and she remained still out of shock. What had he meant? Waiting? Expecting an attack? Lucian was cruel, yes. Power-hungry and savage, but what could he possibly gain by attacking their small establishment?

The closeness of the walls began to suffocate Mira as she struggled to obey her strange orders. Her family was out there somewhere fighting for their lives and she was cowering in a corner. The anxiety got to be too much and she pushed towards where she thought the door should be. It gave a little, but did not open. She cursed Conell under her breath – he had locked her in! She might be the baby of the family, but she could fight as well as any of them and could not, would not, be shut away! She braced herself against the wall and kicked with all her might. It took a few tries, but the door finally gave way and Mira raced to the main house where her bow lay at the foot of her bed.

The sounds of battle echoed through their little valley as Mira reached her room. She slung her quiver onto her back and began nocking an arrow as she ran back to the fighting. She cut through the kitchen screaming “Mum! Mum! We’re being attacked!” The meticulously arranged breakfast had fallen to the floor and broken dishes littered the table. Mira prayed to Agwe that it had been done in haste and not a result of an altercation with the enemy.

Once outside, Mira freed her dulais and wasted no time loosing her arrows. Her aim was deadly. She made her way around the house and back toward the main stables where she had left Finn and her father. There she saw Leolin astride Aindrea, his warhorse, fighting with speed and grace. His presence puzzled her. He was supposed to be near the border this week. She had watched his unit leave Arrnava herself. She remembered then Conell’s urgent cries to Finn – “he was on watch today.” Mira wondered again what it was they were all watching for.

The Drochan forces were formidable. Mira’s eyes blurred with angry tears as she passed the now blank faces of fallen friends and horses. She was ablaze with dulais. Her fury fueled her flow, so that when she stepped around the corner into the heart of the battle she was a veritable beacon. She found that the brightness heightened her confidence, and she aimed and fired again and again without concern for the vulnerable openness of where she stood. Since the field was exposed before her, she could see the individual skirmishes raging quite clearly. She located Finn, Conell, and her father easily. Out of the corner of her eye, she notice another volley of arrows besides her own. Her mother wasn’t as out of practice as she professed. She knew Leolin was on the other side of the training corrals. The tally took only an instant but relieved her mind greatly.

“Mira, get back!” Finn was shrieking at her in panic. He, like Leolin, was astride his warhorse and doling out swift punishment to the enemy. But her presence was unnerving him for some reason. She knew her brothers respected her talent as a warrior, which made his reaction so alarming.

“I want to help, Finn!” she cried desperately to her brother. “I won’t go hide in a corner when you need me!” A sudden shift in her peripheral vision drew Mira’s attention away from her argument with Finn and toward the corner of the battle where she knew her father was. The man pursuing him had taken advantage of a momentary hesitation and had Equain on his knees in an instant, a blade held against his throat. Mira inwardly cursed the new foal who had kept her father up all night. His fatigue had just cost him dearly. Mira’s aim swept instantly in their direction, but the Drochan man shrunk behind her father’s form, using him as a shield. She gasped. His face! How did she know this man’s face? A sick grin spread slowly as he called to her.

“Hello again little girl.” His voice was slimy and she felt his words trickle down her spine.

“I do not know you, sir. And you have approximately three seconds to release my father or you’ll find an arrow between your eyes. One…”

“Your father you say?”

“Two…”

“I never did like my father much,” he said with a sneer. His tone made her shift her gaze down to Equain and her heart stopped as she saw a thick red line appear across her father’s neck. His final look bored into her soul. She could almost hear his voice pleading with her. “Run!” And she did. Like a coward, she turned-tail and ran.

* * * * * * * * * *

Yeomar kicked the dead man’s corpse to the side and roared at his men. “Forget the others! She is fleeing! Follow!” He had waited sixteen years for this day and she would not slip through his fingers again. He had been severely punished for his failure back then, and Lucian had had him on the menial task of finding the stupid child since. It had grown harder of late because of the simple fact that she was no longer a child. He feared that he would not recognize her when the time came, but his anxiety was unfounded. She was exactly as he remembered, if just a bit taller.

2 Comments on "Chapter 1"

  1. Kim Gishi
    03/10/2010 at 8:50 pm Permalink

    When Conell put Mira in the hiding spot, it says “Mira had never noticed and opening there before”. Is it suppose to be “an opening”?

  2. shannon
    04/10/2010 at 3:05 am Permalink

    I love those an – and typos. =) The darn spell check doesn’t catch them!

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