Da, tell me a story. The one about the Ancient City.”

“It’s late little one, and we’ve all had a long day.”

“Please, Da?”

Daralian watched the tender exchange between father and daughter from her post in the doorway. She had anchored herself there, hoping that a stern presence would act as a catalyst in the bedtime routine, but her plan was backfiring quickly. Sweet Mira was extraordinarily talented at the art of subtle manipulation. She had each of her brothers, her father, and most of the hired help wrapped around her little finger. Daralian frequently had a hard time implementing any kind of disciplinary punishment on her youngest child because she found that the little monkey usually managed to obtain permission for her misdeeds from at least one person or another. Mira was truly a master. But tonight – tonight she was different. Her usual nightly plea came with a pretend pouty lip and batting eyelashes. The longer the story, the longer the delay of sleep. But tonight those lashes were brimmed with real tears and a strained expression, and Daralian suspected that the choice of tale, though one of Equain’s longer narrations, was not requested by Mira out of delinquency but in an attempt to clear her clouded mind. It had indeed been a long day – a trying one for all.

Daralian leaned against the doorframe for support while she studied the picture before her. Five boys, whom she could hear eating noisily in the kitchen, had preceded her long awaited daughter. She had had such plans for raising her to be a proper lady with shining hair and perfect fingernails. And yet here sat her ragamuffin – only five years old and already determined to follow an entirely different course. Daralian couldn’t exactly blame her – she had never been a model child herself and probably wouldn’t know how to raise one when it came down to it. She smiled as she remembered her daughter’s naming day. Equain had insisted upon calling her after Daralian‘s own grandmother, Shamira. It meant “guardian or protector” in the old language. “She has her eyes, and her spirit!” he had eagerly declared. The Oracles say that the name chooses the person, so Daralian should have been prepared for her daughter’s tendencies, even without having her grandmother as a comparison. The small smile froze on her lips as she recounted the child’s panic and tears only hours earlier. That determination and sense of adventure had nearly cost Mira her life this afternoon. Many others’ lives had been forfeited in the events of the day, but it was thoughts of losing this raven-haired imp that caused her heart to cramp within her chest. She looked at the white bandage that now cradled Mira’s right hand. Either Agwe had been keeping a special watch over their little girl, or she had had an amazing stroke of luck. But Daralian didn’t believe in luck.

“Humor her tonight, Equain. It may help her sleep.” She kissed Mira lightly on her forehead and leaned to whisper in her husband’s ear. “Try to shorten it a bit will you? The boys need to get to bed soon too.” She smiled once more at her daughter and hurried to see to her sons’ appetites. Equain would honor her request. He was as anxious as she to speak to the boys about their sister’s new ‘condition.’

Equain exhaled loudly as he watched his wife’s retreating form. The hardest of fathers find themselves at the mercy of their daughters’ every whim, but he knew Daralian to be made of tougher stuff than himself. The fact that she relented to Mira’s request with so little argument dissolved any reluctancy he had in commencing his tale. He clapped his hands together and rubbed them on his knees as he began.

“Alright, here goes…there came a time where the people of Oshyian were asked to…“

“No Da! Start at the beginning. The very beginning.”

Equain sighed in defeat, then gave his daughter a wink and an artful smile. “You know better than that, little Mira. Our civilization has no beginning. It has always been. Since the time that records were kept and stories were told, we have existed. The Fortress on the Cliffs, the People of the Blue Waters – these are only a few of the names by which we have been known. They say the city was built by the hands of Agwe himself, the Great Spirit of Waters, for no other could erect such an impenetrable fortress. The outer walls border only the western hemisphere of the city. No other enclosure is needed elsewhere. Nature is a defense in and of itself. The walls are scrolled with a blue glow, connecting the city to the ocean – a tribute to the swirling waters that provide protection far more adequately than any stone and mortar barrier. The violent waves will crush any unwelcome visitor against the perilous cliffs and hidden caverns that shape the eastern side of the city. Though wrought with grooves and carved detail, the outer western wall is smooth as glass. Nothing can hope to scale it. And the east? Knotted rock pocked with endless furrows and handholds ideal for a daring rambler; and yet, each seemingly sturdy support will instantly crumble away and send unsolicited climbers sprawling into the unforgiving swells. Impenetrable! We were looked upon as a superior race by many. Some traveled to our shores for enlightenment, while others sought to harness the power we seemed to hold. I suppose that’s why the trouble began in the first place, so many years ago. Greed – the desire to rule such an enigmatic hold. Jealousy – coveting the power of the water, the dulais, that runs through our people’s blood and flows through our tatus with an ethereal blue light. Pride – the search for a challenge of epic proportions! Hate – in its purest form, which needs no other motivation. Who’s to say what reasons brought enemies to our shores, but came they did…”

* * * * * * * * * *

Equain’s voice had become raspy by the time he finished his oration. He had planned to edit the details and omit unnecessary facts to shorted the epic as Daralian had requested, but had found that as the story unfolded – the story of his people – the tale began to tell itself. As the room settled into silence in the absence of his own voice, Equain realized that he hadn’t heard a sound from his small daughter for some time. Her breathing remained rhythmic and deep as he whispered a tentative “Mira?” Satisfied that her sleep was deep and happy, Equain arose slowly, stretched his cramped limbs, and made his way into the family’s large kitchen. The five boys were drawn and tired and looked as miserable as he felt, but all were dutifully sitting at the table awaiting his arrival. They watched him carefully, anticipating their instructions.

“Boys,” Equain started cautiously. “I have decided that Mira’s venture should be kept secret. I want no one knowing of her findings save those who sit around this table. Our Keeper is dead, murdered like the Saol of old, and I will not have the same fate fall upon my Mira. I am counting on her youth to erase much of her memories of this day. I have told her the mark on her hand is the result of a burn. She does not remember reaching out to touch the medallion I was forging, but if we all go along with the story I feel that her young mind will collaborate and create the memory. I will have to make a real one tonight as she sleeps, and your mother will wear it always as a visual confirmation of the tale. I regret hiding the truth, but fear she is too immature yet to understand the gravity of her situation. We shall tell her in time, but for now it will be our sole responsibility to keep your sister and her key safe. I realize what I ask of you is great, but our people depend on it.”

Leolin, the eldest, spoke first. “Da, don’t you think we should take her to the Ealdred? They should know that Lucian’s thug didn’t retain possession of the key.”

“I’ve thought of that son. However, I can’t help but think back to the first time Lucian stole from our people. He succeeded because of trust, and as terrible as it sounds, I don’t trust anyone but our family to keep this secret safe. And besides that, they will know in time that he does not possess the key when he fails to claim full power over our people and Arrnava. For now, that confirmation will have to do.”

“Then tell us what you plan to do, Da.” Rainier and Tavis spoke at the same time – they were twins and had mastered the skill of synchronization when they were small in attempts to annoy their mother. Old habits die hard and they still lapsed into it every now and then.

“Come in closer then – Finn, Conell. Daralian, you better be a part of this too. It will take us all working together.” Equain gathered his family close and preparations began at the table that very night. Through weakness they had lost their Healers, and through carelessness they had failed to maintain security for the Keeper. And now the final key was lost – or so their people thought. With luck, the Drochan would think the same. And if their small army could keep Mira safe and secret, Oshyian had a hope.

Little eyes peered through a slit in the door, perplexed by the sight of all five brothers, mother and father, huddled close together over notes, maps, and a mess of dishes pushed to the side to make room for more notes and maps. Mira could not hear their conversations, for they spoke in whispers, but she sensed their urgency and wondered at it. After a time of useless eavesdropping, she quietly padded back to her bed. With feet tucked up underneath her nightdress to warm her chilled toes, Mira gingerly unwrapped the bandage on her hand to inspect the burn. It was circular in shape, and laced with an intricate design. She had expected pain, or at least a dull ache from the injury, but it seemed to emit only a refreshing tingle up her arm. “Strange for a burn” she thought. She was a child, but not unaccustomed to bumps and bruises and understood the twinges that accompanied such hurts. But Mum had strictly instructed her told to keep the bandage, medicated with a salve, wrapped securely on the area until Da said it could be removed; so, she rewrapped her palm and lay down.

Mira wondered if the strange man she met today had someone to put bandages on his hurts. He had seemed so upset about losing his shiny thing that he didn’t seem to notice the blood that trickled from the scratches on his arms and face. She had wanted to bring him home so that Mum could fix him, but he had begged instead that she help him search in the long grass. She had found something and held it high in triumph, but when he opened her palm to retrieve it, it had disappeared. The look on the man’s face had changed suddenly, and he began to make her nervous. He struck her hard and made her fall. Mira cried out that she hadn’t meant to loose his shiny thing, but he was so angry. Then, she had heard her father and brothers shouting. The man had hesitated, cursed rather crudely, then turned and ran. It had been so strange. And then she had been burned. Why could she remember the one incident with such clarity and not remember being burned? It puzzled her, but her eyes were growing heavy and her thoughts began to blur. Mira drifted to sleep and the room began to smudge and swirl and morph into the land of dreams. But an image, shimmering with a faint blue light, hung onto the edge of her subconscious. The image now branded on the palm of her hand. Odd, but she thought it resembled the shiny thing.

4 Comments on "Prologue"

  1. Rich Summers
    28/09/2010 at 8:35 pm Permalink

    I almost never read fiction so take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I had a hard time with the names: Daralian and Equain. I’m still trying to guess how they are pronounced and they appeared multiple times for in the prologue. Each time I saw their name I tried to figure out how I wanted it pronounced and lost my thought of what was being said. I thought the name Mira and her grandmother Shamira was excellent since her name is a shorter version of her grandma. I thought the last paragraph was the best it did make me want to read more.

  2. shannon
    28/09/2010 at 11:11 pm Permalink

    They are pretty much pronounced the way they are spelled – Daralian: Dara-lian (like Leann), and Equain: E- Quain. I hope that helps! I know what you mean with crazy names – I try to keep mine under control. =) But sometimes when I’m reading books I just learn to recognize the names visually and they become M-, or D-, I don’t really pronounce them at all!

  3. Kim Gishi
    03/10/2010 at 8:40 pm Permalink

    For some reason I read Chapter 1 before I read the prologue, so my questions about Chapter 1 were mostly answered when I read it in the right order :) In the paragraph right above the break, it says “flows through our tatus with and ethereal blue light.” Is it suppose to say “with an ethereal blue light” instead of “with and ethereal blue light”? Also, I’m still a little confused what the dulais is. That was my biggest question from Chapter 1. Other than that, it made me want to keep reading and I want to know what happens next.

  4. shannon
    04/10/2010 at 3:03 am Permalink

    Ack! I swear I fixed that typo! I guess I will fix it again. =)

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