Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chapter 20

A quick note from Rachel: 
I know that it has been a long time since I last posted (or worked on Daelia at all, to be honest), so I don't expect that most of you will remember what came before this chapter.  I can't make any promises about when you can expect to see the next chapter, but my heart is still in finishing this story.  So, while I am staying pretty busy teaching full-time and taking online classes, I will try to spend a little time here and there working toward that goal.  It's hard to believe that the first chapter of this story was posted more than 6 years ago; thank you all for sticking with me!

The next morning, Daelia walked into the washroom, her arms laden with soiled bedding from the recently departed guests. The day was chilly, but the air in the room was hot; tables overflowed with laundry yet to be washed, while several large basins were filled with the work-in-progress. In the midst of the steamy jumble, she dropped the bedding atop one of the piles. Briden stood bent over a large tub, furiously scrubbing a tablecloth. Sweat ran down her forehead from exertion and the heat of the fire. 

“Cook has nothing more for me to help with at the moment, so she sent me to help you,” Daelia told her, sidestepping mounds to get closer to the washtub. There was no reply, but as she neared, the tears on Briden's face became apparent. "Briden, what's wrong? Why are you crying?"

As Daelia's hand touched her arm, the girl burst into sobs, letting the wet linen fall unheeded into the tub. Seeing that Briden was beside herself, Daelia guided her to the bench under the window so she could sit down. After a few moments the tears subsided enough for her to talk, though the trembling words were interrupted frequently so she could catch her breath. "They took them...just this parents...and Bren as well!

"Who took them and where?

"The soldiers! Our neighbors came just...a little while tell me. We were behind on our taxes...but I didn't know."

"And they took Bren too? But how did they find him when he was here?"

Briden shook her head and wiped her cheeks on her apron, "He was home, just for the night. I sent him yesterday to take some food and a little money to our parents. Father hasn't been able to work much since he injured his back last year, so I've been sending as much of my earnings as I can, but I guess it just wasn't enough."

Daelia stood beside her, unsure of what to say. Kneeling on the floor, she took her friend's hand, "I'm sorry, Briden, truly. I wish there was something I could do to help you, and them."

"You could take the bow you keep hidden under your bed, put it to good use, and rid us of that horrible governor," Briden replied bitterly.

"I can't say the thought hasn't crossed my mind, especially after walking through the streets of the Southern District. But...I don't think that eliminating one man would repair the damage being done to the city, or help all of the people he has enslaved."

"So get rid of the son too."

Daelia laughed mirthlessly, "He probably deserves it, but no--there's something else going on beneath the surface. I feel that this isn't simply a matter of bad government."

Briden had calmed considerably as they talked, and now she peered curiously at her friend, "How do you know this?"

"Like I said, I just feel it." She was unsure of how much she ought to reveal. "I have also heard of an advisor--he is said to be evil," she prompted, hoping Briden may know something about it.

Briden shrugged, "My father, and others in the group, believe that it is the governor acting on behalf of the High One that has brought about the troubles. Severus is either a puppet or an instigator, but whichever it may be, he is a vile and corrupt tyrant."

"Who is the High One?"

"The advisor you mentioned."

"Yes, but who is he? What is he?

"Father says he is a demon from below – but his official position is that of court priest."

"What kind of priest could he possibly be if he is in agreement with the governor?" Probably not the sort who led services in the bordering villages at home.

"The only kind that has been welcome in Parsaena for a very long time: a druid."

At those words, Daelia's blood turned icy. Her demenor must have changed too because Briden glanced at her curiously, "Are you well? Your face looks like you've seen a ghost!"

Daelia only half-heard the inquiry. She was seeing a ghost – a ghost from her past, another druid, and the Romany's guardian. The Devil himself had followed her to Parsaena.
After a few minutes of silence, something else struck Daelia, “You mentioned your father and others in the group – what is 'the group'?”

For a moment Briden looked panicked. “I don't – that is, I shouldn't have...” shaking her head, “It's just a few of my parent's friends, people they know.”

It was obvious that Briden was omitting something. “I'm not trying to pry into your family’s affairs, but there’s something important that you're not telling me. What does this group do? ”

The young woman twisted her apron nervously and stared at her lap for another moment, but then she turned to look at Daelia, her frightened eyes pleading, “You must swear to never tell another living soul. The truth could bring very serious trouble upon me, my parents, Bren, and many other people. I'm not speaking of prison – it would be far worse than that.”

Daelia wanted to know, but hesitated. The secrets were piling up and each one held its own dangers. With Rouen's continued captivity already a heavy weight upon her shoulders, the knowledge of a secret which could destroy Briden's family was not a responsibility she wanted.

But what about her own safety? What about finding a way back to Braedoch and her brothers and sisters? She needed to know more about this druid who ruled through the governor. Information. Information was vital and hard to come by in the constricted world of Castle Caerlock. It was the thought of getting information that might aid her in returning home which prompted her, “I promise not to say anything without your permission.”

Briden rose from the bench and returned to the washtub, taking back up the soiled cloth to scrub, “I'll only tell you because you are an outsider, unconnected to the various lines of loyalty which run through our society, whether political or religious. But, I also think you understand the dire conditions of the city.”

“What do mean by 'political or religious'? I've hear no mention of any religion being practiced here – at least not now,” she was recalled her conversations with Rouen on the subject.

“There are,” Briden spoke slowly and carefully, but continued working, “those in the city who hold to the old beliefs...the traditional religion of Parsaena.”

“How many?”

“Not a great number, neither an insignificant one...though it seems the number continues to shrink with every year. They are forced to practice in secret since the governors have, for several generations now, allowed no recognition of any authority higher than their own. Those who do so openly are quickly silenced.”


“In the beginning there were a fair number of executions, usually on charges of theft of murder—the governor wanted to avoid creating martyrs. But now, out of fear, the group has gone so deep into hiding that there are very few arrests anymore. Everyone just waits and prays, thinking that one day there might be a miraculous change in government,” her tone was briefly sarcastic, “But judging by what I hear of this governor's son, they are likely to be waiting a while longer.”

Excitement rose in Daelia as she continued to recall Rouen's stories about Parsaesa's history. “Briden,” she took a breath and then continued, “if I were to mention the Deus or the Béata, would those words mean anything to you?”

Briden's eyes widened and she stared at her friend for a moment, the washing in her hands forgotten. “How do you know about the Béata? How do you even know that name? You're not from here – you cannot possibly know about our—the beliefs of the founders.”

“You're one of them and so is your father.” It wasn't a question – the truth was obvious.

Briden glanced nervously towards the door and answered quietly, but with defiance, “Yes, but you swore never to tell anyone about this conversation. I'm tired of living in the shadows, but to reveal myself or anyone else would be disastrous.”

“I said I wouldn't reveal your secret and I won't.”

“But you never answered my question. How do you know about our people?”

It was too late to back out of an explanation, but she wasn't sure how much she could safely reveal about Rouen. Briden had entrusted her with dangerous information, though; perhaps she deserved to know the truth. An ally – especially one of the Béata – could prove an asset.

The other girl listened in rapt amazement as Daelia revealed to Briden that she too was a follower of Deus. She also explained her childhood in Braedoch, the death of her parents, and her journey to Parsaena. She did not, however, speak of Duard, her reasons for leaving Braedoch, or the fact that her family was now scattered to the four corners of the land; that was another story for another time. The parts most difficult for her to explain involved the vision that had led her to choose servitude and the young man imprisoned in the old chapel. “He is the one who explained to me the history of the Béata and the city. He no longer believes in Deus himself, but he would fight for a return to the old ways if he could.” She had not yet mentioned Rouen's true identity. Briden was understandably shocked to learn of Rouen, though not for the reasons Daelia first thought.

“Daelia, do you know what this means? I’ve heard the stories but…is it really him?”

Suddenly confused, Daelia replied, “Who? Rouen? I know who he is, but who do you think he is?”

The door to the laundry room opened at that moment, and one of the servants came through carrying more soiled linens to add to the pile. Daelia busied herself folding a basket of clean hose and tunics while Briden went back to scrubbing and rinsing.

“Ayrasen Vitalis,” Briden said in a low voice as soon as the servant left the room. “Everyone in the kingdom knows who he is. He was the eldest son, but he disappeared years ago. Right after the ‘incident’.”


Saturday, September 24, 2011

You can now connect to the Romany Epistles on Facebook. Talk to the writers (some of them) and see what they have been doing over the years. You can encourage those who are still finishing their stories. Also, you can discuss your favorite characters or fun bits from different siblings' stories. Come, stop by, and join in.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Please forgive my long absence and my neglect of Daelia's story.  For anyone who doesn't already know, I am in the middle of studying for my Master's degree in Archaeology at Cardiff University in Wales, UK.  To my constant dismay, my work schedule does not allow me any time for pleasure writing, so the conclusion to Daelia's story may not come for some time.  I DO plan to finish the book though, and hope that my faithful readers will return for the rest. Thank you for your patience!

- Rachel B.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Chapter 19

With the departure of the guests came a greater freedom to move through the castle undetected. So, as soon as she was able to get away two days later, she headed to the chapel. It was late and most of the servants had retired for the night, exhausted after two weeks of preparation and the aftermath of Eliam and Livea's house party. Daelia herself stifled a yawn and tried to ignore her aching body as she made her way quickly through the kitchen. It had been three days since she had last been able to bring Rouen food; his supplies were certainly running low. She knew for sure that his firewood had run out at least a day ago. It frustrated her that he was in the same building as she, yet it was difficult to get him what he needed regularly.
Well, she reminded herself, that wasn't the only problem, nor the most important. She still had to figure out a way to get him out of the castle.
She mulled briefly over whether to take a leftover chunk of venison or roasted goose, but finally took both off the platter and wrapped them in a clean cloth. On the way out of the cool cellar she also seized several current-honey cakes off of a covered tray. They had been made especially for the governor's spoiled son, but now they could be enjoyed by someone who actually deserved them. Daelia tried to stop the uncharitable--well, that was putting it nicely--feelings that sprang to mind at the thought of Aurelian Severus's smug face. Briden's earlier suggestion that someone ought to do away with both father and son sprang to mind and she smiled a little. In truth, he was no different than the other men who had sat around the feasting tables night after night. Well...he was, perhaps, a little more handsome than the others. She shook her head. That was beside the point.
But he did rescue you, came the small voice.
Yes, but probably with the idea of keeping me for himself.
But he hadn't, nor had he punished her for her disrespect.
He's still a pig. And remember what his father is doing to people like Briden's family.
Daelia sighed. The internal argument wasn't making the matter any clearer to her. Aurelian had rescued her from an awful situation, but that hardly made up for his many other faults--of which his parentage was, indeed, his chief offense.
It wasn't as if he could help who his father was. But he's not exactly doing anything in opposition to his father is he? She sighed again, unhappy that her thoughts lingered on someone who irked her so much. A loaf of bread, some cheese, two meat pies, and three pears joined the other items in the basket she carried under one arm. As quietly as possible, she crossed into the laundry room and added a clean blanket and linens to the load, then slipped out the door into the courtyard.
To her utter dismay, there was a guard standing directly in front of the door which led to the castle's wood supply. Quickly weighing her options, she decided not to attempt it--Rouen would simply have to do without for now. She couldn't risk drawing attention to herself--out after hours--nor to the basket of goods she clutched with whitle knuckles. Careful to remain in the shadows, Daelia tip-toed across the yard to the doorway of the North Hall.
"Who's there?" the guard's voice echoed through the dark. Daelia froze, flattened herself against the wooden door, and prayed. Don't let him see me, don't let him see me, please, please, please--she could hear him moving closer, his boots making squishing noises in the mud--make me invisible. He was almost to the doorway now. Just then there was a sound on the far side of the courtyard, like metal hitting stone, and the guard spun on his heels and started back the way he had come. Heart beating wildly, Daelia couldn't move for several seconds. She waited until the sound of the guard's boots had disappeared before lifting the heavy latch and slipping inside the castle. With weak legs she hurried up the stairs, down the empty hallway, through the door, and down the steps to the quiet chapel.
"Is that you, Daelia?" Rouen called from his place beside the fire; he was stacking pieces of wood against the wall. Daelia stared at the wood and roaring fire in confusion, forgetting to answer. Rouen stood up straight "Daelia?" he asked again, sounding alarmed.
"Yes. Sorry. It's just me." Rouen relaxed and went on with his work. Daelia looked around in the flickering light and noticed that several of the wooden benches were missing, while another lay sideways on the floor, partially dismantled. "I see you found wood," she commented ruefully, setting the basket on the floor.
"Yes, and almost broke my other leg acquiring it." He was equally rueful as he pulled up his trouser leg to reveal his injured shin, black, blue, and slightly swollen. "I really should look where I walk." Daelia laughed when she saw the grin and realized that he was making light of his own blindness. It was good to see him smile. "Sit down and let me see it."
He sat obediently on the bed while she examined the area. As she had suspected, it was mostly bruised; a mild scrape ran the length of his shin. "You'll heal just fine," she assured him, rolling the trouser carefully back over the wound, "Did you hit yourself with a plank of wood or with the hammer?"
"No, I stepped in a hole. I almost fell in, but managed to catch myself--this leg caught the edge of the floor going down."
"Hole? What hole? This floor is solid stone!"
"I'll show you," he replied, walking towards the front of the chapel, hand outstretched for each pillar as he went. She followed closely behind. The altar had been moved several feet to the right, revealing a large dark cavity in the floor. At first glance it appeared that one of the large stones was simply missing, but as she walked closer, the remains of a wooden trap door about eight inches down became visible. "I was at first going to use the altar for firewood, " Rouen remarked from where he stood several feet behind her, "But since I didn't know how deep the hole may be, I just left it there and took some of the benches from the back instead. Can you see what's down there?"
"No," she replied, peering into the darkness, "There was a door on it at one time, but very little remains beside the hinges."
"The altar has been in the place for my whole life, and probably much longer. I had no idea!"
Daelia took a sliver of wood from the stack and lit the end in the fireplace. Returning to the edge of the mysterious hole, she got down on hands and knees and dropped the crude torch into the void. The flame fell through the air and landed on a stone floor about ten feet below the chapel floor. Rouen waited impatiently, arms folded across his chest, leaning against a stone pillar, "Can you see anything? Is it deep?"
"It isn't very deep at all. Actually, I think there may be a room or tunnel down there." On one side of the square opening a wall ran all the way down from the floor above to the floor below, while rectangular stones jutted out of the wall to form a crude ladder. Unfortunately, the bottom of the shaft was damp--the moss and slime glistened in the brief firelight--and the torch soon began to sputter, then died, leaving the hole once again in inky blackness. "Well, I have no idea what you have uncovered, Rouen," she stood, brushing her hands on her skirt, "but I think it would be worth exploring further."
"Does it appear to lead towards the outer wall of the castle? If so, it could be a tunnel leading out, under the wall. We may have found our means of escape!" Rouen was becoming excited, "I cannot believe that, after the years I have spent in this cursed place, I have walked circles around it every day!"
Daelia tried to visualize which direction the underground room seemed to lead. Yes, it appeared to go in the direction of the outer wall, though until she could actually go down into the space, she couldn't be sure. Her heart leaped at the prospect of an alternative route out of the castle. "I will try to come back sometime in the next couple of days, Rouen, and I'll bring a proper torch so I can try to go down into the tunnel. If there really is a secret passage, we need to know where it leads."
"Could you come back tomorrow?"
Daelia almost replied that she would try, but something stopped her. "I can't promise anything. I will be back as soon as I am able." Seeing the look on Rouen's face, she added, "And please don't try to go down there alone--the last thing we need is for you to break your neck."
Rouen snorted, "I know my own limitations--every day is a constant reminder. I've waited this long, I can wait a few more days if necessary."
"I was just making sure. You've acted rashly before, remember."
"I do remember, thank you for mentioning it," he responded in mock annoyance, "You sound like my mother."
"I'm sorry; I suppose it's a habit from twenty-three years of being the eldest daughter. I know I can be overbearing at times."
"Don't be sorry; it's nice to have someone care about my well-being for once."
As she walked back to the spot where she had left the basket of food, Daelia considered Rouen's words. She did care--cared a great deal. Rouen and she had become good friends; she was his only friend and, except for Briden, he was hers. The thought of something further happening to him, and the thought of losing him before he came to terms with his disappointment in Deus, kept her determined in their quest for freedom. Reaching into the basket, she took out a few items and set them on the pew that Rouen had placed before the fire. As he ate what she had laid out for him, Daelia unfolded the blanket and linens from the basket and silently began replacing the coverings on his bed. She had no idea when they had last been cleaned, but if the color and smell of them was any indication, it had indeed been a long time. Which brought her to another matter. "Next time I come I will be bringing soap, a razor, and shears; the Master of Caerlock appears more as a beggar on the street than a Lord."
"Then I suppose it's a good thing that I am not the Master of Caerlock then," he retorted, but didn't argue with her general assessment. The chapel had a plentiful supply of water from the trickling font on the eastern wall, though it would be a cold way to bathe, and it was obvious that Rouen had long opted for warmth over cleanliness. This brought a brief smile to her face--nagging and threats had often been necessary to get her brothers to clean themselves after days spent hunting and cleaning game. "You will have to made do with this one blanket for now, Rouen. I will take your old one for Briden to wash, but I'm afraid I will be burning the rest."
Rouen nodded in acknowledgment of both points, "Thank you for this. I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you have done to help me. I feel a bit like a child who has to be looked after, but one day, when we are away from here, I swear to you that the debt shall be repaid."
"You owe me nothing, I assure you. Your company has done much for raising my spirits. I don't doubt that I was meant to be here for this season of time, but my year in Parsaena has not been a joyful one. When I'm here in the chapel," she gazed over at the crucifix sitting atop the altar, "I don't feel so far from home."
She suspected that he might ask her more about her home, but his face had turned solemn, and his head was turned away. The remaining food lay on the bench forgotten as Rouen stared into the flames intently. "I can see the fire you know," he said abruptly after sitting silent for some time. "Well...not exactly; I can see the orange glow fading in and out. And sometimes, when the sun shines through the windows very brightly in the morning I can see a light."
Daelia wasn't sure how she ought to respond, so she said nothing. "At times I stand under the window and look up at it. If the sun is bright enough, I can almost make ou the shape of the window - black," he traced the shape of the pointed arch window in the air with his hands, "and yellow."
"When did you lose your sight?" She wasn't sure why she hadn't asked before and she wasn't sure that he would want to talk about it now.
But he didn't hesitate to answer, "About a month after I was left in here I fell into a deep depression - I just lay on my bed as my leg healed, cursing Deus, wondering why He didn't free me. I didn't eat or sleep for days and soon became ill with a bad fever. Serina the chamber maid brought me food and water, but no doctor was sent for. I eventually began to recover on my own, but the longer I lay there, the worse my sight became. By the time my strength was almost fully returned, I could see nothing but the brightest light. Since that day I have neither prayed, nor believed, nor hoped." He stopped and turned his head towards her. "Not until the day you appeared, that is. For the first time in years I am allowing myself to hope, to think that the future may hold something different, something good. I can feel the old fire beginning to burn again and the old concerns consume my thoughts daily."
"Concerns about your brother?"
"Responsibility, duty, opportunity lost. I was someone - the eldest son of one of the most important families in Parsaena." His voice was anguished, "There are thousands in this city who know nothing but the tyranny and oppression of Severus and his predecessors - and the ruthless, gluttonous greed of my class, my family. The nobles continue to enable the governor and the people are too ignorant and disheartened to join forces against them."
"But why? Why is everyone so willing to be enslaved"
Rouen paused before answering; it was a question he had asked himself many times before. "Because they have forgotten. The more time that goes by, the more history is lost and the precepts of the city's forefathers disappear - as does their identity as a people. What is not convenient to tend is easily neglected."
Daelia understood what he was saying, but she also recognized the inconsistency in his words.
"So, you believe in the morals and basic principles as taught and practiced by the Beata, but not in the God upon whom those principles are based."
"I don't deny His existence, only his relevance. My conclusion is that He has very few dealings with our world. It is up the the morally superior among humanity to ensure that order and virtue is maintained."
"And so, in your opinion, the troubles in Parsaena are strictly physical, not spiritual - a matter of insufficient education about the Beata's history?"
"That may be a bit too simplistic of an explaination, but yes, that is the only rational answer I have been able to formulate."
Rouen's theory was incomplete, but Daelia knew that it would be useless to try at that moment to convince him of the reality of the spiritual disease consuming the city and its people. Not could she persuade him that Deus was not an absentee landlord, viewing his land from afar, caring too little to intercede on his people's distress. He would have to learn the truth for himself.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chapter 18

Her rescuer was none other than the boor who had assaulted her at the feast the night before: Lord Severus.
As she turned to flee, the young man jumped in front of her to block her escape. “Don’t touch me!” her fright caused the words to sound slightly hysterical.
Aurelian put his hands up in a gesture of feigned surprise and non-aggression, “I promise, I won’t touch you—only don’t run away!”
He stood there looking completely innocent, even nonchalant—as though she had no reason to be angry with him. She didn’t have to suffer his company or advances just because he was the spoiled son of a governor!
“Get OUT of my way! I’m warning you.”
“You’re warning me?” he snorted as his arms folded across his chest. He didn’t budge.
“Yes, you have no right to detain me.”
“I happen to have every right—I can do anything I like with you. Do you not know who I am? I could have you killed for speaking to me in such a manner.”
“I don’t care, only get out of my way.” Even as she spoke Daelia knew what the consequences would be. Once she opened her mouth, however, she couldn’t stop the torrent of sharp replies from being unleashed upon the shocked young lord. A certain level of frustration, anger, and exhaustion had been reached, overcoming her better judgment. The servile mask which she had tried so hard to keep in place for the last year was quickly cracking, while the real Daelia—the one who could hunt bear, climb mountains, and survive for weeks alone in the woods—refused to be ignored any longer.
“You are not afraid of me?”
“Why should I be? You are just an ill-bred fool, masquerading as someone important.”
“I saved you! Maybe I should have just left you alone with him.”
“I could have gotten away by myself, thank you, and would have been spared seeing your unsightly face again.”
Aurelian took a surprised step backwards. Insulted by a servant—and after he had rescued her from certain degradation. Neither had he ordered her immediately beaten for her response to him at the feast earlier that evening. Ungrateful!
And scared.
The girl was shaking visibly beneath her too-large serving dress, the same one that she had been wearing at supper. Her eyes were wide, breathing fast, and fists clenched—ready for a fight should he move any closer.
He should have been angry, even furious. In such a situation his father would have ordered a disrespectful servant immediately flogged or put in the stocks, and this girl he probably would have killed on the spot. But the last thing he wanted to be was his father.
“Please, my lord,” the girl sighed as though she’d suddenly lost her will to fight him, “Just let me return to my quarters. The day has been long and difficult, made far worse by what just happened. I have only a few hours to sleep before I must be back in the kitchen preparing for the departure of you and the other guests.”
The words struck Aurelian’s conscience, and the prick felt a little bit like guilt. There was also, perhaps, an equal portion of dismay over realizing that he might have been partly to blame for the girl’s distress. The urge to apologize, however, was quickly dismissed; she was, after all, a servant.
Without a word, he stepped aside. With the path now clear, the girl immediately brushed past him and disappeared down the corridor.

Aurelian re-entered his bed chamber, closing the heavy, wooden door behind him. Another servant had been there earlier to build up the fire, and the flames still burned brightly, adding some warmth to the drafty room. He sat in a straight-backed chair for a while, sipping a goblet of watered-down wine and staring thoughtfully into the fire.
After a time, though, he arose, undressed, and settled into the comfortable bed. It was late and he was tired, yet sleep managed to elude him. With hands behind his head, he stated up at the fabric of the bed’s richly embroidered canopy, thinking.
Very few things had bothered his conscience in the past—at least not matters of an ethical nature, and especially matters not directly affecting him personally. So many thoughts had been bothering him over the recent months, and there they were again, all trying to crowd in at once. It was difficult to keep so man loose ends untangled in his mind, but recent events were beginning to fill in some of the missing links. Now, finding himself with time on his hands, he began to sort through the pieces.
Perhaps his first mistake had been assuming that the matters troubling his mind had nothing to do with him. For instance, whatever Father decides to do with the city now will eventually be something I have to deal with myself.
The thought of the Governor’s inevitable appointment with mortality usually cheered him up a little, but this time it didn’t. As the only child of Deveral Severus, Aurelian would be expected to continue his father’s legacy and uphold the laws and standards established by the elder governor during his reign. As straightforward as the concept was, the thought of serving as a mere continuation of his father left a sour taste in his mouth.
First, he wasn’t sure he agreed with the way his father had chosen to handle the peasantry, or for that matter, the nobles. The executions on trumped up charges, the forced slavery, the endless increase in taxation, the diversion of public funds into the ‘nobility allowance”—it just didn’t sit well with him. Yet, the system seemed to be firmly established and his future job would be to preserve, even increase, its power.
Second, this arrangement of marriage to Livea Vitalis made very little sense strategically. Her brother was wealthy and respected, yes, but an alliance between the houses of Severus and Vitalis held no obvious advantage for Severus politics. “Why her?” he wondered out loud, frustrated at the discovery of yet another missing detail, “What does Father know that I don’t? He never does anything without first determining how it might benefit him.” Unless…maybe it hadn’t been the governor’s idea at all.
That brought Aurelian directly to his third concern: the High One. His skin crawled at the mere thought of the governor’s personal priest and advisor. He had grown up watching the High One. The old man often stood beside governor’s seat during private court councils and led the divining rituals in the dark, smoky halls of the temple. His white robes denoted him as a member of the druid priesthood, as did the shaven head and strange tattoos.
Aurelian had learned at a young age that his father did nothing or made any decisions without first seeking the council of the High One. At times it was difficult to know whether the governor’s thoughts and deeds were his own or those of his advisor. The High One holds, among many other powers, the ability to divine the future, his father had once told him. Only a druid has a thorough knowledge of the magic arts, so to have one as my advisor is to benefit from that knowledge. Such power can be used to our advantage, and only a fool would ignore it.
The memory was of a twelve-year-old Aurelian, who had just finished expressing his discomfort in the druid’s presence and his even greater displeasure with his father’s expectation—order, really—that his son would also seek out druidic power in his own future governorship. To Aurelian’s eventual realization and relief, however, druids were few and far between. They were also, despite their alleged power over nature, subject to an ordinary lifespan, and the High One was not young.
Severus made his respect and implicit trust in his advisor a well-known fact, but his Aurelian saw and recognized the evil in the druid’s cool eyes. Evil and something else: confidence.
Chapter 17
Daelia was dumbstruck. Rouen was a Vitalis? Elian’s brother?
“How could you possibly be related to those…those…?” She managed in a strangled voice, though the word that correctly described what she thought of Elian and Livea escaped her. Suddenly she was picturing her friend among those at the feast that evening—a thought she found faintly repulsive.
“They are not my family!” Rouen growled, “They betrayed me—Elian and my father.”
“Your father? You’ve never mentioned him.”
“Elian was always my father’s favorite. If he ever did really care for me at all, he certainly didn’t after…” He stopped mid-sentence, “Let’s just say he was all too pleased when I gave him a reason to lock me up and hand the Lordship over to my brother.”
“Your own father locked you up here? I thought that was Elian,” her head was spinning. What else had he been holding back from her?
“No, my father convinced everyone, even my own mother, that I had gone insane and kept me confined to my chambers for months before I managed to evade the guard posted outside my door. I made it as far as the armory. When they caught me, my father ordered the guard to break my leg to keep me from running again—then he locked me up here.” Rouen shrugged and took his seat again on the bed, “I supposed justice was served in some capacity; he died only a year later.”
“Is your mother still alive?”
“No, she died shortly after my father. Elian told her that I was also dead. Since then his only concern has been to make sure that I stay here, out of his way.”
Sorrow enveloped Daelia; her heart ached for the betrayal that Rouen had known from his own family. Such a thing she could hardly comprehend. What sort of monster would commit against his own son the crimes that the elder Lord Vitalis had been guilty of? What father would encourage such hatred between his children?
She could feel the pain emanating from him—it mixed with her own. The injustices they had both faced were overwhelming. She tried unsuccessfully to stop the tears from forming and clamped both hands over her mouth to silence the sobs that threatened to escape. Crying wasn’t something that she allowed herself to do very often, especially not in front of another person.
Despite the efforts, Rouen must have sensed her reaction, “Don’t cry for me. Those tears were shed long ago.”
Taking deep breaths, Daelia tried to compose herself. The sorrow wasn’t just for Rouen, it was for her as well—for her family, her parents, and her loneliness. She wanted to tell him about Duard, about everything, but she didn’t. It wasn’t the right time; he needed encouragement, not more burdens.
For the first time in a while, Rouen sat perfectly still, buried deep in his thoughts. So many secrets were hidden behind those eyes, too much pain lay masked in their sightless gaze. She looked at him, seeing not the son of a lord, but a man who had lost all that was dear to him, just like her. But what could she do to help him? I couldn’t even help myself.
Suddenly the room fell away from view in a familiar cascade of strange half-pictures and whirling colors. There were no sounds, only words like verses on a page:

Night nears its end.
One becomes two,
Two becomes three,
Three to secure the freedom of many.

Those words disappeared and were replaced by others:

The exile shall soon be set free,
And shall not die in the dungeon,
Nor shall my provision be lacking.

Though the vision had lasted only a matter of seconds, as the room came back into normal view, the words imprinted themselves in Daelia’s memory. The detail of the vision was far greater than any other she had experienced, and the authority behind the words, though their meaning was cloaked, left a pressing weight on her. Three to secure the freedom of many…What could it mean?
Trembling a bit from the powerful vision, she left her place on the pew to sit down next to Rouen and took his large hand in hers. Oblivious to what had just occurred, but still solemn, he turned his body to face her, leaving his hand cradled in her grasp.
“Rouen, I care not whether you believe that Deus can help us or not. I know and believe that He will get us both out of here, and when He does, you will know that what I say is true. What you have suffered, what I have suffered, will not be in vain. I cannot say how I know, I just do. You were born the eldest son for a reason, and you have been brought here for a reason. So have I, though I certainly don’t understand the purpose of it yet.”
Night-blue eyes roamed over her face, trying, straining to see what they could not, “When you say that, I can almost believe you.”
“You should. You will.”
His mouth twitched upwards, “You have become quite sure of yourself all the sudden. Are you always this direct?”
“Well…only sometimes.” Then she remembered his position in contrast to her own, “I hope you don’t mind me speaking to you like this—as though we are the same.”
“Daelia, how are different? We are both prisoners, trapped behind stone walls, and denied the freedom we want by a life neither of us wished for. We are equals—in intelligence, in the desire for knowledge, and in the depth of our loneliness. Now we share a common danger in Elian, and I would dare say even in Livea.”
She sat very still as Rouen’s free hand raised, hesitating for a moment before gently cupping around her face. Soon the hand she held left her grasp to join the other. Ever so slowly they felt out the lines of her cheekbones, eyes, nose, mouth, and ran over her hair, held up loosely in its combs. After a long moment they dropped back into his lap.
“Thank you,” his voice was just above a whisper.
“For what”
“For letting me see you.” He didn’t mention that it was the first physical contact he’d had with another human being in…well…longer than person should be forced to live without.
But she had noticed the roughness in his voice and for a moment was grateful that he wasn’t able to see the blood that had flooded her cheeks at his touch. “But what do you look like?” she forced a light laugh in an attempt to clear the tension, “I can’t tell under that beard! And how long has it been since your hair was cut?”
A bit of a smile appeared at the corners of Rouen’s eyes. Standing to his feet he held out a hand to her, “Come, enough has been said for one night. You’d best get some rest; the guest’s will be leaving tomorrow.

It was late, long past midnight, when the latch on the chapel door clicked loudly in the silent hallway where all the guests had retired to bed. As quiet as she had tried to be, she was sure the sound would have roused someone. Standing motionless in the shadows of the doorway, she listened for movement. Nothing, only faint snoring came from behind the nearest chamber door.
Her visit to the chapel could have waited; she could have gone when the sun was up and the guests were gone, but she was very glad that she hadn’t. What she had learned made the loss of sleep worthwhile.
Just as she came upon the first two side-by-side chamber doors, a shadowy figure stepped out from one the shadow of one of the doorways. The person, a large man, stood directly in front of her, blocking the hall. Nothing except the doorway to the chapel lay behind: she was trapped. Instinctively, Daelia’s body tensed up, ready to either run or fight. The man stepped forward, close enough that she could see his face in the weak light emitted by a single torch halfway down the passage.
“Where are you off to at this hour?” asked the familiar man in low tones, a slight smirk on his face.
She recognized him as one of the rowdy lords from the feast. “Please, let me pass, my lord,” she replied firmly, her heart pounding
“Why the hurry?” He stepped closer and placed his hand against the wall to block her path.
Daelia attempted to duck under his arm, but he grabbed her belt and swung her roughly against the wall.
“Let go of me! If you don’t, I swear I’ll…” but his hand clamped over her mouth before she could finish her threat. Both of her arms were pinned to the cold stone, and though she kicked and struggled to get loose, he was much stronger than she.
“You’re coming with me,” the man hissed.
Just then a figure appeared behind him. A large hand clasped the brutes shoulder, spinning him forcefully towards the dark form. The young lord seemed about to send his fist into the face of the other person, but stopped suddenly.
“Let the girl go, Tanen.”
“But Milord, I was just about to…”
“Do as I said! You have no right to detain the wench I sent for. Now go!”
Reluctantly, Lord Tanen released his hold on Daelia’s mouth and arm and pushed her away roughly. “Forgive me, my Lord. I had no idea this one was already spoken for,” he sneered.
She and the shadowed figure watched as Tanen took the few strides to his chamber door and angrily slammed it shut behind him. “Don’t worry, he shouldn’t bother you again,” the man said quietly but firmly.
“Thank you, sir. I…” Suddenly the man stepped forward into the dim torchlight where she could see his face more clearly, “You!”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chapter 16

“You should have waited until the morning to come here. It’s late and you’re tired—I can hear it in your voice.” Rouen took the basket from Daelia’s hands.
“I know, but I haven’t been able to bring food for several days and the cook’s back was turned as I left the kitchen tonight,” she took hold of his free hand and, in it, placed a clumsy sack, “Here’s also a little wood, though hardly more than sticks.”
“Stealing food from Master to feed a blind renegade…” he let his voice trail off teasingly, but the gratitude was evident.
“I suppose I’m becoming quite the renegade myself then.” Wearily, Daelia sank onto a hard bench.
Rouen’s face turned suddenly sober at her words, the light mood of the moment before disappearing. His look remaining troubled as he sat down on the low bed that sat against the wall, near the fireplace. The tiny fire that burned inside was pitiful and barely cast a flicker of light across the dark chapel and added little in terms of warmth.
After throwing onto the small blaze one of the pieces of wood that Daelia had just brought he sat quietly for several moments, picking moodily at the knotted cloth that held the food.
“What is it? What did I say?”
Rouen sighed, long and slowly, “He’ll appear one day, you know, to find my body.”
Daelia blinked once. Twice. Did I miss something? I know I’m tired, but surely I didn’t just hear…
“What are you speaking of?”
“When he finds me very much alive…he’ll discover what you have done for me, and then we will both find our lives coming to a very swift and painful end.”
”Who wishes you dead?”
Again she paused, still not understanding, “Why would Lord Vitalis come looking for your dead body?”
“Because he’s trying to kill me.” He said it as a statement of fact.
“I don’t understand, Rouen. What reason could there possibly be for him to kill you?”
He continued as though he hadn’t heard the question, “I suspected it as soon Serina ceased bringing the food, but now I am certain of it.”
Without apparent reason, a violent growl tore from his throat, startling Daelia with its ferocity as he suddenly pushed away from the bed and began to pace back and forth across one side of the chapel.
“I cannot stay here any longer Daelia, do you understand?” He pulled at his hair in frustration as he stalked to the far end of the room. “I must leave this place! He will never have the courage to kill me himself, to plunge the knife with his own hand, but he will see me dead rather than risk losing everything!” The door shuddered as it met with a remarkably well-aimed boot.
“And now I have endangered your life as well. This was my own curse, my own hell, my punishment, not yours! I should never have allowed to you involve yourself!” He picked up one of the wooden pews and hurled it blindly through the air where it met the stone wall and sent fragments of wood skittering across the floor.
The unexpected violence displayed by the usually calm and collected blind man not only shocked Daelia but scared her as well, making her a angry that she still did not understand Rouen’s fear or his sudden loss of temper.
In the few late night conversations they’d had, she had learned a good deal about his personality and his favorite subjects: the history of Parsaena and the political ideals of its founding fathers. He’d spoken of these topics with such passion that Daelia found his excitement affecting. Into the early hours of the morning they had discussed history and politics, philosophy and religion, but nothing of their families or their past—everything and nothing. Suspecting that whatever kept him from revealing too much about his past was the same as hers, she had tread carefully. Some pain was still too near, some stories too long, and some disappointments too overwhelming.
The situation being what it was, however, at that moment sensitivity was not a primary concern. “Rouen, quiet yourself!” As he ranted loudly and angrily at no one, Daelia’s command cut through the din, and the flood of words broke of mid-curse.
“Now, you will explain to me what has sent you into such a passion right now, and no more of your nonsense! By the heavens! One would think I was looking at an ill-behaved child instead of a grown man,” she admonished.
One of the fallen tapestries, long-forgotten on the stone floor, received a brutal kick which sent up a cloud of dust, but he seemed to have gotten control of himself, “Eliam wants me dead because if my presence would become known, he would lose his position as Lord of Caerlock; and believe you me, murder is not beneath him.”
“What kind of threat could you possibly pose to Eliam Vitalis’ position? Who are you to him?”

She hadn’t meant it disparagingly, but the honest question seemed to provoke something in the young blind man.
As Rouen turned in the dim firelight to face her, he drew himself up to his full height and squared his shoulders.
“I am Ayrasen Rouen Vitalis. Eliam’s older brother, rightful Lord of Caerlock.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chapter 15

Aurelian sat down in the heavy wooden chair and stretched out his weary legs appreciatively under the linen shrouded table. The men of the party had returned from a hunt only an hour before, and Aurelian found that his appetite was back to normal after a long day out of doors. Freshly changed but still smelling of sun and pine, he reclined against the chair and breathed in deeply the aromas of freshly roasted boar and stag. Like the previous five evenings, a wealth of food lay out, ready to be consumed by the hungry guests, and still more was being carried in by servants. Elian Vitalis, in his place at the middle of the horseshoe-arranged tables, stood as his sister took her seat as hostess next to him, then turned towards the servants standing on one side of the room and clapped loudly to signal that wine was to be poured. The feast began.

Aurelian filled his plate and began to eat ravenously. It was no wonder really, for he hadn’t eaten much since his first meal at Castle Caerlock. His spirits were oddly high this evening and he had almost enjoyed himself during the hunt, riding hard across the hills and forests outside Parsaena. He had felt a sort of momentary freedom on the other side of the city walls, but perhaps he was just relieved to spend an entire day away from Livea’s ceaseless attentions.

Stabbing a hunk of venison with his eating knife he lifted it to his mouth to take a bite, but then stopped. Across the hall was a young woman, dressed as a servant and pouring wine into goblets as quickly as the guests emptied them. Normally he took no notice of servants, but this one caught his attention, mostly because her appearance little resembled the other servants. Her movements were fluid and graceful, her body rounded and strong, her back straight, and her chin held high. As she worked her way around the long, conjoined tables he continued to eat, but did not take his eyes off of her. Curled, bronze tendrils escaped her maidservant’s head-covering and the simple green garment she wore was too large and draped over her like a mossy robe. She seemed to belong outside among nature and appeared as out of place in the smoky hall as would have a tree.

Determined to examine the girl more closely, he quickly swallowed the contents of his own goblet and lifted it to signal for more. The girl noticed and started toward him, keeping her eyes respectfully to the floor without lowering her chin even a fraction. As she leaned over his right shoulder to refill his goblet with wine he studied her face openly, causing her cheeks to redden. She was embarrassed and this amused him. As she finished her task and began to move away he caught her wrist, causing her to almost drop the pitcher in his lap.

All pretense of servile reticence disappeared in an instant. The girl’s brown eyes suddenly left the floor and glared at him in a mixture of anger, disgust, and fright as she struggled to escape his grasp. Her hand came up as though to strike him, but then stopped as though the girl had realized what she had been about to do.

“Unhand me this instant or you will wish you had!” She hissed quietly so that only he could hear.

Astonished by the ferocity with which she ordered him, he released her wrist and she moved swiftly away from him. Did the foolish girl know that such a reaction to a noble – not to mention the governor’s son – could land her in prison or worse? He was not angered, however, only intrigued. He glanced around to see if anyone had observed the brief exchange, but everyone else was absorbed in either their food or the noisy acting troupe, the first of the evening’s entertainments.

Aurelian wasn’t interested in the play they were performing, he had seen it before. He had seen just about everything before, again and again. Truth be known, he was bored with his life in general. Maybe this was why the strange serving girl interested him; she seemed different than the people who had surrounded him every day of his life.

He sought her out once again. She was halfway down the table, filling goblets. Her hand was unsteady, he noticed, and her cheeks were still flushed. Then he noticed that he was not the only one watching the girl: the young Lord Tanen was ogling her openly from the end of the table where she was pouring him more wine.

The displeasure that he felt was suddenly coupled with a realization of the irony of the feeling. Why should he care? She was only a servant after all. He turned back to the feast and his wine, but his good spirits were dampened as another cloud of frustration overcame him. Though Livea looked displeased when he stood up, after a second serving of wine he abandoned the party for the seclusion of his own chamber and the opportunity to wallow in self-pity.

The detestable young man hadn’t touched her the second time she approached him to refill his goblet, a service she gave most unwillingly and with no charade of amiability. He had only watched her with some kind of petulant scowl on his face, thrown back his entire goblet of wine in one gulp, and hastily left the hall. Good, maybe she had ruined his evening. He very well deserved worse than that, she thought as she rubbed her bruised wrist.

In the hallway between the hall and kitchen Daelia ducked into a dark corner and flattened herself against the wall, wishing for invisibility. Resting her head against the cold stone she drew a deep ragged breath and tried to relax the death grip she held on the silver pitcher in her hands. Of all the nights for the serving girl to run off with a stable hand…Of course Daelia had been called to fill her spot even though she had no experience in serving. Handing her a simple green garment and head covering, Serina, the head serving woman, instructed her to simply keep all of the goblets filled. Despite the ill-fitting garment previously worn by the run-away serving girl, she had managed to fulfill her duties without mishap—at least until the governor’s son had overstepped himself.

Her heart would not stop pounding even after the young lord quit the hall. She was embarrassed and angry; embarrassed by the attention and the way he had looked at her, angered that her position had prevented her from physically defending herself on pain of death. Even after a year, the helplessness and injustice of servitude rankled her, and it probably always would. The repression of her position was adverse to every instinct and feeling, rebellion always threatening to come out either in her actions or words. The fight against her own pride and stubboness was a daily stuggle, one she was not certain she could win.

When she reached the hot, smelly kitchen Briden was waiting for her by a large barrel of wine. Concern appeared in her eyes when she saw the paleness of Daelia’s face. Taking the pitcher from the white hands, Briden refilled it from the barrel and passed it back to Daelia.

“Are you going to faint?” the young woman asked glancing at the cook who was too busy at the fire to notice them.

“No, I’ll be fine.” But Briden gave her a knowing look and squeezed her arm comfortingly.

“Here, drink of this,” she instructed, holding a jar up to Daelia’s lips.

The watered-down ale helped to bring some of the blood back into her face and the feeling back into her hands.

“Now hurry back to the hall before you are missed. And don’t be fearful of the guests. Just keep your head down and the cups full and they will soon be too filled with wine to do anything but sleep. So go now; the night will soon be over.” She tucked a few curls back under Daelia’s cap and gave her a gentle push towards the door.

Daelia uttered an oath under her breath in frustration, something she immediately regretted, and turned her head slightly to be sure no one had heard her. The young lord was staring at her again, watching every move! Fortunately, he had not touched her again as she went about her second evening as a serving girl. Thank Deus, this was the last night of feasting, and all the guests would depart on the morrow. Standing in a corner, she played with rough fabric of her sleeve nervously, trying to ignore the man across the room.

At that exact moment, however, Aurelian was not watching Daelia. Lord Tanen, a young man whom Aurelian loosly considered a friend, was watching her instead. This Aurelian noted with the same annoyance he had felt the night before. He watched Tanen as Tanen watched the serving girl. He didn’t like the look in his friend’s eyes: hungry, but not for food, and almost ravenous when the girl came near. In fact, she had been drawing looks from several of the males in the hall, and this worried Aurelian.

Just then Livea turned to him and began to speak of the ride the whole party had taken that afternoon, speaking in rapturous tones of the speed of the horses, the hot day, and his own skills of horsemanship. He tried for a while to appear as though he was listening. For a moment he envied the serving girl her place so far across the room from the Lady Vitalis

By the gods! Why do I give a second thought about a servant? I must be going mad.

He knew exactly why she had drawn his eye, but the longer he observed her movements, the less he cared about her face and began to wonder about her as a person.

Yes, I am going mad. Without a doubt. Livea was still talking, laughing daintily every once in a while at her own witty comments.

The light of the fire set the bronze of the servant girl’s hair aflame. Her skin seemed to glow from an inner light. He couldn’t tear his attention away from her. He wondered what she was thinking, what she felt behind those dark eyes.

If I am indeed going mad, there’s not much to be done about it. Medically speaking, that is. Father’s brother went mad, began ranting about evil and demons and such, so perhaps it’s in the family. Father certainly shows signs of strange—what the devil am I going on about?

Aurelian shook himself out of his ridiculous thoughts and turned back to Livea, but not before glancing at Tanen whose eyes were still locked on the girl. Somehow he knew there would be trouble, and it would be between the young lord and himself, and it would be regarding the serving girl. He wished he knew her name.