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Chapter 1

How could even a ruby compare to the deep red in these apples? Such a rare breed, yet there laid an entire orchard of the sweet, juice-filled fruits! Pelith thoroughly relished the lush gift from the earth presented to her by none other than her dear brother, Aroar, two years ago, right before the terrible accident. Her stomach muscles clenched from the memory of his body, first cut by rocks which he had fallen on from the collapsed wagon, and then shredded apart by wolves attracted to the sent of the blood. Blood might just be the one thing that’s color could ever be half as brilliant as that of these Ziatajie Apples.

Aroar had been favored, here in Moredien, for having organized and developed select trade routes to Qigondra, a rich country with a surplus of wealth. Their father, Horen, had originated from a superior, prosperous family of Qigondra and journeyed here to Moredien where he met his wife, Calioniel, and had fallen in love with both her, as well as the new country. His close relations to the regal and governing families of Qigondra have helped gain Moredien strong allies and friends, as well as good trading partners. Pelith’s family had become somewhat of a leader for this newly developed land, and through their efforts, Horen had nearly gained the title as the new King of Moredien.

Calioniel had begun the teaching systems around Moredian to institute better, more advanced education, as had always been her beliefs. She also set up small hospitals that were improving every day. All were impressed with this family’s triumphs in assisting in building a stronger nation. They all had produced great results that positively benefited Moredien.

All except Pelith. Try as she might, she could never succeed in becoming an equal to the other members of her family; in comparison, she looked lazy.Yet they willingly welcomed her into their own fame with arms open as wide as the seas stretches out. And, oh, how she loved them for that. How she loved them for their undeniable, unconditional love for her. But, still, she knew she should try to honor them and Moredien. She was only fifteen, but surely success would be expected of her soon.

Pelith was a swift huntress, and one of the few female hunters of her time. She had considered teaching other girls and women her skill, perhaps men as well, or maybe she could simply get a few of her closest friends to form a hunting circle with her to help provide food for the hungry. It would be a start, anyways. She gathered a small bagful of Ziatajie apples to snack on, though this was not her reason for visiting her orchard. It was a warm fall afternoon and the apples were in perfect condition. She had seen a few deer out her the day before at that time, so she headed out to see if another doe had returned.

She silently sat in a tree munching on a sweet apple when a movement caught her eyes. About twenty meters from where Pelith hid in her tree, a great majestic buck nibbled gingerly at the fallen apples at the ground, completely oblivious to her presence. Pelith notched an arrow into her bow and aimed. Just as the arrow let loose, the wind picked up as if it had been blowing that way for hours, rather than all of the sudden. The arrow veered just inches from the deer’s sleek body and hit the tree next to it.

Startled, the buck jumped forwards, in Pelith’s direction. A buck was a fine reward-not a prize one should risk losing. But Pelith did not have time to notch an arrow aim, and shoot, all while the creature was within distance. Some may call her a princess-to-be, but even if in the future she would be known as royalty, she did not yet have to act so regal. The buck was a few feet away, and Pelith yanked her dagger from its belt around her waist, hardly registering the actions. The time was right; now or never. She knew she was crazy, but it would bring the life back into her, make her feel more alive. So she pounced.

Chapter 2

Pelith was lucky she hadn’t landed on the deer’s antlers, and she knew it. Her hand had been scraped on them, but at least she hadn’t landed directly on top of them. She had landed on his rough back, both legs on one side so that she was riding side-straddle atop the wild beast, now sprinting away from the orchard of Ziatajie apples and toward the forest. Pelith knew she would likely get knocked off by low branches if she didn’t dismount soon. She whistles a high tune, and in moments, her horse, Culia, was running next to the deer. Culia moved to the right just enough so that Pelith could leap from the petrified deer and mount her horse. She had landed so smoothly it delayed them only a few seconds, and almost immediately they were right beside the beast.

Pelith grabbed her small, useless cloak from her back, wrapped two apples in it for weight, and quickly flung it at the long legs and hoofs beside her. The deer took perhaps three more steps before stumbling and tripping. Pelith thrust the knife as agile as possible as they passed, and the blade flew true and pierced the deer’s side. Culia galloped a few long strides more before turning around and returning to the deer. Pelith jumped from Culia’s back and kneeled next to the dying buck. She gently pulled the knife from the bleeding wound to wipe it on the grass and slipped it into her sheath at her waist.

The deer heaved in a last few heavy breaths before going completely still. Pelith sighed, both relief and exhaustion. “Thank you, Culia,” Pelith managed through pants.

“Pelith! Your hand-we need to get you home immediately.” Pelith glanced down to her palm where she had been scratched from the sharp antlers. Blood streamed from the small gash, but it wasn’t too bad. Not so bad that she couldn’t first pull the deer back home with her before getting it bandaged.

“That’s alright for now. But would you help me haul this meat home?” She looked at Culia pleadingly.

“But this is a serious wound. You’ll need stitches for this, I’m sure,” Culia protested, though Pelith just waved her warning off.

“It really isn’t that bad. It stings a little, yes, but we must get this deer home before it attracts animals,” Pelith said. Culia nickered slightly. She had always admired Pelith’s ability to overcome even the most difficult of obstacles. This cut was nothing to her. Though Culia worried for her friend’s safety, she knew she would never win that argument.

Pelith grabbed some ropes from her bag and tied them to the dead animal’s antlers and then threw the other end over Culia’s neck. She walked beside Culia as she pulled the buck so as not to add to her load. It was nearing sundown by the time they returned home, and Calioniel rushed out, ready to scold Pelith for worrying her by being gone for hours. But when Calioniel saw the deer, she felt both angry and disappointed. “Pelith, dear, you must stop this recklessness. It is so improper for a woman to hut, and-” Calioniel got closer and ran her finger over the deer’s wound. “You didn’t,” she said, stone-faced. “Tell me you didn’t kill the poor beast with your knife!” She looked at Pelith, stunned.

Pelith just shrugged at her mother’s unnecessary fussing over so little.. “I didn’t want it to get away. The arrow missed and hit a tree next to it which startled him and he started to run my way. I didn’t have a chance to prepare another arrow so I just grabbed my knife,” Pelith explained, purposely leaving out the part where she had ridden the wild animal.

“Well...no matter. We don’t have time for this. Your father has just been-your head is bleeding!” Calioniel exclaimed. Pelith raised her hand to her head in confusion to search for the source of the blood. There wasn’t even a scratch.

“I don’t feel any pain and there doesn’t seem to be a wound….Oh! My hand. It got cut from the deer’s antlers. The blood must be from my hand. Culia, thank you for your help in bringing my catch home. You can return to the stables. I’ll be out shortly.” She scratched behind Culia’s ears and sent her away before following her mother into their house.

Pelith’s house was no shack or cottage. With her father’s wealth, they could afford a large house and maids and butlers and cooks, which in turn gave some of the people of Moredian well paying jobs. They had several horses and a few stables which were tended by horse trainers, grooms, stall cleaners, handlers and Dr. Evindel, a veterinarian who specialized in the health of horses. Their fields and vineyards and orchards were cultivated and managed by more people in need of jobs. When the total of the fruits of the harvest have been reaped, thirty five percent would given to the marketers so they might have more to sell. More goods allow them to lower their prices so that food is more affordable. Another ten percent of the crop intake would sent to their workers as rations as a bonus for working for Pelith’s family. Fiveteen percent would be sent to Horen’s parents and siblings back in Qigondra as a gift. Thirty percent would be traded with Qigondra and other countries for meat, seasonings, certain herbs, silk, cotton, and other goods, which were shared with Moredian. The  remaining ten percent would be kept for Pelith’s family or  stored for emergencies.

Calioniel led Pelith through the long hall and into the medicine room. “Wait here,” She instructed her daughter. “I’ll be back in a moment.” Pelith watched her mother slip through the door. The moment the door swung shut behind Calioniel, Pelith jumped up from the cushioned bench she had sat on and opened a cupboard. She grabbed a small clean rag and a jar made of dark glass labeled “Eucalyptus Oil”. She poured some water in a pan and put it over a fire that was already lit. While waiting for it to warm, she grabbed a bowl, set it upon a counter and poured about one tablespoon of the oil into it. She returned to the fire where the water had warmed, but was still cool enough to touch.

She added a couple tablespoons of the warmed water to the oil to dilute it and stirred it with a small spoon. Taking a corner of the rag with her left hand, Pelith dipped the small area of the cloth into the bowl and then brought it to her right palm where the deep cut was to help disinfect it. She gingerly applied the ointment and then set the rag back on the counter. She selected a box from the same cupboard the oil had come from, as well as a tea leaf holder, and filled the holder with chamomile leaves from the box. She suspended the bundle of leaves into the water and threw a length of gauze in with it to also soak up some of the nutrients. She walked over to the window where several herbal plants were placed to receive sunlight. She reached for the one with a few long, thick lush green leaves sprouting from it’s roots. She broke one of these leaves and brought it over to the counter where the gauze she would use to cover her wound was laid out.

Starting at the pointed tip, Pelith squeezed from there to the opening, which was right above the gauze. Gel poured from the the Aloe Vera plant onto the gauze. With a spoon, she spread it about a bit before returning to the tea and lifting the tea leaf holder and cloth from the water and putting the leaves in the cloth. She slightly squeezed the small bundle to remove a bit of the liquid from it and carried it back to gauze on the counter. She covered her hand with the gauze and tea leaves. She breathed a sigh of relief when it was finally finished. Quickly, she cleaned up what had suddenly became a cluttered room and wiped the blood that had dripped from her hand off of the floor and counter before returning to the bench Caloinel had told her to stay in. Only minutes later, Caloinel burst into the room with Trylia, one of their top maids and their nurse when they needed one.

They were both in a frenzy until they saw Pelith sitting on the bench. “Let me see your cut, miss,” Trylia said to Pelith. Pelith’s response was holding her hand in the air to the height of her head with an unimpressed look on her face. She opened her mouth to give her reply but her mother didn’t give her that chance.

“Pelith! Take that off right now. You’ll need stitches and proper care,” Calioniel scolded her daughter, though Pelith immediately protested.

“But now that it’s treated can’t we wait and see if it heals on it’s own? Give it a week or two, and if there’s no improvement then it all yours,” Pelith argued, hoping it would be enough. She’d had stitches before, and she’d do anything to prevent getting them again.

Before Calioniel could say anything else, Trylia spoke up. “How did you treat it, miss?” she asked Pelith.

“I applied some diluted eucalyptus oil to the opening directly, spread some Aloe Vera on the gauze straight from the plant and I rapped a bag of soaked Chamomile tea leaves in with the gauze.”

“Let me see the wrapping, dear,” Trylia motioned to Pelith’s hand. She felt around the edges. “Well, I’d say you did a fine job. You probably should have waited for me to examine it, but now that it’s wrapped, we might as well let it be. But don’t do too much with that hand, and best to forget hunting for a while.” Trylia gave her a knowing smile.

“Thank you, Trylia. And, yes, I agree. I’ll not hunt until my wound is healed,” Pelith lied.

Calioniel huffed, defeated. “We can discuss this later, but now we must hurry. Something great is happening. Go change out of those clothes; they’re filthy and stained with blood. Put on something you wouldn't consider hunting in. Wait in the hall outside your father’s and my room. I’ll be right out to meet you. And brush your hair!” Calioniel finished by pulling a small twig from her daughters hair before rushing off to her own room.

“And do be careful with your hand, Pelith,” said Trylia. “Also, you just might want to wash your face.” They shared a quick warm smile before Pelith ran to the stables.

Chapter 3

 

“You’re back sooner than expected,” Culia noted when Pelith arrived. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to besides Marawyn over there and those rowdy worker boys around here.” Marawyn was a stuck-up unicorn. He thought he was better than any of the other stable animals because he could talk and had a horn. Most of the horses and donkeys could only communicate through brays, knickers, neighs and other animal noises, but occasionally, a talking beast would turn up. Unicorns almost always talked.

You might think that Marawyn would be a prefered choice for Pelith. He was, indeed, easy on the eyes, but Pelith had only to look him into his to discover the truth of his conceited and arrogant attitude. He always had a purple blanket on his back, as though it were a king’s robe. Marawyn would never allow any to ride on him, anyways, and the only other creature he would ever share a trough with was Culia, as she was the only other animal Pelith’s family had that talked. But, like Pelith, Culia despised his demeanor.

The ‘rowdy worker boys’ were young boys from town who were looking for a way to earn some money so they worked here in the stables. Most of them weren’t used to talking animals. A few had become accustomed to Culia and Marawyn, and some had a talking animal of their own, but talking beasts were still too rare for most of these boys to feel comfortable having a full-hearted conversation with one. The only one of them that seemed to feel at ease with Culia was Jeridus, though he tended to avoid Marawyn. That was understandable, as Marawyn didn’t exactly receive a multitude of love letters and fan mail from anyone who had ever met him. The only reason Pelith’s family decided to keep him was because they would never turn their backs on any animal-even ones as narrow-minded and spiteful as that unicorn.

“Well, I came to say thank you for helping bring the deer home, and I thought an extra couple of the best Ziatajie apples could show my gratitude,” Pelith smiled at her horse playfully. “And I arrived early because I managed to weave my way out of getting any horrid stitches-with the help of Trylia, of course. I can’t stay long. Really, I should be in my room cleaning myself up and trying to look presentable right now,” she confessed with the slightest hint of mockery and imitation of her mother’s voice.

“What? Why would you have to go and do all that? And near sundown? Are your relatives from Qigondra visiting?” Culia threw questions at Pelith in such a rush, Pelith could hardly keep up.

“I don’t know,” Pelith replied, placing her dagger in it a drawer in the corner of Culia’s stall. She noticed one of her knives was missing, but she quickly pushed aside the thought. She had probably misplaced it, or left it in the orchard. She turned back to Culia. “After telling me to clean up, Mother rushed to her own room. All else she said was to brush my hair and wait for her outside her room. I don’t know why she’s acting this way, but I suppose I’ll find out tonight.” Silence stretched between the two as they thought of different theories for Calioniel’s strange behavior until a familiar, unwelcomed voice sliced through their thoughts like a dagger through dirt: effortlessly, but messy, leaving a trail needing to be cleaned up.

“Well, why not now? Wouldn’t you like to be prepared for this? Or would you prefer to barge in unaware of your circumstances?” Cold blue eyes pierced through Pelith’s from long silvery white lashes surrounded by the same color of fur. Light from a flickering candle reflected from the thin, curved object growing from Marawyn’s head and danced in and out of Pelith’s eyes so that she had to squint to see properly.

“Yes, Marawyn, that would be nice, but I’m sure Mama has her reasons for not giving me information. Perhaps she knew I would come here to the stabled to see Culia and didn’t want and information to slip through certain ears,” Pelith answered, unable to hold back a coldness in her voice that would have made Jack Frost jealous.

But Marawyn just chuckled in amusement. “Well, if you insist…” He mumbled something under his breath Pelith and Culia could not hear before leaving with false authority in his trot and the purple blanket on his back sliding down a few inches from the swish of his tail.

“Wretched beast,” Pelith whispered after him, and Culia nodded in agreement. Pelith turned to leave when Marawyn’s lazy voice sing-songed out, “I heard that, my dearies.”

Pelith shuddered at the emotionless noise and turned to Culia. “Walk me out?” she pleaded. Culia nodded and moved to the side of her friend. Pelith remembered the terrible sound of Marawyn’s laugh and despised him all the more. She reached her hand up to Culia’s back for support. Culia. Her friend. Pelith was sure she would completely blow her composure to small bits of confetti without this friend. With Culia, she was safe. With this friend-and a bit of luck, if she was honest-she just might have a chance of making it through this crazy life sane.

Chapter 4

 

Pelith sat on a soft plush bench for the second time that day. Looking out the window at the end of the hall, she could see the sun was just barely visible. The past half hour had gone by in such a blur that it felt like jumping on the back of a wild deer in an attempt to kill it felt like eons ago. Definitely not that morning. Yet, right before her eyes, folded in her lap, was her freshly bandaged wound.

Calioniel burst from her room suddenly, disturbing the silence. She looked relieved to see Pelith waiting for her, but quickly began to pull her to the stairs. “Quickly now, we’re already late. When we get there, I don’t want you asking questions. If you feel faint, let me know and we will find you a seat. But, no matter what happens, you are not to make a seen. Am I understood?”

They were at the foot of the stairs and heading towards the entryway. “Yes, Mama, but what going on?” Pelith knew she sounded like a child whining like that, but she just had to know what was happening.

“I said no questions!” A sharp, worried voice. They were at the front door and finally paused. “Now. Put on a smile,” and Calioniel forced a smile on her own face, though Pelith could still see anxiety in her eyes. They stepped through the door.

People. Many, many people were out there. Not hundreds, but somewhere from fifty to eighty people were in front of their house. Horen stood in front of them, next to a man who Pelith recognized to be her cousin, Niolas, who was heir to the throne of Qigondra. Calioniel led Pelith over and they stood beside Horen, and looked out to the crowd. Pelith was confused, but she kept her smile like she was told.

Niolas began to speak. “This evening, developers and founders of towns Moredian have gather together to recognize Horen Gowyr as a great and worthy leader, and not just for this section of this new country, but for all of Moredian. As previously stated, these lands are new and are still forming. You are in need of a leader, a king. The best choice is, by far, Horen, as agreed on by the representatives shown here,” Niolas waved his hand out to the crowd in front of them. Pelith listened, but she wasn’t sure she could hear. It didn’t make sense, didn't sound reasonable. She was seeing thing, hearing nothing more than her imagination. Was she hallucinating? She forgot to smile and just stared ahead blankly, looking at nothing at all.

”And as allies and friends of Moredian, I, Niolas Afeliri, representative and heir to the throne of Qigondra, have agreed to come and anoint him as the new king. In addition to accepting this seat of power, I present to you fifty willing guards and horses, and will be willing to send reinforcements when needed. Also, we will fund construction for the needed buildings for your rulings. Are there any objections?” Niolas spoke to all of the gathered people. Pelith tried to whimper a protestation, but was so shocked, she couldn’t hardly breathe, let alone make any noise.

“Then I, Niolas Afeliri, heir to the throne of Qigondra, son of King Calulas and Queen Tudith, by God’s will and grace, present to you, the representatives of the people of Moridian, your new king, Horen Gowyr!” Niolas was handed a bottle of oil and poured it over Horen’s head, who was kneeling in front of him. When Niolas was handed a crown-which had probably been made in Moredian as another gift-Pelith broke. She couldn’t watch that. Couldn’t see her father that way, with thick, shiny fragranced oil dripping slowly from his hair and a new golden crown on his head. She couldn’t possibly accept this as her new life. Her entire body felt like lead, but somehow she lifted a foot, set it down behind her, and did so with the other foot. She continued this and got faster and faster, and her body lighter and lighter, until she was able to turn around and run. She couldn't feel the cool air around her, couldn’t see the torches in the stable that she was nearing, and couldn't hear the shouts of her mother and Niolas behind her, or of those who hadn’t noticed her absence and cheered on her father, newly crowned as their king. She just ran.

Chapter 5

An owl hooted in the distance, shattering the silence. It was around midnight, and Pelith was leaning against Culia, who had crouched down and laid on her knees so that Pelith could sit against her back. Pelith was wrapped in a blanket, curled up against Culia’s side. For hours they had been hiding there, searching for solitude in the forest.

“He was right, you know,” Pelith spoke softly with little energy left. “Marawyn. I remember now what he said. What he’d called me...and he’d been right. I hadn’t been sure I had heard him...I’d lied to myself, I’d know what was coming. He knew and he said that and I thought I hadn’t heard him and I wouldn’t hear him and now-” Pelith gasped a sob as her voice failed her.

“Shhhh, now Pelith,” Culia cooed into her friend’s ear. Pelith giggled quietly, because the whiskers on Culia’s muzzle tickled her. Culia pulled back with a half-hearted smile. “What did that horrible horned creature say to you?”

“Just before we left. It was hardly audible, so at first I told myself I didn’t hear anything, just the wind, or my imagination. But now…” Pelith shivered, half from the thought in her mind that she was about to voice, half from the cold of the night. She pressed herself further into Culia’s side. “Now I know what he said, what he had called me. Before he left, he said he’d stop. But the way he ended it...he called me...he called me ‘Princess’. And it was in such mockery. Not that I blame him for his tone. Considering how much my parents have done to create and form Moredian compared to me- lazy, old me who will occasionally bringing in a rabbit or deer-one would say we’re not even of the same blood! With Father as the King, now, I don’t think I can hardly even hunt anymore without it being secretly, hidden from all but a few I can trust. Furthermore, I will have to wear dresses and fancy gowns and speak elegantly and be kind and helpful to anyone and everyone I meet. Little girls that twirl around in a room telling their parents they want to be a princess when they grow up have no idea what they’re saying. I’m not princess material, and I really don’t want to be!”

Pelith sobbed harshly into Culia’s mane, falling into the swishing whirlpool of the troubles of life for the first time. She had always had security and happiness and joy and love in her life, but she had never felt anything like this. The pain of losing Aroar had been worse, but it had be a different pain, pulling at her heart and threatening to rip it in half. This time, though, the pain yanked at her entire body from every direction, sending promises to slowly tear her flesh from her, gnaw on her bones, shred her every part to powder, throw her into blazing fire, and send her ashes into the deepest, coldest part of the sea. The only reason that Aror’s death had been worse was that the pain was then targeted directly at her heart, the most vulnerable part of her, while this pain was shared equally throughout her body.

Eventually, though, her tears lessoned and exhaustion overcame her and she fell asleep to the sound of Culia’s soft heartbeats, still wrapped in the blanket. She felt secure, as if the blanket itself was a shield protecting her.

A crack; a shout; a snort. It was these noises that woke Pelith from her much-needed slumber. Someone nearby had stepped on a stick, causing it to snap loudly, startling Pelith awake. That someone shouted, causing Pelith to get up, despite her still-groggy state. The snort came from Culia, who was still asleep, but would soon wake if there were many more noises. Without thinking, Pelith stood, held the blanket to herself like a robe to prevent the cold from penetrating her warm body, and walked, only half awake, towards where she had heard the sound. It was dark. The only light she had was that from the moon, which poked through the gaps in the forest roof overhead where leaves had already begun to fall. She fought the sleep that lingered in the back of her mind and slowly moved forward.

A few meters from where she had fallen asleep and where Culia still dreamed silently, a solid body crashed into her own, and they both fell to the ground. She tried to scream, but a rough hand clamped down on her mouth. She tried to bite the person, but he held two fingers under her chin and forced her head back and onto his shoulder so that she couldn’t open her mouth. His other arm was wrapped around her arms and waist to prevent her from moving. Pelith was strong, and her attacker was weakening. Soon, she might be able to break free, but what about Culia? For a moment, her thoughts were racing, but she completely froze, mind and all, when his mouth went to her ears.

“Shh, it’s me, Pelith! Stop struggling and I’ll let you go. But keep it down, will ya’,” a voice Pelith thought she knew spoke to her. In shock, she hardly noticed the arms around her slack so that they no longer forced her to stay, but rested on her side lightly.

“Jeridus? Is that you?” Her voice became harsh as the shock faded and transformed into anger. “What did you think you were doing? I can’t believe you would do something like that!” She began to shake, both from rage and cold, as the blanket had fallen away when they had hit the ground. Jeridus noticed and rubbed her arms to return the warmth the night had stolen from her, but that did little to subdue Pelith’s anger.

“I’m sorry. You're right-I shouldn't have attacked you. Please, I’ve been worried all night. We all have. I guess that seeing you again and knowing you were alright after all I just went through made me overreact. I’m sorry,” Jeridus wrapped Pelith in a giant hug, warming and calming her. Pelith pressed up against his chest, absorbing any and all heat his body would send out.

“I’m sorry. I just-I can’t take all of this. What you all expect from me is-” Pelith started, but Jeridus cut her off.

“Nobody expects anything of you, Pelith. As for your father, though, everything is expected of him. That is why he was made King. Not even your mother was crowned, officially, Queen. She is Queen, as you are now Princess, but neither of you were crowned, or pronounced. As of now, you are expected to support your King, and Moredian. You can still hunt, you know,” He smiled down at her.

Pelith’s face went sour as she frowned. “You know Mother won’t let me. I’ll have to be a little lady and curtsey and have tea every afternoon so that the public knows that they have an orderly family running Moredian. I hate tea!” Pelith was so frustrated. So much-to much-for her to deal with. She hadn’t expected this all so soon, though Jeridus just chuckled.

“Well, tea can’t be that bad, now can it?” He bent down and gently kissed her forehead. “C’mon, now. We ought to get you home. We’ve all been so worried about you. Many people are searching for you and have been all night.” He bent down and picked up the blanket to wrap around her. “And how about you be the one to wake Culia? I’m not so sure she’ll appreciate being woken by me. Best you take care of her.”

Chapter 6

 

“Must you leave so soon? I’m afraid Mama and Father won’t know how to run Moredian without constant guidance from an expert.” Pelith demonstrated her well-practiced curtsy when saying goodbye to the departing Niolas.

“Ha, Pelith, please don’t do that! I appreciate your devotion to perfection, but honestly, you can’t fool me. I know how much you hate such ridiculous formal behavior. No need for that here.” They shared a laugh. It felt so good to laugh. Calioniel had decided that Pelith must begin wearing a corset, and it was horrid. Pelith could hardly breath, but she had snuck down to say goodbye to her cousin without it. It was so nice to laugh freely!

“Besides, you know I should get back to Qigondra. But I’ll always be here when you need me. And, hun, I promise you, it’ll be all right so don’t go running off again. Take it easy. Tell that horse of yours goodbye for me, and I’ll come back in a few months to see how things are coming along.” He ruffled her hair, and then set off on his own horse. Pelith held her smile until he was out of sight, and then let it drop. Niolas’s words repeated in her mind several times. ‘...don’t go running off again...’ It had been a week since Jeridus had brought Pelith and Culia back. No doubt, people thought she was delusional. Even in the halls, Pelith could hear whispers being exchanged amongst the servants. Every time a conversation took place which was inaudible to Pelith, she wished she had stayed in the woods.

Calioniel had been hiding in their house ever since; she was so embarrassed, she claimed she would never be able to show her face in public again. She had forbidden Pelith to leave the house, but at night, Pelith would sneak out to hunt. The only other person she would tell was Trylia, who would deliver any meat Pelith caught to the kitchen.

Pelith turned back towards the house, but a woman’s cry caught her attention. A market stood perhaps fifty yards from Pelith, where a crowd began to gather. Pelith approached the mob, curious. The people surrounded a figure Pelith couldn’t yet make out. Then a deafening wail began, and Pelith could see a woman, tears streaming down her face, crouched over the figure. Pelith could finally see what it was, and wished she hadn’t. She gagged at the sight.

Of a child.

With a knife driven into his chest.

Dead.

But this wasn’t the part that bothered Pelith the most, though it was still exceedingly gruesome. She could see the gold plated blade, despite the rust-colored blood that had dried over it. She could see the red stone implanted at the end of the hilt near the blade, and the blue stone at the tip of the hilt. And she could see the fancy ‘P’ in the middle of the blade. The ‘P’ that stood for Pelith. That was her name.

Her knife.

Chapter 7

 

And that was when one of the villagers recognized her.

A man made a grab for her, but she easily twisted from his grasp. Jumping back, she realized that all of the crowd had turned to her, some in horror, others in fury. They all believed her the culprit. There was no time for Pelith to object; the women hid their children behind them protectively, and the men immediately tried to capture her. Pelith knew she could fight off one or two, but as many as there was here, ready to attack her-perhaps twenty-it would be impossible. She had one choice to escape this unjust punishment: run.

And so she did. She sprinted to the stables, dodging the hands that tried to hold her back. In Culia’s stall, she jumped onto Culia’s back, startling the horse, and said just one word. “Go.” And Culia didn’t question her. She galloped out of her stall and to the stable’s door, where the fastest of the villagers had just arrived. In a moment of bravery, Culia jumped over them, narrowly missing a boy’s head-whose facial features strongly resembled that of the dead boy’s-with her hoof. And they were free.

Culia turned towards the apple trees. After ten minutes, they had made it to the other end of the orchard, to momentary safety. Culia came to an abrupt stop, jolting Pelith forward. Pelith dismounted and leaned against a small tree.

“Now. We have enough time. Explain. Please,” Said Culia in a calm, yet tense voice.

“They...he-a child, a mere toddler-dead. A knife. In his heart. A knife. My knife! Someone...I don’t know. But they knew it was mine. My knife. My knife stole a child’s life. My knife! They think I killed him. Because it was my knife. Somehow…” She couldn’t say another word. A person was dead. That person was just a child. His blood was drawn by her knife. Her knife with which she had not touched the boy with.

Culia stared at her, shocked. “I….Oh. Pelith. You are not responsible. There is no proof that you did that. You cannot be held accountable. It’s allright. I’m….Oh, my. I’m sorry,” Culia approached her friend.

“It’s not alright, though! A child is dead, and the blood seems to be on my hands!” Pelith cried. Culia understood. Pelth was very fond of her weapons. Them and her were one, and her knife having been the tool used to murder an innocent child made Pelith feel responsible.

“But your hands are clean, are they not? You are innocent of this crime. there has been a misunderstanding. You will not be found to be guilty. Your parents will see to that,” Culia said.

“But it will seem as if they are abusing their newfound power in doing so. They would likely be removed from their superior position, because of me,” Pelith stated, quietly.

“Not because of you!” Culia denied. “No. Now you listen to me. The true murderer will be found. You will be brought before Moredian, guilt free. There’s nothing to worry about. Come now, let us rest. It has been a tiring day for you. But, I promise you, everything will be all right.”

Pelith lay down next to Culia and curled up next to her for warmth. She wanted to believe Culia. But she just couldn’t. How could everything be alright when a child’s limp body lay in the streets, Pelith’s knife driven into his heart? It couldn’t. And suddenly, Pelith was terrified. Of whoever had killed the boy, of what lay waiting for her in Moredian, of her future and of life in general. and she fell asleep with these thoughts on her mind.

Some hours later, a shout roused Pelith from her sleep. Smoke. In her hazy state, Pelith managed to recognize the scent of smoke. Alarmed, her eyes flew open. Fire. It rimmed the edge of the orchard, flickering in the night. Culia was nowhere to be seen, though her voice was clearly audible.  “Pelith! Get up! Get out of here! Go! Run!” And then a neigh. Pelith jumped from the ground and looked around. It was difficult to breath with the thick smoke surrounding her, still she sprinted in the direction of Culia’s voice, dodging the scorching flames that stood in her path.

“Culia! Where are you?” Pelith called to her friend. Something was wrong, terribly, horribly wrong. Had Culia told Pelith to run? She’d never do that. Not unless something had occurred that Culia thought Pelith could not handle. Things like this didn’t happen often. All Pelith could think was how wrong this all seemed. How she should be home, being scolded by her mother for something, and spending her time in Culia’s stall. But instead, Pelith was here, searching among the burning forest for her closest friend. But it was also there that she heard it. It started with a low rumbling, like a stomach growling. But suddenly, a high pitched scream broke out, and without warning, a ball of fire was spewn only two feet from where Pelith had been standing. The wall of heat that rammed into Pelith knocked her down. Opening her eyes, which she had squeezed shut when she had fallen, she saw a small, but growing, flickering flame on her shoulder as her dress sleeve caught fire. Gasping, she quickly patted it out, but not before it scorched her hair. She stood up and looked around, terrified.

“Culia-” Pelith’s breath caught in her throat when a large, dark figure loomed above her, it’s face illuminated by the smoke, though it’s eyes reflected the dancing flames surrounding it. The creature didn’t even flinch from the fire, it seemed accustomed and shielded from it’s potential of destruction. Pelith froze, unable to move from fear. The beast’s head disappeared, and a figure pounced from Peliths right, knocking her out of the way of another ball of fire, which hit whatever had knocked Pelith to the ground.

Pelith leaned towards the burning, unmoving object, trying to figure out what it was. A horrid smell wafted from it, stinging her nose and reminding her of when her own hair burnt only minutes ago. Was she on fire again? She patted her shoulder to confirm that the smell was not from her hair. And thats when her eyes caught sight of a streak of white. White fur, yellowing from the fire, ran along the black form that had saved Pelith. A horse. Her horse.

Culia.

Pelith gasped in disbelief. This wasn’t Culia. It was a horse that merely looked like Culia. It probably wasn’t even a talking horse. And that white strip of fur on its side...that was just ash, not Culia’s distinct mark that no other known horse had. Pelith began to approach the fallen horse, but the beast that had killed it emerged from the shadows. Pelith stood, not daring to move, waiting for the creature to turn it’s back so that she could run. It’s farsom yellow eyes fell upon Pelith, but only for a few seconds before it turned to the dead horse, plunging it’s razor sharp teeth into it’s side, blood splattering onto the bit of it’s muzzle that Pelith could see. That was her chance. Without a second thought, Pelith sprinted from the scene and hid behind a cluster of rocks, struggling to breath. And that was the moment she knew. She knew that she could no longer stay in Moredian. She knew Culia had just been murdered in front of her. And she knew what had killed her beloved horse.

A dragon.

Imprint

Publication Date: 05-15-2015

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