I had long wandered through the woods from our camp, from the site that Dedril had disappeared. But it was soon I had come across a small village, where I heard the gossip of a royal decree; the Princess of the land had called upon any daring person to go after Ukaor the evil warlock, who had killed her parents and caused other crimes across the land. Few had seen him, but from the scanty description, I realized that it could be this Ukaor that took my cousin. It seemed my first lead.
So I bent my way towards the capital, having barely enough change in my pocket for a horse. I slept in the sweet, gentle arms of the old tree branches, and woke early in the morn so that I could arrive as soon as possible, for I had also heard that an expedition party would leave within a fortnight.
I had seen the capital but once, when I was too young to remember, yet I had heard much of it from all the travelers that stopped by our trading caravan. It was far more congested then I had expected, the music of people shouting mixing with the clatter of carts and the mumble of softly spoken words. It was hot in the city, so packed with sweating human bodies and the stagnent air, the only shade from the ramshackle of buildings almost as crowded together as the people herding their way down the streets. I seemed to be pushed every which way by the current of the crowd. Now I gazed for something to eat, as I had sold the horse the last part of the journey, at the final village before the capital, and walked the rest on foot, so that I may have enough change to buy a bed in an inn, or maybe just some dinner for my hungry stomach.
A small bakery had caught my attention, the sent of freshly baked goods wafting over to me. My stomach growling eagerly, and I followed the enchanting smell to the tiny shop, squeezed between two much larger buildings. The door bell chimed as I went inside, the street noise dimming behind the walls. A tall, narrow woman stood at the counter, wild, greying hair pinned in a long braid down her back. She had an exotic appearance, with sun darkened skin and a prominent nose above thin lips, formed into a harsh, straight line. Her character was the least of which I expected to meet in a bakery such as this.
With piercing eyes she observed me intensly, her gaze catching on the sword at my waist. By the looks of it, she did not like me by the first impression. "Hello," her voice was rough, as if it was wind worn. "May I help you with anything?"
I walked to the counter, and layed out the few coins I had. "What would this buy me?"
She drummed her boney fingers on the wooden counter for a moment and then said, "I'll see what I have in the back for you." With that, she turned, her braid swinging like a clock's pendulum behind her.
I took the moment to observe the small enclosure. The ceilings were low and the floors creaked threateningly beneath my feet as I strolled around. I realized a few peculiar artifacts that I could not identify and ancient books in the corner displayed on a bookshelf with locked glass doors. The bookshelf itself was carved intricately, with designs that allowed your imagination to flourish trying to guess what it was, like smoke floating above a fire. I tilted my head a little bit to look at it in a different angle. Dragons, flames, swords....all swirled together in the oddest ways.
"What do you see?" the breath of the woman in my ear made the hair stand up on my neck. I jumped around to face her, my heart beating wildly in my chest.
"Nothing," I shook my head briefly, looking into her glittering black eyes.
A slight smile came to her lips, "Who are you?"
"Arien," I exclaimed hurriedly. "Who are you?"
She laughed at this, the bracelets at her wrists jangling as she did so. "It doesn't matter. But it does matter who you are. You are a piece of destiny."
I shivered and stepped away from her. The wild, misty appearance escaped her eyes, and they were fierce and strong again. "Here," she handed me a half a loaf of bread.
Nodding my thanks, I pensively took the bread and made my way towards the exit, nearly running. "Watch where you step, Arien, you are headed towards danger! Indeed!"
The door closed behind me, and I entered the river of people again. Cautiously, I sniffed my loaf, wondering if that woman had poisoned it. Certainly she wasn't a regular baker. One of the few spells I had been taught was to detect poison-by a passerby magician who had sensed my meager ability to use magic-and by the looks of it, this bread was not poisoned, thank heavens.
I bit into it as I walked, my mind drifting to that strange woman's words. I was not paying attention to where I walked as I soon strolled straight into another, and both of us where flat on the ground.
"I'm so sorry!" I exclaimed. I sat up a bit too fast, as my vision swirled a little.
"No-I wasn't paying attention to where I was going. I am sorry." said a young man slightly older than I, though we were both very close in height. He stood and offered me his hand, which I took gratefully.
I glanced at him curiously-something about him seemed magical. In appearance, he was a normal man, dark hair and blue-grey eyes with a slim, athletic form. Pulling my eyes away, I quickly turned around in search of my bread. It was gone! I sighed in despair. It was the last of my money!
"What is wrong?" asked the stranger, making me turn to face him once more.
"Nothing," I shook my head. He looked over me again, and then seemed to notice the sword at my side. "I should be off-I am sorry again.....do you know where the Palace is?"
There was a certain curiousity in his glance, but he answered, shrugging, "I am headed that way-you may follow if you wish."
He began walking down the street at a brisk pace, though I had no trouble following him. Soon the Palace gates were in full view, regal and imposing.
I wondered if they would allow me inside.