Anarisia bears a mark, a mark she cannot begin to understand. So she keeps it hidden, hoping to discover her destiny. When a neighboring lord invaders her family's lands, Anarisia is forced to go on the run. She meets a Pegasi who knows of her mark, and who knows the meaning of it. With that, Anarisia is pulled into a feud between gods--for she is the last hope of Talnaea.
Here comes One
With a star on the wrist
The weapons of Ardoc in hand
A savior this One shall be
to come and make all People free
From the Darkness
The plain was still dim, full of shadows. The sun was just beginning to peek out over the horizon, the frothy pink and yellow of the sunrise, the delicate blue of the early-morning sky beginning to show as the sun made its way into the heavens. As it rose, it illuminated a little village—a cluster of wattle and daub houses, leaning together around a slightly larger church as if finding protection against the cold winter winds that had just left them, not yet daring to believe that the summer’s warmth was on its way.
Barely anyone was stirring in the huddle of huts; an enterprising farmwife was already at the well, getting a start on the day’s chores, and a man was tramping through his garden, coming back in from milking his lone cow with a bucket of milk that slopped over onto his boots. A road meandered through this sleepy village, a rutted road that saw little but rough farm wagons and messengers.
If the eye were to follow this road, as it would for it seemed to be a road of quite a lot of importance, one would see a rather low stone wall encircling a large house. It was not a castle, nor a mansion. It was simply a house, of the sort that a well-to-do country lord might build, with just enough protection to keep him from the attacks of highwaymen and the arrogant gossip of his fellow noblemen.
The castle was also still at this early hour. Perhaps, somewhere deep inside, a scullery maid was being roused from bed or a chicken boy, with a rough kick in the pants, being sent to care for his feathered charges, but from the outside it seemed to be quite calm and still, a picture of tranquility.
In any case, there was one eye that was not closed, one head that was not still pillowed. She sat on a cushioned seat under her window, shutters flung as far as they would go, chin resting in one hand, hair spilling around her face, framing it quite prettily in the early morning glow of the rising sun.
A blanket was loosely thrown about her shoulders, and she seemed to not heed the chill that filled the air. This was her sole moment of quiet during the day, when she could peacefully watch the sun rise before people began bustling around her, expecting her to fulfill her duties as the proxy Lady of the manor.
The girl’s contemplations, however, were interrupted by a soft knock on the door. This knock did not seem unexpected; the girl didn’t even turn, barely did she seem to speak aloud. A quiet sort of hum was all she gave and the door opened, the mistress and servant so close that no words were necessary.
The servant woman who entered was not young; in fact, to look at her one might doubt that she had ever been young. She seemed to have the sort of presence that said their state was inflexible, that they would forever be what they were and had forever been so. But she did not seem to be an old woman, despite her lined face that was forever squinting, as if she could not see, and her white hair. She simply was, with the dignity of an assured woman who knew her place and knew how far its authority extended.
“Lady Anarisia, you’ll catch cold,” she greeted her young mistress.
Only then did the young girl turn, her hair catching the light of the sun and turning, for a brief second, more golden than usual. “Good morning Keely. Did you see the sunrise? There was blue, like always, but yellow too. I haven’t seen yellow in it for a long while. It’s beautiful, you know?”
Keely just grunted, a noncommittal sound that could have meant she’d watched it or she hadn’t—or, which was far more likely, that she hadn’t bothered to think of the sunrise when her young charge needed to be dressed.
The old servant was one of those permanencies that attended the lives of the noble. She had been the nursemaid of Lady Anarisia’s mother, and then her maidservant, and had become Lady Anarisia’s nursemaid upon her birth, and was now her maidservant. As far as Keely was concerned, this cycle would continue until Iidav took her for her reward. Which hopefully, given the scatterbrained young Lady Fengol’s habits, would be none too soon.
The old woman puttered about the room, collecting her lady’s things—a shift, an overdress, and a pair of shoes that would serve her for the day. “Do you need help?” she asked, with a clear tone of command that all but said the girl wouldn’t need help. She was utterly convinced she’d done a better job raising Anarisia than for the young miss to need help changing.
Anarisia, ever an independent child (whether from training or natural character, who could say) had already pulled off her nightdress, and quickly tugged the shift on over her head, warming it to her body heat as she laced up her overdress, seeming eager to be done with the process.
“Your father wants you for breakfast,” was Keely’s last comment-turned-command as she twisted Anarisia’s hair into a plaited bun, and then she whisked herself away, going to cause terror in the hearts of the young maids that attended to her young lady’s chambers.
Anarisia, fondly smiling for reasons known only to herself and her ageless maid, followed the old woman, holding her skirt up to keep it from swishing against the floor and catching up the dust that collected on the stones. She saw no reason to keep quiet, and practically ran along the corridor. There were no visitors at the moment, and her father was either sequestered away in his part of the manor or already in the breakfast hall.
And her mother—Anarisia tried not to think of her mother, as a general rule. It was still a painful topic, probably because the immediacy of its subject never failed. Her mother was an ever-present phenomenon, one of those wonders of the universe. The victim of an accident that should never have happened to one so young and full of life. She had fallen from her horse, at least as far as Anarisia knew. She had hurt herself so badly that she had been unable to walk and, eventually, speak.
Anarisia remembered the endless parade of Pixie healers, called from their forest homes in Kalvenvên, come to put their skill to work on the Lady Fengol, but none had been able to heal her. With that, the duties of the Lady Fengol had fallen first to no one, and then to Anarisia herself, settling on the shoulders of the seventeen year old girl with a weight she tried to hide for her father’s sake.
Thoughts of her mother gave her pause before the door behind which the lady lay. Giving way to the impulse, she stepped forward and pushed open the door, letting in a quick block of light before it cut off, giving way to the permanent gloom that was only relieved by a few candles on a bedside table and the fire.
It irked Anarisia, how dark they kept it. Her mother had hated the dark—even Anarisia, who had been barely ten when the hunting accident had taken her mother’s voice, could remember that. A dim shape started out of the gloom at her, jumping up from a chair beside the curtained bed.
“It’s just me, Helen,” Anarisia said, floundering through the shadows and trying to find her way by the dim light of the fire. “Is she awake?”
“No’ ye’, miss. She’s bin driftin’ in an’ out for awhi’ now, bu’ I dinnae wan’ to wake ‘er.” The girl spoke in the round, short syllables of Talvel, a habit that rather annoyed Anarisia some days. Today, she felt at peace with the whole world and managed to give Helen a beatific smile, though she doubted even the accustomed eyes of the nurse could catch it.
She went to her mother’s bedside, gently settling down on the edge of it, the bedspread crinkling underneath her. She reached out and smoothed a lock of hair from her mother’s forehead. Others had always said that the Lady and her daughter looked alike—the same shade of hair, trembling between golden and brown, never able to decide which it wanted to be, the same slightly browned skin, the same dark eyes.
Lady Fengol had always laughed and begun to point out every bit of the little girl that wasn’t part of her—the nose, the chin, the personality itself—but others merely laughed in their turn at the fanciful whimsy of the energetic Lady and kept their own counsel.
“I miss you,” Anarisia murmured to the woman who had been her mother, a woman who could never return nor help to assuage the confidences and burdens her young daughter commended to her safekeeping. Finally, with thoughts of her father and the breakfast he wished to share with her, Anarisia’s hand slipped from her mother’s and she left the woman to Helen’s care once more.
Her father took breakfast with her once a week, without fail. It was the closest to tradition the Fengol family was likely to come anytime in the near future, and so Anarisia never complained to anyone about the distant nature of her father’s ramblings, how he never seemed as if he were in the room with her, but rather wandering in some far-off recess of his own mind that his young daughter could never hope to enter.
He was sitting at the table when she entered the small room they took breakfast in; it was connected to his chambers by a sliding door, an almost unwelcome reminder of the fact that he rarely strayed far from his rooms these days. Nevertheless, he heaved himself to his feet when she entered, managing a still-graceful, utterly polite bow. She responded with a curtsy and settled into the chair he pulled out for her.
Before she sat down, her gaze wandered over the walls of the room. They were filled with shelves, a small replica of her father’s receiving room, a vast room full of books and scrolls. Most of them had been passed down by Anarisia’s grandfather, a venerable man who had been graduated in Ardoc and had passed down every bit of the Pegasi love for learning to his granddaughter.
Anarisia could not count the hours she had spent in this room or in the receiving room, secreted in some corner or behind her father’s heavy chair, listening in equal measure to the drone of some neighboring nobleman’s business offer or the penitent query of a peasant and to the story a book was whispering to her. Whether in Tal or Pegasiath, or even in Dwarvish or Pilyalilel, the graceful, dancing language of the Pixies, Anarisia had spent hours poring over the books. Her young shoulders spent more time hunched over an ancient scroll, stubby finger tracing the swirls of Pilyalilel script or the uprights of Dwarvish runes, than they did exposed to the sunlight or carrying a doll.
It had been many years, however, since her father had bothered to sit her on his knee and help her decipher a stubborn rune or a string of script. Too long.
It was just then, as Anarisia was beginning breakfast, that she realized the two of them were not alone in the room. A well-dressed man stood next to a small table some feet away, mixing something in a vial. Before he turned, Anarisia was already smiling, for it was Delveè, her family’s Pixie physician. His long, dark golden hair was pulled back in its customary leather band, his all-black eyes giving knowledge of his race.
He darted her a quick wink as he came over to her father. “Here you are, my lord. Take it twice a day. Lady Anarisia,” he said, turning to her and sketching a short, completely unnecessary bow, “you look wonderful this morning.”
“Thank you Delveè,” she said with a smile.
“Yes, yes, thank you Delveè. Now go on before you completely distract my daughter with some new book you’re reading,” Lord Fengol said, but there was a wistful sound in his voice that was almost amusement.
Anarisia could sense something brewing, something building. He wanted to talk to her, which meant that this breakfast was not just a breakfast; it was most likely a business meeting as well. She tried to act unconcerned as the door shut behind the physician, picking up a sausage and running it between her fingers before taking a bite. Her father had sat back, watching her with an odd look on his face. Dread clutched at her heart; could it be marriage he was thinking of so intently? It was a subject she had expected to come up sooner or later, but certainly not this—
“How are your audiences coming? I know you take on much of the work with the peasants and farmers.”
The question was so completely not what she had expected that Anarisia couldn’t help a surprised, relieved laugh. “Very well, father. They are good people, and many of them resolve their differences themselves.”
“Last time Gelt visited, he seemed amazed. I think his daughter was somewhat scandalized,” her father continued. There was definitely amusement there, now, and Anarisia knew why.
It had been a long-established fact among the other nobles that young Miss Fengol (who more often carried the title of Lady) was quite avowedly mad, or close to it. Anarisia didn’t understand this; she considered the services she paid to the peasants as very important.
Fortunately, none of the farmers whose concerns she listened to so seriously regarded her in the same light. She was popularly regarded as the much better part of the Fengol family, for not only did she listen, but she acted.
If a local constable were making the lives of his charges unbearable, Lady Anarisia would give assurances that something would be done, and two days later, with no explanation, the constable would depart and another would come along to discharge his duties. A certain inhabitant of the village would tap his nose with a knowing look in his eye and become the most sought-after member of the gossiping community because of his knowledgeable hints. Some people had even come to believe that Lady Anarisia could purge the land of drought. She’d emptied half the manor’s food stores on a starving village one winter, a happening that made her the friend of every peasant and the mistress of a very many eager hands.
“I’m sorry Miss Gelt found my behavior so surprising,” Anarisia said, though she knew she didn’t sound the least bit apologetic. Part of it was that she didn’t care one whit what Miss Gelt thought of her, and the other part was that she knew this wasn’t what her father wanted to talk to her about.
He seemed to realize he wasn’t fooling her, because he dropped the bread he held back onto his plate and settled back, watching her. Anarisia stopped eating as well, gazing back, waiting.
“We are in danger, Anarisia,” he finally said, his gaze focused not on her now, but on the shelves over her shoulder.
“From what?” Anarisia asked, leaning forward a bit.
He heaved a sigh, his gaze flicking to her face and away again in an instant. “Lord Jel.” He practically spat the simple words, the words conjuring up images in Anarisia’s mind—a thin face, anger transfiguring it, faces thrown into shadow by thick hoods, a spiteful son.
“Are we not always in danger from Lord Jel?” Anarisia asked, trying to laugh a little and failing completely. It came out forced and stiff, a flat sound in the quiet room.
“It is different this time. He has sent a messenger. The man arrived last night. He has given us a week to vacate the Manor, or he says he will march. Which—of course—means he’ll march tomorrow and reach here in a week.” Lord Fengol ended with another sigh, the effort of explaining seeming to have exhausted him; he sank back even further against his chair, his face seeming even more lined and wan than usual.
Anarisia tried to find words, tried to think of something to say. “We are not leaving,” she finally said, no question in her words.
“Your mother and I will not be leaving, no.”
It took Anarisia a moment to fully discover the unspoken instruction in the statement. “You’re sending me away,” she said, her voice flat in another non-question.
“I’m trying to protect you,” her father corrected gently, his eyes landing on her again. “You are the last of the Fengol line, the heir. Perhaps…perhaps someday you will be able to reclaim your inheritance. When Jel arrives, you will ride for Gelt with an escort. You will find shelter there, you will be safe.”
Anarisia could already tell there was no purpose in arguing. His tone was full of finality, giving a quick death to any thoughts of rebellion she had. But all the same, she made a feeble effort, trying to find the words and almost-wisdom she had when speaking to the peasants. “I would prefer to stay here.”
“And have Jel marry you off to his son?” he asked, managing to summon a smile at her expression as he said it.
Anarisia looked down at her hands. She’d tightly folded them in her lap, her knuckles white as she tried to keep them from shaking. She knew that their powerful neighbor had continued expanding his territory despite the king’s warnings. She knew, too, that King Gael was weak, far too weak to deal with a charismatic, relatively popular, and above all very independent nobleman. Anarisia knew he would be unable to protect even one of his most loyal supporters, as Lord Fengol was.
She would be forced to run, to turn her back on her family and her home. And she would do it, she knew she would, because her father would make her. She stood up, breakfast forgotten, pacing back and forth. She heard her father stand, make his way over to her. He stopped her, taking her hands in his. When he spoke, his voice was softer than she’d heard it in years, and she couldn’t help looking up at him, surprised.
“I know this will be difficult for you, Anarisia. Please believe that I wish there were another way. But we have friends in Talnaëa, friends who can help you…” his voice trailed off as he turned her hands over, contemplating her palms. Her gaze wandered over them as well, as if she were seeing them for the first time…
Her eyes landed on her wrists at almost the same moment as his did. There, on the inside of her right wrist, was an indistinct, almost silver birthmark. It had been there since Anarisia could remember, and now her father dropped her left hand and brought his up to trace it.
He abruptly dropped her right hand as well, looking up to try and smile at her. “You will be alright, my daughter. You bear your mother’s independence and—I hope—something of what I think is my bravery.” His hands landed on her shoulders and he pulled her close, planting on a kiss on her forehead. “You will fare well, no matter what happens.”