The sun had not yet risen when Thea woke. Her dreams had been filled with fighting among fanciful creatures, soaring over great lands, and wild adventures. All this, she knew, was due to her excitement and anxiety for the hours and days to come. It was on this day, the first day of autumn one hundred years past, that human-kind had been found floating at sea by the elves of the Island of the Crystal mountains; or, in the elf tongue, On Kristallbergen. It was also the day that the first human rider, Bailor, had been chosen.
Since that day, on the first day of autumn, that those who were of age within the elf and human kingdoms would journey to the elves capital of Gyllene-Lov. There they would be presented to a council made up of riders, elven and human. They would stay there to be tested for eligibility to become a rider. Those who were approved by the council would then be taken to the largest mountain in their land, Adelsten-Berg, which was home to the wild dragons. There they would be presented to the dragon elders, and then to dragon eggs. If one hatched for a candidate, they would begin their training as a rider. The others would be sent home,and would be tested again the following year if they so chose to be.
Thea thought she had a better chance than most to be among the passing candidates, as her father was a dragon rider himself. However, she did not know how the council tested those who sought to become a rider. Not even her father would tell her at her pestering, he would only say "Only those pure of heart may become a rider." Thea was unsure of what that meant, but she was eager to prove herself worthy; no matter what trials were heading her way.
A soft tapping at her chamber door interrupted her thoughts. She rose, clad only in her shift, and threw a cotton robe 'round her shoulders. Then she tiptoed to the door, and opened it to see her brother. Bjorn wore a wool, royal-blue tunic, with leather breeches and boots. Over the tunic he wore a form-fitting leather vest. He had shaved the sides of his head, leaving only the top and back of his straw-colored hair long enough to pull back into a braid. In his sapphire eyes, Thea could see unrestrained excitement.
"What are you doing up so early, brother," Thea asked softly.
"I come to wish you a happy name day, dear sister. And, to invite you to accompany me on one last hunt; today may be the last day we may enjoy." Thea's excitement surged. Her brother had also come of age to be considered for the Rider's ranks. They were fraternal twins, and were both born on the first day of autumn twenty five years past.
"And a happy name day to you too," Thea said. "Wait for me out back, and I shall join you momentarily." Closing her door, she dropped her robe and shift. She pulled on a pair of tight, flexible leather pants and knee-high leather boots. Then she donned a cinnamon dyed tunic, and cinched it with a leather corset. Her chestnut hair she fashioned into a side braid that reached her hips.
She belted on her dragon-bone hunting knife and slung her yew bow and arrows across her shoulders. In a few moments she joined Bjorn on the edge of the meadow their village, Laurel, rested. Laurel lay before the edge of the mountain range they lived near, Gra-Intervall, or the Grey Range. Half a mile away was the Lysande-Vattenfall, Silver Waterfall, named thus because it looked like a line of quicksilver flowing down from Gra-Intervall. The mountain range and waterfall were familiar to Thea and her brother; they had hunted the hardwood forests of the mountain range since they had been able to explore on their own. Their father taught them to hunt because his father had taught him, and because the villagers depended on one another for survival. Even though her father was a Rider, and ruled over the village, he insisted that they work together to survive, only to ask for aid when in dire need.
Thea and Bjorn started towards the forest that surrounded the base of the Lysande-Vattenfall, jogging so as to not waste time. As they entered the forest depths, they readied their bows, treading softly on the moss covered ground. Soon they reached the base of the falls, a favorite spot for deer to bed and travel to for water. They climbed two tall oaks that sat ten foot apart. They each settled on a branch ten foot up, and patiently waited for their prey. As they waited, Thea watched the sun rise and cast its light on the falls; the rays of light made it seem as if liquid gold flowed down from the mountains.
Thea had been taught to her and Bjorn by their father; they would need to know it when they were among the elves and riders. She also practiced some minor spells, though she and her brother did not practice the use of magic too much because they did not need it in their village. But as riders, they would be expected to have some knowledge of it, or at least be able to wield it.
Her father also taught them telepathy, and how to shield and battle with their minds. At her brothers prodding, Thea opened her mind to his so that they may share their excitement and thoughts.
Are you scared, Thea?
His deep voice filled her mind, sending a feeling of warmth through her being. As twins, they shared a close connection with one another that very few others did. When their minds joined, it was as if they became whole. Thea had a feeling that would change if they were to be bonded to dragons though, so she savored the touch.
I am nervous and anxious, she replied, and excited of the prospect of a new chapter in this life. But no, I would not say that I am scared. And if I were to have fear, it would only be the fear that one of us does not get accepted; for I could hardly imagine a life where you were not present.
Aye, he responded, a tinge of sorrow in his voice. It would be like cutting off my own arm. But, we would have no say in such a matter. Besides, adopting a lighter tone, I do not believe we will be separated. For some reason, I feel that the fates have deemed we forever be attached at the hip. Thea smiled at that; one could only hope for such a fate.
As the time approached what Thea deemed close to nine in the morning, a lone buck worked his way out of the shadowy forest. He was old and grey, though strong, with massive antlers. She watched quietly as he approached the water's edge, head held high. A cool breeze wafted from where she was hidden towards the buck. He licked his nose, and turned it up. Thea thought he might make them, but he only sniffed once, and proceeded to drink from the frigid river.
Though he was not broadside to her, Thea lined up a shot that would pass between the ribs sheltering the beasts heart. She could vaguely sense Bjorn doing the same thing, but she loosed her arrow first. With great precision, the shaft passed through the tissue between two ribs, and struck the bucks heart. With a dull thud, he gracefully crumpled dead to the ground. Thea climbed down from her perch, jumping when she was four foot off the ground. She strode over cautiously to the deer, just in case he had somehow evaded death. She could see, when she was two feet away, that his eyes had glazed over and that he had ceased to breath.
Bjorn handed his bow to Thea and drug the buck to a tree, where he tied it to a branch with a length of rope so that it hung head-first above the ground. Taking out his knife, he proceeded to clean and skin the corpse. "He was an old male," Bjorn said. "It almost seemed as if he sensed it was his time to leave this world, to go roam the forests of the gods as king among his kind. Just look at these antlers."
After the buck had been cleansed and skinned, Bjorn quartered it and wrapped the meat in the buck's skin, using it like a bag. Before they left the area, Thea set up a small fire and stacked flat rocks to make a small oven in which Bjorn placed the two inside straps he had saved for them. The meat took only a few minutes to be edible. Thea savored its taste, as she may soon have to forgo the taste of animal flesh; the elves did not eat meat.
After they finished they doused the fire, drank from their water skins, and then proceeded back to the village. The emissaries of the council would arrive there soon, and would lead the candidates to Gyllene-Lov the following morning. When they arrived at the village, they found it humming with activity in preparation for the emissaries' arrival. It was custom that there would be a small going-away celebration held, in honor of the candidates. As they approached their home, a great carnelian dragon roared above them, and circled to land ten foot behind them.
It was Liekki. He stood eight foot at the shoulder, and nearly fifteen foot in length from nose to tail; thought it was said that a dragon could stand as high as twenty feet. From the back of his head erupted ram-like horns of ivory. Eyes of gold, which showed his age and wisdom, gazed down upon them. As he folded his great bird-like wings, which were twice across as he was long, Njord Ragnvald jumped down from his shoulders.
At six foot five, Thea's father was a large man. He carried himself with dignity, keeping his back and broad shoulders straight, and his head held high. His straw-yellow hair was left down, a circlet of moonstone-studded silver on his brow. His hazel eyes rested on Kira and Bjorn; for a moment Thea thought he might be angry with them for not being present for the start of the preparations. Only when a broad, white smile replaced the straight line of his mouth did Thea relax and walk into his welcoming embrace.
Laughing, Njord kissed her forehead. "Happy name day, my daughter," he said, his voice deep and smooth. Bjorn joined them, and her father repeated the tiding to him. After a few words recounting their morning hunt, Njord placed a hand on each of their shoulders, his demeanor becoming serious. He looked them each over, a tear threatening to fall from his eye.
"Today is a very big day," he began, "for today you shall leave Therinfole; perhaps, never to return. I want you both to know how proud I am of both of you. You've proven to our people that you are pure of heart, and proven to me that you are worthy of joining the ranks of the Riders. Whatever the council should decide, know that I will always be proud of you, and that you may come home whenever you wish it."
Thea watched as Liekki walked to stand by their father's side. He snaked his massive head around to place the tip of his nose to each of their foreheads. His voice, a thunder in their minds, said I, too, am proud of who you have become, hatchlings. It has been a joy watching you grow, and being your guardian. May the council find you both worthy, and may you protect the Island of Crystal Mountains with compassion and might.
Thea could not help herself; after she embraced her father one more time, she flung her arms around Liekki's neck, squeezing with all her might. The dragon was caught off guard, but returned her embrace with his thick foreleg. Liekki had not only been her father's companion, but also, for lack of better words, their nanny. Not that he changed their dippers of anything of that sort. But when they had become old enough to go wandering out of the sight of the village, Liekki had always watched over them whenever he could spare his time. As toddlers, he had allowed them to climb all over him and amuse themselves by sliding down his forelegs or swinging from his tail. Thea would miss him, just as much as she would miss her father.
A great cheer erupted near the village square; it was around noon time, and the emissaries had arrived. Their first order of business would be a meeting with Njord, to discuss the activities from throughout the rest of the land. Then, when evening came, the candidates would be presented to the emissaries. They would feast, sleep, and be off before dawn the next morn. Njord climbed back to his perch at Liekki's shoulders. To Thea and Bjorn, he said, "I expect this meeting to last until evening. See if any of the villagers require assistance, then you are free to do what you will until you must ready and meet the emissaries."
Thea waved as Sollys vaulted into the air with one powerful thrust of his giant wings and muscled hind legs. Thea helped Bjorn deliver their catch to the village butcher. He thanked them, and went about his business. Afterwards, they left and spoke to any villager they came across. They helped Dagfinn, an older man who ran one of the main farms of Therinfole, bring in the last of his crop that was ripe for harvesting. After that, Bjorn left to help the men at the villages square in constructing long tables for the feast. In his absence, Thea assisted the women of the village in making breads and sweet rolls that would be served with dinner.
It was nearing dusk by time she was able to return to her home, which was perched on top of a hill so that the whole village could be observed. She closed the front door behind her and headed straight for her room, grabbing a cluster of grapes on her way by the kitchen. She had finished the tart fruit by time she reached her chamber. She stripped down and walked to the back balcony that served as her wash-room. A wall of windows encircled the balcony. By pulling a lever, Thea dropped the curtains of all but two windows and then pulled the lever that let collected rain water fall from a basin above her head. It filled a waist-deep tub, which she heated with magic. She poured some lavender oil into the water, and proceeded to cleanse herself.
When she finished, she drained the tub and rolled the curtains back up to let in the oncoming moonlight. Her room grew brighter as night descended. Jewel like lanterns hung from the ceiling beams, giving the room a soft yellow light; they had been a present from her father's mentor for her sixteenth birthday. She opened her closet doors, searching for the ideal outfit to present herself to the elf emissaries. In the morning she would dress for travel, but this night she chose to wear a long, flowing dress of creme colored silk, adorned by a jeweled corset bodice imbedded with amber and citrine. She carefully slid the dress up and over her hips, and slid her arms through the long sleeves till her hands emerged through the trumpeted sleeves.
Before she got any farther, someone knocked on Kira's door. She went to it, and opened it to see her smiling friend, Anya. She had her flame read hair in a braided bun that sat atop her head. On her petite frame she wore a simple emerald dress that buttoned up the back. "I came to see if you needed any assistance," she said smiling.
"I cannot seem to reach the back of the dress to lace it up," Thea laughed, "your help is most welcome." Thea strode back to her wall mirror as Anya closed the door and set about tightly lacing up the back of Thea's dress.
"This must be such an exciting day for you, Thea. You've waited all your life for this. How do you feel," Anya asked. She was five years younger than Thea, and as such could not venture forth to Keltainen Lehti for a few autumns yet. They had talked about joining the riders many times, but Anya was content to stay in the village. She had once told Thea, "It is such a big world out there, to big for little me."
Kira answered her question as she had answered Bjorn. She was excited and anxious, eager to be on her way at this point. When Anya was finished with the dress, she helped Thea place her feet into jeweled slippers that matched the bodice of her dress. She brushed her hair, but let it fall freely to her hips. She placed a silver circlet imbedded with amber stones upon her brow. Around her neck she wore a silver sun pendent with an amber stone in its center. It had been bestowed to her by her mother before she died. It was all she had left of her, and would take it with her on her journey.
Satisfied with her appearance, she and Anya left her room and proceeded down to the den. Thea found her father and Bjorn waiting, along with Anya's betrothed, Fredrik. Her father dressed in a white tunic, with a copper silk vest with silver embroidered vines on it. He wore black leather leggings and boots, with his sword belted to his waist. Bjorn was dressed similarly. They left their home and walked down the path that led to the village square. It was lit with lanterns of every color, and streamers crisscrossed the roofs.
In the square, a large bonfire glowed with fierce light. To one side stood Liekki; his fiery-red scales glowed as if an internal fire shown through them. On the other side there stood three tall elves. Two had hair of pale gold; one, who stood in the center and seemed to be their leader, had raven hair. The villagers were gathered around the edges of the square. Njord went to stand beside Liekki, leaving Thea and Bjorn to approach the emissaries. As they took their place before the emissaries, two others from their village joined them; Sigrid Ulrike and Gabriel Savarin.
As one, Thea and the others bowed to the emissaries. As an added respect, Thea and Bjorn offered them an elvish greeting their father had taught them. The elves returned in kind, and then silenced reigned. When the raven-haired elf finally spoke, his voice washed over them like cool water.
"I am Ferin, of house Sylvan. My companions and I thank you all for your hospitality. Tomorrow, the candidates will join us and journey to the capital in hopes to join the Riders. May their last night home be one of joy, and happiness." The village erupted in a cheer. A band of fiddles and flutes started a reel, and food was brought out of the kitchens and set on the long tables that lined the square. Thea and Bjorn ate with the other candidates, though Sigrid and Gabriel seemed un-inclined to have a conversation.
After they had eaten, Bjorn went to talk to their father, leaving Thea to dance around the bonfire with the other villagers. She resolved to enjoy the rest of the night, not realizing it would truly be the last time she saw home.