Road Of ChoicesMature

Chapter 1

 

            Winter had made travel hard on Andrea, and the warm spring weather a welcome change.  Leaving home in the middle of the worst winter in years hadn’t been her first choice, but she was given no alternative in the matter.  Upon her parents death she had two options, leave or join them in the afterlife. 

Sitting in the saddle she recalled what brought her to this point in her life, the dance at winter solstice.  It was a big event, the last time most would be able to travel to her father’s manor before snow blocked the road.  With the best harvest in years just completed everyone who was anyone was here.

Late into the night there was always a bonfire dance, and having just turned eighteen Andrea was allowed to attend.  Dressing in her family’s colors of black and gold she looked down on those already dancing.  Watching them from her window, she smiled and finished tying her long red hair back, then turned to go downstairs.

            A huge flash caught her attention, and she raced back to the window.  The bonfire had grown, with long tendrils of flames leaping about.  Frozen in fear she watched the blissfully dancing people being engulfed in flames.  No one seemed to notice the dancers turning into huge moving pillars of fire. 

“Must be a grand illusion for the celebration,” she murmured, running her hands down the glass, but people were falling to the ground.  The flames on the fallen died down, leaving nothing but charred unmoving bodies.

She realized it was no illusion, then a thought struck her, near driving Andrea to her knees, her parents were down there.  Bolting from the room she tried to run to the field, but was stopped at the edge.

            Angrily she fought the hands holding her, and cursing she looked back to see her weapon master Kerick. Screaming and kicking at him he just held her as the dancing people were consumed in the deadly flames.

            “Lass, stop.  There’s nothing you can do.” He pulled her back inside the manor door, as her flame-shrouded parents danced by.  “The evil in that man’s heart is beyond control, there’s no helping your parents now.”

            Intense screams of agony tore from her throat, and Kerick pulled her to his chest as she broke down sobbing in horror. Her body gave up, and she sagged against him. 

Carefully the old weapon’s master picked her up, and carried her up to her room.  At the foot of the stairs she looked over Kerick’s shoulder and saw her uncle standing on the edge of the field.  The band on his forehead glowed blue with the mark of his Lyota blessings, and the scene was burned into her mind. 

Kerick stayed with her as she cried herself to sleep, and was sleeping in the big plush chair in her room when she woke.  The morning sun shone on the chair making the violet regiment tattoo on his left wrist glow, denoting him retired from the King’s army.  Under his forearm were tattooed the campaigns we had served on, and it was full.

Andrea had no idea what all of it meant, and Kerick didn’t talk of his past service.  She did know her father served with him, and Kerick hurt his left leg ending his military career, then taking the job at the manor.  She guessed his age at fifty, maybe sixty years old, hard to tell, since he kept his head shaven as well as his face.  A tad over six feet, it was easy to tell he kept in great shape.

Sitting up she felt empty inside, and saw the full pack next to the chair.  He stirred, and looked at her.  Gazing at him confused, he held his finger up for silence before she could start the tirade of questions that shone in her eyes.  “Listen child, he has ears everywhere.”

“You mean my murderous–”

“Ssh,” Kerick put a finger to her lips, “Stefyan has no idea you saw him last night.  He came asking why you never came to the dance.” He gave her a wink.  “Told him you were ill lass, he finds you know what has happened you’ll be the next to die.”

“Good,” Andrea hissed, “it’ll give me enough of an advantage to run a knife through his heart.”

“No,” Kerick shook his head, “he’s far too powerful, and will kill you or worse yet turn you to his way of thinking.  Besides, he’s gone, and when he returns I’ll tell him I sent you off to my sister, where you’ll finish your studies.”

“I don’t need babysat,” she gritted her teeth, “nor will I be ba–”

“Not to worry lass,” he cut her off, “you’re not going to my sister.”

“But, you said–”

“Know lass, hear me out.” He patted the pack. “I’ve packed enough supplies to get you to Clearview, once there I want you to restock and move on to Port of Mist.  Catch a boat and make your way overseas to your brother.  There you’ll be safe.”

“No!  I can’t leave.” Her anger made her body shake. “He has to pay for what he did, I swear it!”

“How’s he to pay if you’re dead child?”  Kerick shook his head.  “He’s powerful, doubly blessed by the Goddess Lyota.  Your parents were blessed as well, but didn’t use their powers.  I prayed you’d show some sign of power, but alas you never have.  Go to your brother, he’s the only one strong enough to stop your uncle.”  He stood, and bowed to her.  “I’ll stay here and guard your home until your return Lady Andrea.” 

Knowing he was right she stood and went to her changing room.  Her riding leathers were already laid out.  Shaking with anger she dressed. 

With an approving nod Kerick held out her weapons.  Looking in his hands she saw her father’s sword and her mother’s bow.

He smiled trying to reassure her.  “They’d want you to have them, child.”

“Thank you Kerick, I’ll make them and you proud.” Picking up her pack and weapons she headed to the stable with the weapon master following closely. 

Earlier that day Stefyan had gone to the capital, to regretfully inform the King of her parent’s death.  Krisive Manor was a key defensive location in the kingdom, and it was not unthinkable foreign powers might have been behind this reprehensible act. Her parents the Duke and Duchess, had been firm rulers, but kind of heart.

*   *   *

 

Andrea made it to Clearview as instructed, but instead of heading for Port of Mist she headed to the capital with the thought to either waylay Stefyan or speak with the King.  Halfway through the month’s ride the weather turned hazardous, and she stopped to take shelter in a small village. 

Beset by the storm with her coin getting low Andrea decided to stay a while and try to find a job.  Working in the local inn she saved her coppers through the worst of the winter.  Unable to wait longer she left the small village determined to fight her way to the capital, which was two weeks ago.

Now with the sun setting she sat atop her horse outside the Virgash city gates, looking at the carvings of Lyota in the gates.  Something turned her stomach, and visions of the fire those many months ago came back to her. 

Shaking she set the horse in motion to find waiting quietly at the side of the gate a small group of guards.  Braced for the worse she stopped to ask about lodging.  In every gated town she had been through so far the guards harassed her and gave her grief for being a single female traveler.

Before she could speak one young guard stood, and greeted her. “Welcome to Virgash, may the goddess bless you.”

Biting her tongue Andrea returned the young man’s smile.  “Same to you well met.  I was wondering if you could direct me to a place for lodging, which is fair and reasonable for a traveler.”

With a smile he motioned her to the edge of the gate.  “If you follow the main road to the north wall of town you’ll find the Lyotian temple.  They welcome all travelers, and will gladly give you shelter.”

Sighing aggregately she looked up towards the temple, “There’s nowhere else?”

“None apt to treat you fairly.”  Six foot tall, well-muscled arms, shoulder length brown hair, young and friendly, he didn’t look or act like a typical city guard.  “Lyota is a just and honest goddess, wishing to see people treated with respect.”

His brown eyes shone with mischievous, and he had a large burgundy colored birthmark under his right ear.  “My name is Jerick, I train at the temple.  Perhaps I’ll see you there before you travel from our fair city.”  He smiled grandly at her, showing off a dimple, as she nodded and headed towards the temple.

Fair and just? The goddess gave Stefyan his powers and let her parents die?  No she didn’t think so.  This was going to be an interesting night, all through the town as she rode there were pictures and carvings of the goddess.  Andrea could swear the eyes followed her as she rode.

The over-sized door to the temple was covered in runes, speaking of Lyota and her great deeds.  Shaking her head Andrea used the huge cast iron knocker, and could hear it echo.  Footsteps hurried towards her, followed by a pair of bolts moving, unlocking the door.  A young blond girl looked out, she had a crooked smile, but the most perfect straight teeth Andrea had ever seen.

Hair in pig-tails, tied in leather strips with small bells at the tips, sky blue eyes, freckle-faced, button nose, and thin unadorned lips she looked like a country girl.  “Blessings from Lyota traveler.” 

Twinkle in her eyes and single dimple reminded her of the boy at the gate. She turned her head slightly and the burgundy birthmark half hidden under a big dangling earring confirmed it.  “How may I help you?”

“Was told at the gate could get lodging here for the night.”  Andrea saw no point in being rude just because she didn’t happen to like their goddess.  “Have little coin but will pay what I can.”

“Of course, if you’ll tether your horse over there I’ll take you to see Master Sturat.  He’ll be able to arrange lodging for you tonight.” The girl was bubbly and practically bounced the whole time she talked.  She wore calf high soft leather boots, with pink beads and bells hanging from the straps. 

After tethering the horse she made her way through the door the girl held open.  Andrea noticed another oddity, the girl’s nails were painted, which wasn’t too unusual, except they were each colored differently than the others, and near as colorful as her clothes, which could be labeled nothing short of wild.  All these little visual clues made her wonder if they trained court jesters here, then she recalled stories of painted ladies with the title of noble courtesans.

Worshipers of the goddess, jesters, or courtesans, none of these choices sounded good to Andrea, and she weighed her options.  Stay here for nothing, or spend the last of her coin on a bed.  No way was she going to be turned to Lyota, at five-ten she was too big to be a jester, and courtesan?  Well, she never saw herself as pretty, and was the biggest tomboy she knew, preferring to be in britches instead of dresses or robes. Because of this she never learned to use the proper way to apply beauty aids or even her best colors of the many to choose from.

So, the choice was easy Andrea walked through the open door.  The inside of the temple seemed to be more tamely decorated, but still as rich and beautiful.  Halls paneled with a dark mahogany wood, a color deep and rich.  The floor rugs were different shades of blue, seemingly glowing against the dark wood of the hall.  Every ten feet down the hall were tables laden with blue and white flowers on soft vines, trailing up the walls and onto the floor.

Her guide didn’t bother to watch her step as she walked on the flowers and vines. When doing so the plants released a soft fragrance into the air. Andrea looked up to see the ceiling two stories up and skylights every ten feet, but knew there was not enough light to adequately grow these plants. 

Young woman stopped at a door, each carved with a set of different colored rings, by far the simplest decoration Andrea had seen since entering town.  The girl smiled and motioned for her to wait a moment while she went in.

Trying to wait patiently she looked about, finding directly across from her a life-size painting of a delicate, beautiful lady sitting in a field of blue flowers.  The brass nameplate denoted her as Lyota, and she looked so serene in a peaceful world.

Andrea frowned, thinking of the night her parents and all those others died.  On her way here she learned Uncle Stefyan stood before the royal court claiming this was all an ancient curse brought upon my family when my father unearthed some ruins. He asked the King to reinstate the Black Guard soldiers, and it was done.  No doubt the whole kingdom was relieved there were no foreign powers involved.

She knew nothing of any ruins, or of her father even doing such work to unearth them, and being as he was teaching her how to run the estate Andrea would’ve known.  As for the Black Guard soldiers, all she knew were the stories, and they weren’t good.  Soldier wasn’t even a word associated with them, being as they were ruffians or assassins, killing any and all they barely suspected of wrongdoing.  Still it was all legal, being as the dead were buried with the sentence of performing magic against the kingdom, or traitor, on their wood markers, all in the name of Lyota then too.

Taking a closer look Andrea could see the painting was ancient, and she fought the urge to rip it down.  This world was not peaceful, and she had no right to be serene after allowing such atrocities.  She placed her hand on the painting’s frame, then took a deep breath and backed away.

Leaning back against the wall with her arms crossed she tried not to get even more aggravated while waiting, but those eyes kept staring at her, as if assuring her there was a reason for it all.  She was sure they were inside discussing how much of a donation they could get out of her.  The door opened just as she started to get to the boiling point.

“Please come,” the young woman waved her inside, “the Master will see you now.”

Sighing Andrea followed her in, to a room simple and plain compared to the rest of the temple she had seen.  Man at the desk, dressed in a high-collared shirt and dark gray finely woven wool jacket, looked like a banker, not a Lyota mage.  His gray hair cut short on the sides, the back in a ponytail and reaching past his shoulders.

Having led a fairly sheltered life Andrea didn’t have a clue to what a mage might look like, but storybooks pictured them wearing robes, with long white beards, and hair to match. So, she reasoned this was the bookkeeper, and would figure out what her temple donation would be.

Standing in front of the desk she didn’t fail to notice the floor to ceiling shelves on two walls, full of books. This was definitely no mage’s workroom, and she didn’t see any big, showy display of Lyota.  He glanced up and smiled, motioning for her to sit.  Andrea would’ve guessed his age at sixty, but his eyes seemed ancient. She bowed to show respect, despite her feelings towards the goddess, but remained standing.

“Welcome traveler, understand you seek lodging.”  Hands against his chest he laced his fingers together, both forefingers straight, and he looked as if he were in prayer.  “Here in the temple we have several rooms available.  I only have a few rules to go over, then Gaby will show you the way to your bed.”

“Thank you sir,” Andrea’s manners took over, and she managed to keep the scorn out of her voice.  “Please continue I’m sure you have much more important things than me to tend with.”

“Let me start with introducing myself, I am Master Sturat, overseer of this temple.  I ask you to observe the rules, all quite painless.”  He laughed softly at his own joke, and Andrea smiled waiting on him to continue. “First rule, weapons must be left in your room when you go anywhere in the temple.  We have a lot of young students with hot tempers.  You will surely meet some if you join us for our evening meal.  The other rule, if you stay with us there is a mandatory testing for gifts from the goddess.  This is–”

“Sorry,” Andrea interrupted him, “I’m no worshiper of Lyota.  My parents were but I’m not, definitely not.”

“Doesn’t matter dear,” he gave her a bow, “the goddess blesses anyone she sees fit.” He smiled, and held his hands up, palms flat, pointed at the ceiling. “Is a painless test, you simply sit down and I look into your mind to see if you have been blessed.”

Andrea shook her head, and Sturat raised a bushy eyebrow.  “Is a law the King has passed, all must be tested.”

“Can assure you in my case it’s a waste of time,” crossing her arms she was prepared to argue or leave, “wouldn’t use it if I had it.”  At this point either one suited her just fine.

“Miss…I’m sorry…I have not asked your name yet.”

“Andrea of Krisive,” she answered shortly, not giving the standard addition of her parent’s names.  If no one knows her they couldn’t track her.

“Andrea there is no way not to use them if you have them.”  Looking puzzled he noted his books, and returned to the conversation, “If you have them then the Lady means for you to use them. It is dangerous to go untrained it can hurt you and others around you.”

“I’ve seen enough hurt done with the gifts of the goddess,” Andrea glared at the old man, “I want nothing to do with it.” 

“Andrea we need to check you.” Sturat set his jaw. “Can understand something horrible must have happened in your young life, but do you want to be the one causing such horror to others because you didn’t train what you had?”

Turning towards the door she stopped thinking about what he said.  Could she bear the thought that she did something as horrible as what had been done to her parents?  No, there was no way.

Turning back to face Master Sturat she looked him in the eyes.  “All right, I’ll do this.  Don’t like it, but I couldn’t handle accidentally hurting someone the way I saw people hurt.  I only want to know what happens if you find something running lose in my head.”

The old man chuckled at her words. “Well if we find something “running lose” in your head, as you so aptly put it, then you’ll need to train here at the temple.  We can’t allow untrained people out on the streets all by…” He stopped and looked at the paper in front of him where he’d written her name, “Perhaps after we are done we could talk about what makes you so distrustful of the ladies’ blessing.”

“Perhaps.” She took a deep breath.  “Shall we get started?  I’d really like to get to my bed.  I’ve traveled hard the last few weeks.”

“Of course child, please have a seat on the couch, only takes a moment to get this done.” 

Drumming her fingers on the side of her thighs Andrea sat, shocked at how comfortable the couch felt. Except for being deep blue it reminded her of the fine furnishings of her parent’s home, and how badly she missed them.

He stood, and walked around to sit next to her.  He reached out and took her hands in his. Andrea was tense, this was the last thing that she wanted or expected.  Fighting the urge to jerk her hands out of his she tried to sit still. 

“Close your eyes child.  I will not harm you I swear.”

Doing as he bid she tried to clear her mind of the images that always assaulted her when her eyes were closed.  Flames and human torches danced behind her eyelids. Fighting down the rage filling her she tried to still herself.  The images began to fade, replaced by the sound of wind blowing.  Pictures of Krisive Manor destroyed and the ground littered with bodies, dragons filled the sky, like she was looking over a great battlefield.  Atop her horse her hands in the air she seemed to be controlling the scene below.  There were others with her, but their faces couldn’t be made out in the darkness.

The vision shifted, and she seemed to be running, but low to the ground and all fours.  Sights and sounds were amplified, and confusion gripped her mind.  What was going on?  Another shift and she stood aboard a ship.  Her heart told her it was headed to Sunde and her brother, but something in her heart ached as she looked at the shadow standing on the receding pier.   

Sturat released her hands and her eyes flew open with a gasp, her whole body shaking.  He put his hand comfortingly on her shoulder.  “My child, your future is fraught with peril, yet filled with joy and great happiness.  The power inside you is great, the goddess has indeed touched you.  How you have not used it or been told before I do not know.”

“Doesn’t matter I won’t use them anyway.” Lying back on the couch she tried to get her shaking under control.

“Child even if you do not use them you must train them or you run the risk of harming others.  Lyota will not stand for that.”

Her eyes flew open, and she looked at him angrily.  “Don’t you dare tell me that Lyota won’t stand for that.  The bitch let my parents be killed by one of your people! Tell me why I should accept anything from her?” 

“Calm yourself child.”  Sturat stood, and sighed. “Even in the holiest of orders there are evil people.  Was not Lyota who caused this to happen, is her desire for her gifts to be used for good.  The more good people we have like you then the harder it is for evil to spread through the world.  Imagine what you could do with your powers.  You could put a stop to things like what happened to you.”

“Why didn’t she stop him?  Why didn’t she take his powers away?” 

“The lady believes in free will my child.  We cannot become all we are capable of being if our free will is taken away.  You my child have been thrice blessed.  How your powers have stayed hidden this long I have no idea.  You need to train or you could easily do by accident what was done to your parents.”

Andrea was shaking with anger.  Her heart told her to leave, but her mind won out realizing the possibility of vengeance for her family.  As soon as her mind opened up to the possibility plans began to form.  Stefyan would pay.  With the same means as he used on her parents.

“All right,” her eyes hardened. “I’ll stay, and train.  For what I have been cursed…I mean blessed with?”

Master Sturat smiled softly, and walked back to his desk.  He began filling out papers ignoring her question or so it seemed.  Tapping her foot impatiently she watched as he came back to her with a paper to sign, “Your agreement to train, with a fee of half a qual per quarter.  You learn at your own pace so the time and cost will depend on your dedication.”

Thinking of her meager funds she knew she had enough to pay for three quarters right now.  “Will it be possible for me to find work here?”

“Yes, plenty of work to be had if you are willing to work hard and have any skills already.  If they do not have to train you it will be easier to find work.  If you would like to tell me your skills I would be more than glad to send around to see if anyone would be willing to take you on.”

“Thank you sir, I appreciate that.” Her anger was starting to fade with the Master’s kindness.

“If you will sign this we will get you a room and then you can come see me in the morning. We shall talk about your classes and finding you a job.  I will have your horse taken around to the stable.”

She took the quill and signed the paper.  He seemed to be glad that she could write.  Handing him the paper back she smiled.  “Room, food and sleep sound wonderful.”

“I’ll get Gaby to take you to the dining hall.  Also on the morrow I would like to talk to you about your parents.  It seems there is much to discuss.  Rest well tomorrow shall be a busy day for you.”

He pulled a cord next to the door and a few moments later the young blond came into the room.  All smiles and congratulations she bade Andrea follow her to her new room. 

“My name’s Gabrielle but everyone calls me Gaby, nice to meet you.”  The girl wrapped an arm around her shoulder in welcome. 

“Nice to meet you too.”  Trying not to be rude Andrea patted the girl’s back.  “I need to get my stuff brought in off my horse.  I can go get it if you don’t care to show me to the stables.”

“No need already had it brought in.  We’ll just move it from the guest room to your student room while you eat.”  After what seemed like a million turns and hallways they reached room three thirty-three. 

“You’ve got great neighbors, my brother and I are across the hall.  Rista is in three thirty-four, he’ll be the one caring for your horse.”  Gaby opened the door handing her the key.  “Go have a look.”

Surprised at the richness of the room she walked in slowly.  Walls were that same dark wood as the halls, a deep red carpet covered the floor, and bed was gigantic.  The huge four poster bed had a thick mattress and plush blankets.  Andrea chuckled silently to herself, ‘I’m going to sleep good tonight.’

The growl in her stomach reminded her of more immediate needs.  Trying to relax she smiled at Gaby.  “Think food is the next thing in order, sounds like my stomach is handing out the orders.”

Gaby laughed, and motioned her down the hall.  Door to room three thirty-two was open, and she could see feet hanging off the bed.  As they walked past Andrea realized she hadn’t mentioned the person in that room.

“So who’s my other neighbor?”

“Oh him,” Gaby waved her hand, as if to dismiss him, “a stuck up snob who doesn’t like anyone, and thinks his parent’s money keeps him from doing the same work we do, numbers, reading, and things like that.  He’s a horror.”

“What’s his name?”

“Valr, I’m sure you’ll end up with classes with him.” Gaby looked at her like she was sorry for her already.

“Ok, well I’ll stay away from him.”  Being inside out of the weather was improving Andrea’s mood greatly.  “How much farther to the food?” 

Smiling Gaby pointed as they walked around a corner towards two double doors.  Pulling one open they were greeted by a huge dining area.

Shocked there were so many people Andrea froze for a moment. All seemed happy, and every table was teaming with people.  As they entered the young man from the gate stood and waved.  She had been a little cold to him at the gate, but hopefully he saw enough people today he wouldn’t remember her.

“Go eat your fill, Andrea, I’ll take you to the baths after.  You can sit with my brother and me if you’d like, I’m going to go let him know about our new neighbor.” Waving she ran off to join her brother.

With a deep sigh Andrea walked down the serving line, amazed at the variety of foods to choose from.  Trying to get a taste of each she filled her plate to overflowing, and had to carry her rolls.  She turned to walk over to Gaby’s table and nearly got ran over by a young man.

“Watch it!” He barked, as he went by. 

With a quick look back she saw he stood six-three, broad shoulders, solid build, obviously young and proud.  He glanced at her with his piercing blue eyes, then holding his back straight; with a hand whip he flipped his long black hair off his shoulder. Hard to miss the wide leather band on his right wrist, or the fact it covered a tattoo.  Their eyes met, and his nose went high in the air, his eyes filled with anger and spite.

He was quite handsome, but had snob written all over him. ‘Shame,’ she thought, as she walked to the table. 

Jerick stood as she approached the table. “Glad to see you found it ok.  Sis tells me you’re going to be with us a while.”

“Looks like it.” Andrea sat her plate down. “Thanks for the directions, sorry I was kind of short earlier, long hard trip, but now at least I can be in out of the weather for a while and rest.”

“Can understand,” with a grin he pulled the chair out for her, “I’m sure you were exhausted.”

Smiling and nodding her thanks she sat and dove into the food in front of her.  Plate was piled high with tender roast beef, baked herb-seasoned chicken, meat pies, baked potatoes, and steamed vegetables.  The food was best she’d eaten since leaving home, the dishes wonderfully flavored with spices.  Her stomach was starting to finally feel full as she began on the delicious desert she chose, a delicately baked apple cobbler with whipped sweet cream.

“Oh,” she said around a mouthful of the cobbler, “could eat this for every meal.”

“And you wouldn’t fit in that chair for long if you did,” Gaby giggled, as she sipped her glass of wine.

“Too true, but I haven’t ate like this in forever.” Sitting back in the chair Andrea let her stomach settle. “Traveling this time of year is rough.” 

“How be ya folks this evenin’ tide?”

Andrea jumped, turning to look at whom the voice belonged to craning her neck.  The man was near seven feet tall easy, a mountain, huge arms, and chest so wide you’d never be able to wrap your arms around him.  Long red hair, but so curly it hung just below his ears, full red beard, neatly trimmed to half an inch long. Thick red hair covered most of his exposed body parts, although the feature standing out was his twinkling brown eyes and toothy smile.

He looked to Andrea, and held out a huge hand to her.  “Welcome little sister, name be Rista.  How you be this fine evenin’?”

“Nice to meet you Rista, name’s Andrea, I’m much better than I was this time yesterday.  Nice and warm, plus a bed to sleep in, so I’m very good.  Care to join us?”

“This is our new neighbor Rista,” Gaby grinned, “in three thirty-three.”

“Now that be a wonderful thing.  Always glad to be havin’ me a new neighbor.” The big man sat at the table the only thing in front of him was a tankard of dark ale. “Care to join me in a mug?”

“Sure,” Andrea smiled.  She didn’t drink much but she deserved it after what she’d been through.  Taking the glass he offered her he excused himself to go get a plate of food.

“So Andrea what did the old rat diagnose you with?” Jerick asked, as he ate the last of his food.

“You know he didn’t tell me.  Just said I was thrice blessed….” She trailed off, as Gaby began to cough.

“Thrice?” Gaby’s mouth was hanging open. “Three?  You’re kidding!”

“Yes, three.  You know you’re going to catch flies like that.”

“But…I mean….well…I’ve…just rare that’s all,” Gaby seemed to want to say more but didn’t.  Silently she went back to eating her food.  The whole table was quietly relaxing until Rista came back.

“So little sister, be for telling us some about you.  Where you be hailin’ from? Mighty fine steed you be ridin’ to missy.” He wiped his face on his sleeve as he talked.

Unsure of what to tell them she thought for a few moments before beginning. “I’m from Krisive, just north of Clearview.  My parents died at the start of winter, so I left home afterwards, nothing to stay for, far as I could see.  This was really the last place I expected to be, my parents were blessed as was my brother but I never showed any signs at all.  When my parents died it was a shock, and the way they died was…” she trailed off unable to say more on this part of her tale. 

Taking a deep breath she continued, “I’ll just say it was bad, both of them were blessed by Lyota, but to my mind it didn’t seem like their blessings helped them.  I guess instead of putting the blame where it needs to be I laid it at her feet because she didn’t stop it.  We shall see if my time here changes my outlook on things.”

Gaby stood, walked around the table, and knelt at Andrea’s knee.  “The lady has a reason for all things, even in death your parents are serving a greater purpose.”

It was shocking the difference in Gaby in just a heartbeat of time.  The giggly, carefree girl was gone, in her place a sober young woman with knowledge behind her eyes.  A chill crawled over Andrea, as she looked at the young woman, thinking it was eerie how she changed so quickly, and praising the same goddess Stefyan did made her made her full stomach churn.

Jerick broke the silence following Gaby’s statement. “Andrea, if nothing else think of it this way, while you’re here you’ll make great friends and learn some new things.  Something that may help you keep things like this from ever happening to another being.” He waggled his hand.  “Death of your parents may have kept them from a worse fate later on, a death far worse than what they suffered.”

Andrea leaned forward on the table resting her head in her hands.  “Lass, the boy be right,” Rista put his huge hand on her shoulder, “we’re good people here.  Even the best be havin’ a bad time of it from time to time.  Part of life and part of the reason we be givin’ the gifts we be havin’, so we can be making it better for those who don’t be havin’ a good life.”

“I understand all that, I really do, it’s just…” Andrea couldn’t do it, she couldn’t talk about it yet.  The wound was still raw and hurt too bad, plus there was no way she’d let her guard down around these people who, despite being very nice, were strangers.

“No one said this would be easy,” Gaby whispered, “or we would understand it.”

“I know, trust me I know, just still so raw and new. Guess just need time, I’ve been traveling since it happened and I just really never had time to morn or face it.  As I said perhaps my time here will change my outlook on things.”

“A wound,” Gaby patted Andrea’s knee, “let it heal, not fester.”

Thoughts of revenge covered the ache in her heart.  There had to be some way to make Stefyan pay for what he did.

As if reading her thoughts Rista glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.  “Don’t be letting hate eat at you either little sister, vengeance is no goal to be striving for.  That not be something that be makin’ your parents proud.”

“You all know nothing of my parents or what happened.”  Angry Andrea stood, sending her chair flying backwards.  “I’ll have vengeance, one day I’ll make the bastard pay for what he did!”

People were starring, and Andrea didn’t care, she didn’t need preached at by a bunch of people who had no idea what she had been through.  It took her a few minutes to find her way back to her room.  Just as she turned the corner to her hallway she bumped into the young man who nearly ran her over in the dining hall. Gaby had told her he was Valr, and still angry she snapped at him as their shoulders hit.

“Watch where you’re going! What do you think, you own the place?” Shoving her way past him a little voice in the back of her head whispered she’d just made an enemy.  Glancing back over her shoulder at him she could see his face red with anger.  Wouldn’t be the first or the last person she made angry, she was sure.

Slamming her door and locking it she set to putting away the few belongings she had in her packs.  Exhausted she slipped out of her dust-covered clothes and into her night clothes. 

With a sigh she crawled into the huge bed.  Master Sturat wanted to see her bright and early.  She was sure something would be said about her outburst.  Her conscious nagged at her.  They had only been trying to comfort her and make her feel welcome, was wrong of her to snap at them.

Slipping out of bed she opened the door.  There was light coming from under Gaby and Rista’s doors.  Quietly she stepped across the hall and knocked on the door. 

Gaby opened it, and looked at her surprised. “Come in Andrea.”

“Listen I don’t want to keep you up just wanted to apologize.  I shouldn’t have snapped like that.”

“It’s ok Andrea.  We talked after you left.  We just met you and we were pushing and prying.  We were wrong to do that.  What do you say we start over fresh tomorrow at breakfast?  I’ll wake you when it’s time.”

“That would be much appreciated.  Thank you,” smiling relieved she bid the two siblings good night and walked over to Rista’s door.

Knocking she waited a moment for him to answer, “Evenin’ little one.  What brings you to my door in your bare feet and night clothes.”

“My conscious to be honest.”  Blushing she smiled. “You were only trying to help and be nice to me.  I snapped and shouldn’t have, I wanted to apologize.”

The big man laughed and grabbed her up in a big bear hug.  Andrea laughed, as he squeezed her.  Andrea was gasping for breath, as he sat her down smiling from ear to ear.  “It be forgotten little one, I not be one to be holdin’ a grudge.  We be the ones shoulda waited on you to be telling us.”

“It’s ok you were just trying to get to know me and help me.  I really appreciate it.  I’ll see you at breakfast.”  Smiling she went back to her room.  Looking up as she made the door she saw Valr looking out of his.  He frowned at her, and slammed his door shut.

“Definitely made an enemy there,” she mumbled, as she went and crawled in the bed.

The End

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