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The Eldingar Chronicles - Heir of the Storm
This is the first chapter of many to come of my three year ongoing manuscript. As my first real manuscript the piece and the characters are my babies, I hope to one day finish their story and make it available for others to read.
Breathe. In and out. Steady, like the beating of your heart. Now let your arrow fly…
An old mentor's words filled Nephalie's head as she pulled on the bowstring, releasing the arrow. It sliced through the sunlight, racing through the air before planting itself in the hide of a deer. The buck fell alerting the surrounding wildlife. Several birds soared to the skies as she made her way through the undergrowth. Nephalie peered down at the buck. He was good and fatty, she'd be able to feed her family for at least three weeks.
She let out two sharp whistles, then waited a moment, soon enough hooves softly padded the ground. A smile graced her features as she caught sight of her golden buckskin stallion.
" 'Ello Sequoia." Nephalie greeted him warmly, her accent thick. He knickered when he saw her.
Grabbing his reins she led him to a tree next to the lifeless buck.
Kneeling before it she whispered her thanks, and a silent prayer to the goddess, Diana. Soon she had the buck skinned and as cleaned up as possible, she wrapped the meat in another, already cleaned, pelt.
Then she heaved it onto the rear of her saddle. She dusted herself, getting it on the back of the horse was almost more hassle than it was worth.
Mounting Sequoia, Nephalie began the long trek through the woods towards the meadow. She saw her family home, a small, yet cozy cabin in a meadow. Wild lavender grew around it, the scent filling the air. She saw the candle still burning from when she left it in the early hours of the morning. Her family must still be sleeping.
She smiled thoughtfully and dismounted, leaving Sequoia to graze on the sweet grass, she stepped through the doorway into the small kitchen, she would surprise them with breakfast.
She buried the meat in the ice chest and began cooking. Wonderful smells wafted through the cozy cottage, fresh eggs from the hens, blueberry pastries, crispy bacon, and Nephalie's signature tea, lavender, and lemon verbena.
Feet padded softly into the kitchen, no doubt lured by the delicious smell. Nephalie turned to greet her younger sister.
"Good Morning Eridya," Nephalie smiled as she observed her sister's sleepy face. Her baby blue eyes, still foggy. They had little in common, Eridya had caramel colored hair curling around her shoulders. While Nephalie had charcoal gray locks brushing the small of her back. Eridya had their mothers blue eyes, Nephalie was more of an anomaly, as she had eyes of molten gold, the brightest of yellows. It was unknown where she got her eyes of gold from, her mother had the lightest, and boldest of blues, while her father had gray blue eyes, but they had assumed she inherited them from a distant ancestor somewhere up the Elvine bloodline.
Eridya snickered as she walked towards Nephalie, "I suppose it's good that I woke up, but early mornings are never good."
Nephalie laughed, "Ever the pessimist, aren't you."
Her sister stuffed her face with a blueberry pastry, leaving a smear of indigo upon her lip.
A moment later their parents walked into the small kitchen. Their father, Emeric, greeted Eridya with a kiss on her forehead.
He smiled at his eldest daughter, "Good morning."
"Papa," Nephalie beamed, "Momma, what's on the schedule for today?"
Her mother observed Nephalie's cooking skills, "Dad is going fishing, Eridya and I will be working on your dresses for the summer solstice ball." She sipped the soft purple tea.
Aurelia Elvine was the finest seamstress in all of Arcana, or so her husband liked to say. But in all truth, the coin she brought back from the market, and her advanced list of clientele said she was in fact the finest on the island.
"Do you need any help?"
"Oh no," her father interrupted her, "Go be young, enjoy your day." He kissed her forehead.
"You know I love to hunt, I don't do it just because we need to eat."
"Perhaps, but you are a woman now, you should be living. Enjoy the town, find a young man to court you." Her mother said while smirking.
Eridya scoffed, "Please, you believe Nephalie Elvine would allow a man close enough to court her?" She laughed, "She scares them all away with her bow, and that dagger that is always strapped to her hip. Not to mention the sarcasm." She sucked in her cheeks, baiting Nephalie.
Nephalie glared at her, "You're one to talk, you flirt shamelessly, but send them running."
She shrugged, "Flirting is a tool, if you don't use it, it becomes dull. And maybe I have no interest in dating young men."
Aurelia spoke before Nephalie could spit out a reply about her sister's silver tongue, "So Effie, what are you going to do with your free time?"
Nephalie shrugged, "I suppose I'll go on an adventure."
And with that she left the little cottage in the forest meadow.
Nephalie sighed, her back was beginning to hurt from sitting on the ground against a large aspen tree. Sequoia happily ate the apple she had offered him.
She studied the sketch pad in her lap. Her charcoal landscape was far from a masterpiece, the lake didn't glisten, the trees were far too chunky, and the shadows were all off. But it was the first thing she had finished in quite some time.
She did not enjoy her free time. She was often too restless. She had spent the better part of her 23 years of life working, or helping her parents. Sitting for too long without anything to do made her crazy. She felt as if she had a million better things to do, even if she couldn't pinpoint what it was.
Nephalie watched the horizon from her spot under the tree, she had spent the better hours of the morning propped up on a hill overlooking the forest. The sun was hitting it's apex in the sky, casting a bright glow upon the many trees. She watched as a hawk made its way sweeping across the sky. Nephalie wished she could be that free, but unfortunately she had responsibilities.
Perhaps it was time to hunt.
With precise movements Nephalie moved through the woods after catching sight of the tawny-skinned cougar.
It was a battle of wits, a test of stealth, prey and predator.
Quick feet, steady paws.
Deadly bow, sharp claws.
The unknown, and the untamed.
Sun reflected off the tip of her arrow as she tracked the wild cat prowling the forest. The tawny hide partially hidden between the massive trees. Light danced between the branches filled with emerald leaves.
Nephalie's heart stopped as the cat's head shot up.
She had heard Nephalie's breathing, or worse caught her scent.
Nephalie willed the strength of a thousand oaks to grace her bones as she tried to keep her body from shaking. Her ears strained to catch any other sounds that could set the wildlife off.
A snap of twigs, the twitch of a golden tail, and yellow eyes searching the forest for the sound. A shadow slid over the ground.
The cat began moving swiftly through the undergrowth. Nephalie mentally cursed, and aimed. Hastily she shot two arrows, the first missing it's mark completely and the other barely grazing the top of the cougar's shoulder before she disappeared.
Nephalie stood from her hiding place and cursed loudly as the shadow grew until a dappled mare stood in front of her. Nephalie glared at her rider, a young man sat atop her, he had dark brown, cropped hair slightly swept up in the front. His dark eyes scanned Nephalie.
She snarled, “You’ve wandered far from town. Can I help you?”
He glanced at her bow, "I'm sorry, I was just riding when I saw a beautiful girl and I couldn't help myself," A smirk graced his youthful features.
Usually she would be flattered by the compliment but today Nephalie wasn't in the mood, "Well, next time you see a pretty girl with a bow in her hands, you should resist the urge to annoy her," and with that she turned away ready to stomp back to Sequoia, whom was patiently waiting.
A deep chuckle rumbled through the trees.
"Please," he trotted up next to her, "Allow me to make it up to you."
"And how do you suppose you do that?" She asked.
His eyes scanned Sequoia, "Let me take you for a ride."
She raised a brow, "I tend not to trust strangers."
"Well then, fair maiden," he tipped his head, "I'm Cainen, and this beauty is Moonshine."
"My name is worth far more than a trail ride."
His eyes twinkled, "Then I guess I'll have to find something else to call you," he paused, thinking, "Solair."
Nephalie raised a brow, "And why would you go with that?"
“I guess you’ll have to get to know me if you want to find out.”
She bristled slightly, "Nephalie is my name."
"I think I like Solair much better."
She glared at him, he was intriguing. Maybe it was the way he spoke, or the way he held himself, or maybe it was the fact that he was something new. Like a breath of fresh spring air. "I suppose we're not strangers anymore."
He smiled, "Does that mean you will accept my offer?"
She turned away from him and mounted Sequoia. "I suppose it does," she looked over her shoulder at him, "try to keep up," she tore through the trees.
He quickly followed her. They were a blur of gold and silver. Nephalie laughed, she loved the feeling of the wind in her face. Her braid flew behind her.
They weaved in and out of the trees. Canine was a good rider, he definitely had experience. But Nephalie was the best.
As they flew over a hill Nephalie spread her arms out like wings and tilted her face to the sky. There was nothing else in the world that made her feel like this. She had always imagined this is what it would feel like to fly, to really be free.
Sequoia slowed as they came to the village road. Nephalie tried to calm the adrenaline in her veins.
"Have you ever been to Briarville?" Nephalie asked.
"I spent every summer here with my mother, but I haven't in three years," his eyes became hard, and he clenched his jaw. "So, I assume this is home for you?"
"I suppose. I grew up here in a cottage two miles outside of the village, but I don't know if I would call it home."
"Why do you say that?" He turned to her.
"I don't know, I suppose I always felt like this wasn't really the place I'm supposed to be. I've always wanted to travel. Maybe I haven't found my home yet." Nephalie thought for a moment, scanning the sun that would soon set below the horizon and turned to Cainen, "Might I steal another moment of your time?"
He raised a brow, “Steal my time? I'd prefer it to be my heart." He winked.
"A yes then, I believe you'll enjoy it."
Nephalie pushed her way through the drunken villagers. Cainen reached for her and was swallowed up in the crowd. She began weaving through the people while searching for Cainen. A yelp escaped her lips as a hand grasped hers.
“Careful, it’s only me,” Cainen yelled over the crowd.
"Do not grab me,” she said, still holding his hand she pulled him up to the counter. "Hello June," she greeted the barmaid. "Cainen this is Juniper Cordelia, June meet Cainen."
June smirked at Nephalie, her blue-green eyes twinkling. She flipped her golden blonde braid over a shoulder and turned to Cainen, "A pleasure to meet you, welcome to the Painted Pony."
"So," she looked at Cainen, "What can I get you?"
"We're not here to drink,” Nephalie began, “is your boss in?" June shook her head. "Great, can I have the key?"
June smiled and slid Nephalie a glass of dark amber liquid. Nephalie picked up the glass, and slipped a hand in her pocket. She sniffed the liquid and took a sip. It burnt its way down her throat. Leaving it on the bar she slipped down the hall behind the bar with Cainen.
After walking down a flight of stairs, they entered a cellar. Cases of dark bottles lined the walls. Nephalie pulled him behind a shelf where a door was blocked by more cases. She heaved them out of the way.
She pulled a dull, gold key from her pocket and inserted it in the lock.
"This is all very secretive," Cainen said.
Nephalie laughed, "Just wait."
After locking the door behind them they descended down a dark corridor. Slowly a blue glow began to fill the hall.
The corridor opened up into a large room. In the center there was a pool of illuminated water, marble circled it. Across the room on the far wall were two pillars of marble. In between them was an altar with a statue. It seemed to be a woman, with long flowing hair. But instead of legs she had a tail.
But the most peculiar part of the room was the ceiling. It was completely covered in crystals that glowed in all shades of blue. If you didn't know any better you might say this was the ocean floor.
Cainen gasped, "What is this place?"
"I'm not really sure."
"How did you find it?"
"June and I both worked here after we turned eighteen, though we couldn't drink yet we made good money. One day in the cellar we found the door. We asked the owner about it, he said that it had always been here but they had never been able to open it. We were cleaning the office when we came across a bottle of sand and sea shells. Clumsy as June is, she knocked it off the desk. While cleaning the mess we found the key. And ever since then it has been a sanctuary for the two of us, plus a few close friends.”
"It's incredible, do you know what the statue is?"
Nephalie shrugged, "It seems to be a siren, but I don't really know."
Cainen hummed in acknowledgment and stared at the ceiling.
A while later Nephalie cleared her throat, "We should go."
Outside they mounted their horses.
"Are you staying at the inn?" Nephalie asked.
Cainen sighed, "When I decided to take a last minute trip here I didn't really think that far ahead."
She rolled her eyes, "I suppose you can stay with me."
"I couldn't possibly intrude on your family."
"Nonsense," She waved a hand.
They trekked two miles through the woods until they reached the cottage.
"Mom, Dad, I'm home," Nephalie yelled into the empty kitchen.
Eridya appeared a moment later. She gave Cainen a long head-to-toe inspection.
A smirk appeared on her face, "Hello Effie, and who is this delightful man?”
Cainen laughed while Nephalie glared, "This, dear sister, is Cainen.”
"Delightful to meet you, I'm Eridya." She sauntered over, and reached a hand towards Cainen.
"A pleasure," he kissed the back of her hand then turned to Nephalie, "you didn't tell me you had a gorgeous sister, Solair."
"You didn't ask."
"He already has a nickname for you?" Eridya snickered, "How cute."
Nephalie rolled her eyes, "Where's Mom and Dad?"
"Mom needed more fabric for our dresses so Dad escorted her to the shop."
Nephalie hummed, "Alright well Cainen has nowhere else to go so he's staying the night," Nephalie opened the door and stepped out into the night.
Eridya whispered something in Cainens ear making him laugh before he joined her outside.
"So, where are we going?" Cainen asked.
Nephalie began walking around the house, "To my room."
Nephalie led him to a large brown barn, she stopped at Sequoia's stable to ruffle his mane. Then she climbed up a narrow set of stairs to the loft.
The loft was decorated in a very cozy manner. To the right was a sitting area, a plush, beige couch decorated with green throw pillows. A round, oak coffee table littered with Nephalie's sketch pad, charcoal sticks, and chalk. A set of windows with shutters. To the left was a small kitchenette, with an oak dining table and chairs. Behind that was a set of doors.
"You can sleep on the sofa," Nephalie gestured, "I'll grab you some blankets. My bedroom is the door on the left, if you need anything just ask. The door on the right is the restroom."
"If you don't mind me asking, why do you live in the loft above the barn?"
"I shared a room with Eridya before, but when I turned 18 I needed my own space, a place for me." He stared at her for a moment. "I'll get your blankets."
Nephalie grabbed some blankets from under her bed and gave them to Cainen. Then she wished him a goodnight and slipped into a deep sleep.
Nephalie ran down the stone corridor. Her heart hammering in her chest. As she peered through the window, flames leapt up through the garden. Strangled screams erupted down the hall. The window shattered, and Nephalie screamed covering her face.
She woke abruptly, her face coated in sweat.
“It was just a dream”. She whispered to herself.
Sitting up she looked through her window at the rising sun.
Nephalie observed her reflection in the looking glass. She was wearing a fitted, white blouse, black riding leathers, and her knee high boots. Her charcoal gray hair was as usual, in a braid. She flipped her emerald cloak over her shoulders, the gold trim pulling the color in her eyes.
She strapped her dagger to her hip. The rune engraved blade, though hidden in its scabbard, was a comforting weight. The golden hilt, engraved with a wolf head, had dulled slightly; the rubies however were still blood red.
Nephalie entered the main room just as Cainen pulled on his shirt.
"I'm going to the village, do you want to come with me?"
"I would love to accompany you.”
They grabbed the horses and made their way to the village.
The village was busier than usual, the air filled with anticipation of the ball that would be happening in two weeks.
The farmers market was in full swing. Nephalie stopped in front of a woman selling paintings.
"Are these yours?" Nephalie asked.
"Yes I painted them all," the woman had greying, brown hair piled upon her head. Her blue eyes were kind.
One painting in particular caught her eye. It had huge, rocky, mountains, the peaks were covered in snow, while the lower parts leading into a valley were pine green. A cerulean blue river ran through the valley. Red roses littered the valley. A wolf perched upon a hill, it's silver coat bright in the sunrise.
But the most captivating part was the wolf’s eyes, one was the purest of gold while the other was red as fire.
"It's no surprise you're attracted to that one," said the woman.
"What?" Nephalie snapped out of her trance startled by the woman.
The woman surveyed her once, her eyes lingering on hers. Something danced in her eyes, surprise - hope - fear?
"I painted that in my homeland many years before the kingdom fell," the woman sighed, "Take it." She looked at Nephalie.
"I couldn't possibly," Nephalie protested.
“No I insist, it's better with someone that can really appreciate it," the woman handed it to her and smiled.
“I insist on paying you.”
“Nonsense. Payment is not needed for kindness.”
“Perhaps not, but it is needed for hard work.”
The woman pursed her lips and looked at Nephalie for a moment, “Alright, then in payment I ask for a favor. Should I ever find you again and be in need, I'll expect you to fulfil your favor.”
“I shall try.” Nephalie smiled warmly.
Nephalie thanked the woman and continued through the market.
Cainen tensed beside her.
"What's wrong?" She followed his gaze to a group of the king's guards. "Cainen?"
"Don't say my name." he hissed, "I need to get out of here."
He grabbed her arm and rushed into an alley.
"What's going on?" Nephalie demanded, "Are you in trouble?"
He laughed, “Not quite,” his eyes were mischievous as he surveyed the guards, his eyes lingering on one with red hair.
He pulled her close to the wall trying to conceal himself.
“This is ridiculous,” She pulled away from him and marched back into the thick of the market.
“Wait! Nephalie,” He drew out the syllables of her name.He sighed watching the guards leave. He left the alley and stood in front of her. “That was very rude of you.”
She turned away from him just as a man with a tray of fruits tried to walk past her. She gasped as she ran right into him, knocking him, along with his fruits to the ground.
“Oh! I’m very sorry.” She reached down to help the man up.
He brushed her off, standing on his own, “You inept girl, watch where yer goin next time.” He practically screamed at her.
Cainen was at her side, “That was quite rude of you, the Lady apologised, I believe you owe her an apology for your rudeness.”
He glared at Cainen, “If I were you, I’d shut me mouth. She’s lucky I didn’t demand she pay fer it all.”
Cainen stepped closer to the man as a guard came to investigate.
“Now now-” He was cut off by the guard.
“Sir, we found ‘im.”
Cainens eyes widened. Another guard stepped closer removing his helm. Striking red hair fell, curling around his ears.
He narrowed his eyes at them, “I’m gonna need you both to come with me.”
Cainen smiled brightly at the man, “Wesley, good to see you friend.”
“Cainen,” he sighed, “I don’t have time for your games.”
“Well then my friend, I’m sorry to have to do this.”
He grabbed Nephalie’s hand and pulled her running through the crowd.
They ran people stumbling out of the way before they got trampled. They ducked between shops and booths, the guards on their heels.
“Where are we going?” Nephalie asked, breathing raspy.
“I have absolutely no idea.” He said as he pulled her around a building and along the river bed.
The ground turned from plush grass to loose rocks.
“Cainen!” The sound of rushing water was loud in her ears. She pulled him to a stop just as the river widened and the drop of a waterfall came into view.
The guards were less than a hundred feet behind them.
Nephalie looked at Cainen, “How badly do you want to get away from them?”
She backed up slightly, “Then we’re going over.”
Cainen laughed, “You can’t be serious.”
She raised a brow, “Deadly.”
“Fine, if I die, I’ll come back and haunt you.”
“You’re not going to die if you listen to me,” She looked back at the guards, “We’re going to take a running start. Tuck your arms in close to your sides, keep your back and legs straight. When you hit the water, breathe out through your nose so the water doesn’t choke you. Do not struggle against the current, go with it to get to the shore. If you struggle you’ll get sucked under and just freak yourself out.”
By now the guards were almost right next to them.
Nephalie stepped back motioning to Cainen, then they ran. Jumping right over the edge.
Her heart was instantly in her throat, the pounding in her ears drowned out by the rushing air. Her stomach flipped as she tumbled through the air.
She felt like she was flying - like she’d never reach the ground again.
Then she plunged through the deep dark blue.
Everything went silent as a rush of bubbles escaped her nose.
She opened her eyes slowly, her vision filled with blue and black, it felt as if her limbs were made of jelly. The cold seeped through her, melting into her bones.
Feeling returned slowly to her limbs as she broke through the surface. She gasped deeply, her lungs screaming in relief.
Remaining fogginess kept her from frantically searching for Cainen, whom she spotted nearing the shore.
She floated helplessly with the current.
She coughed profusely as Cainen reached to pull her onto land.
“Was that adventurous enough for you?” She laughed weakly.
He shook his head and laughed softly. He looked up to the cliff where the guards were still standing, the red-head - Wesley - stood shaking his head.
“How do we get back up there?” He asked.
Nephalie pointed to a trail, “We follow the road.”
They sat on the bank, wringing out their clothes. The sun had gotten much lower in the sky.
“We should be heading back.” Nephalie suggested, he hummed in quiet agreement.
They walked around the cliff, and over the hill. Making their way back towards the horses.
Moonshine and Sequoia neighed when they saw their companions.
Cainen grabbed her reins and turned to Nephalie. He was quiet for a moment.
“I need to go.” He turned to mount Moonshine.
"What?" Nephalie grabbed his arm, "What are you talking about?”
"I realised my fantasies were irresponsible, I have things I need to take care of." He kissed the back of her hand, "I will remember your kindness. Goodbye Miss Elvine, may we meet again."
Nephalie stood there dumbstruck as Cainen climbed into the saddle and disappeared through the crowds.
Two weeks had passed since the day Cainen left. Nephalie supposed it was for the best, but her life had been sufficiently boring since he'd gone.
Tonight however, was the Summer Solstice. A time for celebrating and living life like there's no tomorrow.
Nephalie protested as her mother fussed over her hair. She had twisted two braids on the sides of her head. The rest of her hair was pulled into a bun on top of her head. Her mother was now trying to place three, red roses in front of her bun. Giving the illusion of a flowery crown.
"Alright dear, What do you think?" Aurelia stood Nephalie in front of her full-body looking glass.
Nephalie’s eyes twinkled. Her gown was absolutely gorgeous. The off-the-shoulder straps showed her tanned shoulders, then twinned into a v, plunging between her breasts. The bodice hugging her body was black as the night. At her hips the skirt faded red, then orange, the bottom of the skirt trailed the floor, dusted with gold. Beading of the dress sparkled in the light. A gold chained, ruby sat on her chest, a matching pair in her ears. Her lips red as roses parted slightly, and eyes lined with coal, popped. She looked like a magnificent painting.
"I love it Mom," she hugged her mother, "Where's Eri?"
"Right here," her sister walked into the small bedroom. She had a baby blue dress matching her eyes, the sleeveless bodice, covered in blush flowers hugged her waist. Her hair was pulled half up, into a braided bun. The rest of it curled around her shoulders. A chain of light sapphires wrapped around her throat. Rings of silver decorated her fingers. "You clean up nice," She commented surveying Nephalie.
"Eri, you look beautiful," she smiled at her sister.
"Your father is waiting with the wagon." Said Aurelia.
A knock sounded through the cottage.
Nephalie looked at her mother and sister, "Are we expecting someone?" Her mother shook her head. She reached under her skirt for the dagger sheathed on her thigh, and answered the door.
Her eyes met a pair of chocolate brown ones. They widened in surprise.
"Cainen? What are you doing here?" Cainen stood at her front door, he looked different from when she had last seen him. He wore a fine tailored, dark blue coat, black pants, and boots. Six of the king's guards sat atop horses beside a carriage. A silver Gryphon - a half eagle half lion creature - was painted on the door.
He cleared his throat, "Hello Solair, I need you to come with me.”