Friday, April 13, 2012

So sorry this has been so long in coming. Life has been so crazy (including the fact that I'm planning my sister's wedding, if you only knew her you would know how clueless she is when it comes to the details of planning a wedding :-D )!

Chapter 5
  Aquila wanted to run.  Her first instincts were to flee from the room
and the castle. Yet her legs were frozen as her lungs emanated high
pitched vibrations through the otherwise cold, still air. The scene
before was nothing but pure horror.
  What could have taken place in this room half a century ago to
have left such devastation? There just five feet in front of her lay
the skeleton of a human body. A long sword stuck out of it is rib
cage, the clothing that had once clothed it had deteriorated so
much that, were it not for the brass badge, it would have been
impossible to recognize it as a royal guard. Two feet to the right
another skeleton of a guard lay lifeless, the wood floor
underneath both skeletons stained with what could only
have been blood.
  She had come in on the far end of the ballroom.  When
her feet finally were able to move they plodded forward in
between the two skeletons. There were various other
skeletons sprinkled around the room, the clothing only hinting
at wealth now, after the years of deterioration. One was lying
at the foot of a door as if they had tried to get out but had not
been able to make it.
  Aquila trudged on as the scene unfolded in what had to have
been sheer terror the few minutes it took whoever to accomplish.
Dark stains splattered the floor. Her pace slowed as she reached
the podium. There were four skeletons laying here in close
proximity. The two on the right were smaller than the two on the
left. The two women's dresses were not quite as deteriorated as
they had obviously been the thick, gorgeous dresses accustomed
to women of stature. The two men’s clothing, though, were much
like the others. The man on the far left had something intertwined
in his fingers.
  Aquila stepped closer and knelt.  The skull was crushed which
had to have been the cause of his death as there was no obvious
knife or sword markings. She frowned. It was a chain necklace
with a cross pendant on it like that of what priests might wear.
Why was he holding it? She turned to the other three skeletons
and bit her lower lip.
  The first man had a knife in his chest and the woman next to him
had a knife in her stomach. The other woman's head was in an
odd position. Whoever had killed her had grabbed her around
the neck and broke it, for when she nudged it with her foot, it
rolled away. There were no necklaces or jewelry on any of the
other skeletons lying there, or a crown, but Aquila knew instantly
that they could only have been Alverdine Portchi, Sark Thatcher,
and their attendants. One question that remained in Aquila's head
was, why was the male attendant holding the priest's pendant?
  Aquila pulled the chain free of the skeleton's fingers and studied
it carefully. The clasp had been broken. It was possible that in
the struggle, the attendant had grabbed hold of the priest's pendant
and it had broken free of his neck. But where was the priest?
There were various other skeletons around the room but the
one that caught her attention the most was the one that had tried
to escape.
  Aquila walked over to the skeleton that lay at the foot of the
door. His clothing had been black and could have been the
cloth that a priest was accustomed to wearing. Her mouth
dropped slightly as she noticed the blood stains around him.
They were not just stains of a puddle of blood. This man had
lived long enough to write in his own blood.
  Aquila squatted on her heels to look closer at the writing.  
Aloud she read, “This day, the eighteenth day of September,
in the year of our Lord 1244, the High King of Lucia, Sark
Thatcher, was executed by—”
  Wait a second, Aquila thought.  1244?  That was just over
twenty years after the wedding was to have taken place.
Why had the journal stopped twenty years before? The writing
said nothing of Alverdine. He had died before he could finish
writing whatever it was he was trying to say.
  Aquila sighed.  What a terrible ending.  Still so many
questions lurked in her mind.
  Aquila rose and was headed back for the door that she
came out when she noticed that one of the doors was slightly
open and blood-stained footprints led up to the door. Had
someone tried to get out and succeeded? Maybe it was
Alverdine. She opened the door and followed the footprints
out the door, down the hall, and down a second servant’s
staircase. Was this one of the servants themselves that had
acquired an injury in the struggle?
  Whoever it was had escaped for they led out the front door
and dissipated down the grand stair case. Aquila pulled the
large door shut and returned to the kitchen. She was hungry
but after the scene she had seen, she did not feel up to eating.
  Braedoch is no longer home to will depart
alone...terrible consequences will follow...I am warning
you have three days!”
  Aquila sat up suddenly, her breath coming in heavy quick
gasps. She closed her eyes as she pulled her long black hair
out of her face and over one shoulder. After a few seconds
she stood up and walked to the one window that looked over
the rocky expanse that led to the ocean.
  She stepped onto the crate she had carefully placed under
the window and folded her arms over the window ledge.
She could see the stars clearly but no moon. It was on these
nights that the last time she had seen her siblings would come
to haunt her. What had happened to them after that? Letters
had been the only way they had been able to keep up even
though they had been expressly forbidden to contact each
other. Yet even letters were far and few what with the time
that the birds had to take getting from one to the other.
  Aquila turned from the window.  She would never be able
to get to sleep tonight. Her bare feet quickly padded down
the hard floor down six flights of dark stairs and through the
back hallway to the kitchen. A back door opened to the
small ledge she used as a pathway down the side of the mountain.
  Something that only she knew, was that halfway down where
there seemed to be a little cubbyhole full of bushes, was that
it was a small hallway into a cavern where a spring trickled
out of the rocks and down a deep expanse of blackness.
There, she followed a small ledge down the steep cavern to
the bottom where the water collected in a little pool until it
got too high for the pool and then it flowed over a thin rocky
riverbed down to the ocean.
  She uncovered the lilac soap she had made just three days
before as she stepped down into the pool. It was not too
deep but deep enough for her to take a bath in it. It beat
carrying buckets and buckets of water up the side of the
mountain to boil and then carry by the bucket full to her tub.
Usually by then the water was cold and made for a miserable
  She had washed her body and was about to get out when she
heard something. All movements stopped and she held her breath
She did not fear being seen unless she made too much noise.
  This part of the pool was also hidden in the mountain but there
was an opening only big enough for a small horse to get through
that she now watched intently.
  There it went again...and again...and again.  It sounded like the
slow steady clopping of a riderless horse. Still, she must wait.
  If it was not riderless, who was the rider?  Had he somehow
discovered her hideout, seen her go into the cavern, and this was
an attempt to lure her out, and to test her strength, her ability to
fight him off? Or was he injured and unconscious, allowing the
horse complete freedom?
  After several minutes and no new sound, Aquila gracefully
stepped out of the pool and quickly pulled her robe over her
head. The amusement some would find over worrying about
being exposed to a horse was lost on Aquila as something in her
was not quite sure it was alone.
  She shivered as her clothes soaked the cold water from her
body, making it miserable to be out in the chilly night air. This
horse was not starting out on good footing.
  Aquila moved as quiet as a mouse to the cave entrance.  It was
this ability that allowed her to walk up on a deer unnoticed, and
it was this ability that she thanked Deus for as she pushed down
the urge to gasp when she saw far below what looked to be a
lifeless body hanging over the side of the horse.
  There was not much light due to no moon but her eyes worked
excellently in the dark and could tell her visitor was a man. Deus,
why a man?
  Still, with caution etched in every step, she climbed down the side
of the mountain and approached the smelly motionless visitor.
When no sign of threatening movements came, she placed two fingers
under his jaw and put her ear to his face. His breathing was shallow
but his heart was strong. This worried her.
  If he had been dead, she could have buried him and sold his horse
and tackle. Now that he was alive, she could not let him die, but
neither did she feel comfortable nursing a complete stranger in her
home. After all, if her nursing worked, he would wake up and gradually
regain his strength. At the same moment this thought crossed her mind,
something wet and sticky ran down the hand she held under his jaw.
The smell! It was fresh blood.
  Alarm slammed through her small body.  It had happened within the
hour. Who did it? Where were they now?
  Aquila took a deep breath and closed her eyes.  Questions, questions,
and more questions. They would get her nowhere without a conscious
body to answer them. Besides, she did not want to stand there any
longer then she had to in risk of getting spotted by his attacker. The
question of whether it was a human attacker or something else would
have to be determined later.
  Aquila's foot slipped for the umpteenth time and she paused to catch
her breath. Both pathways were too narrow to risk using the horse to
ferry her visitor up the mountain. The ledge up the cavern was too steep
for her to attempt with him in tow. Now she wondered if she would be
able to make it up at all.
  For once, Aquila had misjudged everything...almost.  First thing, she
had underestimated her visitor's size. And she had overestimated her
own size and abilities. Her guest had to be 6'0 at least and there was
no doubt in her mind all his weight lay in his broad shoulders and rather
muscular body. All of that against her 4'11” 60 pound body, she was
having a grand old time.
  For all the animals and the rare humans she crossed paths with she
always gave a name. She was fighting the urge to give this one a name.
Creating an attachment to this large and unwelcome stranger was the
last thing she needed.
  I am so glad he is unconscious, or otherwise this would be a rather
awkward task,
she thought, her eyes going to the sky. I suppose if her
were conscious he could climb on his own.
  Since beginning her struggle up the mountain, clouds had somehow
managed to produce and reproduce until they opened up and laid their
wrath on her. As if her robe had not been wet enough, she was soaked
to the bone and her robe was pasted to her body with a mix of rain and
mud from literally scooting on her side up the mountain.
  The one good thing this rain was good for was to help clean the
wound in his back. She had torn her robe from the knees down off
and with it had successfully stopped the bleeding, once she had
found the source.
  Aquila looked up at where they were headed and gave a determined
sigh. With her left arm she pulled him up farther onto her body and
with her right arm and legs, began dragging them up the ledge. A
couple of times her hand or feet slipped and she was sure they were
about to plummet down the side of the mountain, but just as
daybreak hit, Aquila reached home.
  She was so exhausted that she stopped for a moment to enjoy the
warmth. Until she realized the warmth was coming from a sticky
red mess that was now all over her and her guest!
  Aquila growled.  “How could this have happened to me?”
  Within the next half hour, Aquila managed to get him into the kitchen
on a rug she had been intending to throw out and stop the bleeding.
Yet she knew that his wound would need cleaning and that would
need water.
  Getting water meant going back down the mountain with an empty
bucket and returning with a once-full bucket of water that would have
inevitably sloshed out to a half-full bucket of water which meant six
or seven more trips down the mountain...and back up.
  She had attempted to get water from the spring, but the buckets lip
was too thick to fit in between the rock wall and the spring itself.
Waiting for it to fill up by what little made it into the bucket would
take twice the amount of time it would take her to make one trip
down and back up and not worth her time.
  Aquila grabbed the bucket and opened the back door.  Leo had
just come home from his monthly rendezvous and was just making
his landing.
  Aquila smiled.  “Old faithful Leo.  I do not suppose you would tell
me where you have been going, huh?”
  For five months now he had been disappearing one week a month. 
“Do you have a friend?” Aquila teased.
  Leo seemed distressed and Aquila frowned.  He snorted and hissed
and shook his head. Suddenly it dawned on her. He did not like the
smell of fresh blood.
  Aquila held up the empty bucket.  “I need some water to clean up
with, Leo. Want to help me?”
  Leo was a smart dragon and caught her drift rather quickly.  He
lowered himself onto his belly and spread his wings out.
  Aquila climbed atop his back.  “Good boy.”
  Leo lifted his head and wings and rose to his feet.  It was only seconds
before they were in the air. Aquila watched the rocks turn into water.
“Leo! I need—“
  Before she could finish her sentence, Leo rolled to the side dropping her
into the cold water. Aquila surfaced and wanted to let Leo have it but all
she could do was laugh. Leo must have thought her intentions were to take
a bath and presumed upon himself to accomplish the task.
  Leo came swooping down and grabbed her by the arms.  Aquila managed
to catch hold of the sinking bucket and pull it up with her.
  Aquila closed her eyes as Leo took a directly vertical shot up the side
of the mountain leaving her in between him and the rock wall. Seconds
later she felt her feet touch ground and opened her eyes to see the still
wide-open door.
  “Show off,” Aquila said.
  She looked down at the bucket to find a rather full bucket of water. 
Hurrying inside she poured the bucket into the gigantic cauldron and
started a fire. “Dumb me should have had this fire going before I went
for water,” she grumbled.
  Once the fire was going good, Leo took her for three more rounds.  
Aquila hoped it would be enough for the morning.
  Once the water had boiled for a solid ten minutes, she took a towel
to grab the cauldron.
  The cauldron alone weighed 50 pounds and due to her size she could
not move it alone for very long when it was cold, but hot and full of
boiling water was impossible.
  Remembering different techniques from her older brothers and sisters,
she had created a sturdy cast iron rod over the fire that she could use to
hang the pot on. It was also movable so that she could pull it off of the
fire. Even with this, it was a trick.
  With the cauldron now off of the fire, Aquila went to check on her patient.
The current bandage was holding up. She put her hand to his forehead to
test for fever. He was warmer than usual and would need to be watched,
but it was not currently life threatening.
  She was about to open his eyelids to check his eyes when they voluntarily
opened. Aquila jumped and screamed. She had not prepared herself for
when he would actually wake up.
  He moved his arm and his sleeve brushed against her bare knee reminding
her that she was completely unprepared for a conscious male guest.
Aquila jumped to her feet and fled the room. As hurt as he was, he had
made it this far, and he would hold on long enough for her to throw on
another robe.
  She was back in a flash, but when she came into the room, she found
him trying to sit up. “No, no, you fool!” she nearly screamed. “I just got
your bleeding to stop for the second time, and I did not get you all the
way up here to have you bleed to death!”
  When he continued to try and sit up, Aquila attempted to push him back.
The instant her hand touched his shoulder, he moved and grabbed her
  Aquila gasped, surprised with the strength he held her with after all the
blood he had lost, yet she could tell he was seeing everything in a blur
and was not able to intelligently ascertain the situation. Still, there were
many different reasons to fear an injured and disoriented man, especially
one his size.
  Aquila was searching for something to say when he released her arm
and fell back onto the rug. Aquila winced. “Let’s not get a concussion
on top of everything, all right?”
  Aquila tried to roll him onto his stomach but with no luck.  It seemed
all her strength had left her. All the sleep she had not had that night and
all the energy spent trying to get him this far suddenly caught up with her.
She could not even get off the floor to climb the six flights of stairs to the
safety of her own room. Aquila crawled two feet away and fell asleep.
  Aquila and Wren laughed.  Years had torn them apart but now they
were together. Nothing could separate them now, walking hand in
hand in the open field. The wind tugged at Aquila's hair until it was
flowing gently in the breeze behind her.
  Aquila did not want to wake up, but something was tickling her cheek.
Not tickling...a brushing sort of feeling.
  Aquila's eyes flew open and for a moment she was frozen in surprise.  
Trouble had managed to sit up and move around to her face. His right
hand was caught in her hair that had obviously been brushed back,
because she distinctly remembered falling asleep with half of it over her
shoulder. His left was frozen over her cheek.
  Did I just call him Trouble?  Aquila wanted to hit herself over the head.
She had given him a name.
  Aquila looked up at him and blinked.  He was looking at her...but was
that pity? Aquila inwardly frowned. She was reading him wrong. What
would he pity her for?
  She lifted her head and he pulled his hand out of her hair.  “Who are you?”
  Aquila was completely awake now.  He had just said something.  His
voice—it was unnervingly deep. “Aquila—who are you?”
  He just looked at her and said nothing.  Aquila frowned.  “I think I shall
call you Trouble, for that is all you have been to me since I found you.”
  “Suits me,” he casually assented.
  Aquila stood and opened the door slightly.  It was mid-afternoon.  She
rolled her eyes when her stomach let her know what time it thought it was.
Suddenly Aquila remembered the task that she had set out to do before
she fell asleep. “We have got to get your wound cleaned out. Lay on your
  Trouble moved to the old rug and settled down.  “Seems like a nice rug. 
Hate to mess it up.”
  “Ick!  I was tossing it out the door when you showed up,” Aquila wrinkled
her nose.
  Aquila retrieved strips of cloth, rags, and a salve that she had remembered
Sam using on many an animals' cuts. There was not anything toxic in it
except for the smell, and the gray pasty mixture seemed to work on
everything. She always kept some around for any little scrape she might
  Aquila cut away the shirt that had pasted itself to his back with his blood
and immediately had to look away. She would not be eating anything
anytime soon. After carefully cleaning the surrounding area, she took a
deep breath and started working on the wound itself. “So...what
  “I was ambushed by two thugs.  I resisted and they thrust a spear
through my back,” Trouble growled.
  When the wound was thoroughly cleaned, she liberally applied the
salve. Bandaging it took only seconds and when she was through she
sat back and surveyed her work.
  Sam had been a great caregiver to many a hurt animal and even his
own brothers and sisters on the occasion that one of them cut or injured
themselves. She had watched every time and now silently thanked
Sam for being so patient with her many questions.
  It was not long, though, before Aquila discovered the cause of all his
weight. The wound was in his lower back leaving his thick, wide,
muscular shoulders unmarred aside from the thick scar that ran diagonally
from his left shoulder to the bottom of his right side. Why did it seem
as if he was smaller with his shirt on then when it was off?
  Suddenly she realized Trouble was looking at her curiously from over
his shoulder. She pulled her hair over her shoulder and turned away to
hide her red face.
  Focus, you numb skull!  Your objective is to get him on his feet
and out the door as soon as possible,
she scolded herself.
  Aquila busied herself gathering up all the dirty rags into a bundle until
she was sure she had recovered. Then deciding to allow him to use the
cook's quarters she opened the door leading to it.
  Trouble had not done much moving around since he awoke which
caused Aquila concern. It was possible he had lost too much blood
and had no energy to move. Aquila grabbed the rug, and after several
minutes of hard labor, managed to drag him next to the bed. She looked
from him to the bed for a few seconds as if looking at them would
magically make it happen.
  Finally she tried pulling him from above but she could not clear an inch.
Trouble raised a brow and Aquila frowned. He should try lifting
someone four times his size if he thinks it is so easy.
  Getting onto the floor, she pushed his shoulders up and after some time
she managed to lift his chest onto the back of her shoulders. Trying as
hard as she could to get her feet underneath her, she heaved and pushed
and breathed as hard as she could with no luck.
  Turning around she grabbed him around the chest and tried to stand
that way. He made no attempt to place his feet on the floor and thus
his dead weight against her caused her to stumble backwards and fall.
  Sandwiched in between the floor and Trouble, the wind was knocked
out of her and she could not breathe for several agonizing seconds.
When she could breathe again, she sighed. “Trouble, you are impossible!”
  Trouble sat up a little and chuckled.  “Would you like some help?”
  Aquila's mouth dropped.  “You mean you can actually do something
and you just let me go to all that work for nothing?”
  “I guess you could say that.”
  “You—” Unable to come up with the words, she clamped her mouth
shut. Despite her anger, Aquila helped Trouble into the bed. Seeing his
strength gave her hope for a quick recovery.
  It was not to be.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

You can now connect to the Romany Epistles on Facebook. Talk to the writers (some of them) and see what they have been doing over the years. You can encourage those who are still finishing their stories. Also, you can discuss your favorite characters or fun bits from different siblings' stories. Come, stop by, and join in.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chapter 3
  Aquila had not even worried to say goodbye.  She threw her two robes and four
tunics into her saddlebags that the monks had pulled from her dead horse, left a note
for Father Suriya, and set out on foot, her bow and quiver slung over her shoulder.
She did not want to ask for a horse after all of the trouble that she had caused.
Surely they would not even grant it now.
  She traveled without a thought until dark began to set in and panic began to seize
her beating heart. What had she been thinking?
  Every noise caused her nerves to jump and she squelched the urge to scream.  
Her wide, dark blue eyes searched every leaf and rock for anything that might pose
a threat.
  Stumbling upon a thicket, she crawled through the tight space into the middle
and curled up. Aquila was certain she would not be able to fall asleep, but fatigue
overcame her will and she drifted off to sleep an hour later.
  Aquila squeezed out of the thicket and stretched her arms to the sky to try
and pull out some of the kinks in her back and shoulders. The sun was barely
completely over the horizon and it promised to be a good day. Something purred
nearby and she stilled. Moving only her eyes, she looked at everything within
sight from that viewpoint. Nothing.
  Slowly rotating her head downwards and to her right, her heart stopped.  A
huge cat sat only a few feet off, staring at her hungrily, its tail flicking this way and
  Think!  Aquila mentally hit herself over the head to try and clear up her foggy brain.  
  Her arms were still upraised and if she slowly lowered them, she could probably
snag her bow and an arrow without too much fuss. The cat's tongue rolled over its
upper lip and as it did, Aquila slowly lowered her arms.
  The cat only twitched, encouraging Aquila that she could pull this off.  She had the
bow in her left hand and an arrow in her right. Now to only get it on the bow,
pulled back, and aimed before the cat felt threatened.
  Aquila had just touched the arrow to the string when the cat screeched.  Pulling
the string back, Aquila turned it on the cat as it leaped into the air towards her.
Standing only one whole second after releasing the arrow, she darted to the side
just as the cat came sprawling into the ground that she had just been standing on.
  The force of the cat's weight hitting the ground pushed the arrow all the way through
causing her to wrinkle her nose at the bloody sight. At least her defensive skills did
not fail her.
  Upon further examination of the cat, Aquila returned her bow across her shoulders.
Headless, the fur would make a good rug or coat for someone and it might mean
good money for her if she could learn how to skin it and clean the fur.
  Taking a long knife one of the frequent guests at the monastery gave her, she cut
the head off and then cut a straight line down the cat's stomach. After it was
completely gutted, she looked at the meat and the bones on the cat's lining and
frowned. How was this going to work?
  Butchering it more than she was doing good, Aquila ran the knife just under the
fur and cut it free of the majority of its skin and bones. Some other creature would
enjoy the feast.
  Once it was much lighter she rolled it inside in and slung it over her shoulder.  She
would not mind finding a river just then to wash her hands and the fur of blood.
  Yet it was not for a full twenty four hours before she heard the sound of rushing
water. But before she saw the river she saw a thin plume of smoke rise above the
trees in front of her. Stopping dead in her tracks she lowered her head and ducked
behind a tree. Moving from one to the other in cautious awareness, her ears
pricked at the sound of a gentle low voice singing some tune. It was a man to be sure.
  Now she could see the river between the trees in front of her and on the other side
of the river was a small clearing. A small hut was nestled amongst the trees. It
was rather quaint and seemed rather inviting. Movement caught her eye and she
ducked further behind the tree.
  Taking a slow breath she peeked around the tree to see a big sturdy fellow with
red hair and full beard sitting at the river’s edge, washing something shiny in the
river’s water. His shoulders were three times her width and his arms had to be the
size of one of her brother’s leg. His brown leather tunic was belted with a black strap
and he wore no boots on his feet.
  The wind blew and Aquila momentarily enjoyed the cooler air while she waited for
the man to return to his cabin. All of a sudden the man stilled for a moment. The
hairs on Aquila’s neck stood on end as she wondered if he sensed some sort of
danger lurking. Was he friendly? Could she trust him?
  Oh, Deus, please guide me! She cried inwardly.  She slowly and quietly sat down
against the tree and waited.
  “All right, now, come out from behind there!” his voice turned gruff.
  Aquila almost jumped.  Was he talking to her?
  “I know yer out there, I can smell ya, now out with ya, I say, or I’ll have your hide
hanging from my rafters before the night is over!”
  Aquila slowly rose and peeked around the trunk of the tree.  He seemed to be
boring holes through the tree straight at her. Swallowing the thick bile in her mouth,
she clenched her bow in one hand and slowly stepped out from behind the tree.
  Surprise lit his face and he took one step into the river.  Aquila stepped back and
pulled her bow from her shoulders. “Come no further!”
  The man stopped in the middle of the river and looked at her this way and that.  
“What have ye there?”
  “A mountain lion.  It thought I would make it a fine supper,” Aquila said, her chin
rising with pride. “I would not let it have the best of me!”
  “No, I think not.  What do you plan on doing with that thing?” the man lifted the
object he had been washing in the river and flicked it in the direction of the cat.
The blade of a long knife flashed in the sunlight.
  Aquila’s eyes grew wide and she stumbled backwards.  He looked down at the
offending object and quickly shoved it into the back of his belt. “My apologies, my
Lady, I was just washing it in the river when I smelled your friend there. Many a
person has tried to steal my things that I can’t be too careful of the company I
allow around this place. But you will find me a decent sort of fellow if you care
to stick around for some dinner.”
  Aquila’s stomach growled at the thought of eating something.  Food had not
crossed her mind since she left the monastery. “You know anything about making
these hides into rugs and the like?”
  The man chuckled.  “Why of course.  ‘Tis what I do for a living.  Bring it on inside
and I’ll get ya some supper. We’ll talk of that after we’re done. The name’s Triolitus,
but friends call me Trio.”
  Aquila looked him up and down carefully before inching forward.  “Aquila.”
  Trio moved back towards the hut.  “Now that we have pleasantries behind us, let us
get on with dinner makings!”
  Aquila then and there decided he must be friendly and quickly moved across the river
. Her stomach’s aching suddenly became increasingly more evident. Maybe it would
not hurt to let down the guard long enough to get something to eat.
  Once inside the dimly lit hut, her eyes scanned the room.  Against the far corner
was a low wide crudely made bed with a small table next to it. A well burned candle
sat on a wood block atop it as well as a chunk of charcoal and parchment paper. A
hearth with a chimney above it sat on the direct opposite corner of the room, a large
cauldron sat over a fire, steam rising above it from its contents.
  Just to the right was a table with two crudely built chairs beside it.  On her left was a
workbench with various tools scattered about. Animal hide rugs scattered the floor
and hung from the walls all the way around the hut and Aquila knew Deus’ providence
had led her to the right man.
  Trio motioned to the workbench.  “Drop your belongings on the bench here and go
wash up in the river. Aquila dropped all but her bow and arrows and returned to the
river. As she vigorously scrubbed her hands and arms in the coolness of the river’s water
she thought how wonderful it would be to immerse her aching body in its inviting comfort.
Maybe she could find time before turning in for the night.
  Trio watched his visitor through a small window in the front wall of his hut and hummed the
tune his mother taught him as a child. Aquila was certainly an interesting little thing. Where
she had come from he could not determine. Her brown robe spoke of a monk’s clothing
but there were no female monks. Only the Sisters, but they wore black robes.
  Her age was too hard to tell.  Her size would suggest a wee lass but her voice and
mannerisms spoke of one much older. Her tired steps told him she had been travelling
for some time. Trio would take care of her. Before she left he would make sure she had
a good night’s rest and a full stomach. Her face was gaunt and her hands seemed to tremble
like they would shake themselves off.
  Aquila slowly rose from the riverbed and turned back to the hut.  She could feel her body
growing weaker with every step she took. Once inside she almost fell into the chair. A
wooden bowl almost magically appeared in front of her and a spoon was somehow in her
hand before she could think.
  The creamy broth was hot but Aquila did not notice as she consumed the contents of the
bowl. When it was gone, she looked up to find Trio watching her across the table, eyes
wide, spoon poised mid-air above his own bowl. “Mercy, Child!”
  Aquila wiped the dribble off of her chin and looked down in embarrassment.  It did not
last long when Trio refilled her bowl and placed a plate of hot bread beside it. Aquila did
not miss a beat and had a chunk of bread in one hand, the spoon in the other continuously
  Trio shook his head as he proceeded to eat his own meal.  “How does a wee one like
yourself survive out there?”
  Aquila swallowed a chunk of bread and looked at him.  “How does anyone survive out
  “Pardon my forwardness, but do you mind me asking how old ye be?”
  “Not yet twenty years of age.”
  “What has you so wanderlust like?”
  Aquila looked down and did not answer for a good long while.  Then taking a deep breath,
she responded. “My family was thrust out of our home.”
  “Have ye been walking all this way?  Where do ye hail from?”
  Aquila recanted her journey in full length from her trek out of Braedoch Forest to the
monastery and then here. She left out the meeting with the man who gave her the pouch
which she only just then remembered still hung underneath her robes.
  Trio gave a low whistle and shook his head.  “A strong constitution have ye.  Not many
a person could take such a hard long journey as ye have and still be breathing.”
  Aquila only shrugged and continued on eating.  The full loaf that had been sitting beside
her was now reduced to crumbs and she emptied her second bowl. “Thank you, it was
very good.”
  “Bah, only a modest meal it is,” Trio brushed the compliment off and took the plate and
bowl to a basin of water next to the hearth. “You must stay here for the night. I will bunk
out in the stable with the animals and you can have my bed.”
  Aquila looked up in surprise.  “There is a stable?”
  Trio nodded.  “There is, but it is back behind the trees a bit down the path.”
  “I can sleep in the stable, I do not wish to take your bed from you.”
  “Absolutely not.  No guest of mine shall be relegated to those quarters, no ma’am.  I am
quite fond of my friends out there, I shall be quite comfortable,” Trio insisted.
  Aquila sighed and willingly relented.  Exhaustion was slowly overcoming her thoughts and
movements. Before she realized what she was doing she was curling up in the bed and falling
fast asleep.
  Trio was humming his mother’s tune and turned around to ask his guest if she wanted to
work with her lion when he discovered a vacant table. Glancing across the room he shook
his head. “Poor Lass.”
  Trio covered his rather smelly guest up with his favorite fur blanket and blew out all of the
candles lit in the room. She would sleep well tonight.
  Aquila slowly opened her eyes and stared at the wall in front of her.  Blinking once, then twice,
she slowly recanted the events of yesterday. The gentle humming of Trio’s voice filtered in
through the window and she sat up.
  The smell of the dried blood on her clothes reminded her of her filthy state and she wrinkled
her nose. A bath was first on her list of things to do.
  Aquila’s bare feet had barely touched the floor when the door creaked open.  Trio stepped
in and smiled at small guest. “Good morning, my child. Care to break the fast with me? There
will be no simple fare this morning as I have been out a hunting!”
  Trio held up a featherless feasant and Aquila licked her lips.  “Not usual fare for the first meal
of the day.”
  “No, but Trio here does not do many things the usual peasant would do.  It’s a feast all day
every day for me and it shall for you as well!” Trio grinned and then suddenly as if smelling
Aquila’s stench afresh, he asked, “Have ye any other clothes to wear?”
  Aquila blushed in embarrassment and grabbed her bag from beside the workbench.  “I have a
few pairs.”
  “If ye follow the riverbed down through the woods just yonder then you shall find sufficient
cover in which to do yer bathing,” Trio cocked his head just so.
  Aquila nodded and quickly slipped out of the house.  How she would enjoy this.  True to his
word, Aquila walked inside the edge of the river down a ways until she found herself
completely surrounded by thick trees and bushes. She pulled out her second brown robe
and draped it over a bush. Thankful she had thought to take a bar of soap from the monastery
she slipped it under the cold water before scrubbing it across her body from head to toe.
  Once complete she dropped onto her back in the river and sighed with relief.  Only allowing a
few moments relief to overcome her travel weary body she pulled herself up and quickly dressed
in her clean robe. Tying a small twig from a bush through the neck and sleeve of her dirty robe,
she fastened it to a root of a tree that stuck out into the river and allowed the robe to soak in the
water while she gathered her things and returned to the hut.
  The smell of the roasting pheasant greeted her senses as she neared the doorstep and her mouth
opened slightly in pleasant expectation. “Trio, it smells so wonderful!”
  Trio winked at her.  “Pull up a chair, Child.”
  Aquila obeyed.  “After we break the fast can you teach me how to turn the lion into something?”
  True to his word, upon completion of the meal, Trio picked up the cat skin and turned it over.
“Aha, this will be first.”
  Trio explained every last detail of the work required and then took her step by step.  By late
afternoon the cat’s skin had been completely cleaned, treated, and prepared to dry out in the
sun as the last step. Aquila beamed with pride at her work as Trio praised her quick wit in
  For the next three days Aquila remained with Trio.  Trio took her out on his trap line and taught
her how to set them up, how to make her own traps, and allowed her to clean the skins and
create rugs and leather bags out of them. Then on the third day Trio took her into town.
  “You can’t be going off doing this stuff without knowing how to get a fair price for your work.
Never let anyone take advantage of you. They will try their best to do so but do not let your
hopes to sell get in the way of getting a good price for your wares,” Trio lectured.
  Aquila stared at the surrounding town in wide eyed wonder trying to pay attention to Trio’s
words. It was all completely new to her. Horses and coaches ran this way and that, people
were all over the place swarming like a hornet’s nest all awhirl. Absentmindedly, Aquila grabbed
Trio’s large arm and clung to his side in fear of being trampled and lost in the mass.
  Trio only glanced down at the small girl at his side and bit his lip.  He was growing rather fond of
his guest. He had never had a wife. Thinking back to the one love he had allowed himself the pleasure
of...she had been a beauty. Her love and passion he once thought he would never lose.
But it had been a mistake. Now so many years later he wondered if she had been telling
the truth when she said the child was his... Trio shook his head and turned his attention
back to the child at his side. He was over twice her age and felt like he could reasonably
call her his child. She had never talked of her father and now wondered if she ever knew him.
  A rather questionable character leaning up against the side of a building looked her up and down
and Trio gave him the most menacing look he could muster. Trio had never looked at himself in
a mirror but his look must have been a pretty good one as he quickly lowered his gaze and skulked
  Smirking beneath his red beard, he walked a little taller.  If she cared to stay with him forever
he would not mind.
  Aquila listened and watched as Trio bartered with one of the local tradesmen over the price
of his wares. The tradesman did not want to give him what he was asking for so after a few
minutes of arguing Trio picked up his things and turned to go. The flustered tradesman stuttered
and then called out, “Wait!”
  Aquila noticed the smug look of satisfaction on Trio’s face and grinned.  He had been expecting
him to sway.
  “Good man, Taurus!” Trio declared.  “I knew I could count on you.”
  “I suppose I should know better than to argue the price with you, Trio,” Taurus muttered
sourly. “But you always have the best furs and bags to sell that I cannot afford to lose you.”
  Aquila once again assisted Trio in setting everything out on the counter one by one.  Just as
she placed the last one up on the counter she noticed Taurus watching her with his squinty
black eyes. Aquila quickly shrunk behind Trio and peeked around him at the offensive
  Trio glanced down at her and then frowned at Taurus.  Taurus stroked his long thinning
black beard with a dirty hand and then looked up at Trio. “How much for her?”
  Trio slammed his fist down on the cabinet.  “She isn’t mine to sell, Taurus, now you leave
the chi—girl alone.”
  Taurus scowled.  “You know I have been looking for more help around here.”
  Trio scoffed.  “Help!  You mean another wench!”
  Taurus quickly counted out the pennies for each item.  When Trio was satisfied with the
toll, he brushed the coins into a leather purse and handed it to Aquila. “Hold onto that for
me now.”
  Aquila obediently secured it to her belt and raised her chin to Taurus.  “I, sir, am not for
sale and I shall certainly not become your wench!”
  Trio patted her on the shoulder proudly and then led her outside.  “He shan’t be messing
with you, Child.”
  Once beyond earshot of Taurus, who stood watching them from the door until a patron
entered his shop, Aquila turned to Trio and asked, “What’s a wench?”
  Trio gave a hearty laugh.  “Child, I had no idea you did not know what it meant when
you used it!”
  Aquila was confused.  What was so funny?
  When Trio could recover himself, he explained how Taurus was well known to buy slave
girls from the slave market or take in homeless waifs to work in his store during the day
and then use for his entertainment at night. They were ill fed and abused and more often
than not were carried out only after a few months to be buried in the local cemetery. Very
few had managed to survive his ill treatment.
  Aquila shivered at the thought.  “Oh, what a repulsive man!”
  All of a sudden Trio stopped in front of a rather crudely built building and stared at it,
seemingly lost in thought as he stroked his beard. Then he looked down at Aquila and
said, “I was thinking about building a room off of my hut. I could make a bed for you in
there and give you some privacy. You have been doing a fine job with the skins. We
could make a great team and you would earn your wages plus room and board if you
cared to help me with the trap line.”
  Aquila stared wide eyed up at the big man.  She had certainly grown fond of Trio…but
something told her she was not where she belonged. “Trio…oh, I thank you for your
gracious offer. I have enjoyed my stay with you, I have, but…I do not feel like my
journey is complete just yet. Maybe I will go on and then if I do not find an end somewhere
else then I can come back, yes?”
  Trio smiled and Aquila could have sworn she saw a tear roll down his cheek.  “Certainly,
my child. You will always be welcome at Trio’s house. Any time.”
  Aquila threw her arms around the big man’s waist and squeezed him tight.  It felt good to
know there was some place in the world she could return to if she could find nowhere else
to rest.
  That night after Trio retired to the stable, Aquila took the leather purse off of her belt and
set it on the desk beside the bed. Taking the lump of charcoal and a piece of parchment
paper, she carefully scrawled out these words:
  Dearest Trio,
    My heart aches to say goodbye but I must.  My journey is not complete.  I will be
going on towards the north east. You will find the money for your skins in full tale
in the bag, I take nothing that I did not bring with me. Think of me often and with
great fondness, I hope to see you once more.
  With love,
      Your adopted daughter
  Aquila wiped away the tears that now flowed freely.  She felt like she was leaving her
siblings all over again. For a moment she questioned her reasons for leaving as she held
the parchment paper in her hands, but then set it down, picked up her bag of things, and
  Aquila brushed away the leaves from under the big pine tree.  She had been traveling
by foot for two weeks. Now she was just too exhausted to go any further. It was a
mountainous range that she had stumbled onto two days before. Until the mountains,
the area had been alive with trees but now it was nothing but rock. She found it rather
strange that this one lone Pine tree should be there, but it was, and she had used it as a
shelter for the past couple of days. Now she lay down beneath its big branches and
hugged herself.
  You will make it, Aquila.  I have faith in you.”  Aiden's last words rang in her
head. He had followed her out that evening she had left and assisted her onto Tayla.
But when she showed the least bit of doubt that his faith had been accurately placed,
he had made her say it herself.
  As she so often did, she pulled out the cross pendant and fingered it for a short moment.
Now she was more than ever determined to make it through. Thoughts of her last home
with Trio drifted across her mind as she fell asleep.
  Aquila trudged up the small path on the side of the mountain.  The ocean was alive and
she enjoyed the cool breeze that blew off the sparkly blue waters beneath her. She had been
at this for a couple of hours now and it did not seem like it was going anywhere but the
breeze and the smell of the ocean helped to rejuvenate her. She did not know what she
was looking for. Maybe a place to stay? In these mountains? She thought ruefully.
  She was better off going back to town and finding a place there but then again, she would
have to face people...and men. Her experience with Taurus left a bad taste in her mouth
and she did not want to try and weed out the good men from the bad.
  Aquila was about to turn around and go back when she leveled off onto a small landing.
She chanced a glance upwards and saw a large cliff looming above covered in thick, lush,
green life. There seemed to be a big rock covered in the beautiful greenery right in the
center of it. It was almost like another part to the mountain but something was oddly
peculiar about it. The only thing was that it was a far distance up and there seemed to
be only one way up: a narrow ledge that wound up the side of the mountain all the way
to the top. But it was green, which meant there had to be some sort of water source
up there and it would be a great place to remain out of the way. It was possible there
was a cave hidden behind the vines. What also intrigued her interest was the lone tall
tree that looked misplaced on the otherwise barren mountainside.
  Determined to make it before evening, Aquila flattened her body against the mountain's
side and inched her way up. Occasionally her left foot slipped and she stopped abruptly,
grabbing onto whatever her fingers could reach, to keep from plummeting off the narrow
ledge. Sweat beaded down her forehead and more than once she wondered if she should
have turned back.
  Two hours later, she reached the top.  Wiping the sweat from her brow, she studied the
scene before her. One tall pine tree grew out of what seemed like pure rock on one side
and then greenery sprouted up so thickly that you could not see the rock it covered. She
frowned and put her hand into the greenery to feel the wall of the rock. It was flat and not
bumpy and jagged like the mountain had been so far.
  She stepped back and looked up.  The wall went up for a hundred feet.  There was a
slightly smaller wall on top of the rock. All of a sudden, a bird flew out of the smaller wall
on top. Aquila's eyes widened. Was that a window in the wall?
  Aquila walked around the big green wall.  She was completely worn out after the long
trip around, but now she was convinced more than ever that she had found her a place to
stay. The closer she looked at the large wall the more it was evident that it was not just
a big rock. It was a palace and most obviously abandoned.
  Her job now would be to find the door and clear it, so that she could get in and out.
Unfortunately it was getting late and the sun was already disappearing behind the mountains.
She would camp here tonight; instead of going all the way back to the pine tree she had
called home the past few days, and would wake with the dawn. It was sure to be a beautiful
  Aquila frowned in exasperation.  She had been looking for a door all day and had come
up empty. It was nothing but vines, wall, and more vines. She looked up at the retreating
sun. Had she really been working that long?
  Aquila was about to give up.  Maybe this was not a castle.  But every time she looked at
it the more she was convinced that that was exactly what she had stumbled across. Just as
she was about to pull away, she felt something. It was small and barely even there, explaining
why she had missed it altogether the first two times. It was a small line that ran straight up
and down. She pulled the vines away from it and looked. It was indented slightly and it
was a darker gray than the rest of the wall as if someone had put mortar in the crack. Had
someone been actually trying to conceal it from the outside world? Was there someone
living inside? Surely there was no way someone could survive closed up in there for so long.
  Aquila pulled out the knife she had, concealed in her robe, and began chipping away the
thin layer of mortar in the crack. It was easy, and with only the help of the bushes to climb
on to remove the mortar from the top part of the door, she had it finished by night fall.
Unfortunately, the same vines and bushes she had used to aid in her endeavor would have
to be dug up and moved before she could open the door.
  It was the work of another day.
  Aquila pulled furiously at the base of the vine.  She grunted in the effort until she had to
pause and catch her breath. She pushed her sweat-dampened hair out of her face. She had
been digging with her knife and hands all morning and afternoon pulling vines out of the ground.
Now there was only one left, but it was the biggest one and it was proving to be just as big a
challenge as its size.
  Aquila looked around quickly before grabbing the root at the base and throwing her body
into an all out battle with the vine. Her face turned red and her fingers white, sweat pouring
down her body, as she let out the biggest battle cry her lungs could give.
  Suddenly she heard the vine groan, she felt it giving away, and she was not sure that was
what she wanted it to do at this moment but there was nothing she could do to stop it.
  Oh, no!” she muttered as the vine let go of its hold and she fell backwards landing hard
on her derrière. “Ow!” Aquila almost screamed. There was a rock perfectly situated so that
her tail bone landed on the jagged top.
  Aquila held up the vine with it is dirt clod vines and cursed it.  She stood and winced.  It
would smart for a few days...maybe even weeks. Just then she remembered the reason she
had gone to all that trouble. The door was free of the pesky petiolaris vines and she could
open the door. Aquila grabbed the knob and pulled it down. The door groaned and
complained with the stress that she was putting on its old rusty hinges but did not budge.
  Aquila frowned and examined the mortar in the space between the door and the wall.
Forcing her knife into the crease, she worked it along until the thin layer of mortar started
falling out. It was only a cover up job, not a permanent solution. Finally, when she had it
all cleared, she tried once more. Still, the door did not want to move.
  Persistent in her endeavors, Aquila pulled and pulled.  Deciding that it was quite safe to
do with the door as she had done with the vine, she stopped and breathed for a moment.
Energy is what she would need for this job.
  Turning to look out over the cliff and the vast expanse of the ocean before her, she sighed.
Even at this height she could smell the salty waters below and when she closed her eyes, she
could feel the water splashing up on her as it hit the rocky wall. She had definitely found her
  Moments later she turned back to the door.  Setting her shoulders in determination, she
grabbed the door handle and counted, “One...two...three!”
  Throwing everything into it, she pulled and pulled.  The door groaned and creaked,
stubbornly refusing to give way. Yet Aquila continued. Opening her mouth and air passage,
she took a deep breath and cried out. The sound echoed off of the mountainside and carried
over the sea, but the door still did not budge.
  Stopping and letting go of the door, she gasped for air.  “One,” she grabbed the handle again.
  Once again she threw her weight into it and hollered for all her worth.  The door creaked and
groaned and then all of a sudden it budged slightly and she stilled. It was beginning to open.
After panting for a moment, she tightened her hold on the handle and pulled.
  Little by little, inch by inch, the door gave way and opened.  Finally she stopped and stared
inside the open portal.
  It was dark inside, but the light shining through the doorway revealed cobblestone flooring.
Aquila stepped just inside the doorway and felt unearthly cool. Just to the right of the door there
was a torch and she took it from it is anchor. Now if she could find some way to light it.
  Aquila stepped outside and looked inside her small bag for something with which to start a
flame. There was a flat stone inside and she pulled it out. She grabbed the rock she had landed
on and sat down. Anchoring the torch in between her legs she struck the jagged rock against
the smooth one several times. Nothing was happening. She tried some more until she finally
saw something. Several more tries and something started going for her. The rock threw a
large spark and, before long, it engulfed the cobweb covered torch in a bright blaze.
  She dropped both rocks by the doorway and took the torch.  She held the torch high, as
she stepped through the doorway, into the chilly air of the castle. It was a slightly large room
with cupboards along the wall. In the middle of the room was a big black cauldron covered in
dust and cobwebs. It hung at an awkward angle as one end was sitting on a blackened hearth
and the other half was held up by a rusty chain from a pole affixed above it. This must be the
Aquila mused. Aquila swung the torch around until she found a door. She opened it
to find a pantry. Rats quickly ran for cover from the light behind various tins and hole filled boxes
all over the floor. She shut the door and shivered. She hated rodents. She found a second door.
This has to be the door into the corridor, Aquila told herself. As she put her hand on the doorknob,
it was as if something was awaiting her on the other side. The hair on her neck and arms stood on end.
Something was not right about this place. She froze as a cool breeze hit her, taking her breath away.

Chapter 4

Aquila took a deep breath and turned the knob. At the same time a cool draft caught
the door and it flew backwards, hitting the wall with a big bang. Aquila jumped and screamed.
There was nothing but a dark hallway.
Aquila took a deep breath. Calm down, Aquila.
There is no one else here. Besides, what could possibly be living in here besides rats and
bats? Just watch out for them and they will leave you alone. Now get a grip!
took the torch that sat on its anchor beside the door and lit it with the torch she already held.

She would need all the help she could get. She poked the torch through the doorway and
held it high to help illuminate the hall and eliminate the cobwebs hanging down. If she did live
in this place, she would need it slightly decent. What better time to start then now?
were two small double doors just to the left, as she started down the hallway, and she
opened one and poked the torch in. There was an old fireplace at the other end of the small
room. Two dusty settees sat opposite each other in front of the fireplace, dust and cobwebs
now the only thing taking residence on them. Beside the one to the left on top of a small
wooden table lay a tin cup on its side, a dark stain on the table told of the cup’s contents
now long gone.

Aquila left the door open and turned back to the hall. Torches lined the hall and she now took
the time to light them. There were two other doorways, one to each side that she opened.
Beds lined the walls in each with a small fireplace to one side of the room. The same story
in each one: cobwebs and dust with an occasional rat or two.
Now the corridor turned
at a sharp 90º angle and on the darkness went. She cautiously moved forward, lighting
the torches as she went. Her guess was that she had just come through the servants' quarters.

Halfway down the hall she found a set of double doors that opened into a large spacious
room that had double doors along the sides and on the far right were two magnificent
oak doors that reached the ceiling. It was no doubt the front of the ballroom. A beautifully
ornate chandelier sat in the middle of the floor, a rope going up from it to the ceiling
through a pulley. The other end of the rope was rotted and hung loosely halfway down.

Stepping into the large room, she gazed in awe at the pictures painted on the ceilings.
It was as if a story was being told of generations past, etched into the fiber of what
would go on before. Pictures of elegant women and finely dressed men danced
across the vast expanse floating above her.
Gracefully positioning herself as one
of the ladies was in the arms of a gentleman, she closed her eyes and slowly
swayed from side to side, turning around the room. Humming to herself a song that
she faintly remembered hearing as a child, she imagined herself in the arm of one of
those gentlemen.

Suddenly she stopped abruptly and shook her head. It would never happen. She could never
subject herself to another man’s will again. Aquila crossed the floor to the hallway and closed
the door softly, then continued down the hallway until she reached a door to the left. Its hinges
groaned and complained as it revealed a large desk at the far end of a wide book-lined room.
A settee sat with its back to her and there was a small table at each end. A single beam of light
that shone through the vine covered window, whose drapes hung half torn from its hooks,
rested on top of a small tattered book, a quill and pen sat beside it on the desk.

As Aquila stepped into the room the feeling of something unknown and mysterious
returned and she shuddered. Goosebumps covered her skin as the hair on her neck
rose. The air was tense with a sense of dread. Aquila could not understand why.
It was an uninhabited room.

Aquila moved around the room looking at the endless volumes of books. There
was a row of thick historical texts and she pulled one that lay flat on its side
off of the shelf. It was the latest dated text on the shelf, but it was still two
hundred years old. She ran her finger over the top and dust two inches thick rubbed
off. She wrinkled her nose and wiped her finger on her leg. She blew on it and
instantly regretted it. Dust flew everywhere, into her eyes, mouth, and nose. She
sneezed three times as her eyes started watering to rid themselves of the intruding particles.

When she had finally cleared her eyes of the dust, and she was able to see again,
she opened the cover. Just inside was an inscription that read, “Quentin, of the
Lucian Kingdom, in the province of Meru”.
She carefully turned the pages until she
found “Quentin”. There was an ink sketch of a magnificent castle in all its glory. Flags
flew at each corner hailing the circular cobblestone drive that came up to a wide staircase
that led up to two gigantic oak doors. The grounds were well cared for, rose bushes
lined the steps, and the drive and the grass was well tended. Two guards in full regal
attire stood at each side of the doors and two more at each side of the bottom of the
steps and a carriage with a coat of arms painted on its side sat attached to two beautiful
white bays just off to the side.

There were two guards that patrolled the top of the castle and just below them,
on the second floor, was a good sized window with beautifully ornate curtains
drawn back. The picture was done so well that you could see couples dancing in
the ballroom there on the second floor.
A beautiful sunset framed the castle
in the background and Aquila felt as if she were there...for a second. The door reaked
and she jumped and dropped the book. No one was there.

Aquila scooped up the book and quickly placed it on the shelf. She moved
to the desk, her attention was drawn to the book on which the beam of light rested.
She opened it tenderly so as not to tear the fragile pages and read the first
line aloud. “The humble recordings of Alverdine Portchi, the beloved of Sark
Thatcher, of the royal Lucians.”

Aquila read a few entries at the beginning and then moved to the middle of the book.
Her eyes scanned the page until they spotted the words, "day of atonement”.
Her eyes focused on that one word for a moment before she went back to the
beginning of that entry. It was dated, “the thirteenth day of the month of June, in the year of our Lord,
1224.” It had only been fifty years since this entry had been written.

The entry started, “How could I have been so foolish! Sark will not listen to me. He thinks my
council is foolish. It worked for myparents back at home. Who is he to think it would not
work here? One day I shall rule the kingdom and things shall be as they should. The people
will fear me and will do as Isay. Then we shall thrive and Sark will have to listen to me.
These servants are allowed too much slack. Just you wait and see, King Sark Thatcher,
when I am queen you will cater to me and to my wants and will have nothing wanting and will
understand why I say the things I have advised you to do. The day of atonement draweth near!”

Aquila frowned and closed the book. She would take this with her for later reading.
Aquila tucked the book into the front of her robe and took a last look around the room
before heading for the door.


Aquila slowly clicked the small rusty trap open and pulled away. Wiping the sweat off her
brow with the back of a grimy hand, she took a deep breath. She had been walking along for a
day now plotting a trap line for her to use as a means for a living and had just now started the
turn towards home. The discovery of a wide clear stream would prove useful as a good
camping ground, as well as a natural source to lure animals with.
After sufficiently covering
the trap with leaves, and hoping that the rusty trap would come through for her, Aquila stood
and continued on her way. A few hours later she abruptly found herself at the edge of the forest,
a decently sized thriving village sprawled out before her.

She had known by references made in the books in the library that there was a town
nearby, but she had not been certain as to the direction it was in. “Deus’ providence
has surely led me to you,” she announced to the empty air in front of her.
realizing the irony of talking to herself, she shook her head and moved forward. Once
in town, Aquila started to get nervous. The people of this town were not all too accustomed
to strangers. Everyone seemed to stop and stare as she walked down the middle of the
street. Maybe I should not walk down the middle of the street in this garb. That is
probably what is drawing all the attention, you numbskull!
Aquila mentally laughed
at herself.

Quickly moving to the shadows of the buildings, she examined every building and its
wares as she moved. Street vendors looked at her warily as she drew near and then
began trying to sell her their stock.

Aquila walked up and down every street she came to until she walked up on the
trapper's store. Venturing inside she studied the wares.
There were many different
items of interest. Rugs, belts, purses and satchels, mounted animal heads. She was
examining one particularly fine rug when a friendly sort of voice spoke up, “Can I help you?”

Aquila jumped and whirled around. “Oh! I am sorry. I was just looking at your things. They
are so nice.”

The round burly man’s face lit with a smile that went from ear to ear. “Why thank you! I only
buy from the best!”

“I see that. Maybe I can interest you in the future in some of the things I make,” Aquila
said as she fingered the fine rug she had been looking at.

“Oh? Do you make rugs and the sort?” The man’s thick brown eyebrows shot up.

“Yes, I do. In fact, I just got finished setting up my line of traps. Tell me, would you
know of a place here in town where I could maybe purchase for use as a workshop?”

“Not right off the top of my head. The banker would know of places for sale. He is
just down the street. By the way, my name is Boar Knifke.”


Boar gracefully accepted the hand Aquila offered and he bowed low. “It will be my
pleasure to do business with you, my dear. I take it you are fairly newcomer around here.
As a gift of good faith between me and thee, I insist you take this fine rug you are so interested
in. May it bring you warmth on the cold winter nights. You say you live here in town?”

“Oh, I did not say that,” Aquila quickly corrected. “But the rug will definitely help,
thank you very much. I promise I will repay your kindness.”

Boar just brushed her off and quickly rolled up the rug. “Do not trouble yourself.
I feel we shall become good friends.”

Aquila thanked him again, picked up the heavy rug, and turned to leave. As Aquila
stepped outside, she forgot about the porch and fell into the dirt. Aquila lifted her head
and shook it. Spitting the dust out of her mouth, she struggled to her feet, barely
noticing the hand that was gently helping her up.

A tall woman with a mass of blond curls piled atop her head stood in front of her,
Aquila’s rug draped over her shoulder. “Are you alright? I saw you take the fall.
That must have come as quite a shock!”

Yes, I am fine, thank you,” Aquila nodded and smiled.

Good. I am Lady Fridgeirsen,” the lady beamed.


My home is just two streets down. Would you care to join me for my afternoon tea?”
Lady Fridgeirsen invited as she tucked a stray wisp of her sun-bleached hair back into
her straw bonnet.

Aquila thought for a moment. She had nothing better to do other than to go home
and that could wait a little bit. She was certain that if she stepped up her pace, she
could certainly make it back to the creek before she had to camp for the night. “I
would be delighted, Lady Fridgeirsen. I am feeling a little faint with the heat.” The
last part was a lie and Aquila mentally slapped herself for not leaving it at, “I would
be delighted.” Even with her small stature, she could endure what some people four
times her size could not.

Aquila followed silently behind Lady Fridgeirsen as her host talked on and on
about the town and all the happenings as of late. Aquila's eyes widened and
laughed as she talked of everything from devastating swirling winds to flocks of chicken
s running through town as if their heads were chopped off.

Before she knew it, Aquila found herself in a messy little kitchen, sitting at an
oak table with four decorative chairs. Messy was putting it lightly. It was
obvious she was in the process of reorganizing everything.

Excuse the mess of things. I'm preparing it to be sold,” Lady Fridgeirsen chuckled
as she placed a kettle over the cast iron stove. “I just started repainting the kitchen,
as you can tell.”

Lady Fridgeirsen moved to sit in the chair beside her, and for a moment, all was
silent. Aquila folded her hands and placed them on the table, uncomfortable with
the lull in the conversation.

Lady Fridgeirsen placed a hand over Aquila's and squeezed. “You are new to town
and young. If you need a place to stay, I would be more than happy to accommodate you.”

Aquila smiled reassuring. “Thank you so much for your kind offer and concern, but I am
staying in the eastern mountains far out of town away from harm. You need not worry,
Lady Fridgeirsen.”

Lady Fridgeirsen patted her hands. “Well, if you ever need anything, you are always
welcome here. And also, please call me Minella. That is my first name and I would be
very happy if you and I could become good friends. Are you planning on coming to
the village often?”

Whenever I check my traps, I will come right through the village,”
Aquila informed her.

Then you must stop in here every time and have tea with me.”

Aquila thought for a moment before deciding that she rather liked Minella. “I would
love to see you, Minella, whenever I can come through town.”

An hour later, Aquila finally managed to take her exit and quickly left town.
A glance at the sky told her she should not have taken so long. Still, she could
make it to the creek.

The sun disappeared and the wolves were howling long before Aquila finally
came upon the creek. It had taken her a little bit longer to set up the few traps
she had plotted for her return trip than she thought. Relieved and completely
exhausted, she collapsed under a large oak tree and fell asleep.


Aquila sighed beneath the warm morning sun and opened her eyes. There just in front of
her face was the long face of a hideous creature. Its dark yellow scales shimmered in the
sun. She could only see one glassy green eye from the angle of the face but it was watching
her carefully.

She would have loved nothing more than to run, but not knowing how it would react to
such rash behavior, she stilled the wild beatings of her heart and remained motionless.

It seemed to sense her conscious state and it moved. Suddenly the warm comfortable
feeling left as it rose to its feet. Aquila blinked as she realized that it had not been the
warm morning sun that she felt, but the warmth of the gold dragon that had come to
cover her overnight.

It turned its full attention to her, its wings securely tucked beside its muscular body.
Remembering that Gold Dragons were supposed to be friendly, Aquila moved slowly and
cautiously to a sitting position. Still the dragon did nothing.

Aquila cocked her head to the side, and did a double-take when the dragon
did the same. Aquila straightened her head and then cocked it to the other side.
The dragon mimicked her again. Aquila straightened and then leaned closer. The
dragon did so as well and Aquila choked back a laugh.

“Can we be friends?” she asked the creature.

Remarkably the dragon moved to her side and tucked her safely into the folds of his
left wing as if to say yes. Aquila smiled. “Then I shall call you Leo.”

A few minutes later Aquila moved from her spot to the river and waded in. Breakfast
would have to be fish, as she had forgotten to purchase anything in town. No
mind at all. Aquila had taught herself to be a fairly decent fisher at home when she
had nothing better to do than to sit by the river and sing.

Ten minutes later she threw a yellow bullhead onto the bank, a safe distance
away from the water's edge. Aquila started to turn back but stopped abruptly
when Leo stood and breathed fire onto the rebellious catfish.

When Leo pulled back, the fish lay still. She noticed the brownish-gold hue the fish
now had and nodded, “Humph.”

Her attention was drawn away when something shimmered in the water and she
prepared for her final catch. Five minutes later she came up with a white
catfish this time and threw it next to the first fish. Leo did the same thing and
Aquila returned to the banks.

Once the meat was taken off the bones, Aquila studied it. The meat was
already well done. She took a bite. “Mm, Leo! You need to come home
with me. You can be the cook!”

When she had finished the fish, she looked up to find Leo watching her
curiously. “Oh, no! How rude of me. I shall catch you one before we go home.”

Ten minutes later and Aquila had him a fish. Aquila went to throw it onto the bank
but Leo stepped forward and caught it with his mouth and swallowed it in one smooth
motion. Aquila tossed him a few more before drying her hands with her robe. Aquila
stepped onto the bank and smiled. “We make a good team, Leo!”
Aquila walked
upstream for a little ways, pondering her fortune at finding two new friends, as Leo's
shadow from above the trees followed her all the way. After finding a thinner place in
the river, she crossed and then oriented herself in the right direction.
That night, as she
walked up to the base of the mountain where the palace sat, she looked up wearily and
moaned. She had hoped she would make it home for a good night's sleep on her
homemade straw mattress, but as tired and weary as she was, she did not look on
that feat with pleasure.

Suddenly, Leo landed and lowered himself. His wings outstretched and waiting, Aquila
frowned. What was he trying to say? Leo flapped his wings a couple of beats then
back up towards her.
Aquila thought for a moment, measuring the animal’s size.
It was not very big at all, but it was bigger than her by a bit. It could carry her and
maybe that was what he was trying to say. Shrugging, she slowly and cautiously
climbed onto Leo’s back. His long wings expanded to their full length and began
moving gracefully up and down, and before Aquila knew what was happening, Leo
lifted them both into the sky. They were soaring up the mountain side at a brisk pace,
and much sooner than Aquila could have imagined, he had them sitting on the cliff where
the palace sat.

Good boy, Leo,” Aquila patted his head. “You can sleep in the kitchen if you like.”

Aquila opened the door and stood aside as Leo looked hesitantly through the doorway.
Finally it cautiously ventured inside. Aquila shut the door and patted its head. “Find you
a comfortable spot to sleep, Leo. I shall see you in the morning.”


Aquila pulled at the board. She had been exploring the kitchen for what seemed like hours,
the words in the journal playing over in her mind.
I stashed a slew of weapons in a secret
compartment in the bottom of the cupboards. I have turned all the kitchen servants
against Sark and have successfully fooled them into believing in me. We are still so far
from our day of atonement but it will come at the last and what a glorious day it shall
be. If only I could trust my Love to talk with him about it…but I fear he is still highly
devoted to his king though he spent last night in my quarters.

Aquila had to read the last part again. Someone had betrayed their king and had an affair
with his wife now fifteen years after their marriage. Who was this person? Captain of the
guard, butler, personal assistant? The journal entry went on to talk about him without
actually naming him. He seemed to be important somewhere in the ranks of the castle’s

It also puzzled Aquila what the "day of atonement" was. After reading fifteen years' worth of entries,
Alverdine had talked so much about it. Upon their marriage Sark had still not listened to Alverdine's
ideas on how to govern the land. Aquila understood as she spoke of high taxes, encouraged slavery,
and the establishment of druid lords as the religious leaders and supreme dictators underneath Sark

Aquila wondered if there had not been any children. Alverdine spoke of none in all the fifteen years
entries. Aquila shook her head and returned to the task at hand.

What were these weapons intended for? Suddenly Aquila’s hand caught the corner
of a board slightly upraised and she pried it up. There was the compartment she talked
about! It was empty except for one rusty long sword. Where were the rest?

Aquila carefully examined the compartment and felt along the sides and the bottom.
Nothing else was there and no sign of any other compartments inside. She returned
the rusty old sword and placed the board in its place. Alverdine was surely planning
some sort of revolt.


Dearest brother or sister, I send this letter out with a prayer that it shall find you.
I shall press upon my falcons that I wish for you to receive this, but I cannot be sure
that they shall obey.
I know that by doing this, I am defying Duard and his direct
order. However, I feel I am somehow right to do so. Perhaps it is as Father Andrew
said. We need to regard Deus’ will as higher than Duard’s when it comes to moral
decisions. I think it is thus with this. If it isn’t, my heart will at least be at peace in
the knowledge that I have attempted to contact you.
If you fare well or poorly,
please let me know. Pen a reply on the back of this parchment and reattach it to
the falcon’s leg. He or she shall return to me with your message, of that I am
Your loving sister,Wren

Aquila pulled her hair over her left shoulder as she looked at the palace behind her.
She had just come out to get a breath of fresh air when she saw Gavin, one of
Wren's gyr falcons, flying in. It had landed just off a ways and it had taken her a
little time to slowly and cautiously get the falcon's trust enough for her to approach,
but it had been accomplished and she now returned inside to retrieve her writing instruments.

She had managed to come up with some charcoal bits at the town she had visited
before finding the castle. Maeron had expressly forbidden them to contact each other.
Why? She did not know, but how could he find out that they were contacting each other?

Aquila laid the letter flat on the table and picked up the bit of charcoal. Pausing only a
moment to think of what she would say, she placed the charcoal onto the bit of parchment
and began,

Dearest Wren, I miss you terribly. It has been a long hard journey.
Tayla died halfway into the journey. After a prolonged stay in a monastery,
I finally left on foot until I reached my final destination: a long forgotten
palace. There are mysteries of which I have yet to discover and could never
be told by air that which I have discovered. I fare well and hope this missive
finds you doing so as well. All my love, Aquila

Aquila wanted to tell Wren of what she had discovered at the palace and in the
journal. Now as her thoughts returned to the journal and everything that she had
read, her impatience began to get the best of her. So far I have only covered
the downstairs grounds. I have yet to make it to the second floor where I
believe the wedding to have taken place. There are two ballrooms. One
downstairs which was the normal ballroom, but there was a second one
upstairs used for special occasions like that of a wedding. I must venture
to the second floor for surely something up there would tell of the mystery.
If someone did actually put the mortar there to hopefully hide the
whereabouts of the entrance, who was it? Who came out on top of it
all and do they come back every once in a while to check on the place?
Oh, to get to the bottom of this whole thing!
Aquila kicked at the air in


Aquila sighed, as she opened her eyes to find herself tangled in her thin blanket and hair
again. This was becoming a routine. Every morning she was all tangled in her bedding
and her hair never helped. It got twisted in with her blanket and it was a literal pain to get
herself untangled. One day she would not be able to get herself untangled just because
of the magnitude of the mess.

Then it dawned on her. Today she had vowed to uncover any mysteries the second
floor held. She unwound her way out of the covers, stood, and grabbed the torch.
Even in the middle of the day it was rather dark where she did not open windows, and
still even then, it was not as bright as the vines were so thick, it let in very little light.

Aquila stumbled to the staircase and looked down the dark expanse. She bit her lip.
She slept in a room that was more like a small attic room above the second floor but she
had never ventured around the second floor. Why not? The wedding that was to have
taken place the same day that Alverdine's journal ended on would have been held in the
ballroom on the second floor. Something surrounded the second floor...something worse
than that of what she had felt when entering the library. It just grew worse and worse at
each step she took, drawing her closer to the second floor.

Aquila took a deep steady breath as she stepped onto the carpeted second floor. She
lit the two torches on each side of the stair case and then continued down the hallway.
The only way she would get the courage to open the ballroom doors was if she went
directly there and did not give it a second thought.

The hall seemed to go on and on, an endless tunnel towards the unknown, the
torches numberless. The flames cast shadows on the wall as she steadily made her
way. Time seemed to stand still, life on pause as the dread rose higher and higher to
what she might find. Why she thought she would find something, she had no idea. It
was just an empty room. It was an empty castle. There was no reason for her to
dread it. She was on an was not working. Nothing she could tell her
nerves would work. Her skin was crawling now and her hand shaking.

She almost jumped when she turned to light a torch and it was the door to the
ballroom. Quickly recovering, Aquila's shoulders rose in determination. Her
hand went to the door knob and she shoved the door open. She stepped inside
and lit the torches on both side of the door. Now she turned and jumped. The
silence that had pervaded her journey was disrupted with terrified screams.