A stranger walked through the marketplace. His clothing was of quality fabrics and fine stitching, if a bit odd in design and style. His long dark hair hung loose beneath a tall hat, though a streak of white ran through it on the left side. He wore a pair of blue-tinted round lensed spectacles that hid his eyes from those who glanced his way, and then looked away. Something about him, the hint of a shadow surrounding him, made more than one person uncomfortable.
For his part, the stranger looked at the people, at their clothing, and at the way they interacted with each other and barely contained a snort of derision. And this was supposed to be an Imperial city. They were so open, so unprotected, so secure in their own safety, so complacent. For an instant the desire to unleash havoc and destruction upon them was very strong, but he contained it. It wouldn’t do to lose control of his own instincts.
He scanned the crowd again and caught the tantalizing hint of a soul in turmoil. Now this was fascinating. He drew closer and saw a tall young man at one of the merchant stalls buying… a child’s doll? This grew better and better. There wasn’t a protected mind in the area and it took nothing to reach into them and gather the information he needed.
This was the Imperial Prince Primus Julian Krellian, called Jules by his family. He was in the market purchasing some few trinkets for a new sister, found just today in a cavern to the southwest of the city. A five-year-old girl with golden eyes.
So that was where she had gone to. He had gone to check on his captive and found her missing. At least the seals he had placed on her should still be active, or she wouldn’t still be a child without reason. She was proving to be exceptionally difficult to destroy, and he hadn’t had a true challenge in so very long.
Jules, apparently, was a pragmatic soul, who accepted the magic of his world as simply being, much like the storms and the weather. He was shaken because the finding of the girl was not so easily explained away. The foundations of his worldview were being chipped away.
Now this suggested all sorts of fascinating possibilities to the stranger’s sordid mind. It might be interesting to see what he could do to this Prince who so feared things out of his ordinary world. Possession would give him a tool to use to unhinge the fabric of the world, something to enable him to wrap the whole of the world in chaos and destruction, but it was very power-intensive. Coersion of any sort usually was. But if he could corrupt the Prince… convince him that his allies were enemies… that could be a very interesting step in the right direction. And it could very well put that golden-eyed child back in his hands again and then… and then he would be very creative in her suffering and torments.
— — —
Jules looked up at the strange man who approached him. “Do I… know you?”
“Don’t tell me that you’ve forgotten me, your highness.”
After a moment of concentration, Jules suddenly remembered being introduced to the man, Lukan, on a hunting trip a few years past. They had struck up something of a friendship during that time. “Ah, Lukan, forgive me. I had forgotten.”
“No matter, your highness. I have been away on business for quite some time. I just wanted to give you something that I found in my travels. I thought you might find it interesting.” Lukan handed Jules a book that was bound in red leather with gold scrollwork around the edges and the binding.
“Why, thank you.” Jules accepted the book with a curious look and turned it over a couple of times in his hands, examining it. He didn’t see the look in Lukan’s eyes, though it was most certainly not the sort of pleased look a friend would wear.
“I’ll be staying in town for a couple weeks, if you wish to find me.”
Jules nodded. “I may do just that.” He still looked at the book with an interest that bordered on fascination.
Lukan bowed. “Until then, your highness.” And he vanished into the crowd, a smile of pleasure on his face at a beginning successfully accomplished. Memory insertion was difficult, but not impossible. Particularly against an undefended opponent.
— — —
By the end of the day, it seemed, everyone in the Palace knew about Dauris, and about the Empress’ dream that led the Imperial family to her, and about her strange ways and odd manners. More than one courtier went out of their way to catch a glimpse of the little princess-to-be as the family prepared for the formal adoption, which was held privately in the Palace’s chapel.
Marus had more and more cause to smile as he watched his sister return the stares with a calmness that bespoke experience in being the center of attention, and none of the usual addiction that came from it. She didn’t go out of her way to draw their eyes, but she didn’t hide from them, either. The fascination of the courtiers was simply a fact, and she didn’t fight it. In a quiet moment he asked her why she wasn’t frightened of the stares or the attention.
She looked at him with calmly blinking eyes. “Why would I be frightened? They don’t really see me; they see a reflection of themselves, of their own fascination with the unknown or the strange. I am a barbarian, Brother, just as you called me, and they expect certain oddness from such a one. It is the same reason that young girls become fascinated with young men of androgynous appearance and dangerous behavior. The object is not as important for the girl’s growing identity, what she is drawn to is within herself; it is the masculine face that looks at her from within her own soul. It is much more difficult for the boys, because they cannot face the feminine that looks back at them, not and admit that it is within themselves. Androgyne is much more acceptable for females.”
Marus laughed then, because he knew how right his sister was, and he knew that a child should not be that aware. But as old as Dauris seemed to be… sometimes she was very much a child.
— — —
She started nodding off during supper, her head falling forward slowly and then suddenly jerking up as she came awake again, her eyes touched with fear. Grainne saw her and glanced at her husband with concern. Children often fought sleep, particularly the very young, but sleep was going to happen whether the young princess wanted it to or not.
The Emperor nodded towards his wife. “Perhaps it is time that she returned to the bower.”
Marus started to stand, nodding a bow to his mother. “I’ll take her.”
Grainne smiled her gratitude. “I’ll be there shortly.”
Marus scooped Dauris into his arms just before her face fell into her plate. “Careful, Little Sister.” She made a slight sound of protest as he settled her into his arms. “Do not be afraid. You are safe now.” With a sigh she relaxed, leaning her head on Marus’ shoulder. He turned to bow to his father, careful for his sister, and then left the dining chamber.
Not long afterwards Jules had to see Illian to his room, too.
Marus was met at the bower by one of the maids who served his mother. She saw the sleeping child and nodded to him, smiling at the adorable girl and leading them both to a small chamber which had been set aside for the little princess. A nightgown, improvised from a blouse of her mother’s, was ready and Marus quietly insisted on helping ready the child for bed, and then tucked her in himself. Before he left he laid a hand on her hair, gently, and kissed her forehead. “Sleep well, Dauris.”
She sighed in her sleep, and Marus took his leave.
— — —
It was called Destiny’s Sanctuary, as much because that was the woman’s name as it was what she did. It existed in a place between worlds, not sitting within any one sphere of influence, an island of sorts, with a large tree in the center around which was built a mansion of buildings and gardens and walkways between them all for the enjoyment and habitation of one woman… and her chosen guests.
This particular day, she sat at the base of the tree. To look at her, she didn’t seem to fit her name, though she did. She was a diminutive person, much smaller than a human would expect to be, with long reddish blonde hair that carried a very distinctive streak of white through it and very large eyes of a brilliant green color. Beneath her hair were hidden the distinctive points on her ears of someone whose bloodline… was something other than human.
She didn’t usually do her own spinning; she didn’t really need the physical thread and fabric to perform her duties or to manipulate the way that events played out around her. The concept of a “Loom of Fate” was, after all, more a complex metaphor than anything physical. But she enjoyed playing to the preconceptions of her role and sometimes, when she was working with complex situations involving a great many influences…
… well, anything she could get to help her focus was a good thing, particularly with the way her heart was scattered, taking with it her calm and concentration.
Today, though, Destiny was spinning. She was using a drop-spindle to twine the thread to a uniform thickness and the activity was relaxing as much as it was involving.
One part Moirai in a single body and one part Tyche, with all the complicated roles and positions implied by both, it was her task to oversee the relationship between events and to see that things proceeded according to plan, to see that there was a plan to the strange, chaotic snarl that was History and Life.
As she sat, spinning with seeming calm, a man entered her presence and he was most certainly not calm. He was a very large man, with dark grey hair and amber-yellow eyes. He was shaking with fury as he marched up to her. “Where is she, Destiny? Where is Goldeneyes? I heard her scream and then she went silent.” His voice rose in volume and fury.
Destiny sighed deeply. “She’s not dead, Simon. Wolf Eyes attacked her, but he didn’t kill her. I’d feel her death if that had happened. I’ve sent people to find her, but it’s going to take time.” She did her best to keep her focus on forming the thread in her hands. She was frantic with worry herself, but it would do her no good to panic. It would do Goldeneyes no good if she did that.
“Who did you send? Did that bastard get anyone else?” He was still in a rage, but at least he wasn’t shouting anymore.
She sighed deeply. “My son, the bard. He insisted. And the Dragoon. You know as well as I do that he’ll find his way to her somehow. Even if he has to fight his way past death to do it. He’s proven that in the past.” She took a deep breath. “And no, no one else was harmed. Goldeneyes sent her girls away before Wolf Eyes could catch them.”
He nodded slowly. “Where are they now? I’ll look after them if I have to while the others look for her.”
“They’ve gone to ground, as Goldeneyes commanded them to do in the event of an attack. She knew going back there was dangerous.” She looked up at him. “I trust she gave you a set of keys to her Retreat?”
He nodded. “Yes. Let me know if you find out anything.” Then he was gone and Destiny took a deep breath.
She looked down at the thread she was forming, watched as the grey thread took on a crimson color and closed her eyes for a moment against tears. “I’m sorry, Goldeneyes… more sorry than you know… but I can’t take the risk… not with you. I’ll find a way to make it all work out… somehow.”