The Firebird’s Daughter

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

Dauris looked up at the face… at the scar… and for a time she was dumbstruck.  Her mind was swirling with so many chaotic, incomplete thoughts that she could not form a coherent sound.  It wasn’t possible… but it was happening all the same.  Dreams were just dreams… but there was the man she’d seen so many times, the scar on his face just as she’d dreamed that he would have.

For his part, the young nobleman of Reis-Bohnen chuckled self-deprecatingly, uncertain of just why the young princess stared at him, though he supposed that it had to do with the fact that he had interrupted what was a private conversation.  “Forgive my interruption, your Highness, but I heard the voices and thought that I could be of assistance.”

Gabriel took a step forward, tense with anger.  He had to do something.  This was not the sort of circumstance that he had planned for and it set his teeth on edge.  He glared at the man he’d hoped to never see again.  “That will not be necessary.”

His words jolted Dauris back into coherency and she was suddenly filled with an over-powering rage, of such a strength that she’d never felt before.  She’d known that her father, her birth father, had been known for his towering rages, but she’d never actually felt one before.  She always thought that she took more after her mother, who was reputed to be the calmer of the two.

She wished that she could have known them.

She turned to look at her guardian, her voice trembling with anger.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”  Volume and pitch rose as she found her voice again and rage made it stronger.  “I asked and you were silent.  Why didn’t you tell me?!”

The nobleman was confused.  Something about this wasn’t making sense to him, but he didn’t like where it could be headed.  He’d had far too many shouting matches with his brother not to know the signs.

Gabriel glared back at her.  His princess and his charge, she was still just a girl to him, and one who didn’t have the right to question what he did or didn’t do.  “It was none of your concern.  You didn’t need to know.”

“Didn’t need to know?” she screeched.  “Did it never occur to you to wonder why I asked?  How I knew to ask?”  She grabbed a sword off a nearby display and approached Gabriel, getting her grip settled as she did so in a way that spoke of long training and competence.  “I should teach you the consequences of silence when asked those sort of questions!”

That did it.  As much as he didn’t want to cause any more of a scene than necessary, he couldn’t stand by as weapons were drawn.  And his curiosity was burning now at the way the princess, a sheltered, untrained princess by all accounts, was holding that weapon.

He put both arms around her shoulders and physically pulled her back from her homicidal stalk towards Gabriel.  Then he reached down and put one hand over hers on the weapon.  “Your Highness, let go.  There is enough grief in this place, let’s not add bloodstains in the hallway, please.”

She trembled in his grasp, incredulous at the sheer audacity of the man.  Her dreams had spoken of a deep friendship, but they were not friends yet and he was treading on very dangerous territory indeed.  “Unhand me, Nobleman, and I’ll ignore this insult.  How dare you lay hands on the Imperial Princess?”  It was a matter of decorum and something of protection as well.  It required someone of equal rank to restrain a person of noble standing.

He coughed slightly, embarrassed at the turn of events and at the revelation that he really didn’t want to have to make in this particular manner.  “Your Highness, I am not just a noble of Reis-Bohnen.  I’m the Crown Prince.”

The sword fell to the floor with a sudden clatter.

Gabriel’s jaw dropped as his mind simply stopped from sheer disbelief.  “You?” he finally said, “you?  Crown Prince of Reis-Bohnen?  It’s not possible!”

He simply shrugged depreciatingly.  “Why would I lie, Gabriel?  Why would I lie about something that is so easily verified given that I arrived here with the delegation from Reis-Bohnen and am known to all of them?  I am certain that her Highness has had the necessary instruction on the insignia for the highest nobles.”  He pulled off a ring from one of the fingers of his right hand and offered it to Dauris for her to examine.  “My personal seal, your Highness.”

Dauris took the ring with trembling hands and looked carefully at the image engraved on the top of it.  The royal crown speared through by the king’s sword and a ribbon around the hilt.  She nodded slowly as she gave the ring back to the Prince.  “It is the emblem of the Crown Prince.  My mother…” her voice choked up slightly, “my mother told me that Reis-Bohnen had found an Heir…”

The Prince nodded as he settled the signet ring back into place.  “They decided to give me the name Eiladar, your Highness.  If I might be so bold… what caused this confrontation in the first place?”

She sighed, not looking at Gabriel.  “I need to deliver something to my Uncle, the King of Castellan.  It was a final request from my mother before her death.”  She pinched her lips together from remembered irritation.  “I do not need my Guardian with me when I visit my own relatives within my own home.”

Gabriel glared at her.  “I cannot allow you to go anywhere unaccompanied.  The risks are simply too great.”

Eiladar looked at his twin and raised a curious eyebrow.  “What if I were to accompany the Princess?  I assure you that she would be completely safe in my company and that I would not allow any harm to come to her.”

The way Gabriel looked like that was the exact thing which he did not want to see happen was enough to convince Dauris.  “I find that to be a most excellent solution, your Highness.”  It helped that Gabriel lacked the authority to disagree with both of them, not without a direct order from Marus countermanding it.

For a moment Gabriel was silent and then he forced his expression to neutrality and nodded to Prince Eiladar.  “Very well.”  He looked at Dauris and his expression lost some of that neutrality, though she wasn’t certain what she was seeing in it.  He bowed to her.  “With your leave, I have matters to attend to.”  At her nod, he turned and left.

Eiladar sighed softly.  “You realize that he’s likely going straight to your brother, do you not?  I hope this isn’t going to cause an incident, your Highness.”

Dauris shook her head quickly.  “No, it won’t.  Not if I have anything to say about it, and I can make quite certain of that.”  She twitched her shoulders slightly and nodded her head to him.  “If it pleases you, I would like to meet with my Uncle so that I can fulfill my mother’s last wish.”

“Yes, that would be a very good idea.”

Gabriel grimaced at the sour twisting in his stomach as he made his way towards Marus, angered at the way he had been bested by none other than his own weakling brother, and infuriated because his brother now outranked him.

He’d spent years, merciless, grueling years, making his way to where he was now.  He’d earned his place here.  And his brother had simply fallen into a higher position like it was nothing!

The inequity of it gnawed at him.

Still… for all his anger and fury at his brother, he couldn’t help but remember the flash in the young Princess’ eyes as she stalked towards him, the way her eyes sparkled and glittered with gold flowing into the blue.  In a few years she was going to be a beauty to be reckoned with and he wasn’t certain how he felt about that.

Gabriel found Marus sitting in one of the private atriums that opened to the expansive gardens.  The young Emperor was seated in an elaborately carved wooden chair across from a dark haired gentleman wearing the garb of the Southern Empire.  Between the two was a small table and a wooden board with chess pieces.  Aside from a difference in complexion the two could have been brothers.

He grit his teeth at the sheer malevolence of Fate as he realized that Marus’ chess opponent was his cousin, Crown Prince Akhet.  The Northern and Southern Empires had never been what anyone would call “friendly”, so the fact that both Empires would be led by the offspring of twin sisters… made for complicated situations on even the best of days.

Gabriel made his entrance as inconspicuously as possible, but there was no mistaking the curious tilt of Marus’ eyebrows as he spotted his sister’s guardian as he leaned over to move one of his pieces.

Akhet saw the expression as well and glanced over his shoulder to see where Gabriel tried to stand patiently.  “Is something amiss, Cousin?” he asked, turning his attention back to the board to consider his next move.

“I should hope not, Cousin,” Marus replied with a slight chuckle in his voice.  “That one is assigned to guard my sister and if anything were amiss with her, he wouldn’t be trying to act invisible.”  He looked up from the board as Akhet made his move.  “What is it, Captain?”

Gabriel shook his head, half not wanting to interrupt the game and half just wishing to put off having to admit the situation.  “It can wait, my Emperor.”

Akhet lifted a curious eyebrow of his own.  “We are all family here, are we not?  How is my fair cousin?  My mother expressed great curiosity about her when I prepared to travel here and I was rather saddened to not have been introduced to her yet.”

Marus nodded slowly.  “She is… my sister is possessed of astonishing willpower and strength of opinion.  I wished to keep her out of general attention because her years are still so tender.  I would assume that she has found some means to circumvent me, correct?”  He looked directly at Gabriel and there was no mistaking that expression.

Gabriel suppressed the sigh of defeat and nodded his head.  “She insisted on visiting the Castellan delegation’s quarters.”

Marus frowned.  “Why are you not with her, then?”

He colored slightly.  “She commanded me to allow the Crown Prince of Reis-Bohnen to accompany her in my place.”

Both men looked at him in astonishment, Marus looking as though he didn’t quite know what to think.  After a moment, Akhet chuckled to himself and turned back to the board.  “I wouldn’t worry about it so much, Cousin,” he said, “she probably found the boy and decided to play big sister or something.  From what I’ve heard, he’s only six or eight or something like that.”

Marus looked up at Gabriel, knowing that there was more to the story than that.  He could read in the soldier’s manner that it was more than a pair of children sticking together.   “Well, Captain, was the prince a young boy as my cousin believes?”

Gabriel shook his head slowly.  “No.  A man, my age.”  He paused, stomach churning in anger and shame.  “With a scar, here.”  He traced the location of his twin’s identifying mark across his own face.

Marus hid his shock quickly and nodded.  This… this needed to be considered carefully.  They would have to discuss matters in private.

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Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

The Emperor would not long survive the loss of his wife.

Everyone, it seemed, in the Imperial City of Pallantia knew this fact, though no one would say it out loud.  They whispered in corners, growing silent when one of the Imperial family passed.  It was in their eyes when they bowed to Marus, who would be Emperor after his father.  It was in their voices when they greeted Dauris, who had sat at her mother’s side to the very end, and now waited upon her father in the same way.  It was in their hands when they wanted to reach out to Illian, but did not dare.

Sir Gallus was growing old.  He had been for years, but it was quickly becoming an issue, one he had delicately brought up to the Emperor’s attention.  The Emperor was aware, but was not certain that he would live long enough to see to Gallus’ replacement.  It was proving so difficult to keep his promise to his wife, to live long enough to see his daughter’s twelfth birthday.  So Emperor Matthias called Marus in to see him.

Marus approached his father curiously.  “You asked for me, Father?”

With effort, the Emperor nodded.  “Sir Gallus wishes to spend his remaining years with his grandchildren, if possible.”

Marus nodded.  “I will see to a replacement, if that is your wish.  I still do not trust my sister’s safety without a guardian, not after…”  He didn’t have to repeat the warning that Jules had given before his life ended.  The brother who had sought to kill Dauris all those years ago had not given up his goal.

The Emperor nodded.  “I have sent orders to recall a soldier.  He is a recent recruit, younger than I would like for the task but…”  The Emperor paused to catch his breath after a fit of coughing.  He had put some time into quietly tracking down where this particular soldier had been sent and looking into his performance record.  If he was right, if his daughter did dream, he owed her this opportunity, this chance to see the truth of her dreams.  “But he has only grown in the few years he has served us and has exceeded both expectations and promise though he is still a young man.  I do not know how he will react to such an assignment, but he is the best.”

Marus nodded.  “I would want only the best for my sister.  The soldier’s name?”

“Gabriel.”

Dauris came running when the servant told her that her father was asking for her.  She had only celebrated twelve the week before, and her new dresses were still odd feeling around her waist, but it was a definite improvement.  Her immediate fear, though, was stilled when she came into the Emperor’s chamber to see that he was not alone.  Marus stood at his side and kneeling before them, his back to her, was a soldier in armor, helmet at his side.

The Emperor took a deep, shaky breath.  “Daughter, come to me.”  His voice was so weak.

Dauris came walking up to her father slowly and reached out to take his hand in hers as she did so.  “Father?  You called for me?”

He nodded.  “Sir Gallus…”  He took another deep breath.  “Sir Gallus wishes more time with his grandchildren.”  Dauris nodded.  She was not surprised.  “This soldier is to be your guardian in his stead.”  Dauris turned her head to look at the kneeling soldier.  “His name is Gabriel.”

Dauris felt the strength drop out of her knees and she abruptly sat down on the edge of her father’s bed, unable to keep from staring at the face that looked back at her.  A face she never thought that she’d see, not in reality, not outside of dreams.  “G-gabriel?”  She spoke in a stunned whisper; her voice would not strengthen beyond that.

Marus felt his heart stop for a bare moment at his sister’s reaction.  What was happening?  “Sister?  Do you know this man?”  Could it be possible?

Dauris forced herself to breathe normally.  Gabriel’s face, so familiar, was not the one she wanted to see, the one she feared that she would never see.  His brow was unmarked, unscarred.  The name was the same, the face the same, but he was not the one she had seen more than once as a dear friend of hers and a shieldbrother to the wolf that followed her trail.  She stood and took a step towards the soldier who would be her guardian.  “Do… do you have a twin brother?”  She had to ask.  She had to at least ask before she gave up hope entirely.  “A twin brother with a scar here?”  She drew a line with her fingertip across her forehead, above one eyebrow, that went into the hairline.

She saw his eyes widen.  He wasn’t expecting the question.  When he didn’t answer immediately, she sighed and turned back towards her father, sitting down again.  “It is well enough.  You do not have to answer.  I just…”

The Emperor gripped her hand and fell into a fit of coughing, and immediately Dauris was distracted with trying to calm him.  “Daughter?… This man’s twin…?”  He could not speak, could not catch his breath to finish his question.  He had to know, before he died, that his daughter’s dreams would find their way, that all their preparations would somehow be enough to carry her through.  He owed her that much for the gift that her intervention had given him.

Dauris nodded.  “Yes, Father, if such a man exists, I have seen him.”  She shook her head, tears in her eyes.  “But I do not think that he does.”

The Emperor’s coughing faded and he sank back into his pillows, a small, sad smile on his face.  “Do not worry, my daughter.  Dreams… will not be denied.”  He reached up to gently touch her face.  “You look so much like Grainne… when she was young, and challenged me.  My daughter …”  He seemed to look beyond her and his eyes brightened with what might have been joy.  “Grainne?”  His hand dropped and Dauris caught it, pressing her face into it to hide her tears.

“Father?”  After a moment she set his hands down across his chest, tears still wet on her cheeks as Marus gently reached out and closed his father’s eyes.

“He is gone, my sister.”  His voice was kind.

She nodded, another tear falling.  “There will be arrangements…”

“I will see to them.”  Marus looked up at Gabriel.  “See her to the bower and then return to me.”

Gabriel saluted him and then stood to follow as the young princess walked slowly from the room.

When Gabriel returned, Marus took him aside as servants saw to the body of the old Emperor.  “You never answered my sister’s question.”  He kept his voice low, private.  “I would know the truth of the matter.  Do you have a brother, a twin, with a scar as she indicated?”

Slowly, reluctantly, Gabriel nodded.  “Yes, my liege, I do have such a brother, but he… we have not laid eyes upon each other for years.  I do not know where he is, or what he has become.”  Gabriel paused.  “If I may be so bold, the princess… does she dream Castellan dreams?”

Marus looked thoughtful.  “She has never spoken of such to me, though I am hardly the one she would confide in.  Father knew something, so I would think such dreams likely.”  He sighed and then took on a commanding stance.  “Do not speak to my sister of your brother.  She is not to know about him.”

Gabriel nodded in understanding.  “Yes, Lord Marus.  I hear and obey.”

Delegations from every nation started arriving for the funeral, and the Imperial coronation that followed.  Dauris wished to meet each of them personally; it was her place as the only female in the family to see to the needs of their guests.  Marus, though, decided otherwise.  He would be the one to greet their guests, and Dauris was to stay in the bower.  There would be time, later, for her to meet her cousins of the South and of Castellan.

Dauris lay on her stomach in the elevated bowl that was her bed and played tug-of-war with her dog and an old towel that had been knotted up just for such a purpose.  Little Brother pulled on the towel and twisted his body just like he was fighting some creature, but both of them knew that it was just for fun.  Dauris sighed in frustration.  Some days she felt just like Nii-chan, always pulling on something that was always held back from her.  Just when was she going to be able to give Mother’s letter to Uncle Ainmire of Castellan if she couldn’t meet with them personally?  And just what was in the letter that was so important that she had to be the one to deliver it to him?

After a moment Dauris sighed loudly and let go of the towel.  The dog, still very much a puppy, fell backwards with the lack of resistance.  For a moment he was still, then he took hold of the towel and shook it back and forth, growling like he was attacking some small creature, and then dropped it and tried to lick Dauris’ face.  She actually giggled and grabbed her friend and held his wriggling body close to her for a time.  She couldn’t hate Marus, not after all that he had done, no matter how infuriating he was or how insufferable or how pigheaded.  Especially when she thought of the look in his eyes when Nii-chan had run up at him barking like he was four feet tall to the shoulder and three hundred pounds instead of maybe fourteen inches long nose to tail and perhaps four or five pounds.  And he had been smaller when they’d found him.

She let go of Nii-chan and sat up.  She wasn’t going to let her brother keep her from delivering the letter, but she had to handle this discreetly.  Maybe she could find one of the Castellan knights in the hallway.

Dauris clutched the sealed letter in her hands as she looked both ways down the hallway outside the bower.  She wasn’t even certain why she was so nervous, but something in the air teased senses she hadn’t used in… at least a century.

She took a deep breath.  She was born of nobility, born for leadership.  She was not going to cower in her rooms like a child when she had a task to do.  She was born of Pendrac, and Ailis, and claimed Nianna as her nursemother.  She was better than that.

Nii-chan wagged his tail cheerfully as he followed her into the hallway, his toenails clicking against the smooth stone as they set off in search of the apartments which had been set aside for the Castellan royal family.

She was almost there when she felt the shadow fall over her and heard a far too familiar voice clear his throat.  “Princess, I thought you were staying in your bower for the afternoon.  It’s not safe out and about like this.  Who knows what could happen to you?”

Dauris barely contained the wince as she realized that Gabriel had found her and that getting to her uncle and cousins… was going to be more difficult than she had wished.

Even after all these years, he still wasn’t used to people bowing to him.  In his mind, he still thought of himself as Bastion, just trying to find a way to survive with a little brother who depended on him.

But he wasn’t really Bastion to anyone but himself and his brother anymore.  Once there was another brother… but he’d vanished from their lives and Bastion hadn’t seen or heard from him since.  He wondered, sometimes, where the other had gone to, what he was doing with his life, how he was surviving… but it was the sort of thing he really couldn’t let himself obsess over.  He had other things to do.

He’d arrived in Pallantia just that morning and was still recovering from the journey.  He’d left his entourage back in the apartments that he’d been given and was wandering the hallways, not really looking for anything in particular, just seeing what was there to see.

He turned a corner and saw one of the pages watering a potted plant.  “Oh, your Highness,” the boy said, bowing as he passed.

He stifled a chuckle and bowed his head to the boy, smiling at the way he blushed all the way to his collar at being noticed.  Yeah, he never was going to get used to that sort of thing.

He turned another corner and heard voices.  Out of curiosity, because there wasn’t anything else going on and he wondered if he might be able to actually help someone, he followed the sound to where two people were arguing.

Dauris turned to look at her guardian, forcing her shoulders straight.  She was nobility, damnit, she wasn’t going to act like she was doing anything the least wrong by walking the hallways in her own home.  “I never said that I was going to remain in my rooms the whole afternoon.  I have things I need to do and I’m going to do them.”

Gabriel looked at her, struggling to remain calm because she always seemed to know how to annoy him.  “Perhaps I could assist you then?”

Dauris pinched her lips together in frustration.  She really didn’t want to deal with having Gabriel following her every move as she did something like this.  This was her mother’s last request of her.  This was something she had to do herself.  “No, thank you.  This is my home.  I refuse to be afraid to walk in my own home.”

“I insist, your Highness.  It is my responsibility.  What is it that you seek to do and I will give my utmost to assist you with all speed.”

“No, Gabriel, I am perfectly capable of seeing to this myself.”

Gabriel was at his wits end with the girl, though he admired her strength of will, even though it made her incredibly frustrating to deal with.  “I insist.”

She was about to say something else, when a man turned the corner and interrupted them.  He was tall and broad-shouldered, just like Gabriel, though instead of the armor that her guardian customarily wore, this man wore the thigh-length tunic and hose that were common in the border nations, and from the quality of the velvet and the detail in the trimming and such, he was one of the nobility of those lands.

Gabriel whirled, a snarl rising up from him when he saw the man who had arrived.  “You… what are you doing here?”

The man blinked in surprise.  “Gabriel?  What…? I’m here for the ceremonies, I’m… I’m the envoy from Reis-Bohnen.”

Gabriel stepped to put himself between the man and Dauris.  “Leave here, now.”

Dauris rolled her eyes.  “Gabriel, what has come over you?  This man is an envoy from another nation!  It’s my responsibility to greet him!”  She stepped around him and took her first really good look at the man and her eyes widened as she looked up into his face.

There was the scar on his forehead that she’d seen so many times in her dreams.

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Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

Marus thought that he was making progress on deciphering what Jules had discovered.

Granted, he didn’t have the book that had guided Jules, so he didn’t have much of the source material, but from the notes that his brother had left Marus felt that he was gaining something of an understanding of the power that had so tempted Jules.

And the power… the potential was great indeed.

There were people, individuals gifted from birth with the ability to alter the fundamental nature of reality in a way that wasn’t just greater than magic, it was something completely different.  And greater than these gifted ones were the “Speakers”.

Primary among them was the “Mother Speaker”.  Not because she was the most powerful; they all were equal, he supposed, in power.  But she was primary because she was the most active, the most approachable, if one knew the proper channels to use.  It was just a matter of finding those channels.

Marus was walking through the Palace complex when he was approached by a tall, thin man in a white garment.  The man seemed almost nervous, but then Marus was rather proud of his oddness and so the oddness of another didn’t bother him.  He did, however, notice the dark round-lensed spectacles that the man wore.

“Your Highness, if I might have a moment of your time.”

Marus nodded curiously.  “Yes…?”

“Ah, pardon me, forgive me, my name is Vulkos Revier.  I am a doctor, a scholar of sorts.  I understand that you have been seeking volumes of… an esoteric nature of late and I was wondering… hmm, I was curious about whether you would be interested in investing… in assisting in some research.”

“What sort of research?”

“I have been looking into, investigating, some artifacts of ancient date.  The potential in them… I wish to know how they were made and I wish to know how to make more, and I wish to study individuals who show… hmm, particular resonance to these objects.”

Marus raised an eyebrow.  “Artifacts?”

“Yes, Highness, of four centuries past.  I seek to reclaim the knowledge of the wanderer who assisted Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon.”

Marus raised both eyebrows.  Now this… this was intriguing.  “Tell me more, please, Doctor.”

Lukan watched the conversation from a safe distance, looking at the reflection in a bowl of water.  His own magic did not lean towards scrying simply in the silences of his mind, though there were others…

Two years he’d been cultivating the good doctor and it looked to him as if the new tool was doing his job quite well.  The doctor, a true scientist, was easier to corrupt than the Prince had been.  In truth, he’d been halfway there already.  He even had been eager to change his name, and the glasses… that was the man’s own stroke of brilliance.  Inspired by his compatriot in research, naturally.

If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

Late in the afternoon, Grainne called her family together.  Her time was coming quickly, and she knew it.  As they gathered around her, Dauris and Illian sitting at the foot of the bed with Marus on her left hand, and her husband on her right, Grainne looked at all of them and sighed.  She missed Jules terribly.

“Mother?” Marus asked.  “Why did you ask for us?”

Grainne took a deep breath and nodded to one of her maids, Stella, who walked over to a shelf and brought over a box to the Empress.  “I wished for you to witness something, my sons and my husband.  The time has come for me to pass something on.”  She opened the carved wood box and pulled out a silver bracelet.

It was a wide band of silver, open like a crescent moon, but carved with vines and flowers curling around an oval shape on the top.  There might have once been a stone set in that oval, but there was not now, and it did not look incomplete for the absence.  Dauris’ eyes grew large when she saw it.

“Mother, that’s pretty.”

Grainne laughed softly.  “Now my daughter notices jewelry.  Your suitors will be hard pressed to catch your eye with anything less than the most unusual or the most unique.”  Marus covered his mouth to hide the smile and Illian blinked in surprise.  The Emperor, though, smiled large and openly, even though his health had not been good since his wounding two years earlier.  “This, Daughter, is an heirloom of my house, one that is known throughout all the noble houses.  It has passed from mother to daughter for four hundred years, since the time of Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon, and though it sometimes leaves, it always finds its way back to Castellan.  I give it now to you.  Know that if you are ever lost or alone, show it to one of noble birth, or one in close service to nobility, and it will proclaim whose daughter you are, so that you can claim what is rightfully yours.”  She reached forward and placed the bracelet in her daughter’s hands.

For a moment Dauris simply looked at the bracelet, then she looked up at her mother with tears in her eyes.  “Yes, Mother, I understand.”

Marus looked at the bracelet, and at his sister, and at his mother who was dying in front of them, and wondered what had passed between them when no one else was around.

Dauris slipped the bracelet on her wrist, but it was still so big around her arm that she had to put it over her sleeve.  Another year or two and she would grow into it, though.

Grainne nodded to her children, told them to run and play and enjoy themselves for what remained of a glorious summer afternoon.  Illian and Dauris left quickly enough, though Dauris paused to kiss her mother’s cheek.  Marus followed soon afterwards.  Grainne looked at her husband, and held a hand out to him.  “Would you stay with me, my husband?”

He looked startled, and carefully sat down next to her.  “I thought that you wished privacy?”

“I do, with you.  Our daughter… she is almost as odd as Marus some days.”

He nodded.  “You dreamed of her, though, and so she is ours.”

“I dreamed of our sons, too, before their births.”  She paused.  “Do you remember how we were given Illian?”

He smiled.  “The courtiers still whisper the tale in corners some nights.  Three days in a row you came unannounced into the council chamber to request my presence in your bower that evening.  I was… flattered.  Our son… means a great deal to me.”

“I dreamed of him before I went to you.  I dreamed of a son who would be innocent and a joy to both of us.  I wanted that son so much…”

Something in the Emperor, in the man Matthias, broke then.  “You have dreamed of our sons and you have dreamed of our daughter.  Grainne, why have you never dreamed of me?”

She smiled at him though tears were falling down her face.  “Why?  I always dreamed of you.  I never spoke of it because I was never as strong as my sister, and I was afraid that you would not have me if I told you that it was because of dreams.  You were so very proud, Matthias, my love.”

Matthias drew in a painful breath.  Hearing the words after hoping for them for so long… it was too much to believe and yet he ached that the words were only said now, when they were so close to parting.  “I was very proud, Grainne.  I would not have believed you had you told me of dreams when I was young and sought cause for war.”  Tears began to fall down his face as well.  “But why wait until now to tell me the truth?”

“It became… habit.  I had you in my life, and I had our sons, and I thought… I thought that dreams were unnecessary.  I thought that you didn’t need to know.  Our daughter… our daughter told me otherwise.  I just wanted you to know the truth before I pass from this life.”

“To imagine that a foundling daughter would bring me such a gift…”

She took his hand, squeezed gently on it to interrupt him.  What she had to say mattered more to her than dwelling on lost years.  “Matthias, our daughter dreams.”

He sighed.  “Yes, Grainne, she dreams, but she does not believe in her dreams.  She told me the day you brought her home.  I promised her that day that if she had cause to run that she would have my permission.  Is that why you gave her the bracelet?”

She nodded.  “Yes, so that she has a bridge back to her home here.  Her dreams warn her of her brothers.  One will try to stand between her and the man she sees in her dreams, this man who will be her friend and ally and maybe more than that some day, this man who would fight against his own blood to save her.”

“Not Illian.”

“No, not Illian.  Never Illian.  She has told him and he wishes to help her find this man she does not believe is real.”

“Her brother will be Emperor after me, and I… I do not know how long I can be without you, Grainne.”

“He will have the right to keep her from running.  He will deny her the permission that you have promised.  He dotes on her so very much.”  She sighed, struggling to breathe through the weakness in her body.  “She must be free to run to Castellan.  I saw it in my dream.  He waits for her there.”  She paused.  “Castellan will come here for the coronation of the next Emperor.  My brother would travel personally for the coronation of his nephew.”

“Our daughter is still only eleven years old.  She is too young to run.”

“Then you must survive, Matthias, until she is twelve.  At twelve she will wear the clothing of a woman grown and will have begun her transition.  At twelve she could be a fosterling in my brother’s court until she is of age to find her own way in life.  I will write a letter to be given to my brother; I will tell him about our daughter and beg his help.  He is of Castellan and will believe in Castellan dreams.  I will tell our daughter to deliver it personally.  It may be that Fate will smile upon us and the one she dreams of will be part of my brother’s cortege.  Please, Matthias, survive.”

He smiled through his tears.  “How could I ever deny you anything, Grainne?”

“I love you, Matthias.”

“I love you, too, Grainne.”  He leaned forward to softly kiss her, tears mingling on their faces.

Several days later Grainne called Dauris to her in the privacy of the bower.  She held a sealed roll of paper.  Dauris looked curious.  “Yes, Mother?”

“After I am gone, I want to you to deliver this letter to my brother, King Ainmire of Castellan.  I need you to do this personally, Dauris.”

Dauris nodded.  “I understand.  What is in it?”

Grainne smiled.  “Nothing that you need to worry about now, my daughter.”  She paused, collecting her thoughts.  “If you have to go to Castellan yourself, in the merchant’s district there is a shop run by a dwarf.  His name is Kodran and once upon a time he was my friend.  He is also something of a father to the streetlings of Castellan, and many know him through them.  The streets of Castellan would be much more dangerous for the streetlings if not for him.”

“Is that how you knew him?  Did you walk Castellan’s streets under his safety?”

She smiled again.  “Yes, Daughter, I used another name and I walked Castellan’s streets as a streetling whenever I could escape my maids in the Palace.  Without Kodran… it would not have been safe.”

Dauris nodded.  “I will see your letter delivered, Mother.”

“Thank you.”

Summer faded into autumn and the Empress faded with the year.  With the falling of the first snow, she died with her family around her.

For weeks Dauris was inconsolable.

Finally, Illian and Marus had had enough, and Illian marched into the bower to confront his sister.  “Marus wants to take you for a walk and I want you to go.  All you do is sit in here and cry.”

“I can’t help it.  I’m a girl.  I’m supposed to cry.”

“I know that!  And I cry too.  I will for as long as I live.  But we turn twelve soon, and you need to do some shopping for the party, which we will have in spite of everything.  I thought you were looking forward to giving up the short bodices.”

“I was, but without Mother…”  She looked down at the bracelet that she still wore.  In point of fact, she even slept with it on.  It felt… comforting.  She had only the dagger to remind her of the mother who had died before she could be born.

“Dauris, a walk isn’t going to hurt you.  Please, if you lock yourself in here then Marus… he’s already going strange again when you aren’t around.  Take him shopping with you.  Gallus is with his grandchildren today and it can just be the two of you.”

“What about you?”

Illian looked down at his feet.  “Father… Father and I are going to take care of some matters.  I’d rather not have Marus around when we do.”

Dauris blinked.  “What are you two up to?”

“Father is… Father is transferring the right to negotiate your match to me… So that Marus can’t use that to keep you here if you are, in fact, having Castellan Dreams.  He seems to think… that you’re dreaming of a match.”  He flushed slightly.  “Especially since the Princely Knight keeps showing up again and again.”

She nodded slowly and then sighed and rolled her eyes.  “Why is it that the presence of a male figure in a dream automatically makes people assume it’s that kind of dream?  He could just be a friend.”  She took a deep breath.   “Alright, let me get my cloak.”

Marus waited for Dauris at the entrance to the gardens.  She had to smile at him when she saw the worried look in his eyes.  She still feared that one day they would be on opposite sides in a war, but she could never hate him.  She loved him too much.  Especially after what he had done for her after Jules died, and before.

For a while they simply walked in silence, enjoying the coldness of the air.

Then one of the females of the court walked by, all done up in tasteless wealth, walking her utterly useless lapdog that was almost as arrogant as she was.  Oh, she bowed to them, they were higher on the social ladder than she was, but Dauris had seen how she treated everyone else.

Still, Dauris was better bred than to snort in her face.  She saved the giggles for after the woman was out of hearing range.  “Did you see that dog of hers?  I’m surprised the poor animal can still walk.  She tends to carry it everywhere with her.”

Marus was cheered greatly by the way Dauris laughed.  It wasn’t full laughter, she almost never did that, but it was still better than the silence.  “Lapdogs are all the fashion the last couple of years.  Almost every female in court has one.”

“I don’t.”

“Do you want one?”

Dauris actually stopped still for a moment.  “I was adopted by a dog, of sorts, when I was a baby.  She decided that I was her puppy because I didn’t have another mother.  The woman who raised me would laugh about it, but dragondogs tend to get what they want.”

“That isn’t answering the question, Dauris.”

“I know.  I just… I never thought about having a dog, or a cat, or anything of that sort.”

“Well, it would have to be an unusual animal, certainly.  No dust mop dogs for my sister.”

She chuckled.  “I’m partial to short-haired animals myself.  Easier to clean up after.  Or ones with fairy wings.”

They continued walking and talking until they were almost out to the market where Dauris slipped on a spot of ice, falling flat on her seat as her feet flew out from under her.  Marus looked at her, startled.

“Are you alright, Sister?”

She laughed, more at herself than anything else. “Yes, I’m fine.  Just give me a moment and I’ll stand up.”

Marus reached a hand out to her to help her up when a small brown shape ran up from an alleyway, barking madly at Marus.  It startled him so much that he actually backed up a couple steps.  Then the small shape turned towards Dauris and started whining and she realized that it was a small dog, a puppy, barely even weaned, and it was cold and frightened.

“Oh, baby, what are you doing out here by yourself?”  Before Marus could stop her, Dauris opened her arms and the tiny dog jumped into them, trying to burrow into her warmth.  “Oh, sweetheart, oh you poor dear.”  She wrapped the dog in her cloak to try to warm him up.

Marus looked at the two of them for a moment in stunned amazement.  Then he threw back his head and laughed.  “Oh, Heavens, some days I have to wonder if someone up there doesn’t have a twisted sense of humor.”

Dauris looked at him curiously.  “Why do you say that, Marus?”

“Because that is exactly what you did when we first found you, Dauris.”  He reached out his hand again and she took it with the opposite hand from the one holding the little dog close to her.  He helped her to her feet and looked at the puppy, still smiling.  “I believe we found you a lapdog.”

She looked down at the puppy, and had to smile at the big brown eyes that pled with her for warmth, and food, and safety.  “I’ll call him Little Brother, Nii-chan.”

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Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

The body of the fallen Prince was laid out in honor, and laid to rest in honor, and the shame of the crime attributed to the one who had corrupted him.  Marus saw to the cleaning of the knife and personally returned it to Dauris, who nodded her thanks.  “I will protect you, little sister, from this kinsman who would use even your own brothers against you.”

“You are sinister, too.  You know this.  I warned you, before.”

He nodded.  “I swear to you, I will not surrender to the darkness.  I will be your ally.  I will be your protector.”

“You would accept me so readily, with all my oddities and my age-inappropriate knowledge and experience?”  She sounded so strangely vulnerable.  So frightened.  “Even though my presence in your family has already led to the death of a brother?”

He shrugged.  How could he explain to her the immediate acceptance that he had felt from the moment they met?  “You are odd.  So am I.  I like it that way.”

And when she had problems sleeping, as she had when they had first brought her home, Marus held her long into the night so that she would know that she was safe.  She told him about the nightmares, about how she watched her mother’s soul forced out of her body to try to kill the unborn child within her.

In the weeks after Jules’ death, they spoke of many things.  But she didn’t speak of the dreams that she wasn’t sure she believed, of the events she still saw when she slept.  Strange scenes of war and bloodshed and allies in unexpected places, of friends loyal to the last breath.

Still, she dreamed of a strange figure, a wolf who tracked her down for motivations of his own, but always seemed to stand protective over her, nuzzling her gently with his great head.  She dreamed of him so often that she was certain that he could not be real.  But in this world of Castellan dreams… how was she to know?

In his hidden retreat, Lukan paced back and forth.  The tool had gotten himself destroyed.  And now this mysterious, unknown, goldeneyed female was warned as to his presence.  Lukan wasn’t even certain what powers she would, or would not, have. The destruction of the book had unleashed quite a bit of his power with it and if the girl was what he feared… well, he had no way of knowing what one of those could do with his power.

Lukan growled in frustration.  He wanted so much to destroy that Motherborn female who called herself his sister and prevent her from ever spawning the destroyer.  He knew that the Motherborn could be destroyed.  They were as mortal as any other being, and even the First Ones were known to die.  He’d seen it with his own eyes.  He had dispatched Hunters to deal with the Pearl Shard and without her Knight it was only a matter of time before they succeeded.  But until he had her body lying at his feet…

He growled again.  The only good thing in all this was that his goldeneyed sister was the last.  There would be no more Motherborn shards wandering around disrupting his plans.  She had declared that herself when she finally told them all who she had been before she was made Nameless.  If only he could find a way to get to the Mother Speaker herself, and end this whole maddening mess.

But until they were all dead, there was the risk, however faint, that progeny had been born to destroy him, and that he could not tolerate.

The Prince had failed.  Lukan pulled in a calming breath.  Very well, he would try again.  Find another tool to use.  He could not approach the next Prince in line, not directly at least, so he would find someone more easily corrupted, someone already inclined to care less about the methods than the results, someone to whom power would be very tempting…

After a time, Lukan had calmed himself enough to walk the streets on this world of Castellan dreams, a Mother-sent madness he was sure, in search of his next “ally”.

Marus climbed the steps in Jules’ tower, now empty and abandoned.  Something in what his sister had shouted to Jules lingered in his mind, and would not leave him.  What was it again?  Ah, yes, “Motherborn”.  Something about goldeneyed girls being Motherborn.  Something about how there might be others.

He sighed as he entered the chamber atop the tower and looked around at the scattered papers and books strung haphazardly on floor and table and shelves about.  This was going to take a while.

It took a good hour to get everything gathered up, the papers in neat piles on the table that had been cleared of anything else and the books back on their shelves.  Marus knew his brother’s handwriting on many of the papers, though there was a hand on some of them that he did not know.  He could only presume that it belonged to the mysterious “Lukan” who so terrified his sister.  He packed the papers into a bag that he had brought.  He would have to transport the books back to his rooms later; he could not be away from Dauris for very long, not while she was so hurt.  With a sigh he wondered what could have rendered his sister, who normally had such a grown-up attitude that it hurt, so delicate that she could not sleep for fear of attack.

For a moment Marus felt fury rush through him at the thought of Dauris, eyes wide and staring, watching the empty room around her as if she expected attack from the shadows.  He had to protect her.  He had to ensure that no one would ever be able to hurt her again.  But to do that, he needed the power to destroy someone who could corrupt even a man like Jules had been.

Well, Jules had been seeking power, too.  He would have to be careful.  It would not do to be corrupted by the very forces he sought to combat.

A young man with reddish-brown hair marked by a brilliant streak of white was calmly walking through the halls of a retreat he had built… well, quite a while ago.  Like most of his kin, apparent age, in this case around nineteen or twenty, was nowhere near accurate for how long he’d been wandering.  He hadn’t intended to stay here for very long this time, there was something of a massive search going on and while one had been sent in one direction, he’d elected to go looking for a different lost kinswoman.

He felt the shuddering in the energies around him and stopped completely still, one hand still holding the crystalline flute that he’d picked up to carry with him from his collection of various musical instruments.  Then the faint rippling became a massive jolt and he shivered as he realized that an incredibly powerful object had been destroyed.

And something in that explosion felt… familiar.

In an instant he was in another building, in another world altogether and he fairly ran forward as he looked for the tree in the center of the floating island.  She was usually there.

Destiny Dreamsail looked up at the man’s entrance and blinked.  “Riordan?  What are you doing here?”

“Mother, something’s happened on the world of Castellan.  I wanted to let you know.  Something incredibly powerful was shattered.”

She tilted her head in curiosity and then stilled herself, looking inwards to see the cause and effect of things and then she let out a held breath with an explosive sigh.  “Ah Elar… Wolf Eyes is there…  He’s trying to get his claws into the Imperial Family…”  She pinched her lips closed in frustration.  “My sight is blocked and the only one capable of facing Wolf Eyes I’ve sent in another direction entirely.”

“I’ll go, then.  I’ll keep an eye on things and see if I can spike his plans.”

She reached a hand out to grab his, squeezing hard.  “Be careful!  We’ve lost too many to him and his Master.  I don’t want you to be added to that list.”

He grinned at her in a way that always reminded her of his father.  “Of course I’ll be careful, Mother.  What else would I be?”  Then he was gone again and Destiny sat back shaking her head and murmuring something about the idiocy of charming bards.

Years passed and sleep, for Empress Grainne, brought no rest.  Night after night she found herself running after her daughter who seemed determined to run off a far cliff. In desperation Grainne looked at the bracelet that glinted silver on her wrist.  It was old and strong, perhaps it would go where she could not.  She pulled the bracelet off and threw it to her child.  The bracelet became a bridge for Dauris to cross and on the far side a man waited with his arms outstretched to receive her.

“Where are you going?” she called out.

“To Castellan, Mother, and the source of our dreams.  You must follow another path. You cannot go with me.”

“But I love you.”

“Love me enough to let me go, Mother.  I will always be your daughter, but I cannot always be your daughter.”

Grainne woke to the sound of crying from Dauris’ chamber.  “Dauris?” she called out, too weak to stand and go to her.

After a moment the girl emerged from her chamber, still wiping tears from her face.  “M-mother?  Y-you called for me?”  She sat down at the edge of her mother’s bed.

“You were crying.  What is wrong?”  It had been two years, could she still be crying over Jules?  They all still mourned him, each in their own way.

Dauris caught herself on another sob.  “I woke alone.”

Grainne blinked in surprise.  “You dreamed?  My daughter, have you had Castellan dreams?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted with a sob.  “I have odd dreams a couple times a week, in the cavern it was every night, and I just don’t know!”

Grainne reached out and pulled the unresisting girl into her arms, nestling her close on the bed.  “Tell me about these dreams.  It may be that I will be able to help you.”

Dauris sighed, resting her head on her mother’s shoulder and laying beside her.  “They’re always different… sometimes it’s just images, but this one was like I was watching a story unfold… one where I was part of it.  There… there was a knight and he was my friend and when I woke up he was gone.”  She sniffled as tears started up in her eyes.  “They were all gone.”

“What did he look like?  Can you show him to me?”  That was something that had changed since the destruction of the book that had corrupted Jules.  Dauris had started showing abilities beyond magic – in the form of illusions, both visual and auditory.  She used them mostly to entertain her mother, who was bedridden and terribly bored most of the time.

With a thought, Dauris created a small image of the man from her dreams, his dark blond hair swept back from his face, his short-trimmed beard, and the scar on his forehead that went into his hairline.

“Oh my,” Grainne said, “he is handsome.  What was he doing when you dreamed of him?”

The image shifted and changed until Grainne could see two men dueling on a bridge.  One, in bright armor, had the scar and his hair flowed almost to the tip of his collar.  The other, in dark armor, did not have a scar and his hair was trimmed very short indeed. Otherwise, they were the same.  Beside the one in bright armor there was a huge wolf fighting, almost as tall at the shoulder as the man’s waist.

“What he’s usually doing when I see him in my dreams.  Trying to get to me and having to fight his way through his brother and mine to do it.”

“His brother and yours?”

Dauris nodded.  “Gabriel just wants to fight.  I’m an excuse more than anything else.  There I am.”  A figure in a red and gold dress – a grown-up Dauris – appeared off to the side running towards the dueling brothers and the wolf.  “Sometimes I wonder, though, how much of an excuse I really am to him, because of his reaction every time that happens.”  The Dauris-figure threw herself between the brothers and the dark one caught her with a sword thrust intended for his brother.  The stunned grief in the figure’s reaction was unmistakable.

As was the roar and snarl of rage from the wolf.

“And that happens every time?”

“Yes.  He’s always very sorry for it afterwards.”  The figures knelt around the Dauris-figure, who lay in the arms of the bright one, leaning against the side of the wolf, her hands on her wound.

“What is the wolf there?  He looks just as angry over your wound as the Knight is, like he would kill that man for hurting you.”

Dauris looked at the figures for a moment.  “I’m not sure who or what he is.  He shows up in all my dreams.  Usually he’s hunting me.  Sometimes he’s standing over me because I’ve fallen over something.  Illian thinks that he’s a protector… I think Illian reads more romance stories than I do.”

Grainne chuckled softly because she knew full well that Illian read more of the stories written for adolescent girls than her daughter did.  “Be that as it may, it does not mean that he is wrong, you know.”  She understood, now, what the dream had tried to tell her.  The path that she was walking was different from the one her daughter would have to walk, and she could not be with her while she walked it.  But she could give her some gifts to make the journey easier.

“Dauris, if you have had Castellan dreams, then they will not be denied.  They will happen.  Someday you may run from here, run to follow your dreams as my sister would have run to her Emperor.” She took a deep breath.  The giving of names… had a power of its own.  “If you must run, sweetling, take with you a new name.  Become Riva, little daughter, that you might regain strength.  And know that no matter where you go or what you become, you will always have my love.”

Dauris started crying again.  “Yes, Mother.  I understand.  I just don’t want to lose you.”  The hints of a wail could be heard in her voice.

Grainne smiled and turned her head slightly to kiss Dauris on the forehead.  “Those we love are never gone from us.  No matter what happens.”

Dauris sniffled through her tears.  “I have heard others say much the same thing.  I just… I don’t know how it can be true.”  The pain of losing the mother of her first birth was still such a tearing ache on her soul that the thought of losing a second one… was almost too much to bear.

“Someday you will, when you find the man of your dreams, and look into his eyes and know that he will never be lost to you.  No matter what happens, or what separates you, you will always have him, and that is all that matters.”  Something in Grainne’s voice caught Dauris’ attention and she looked at her mother in curiosity.

“Mother?  Did you ever have Castellan dreams of a man?”

Grainne smiled.  “I dreamed of my sons, each of them, before they were born.  I dreamed of you, before you came to us.”

“But have you ever dreamed of Father?  Please, he… he wants you to dream of him.  He wants it so much.  He would give up everything to know that you dreamed of him, if only once.  He loves you, Mother.”

Grainne sighed.  She wasn’t going to answer the question, and after a moment, Dauris laid her head back down and started showing her mother pictures of some of the other dreams that she had had over the years.  That led into creating a story and making images to go with it, and they were still talking long into the morning.

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Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

Marus carefully mounted the winding steps of his brother’s tower.  He knew, as did they all, that his mother could not, and not even he would ask this of Illian or Dauris.  So Marus chose to lessen himself for the greater good.  He would plead with his brother to return home, at least for the celebration, now less than a week away.

He entered the main chamber to find Jules working with something on a table.  There were pages everywhere, and books scattered about, alongside jars of specimens and herbs and on one end of the table there was a small cauldron with a tiny fire underneath it, burning merrily away.  The contents of the cauldron boiled and bubbled and steamed in a strange mixture that made Marus’ nose itch.

His sneeze caught Jules’ attention.  He looked up at him and blinked several times to focus his eyes.  “Marus?  What are you doing here?  I asked not to be disturbed.”

“That was several weeks ago, Brother, we became concerned.  Illian and Dauris will be celebrating nine this week, and they wished for you to attend.”  It was very difficult for Marus not to tear into his brother for worrying them all so much.

Jules turned back to whatever had him so fascinated.  “I don’t know that I’ll make it.  I am very busy.”

For a moment Marus lost control of his temper.  “Mother is dying, Jules.  How could you be so busy that you would worry her and sap away what strength she still has?”

Jules looked up at him, astonished.  “Mother?”

“Yes.  A little more each day.  We don’t talk about it, mostly we try not to think about it, but she’s wasting away little by little and there’s nothing any of us can do.  And every time I go to see her I can see how much she worries about you and it’s killing the rest of us.”

Jules looked down and for a moment he seemed tired, sorrowful and so very tired.  “If I could just unlock a little of the power…”

“What power, Jules?  What power could be worth not being there when your mother needs you?”

Jules sighed.  “The power to Heal her.  Tell them I’ll be there.  Somehow… I’ll be there.”

Lukan noticed the change in Jules almost immediately.  “Highness, what troubles you?”

Jules looked down at the book.  He carried it with him everywhere he went; even now he was absently turning pages, not really seeing anything.  “My brother came to see me.  Mother is dying.”

Now this was interesting.  Such tones of genuine concern.  How could any concern for his family remain after so long immersed in the book?  This prince was made of interesting stuff.  Well, if there is something one cannot destroy, the next choice is to use it.  “When did she become ill?”

Jules shrugged.  “I don’t know.  She was always delicate, but that was just the way she was.  I never gave it much thought until…”

“Until?”

He sighed.  “Until the day we found Dauris.  Before Illian returned with her, Mother had a spell.  She lost her breath and almost didn’t regain it.  She laughed it off, said we were worrying over nothing, but… I knew something was wrong.”

Ahh, an opening, and so wonderfully presented, too.  “So this started when your sister arrived?”  Jules nodded slowly.  “Is it possible… I do not know how to ask this without seeming rude.”  Jules looked at him and frowned, and then nodded him to continue.  “Is it possible that something in your sister is causing this condition?”

Jules drew in a startled breath.  “How would that be possible?”

“The book… it spoke of persons gifted with power, persons out of the ordinary, if she were such a one, and required energy from a living being to sustain her life…”

Jules looked very troubled indeed.  “How would I be able to tell?  She has always been odd for a child, but I have not sought out her company.”

Lukan shrugged.  “Power knows power.  Such a one might fear the book, fear the knowledge it holds in the hands of one outside her control.”

Jules sighed and stood to leave.  “I need to study the book some more.  Maybe something in it will give me the wisdom I need.”

Lukan nodded.  “Have a care, Highness, if she is such a one, to have survived any length of time she would need to be wily to the extreme, and powerful.  We could learn much from her, if we had means to study her.”

Jules left, book in hand.  Lukan went back to his drink with a feeling of satisfaction.  With a little careful timing, he would have this golden-eyed girl in his hands by the end of the week.  Then he would know if she was truly what he thought she was, and if she was… then she would die.

The party was a success.  They had chosen a hall with a polished wood floor, and white walls with gold trim.  Along the outer edges were braziers burning brightly against the winter chill and at one end was a stone dais upon which sat chairs for the Emperor, the Empress, and the guests of honor along with their brothers, only one of which was there at the start of the evening.  The two guests of honor smiled and nodded at all the courtiers and entertained many by joining in the dancing and simply having fun.

But it would have been difficult to miss the way that the whole Imperial family turned their heads every time the doors to the hall opened as someone entered or left, or the way they seemed to be waiting for something, for someone.  Waiting, until the door opened and Jules walked through.

From the way their faces lit up, it was obvious that this was the highlight of the evening, at least for the Imperial family.  But something was off.  Something was wrong.  And the first one to notice it was Dauris.

“Brother,” she called, “where… where did you get that book?”  There was a slightly worried tone to her voice, a hint of an edge.

He looked down at the red-leather volume still in his hand.  He had almost forgotten that he was still carrying it.  “A… a friend gave it to me.  It is the most amazing book.”

“A friend.”  The flatness of her voice was telling.  “What did this friend look like?”

Jules looked confused.  “He called himself Lukan.  Here, let me show you.”  Then he waved his hand and produced an amazingly lifelike illusion.

Dauris didn’t know which made her scream, the image, the fact that Jules had managed to produce it when she knew full well that their magic did not include the production of illusions, at least in this manner, or the fact that the one who called himself Lukan was wearing those thrice-damned glasses that haunted her nightmares.  The scream, though, startled the courtiers and sent them scurrying for the exits, even as Gallus came running towards her from his position towards the edge of the dais.  It didn’t take long to empty the room.

The only one who wasn’t startled by her scream was Jules.  He had produced a sword, she didn’t know from where.  For all she knew he could have managed to materialize it out of thin air.  Goodness knows she used to be able to do that very thing.  Jules stood, holding the sword at the ready, looking at her without the least bit of compassion in his gaze for the sheer terror he had caused.  “Scared, little sister?  Don’t worry, there’s more where that came from.”  He banished the image with a motion.

The Emperor stood from his seat and took a few steps forward.  “What is going on here?  Jules, I demand to know why you are threatening your sister.”

“She’s an abomination, Father.  She’s a demon from another world and if I do not destroy her she will drain the life out of each and every one of us.”

Marus glanced over at Dauris.  “That image…?”

“The one who tried to kill me.  The one who is my uncle, who attacked me and left me to die in a cavern I could not escape from.  The one who hunts me as much because I will not serve his master as because he fears that I can destroy him!”  She threw the last as if it were a challenge towards Jules.

Marus narrowed his eyes.  So he was right to put a guardian on his sister.  “Jules, this is madness!”

“No, Brother, this is Power!”  He raised the book, showing it to them.  “This is the Power to make the Empire unassailable.  Magic like you have never seen, the ability to transport troops in an instant, or assassins if need be, the ability to create weapons that cannot be used against us, even the Healing needed to make Mother whole again!”

From where she sat, Grainne paled and Illian put a hand over hers.

Dauris groaned.  “It’s the book.  Ah Elar, Everlasting Immortal, it’s the book.”  She looked up at him and spoke louder, pleading.  “Jules, I beg you, destroy the book.  Please!  It’s using you, taking over your mind.  It’s not really giving you anything.  If you don’t turn your back on it now you will end up a slave to the one who made it.”

The Emperor looked at Dauris.  “You know of these things?”

“I’ve seen them once or twice.  Even heard about one that looked like a wedding band, and it was one of the worst about taking over the one who carried it.  I swear to you, by any oaths that you will accept, Jules isn’t in his right mind.”

Jules laughed.  “Now I see, you have them all enthralled, demon-witch!  I know all about you, how you journey from land to land, drawing the life out of those around you to maintain your youth.  I knew that you were evil from the moment I saw your inhuman eyes!”  Again he laughed, and the sound chilled Dauris to the bone.  “I will cleanse the Empire!  I will be the hand of justice!”  He lunged towards Dauris, but at the last moment, the sword moved in his hand and he struck the Emperor.

There were cries of shock as the Emperor fell back, blood falling onto the stone of the dais.  Marus paled as he caught his father and eased him down.  “Damn you, Jules!  What have you done?”

Dauris dropped to one knee and reached just under the hem of her dress, grateful that she had thought to get Gallus’ help in rigging a leg sheath for her to carry her knife.  She hadn’t even known why she had strapped it on for the party, just an odd feeling in the back of her mind.  “You don’t know anything, Jules!  There might be other goldeneyed girls out there, stranger things have happened, but each and every one of them would be Motherborn, and the Mother doesn’t give golden eyes to a villainess.”

She stood, holding the knife in one hand.  “Or didn’t your precious book tell you about the Speakers?”

Jules actually looked unsure of himself.  Like he was fighting against the compulsion, but he wasn’t winning.  “Demon-craft, that is what you speak.”

“No, Jules, I don’t.  I can’t.  It’s part of what who and what I am.  It’s why I knew that you were dangerous from the moment I first saw you.  Sinister, that’s what you are.  Sinister doesn’t always become a threat.  Sinister can sometimes be an ally.  But sinister is always dangerous.”

Marus looked at Gallus, who nodded and tossed him his sword.  Marus caught it easily and stepped forward to put himself between Jules and Dauris.  “My brother, you are hereby judged guilty of treason in the form of assault on the body of the living Emperor.  It is my responsibility to bring you to justice.”  His voice actually cracked.

Illian started forward.  “I will help you, my brother.”

Dauris put her arm out to stop Illian.  “Don’t you dare, Illian!  You are innocent.  The blood of a kinsman, the guilt of fratricide, must never be on your soul.  Guard Mother.  She is innocent, too.”  She took a few steps forward to stand beside Marus.  “I will stand with our brother.”

Jules laughed at her even as he lunged again, and his blow was blocked by one from Marus.  “I will destroy you, witch!”

“I’d rather you not use that term to describe me, Brother.  Each and every definition is inaccurate when you try to apply them to me.  My magic is not that of a human of the forest, nor am I an ancient hag living in a swamp practicing some occult magic, nor am I a worshipper of such entities that bestow witchcraft.  If you knew half of what you think you know about me, you wouldn’t even have to be told that.”

The battle, such as it was, was not fair.  Jules was trained, and trained against multiple opponents, but while Marus was fighting him, Dauris was aiming for the book, and on a lucky swing she caught it through the front cover with the knife that she carried.  None of them were prepared to hear the book scream, though.

Jules stumbled and dropped the book, even as Marus struck him with a swordblow.  He fell to his knees, one hand against the bleeding wound, as Dauris gave the book a few more slices for good measure and then carried it over, still on the point of the knife, to one of the burning braziers that stood at the edges of the room.  The fire made quick work of the paper and leather and Dauris turned back towards her brothers.  But then there was a burst of energy from the disintegrating book and it knocked Dauris to her knees.  Something inside her cracked from the power released by the death-throes of the book that had been created to corrupt and enslave her brother.  She struggled to her feet again and returned to Jules’ side.

Jules was gasping for breath when she knelt next to him and gently placed his head in her lap.  He looked up at her and his eyes were clear through the tears falling from each side.  “Oh, little sister, what have I done?”

She sniffled through tears of her own.  “It’s not your fault.  It was Wolf Eyes, Lukan.  He is to blame for this.”

“But I… I attacked my own father.  I attacked the Emperor.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.”  He raised his voice.  “Forgive me, Father!”

The Emperor nodded slowly, tears in his eyes that he would not allow to fall.  “I forgive you; lay the blame on him who corrupted you.  Let us call healers…”

Jules tried to breathe, but it sounded shallow, and rattled in his chest.  “I will not survive this wound, Father.  I am broken too deeply; Lukan’s claws pierced too deeply into my soul…”  He looked at Dauris.  “Lukan seeks your life, little sister, and he will not stop.  He sought to have me take you for testing, and his methods… are not gentle.”  She paled, but nodded.  Jules turned to Marus.  “Finish it, Brother.  You will be a better Heir to Father than I was, and when the day comes, you will be a better Emperor.”

Marus tightened his grip on the sword he held.  “As you wish, my brother.”

Dauris shook her head.  “No, my blade has killed before, and it might do the magic that it carries some good to be used for a mercy stroke.”

Marus nodded slowly.  “Very well, but wait a moment.”  He looked up at Gallus.  “Carry Mother back to the bower and take Illian with her.  They don’t need to witness this.”  Gallus bowed and quickly lifted his Empress in his arms.  Illian walked beside them, his hand holding his mother’s.  He met Dauris’ eyes as they passed and she could see tears in them.  Tears to match her own.  When they were gone, Marus looked at the Emperor.  “Do you wish to leave, Father?  So that you do not know with your own eyes which of your children strikes the blow that kills your eldest son?”

The Emperor shook his head.  “I am Emperor still, not just a father.”  He paused.  “It will not change anything for me to see which hand wields the blade.”

Marus nodded and then knelt next to Dauris.  She gripped the blade tightly.  “I must, my brother.”

He nodded again and then took her hands in his, four hands held the blade, layered around the handle as the siblings gave it direction, plunging it into Jules’ chest.  They were able to give him one last gift.  It was quick.

Tears coursed down Dauris’ cheeks as she raised her face and howled for grief.  Twice more she howled, sounding so much like a grieving wolf that it was almost unnerving, if it weren’t so appropriate somehow.  Then she fell silent and did not speak for quite some time.

They pulled the knife free and as their hands separated, Marus held his out to her.  “Give me the knife, my sister.”  Slowly she handed the bloody knife to him, laying it in his hand.  “You are nine years old, little sister, they would whisper.  I would spare you those whispers, if I can.  I must be holding the blade when they return.”  She nodded her understanding.

And so it was, when the bravest of the courtiers returned they found the room empty except for a wounded Emperor, his grieving daughter, the heir-that-was dead, and the heir-that-was-now holding the blade that had taken his life.

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Chapter Six

Chapter Six

Jules couldn’t get his mind off the book.

He knew that he should be concerned about his sister, about how she had acquired a knife of such unusual design, about how she had acquired a knife at all, much less such a unique knife, one that had killed, and one which she, apparently, knew how to use to defend herself.  He should be concerned with why a five-year-old child would need to know how to use a knife.  He should be investigating how such a child could be abandoned by her family, by an uncle whose responsibility it was to guard and to protect her.

But he couldn’t get his mind off the book.

It teased him, the richness of the leather, the texture of the paper, the way the printing upon the page almost seemed to make sense, when he looked closely and concentrated.  He had to read it; he had to decipher it; he had to get back to it.  It was the most frustrating book that he had ever seen.  It was the most fascinating book that he had ever seen.

When asked about the nature of the print, Lukan merely shrugged at him.  “Perhaps you will be the first to unravel its meaning, your Highness.  My learning was not sufficient to the task.  I believed that you, with your superior education, would have better luck.”

Jules determined then that he would not allow a book to defeat him.  However long it took, whatever it demanded of him, he would conquer this book.  This was a war, and he was, after all, the descendant of the Warlord himself.

He studied its pages late into the night, and rose as early as he could wake himself to begin again.  He stopped visiting his mother every morning; though for some weeks it was an intermittent absence.  He barely noticed the passing of the time after a while, as season followed season.

It was not a fruitless struggle, though.  He found that he could find sense in a sentence here, a paragraph there, a full page every now and then.  He took every opportunity to sit with Lukan discussing the wisdom and the knowledge that was slowly making itself known to him through the pages of the book.  Jules found Lukan to be a most helpful fellow scholar.

It was a book of magic.

But the knowledge hidden in the pages of the book was not simply the spells and the enchantments that Jules had learned in his own childhood.  This was magic that superseded all the magic that he knew, went above it and beyond it into the realms of pure possibility.  Healing that could raise the dead, the ability to create items through the power of the will and the mind alone, instantaneous travel from one place to another unlimited by wards or barriers.

But how to harness this magic?  How to bend it and shape it to his will, so that the Empire would be unassailable under his rule from any threat?

How indeed?

Grainne felt listless, tired, as she set her embroidery down for the fifth time.  She was attempting to add some embellishment to what would become a gown for Dauris, who was growing rapidly.  She looked across the room at her daughter, who lay on her stomach across from Illian, lying similarly on his stomach, as the two of them played a game on a wooden board with stones of clear glass.  Peacefully playing together as they should… though there had been days when such peace was hard-won.

In a few weeks they would celebrate the ninth birthdays for both of them.  After some discussion it had been decided to treat the two as twins for the purpose of such celebrations.  Marus joked on occasion that they certainly argued like twins when Illian got it into his head to be very much the little boy and pick a fight.

It made no difference to Dauris when they marked her gaining of a year.  She was counting down until her twelfth year so that she could finally set aside the short bodices that were appropriate for young girls.

Grainne smiled, then, at the memory of the fight that had broken out when the maids began to fit the gowns to the little princess.  Dauris did not like short bodices.  And that was phrasing the matter mildly and with great restraint.  After much yelling and screaming and only after Grainne had commanded her obedience had Dauris reluctantly acquiesced to the gowns.  But only until her twelfth birthday.  Upon that day she insisted that the waistline of her gowns shift to her natural waist and stay there.  With a brief nod, Grainne had agreed to the concession.

She never had asked why Dauris disliked the bodices so much.

Dauris looked up at her sigh and frowned a little in concern.  It was becoming ever more difficult to disguise her decreasing energy from the little girl, who was unusually observant.  “Mother?  Are you well?”  She asked at least three or four times a day.

Grainne smiled.  “Yes, Dauris, I am well.  My years are merely making themselves felt, that is all.  One day you, too, will have more years than you can conveniently remember.”

Dauris looked at her with a flat expression.  She didn’t believe any of her protestations of health, and she certainly didn’t accept the explanations offered, but thus far she hadn’t made much issue over the matter.  There were other concerns in the family.

Jules had not come down from his tower in weeks.

He had built it a year before, as a place of study and retreat; a place where he could be with himself and his thoughts.  None of them were happy to see him move his things into the building at the far end of the Imperial grounds, but then, none of them had any grounds to stop him, and he had become so distant, even before that.

Dauris sighed and turned back to the game.  “He had better come to the party.”  She didn’t have to say who she spoke of.  Jules was on all their minds more often than not.

Illian didn’t look up from the game.  “Do you want to see if we can sneak in and prank him good?”

Dauris shook her head.  “No, I’d rather not go anywhere near there.  It feels wrong.  Very wrong.  And that worries me.  If I have to go in after him, though, I’m not going to be very happy about it.”

Grainne frowned at her daughter slightly.  “I am his mother.  It is my place to coax him home again.”

Dauris looked up at her with that flat expression again.  “You can’t walk out to the garden without stopping three times to rest.  The only way you are getting out to that tower of his is if someone carried you, and we’re more than willing, but the height differences between Marus and Illian would make it difficult to manage.”

Grainne smiled at the mental image of a carry-chair tipped precariously to the front or to the back as her sons tried to lift it.  Dauris was right though; there was no way that she would be able to make such a journey.  Not anymore.  She sighed sorrowfully.  “I miss him.”

Illian sighed.  “We all miss him, Mother.  He had better be at the party.”

Dauris nodded her agreement.  “Or I’m going in after him.”

When Grainne laid down for her afternoon rest, Dauris and Illian quietly left the bower to find distractions elsewhere.  Lessons were in the mornings, afternoons were for themselves.  By longstanding agreement they didn’t speak until they had finished climbing their way into a secret retreat in one of the trees in the garden.

They had built it themselves one summer, with generous help from a few choice adults.  A treehouse, a real honest-to-goodness treehouse almost completely hidden in the branches of a particularly large and leafy tree.  And it was all theirs.

Illian spoke first, once they had ascertained that there was no one else nearby.  “Did you dream again?”

Dauris nodded slowly.  “Yes, last night.”

Illian found a scrap of paper that they kept in their retreat, one of a stack on which he kept notes.  He made a marking with a charcoal stick and tapped his lip with it as he thought.  “That’s the third time this week.”

“I dreamed every night in the cavern.”

He nodded.  “Was it still a wolf this time?”

She sighed.  This was all a useless exercise to her mind, but her brother liked to hear about her dreams, so she lost nothing in giving in.  “Yes, a large wolf, the largest I’ve ever seen.  He’s following my trail, even as I’m running through a forest… I trip and fall and he catches up to me but instead of attacking, he lunges… and stands above me to growl at something else.”

“He’s protecting you.”  He always leapt to that sort of conclusion.

She did her best not to roll her eyes at him.  He was a hopeless romantic, but it was one of his more endearing traits.  She wasn’t so certain of the creature’s benevolence.  “If you want to think that.  He could have simply been telling other predators that I was his prey, not theirs.”

“I still think you’re dreaming about a protector.  But not Gallus… he didn’t trail you.”

“It could mean anything at all, Illian, or nothing.  For crying out loud, Mother’s dreams sent you and Jules and Marus trailing after me in the cavern.”

“But that was years ago, Dauris.  You wouldn’t still be dreaming about it if it had happened already.  This is someone you’re supposed to meet still.”

She shook her head.  “I’ve had nightmares for most of my life that I don’t always understand, but I’ve never had a dream that showed something that hadn’t happened yet.”

Illian nodded, still thoughtful.  “It is very strange.”  He tilted his head as he looked at her.  “You look like you’re my age… but you sure don’t sound like it sometimes.”

She shrugged.  Sometimes the mask chafed and she had to let it slip.  “If it makes the adults happy to think that we could be twins, I’ll not argue with them.  I like… I like having a brother than I can trust as much as I trust you.”

He flushed at the comment and smiled happily.  “It is nice to be trusted.”  He sighed then, and returned to the papers.  “I have to do something.  Why don’t you just tell everyone that you’re dreaming?  Castellan dreams are not to be denied.”

She sighed, still convinced that there was nothing foreshadowed in the visions that plagued her during the night.  “That didn’t stop Father from trying to stop Mother’s sister from following Castellan dreams.  And we still don’t know that this wolf is anything other than my brain creating a phantom of all those who would try to hurt me.”

“But the wolf stands over you, tries to protect you.”

“That still doesn’t mean that I trust the intentions of anyone who would try to protect me.  Marus wants to protect me, and I don’t trust him even though I adore him.  And what do we do about Jules?  He’s become so strange…”  She looked down, shaking her head.

He had to concede her point.  “So what do we do?  We need to talk to Father about this.”

“Father… Father told me that if I were to run away from Pallantia after Castellan dreams, that I would have his permission.”  The admission was softly voiced.  “I don’t know if he remembers, but he wouldn’t have survived as Emperor if he didn’t pay attention to what he promises.”

“Then we have to make certain that you have that permission.”

“He dotes on you almost as much as Marus does me.”

Illian nodded reluctantly.  “It’s weird, sometimes.”

There was a tapping on the tree trunk below them.  Dauris looked out a window in their retreat to see her Guardian, Sir Gallus, standing at the base of the tree, looking up at them, a smile on his face.  “Are you done yet up there, Lady Dauris?  I am not certain how much longer I can appear to be looking for you.”

She smiled at him.  He was such a grandfatherly bodyguard, and they never lied to each other about the fact that a bodyguard was exactly what he was.  The only reason he gave her any privacy in this treehouse was because she always came here with Illian and it was in the middle of the Palace grounds.  “We’ll be down in a moment, Gallus.”

He nodded and backed off a ways.

She looked back at her brother.  “We’ll figure out something.  Still, it could all be for nothing.  My dreams might simply be dreams.”

Illian smiled.  She always made this argument.  “You can’t fight Castellan Dreams, Dauris.  They’re gonna happen.  They always do.”

She shrugged and they crawled their way back out of the tree.

Gallus was waiting for them a short distance away from the tree.  “Ahh, there you are, Lady Dauris.  I was beginning to get worried about you.”

She grinned and ran up to him for a hug.  There were days, oh, there were days she loved being a child and having a child’s freedom.  Short bodices notwithstanding.  He lifted her into his arms and hugged her as tightly as he would any of his grandchildren, and then reached out and ruffled Illian’s hair for good measure.  Illian glowered but endured it because adults were always doing that to him.

“Has the baby gotten here?”  Dauris asked in an excited voice.  Gallus’ daughter-in-law was expecting another grandchild for him any day now and Dauris was almost as excited about it as Gallus was.

Gallus grinned and nodded.  “A messenger just found me not even an hour ago.  If you are willing to let me lead your wanderings then we might be able to go see them.”

Dauris grinned and clapped her hands.  “Please?”  She looked over at Illian.  “I gotta go see the baby!”

Illian grinned.  “May I come, too, Sir Gallus?”

Gallus nodded.  “Yes, young lord, I don’t see why you couldn’t come too.”

Gallus’ son, Krecian, was waiting for them at the house that they kept in town.  He grinned at his father’s approach with the two children in tow.  “I see that you brought friends this day, Father!”

Gallus laughed.  “They insisted.”

Dauris shouted out eagerly.  “Merchant Krecian!  Where’s the baby?”

They all laughed.  “Sleeping,” Krecian told her, “and I am threatened against my life if I wake her.”

“Babies sleep better when there’s noise around them, or they’ll never be able to sleep through anything when they’re older.”  Dauris paused.  “Her?  The baby’s a girl?”

Krecian nodded and led them through to the room where his wife rested.  Dauris immediately calmed down when she saw the tiny bundle, her eyes going wide and taking on a strange longing.

She walked up to the new mother respectfully and bowed.  “May I… may I hold the baby?”

At a smiling nod, Dauris sat down carefully and reached her arms out to receive the bundle.  She looked down into the crunched and wrinkled face and smiled.  “Oh, you are precious,” she whispered.

Illian looked at the little baby and frowned a bit.  “She’s so small, and so wrinkled.”

Dauris grinned at her brother.  “She’s been squeezed in a very confining space for as long as she can remember.  You were wrinkled when you were born, too.”

The tiny child blinked her eyes open and looked up at Dauris and the Princess smiled at her.  “Hello, little one, welcome.  Life is going to be very confusing for a while, and you are going to be very frustrated sometimes as you learn to communicate with those around you, but you have a good family and you have brothers to protect you and that is a great deal there.”  For a moment Dauris felt a bit of frustration of her own.  The child was important; she was of great importance, but she couldn’t tell how.  She sighed and held the child a moment longer until she started making unhappy sounds.  With great reluctance she gave the child back to her mother.  “She’s hungry and I don’t have what she wants.”

There was soft laughter as the mother began to carefully nurse her child.

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Chapter Five

Chapter Five

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.

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, patiently spinning, a man entered her presence.  He was larger-built than she, with a pale complexion and dark black hair, his eyes a sinister seeming yellow-gold color that was most definitely not natural in origin.  He, like she, looked much younger than his actual experience, seeming to be just out of his teenage years, if that.

“You called for me, my Lady?”

She hid the deep sigh and simply nodded, keeping her focus on forming the thread in her hands.  “We have a situation, Aleister, and I need your old skills.  I need you to find someone who’s been lost.”

He lifted a curious eyebrow.  “Lost?  The great Destiny has lost someone?  Why don’t you just locate them on your Loom?”

She shook her head.  “It’s more than a little complicated, Aleister, and I need you to track her down.  You’ve got skills that I don’t have and you can go places I can’t; that’s why you agreed to work with me, remember?”

He nodded shortly.  “What should I do when I find this woman you have lost? And can you give me any clues about her whereabouts?”

“I need you to protect her; it’s as simple as that.  I need you to keep her alive because she’s not going to be able to do that on her own, I know that much.  She’s a Dreamsail, like me, so she’ll have a streak of white in her hair, which will be some shade of blonde.  She was last seen fighting for her life against no less than two of Wolf Eyes’ Hunters, and Wolf Eyes himself was fast closing in on them.  They were on FaerieEarth during the turn of the millennium at the time.”

“She is likely dead, then.  Or wishes she were.”

Destiny shook her head.  “No, her death I’d be able to see.  If she were dead, I would know.  She’s alive, but she’s not going to stay that way without your assistance and your protection.”  She looked up and met his eyes.  “Please, she’s a kinswoman of mine.”

He sighed deeply and bowed to her.  “I hear and obey, my mistress.  Do you have anything which I might use to follow her trail?”

She nodded.  “Over there on the bench, it’s a necklace she made.  It’s a talisman.  She’s too well-trained to leave soulstones lying around and I’m not in a position to ask for them.”

He walked over and picked up the necklace, a piece of woven links in gold with red, purple, and milky white stones interspersed among them.  “A talisman?  What did she fashion it to do?”

She chuckled.  “Appearance alterations, small ones.  Hair color, eye color, skin pigmentation, and so on.  The minor forms of Shaping for pure aesthetics.”

He nodded.  “Can you give me anything else?”

She paused for a moment and then shook her head.  “I’ll keep in contact and try to keep you updated in case I find out anything.”

He bowed shortly and left with a swirl of his dark blue longcoat.  She watched him leave and only when he was gone did she allow herself the deep sigh that she’d been holding back.  She looked down at the thread she was forming in her fingers and watched as the neutral grey slowly bled away to reveal a deep crimson color.  “For what it’s worth,” she murmured softly to no one in particular, “I’ll see that you have the reward you would never seek… in time, Aleister.”

Grainne smiled at her sons, the next morning, as they entered the bower for breakfast.  Illian ran in demanding to know where his sister was.  Marus grinned.  Grainne nodded to her littlest boy.  “She’s still asleep.”

Illian pouted.  “Aww, still asleep?  How much sleep do girls need anyway?  I’ve been up for hours.”

Grainne looked at Marus and Jules for confirmation and received nods from both of them.  Illian woke them almost with the sun wanting to see his sister.  It had been all they could do to delay him this long.

One of the maids took a step forward to quietly speak with the Empress.  “I could check on the little Princess, my lady.”  Grainne nodded and the maid curtseyed to the Princes and then left the chamber.

A moment later they heard the maid scream in fright.  Looking startled all four of them ran for the room and found the maid standing terrified, and Dauris backed up against the wall beside her bed, holding a knife in her hand, pointed outwards.  The knife was of the oddest design, stag-horn and bone with a thin edge of metal.  Dauris saw them and gasped in relief, collapsing to her knees on the bed.

Marus walked around the maid to calmly take the knife out of his sister’s hand, even as Grainne stepped forward to pull the girl into her arms.  “Dauris, what frightens you so?” Grainne asked.

Dauris sobbed in relief and remembered fear.  “Nightmares.  I can’t… I can’t let them hurt me!”

Marus looked at the knife curiously.  With a glance to his mother for permission, given with a nod, he cast a small magic upon it and saw the glow of blood along the edge.  “This blade has killed.”

Dauris nodded, burying her face in her mother’s shoulder even as Illian approached to take her hand.  She grasped his tightly.  “I have carried it for as long as I can remember… since the day I first drew breath.  It… it has magic.  There’s a sheath… under the pillow.”  She whimpered softly.  “It’s the knife that was used to cut me from my mother’s body.”

Marus retrieved the sheath, it was deerskin and had long straps that would hold it on an adult’s hip while going across the chest, and put the blade back in it, winding the straps around it into a bundle.  He set the bundle back on the bed and looked at his little sister.  “Who hurt you?”  His voice was icy with anger.

Dauris sighed and sat up from her mother’s arms, rolling onto her stomach so that she could reach out and take Illian’s other hand.  She rested her forehead on one arm with another sigh.  “A kinsman… an uncle.  He tried to kill me before I was born… an attack of his locked me in that cavern.  I was supposed to die there.  If he finds out that I live nothing will stop him from finding me and killing me.  He’ll send his Hunters; unleash his killing Hounds…”

Illian’s eyes went wide.  “An uncle?”

“Yes, an uncle.”  She paused, and almost smiled.  “Do not be afraid, Illian, you are my brother and I do not fear you.  You would never do anything like that.”

He sighed in relief.  “Good.  When I get bigger I’m going to find this uncle and I’m going to make him pay.”

That made Dauris look up suddenly at Illian, her eyes frightened.  “No, do not seek vengeance, not even for me.  You are innocent.  Please, I need you to stay innocent.  I survived, that is all that matters.”

Illian nodded slowly.  “Okay,” he paused a moment, “but I’m going to stay with you.”

She smiled.  A child like him would be nothing to the one who sought to kill her, but the sheer gallantry in his offer touched her heart.  “Maybe you could teach me some games.”

Grainne shooed the boys out of the room so that she could help her daughter dress for the day.  As they left, Marus watched his fist tighten of its own accord.  Illian might be an innocent, but he wasn’t, and he wasn’t going to let anyone threaten his sister.  Even if that one were kinsman of hers by blood.

As soon as she was dressed, Dauris and Illian went out into the gardens to play, and Marus watched them leave.  He nodded to his mother and paused long enough to kiss her cheek before he, also, left.  But he wasn’t going to find distractions this day.  He had to find his father, and ask a favor.

The Emperor looked at his middle son curiously.  “A Guardian?”  He wasn’t certain that he’d heard Marus correctly.

Marus, though was adamant as he stood fearless in front of his father, knowing that he wasn’t the elder son, wasn’t the Heir, but he was not going to let this request be made by anyone else.  “Yes, Father, from our personal guardsmen, the strongest and most trustworthy if possible.”

“Why would this be necessary?  She is still a child, and in the bower no less.”

Again, Marus felt his hand clench of its own will.  “Dauris has admitted that it was a kinsman who was responsible for her being in that cavern, that she was left there to die.  She fears his retribution should her survival be uncovered and I do not wish for her to be unprotected should that day happen.  She is ours now, and she is ours for a purpose that does not include her death at the hands of a kinsman, no matter who he might be.”

The Emperor thought a moment.  There were several recruits who showed promise, but they were untried and this was not the task for an untried guardian.  Perhaps one of the older ones, who would not take such an assignment to be an insult.  After all, following a child around day in and day out could be misconstrued and he certainly did not wish this duty to be resented as a punishment.

He looked up at his son and nodded once.  “Ask the Weaponsmaster to lend you Sir Gallus.  Additionally, it is time for Illian to begin his training.  Perhaps your sister could benefit from being included in the instruction.”

Marus bowed his gratitude.  “Thank you, Father.”

The Emperor smiled.  “I still find it difficult to believe that you have become this fond of your sister this quickly.”

Marus shrugged.  “She is an odd one.  So am I.”  It was all the explanation that he could offer.

The Emperor nodded.  “Very well.”

Marus took his leave and the Emperor watched him leave, a great many thoughts running through his head.

Eventually Dauris and Illian found their way to a courtyard surrounding a statue of a man.  Dauris looked at the statue, and its peculiar mix of medieval and Roman styling, in curiosity.  “Who’s he?”

Illian grinned.  “That’s the Warlord Krellian.  He founded our family four hundred years ago in the time of Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon.”

“Zaira?  and Gryphon?”

“Uh huh.  Lady Zaira was the Ruling Princess of Castellan and she had dreams just like Mother.”

Dauris looked at Illian for a moment.  “I think I would like to hear their story.  Does Mother know it?”

He nodded.  “Yeah.”

“Let’s find her.”

Lady Zaira became Ruling Princess of Castellan at a very young age.  When she was sixteen years of age she ran away from home to combat a growing threat against her people.  Monsters were appearing with increasing frequency and with increasing ferocity.  Among the heroes she gathered around herself on her journey was a young streetling of Castellan, only a few years older than she, by the name of Gryphon.

Gryphon hadn’t wanted to become involved in any grand quest, but she dangled the promise of fame and treasure in front of him, and in the end she offered to be his hostage, to purchase protection for the other children who lived in Castellan with nowhere else to go.  So he followed her, and he fell in love with her.  But no less than she fell in love with him.

The source of the monsters, a threat that could have destroyed their whole world, was a summoner who had opened a door that should have remained shut.  They defeated the summoner, but to shut the door required that one of their number surrender his life by entering through it.

Gryphon volunteered.

It worked, and for two years Zaira grieved for him as for a fallen husband.  For two years the sound of his death haunted her dreams, until the night that she dreamed that he had returned to her.  The High Council of Castellan had been trying to arrange her betrothal to the Prince of Reis-Bohnen, a neighboring kingdom, and were not happy to hear their Princess insist that a man had returned from the dead.

So Lady Zaira ran away from Castellan for the second time in her life, because of Castellan dreams.  She took with her only her personal guardian and friend, the Lady Arie, who had traveled with her previously, and journeyed north, because the dream had given her the name of the third son of the northern Warlord, Tertius.

Lord Gryphon had, against all expectation, returned from death and was trying to find his way back to the Princess he had left behind two years before.  But two years had changed him.  He was without body, composed solely of energy, and had only limited ability to interact with the world around him.  So he formed a pact with Lord Tertius.  They would work together to return Lord Gryphon to his Princess, and they would share the one body between them.

So Lady Zaira traveled North and Lord Gryphon traveled South.  Lady Zaira was captured by the Warlord and Lord Gryphon became an ally to the Prince who would have wed his Princess, for the purpose of giving the lady the chance to choose for herself.  Lord Prince Daneil would have no woman unwilling, or bound to another through Castellan dreams.

The Warlord, though, was not so honorable.  He planned to lay claim to the Kingdom of Castellan through a marriage alliance, by wedding Lady Zaira whether she willed it or no.  Lord Gryphon and his allies interrupted the ceremony and Gryphon challenged the Warlord to battle while in control of Tertius’ body.  The Warlord was defeated, but in the chaos Lady Zaira, who did not know who it was that attacked, fled the palace with her guardswoman, seeking the very doorway that Gryphon had entered.

It was her thought to enter the doorway herself, and find him beyond it.  All her dreams told her was that she would find him again there.

Indeed, she did, for as she was about to enter the door, a hand rested itself on her shoulder, and she turned to see Lord Gryphon standing there, from inside the body of Lord Tertius.

Reunited, the lovers were still separated from each other by Lord Gryphon’s condition.  Together they sought means to return him to a form and a body of his own.  Meanwhile, Lady Zaira’s guardswoman, Lady Arie, found herself seeking the company of Lord Tertius, and he returned her interest.

Aid came to them in the form of a wandering engineer, of sorts.  He had traveled with Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon for a time during their quest to save the world, and he conversed with them in his hidden sanctuary.  He knew of a way to return Lord Gryphon to form, but it required a great deal of energy, much more than any mage could manage, even working with others.  He would need six to stand to assist, and he would be one of them.

They journeyed to a hidden cavern where they prepared the necessary pieces, and the six of them took their places around the lambent form of Lord Gryphon in two triads:  Zaira, Tertius, and Daneil, and Arie, the wanderer, and a raven of the intelligent clans to the south.  Together they focused power through devices created by the wanderer and solidified the energy of Lord Gryphon’s form back into that of a physical body.

In the shadow of the celebration of the wedding of Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon, another union was made as Lord Tertius wed Lady Arie and together they founded the Order of the Knights-Guardian of Castellan, an Order that remained in the kingdom of Castellan, even four hundred years later.

The wanderer, for his part, stayed in the Court of Castellan, in service to the King and Queen, who were his friends.  He helped develop the engines that made the skyships sail the clouds and he helped build the towers that supported them.  And then, he vanished.  Some said that he left so that he wouldn’t have to see his old friends age and die.  Others claimed that he had responsibilities elsewhere and promised to return.  In any event, he was never seen again, however long his legacy remained.

Dauris listened to the tale quietly, her lips pursed in thoughtfulness.  When her mother finished, she was silent for a while, and then nodded her thanks.  She had a few suspicions about that wanderer, but she wasn’t exactly in a position to be asking those sorts of questions.  At least, not yet.  Besides, he could have been anyone and he certainly hadn’t hung around.

As she took off with her brother in search of more games to play, Grainne watched them and a sorrowful thought came to her heart.  In the dream, she had been given the treasure to guard for a time and then let go as she ran for Castellan.

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Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Grainne walked down the hallway, her hand firmly clasping that of the child she already thought of as her daughter.  Dauris.  She was still amazed that they had actually found her, alone, under circumstances that mirrored her dream of only this morning.  It felt like a lifetime ago.

Dauris walked quietly beside her mother, mentally reviewing everything she knew about Emperors.  Would he be a kindly man, an innocent like Mother and Illian?  Would he be sinister like Jules and Marus?  She knew of examples on both ends of the spectrum, and that was without even thinking hard.  He would be her father, though, and her experience with fathers was limited at best.  She hoped for kindly and innocent, though.

She did not have long to wonder.  They came to a door and Grainne opened it and escorted Dauris into the Emperor’s study, shutting the door behind them. The Emperor was seated in one of his reading chairs and stood upon seeing them, looking at his wife with eyes that took Dauris’ breath away.

He was sinister, yes, but not now, not here.  He was not innocent, but he had been, once.  He would be kindly to her because… because Mother wished it.  She had seen that look so many times, as men looked at the women they cherished.  Did Mother know?  She looked up at Grainne curiously and saw that she flushed slightly, but did not return the look.  For a moment Dauris wished that she were big enough to spank the both of them.

“This is the child, my husband.”  Such formality in her voice.

He nodded.  “Thank you, my wife.  She is to be called Dauris?”

“Yes, Tresoria Dauris.”

He looked down at her and smiled.  “Hello, Dauris.  Would you like to sit down?”

She nodded solemnly and let go of Mother’s hand.  She walked over to one of the great reading chairs, the one nearest where the Emperor had been sitting, and climbed into it.  She could tell that she looked very small in the large seat, but she didn’t mind.

Grainne smiled at her and then turned to her husband.  “I must see to some things for her.  Will she stay in the bower with me?”

He nodded.  “Yes, that would be best.”

Mother smiled and then took her leave.  Father took his seat again and looked at Dauris for a long moment.  She looked back at him.  “You are quiet,” he observed.

“You love her.”  Father looked startled at her words.  “You love Mother and yet you don’t share her life.  Why?”

“Ours was a political match.”  She could see him reconsidering her as he spoke.  He had thought her to be simply a child.  As easier as it would be to simply be a child, she had to disabuse him of that notion; she could not afford it.  Not with threats active against her on several sides.

“Marus told me.  What sort of politics could join you to a woman you plainly adore, a woman who gave you three sons, and yet keep you so separate?  Would loving her weaken you somehow?  Is it that men in your world do not share their lives with the women closest to them?  Is it that time and inattention have come between you?”

“You are still too young…”

She interrupted him, politely, but still, she broke the rules to interrupt.  It got his attention.  “Do not be deceived, your Excellency, Father.”  He blinked in surprise.  She continued.  “I am everything that you see, a stranger, a foundling, other-than-human and unfamiliar with all that you take for granted, but all that you see is not all that I am.  Do not believe that my understanding is not that of a woman grown and that I do not understand the necessities of nobility and of rulership.  I know the role that I am to play and I will play it willingly.  I will be the dutiful daughter and the loving sister, if you will allow it, but though I am sometimes foolish, I am not a fool.”  Her voice grew very soft and tears filled her eyes.  “I grew very lonely in the cavern and my gratitude for freedom is very great.”

He nodded slowly.  “Very well.”  He paused, collecting his thoughts.  “Our world is ruled by two great Empires, we of the North and the other of the South.  We are not friendly.”

He watched her nod in understanding.  “Competing superpowers rarely are.  It is one of those constants that make me truly believe the old adage about how things change, but never seem to change.”

He nodded.  “Between the Empires, as a buffer so to speak, are several small nations, kingdoms and small republics and the like.  One of those is Castellan, where your Mother comes from.” Again, she nodded in understanding.  He continued.  “The royal line of Castellan is known for peculiar abilities.  The royal daughters… dream, and their dreams are more than nighttime fantasies.”

“Their dreams come true.”  There was a strange note in her voice; it sounded almost like strangled hope.

“Yes.  Most often it is love that the royal daughters dream of, and such dreams… are not to be denied.”

“Mother dreamed of me.”  Now there was a touch of awe to her voice, a sense of disbelief of her own good fortune.

“And here you are.  Sometimes the dreams are of threats to the land, or threats to the world, and sometimes the dreams are for purposes that we do not understand, but are not to be resisted.  Your mother dreamed of you and her dream called you Daughter.  You are her daughter.  No matter the formalities that must still be accomplished.”

“I haven’t had a mother in so very long…”  Again that touch of awe, the Emperor found his heart going out to this unchildlike child.

He decided to return to the tale.  “A generation ago a Castellan royal daughter dreamed of love and it came very close to setting our world at war.”

She frowned slightly, pulling her brows together.  “Mother?”

He shook his head.  “Her sister.  She dreamed of the Emperor of the South.  The buffer lands must remain neutral, but to allow a Castellan royal daughter to wed the Southern Emperor would be to create an alliance, one that the North, that I, could not allow.”  He shook his head.  “I would have slaughtered millions to prevent that alliance.”

Dauris’ face paled.  The way he had described the dreams and the foretelling of them called to mind a particular form of bonding, and the catastrophic tragedies that resulted when anyone thought to separate those so bound.  “You set yourself against the dreams of a Castellan royal daughter?  Even with how much you believe in them?  What sort of arrogance… ?”  She stopped suddenly and turned very red.  She looked down at her hands.  “I beg your forgiveness.”

He smiled.  “You did warn me, Daughter, and it was arrogance.  If Princess Alyssa had dreamed of any Southerner other than the Emperor, I would not have had the cause for war which I sought.  And I did seek war.  I was proud.”  He sighed deeply.  “I would have even spilled noble blood for my pride.”  He didn’t like admitting to his faults, but after all these years; he had to admit them sooner or later.  “Your mother stopped me, may Heaven be thanked.”

“She made you an offer you could not refuse.”

He nodded.  “She offered me her hand, and a complementary alliance to balance the one her sister made.  She took a political match so that her sister could take a love match.  In the beginning I only admired her resolve.  I valued her as a war-prize, as a testament to my willingness to slaughter my way to strength.  Now…”  His voice trailed off.

“Now you would trade your Empire for her to dream of you.”  He nodded and Dauris took a deep breath.  “Predestined loves are almost as difficult as loveless alliance marriages.  You might try seeking her choice, not her dreams.  To choose to love someone, warts and all, is a greater gift than to have to love someone.”

They were silent for a long time.  Finally Dauris spoke up, in a hesitant voice.  “Is it only the royal daughters of Castellan who dream true dreams?”

He looked at her curiously. “Why?  Have you had odd dreams?”

She nodded slowly, looking at her hands.  “I… I do not know.  I have… I have dreamed of many things while I was trapped in the cavern… Freedom, Protection, Struggle… but I do not know if my dreams are anything more than the expected wishes of a girl who lost her mother at far too young an age.”

“You could be of a lost branch of the Castellan line, perhaps through the dryads of the Forest.”  He smiled at her.  “Though you are a touch young to be running away in search of Castellan dreams.”

She shook her head.  “No, I know where I come from, at least in bloodline, and the cavern seems to have only changed my physical seeming, and not my heritage.  I am not of Castellan except by Mother’s dream so far as I am aware as my people come from a place… further away than you could go.  The dreams I had were probably nothing more than just dreams.”

The Emperor reached out to take her small hand in his.  “Do not be so quick to dismiss your dreams.  Your mother is of Castellan’s royal line and her dreams declared you to be of her lineage.  I do not claim to understand the magic of Castellan dreams, but you are her daughter.”  He paused.  “Tell me of yourself, Daughter.”

“I am crippled, like a bird that cannot fly, but can still remember the freedom of the skies.  I was attacked by one who was my kin, and locked in the cavern to slowly shrink away to nothing.”  She took a deep breath.  “My parents were two bound by a predestined love, if the tales I was told by my foster mother are accurate and I have every reason to believe that they are because she loved them both in her way.  In our homeland, they were nobles of great power and authority, my mother was the chosen heir to the heir of one of the great Houses.”

She sighed sadly.  “I am told that they… they looked forward to my birth with joy… but I drew my first breath amidst tragedy.  I was not born from my mother, not as children usually are.  I was cut from her body as she struggled to save me from one who wished to kill me.  She did not survive.  I was told that death could not hold her… but I have not found her in any of my journeys and I am uncertain of what I would say to her if I did.”  She looked down at her hands.  “I am hunted as much because of who she was as for what I am.”

The Emperor looked at her.  Such sorrow and grief in her voice that it cut him deeply.  “You are safe here.  Do not be afraid.”

She looked up at him.  “I will never be safe until the one who seeks my destruction is dead.  But I swear to you, I will not allow the wrath of the one who hunts me to harm you.  I have run away before, I can do it again.”

He took her small face in his hands.  “Castellan dreamers run away from home for one purpose and one purpose alone, to find the one they dream of.  And that they do with astonishing regularity.  If you were to run, it would be with my blessing.  Castellan dreams will not be denied, no matter who the dreamer is.  But you have years of growing up to do before you need to worry about that.”

She nodded slowly.  “Yes, Father.”  There were tears in her eyes.

He smiled and gently let go of her.  “Your mother probably wishes to have you back in the bower to coo over and your brothers are probably impatient for a sister to spoil and I have papers of formal adoption to write up.  Let me ring for someone to take you back to the bower and then we can get everything take care of.”

She smiled her gratitude.

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 stranger to them, Brother, 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.”  At least, it was for those born human as she had discovered on more than one world.

She wasn’t human, though.  Her mother may have been one, once, but she wasn’t.

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.

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Chapter Three

Chapter Three

They arrived in Pallantia as the afternoon sun was starting to descend.  Jules volunteered to gather a few things from the market.  Grainne and Illian needed to speak to the Emperor.  Marus smiled at little Dauris.  “I guess that means that I get to walk you to the bower.  Mother’s maids will be able to find clothes for you until some are made.”

Dauris looked at him seriously as they walked towards the bower.  She had so many questions, so many things she knew that she didn’t know.  She was concerned about what she didn’t know and how thoroughly it could make her life difficult.  “We are the family of the Emperor?”  He nodded.  “Mother and Father are married, yet they live separate lives?”

Marus nodded.  It was such a simple matter, one he had never given much thought to so that the mere fact that this strange child questioned it made the matter suddenly strange to his mind, too.  “Theirs was a political match.”  It was the only explanation he could give; for all that the words fell flat to his ears.

Dauris sighed.  The concept was one she knew quite well, for all that she didn’t agree with it.  “I don’t want a political match.  I would want a partner, a companion.  I would want a man to share my life with, my whole life.”  Of course, that presumed that she thought such a thing was ever likely to happen for her.  There were… too many hazards in bonding so strongly to a person.  Her parents had bonded that closely, and their unity had robbed her of both of them in the very hour of her birth.

Marus smiled at the serious expression on her face.  “You are very young to be thinking of such things.”  He didn’t want to think of how quickly she would grow up, though.  How quickly others would start murmuring such things.

She looked up at him, her eyes betraying worry and concern.  “Would Father try to force me to take a political match that I did not want?”  She had no illusions.  She knew that a culture which embraced such concepts was unlikely to dispense with them across the transition of one generation.  Some few might be allowed the freedom to choose their own bondings, but if the Emperor himself had taken a political bride… would he not just as easily consider an adoptive daughter to be a tool of negotiation?

He knelt to look her in the eyes outside the door to the bower.  He saw the worry, and knew better than she how incredibly possible her fears were.  He was not the eldest son, and he knew that Jules was a pragmatic man, ever looking at the logical solution in spite of what romanticism gave people.  His words came from his soul.  “I swear to you, Dauris my sister; no one will force you to take any match you do not desire.  I will protect you.”  He didn’t even know if he would have the ability to challenge his father or Jules regarding Dauris.  He just knew that he would.

She blinked slowly as she looked into his face and saw the intensity there.  “There is darkness in your soul.  It frightens me.”

“You do not need to fear me.  Not ever.  I swear it.”  He put the flat of his hand over his heart, bowing his head to her in the manner of a formal oathtaking.  He did not ever wish to frighten this precious sister of his.

“Do not let the darkness win, my brother.  I do not want to have to destroy you.”

He started in surprise, blinking a bit at the absolute sincerity in her voice.  It was plain to him that she meant every word of the threat, the promise.  He smiled after a moment and took her hand as he stood and then reached for the door to the bower.  It pleased him that she took such matters so seriously.  No matter how unchildlike her words happened to be.  “I like you, little sister.  You are almost as odd as I am.”

The Emperor was waiting in his study, reading over some old treaties as he waited for news of the afternoon excursion and what happened while his sons were out with their mother.  He was standing next to a bookshelf with a volume in his hands when the door opened and Illian came rushing through with the sound of running feet and happy shouting.

“We found her, Father!  Mother dreamed me a sister and we found her and we brought her home and can we keep her, Father?  Can we keep her forever and ever?”

Grainne closed the door behind them and walked over to look at her husband, who looked back at her curiously.  “So this was your errand today?” he asked.  He knew that they had gone looking for something, though Marus had been characteristically vague when asking for his permission for his sons to take the shuttle for an afternoon away from the city with their mother.

She nodded.  “Yes, my husband.  I woke from the dream and our sons insisted on the search.  We found her where the dream told me that she would be, a daughter for us and a sister for our sons.”

Illian was jumping up and down.  “She’s my age and she’s pretty and she’s got gold eyes when she gets angry and her ears are pointed and she’s got white in her hair like some of the old ladies have and she told Marus and Jules not to hurt me or Mother and that made Marus laugh and we’re going to call her Dauris and that means Golden Gift, even though her name will be Tresoria Dauris and I really want to keep her, please, Father?”

The Emperor looked at his wife, a strangely bittersweet look in his eyes.  “So my wife has been given Castellan dreams of a daughter?”  He sighed and looked down at his youngest son.  “Do you want this sister so very much?”

Illian nodded so emphatically that his hair went flying every direction.  “Yes, Father!  I’ll be good as good can be to her.”

The Emperor laughed at his youngest son and lifted him in his arms.  “Can you truly be good to her?  Little girls are not like little boys.  And she is certainly not a puppy that you found following you home from the market.  She is a person, and she will, doubtless, annoy you greatly as the two of you grow together.  She will want to follow you when you want to be alone and she will want to be alone when you want to follow her and you will doubtless quarrel on many occasions.”

Illian shook his head vehemently.  “No, I promise.  I won’t quarrel with her ever.”

The Emperor laughed. “Do not make promises that you cannot keep, my son.”  He set Illian down and the boy looked up at him expectantly.  The Emperor looked at Grainne.  “I would like to meet with this girl-child, if I may, before I see to the formal adoption papers.”

Illian crowed with delight at his father’s agreement, not that he had harbored even a single doubt as to the answer.  Grainne smiled.  “Yes, my husband.  I will bring her to you.”

“Thank you, my wife.”

The only clothing that the maids could find for Dauris on such short notice came from Illian’s closet.  A ruffled shirt and a vest with a bit too much lace for the boy’s sensibilities, a small cloak and a set of breeches.  She stood in front of a mirror and looked at her reflection, oblivious to the smiles that the maids tried to hide behind their hands.

Marus had to agree with them.  His sister posed before the glass and swirled the cape and looked utterly adorable.  She looked up at him for a moment.  “This doesn’t make me look like a boy, does it?”

He shook his head. As if any boy would have hair falling that long down his back. “No, Dauris, you don’t look like a boy.”

She nodded.  “Good.  I like this style.”  She swished the cape a few more times.  “Sometimes boys get better clothes than girls do.  Not always.  Skirts are nice, but they do get in the way a lot.”

A few muffled giggles could be heard.  Marus grinned, sharing the humor of such strange statements coming from his very serious little sister.  “I would not know.”

“Of course you wouldn’t.  You’re a boy.”  The giggles became louder.  She looked over her shoulder at the maids.  “They giggle a lot.”  Marus almost choked and she looked at him.  “Are you all right?”  He nodded.  “Good.”  She sighed, sounding melancholy.  “I don’t like to laugh.  It hurts.”

Just then the door to the bower opened and Illian came running in, followed by Grainne.  Illian was shouting for joy.  “Father said yes!”  He stopped suddenly and looked at Dauris.  “Those’re my clothes.”  She nodded seriously.  “You look better in them than I did.”

“Thank you.”

Marus looked at their mother, hopeful for the future.  “So it went well?  Father agrees?”

Grainne nodded, smiling happily.  “He wishes to speak with her first, but yes, he agrees.”

Dauris turned away from the mirror and walked over to her mother.  “I am ready,” she said, offering her hand.

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 and strange inhuman ears, or so the rumors went.  Jules had seen her eyes, seen the golden color, and seen her pointed ears that looked similar to those of the dryads and that was a matter of some concern.

It was beyond impossible that it was the same annoying, interfering, thrice-blasted woman that he knew.  That phoenix-flame still burned, but in other worlds.  He’d know her influence the moment he came across it, and she was not in this place.  Whoever this child was, though… she was similar enough to the Firebird that he felt a chill of concern and decided to look into the matter personally.

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.  Coercion 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 in his hands and then… well, if it was the sort of child he thought it was, then he would be very creative in her suffering and torments before he ended her life.

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.

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Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Deep in a cavern, two children stood face to face in silence.  One, a little girl with bright blonde hair streaked by white wore a hugely oversized shirt as a simple smock and stared at the little boy in front of her who was dressed in velvet and lace in the manner of a nobleman’s son of some fantasy world, his black hair curling at his shoulders and one lock of hair falling between his eyes.

The boy grinned at her.  “Hello.”  Of the two, he was most certainly not the least bit hesitant.

Her mouth worked for a moment without sound.  How long had it been since she had last heard a voice other than her own?  When she got her voice back she made herself be as calm as possible.  “H-hello.”  No sense in frightening the boy.

“You’re the girl my mother dreamed about, aren’t you?  Don’t be afraid.  I’m going to be your brother, and my mother will be yours, too.”  He reached a hand out to her, fearlessly trusting that she wouldn’t resist him.  She didn’t have the strength to.  Contact with another living being, another person, after so long alone sapped her of the will to resist.  She followed him easily enough, listening to his sturdy, boyish voice with the strangely formal cast to it.  “We’re the same age.  We can play together.  I know lots of games.  Though… do girls play the same games that boys do?”  She didn’t have an answer for him.  “I don’t know many girls.  We can ask Mother.  She’ll be so happy.”

She stopped in her tracks, a thought dancing across her mind and she pulled the boy to a halt with her.  “Wait.”

He looked back at her, his head tilting in curiosity, but not any real concern.  “What’s wrong?”

She blushed slightly.  She couldn’t believe that she had forgotten, but now that she’d remembered, she couldn’t move forward without moving back slightly.  “I – I need to get some things.”

He nodded in understanding.  It made perfect sense to him.  “Where?”

“This way.”  She led him through the trees to her nest among the roots.  He was mightily impressed with the accommodations.  She would have preferred something a bit higher up, but as small as she was, and without the ability to shape the trees to create a nest in the branches, this little den was the best she had.  She crawled into the nest and gathered up her few belongings, stuffing them into a bag she’d kept all this time and putting it across her back, with both straps across her chest from shoulder to hip.  Then she crawled out, taking care not to trip over her shirt hem this time.  She stood and looked at the boy.  “Okay.  Take me to… take me to Mother.”  She almost stumbled over the word.

He grinned and took her hand.

“Illian!”  Jules shouted for the fourteenth time.  He sighed in frustration and turned back to Marus and their mother.  “Where did that boy run off to?”

Grainne smiled through her worry.  “He wanted so to find a sister.”

Marus wasn’t ready yet to give up the hope he carried.  The dream had held up to the challenges so far.  “We all wanted to find a sister here.  We have found so much, perhaps she is here somewhere.”  He paused, noting that she had become very pale.  “Mother?  Are you well?”

Jules became very concerned as well.  Grainne tried to reassure her sons, but could not catch her breath for a moment, wavering on her feet.  Marus immediately took her hand, helping her to sit on a nearby rock and watching her face in concern until she regained color and breath.  She gave a shaky laugh.  “It is nothing.  I am well.”

“Are you certain, Mother?”  Jules sounded doubtful.

She nodded, breathing deeply.  “I am certain.”

“Nonetheless,” Marus said, “when we return to Pallantia, I would like to call the physicians for you.”

She smiled, trying to sound stronger than she felt.  “Truly, it is nothing.  My sons, you worry for nothing.”

“Mother!”  They all turned at the sound of the boyish voice.  “Mother!  I found her!”  Illian came running towards them holding the hand of a little girl with golden blonde hair streaked by white, pointed ears peeked through the hair on each side.  She looked to be Illian’s age, a tender five years, and she wore only a shirt that seemed to have been made to fit loosely on a grown woman.  Across her chest were the straps to a bag that hung on her back.  The girl looked at them all, eyes wide and disbelieving.

Jules stared at the child his mind had told him could not be.  She truly was.  His mother had dreamed of a child, and here she was.  He was stunned silent.  He shook his head, denying what he saw with the one detail that was amiss.  “Her eyes are blue.”

Marus shook his head; he could not doubt his mother’s dreams, not after he had come this far.  “But Mother dreamed of the door, and the cavern, and the girl herself…”  He had tested the dream and it had held true.  He knew without a doubt that this girl-child was his sister.  His mother had dreamed; they had found her; their father would approve.  The dreams of Castellan’s royal daughters would not be denied.

Grainne felt her heart leap into her throat at the sight of the child with her sorrow-haunted eyes.  Where had she come from?  Why was she all alone in this place?  What secrets lay behind the eyes that seemed too old for her face?  It didn’t matter to her that the child’s eyes didn’t match the ones she’d seen in the dream, or the obvious fact that this child was something other than human; this was a child in need of her.  She started to reach out her arms to the little girl.

The girl saw the woman first; saw her face turn tender and her arms reach out.  Mother.  So this was the woman who would be her mother.  It had been a long time since she had last had a mother, even a foster one.  She started to run to her, then stopped, stopping the boy with her.  There were two others, older than the boy, younger than the woman.  All were dressed in clothing of similar quality.  Older sons.  Brothers.  She looked from one to the other and felt her heart sink.  Sinister.  Both were sinister.  The boy was innocent, as was the woman.  She started to growl.  She had to protect them.  It was who she was.  It was what she was.  Her legacy from a woman she’d never met.  She ran forward, putting the boy beside his mother and putting herself between the innocent and the sinister.  She couldn’t reach her knife; it was in the bag.  No time.  She growled again.

“You can’t have them.  I won’t let you hurt them.  If you try, I’ll kill you.”  Her child’s voice didn’t sound near as threatening as she would have liked.  No help for it.  She had been in the cavern too long.  Her eyes, though, her eyes shifted from the strangely bright but still normal seeming blue, flooding with metallic golden color until they were seemingly formed completely of it.

The elder sinister stared at her in disbelief.  The younger grinned wide, then wider, then opened his mouth and laughed in sheer delight.  The elder now stared at the younger.

“Are you mad, Marus?”  So the younger sinister was named Marus.

His voice still laughed, even in speech.  “Such a valiant barbarian child you have dreamed us for a sister, Mother.  And look at her perfect eyes of gold.”

She straightened; her eyes wide and shocked, the gold falling away from them as her anger was doused by surprise.  Some part of her mind noted his use of the word “barbarian”, creating connections to cultural preconceptions that were likely with such a use, for all that they weren’t accurate in her case.  But most of her mind… was silent in surprise.  “Dreamed?”  Her voice was awestruck and she turned to look at the woman.  “You… dreamed of me?”  That was right; a scrap of memory came back, a comment that she had lost in the shock of seeing the boy after so many years alone.  He had said something about dreams when he found her.

The woman nodded.  “Yes, little child, I dreamed that you would be my daughter and a sister to my sons.”

“Dreams… come true in your world?”  Her eyes started to fill with tears.  She was ashamed of herself for the weakness, for the tears that betrayed her.  It wasn’t possible; so why was she suddenly filled with such hope?

Marus looked at her with growing curiosity.  What dreams did this child have at her young age that would cause this reaction to even the hope of fulfillment?  Was she, in fact, more than simply a foundling through his mother’s Castellan dream and descended from the royal blood of Castellan herself, through one of the dryad-kin perhaps?  Could she be his sister in truth and heir to Castellan dreams of her own?

The boy nodded vehemently at the girl.  “Mother is from Castellan.  She dreamed of you, and here you are.”  For a child of his age, perhaps things really were that simple.  Belief was sometimes more powerful and more real than fact.  She should know that by now.  It was what made the people of her birth so powerful, in spite of what logic would say that they should be.

The girl looked carefully at the two sinisters.  Their darkness was not so strong, perhaps… .  And the younger, Marus, still smiled at her with affection.  They had come into the cavern seeking her.  Doubtless they could find the way out.  At least she wouldn’t be alone with her dreams.  And maybe… if dreams could come true… .  She turned and bowed to the woman, to her mother.  “I will be your daughter, and a sister to your sons, Mother, but I… I will need a name.”  Her voice wavered.  It was the best advice she’d ever gotten from the woman who had raised her, accept the name that is given to her by a strange culture.  When someone gives a name, they are less likely to reject the one they name.  “I do not have one.”

The discussion of just what name to give the little girl lasted a good while.  She walked beside Grainne, her hand in her mother’s, seemingly uninterested in participating as various names were presented and either immediately rejected, or held over as possibilities.

She was a treasure, a gift of great value, the child of a dream.  The gemstone names were rejected quickly. As tempting as it was to name her for the sapphire of her natural eyes, the gold was too dramatic, too dream-portended not to reference in a name.

Jules listened to her humming some unknown tune as they walked.  He suggested Cantrix, it meant “songstress” or something similar.  It was held over.

Marus suggested Doris, it meant gift.  Illian wanted gold in her name; he liked her strange eyes when the gold was in them.  Grainne suggested a slight alteration to please both, a golden gift, Dauris.  There were thoughtful looks all around.  It had possibilities.

The girl hissed in pain as she stubbed a toe as they approached the tunnel exit.  She had not complained, so they had not noticed.  She was barefoot and the wind beyond the tunnel was not warm.  Marus quickly pulled off his half cloak and wrapped her in it and then lifted her into his arms.  For a moment she was stiff with surprise and then made herself relax.  It had been a very long time since she had last been small enough to be carried by a brother.  And she so wanted to believe that he could be redeemed.  That, also, was part of the legacy which marked her.

The girl’s first sight, though, of the shuttle, drove all thoughts of names from her mind as she stared in shock.  Mother, the boy, the two sinisters, they all looked and spoke with a formality that told her Medieval, possibly Fantasy.  They were nobility in a world where the term still meant something, like it meant something to her.  The vessel, vehicle, the ship she was looking at… was most definitely not Medieval.  The sleekness of it… it didn’t shine silver in an unbroken line like some spacecraft that she had seen.  It was made, apparently, of wood and metal and cloth in the manner of the old sailing vessels, but it was made for flying.

“What is that?”  Her voice sounded as shocked as she was.

Marus, carrying her, laughed.  “Our skyship, little sister.  How did you think we got here?”

“How does it fly?”  Her curiosity ran over.

Marus laughed again.  He felt a sudden kinship to the child that went beyond his mother’s dream.  He nodded to Jules as the elder opened the hatch for them to enter.  He carried his little sister over to the compartment that housed the engine.  “It’s magic.”

She looked at him with an expression that would wither Spring.  “Magic?”  There was a note of disgust in her repetition of the word.  “That has been used to describe everything from fireballs to childbirth.  Please.  I’m not stupid.  What kind of magic?”

He grinned.  This little girl was extraordinarily odd, and he liked her tremendously.  “Levitation.  In proximity to ancient towers.  It was a gift from a wandering engineer four hundred years past and enabled our world to develop and expand.”

He showed her how the engines worked around a core of enchanted crystal that resonated alongside the towers, providing lift and direction.  She nodded in understanding and Marus felt his own curiosity waken at how mature she acted.  Finally he lifted her back in his arms and found a seat back in the main cabin, holding her in his lap as the discussion drifted back to the question of names.

Dauris Cantrix?  Cantrix Dauris?  Neither possibility sounded quite right.  For a long time the ship was quiet as Jules flew them back to Pallantia. Finally Jules spoke up.  She was a treasure, so why not create a name for her?  A new name, one not held by anyone else in all the Empire of the North?  Tresoria.  Name her Tresoria Dauris, but call her Dauris.

There were nods all around and then everyone glanced at the little girl who sat on Marus’ lap still wrapped in his cloak.  She nodded slowly.  “I will be Tresoria Dauris.”

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