|AMAZON, BARNES AND NOBLE, SMASHWORDS|
THE PATH NOW TURNED
The Gift for a Euchoun
The days passed slowly. From my childhood Gunilda taught me that each day was a precious gift to be cherished, but I existed only during those days. I lived to see Cono. I dreamed of being by his side. I understood well my purpose, but the pull to be with him was strong.
The time had come. That I knew but not how to pursue the destiny I had embraced. Once more the
Only the winged Sordarins could enter from the sky. Unless I could find the portal used by Twiten, I would not be leaving this place. In as much, I had no choice but to wait until the call came for me to be acknowledged.
Long had my siblings, Falco and Sareta, been acknowledged for their birthright. In his absolute wisdom, King Edulf, my grandfather, deemed my path a different one. A great threat loomed before Scarladin. The legend held if threatened the Great One would send a powerful Euchoun to protect the Sordarins. This long has been my destiny. Long have I trained and endured to meet my fate.
I had hoped my days of isolation over after the battle with the Arachnideans in the desert. Fighting along side Cono, my love...my warrior, we had defeated the danger in battle. Assured without question, I would stand by the side of the one I had bonded with for never would I be more powerful than to be by Cono's side.
Yet now I waited, having been sent back to this place I could not escape. I wanted only King Edulf to send for me...to be acknowledged for my own birthright, Euchoun Protector of the Sordarins...moreover was I not also Princess to the kingdom of Scarladin?
To pass the time that eclipsed, I listened hours upon hours to Gunilda. I was not the only one to have been banished to this isolation. My old nurse's heart seemed saddened beyond my means to appease her. Yet, she turned not away from me. She spoke neither of Sareta nor of the cause in which Sareta had been born. Instead she talked to me of Witheleghe. She talked before of my mother's home, but not in the details that she recalled to me during these occasions.
She spoke to me in her language. In turn I returned our conversation with the same which seemed to please her greatly.
“You have well spent your time here in the
I laughed gently at her saying. “I could not leave you, Gunilda. I will take you with us when Cono returns for me. It may not be life within a castle but it will be a good life. In time who will care for my small ones. I know of no one else.”
His name rolled off her lips. She breathed in deeply as if contemplating words she wanted to say. Her tired eyes met mine. “You have dreams beyond your purpose, my child. It is good. I…wish you obtain all your heart desires, but don’t forsake the Great One. Don’t lose yourself in your purpose to appease others or yourself. Have faith in your own thoughts…”
“I won’t,” I promised her although her meaning escaped me. She seemed quite intent on my actions. “All will be as it should. I know the road I walk.”
Pressing her lips together tightly, she said only, “The road you walk is not straight, my child. Remember that. All roads wind.”
If not for the knowledge that I would be recalled, I would have worried. We had been sent back to the cottage in a hurried fashion. Twiten and his students no longer resided at the old castle. Moreover, no supplies had been sent for us. Gunilda uttered not a word of complaint, but accepted our fate as she had never done before...that alone worried me.
So I dreamed. In my dreams my vision laid upon Cono. I saw clearly myself waiting on the plains of the valley, staring straight up in the sky only to have Cono swoop down upon me, taking me in his arms...taking me away, never, never to return to this place.
Foolish perhaps for I imagined in truth Twiten would return to transport us through the portal. Johannes had told to me the flight to the
To my surprise I found I began to care more for my appearance. I regretted I had been able to bring back a gown to be dressed in for my return to Yucca. Except for the gown I had on when I departed, I had only my old tunic. I prepared the best I could certain my days were numbered within my confine.
The days passed and no word came. Gunilda's words slowed, but my faith remained, fading though on the eve of my birthday. Cono’s words echoed in my heart. He would come. He would. He had promised. I slept not much that night. Dreams disturbed me. I counted the hours until the sun appeared, but disappointment laid on the horizon. When the morning dawned, I rose to the sounds of the forest, nothing more, nothing less.
Dressing with care in the early morning light, I made breakfast with the little food we had left. Certain, no hoping, I would not be forgotten. I stared out Gunilda’s window having sat her breakfast tray down before her. With effort, she sat up sighing deeply. Looking upon me, I met her eyes. I saw well pity stirred within her.
“All should have remembered, Kela. They have all around them and we are in the middle of nowhere. Banished. Sordarins! Keeping you away from sight. Does King Edulf not know you are known? It is too late to hide you nor is it needed.”
“I know not what you are saying.”
Her old dry hand reached for mine. “It is your time. No one will keep you back, except only yourself. Go, Kela, by the Shimmering Pool. You will find a present. Your legacy. Your destiny. Follow it, Kela.”
“You don’t understand. But you will if you follow. You think I have not talked to the Wood Spirit, also. We have agreed it is time. Go.”
“Where?” My eyes lay with confusion with my nurse.
“To your heart.”
Tentatively, I eased out the room. Glancing back over my shoulder, Gunilda shooed me out with her hand.
“It is your day, my child. Your day. Worry not about me.”
My heart faltered. Gunilda spoke endearing words to me. Would Cono be by the Shimmering Pool? I hesitated for fear of disappointment.
I walked slowly over the well-worn path. My heart sank when I rounded the edge. There lay only the beauty of the Shimmering Pool. No person greeted me. My heart sank. My eyes watered. All had forgotten. Gunilda had talked nonsense. I fell down beside the Shimmering Pool.
Without action, suddenly the Pool began to swirl. The water conjured up a vision. The mist faded and a figure materialized within...a beautiful maiden with the most striking of flowing gowns. A sparkling white gown glittered in the sunlight as if stars in the night fitted to the maiden’s figure accenting it to perfection. The high waist gown cut low against her bosom. Her chestnut hair twisted back from her face but hung loose down her back. She was the most beautiful woman. I couldn’t take my eyes from her. An aura encompassed her while she walked slowly towards me closer...closer.
I sprang upward for the maiden did not cease her ascent. Startled for in the next moment, the maiden was no more and I no long wore my old tunic. No, I stood in the flowing gown from the Shimmering Pool. I stared down at my reflection, not believing my eyes. Gone was the waif of girl replaced by a lady, elegant and refine.
A voice called in the wind. It is your destiny, your fate to wear. Take this leap, Kela. Follow your path. Descend down into the Shimmering Pool for once and only once it will take you to where your fate awaits.
Turning and looking around, I scoured for the voice, but to no avail. The words echoed around me until comprehension surged within my being. Then I held no doubt, but walked straight into the Shimmering Pool.
* * * *
My eyes widened with my racing heart. The swirling motion beckoned with the promise the Spirit had made. The flowing gown blew backwards against my body while the winds picked up easing closer. I stepped forward out of the swirling air. Gasping for air, I was suddenly thrust forward. Clinching my heaving chest, I regained my composure having emerged from the stream of space. Abruptly I stood and gathered my wits until I breathed at normal pace.
The warmth of the sun greeted me. An ambiguity of laughter filled the air. In protest or acceptance, I couldn't tell. Chatter of voices encompassed my senses. Confused, I glanced around in a quick motion.
I stood in the mist of a gathering of merry makers in the middle of Yucca’s town square. I recognized it immediately for the Great Hall lay before me. The whole of the square littered with merchants and carts filled to the brim of festive celebration, bright scarves, beads, necklaces, banners and the smells…foods, flowers, people. Oh, the people!
My head swept upward. Hawk men screeched above me in the bright sky. Young women and children scurried around me. Music played in the distance. A parody of performers acted out comic scenes before me, some juggled while others sang.
Strange in dress, some wore mask to hide behind. Laughter echoed through out the market place. Everyone seemed so happy and no one seemed to notice my abrupt appearance. My face plastered with the look of amazement. How long I had dreamed of walking these streets? An overwhelming sense of happiness encompassed me. Water welled in my eyes as I took in the sight before me.
“Excuse me,” a voice interrupted my thoughts. Turning, I found a young Sordarin who couldn’t have been much older than I. Dressed in the manner of most men around him with the leather bounding around his chest, sword to his side, a binding around his long hair, he smiled a wide grin. “I’m sorry to bother you, but are you lost? You have the look of one who might be. Perchance, I could help you find your way?”
His wings flexed. Behind him I saw a small group of amused cadets, laughing, hitting each other in their arms as if the young warrior came upon me on a dare. Pressing my lips together, I pondered a moment. How I must look! I had no escort. Was it not proper? Of course not, but I wasn’t about to let the slight oversight ruin my moment.
“My escort will be back momentarily,” I answered, not caring if he believed me or not. “Thank you for your kind offer, but you can rejoin your friends.”
He laughed a pleasant laugh. He bowed his head, “My lost.” He backed up a step, pausing for a moment. “You aren’t from here, are you? Brixtone?”
I looked strangely at him.
“Oh,” he rapidly explained, “You look as if you hold all in wonder as if you haven’t seen Yucca before and it is celebration to announce the Brixtone’s Prince attachment to our Princess.”
“I have visited Yucca,” I answered. “But it has been a long time since I have walked within this city.”
Tilting my head, I pointed toward his friends who seemed to have lost interest and began proceeding down the crowded street in the same manner as most of the multitude.
He moved toward them, but looked back at me. “You aren’t going?”
“To the Soaring,” he glanced upward. “It seems they are preparing.”
My look I was certain betrayed by elation. A Soaring! My eyes searched the sky. A mingling above shadowed the land below. My heart beat soundly. By the time my eyes lowered the young warrior had disappeared in the crowd. Without hesitation, I lost myself quickly in the mass of Sordarins following all to see the demonstration.
My elation exuded from my being. Oh, all good in heavin! In my wildest imagination I had never dreamed the sight before me. Banners flowed in the open air of the post surrounding the showground. Large towering perches outlaid across the field reached high into the sky. A top of the perches, Sordarin warriors guarded the people below patrolling the walkway of the perch. I found myself envious of the ones that watched from the encased boxes of the perches, surrounded by four walls with the roof open for viewing.
My attention turned toward the grounds around me trimmed with flag of Scarladin. Red and gold covered my view. Within the arena bare an encircled area filled with the most gorgeous of creatures. Women dressed in ornamental gowns. Different colors abounded as if I gazed into a rainbow. The men held to different ceremonial clothing. Sordarins dressed in full military attire. Instantly I recognized my grandfather. In the middle of the grand stand, he smiled broadly at all well satisfied with the scene before him. I discerned the others dressed formally but without wings had to be Brixtonians.
The Queen, my aunts, cousins and...I beamed upon seeing Sareta. She looked happy, smiling broadly. A glow glistened around her when she leaned over exchanging words with the one I knew to be Amicia. The faces seemed all familiar, pictures from the Shimmering Pool, but these were not pictures, but real. All the women looked stunningly beautiful to my eyes. A brief moment of self-pity swept through me.
No, I told myself. I’m here now. I’m where I belong. Soon I would take my place by my family and they would welcome me with open arms. All the years that have passed would be no more. No more training, no more hiding, I would again be Princess Kela and take my place with Cono.
My eyes fell upon Belasquita. I comprehended quickly this was her celebration, her attachment- Scarladin forging a bond with Brixtone. Cono had said the alliance was greatly needed if we to fend off the threat before us.
Then my eyes lit upon the one next to Belasquita. Even after all these years, I recognized him. So he was the Prince of Brixtone. Of course he was I reprimanded myself while I studied him. Undeniably handsome, his blond hair reflected off the sun’s rays when he took off his hat. What had he said his name was? I had forgotten. His head turned toward me. I quickly broke my glance. Silly, I thought, why would I be concerned he might know I’m here?
I reasoned I would met him soon enough. Was I not here to stay? I had only to go retrieve Gunilda, but not till after the Soaring.
From behind me, my name resounded in my ear, whispered softly for no one else to hear. Swiftly, I turned. Relief flooded me…Johannes.
“Johannes,” I exclaimed. “Is this not wonderful? Where…”
His wings whipped around us scattering the crowd. No one said anything with his obvious attachment to the Royal Wing. His hand reached over and took my elbow.
“It is wonderful to see you thus…I can say I never suspected a lady under all that mulk, but come,” he said soundly. “You are supposed to follow me.”
“I don’t…” I began confuse.
Johannes walked briskly toward one of the perches. Opening the door, he nodded to the guard. “She is to view from the perch. I’ll meet her on top. Prince Falco orders.”
The large Sordarin acknowledged Johannes, but said nothing. Johannes turned to me. “Prince Falco said that you haven’t been listening to him. He picked up upon your appearance. Walk quickly up the steps. I’ll meet you at the top. I have to return.”
For a moment I hesitated. “Is he mad?”
A broad grin emerged. “No, but I would advise listening to him, my lady. And another was quite happy to hear you were within the celebration.”
With the utterance, my heart sang. I turned and raced up the stairs as fast I could although the hem of my gown hindered my efforts. Johannes stood waiting at the top.
I paused briefly catching my breath. Johannes eyed me with amusement. “You never fail to amaze me, my lady.”
Leaning over for his ears, I whispered in attempt to explain the gown. “It is my birthday. It was a present from the Wood Spirits. I was told to come, but I didn’t realize there was a celebration this day. Does it happen often?”
His hand pulled me closer to him. “I forget where you wince you come. No, not often, but this is an alliance long in the making. The King hadn’t long to match the princess. By custom a princess has to be attached by her eighteenth year. Princess Belasquita will be eighteen at the end of the next week.”
I backed away. “Eighteen,” I rasped. “I’m eighteen today, Johannes.”
He ran his hand back through his hair as if dealing with a child. “I have dealt with Cono on the fact all week and his frustration. Don’t make me do so again.”
“Of course not,” I stuttered embarrassingly, not wanting for him to see that I was pacified with the knowledge that Cono thought of me, although I suspected he well knew my feelings.
“I have already given orders for you to stay here for the Soaring,” he smiled. “I know you have seen us practice, but I believe you will quite enjoy the spectacle, but as best you can don’t call attention to yourself…please for my sake.”
I giggled like a child. I don’t believe I had even done so before. Johannes in his way alleviated my fears. I eased over to the railing, watching Johannes take to the sky once more. Cono was up there somewhere. I wished I could make out which one, but they were all mingling together. I felt eyes upon me. I gave no notice to the guards and ignored their curiosity.
This time I heard my brother. Is this not the grandest of things, Falco? I have never seen such…
I have heard you. He answered quickly. I’m not even going to ask you now how you emerged from the
Funny, Falco, but it was the most amazing…
Sorry, Kela, I have to get back. Watch and enjoy. I’ll catch up with you after. Stay where you are. Understand?
Where would I go? The one I long to see this day was with him. I gazed upward until I saw him. He broke away, just far enough away. I saw his head turned toward my direction and my heart lit up. Realizing within me at the moment nothing, nothing matter to me but Cono. I wanted nothing more than to wave in his direction, but I held all within me. I would not embarrass him this day.
From down below, I heard music, trumpets and drums, along with singing, beautiful voices blending in the air. The people look so small from my view. I laughed. The sun shone brightly. Everyone seemed happy, so happy and so was I. I was finally home.
A moment later, I saw the signal given from the King. Formation was immediate. The Challow unit aligned first. The smaller but quick unit swooped along the sides of the arena, darting through formation moves. The crowd erupted while I held my breath praying no one would fly into each other. Death would be instantaneous upon a collision, but each move, each route the Challow unit completed with precision and timing.
Without a breach of timing, the Acciptritutes swept in. I watched in amazement even though I had seen the maneuver before at the camp. Never like this. I glanced away while Cono’s unit readied. Nervousness gripped me for I had no doubt Cono would lead the Soaring. The tip of the V formation, he would swoop down to an objective on the field, a small almost invisible target, and then would break his dive at the last minute...target in hand with the unit following in sync to Cono's movements.
Looking over the area, I watched the whole of the crowd’s attention set upon the activities in the air, n’ver a movement. All eyes held to the sky, except from the corner of my eye a brief flapping from behind the royal seating.
Strange, I thought, I must have imagined it, but then another movement. I blinked. There was nothing there... but in the next instant I saw it again. Deep within me, my instincts stirred. Immediately, a connection I had never felt emerged between my warrior and myself. As if I could see from Cono’s eyes, I reacted.
The Soaring began before my arms outstretched. Cono would not relent in his mission. Diving down toward the field, faster and faster, my eyes turned from the unit and held tight to now a visible weapon, a catapult with a huge boulder on the other end. Assailants gathered around the weapon, ceaseless in their pursuit to release the rope holding the boulder tight. With a sudden force, the boulder flew free into the air, aiming straight at the diving unit.
Without hesitation, I blasted a shield which electrified the field. Cono reacted in sync with our own training. Emerging from the dive, Cono almost willed me to control the heavy object back to its origins, smashing the catapult into a million pieces. Arachnideans! The terrified assailants began to morph, but Cono's unit had already attacked.
Kela, the King!
My other hand rounded sending forth a form of protective barrier over the Royal seating. At the same moment in front of the box a Sordarin morphed into a vile creature much like I had seen in the King’s bedchamber. Suddenly I began to panic with a remembrance of the time fighting another Arachnidean within the King's chamber. Then as if reading my thoughts, I could hear and feel Cono, calming me, focusing me, until my instincts prevailed.
Kela! Follow my movements.
Pushing aside all else, except the thought of Cono, I released my shield turning instead to the Arachnid, blasting him back against the ground. Cono needed nothing else. A sword thrust straight into the murderous villain’s heart. Then all calmed.
I didn't move. My eyes glued upon the scene. Abandoning my position wasn't an option, but not another violent movement was made. The unearthly silence encompassed the whole of the arena. My eyes set upon Cono in a yellow-orange aura. He withdrew his sword. Then slowly before him, the dying creature morphed back to human form. Under his breath Cono I saw his lips move as if uttering a name. Around me I sensed activity, but I refused to contemplate my situation, my concern, my focus stood upon the field.
A hand lent to my shoulder, but it wasn't until he said my name that I turned, staring at my brother. His serious face betrayed his concern.
"I have come to ensure your safety. Step back into the tower and wait."
"I can take care of myself, Brother. I can't leave all unprotected."
"You will only be behind the walls but protected from searching eyes. I will call if you are needed. Please, Kela, we need not worry more than what’s upon us."
"What is upon us, Brother?"
"We are uncertain at the moment. Magic was used to camouflage the catapult. Strong black magic. No one noticed but you, Kela. In all the Great One sent you this day to look over us."
"No, Brother. It was the Wood Spirit for my…"
In his arrogant manner, Falco ignored my thoughts. The King must have decreed my appearance a sign from above. I wanted not to be a sign, an illusion. I desired to be real to all, but to pacify him if only for this moment. I pressed not.
"I will send Johannes up. Block the door or the roof if needed."
"Let me go and stand beside Cono. I understand only that an attack has been thwarted, but a dangerous situation still threatens, Falco. Would that not discourage another such attack? Announce to all that a Euchoun protected them!"
Not yet! He thought while he flew off ignoring my questions.
He left me staring out the window frustrated beyond measure! Above me Sordarins littered the sky. Below the crowds confused. Most uncertain how to react, but frightened, panic they were not. Chants, cheers roared from the crowd. I watched all intensely, looking, searching for any sign that all wasn't as it seemed, but my eyes never left Cono.
King Edulf walked toward Cono, his exuberance not withstanding. Watching all around, if I hadn't known better I would have thought the assailant part of the celebration. Cono kneeled. The King gestured him up. The next moment Cono walked over to the body with King Edulf, nodding slightly. Then he followed King Edulf over to the stands where I saw the King order to a guard. The women stood, but suddenly Sareta broke toward Cono.
For the first time since the assailant a smile crept on my face at my impulsive sister. Sareta flung herself over the barrier and hugged my warrior. His reaction I couldn't see with his back to me, but I saw Sareta's and...Amicia's who suddenly came into my view.
Her face. I needed nothing else to know, even from the distance I stood. She glowed as he bowed his head to her. He must have said something for she blushed, prettily. I stared in disbelief. Sareta grabbed Amicia's hand and squeezed it excitedly when Cono withdrew. My attention turned from my warrior to Amicia whose eyes fixated on my warrior. Sareta leaned into her giggling in a fashion, turning to another near by, saying something that all laughed. But Amicia was in love with my warrior...Her eyes lifted upon him, but mine lay upon her. The whole of my bearing stiffened.
Engrossed in my thoughts, the figure in the sky shadowed over me without reaction until the fluttering of his wings blew around me. Taking a few steps back, Cono landed beside me. His bold eyes caught mine. Irritation dissipated with each step he took toward me.
His lips on one side lifted in way one might considered a smile. His broad shoulders glistened in the sunlight with the sweat he had exerted. His wings flexed. The shadows flying above us softened the sharp planes of my warrior’s face. His hand reached for me. I gave no resistance, uttering only under my breath.
“You were to come to me this day. I waited…then I saw this celebration in the…” Others words hung in the air for he said nothing.
Ignoring my ramblings, his arm rounded me pulling me to him. His hand caressed my face, tenderly, passionately. I felt I couldn’t breath. He bent his head and kissed me, fiercely. The power flowed between us. I leaned into him, accepting him, wanting what I wasn’t sure, but I opened myself to him, heart and soul. His mouth wandered over my lips, cheeks, brows and throat.
“Kela,” he uttered, his voice rasping my name. “I love you, Woman. With everything in me. You are part of me.”
In some dim recess of my mind, I suspected all a dream. In hypnotized fascination I said nothing. He ran his hand through my hair, freeing the bounds that held it. Falling down long passed my waist, his fingers lost in the mass of tangles.
His eyes blazing, he tightened his hold. His mouth claimed mine once more. Flows of warmth filled me, gasping as his lips burned a path down my cheek to the sensitive part of my neck. I arched back, baring my throat for him, lost in a sensation that dealt not with reason but want.
“Cono,” I whispered in a low drawing voice. His hand rounded me, pressing me against his leather bound chest. Between the material of my gown, his hands cupped my breast, sending me into a spasm of pleasure, robbing me of all reason.
“We can’t,” I uttered, though my body betrayed me. With reluctance, he broke from me. His hand lingered on my face.
“I’ll wait only until I get you back to my barrack. No more separation. Not now.”
Exhilarated! Words I had only dreamed of escaped his lips. “I have no say?” I teased.
He laughed and drew me into his arms again. “Tell me, my Euchoun. Tell me you love me.”
My arrogant, handsome, warrior!
“I love you,” I managed before he kissed me again.
His arms rounded under me. Lifting me into his arms, he prepared to fly, but as suddenly as he swept me up, he released me. My feet found the ground, but his arm held me tight to him. I sensed the change in him.
Then I heard Falco calling to me. For how long he had done so, I didn’t know but his tone lay with frustration and annoyance. The King was about to descend on us. I glanced up at Cono, worried.
“It is only a delay. King Edulf has given his permission for us to be together and for you to stay. He must only want to collect information on your arrival,” he smiled. His hand went under my chin. “I have questions also. I was only waiting until after…” he paused. “As such where did you get the gown?”
“It was a gift for my birthday,” I answered him. My eyes searched the sky for the sign of the expected entourage. “No one listens to me. I have told you that the woods hold spirits. The Wood Spirit said it was destiny, my fate to wear. You do not like it?”
His nostrils flared on a sharply indrawn breath. “I like it very much. I have never seen you so…”
“Like a lady?” I asked. Irritation now recalled. “Is that what you mean as my cousin you saw before you came to me?”
“Do I detect my Kela is jealous?” he laughed, shaking his head. “You have no rivals for my heart if that is what you ask.” Suddenly his tone altered, somber. “There is much to be made up to you, Kela. I tried to come before this day. Forgive me. Hold to me.”
“I asked for nothing but you.”
“You have me, always. We are bonded, Kela.”
Lowering my head, I stared into his eyes. In all of things I had no knowledge, but this bond, this union, I comprehended well. I would not be complete without him by my side, nor he without me.
Above me the fluttering of wings announced the King’s arrival. I recoiled back into my warrior’s arms, secure in the knowledge we were one.