Short Story Contest #3 entry: S.J. Faerlind

Discussion in 'Original Works' started by S.J. Faerlind, Sep 20, 2013.

  1. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    I figured I'd better post this today 'cause the weekend is going to be really busy....

    Soooo..... I picked Greybeard's dark-haired raven lady pic, Sparrow's queen on her throne pic and Druid's picture of the cairns on the hill to base the story on. Final word count: 3423.

    Always At Your Right Hand

    ~ Gift or Curse? They are one and the same. What we call them depends solely on our circumstances. ~
    Enorah, the first Dreamer


    Gasping, Brenna’s eyes flew open. Clutching her chest, she sat up and looked wildly around her tiny cottage. Early morning sunlight streamed in through the window and the crystals hanging there cast sparkling rainbows across the walls and floors. Running a hand through her hair, she got out of bed. Her frantic heartbeat started to slow as the urgency of her dream began to fade. Roark squawked from his perch on his favourite chair, irritated that she had startled him by waking so suddenly. She paused to soothe the raven’s ruffled feathers and he quieted under her touch.

    “I have to go home, Roark. Aislyn needs me.” Roark squawked in protest again and she smiled. “You know that I don’t like to visit that gilded cage she lives in any more than you do. She knows it too. She wouldn’t have called me home unless she had to. Why don’t you stay here with Nora?” Roarke fussed with his feathers, indignant that she would ever suggest that he do such a thing. Brenna laughed. “Then stop complaining!”

    Reluctantly, she opened the front door and stepped out into the morning sunshine. The early morning breeze gave her goose-bumps but it would soon warm up to a comfortable temperature. Looking skyward, she could see the sky was clear and cloudless. It was a perfect day to fly. Roark sped past her through the open doorway, his wings carrying him up to a dizzying height where he circled and called impatiently for her to join him. The calls of another impatient raven drifted down from high above and she waved good morning to Nora.

    Closing her eyes, she focussed her attention inward. Picturing herself as she was in exquisite detail, she shortened and rearranged her bones, hollowing some of them out and filling them with sacs of air. Her dark, wild tresses fell out and sleek, black feathers grew in to take their place, growing in all over her body. Her skull narrowed and began to elongate and her eyes darkened. Her form shimmered as her intrinsic life energy rearranged the body that housed it at her command. When the glow around her faded, Brenna stretched her large, black-feathered wings and took to the sky.
    The late summer sun was warm on her wings and she called to her raven friends to hurry up as they frolicked along behind her. The northern forest was alive with foraging bears and young birds practising their new-found skill of flight in preparation for the long migration south. A large flock of grackles arose suddenly from the trees in the distance and their panicked calls echoed over the forest. Wondering what had upset them she dropped closer to the ground and headed north to investigate.

    Skimming the tree-tops, she suddenly flew over a clearing to find something she had never before seen in her wilderness: a Drakan army. Thousands of armed men marched along as quietly as such a large group could manage. Sunlight glinted off their helms and a wide swath of trampled vegetation lay in their wake. Judging from its direction, the trail of destruction led directly to the northern sea. A shiver of horror went down her spine and a cry of dismay escaped her throat. She wheeled around for another pass overhead and saw an archer take aim out of the corner of her eye. Calling out a warning to her companions, she veered sharply in a new direction. The turbulence created by the arrow’s passing convinced her that she’d seen enough. Plunging dangerously close to the trees she sped south with Nora and Roarke in hot pursuit.

    Forest gave way to farmland peppered with scattered towns and villages. Preferring the company of ravens to that of her own kind, she bypassed the settlements until she saw the rocky eastern seacoast and the high spires of the palace in the distance. It was with mixed feelings that she circled the highest one, seeking the window that she knew was hers. In trying to cage her willful and wild daughter, her mother had unknowingly given her freedom. The raven had been her preferred form since the day of her first flight.

    She smiled inwardly to see that her window was open, knowing Aislyn would have ordered it to be left that way. In spite of how much she disliked this place and all that it represented, it was still nice to know that she was truly welcome. Landing on the sill, she hopped to the floor. Her form shimmered as she changed back into her human body, leaving only a pile of feathers on the floor around her feet.

    Hurrying to the door, she paused with her hand on the knob, realizing that she had been a Shape-shifter too long alone in the wilderness. Though her news was of critical importance, Aislyn could wait a few more minutes to hear it. Chiding herself for stupidity, she flung open her wardrobe doors. She pawed impatiently through the gowns her mother had once had made for her and then insisted that she wear. Frowning, she dug around in the bottom of the closet, finally finding the tiny hole in the false floor and pulled. Reaching into the space underneath, she pulled out a simple green dress with a tasseled fringe hem and matching belt. Had she ever found it, her mother would long ago have burned this clothing which she would have thought to be wildly inappropriate for any woman to wear, especially a princess. Grinning wickedly, Brenna hurriedly donned the garments before feeling around for her old boots. The leather was still soft and supple as she sat down on the floor to lace them up. Further exploration of the closet yielded a blue cloak fringed in gold and so she threw that on over top of everything else. Not caring that a few feathers still clung to her hair, she rushed out of her room and began the long descent out of the tower, a raven perched on each shoulder.

    The throne room doors were exactly as Brenna remembered them: huge wooden things carved with her family crest. She stared at the sigil of the starry night sky surrounded by curls of ethereal mist and took a deep, steadying breath. The starry night was Aislyn’s domain and the responsibility that came with that gift made her sigh with relief that she had not been born as the Dreamer. Aislyn was the responsible one, and it was on her slight, but steady, shoulders that the cares and future of the realm rested. Most thought the mists of the crest represented dreams. They were correct but Brenna’s aunt had once told her they also represented the Shape-shifter. Their ever-changing formations surrounded and supported the night sky; always on the edges but no less valuable for that. That was the way it was supposed to work anyway. Suppressing a feeling of guilt, she reminded herself that she was here and doing her duty. The realm could ask no more of her than that.

    The guards on duty lowered their lances, barring her way forward as she approached the doors. “In order to pass, you must state your business and register with the steward,” the one on the right said. The eyes of the young guard on the left wandered appreciatively over her as his companion spoke.

    Unimpressed, Brenna fixed them with a direct stare. “I am the princess Brenna, sister to the queen. She is expecting me.”

    Both of them straightened up noticeably and the eyes of the younger guard snapped forward to stare front and centre where they should have been all along. The older guard gaped at her, taking in her somewhat wild appearance in disbelief. “Please accept our apologies, your Highness. You are correct. She is expecting you.”

    Saluting smartly, they swung the heavy doors open for her to enter. Nodding curtly, Brenna strode determinedly through them. The steward rushed over, the horrified look on his face telling her that he intended to shepherd her out and into more appropriate attire before anyone saw her. She ignored him and headed directly for the far end of the room. Gasps of surprise from the assembled petitioners and nobility followed her as she pushed her way past them and toward the dais the throne sat upon. She could hear the queen’s quiet, but authoritative voice passing judgement on some issue or other from somewhere up ahead. Craning her neck to see over the crowd, Brenna could see the queen sitting on her throne, her unusually long, pale blue hair covering her matching gown like a cloak. Her delicate features were carefully composed and her eyes were closed. She’d been trained to keep them that way from a young age.

    Roarke squawked loudly, a warning to the guards who moved to intercept them and the queen’s head snapped up at the sound. She beckoned to an aide who whispered something in her ear and a joyful smile appeared on her face. With a wave of her hand the guards retreated back into the corners of the room and the crowd parted. Walking forward, Brenna found herself face-to-face with her twin for the first time in five years. The queen smiled and held out a hand toward her so she climbed the steps of the dais and took it within her own. Kneeling, she pressed her forehead against her sister’s knuckles.

    “Welcome home, Brenna,” her sister murmured, quietly enough so that only the two of them could hear. Aislyn’s voice cracked just a little and she realized with some surprise that the queen’s apparently calm demeanor was in very real danger of disintegrating. Unaware of that, the watching crowd cheered and clapped politely.

    The weight of the news she carried pressed heavily on her, but Brenna knew better than to blurt out such dire tidings in front of all these people. Instead she squeezed her sister’s hand, an unspoken signal that she needed a private audience with her as soon as possible.

    The commanding voice of the queen rang out over the now excitedly-chattering crowd. “Audiences are over for the day.”

    The guards began herding the crowd toward the exit. Brenna rose to her feet and moved to stand at the queen’s right hand, reclaiming her traditional place. When the crowd had gone and the doors to the throne room had finally closed, Aislyn dismissed her staff and turned to face her. Brenna smiled to see her sister open her eyes for the first time since she had entered the room.

    The strange eyes of a Dreamer would never make her uncomfortable as they did for so many others. She’d been staring into those starry depths since before her birth and they would always remind her of happy times, love and acceptance. The formality of hiding them only reminded her of the queen. She couldn’t ever recall seeing her own mother’s eyes. Taking Aislyn’s hand, she pulled her sister to her feet and led her away to the royal apartments.

    Her twin hugged her fiercely as soon as she closed the door behind them, dislodging both Roarke and Nora from her shoulders. They squawked indignantly and sought safer perches elsewhere in the room as Aislyn pinched her upper arm. “You are bigger than I remember. I think you could take on my master at arms now and give him a fight that he would not soon forget!”

    Brenna only laughed and surveyed her sister critically. “You on the other hand are much too thin. Do they not feed you properly around here?”
    The happy smile faded from Aislyn’s face. “I am well fed. At least I would be, if I could eat.”

    Brenna nodded, her expression grim. “You already know, don’t you? That’s why you called me home. You have seen them in your dreams.”

    “Who?”

    “The Drakan.”

    Aislyn shook her head. “I have not seen a Drakan since mother tried to marry you to one. Out of all who might have come, it makes sense that they would be the ones responsible. Tell me what you have seen.”

    Brenna frowned. “There is a Drakan army marching toward you out of the north. I saw at least seven thousand well-armed and disciplined men. From what I could tell I’d guess they came to our northern shores by ship, thinking to surprise us by coming at us out of the wilderness.”

    “Regardless of how difficult that terrain is to march an army through, enough will make it out of the wilderness to reach us here,” Aislyn muttered.

    Brenna snorted. “They did not count on me living in the north and now they have lost the element of surprise. Move those who live on the edges of the forest south and burn their fields and crops behind them as they retreat. By the time they make it out of the wilderness, the Drakan will need supplies. Burning the crops will ensure that their army will begin to starve before we ever need to face them. Also, winter will soon be upon us. If we can slow them down and delay them, many of them will perish in the cold, making our victory that much easier. By the time they get here, their forces will be greatly diminished and they should be easily overwhelmed.”

    Aislyn was strangely silent so Brenna studied her sister intently. The queen stood holding onto the back of a chair for support, her hair falling forward to mostly cover her face. Reaching out, Brenna put a hand on her shoulder. “Come now, it isn’t that bad. We have discovered the danger in time. Rally your armies and recall your reserves. I’ll personally lead a force into the wilderness to delay the Drakan to buy you time. When the remnants of their starving army finally do get here, yours will smash them into oblivion.”

    Aislyn shook her head. “No. I have a different job for you.”

    Mystified, she watched as her sister turned and felt carefully along the wall behind them. Aislyn’s sensitive fingers shuffled carefully along until she found whatever she was looking for. She pressed her fingers into the wall and a whole section of it swung slowly inward, revealing a tunnel behind it. Hand-in-hand, they plunged into the darkness.

    Brenna spread her free hand out and felt along the walls as they walked. They were dry but cool to the touch. There were no cobwebs, indicating that this tunnel was used frequently. They came to a connecting tunnel and turned left. The floor began to slope downward suddenly and only her sister’s grip on her hand stopped her from pitching forward onto her face. They turned left twice more before Aislyn stopped once again and began running her hands over the wall in front of her. Searing light suddenly burned Brenna’s eyes as a crack appeared in the wall. Backing away, they waited for the door to open fully.

    Shielding her eyes, Brenna followed her sister into a windowless room lit by torches. A peasant woman rose to her feet and bowed before her queen.

    Aislyn smiled at her. “How are they, Dana?”

    “Your daughters are well, your Majesty.”

    Brenna could only stare at the twin babes sleeping in the bassinette in surprise. “Daughters? Rumours whispered that you were barren, sister!”
    Aislyn laughed bitterly. “That was one rumour that I paid dearly for in order to have it circulated. To ensure their safety, nobody besides you, me, and Dana knows of the existence of my children.”

    Brenna’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I suppose their father does not know either then. I’d like to know how you managed to hide your pregnancy.”

    Her sister’s voice was distant as she tenderly stroked a tiny fist that had wrapped itself around her finger. “There has been an outbreak of plague here in the south, Brenna. When clothes could no longer hide my pregnancy, I secluded myself, pretending to be one of the plague’s victims. Though it killed many, those who did recover took a very long time to heal. With Dana to look after me and deliver the babes, nobody ever discovered that I was not ever ill at all.”

    Brenna nodded and smiled at the two peacefully sleeping girls, feeling a rush of affection for her nieces and for her twin. One of the babes opened her eyes briefly. They were as dark as night and speckled with flecks of white. They were the kind of eyes that could only see when they were closed; eyes that were blind to the light of day but open to the foretelling that only dreams could bring. They were the eyes of a queen. “Congratulations,” she whispered.

    Aislyn nodded her thanks but placed a hand on Brenna’s arm. “You must take them and flee to the safety of the wilderness. Dana will go with you to help you care for them. I would not ask this of you, sister, but there is no-one else I trust.”

    Brenna frowned in confusion, wondering if childbirth had addled her sister’s wits. “What do I know of the raising of children? Besides, my place in this time of trouble is here at your right hand and serving the realm, where the Shape-shifter is supposed to be.” Guilt rose like bile in the back of her throat. “My headstrong ways have always been my curse! It’s my bloody fault the Drakan army is here in the first place. I should have married that Drakan prince, just like mother wanted me to. If I had, this wouldn’t be happening.”

    Aislyn shook her head and her voice was firm. “No. They want our land, not you. The only reason they would have accepted you as a bride for their prince was to give mother a false sense of security so she’d let her guard down. Once you’d borne them a child or two you’d have suffered a mysterious accident and they’d have invaded anyway. A child out of you may even have legitimized their claim to the throne in the eyes of the people, making their invasion that much easier. Mother never saw that in her dreams, but I did. Besides, you never could live in a cage, sister. You belong in the wilderness and deep within yourself you know that is the right place for you. Yet even there, you are still standing at my right hand. I need you to take my daughters and make sure they survive.”

    Brenna threw up her hands in exasperation. “There is no need for me to take them and flee! My plan is a good one and it will work. Your armies can defeat this enemy.”

    Aislyn laughed bitterly, her expression haunted. “What armies? The plague has decimated our population and the army was hit the hardest. I will rally what is left behind my banners and we will do as you have suggested.” Her voice dropped to a barely more than a whisper. “Though I birthed them myself, I know they will never be my daughters, Brenna. They will be yours.”

    Brenna paled as the implications of her sister’s words struck home. Aislyn was the most powerful Dreamer born in many generations. “By the Gods, Aislyn! What has your gift told you?”

    Tears began to run down her sister’s face. “It is not a gift, but a curse! I have seen what is to come and until now, I alone have borne the burden of knowing. Still, I will not take away what little hope our people have. The dream is always right, Brenna. The foretelling it brings has never, ever failed me.” Aislyn raised her blind Dreamer’s eyes to meet hers. “I saw a line of cairns on a grassy hilltop. Soon, our civilization will be nothing more than a memory.” Brenna closed her eyes, fighting back her own despair now as Aislyn took her hands and raised them to her lips. “That which you call your curse, I say is your gift, for it is your wild and willful ways that will save us in the end. The Drakan will never be able to find you in your wilderness and so our daughters will live. The Dreamer and the Shape-shifter will lead our people again one day. On that day, there you will be, still standing at my right hand.”
     
  2. Emerlas

    Emerlas Emerz

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    This looks great SJ, more reading!!!!
    yay!!
    :D
     
  3. Beldaran

    Beldaran Guest

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    aaahhhh nice SJ, going to read it soon :D
     
  4. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    *kicks thread to keep it active while the SS contest is still on* :D