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Status: backburner - working on a different piece.
Roan Tusor has decided it's time for some adventure in her life. She's a fireborne, one whose soul belongs to fire, she isn't meant for dull routines and monotony! But her simple trip to Lumina is thrown awry when she's captured on the road and takes a most unexpected journey that will force her to face some of her inner demons, trust her heart, and discover a wellspring of courage she didn't know she possessed.
This is much condensed from the original I had up here so will make for a shorter, and less daunting read to get you into the story. For those who have already read the story, this part has added information that makes a re-read worth your while. Hope you enjoy! And as always, I love to hear feedback, even something as simple as I liked it, I didn't like it. It gives me an idea of how many were interested enough to read. Thanks and enjoy!
March 5, 2011 - the final re-write I'm doing for the first draft of this chapter until the rest of the first draft is written! *Collapses in exhaustion*
Uploaded Jan 2011
Baiing, Lompeng Island
Sir Tataren Allington paced for what felt like the hundredth time along the outer perimeter of the balcony attached to his suite of rooms. It afforded a breath-taking view of the red-roofed city that sprawled alarmingly close to the seaside cliffs below. As a man whose soul belonged to water, he wasn’t bothered by the proximity of the sea but he’d bet several silver dahls that there weren’t many firebornes claiming homes within the city’s walls. It would certainly make Roan, his goddaughter, ward, and a fireborne, nervous.
Folding his arms, he leaned on the railing and felt his navy surcoat stretch taught across his broad shoulders. Roan. Now there was a girl who had a penchant for trouble. He loved her dearly, for she was the only child of his closest friend but sometimes he questioned whether Camden had been in his right mind to leave his daughter in his care. Tataren was a knight, renowned for jousting and his ability to hold a sword. What did he know of teenagers and their seemingly never-ending list of problems? Heck, at the moment he couldn’t even remember what being a teenager felt like. He sent up a silent prayer to Ula, the water deity. Roan had better be exactly where he left her when he returned or this time, for sure, there would be consequences.
Smoothing a gloved hand over his face, he contemplated the predicament he found himself in. He’d made port in Baiing, the capital of the Javan Islands, nearly a fortnight ago. He was the acting emissary for Miren, and was supposed to persuade the Javan King not to supply weapons or funds to their eastern neighbor, Caras. The Carans had been attempting to invade Miren ever since a disastrous peace treaty failed six years ago. But so far he wasn’t doing a whit of good. He had yet to even see the King, let alone speak with him. He couldn’t help feeling that he had been sent on a fool’s mission. He would be better served defending their western border against Caran soldiers. In his experience, knights didn’t make good diplomats.
There was a quick knock and the door opened to reveal a balding man in the white and blue uniform of the palace servants. He crossed the threshold and bowed to Tataren.
“The King will see you now.”
“Not that it will do much good,” Tataren muttered to himself.
“Pardon?” The bald servant blinked at him like a startled owl.
Tataren shook his head. “Never mind.” Giving a sigh that shook his whole body Tataren stepped after the man. Here goes nothing …
Northern Road, Miren
One Week Later
It was mid afternoon with the sun slanting through the trees overhead when Roan Tusor pulled her mount to a halt. She’d thought something was amiss a quarter mile back but now she was certain. Dismounting, she led her horse and another stallion beneath the leafy canopy of a maple. Wisper stood calmly while she examined his rear hoof and worked out the offending stone that had loosened his shoe.
“You need a blacksmith,” she announced with dismay. Wisper dropped his head to meekly lip her green tunic in apology.
It was another four days of good riding to the Fire Temple. Wisper’s shoe wouldn’t last that long which meant they would have to stop at one of the smaller villages and hope they had a decent blacksmith. Roan patted him on the neck and moved to inspect Little Night.
“What about you, squirt?” she asked the sprightly young stallion. He tossed his head and stamped at her approach but knew better than to try any of his other tricks with her, particularly with Wisper around.
He stood still for her inspection, barely. She could feel him quivering with pent up energy as she ran her fingers over him.
Reaching into her belt purse she pulled out an apple. Both horses’ ears perked up as she cut slices for them with her belt knife. Wisper was gentle, lipping the treat from her hand. With Night she had to snatch her hand back three times before the stallion stopped lunging for it. A day on the trail and he’d already forgotten 2 years of manners she’d sweat into his hot-blooded brain.
Shaking her head, she pulled a few slices of cold meat from her pack and a handful of nuts and began munching. Roan was making her way to Lumina, the capital city, because she had decided that Little Night was to be the Prince’s birthday present on behalf of her family. At fourteen, the tales of his abilities with horses already flew across the corners of the realm. There were even those who speculated that his developing skills were the beginning signs of conduit power. The whole country was rife with excitement over it. A King who had the power of a conduit! They would be unbeatable. Never mind that the Prince wouldn’t ascend the throne until his eighteenth birthday. In that time Caras might crush them.
Roan couldn’t seem to dredge up a similar excitement. The majority probably had no idea just how dangerous a conduit could be. A King with that kind of power wasn’t something that should be considered lightly. Roan hoped that her gift would earn her a chance to meet the Prince and judge him for herself.
Her meager lunch finished, she dusted off the crumbs and set to work transferring the saddle and its bags onto Little Night. She could manage riding him until Greenbelt. She just prayed they had a blacksmith.
The sun was on its way down when they reached the edge of the village. Greenbelt was small and spread out on either side of the northern road. She stopped at the outskirts to check her appearance. She was dressed in a pale green shirt, brown jerkin, and brown breeches tucked into calf-high boots. All of these she’d filched from Bronelly, the stable master. A single lady of marriageable age didn’t go riding around the country without an escort. So to solve that problem, she’d disguised herself as a young lad. Her story, if she was asked, was she was one of the Tusor’s stable lads, charged with delivering the Prince’s gift. Reaching up, she checked to make sure her hair was completely hidden beneath the tweed cap she wore before nudging Little Night forward.
She found the smithy tucked behind a large building with a sign that read Ducktolling Inn. She could hear the ring of metal on metal and smell the acrid tang of burning coal that hung in the air as she dismounted. Sending up a prayer to Bituin the fire deity, she stepped into the open leading her horses.
“Ho there,” she called out, imitating the drawl of the stable lads as she purposefully deepened her voice.
A burly man straightened up from where he worked over an anvil, a glowing rod of metal sizzling in his tongs. With a nod to her, he walked over and plunged it into a barrel, sending up a hissing plume of steam. He was a tall man, a little stooped at the shoulder from long days bent over an anvil, and wore his red hair long and tied back from his face. His short beard was smeared with soot and grime from the forge but his blue eyes were kind when he glanced up at Roan and her two charges. Probably a fireborne to the core; nearly every blacksmith was a fireborne, drawn by an affinity for working with fire and the things it shaped.
“That’s some fine horseflesh you’ve got there.” He gestured to Wisper and Little Night before picking up the hammer he’d been using and replacing it in his belt. “They’re Tusor bred, unless my old eyes are playing tricks on me.”
She hadn’t been expecting that, and stopped short. It was true that the Tusors were well known for their horses, particularly in the north, but she hadn’t expected to find someone who could recognize one in this little town. Their horses were not cheap.
“Who might you be?” Roan called back. She stayed where she had stopped, leery of the waves of heat that rolled from the forge.
“Einur Trafton’s the name,” he announced in a friendly manner, coming out to meet them. Little Night thrust forward at his approach, brazenly inspecting the blacksmith. Trafton didn’t seem to mind as he let the horse finish his inspection before giving him a pat on the neck. Wisper stuck close to Roan, and Trafton had to coax him to step away from his mistress.
“This one’s devoted to you–” he let the end of the sentence hang.
“Ron, I’m a stable lad over at the Tusor place,” she supplied. The name was close enough to Roan that she’d answer if he called it.
"A pleasure, Ron.”
Roan was relieved to find no hint of suspicion in his voice. He continued with his inspection of the horses until he came to Wisper’s rear hoof.
“Am I to assume this is the reason you sought my services?” he asked, looking up from where he had Wisper’s foot propped between his knees.
“Yes, he needs a new shoe.”
Trafton tsked as he examined the loose shoe in question. “You did a good job in spotting this when you did.”
Straightening, he dusted his hands off and moved to Wisper’s head. Patting him, he glanced at Roan surreptitiously. “So what business brings a stable lad venturing out Greenbelt way?”
Roan bit the inside of her cheek. Here came the test. “I’ve got to take this one,” she indicated Night, “to Lumina for the Prince’s birthday.”
Trafton’s brows rose. “That’s a mighty expensive gift.”
Roan remained silent, returning his probing stare. He would either buy it or not and if she made her story too verbose she would only blow her cover.
He shrugged. “To be wealthy, hey?”
Roan forced a smile even as relief made her knees wobble. He wasn’t going to question her!
He turned and walked to the forge. “I’ve got a supply of ready-made shoes, bring him over here and we’ll fit him for one.”
Roan winced. “Could – couldn’t we do him here?” She didn’t fancy getting any closer to the forge than she had to. Trafton’s sharp stare returned and Roan mentally kicked herself. She should have just kept her mouth shut instead of drawing attention.
“Don’t like fire, do you?” Roan was surprised by the empathy in his voice. Firebornes weren’t known for their empathic natures. “Earthborne?” he grunted, hefting a bucket that emitted several metallic clanks. Roan nodded, not trusting her voice, and hoped that Bituin would forgive the small lie. “Tie that other fine lad and come hold him for me.”
Roan did as she was bid and watched as Trafton pulled the necessary tools from his belt and set to work removing Wisper’s shoe and filing down his hoof. “Ever been to Lumina before, Ron?”
“No, I’ve heard stories, though. But they sound like something the other boys made up just to tease me.”
“Such as?” Finished filing, he measured a ready-made shoe against Wisper’s hoof.
“They say the palace is made entirely out of blue stone.”
“Well that one’s true enough and you’ll see it for yourself. It’s quarried down in the south, near Isit.” Grabbing the tongs, he thrust the shoe he’d chosen into the fire and waited for it to become hot before pulling it out to hammer to a proper fit.
Roan had to wait until the ring of the hammer stopped as he heated the shoe in the forge again before stating, “Isn’t that a waste of money?”
Trafton shrugged. “I suppose palace’s are meant to be grand.”
“So you’ve been to Lumina then?”
There was a short pause while he once again hammered the shoe into shape. “I used to work down there as an apprentice before I started my shop here.” A cloud of steam obscured his face as he plunged the glowing metal into a barrel of water. “In fact, I knew your former employer, he used to bring his horse to me whenever she threw a shoe. Course, that was back when he was still training to earn his shield. What was her name again? She was a fine beast.”
Roan couldn’t have been more shocked if he said he’d shod horses for the King. “Shadow?”
“That’s the one! I heard she suffered an injury and had to be retired early though.”
“Yes, my fa–the late Lord kept her as a broodmare.” She pointed to Little Night with a finger that trembled only slightly, cursing herself for her near slip-up. “That’s one of her sons.”
“Well, isn’t it a small world!” Trafton exclaimed. Lifting Wisper’s foot and securing it between his knees, he made short work of nailing on the newly fashioned shoe. “There,” he declared, straightening. “Good as new.”
Roan offered him a silver dahl for his work and, before he could refuse and she saw he meant to, dropped it into his hand and stepped back. “You’ve saved me time on my journey. It would have taken us twice as long to reach the Fire Temple.”
Trafton studied the coin for but a moment before pocketing it with a shrug. “You could stay for dinner. My wife Milli would be delighted with the company. She says having a conversation with me is equivalent to forcibly extracting teeth.”
“You needn’t worry, that coin more than covers the cost of a meal.”
Roan pinked. She hadn’t thought about how odd a stable lad would look tossing around that kind of coin. “The Mistress spares no expense for the horses.”
“So will you stay?”
“As much as I would enjoy sharing one more meal before the monotony of trail rations, I really must be going. I’m already behind schedule.”
“Surely your Mistress, wouldn’t begrudge your horse a thrown shoe. Come.”
“Please, I don’t want to have to refuse you a second time.”
“Very well,” he conceded. “Perhaps upon your return.”
Roan smiled. “I"d like that. I’m sure I’ll be thoroughly sick of trail food by then!”
Trafton chuckled, waiting until Roan was once again mounted before reaching out to lay a hand against her boot. “Before you go, you might be curious to hear that the Tusor stable master was about earlier today.”
Roan jolted in the saddle. With a sense of dread settling in her stomach she tried to nonchalantly ask, “Really?”
“It seems the Mistress has gone missing and he thought she might be headed this way. Told us to keep an eye out for her and send word if she passed through. Safe travels, Ron.” And before Roan could say anything he gave a wave and disappeared into the smithy.
Roan pushed both horses until they could no longer see the road before finding a spot to camp off the path. Hearing that Bronelly had already been to Greenbelt had rattled her. She would have to be careful on the road from now on. She didn’t want to run into him or anyone who might be on the lookout for her.
The horses had been picketed and a neat stack of twigs and sticks was piled up beside her packs. Roan currently sat cross-legged in the dirt, staring at the firewood she’d gathered with her chin propped on her hand. She was of two minds about starting a fire, and at the moment, the weary side that said it would be inviting trouble was winning. But the nights this far north still held onto winter’s chill and she could feel the cold slipping through her cloak and curling against her skin. She wasn’t overly fond of the feel of gooseflesh tingling along her arms and that was what finally decided it for her.
She had to laugh when she was on her sixth or seventh try at starting a fire and had yet to create a spark. Little Night seemed to be mocking her in the way he watched, even to the exclusion of grazing.
“Ironic when a fireborne can’t even create a little campfire,” she sighed, half-heartedly hitting the flint stones together again. She was startled to see a handful of tiny sparks flare as the stones pulled apart and she straightened with a new determination. Leaning closer over the small teepee of twigs and moss she’d built, she struck the stones once more. Again, she was rewarded with a little burst of sparks. A few of them fell on the moss and sent up tiny curls of smoke.
“Come on,” she ground out, shivering within her cloak. Her hands were beginning to go numb from the chill. Frustration finally got the better of her and she smacked the rocks together repeatedly in anger. Oddly enough, that seemed to make the sparks bigger and a few caught. She coaxed a couple of twigs closer to the growing sparks and added more moss. Roan continued feeding it until she had a merrily burning miniature blaze that wouldn’t go out at the first gust that threatened and then retreated inside the warmth of her cloak to shiver back to a normal temperature.
When she opened her eyes some time later, Roan thought it must have been the fat raindrop landing against her cheek that woke her. She’d been toasty warm until that small drop had slid its icy fingers down her cheek and onto her neck. About to pull up her hood and roll to a more comfortable position, she froze as Wisper whinnied anxiously.
Keeping entirely still, she popped her eyes open to scan their small camp and was surprised to be blinded by firelight. Squinting, she was troubled to find the fire was three times the size it had been when she banked it before falling asleep. Looking to unearth how it had gotten so big when it didn’t have any fuel, she was alarmed to see her forearm draped right through the heart of the flames. With a gasp, she jerked upright and yanked her arm against her chest, where her heart beat fit to pound through her chest. Immediately, the fire began to die down until only embers remained. Roan stared at those little spots of light against the black ash until Wisper stamped his hoof, recalling her to the present.
She was still light blind from the fire and could only vaguely make out her horse’s silhouette in the sudden darkness that encased the camp. Stumbling over to the horses, she found Little Night was trembling and covered in sweat. As quick as she could, she grabbed her packs and tightened the girth on the saddle. The next minute she was mounted and cantering for the road. Branches that she couldn’t see whipped at her face and legs, leaving scratches even through her clothing. When they reached the road she kicked them to a full out gallop and raced back toward Greenbelt.
Now she could hear it over the sound of Wisper, Little Night, and her own heart: the pounding of many shod hooves on packed dirt. Leaning low over his neck, she urged Wisper faster. But he was a destrier, built to carry a man decked in full armor into battle, not race flat out against horses built for speed. Within minutes they were surrounded by riders in black on either side, their faces masked so they were hard to see in the shadows.
One of the riders on her left swerved and his mount’s shoulder slammed into Wisper, making Roan clutch at his mane to keep her seat. Little Night’s lead rein went slack in her hand, severed cleanly by a knife. Roan swerved away to the right, thumping into the rider there. She slammed into him again and felt hands snatching at her reins. Pulling away, she sat hard in the saddle and pulled back on the reins to get Wisper to stop. She felt his hooves sliding over the dirt and rocks as he put the brakes on and then there was a great impact from behind that sent her sailing over Wisper’s head as the reins were wrenched from her hands.
She couldn’t even see the ground rushing up to meet her in the darkness and so she landed in a mess of arms and legs and heard a sickening crunch in one arm before the blackness around her became complete and she knew no more.