Birth of the Flame
For Cole, the little man who helps
me find the magic in life.
Eris sat eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Master of Studies. It still seemed as though she was in a dream. She had worked her mind and body to exhaustion the last four years hoping to gain this honor, but there was always doubt. The fact that she was considered something of an outsider weighed against her, or maybe the Tribunal put it in her favor in this case. Maybe there was extra consideration for surviving severe adversity. In any case, she was on the verge of accessing knowledge the general populace barely knew existed. The crystal archives were better guarded than any precious treasure of gold or gems. Magically etched into every crystal were the memories of some being or another who had lived out there lives and entrusted all their knowledge to the Belvian cause. So much information, so many things that she had learned, and now she would be seeing memories from before the Belvian race was even known to exist. Thoughts that were from before the Tribunal, before the Belvian liberation, before the construction of the Tri-City, and perhaps even some memories from before this particular world came into being.
A sudden wave of movement snapped Eris out of her daydreaming. The Master of Studies had arrived and all the students were rising in respect.
"Hello, my children. Sit." The Master of Studies was a tall, white-haired man, with deeps lines on his brow and around his brown eyes. Despite his obvious age his voice was deep, rich, and unwavering. "We've much to do, and while I am one who believes we could spend all our lives learning, I don't intend to let you spend the rest of yours listening to me ramble."
There was some nervous tittering about the room. Eris just smiled while watching her teacher intently.
"In this tower room, you will learn the precious history of the world we live in, from its creation to the present time." The Master paused for a moment, tugging gently on his short, white beard. "I know you've been given rough outlines in the past, so much of this will be familiar to you, but there is no substitute for learning history directly from the source! You will see through the eyes of our greatest heroes. It is a privilege many wish for and few are granted. All are allowed access to the crystal archives, and those with the free time come quite frequently, thirsting for knowledge, but these memories," he gestured to a small tray of crystals being held by a servant, "are all either the direct creation of the avatars of Laia or the creations of those who spent their days closest to them."
Eris frowned for a moment. It had never occurred to her that they would be given immediate access to the memories of friends, family, and comrades. She thought she would have to look all that up on her own.
The Master of Studies wore a knowing smile. "Sometimes, children, those around us know us better than we know ourselves. We do not always see our own faults and strengths clearly. Now, when each set of these crystals are combined in a temporium field they meld into a seamless visual. Our first subject will be the first avatar, Dynworia Lai'Winsinel of the Wildernelves."
There was a buzz of excitement in the air, sudden whispering, and a chill of anticipation shot through Eris from the top of her raven head to the tips of her toes.
"Now, a brief history is in order. Just to recap, Dynworia was born in the last months of magic's reign on the Plane of Earth. She was only an infant during the great exodus of the elven peoples to Terra Mai. As such, she took her place as one of the first of the Wildernelves, for the great splitting of the Laian people occurred immediately after their banishment. The warring with their Direlven cousins on Earth endangered their mortal, non-magical neighbors and the Pantheon of old simply would not stand by and watch entire species be wiped out because the elvish people failed to check their power.
The new world was a beautiful forgery of Earth, the very land we live in today, Terra Mai. Two large continents and a vast, ever connected ocean. We long ago deduced that we are smaller than Earth by about half. Dynworia grew up in the city of Faerhaven on the continent of Nurivia. She was sheltered, protected, and kept relatively ignorant of the outside world. The Wildernelves take their isolation very seriously. Their young are few and far between, and hovering in the delicate growth phase for nearly a hundred years before reaching their full strength and potential. They chose to keep to themselves and keep their young closer. I can't say I blame them at all. Now, it’s about time for me to end my rambling. We'll begin our viewing right near the end of this clumsy, protected stage of adolescence for Dynworia. Her life is about to explode into action, where before it was a long string of quiet days training with her father and brothers, cooking with her mother, and hugging her grandfather. She never suspected for a moment that her life was going to take this kind of extreme turn, though you'll see that she often craved more than her sheltered environment could give her."
The Master of Studies was silent then. He quickly selected about ten crystals and placed them in the shimmering temporium field. "Prepare yourselves; this can be a bit...disorientating."
The room jerked, then swirled, spun, and tilted. Just as Eris was certain she would be sick, things stilled, but she found that they were no longer in the classroom, or at least seemed not to be. For that matter, she seemed to be completely alone aside from a tall, red haired girl she didn't recall seeing before.
The Master's voice drifted into her mind then. "Everyone be sure to relax. You cannot see each other, but you are all still here. You cannot sense the room, but you are still in it. You are now adrift in the realm of memories. You cannot interact. You can only observe and be drawn along by the progression of the story."
Eris swallowed, took a deep breath, and settled into gazing at the redhead. She could only be one person, Dynworia Lai'Winsinel.
Chapter One: The Summoning
The chill of the harvest time seemed to enter the air overnight. The seasons changed so quickly in Nurivia that there was little warning when the transitions would occur. Today, summer still seemed to be all around, with sunshine, green grass, and meadow flowers, but that little chill and a slight musky scent meant that within a few days the leaves would all be golden and red. Dynworia savored the smell, the mixture of summer and fall. Her eyes closed while lying hidden in the tall grass. The changes in nature always heightened her desire for change in her own life. Freedom. Knowledge. Truth. So much of it she was denied. She could know this, but not that...see these, but not those. Too young, that was always the excuse. Today, all of that would change. She rose quickly, startling a nearby group of birds to flight. Dynworia smiled, breaking into a fast run in the direction the birds had flown. The air was crisp and , the freedom of the chase and the knowledge that life was about to expand was all around her. Fate was an interesting thing. The birds had flown towards the very meadow where her initiation ceremony would soon take place. The ceremony which would make her a full adult in the community and begin her training as a ranger like her father and brother Kethluen before her.
Knowledge was the lure that had driven Dynworia to begin her training so early in life. Only seventy-two years old, she was nothing but a child amongst her people. Still, her brother had agreed to be her mentor (no other ranger would take a pupil so young) and opened the gateway to the answers to every question Dynworia asked since the day she learned to speak. Young elves were kept relatively ignorant of the outside world during their formative years. The elders thought it better for them to focus on other aspects of their life. Singing, dancing, and writing tales were the things that young elves should do. They were made to sit in peaceful meadows and read whitewashed versions of elvish history. The majority of the violence, injustice, terror, sadness and basically anything unpleasant was saved for them to read much later in life. In Dynworia’s opinion, the only thing the elders had gotten right was allowing young elves to learn the many arts of war, but little good that was when you were not allowed to know of your enemies, or your allies for that matter. Dynworia’s kin were known as Wildernelves because they chose to live in the forests and lead reclusive lives. Few of them went out into the world, and when they did, they rarely stayed long.
Once Dynworia learned to read, she began an intensive study of elven heritage, despite the elders’ command that no elf under the age of one hundred and fifty should become learned in the past of Nurivia. Dynworia had argued that as long as she only studied books pertaining to the history of the Wildernelves she could not be considered ‘learned in the past of Nurivia’. The elders, already tired of arguing various issues with the youngster, conceded to Dynworia’s point. Still, despite the elf maiden’s claims, there was a great deal to be learned about the world at large in all those books. The further back in time they went, the more her people had interacted with others. Though she learned a great deal about the land of Nurivia, knowledge of Earth, the world on which she was born, but too young to remember, was ever elusive and no one ever wished to speak of it. There were a few children's books she was allowed to read that would speak of the realm of Earth. These texts left her with more questions than answers and she would seek out anyone she thought might have a shred of information. That included the emissaries from the Archelven cities. Archelves and the Wildernelf band had once been a part of the same community, but as the Archelves had pulled further away from nature and focused more closely on their worship of Nura, the Wildernelves began to break away from them. They still had friendly relations and regularly conducted trade. Dynworia earned herself cleaning duties in the temple of Laia for a month for interrogating the prince, Narain, son of king Nenfalel of Faeraisol. Dysado Shadereaper, Dynworia’s father, had found Dynworia with the prince cornered, badgering him for information that was still restricted to her. To Dysado’s relief the prince had found the whole situation rather amusing. Twenty years of age at the time, Dynworia was nowhere new adult height. Her meager three and a half feet had left Narain to tower another three feet above her.
Dynworia cringed a bit at those memories of Narain. He had been quite firmly opposed to her bid for early training and had argued with her on the side of her father, mother, the elders, and most of Faerhaven. Elven children of any breed were in very short supply. In the case of the Wildernelves a child only came into their midst every few hundred years.. Another child had been born only a year before Dynworia, but a strange sickness had taken him. The Wildernelves had yet to receive a child in the new world. Dynworia’s mother, Fideissia, was a warden with unusually powerful magic. Like her mother before her, Fideissia used that magic to help herself become with child. Sadly, they had never been able to apply this method to other elven mothers desperate for children. Wildernelves adored children. The entire community helped to raise Dynworia. She came from an unusually large family, having two brothers (for having one sibling was odd enough) and the size of her extended family was an even rarer sight. Her grandmother, Dynmaiu Flamingbow, brought four children into the world, one girl, and three boys. The boys each had one child of their own and with Fideissia’s three that gave Dynmaiu six grandchildren. Though many families were jealous of the Lai’Winsinel numbers, their envy was minuscule in comparison to their relief at a steady population growth. Yet, the youngest of Dynworia’s cousins was still eight hundred and twenty-seven years older than her and the twins, Kethluen and Letharyn, had turned two hundred that very spring. There was a great deal of loneliness involved in being the only child in an entire region. Growing up simply took a very long time for elves, even Kethluen was considered a youngster despite his prowess as a ranger.
“Dynworia, you need to hurry up! Baluel is ready for your induction and most of Faerhaven is waiting as well!” Dynworia snapped back to the reality when she heard Kethluen’s voice. She did not know how long she'd been standing there at the edge of the forest, but hopefully no one but Keth saw her.
Hunters’ Glade seemed to glow, reflecting the light of the early morning sun. There was a large crowd gathered around the sacred center stone. A strange tightness filled Dynworia’s chest, and her mouth went dry. She wanted nothing more than to be allowed to enter training, to become a ranger, guardian of the Great Mother’s lands. What if Mother Laia or Nura, her daughter, rejected her? What if the goddesses cast her aside as too young, or worse, called her to life as a warden? This thought sent a cold shiver down Dynworia’s spine. Though the wardens were better respected than rangers, and endowed with great magic, Dynworia would be crushed if Nura called her to be a priestess of nature. Wardens were cloistered, only ever leaving their temples for ceremonies, healing rituals, and in the case of war when their most powerful magic was needed. Marriage was the only salvation and she had no desire for that either. All of her dreams of adventure and travel would die with such a calling.
“Dynworia Lai’Winsinel,” boomed a powerful voice, “step forward, and be judged.”
The voice of Baluel Keendagger made Dynworia’s heart race. Now it was time for her to face her goddesses. She had to let go of her fear. With Kethluen following close behind, Dynworia walked to the center of Hunters’ Glade and swiftly climbed to the top of the sacred stone. The four Great Wardens took up their positions, east, west, north, and south. Four more wardens stepped forward to follow their masters. These were the chosen successors of the Great Wardens, and they moved to cover northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest. Their chanting started out soft, barely even a whisper, but as their incantation gained momentum, their voices raised. Soon Dynworia could feel the sacred stone vibrating with the power carried by the wardens’ chant. The air buzzed with magic and she felt herself falling into a trance-like state.
“Why do you come before me, Lai’Winsinel child,” the Great Wardens asked in unison. Their eyes were glowing an eerie green, and their voices had become light.
Dynworia swallowed hard, the wardens had invoked the great goddess, and they were now a conduit for her power and voice. “I have come to be judged, and to lay claim to training.” Dynworia prayed that her voice did not shake.
“Who is sponsor to the child?”
“I am, Kethluen Lai’Winsinel.” Keth stood just behind the Great Warden of the north. He was tall and proud, and Dynworia tried to feed on his courage.
“Child who was named swift-river, ranger whom I named Windreaper, tell me why this child should be trained.”
“She is eager to learn, my goddess, eager and hard working,” Kethluen called out. “I believe that she will serve you well when her time comes.”
“When her time comes,” the goddess said faintly.
Complete silence fell over the glade, and the air deadened. Then a pillar of green fire shot from the sky in front of Dynworia, landing on the sacred stone, seeming to stretch endlessly back up to the clouds. “And has your time come, restless child?” This voice came from the air itself, not the wardens.
“Yes.” Dynworia had not stopped to think before answering. It was as if this fire had pulled the response from her soul.
The flames began to mold themselves into the image of a beautiful elven woman. She appeared as a shimmering statue of emerald. Vines of fire encircled her tunic and made up her crown. Her hair flowed to the ground and pooled about her feet. Her eyes, though made of green fire, were gentle and kind and there was a knowing smile upon her lips. In her right hand, she held a long, wooden staff. It was capped with an orb of swirling clouds and lightning. This was the Staff of the Wardens. In the goddess’s left hand were three arrows bound with ivy, each with a name engraved upon the arrowhead. These were the names of the three avatars Laia had chosen since she created the realm of Earth.
“Child named great-warrior; I call you to you to serve me. Close to me and dear to my heart, you've felt my pull strongly since your birth in your true home,” the voice asked. "You see my arrows, those who have given their whole souls and hearts to me. Saviors. Heroes. The name of your own grandmother is etched here. Would you simply be a warden or ranger, my child, or would you reach for more?"
“Mold me as one of your arrows,” Dynworia cried and raised her hands to the goddess before her.
“Child named great-warrior; I name you Magearrow, evoker of flames and guardian of Nurivia. I name you Magearrow, daughter of my soul. Hold on to your strength and your faith. All you believe will be tested.”
With that, the goddess’s form returned to that of a pillar of flames. The fire swooped down to encircled Dynworia and began to whirl about her. She felt herself being pulled into the air and surrendered her body to the will of the goddess. Then she was spinning, faster and faster. Visions began to fill her mind, flying through her thoughts so quickly that she could only glimpse their surface. The fire began to consume her, eating away at who she had been and reshaping her into a warrior of the goddess.
As the maelstrom of visions and emotions subsided, Dynworia felt herself drifting to the ground. The burning that filled her soul was now only an echo of what it had been a moment before, but it still screamed for her to leave, to go out into the world, and conquer all the enemies of Laia. Her feet touched the ground and she opened her eyes. The wardens were gone, but everyone else remained. Dynworia searched their faces. Most of them were looking at her in amazement, some in fear, all as if they did not recognize her. Her mother and father were holding on to each other, both looking uncertain. She could sense their fear for her, their concern for what her future might hold.
Dynworia tore her gaze away from her parents and looked down at the ground. Her eyes caught sight of her armor. No longer was it simple chainmail and leather in hues of brown and green. Now she was covered with chainmail rings so tiny that a pinhead could not fit through their center and colored as red as blood. Her wrists were now bound with red leather that had been branded with vines, but instead of leaves, there were flames. There were boots and a helm to match this, and at Dynworia’s feet, there was a red leather quiver to match her gauntlets. Never had Dynworia seen armor so fine, nor had she ever heard of the goddess bestowing any gift but a name upon those who came to claim training.
Kethluen came to stand in front of Dynworia, but she did not know what to say or how to feel. The ceremony had been nothing like what she had expected. Perhaps all those who had come before her were sworn to secrecy? She lifted her gaze to meet Keth’s, and what she saw their convinced her that something unexpected had happened. Even her brother looked at her with respect, but it was tempered by fear.
* * * *
That evening, after the ceremony, Kethluen sat down with his family to share a meal. His father and mother were strangely silent and Letharyn had chosen to visit with friends. The twin had been named quite appropriately. Gentle-breeze, yes that fit Leth very well with how timid and quiet he usually was. No doubt, he had been quite terrified at the prospect of facing his newly empowered sister. Kethluen looked across the table at his sister then. Her head was down and she was picking at her food, showing little interest in the special treats their mother prepared in honor of her initiation. It was not so strange to see his sister withdrawn into her own thoughts, but he would have thought she would have had an unending list of questions! As of today, she could no longer be denied all of the information she had been questing after for so many years, yet she had refrained from speaking at all since the ceremony.
Kethluen had never seen anything as beautiful as the representation of Laia that his sister’s power invoked. His mother had once told him that grandmother Dynmaiu had managed a manifestation of the goddess during her initiation, but it had appeared more as a ghostly image, fading in and out of the realm of earth. Today he felt he had seen something quite close to what his goddess must look like. He began to study his sister once more, taking in every detail of the magnificent armor that had been given to her, reaching out with his senses to feel the power that flowed through her.
“Keth, would you stop that please,” Dynworia said softly. Her bright emerald eyes met his and they were begging him to let the matter rest, pleading for everyone to forget what they had seen.
Fideissia took Keth’s hand, “We’re all worried about you, Dynworia. We are worried about what all this will mean for all of us. The goddess spoke as if she anticipated war, as if she expected you to go out and do battle. Have you so quickly forgotten the state your grandmother lies in even as we speak?”
Kethluen glanced to his right, taking in his mother’s worried expression. He knew very well that Fideissia’s slight, fine boned body and gentle nature concealed a seasoned warrior. Despite his mother’s words, he knew that she feared most of all to lose any more of her family to war.
“I will never forget and I believe the Mother made clear that we must prepare ourselves,” Dynworia said calmly, “That is why there is little time to waste on being afraid for me.”
“We cannot sustain another war, daughter.” Dysado joined in the conversation now. Kethluen knew that his father must be conflicted and uncertain. He had been in the thick of the last two wars their people fought. After seventy years of peace, seventy years of praying that his people would be able to truly rebuild, the time had come again for war. Dysado had fought alongside of Dynmaiu Flamingbow in the Second War of Dirol; Kethluen knew he was still haunted by the brutality of the Direlven armies. Though he knew he should trust in the judgment of Laia, it was difficult to conceive of how his tender, young sister would be able to meet such a challenge and put to rest the fear that their father and mother now felt.
Dynworia turned to face her father, “I do not think we will be going to war just yet, father. So many visions passed through my mind during the ceremony that it is hard to discern what I should do first. I think I am meant to seek out our enemies and slow them down. I need to give us enough time to prepare.”
Kethluen took a shaky breath. The combined strength of Faeraisol and Faerhaven could never compare with the sheer numbers of the Direlves, even if their magic was far more advanced. The children of Lai’Winsinel would be called to the front lines because their power was strongest. They would face the greatest danger as they always had in the past.
“Do not be so afraid, mother.” Dynworia smiled and took her mother’s hand. “We have a good deal of time to prepare and I now know that there are many allies to be had in Nurivia, I need only seek them out.”
“It will not be so simple, Dyn,” Keth said as he stood up to pace. “Most of them don’t even realize that we exist. Their lives are short and they cling to them dearly.”
Dysado raised a hand to silence his son. “Your brother has a very good point, Dynworia, but there are some who would help us. There are some who will realize that their futures are at risk as well and come to our aid.”
“There is little time to waste then,” Dynworia said firmly, “We will leave in the morning to begin the training, Keth. We will have to try and complete two tasks at once.” With that, she rose and left to go find rest, away from the questioning eyes of all of her kin.
Fideissia rose and began to clear the table. Dysado walked out onto the balcony, Kethluen followed close behind him. His people chose to live in the tall and sturdy Eolian trees of Laia's holy forest. Here there were trees and plants unlike anything that could be found in the rest of Nurivia. The Eolian trees which the elves built their homes in stretched several hundred feet into the air, blocking out the sky. Ten elven men would have to join hands to reach around the trunk of these trees, and the wind did not sway them. Enchanted rope bridges stretched from tree to tree, joining the many homes, which were situated in a circle around a large clearing. In the center of the clearing stood a massive platform that had been built around three of the Eolian trees. On the platform there was a meeting hall, an armory, and a large larder where the community food stores were kept. The platform also contained the only way to reach the ground, a spiral staircase which was carved from the trunk of one of the Eolian trees they had been cut down to enlarge the existing clearing. All of the wood used to create Faerhaven had come from Eolian trees by command of Laia herself. Only axes blessed by the wardens were able to penetrate the wood of the trees, and no fire could burn them. They were virtually indestructible without the blessing of Laia, or her daughter, the goddess Nura. It was the one major defense of the Wildernelves.
“But, will it be enough,” Kethluen whispered, “Will we be forced to flee our home and enter the walls of Faeraisol? Even then, would we be safe, or are our cousins as doomed as we are?”
“I do not think we are doomed just yet, my son.” Dysado placed a hand on Kethluen's shoulder. The gentle pressure was calming. The sky was clear and the stars shown like millions of diamonds in the sky. The trees seemed restless as their leaves rustled with no wind. Only the wardens would be able to understand why. “You will find help and I doubt you could convince anyone to leave Faerhaven even if Dirol himself was scorching the earth beneath the city.”
Dysado chuckled, “No doubt the council would send word to the citizens of Faeraisol that they are welcomed to join us here, if they do not feel secure in their stone fortress.”
“Ha! I certainly would never feel safe behind stone walls; we need only the holy forest to protect us.” Kethluen grasped the railing and closed his eyes, trying to envision Faeraisol and discern why anyone would leave their forest home for the citadel.
“I'm certain you'll be seeing the citadel soon, Keth. It has a beauty of its own, however alien it may appear to your eyes. It would be best for you and your sister to speak with the king and his son. See what information they can provide you with.” Dysado’s mouth was drawn into a tiny smile at the memories of Faeraisol’s gleaming walls. Kethluen still did not know if his father would have come to Faerhaven if not for Fideissia. True, he had fought alongside of Dynmaiu but he was not a true ranger and he certainly was not a warden. His training had been as an imperial assassin, in a time when there had been an empire to protect in such ways. Few in Faerhaven served callings outside of nature, and most of them were scribes.
“Well, I suppose I’ll find out soon enough,” Kethluen said softly. “I have a feeling that Faeraisol is the first place that Dynworia means to visit.”
“Really?” Dysado’s eyebrows disappeared under his auburn locks. “I never would have thought she’d go within a day’s walk of the place, what with Narain doing everything but bribing the council to get a marriage agreement.”
“Maybe she thinks he’ll reconsider now,” Keth said with a shrug. “He did mention that he would have a representative at the ceremony. By tomorrow morning he’ll know everything that happened and if I were him I’d think twice about pursuing someone who has practically been declared an avatar of the goddess.”
“Not quite, but let’s hope it doesn’t go that far.”
Kethluen gave his father a quizzical look.
“Avatars have a nasty habit of dying for their gods.”
Chapter Two: The Citadel
It took Dynworia a while to settle into the awkward, but gentle motions of horseback riding. Bellfoot, her mare, had an easy temperament, but an odd obsession with blue flowers. The only time she'd been hard to manage was as they passed a small field of azure thistle. As she'd predicted the day before, the leaves were beginning to lose their green garments in favor of gold, reds, browns, and oranges. Dynworia and her brother were obliged to wear warmer clothes for their trip. Their mother did not fuss over them, but she had wordlessly handed each doeskin coats lightly lined with fur. Both coats were sprinkled with their mother's embroidery in the form of runes symbolizing protection, strength, and serenity. They were obviously meant to be the pair's harvest gifts, given early due to their leaving for an uncertain length of time.
"We'll reach the citadel soon, according to the map Letharyn found for us," Keth said quietly.
Dynworia looked over at him, astride his preferred stallion, an unremarkable looking creature named Myre. The beast seemed too short, too stocky, and too brown, but Keth had not chosen him for looks. Myre had hidden speed and stamina in abundance. Dynworia thought the horse rather testy though. It kept taking impatient nips at her flower loving Bellfoot.
"Will you be alright, brother, away from him for so long?" Dynworia had never known the twins to be apart for more than the hours of the day. They rose every morning in the same room and went to sleep in the same way.
Her brother looked off towards a tree line now far from their sight. "This day has been long in coming, but it always was going to arrive. Leth and I knew that from the moment I felt the call of being a ranger, and him the need to write. He's a historian, a scribe, and a brilliant mind, but there is no ounce of him that is killer or protector. He is not fragile or frail, but sensitive to everything. I think the pain of even ending the life of an animal would torment him."
Dynworia nodded. "I'm afraid that I never took the time to really know him. I was always busy worshiping you and father."
"When we return home, you would do well to spend some time in his presence, and only his." Kethluen smiled. "I think he's been hiding from you for many years, afraid that you would turn your inquisitive mind on him and it would have broken his heart to deny you anything."
A gentle laugh slipped out of her. "Me? When has Letharyn ever felt enough for me to be so concerned? Surely I would have been an annoying little thorn in his side, pestering him for answers."
Kethluen's face hardened into lines of distaste. "Dynworia, your brother loves you. He has adored you from the moment you were born. Often has he felt the sting of your indifference."
There was silence for some time then. It had never occurred to her that her brilliant scholar brother would care to spend time with her. He was always busy writing something or other, what she did not know though often longed to ask. He had been the one well learned member of the village she respected too much to nag for answers. Now, she almost wished she had, even if only to catch a glimpse of this longing affection Keth spoke of.
"I will do better with him."
"See that you do."
* * * *
Narain sat starring at a large map laid out across his council room table for the past three nights. Ever since his most trusted companion arrived with news of trouble brewing. He should have known from the moment he first meet Dynworia that she would bring out the best and the worst of the world. The girl had always been far too curious for her own good, too eager to grow up and inherit all of the knowledge that it took most elves several hundred years to gain. Still, he saw much potential in her despite her willfulness. She would make a formidable warrior, an excellent wife, and, most importantly, a wonderful mother.
Just then, Nidaki burst into the council room, out of breath and looking excited. “Narain, she is here,” he gasped.
“Who, Nidaki? I don’t have anyone scheduled for an appointment today.” Narain frowned, he did not want to turn any visitors away, but it was very important for him to complete the task he had at hand. King Nenfalel had taken the warnings of the goddess very seriously and asked his son to begin the strategic positioning of troops throughout the lands immediately surrounding Faeraisol.
Nidaki took a deep breath and rushed to retrieve Narain’s crown and royal cloak. “Dynworia is here, she and her brother Kethluen have only just arrived, and they are requesting an audience with you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, friend. Dynworia wouldn’t step inside the walls of Faeraisol for any price.” Narain continued to chuckle as Nidaki hurried to make the prince presentable. He was confident that there had to be some sort of mistake. “Why, if I ever get the council of Faerhaven to approve my marriage proposal I’ll be living half my life in the forest! She would never come to stay here in the castle. You know how hard it is for most of the Wildernelves to be confined in these stone walls. None of them ever comes here, that is why all the negotiation sessions are held in the Faerhaven. Father’s afraid that if they sent any diplomats they would suffer from claustrophobia and die from lack of sunlight.”
“That’s not true,” Nidaki retorted in a disapproving tone, “Dynworia’s own father spent most of his years in cities, as did her mother. That goes for most of the elders of Faerhaven as well. It is only Dynworia’s generation that has avoided our walls and that has more to do with their restricted lives than lack of curiosity.”
“Say whatever you like,” Narain scoffed. “If Dynworia were to walk through that door right now I would eat my…”
“I wouldn’t finish that sentence if I were you, prince Narain,” said a quiet, feminine voice from the doorway.
Narain whirled about to see a lovely, red-haired elf standing in his council room. She wore a mischievous smile and her arms were crossed as she watched Nidaki’s struggle to put the prince in order. Kethluen stepped into the room from behind her. They both were travel weary and covered with the dust of the road, but Narain still thought that Dynworia made a beautiful sight. Of course, he liked her better when she was clean and did not smell like horse, yet he was certain that she preferred herself that way as well.
“Dynworia, how wonderful to see you,” he said with a strained smile. He really did hate to be caught off guard, especially by someone he was constantly trying to impress. “What an unexpected surprise.”
The maiden’s smile grew as Narain begin to pose and preen. “Hello, Narain,” she said softly, “and Nidaki. Still playing nursemaid to the exalted one here?”
“What can I say, my lady,” Nidaki said with a laugh, “he would lose his head if I wasn’t around.”
Narain gave a dry chuckle and tossed Nidaki a quick glare. “Why don’t you take Kethluen to get supplied and arrange quarters for the night.” He turned back to Dynworia and favored her with a hopeful smile. “No need for you to end up sleeping in the wilderness, besides we have a great deal to discuss from what I hear.”
Kethluen and Nidaki left without protest and Dynworia watched them go with an apologetic smile. She had not meant to get him into trouble. He was always on the go, keeping things in order and advising Narain. The prince knew that it was no secret that Nidaki was his confidant and that he could get away with saying things to the young ruler that most people would not dare to think.
“So, you heard about the initiation,” Dynworia asked casually. “I didn’t see anyone out of place there.”
“That’s because you weren’t supposed to, my dear. I did not want to add to the pressure of the evening by making myself present, and I was worried that an official representative would have had the same affect. Rest assured that I have all the details of the event.” Narain moved back to the council table and scrutinized the map for another moment. Dynworia came to stand beside him and the smell of spring flowers seemed to float into the room. So much for her smelling like horse.
“That was very thoughtful of you, Narain.”
Narain sighed and turned to look into Dynworia’s eyes. “To be honest, between the proposal I made to the council and the fact that I openly disapproved of you entering training early, I thought that I probably would not be welcome.”
“Nonsense,” Dynworia said with a laugh, “Everyone there disapproved! If I had banned everyone who did not think I should complete the ceremony there would have been no one left to perform it. It still amazes me that I managed to get it done at all.”
Narain’s face became very serious then and he placed a hand on Dynworia’s shoulder. “I should think that what happened at the ceremony would have confirmed the fact that someone who is above all of us wanted those events to proceed. I must admit that I feel quite ashamed that I was going against the very will of Nura in opposing you.”
Dynworia frowned. It was not often that Narain shifted into his role of High Priest when he was in her presence. Despite the fact that he was at least as old as her father, Dynworia had a difficult time thinking of Narain as anything but a spoiled child. Still, she knew very well that he was honorable, gentle, and kind, and above all else he was a high priest of Nura and he took that duty very seriously. Whenever she tried to picture herself married to Narain, she saw herself attached to two men. Though Narain seemed quite comfortable slipping between the two personae, Dynworia did not know if she could cope with his dual personality on a day-to-day basis.
“No one can be blamed for trying to cling to tradition,” Dynworia said quietly. She shifted uncomfortably and pretended to be quiet interested in the patterns on the floor.
Narain put a finger under her chin and gently coaxed her eyes to meet his. “Now I know you are trying to make me feel better, and as much as the gesture means to me I must still ask your forgiveness.” His cerulean eyes sparkled with mischief as he continued to speak, “Despite popular belief I am willing to admit when I am wrong.” Narain took one of Dynworia’s crimson locks and let it slip through his fingers, smiling at its silken beauty. With the light of the candles reflecting in her magnificent mane from every direction, it was as if he was holding fire between his fingertips.
“I’ll never accuse you of lacking charm, Narain,” Dynworia said brightly and quickly moved out of his reach.
For a moment, Narain was confused, but he quickly recovered having been through similar scenarios with Dynworia in the past. No matter how hard he tried to build a bridge between them she was intent on burning it down. “So, tell me more about what happened at the ceremony. Are we in as much danger as my father believes?”
“I truly hope not, but I’ve been warned to prepare and to do it well.” Dynworia looked at the maps that Narain had been studying a short time before. “I see that you wasted no time, even though you don’t know whether to believe the warnings. That is wonderful; I didn’t realize that we had so many allies already.”
“Yes, well as far as I’m concerned no one should be questioning your reasoning in this manner,” Narain said matter-of-factly. “So many people witnessed the manifestation of the goddess, they heard her words, and anyone who will deny their own eyes and ears has no place judging you.”
“Your confidence in me is very reassuring.”
Narain smiled, “In that case you will have to have dinner with me tonight, and I can wax poetic concerning all of your positive attributes. By the time you leave her in the morning you’ll be prepared to take on the world!”
Dynworia released a strained laugh, frantically searching her mind for some way to get out of being alone with Narain any longer. Fortunately, luck was on her side and someone else entered the room to solve the problem for her. There was a knock at the door and Dynworia turned to see Nidaki looking rather frazzled. Narain seemed to sense that something was wrong as well.
“Is something amiss,” he asked, walking over to him. “You look as though you came upon Dirol himself in the halls.”
“Far from it, prince,” Nidaki said quickly. “The Prophetess stopped me as I passed the imperial chapel. She said that she had sensed a strange presence enter the city and demanded that I bring her to Dynworia at once.”
“You mean to tell me you have her standing in the hall?” Narain seemed to be turning a fascinating shade of purple as he moved between anger, indignation, and fear.
“She refused to simply enter,” Nidaki cried. “I told her that you would want her shown in straight away, but she insisted that you not be interrupted. I suspect that she thought you two might be having a rather private discussion.”
Dynworia felt herself beginning to blush furiously and a quick glance at Narain told her that she was not the only one who was embarrassed. “Perhaps you ought to bring her in now,” she hissed.
The flustered general disappeared and a moment later, an exceptionally regal looking elf entered the room. She wore a magnificent white gown that was covered with intricate embroidery in the pattern of leaves. The emerald green threads used for the leaves shimmered in the candle light. The Prophetess’s flaxen hair was like woven moonlight, and her silver eyes seemed like tiny stars. She had an ethereal quality about her, a presence that would have marked her as a holy entity even if she were not wearing the trappings of her position. Dynworia had the uncomfortable feeling that the Prophetess had put on the trappings specifically for her benefit. She noted Narain’s deep bow and quickly mimicked the gesture.
A tender smile played on the Prophetess’s lips then, “You need not bow before me, Avatar.”
“Avatar?” It was not the first time that someone had insinuated this position for her since the ceremony, but somehow she no longer had a choice but to believe it.
“Yes. Once you have passed your test, you will take up the mantle of Avatar. I am Uiel, prophetess of Nura.”
Dynworia frowned, “My lady, I respect Nura in all her power, but Laia is the goddess I serve first and foremost.”
“Do you not think they are one in their intent and love for us,” Uiel asked quietly.
“I suppose it must be so, but Nura does not speak to me as her mother does.” Dynworia felt herself beginning to blush again, at how childish she sounded.
Uiel laughed, but it was not scornful in any way, rather it was full of delight. “Do not feel badly, Magearrow, it is no secret that Nura and her mother can be both very similar and very different creatures. Each has their favorites. Laia keeps closer watch on your village and Nura keeps her eyes here."
“Why did you wish to see me?”
“I came to convey a gentle warning to you.” Uiel turned very serious. “You must contain your power; shield your essence, in order to avoid alerting your enemies that you are drawing near. Your brother will know how to do this, but it must be done before you enter any cities. You are only safe amongst our people as you are, others will seek you out in order to exploit you. Our kind do not often go out into the world, and you may find that while there are many allies to be had, there is also great evil to fall victim too.”
Dynworia felt a cold chill rush up her spine. “Thank you for the warning, my lady.”
“You are welcome child. Also, we two must have a long...private conversation. Perhaps you can dine with me tonight?”
“Of course, my lady, anything you wish,” Dynworia said softly. She wasn't sure if she was relieved to escape dinner with Narain, or frightened to be alone with this most holy of elves.
With that, Uiel left just as suddenly as she came, as if she wished to spare them her presence. Dynworia gazed after her, feeling terribly sorry for the glorious being. She prayed that she would not end up like her, a thing to be viewed in awe but never to be touched.
“Well,” Narain said with a broad grin, “I suppose we ought to get our discussions out of the way before your dinner then. Shall we walk in the gardens while we talk?”
Dynworia sighed softly and nodded her head, taking the prince's arm and letting him guide her out the door.
* * *
Dynworia stood outside the door of the Prophetess' suite, nervously fidgeting. It was hard enough to feel trapped inside the stone walls all day, to fend off Narain's advances, both the subtle and not so subtle, and to be weary with everything that was laid on her shoulders, but now she had to dine with a being that radiated perfection, power, and purity. Uiel's eyes seemed to cut right through her, seeing all, sensing all.
“Enter,” the elven lady's voice called gently through the door.
Taking a deep breath, Dynworia stepped in and quickly bowed to the Prophetess, in spite of the lady's earlier admonishment.
“Please sit, child, we have much to discuss.”
Dynworia quickly did as she was told, shifting in her chair under Uiel's intent gaze.
“I have much to tell you,” she began quietly, pouring two glasses of red wine. “Some of it may be hard for you to process, but in time you will come to understand all.”
“I will do my best, Lady Uiel.”
“I know you will.” She looked off towards the wall for a moment. “The gifts of knowledge I grant you will be my last great task in this world.”
“My lady?” Dynworia tensed. Elves rarely became ill in any way aside from a limited number of diseases that could claim them in childhood. They became stronger and more powerful with every year they lived, and Uiel was the oldest left alive.
“I feel the goddesses calling me,” Uiel said gently. “Dynworia, I’m the oldest of us that has ever been. As first born of Laia's children, I have served in this holy post all my life. I am allowed knowledge and insight that no other non-divine being is given. It has been my duty to establish and protect our religions. You cannot imagine the great sorrow and confusion I felt when Laia declared that her daughter would be worshiped in her place, but I did as I was asked. All things have a purpose; all commands are part of a greater plan for our destiny. Still, I have never begrudged your people's desire to continue worshiping our mother, instead of our keeper. That you were chosen by her is a sign to me. The time of our division is nearing an end. I must prepare you.”
“I'm grateful for any guidance you can give me.” Dynworia felt a familiar surge of excitement. She was about to get many of the answers she'd been seeking for so long. Maybe...just maybe in the midst of all that she would gain a bit more of her birth place to store in her soul.
Uiel nodded. “I can see it in your eyes, the longing. Many who lived in the Plane of Earth longer than you have lost that need. You, however, are her chosen, her beloved, and so you feel a deeper connection with the land of Laia's creation.”
Dynworia frowned. “But didn't the goddess create this world for us as well?”
“Yes, but it is a shell. A cage made to echo our home, made purely of magic, not true earth or the true essence of Laia. The Plane of Earth was her master work, along with us and all other creatures she made. We were lucky to receive this place.
“Now I have much to tell you, and little time to do it in. There is a higher power, child, higher than Laia and all the other gods. This entity is that which created Laia to in turn create the Plane of Earth, the intersection of all other planes. Earth always has and always will contain remnants of the planes of Fire, Air, Water, Shadow, Light, and Magic. In turn, each of these planes contains some bit of earth. In this way, they are actually all connected through Laia herself and she is mistress of them all. Still, she does not rule alone. The great entity created all other planes and the creatures living within them, but in Laia he gave the universe a mother to give birth to countless kinds of children and to inspire the other gods he created soon afterwards: Joruiel, Teilfein, Wurn, Dirol, Ayr, and Dyth. Each was given a plane to watch over, even though Laia will always be the true queen of them all, and the great entity their king. Do you understand so far?”
Dynworia nodded slowly. “I do, but I don't understand why no one has ever told me of the entity before. I've been told of all the other gods.”
“Ah yes well,” Uiel smiled and shook her head. “The Great One wishes above all things NOT to be worshiped, that is why he gave us beings to worship in his stead. Now, as you are aware Laia brought a daughter into this world, Nura. There are no planes for child gods to watch over, so Laia made her the guardian of her first children, the elves. The only elves Nura does not rule over are the Direlves because they were created by her own husband, Dirol, as a wedding gift, but their nature makes it impossible for Nura to control them. It has been the source of controversy, bickering, and war for over ten thousand years.
“This is of the utmost importance, my child, and you will do well to hold it in the front of your mind at all times. Not one god in the pantheon can truly be defined as evil or good. Their motives are a mystery to us, as they should be. Still, trust only in Laia now, Dynworia. There is no one else who will lead you where you need to be. You must in turn trust in your own soul to help you find her.”
* * *
“What’s the matter, Dyn? Your pacing is about to drive me out of my mind,” Kethluen said sharply. As if it were not bad enough that he felt caged inside of this stone palace, he had been enduring the endless pacing and muttering of his sister for the last hour since she had returned from her dinner with Narain.
Dynworia cast Kethluen a hurt look and threw herself onto the low couch adjacent to his bed. “Is something wrong with me, Keth,” she asked softly, propping her chin up on one hand and picking up an ornate glass sculpture with the other. She had seen these tiny figurines all over the palace, so perfect with their sleek lines and glossy surfaces. Looking at them reminded her of how she felt when she looked at Narain, the way his surface always seemed too perfect.
Kethluen swung his legs out of bed and ran his hands through his hair. He knew that he was supposed to be patient with her, as her teacher, but the brother in him just wanted to go to sleep and leave the city very early in the morning. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, Dyn, you’ve always been a little different from the rest of us. You should be proud of the fact that your individuality has given Laia reason to favor you. The task that has been set for you might seem monumental and impossible, but it will never be outside of your ability to complete. Besides, you said yourself that there will be plenty of time before any serious confrontation occurs, and until then we’re all very safe, you most of all.”
Dynworia waited a moment before speaking. Kethluen had obviously been waiting for some form of the question she had just posed, and she did not want to shoot down the effort he had made in answering it. The problem was that he was addressing the wrong issue. “As happy as I am that you don’t think I’m some sort of divine mishap, that wasn’t what I was referring too.”
“Oh,” Kethluen said in a deflated tone, “Well then, why don’t you explain the problem to me then.”
“It’s Narain,” she said with a frown, “I don’t understand why he wants to marry me.”
A very quiet, somewhat strained sound came from Kethluen’s direction then. Narain’s marriage proposal was one topic that he did not want to discuss with his sister. It was a very delicate subject for their whole family and if anything he said contradicted with the way their father and mother felt he would make the situation considerably worse. He realized then that Dynworia was looking at him expectantly and decided to go with the safest route possible. “I imagine that he must find you attractive in some way.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, you’re definitely lovely when you try and I’m sure he sees the potential in you for great beauty once you’ve fully matured.” Kethluen’s words slipped haltingly out of his mouth and he winced at how horribly shallow he had just made himself, and potentially the prince, sound.
Rising into a sitting position, Dynworia had a strangely hopeful look on her face then. “If that’s all he cares about, then perhaps he will be fairly easily dissuaded.”
“I didn’t say that!”
“No, but if all he cares about is my appearance then it is only a matter of time before he finds someone who truly interests him and then I won’t even need to reject him.”
Dynworia looked quite pleased with herself now and it gave Kethluen a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. The safe route was obviously more precarious than he had thought. “Why don’t you explain to me why you don’t want him?”
“It’s complicated,” Dynworia said shortly and moved to look out the large, glass window.
“Try me, sister.”
“Very well, I find him immensely attractive. His eyes are like flawless sapphires, and when he holds my gaze, I feel like I am falling into a deep pool of wisdom. When he speaks to me, his voice completely captures my attention. It is clear and deep, and it is as if it has its own special melody, like he’s so very near singing that I expect him to break into a chorus at any moment.” Dynworia paused shaking her head, trying to understand why she did not see what other people saw in the prince.
“Forgive me for saying this, sister, but you sound like someone who is quite smitten as opposed to someone who is trying to weasel their way out of a proposal.” Kethluen knew that Dynworia would not appreciate his words, but he had at least restrained his laughter.
Dynworia groaned and began to pace once again. “You don’t understand! I can make these observations, but I cannot accept them as true emotions. He has the ability to mesmerize me and that simply does not feel right, for that matter his entire appearance does not feel right to me. I would very willingly enter into a marriage with him, especially for the benefits it could bring to Faerhaven, but my soul is screaming for me to reconsider!”
“Did you ever consider the fact that it may simply be your duty that holds you back,” Kethluen said gently. He moved to stand in front of Dynworia and placed his hands on her shoulders.
“Yes, but what sense does that make,” she whispered. Tears were beginning to stream down her cheeks. “I have felt this way since I first learned of his proposal to the council, long before all of this began.”
Kethluen pulled his sister into a tight embrace, “Laia would have had your fate planned long ago! Perhaps she placed this feeling within you as a warning or a sign that she alone wishes to have claim to your heart.”
“That thought, brother, is more terrifying than marrying Narain,” Dynworia sobbed. “Does this mean that I’m never to have children of my own or that I’m doomed to an early grave? I know I have always seemed too free of spirit to settle down and have a family, but I dreamed that someday the restlessness would abate. I thought that age and discipline were the remedies to these emotions.”
“Little sister, what you need is a long sleep,” Kethluen said firmly. “In the morning, we will truly begin our journey and there will be so many new wonders for us both to experience that there will be little time for you to contemplate the complexities of your charming prince.”
Dynworia gave a weak chuckle and nodded in agreement. There was indeed a great deal of work ahead of her, and she could only hope that by the end of her training she would have matured enough to see to the heart of her dilemma.
Thank you for reading this sample of Birth of the Flame. Please go tohttp://www.amazon.com/Birth-Flame-Prophecies-Belvan-ebook/dp/B007N8UMH8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338347673&sr=8-1to purchase the full novel. The author appreciates all reviews and feedback.