A half century ago, a cruel war ravaged the lands of all Isenlor. A powerful sorceress had gathered armies and fought against the mighty peoples of the Alliance. With her witchcraft and brutality, and her strategic cunning, she poured her control through the waters and across all nations.
It was in this war that the wizards failed, their magics too weak to combat her spells. Thus, the race of wizards was destroyed. The elves sought a hidden sanctuary. The dwarves retreated into crevices where they could never be found. But the Alliance between the three noble beastsdragons, phoenixes, and griffinsheld strong, yet they knew that with the Twisted Ones in the Sorceress's services, victory was far from grasp. And so, they toothe Untouchedfled to distant lands to escape her clutches.
The race of men, however, was stubborn and did not relent in the fight, their arrogance and pride leading them to a bitter defeat. Triumph could not be achieved. Doom loomed over the race under the reign of the Ultimate Sorceress, and thus, covered in a blanket of darkness.
But the wizards were all but extinct. Seven of the survivors banded together with the hope that one day they could banish the reign of terror. Only a handful of wizards joined their cause, the others dispersing into the furthest reaches of the land ... never to be found. The bandnamed the Wise Sevenand the few remaining wizards returned in secret to the abandoned Isle of Dirisonaë. Upon the Wise's decision, one wizard or witch was sent to each of the towns across the many islands and continents of Isenlor to live out their lives. For protection, they called themselves healers, and they performed such a service to the town or island that had become their home; however, their true purpose was to seek out human youths that excelled unknowingly in the magical craft. Thus it was that the Sacred Temple of Dirisonaë soon flourished with a number of youths gathered by the many healers.
And from that day, the Wise trained the young men and women to be knowledgeable and skillful sorcerers, hoping that one day their numbers would be large enough to form a resistance to challenge the Ultimate Sorceress. But through the many decades, the Wise failed to reform the Old Alliance between the dwarves, elves, and noble beasts. All hope was nearly lost, for without their allies, they would not be able to fight the Sorceress effectively. In the same year, Aliastë the Fourth divulged to the Wise that she had had a prophecy of a child to be born, one that would rise to reforge the alliances of the races and have a power never before seen by any wizard, a power rivaling that of the Sorceress.
And they vowed to continue to pass on their teachings.
However, the years passed on, as did Cartolusd the Sixth, and some wizards young and old began to doubt that the end of the Sorceress would come.
Then, as if by a miracle, a healer anonymous by name and location sent word to the Wise that he had been gifted a vision of a youth that would battle the Sorceress.
Hope was restored.
CHAPTER 1: DESCENT OF THE MOUNTAIN DWELLER
Upon the ocean breeze there wafted an incense of purity. The tides rose and fell, rippling in an inconstant rhythm that quieted the soul. The inner nature of the soul was bound to the serene melody that the crashing water played. A rhyme untold to many, for only the wisest minds could hear the harmony it sang through its ferocious undertones. The waters were to be revered, yet they were also meant to be feared, for it was the Goddesses that bestowed peaceful voyages or perilous journeys to the wanderers which crossed it.
On the horizon there glimmered the white canvases that signified a ship sailed toward the island of Yaventar. It was a simple passenger ship, ferrying a small hold of cargo as well.
The sun was just beginning to rise as a young man at the grassy cliff of a mountaintop watched the skies and waters. He spotted the small ship as the evening rays splayed a strange patchwork of red and orange across his face. A gleam entered his eyes, and for once they glowed in identical hues, for his left normally appeared a brighter green than his right. Adventure toyed with his countenance, anxious to meet newcomers, for it was an infrequent occasion for Yaventar to occupy settling visitors.
But this young man lived far from the main town on Yaventar, and so he watched from his mountain perch as the passenger ship came into port far below him. He owned a perfect view of the entire island from here, his favorite spot to stand and observe his surroundings. The perfect place to come and think through his days.
A swarm of curious villagers had already come to watch the ship come into the docks, for it was a rare occasion to receive so many visitors. Even from where he stood, the young man could feel the impatient furor of excitement passing through the crowd as the ship glided in and was moored to the dock.
Just as soon as the passengers stepped onto the docks, they were engulfed by the surrounding townsfolk. He watched in silent pleasure as the folk immediately began speaking with the newcomers as if they had only just arrived from returning home from a long journey. It soothed him to know that even in the dark times in which they lived, the people could still be at ease with each other and truly welcoming.
They had all heard the stories and the rumors. Their ruler, the one who called herself the Ultimate Sorceress, had long sat upon her throne in the Béaradük Fortress on the mainland. She had taken power nearly forty years ago after winning a swift war with their old king Jasusoles and took the crown for herself. He had not even been alive during those times, but the war was still fresh in the minds and hearts of all the people of Isenlor, and some still craved the dethroning of the usurper queen.
It was times like these, when people gathered in merriment and exchanged smiles and handshakes that reminded him how much he, too, wished for the old stories of life to be new again. He wished times could truly be peaceful once more rather than the faux peace that rested in welcoming hugs and kisses.
Just as he was about to turn from his spot, something below, a face, caught his keen eye. A lady with fair red hair and a glowing face. She sauntered across the wooden boards alongside an aged man who was clearly her father. They weeded through the crowd and came to the end of the wharf, where an assembly of older men and their wives had gathered to greet the newcomers, surely asking all sorts of questions and offering them blessings. The young lady's eyes strayed from the talk and across the terrain of the land. A sparkle entered her once dull eyes as she gazed away from the boring proceedings, and her gaze wandered up, up into the crevices of the mountains.
It was a strange occurrence to be sure when the lady's eyes seemed to meet with his. He stared at her for a long moment as her eyes shimmered in the fading light, but then he stepped back, sliding into the trenches of the mountains once more.
The son of a pot-maker, the youth woke early the next day to aid his father. The annual autumn festival held on the island of Banoqe had ordered the crafts desired for the celebration. Six months away from the engagement, the artisans had to work diligently to meet the large request, for it had been the biggest order that his father had yet received, and were all astounded at the money they would receive when the shipment was sent.
The shadows of night were still upon the pair as they started their day. An assortment of vases, bowls, urns, and other crafts of all shapes and sizes were laid out on the half-enclosed veranda, which stretched down several stair steps. This array, however, did not account for even a fourth of the demanded order.
"I want you to go on and deliver the orders from town and collect the money," his father said. "I will start painting some of our finished pieces from the Banoqe order in the shed."
His son nodded and bade his father good day. He watched as his father headed around the house toward the shed, and then he strode across their front yard toward the barn.
Their property was larger than most of the villagers'. It was not really a matter of money, though they were wealthy from their trade. It was simply that since they were some of the only ones to live up in the mountains, they had more land available to them. The villagers rarely ventured up into the mountains unless on official business with the inhabitants, so they were at peace on their land.
All through their property there flourished blossoms of all sizes and colors and was surely the work of his aged aunt that lived in town. His aunt never came up to their home very often, for the walk up here was precarious even without considering her old bones. An added bonus was the view to which the youth had become accustomed. The outlook onto the ocean was one that he woke to every morning, and he enjoyed gazing upon its seeming endless beauty at different hours if just to discover the wonder that the various lights splayed upon its collection below.
He entered the barn then and took his time in packing up the orders for the townspeople. They filled three bags, which, after he saddled a horse, he tied securely to it. He took a bow from its resting place against a beam, shouldered it, and mounted his horse. Moments later, he made his way out the barn and down through the mountainside country.
After nearly two hours of easy-paced riding, and just about half the descent behind him, he happened upon a lone figure. A woman. She sat on a rock overlooking the lands below, which were lightly dusted with trees and grew in number further down the path.
Galan stopped alongside the woman and realized that it was the same lady that he had seen the evening before. Her flowing crimson hair shifted in the breeze as she turned to look up at him.
"Good morn," the young man called to her.
"Morning," she replied.
"May I ask why you are sitting alone in the mountains?"
"Exploring my new home," she answered brightly.
"Yes. My father and I arrived just last evening. We've come to live here."
"With so many islands to choose from, why come here?" he asked.
"My father wanted to be as far from city life as possible," she said, standing and approaching him. "Our other home, Hudsaif'Mou, just as so many other cities, are becoming infested with the Queen's soldiers. They say it's for our protection, but it is she who needs that."
"You came to the right place to escape all that then. The Queen's soldiers have yet to reach this far. To be true, they occasionally visit us here, but not so far as settling the land."
The lady looked to him curiously then, finding his knowledge of the current situations and the ill tone toward the soldiers intriguing. It was the first time he noticed how blue her eyes were.
"What is your name, mountain boy?" she smiled.
"Galan," he offered. "And you, lady?"
"I am Marguerite. Marguerite Ramsthead."
"A delight to assume your acquaintance," he returned with a slight bow. "Might I offer you a ride back into town?"
A playful smile pried at the corners of her lips. "Thank you."
Galan leapt off his horse and helped to lift her up onto the saddle. He flicked the reins over the horse's head and pulled them along at a slow trot.
"What were you doing up in the mountains?" asked Marguerite after a while. Noticing the large bags attached to the horse and the bow and quiver across his back, she added, "Are you hunting?"
Galan smirked. "Not today. The bow is for protection. I happen to live here."
"In the mountains? Truly?"
"Why? I would think it inconvenient." Her understanding of his life of near-solitude clearly confused her, but it also sparked a certain interest in her.
"When my parents moved to this island, many years before I was born, my mother asked my father to build their home in the mountains. It's the only place where she's ever felt safe and at home. She used to tell me stories about her childhood, growing up in the mountains to the north of the Frenduer Fields just above the town of Berinois. My parents first met in that town when my father had been a journeyman. A chance encounter." He smiled, for it was remarkable to him how the Goddesses had woven their two destinies together.
Then his happiness waned. "They moved here not long after the Queen took power."
"Seems she's driven most from their original homes."
"That she has." He watched his footfalls then as they continued in silence. Marguerite could sense that his thoughts strayed elsewhere, perhaps even to an imagining of a world without their cruel circumstances.
"What does a boy like you do in the mountains?" she asked, stealing him from his roaming thoughts.
"I am a pot-maker, like my father. His name is Corone. Perhaps you've heard of him? He is quite well renowned for a pot-maker."
Her face lit up with excitement. "Ah! Yes, I do know that name. Five years ago, my father and I traveled to Banoqe for their autumn festival. It was quite an occasion. Full of color and laughter. I saw the most beautiful hand-crafted vase there. They told me a man named Corone had made it."
Galan laughed lightly. "To be honest, I make more vases than my father now. But he is the painter still."
They shared a laugh and they continued on down the path, entering into a pass that led straight into the forested area below. As they grew closer to the trees, Galan came back to offer a hand up to Marguerite, but she sent him a puzzled look. He explained that the branches ahead were too low for riding, and she slid off the horse to land in his arms. Blushing, she turned away ... although, too soon to see that his face had also flushed slightly.
"So, what is it you do?" Galan inquired.
Hesitant, Marguerite shook her head. "No, it's silly."
"Come now. It's still a few hours left till we reach town, and I won't stop asking until you tell me," he threatened with a grin, as they started their way down the pass again, walking alongside each other.
"Oh, all right. I am a poet." She cringed as she finished, as if she half expected some sort of outburst from her companion, but Galan looked at her with enthusiasm.
"Really? What sort of verse do you write?"
Marguerite's face glowed, thrilled that Galan had expressed such curiosity at her occupation. "All sorts. My favorite things to write are rhymes of nature, of chance encounters, and of long held stories."
"Will you write of our encounter?" asked Galan.
She grinned playfully. "If you wish it."
Marguerite noticed him look away in bashfulness. She, too, gazed off, taking in her surroundings. As they continued on in silence, Galan kept taking quick glances in her direction. The way her eyes sparkled in the light drew him in, and before long, as her blue orbs danced across the forest before and around her, he found himself staring at only her.
"I do not have any books to my name, though," she said suddenly, as if there had been no lengthened pause in their conversation, and her voice made Galan snap out of his daze.
"My poetry," she explained. "I've written so many verses, so many sonnets and rhymes ... but I've never made them into a book."
"My mother was also a writer. I suppose it's just that I'm afraid that ... I won't live up to her name," she said slowly. Her melancholy tone made Galan take her arm. They stopped there and he looked down into her eyes.
"You may not be as good a poet or you may be better. But I think not doing anything would be the only disheartening thing to a parent," said Galan, and the sides of Marguerite's lips turned upward again.
"Thank you again, Galan."
The two of them passed the hours by with talk and laughter, and by the time they reached the outskirts of town, they had become fast friends. Galan waved hellos to all the townspeople that he crossed paths with, his jolly smile the welcome joy of the town. Even though he lived so far away, Corone's boy had always been a town favorite.
"A welcome sight, Master Galan," a middle-aged man called from the porch of his home, which was his way of saying a fond hello to any folk. Galan gave a small wave a nod toward him.
He then turned to Marguerite. "I have some errands to run, but I should like to walk you home if you would admit me."
"But it's only just noon. What errands have you? Perhaps I could help." The playful, pleading expression that crossed her face was none that Galan could refuse.
"I must deliver these orders," he said, pointing to his horse's load.
"Then helping you would acquaint me with the people here. Please, let me come?" she asked, holding her hands together in a lighthearted prayer.
He agreed and as they came to the fence surrounding another house, he offered her the reins to the horse. He dug through one of the bags and brought out an ornately painted urn. Marguerite tied the reins off at the fence and followed him down the stones leading to the porch.
A haggard looking woman answered Galan's knock, and though she looked unhealthy, her eyes and her smile seemed as young as the couple standing before her. "Young Galan, is it good to see you."
"I have your order," he said, holding out the urn.
Her beaming smile grew wider as she accepted it. Gentle tears welled up within her eyes as she gazed over it with an uneven breath. Then she looked to Galan approvingly. "Thank you, Galan." She then drew her attention to the lady beside him. "Ah, and who is this?"
"Marguerite. She arrived on the passenger ship last evening. She's come here to settle," he introduced.
"And what do you think of our island?" the old woman asked.
"I like it," said Marguerite immediately. "It's nice here. Quiet."
"Good. Well, I'm Herana. Come on inside." She led them inside into her sofa room. She set the urn down on the tea table in the middle of the room and walked toward the mantle. She gingerly picked up a little tin box from among the collection of artifacts and turned back to them. "He would have loved this urn."
Herana knelt at the tea table as Galan and Marguerite sat on a sofa opposite her. Herana slid the lid open.
"Your ... husband?" asked Marguerite in a careful tone.
Herana nodded. "He always loved the sea." She removed the top of the urn as she continued, "But I told him his seafaring would cost him one day. Two weeks ago he was found on the shore of Banoqe."
"We all told him not to go, Herana," soothed Galan. "It was not your fault."
"Oh, no. I don't blame myself. He died were he was most happy. And now he is here always to keep me safe," said Herana as she poured the ashes of her husband from the tin to the urn.
"Keep you safe?" Marguerite sat puzzled.
"Of course," the old woman said as she petted the urn after setting its top back into place. "It is said that the ashes of a loved one have magical powers. It was said that the ashes would protect against any evil."
"No magic has been seen on Isenlor since the old ages, though," said Marguerite.
"But you do believe in magic, do you not?"
"I believe it existed at one time, but those times have long been gone." Marguerite could tell the old woman would not dismiss her beliefs do readily, so Marguerite turned to Galan for support, but his face had instantly become unreadable.
All he would say was, "Magic is indeed a mystery."
He and Marguerite left soon after this and after he had gathered his payment from Herana. Marguerite departed the house in a thoughtful trance, eyes turned inward, but as the day progressed and she met with other townsfolk, her encounter with Herana soon passed from her mind.
They visited the blacksmith, the merchant houses, and other homes, dropping off this and that and collecting odd amounts of money from each person they called upon. The day wore on without their notice, and before long, as they were making their final stop, the sun had begun its last descent from the sky.
"This is my aunt's house," said Galan, as he approached the black and very oddly constructed fence surrounding the house. The countless posts looked like charred tree branches strung together with thick wire. Marguerite looked at the border with suspicion. When Galan noticed, he offered an explanation as to its appearance. "When my aunt had her house built, she found an odd branch in the forests," he touched the post to the right of the swinging doorway, "and had her fence built in accordance with it. She thought it good luck and no real misfortune has bestowed itself upon this house."
Contrasting with the dark fence were gardens of flowers all around the house. The most prominent flower was of a blue hue, and they and the violet blooms added a perfect balance to all the bright red, orange, and yellow flowers. Butterflies and bees and all matters of insects were ever present in her yard, but they were less a menace and more a welcome.
Galan entered the familiar house and called out to his aunt. Within seconds, the older woman came out of the hall to greet them. Her dark hair looked like a sleek mop with an odd assortment of trinkets swept up in its tendrils. Her smile was warm and her words slow and loving. "About time you came down that mountain again."
Galan introduced the two women, and already his aunt spoke to Marguerite as if she had known her for years. "He needs to come to town more often, don't you think? Every two weeks kills an old woman like me. You never know how many more I have in me."
"Don't speak like that. You are young as ever," said Galan as he handed out a repaired vase to his aunt.
She accepted it and immediately led them into her kitchen where she filled it with water from a basin and slipped a bouquet of freshly picked blue flowers. "Perfect," she smiled, as she then set the vase at the window behind her wash basins.
Sunlight barely graced their tiny island anymore, as Galan walked silently with Marguerite in the evening air. His errands complete, he now followed her to her house. The path there was short since she lived not far from his aunt's, and once they stood at the porch of her home under the moonlight, Marguerite silently asked, "Is it true you come to town only every two weeks?" The look she gave him carried the sincerest hope that his aunt had not meant anything she had said.
He took a breath, inwardly cringing. "I only come to town when I have something to come for. Running errands mostly."
"Oh, I see." And when she said it, she looked so very dejected.
"I sometimes stay at my aunt's on days like these, though, when it's too dark to make the trip back into the mountains," he said, hoping it would cheer her up, and it did a little.
A small grin appeared. "Then ... will I see you the morrow?"
"I'll be sure to stop by before I head back," he promised.
Even in the dark, he could tell she was blushing. "Thank you for a wonderful day," she then said.
"You're welcome," he said with a nod. "Pleasant night." He turned away and strode over to his horse. Before he mounted it, he turned back to Marguerite ... to find that she was still watching him. "I ... think I may be coming into town more often," he stammered.
"It's like I said before. I come into town when I have something worth coming for," he blurted, and though he could tell that both their hearts must have been beating so very fast in that moment, he would never have traded it for anything else. Just standing there, staring at her and being stared by her seemed like a moment in paradise. No further exchange of words. Only a look, the meeting of eyes. And it was all he needed.