Long before the reawakening of the Sacred Land, those who could draw upon essence and wield magic were celebrated and revered. Neophytes were sometimes identified after they tried to use essence and developed essence sickness, an affliction of the mind common in young or new wielders. If possible, these neophytes were sent to anywhere master wielders congregated, and were apprenticed and cured of the sickness, which wasn’t life threatening at the time, but very uncomfortable. If left untreated, the sickness cured itself at the price of the neophyte losing their ability to wield forever. Eventually, academies where set up to take in new wielders and set them up with suitable masters.
On the cusp of this time of magical enlightenment, a wielder was born with special significance. Sheyna Namear would excel faster than any other wielder of her time. A legend in her own right, this is the beginning of her story, the beginning of the wielder who would one day be known simply as Lady Shey.
Chapter One: The Jovial Elf:
A frantic scream sounded in the distance as an old woman hobbled around the corner of the Namear household. She moved nimbly despite her age, fueled on adrenalin and determination. The good men and women of the city of Symbor responded to the cries and were dashing down the streets to lend help if needed.
She stopped the first person she could reach, a bald, middle-aged man who happened around the corner the same time as she, and pleaded with him in her grandmotherly voice, “Please, sir, did you see a little girl run by here, just little more than a toddler? She is my granddaughter.”
“No, m’lady, what the fire is going on up there?” He pointed to the front of the house, which was a corner house sandwiched into a block with five identical structures.
“The girl’s mother has been taken by the most awful creatures you have ever seen—black and toothy, with bat wings and drake eyes. I fear for the girl. Please, sir, tell me you saw her run this way.”
“What did you say she looked like, again?”
“Little more than a toddler, with straight black hair and the bluest eyes you have ever seen on a dirty little face. She had been playing in the soil of the garden. I was going to help her plant flowers, but when the creatures came, she ran.”
“I might have seen a girl like that. She was with a tall blonde lady in blue. I can’t be sure it was the same little girl; I was more interested in finding out what the commotion was up here.”
Another scream sounded, and the man pushed the old woman aside and ran to see what was happening.
The woman pushed her grey hair out of her eyes and continued on down the street. The woman in blue had to be Enowene, a friend of the family. She knew exactly where the woman would be: the white tower, which is where the woman anxiously headed now.
The sound of beating wings behind her made her duck under the awning of a nearby tailor’s shop. She looked up from the corner of the covering to see one of the creatures flying overhead. It appeared to be searching for something. You are not getting little Sheyna, you foul beast! Gathering up her strength, she continued on and even picked up her pace to the tower. When she was in sight of her destination, she noticed the creature still occasionally circling up above. Quickly, she concentrated all her ability and thought on precisely what her granddaughter looked like, and then projected the image of the little girl running in the opposite direction and diving down an alleyway. The creature screeched and gave chase, while the old woman went to the front door of the tower.
The door swung open before the old woman could knock. “Quickly, Arbella, get in here!” the tall blonde woman said.
The old woman complied. “Enowene. Do you have her?”
“Aye, of course I do.”
“Thank the gods. Is she safe?”
“For the moment, but the danger has far from passed. The poor girl was so frightened I had to . . . well . . . you know, to get her to calm down and go to sleep.”
Arbella gasped. “You used magic on my granddaughter! Enowene, have you lost all your good elven senses! That girl is special; we don’t know how magic works with her yet. You know who her mother is, for all the love of the gods!”
“Forgive me, Arbella, but now is not the time. We need to put her mother’s carefully laid plan into action. She foresaw that something like this could happen.”
The old woman closed her eyes, and her face tensed as if she were just wounded. “Aye, you are right. I still have hope that Veric will save the day.”
“We can’t put all our hopes in Veric. He is far too close to the problem. If he finds Sheyna’s mother and brings her home, we can safely deliver the young girl to her upon her return. Do you remember your role?”
“Aye, I will take her for a time and then hand her off to Sable.” She rung her hands and then clinched them into fists. “Oh, do I have to?”
“Aye, Arbella, you do. You will be the first place they look for her, and you are the only one who can take her memories. You are also the only one who can restore her memories if all goes well.”
“What is the plan if the enemy finds out Sable has her?” Arbella inquired.
Enowene looked pained. “I will take her.”
“You cannot! You are a friend of the family, the second place they would look for her.”
“I have a contingency plan for that. I don’t want to go into detail, but suffice it to say I know a way I could hide her in plain sight. It isn’t ideal and it has to be a last resort, but I think I could do it with a little help from some friends.”
“If you say so. I hope you know what you’re doing.” Arbella reached into her dress pocket and produced a small jade figurine of an elven woman. “Here, this is for Sheyna from her mother. She said it was special and to give it to you if anything happened to her. I managed to grab it. It feels enchanted.”
Enowene took the figurine. “It’s one of Toborne and Morgoran’s creations. I will make sure she gets it when she is old enough to take care of it.”
“May I see her?”
Enowene nodded and led Arbella to a petite bed in a tiny adjacent room.
The old woman brushed the dark hair from the sleeping girl’s eyes. “Do you know how special you are, my little Sheyna?” she said. She leaned down and kissed her on the forehead.
The Jovial Elf Inn was alight in red and yellow flame as Celestine, Enowene’s only daughter, led Sheyna away from the danger. Celestine paused to look back at the inn she called home one last time. Bathed in the fire light, she could see the source of the flame flying overhead. A fire drake sent to find Sheyna, no doubt, Celestine thought. She wrapped the blanket she had put around Sheyna a little tighter and scooted her along before the drake could see her.
“What is that bird, mother?” the little girl asked.
“It’s not a bird, dear child. We have to hurry now.”
“It flies like a bird.”
“It’s called a dragon, Sheyna, and it’s not a very friendly creature.”
“Did it burn our house down?”
“I am afraid so. Hurry now, we have to find Grandma.”
“Yay, grandma!” the little girl said with glee.
Celestine made sure she wasn’t followed as she approached the white tower. Enowene was waiting for her.
“Mother,” Celestine said, “it’s a fire drake this time. It burned down The Jovial Elf.”
“Grandma!” Sheyna raced to Enowene’s arms.
“Hello there, sweet pea,” Enowene said as she embraced the girl.
“I am going to lead the drake away from here. It may be time for your plan of last resort soon.”
Enowene sighed. “When she is a bit older, perhaps. For now, I will find her another family to stay with.”
Celestine held her hands over Sheyna’s ears and whispered, “Mother, the child is a danger to anyone she stays with. They will never stop looking for her.”
“They will never find her,” Enowene responded. “I will see to that.”
Celestine kissed Sheyna’s forehead and left her in Enowene’s care.
Enowene took the girl into the tower where Arbella waited. Tears rolled down Enowene’s cheeks as she put Sheyna’s hand into Arbella’s. “It’s time for her to forget.”
Arbella lowered her head and nodded. “Come on, Sheyna, let’s go play a game.”
Sheyna happily followed the old woman deeper into the tower.
Chapter Two: Rogue:
Sheyna Namear’s stomach growled. What she wouldn’t give for a bit of bread! She would even take the bread slightly burned if she had to, or perhaps a small piece of meat, not too spoiled, but cooked or salted. At the moment, she did not seek money, or fame, or comfort of hearth and home, just food before all else. If she begged for money, she could buy food, but begging for money in the city of Symbor took too much time and effort. She could spend that time begging for food and eating it; taking food from unsuspecting vendors was easier still. Hiding in the shadows of the buildings across from the bakery and butcher shop, the ragged and dirty Sheyna waited for Bahdur the baker to turn his back long enough for her to dart out to the cart in front of his shop and snatch a loaf of bread. She would have to be quick; Bahdur was watchful of little thieves pilfering his goods, and he especially kept a diligent eye on his cart whenever he felt it was safe enough for him to bring it out onto the rugged street. Sheyna had been lingering in the shadows for longer than she intended, waiting, dreaming. Occasionally she would wipe the drool from her mouth, staring longingly at the golden-brown loaves displayed in hand-woven baskets partially covered with a bright blue cloth. The smell of the freshly-baked bread and the rumbling that smell caused in her stomach almost enticed her to make a mad dash to the cart whether the portly baker saw her or not. She was sure she could outrun him, but she had the sense to know that patience would be a better approach.
At once she saw her moment. An elderly woman had begun to haggle with Bahdur over the price of a loaf of onion bread. Sheyna stood upright in the shadow of an empty ale cart and stretched out her spindly little legs. She glanced down at the bit of parchment she had balled up in her fist. She could feel the power behind her words build as she spoke to it, and released the power into the parchment. Her enchantments never lasted long. She tried to make them permanent, and occasionally succeeded, but the use of too little power made the enchantment temporary and too much power disintegrated the object. Her sapphire blue eyes, prominent against her dirty face, were fixed on a small loaf on the edge of the cart. In a flash, Sheyna nimbly dashed from her hiding place and seized the loaf. She released the parchment from her free hand, and it changed into a white bird that flew directly at Bahdur and the woman’s heads before soaring up into the sky. While the baker and woman were ducking and cursing at the bird, Sheyna helped herself to another loaf. She scurried back to the shadows with her prize and carefully peered out to see if she had been caught. To her delight, Bahdur was still arguing with the elderly woman and pointing to the sky. Sheyna took a triumphant bite from the bread and then slunk along the side wall of the Sleeping Hound Inn to her next hiding place just outside the inn’s kitchen. Sheyna peered carefully into the smoky scullery, looking for Ignacio the cook; she could always get him to part with a scrap of meat or two. All she had to do was give him her saddest, most pathetic face, and he would bend completely to her will.
She hid away her stolen bread into a battered pack and peered through the scullery into the kitchen. The thin and well-groomed Ignacio was busy stirring something cooking in a large pot when he spotted her standing just outside his door.
“Little one, there you are. Quickly, come in and get behind me,” Ignacio directed. “I’m sure you are here for some morsel, and I shall not disappoint you. Hide, hide now. I can’t let you be seen in here.”
“Little one,” Sheyna protested. “I can remember ten seasons. I am at least as old as fourteen now.”
Ignacio smiled. “That may be so, but it isn’t what you lack in age, my dear, it is what you lack in stature. As pretty as you are, you are still a child of the streets, not fit to be seen in my kitchen.”
Sheyna let her head drop in sadness. Ignacio was right; she was far less than presentable. She tried to smooth down her dirty, ragged dress, but the fabric would not comply and bunched up. Sheyna sighed and moved to a corner of the kitchen, out of sight from the patrons in the main room.
Ignacio carved some roast beef and placed it in a cloth napkin. He added a few potatoes and cooked carrots. “Here now, go back to the streets.” He handed the food to her. “Remember, I want this napkin back.” Sheyna bowed and accepted the food. “Thank you,” she said politely.
“Go now, hurry, hurry,” Ignacio said as he rushed her out the door. At the last moment, he stopped her by her shoulders. “Wait, is that enough for you to get by?”
Sheyna almost toppled backward. “Oh yes, I am thankful for whatever you can spare me.”
“Okay, okay, now go; go quickly before you are seen.”
Sheyna ran as fast as she could to her favorite spot near the white tower of the Academy of the First Trine. Behind some overgrown brush lining the stone wall surrounding the structure was a crumbled-out hole big enough for her to fit in comfortably. The hole was the remnants of an old, disused, overgrown guard tower. She draped an old piece of cloth over a chunk of the fallen wall at the center of the opening to serve as a makeshift table. She placed the stolen bread, along with the cloth full of roast beef, potatoes, and carrots, out over her table and began to eat vigorously.
After she finished her meal, Sheyna carefully placed the cloth napkin on a pile of ten or fifteen identical cloth napkins. She planned to wash them and return them to the inn eventually. Ignacio always told her to return the napkins, but she never did. She looked once more in despair at her dress. The green and yellow of the once brilliant fabric had faded into a solid sickly green. She could not remember the last time she had it off or washed it. Despite what she was forced to do to feed herself, Sheyna actually detested stealing, but the lure of a new dress tugged at her sensibility. The only place she knew of to get a new, clean dress about her size was the laundry lines hung at the rear of the tower on the other side of the wall. Sometimes the dresses were forgotten and left to dry overnight. Sheyna decided to keep an eye out each night until one or two of the dresses were left out. Ignacio would be so surprised if she returned to him wearing a pretty blue, green, or red dress like the ones the girls attending the academy wore. She would have to visit the stream that flowed just outside of the city gates and clean herself up. She smiled to herself, leaned back against the inside of the crumbled wall, and dozed off to sleep.
When Sheyna awoke, daylight was fading. She righted herself, remembering the decision she had made about the dress. She pulled aside the thick vines hiding her hole in the wall from the courtyard on the tower side. The fresh laundry hung on a rope clothesline near the center. She ventured out into the courtyard but froze when her eye caught the form of a shadow inching along the base of the tower; it moved just enough to become detectable. She backed carefully into the vines to hide. After a few moments, she could make out the figure of a man crawling along the wall, silhouetted by the fading light. She tried to make out features of the man. The figure abruptly stopped. Sheyna wondered why. Did he spot her? She could not see from behind the vines, so she bravely moved from her hole in the wall, staying to darker shadows. She hesitated a moment and watched the stranger. If she could get closer, she might be able to see more. Sheyna moved expertly in shadow, and she produced two daggers handed down to her by her mother; both daggers she had managed to enchant permanently.
The wall met up to a curved section that joined up with the section of wall the stranger occupied. A low hedge hugged the half circle of the wall. Sheyna stayed to the shadows under the inside edge of the hedge and made the trip to the opposite end where the next wall began. From this vantage point she could see what the man looked like. He was slight in build and fairly tall. He appeared not much older than twenty seasons. He had blond or light brown hair and was well dressed from what she could see in the low light. From his side hung a sword, in his left hand a brimmed hat. He was staring up at the tower windows. Sheyna soon saw one of the girls appear. A sinking feeling filled her, and she blushed with anger. Was he trying to peep in on the girls in the tower? Sheyna pushed out from her hidden position behind the hedge and poised herself to leap and frighten him away, but when her head broke above the hedge, she caught a glimmer of another shadow. The man was not alone; another figure loomed deeper in the shadows where she could just barely make it out. She ducked back to her hiding space as it spoke.
“Do you see her?” Its voice was raspy, gurgling and unnatural. Like someone trying speak while being choked.
“No, perhaps the master was wrong. I have been watching this tower for days on end, and no one matches the description he gave me. These girls are all blonde-headed, or if they do have dark hair, they have brown or green eyes, not blue.”
The darker figure remained silent for a moment and then spoke again. “The master is never wrong. He would cut out your tongue for saying so. How do you make out the color of their eyes?”
“My people have extremely good vision.” He paused. “Don’t yours?”
“Yes, of course, but how can you tell blue from green? I should think you would have to be face to face.”
“I will admit it is difficult but not impossible. I often wait to see them in the light of the sun.”
“You dare let them see you?”
“Certainly, I just pass by from time to time, tipping my hat and giving a wink. There is no danger. I stay out of the grounds as if I am just passing by the tower while going about my daily business. I’m careful not to stroll by here too often.”
“You don’t want one of those wielders detecting you. The head mistress is not to be trifled with. In fact, she may already suspect you.”
“I have met her along the wall,” the blond man said confidently. “We exchanged smiles. She seems pleasant enough.”
“Do not be a fool, boy, keep vigilant, and I will check on you three days hence. You must remember, keep vigilant,” the dark figure repeated. “Remember your place or you may find your cockiness is your downfall. If that woman suspects you even a trifle, you are done for.”
“I will report as soon as I spot the girl. If the master is correct, it will be sooner than later.”
Sheyna heard violently beating cloth, like the sound of huge ship sails unfurling and catching a gust of wind like she heard many times in Symbor harbor. In an instant, the dark figure was gone. She rushed to see it as a feeling of dread infiltrated her senses, but she could not follow it in the shadows. It simply disappeared with the beating cloth sound, fading upward and away. The man with the blond hair did not flinch or look to the shadows. He stood peering up at the windows of the tower for a long moment.
“She is not here. I think the master must be wrong,” he muttered to himself. “This is a waste of time.”
Sheyna watched as he moved along the wall, staying to the shadows until he was gone. She considered warning someone in the tower, but in the reality of the situation, she was a child of the streets, and no one would believe anything she said. She waited in the hedge a bit longer and then began plotting how to obtain one of the dresses still drying on the line. She decided it was the right time to make her move for one.
Her curiosity piqued as she slinked across the courtyard. I fit his description, she thought. Could he be searching for me? She quickly made her way to the clothesline, fearing that one of the girls may come out at any time to gather up the laundry. That is silly; no one would be looking for me at this tower. The darkness hampered her sight, but as luck would have it, there were several brightly-colored dresses still hanging on the line. No one knows me around here. She scanned the grounds for anyone who might see her, and saw no one. She sneaked carefully around the hanging dresses and breathed deeply with excitement, picking over the different sizes and colors. “I think I will wear a blue dress,” she said, finally settling on one. She took off and discarded the ragged green dress she wore and pulled on the blue one. She spun around with glee as the edge of the dress fanned out.
“You there,” a woman from the tower said. Sheyna froze. “Yes, you there at the laundry, hurry and pull the rest of those dresses down and get inside. You will have to fold them before bed.” Sheyna still did not move. Was the woman referring to her?
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