Sorry I fell off the face of the earth there.

Anyone who has been following me on social media probably already knows this. In fact, that’s why you are here. I held a fundraiser – and everything kind of exploded.

During the fundraiser that we held I promised that everyone who donated $5 or more would receive access to a few chapters of the original draft of Imdalind, at the time titled “The Peasants Daughter.” While the following chapters are unedited (so please be kind) they are also the start to something that I am very proud of. Even through everything- I am proud of my work.

While I originally planned to post this privately with a link to the people who donated. I have chosen to post it publicly for a few reasons – one of which as a thank you to everyone. The last few months since the stalking began have been a terrible hell. I would love to say it can’t get worse – but with my life – I can’t promise that. But, people stood by me. People trusted me. People saw through the lies, saw through the abuse and actually understood. They knew that it wasn’t true. That I wasn’t scamming. That I wasn’t that person. They knew. And I don’t thin I could ever say enough thanks for that.

I have lost so many wonderful friends, people I had hoped knew me better. People who I thought knew me. And it breaks my heart. But so many more people stayed. So many more people cheered me on and supported me.

Thank you. So much.

As an update, because of all of the support from the fundraiser I was able to do all that needed to be done.  And, even better – I will keep writing amazing stories. I will keep filling your worlds with fantasy because it is those same words I escape to – those same words I love.

So, as promised, here is a few chapters of THE PEASANTS DAUGHTER.

     Chapter One – Rescued

 

It was the nightly visitation of the fog, the occasional disappearance and the curiosity of the trees that had caused the fear the villagers had of the forest. The village of Farcina lay just beyond the tree line of the great Imdalind forest and each night they watched the fog creep in over the tree tops and heard the howls of animals that they only assumed to contain horrors they could never understand. It was because of that they no one dared enter, that they only told stories of the now prime-evil land.

It was true that the Imdalind Forest was a wild one, with tangles of trees that grew more wild and confusing the deeper into the forest you moved. As the sun began to set; the web of trees became a labyrinth, a trap to those foolish enough to venture into it. Long dense shadows began to cast themselves along the floor of the forest. The trees becoming shrouded in darkness of the setting sun as the crispness of the night bit in the air that was drenched with the smell of pine. What little light made it through the high canopy of the trees had all but left now, replaced by a dense mist that greeted the night. The mist rolled silently across the floor of the forest. It seeped into the crevices of the mangled trees and blanketed the ferns and mosses that covered the ground. What could be seen through the mist continually shifted as the fog rolled and tumbled over it in an ocean of movement.

But still he ran.

The tall form of Ilyan moved swiftly through the trees as he weaved through the maze of twisted trunks. He leapt nimbly over the tall ferns, their leaves barely visible through the fog. His cloak rippled behind him breaking the odd silence with a flapping noise that came and left before it could be heard properly. Ilyan shifted the weight of the leather pack he carried on his back as he jumped over a tree root that had lifted itself above the ground. The fog it lifted into the air in a thick cloud as he moved through it, the swirl of glimmering white only visible for a moment before it melted again into the night. He paid no attention to the world around him, his mind was focused on his destination.

He knew he had to be close, but he heard no voices, no screaming. Was he really so late? It had only been an hour since Jiare had flown into the hall announcing a girl had been discovered. She had gone right to Ilyan as she begged him to rescue the child. The plea was pointless, Ilyan had already packed his bag and set off through the woods after the child before Jiare had finished giving her message. Ilyan was now almost to the edge of the forest and into the meadow beyond when a man’s voice lifted itself through the trees toward him. Instinctively, Ilyan drew his sword from its hilt as he shifted his course toward the voice of the man, his pace slowing drastically. He could not afford to slow too much he knew the scene he would walk in on far too well. Ilyan moved steadily forward, the forest became tamer as he approached the tree line that separated the forest from the village beyond it.

The man’s voice was getting louder now, words breaking through the soft night sounds of the forest to reach Ilyan’s ears. He could see movement through the trees as he continued to move toward the sounds ahead. Figures began to appear in the breaks in the trees before him, the large shadows staggering back and forth. Ilyan moved a few more steps forward and found himself on the edge of a large clearing, he crouched low behind a large clumps of soft ferns their leaves making the perfect cover.

Ilyans deep blue eyes focused through the leaves to take in the scene in the clearing before him; the mist was thinner here and Ilyan easily recognized three men from the village that lay just outside the forest, Farcina. Ilyan was surprised to see them there; the villagers were terrified of this wood. After the history had melded into fairy tales and in turn into horror stories, no man dared to enter the trees. The children would sometimes dare each other to run just past the tree line, but the adults avoided the forest. One of the men was leaning against a tree watching the other two as they paced around the small clearing, their feet dragged, and their bodies swayed; they had obviously been drinking. The ale was the cause of their bravery that had brought them down to the forest.

Ilyan began looking around the clearing for the girl he had been sent here to find. He scanned the clearing quickly in the search. A small fire was burning dimly in the center of the clearing the light casting itself over the small space. Bottles were thrown around littering the ground, dark wet rings had seeped onto the dirt in front them as the last of the ale spilled from inside them. A few heavy sticks lay abandoned near the small fire. Ilyan could not stand to look at them for very long, nor could he stand the thought of arriving late again. He knew the reason the men had entered the forest, he had seen the ending many times before.

It only took Ilyan a moment to glance around the clearing, he had a feeling that what he was looking for was in front of the drunken men, just out of his line of sight. He looked above him, the tree nearest to him extended high and straight into the inky blue color of dusk. A large thick branch extended from the tree out over the clearing, it was that branch that Ilyan needed to get too. He looked again to the men in the clearing, their backs still turned toward him. Ilyan had to move quickly, silently, he tightened the pack closer to his back and replaced his sword in its ornate sheath. Ilyan pulled his magic from deep inside him and out into the world around him, the power he held inside of him moved quickly shivering in his fingertips, eager to get out. He sent the magic out to a small breeze that had been flowing through the forest and stopped its course moving it instead toward him. Ilyan focused on the gentle wind that was blowing beneath him rather than around him. The action was so familiar he barely recognized the thought process required. In one swift movement Ilyan jumped into the sky, his legs propelling him upwards. Ilyans legs could only take him so far before his magic took over. Wind and fog swirled behind him as it worked to push his tall frame into the sky. He felt the wind swirling around him as it aided in his flight upwards and then as quickly as the breeze had come to him, it left. Ilyan began to fall toward the earth as the power of the wind decreased, his feet easily finding the thick branch of the tree he was aiming for. The branch on which Ilyan now stood extended twenty feet over the clearing, it was wide enough to cover his hiding place perfectly. He leaned over the branch slightly to look down on the scene below him, his shoulder length blonde hair falling against his face covering his profile like a sheet. And then, his bare hands made contact with the tree.

Ilyans magic combined with that of the tree in a powerful surge of energy. The thoughts of the tree flew into Ilyans mind and heart with an emotion so powerful that he could not hold it at bay very easily. The tree let out a torrent of emotional chatter that washed through his mind making it hard to distinguish one of the tree’s emotions from the next. Anger, hatred, fear, and sadness all moved into him, and then he saw the reason for it. The tree’s cloudy thoughts of the screaming girl moved to the forefront of his mind as the tree freely gave him its memory. A young girl was dragged into the clearing by her hair. Her screams filled the forest as the men tied her to a tree, the terrified sound was like an echo in his mind as the vision replayed before his eyes. He shook his head, releasing the picture only moments after he placed his hands on the tree.

Ilyan’s skin kept contact with the tree as he looked down into the clearing, his deep eyes frantically searching for the girl. From this angle it did not take him long to find what he was looking for.

At the bottom of the tree that the tallest man faced was a tiny tangled form of a body. From high above the clearing it appeared as if she was clinging to the tree. Her arms where hugging the large trunk of the tree, her wrists bound tightly together to hold them there. When she had been originally tied she had been standing, her back facing her captors. As her body had given way she had begun to slide down the tree, twisting her arms and body into an awkward position. Her legs were curled up on the ground, her long yellow dress flowed away from her in a tangled mess of blood stained fabric. Her small bare feet were just visible from beneath the folds of her heavily woven dress. Her torso leaned against the tree, the ropes around her wrists the only thing that was keeping her supported. A knot in the tree was pushing her face into a pained form, her mouth that was just visible underneath the dark blindfold was slack and lifeless. It was not the appearance of the girl that shocked him the most. It was the color of her blood.

The heavy folds of her yellow dress were stained with large streaks of the darkest red. Her long curly hair was matted against her head with glistening patches of red that extended down the long dark strands. From underneath the blindfold tears of deep red still rolled down her face. Her hands hung loosly from underneath the thick rope that bound her, dried rivers of blood trailed down her fingers. The red of the scene below him shocked him against the darkness of her hair, the pale yellow of her dress and the white of her skin, the red screamed at him. Ilyans body tensed and his stance lifted slightly as he hovered above the tree branch as if preparing to pounce, only the toes of his tall leather boots were touching the branch of the tree.

“Does she still live?” His whispered question to the tree was answered with a calm that moved into him, easing his tension and fear. Once more Ilyan sent his magic out, puching his mind along the tree he was hiding in and down to the roots of the other trees in the clearing. His mind moved from tree to tree receiving the thoughts and fears of each one he passed through. He quickly reached the chatter of the tall mahogany the girl was tied to. He was met with a slow breathing, it was ragged and shallow, but it was there. The large mahogany tree that the girl was tied to seemed to be breathing alongside her as if helping her along, willing her to survive. The breathing of the tree was startling. To do so much for this one girl, even the tree must realize her importance.

Ilyan brought his thoughts and magic back to him as he looked intently down at the clearing, trying to decide what action to take. It was dangerous to reveal himself to the villagers, for if the King caught wind of his continued attempt to save the children it would mean pain and anger to his family and the last of his kind. If Ilyan fought the drunk men, he could save her life. The life of the girl was so incredibly precious to him and his family. It had been so long since one like her had been discovered, a child with the ability to hold magic. If he were to wait the last few moments before the sun set she may not survive, her tiny body was already beginning to give itself to the darkness that was slowly filling her. Ilyans jaw clenched at the thought of the King, the King had caused him so much grief and pain in his life. The girl below him was a form of that pain. She may be the oldest of the children to be discovered by the King and his people. She looked to be about twelve years old, but her frame was so crumpled that it was difficult to be sure. Ilyan knew that she had to have been marked at least nine years ago, such a long time to hide the mark on her skin. It had been many years since one of the children had survived the beating that the King ordered for them, he could not help but think that her age had helped her survive this far.

One of the men suddenly staggered towards her, the dried leaves that covered the forest floor crunching noisily underneath him. He dropped down to his knees as he reached her, his body close to the knot in the tree that her head was placed up against. With a rough jagged movement the large man began to peel away the bloodied hair that was plastered to her face. From the safety of the tree limb Ilyan watched this curious action, his stomach twisting as he watched her head move limply as her hair was forced back.

“It’s still there.” The man yelled angrily as he scurried across the ground toward his companions to crouch beside a tree.

“Of course it’s still there, it’s a devil mark that.” The new voice laughed as he watched his companion huddle near him, obviously afraid of the small child. “What where you expecting, that we could beat the devil out of her?! It ain’t so simple Ian.”

“I still say we burn her, Mal.” Ian stood up near the tree he had huddled by obviously gaining some composure.

The mens words flowed angrily up to the branch high above the clearing. Ilyan plastered his body to the branch of the tree, once again removing the long blade of his sword from its sheath. He would risk revealing himself to these men if it would come to it, a burning of a child was something he would not tolerate.

“Hey! She moved!” Mal’s surprise was obvious as he moved toward the girl, his feet dragging across the ground. Ilyans eyes darted toward the girl, desperate for Mal’s words to be right. “I am surprised she is still alive… Only a child after all. I guess the reverend was right. Witch. Devil Witch.” In one swift movement Mal kicked the girls legs violently to one side, twisting her whole body at an odd angle. The girl made no noise, made no move to fight the new position that she was twisted in.

“I think she’s dead.” Mal’s voice had an amused edge to it.

“Didn’t you see her twitch, Mal? When we said we was gonna burn her?” Ian mused.

“Dead or Alive, Mal, It won’t hurt ta burn the rest a the devil out of ‘er! Ian does have a point. The li’le witch did kill the queen afta all.” The new drunken voice was loud and slurred as it flew up toward Ilyan as the man stumbled toward the other two.

The talk of burning the girl worried Ilyan; he was running out of time. Burning was not usually part of the torturous process the King had created for the chosen children. The mention of burning told him the King was moving to more extreme measures to ensure that the rescue of the children could not continue.

“If she is dead than why should we burn her? This is Old Grifs Daughter an…”

“An’ she killed him! You were there Mal! You saw her bewitch that horse!” The environment below Ilyan seemed to be getting more and more hostile. The men’s voices rose in volume as they argued with each other.

“Alri’!” The drunken mans voice cut through the barrage of arguing that was taking place. “I’s say we go back up ta town an’ get the othern to come an git ‘er. Thar ain’t no way we be carrying her… Thans we can make Old Man Findly come down here, hes talkin brave afore. We should see if ‘hez what he ‘ays he is. She ain’t goin’ no where dead an’ all… That ale was mighty good…” The ramble ended with a soft thump as the man fell to the ground, flopping face down onto the dried leaves. Peels of drunken laughter sounded through the trees from Ian and Mal. Ian walked slowly over to the large crumpled man on the ground, nudging him softly with his foot.

START HERE

“He isn’t dead is he?” The entertainment was obvious in Mals voice. Ian laughed quietly shaking his head towards the mans limp form. “Well since he aint dead lets drag him back up to his missus and get a fire going nice and hot.” A small silence followed Mals sentiments as Ian contemplated this new suggestion. Ilyans body tensed against the tree branch he was crouched on. Could he possibly be so lucky that they would leave the girl here alone?

“You want us to leave the witch here… alone?”

“You can’t expect us to carry both the girl and drag Jon out of here, Ian.”

“That’s the truth.” Ians quiet voice broke up the argument quickly. A small chuckle escaped Mal as a wide grin spread across his face.

“Then we can make the Old Man come down here, Jon was righ’ about that. I would like to see the old bugger high tale it out of here at the first tree.” Mals laughter broke through their small circle. Ian moved over toward the still form of Jon who was now snoring softly.

“Come help me with this one than, Mal.” They laughed together as the continued to talk of the Old Man. They slowly began to make their way out of the now pitch black forest, the limp form of Jon dragging along on the ground behind them.

Ilyan watched from his perch as the men continued through the break in the trees, slowly making their way back toward the village. Ilyan slowly replaced the sword back in the sheath and loosened his tensed crouch. Mals loud voice still cut through the forest as he sang a loud song celebrating the future burning of the witch. Ilyan tightened his grip on the tree as it sent a releasing wash of calm through him. He once again pushed his mind over toward the tree within the clearing, the one the girl was tied to. Ilyan was met with the shallow breathing, breathing so faint he had almost missed it, amazingly the girl was still alive. He looked toward the drunken men to find them just passing the last of the tree line. With a steady fluid movement he jumped from the high branch to land silently on the forest floor twenty feet below him. Ilyan straightened himself from his landing, uncoiling his tall muscular body to stand stone faced before the girl.

From this angle the scene looked much more hideous. Her frail body twisted and contorted in odd angles. Dull purple bruises were beginning to form on most of the revealed skin. He removed a small dagger from the sheath under his coat and took one step forward.

“You’re not too late I hope.” He did not jump at the voice; he was far too familiar with its sweet feminine tones. He turned slightly to face the old woman who was standing at the edge of the clearing.

Her grey hair fell haphazardly around her aged face, somewhat hiding the deep lines around her eyes and mouth, the slight gleam of her hair only deepening her weathered and sun-browned skin. And yet, a smile lined all of her features. Even with the current situation around her, her face and eyes were welcoming and kind. She stood straight and tall as she looked toward the girl in the clearing, even though her age appeared to be very great.

“The trees tell me she is still alive, but only just. Was it just this morning that they found her?” Ilyan had reached the girl now and he crouched in front of her looking at her face, a deep bruise over her check, a shallow cut from ear to mouth. He exhaled angrily as he placed a hand underneath her nose waiting for the flow of warm air to signal life. He watched her for a moment, until finally he received the signal he was waiting for. “Your alright now, little one,” he whispered softly in her ear, “I am a friend I have come to save you.”

“Yes,” the woman was right next to him now. “But Ilyan, it was Tilothy. It was Tilothy who showed her mark to the village.” Ilyan watched the girl’s body stiffen at the sound of the name and stood to face the woman at his side.

“Tilothy?! Are you sure? She can’t have been so powerful yet.” He looked at the girl as he spoke, her body flinching as if she was trying to force her body to move. He crouched down next to her and softly placed his hand against her face. “Calm little one, you are safe.” Ilyan swiftly moved around to the back of the tree and placed his dagger against the ropes that tied her to the tree, rapidly cutting them. The thick rope had bound her there so tightly that it had begun to dig itself into her skin. As the rope was cut her arms fell limply to her side her body collapsing even further down toward the ground, unable to hold her own weight. Ilyan sheathed the dagger and moved again to where the girl’s body was.

“I do not think it is a question of power but of friendship.” The old woman said as she knelt beside him helping to straighten the form of the girl. “She was friends with the Kings son.”

Ilyan froze, clenched his hands and looked down at the girl. So that is what it had come to. The King would now use those around him to teach, to train, that bastard son of his. He would stop at nothing to keep his successor in line to accomplish the evil that he had already put in place. Ilyan stared at his hands as his mind swirled around the new particle of information. This girl did not deserve to be on the receiving end of such an evil deed. His thoughts were jerked back into place as a soft frail hand was placed on top of his own.

“Do not let your anger rule you, Ilyan. That is for man to do.” The old woman helped to move the girl away from the tree and lay her down. Her eyes widened in fear as she looked at the tree they had just removed her from. The lowest hand of the tree was bright red; the blood of the girl had seeped into the crevices of the trees bark and painted it deep scarlet.

“This tree will never be the same.” She placed her hand against the thick truck of the tree as she spoke, her eyes suddenly sad.

“That explains why the tree was breathing alongside her; it will always have a part of this girl in it.”

“You will be a bold tree now, Mahogany. You will be that which trees admire and man fears.” The old woman placed her forehead against the tree letting the thoughts of the Mahogany wash through her. Ilyan watched her for a moment before moving to the head of the girl. He moved her head slightly to the side, her right ear facing him, and began moving aside the sticky strands of matted hair that Mal had so roughly forced aside. He carefully separated each strand from the sticky mass that kept it there. Ilyan moved slowly careful not to pull at her skin, it did not take long to remove the hair away from her temple the action revealing a small dried pool of blood. The old woman licked her thumb as she slowly moved down to sit beside them, and immediately began to rub at the girls temple wiping away the blood that was left. Ilyan watched as she revealed a small mark on the skin underneath the dried blood, it was the size of his thumbnail and deep brown against her pale skin. The small teardrop shaped mark was raised as if it was a brand but yet still shown beautifully against her temple. The girl flinched slightly as Ilyan traced it softly with his forefinger.

“Is it genuine?”

“It is Dilly,” Ilyan whispered, “And if I remember correctly, he let her see her so she should have a story.”

The woman jumped to her feet much faster than someone would expect from her frail body. “You must go now, Ilyan, the trees are whispering that someone is coming. Be careful with your cargo, Boy, you may be followed.” She looked around her as she spoke, her wide eyes looking wildly around her.

“Will you send word to my sister to meet me at the glen before the oak. I must take her to the lower pond now or she may not survive.” Ilyan carefully lifted the girl from the ground, cradling her small limp form against his chest. Her dark curly hair and long skirt fell over his arms in a dark cascade. The girls head rolled slightly to lay against his shoulder.

“The lower pond! But Ilyan! Tradition…”

“I know what tradition states, but with a life as precious as this I cannot take any chances. Send word for me it is important…” As he spoke his last word a branch cracked nearby, the loud sound cutting through the speedily darkening forest like a knife. Ilyans whispered conversation was cut short as he turned and disappeared into the trees, not turning to the old woman again.

He sped through the forest, not daring to go as fast as he was able. Fear for the girl that he carried was all that he felt at the moment. He had tried to save so many of the chosen children, and in turn he had failed so many times. And yet this time, in some way this way was different. Perhaps it was that she may well be one of the last, no child had been marked in years for fear of the punishment they would be given. He felt a genuine worry for the little girl he carried, an anger toward the men who had beat her.

“Stay with me little one, your safe now. I am taking you away from all that.” He felt a small pressure on his chest as her fingers wrapped tightly around the folds of his shirt, her dirt fingers wrapping themselves around the heavy cotton tunic. Ilyan continued to run, surprised as tears began to flow down his cheeks. He was not sure if this movement was a sign of fear, pain, or understanding but he took a small comfort in the action. Softly, he began to hum a song that was always sung to him by his mother. In some ways the gentle tune bought comfort and strength to him, as he hoped it would to her.

He dodged lightly around a young tree and moved his direction slightly left. They were deep in the forest now, the trees growing at odd angles with large branches extending themselves up toward the sun in a desperate hope for light. Each tree grew so close to the others that very little light made it through the dense canopy in the daylight hours. But, now that the sun had set the forest was a black so pitch that Ilyan was guiding them forward by memory and the chatter that came from the trees. He was sure that no one would follow them this deep into the forest but his ears stayed peaked; listening for a rustle or snap.

Ahead of them a dull light appeared, a light blue glow that peeked through the small breaks in the trees like a beacon. Ilyan knew the light to be the clearing he was looking for, he continued toward it confident of his safe arrival. He broke through the last clump of trees to enter the small clearing, his cloak catching briefly against the last of the wild bushes that grew around the parameter.

Moonlight flooded the small clearing, the subtle beams reflecting their soft blue light off of every soft fern, and upturned leaf. Nothing grew wild here. The trees that grew within the boundaries were smaller, straighter, and more tame. The trees branches grew at perfect angles, there leaves extending out delicately inviting the night air onto their surface. Small patches of flowers grew clumped together around the clearing, each perfect head shining brightly up toward the moon. In the center of the clearing was a pond, perfectly round deep blue, on its perfectly still surface the crescent shaped moon was brilliantly reflected. The meadow that lay surrounding the pond was calm, peaceful, not even a breeze ruffled the tops of the high bracken. Though the rest of the forest was approaching the crisp autumn months, it was always spring here, every plant young every new bud constantly in a state of beginning.

Ilyan looked around the clearing as he moved into it. The peaceful nature of the place began filling him with a surprising calm as he moved toward a small tree near the pond. He moved carefully through the small meadow, careful not to step on the small buds that were attempting to poke their way through the soft earth. Ilyan lowered himself slowly down to the ground, still cradling the small girl in his arms. He crossed his legs in one fluid movement and transferred the tiny weight to his lap.

“I am going to place you on the ground little one, it is soft so it may not cause you much pain.” He waited for a moment for an answer. Slowly the tension on his shirt lifted as the girl released her hold on the thick fabric. Ilyan carefully moved her body to the patch of ferns that covered the ground before him, her limp body automatically settling into the soft ferns.

“It is night here, little one. The moon is hovering above us and the danger is far behind us. Do not be afraid.” He carefully turned her head to reveal the twisted knot of the blinding cloth. He moved slowly, delicately as he loosened the knot, careful not to pull the dark hair that had been roughly tied into the knot. The knot released itself slowly, the fabric stiff from dried blood, sweat and tears. Ilyan removed the cloth from her eyes slowly not wanting to hurt them after being bound for so long. She opened them slowly tentatively, there dark brown depth reflecting the gentle light that fell all around them. Her eyes darted, panicked, around the glen before coming to rest on Ilyan. He smiled tentatively at her trying to relax her. She stared at him, her swollen eyes peering nervously at him. Ilyan made a small movement toward the pack on his back and the girl recoiled, her arms jerking toward her body, her feet twitching. It was small movement but noticeable; Ilyan was not sure she could move her broken body more than that.

“I am not going to hurt you, little one. I am just getting some water for you, I am sure you are thirsty and we need to clean you off a little.” He continued the move toward his back, he gently swung the large pack down letting it fall to the ground with a dull thump. The girls eyes widened slightly as she watched his actions, eyeing every movement he made. Ilyans heart saddened as he watched her, her eyes never leaving his hands, as if awaiting a strike.

“Drink this, you must be very thirsty. It will help your throat. I am not one to sit in silence for so long.” Ilyan slowly brought the water skin that he had removed from his pack to her lips allowing her to drink, he drizzled a little bit in between her cracked and bleeding lips. Most of the water was swallowed, what was not came flowing over her cheek in a light red drizzle. Ilyan flinched internally at what he saw. He had never rescued a child as bad as this; he had never seen a child survive so much. At first she let the water fall into her mouth, but as the water began to hit her throat she drank more greedily, devouring the water that was in the skin. He watched as she allowed the water into her, hastily drinking it.

“Careful now, little one, too much of this water is not good for you.” Ilyan pulled the water skin away from her desperate lips. He chuckled slightly as he watched her eyes darken slightly. The water was obviously doing its job, a new light was already starting to shine in her eyes. He smiled slightly as he saw the magic of it starting to heal her.

“So tell me little one, Do you have a name?” Ilyan was slowly ripping some cloth into small pieces as he spoke, his eyes focused on the job in front of him.

“Joclyn.” It was said in a whisper so faint that if Ilyan had not been focusing his whole being on the child before him he may not have heard it. “My name is Joclyn.”

Ilyan was somewhat surprised at the name. They kept a record in the great hall of all the children who had been kissed. Once the King had begun the torturous killing of the chosen children their numbers had drastically decreased and now the book stood almost bare with only four names on the surface. The Name Joclyn had been removed only two summers prior after a child was lost in the Hollow City. But as he looked into the face of the child and focused on the mark on her temple he knew the book to be the one incorrect. It seemed that over the many centuries he had been saving them, only one mistake had been made, this girl being it.

“Joclyn.” Ilyan repeated the name softly to himself. He wet the cloth he was holding as he looked at the tiny girl on the ground before him. Joclyn looked straight up into the sky as he spoke, the pale moon reflected in her eyes.

“My name is Ilyan, but you may call me Ian.” He reached forward as he said it, gently taking one of her wrists into his hands. The thick rope was still wound around it, the wide coils making her hands appear more like an infant’s than that of a child who has seen fourteen years of life. Ilyan slowly began to unwind the rope, as he revealed the skin he saw that the rope had cut itself into her skin the thick fibers imbedding themselves into her wrists. He glanced at the girl who was continuing to stare into the moon, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. He was unsure if the tears were from pain or from happiness, but he knew he could not let her see that which was done to her. He tenderly began removing the rope from within the skin, tugging at it as softly as he could so as to take it off.

“I think I like Ilyan better.” She whispered, her eyes not looking at him.

“Do you? Most do not think so.” Ilyan whispered it to her as he replaced one wrist and grabbed the other that lay gently across the folds of her dress. Knowing this one would be as bad he swallowed and continued with the work, cursing those that had done this to her.

“I knew a Ian at home… He was… he was one of the men…” Ilyan could see the pain that filled her as she forced the words out, unable to finish the sentence. Fresh tears began to pour from her eyes, her face squished together as she tried to stop them from escaping. Ilyan watched as a drop began to move down the side of her face, becoming darker as it collected that which was still on her face. He softly reached out and caught the tear as it fell, wiping it from her cheek bone. The light pink pearl of salt water balanced precariously on the tip of his index finger. Joclyn turned her head slightly to look at him, their eyes meeting.

“I am so sorry, Joclyn. I am sorry I didn’t get there sooner and you had to live through that. There is a lot of hatred in the land and you did not deserve to be on the receiving end. For one so small… You are very brave.” Ilyans voice caught as he spoke, tears of his own threatening to break away from his eyes, but even with the treat of his tears he did not break his eyes away from hers as he spoke. Ilyan had almost spoken words that this child, that Joclyn may not well have been ready to hear. He was tempted to reveal to her all that she would enter into in just a few minutes time, but he could not. The pain was so evident on her face that her brow was twisted in it. He weighed his options carefully in his mind as he looked into the face of the child. Ilyan knew why the men had tied her to the tree. He knew what the reasons for their actions were but he was not sure she knew herself.

“Why were you tied to that tree, Joclyn?” As soon as the words had left his mouth, Joclyns body began to twitch uncontrollably as she fruitlessly attempted to escape. Her eyes darted frantically around the meadow, not meeting his, not focusing.

“You don’t know… You’re going to… You should have let me be!” Joclyns head swung to look at him, her eyes wide with fear the moon no longer reflected out of them; only pain, fear and anger.

“The Wild Woman of the Forest! You know the wild woman of the forest! You know what I am!” Her body continued to move, as if fighting against an invisible bindthe action causing her to yell out in pain.

Ilyan flung the cloth away from him as he moved to her side, placing a palm against her cheek as he tried to calm her. He searched her eyes frantically, feeling her heavy breathing move through her body as she tried to fight against herself.

“Calm, Joclyn. Calm. I am not going to hurt you. I promise you that. I will never lay a hand on you in anger. What those men, what those villagers did to you was wrong. That is why I took you from them.” Her heart rate was still going much too fast. He needed her to remain calm. Her injuries were so terrible; it may only be the magic of the meadow that was keeping her alive now.

“calm.” Ilyan repeated the word again, keeping his hand softly against her cheek. Joclyns body slowly began to relax underneath his hands, the muscles slowly relaxing. Her eyes met his again, the panic not quite so evident but the open fear still plagued him.

“But the wild woman…”

“She is a friend, Joclyn.” Ilyan cut her off before she had a chance to finish her sentence. He had always hated the nickname the villagers had given to the old woman. Of course, she had brought it upon herself. Living so far away from the villagers in her dilapidated house had sparked far too many rumors. That along with the non-sense words that she yelled at the children who taunted her only gave them something else to gossip about. Although it was her favorite game, it irritated Ilyan slightly to see a once proud Queen getting rotten fruit thrown at her door. None of the residents knew how long she had lived there, and it was probably better that way.

“She is a friend to both of us, to you and I. But please, her name is Filare.”

“But she was there,” Joclyn gasped. “I saw her when the little man took me to the square! She watched me! She wanted me to burn!”

“Calm.” The fear and tension in her was slowly subsiding. Ilyan stroked her bruised face gently, trying desperately to convey to her that she was safe. Without any further words Ilyan reached for another cloth and began washing the blood from her face, singing the same tune softly to her. He watched as her facial expression slowly softened, he could see the subtle thought process that brought it on through her eyes. Ilyan sighed slightly as he faced that which he could no longer avoid. He was afraid to scare her, to bring on another panic attack that could very easily bring about her death.

“I will make you a bargain, dear Joclyn.” Ilyan was careful to keep his voice calm and level. He did not look directly at her as he spoke, choosing instead to focus on the rhythmic motions of the cloth against her check bone. “If you will tell me your story, than I will tell you one of mine. I promise not to hurt you no matter what you tell me.” He paused, watching her expression carefully wary to another attack of fear to move through her. “I need you to tell me what happened to you. I need to know how they found out about your mark.”

Chapter Two – Stories

 

Joclyns eyes closed tightly avoiding Ilyan. He did not push, he continued wiping away the past from her face, giving her the chance to begin sharing that which he needed to know. Ilyan moved the cloth over her cheek bone removing the last of the dried blood. He touched the mark tentatively again, her body simultaneously flinching at his touch. The miracle that the girl was here and still alive was truly amazing to him. It had been so long since his rescue attempts had been successful, so many children had been lost to the brutality of the king. He could not help but smile slightly as he thought about the miracle of the girl, even with the grim outlook she faced the simple fact that she was here and speaking was far more important than anything that had happened to his family as of late.

Ilyan glanced up to meet eyes with Joclyn, surprised to find her looking at him so intently. He did not remove the smile as he met her gaze, the action obviously making her uncomfortable as she quickly looked back up to the sky. Joclyn whimpered slightly as she exhaled her body still obviously still in large amounts of pain. He hated that she was still hurting, it was only a few moments before he could take all that pain away. Ilyan quickly moved back to gently removing the blood from her face and arms, she needed to be clean in order for him to continue the process that would help her.

He did not know when Joclyn accepted him as a friend. Perhaps it was the smile, or the way he cleaned the blood from her. He knew that her emotions must be a tangled web of fear and a desperate need for love and friendship. Without knowledge of her past it was hard to judge the actions of the girl, she may well have many secrets that plague her, secrets that it may take many years until she felt secure enough to share them with anyone. In many ways it was unfair to ask her to share the answer to how the villagers found out about her mark, but he needed to know. The reason for Tilothy’s involvement in her exposure to the village was important information that could help his family, keep them safe. He needed the information now because… a small dread echoed in the back of his mind as he thought of the directions the girl was moving in.

“They say I burned my house to the ground,” her small voice came out of nowhere, her not leaving the stars as she spoke. “My mother was still inside. But I didn’t I tried to put it out! Bad things… they just happen around me.” She rushed the last words out, looking at him out of the corner of her eye as if waiting to see hatred on his face.

“I believe you.” She turned her head further to him, eyes wide in shock. Ilyan met her eyes straight on, his expression straight, and calm. “Was that all?” There was more to this brief story than what she knows, than what she believed, he had to figure out what.

“My baby brother.. he was sick.. they say it was the croup… his head was so hot. He died one night the wind blew through the window – my mother said the wind took him away. But, but she looked at me when she said it. I know she thought it was me who took him away. My mother wouldn’t look at me because of the grief, she would only cry to the fire. I went to go get her a rose from the bank of the river; she used to love the red ones. That’s when it happened. The house… it burned… I could hear her screaming all the way by the river. I ran back… I tried to put it out, but I couldn’t do anything. I tried… I think my father thought I did it too, just like the village, he always looked at me and said that the wind started the fire. I knew I was the wind, just like the wind took my brother away. But, my father still protected me, he hid me from the villagers, they were always trying to hurt me, to throw things at me. Sometimes my father stopped them, he always told them there was some good in me, I didn’t know if he believed it though. . But he died too, the butcher’s old horse got away from him. Then there was no one to stop them, and they all came for me”

Her words came out in a rush, toppling one over the other. They flowed from her freely, like a river held back from its true course too long. Her story was so different from the others he had heard, he knew there had to be something else there. Something that Joclyn was not telling him. That small bit of information may well be the key to solving the problem that plagued his family, and all of Imdalind. This girl had been friends with the Kings son, and yet she carried the mark on her skin. She must know something; something in this girl could help them. His mind rolled over the tidbits that she had given him, what the men in the clearing had said as he tried to fit the pieces together.

“But all the bad didn’t start happening before the queen got sick. They say I killed her too. I only saw the Queen once, she was always so fragile. My mother used to say that she was paper thin, like our table cloth at home. And that had so many holes you could see through it.” Ilyan watched her as she spoke, her breathing a forced steady rhythm. “The Queen died, and then that little man… he showed… he saw it, he saw it and he showed them. He showed them my devil mark.” Ilyan cringed at the term, but let it roll away.

“Tilothy found your mark? He didn’t know about it before? And what about…” He caught himself before he had gone any further, he had almost revealed too much. She needn’t know about the Prince and his father’s hand in this.

“He… he saw it when I was… in the castle…” Her voice trailed off into nothing. She was breathing deeply, her eyes damp and unfocused as her mind rolled over the memories. Ilyan could tell there was something about the answer to his question that was hurting her. The sadness in her face was so deep it was almost as if her heart had broken. Of course it made sense, after all she had been through. Tilothy had been the beginning of the hell she had unwillingly entered into.

“Tilothy found your mark.” He said it aloud as if cementing it into his mind.

“Tilothy saw my devil mark, he showed…”

“Please do not call it that.” Ilyan cut her off as a little rush of hatred burst through him. He hated the term, he hated how so much fear was placed in something so precious.

Please do not call it that.”

“But that’s what it is! It’s the mark the devil gave me when he tore part of my soul away and replaced it with his own. It’s why I do bad things and I don’t remember. It’s the devil in me that does it.” Ilyan moved over her, his eyes focused on hers. He gently removed the hair that had fallen over her temple again. He looked at the dark tear drop shaped mark for a moment. Joclyn shied away slightly, as if attempting to move herself out of the reach of Ilyans vision.

“This,” He whispered, “Is not a bad thing. It is not a devil mark either.” Ilyan wet another of the pieces of fabric and moved to her feet. He began wiping away the dirt that had caked itself to them. The time had come, he knew it. He knew an explanation was due to this girl. But the circumstances were so different, he was not sure if the time was right for such a revelation. He could not look at her, knowing that she was expecting him to continue. “The mark that you bear is called a kiss. It is mark of utmost importance to me and my family, Joclyn. It means you are special, it means you have something inside you that very few people posses. I thank you for telling your story, Joclyn. I believe it is my turn to tell mine.” He paused, looking at her feet, curious as to how to begin.

“A long time ago in a land very much like this one… Is that how fairy tales start?”

“I don’t remember… I have only a heard a few.”

“That’s alright, I will tell you another one then. A long time ago, in a land very much like this one magical beings such as fairies and elves still moved freely across the land…”

“You can’t speak of such things, they are evil.” she hissed. Ilyan was caught off guard by her reaction to the beginning of his story. He knew that men had turned all their histories into fairy tales and in turn into superstitions. But he had never been told they were evil before.

“Elves are evil?” He asked curiosity overwhelming him.

“Yes. They work with the devil.”

“And what about dwarves are they evil to?”

“The only fairy tale I have heard is about dwarves, so I think they are alright.” She said after a moment. Ilyan could not help but laugh at her comment. Well, perhaps this would be easier than he thought. While her information was incorrect, it was the side of good and evil that was mixed up. It was slightly unnerving, however how much their King had done to prepare his people for the change that was coming.

“Well, this one is about elves and fairies, and they are good. I guarantee you they have never seen a devil in this story, as you have never seen the devil in your life.” He continued wiping the dirt off of her feet, wetting the small cuts that criss-crossed the bottoms.

“A long time ago in a land like where we are now, Joclyn, there were elves. Good Elves. And the elves lived along side fairies and dragons. Now…”

“What is a Dragon?”

“A great winged beast, with a hide of thick leather that shines. Their wings extend from their shoulders and stretch far away from them. The wings are powerful and can blow away the evil from around them, lift the dragon into the air, or cradle there young. Dragons breathe fire, and hope. They are very powerful, Joclyn.” He looked at her for a moment, but when no response was given he moved on.

“Now, man also possessed a magic, good magic. A magic that could change the earth, help a sick man, and bring love to those around them. However, overtime man began to forget the purpose of their magic. They saw their magic as being unnecessary in the world and fell away from it. All but the men who called themselves wizards. The Wizards were men whose magic had turned black, it was no longer used for good. The Wizards lived in caves and where unknown to man instead choosing to hide themselves in filth and darkness.

“When men left the side of the magical beings a great hole was left in the land. The dwarves wished to fill this hole with the magic of the Wizards. They believed that the magic was the same and were blinded by the hatred that was fueled through the Wizards hearts. The Elves refused to align themselves with the Wizards and the Dwarves became angry. A bitter war was fought between them, the elves trying to stop an alliance that would only end in sadness for the land. In the end the Elves left the mountain home that they shared and exiled themselves deep within the forest.”

Ilyan watched Joclyn for a moment before he continued, her breathing was very shallow. He moved himself back up, kneeling beside her torso and began cleaning her neck.

“Is that all?” Her voice was quiet, Ilyans shook his head slightly glad she was still awake and listening to his story.

“The alliance of the Wizards and dwarves proved to be fatal for the land, and hatred began to spread through the once peaceful community of man. Brother began to hate Brother, Father against Mother. The elves still held hope for the land and with those that were closest to them they began to watch for a sign of light among the darkness that covered the communities of man.

For they knew that in this wicked land a boy would come, a very powerful boy, he was neither Fairy, Elf, Dwarf, or Dragon but he possessed a powerful magic. His magic was unique because it possessed that of all the magic on the land, and made him able to do many wonderful things. Now, the Elves and Fairies had searched far and wide for this boy. They had a legend about him you see, that he would bring about the good of the land and save the world from an evil or a darkness that would one day cover it. And as the darkness from the hearts of the dwarves and wizards had begun to seep into the world, the elves knew that that time was coming.

“They all searched desperately for the boy. The Dragons flew over by night looking. The Fairies flew through the homes of man by day, watching them and waiting to find the boy.

“But it was the dragons that found him first. It was one dark night when a dragon saw a boy. A boy who was sitting outside his home, with tears streaming down his cheeks as he told a legend aloud. He shared the story of The Mirror with a patch of dirt. It was a story that had not been told for many years among the homes of man. The dragon knew as he watched him that this was the boy they had been searching for.”

He placed the last dirty rag to the side and looked at her. She was nowhere near clean, but what he had been able to do had helped her appearance greatly. Ilyan carefully slid his hands under her shoulders and legs, lifting her off the ground as he stood. She whimpered slightly as the gravity pulled her limbs down.

“We are going to walk through the water of this pond, Joclyn. It will help to clean the rest of your wounds, it will help to heal you. Do not be alarmed, the water is fairly warm.”

“Like a bath.”

“Yes I suppose it is like a bath.” Ilyan walked slowly over to the pond, watching the still surface carefully. As he approached a small ripple began to form from the bank closest to him stretching out across the glassy surface. The ripple grew as it moved away from him, as if the pond was welcoming tem into the water. Ilyan was calmed by the growing ripple, knowing that his decision to bring Joclyn here was the right one. He slowly began to move into the water, moving deeper and deeper into it. As the water flowed over his arms, and in turn Joclyn, she tensed slightly before relaxing against him, her body encircled around his torso. He stopped when the water was up to his chest, only Joclyns face still floated above the black surface.

“What did the dragon do?” Ilyan smiled at her question, her interest in his story was amusing to him, and yet comforting.

“The Dragon flew down to the boy, bowing before him.” Ilyan began as he continued to move within the water, rocking the child he held back and forth. “The Dragon offered to take the boy away from the world he lived in and into the world of the Elves and Fairies. The boy agreed and climbed aboard the back of the Dragon. The Dragon flew him away from the darkness that surrounded him to the new home of the Elves that was nestled deep within the mountains. It was there the boy was to live with the Elves. It was there that the boy received the kiss of the fairy, a kiss that continued to draw the magic out of him. He was the first child to be marked in such a way. His magic was strong and he did many wonderful things, but that, little one, is a story for another time.”

Ilyan stopped the story as he began to feel the water grow warm against his skin, swirling against him as he moved. The flow of the water grew and so he stopped rocking his body and stayed stationary. As he stood still in the dark water his skin began to grow warmer as it moved into him, trying to do that to him which is was doing to Joclyn. The longer he stood in the water cradling the girl the warmer his skin grew as if it was being scrubbed raw with a rough brush.

He gently removed his hand out from under her legs, releasing them into the water. They lowered into the depths for just a moment before they begin to rise again. The gentle movements of the water swirled the light yellow skirt of her dress around her.

“Take a deep breath Joclyn; I am going to place your face under the water for just a moment.” She said nothing, only inhaled slightly, her closed eyes and mouth made her appear as if she was sleeping.

Ilyan released his arm from underneath her head and moved away from her. The water swirled around his body as he moved away Slowly he watched as her body dropped below the surface, deeper and deeper she fell into the warm water until she was no longer visible. Ilyan counted silently, as if willing her to return to the surface of the water. The swirling of the water around him slowed to a stop as the warmth slowly left his body. For the first time in all his life he began to doubt the Lower Pond, doubt what he was witnessing. His heart raced as he watched the glossy surface of the black water that Joclyn had disappeared into more than a minute before. Ilyan jerked forward as if to dive in after her, but stopped himself just in time. He moved back and continued his counting for only a moment before the water began to move again, the warmth returning.

Jocelyn’s body reappeared again as she began to slowly float back to the surface of the water from the black depths she was just in. Ilyan moved forward and caught her in his arms as her body broke the surface of the water and began to float just under the surface.

“You can breathe again Joclyn.” He watched her closely as a moment passed. Than Joclyn mouth parted as she began to breathe, her eyes opening to look at him.

“I thought you were going to drop me.”

“No. I would never do that.” He would have to save the truth for another time, when the answer could be understood better. Ilyan began to make his way to the bank again, the water running from their clothes in long stream that left glittering paths behind them. He carefully placed Joclyn at the base of the tree where she had laid before.

“Ilyan…” He looked at her curiously, it was the first time she had spoken his name. “You’re not going to hurt me are you?” Her childish faith and trust had been rattled unspeakably by what she had just gone through. And yet, here she was accepting again. Trusting again. He smiled at her, shaking his head slowly from side to side.

“Never.”

Her head rested back against the ferns, her eyes closed slightly, relaxed. Ilyan watched her for a moment before turning back to pond. There resting on the surface, swirling brightly within the depths of the water was the first signs of Joclyns magic. Its shimmering color moved throughout the water, trailing through the darkness. Ilyan was shocked at the color that she left behind.

“Interesting, she is purple.” He looked back to the girl, now sleeping on the ground. Her body seeming to glow as her new magic flowed through her.

And Because I think you are all SUPER awesome…

Chapter Three – Awake

 

I must be dead. The thought was simple and yet so saddening. Joclyn tried to move her body ever so slightly, but felt nothing. No pain, only the softness of the bed she was laying in. Was it a bed? She was not so sure. They must have beds in heaven, and this must be heaven. The light that was filtering its way through her eyes lids was almost blinding her, and yet as much as she was trying she could not open them. But, why was she in heaven? She was a witch and from all she had been told growing up, heaven was not a place for witches. But then… what about the man? The man who saved her, he had saved her hadn’t he, saved her from… from…

“Are you sure she is alive, it has been almost six days and still she has not moved.” The quiet voice cut through her revelry sharply. It was right by her, sweet and so familiar. Joclyn felt a small pressure on her hand, she tried to shy away from it but her body did not respond to her request.

“Ilyan, most of her body was broken. She has been going through a very large amount of healing, and of changing. Things like this take time, you need to give her that.” The girls voice was curt and sharp, it reverberated harshly through Joclyns ears.

“Is there nothing else you can give her?” His voice again, Ilyan. The man who saved her. Was she alive? The thought seemed so impossible. It seemed impossible that she could have survived what those men had done to her. She flinched mentally at the memory.

“You know her to feel nothing, Ilyan. We have witnessed this many times before. The water is keeping her this way as it heals her, purifies her. The magic has kept her alive, and gotten her as far as it can. The rest is up to her, she may still live yet. Which would be beneficial considering that wretched King…”

“Not again with that sister! She is more than that as you well know. Her life is not defined by gossip and your need for… for information!” Ilyans voice was loud, angry. Joclyn was startled by the outburst, so different from the man of before. “How can you have kissed someone so close to that monster!”

“You know right that it is not the choice of mine as to who is marked. Her destiny was chosen for her, I was only the one to provide it.” A new voice. A calm relaxing voice. This voice filled Joclyn with its tinkling sounds and somehow calmed away the fear that had built up again from Ilyans outburst.

“Your anger rules you, Ilyan. You have spent far too much time away from home. It would be good for you to visit the hall before Joclyn awakes.” The girls voice was louder now, closer.

“But if she awakes I should…”

“Your sister is right, my lord. A visit to the hall will help to clean your mind. Ovailia and I will keep your vigil.” My lord, the use of the word was odd to Joclyn, was the tinkling voice speaking to Ilyan? A silence filled the room, Joclyn strained her ears for a rustle, a voice, a movement. But nothing came. She wondered for a moment if she had been left alone. She concentrated on moving, attempting to will her body into a different position.

“He should have gone to the hall when he first returned. His unwillingness to leave the side of the girl is quite distressing.”

“Your Brother is not one to follow by traditional patterns. His decision to take the girl to the lower pond for instance…” A loud snort broke through the tinkling voice, cutting him short. “Although unwise,” he continued, “it proved to be most beneficial. He saved the girls life by taking her there first, Ovailia. That cannot be denied. If he had come all the way here even you may not have been able to do anything to help her.”

“His decisions are none of my concern. It is his behavior that distresses me.” Joclyn listened to the conversation closely, as she focused on moving her arm away from her stomach.

“I have noticed that as well, it almost appears as if he may have found hi…”

“Dilly!” The loud voice broke Joclyns concentration. “Go and… help my brother.”

More silence. Had she been left alone? Joclyn stopped focusing on her arm for a moment as she listened to the world around her. A bird began to sing outside the window, its sweet tones filling her ears with a music starnd that seemed new and yet familiar. And then the beautiful song was gone, and she was left in silence once again. Joclyn turned her attention to her arm once again, yelling at internally. Her mind was beginning to panic. She was obviously here. They had spoken of her, spoken her name. She could hear them. But yet, she was unable to move even something so simple as her eyelids. Suddenly a warm hand cupped her cheek bone, she could feel the long fingers against her skin.

“Ah, your awake. But for how long I wonder. No matter.” The sound of a chair scrapping against the floor and then the hand replaced itself.

“I know you can hear me Joclyn. My name is Ovailia. The man who saved you, Ilyan, is my brother. He brought you to me six days ago, and since then I have been caring for you. You are alive little girl. I know you cannot move, do not be frightened by this. The first movement is the hardest, than the others will come easily.” Ovailias voice, while not as cold as it was before did not contain an echo of friendship either. She rattled off the words as if she had recited them before and grown tired of them.

“I want you to focus your entire mind on your eye lids. They are the easiest to move. Focus every fiber of your being on raising the lids.” Joclyn waited for a moment for another instruction, more explanation as to what she was supposed to do. But when none came she followed all that she had been given. Open. Nothing happened. She focused as intently as she could on the thin skin that covered her eyes. Open. Nothing. She pushed her mind, willing them to open yelling at them as she had with her arm. And then, a sliver of light broke through. Not enough to see, but enough to give her strength to continue. Joclyn continued to push, continued to stretch her mind, pushing herself, pushing them.

Slowly her eyes opened, the light that flooded into them hurting her slightly. She shut them quickly, blocking out the brightness.

“Do not close them, Joclyn. Open them again.” Joclyn obediently opened her eyes once more, the light not hurting her as much this time. “Good girl.” It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the light, to focus on the world that was swimming before her. Ovailia was sitting in an ornately carved chair directly before her. Her face was smooth and stoic as if she had stepped out of one of the many paintings in the manor. She bore the same small, smug smile that the people in those painting also had, which only added to the illusion. Ovailia sat there for a moment staring intently at Joclyn as if expecting her to perform some grand trick before she stood from her chair and moved away from her, for that brief moment Joclyn saw Ovailias’ eyes in a rush a brilliant green and strangely enough: red. If her face looked like one of those paintings it was nothing to how she stood and how she moved.

As she stood her hair fell down her back in a straight sheet of glittering blonde. It fell over the perfectly tailored green velvet dress she wore; the bodice tight, the arms cut in the elegant style of being tight to the elbow and flowing down long beside the flowing skirt.

“Now lets try something else.” Ovailia moved away from her, letting her dress flow along beside her as she seemed to float toward the end of the bed she lay in. She walked erect, with her head held high watching her destination as she floated across the floor. It was hard to take her eyes from her, she was so elegant and regal. Ovailia moved the heavy blankets back that covered her feet, exposing them to the air. “Move them.” Joclyn could not move her head to look at her feet, and momentarily wondered if this task would even be possible. One look at Ovailia told her that no other option would be given, and so she closed her eyes focusing her mind again. Moving her feet was slightly easier than expected, after one try she felt her foot flex, the toes extending out. Ovailia smiled her pristine half smile again.

“Now move Joclyn, move everything.” Joclyn looked at her not really understanding. Ovailia moved to the side of the bed again and extended her hand over her. “Take my hand, Joclyn.”

Joclyn looked at the smooth hand that hovered over her curiously. Ovailia looked at her expectantly, her actions and words were so emotionless to Joclyn, she searched her eyes for some sign of comfort.

“Where is Ilyan?” Ovailia dropped her hand, looking slightly agitated.

“My brother is away on some personal business, when he returns I am sure he will come to see you.”

“Your brother.” It was not a question. She had known this from what Ovailia had said to her when she first woke up. But as she looked at the stoic beauty in front of her she could see little connection between the two of them. Ilyan was so kind, and gentle; Ovailia was so distant towards her.

“Yes, our parents are the same. You will not find many here who can claim such a thing.” Joclyn looked at her curiously, she had never given much thought to where she was and now that it was mentioned she felt a strong desire to know.

“It is time for you to take my hand Joclyn,” Ovailia extended her hand over her once again, cutting her unformed question short. “There will be time for questions to be answered later. I am sure you have many. But I need to make sure you have healed properly. Now take my hand.” She had tried to move her hands before and failed. The thought that she had moved her feet now helped some, and so Joclyn narrowed her eyes as she looked at Ovailias hand. With one fluid movement her hand raised to rest lightly in hers. Joclyn was stunned, it barely took a thought now, her body was reacting to her. And what was more there was no pain in the movement, whereas when she was with Ilyan before a simple twitch would cause her severe agony. Ovailia closed her hand around hers, holding it tightly.

“Now sit up Joclyn” The command was simple, Ovailias eyes bore into her once more awaiting her to move. The constant intent eye contact was making her slightly uncomfortable. Joclyn waited for only a moment before beginning to sit up. There was no concentration now, now extra effort needed. Her torso rose fluidly and felt steady, much more so than she had ever felt before. It felt good to have her body move, the muscles flexing and bones stretching. Her body had that comfortable stiffness of waking after a long nights rest, but simultaneously light as if she had lost many pounds. She felt some small muscles cramping on her back around her spine, but it was nothing compared to the pain she last remembered feeling and so she shoved them to the back of her mind. As she sat straight up Ovailia dropped her hand slightly letting her hold her own weight. Joclyns head suddenly began to spin, the room suddenly shifting itself in front of her. Joclyn looked down at the white linen bed cloth trying to focus her mind, and keep the room steady.

“Are you in pain?” Ovailias concerned voice was very close to her as her hands moved up her spine pushing at different places on her back as if she was looking for something.

“My head is spinning away from me.” Something cold hit the back of her neck, wet drips falling over her shoulders and soaking the neck of the white cotton night gown she was wearing.

“Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, this is normal.” Ovailia moved the cloth that was covering her neck to her forehead leaving a tingling sensation behind. Joclyn breathed steadily in and out as instructed, the smell of pine and wild flowers filling her up. The fragrance was sweet and refreshing, it seemed so familiar and yet she knew she had never smelled the combination before. She lifted her head as she took it in enjoying the sweet perfume.

“Do you feel better?” Joclyn nodded in response to the question. “Then open your eyes, Joclyn, it is time to welcome you home.” Joclyn opened her eyes suddenly confused at her statement.

“Home?” A curious word, it carried so much emotion around it and yet in some ways it was odd that it did. She had had a home up until very recently.

“Yes, Joclyn, home. My brother and I would like you to take this as your home if you would have it.”

“Home.” Joclyn looked at the room around her. The walls were a faint earthy color, a strange mix of brown and yellow. They were tall and textured and raised high above her head to a ceiling that appeared as if it was a carved mural. A large scaly bird was carved into the wood, its wings extending far away from it, and on its back sat a small child. The story that Ilyan had told her came flooding back. If that is what a dragon is than Ilyans description had not done him justice. Joclyn couldn’t help but be amazed and the large creature carved into the wood, the boy on his back appeared so small. Joclyn shuddered momentarily, glad that dragons were only things of fairy tales.

In the high corner of the ceiling was a large carved wooden house. Joclyn faintly wondered why such a large bird house was needed inside but then she saw the windows, if one could call them that. The high arches lined the wall to her left, there open gables letting in the sweet smelling breeze from the forest outside. Against the clean brightness of the room, the dark woods outside were such a beautiful contrast that it took her breath away. The trees where tall and perfect, there perfect trunks stretching high up into a crystal blue sky. Poking through the tops of the trees she could just make out the charcoal grey of a mountain peak.

“Where am I?” She could not hold the question in much longer. Ovailia sat on the bed next to her, her eyes following Joclyns gaze. She exhaled slightly.

“You are in the heart of Imdalind. You have not left the land you were born in. We call the place Dealagn.”

“Dealagn.” She repeated the word softly, still unable to take her eyes away from the birds flitting happily through the trees.

“It means the safe place. You are deep in the forest, hidden from view of all around us. Even the King does not know where we are.” Joclyn jumped slightly at the mention of the King, the movement of her body rocking the bed.

“You do not need to be afraid of him any longer, Joclyn.” Ovailias voice was soft as she continued, she gently laid a hand across Joclyns shoulder. “The King and his men will not find you here.” Ovailias sudden concern and comforting nature was unexpected. She had been so cold and seemed so distant up until a moment ago. Joclyn pried her eyes away from the beauty outside her room to look at her.

“I am not afraid of King Edmund.” The determination in her voice not only surprised Ovailia but herself as well. Ovailias eyes grew slightly larger at Joclyns statement. Joclyn felt as surprise as Ovailia that she had said it, but what was more; she found the statement to be true. She really did not fear the King. She did harbor a fear for the little man however, for Tilothy.

“That is a very brave statement. You and I have that in common. I too do not fear that man. Someday I will be the one to kill him.” The statement caught Joclyn off guard. She looked to Ovailia expecting some form of explanation, but Ovailia was looking determinedly out of the window her jaw set. There was silence for a moment as neither girl spoke.

So many people hated the King, and she did not blame them. She could never forgive him or his son for what they had done to her. It had only been a month since there return to Farcina, they were still taking their residence in the manor they called a castle that sat in the middle of the large village. She knew they could hear her scream from the castle. And yet, they had done nothing.

Suddenly tears began to fill her eyes, she knew she could not stop them she knew she should not try. The pain of the betrayal was too much for her. The large bitter tears that rolled over her cheeks gave way to sobs that racked her body uncontrollably as she cried. The emotions ran out of her, dripping onto the linen sheet and onto the white cotton night gown. And still she cried, the emotions were still so fresh and the pain so deep it was no wonder that so many tears had been hiding inside her. She had not told Ilyan when he asked, she had not even accepted the truth herself. But now, she cried as she remembered his face as he revealed her, she cried as she remembered the towns people screaming at her. Ovailias hand seemed like a dead weight on her shoulder as it moved to her neck in an attempt to comfort her.

“Joclyn? Joclyn! Are you all right?” The voice was soft and full of concern, but it did not come from Ovailia. Ilyan rushed through the door way to sit in front of her, taking her hands in his. Joclyn could barely make out is face through the tears, the scraggly hair and wide blue eyes. And then she threw herself into his arms. She did not know what it was about this man, she barely knew him, but yet she felt unbelievable safe around him. She knew it must stem from the fact that he was the one to rescue her, the first one to show her kindness in many days.

She buried her face in his shoulder, wetting the soft fabric of his tunic. Joclyn could feel his arms wrapped around her gently, holding her to him. The action comforting her even more, the contact a large contrast from Ovailias.

“Are you in pain?” All Joclyn could do was shake her head in answer to the question. She didn’t want to relive this painful memory, she didn’t want to remember what he had done.

“Does this have something to do with the King?” Ovailias insensitive voice was soft near Joclyns ear.

“The King? Why were you speaking of that man?” Ilyans tone was calm and diplomatic, only a hint anger weeded under the surface. His outburst of before seemed to be forgotten. Joclyns body shook with the tears once again before they suddenly began to slow. Ovailia and Ilyan were silent as the last round of loud sobs escaped her.

“Why did he betray me, Ilyan? Why did he give me to him?” She said as she buried her face deeper into Ilyan shoulder.

“Tilothy is no…”

“Not Tilothy. Ryland.” Something scraped against the floor slamming hard into wood. A groan escaped from Ovailia as Ilyan pulled Joclyn away from him. Joclyn looked into her lap, avoiding his eyes that she was sure were searching for hers.

“Ryland?! Is he the one that did this to you? That… son of the Kings?” Ilyan moved his head down still trying to look into her eyes. She averted his gaze again. She had felt a pressure lift as she spoke the boys name, the boy who was once her best friend. She breathed deeply, her lungs catching slightly with the intake of air. She felt more in control of herself and much calmer now. She raised her head to look at Ilyan, her vision unobstructed by tears.

“He is the one that gave me to Tilothy, Ryland Sowed him my mark.”

“But how did he…” Joclyn cut Ilyan off abruptly never letting him finish the tentative question. She knew if she did not say it now she never would. She began to speak as she always did, in a rush, her mind far too eager to rid itself of the dreaded information. To let her burden go.

“Five years ago he had begun his training as a Knight, so he could succeed his father. That was when he had stopped talking to me. He said it was to protect me. So when he had found me on my way to the market I was shocked… He had grown so much, but he still seemed to be the same boy.” Joclyn stopped as the vivid memory came back to her. Her friend had grown, his chin covered in the dark stubble that announced him almost ready to be a man, his eyes still full of the same wild happiness. He had pulled her into a small thicket of trees along the road, his calm voice and playful face begging her to help him. “It was a trap.” She whispered it aloud, the tears beginning to fall once again although not as hard as before.

“How did he trick you?” Joclyn looked from Ovailia, who had spoken, to Ilyan wondering if this was the information that she had heard Ovailia say they needed. Ovailias face was cold but somewhat eager. Ilyans was full of concern and comfort.

“He said that he had found someone. Someone he had been looking for, for a long time. He needed me to help him. I couldn’t say no to him! I met him in the dark of the stables after the sun had set. He led the way through the Manor, I just followed him. He stopped before a door in a hall and said that they were kept prisoner in there. We were trying to pry it open, but it wouldn’t move. And so Ryland began running his hand over the rusty hinges and muttering as I kept pusing. And then suddenly Tilothy was there, he grabbed me and demanded to know what I was doing. And then Ryland grabbed me, he pulled my hair back away from my face and showed Tilothy my de… mark. He smiled as he did it. He had joy in his eyes. He betrayed me.” Joclyn looked at her hands, there was so much more to this story. But what could she say? That Ryland and herself had been best friends at the age of six? The he was the only one she trusted… cared for, perhaps even loved.

“Why did he know where your kiss was Joclyn?” She hadn’t even noticed that Ilyan had moved away. He stood next to Ovailia now, looking at her curiously. Joclyns eyes fluttered between the two of them, stoic faces and wide eyes. Perhaps she had already said too much she did not know, but that comforting feeling that was radiating from Ilyan grasped her again and so she continued.

“I showed it to him, when I was nine. The summer before he left. The summer before he had to begin his training.” Joclyn exhaled deeply, her brow furrowing. She looked at the two standing in front of her, her mind racing. She knew what she had to do, she had to tell them. Ilyan had said he would never hurt her, and hadn’t he spoken of worse things in his story of the night before? The decision made, Joclyn closed her eyes before continuing. “He told me that he was going to be a knight so that he could find someone, someone that was stolen from him.” She paused looking down at the floor. She knew that what she had to say could change everything around her once again. She breathed deeply again, the smell of pine filling her once more. “ A fairy. Ryland told me of a fairy that used to come to him when his nurse-maid would leave. She would teach him magic. At first I didn’t believe him, his father has promised death to those who speak of fairies. But then… but then he told me that the fairy had kissed him, he told me how much it hurt, and about the mark it left. Ryland spoke of how he had seen me with a fairy before, a boy, and it was true. I have seen a fairy before the day the mark appeared on my skin. It was then I showed him my mark.”

Joclyn opened her eyes to look at the siblings standing before her. Ovailias eyes were full of tears, her dainty hand covering her mouth. She looked to Ilyan, who nodded once and Ovailia sped through the door. Fear crept into Joclyn, was she to be punished here as well.

“Maybe it wasn’t a fairy,” she breathed as she backed herself over the bed away from Ilyan, subconsciously looking for an escape. “It could have been a trick of the light.”

“Joclyn, please do not discount the things of this world which you know to be true.” He moved over towards her sitting on the side of the bed as he spoke. “I will never hurt you, little one, that is a promise I will ­never break. Seeing so much fear in your face breaks my heart.” He extended his hand towards her, beckoning her to come over to him. “I will always protect you.”

There it was again that unbelievable calm that seeped out of him. Joclyn slowly crawled across the bed toward him, sitting herself down just out of arms reach. Ilyan smiled at her, his blue eyes very warm. He stood then, his arm still extended toward her. She did not know what had overcome her, but the trust and security that she felt in this man, this stranger, overwhelmed her again as she took his hand. He pulled her up to stand in front of him, her legs surprisingly stable underneath her.

“I wish to show you something, Joclyn. Now take my arm as we walk, I do not wish you to fall.”

He began to lead her toward the carved door in the corner of the large room. The one Ovailia had flown out of only a moment before.

“Did I say something to upset your sister before?” She eyed him curiously, expecting a grimace or anger, but was instead greeted with a small smile.

“Quite the contrary actually, you gave us some news that we have been waiting many many years to hear.” Joclyn looked at him curiously, what could she have said? Ilyan continued to lead her forward, Joclyns legs surprisingly moved steady and fluidly alongside his. Her long nightgown swirled around her ankles as she moved. The hall outside the room was just as bright as the room itself. The same tall empty arches filled the space opposite the door. Their gracefully lines stretched high above her, the stone smooth, the wood carved around it with a beautiful precision she had never seen before. The arches themselves were covered with dark green vines that blossomed into the most beautiful flowers of red and purple.

This hall did not open up into the forest like that in her room, but instead into the city. Dealagn was large, covering much of the ground that touched her eye. It appeared to grow straight out of the ground, the tangle of stone, wood, vines, and trees moving seamlessly together to create a beautiful city. The high arches that she stood before lined many of the hallways that she could see, each one covered with twisting vines of flowers or ivy, the green of the plants against the light colors of the archway contrasted beautifully. Birds flitted in and out of the halls and rooms of the city freely, their graceful wings adding even more color. The overall effect was mesmerizing; she had never seen anything so beautiful and peaceful.

It couldn’t really be called a city though, for as Joclyn looked at it she noticed that it all was connected in a labyrinth of hallways and rooms that zigzagged over the land. The serpentine hallways where sporadically broken by large courtyards and gardens, the one which stood between Joclyn and the beautiful arches before her was covered in lush grasses and tall lilies.

“It is beautiful.” Ilyan just smiled at her, continuing to lead them forward. They moved from hall to hall, Joclyns wide eyes taking in every beauty of the place. Each wall was carved with some form of picture; some depicting a scene from nature, many more showing what appeared to be a scene from a talk or a legend. As they walked through the halls she saw small men fighting what appeared to be giant ogres; groups gathered together in celebration, more of the beautiful fearsome dragons Ilyan had described to her before and a boy holding a… Joclyn came to a stop letting her hand fall from Ilyans arm.

Carved into the wood was a tiny fairy resting in the open hand of a boy. She eyed the fairy carefully, its large wings extended gracefully out behind her flowing from her body in a floating spread of glitter and light. She wore a long flowing dress that draped over the hand of the boy and down toward the ground. Joclyn moved toward the mural, her hand extending to touch the tiny carved figure of the fairy. Joclyn could not believe what she was seeing, this should not be here, things of this nature were not permitted in Imdalind. The king would… ‘Even the King does not know where we are’. Her head snapped to look at Ilyan.

“Where am I? What is this place?”

“Do you remember the fairy tale I told you the night I rescued you? The story I told you to take your mind off the pain?”

“A fairies kiss.” She whispered softly as the small connection formed itself, her eyes moving back to the ornately carved fairy.

“Well, this is that boy. And this fairy is Kinal, the fairy who was brave enough to kiss him. It is the fairy’s kiss that allows you to see them. It awakens something in you that most do not have. Just as yours did.”

“It’s true. All of it.” She did not dare look at him as she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. Joclyns hand slowly moved to the scar, the mark, the kiss that rested on the skin right before her left ear. The day she felt that excruciating pain, the day the mark appeared came flooding back to her. The memory had never really left her, she had just hidden it in the dark corners of her mind out of fear.

“That day in the market when the Kings couch passed before me; I was jostled by those around me who were trying to see the royal family and I dropped my mother’s produce. As I bent to gather what I had dropped my head suddenly felt as if it was going to split in two. But then I saw him… he had blue wings, and hair so dark it looked as if it had been dipped in ink. I thought I had gone crazy, but then I saw Ryland. He was hanging out of the couch, staring in disbelief at him too.”

“How old were you, Joclyn?” Ilyan had moved beside her, he casually leaned against the mural as he looked at her.

“Five. It was the summer after I turned five.”

“My father bears the same mark as you, Joclyn. He was considered a monarch here for many years.” Ilyan moved forward and placed his forefinger on the neck of the carved boy, where the mark was carved into the wood. “He left us many years ago.”

“He was your father?” She looked at him, confusion furrowed into her face. “But the story…”

“The story is very old, Joclyn. It occurred almost seven hundred years ago. My father is almost seven hundred years old. Those who bear the mark are cleansed and there life is extended. For as long as they use their magic, they will live. You will live.”

“How old are you?”

“I have lived in this land for almost five hundred years, the last three hundred I have dedicated my life to saving the chosen children, the children who are kissed.”

“But how…”

“My mother was the most graceful and elegant of her kind. I am half of my mother and half of my father. They are both inside of me. I am more of my mother, however.” He smiled as he spoke. “She was an elf, Joclyn.”

Joclyn exhaled sharply, unaware that she had been holding her breathe until this moment. Joclyn took an involuntary step back as he spoke, an overwhelming disbelief creeping over her.

“You are the oldest child to come to us Joclyn. Only the mind of a child can be fully prepared to understand this. I do not expect you to accept it right away. But know this, what I tell you is true.”

Joclyn could not find the power in her to speak allowed the question that was pounding its way up her throat. She swallowed her fear back down again as she slowly reached out toward Ilyans face, her hand extended to move the unkempt hair that lay over his ears. There hidden from view was the telling sign, an ear like what was described in the only other fairy tale she knew, where elves had been defeated and killed by the dwarves. Ilyans ear was like hers at the bottom but slightly pointed at the top, an elves ear. She dropped her hand sharply, unsure of if she should stay before him or flee in fright. She looked at the carving of the boy; the wood was slightly weathered and warped making the signs of age apparent on its surface. So many questions swirled through her, but of one thing she was sure of now. Every question that swirled and flew through her led each other back to a single thought, the answer she was looking for.

“I believe you.” The words were simple and yet so true. Joclyn had freely moved into a part of the world that she had never known existed. It was a place that in some far corner of her childish mind she had played with, and imagined herself here. And now, without warning those once forbidden thoughts, dreams and fantasies had moved themselves into reality. Here she was as part of that world, a world no longer hidden from her view.

“I believe we are ready for you now, Dilly.” Joclyn looked up at Ilyan confused as to who he was talking to, but the man only smiled at her. A movement above Ilyans head caught her attention as a small creature floated down from the rafters. His large blue wings flowed behind him a blur that seemed to leave traces of the color behind him. His hair was a black as ink, his nose and chin slightly upturned in a slight smug look. He smiled at her broadly showing beautiful white teeth as he came to rest on Ilyans shoulder. Joclyn could do nothing but stare unbelieving at the small man before her.

“I bid welcome to the lady who survived the dark world, the girl who bears my kiss.” His soft tinkling voice had a playful lilt to it that she recognized instantly as the voice she had heard speaking to Ilyan and Ovailia only a few hours before.

“Joclyn, I would like you to meet Dilly.”

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