Lady of Silences: Prologue

Second draft of the prologue of Lady of Silences. In which we meet the main characters and witness a defining moment in their lives. 4,700 words.

Corinus drew his cloak tighter against his chest as he walked out of the manor. It was difficult to balance the large pine frame kite in his left hand and walk through the half-open door, but he made sure to close it tight behind him as he exited. When there were guests, his father was especially strict about keeping the door latched  He stopped a moment to adjust the platinum lion broach closed on his cloak, freeing up a hand to help maneuver the canvas kite. The broach had been a tenth birthday gift from Marquis Kiant, and Cor made sure to wear it proudly now that they were visiting the Marquis’ manor. Standing a little taller he drew his shoulders back and climbed down the stone steps to the garden.

“Master Cor, is that you?”  The head gardener waved at him and put down his trowel. “Got’cher self a kite, eh?” Cor nodded as the man stooped to pull a small root vegetable from the ground. “Is that a dragon I see on it?”

Cor grinned, holding the canvas higher to show the bright yellow and black design. “It’s a Horned Wyrm, like Arcantis and the Wyrm!”

“That’s a fine representin’ of it too, Master Cor. You paint that cher’self?”

“Yes sir. My father gave me the canvas yesterday.” He shifted his feet, trying to remain polite but aching to let the dragon loose upon the sky.

“Well you must be looking for the girls, then?” The gardener smiled as the boy before him nodded enthusiastically. He pointed past the gardens. “They left that way just a tick or so ago, you’ll prob’ly find them easy.” He tipped his hat and turned back to the soil, giving the boy his leave.

“Thank you sir!” Cor shouted his gratitude as he turned and galloped up the path.

Having just arrived at the manor that afternoon, Cor had not yet seen his cousins. They were not blood related, but his father and the Marquis had been pledge brothers when they were young and so they visited regularly. Anlai was the oldest, and kind of boring, but Cor was excited to see Typhan, the younger sister. He and Ty were only two years apart. They both liked the old stories and he was sure she would squeal when she saw the dragon kite.

He ran through the garden gate, this time forgetting to close it behind him.  The sun was beginning to set behind the orchards, throwing his shadow behind him as he ran past the trees. At the edge of the orchard was the low wall that signaled the end of the main house grounds; beyond that lay the shore.  The water would still be warm this far into the fall, perhaps the girls would be swimming.

But as the tree line broke he was surprised to see only one figure sitting on the stones of the wall, a blonde girl of about fourteen wearing a red head covering. He stopped. Disappointed to see only Anlai he began to call out to her when he heard a rising shriek coming from above. Dropping the kite with a start he raised his head in time to see a lavender blur descending upon him. Typhan landed with arms and legs askew, laughing as she pinned him down.

“I’m a witch and I’m going to eat your brains!” She cackled down at him, making claws with her hands. She was wearing a crown of twisted branches and yellow leaves clung to her copper hair as it tumbled out of her veil.

“If you’re a witch then I’m Arcantis!” Cor squirmed out from under the girl, noting as she stood that she was almost as tall as was he now. Spying a large branch to his left he crawled over to it and stood, brandishing his weapon. “I banish you, foul creature!”

“Oh Cor, a kite!” She ignored him, spying the framework on the ground. She picked it up and spread the canvas out. “And it’s a Wyrm, isn’t it? Cor can we fly this?”

Cor dropped the tree branch and bent down to grab the twine attached to the end of the kite. “I made it last night; I wanted to ask you where we should fly it.”

“Probably by the water,” Anlai had put down her book and was watching them from her perch on the wall. “The breeze is better there.”

“She’s right!” Typhan grabbed the kite and ran towards the water, stopping to climb over the wall with the kite in her hands.

Cor took the wall at a leap and sprinted past the girls, clutching the twine. “Let go of it, see if we can fly it from here!”

Ty dropped the kite as she finished her awkward climb. She adjusted the crown that drooped on her head and pulled some of the leaves out of her hair. “You have to run really fast,” she called to him.

“I know!” He kicked off his boots, stopping for a moment to push them away from the surf, and began to run down the shore towards the cliffs. The kite picked up the breeze and lifted into the air, swaying menacingly as he ran through the sand. Behind him he heard Ty ‘ooh’ in delight and even Anlai stood to get a better look.

They took turns as the sun set further behind the trees; Ty and Cor ran back and forth until the tide came in too far and took over the beach.  By then Anlai had packed up her books and was attempting to convince her sister that it was time to stop. Regretfully, they pulled the kite down from the sky and Cor wrapped the twine around a stick to keep it straight. The breeze had picked up and Ty was beginning to shiver, so the three trudged back through the orchard towards the manor.

As they entered they were met by the girls’ nurse, a woman of middle age with sharp features named Vera. Anlai excused herself to her rooms as Vera knelt down to pull several twigs from Typhan’s hair.

“You’re like a wild mouse, girl. What was it this time?” She took Ty by the hand as they walked through the kitchens towards the main hall.

“I was a witch and Cor was Arcantis, but then we had a kite so we flew it until we got cold.” Ty rubbed at a bit of dirt on her cheek.

“Well your father has planned a big dinner tonight and he asked me to help you get ready, so let’s go upstairs and we’ll brush the leaves out your fur, little mouse.

“Corinus, Sir Larus has also asked me to ensure you are ready in time.  I had Cook send up hot water for your bath, so I expect to see you in an hour clean and dressed.” Vera’s no-nonsense attitude left little to choice.

“Yes ma’am.” Cor gave Typhan a short bow and turned to head to his room. Behind him Vera stopped.

“Your clothing has already been laid on the bed; see you don’t wrinkle it before dinner.”

“Yes ma’am!” He picked up his pace, eager to avoid further instructions.

***

His clothes were new and the embroidery on the cuffs itched, but they were finely made and he felt quite dignified as he sat next to his father at the long L-shaped banquet table.  They rarely had formal dinners when they guested with the Marquis, but Cor’s father told him that Kiant was also entertaining an envoy from the pannari capital, so the household had organized a great feast.

Across the hall from Cor and sitting next to the Marquis, a grave looking man with extremely pale skin and angular features sat calmly with his palms upon the table. He tried not to stare, but Cor couldn’t help but watch the envoy.  The man bowed his head to the Marquis and signaled a servant from behind him who came forward with a small glass globe.  As Cor watched, the pale man took the globe in his hands and closed his fingers around it. When he opened them there stood in his palm a small white bird. It chirped softly and took flight, circling the room before landing softly on the table in front of the envoy. The crowd gasped and marveled as the man said something softly to the Marquis. Kiant laughed a loud and cracking bellow and motioned a servant to take the bird away.

“Our guest has just offered us a blessing!” The Marquis stood and addressed the hall, spreading his arms wide. “Upon this meal, his Goddess smiles.  And upon our lands, She grants us Her Grace. Let us all pause a moment in thanks for this generous offering.” Smiling, he sat down again, bowing his head to his guest.

Cor bowed his head as well, his mind swimming with the thought of the real magic he had just witnessed. As conversation resumed he found that he couldn’t take his eyes off of the envoy.

“Father.” Cor tugged slightly at his father’s shirtsleeve. His father gave him a quick reprimanding glance and turned back to the conversation he was having with the woman beside him. Chastened, Cor waited patiently for him to finish.

“Yes, Corinus?”

“Father is that man a pannari?” Cor nodded towards the pale man across from them.

“He is, Cor.” Larus laid down his dinner knife and turned to his son. “You remember your history lessons, do you not?”

Cor nodded, closing his eyes briefly to remember. “In the time of Emperor Gorani the pannari came from over the sea.”

“And why did they come here?” Larus prompted.

“There was a plague and their crops weren’t growing anymore.”

“Good Corinus. What happened then?”

“Gorani gathered his advisors to meet with them and they offered him gifts in exchange for land to settle.” Cor stopped, unsure of what came next.

“Very true.” Larus looked pleased. “Why do you think the Emperor allowed the pannari to take land from his own people?”

His father often posted such questions, challenging Cor to understand history instead of just memorize facts.

“Well,” he paused, mulling over the question. “Well their leader had visions about our land, and he knew about our people already. I think that would have scared the Emperor.”

At Larus’ nod he continued. “I think he gave them that land so that they would owe him something, and maybe he could use their leader to have visions about his Empire.”

“Very good Corinus.” Larus took a sip of wine. “That was very insightful, you could be a fine politician someday.”

“Really? Thank you.” Cor was awed.

Larus continued. “Since that first meeting our two cultures have mixed, and the pannari no longer hold a single land.  Their coming changed everything about our society, from our form of government to our religion. That is why we now have the Representative Council, instead of an Emperor.

“Now,” Larus picked his knife up again “I intend to enjoy this lamb and I expect you to eat at least half of what is on your plate.”

“Yes sir.” Cor turned back to poke at his meal, stealing quick glances across the table, just in case there was any more magic.

The pannari was a lot like Cor had imagined the race to look. His hair was black, almost blue–like a raven’s feathers. But he wore it long and some front sections were braided and gathered at the back of his head. It seemed a bit girlish to Cor, especially considering the man’s lack of beard. Most of the older men Cor knew had a beard or mustache—or both.

Cor didn’t realize he was staring until the envoy looked up, catching his eyes. Realizing his gaffe Cor flushed and quickly looked away. He snuck a quick glance back, but it seemed the man had gone back to speaking with the Marquis.

The dinner ended with no further incidents, and Cor dutifully followed his father as the men adjoined to the Marquis’ study for the customary after-dinner smoke and brandy.  Cor knew his father neither smoked nor drank, but often joined in the conversations.  Only recently had Cor been allowed to come along on these sojourns, remaining a quiet observer. Larus thought it was important for a young man to understand the politics of everyday life, and so when Cor turned ten he began inviting him to join them in conversation.  Of course, he was not allowed to smoke or drink either, but neither seemed very appealing to Cor.

Larus led him from the dining hall into the retiring room, choosing two generously stuffed chairs along the wall in which to sit. Cor found that his feet did not touch the floor, and let them dangle self-consciously. He did his best not to kick his feet back and forth, but it was very tempting. Thankfully, one of the servers came by with a mug of hot mulled cider for Larus and a smaller mug of steamed milk with chocolate for Cor. Sweets were not usually allowed, but with a nod and a smile Larus let him take the drink. Cor sipped the hot beverage gingerly and enjoyed the taste of the sweet, somewhat spicy chocolate. His father smiled at him again and turned to begin conversing with another man sitting beside them. Cor tried to savor the beverage but it seemed after only a few sips the small cup was empty. He set it on the tray of a passing butler and leaned back in the stuffed chair, letting his legs continue to dangle.The sound of the crackling fire and the slow warmth creeping up from his belly began to lull him to sleep, and before long he had begun to doze.

***

He awoke in bed, tucked tightly beneath a down duvet and in his nightclothes. It was a moment before his mind adjusted to the transition, and he realized that either his father or Vera must have carried him up to his room and put him to bed. He flushed in embarrassment–he was far too old to be falling asleep in public–but a soft sound quickly turned his thoughts away. He felt a chill sensation of dread, and craned his ears into the darkness to hear better. It came again, a creaking and shushing noise that seemed to be getting closer to his room. The thought of goblins and fey creatures crossed his mind before he dismissed the fear, and quietly he began to creep out of his bed.

There was a creeping stealth to the sound. Most likely it was an ordinary noise, but something in Corinus’ gut made him continue with great care. As he reached the door, he slowly turned the knob and peered out. He was greeted with nothing more than the darkness. By now it must be past the mid-night, in the grey  hours before dawn, and the lamps in this hallway had long since been snuffed. There was a faint light towards the south end of the hall where the moon shone through the far window. Cor stood a moment in complete silence as he listened to the dark, trying to quiet the roiling fear in his belly.

As the details of the hallway slowly became apparent, Cor stepped gingerly out of his rooms. The sound continued to shush and creak softly from some point beyond the turn of the hall. He crept step by step down the carpeted hallway, ignoring the fierce beating of his heart. He moved past the doors down the hall from his own, a movement to his left made him jump in fear. He heard a soft cry and turned to see Typhan peeking out of the door he had just passed.

“Cor,” she whispered, terror in her voice. “Is that you?”

Forgetting the darkness for a moment, he swallowed the lump that had lodged in his throat and nodded, “It’s me.” He crept back towards her door, taking her hand in his. “See, just me.”

Typhan let out a relieved whimper. “Oh Cor, I thought you were a monster.” She clung to him in the darkness. “Was that you walking around that woke me up?”

“I dunno,” Cor peered down the hall again, towards the mysterious sound. “I think there’s someone else awake.”

“Maybe it’s Anlai,” Typhan said.

“Probably,” he agreed. “I’m gonna go see, you stay here.” He turned to go.

“No,” she gasped, and continued to cling to him. “I’m coming with you.”

“Alright,” he said softly, “but we have to be very quiet! You know, just in case.”

Ty nodded, her tightly drawn features just barely visible in the dim light.

He took her hand again and together they continued down the hallway. They reached the corner and Corinus took a moment to slowly peer around it, but he saw nothing out of the ordinary on the other side. Carefully they crept around the corner and down the staircase. Corinus could just barely make out the sound as he stepped lightly onto the first floor landing.

It was the sound of footsteps, and they continued to move away from them at a steady pace as they followed. It didn’t sound as if the person walking was aware they were being followed.

Typhan and Corinus began to grow more bold, letting their steps quicken. As they neared the outer door of the wing of the villa, they could see the shape of a white gown ahead of them.

“It’s a ghost!” Typhan squealed, barely whispering.

“Shhh!” Cor said. “It’s not a ghost. Look!” He pointed to the figure as it slowly raised one hand to grasp the doorknob. “It’s just Anlai.”

Typhan peered into the darkness before nodding in agreement. “But what is she doing?”

They watched in silence as Anlai, her golden hair loose upon her shoulders, slowly opened the outer doors.

“Anlai,” Ty hissed into the darkness. “What are you doing?”

There was no response, and Anlai continue her slow but methodic movements. The door opened with a slight creaking sound and the girl began to walk though.

“Does she sleep walk?” Cor turned to ask Typhan.

She shook her head. “I’ve never seen her do this before!” She paused, trying not to let her lower lip curl in fear. “It’s scaring me, Cor.”

“It’s ok.” He squeezed her hand quickly. “I’m sure she’s just walking in her sleep. Some times my dad talks in his sleep. He has whole conversations with my mother and then doesn’t remember anything when he wakes up!”

Typhan smiled. “Yeah, sleep walking.” Her face brightened.

“Let’s follow her though, we should wake her up before she gets hurt.”

Corinus led Typhan towards the door and they pulled it open. Anlai was only a few yards beyond them, just opening the garden gate. Cor strode towards her.

“Anlai,” he rushed up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “Anlai, wake up!”

The girl made no response, but kept walking forward. Corinus picked up his pace and got in front of her before she reached the far side of the gardens.

“Anlai!” He said again.

Her eyes were open, staring straight ahead with no flicker of acknowledgement. There was a blank look on her face and no expression to her brow or mouth. Without noting his presence at all, she continued around him and past the gate.

Corinus paused, unsure of what to do next. She seemed to be in a deep sleep, almost a trance. He continued past the gate and again put a hand on her shoulder. She tried to shrug it off, but he kept his grip and gave her a small shake.

“Anlai, you’re sleeping!” He said. “Wake up! You have to get back to bed.”

But again she took no notice of him. Her feet moved woodenly as she walked, her eyes dull. They had reached the rock wall that separated the house grounds from the beach, and Corinus watched as Anlai crept over the wall and began to walk barefoot across the sand.

A soft cry behind him made him look back; Typhan was clutching her foot in her hand and made a sharp sound of pain. He turned back to her, lending her his arm to lean on.

“What happened?”

“I think I stepped on a rock or a thorn or something.” Her foot bled from a deep cut below the pad of her heel. “It really hurts!” She cast her face down, trying not to let the tears fall.

“Oh no…” Cor knelt and inspected the cut. “That looks bad, Ty.” Unsure what else to do, he took off his night shirt and wrapped it tightly around her foot. “Here, sit on the wall and I’ll go get Anlai. Then we can both help you back to the house and get that looked at.”

He quickly got her settled on the wall and patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll get her.”

Ty nodded and sniffed softly. “Ok.”

But when he turned back towards the beach, he saw that Anlai had continued her course and was standing ankle-deep in the water.

“No,” he said softly. “Anlai! Anlai, stop!” She continued walking, her nightgown trailing behind her in the surf as she kept moving forward up to her waist. There was something terribly wrong with this, and Corinus felt an icy stab of fear deep within his belly. How could she be sleeping still? Why wouldn’t she wake up after all of this?

He raced forward, continuing to call her name. By the time he reached the water she was neck-deep.

“Come back, Anlai!” He lunged into the water and half-walked, half-swam towards her.

The waves crashed into his face as he swam towards her, glimpsing her golden hair swirling through the water not far from his hands. But it seemed the closer he got the more difficult it was to see exactly where she was. He was in far over his head by this time, trying to kick and paddle his way over to where he had last seen the girl.

“No, no,” he said to himself, turning his head from right to left in an effort to see beyond the waves. He got a mouthful of water as one crashed down upon his head, and for a moment he was completely submerged. He came up sputtering, spitting out a mouthful of seawater.

“Anlai!” His voice was cracked and hoarse, his arms beginning to tire. “Anlai!”

He could no longer see her hair, no longer see any part of the girl who had preceded him into the sea. “Come back!”

Ty called from the shore “I’ll get help!” And Cor saw her turn and race back up the beach as he continued to swim toward Anlai.

A sharp cramp took his leg, twisting his calf and pulling him down into the water. It was all he could do not to scream, but he clamped his mouth shut as he felt his body twist into another wave. He opened his eyes underwater, desperately trying to get his bearings. But all around him there was a faint light and he couldn’t tell which way was up. The current pulled him down and around, twisting his body.

He felt his lungs ache and a slow burning feeling began to take over his throat. He thrashed his arms, pulling himself towards what he thought was up. It seemed fruitless, and he felt a deep despair take over his heart.

Suddenly hands arms grasped his own, and he felt a strong arm wrap around his waist. He was pulled violently upward, and as his head broke the surface of the water he let out a choking breath.

Larus’ face was there, just inches from his own. “Father!” Corinus could barely speak through the burning in his lungs.

“Be still, son,” Larus said, “I’ve got you.”

Cor struggled with what little energy he had left. “Anlai!”

“We’ve got her, don’t you worry,” Larus’ voice was short with worry, and Cor couldn’t read the look on his face. But he was exhausted and could barely breathe without gasping, let alone swim, so he relaxed in his father’s arms and let him swim them both back towards the shore.

He became aware of a loud sobbing sound, and as they reached the point where his feet touched sand he lifted his head to see Typhan kneeling in the sand just inches from the water’s edge, with Vera’s arms around her comfortingly.

“Cor,” Ty cried, her face tear-streaked. “Cor are you okay?”

Larus walked him out of the water and they sat on the sand, out of breath. Cor nodded, and Typhan sobbed in relief.

His father turned towards him, the worry still deep in his eyes. “Are you alright?”

“Y-yes,” he croaked, trying not to cough up water.

Larus gave a short nod to Vera, who moved forward with a warm blanket and wrapped it around Cor. Then he stood, turning back towards the sea. Corinus saw then that there were three more men in the water, the one farthest out was carrying a white shape in his arms.

Corinus felt his chest tighten. The form was draped over the man’s arms limply, there was no sign of movement.

Typhan’s sobs increased as she saw the men moving slowly back through the surf. Larus stepped forward and soon reached the group, taking the bundle in his arms. Cor saw a look of deep despair cross his father’s face. The men moved back through the water, carrying their bundle.

Cor heard Vera make a soft keening sound, and turned to see her wrap Typhan in her arms. “Oh little mouse, don’t look!” The woman turned a tear-filled face to him. “Come, you too. You musn’t see.”

Cor shook his head, standing. “No, I want to help!”

“Oh sweet thing, there’s no more to be done.” Vera held her arm out to him.

He sat, letting the blanket fall off his shoulders. His mind felt numb and his body was cold like ice. He watched as his father stepped out of the ocean, laying the body of Anlai down upon the beach. Larus positioned her chin upwards and began to blow into her mouth, stopping to pump her chest several times.

Marquis Kiant, his face white, ran out of the water behind them. He knelt beside Larus, taking the girl’s limp hand in his own. They all watched in silence for several minutes, breaths held. But after a short time, Larus stopped, resting his hands on his knees. He looked up at his pledge-brother the Marquis, shaking his head slightly.

“I’m so sorry Kiant. So very sorry.”

The Marquis collapsed, resting his head upon his daughter’s chest. He gave a low moan, letting it trail off into a choked sob. His hand still gripped her pale fingers.

Beside Cor, Typhan leapt to her feet. They watched as she raced to her father and put her hand on his. Together they embraced the body of Anlai.

Another of the Marquis’ men stepped forward, tears breaking in his eyes, and held out his cloak for Larus.

Cor’s father stood and came back to where Vera held Cor tightly. Larus knelt and opened his arms, and Cor gratefully ran into them. All around him were the sounds of grief. He closed his eyes to it, letting the warmth of his father’s arms and the thick wool cloak surround him as he felt a deep exhaustion begin to move through his bones.

Numb, he was barely aware that Larus had begun leading him back towards the house. It seemed that suddenly they were inside, and then in his rooms. He let his father help him into new bedclothes, and barely protested as he laid him down upon his bed.

“Father.” He said softly, his voice still hoarse.

“Shh,” Larus ran a hand across his forehead. “You’re safe son. It’s going to be alright.”

Corinus tried to sit up, suddenly desperate to explain what had happened. “I tried to wake her up, Father, I tried!” He began coughing, and let Larus settle him back into his pillows.

“I know, son.” Larus leaned down to kiss his brow. “Tomorrow. You can explain tomorrow.”

Cor nodded, feeling a deep darkness of grief and exhaustion creep upon him.

“Tomorrow,” he whispered.

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