The years passed swiftly for Erinael. For the most part, she was a happy child. She played in the gardens under the warmth of the sun. Andraes, the man that she called Father, and Nolan, the Lord-Prince, catered to her every whim and she did not want for anything.
However, as she grew older she found herself to be growing faster than her Elven peers. The games that she used to play with her friends began to no longer interest her, and she would gravitate toward those nearer to her sense of maturity.
Her new friends began to behave in the unkindly manner of older children tend to behave and would tease her. Her hair was much darker than the blond hair of the Elves, and her skin not nearly so fair. She was less tall and lithe as well, being called clumsy. With her years passing by much more quickly, she lacked patience and more than made up for it with passion. The crueler children going out of their way to excite her and make her angry.
But the most cruel of their teasing came to Andraes’ attention one night while telling her a bedtime story.
“Back when the Dragons were in their twilight, the Elves were very young…” He spoke softly, tucking the blankets about the now resting child.
She smiled up at him as she listened with rapt attention to the story of Seresana and Igdrasil, the heroes of the Great War against the Darkness. Seresana the Elf and Igdrasil Life-Binder had given their lives to drive back the Dark, and those that would try to release it. Igdrasil had transformed himself into a great tree, sealing the portal. Seresana had in turn brought down the dragon Zuran, at the cost of her own life.
This story the child knew well and insisted upon for a bedtime story quite frequently, despite knowing it by heart.
“Father,” she began, looking up at him. “Do you believe that the Dark will come back?”
Her serious expression troubled him. She had asked him this question before and had been satisfied with his answers. But tonight he knew that would not be the case. “Why do you ask, sweet one?” his voice light.
“The other children told me that I would bring back the Darkness. They called me Rune-breaker…” She looked down at her small hands as they twisted the blankets between them. “That you only adopted me to keep me from becoming evil.”
Her face clouded over with the emotions that this concept garnered. As a human girl, she saw that she grew and matured faster than her Elven peers. As such, she had few friends, and even fewer to discuss her fears with. She was an outsider and she knew it.
“Erinael, my precious, you are not evil and could never be evil.” He smoothed her hair from her face and wiped away her tears. “If there was a darkness inside of you I would have seen it.”
She crawled into his lap then, and he began to hum a lullaby. She lulled to sleep eventually, her cheeks tear-stained. He placed her carefully back into bed, tucking the blankets back about her, his heart heavy with her sadness. From then onward, she began to distance herself from many of the other children, and they from her.
They believed the legend that one day a human would have the magic to break the rune-seals keeping the Darkness at bay. It was an ill-fated star that Erinael had been born under, and the only child to survive the massacres. They were afraid, and Erinael believed that they had every right to be.
* * *
Eighteen years had passed since Andraes had first brought Erinael into his domain. She had grown into a lovely young woman, favoring her mother’s appearance, but with a stalwart resolve that he believed her to have inherited from her father. She had become an accomplished horse-woman and mender, and even had a garden filled with verdant plants. She strove to be a force for life and the Light, so as to keep at bay what Darkness she perceived to be within herself.
“Beloved Sister, please come out. There is someone who I want for you to meet.” Nolan called to her as she tended to her garden.
Erinael stepped out from beneath the trellis of a flowering vine that she had been pruning, blinking as her eyes adjusted from the shade to the morning sun.
“There you are!” he said happily, taking her by the hand and leading her over to a nearby bench. “Sister, this is the Lady Marisandra.”
Erinael curtsied to the seated woman, noting her dark hair and moon-pale skin. Rare traits for any Elf, save those of the Dead Hunter clans. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Marisandra smiled a bit wanly at her. “That is a lovely Deathshade vine. They are quite poisonous.”
Erinael could detect a hint of malice in the other’s tone. Nolan failed to notice, however. “My sister collects plants for their medicinal value.”
“Yes.” Erinael said quietly. “When prepared properly, Deathshade can be used as a sedative and pain reliever.”
Marisandra smiled another wan smile. “I will just have to trust in your expertise.” Then she turned to Nolan. “I would like to continue on with the tour if you are ready.”
“Of course, my Lady.” Nolan said with a bright smile. “Happy Name Day, dear sister.” he murmured, kissing Erinael on the cheek before turning to escort Marisandra away.
Erinael watched them leave, frowning slightly. There was something about Marisandra that unnerved her, made worse by the fact that Nolan’s behavior was odd. He was usually concerned with her keeping of the most dangerous plants and herbs.
When she talked about this to Andraes, he chuckled gently. “I believe that is jealousy, Sweet One. Nolan is smitten and only seeks for your approval.”
Erinael did not feel that to be a suitable explanation, but yielded to the assertion. Nolan was entitled to his own happiness, just as much as she. So she resolved to not make a big fuss out of her feelings.
* * *
Guests had been arriving for days to attend Erinael’s Name Day celebration. They came from all over the Elven lands and beyond, Elf and Elf-friend alike. Among them was a powerful Elven Seer known only as the Blind-Woman. Her hair was silver and passed down to her waist, and she wore a white cloth covering her eyes. She carried a tall and simple staff, using to guide her steps.
Erinael longed to ask her what she saw about her, but was afraid. Her ill-fated birth hung heavy on her mind. So it surprised her immensely when the Seer appeared at her chamber door as she was making ready for the feast.
“How may I be of service?” Erinael asked, attempting to mask her surprise.
“I believe it is I that can be of help,” she answered. “Now there is not much time.”
“You were born under the Dragon Star,” the Blind-Woman began. “The star of Endings, it is an evil star. You shall bring ruination and Darkness to all the land!”
Erinael stepped back in fear, the Blind-Woman following after her.
“You were meant to die on that night eighteen years ago.” she continued. “They all fear you. They plot to take your life.”
“Stop this.” Erinael pleaded. “I would never hurt anyone!”
“Then you should leave. Tonight.”
“But where would I go?” Tears streamed down her face.
“Away from here. Go to where no one knows you.”
“Okay.” Erinael was sobbing in terror.
She hurriedly began to pack a bag with clothes, shoving her jewelry box to the bottom for use as funds. At the last moment she changed her clothes, trading her embroidered tunic and slippers for her riding clothes. She then unfurled a simple gray cloak over top of it all.
Just as she was about to walk out the door, the Blind-Woman stopped her. She placed both hands to the sides of Erinael’s face and murmured words under her breath. A strange tingle then went up and down Erinael’s body, making her feel strange. “This should keep you from being discovered. They will try to stop you from leaving.”
“Thank you.” Erinael murmured before leaving.
Once out in the corridor, she slowed her steps and kept to the edges. At her first encounter with another person, she made her steps purposeful and nodded in acknowledgment. When they didn’t even glance at her, she realized that the spell at least rendered her to be imperceptible. She took a back passage down the kitchens, taking a few loaves of bread and some cheese as she passed through. She would supplement the rest of her stores with edible plants. On her way out she accidentally bumped one of the kitchen staff, who looked about her to see what happened as Erinael scurried out the door.
Once she had made it to the stables, a new set up hurdles awaited her. All of the handlers were active, caring for their charges before attending the festivities.
Erinael darted through the stables and into the stall that contained her mare, Dasa. The gray horse whinnied softly to her before attempting to nuzzle her. Upon breathing in Erinael’s scent she sneezed, getting the attention of a nearby hostler. He reached his hand into the stall and rubbed Dasa’s neck, thinking she had only inhaled some dust from her hay. Erinael pressed herself against the far corner, keeping Dasa between herself and the hostler. There she waited until they all had left.
As soon as she was sure that no one would witness her going, she quickly saddled Dasa and lead her toward the main gate. It was busy with the coming and going of guests and trade, and Erinael hoped to time it just right and slip out.
She got into the line of those waiting to leave the palace grounds and quickly became aware that people could see her. Had she waited too long and now the Blind-Woman’s spell was fading?
Dasa, sensing her mistress’ anxiety, began to stamp her hooves. A nearby tradesman looked over and nodded in acknowledgment. Erinael was immediately glad that the hood was up on her cloak, the gray depth covering her face. She nodded in response and patted Dasa’s neck, attempting to calm herself somewhat.
The guards made their way down the line of those waiting to leave, checking the carts and wagons and asking travel plans. When it was Erinael’s turn, she worked to keep her breathing and her heart from drumming so hard. Surely the guards would recognize Dasa and stop her. But the guard merely patted the mare’s neck as she tossed her head.
“Intended route of travel?” he asked.
“The western road.” Erinael said, sounding more calm than she felt. “And then south along the coast.”
“The western road is possible, but be cautious on the coast road. The storm season will be picking up soon.”
Erinael nodded in acknowledgment before starting forward. She then kept Dasa at an even pace a short length behind the group in front of her as they filed out onto the main road. But instead of turning west, Erinael turned east toward the oncoming evening.
* * *
Lord-King Andraes eyed the empty chair to his left. Erinael had yet to make an appearance at the feast and he had sent someone to check on her. To his right sat Prince Nolan, looking concerned as the Lady Marisandra attempted to engage him in pleasant conversation.
When the servant returned, he appeared distressed as he knelt in toward his Lord-King’s ear. The Princess Erinael was not in her rooms and Dasa was not in the stable. They still searched the grounds, but it appeared that she had run away.
Andraes paled at the news as Nolan got to his feet, calling for his horse to be saddled. Marisandra clung to him, trying to pull him back down in his seat. “I am sure that she is merely being impetuous, as all adolescent humans are.”
Nolan brushed her hands away. “She is my sister, even if not in blood. It will be night soon, and I must find her.” he then strode angrily from the hall.
Marisandra then folded her hands in her lap and hung her head, her long dark hair hiding her face.
“Worry not, dear lady.” Andraes said quietly. “It is only a Brother’s concern and nothing more.”
But what Andraes could not see was the satisfied smile on Marisandra’s face.