Second Battle of Jent
Findian opened her eyes and immediately knew she had been dreaming of Bran. She pulled her hand from the chill of the empty spot next to her and shivered, and the warm illusion of the dream faded after a few deep breaths of the cold air. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light from the nearly dead fire, and the large guest quarters at Spirit came into focus, reminding her that she would never find Bran sleeping beside her under the roof of Triumon Ealder.
It was unlikely that Bran would ever make the climb up the mountainside as she had done the previous day, not unless commanded by his liege, and it was equally unlikely that Segan Fayersae would ever order such a thing. Segan had not bowed to the wishes of Triumon Ealder concerning her betrothal to the House of Northmon, even though he’d had the power to stop their marriage by simply adhering to the time-honored custom that had the Ealders make the marriage arrangements between the Houses; even so, Segan certainly understood the delicacy of the situation, and he would never test the limits of Triumon’s pride by purposely sending Bran to Spirit. She shivered again, knowing that coming to Spirit alone was perhaps more injurious to Triumon’s pride than if she and Bran had come together.
She rose and dressed without calling for a servant to rekindle the fire, and the heavy wool of the layered Triumon clothes quickly dispelled the chill from her bare skin even though they reawakened the cold memory of yesterday’s meeting with Triumon Ealder. The proper display of formality and respect had been exercised with exacting precision, but she knew it had been done solely for Triumon’s benefit and not hers; it certainly had not been done out of respect for the House of Northmon or the House of Bruchmon.
She crossed the room to the large fireplace, but as she bent to prod what meager warmth could be enticed from the embers, she stopped. She decided to let the fire alone, lighting a small candle instead. She knew the pique that lingered from yesterday’s encounter with Triumon Ealder was irrational, and yet she found herself doing the unthinkable and walking to the door.
She opened it and left the room, unescorted, somewhat surprised at the hasty decision that she knew was petty response to Triumon’s haughtiness; however, the minor discourtesy did displace the resentment of a cold bed and a warm dream lost. Besides, walking into the hall unescorted was not technically an affront. Once she had been allowed to enter the castle, a birthright that predated each of the House’s fealty to Fayersae afforded her the sanctuary to walk these halls as if they were her own, and even though she had come here as the Lady of Northmon, transversing the wishes of Triumon Ealder, she knew the ancient tradition that made each seat of the Houses a refuge for all would not be denied to her. So instead of retreating down the winding stairs to the Commons, she let her steps carry her to a narrow flight of stairs that she knew led to the private Triumon section of the castle.
The arched doorway was flanked by two intricately sculpted harts, their white polished marble only slightly lighter than the smooth walls, and she knew this simple demarcation would have been enough to keep anyone other than a Triumon from crossing the threshold to climb the narrow flight of stairs. Her step faltered briefly as she passed under the shadow of the arch, and a tingle of goose bumps sent a shiver down her spine as an unfelt and unseen stir of the cold air announced her presence. She stood a little straighter, ignoring the alarm of the air, and quickly climbed the steep stairs.
The stairwell emptied into a circular chamber that for a second was as dimly lit as the hallway outside her room had been, but as she stepped into the room, the lanterns brightened. A mosaic of ice-blue tiles glistened in the bright light, their etched pattern seemingly setting aglow the purer white of the large Triumon hart inlaid in the center of the floor. Three wide arched doorways dominated each quadrant of the room, the one opposite her leading straight up, while the two adjacent to her spiraled and twisted quickly out of sight. The spiral stair to the right remained unnaturally dark as the light of the lanterns did not penetrate its secrets. The center stair was dim and foreboding, revealing just enough to accentuate its steep climb. The spiral stair to the left was well lit, and while she didn’t deem it an inviting light, she knew that to proceed in a different direction would not be wise; there were limits to even the most ancient of prerogatives, and she crossed the room to the brighter stair, letting the recondite rooms beyond the other two remain so.
The climb was longer than the previous staircase, and it exited into a much larger hallway decorated with the same blue tiled mosaic as the previous room. The air was warmer and she smelled the unmistakable aroma of a fire as she scanned the length of the hall. It dimmed and disappeared into darkness to the right, and again following the brighter path, she turned to the left.
The hall emptied into a large cavernous room, and the height of the domed ceiling momentarily took her breath away. Many shafts of predawn light crisscrossed the round dome, illuminating the white stone of another marble hart that glowed as if it were set against the sky itself. She was mesmerized by the narrow slits of the open windows that bent their light upward instead of downward to flood the rest of the room. She slowly lowered her eyes, letting the illusion that seemed to separate that upper dome from the rest of the room dissipate.
She wasn’t even startled to see the small girl who had been at Triumon Ealder’s side in the throne room standing in front of her, the flicker of the candle’s light dancing off her pale face as she stood a little too close. The girl had been introduced as Avanian, his granddaughter, and she had never left his side. It had been obvious that the bond between them was such that she was in effect the Lady of the Castle despite her young age. Recalling the birth announcements from of each of Oltian’s children that had gone out to the Houses, Findian knew the girl could not be more than twelve years old.
“The will of Triumon is strong enough to keep the cold mountain wind and the light from the cold sky from entering this room,” the girl said, her eyes shooting to the dome before darting back to stare boldly at Findian.
It was then that Findian knew it had not been her own free will that had carried her to this room; the girl had in effect summoned her here. Glancing around the room, Findian saw that it was a library of sorts. It was well lit by a roaring fire, and dozens of candelabras, and short bookcases lined the walls. Books and scrolls lay scattered on the floor around the fire, but today, it seemed the girl required more than the company of the library’s contents.
“Very few come to this room to disturb the dusty books and scrolls,” the girl said, opening her arms in a wide gesture to the room.
Findian followed the girl’s eyes around the room, and somehow she knew that this library rarely saw the light of the fire or the candles unless the girl was present. It was a room that few in this castle had the power to enter, and fewer yet ever chose to do so.
“And no one ever comes to the Sun Room while the stars still shine,” the girl said, tilting her head again to the cold dome that seemed to magically hang over them.
“But your grandfather often came here as a young man,” Findian found herself saying. “And now you come to pry the room’s secrets.”
“Yes, but the scrolls and books here only reveal old stories,” the girl said. “There is never anything new written. Don’t you find that odd?”
Findian remained quiet for a moment, unsure how to respond to that question. She was spared from answering when the girl continued.
“Do you remember the last time the Dasyu came?” she asked.
Findian couldn’t keep a deep frown from crossing her face. Her father had never returned from the First Battle of Jent, and she had never known him as her mother watched him leave Torbod, her belly swollen with the Bruchmon triplets.
“I was not yet born during the First Battle of Jent,” she answered.
“And are the libraries at your home replete with the accounts of that battle?” the girl asked.
“No,” Findian said, acknowledging the girl’s earlier statement regarding the age of the written texts found gathering dust in many of the Houses’ libraries.
“I don’t think the history of our greatest battles should go untold,” the girl said. “My grandfather says the Dasyu have come again. I will not let the story of this battle go unwritten. Many will never return to their Houses, and their story should not be lost.”
Findian thought of Bran, just as the girl asked, “Do you have children?”
“No,” Findian whispered.
For information on Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, please visit www.heartofhauden.com.