Second Battle of Jent
Findian had acclimated to the cold mountain air at Spirit, the chill of the open courtyard applying a ruddy glow to her cheeks even though the wind was weak, almost as if it had become sapped when Triumon Ealder had ridden forth. The outer gate had closed without a sound, and along with the Chamberlain, she and Avanian had remained in the yard. They lingered in the early morning light, the sun flanked with diamond sundogs, those triple orbs auguring the certainty that the Dasyu had indeed come to Hamlond. Findian felt the disquietude of that symbol, and knew it had not been a coincidence that had drawn Triumon Ealder from the comforts of his keep on this morning.
She could not tell what the strange girl standing at her elbow had been feeling while she had watched her grandfather gloriously march from Spirit under such an ominous sky, a full honor guard at his side, but she did sense a mature acceptance, almost as if the girl knew she may never see the patriarch of her House again.
Findian had rarely been parted from the girl since their meeting in the old Triumon library three days ago, and Avanian had become her constant companion, quickly dispelling any ill feelings the House of Triumon had harbored toward her prior to her arrival. Findian hadn’t expected to find such company at Spirit, especially not one as young or as ascendant as the granddaughter of Triumon Ealder. The bond had quickly become that of sisters separated by many years, and Findian smiled at the thought, even as she reminded herself where she was, and even though she knew the relationship would be fleeting as the young girl grew into womanhood under the perfidious roof of Triumon. Even now, Findian knew the relationship served the young girl’s unbounded curiosity more than the need for her companionship.
The Chamberlain finally turned from the gate just as the cold wind began to swirl and awaken from its momentary reverie, the ringing glow dropping from around the rising sun.
“It is time to come inside, My Lady,” he said formally to Avanian before his slow proud steps carried him back to the keep.
Avanian’s hard stare bore into his back, her lower jaw jutting ever so slightly as she watched the old man retreat. She was now the oldest member of her family at Spirit, her mother and older brother having followed her Uncle a week ago, all of them leading their respective hosts off the mountainside, and Findian saw that not even Avanian’s youth would allow the Chamberlain to forget who was now in command of the seat of Triumon. Findian found it unsettling to see the icy walls and rooftops of the keep reflected off the girl’s eyes, almost as if by her will alone, she had just taken ownership of the entire castle.
With a defiant look, Avanian let the Chamberlain disappear through the front entrance before she beckoned Findian to follow her, and they walked to the side of the castle that edged up to the rocky face of the mountainside. The stables, smithies, kitchens, laundry and servants quarters ringed the small open space between the icy wall of the castle and the mountain, and Findian could see that many of the outbuildings were actually built into the base of the cliff. Overhead, a wing of the castle seemed to enclose the servant’s yard as that portion of the castle joined itself to the mountainside, its shadow on the grounds below a constant reminder of the weight of Triumon.
The yard was eerily quiet, and Findian knew that most of the cooks, smiths and laborers had followed the first vans of Triumon as they had marched from Spirit. She wondered for a moment how many other castles of the Houses had gone quiet; how many other Houses were mobilizing to drive the Dasyu from Hamlond? While she hoped the other cities were emptying to come to the aid of Bruchmon, she knew that the opposite was occurring in Torbod. By now, that city would be teeming with refugees from the countryside that were fleeing the indiscriminate slaughter of the Dasyu. The city of her birth would be a much different place than the cold empty halls of Triumon right now.
She let these thoughts linger as she hurried after Avanian who weaved across the yard with an accustomed familiarity. The girl led them through the servant entrance, quickly navigating the narrow passageways and steep stairs that connected so much of the castle behind the large rooms and ornate walls. When they stepped out of a hidden doorway, Findian was surprised that the corridor was so poorly lit. They had stepped onto a landing before a set of spiral stairs, and Findian recognized the circular glow and icy colored tiles of the room she had first entered when she’d climbed to the Triumon quarters a few days ago. She knew they had exited the servant’s passage into the dark spiral stair that she had avoided the day she’d found Avanian in the library. Avanian made a furtive gesture with her hand before she turned up the stairs.
“It is better if the lanterns remain dark,” she whispered in explanation. “He will sometimes come this way when no one is in the castle.”
Findian knew she was referring to the Chamberlain, who, like all men of that position, took many prerogatives while their masters were away; Triumon was not exempt from those machinations, perhaps even less so than many of the other Houses.
They climbed the dark stairs quickly, and when they exited into a long corridor, Avanian made another gesture and the lanterns brightened slightly to reveal an otherwise empty and undecorated hall. The doorways that broke the smooth white marble remained uncannily dark as they hurried past. After they had walked some distance, the walls became rough hewn, although the floor remained tiled and level. Avanian’s pace quickened as she led them through the dim passage, and after a quarter of an hour, Findian realized that they had left the castle proper and that this corridor was boring into the mountainside that abutted the keep. Intrigued, she followed the girl whose hurried steps had almost become a run, the air growing colder the further they went.
The corridor emptied into a small room, and when Avanian pointed at the lanterns that brightened at her gesture, Findian saw that the room was a large dressing room. Wardrobes lined the walls, and Avanian didn’t hesitate and quickly began changing, pointing to another wardrobe.
Findian opened the ornate doors, and was not surprised that it was full of a woman’s hunting garments, neatly arranged by season. This could only have been Oltian’s wardrobe, the girl’s mother, and she followed Avanian’s lead and quickly donned a rich winter Triumon hunting outfit.
“That attire better suits you,” Avanian said as she saw the smile on Findian’s face. “Unlike Bruchmon, however, Triumon does not hunt from horseback. Nor do dogs and many members of our household accompany us.”
“A guest would never perceive that as a fault,” Findian said, buckling a heavy maroon Triumon cape closed at the neck.
“No one but Triumon has ever exited those doors,” the girl said, pointing to the closed wooden doors at the opposite end of the room. “Even Fayersae has never done it.”
Findian nodded, her smile fading at the seriousness on the girl’s brow.
“This is a secret I will take to my grave,” she said.
The girl’s eyes brightened again, satisfied with that promise.
“Does Bruchmon hunt with the bow?” Avanian asked, pointing to an ornate weapon stand before she moved to fill a pack with assorted traps and equipment.
“The spear is the preferred weapon on horseback,” Findian answered. “My abilities with the bow are adequate, however,” she said, moving to the dozen ash longbows reverently displayed on the stand.
After running her gloved hand across a few of the beautifully carved limbs, she selected a bow of medium height, taking the richly embroidered quiver sitting beside it.
“My mother’s,” Avanian said when she saw the bow Findian had selected. “You might have been forgiven for wearing her cape, but you would be executed for touching the bow should she learn of it. This is going to be an exciting hunt.”
Findian inwardly smiled behind a facade of seriousness. The girl had known which bow she was going to select before they had even come here, and it was a clever trap, almost. Bruchmon was just as adapt at manipulation as Triumon, often more so since it was hidden behind a mask of blind trust. What the girl was forgetting was that she was just as caught by this forbidden hunt as she was; however, Findian thought as she strung the bow, the girl was correct about one thing. This was going to be an exciting hunt.
For information on Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, please visit www.heartofhauden.com.