A girl is rescued from drowning by a woman and cannot remember where she came from.
She felt herself beginning to surrender to the cold. Her lungs filled with an icy flood of water that rushed into her open mouth. She could not feel her fingers or toes. Her limbs would not work, but she knew was moving. She was drifting quickly, so perhaps she was in a river. The girl could not remember how she had gotten there, she could only recall opening her eyes for a quick moment and seeing nothing. The water was so shadowed. How had she not clashed into anything hidden in the depths?
The girl did not know how long she had been under the water and she began to grow light headed. How long could a person go without air? The girl thought. She was getting drowsy and her chest felt tight and restricted. It had been too many minutes without the air her lungs were burning for.
A few more moments of slipping into a welcome unconsciousness went by and suddenly she felt the pressure of water come towards her right side. Something reached around her stomach and around her hips and then drug her water-logged body from the water. Her lungs were full to the brim with the black liquid and although the girl was above its icy reach, she could still not breathe in any air. The girl’s body was then flung over something, facing down and upon her back came a hard flat-handed smack. Another blow came, and the girl began to cough, clearing the water from her lungs.
Her vision was overlaid with spots and her head ached, but she could breathe again. Her legs and arms were twisted with heavy fabric, a dress perhaps, or robes of some kind, and she tried to lift her head to get her bearings. Her hair was drenched, much of it in her face but she could feel the strong body of a horse beneath her belly, the base of its neck rubbing against her left rib cage. To her right, a knee dug into her calf, and another into her underarm.
The horse was wading through the river and she heard the crunching and scraping of shod hooves against river rock as they reached the shore. The horse stopped moving after a few more steps and the girl felt the rider tug the reins to a stop. Two hands reached under her arms and pulled her up into a sitting position with her two legs dangling over the left side of the horse’s body. One hand supported her, and the other pushed her mess of dark hair away from her face.
The girl looked at the person who had saved her, and although the girl would have thought her rescuer was a man, she looked at the weather worn face of a toothy-grinned woman with stormy blue gray eyes and white-blonde hair whipping around her face.
The woman’s voice was strong, but playful. “Hullo, girly. What’re you doing drowning in that river?”
Chapter One: The Girl
She still could not remember how she ended up nearly drowning in that river but she knew she had lived a good nine years alongside it since then. The girl was twenty-two now and she did not know where she came from either. She did know her hair was raven black and long. Her eyes were a dark earthy green, she had freckles along the top of her nose and on her cheeks, as well as her shoulders from being in the sun. She knew she was now taller than the woman who saved her. Her nose was long and slender, but it was crooked. The most important thing she knew however and it was the one thing she could remember from before, was her first name. The girl’s name was Kirrilee.
The woman who saved her was named Jenalyn Paxton and she lived in a cabin beside the river which was called Nestine. The cabin had one window that let light into the kitchen where there was a wood stove inside for heat and cooking as well as an earthen stove outside for baking bread when it got too warm in the summer.
Jenalyn raised birds of all kinds. She had chickens and ducks for selling at the market in the nearby town of Shurn where she also sold their eggs. Jenalyn raised carrier pigeons as well and in doing so she handled a lot of the local people’s letters and packages. Her pigeons flew everywhere and not once had one been lost. The gyrfalcons she kept and trained were the most intimidating of her aviary however to Kirrilee. She kept a breeding pair- Kopa, the male had brown and black plumage and Nia, the female was light gray, or what Jenalyn called silver. These were her hunters, and they aided in providing a lot of the meat for Kirrilee and Jenalyn. Kirrilee also hunted, with traps and snares that she placed around the forest nearby.
This particular morning, Kirrilee was washing the linens from their beds. The weather had that crisp feeling of when summer turns to fall and some the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn yellow and orange. Kirrilee had never preferred one season over the others. The seasons each had their own positives and negatives and she just hoped to enjoy each one as much as possible. With the harvesting done of their garden beds, the cover crop in, and all of the vegetables and fruits either dried or stored for the winter, Kirrilee and Jenalyn were finally getting to season of the cold weather slowdown.
Jenalyn had been at the market that day, buying supplies that they couldn’t grow or produce on their own. One particular item Jenalyn was picking up were new boots for Kirrilee. Rian, the cobbler of Shurn had taken one look at her boots and said they could no longer just be repaired, so Jenalyn told her to order new ones to be made. A notice had been sent a few days ago that they were ready for pick up.
Kirrilee looked down at her bare feet and grimaced. She hated to wear any type of shoe anyway, it was just the cold weather that made them necessary. Many times, Jenalyn had given her a dirty look after Kirrilee paraded into the house barefoot and leaving dusty or muddy prints all over the floor. To be honest, Kirrilee just loved the feel of the mud squelching between her toes during the rainy season or the dusty dry soil that settled on her feet in the summers.
Kirrilee’s hands were rosy from the hot water she had been washing the linens in. She lifted a water-logged sheet and wrung it out over the large metal wash basin before hanging it to dry on the clothesline strung up between two poles. She continued wringing out Jenalyn’s bedding, and then proceeded to tackle her own, when she saw Jenalyn on horseback galloping towards the cabin. Kirrilee began to lift her hand in greeting, but as Jenalyn came closer the look on her face caused Kirrilee to drop her hand to her side. Jenalyn, whose face always held a look of mischief and teasing was serious and her mouth was closed in a fine thin line. Her hair was a tousled mess flying about her face and Kirrilee could see the white knuckled grip on the horses’ reins.
Jenalyn pulled back on the reins and stopped abruptly near Kirrilee’s wash basin. She hurriedly leapt off the horse and shoved the reins into Kirrilee’s hands.
“Jenalyn…Is everything alright?” Kiralee asked, but Jenalyn did not hear, as she had darted off towards the cabin, whipped the front door open and disappeared inside. Kiralee looked up at Bisbee, their white and gray speckled mare and then looked back to the house. Bisbee, usually a calm creature, shifted her weight from side to side, lifting her hooves as if she would have liked to keep running. Her sides were tied up with packages.
“Kilee! Tie up that horse and get in here!” Jenalyn called out through the open door. Kirrilee let out a breath she had been holding. If she was calling her by her nickname, then whatever the matter was could not be so bad. She walked Bisbee over to the hitching post located to the left of the cabin’s porch and tied up the lead. As she walked into the cabin, she saw Jenalyn rushing about in a flurry of chaos and items being tossed into the air. A satchel sat open on the dining table and Jenalyn was stuffing clothing, food and an assortment of other things.
“Are you going somewhere?” Kirrilee attempted, but Jenalyn was flurrying about the cabin and going in and out of their separate spaces and did not acknowledge she had heard the question.
Kirrilee went over to the table and reached in the satchel to see what Jenalyn was throwing inside. Everything was hers. Her dark brown winter cloak, her woolen stockings and petticoats. Gloves, knitted hats and more. Jenalyn was not the one going anywhere. There was only one bag sitting on the table. Kirrilee was leaving and she could not think of one reason why. There was a round loaf of brown bread wrapped in fabric that she had just pulled out of the oven the morning. Cheese as well and some apples. Had she done something wrong? Did something go wrong in Shurn?
Jenalyn paused behind her curtain that hung to separate the sleeping area from the rest of the cabin. Kirrilee could see her hand grab something from inside the drawer and then she walked out over to where Kirrilee stood. Jenalyn looked at her face with a searching and sorrowful expression.
“Kilee, I’m needin’ you ta do somethin’ for me. You can wipe tha’ look off your face, I’m no mad at you. I’m no kickin’ you out on your behind, nor am I sendin’ you ill prepared and havin’ to fend for yourself.”
She sighed and raised her arm, a small leather pouch between her fingers. The bag had a button clasp and leather woven with fine iron links so a person could wear it around their neck.
“I’m needin’ you to take this to Danaeth. I’ve a friend there. Her name is Lylah Kingfisher and you’ll be stayin’ wi’ her for a while. You musn’t open that pouch, Kilee. You give that to Lylah when you see her. Keep your hood up, things have gotten a bit unsafe a sudden.
I’m sending a bird ahead of you with the message. And you’ll be ridin’ Belaveer.” She paused to take a breath. All of this had been said quickly.
“Oh, and Nia will go with you too.” She said as an afterthought.
Kirrilee grimaced. That hawk hated her. So did Belaveer. He was a charcoal colored stallion that only responded to Jenalyn. Speed was the only reason why Jenalyn would put her on the brute.
Kirrilee was struggling with the entire situation. She was a fairly cautious being. She thought things out before making a decision and liked to be prepared. Her snares never broke because she was precise and detail-oriented. Her cooking never a failure because she followed the recipe down to the exact quarter teaspoon. This journey Jenalyn was having her go on did not bode well with the steadiness in which she lived her life. This was the opposite. This was adventure. The day Jenalyn rescued her from the river flashed through her mind. That day surely stemmed from some sort of ill-prepared journey just like the one she was headed into. Yes, Kirrilee liked to explore and take the occasional risk. However, these were still well thought out expeditions in the comfort of her home’s woods.
Jenalyn was flighty, and rambunctious. She always went from one thought to another. However, this was different. Kirrilee sensed a little bit of fear in the way Jenalyn spoke. Something must have spooked her. And that was something Jenalyn never was, fearful.
A sharp tap on her temple with Jenalyn’s forefinger snapped her out of her pondering and Jenalyn shook the pouch at her, motioning for her to take it. She reached out and held out her hand, and Jenalyn dropped it into her palm. Kirrilee lifted the pouch up and hung the chain around her neck.
“You’ve a map in that bag, though you’ve got a good sense of direction. Same as Nia. There’s more food down there at the bottom of that satchel, so you’ve got enough food to last you a week.”
She looked Kirrilee over and noticed her bare toes poking out from beneath her skirts. “Get those new boots on your feet! Quick now!”
Kirrilee rushed back outside with Jenalyn on her heels. Together they pulled the packages down from Bisbee, as the mare stared down at Kirrilee from the corner of her big brown eye on the side she stood on. Jenalyn tossed the package that presumably held Kirralee’s boots at her and then headed in the direction of the barn and aviary.
Kirralee grabbed as much of the forgotten supplies as she could and shuffled back into the cabin. She dropped the items in the chair next to the door and walked into the kitchen area, tore the wrapping off of her boots. The boots were well-made. And just as well, she had a feeling she would be breaking them in faster than she usually did and worn out by the time she came home. Kirralee paused. If she came home. She thought.
She walk into the sleeping area and against the wall stood her small dresser with two drawers. She opened the top drawer, reached in and pulled out a pair of brown wool socks. She closed the drawer, and as she turned to walk out through the curtain, she scanned the small space she had called her own for the past nine years. She shook her head. I am coming back.
Kirrilee reached up to the shelf that held a few knick knacks she had collected and she pulled down the small carving of a bird that Jenalyn had carved for her as a child. She placed it in a pocket in her skirts and thought again, I am going to come back. She walked out of the space and back to the dining table. Sitting down in a chair there, she hurriedly put on the socks and her boots. She then stood, pushed the chair back in, grabbed her satchel and walked back outside.
Nia, the gyrfalcon was in flight, silently circling Jenalyn as she walked Belaveer towards the cabin. The horse was graceful and sure-footed. Jenalyn had saddled him, and had hung two bota bags on either side filled with water. She tied him up next to Bisbee at the hitching post and met Kirrilee as she walked over. She grasped Kirrilee in a brisk and strong hug, released her then took the bag from her shoulder.
Kirrilee stared blankly as she walked over to Belaveer. She was barely aware of her own movements as she placed her right foot into the stirrup and lifted her body up and the swung her leg around. She adjusted her skirts around her legs as Jenalyn threw the satchel up behind her and tied it to the saddle snuggly. She passed up a lightweight cloak to Kirrilee, who took it and wrapped it over her shoulders.
“Now doona forget, keep your hood up, Kilee. You know the signals for Nia should you need ‘em. I’ve sent word to Lylah and she will be expecting you. Be safe, Kilee. Be smart and don’t you dare stop for naught but a couple hours of sleep. And doona open tha’ pouch!”
Jenalyn shoved a knife into her boot, nodded her head and waved her hand in dismissal. Kirrilee’s lips were set in a straight line. She opened her mouth and her voice cracked as she spoke,
“Thank you, Jenalyn. I’ll send word once I get to Danaeth. I’ll be back.”
I’ll come home. I’m coming back. She repeated, over and over as she pulled her cloak’s hood over her head and kicked her heels into Belaveer’s sides and raced off along the trail the followed the river westward.
Chapter Two: Jenalyn
As Jenalyn watched Kilee ride away she thought back on what had brought them to this point. The day had begun as usual. She woke up before daylight, went out to the chicken coop and had collected the eggs. Jenalyn always cooked breakfast for the two of them while Kirrilee took care of the rest of the meals. Breakfast was fast and easy. She didn’t have much patience for intricate recipes like Kirrilee did.
After breakfast, she went out and took care of the rest of the birds in her aviary while Kirrilee cleaned up the breakfast dishes. Not much later, Jenalyn saddled up Bisbee and went to town to pick up Kilee’s boots and a few other things.
In town, Jenalyn was talking with Tiera, the daughter of Meggie the town’s seamstress about the past weeks gossip. Oh, how Jenalyn loved gossip. She did not do much spreading but she loved to hear it. Tiera had been talking about the latest love triangle when Jenalyn had looked across the street and noticed a figure dressed in a dark blue cloak. Blue was an expensive and rare dye and she had never seen that color on any of the local townspeople of Shurn. Shurnfolk could not afford that kind of color. The figure was tall, had the hood up on the cloak and was talking to a couple of the venders across the street selling their wares. Jenalyn let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding and left Tiera mid-sentence as she walked across the street towards the stranger.
Jenalyn had noticed months ago that her world was changing. The animals in the woods were quieter. The winds that blew through the valley were colder. She had never been able to explain how she knew that things were getting darker. Not that she would have. No one could know what she could do. The air she tasted was becoming polluted. It was a thick fog that settled in her lungs at night while she slept. No one else noticed, nor would they. The other folk were normal. The wind didn’t speak to them the way it did to her. Her birds had begun tiring more quickly as well. She had had to set up additional lofts for rest along the most common paths they flew. Sludge. Something was happening and Jenalyn hadn’t been able to place a finger on it until she saw that person across the street. Their very presence had created a change in the air’s currents. It moved slow and lazy and tendrils of it brushed over Jenalyn’s face and body as she approached the cloaked person.
The opening of the hood twisted her way and Jenalyn saw a man’s face. There she saw eyes that were such a deep blue that they appeared violet. His complexion was so fair that his skin seemed translucent and she could see a shade of green at his temple that revealed the veins beneath. His hair she could not see, but his brows were light in color.
“Ho’ there, stranger. Havena seen you before.” Jenalyn said, her eyebrows raised. She looked him over. He was tall, with broad shoulders. The cloak hid his clothing beneath but one of his hands was clasped tightly closed and was down by his side.
The man looked in her eyes and took a deep breath through his mouth. Not in a nervous way, but as if he was tasting. Jenalyn held back a shudder. This is no’ good at all. She thought.
“Yes, I am passing through. I am on a bit of a mission and was just speaking with these two to see if they might be able to assist me.” He was well-spoken, obviously educated and had a trace of an accent that Jenalyn could not place.
Jenalyn looked at the two venders standing nearby. Their eyes were half-closed. Dazed and sleepy looking. “Well,” she said, looking back at the cloaked man. “I happen to know quite a lot, what is it you’re tryin’ to find out, sir?”
“That is quite kind of you, miss.”