A lady landowner leading a hard life inherits a strange power changing her life completely
Calyistria slowly opened her eyes; sunlight shone through the sash window. She stretched, pulling back the covers; got out of bed and went to washbowl. Today felt no different from any other day except for being a year older now twenty-one. Today her mother said before she died would be special. Her mother died when Calyistria was still young, her father a few years since. Calyistria missed her mother most although she loved both her parents. She did not believe, however, what her mother told her when six years old. Something unusual would happen to her on this day, something that would make her sought after by those in power but also feared by many. She shook her head. “Such nonsense.” She washed and dressed before a knock on the bedchamber door.
Calyistria straightened her shoulders smoothing out the creases of her blue cotton dress; she mentally composed herself for the day ahead. “Come in.”
“Breakfast my lady.” The maid, put the tray down on the small mahogany table near the window as Calyistria combed out her shoulder-length black hair.
“Thank you, Sally,” absently staring at her reflection in the looking glass. Deep blue eyes stared back at her. Sighing she turned as the maid bowed and left. She went to the table sitting on a high-backed wooden chair. A still steaming bowl of porridge, fresh fruits and a glass of goats milk were on the tray. Calyistria ate all in front of her in silence, between sips of the goat's milk. Sighing once more she prepared to start another day of tedium; governing the estate, her parents left her. Apart from the two maids a cook and several workers to help maintain the property and land still, she felt alone. There were also plenty of suitors asking for her hand in marriage. She believed most if not all wanted to marry her for the wealth and land she held.
Calyistria sat at her work desk, going through the leger of the week's accounts. The end of another day of seemingly endless things that needed her attention. She put the quill down, looking through the open window. The sun slowly sank on the horizon. A cool breeze cooled the sweat from her brow. Raised voices came from outside; she sighed that could only mean one thing.
Calyistria took a sip from the glass of water on the desk before addressing the maid. “No need to tell me, Sally, I can guess who it is.”
“I’m sorry my lady, but master Timor has had too much to drink and insists on seeing you," the maid paused. “I’ve already sent for Mantu he should be here soon.
Calyistria nodded sighing yet again; she could do without her most ardent and annoying suitor right now. He never seemed to give up, no matter how often she rejected him. “Thank you, Sally, I think I can deal with master Timor, but it will be good to have Mantu here in case things get out of hand.”
Moments later, the suitor in question stood before her swaying to and thro like a man all at sea. He stumbled getting on one knee. “Caly my.. my.. hic.. love ma..marry I prom.. Promise to make you hap..hic happy the rest of your life.”
Calyistria shook her head, letting out a gushing breath, pouting angrily at her suitor. “Do I have to repeat yet again,” she paused her shoulders lifting as her temper got the better of her. “The answer is No.. No.. No! Now get out and leave me in peace. I'm tired and have had enough for one day,” her voice shook with emotion. Seeing Mantu at the door, she waved for him to remove her unwanted guest.
Minutes later, she regretted losing her temper. Timor wasn’t like most of her suitors at least he seemed genuine, but she didn’t want marriage at this time. She liked her independence too much though it came at a price; she felt it becoming harder to abide. She sat back in her chair, reflecting on her actions. Her head swam and her surrounding blurred. Calyistria stared around wide-eyed. She shook her head to try and focus as the room seemed to move and blur around her. Looking down at the desk, it began to fade her hands seemingly becoming transparent; panic threatened to overwhelm Calyistria. Her mouth felt dry, making it difficult to swallow, heart-pounding; her whole body felt light her surroundings unfamiliar and shadowy. Shaking all over, she closed her eyes tight and tried to slow her breathing taking deep breaths when she finally opened her eyes; everything appeared normal once more. “Did something happen, or is it just that I’m tired and imagining things?” She covered her face with her hands a moment, trying to shake the feeling something strange had happened. “I’m all right; I’m overworked, tired and just imaging things that's all,” she reassured herself.
Calyistria put her leger away she stood calling to the maid. “There is nothing more you need my lady?” Sally asked.
“No thank you, Sally, inform the others I’m going to bed. It's been a long day.”
The maid frowned looking concerned. “Very well my lady, get plenty of rest you’ve been very pale of late.”
Calyistria gave a wan smile before leaving. Walking along the dimly lit hallway wishing she could get in bed now without having to go all the way upstairs--- The hall blurred into shadows--- Calyistria collapsed on the bed. "I don't remember going up the stairs? It cant be! I'm tired; I did it automatically without thinking that must be it--Still. Oh, I'm too tired to think straight now."
Calyistria woke to the start of another day dressed and breakfasted as usual. She felt uneasy about the previous night's events. “Was it just that I was overtired and my imagination played tricks with me? Or did something happen like mother said it would?” Sighing, noticing at the same time she seemed to sigh often these days. She came to a decision going downstairs she found the maid.
“I’m going to take a break today, Sally, and go for a good long walk,” she paused as the maid stood with her hands folded in front. “Can you have the cook make me a food basket?”
The maid smiled and nodded. “Of course my lady it's about time you took a break for yourself,” she paused. “I’ll have the cook, pack some sandwiches fruits, and a drink at once.”
Calyistria smiled; she could always rely on Sally to look out for her. “Thank you, Sally, and tell Mantu, to take care of things while I’m gone.”
Sally bowed about to leave when another thought came to her. "Will it be a late dinner this evening then my lady?”
Still smiling, Calyistria nodded. “Yes inform the cook of this also; I should return before dark at the latest.”
Sometime later with her food basket in hand, she set off down a wide leafy lane leading west towards open countryside. The town of Helfist lay to the north-east. Calyistria wanted to avoid people feeling she needed some time alone to think. The sun rose high in a cloudless sky when Calyistria decided to stop — finding a gnarled tree stump to sit on and have a drink, some fruit and a couple of the cold meat sandwiches from the basket. Sitting she looked around listening to the birds sing amongst the trees; a gentle warm breeze blew rustling the leafs an occasional leaf fell to the ground signalling autumn would soon be here. Feeling better, she stood to brush the crumbs from dress before setting off once more. Strolling Calyistria admired the scenery around her she passed a small meadow seeing several butterflies among the long grass and the chirp of insects. She breathed in exhaling a long slow breath feeling good to be alive. All her worries began to fade.
Calyistria recalled a happy memory from her childhood her parents had taken her to a small farmhouse and orchard she spent many a happy hour there picking the fruits. She wondered if it was still there--- Her surroundings blurred, becoming shadows panic threatened to overcome her once more; gritting her teeth and forcing herself to stay calm. She appeared to be moving inside a tunnel filled with shadow. Beyond the dark shadow filled tunnel, the outside world rapidly passed in a blur. Suddenly she came to a stop stumbling as everything came back into focus--- She was there at the orchard! So it was true! Although she didn’t understand what this strange ability was that her mother said she would inherit. She could not deny it anymore, the implications it may portend, and how to control it was another matter to think about, however.
King Alphon sat at a heavy oak desk in his cosy study, reading his favourite book for the third time, “A short history of three Gods,” if he managed to finish it without being interrupted. Reading helped him relax from the everyday strains of maintaining his kingdom. He looked up sighing, closing the book as a knock sounded on the door,
The stewart entered, walking forward to stand before the king. “Majesty, a seer, has arrived. He wishes to speak with you most urgently.”
The king frowned wondering what would be so urgent for a seer to come in person. “A seer here and at this late hour!”
The stewart nodded, “He is most adamant to speak with you now, Majesty and that it cannot wait until the morrow.”
The king’s brow creased, “Very well better show him in Tamin.” The stewart bowed leaving. He returned moments later, to usher in the seer. “The seer, Jackim Idor, Majesty.”
The king looked the seer over carefully taking in his creased and lined face, piercing blue eyes, long beard topped with a thick thatch of white hair. The seer held a wooden staff to aid his stooped figure. The staff made a dull thud on the carpeted floor as he stepped forward purposefully.
The king’s eyes narrowed, “What is so important that it brings a seer to me at this hour?”
The seer bowed leaning on his staff then raised himself erect as he addressed the king, “Your Majesty I bring important news of a rare event.”
King Alphon pursed his lips, wondering why the seer didn’t get straight to the point if it was that important. “A rare event! That being?” He folded his hands on the desk leaning over to stare intently at the seer.
Jackim Idor returned the king’s stare, “A shadow shifter has emerged Your Majesty.”
“Shadow shifter! I thought they were nothing more than legend you’re telling me they really exist?” The king scratched his chin, looking bemused by what the seer said.
Jackim nodded, “Indeed, they do Sire.”
Frowning in thought the king spoke on, “I learnt a little about them in my younger days from my late father, but most of it I’ve forgotten now; refresh my memory. What are shadow shifters exactly?”
The seer shut his eyes tight sighing then opening them gathered himself before speaking. “Shadow Shifters first appeared several centiums ago. Scholars at that time believed they came from a land far to the north covered in darkness for at least six cycles of the annum. A land beyond the Tinsalpone mountains
The king scowled, sceptical, “The Tinsalpone mountains are impassable surely.”
“It is mainly speculation Sire, but in my opinion, there is nowhere else they could have come from.” He paused, the main point is they suddenly appeared conquered most of the world of Ponia we know. The rulers back then were taken by surprise and had no answer to their ability to attack from the shadows.”
“Surely they were just assassins hiding in the shadows,” the king said.
Jackim shook his head, “They were much more than assassins Your Majesty, they were able to manipulate shadows to cloak themselves in so doing move totally unseen to the naked eye. Also, while cloaked, they could move faster than any living man or beast.”
King Alphon’s eyes widened slightly. “They eventually were defeated though or we would most likely not be here today.”
The seer nodded, “Yes, but they ruled for most of a centium in that time they lived amongst the people taking some of the women for their own.”
The king absently scratched his chin lost in thought a moment. “So after they were defeated the bloodline was passed on through our people, and this shadow shifter is a descendant,” he concluded.
Jackim fixed the king with an intense stare, “Indeed, you are correct Sire. There has been one other before now in recorded history that we know off.” He took a breath leaning on his staff, “One, however, is more than enough. The mixing of the bloodlines means whomever that person is will be more powerful and very dangerous if not controlled.”
The king sat up straight frowning at the seer, “How so? It is only one person; after all, surely one can’t cause that much trouble. Besides, how can we know if this person is a danger to us? This shadow shifter could be a valuable ally.”
“Others will have sensed this shifter the barbarian shamans of the north, the witches of the east, Queen Julina of Obenstan has a seer. The seeresses of South Matinsten there may be others as well. All will know of this shadow shifter by now and already searching for this person.” The seer took a breath, his hands tightening on his staff until the knuckles turned white. “You need to find this person first Sire. If the shifter falls into the hands of our enemies or those that seek to seize power for their own selfish ambitions, the shadow shifter could be a threat to all we hold dear; it may be the wiser course to put to death this shifter when found,” Jackim concluded grimly.
The king looked aghast at the seer. “I’ll send men in search of this shadow shifter at first light tomorrow. We will find this person then decide what we need to do next.”
The seer nodded, bidding the king a goodnight he turned and left. King Alphon sat long after the seer left not feeling like reading anymore, nor did he think he would sleep this night. He rubbed his temples to try and soothe the headache he felt coming on.
Lord Belin rubbed his hands in delight a malicious grin played across his weathered face. The news that a shadow shifter has emerged was what he needed right now to aid his rise to power. If he could find this shadow shifter first and win over to his side by whatever means necessary, He would be one step nearer to taking the throne from king Alphon. Off course, for now, he needed to show allegiance to the king and have some of his men go with the king's in search of the shadow shifter. However, he met earlier with some of the lords who sided with him. They agreed to send men secretly supplying them with the best and fastest horses in the realm in search of the shadow shifter along with some of his own men he held back for this purpose.
Lord Belin suddenly frowned, there was a rumour going around that the king planned to capture and kill this shadow shifter what a waste that would be the king was a fool if he intended to murder the shifter. Anyone who could influence or control the shadow shifter would be a force to reckon with; he must find this shifter first no matter the cost.
Chief Akona of the northern barbarian tribes scowled at his shaman, “Have the men you sent to search for the shadow been told to search discreetly and whereabouts they’re to search? To many men will make it obvious. To little will mean others will find the shadow first.”
The shaman looked on nervously at his leader, “Yes, my chief.”
The chief frowned considering; there must be people from every nation seeking the shadow. Send word to those you sent out to follow the searchers who seem likely to find the shadow first; then we can snatch the shadow from their grasp.” The chief smiled cunningly nodding his head.
With a sigh of relief, the shaman bowed his head glad that the chief didn't lose his temper with him this time, "It will be done my chief.”
Caly sat at her desk in the study lost in thought, since that day she discovered her ability; She felt different more powerful, but at the same time, she feared the strange gift if it could be called a gift. Is it a gift or curse, I wonder? She practised using it during any free time alone somewhat hesitantly and with trepidation. She needed to learn how to control it though so she practised despite her doubts and fears. Lately, however, the workers reported a few strangers hanging around near her estate. According to Mantu, there were also quite a few strangers in Helfist, this past few days. So she reframed from using the ability. It was frustrating because, at the same time as she feared to utilize the skill. Caly felt a certain fascinating allure to it. She broke from her revelry hearing footsteps approach. Becka, the maid, entered Caly remembered Sally requested today off to visit a sick relative. The maid stood with her hands, clasped twining her fingers nervously.
Calyistria looked up at the maid. “What is it, Becka?”
The maid gave a quick a bow of the head before speaking. “My lady master Timor is here with one of the king’s men.”
That got Caly’s attention she straightened up in her chair fully alert. Thinking fast, she considered what would bring one of the king’s men here. She could only think of one possibility though she hoped she was wrong. Standing, she walked to the window, smoothing her beige dress with her hands. Caly schooled her expression to one of polite indifference as she faced the maid, “Show them in Becka.”
With another quick bow, the maid went to the door and ushered in the two men. Timor Santwe was impeccably dressed as usual, tall and gangly with black eyes and hair. Caly believed Timor to be a bit of a dandy in the way he dressed. In contrast, the king’s man was of medium height with well-groomed fair hair and what seemed to Caly fathomless blue eyes — sporting a trimmed thin moustache, his face smooth, and lightly tanned. He wore a light mail vest over a white shirt and, leather trousers with the bottoms tucked into army issue boots. Caly noticed the muscles rippling under the shirt as both men curtsied.
Timor Santwe cleared his throat before speaking, “ Caly, you look lovely as ever.” He paused and gestured to the king’s man. “May present Major Nathan Lonforte of the king’s guard.”
Caly nodded, raising a hand to present to the major giving a tight smile, “A pleasure to meet you major Lonforte.”
Lonforte stood stiffly erect clipping his boot heels together as he looked Caly over a moment before taking her hand and all too quickly let go again with a look of disdain that made Caly bristle with anger. “An honour to meet you lady Hemola,” his tone cold and emotionless. Caly couldn't understand why the major acted with such acrimony towards her not having met before, and knowing nothing about her. The major realised his rudeness belatedly as Timor, stared at him aghast and about to speak in reproach. “Ah, forgive my manners, my lady, it has been a tiring few days I’m not quite myself of late.” He put in bowing low and holding it a little longer than necessary.
Calyistria thought his apology half-hearted but decided to let it go. "You are forgiven major. May I ask what brings you here to my estate?”
Lonforte expression grew serious; he frowned pausing in thought as to how to broach the subject which had brought him here. “I have been sent to find someone the king himself wishes to meet urgently.”
Caly felt her heart sink as she struggled to remain calm; thankfully, she managed at least outwardly to remain cool and collected. She let a quizzical expression cross her face, “Someone? Why does the king need to see this person so urgently, and why do you think this person might be here?”
“The reasons why you don’t need to know safe it is a matter of utmost importance to the security of the realm and for the king alone to know,” Lonforte replied.
Caly considered pursing her lips, keeping her expression to one of curious indifference. “What makes you think this person may be on my land. Is this person wanted?” She paused, letting out a gasp, with a feigned look of fear. Which got her another look of disdain from Lonforte; although he tried to hide it this time. The major fidgeted in place, wincing slightly as he tried to remain patient, but to Caly, he gave himself away at every turn.
The major, Caly deduced, was not used to dealing with ladies of the realm. He sighed, taking a breath before speaking, “We don’t know if he is here for sure, but we believe he is in this area. We would like to speak to all your workers, and servants to see if they noticed anything strange,” he paused. “Perhaps you yourself have noticed something odd a sudden disappearance maybe?”
Caly let out a relieved breath, So he doesn’t suspect me at least. Then why should he? I’m a lady and considered above suspicion by most although with his attitude it may be a case of not warranting suspicion? Caly gave a faint smile, “He? Do you know this person you seek to be a man?”
Lonforte gave a startled look his face turning slightly red momentary. “Well, erm... we don’t know for certain if this person is a man or woman... I just assumed the one we seek would likely be a man.”
Caly’s smile grew a little wider; she had caught him out, how gratifying to see him squirm. “I see, well I haven’t noticed anything strange, you are free to question my workers and servants as much you like major... I must confess though there are quite a few strangers in these parts lately so anyone of them could be the one you seek.” She finished, seeking to further misdirect and complicate matters for the major.
“Thank you for your co-operation lady Hemola my men wait without I will order them to begin questioning the workers... I will speak with your servants with your consent myself we will try not to disrupt your day any longer than necessary,” Lonforte bowed then stood to attention.
Caly returned the bow, graciously, “Thank you major, I will call the servants so you can speak to them,” she paused would you like refreshment while you wait? Major, Timor.” Timor accepted a drink while Lonforte declined. Caly relaxed, feeling more confident now that she had not been discovered. She felt sure neither the workers nor the servants knew anything. If any did suspect, she trusted in their loyalty to her not to reveal their suspicions.
As Lonforte drew to one side to question the servants, Timor spoke, “You must forgive the major for his somewhat abrupt manner, Caly,” Timor began. “He is a soldier and not used to the ways of the gentile class.”
Caly nodded, “Yes, I can tell such is the case Timor, do not fret I do not take offence easy as I’m sure you know of me by now.”
Timor nodded back and frowned, “Will you be attending the autumn ball this year it takes place in a half cycle my sister will be there I’m sure she will welcome your company, Caly?” he queried hopefully.
Caly pursed her lips thinking a moment, “I may well attend this year; it has been some time since I last went to a ball.” A hopeful smile lit Timor’s face at the thought of Caly attending the ball.
Later, after they all left not having found any clues that might lead them to herself. Caly gave serious thought to attending the ball. There were too many strangers nearby watching, the surrounding countryside. In the capital Tarfern and at the ball may well be the safest place for her right now; mingling with the crowd, she would more than likely go unnoticed. Caly licked her lips lost in thought she sat strumming her fingers on the desk still undecided. Finally she nodded her decision made she rose to find Mantu.
Three days before the ball Caly gave her staff final instructions on what needed doing while she was away. Sally made a fuss, insisting that she go with her. Caly, however, was adamant she went alone there would be plenty maids to aid her when she got to Castle Tar. Mantu would take her to Helfist where would get the coach to the capital. The real reason why Caly didn’t want anyone to accompany her was in case she used her ability by accident. Of course, she did plan to use it while at the capital hopefully unseen. It would be the most crucial test of her ability so far. Thinking of using the ability in the midst, of some many people frightened and excited her at the same time. She left for her room feeling confident everyone would continue carrying their duties as usual while she was gone. She didn’t know how long she planned to be away as she intending to stay at least a few days after the ball. It would depend on if she could remain undetected or not. Caly entered her room and came to a halt looking at her bed, a black full-length dress lay on the bed with a matching vale. She stared at the dress a few moments then slowly walked to her bed, picking the dress up. Although the dress seemed to be made of a transparent material which shimmered it appeared to Caly’s eyes to absorb the light around it. Holding it up to the lighted oil lamp, she looked at it from all angles it was impossible to see through in spite of the flimsy material it was made from. The vale was also of the same material and designed to cover head and face leaving only the eyes visible. Hearing footsteps behind her she put the dress down and turned to see Mantu stood watching her.
He bowed, giving a sad smile, “The dress was left with me in safe-keeping by your mother knowing this day would come. Wear this to keep you true identity secret.”
Caly felt numb as she stared at Mantu, “You knew about me all this time?”
Once more he bowed this time slowly lifting his head to stare calmly at her, “Yes, You may not remember this because you were only four when it happened,” he paused gathering his thoughts. “One day you disappeared everyone searched the whole day for you but couldn’t find you anywhere then you suddenly reappeared your father was away at the time and didn’t know. I helped search for you and saw you reappear your mother told me to keep it a secret.”
Caly pursed her lips, thinking, “Was my mother - what is it – a shadow shifter also?”
“No, from what your mother told me it skips generations, but she did tell me it runs in her family,” Mantu said sighing.
Caly’s brow creased in thought trying to take it all in, “What about this dress is it handed down in the family?”
“I believe so your mother didn’t tell me how she you came to have the dress; only that one day you would need it.”
Calyistria lost in thought a moment tried to cast her mind back to her childhood but couldn’t bring up any memories of herself suddenly disappearing. “Did it happen only once in my childhood didn’t it happen again? Why didn’t manifest itself more often in my childhood?”
Mantu stroked his chin with a finger considering, “It occurred only the once as far I can remember,” he paused thinking. “Perhaps it was an awakening of the power back then, or maybe something happened to trigger it,” he said, in conclusion, shrugging his shoulders.
Caly nodded twice considering what Mantu said, "those are possible explanations I suppose.” She slowly raised her shoulders, letting them drop again with an audible sigh.
Lord Belin paced to and fro frustration showing in his expression and every move he made. He stopped and faced lord Siden scratching the back of his thick thatch of grey-silver hair in exasperation. “No one has yet found the shadow shifter you say, Tomas?”
Lord Siden coughed nervously before speaking, “No Karl, there has not been the slightest sign even though half the country is looking for this shifter and who knows how many from other countries have people searching as well,” he paused. “The seer reported having sensed the shifter in the general area of the town of Helfist. So we started there gradually going further afield still our men found no hint of the shifter.”
Lord Belin sat and banged his fist on his desk, “Damn, frustrating not even the king’s men have managed to find the shifter,” he paused thinking. “I suppose the shifter is aware everyone is searching for him now and is laying low.”
Lord Siden nodded, “That seems likely in the meantime we will have a few men keep searching but more discreetly this time. The shifter might get careless and reveal himself.”
Lord Belin nodded in agreement, “A good idea Tomas, bring all but a few of our men back. The king’s men have already returned empty-handed.”
Calyistria boarded the coach waving goodbye to Mantu, as the coachman grabbed the reigns yelling encouragement to the horses. The coach moved off slowly at first, then began to gather speed as the horses fell into a natural rhythm. There were two other passengers beside herself on the coach. Caly expected to arrive at the capital by nightfall she settled herself down for a long and uncomfortable journey. The other two passengers, a man and a woman of middle age who seemed related talked amongst themselves and occasionally spoke to her. Caly kept to a single word, or one sentence replies not feeling in the mood to talk; with so much on her mind to plan for upon her arrival at the capital. The coach swayed and bumped along the broad road the passengers finally falling silent. They stopped at a waystation shortly after midday to change the horses and have refreshments before boarding the coach again.
It was fully dark as the coach came to a halt in the castle courtyard. Her fellow passengers got off at an inn before the castle. Oil lamps burned, illuminating the entrance to the castle. Calyistria disembarked from the coach she rubbed her sides feeling stiff as the coachman handed down her luggage. Two footmen stood outside the double-doored entrance attired in livery. One came forward bowed sharply offering to carry her luggage. Caly followed the footman as he guided her to her chambers. Caly locked her door after the footman left. She paced the room a couple times stretching her arms still feeling stiff after being cramped up on the coach for several hours. Finally she opened her luggage, retrieving the shadow gown and laid it on the bed; studying it a moment. Tomorrow she would try the dress on for the first time and explore the castle unseen all being well. The ball wasn't until the evening, so the best part of the day she was free. Caly put the dress in the wardrobe making sure it was hidden well out of sight then unpacked the rest of her clothes and belonging she prepared to get a good nights rest.
Calyistria rose early the next morning a servant knocked on her door to ask if wanted breakfast in her chambers or with the other guests. She decided to breakfast alone in her rooms. Caly felt apprehensive about what she was about to do but committed none the less. She ate little her stomach seemed to be tied in knots. At length, she got the shadow gown out and dressed and covered her head with the vale. She stood looking at herself in the glass; only her eyes were visible Caly went to the door opening it and peered out - the hallway was empty.
Caly cloaked herself in shadow!