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; getting out of bed and going to the washbowl. Today felt no different from any other except for being a year older - now twenty-one. Her mother died when Calyistria was still young, her father only a few years ago. Calyistria missed her mother most although she had 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 by those in power but, also feared by many. She shook her head. “Such nonsense.” She said aloud, 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,.” she called.
“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. going to the table she sat 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. Finishing her breakfast Calyistria left the try for the maid; sighing as she left to start another day.
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.. love ma..marry me I prom.. Promise to make you hap.. 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!
Caly roamed the castle undetected; her confidence grew the longer she remained unseen. She passed stewards, servants and maids going about their business, castle guards, lords and ladies and eavesdropped on conversations between servants and lords alike . She began to gather snippets of information. One piece of information caught her attention. Which led her to a few scheming lords she followed these lords and learnt what they were up to. “The king would like to know what these lords are planning.” Caly thought. She nodded to herself and tracked down the whereabouts of the king by finding his steward first. Caly followed the steward as he entered a plush study and waited for the steward to leave again.
King Alphon sat at his desk sipping the wine the steward left for him; finishing the glass, he poured another from the decanter. About to take another sip of wine; suddenly, the lamps flickered briefly as if caught in a draught and nearly getting snuffed out but not quite. The light from the lamps appeared dimmer than before leaving the room in semi-darkness. A shadowy figure appeared in front of him. The glass fell from his hand, spilling the wine over his polished desk. Pushing back his chair, he rose to his feet, astonishment and alarm crossing his features simultaneously; swallowing hard he fought to stay in control and keep his composure as he gapped at the figure before him. “By the gods, how..”
“Do not be alarmed your majesty if I wished you harm I would have done so already.”
“You, Your voice, you’re a woman! "The king exclaimed still stunned he glanced down at the bell on his desk then at the door wondering if would have time to raise the alarm.
“Is that so surprising Your Majesty? Why cant a shadow shifter be a woman?” She paused, noticing the king glancing at the bell on his desk. “Call for help if you wish, Your Majesty I’ll be gone before any help can arrive.”
The king calmed himself, regaining his composure; he schooled his expression to one of seriousness. All he could see of the shifter were her piercing blue eyes staring at him from behind a vale; the woman was dressed all in black He straightened his doublet sitting back in his chair with an air of forced indifference, “What is it you want from me?”
“I. I want nothing from you Sire you wanted to see me? So here I am,” she paused. “Except I will ask why I hear rumours that you would want to have me murdered.”
“It was the seer that implied if you couldn’t be controlled it would be better for all if you were dead,” the king answered.
“I will not be controlled by anyone, not even you Your Majesty; I control my own destiny now. However, I will help you if you let me,” she said with iron in her voice.
The king spent a lifetime dealing with people and judging the character and calibre of those he came in contact with. He hoped he judged this young woman right; he was sure by the sound of her voice she was still quite young; it was a gamble, but he felt he could trust her.
The king nodded, shadow shifter, young lady, “May I ask why you wish to help me of all people and in what capacity do wish to help?”
“I believe we want the same thing I was born here in Ferndale. I love my country and people,” she paused. The king heard an audible sigh coming from the shadows. “I will use all the power at my disposal to keep my country and its people safe. I can be of use as a spy or in whatever capacity you deem useful provided I approve of what you wish me to do of course.”
The king nodded his careworn features forming a broad smile, “What do I call you young lady?”
Caly came fully into view knowing the king still couldn't see who she really was and bowed briefly, “Call me Celeste Your Majesty,” she paused thinking, “There is a certain lady within the castle at present whom you can contact if needed when I’m unavailable.”
The king gave Caly a curious look, “You already have contacts within the castle?”
“I have observed this lady for some time she doesn’t know me as yet, but I know she is reliable and trustworthy.” Caly didn’t want to give any hint that may lead the king to think the two were one and the same. “It may be more like the truth than even I can understand.” Caly thought thinking she was becoming like a different person from the old Calyistria she knew before. She still felt little afraid of her talent but knew it was too late to turn back now.
The king frowned considering, “Won't you scare this lady of it might be too much for her to take in?”
“Do not worry. I will handle the situation delicately the lady in question will be okay with everything. Send for her before midday tomorrow you will see that my choice is good. Her name is Calyistria Hemola. There is one more thing you should know.” Caly outlined what she overheard about the two lords that were scheming against the throne.
“I have been suspicious that some lords were plotting against me for some time,” the king said nodding, “Did you happen to get any names?”
Caly tried to remember the names she heard, “They called each by their first names, the eldest was Karl and the younger Tomas I think.”
“Hmm. It could be lord Belin and his nephew I have suspected him for some time he is an ambitious greedy man. I would need proof of any conspiracy though before moving against them.” The king said frowning his brow creased in worry lines.
“I could follow them and find out more Sire,” Caly said.
The king fell silent mulling over what course of action to take, as the seconds ticked by an atmosphere of tense expectancy seemed to fill the room, Caly waited for the king to decide her head bowed. At length, the king broke the silence. “I do not think they will try anything just yet and not for some time. There is something more important you can help with, in the meantime if you don't mind Celeste.”
Caly stood erect, her eyes fixing on the king, “I am at your command Your Majesty, provided it is not something nefarious and that it is within my power to do.”
King Alphon frowned, the more he talked with this shadow shifter, the more he admired her strength of character. “Nothing nefarious you say,” he paused, giving a nod of his head and a sideways look at Caly. "Yet you are willing to be my spy? Isn't that considered immoral? Caly was about to protest; the king held a hand up to stay off any further comment. “Tomorrow I will meet with a few of the seeresses of South Matinsten; I want you to be there unseen naturally. Matinsten poses the biggest threat to our country at present,” the king paused considering how much he could tell this young shadow shifter no matter what she said or how much he admired her; she was still a relatively unknown quantity that possibly could be swayed to turn against him. He could not place all his trust in her at least not yet. It was as he surmised a gamble but a gamble worth taking. “Have you much knowledge of South Matinsten or the seeresses?” He asked, giving Caly a questioning look.
“Very little Your Majesty,” she said.
“They are a very secretive and profoundly Matriarchal society governed by nine seeresses, the oldest of them an old crone holds the most influence,” the king explained.
“How do you know so much about them if they are so secretive? She paused thinking then looked sharply at the king. “Do you perhaps know one of them?”
“I can see you are a very bright young lady Celeste,” he answered nodding.
After further discussion Caly left the king alone in his study, she returned to her chambers, removing the shadow gown and vale making sure it was hidden out of sight; she prepared to dress for the ball.
Caly entered the crowded ballroom looking around she spotted the king sat talking with a few nobles and a lady. She got the impression that the king knew this lady well. The woman seemed to be of middle age; elegant and quite attractive with long fair hair. “A seeress perhaps? Is this the one, the king, knows?”
“Caly over here.” Caly turned to see Timor’s sister Georga waving her over to where she sat with a few other ladies.”Its been so long since I’ve seen you Caly, I do not hear anything from Timor about an engagement yet either?”
Caly forced a smile as she sat while Georga introduced her to her friends. “Yes, it has been some time Georga how have you been.” She greeted the ladies as Georga introduced them, noting a lady sat at the end of the table that Georga left out of the introductions. “You seem to have forgotten to introduce the lady at the end Georga... You are?” Caly asked.
“Oh, she is only the daughter of a merchant, he sent her to court to learn proper etiquette .”
Caly felt sorry for the lady seeing her blush with embarrassment and bow her head. “Is that so,still shouldn’t you introduce her...” Before she could say more, Timor arrived taking her by the hand.
“Caly you look lovely may I have the pleasure of this dance?”
Caly rose, letting Timor guide her on to dance floor, “Thank you, Timor,”she said. As Timor took the lead, the minstrel played a lively tune followed by a more sombre ballad. Caly found herself being caught up in music and dance. She enjoyed dancing with Timor; she gave him that much he was a good dancer. She danced with several other partners after Timor, letting the music take her until finally tiring she left the floor. She noticed the young woman whose name she asked earlier still sat alone. Feeling sorry for her she went and sat beside her.
“You didn’t tell me your name earlier?” Caly enquired smiling.
“What oh, sorry, erm..” the woman flushed looking down.
“Don’t be embarrassed I don't bite; not like Georga,” Caly paused, resting a hand on the woman’s lower arm. “Don’t take what she said to heart it's just the way she is,” she said, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and grinning.
The woman blushed, she glanced at Caly with a shy smile and a sudden nervous titter of laughter, making her blush, even more; she put her hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry er.. I don't know what came over me,” she paused, becoming more composed. “My name is Daphne Malson,” she informed with a bow of the head.
Caly laughed out loud, “Don’t be sorry, Daphne, you and I will get along just fine I believe don’t you,” Daphne nodded, smiling.
After dancing Georga returned, she gave Caly and Daphne a snobbish look. “Ignore her,” Caly said. The rest of the evening went by uneventful. Caly enjoyed Daphne’s company, so much she offered to show Daphne back to her chambers when the ball was over. “You're new here you, may get lost on your own, ”Caly said as they walked back together. She bid Daphne a goodnight and returned to her own chambers. Caly initially meant to do some more snooping unseen but felt too tired deciding to get some rest instead.
Jackim Idor dosed at his desk at his comfortable residence on the outskirts of the city. On a cot, Samuel Kand his companion of many years and fellow seer lay in a trance which he had remained for a seven-day. Suddenly Kand bolted upright wide awake his milky eyes staring into thin air. “She is here; She is here!” The blind seer exclaimed aloud.
Jackim shook himself awake cursing, “What, who is here? Confound it, Samuel, what is this nonsense about must you always be so cryptic,” Jackim got to his feet and shuffled over to his companion.
“She is here,” Samuel said again.
Jackim swore once more, “Yes, Yes, she is here but who is she?”
The blind seer cackled in delight his blind eyes fixing on the location of Jackim’s voice, “Good.. the right question. Why the shadow shifter off course.”
“What, why didn’t you say so in the first place,... Wait, the shadow shifter is a woman! No wonder no one could find her where is she? Is she here I sense no presence nearby?”
“No, No, not here at the castle off course.”
Jackim’s eyes went wide, “We must warn the king immediately before its too late.”
The blind seer sighed, “I may be blind, but I see and understand better than you Jackim Idor.”
“What nonsense are you babbling about now, we must find this shifter and stop her from causing trouble,” Jackim said exasperated by his companion's crabbiness.
“No, we must not stop the shifter. She is our salvation and our only hope,” the blind seer stated.
About to get his cloak and staff and leave for the castle, Jackim stopped in his tracks at the blind seer’s revelation. He turned to face his companion dumfounded. “What have you seen?” he asked in a strained voice.
“Plots, treachery, a dagger aimed at the heart -- One chance -- Defeat the darkness with one born out of darkness,” the blind seer spoke inexplicably. Jackim stumbled getting back to his desk he slumped in the chair, brow creased in worry lines resting his head on a hand; he contemplated the meaning of his colleague’s dire warning.
King Alphon sat at his desk browsing his schedule for the day firstly he needed to get the meeting with the woman Celeste recommended over with. He wondered what she was like. Would she be shocked to have met meet the shadow shifter. “She ought to be, at least a little shocked if not more so,” he thought. A knock on the door and the king straightened, schooling his expression to a look of severity as major Lonforte entered walking forward the major stopped, standing to attention in front of the desk. King Alphon put the scroll down and cleared his throat looking up at the major. Lonforte was one of the few people he could rely on wholly loyal and resolute in his duty.
“You sent for me Sire?” Lonforte asked,
“Yes, Nathan, I want you to find lady Calyistria Hemola and bring her to me,” he paused. “She will most likely be in the drawing-room with the other ladies by now. So try not to make a fuss and be discreet,” the king said.
Lonforte raised an eyebrow at the mention of lady Hemola. The king caught the look, “You’ve met lady Hemola before?”
“Lonforte frowned, Only briefly Sire, I visited her manor while searching for the shadow shifter, "he paused thinking a moment. “I beg your pardon Your Majesty, but may I ask why so cautious?”
“You will find out soon enough, just escort her here yourself understood,” the king commanded.
Lonforte bowed, "Yes Your Majesty, and I will be as discreet as possible,” Lonforte left wandering what the king wanted with lady Hemola. “Did she do something to offend the king or is it some kind of political manoeuvring,” he wondered.
Caly sat in the drawing-room talking with Daphne, there were a few other ladies still sat around talking Georga among them. They all looked up hearing a knock and major Lonforte entered. The ladies immediately started whispering giving the major furtive glances. Lonforte scanned the room quickly. His gaze coming to a rest on Caly. “Excuse the interruption ladies. Lady Hemola may speak with you in private?” he asked bowing
Caly already knew what it was about, but did it have to be Lonforte of all people? Her mouth turned up at one end to form a sly smile; she would not make it easy for the major. All the other ladies looked on intently. “You wish to speak with me in private?” she schooled her expression to one of indifference.
“Ah, my lady if you don’t mind could you step outside for a moment,” he said. His face began to flush.
Caly revelled in making him squirm, “I’m not sure what we would have to talk about in private, I hardly know you major.” She noted that he was better dressed than their first meeting in full uniform he cut quite a dashing figure
Lonforte flushed, even more, a look of frustration and mounting panic crossing his face. He looked around the room, seeing the other ladies all staring. “Ah, it is..erm an urgent matter I can only disclose in private if you please Calyist.. erm lady Hemola.”
Caly stood, deciding she made Lonforte suffer enough for now, “Very well major, ladies she bowed to the other ladies before leaving with Lonforte. Once they left the drawing-room, Lonforte gave Caly a tormented look, grinding his teeth trying to keep calm and hide his annoyance. Caly noted his expression and smiled when he wasn’t looking. “So it is good to see you again major. What is it you wish to speak of in private?” already knowing the answer Caly waited.
Lonforte glanced around seeing the hallway empty, “If you please, lady Hemola, follow me, the king himself needs to speak with you urgently.”
Caly nodded, letting Lonforte guide her, “Lead on then major let's not keep his Majesty waiting. ” They walked in silence for a while before Lonforte glanced quizzically at Caly.
“You did not seem too surprised to be summoned by the king lady Hemola,” he said, breaking the silence.
“Didn’t I hmm. I know I’ve done nothing to upset the king, so it has got to be something that may bode well for me don’t you think?. It is after all an honour to be summoned by the king in such circumstances.”
Lonforte nodded, considering Caly’s explanation. “Perhaps, well here we are,” they stopped outside the king’s study. Lonforte knocked loudly, then opening the door, he beckoned Caly to enter; she stepped into the king's study, with Lonforte following close behind her.
The king looked up scrutinising Caly as she stepped forward to stand in front of him. Lonforte stepped up beside Caly. Bowing he cleared his throat before speaking, “Your Majesty may introduce lady Hemola.”
Caly gave a deep bow, Your Majesty I’m honoured to meet you.”
The king stood held a hand out in greeting, “Lady Hemola a pleasure to meet you, “ he paused as Caly took the offered hand. “I believe you will know by now why I summoned you?”
“Of course Your Majesty,” Caly answered
Lonforte bowed once more, "By your leave, then if you have no further need for me Your Majesty.”
The king raised a hand to stop Lonforte, “Stay Nathan, and where are your manners get the lady a chair.” Lonforte stopped in his tracks raising an eyebrow. The king gave him a hard look.
Caly felt peeved that the king wanted Lonforte to stay. She gave him a questioning look which he ignored. Caly wanted only a few people to be close to her secret; Lonforte was not someone she relished as one of the few. She wondered what the relationship was between the two of them. This was a complication she could well do without. However, she couldn’t tell the king not to include him. She chewed her bottom lip, frustrated, "Why Lonforte of all people? What’s his story anyway, why does the king trust him so much?”
The major got a chair for Caly to sit while he remained standing at ease. The king waited while Caly got seated comfortably. “So you have met the lady Celeste I take it?”
Caly nodded politely, “Yes Your Majesty.”
“I hope you were not to shocked at the meeting?” The king asked.
Caly thought she needed to act a little shocked at least, “I was quite alarmed at first. I nearly swooned in fact, but Celeste put me at ease and assured me she meant me no harm. She is I believe a good person. She stayed and comforted me until I was feeling better.
The king nodded, considering, he looked at Lonforte, seeing him confused and puzzled by the conversation. “The lady in question, that is the lady Celeste is the shadow shifter,” he paused studying the major’s reaction. “Lady Hemola is the one Celeste has deemed that we can contact her through when needed.”
Lonforte’s eyes went wide; he stared agape between the king and Caly his mouth dropping open.