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Rated: E · Fiction · Fantasy · #2264148
A girl survivor of a mysterious sickness regarded as cursed is cast out in the cold
Mark of The Chosen

Chapter One

Tera stood shivering as a chill wind blew strands of her flame hair across her face. The village elder gave Tera a stern look as he stood in judgement. Tera bowed her head as she waited for the elder to speak. A little over a year ago, things were different than now. Tera lived a comfortable life with her mother, who did everything for her. Then the sickness came; all who caught the illness died, including her mother. Tera was she was the only one to contract the illness and survive, but it left its mark on her. Tera had not known what it was like to work or fend for herself. Her comfortable life ended then; she was eventually thrown out of her home to live on the streets. The elder told her to find work and earn a living, but few would take her on. Suspicion grew among the villagers that she was cursed. Tera resorted to stealing food to survive. Now she had been caught stealing and accused of setting fire to the barn she had been sleeping in.

The elder frowned with a sigh. “Tera Litstar, it is bad enough that you have been caught stealing, but your tardiness nearly caused master Marns barn to be burn down.”

“But I didn’t start the fire, elder. The farmer’s son fell asleep and accidentally started the fire,” Tera pleaded. Tera had made mistakes while trying to learn to work for a living. She lacked experience, and no one showed her how to do things properly. Because of their suspicions, they kept a distance from her. The fire was definitely not one of her many mistakes, though. Tera scanned the watching crowd spotting the real culprit of the fire lurking at the back. The boy sneered at her.

“Enough of your lies, Tera Litstar,” the elder snapped. The villagers demanded Tera be cast out of the village. They blamed the sickness and all of the misfortunes experienced since on Tera. Although he agreed with them to some extent, he thought it too harsh to cast her out in the middle of winter. He wanted to wait until better weather. However, the villagers would have none of that, leaving him no choice. “Tera Litstar, you will leave this village now, never to return.”

Tera stood numb with shock. Every word the elder spoke struck home like a hammer blow. At seventeen years old, she never expected to be cast out from the place she called home. How was she to survive outside the village on her own? She had flimsy clothes and the coat on her back, barely thick enough to keep her warm during a harsh winter in the mountains. As she stood stunned, the crowd shouted at her to begone, throwing stones at her and calling her cursed. Fearful, Tera turned and fled. A rock caught her, a glancing blow to the head, blood trickling down her forehead. Tera stopped when she was well away from the village. Looking back, her vision blurred with tears. She fell to her knees, cupping her hands on her face, blood and tears mingling as she sobbed uncontrollably.

For days, Tera wandered aimlessly; hunger constantly gnawed at her. The cold slowly wearing her down. Still, she clung on doggedly scratching about in the woods. She ate insects, grubs and even berries, some of which made her sick and vomiting what little food she held in her stomach. Near exhaustion, she travelled deeper into the forest, sleeping under a bush or tree at night. Each new day brought more of the same endless hunger and cold. The snow came falling heavily as Tera finally could go no further. She lay down in the snow, curling up into a ball, hoping that death would soon release her from her misery. Tera’s eyes slowly closed; her last thoughts were that she would soon meet her parents again.

A light within her began to glow bright like a shining beacon!

Valen Jacomb bolted to his feet. Something had pricked his awareness. A tiny insignificant spark, yet he felt it important. The spark grew brighter and brighter, but soon, it would fade. He needed to find it before it was too late. Putting on his heavy coat and lighting a lantern, he set out into the night as snow fell. He knew conditions would soon worsen as he franticly searched for what seemed like hours. Finally, he spotted what looked like a mound of snow. Within that mound, a glimmer of light emitted. He brushed the snow away with his hands to reveal a girl barely alive. Hurridly, he lifted her out of the snow. Holding her tight in his arms, he quickly returned to his cabin. Laying her on his bed, he wrapped her in all the blankets he could gather. Her lips were blue with cold, her skin pallid. Valen lit the fire in his bedroom. Piling wood on the fire, he filled a bedpan with hot water and placed it in the bed with her. He watched over her until her lips were no longer blue, the colour slowly returned to her cheeks, and her breathing was no longer ragged.

Tera woke, feeling warm for the first time; she couldn’t remember how long. She lay on a bed, slowly taking in her surroundings. Someone had found her and brought her here, but who? and where exactly was she? She appeared to be in a small bedroom. On the right wall, there was a hearth with a log fire burning merrily. A chair was placed near the fire with her coat and dress hung over it, drying. Her shoes stood near the fire also. Alarmed, Tera looked under the blankets; she still wore her slip. Tera sighed, relieved and continued familiarising herself with the room. On the left, close to the bed a small window. In front of her and slightly to the right, a door. The door suddenly opened, and an elderly grey-haired with a shaggy beard entered. Tera pulled the blanket closer to her gripping it tightly, staring nervously at the man.

“You’re awake at last,” he said, noting the fearful look in her eyes. “Be at peace, lass. I mean you no harm. I found you out in the snow near to death. By the gods, what were you doing wandering the forest alone and at this time of year?”

Tera broke into a fit of sobbing. Tears streaming down her cheeks and damping the blanket she held. All she had been through the past year returned to overwhelm her. Valen Jacomb came to her side and tentatively patted her shoulder, trying to comfort her. Later, when Tera calmed down and felt a little safer. She told Valen what she had endured before he found her. And why she had been left for dead in the snow

Chapter Two

Valen chewed his bottom lip as he digested what Tera had told him several moments before speaking. “So, Tera Litstar... Hmm, that name sounds familiar. I think I knew your parents. You say your mother died of the sickness. What about your father then?”

“Mother told me he died when I was still a babe. I don’t remember him.” Tera said as she sat up in bed,

Valen bowed his head in sorrow, “Ah, I see. I believe I met your parents many years ago before you were born. They were good people.” Valen paused, considering. “Well, lass, don’t you worry, I will look after you. You can call me uncle if you wish.”

“Why? Why are you willing to take me in.” Tera asked hesitantly. Her bottom lip trembled; she could not yet believe that this seemingly kind old man would take her in knowing little about who she was.

Valen studied Tera carefully.“Let’s just say I owe your parents a debt that I can now repay by taking care of you.” He paused, his eyes fastened on the mark on the back of her hand. “Tell me, child, how long have you had that mark on your hand?”

Tera held her hand up, staring at the mark, puzzled by the sudden change in conversation. “I’m not sure exactly when, but it appeared when the villagers started getting sick... They said it was the mark of my curse.”

Valen’s expression was enigmatic as his eyes met Tera’s. “Ah, I understand now. That mark is no curse; it is what saved you,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.

Tera’s mouth fell open, “What do you mean saved me?”

Valen shook his head and muttered a curse under his breath. “Oh, erm, don’t pay attention to the fanciful mutterings of an old man. Anyway, you are not cursed, I’m sure. That’s just superstitious nonsense by those too ignorant to know better... How could they be so cruel as to cast a child out and in the middle of winter.”

Tera felt relieved and comforted by Valen’s words. “Thank you for saying that and taking me in...uncle.”

Valen gave a reassuring smile. “Sleep some more, lass. I will bring you some hot broth later. For now, you need to rest. There is a chamber pot underneath the bed if you need to relieve yourself. So I will leave you to rest and regain your strength.”

After Valen left her alone, Tera sighed, feeling drowsy. She yawned, staring at her hand again. Tera never really examined the mark closely before. Now she looked more closely at it. “Has it got bigger?” She asked herself. As she studied the mark, it resembled a starburst at the centre with two conjoining rings encircling it. Two entwined tail like lines came from the centre and ended just above her wrist. “It could be a flower.” She mused and smiled at that thought before falling asleep.

Valen peered in the door to see Tera fast asleep closing the door; he went out into the snow. Standing still, he concentrated on muttering archaic phrases. A portal opened up before him; he stepped through, emerging into a large hall. Two women dressed in white were engaged in conversation both stopped to look at Valen. Valen bowed his head solemnly, “Greetings, I am here to see the Matriarch.”

The women did not show any surprise to see Valen appear. Both glanced at the other before the tallest of the two spoke. “The Matriarch is in her chambers. I will take you,” pausing, she held a hand out to direct Valen, “This way, Valen Jacomb.”

Exiting the hall, they walked in silence down a long corridor. Turning down a short hallway and passing through a wide intersection. Valen received curious looks as they passed other women dressed in white. Finally, they came to a halt at a plain wooden double door. The woman knocked on the door and immediately entered, gesturing for Valen to wait outside.

The Matriarch looked up from her desk with a quizzical expression, “What is it, Clara?” Although much older than Clara, the Matriarch’s looks were ageless. Her face was unlined with deep blue eyes and steel-grey hair. Self-assured, the Matriarch’s posture exuded confidence and power as she regarded Clara.

Clara bowed solemnly, “Valen Jacomb is here to see you, Matriarch.”

The Matriarch frowned, “Curious did he say why?”

Clara hesitated a moment, a flush coming to her cheeks, “No, Matriarch, I’m sorry I neglected to ask.”

The Matriarch stared at Clara, then smiled, “No matter show him in, then leave us.”

Clara bowed with a sigh of relief and returned to the door. She ushered Valen in before closing the door behind her.

The Matriarch studied Valen closely. A wry smile crossed her face momentary. “Valen, old friend, what brings you here to see me in the middle of winter?. It must be something serious, I assume.”

Valen nodded, “Good to see you too, Meryel. I recently found a girl close to death cast out from her village. Some villagers were dying of an unknown ailment, and they believed the girl had cursed them

The Matriarch pursed her lips and stared quizzically at Valen. “That is nonsense, the poor thing, so is she alright now?”

Valen nodded, stroking his beard. “She is recovering well. You should be asking why the other villagers thought her cursed though.”

The Matriarch frowned. “Ah, I see. This girl cast out and near to death is not the only reason you are here. Then what is it?”

Valen sighed, taking a breath. He straightened himself before speaking further. “She has a certain mark on her right hand, if you get my meaning.”

The Matriarch stared silently at Valen for a long moment. Then bowed her head, looking up at Valen once more; she shrugged. “There have been others with the mark in the past. All came to nought; why do you think this girl is any different?”

Valen related what Tera told him and why she had been cast out, finishing with how he had found her. The Matriarch listened intently, her expression growing ever more severe. When Valen finished speaking, she nodded her head solemnly. “You must bring this girl here at once; she may well be the one.”

Valen looked away, a moment lost in thought. When he faced the Matriarch again, his mind was set. “No, at least not yet. She is too traumatised and not very trusting. I managed to get her to trust me, but anyone else right now would be too much. Besides, I promised to look after her, and she is too young to show any ability yet. I promise that I will bring her once she shows any sign.”

The Matriarch looked doubtful, then shrugged. “Very well, Valen, I will trust you with her care for now, but if she shows any sign, you must bring her here immediately. It could be dangerous for her and you also. You aren’t getting any younger, you know.”

Valen lifted his shoulders and shrugged, “I know the risks, Thank you, Meryel, for trusting me. I knew the girls’ parents, and I owe them a debt I can now repay.”

Meryel nodded, waving a hand in dismissal before speaking one last time. “By the what is the girls’ name?”

“Tera Litstar,” Valen answered before leaving.

Chapter Three

Over the coming weeks and months, Valen taught Tera how to care for and look after herself. Were the villagers had shown her nothing but indifference and suspicion without attempting to teach her anything, Valen showed great patience and perseverance. Once, she could fend for herself when needed. He taught Tera to hunt with a bow and read the signs of other animals. Follow the trails of both animals and man alike. To be able to sense danger nearby. Tera became an expert with the bow; she never missed her target when hunting deer or other animals, and her arrow always found the heart. Valen questioned Tera on this once as he felt sure that it was significant. Tera said she could feel and picture the beating heart of her target but didn’t know how but that she just could. Valen was not sure but thought this was a sign that maybe he ought to take to the Stone Tower. He hesitated, not being sure. So the months passed into years as Tera grew tall and self-assured, now a young woman. Valen was sure Meryel had put someone to watch her and him from a distance. He could sense someone not too far away watching, and he was certain Tera could also sense someone lurking in the shadows. Still, she never once voiced her suspicions. Valen suspected she was waiting for him to say something
A few months after. Tera’s twenty-first Valen was chopping wood winter would soon be upon them, and he needed to wit plenty of firewood stock. The morning air held a chill, and a mist rose amid the trees. Valen fell into an easy rhythm as he chopped the wood sweat beaded his brow. He felt at peace with the world. Suddenly he heard Tera call out in alarm. Dropping the axe, he ran to the house, knowing that Tera would be just rising as it was still early. Tera was still in her nightgown, but that was the only thing that appeared normal about her. Tera floated in mid-air, her arms outstretched, transfixed in a halo of light. The look on her was a mix of confusion and fear. Valen dropped to his knees, feeling a sense of finality and loss. The time had come when Tera must leave, and he didn’t know if he would ever see her again. For now, he needed to reassure and calm her down.

“What is happening to me, uncle?” she sobbed, giving Valen a pleading look that wrenched his heart. He took a deep breath composing himself. “Easy, Tera, calm yourself. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. Breath in and out slowly, taking deep breaths. Concentrate like when you are hunting deer but sense your own heartbeat.”

Tera concentrated on the sound of her heart, blocking out all else. She could feel the blood pumping through her viens to the steady beat of her heart. Gradually she felt an inner calm and more grounded; it reassured her, “That’s it, Tera, now will yourself down slowly.” The light faded, and Tera suddenly fell to the ground with the bump, disgruntled but unharmed. “Hmm, not bad for your first attempt,” Valen said.

“What am I, uncle, some kind of freak. No, wait, a witch, a sorceress, that’s it, isn’t it, and you knew all along, right?” She accused.

Valen’s expression changed to one of hurt, and he shook his head. “I didn’t know, for certain, but I suspected you may have a magic affinity.” He couldn’t tell her the whole truth right now. Tera would find out in time but not now, not from him. That was too much for him to bear. She was destined to be the vessel that would save the world from the dark one and bring change. He felt glad to have known her. To have been the one to have guided her this far. Tera was like a real daughter to him. He would miss her greatly, and he hoped that one day she could forgive him for not telling her the truth about what she would become.

“I’m sorry, uncle. I’m just a bit confused and overwhelmed by all this.”

Valen glanced at her right arm. The mark glowed dimly. “Tera, you are like a real daughter to me. You know how much I love you, right?”

Tera nodded, giving Valen a curious look. “Of course I do, uncle, and I love you as well. What is it, uncle? What aren’t you telling me?”

Valen sighed. Tera was always very bright; she could tell he wasn’t telling her everything. “Listen, Tera, yes, I knew you had an affinity for magic and that it would one day manifest itself. Today is that day, and you need to go somewhere where you can be trained in the arcane arts.”

“What are you saying, uncle? You can train me, can’t you? I know you are really a sorcerer. I’m not stupid, you know.”

Valen took a deep breath before shaking his head, “Yes, I know you know, as you said, you aren’t stupid; you are very intuitive. But I can’t train you, not here, not anywhere you have a particular skill set that needs specialist training.”

Tera gave Valen a quizical look. “Which is where and by whom?”

Valen glanced at the floor for a moment before looking up at Tera. “The Stone Tower in the city.”

Tera mulled over what Valen said for a moment.”That’s where the seeresses live, isn’t it?”

Valen nodded, “They are better equipped to teach someone with your abilities than I. Believe me, Tera, your power will surpass my lowly skills and endanger us if I try to teach you alone.”

“So I have to leave. Will you come and visit me if I stay at the Stone Tower to learn to use my power?”

Again Valen felt a wrenching in his heart as he fought back the tears that threatened to undo him. “Of course, I will come and visit you often. You must be patient and study hard, or I will be displeased with you.” He waved a finger at her as he tried to muster his self-control.

“When do we leave?” Tera asked

“The day after tomorrow.”

“So soon,” were the only words she could find to say. Knowing the life she had known for the past few years would soon end, and a new life begin.

Chapter Four

Valen sighed with a heavy heart as he faced the Matriarch. “Has she settled in alright?”

“Yes, she is fine. You can visit her if you wish, but not for too long.” The Matriarch paused, giving Valen a sympathetic look. “You were found of her, weren’t you. I mean, beyond just being a mentor?”

Valen nodded slowly. “She was like a daughter to me. I know you had someone watch her while she was in my care.”

“It wasn’t that I didn’t trust you, Valen; you know how it is.”

Again Valen nodded without saying a word.

“You can visit her now but don’t come too often. It will distract her from her studies; she still has a long way to go.”

“I doubt I will be able to come often in any case. Thank you, Meryel, for letting me see her. Take good care of her.”
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