Prologue

 

 

Tome of the Maker, Coven 1:1-5

1 For it was in the first days, that the Maker and the Destroyer were at odds. Each thing that was made, was too destroyed after a small time. It was after time immeasurable that the Maker decided to hide his creations from the Destroyer, and He settled for creating Aireon.

2 Aireon was perfect in every way, tucked in a place of its own, with its own Sun and two moons; Elleria and Throl. It was great and perfect, for it had grand oceans and seas, rivers and lake. It had plains and mountains. But it lacked soul.

3 The Destroyer sought out and destroyed many hidden creations, one by one getting closer to Aireon.

4 When the Destroyer found Aireon, he struck out at the planet with all his might. The Maker intervened, and the Destroyer’s power struck Him, rather than Aireon. The Maker then used His great powers of creation to Banish the Destroyer away in a vast prison. He continued to seal the Destroyer in prisons, until it was prison upon prison; creating the six hells.

5 Though the Maker protected Aireon, the Destroyer left behind waves of power in the form of Arcane Magic. From the Maker’s leftover power, came the Light of the Nitorae, the holy life essence and power of the Maker, Himself.

6 It was in the days that followed that the Maker created the insects, but they would not suffice. Then He created the animals, but they would not suffice. Then He created humans, and He shaped them to stand and walk, and He found that they would suffice.

7 The Maker saw that humans of Aireon would grow old and die, and this made him sad. For even as the Banished One remained banished, his powers of destruction still plagued the world, but only slowly. Because of this, the Maker created joy, and love, and the sight of beauty, and these things would lengthen the lives of humans.

8 Humans grew to build and to honor. They spoke with the Maker and they shared their dreams, and the Maker made them so, but the humans were also tainted by Banished One. Though they could never be destroyed by him, they forever bore the scars of his power. One day they would age and die. They felt anger, they felt hatred, and they felt pain.

9 But His creation yet lived. The Maker gave them the ability to make their own children, and in this way,  they would live on forever.

10 In this, the Maker was pleased. And he rested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over centuries, many changes have come to the peninsula of land known by so many at the Nine Brendoms. Known by ancient Elven words long-since forgotten, Dwarven idioms, and ancient human words, only now has it known thirty years of relative peace. Tall mountains strike upward through the crust, covered in vast plains, hills, forests and lakes. Snow licks the skies at the peaks of those mountains, and ancient ice feeds the valleys below. In one such valley sits the ancient city of Drachenara – unsacked, unravaged since its inception. A beautiful majesty, Drachenara has been in the hands of the Drache family since it came to be known by that name. It has passed from father to son for many generations, before its mantle came to rest upon the head of Saden Drache, the current Bren of Drachenara. He and his wife, Seera Drache, ruled through the last civil war and protected the people of Drachenara. Some of the people of Giltshore had even moved inside the city walls when attacks from warring factions threatened their homes. After that great war had come to an end, many even sought the young Bren Drache to take up the mantle of King, a title he allowed to pass to Elmis Tivanis, the Bren of Alfendul. No, Saden Drache much preferred his own Brendom to that of the other Nine Brendoms. Saden and Seera Drache were loved far and wide, not only by the people who they oversaw, but by their own children, Aurelia and Jorvig Drache.

Bren Saden Drache stood on the grand balcony of the main hall, looking down in the courtyard where his daughter was suiting up for her daily training. He leaned on the railing, eyes watching intently as she went about armoring herself up. From behind him, came his wife, Seera, who placed a hand on his lower back. “She has become quite proficient, Seera,” he said, smiling back at her.

“You would be proud that your little girl had become a fighter like her father, rather than a quiet woman of the people like her mother.” Seera said, lacing her fingers around the Bren’s bicep, watching her daughter put the pieces of armor on.

“Am I not a man of the people?” He asked, feigning shock, and smiled with mischief in his eye.

“Your people love you, but you don’t visit the soup kitchens or the markets every day. You aren’t the one who sees to the orphanage or that the schools have books.” She mused.

“And so it is.” He smiled. “She wears the dresses you give her as well, my love.”

“And so it is.” She smiled, too.

They stayed quiet for a bit, watching as Aurelia finished armoring up and began going over her training regimen with her fully-armored trainer. As the silence fell between them, and the distinct sound of metal pinging off one another rang through the courtyard, Seera turned to her husband and looked concerned. “And Jorvig?” She asked, obvious worry in the back of her voice.

“He’s doing well. I received a Jackdaw from Stormvale yesterday alerting me of his victory. He fights in the finals of the tourney today.” Saden answered without turning his head away from watching Aurelia. “He fights the Giant of Vardos, from across the sea.”

“Saden!” She exclaimed. “To the death?”

“Or forfeiture.” Saden answered with an even tone. “But, my dear, he will be fine.”

“I hope so, Saden.” She said, carrying on worried.

“He fights like I did, Seera. Like I do. I taught him myself. Wraith taught him, too.” He turned when he heard the large door to the balcony open behind him. Through the door stepped a young man dressed in the Drachenaran colors of gold and red. With a bowed head, he passed over a small scroll. Saden opened the scroll and read it, a wide grin crossing his face. “See?” He asked, passing the scroll to Seera.

She smiled. “Good. Our boy returns home.”

“He returns home a man, it would seem.” He took the scroll back from his wife and headed back into the Main Hall to send the news on to whomever needed to know.

 

 

Aurelia took a deep breath and stared into the eyes of her opponent. She licked her lips between heavy gasps and wiped a bead of sweat from her brow. The muscles along her jaw clenched and tightened as she attempted to find out her opponent’s next move. Would he strike high? Or would he strike for her midsection? He never had a tell.

Her hands were growing clammy inside the broken-in leather glove that covered her hand. She tightened and loosened her grip on the wire-woven pommel, considering each available option. Just as she gave the blade a little spin, her thoughts gave way from her form and lent an opening for the opposition to strike.

The man in armor lurched forward, bringing his longsword up from its position at his waist and struck at the blade whose anchor begged to give way. The strike at the unsecured blade shook down its length and into Aurelia’s arm, stunning her hand, and sending the blade flying. In the same motion he closed the gap between them, placed his right boot behind her foot and pushed his forearm against her chest, causing her to lose balance and fall to the ground.

She hit with a thud, knocking the air from her lungs. She grunted and writhed on the stone beneath her for a moment. Her opponent stood over her with his blade raised and ready to strike her down. “Yield!” He called out, his face darkened and his head eclipsing the noon sun.

Aurelia contemplated not yielding and attempting to lash back at him. Then she sighed “I yield…” a defeated voice mewled. “It’s not fair, Vaelen.” She said, reaching out to him for a hand up.

Vaelen reached and pulled her to her feet. “What? You think all of your potential murderers will be weaker than you? Have less training than you?”

“Yes. Well, no. It’s just that you have much more training than I do. And you’re stronger. And you’ve fought in actual battles.” She said, removing her gloves as she stepped toward the waterskin sitting at the edge of the castle garden’s fountain. She sipped the cool water and sat down, the sound of her leather armor creaking as she did.

Vaelen approached her, sheathing his hand and a half sword in his belt-hung sheath. “Exactly as I said, Milady. And they were only small bandits, not battles. Come, let’s go again.”

“Give me a moment, please. Don’t I need to do archery as well?” Aurelia asked, taking another sip from her waterskin.

 

A shout came down from the breezeway that surrounded the castle’s courtyard where the two were training. “Vaelen! Come here, my boy!”

Vaelen looked up to see his father, looked back down at Aurelia and nodded “Go, then. Train your archery. I’ll speak with the Captain and return in a short while, Milady.”

 

The castle was a vast structure built out of a golden stone. It was unlike any other in the nine Brendoms and had stood the test of time of some nine hundred years. Vaelen was the son of the Captain of the guard, whose bloodline had been serving the Drache family for three decades. The two families had become interwoven after the Great War, when Vaelen’s father, known only as Wraith, rescued Aurelia’s father Bren Saden Drache and single-handed slayed thirty of another Brendom’s greatest soldiers. In that bloodlust, Wraith gained his name and station for his family in Drachen. Vaelen was trained and educated since a young age to receive the station when his father grew too old, at which point he would retire to the title of Hand of the Bren. Vaelen could never imagine such a time ever coming. If it were up to Wraith, he would make sure that he died with honor in battle, and never become a political figure. The young man was tall and had long strawberry blond hair that was usually pulled back and tied up and out of the way. His skin was pale and dotted with faint freckles from the sun, though he often kept his arms covered – as a result, his complexion was fair. When he grew agitated or strained, his skin would flush; too, at an even younger age, his blushes would give him away. He featured his father’s icy blue eyes, a trait even he knew he borrowed from his father.

Vaelen crested the stairs to the breezeway to see his father before him, teeth bared in a grin. “How fare you?” Wraith asked him. Wraith was four inches shorter than his son, and his once chestnut-brown hair was flecked with silver, and his beard was ghostly white. He bore a deep scar on his left cheek, but it never lessened the incredible smiles that Wraith could present. He was a hard man with a hard past, but it never inhibited how joyous he could be, or how much he loved his son.

Vaelen smiled in return and embraced his father, clapping him on the back of his armor. “I am well, father, what brings you out here to see me?”

Wraith turned to view the courtyard where Aurelia was training her archery and nodded his head silently at thought of her growing proficiency with a bow. “Ah, yes. A great friend of mine from the war and Bren Drache’s eldest son is returning from the Nine Brendoms Tournament with the Brenness of Stormvale, our neighboring Brendom, to celebrate our victory in the tourney. Bren Drache has asked me to task you with personal security for the Bren’s family and I will be in charge of overall security of the Drachen Keep. Bren Drache seems to think that his eldest, Jorvig, has grown fond of the young widow Brenness. My friend, Saitig, is an old veteran like myself, who fought with the Brenness’ father in the Great War. I haven’t heard from him in quite some time.”

Vaelen nodded. “That’s wonderful, father. I shall get right on it.”

“Of course. First finish training the Bren’s daughter for the day, then begin your plans. Don’t forget your patrol at sunset.” Wraith said and turned and walked away.

“Aye, father.”

 

Vaelen made his way back down to the where Aurelia had been sailing arrows into her target. One after another the arrow sank deep into the target, accurate beyond denial. As he approached, Aurelia had been so intent on firing her arrows that she hadn’t seen him. He stood and watched her. Their training session didn’t last much longer, and he made the walk back to her chambers with her. “Have a good eve, Milady. It was a pleasure, as always.”

 

As the day went on, Vaelen spent the last remaining hours of sunlight he had planning the Royal Family’s security for the coming guests and Jorvig’s return. It was a simple set up. There would be guards at every entrance and mingling, but out of the way. Vaelen would put himself with the Drache family, and task the other guards to various duties. He would beef up outer wall security and increase patrols beyond the wall. All guards would be on duty that night.

As day turned to night, in the haze of dusk and the setting sun, Vaelen stood out on the Grand Balcony built over Lake Drachenara. He stood next to the channel that guided the remaining water from the Highvein River that ran through the castle grounds, over the edge of the balcony, and filling the shores of Lake Drachenara below. Such a feat it had to be, building this masterpiece, he thought. The Grand Balcony itself was several hundred feet across, the man-thinned river was at least one-hundred feet across on its own. It was large enough to house the famous Drachen gardens and was built outside the Keep walls, so it could be enjoyed by the citizens of Drachenara, the capital city surrounding the Keep.

Vaelen went over his coming patrol in his head and made his way to the stables. There, he mounted his horse, Arlie, and rode her through the city gates and in the surrounding plains. Many years ago, when the Drachen family ancestors chose this land, they cleared the trees out around this rise all the way to the cliffs edge, and built back from it, leaving the keep as the last reachable object were an enemy to attack. The cleared plains allowed scouts to see – from the city watchtowers – all the way to the forests which were a mile away in each direction. No siege attack could ever be a surprise. Perhaps someone smart enough could attack with overwhelming manpower, but it seemed unlikely.

Vaelen rode out past the main walls and through the plains, doing what had become repetition and ensuring that no unwanted merchants, beggars, or troublemakers were setting up camp outside the castle walls.

To begin with, it seemed yet another night without even a word to say, until he caught glimpse of firelight as he came around the backside of the city walls. As he neared the camp, he placed one hand on the pommel of his sword and neared. “Hail! Guardsman approaching. What’s your business in these plains, gentlemen, and…” he paused “lady?” In his mind he saw one woman amongst men, and in this world it often spelled trouble. He began examining the situation while he awaited an answer.

A bald man, once sitting at the fire, rose to his feet and answered. “Oi, sir. We apologize. We ain’t but travelers and we ain’t got the coin to stay at an inn. We ain’t figured we could be a bother out here. We ain’t are we?”

Vaelen seemed to ease when he saw the woman tend to a child with another man. Just a member of the same group. Likely a family. “We have a law against the range that a camp can be made near the city, Sir. Consider this a warning. Tonight, is your only free night, if you aren’t moved by the morrow, we’ll have to fine you. If you can’t pay, then we’ll turn you over to the Bren.”

“Aye, sir. Aye, sir. Thank ye greatly for your pardon.” The bald man said bowing his head over and over. He then turned and went back to his meal on the fire.

 

Vaelen turned and rode back to the city after he finished the patrol he took. Two hours after him another guardsman scheduled overnight would make the same path twice. All in the name of security.

 

As days passed by and plans were being made by the Bren and his family for the coming celebration, food was brought in from all around. The Drache family was among the wealthiest. The family had helped pay for the rebuilding of the Kings castle after the last great war and found themselves in his favor. That money had many legends tied to it, the one that lingered the longest and was wound in tapestry all across the Keep was that the Drache ancestors arrived on backs of Dragons over a millennium prior. The land was said to be occupied by droves of barbaric nomads who worshiped golden idols that stood tens of feet into the air.

Those same nomads were also raiders. They would pillage nearby Brendoms and kill their men, take their women, and steal anything of value. The Drache family came from across the seas and destroyed them all with Dragons fire. The legends say the flames burned so hot that the gold soaked into the soil, creating the beautiful golden stone that the Drache Keep was built out of. Much of that gold went into the treasury. Those who have seen it claim more gold lies within than within the Kings own treasury. Drachenara has never had want that has not been sated. The city is not built lavishly, but it is adorned and beautiful.

That same wealth translated to the people. It was not in such a way that all Drachenara’s citizens were wealthy, or that their homes were all opulent, rather the Drache family made sure that the poor had as many chances as possible to earn a living. Many times, the Bren and Brenness would offer jobs inside the Keep ensuring that someone was not jobless, and would offer residence to their family on the outskirts of town. The poor were only poor by choice in Drachenara, but they had to work for what they had.

Saden Drache sat in the throne-like chair at the front of the Main Hall and he leaned on an elbow. Before him stood a man in chains. “What is his offense, Lieutenant?”

Vaelen stood beside the man, a hand on his shoulder. “This man is accused of stealing bread from the marketplace. He is not a citizen of Drachenara, but rather claims to come from Lucandis. He lost his home and his wealth to gambling.”

Saden nodded his head. “Good sir, have you gambled since you came to Drachenara?” He paused waiting for an answer and shifted so he was sitting forward and leaned on his thighs with his elbows. “Innocent gambling is not a crime here, do not fear.”

“I have not, milord. I’ve learned my lesson.” The man said with his head bowed.

Saden nodded, “And why did you steal the bread.”

“I was hungry…”

Vaelen whispered in his ear.

“…milord.” The man finished.

“Yes, of course.” Saden leaned back against the goldstone chair he sat in. “What did you do in Lucandis, sir?”

“I was a carpenter, milord.” The man said, head still hung low.

Saden nodded again. “I believe in many chances, sir, especially for those who are only trying to survive. If you agree to stay on in Drachenara, at least for a spell, I believe we could arrange to have you freed. It would do well for the market of Drachenara to have many a new stall. I will pay you a fair wage for your time. With your earnings, if you stay, we will find a fine place for a tradesman such as yourself.” He gestured toward Vaelen.

Vaelen reached and unlocked the chains on the man, freeing him. “If you would, step to the hall to the left, and see Seneg, our Steward. He is the chief financier, planner, and chamberlain of the Keep. He will have you seen to.”

The man rushed forward and knelt before the Bren. “Milord, I will serve you well. Thank you. Thank you…” he rose and turned to meet with Seneg in the side hall.

Vaelen stepped forward and bowed his head. “That is all, Milord. Not to call upon a bad omen, but all seems quiet in the Brendom. Any more news of Lord Jorvig on his return?”

Bren Drache stood up from his chair and walked down to meet Vaelen below the platform in which his seat rested. He reached out in a traditional shake, grabbing Vaelen’s forearm. “Nothing more, unfortunately. He’s on a long trip, and I feel as though he has no rush to return with his current company.”

Vaelen nodded. “As long as he is safe. Rumors abound that he defeated a giant in the last round of the tournament. And in single combat.”

Saden laughed. “Aye. You sparred with him enough, I’d say you’d probably defeat a giant. Maker knows your father would do it with his bare hands.”

Vaelen laughed too. The Bren held a comfortable but official relationship with Vaelen. There was never a question of station, but Vaelen never felt like the Bren felt he was anything less than equal. Wraith had always raised Vaelen to be respectful, kind, and know where he came from. Vaelen would one day marry a young woman from the brendom, and with the Drache’s blessing, she would be a highborn girl.

Seera and Aurelia came in from the side hall. Aurelia was already in her training gear, and held a sword in her hand, blunted on the edges for proper training. She brightened when she saw Vaelen and smiled. “I was just coming to find you, Vaelen. Are you ready?”

Vaelen nodded, looking back to the Bren. “If I am dismissed, Milord?”

The Bren nodded. “Yes, of course. What will you be working on today?” He asked, looking to his armored daughter.

Aurelia answered, “I seem to need work with a shortsword, so that’s where we’ll start.” She shook the blade in front of her, almost with disdain.

“And so, you do.” He nodded to them both and sent them on their way. Once Vaelen and Aurelia were out of sight, the Saden turned to Seera and smiled. “Did you ever think we would raise two warrior children?” He asked with a grin on his face.

“I did not,” Seera answered, her hands folded together before her. “Yet here I stand, the only lady in the castle.”

“That’s not true, nor is it very fair, Seera.” Saden answered with a frown. “You instilled in her the love for fanciful stories, I didn’t dissuade it. And she’s been raised up around Wraith and Vaelen. What did you expect? We’ve raised a strong woman, like the women of our family before her. My great aunt fought in the last great war.” He gestured to the tapestry that hung from the side wall.

Seera nodded with a smirk. “I know the story, love. They say she fought with dragon’s fire. She also died unmarried.”

“That’s true.” Saden laughed. He reached out to hook his elbow with Seera’s and the two of them walked together through the long hallways of the Drachen Keep.

 

By the time that sunset came to Drachenara, Aurelia was in her room removing the armor she was wearing. Piece by piece she lay it to the side of the room and sighed. Her arms ached from swinging the sword so much. It was never her forte, but she wanted to learn it nonetheless. In her favorite stories, whether true, embellished, or dreamed up, the greatest knights used swords. They used short swords, great swords, and daggers. Occasionally, stories were told of great bowmen, and of course, instead of swords, the bow was where she excelled.

One of the castle handmaidens entered the room and bowed her head. “Milady, I have drawn your bath. Come when you are ready.”

Aurelia looked up from her chair, where she sat in only the undergarments of her leather armor. She was sweaty. Her hair stuck to the side of her face and her cheeks were still rosy. She exhaled sharply and leaned back, nodding as a response. Before she stood up, she picked up a canvas-bound book that sat in a stack of books on her table and took it with her to the bath. After she was undressed and up to her neck in water, she bathed herself off with goats-milk soap and dried her hands. Then she sat back to read.

More often the not, she would sit in the bath and read until the fire-warmed water had gone cold, and she lost herself in some adventure in a far-off realm. Her mind flitted here and there and imagined each nuance that the story provided her. The clang of swords reverberated inside her mind, just as it had earlier in the day. As she closed the book and leaned her head back, she imagined herself adventuring through some distant land. She rode on horseback through open plains and camped by creeks deep in the forests.

“Milady, you’ll catch cold in that water.”

The voice broke Aurelia from her trance, but it was a sentence she’d heard at least ten thousand times since she was a child. She sighed. “Yes, of course.” She stood from the water, dried and dressed herself, and returned to her room. When she returned there, her armor and weapon was in the armory and her room was clean and had a fresh bouquet of jasmine that made it smell delectably sweet. She placed the book she had taken with her to the bath on top of the quilt of her bed and walked to the balcony that overlooked the courtyard where she and Vaelen ordinarily trained. Aurelia smiled and wrapped her arms around herself as she felt the cool breeze that always settled in the valley that was Drachenara.