Chapter 1 - News

Voynar, Kingdom of Voynar, The Ice Lands, Medelya of year 60 

Eadda quietly knocked on the door to the library and leaned against the wall opposite the entrance waiting for an answer. Her fingers were running impatiently over the magnificent carvings in the wood of the wall panelling. When after a few seconds of waiting she still had not received any sign of life from the other side, she pushed herself away from the wall, clenched her hand into a fist and was about to hammer on the door when it was torn open.

"Wot?!" It had more of a bark than a question. The sullen expression on the bearded face of the young man vanished within a second. "Oh, Eadda, yah’re that. Come in."

"Who else should it be?" the girl asked as she walked into the library and looked around. "Except for me none’s interested in wot ya do here."

Eadda sauntered over to the carved desk and looked at the huge stack of books rising from a wild hodgepodge of scribbled parchment scrolls. The word Dyphuom struck her from the records again and again, but she did not know what it was.

Finally, she turned, leaning against the table and was looking over at the most important person in her life.

Yardleyu was the elder of her two brothers and she simply called him Yary. He wore the clothes of a novice and on his chest was the sign of the Voynar Magic Academy where he had lived for a while and began his training as a magician, but he had already returned home after two years. Although he was no longer a member of the Academy, he still wore the shirts and trousers he had brought from there.

Eadda had never been aware of how similar they were, but his absence had painfully made her aware of that and since his return they have been inseparable. Contrary to their parents' plans Yary had not become an officer in Voynar's army, but spent the night brooding over his books and records. This rebellion against the parents' traditions made him a kind of like-minded man, for Eadda defended herself as well as she could against the educational measures that would later make her a good wife.

Her other brother, Sean, had it better – at least as far as his name was concerned – but unlike them he did exactly what his parents wanted and served in the army to follow in his father's footsteps later. He didn’t understand his two siblings who pursued their own plans, and in his opinion were hardly worthy of their title of nobility. The strict rules in his parents' house and in the army meant honour to him and for him it was not a duty to adhere to it; it was rather a commandment he was only too happy to accept. He had already made a name for himself as a young, dutiful soldier and was the pride of his parents. In dealing with the sword, he showed an outstanding talent, his older brother however had no interest in the fight with the weapon.

Yary's passion was the books, his research and experimenting with magic – there were his talents. He was extremely talented but found it difficult to adhere to the rules and prohibitions of the Academy and so they finally sent the truculent novice back home to the care of his parents.

Yardleyu could have been described as closed but those who studied him quickly discovered that he only separated those who were worth a conversation from those who did not. And one of the few valuable people was his little sister.

He looked at her as well, his ice-blue shimmering eyes examining her briefly, but carefully then stroking a strand of blond hair behind his right ear, closing the door and moving to one of the two chairs that stood in front of the open fireplace. Eadda followed him and sat down in the other armchair.

'She cried…' he thought.

"Wot happened, Eadda?" Yary wanted to know; he could see that she had upset something.

Her brother was right, it still raged in her, but his presence was enough to calm her down at least a little. "At sum point it had to come so far. For years now I've only been delayin’ the inevitable." Eadda's words faltered briefly she didn’t know how to phrase it, so she just blurted it out. "Our parents have chosen a husband for me, in two weeks the weddin’ will take place."

Yary leaned back in his chair and looked into the embers in the fireplace. After a few seconds of silence, he uttered the words she had expected and feared. "I am powerless, Eadda."

The girl hid her face in her hands and struggled with the tears that were ready to stream back over her cheeks. When her parents had opened her up half an hour ago, what her life would be like, she had already cried. She had raged and shouted that she would rather die than marry this guy, but the only thing that had brought her in was a juicy slap by her father's hand. Her left cheek was still burning, but she wasn’t aware of the pain, the anger that burned inside her even hotter was too great.

When Yary put his hand on her shoulder she winced in surprise. He knelt on the ground in front of her and when Eadda looked up she couldn’t help throwing herself into his arms and sobbing unrestrained. The anger dissipated from one moment to the next leaving only utter despair. She didn’t know how long she had cried, but eventually her brother helped her to her feet.

"I would help ya, if I could, but it's beyond wot I can influence." Yary took Eadda's face in his hands and gently stroked her cheeks with both thumbs wiping away her tears.

In his eyes she could see pain, the same pain she felt. They would both be separated, torn apart when Eadda was forced to move out of the Blake family estate in two weeks to live with her husband.

They looked at each other for a long time and as Yary looked like he was about to cry he instead asked, "Who are ya supposed to marry?" 

Eadda gulped and took a deep breath; it took her strength to speak the name which in her eyes meant her ruin. Finally, she pressed out, "Ethan Walsh."

Yary looked at her in shock, he knew Walsh and despised him. "By Medelya... They canno’ possibly be serious..." His voice broke, his head dropping in dismay, he turned away. Then he began to pace up and down the long rows of bookshelves for which he possessed an obsessive enthusiasm.

Ironically Walsh would marry his younger sister, that disgusting mangy scum of a man. He was older than Yary, but they had met a few years ago playing in front of the property. The Walsh family lived just a few doors down. Ethan had been sadistic in his childhood; Yary had noted that despite his young years soon and also felt several times on his own body.

Eadda had already expected that he wouldn’t be thrilled with the decision of their parents, but she had never experienced her brother so shocked.

"We must be able to do sumthin’... That... that... canno’ be final, is it?" Eadda's eyes followed her brother incessantly. "Or, Yary?!" Her voice was shrill as she repeated herself.

But Yary was silent as he kept pacing up and down for several minutes. Then he paused, pulled one of the books off the shelf and walked to the desk, wiping his notes away impatiently, the scrolls of parchment and his quill tumbling to the floor.

'Wot's he up to now...?' Eadda thought.

She hurried after him and looked over his shoulder while Yary was already frantically flipping pages. When she realised what he was looking for, she snatched the book from him, closed it and read the title in disbelief.

“’Wild Herbs an’ Their Benefits in Alchemy an’ Medicine’? Are ya out of yer mind? This ain’ the time to read about plants, Yardleyu Faegan Blake!" Eadda exclaimed in exasperation.

"Yah’ll have to marry him, Eadda Abigail Blake! There is no way around it, if our parents have set this in their heads! An’ yet..." Yary took the book out of her hand and kept flipping through it until he found what he was looking for. "Thistles... Yellow thistles... Blue thistles... Here..." He pulled an unwritten piece of parchment from one of the desk drawers and groped for his quill pen.

Eadda picked it up off the floor and handed it to him. "Wot ya up to? Ya want to poison him?"

Yary scribbled on the parchment reading through the letters, flipping through a few pages as he continued to read, without looking at what he was writing.

When Eadda got no answer, she went back to the armchairs in resignation and sat down on one of them her eyes wandering about the library. It was a sumptuously decorated room, the shelves reaching to the ceiling with intricate carvings like the desk and the feet of the two armchairs. Almost everything in the Blake mansion showed how wealthy the family was. To the left and right of the chimney were stained-glass windows that showed some heroes bragging about the battle they had won and raising the banner of the Kingdom of Voynar.

In the flickering light of the fireplace the figures even seemed almost alive, as if they were moving. The lanterns that hung from the ceiling and illuminated the room were also lavishly decorated and certainly made of some expensive metal, but Eadda wasn’t in the least interested in all that.

She hated the prosperity of having to be part of this aristocratic life. To do what she was told to do, not to do what she enjoyed. To marry who her parents chose, not the one she would fall in love with someday.

A few days ago, she had turned thirteen, at this age young women were often married – at least in socially respected circles. The simpler Voyneresses usually got married later and Eadda knew that some of the girls she knew from equally aristocratic circles had even been assigned to their husbands by the age of eleven or twelve, since then she had not heard from them. It seemed to them like disappearing in a hole and never coming out once one got caught in a marriage.

From earliest childhood Eadda had been banned from playing, she had to sit quietly and a specially hired teacher taught her to read and write. She was taught how to dress, how to eat properly, drink and treat guests. She also had to learn how to sew and embroider so that later on she wouldn’t be able to live off her husband’s money too much, but could tailor her own gorgeous clothes. All this had initially instinctively postponed her.

At some point she had refused to wear the robes her mother chose every morning instead she had stolen some silver coins and bought at the market simple, comfortable clothes as the sons of the peasants wore. She had gotten terrible trouble, but her parents eventually gave up when she came home in new rags again and again.

And now these two weeks of time were still there before she disappeared into a hole like a dark storm cloud over her head. If she had previously believed that she was a prisoner in her family, Eadda feared that everything would be much worse if her husband began to tell her what she had to do and what to do not.

She already longed for the precious moments of freedom she felt only when she ran away from home and wandered around in the woods or on the hills of the Ice Lands. Sometimes she did not return to the property for several days and when she did her father was already waiting for her with a good beating.

Eadda spent about half an hour with her sombre thoughts as she heard the rustle of Yary's robe coming over to her with the parchment scroll in hand. He pulled the free armchair so far in front of hers until they sat directly opposite and looked at her grimly.

"I have a plan, but I don’ know if it will work," he began. Eadda looked at him hopefully, but Yardleyu hesitated as he looked at his notes. "Ya won’ like wot I have to say, Eadda, but we can’t do anythin’ that would change our parents. Yah’re goin’ to have to marry this guy but this could help brin’ ya home in the lon’ run."

"Lon’ run? How lon’ should I endure before yer plan works? And wot exactly do ya intend to do now?" she asked not understanding what he was getting at.

After another moment of hesitation, he began to explain, "Ya canno’ disappear from the Ice Lands, the borders are guarded too well, no one would let ya pass an’ the coast is so steep that it would hardly be possible to escape across the sea. Even if ya stay in Voynar an’ hide yerself, ya would be looked for an’ everythin’ turned upside down, till ya would have been found. But if ya marry Ethan now ya will be required to perform certain duties an’ there will be a traditional contract that defines yer responsibilities; includin’ givin’ birth to offsprin’."

Eadda sat up straight, staring at her brother in disbelief for a moment and then yelling, "No! I will no’ do that!"

"I know, I know, Eadda. Calm down for a moment so I can explain it to ya please." Yary looked at her intently and Eadda nodded briefly so he would continue. "Thank ya. Well... This contract requires ya to fulfil yer marital duties includin’ these duties. If ya can no’ fulfil them, Ethan can break ya which is probably wot every man who marries in these aristocratic circles will do. Women who can’t do wot the man intended are considered dishonourable an’ are usually sent back to their families. But ya won’ be able to do anythin’ other than pretend ya are tryin’ to fulfil these duties otherwise he will force ya to do so, an’ ya should spare yerself that. Share the bed with him an’ I promise that I will see to it that ya don’ give him offsprin’. This blend of herbs will make sure ya can’t do that, if ya take it."

Yary held up the parchment with the recipe he had just written and looked at Eadda who had jumped at his last words and tore her hair. "I canno’ do that! An' I will no’! I'm goin’ to make sure he doesn’ touch me! Ya can count on that, Yary!" Eadda yelled at her brother in rage and desperation and then stormed out of the library.

Yary followed her to the door watching her as she moved away at a speed he would never have expected such a small thing to do.

'I can understand her so well…' Yardleyu thought.

Sean curiously stuck his head out of his room and looked after her, too, then his eyes fell on Yary who was still standing in the library entrance. "Wot has happened in Eadda? Once again sumthin’ ain’ happenin’ to her will?" he asked with a mocking grin on his lips but Yary only had a contemptuous look for him and disappeared back into the library.

Eadda didn’t hear them anymore as she rattled down the long staircase in the lobby, Yary's words echoing in her mind, her heart racing in panic.

Aware of the shouting her father came out of the salon and rose in front of her with a threatening hand, but she slumped to the ground, slid past him over the polished stone floor and plunged through the front door outside.

Nor did she hear his angry cries as she ran through the evening streets of the city where only a few people were on their way. She met city guards twice, but she avoided them and kept on hurrying. Even at the bridge she was over so fast that the bridge guards didn’t even have time to emerge from the lobbies to the left and right of the gate. The girl had already disappeared over the bridge and in the bushes off the road until they had got into position.

Eadda kept running headlong, slipping over fences and dodging rocks. Even at the trapdoor in the floor the thing only she knew about she was already past and rushing up a long climb.

Deprived of her strength she finally stopped breathless and looked around. The view over the rough sea with a blood-red setting sun on the horizon would have been breathtakingly beautiful but not this evening.

Without wanting to she had run directly to the place where there were numerous benches for the wedding guests and a small desk for the Cleric who married the bride and groom.

'No…' she thought.

When Eadda realised where she had gone, she fell to her knees. Furious she scrambled to her feet and kicked at the benches, knocking over some of them. Then she yelled her pain into the wind which stifled her cries and carried them away.

Exhausted, hoarse, cold, and helpless Eadda went down the hill again heading for her trapdoor, her retreat. She hunkered down between two small trees hidden behind an icy bush and peered through the thorny branches for any pursuit. Bushes like this grew everywhere in the Ice Lands. Almost like weeds they grew in every vacancy.

Eadda couldn’t see anyone but swift footsteps from the direction of the street told her that someone must have followed her. With her hands she fumbled around in the moss until her fingers met the cold metal of the ring which she grabbed and opened the trapdoor.

A second later she was gone and Sean who had run after her at his father's urging and been put on the right track by the guards stood helplessly in the middle of the tiny grove.

Meanwhile, Eadda crawled a little forward and around a corner in the shaft under the trapdoor. Her fingers now hit something soft, fluffy, a little further on a lamp which she ignited carefully. With a quick glance she looked around and calmly realised that everything was still in place and no one had discovered her hiding place. She crawled in between the skins and took a short breath until she felt vibrations in the ground. Her pursuer was looking for her right above her she held her breath anxiously and listened.

Sean's voice called to her, but she remained silent and made no sound.

'He can search for a lon’ time…' she thought.

Gradually the calls were quieter again and she relaxed.

Then she sat up, reached for the basket which stood in a corner and looked into it. Her food supplies had been used up. The few that had been here were now spoiled despite the cold. Only a small slice of beef jerky made the impression of being edible. Eadda was annoyed at her own negligence. At the next opportunity, she had to steal food from the pantry again and bring it here.

Again, she looked around her sanctuary where she hid when she couldn’t stand it in the estate. All this she had done alone on many nights she had sneaked out to dig the shaft, then she had lined the back of it with wooden planks to keep her dry and a little warmer. However, she hadn’t dared to provide the remaining studs with it. If somebody discovered the trapdoor and looked inside, they would only discover an inconspicuous hole in the earth at the end of which there was nothing. But behind one from the entrance invisible corner was her nest. She had deposited books here as well as something to eat, a lamp and the skins. The latter she had bought from a hunter.

Eadda retrieved her dagger between the furs, pulled it out of its scabbard and looked at the polished silver blade, on both sides the handle wrapped in black strips of leather. It wasn’t very gorgeous, yet there was no object in the world she loved so much as this dagger. And at least it was sharp enough to kill someone. In times like these it gave her a grim satisfaction to possess such a thing.

She could fight back! And she would fight back!

Ethan should be careful; he didn’t even know who he was dealing with!

With a wicked smile on her lips Eadda shoved the dagger back into its scabbard, snuggled into the skins, and put out the light. With her only weapon in hand, she soon fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

Yary looked back and forth between those present. His parents were very upset and Sean was angry because he had just been sent to search for his sister and had to return home unsuccessfully.

"Yardleyu, wot did ya tell her that she leaves the house so upset an’ shows such recklessness?" Abigail was looking at her eldest offspring with a stinging reproachful look.

For an hour all the other family members were in the library with him, finding it more important to yell at each other instead of asking what had happened. Not that they understood it. They did not care about her daughter's feelings at all so he made no attempt to explain it.

"I told her exactly wot ya said, mother," Yary said evasively.

"In my youth..." Abigail continued.

But Yardleyu wasn’t listening because he knew that Eadda was well and presumably somewhere in what she called her sanctuary.

When he raised his eyes, Sean looked at him. His younger brother like Eadda knew him too well for his taste. And Sean sensed he knew where their mutual sister had disappeared, but he also knew that Yary would never reveal it.

And so, the family remained in a situation in which they could only wait for the unwieldy girl to eventually return home.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 2 - Letter

Eadda pushed her way through the crack in the trap door and crouched down behind the ice rose bush which offered her at least some protection while she peered through the frost-covered branches. Only when she was sure no one was watching her did she straighten up and stroll inconspicuously back towards the road that led into the city of Voynar.
Before she stepped on the path, she stretched her limbs and then made her way into the mansion at a leisurely pace. At this time of year, the nights were still unbearably cold and even the few furs weren’t able to keep her reliably warm, so after two days full of hunger and cold it drove her back from her refuge to their parents' house.
The traders in the market square were busy loading the rest of the goods that hadn't found a buyer back onto the carts as they did every evening. Neither of them noticed the simply dressed freezing girl who walked between the stalls and left the square in a southernly direction.
She turned into the street where the Blake property was and quickly darted behind a stone pillar when she saw a group of elegantly dressed people standing in front of the front door. There were two men and a woman whose expensive brocade dress gleaming in the light of the evening, her hair tied up in a bun like her own mother did. Apparently, the two men were their husband and son, one of the two was significantly younger than the other.
Eadda eyed him attentively, his long blond hair that he had tied in a braid, his coat made of snow hare fur, a dark suit with a white ruffled shirt underneath. Dressed as befitted the offspring of wealthy families. The elegant clothes however couldn't hide the disgruntled expression on his beardless face.

'Ya must be that Ethan Walsh...' she thought.

He wasn't ugly as the girl had to admit but that didn't matter, she still didn't want him. Especially since he was older, he must have surpassed twenty years.
The fine company seemed to have said goodbye because they turned away from the door and came down the street. Eadda crept a little further away from the street and crouched behind a barrel, carefully peering over the edge as the three passed her niche.

"...if we didn’ need it, Ethan! It would be our ruin!" The man was getting excited, but in the next moment a team of horses drove by and his further words were drowned in the clatter of hooves.

The girl crept back to the pillar and watched as the Walshs disappeared two houses down into a no less magnificent property as her family lived in one. The Voynarian aristocracy owned large plots of land – very large ones! Little did she know that she and Ethan were almost neighbours, even if that didn't change the aversion she already felt. He probably felt the same way about the wedding or at least his father's words suggested it.

Eadda found the second statement more unsettling however because given that families of this class valued their wealth more than anything it could only mean they were worried about their wealth. Apparently, they were dependent on their son's wedding so that the bride's family – her family – would help them out of their financial hardship.

She walked hastily around the Blake mansion and began to climb up the back of the building until she reached the library window.

A soft knock on the window pane startled Yary who immediately put his book aside and rose from the desk to hurry to the window from which the noise had come.

"Eadda, yah’re breakin’ yer neck," he whispered to her when he opened the window to let her in.

"As if that still played a role," she replied just before jumping into the room and plopping down in an armchair.

Yary carefully locked the window again and took a seat in the other armchair then looked at her searchingly in silence.

Eadda was filthy, had a strong smell and was still wearing the clothes she had been wearing two days earlier, dark woven trousers and a light shirt that could also belong to a young man of low class with her fine black leather boots, the only thing on her that indicated her noble ancestry. She had tied her red hair in a high ponytail and a few strands were hanging loose. The tears had left light streaks on her dirty face as they made their way down her high cheekbones to her chin.

She took a moment to take a breath. “The Walsh family have jus' paid their respects downstairs; they were standin’ in front of the front door when I came back. Ethan was there too. An' I heard sumthin’ interestin’ as they made their way back to their own home. It seems to me that they are in need an' would only want the weddin’ to get access to our parents' fortune."
“Tell me sumthin’ I don' already know, little sister. Our dear parents pay a big sack full of crowns for Ethan to take ya to his wife. On the Walshs’ side it's all about the money an' our parents 'bout yer befittin’ marriage. They are happy to pay the few coins to get ya out of the house,” he replied grimly but she deserved that he told her the truth.

"How ya know that?" she wanted to know.

“From our parents. I gabbed to them to change their minds, but my attempt wus unsuccessful," sighed Yary and Eadda's hopes her knowledge could prevent the wedding vanished within a moment.

Yardleyu looked at her worriedly then stood up, walked quietly to the desk and returned with a small glass vial and his own dinner. Sitting down again he handed Eadda the vial first, then the plate of venison and root vegetables. She put the glass jar on the little table next to the armchairs and swallowed the meal in a few bites then put the plate aside and picked up the vial again which contained a thick greenish-yellow liquid.

"Wot’s that?" she asked, although she thought she already knew.

"An extract from a certain type of thistle plus a few other herbs that will accelerate the effect." Yary looked away and looked gloomily into the flames in the fireplace. “So that ya don' have a child tomorrow on yer weddin’ night. Ya have to take it immediately, otherwise it won' work reliably until then."

"Tomorrow? They haven' postponed the weddin’, have they?” Eadda asked stunned.

“Yes, they actually have. 'Why wait when there is a risk Eadda will continue to oppose us? If she marries tomorrow we will finally get rid of her an' her stubborn head,' were their words, if I remember correctly,“ he answered honestly.

How much she’d have loved to romp, beat and scream, but if she did, she’d be heard and locked up. She knew that very well. Eadda was about to get a beating anyway; she knew that too. She knew her parents too well to make this grave mistake and so she remained still, sitting in the soft armchair in silence, staring at the herbal potion in her hand.

Yary looked at her attentively and when the girl put the vial to her lips he raised his hand. "Wait... ya... ya have already blossomed, have ya no’?" He was a little embarrassed to ask his sister such a question and looked to the side with an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.

Eadda's cheeks also turned red but she nodded and quickly drained the bitter-tasting contents.

"Okay. Then I'll mix more of it and send it to ya on a regular basis. Ya need to swallow a vial full once every five days. Otherwise..."

" doesn't work. Yes, already understood”, she finished the sentence a little indignantly before she continued ruefully. “Still, I am very grateful to ya, Yary, for doing sumthin‘ like this for me. That ain’ sumthin’ that can be taken for granted. An' I apologise for leavin’ so head over heels. Please forgive me."

Yardleyu nodded understandingly. “I understand ya, Eadda. My fear in such a situation would be just as great.” He took a deep breath before continuing, “I’ll miss ya. The racket that yah've caused time an' time again as well. This house will be a sad place without ya."

Eadda's eyes filled with tears as she put the empty vial on the table next to the plate. "I'll miss ya too," she whispered while tears streaming down her dirty cheeks.

Yary grabbed her hand and pulled her gently to him in a comforting embrace he slowly stroked her back.

The door was thrown open with a crash.

"Look at who came back home. Our parents will be delighted.” Sean grinned at his siblings who took a step apart in surprise.

But before they could reply Sean turned on his heel and strutted out the door to inform the gentlemen of the house of his sister's arrival. Eadda and Yary stood silently next to each other and looked at each other when voices were heard in the entrance hall that were rapidly approaching.

First and foremost, Faegan entered the room followed by Abigail and Sean. And as expected the older and yet formidable gentleman stormed up to his daughter, grabbed her hair, dragged her to the centre of the room and slapped her on the ear which threw her to the floor.

“Ungrateful brat, who ya think ya are?!” he rumbled angrily.

Then he picked up the poker by the fireplace and began hitting Eadda who was still lying on the floor. The girl was still dazed from the blow to her head, but the pain that flashed through her body like lightning brought her back to reality and helped her suppress the screams that were already tormenting up her throat.
Yary who could hardly stand the scene was already rushing towards his father when Abigail was already holding the poker that Faegan had raised for another strike.

"No! Ya distort her jus’ before her weddin’!” she appealed to his sanity.

"Don' tell me wot to do, woman!" Faegan only growled, but he threw the poker to the ground next to Eadda and swept out of the room followed by Sean who was visibly amused by his sister's rubbing.

Abigail pulled her daughter to her feet and gave her a nagging look. “Wot have ya done again, child! Ya stink like a bunch of farmers!" Then she cast a reproachful look at her eldest son and pushed Eadda out the door down the hallway to the furthest room which had a large brass tub. "Take off yer clothes, Eadda!" she snapped at the girl and then left the room but she locked the door as a precaution.

Eadda did as she was told and first took off her boots, undressed completely until she stood naked and freezing in the cold room. Next to the tub there was a wooden stool and a chest of drawers with a mirror and a bowl on it for washing.

She looked in the mirror steadfastly at the face that looked back. She had long ginger hair, a narrow small nose and large blue eyes that looked troubled at the moment. Her gaze fell further down and she immediately felt uncomfortable when she realised, she really wasn't a girl anymore but a young woman.

It felt like it was only yesterday when she noticed that her chest was no longer flat like a boy's but now her appearance resembled a fully developed woman more than ever. She had small well-shaped breasts that matched her slim physique. When she saw her lap which was covered with black fluff, she quickly averted her eyes and sat on the stool her face hidden in her hands.

A few minutes later she heard footsteps approaching, her mother came back with three maids who carried buckets of water from which steam rose. Following Abigail's brief imperious instructions, the maids did as they were told, filled the tub with the hot water, added a jug of milk and aromatic herbs and hurried out again.
When the door slammed shut, Eadda had already been shoved into the tub by her mother although the bath water was way too hot, she didn't defend herself it was of no use anyway. Abigail tore the hair clip from the young woman's hair and pressed her into the water until she was submerged then began to scrub her ceaselessly with a brush. Eadda wasn't listening at all, she had heard all these reproaches well enough and her own dark thoughts preoccupied her too much anyway.

At the end of the procedure she got out of the tub and dried herself with the woollen cloth her mother threw over her chest, then Abigail pushed her back down on the stool and began to apply an ointment to the wounds left by the poker. When she was done with that, she held out a simple nightgown to her daughter which she willingly put on before they left the bathroom and went down the hall to Eadda's room where the door was already open.

A chain had been attached to the foot of the bed, a large packed bag sat on the sheets and several beautifully decorated dresses hung on the closet.

'Yah’ve lost no time...' she thought.

Eadda sat down on her bed, her mother pulled out a chair and sat on it then she reached for the bag and opened it.

"This is for the weddin’ night ya will put it on before ya go to bed, ya understand?" Abigail began and put a white silk nightgown in Eadda's lap who just nodded silently. "I sewed the clothes on the closet for ya, honour them so ya don't need new ones anytime soon. One of the maids will take them to yer new home tomorrow. But everythin’ for the important night is here in the bag. Wash yerself before you lie down in his bed and rub yerself with this so that ya smell pleasant for yer husband.” Abigail held up an oil-filled glass vial in which some ice rose petals were floating.
Horror grabbed Eadda's heart and held it tightly with trembling fingers she lifted the nightgown from her lap and carefully put it back in the pocket.

"Sleep now otherwise yah’ll look like a dead person tomorrow when ya get married." With these words her mother got up, put the chair back in its place and went with the bag into the hallway where she called for Sean.

Eadda pulled her legs into bed and covered herself before her brother came in and crouched down in front of the bed.

“This wus my idea. So that ya don' disappear again an' cause our dear parents grief.” Sean reached under the sheet for Eadda's ankle, pulled it to him and put the chain around it then he threaded a heavy lock into the links and let it snap shut. He looked at her and when she looked back, she was amazed for a moment that he wasn't enjoying her suffering. "Ya have to force sum people to be happy, don' ya?"

“If I don' want it, it can't be luck, Sean. But I hardly expect ya to understand. After all, ya only ever did wot was asked of ya," she replied bitingly.

Sean gave a short laugh before striking back. “Who’s sittin’ here on the bed, beaten an' chained up like a dog? Ya or I? For who of us two is life goin’ more pleasant, Eadda?” 

She was silent and stared at him hostilely, until he pulled a letter out of his pocket and said quietly, “Yer future husband jus' brought this one. The entire Walsh family wus here today an' wanted to see ya, but ya weren't here. He came back again an' brought the letter. Apparently, he had sumthin’ to say to ya an' now has to do it this way. Good night."

Sean tossed the parchment on her bed, left the room and closed the door while Eadda sat thunderstruck and stared at the letter. The waxy seal had not yet been broken and showed a roaring bear, apparently the heraldic animal of the Walsh family. With her hands still trembling she took it carefully and twisted it between her fingers. Eadda Abigail Blake was written on the roll of parchment, the handwriting was rough and anything but beautiful to look at.

There was a soft knock and Eadda quickly let the letter disappear under her sheets.
"Please come in."

A second later Yardleyu stepped into the room, he took a step towards her bed and she made room for him to sit down. For a minute he sat in silence on the edge of her bed and Eadda enjoyed his presence it was enough, if he was just with her. Only when he was about to break the silence did she pull out the letter and hand it to her brother.

"Walsh?" She just nodded while he turned the parchment back and forth in his hands with interest. "Don' ya want to read it?"

"Read it first an' decide for me, if I want to know wot's in it please," she muttered.

Yary nodded and broke the seal, unrolled the parchment and began to read in silence, finally he sighed and let the letter sink.

"So bad?" Eadda wanted to know.

“No’ that, but it's full of subliminal threats. Should I read it to ya now or would ya prefer no’ to know what he is writin’?” her brother replied honestly.

She thought for a moment, but then she nodded and Yardleyu began to read:


Dearest Eadda Abigail Blake, 
tomorrow will be the day. Ya will be given to me as a wife. I lon’ awaited that day when I’d have the honour of enterin’ into the covenant of marriage.
This covenant is something sacred, sumthin’ that must truly be honoured. From us both. I very much hope ya feel jus’ like me. I would have liked to get to know ya before this great day, to look at yer face and admire yer beauty. But the only thin’ left for me was the paintin’ in the entrance hall of your truly magnificent property ‘cause unfortunately ya weren’ present.
Wot a shame, wot a missed opportunity! That is why I am now writing these humble lines to ya. I want ya to know that I intend to carry out all of my duties as a husband. I will offer ya a home that is at least equal to the current one. I’ll see ya in front of the altar when I give ya my consent. And ya will do the same and take me as yer husband. Then we will move into our common home as a married couple, without our families. But do no’ despair! I am sure they’ll be able to visit ya often. An' we will soon have our own family, so that ya will want for nothin’ - until the end of yer days, my dearest.

I lon’ for the mornin’ in joyful anticipation!
Ethan Walsh 

A shiver ran down Eadda's spine as Yary let the letter sink.

“Aside from the fact that his writin’ style is horrific, his threats are no less. He'll keep ya away from us. An' from all other people. Yah’ll be his prisoner who has to do wot he asks, Eadda.” He had tears in his eyes when he looked at her again. "It hurts that ya have to bear this burden alone, but ya can be sure that I will always think of ya an' will come to yer aid when ya need me."

He got up, leaned over her and kissed her hair gently while Eadda again ran silent tears of despair down her face. She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him briefly, then he left the room without another word, so that she wouldn't notice that he, too, had started to cry.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 3 - Roses

“Eadda, get up! Come on!” Eadda rubbed her eyes drowsy while her mother swept through the room, tore open the window and pulled the sheet from her legs. "Jeez... I forgot... Sean? Sean! Unlock the chain! Immediately!"
Suddenly everything was back, the wedding, the letter. For a moment she had hoped that she had only dreamed and had just woken up from this bad dream, but that was not the case. All of this corresponded to the bitter reality.
Sean hurried to her room and started to open the lock; the chain clattered to the floor. He gave her a long, expressionless look as he rose then turned and left.
Abigail shooed Eadda out of bed and pointed down the hall. "Go and bathe, the maids have already brought the water over!" She handed her daughter a comb and fresh underwear that she had never seen before. "Now go!"
Eadda hurried out of the room and down the hall, the library door was open and she stopped.
'Wot the...' she thought.
She watched Yary in amazement who was already dressed and standing in front of one of the bookshelves in a tailor-made suit. She had never seen him like this before, the brocade material looked very good on him, his shoulder-length hair was tied in a pigtail which he normally didn't.

'I almost didn’ recognise him...' she thought.

He turned his head when he heard her come in and looked at her seriously, putting the book in his hand back on the shelf before walking towards her.

"Good mornin’," he greeted his little sister.

"Mornin’. Ya... look so different," she remarked and looked at him again.

“But no’ like a fool? Because that’s how I feel right now," Yary mumbled and looked down at himself.

She shook her head violently. “No, no’ at all. It suits ya. For real. I... I jus' wish I could have seen ya like this under different circumstances."

Yardleyu nodded sadly and hugged her. “This will probably be our last hug for a lon’ time. Jus' know that I am close by an' always available whenever ya need my help."

Eadda just nodded, the lump in her throat didn't let her speak at that moment, but she enjoyed the last moment that remained with her brother until Yary released the hug, gently turned her around and pushed her to the door. “Yah'd better leave before mother gets angry. Today she has no mercy."

Eadda nodded again and made her way to the bathtub. When she got to the washing room, she took off her nightgown and stepped into the warm water. She quickly washed herself with a sponge having already washed her hair yesterday and it would take too long to dry again.

Then she rubbed herself with a fresh woollen cloth and looked at the strange underwear her mother had given her. She usually wore some made of woven linen but this one was made of silk with ruffles around the edges. Eadda didn’t hesitate long and pulled on the tight underpants. Confused she realised that instead of a sleeveless shirt that kept you warm it was an extremely short shirt made of the same fabric as its counterpart.

'This ain’t underwear…' she thought.

After a moment's hesitation, she also put on the shirt into which she could just squeeze her breasts, but it was incredibly tight and Eadda suddenly felt very uncomfortable in her skin. When she looked in the mirror, she knew the reason. It clearly emphasized her feminine charms and she almost started crying again.

A few days before she had never thought about things like her body or what happened when a woman was with a man. In spirit, she was still almost a child and now she was being sold like a head of cattle so that some guy could do whatever he wanted to with her. She had never expected something like this to happen to her one day and yet it did.

Today. That very day.

She took a deep breath and combed her hair until the door was thrown open and her mother came in with two maids. 

"Yah’re done, at least sumthin’," Abigail remarked and looked at her daughter satisfied a short smile crossed her face. "Fine, the corset!"

When Eadda was about to ask what it was, one of the two stepped forward and walked around Eadda with a strange-looking piece of clothing from which numerous cords dangled. The servant lifted Eadda's arms then pulled the hose-like thing over it until it was at the waist where the other maid held it in place while the maid behind her diligently pulled the strings. The strange fabric hose tied tighter and tighter around Eadda's upper body until she could barely breathe. 

She gasped in shock and looked indignantly at her mother, but she just smiled strangely again, turned around and screamed down the hall. "Brin’ the dress!"

Frantic footsteps could be heard and two more maids brought in a snow-white huge-looking dress that took up almost half the room.

“Oh dear, it's way too narrow in here! Take it to the library there should be enough space. Eadda, come with me.” Abigail grabbed her daughter's arm and pulled her outside after her.

Barefoot, clad only in underwear and the corset the still gasping, confused young woman stumbled after her mother through the cold hallway and into the library where Yardleyu was sitting behind the desk and at first did not understand what was going on. But when he saw his younger sister he looked away with a horrified expression.

Eadda now had to stand on the stool that one of the maids had brought from the wash room before tons of fabric were pulled over her head and it took half an eternity before she found her way out of the depths of her wedding dress. Eadda was breathing quickly and shallowly had an uncomfortably queasy feeling in her stomach and for a moment she felt dizzy.

When she lost her balance and almost fell off the stool Yary caught her and carefully set her down on the floor.

"Everythin’ okay? Are ya a’ight?” he asked worriedly.

Eadda held on to him for a moment before she nodded.

Yardleyu held her hand for a moment then released it to sit back behind the desk.

Abigail had watched the scene, shaking her head and now sent one of the maids to fetch Eadda a glass of liqueur. The other maids tied the wedding dress at the back before two of the maids lifted the skirt and the third pushed a stool underneath on which Eadda sank relieved. The fourth maid rushed over and handed her the glass of liqueur which she hastily drank. It tasted sweet and spicy at the same time, a taste she had never tasted before but it felt good she calmed down a bit and suddenly wasn't so nervous anymore.

All four maids spent the following hour brushing and styling Eadda's hair then lifted the front of her skirt again and put on a kind of silk belt and white lace stockings that came down to her thighs and were fastened to the belt so they didn't slide down. White shoes that matched the dress were also brought; they had a heel not too high but it felt strange.

To her great relief Abigail left the room to dress herself, then the maids began to make up for Eadda. A paste with silvery shimmering pigments was rubbed onto her eyelids, her cheeks were given a delicate pink tinge and her lips were reddened with a mixture of fat and crushed ice rose petals.

When they were done, they helped her to get up and Eadda looked exhausted at her brother whose mouth was wide open when he saw her. The sight of him was so amusing that she had to grin and Yary closed his mouth hastily, came over to her, took her hands, looked his sister up and down and then leaned forward.

“Yah’re beautiful, Eadda. The most beautiful bride I have ever seen,” he whispered in her ear. 

Eadda smiled embarrassed and returned his reserved smile then he sent one of the maids to fetch another glass of liqueur - 'for the bride's nerves'. All four scurried out of the library and left them alone.

Yardleyu sighed deeply, he could no longer hold up the mask that had hidden his grief. A loved one was going to be stolen from him and there was nothing he could do about it nor could his sister.

Eadda felt his grief and put a reassuring hand on his cheek, she herself had already given up the resistance to the marriage, it would happen anyway. The liqueur also did the rest and conjured a transfigured smile on her face. In that brief moment she felt absolutely safe, she felt strong and, if her brother hadn't known better, he would have assumed that she was looking forward to the wedding. He also realised that this was not the case when her mother called from downstairs that it was time to leave.

'Please no...' she thought.

Her eyes showed her naked panic and she opened her mouth to say something when a maid came in with the liquor and humbly handed her the glass. In one gulp, Eadda emptied it and hooked herself to her brother who led the swaying bride down the hall and to the stairs.

There Eadda looked down at her family for a moment. Her parents looked almost the same, but their clothes looked a bit more elegant than usual and Abigail had put on her best most expensive jewellery, Sean wore a suit similar to his brother. With one hand on the railing and the other arm hooked under Yary's Eadda walked slowly down the steps. Her gaze fell in the large mirror that stood in the entrance hall at the foot of the stairs and her breath caught.

'That ain’t me...' she thought.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Her brother hadn't lied she was really incredibly beautiful to look at, the dress was sewn from snow-white brocade, the skirt reached down to the floor and had a long train. White fabric ice roses had also been sewn onto a gathering in the hem and the long sleeves were made of almost transparent lace. The maids had plaited her hair and tied it into a deep bun with small rose-shaped clips glistening in it which she assumed were made of pure real silver. Even if she had suspected otherwise due to the length of the procedure she was only slightly made up, her cheeks looked reddened, embarrassed, and the eyelids shimmered when she blinked.

Her mother stepped up to her and carefully placed a fine silver chain around her neck, the pendant also showed an ice rose and was set with tiny diamonds. Then she put a short white coat made of snow hare fur over her shoulders which one of the maids handed to her.

"Almost done," Abigail remarked happily.

Another maid brought the transparent silk veil that was attached to a small comb and matched the ice roses in her hair. Her mother carefully pinned it to the top of the bun and tossed the fabric over her head so that it was in front of her face.

“Now let's go. It's getting’ late,” Faegan grumbled and the family left the house.

Two carriages were waiting for them outside, the first was the Blake family's carriage, but she had never seen the second; it was black, decorated with white ice roses and was pulled by two white horses.

"Eadda, ya and yer father get into this carriage," Abigail indicated the carriage with the white horses. "An' we're goin’ with our own."

Eadda just nodded and gave Yary a long sad look before she got into the carriage the small door of which the coachman was already holding open for her. She sat down on the soft upholstery facing the direction of travel and avoided the gaze of her father who was sitting across from her, so she remained seated for the entire journey and was silent.

After a while the carriage stopped and Faegan mumbled, "We're here." Then he climbed out of the shed.

'The beginnin’ of the end...' she thought.

Eadda took a deep breath and got out of the vehicle with the help of her father who offered her a hand. Instinctively she looked for Yardleyu and spotted him in the ranks of the guests along with Sean and their mother, he looked troubled. Only then did her gaze fall on Ethan who was standing next to the Cleric in the centre and waiting for her.

A dark red carpet was rolled out on the ground in front of her, covered with white ice rose petals and a band began to play, but Eadda did not hear the delicate tones. It boomed in her ears as she stepped forward through the rows of guests at her father's side. It almost felt like the path would never end, all eyes were on her.
But after half an eternity they arrived at the front and Faegan gave his daughter to Ethan with a nod before he went to her family. Eadda looked at her bridegroom who gave her a sugar-sweet smile and except for the stupid grin and the clothes just looked like yesterday when she had observed him in front of her property. He wore his dark blonde hair tied in a pigtail, again the dark suit was made of brocade – like her dress. Presumably the parents of the bride and groom agreed that everything was perfect that day. The head of a blood-red ice rose was attached to his lapel.

'Those damn roses everywhere...' she thought.

Eadda hated them. Everything about them. That they had thorns. How they smelled. And she didn't think they were beautiful either.

The Cleric had long since started the wedding, but the rustling in Eadda's ears prevented her from hearing him. Absent-mindedly she let her gaze wander over the landscape that sloped slightly beyond the wedding place. It was cold but at the moment there was no snow in the Ice Lands, at least not in the lower areas, and the tops of the northern fir trees stretched dark green into the sky. She had never been in a country other than her home; she had only read stories. 

Dwarfs lived in Hyrunar where it was even colder than in Voynar and the snow lay all year round. They had built huge halls in the mountains an underground city they called Emerald. On the island of La'zhij there were supposedly wood elves whose beautiful songs resounded through the forests, but neither the elves nor the dwarves were seen in the rest of Abarglen – and certainly not in the Ice Lands. 

The kingdom was cordoned off, surrounded on three sides by the raging sea and on the fourth side was a gigantic wall that King Kavanagh had built – the Wall of Voynar. Insurmountable this kept the enemies outside but unfortunately also the Voynarians inside.

Ethan listened carefully to the cleric looking in the direction of the cleric before glancing at her, opening his mouth and saying something she couldn't understand.
And she heard herself say, "I agree."

Suddenly she was pulled back into reality and she realised what had just happened. Her head jerked around and her eyes searched the cheering crowd for Yardleyu, but he was gone.

Instead, Ethan suddenly stood right in front of her and pulled her veil back then pressed his lips to hers and Eadda didn't know what to do so she just stood there and waited.

'Get away from me...' she thought.

When he finally broke away from her, he no longer smiled but stared at her with suppressed anger in his eyes before he took her arm and led her through the rows of still cheering guests back to the carriage and helped her in before he got in himself. The coachman closed the shed behind the bride and groom and climbed back onto the driver's seat cracked the whip and the horses began to move.

Eadda avoided Ethan's gaze but she felt it like needle pricks boring into her body as she looked intimidated out of the tiny window in the door. The carriage drove fast and brought her closer and closer to an uncertain future which she could no longer influence herself.

The landscape passed quickly but instead of driving back towards the city, the coachman steered the team to the left from where it continued into the mountains. Eadda didn't have to ask where they were going, she thought she already knew the answer.

There wasn't much in this part of the Ice Lands only the Weather Point was up there, a small village so close to the peaks that it didn't even begin to thaw in summer. The horses slowed down with the steeper incline and when they had already passed the snow line they stopped. Ethan climbed out of the shed to offer her his hand, Eadda reluctantly took it and got out of the carriage cautiously.

The property they were standing in front of was a little apart from the other houses at Weather Point and so far from Voynar that she couldn't even see the city through the thick haze that surrounded the summit. Eadda looked up at the building in front of her which was a small property, not nearly as big as the one she had lived in – and certainly not what Ethan had promised her in his letter. If she didn't have to live here involuntarily, it would be a pretty building, but in the light of the evening sun the dark windows looked threatening.

'Like empty eyes…' she thought.

While she was standing there surveying the property, Ethan went to the door and opened it then put on his fake smile again and called out to her. "Welcome home, Mrs. Walsh!"

Copyright: Larissa Doe

The following chapter contains rape!

Chapter 4 - Marriage

Eadda Walsh hesitantly approached the front door when the coachman followed her and handed her the big bag that her mother had packed. For a moment she didn't understand why she should now carry her things herself, but then she took it without a word while she took another deep breath and walked past her husband into the house. Ethan followed and bolted the door behind them.

She took a few steps through the narrow hallway at the end of which a staircase led to the upper floor, on her right was an open passage to the salon, on her left a closed door behind which the kitchen was presumably. Ethan had already gone to the right, but she was still standing rooted to the spot in the hallway near the entrance and wanted to turn around again.

"Go ahead, sit down!" What was otherwise a cliché of politeness sounded like an order from his mouth.

She just left her bag in the hallway before slowly entering and looking around the small room that didn't even deserve the name salon. Rather it was a living room that was only lit by the fire that was already burning in the fireplace. In front of it stood a modest group of seats - a sofa and two armchairs with a low table in between. Between the two windows was a sideboard with glasses and a couple of bottles on it that presumably contained alcoholic beverages. There was also a small table at which one could dine with guests and on the walls, there were bland paintings of the Voynar landscape.
Her husband stood waiting between the fireplace and the seating furniture and she hesitantly walked towards the sofa. Before she sat down, she smoothed the skirt of her dress as her mother had taught her.
"Ya really look beautiful in yer dress," Ethan flattered studying her.
She dared not answer or look back and so a few minutes of silence passed. Finally, Ethan sighed and went to the sideboard, poured a blueish-transparent liquid into two of the glasses and sat with it next to her while Eadda suppressed the reflex of fleeing with all her might. Instead, she forced herself to look up at him as he handed her one of the glasses, but she only kept eye contact for a second and then looked down at her knees again the glass between her hands in her lap.
Ethan seemed to have his fun tormenting her like this for he raised his glass to his face. "To our marriage, may love grow and prosper."
Now she had to look at him again while she lifted her glass and gently pushed against his, it clinked softly. He took a long swig of his drink and Eadda did the same, the burning in her throat making her cough and him laughing.
"Ghost wine. Ya don't seem to have tasted it before, did ya?” he asked amused.
"No, I didn' drink anythin’ of the kind before today," she pressed out.
Ethan grinned broadly, almost disfigured in this twilight, and his face resembled a grimace. Eadda shuddered involuntarily even though it was very warm in the room.
“Take another sip. It gets better the more ya drink,” he encouraged her.
She did as she was told and this time, she was able to suppress a cough but she could already feel the effects of the strong alcohol. His glass was now half empty while hers looked as if she hadn't touched it and another minute of silence passed during which Eadda sipped her ghost wine twice. Ethan emptied his rest in one go then put his glass on the table and leaned sideways against the back of the sofa without taking his eyes off her.
Eadda was feeling dizzy and the unspeakable heat of the fireplace troubled her, so she took the fur from her shoulders and set it aside. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that her husband was staring openly at her cleavage which she had just exposed and she felt like a piece of meat.
“So now we're married. Ya despise me, do ya no’?” Ethan asked lurking.
Eadda gently shook her head and smiled disapprovingly. “No, it's no’ that. It's no’ up to ya... It's... it's jus' that I wanted sumthin’ other than marriage," she admitted.
Ethan listened. "So? Wot did ya wish for?"
She hesitated for a moment, laughed uncertainly and mumbled, "I don' know, actually I niver wanted anythin’ other than to be free."
Her answer seemed very astonishing and he continued, “Interestin’. And now ya ain’t free?"
Since she had no concrete answer ready, she took another long sip of spirit wine to buy time and tried to organize her drunken thoughts.
'I’d be freer anywhere than here...' she thought.
She slurred on, "No... it's no’ a connection that I wanted... Rather we are two strangers who don' know each other. And yah’re much older than me.” The words gushed out of her, the alcohol had loosened her tongue and made her very talkative. She completely overlooked his threatening look. “The Voynarians are closed an' the aristocratic life is downright borin’ compared to all the adventures that await beyond the wall. I'm dyin’ to see all of this one day."
Her gaze fell back on her husband and her smile died within a second as Ethan leaned forward and brought his face close to hers.
“But now yah’re married. Yah’re mine. And ya will eke out this aristocratic existence for the rest of yer life. Ya will raise my sons an' take care of the house, do ya hear?” With that he grabbed the back of her neck and dug his fingers painfully into her hair.
Eadda gasped in agony and tried to escape his grip, but he just gripped tighter. Tears welled up in her eyes and when she looked at him his gaze made her blood run cold. Finally, he pushed her away and Eadda fell back on the floor, the glass slipped out of her hand, made an arc and shattered into a thousand pieces in front of the fireplace. Startled, she looked up at Ethan who was standing in front of the sofa and stared down at her in silence, she couldn't read the expression on his face.
'I have to appease him...' she thought.
Eadda slowly sat up because she couldn't get up alone in the huge dress anyway, so she looked up at her husband from the floor, cleared her throat and quietly said her apology, "Forgive me, Ethan. The ghost wine must have clouded my senses. I stand a little beside myself an' forgot the customs of civil conversation. I ask yer forgiveness many times. An' for permission to sit down with ya again to clear up this misunderstandin’."
Her heart pounded while she waited for an answer, but Ethan said nothing, came up to her wordlessly and she bowed her head for fear that he would hit her, but he held out his hand which she quickly took and pulled her to her feet.
“No, Eadda. It was a bit much for a day an' we should go upstairs an' go to bed. We still have enough time to gab ‘bout it. Take yer things, I'll show ya the bedroom."
He pointed to her bag which she had almost forgotten again and which she hastily took before she followed him up the stairs with soft knees. Ethan led her through the left door. It was dark beyond and he lit the two lamps that were on the bedside tables then went to the fireplace on her left to place a few logs of wood in the embers.
In contrast to the living room, the bedroom looked friendly with a large bed on the wall on the right with a small padded bench in front of it. Another door led through the wall next to the bed to another room. To the right of the fireplace was a window, two more were in front of her in between was a simple sideboard with a bouquet of ice roses in a vase on it, but she still didn't like all of that when she thought that it was her new home.
"I like it, a very nice room," she lied with a reserved smile.
Ethan nodded, then pointed to the other door by the bed. “It is a dressin’ room there. Ya can also wash yerself in it, if ya wish to do so before goin’ to bed. Yer mother's maid has already brought yer clothes in there."
She returned the nod. "Thank ya, I’d like that."
The newly-weds stood facing each other for a few moments and looked at each other then Ethan left the room in the direction of the hall and closed the door behind him. She could hear that he had gone into the other room which was still upstairs.
Eadda went through the door with her bag and lit the lantern that hung on the wall next to the passage before looking around the cool dressing room.
It was just like Ethan had said, a vanity with a mirror, a bowl, and a jug of fresh water on it stood against one wall. Her new clothes were hanging on the other wall neatly lined up on a pole underneath were a few pairs of shoes which must now also belong to her. Only now did she feel how much her feet hurt and she slipped off her wedding shoes and pushed them with her foot next to the other shoes in the row. She put her bag on the washstand next to the bowl, laid the veil next to it, and then felt with both hands for the lacing of her dress.
A finger reached a loop and pulled on it, causing the heavy fabric to loosen and slide down. She stepped carefully out of the wedding dress, picked it up and carefully hung it on the rail with the other dresses. Then she went back to the vanity and looked in the mirror, tiredly looking back at her image.
The unfamiliar underwear still gave her an extremely uncomfortable feeling as her gaze wandered further down from her face. Eadda turned her back on the mirror and tried to get the threads of the corset, but it was knotted in the only place she couldn't get. As much as she tried to do it, she couldn't. She took her comb out of her pocket and tried to use it as an extension, but this attempt also failed. Even when she picked up one of the shoes to thread the heel into the loop it didn't help her any further. She leaned breathlessly against the vanity. Hoping that in the meantime she would think of something else than to cut the threads with her dagger, she loosened the topknot at the back of her head and pulled out clip by clip to carefully stow them in her pocket. She also took the necklace off and put it inside. Then she washed her face and the parts of her body that she could reach and looked again in the mirror. Almost the Eadda she knew again only the clothes were foreign to her and the light waves that the hairstyle had left in her hair.
When she was about to go back to the corset there was a soft knock on the door and she startled, hastily pulled her wedding dress off the rack and slipped on it without locking it.
"Yes, please?"
Ethan opened the door and examined her. "The time ya actually need is noticeably lon’ because ya only wanted to undress an' wash. Ya need help?"
Eadda hesitated a moment.
'I don' want to ask him...' she thought.
But then she nodded uncertainly. "I'm afraid so. There... There's this clasp on my back that’s out of my reach. Could... no... Would ya... please?” she stammered.
Her husband gave a curt nod, took a step forward and stood in front of her, waiting.
Eadda turned her back on him and trembling with fear let the wedding dress slide down to her waist where she held the material tightly. The mirror was right in front of her and she could watch Ethan in it. He was so close behind her that she could feel his warm breath on the neck. A shiver ran down her spine.
She was still shivering not only because of the cold; her husband's looks were also uncomfortable so she closed her eyes for a moment waited for the corset to finally loosen and already regretted that she had asked him for help. When she opened her eyes again, he looked directly into her face as he also had noticed the mirror and now saw the front of her. The little shirt couldn't cover its contents it literally praised them.
Ethan still silently undid the corset until it was completely loose and Eadda bravely managed a smile. “I thank ya from the bottom of my heart. I can do the rest by myself.“ She tried to get rid of him.
Returning the smile, he replied, “I'm happy to help. Just stretch yer arms over yer head for a moment an' yah’ll be free."
If she really wanted to raise her arms, she would have to let go of the dress and would only stand in front of him in petticoats. But for fear of another outburst of anger she swallowed her shame, let the dress fall on the floor and did what he asked. The corset was slowly pushed up as she felt his eyes on her body and wanted to flee. When she felt the fabric on her forearms, she quickly pulled them out, smiled and breathed her thanks to him in the mirror then reached into her pocket and took out the silk nightgown. But before she could put it on, he had pulled it out of her trembling fingers and tossed it aside.
Eadda looked at her husband's reflection in the mirror with big eyes and she could hear Yary's voice in her head when he asked her to voluntarily share the bed with her husband. Her heart was beating fast like a bird's wings, her mind was racing and her hands were wet with sweat while she stood waiting in front of Ethan, barely able to bear the tension any longer. Finally, he slowly turned her around to look at her almost naked body before he crouched down in front of her and put one arm under her knees, the other at her back. So, he gently picked her up and carried her out, banging the door to the dressing room with his foot so that it fell shut.
It was significantly warmer in the bedroom than before. The fire pattered lively in the fireplace, the flames licked the logs hungrily, but Eadda only felt the coldness of fear inside her. Ethan had placed her on the skins right in front of the fireplace and was now standing next to her looking down as he undressed. Slowly he unbuttoned his shirt and let it fall to the floor, the under shirt followed. Revealing his upper body with a muscular chest which other women would surely have loved. But his own wife looked up at him fearfully and when he stripped off his trousers, she could see that a noticeable lump was emerging under his underpants.
'No, I don` want that...' she thought.
Seized by recurring panic she sat up, but Ethan was already kneeling next to her and gently pushed her back until she was laying down. The thoughts were still racing in Eadda's head, she knew that she had to decide now – would she defend herself or submit? The former would inevitably end badly for her, she could feel his determination in the look with which he was looking at her. Hopefully her brother had saved her from conceiving and so she decided to submit.
Ethan leaned over her and when his lips met hers, she kissed him back.
'Jus' let it be over quickly...' she thought.
His hand brushed up her stomach and when his fingers met the lace trim of the shirt, he pushed it under the fabric and began to caress her breast. Eadda gasped for breath apparently confirming him because he knelt between her thighs and began to rub the lump in his underclothes against her pubic area. Then he slipped the shirt off her head and carelessly tossed it aside. His gaze brushing her breasts before kissing her again. He pushed his tongue between her lips into her mouth and pressed his loins hard against her lap while his hand went to her buttocks and gripped tightly. Startled, she felt warm wetness in her underwear and panic again, but when she tried to squirm out from under him, he held her and looked at her grimly.
"Wot's wron’, Eadda?" he asked harshly.
Tears welled up in her eyes. "I'm very scared of it."
Her words caused an amused grin, then he whispered, "This is no' the first time I'm doin’ this, ya will like it, believe me."
With his lips pressed to her mouth again he stripped off his underclothes and then straightened up. He pushed the silk belt from Eadda's hips that had held her stockings and pulled them down, with it this material also landed on the floor.
Frozen with fear his newly wedded wife let him do it with her eyes closed.
For a moment he looked at her silk underpants then he hooked his index fingers into the waistband and with relish slipped them over her legs before throwing the last item of clothing aside.
She opened her eyes again when she realised that she was now completely naked. Her gaze fell accidentally on his towering centre, startled she closed her eyes again while Ethan leaned over her again. In the next second, she felt a sharp pain that made her whimper. He had started to move on top of her and she was writhing under him. When he got faster, she struggled violently, screaming and tried to push him off her. She almost believed that he really gave up when he straightened up briefly, but then he forcibly turned her onto her stomach and pressed her with an iron grip on the back of her neck. In the next moment he pushed himself back into her and ruthlessly picked up where he had left off.

When he finally broke away from her, Eadda stumbled in panic across the room and into the dressing room, she slammed the door behind her with a loud bang. She reached for the silk nightgown and pulled it on, then crouched on the floor in the corner, wrapped her arms around her knees, and began to cry softly. Yardleyu was right, to defend herself was pointless, her husband took what he wanted and she had nothing to oppose him. Her abdomen ached and as she reached between her thighs, she saw blood on her trembling fingers.
A few minutes later Ethan entered the dressing room and Eadda ducked her head as he sat up in front of her, he was still naked and looked down at her thoughtfully, but she didn't want to return his gaze.
“Get up, it's our weddin’ night an' it has only jus' begun. Ya have a duty to do, ya remember?"
There was something caustic in his voice that ate its way through the bone and shook Eadda's insides. His bride made no move to get up, so he brutally grabbed her arm and yanked her up until she stood shaking with her head bowed. Then he grabbed her neck and pushed her back into the bedroom in front of him where he pushed her onto the bed, pushed up her nightgown and again took her so brutally that she cried and screamed.

Later, Eadda would not be able to remember how often it happened that night, but she no longer struggled. At some point the pain also became more bearable, her entire body already felt numb. She hoped that she would be released in a year at the latest when he realised that she would not give him any children.
Fortunately, at the beginning of their marriage the young woman did not yet know how much she was wrong about it.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

The following chapter contains rape!

Chapter 5 - Darkness

Kingdom of Voynar, The Ice Lands, Avonia of the year 64

Yardleyu went searching through the bulging pantry of the property, a slight shiver made his body shake, down here in the basement it was very cold, although autumn had just come and there was no snow yet. Far back was a table on which was what he had been looking for – the previous evening's dessert. He wrapped the sweet pastries in a cloth and put them in the pocket that hung from his shoulder. As he passed, he took an apple with him which he also put in his bag then left the room and locked the door.

The twenty-two-year-old man circled the property and pulled the hood of his fur-lined cloak over his head so that his face could not be seen. His fully saddled horse was already standing on the road on whose back he climbed and rode off. For four and a half years he had covered this route several times a week and despite his reliable mount it was always a difficult route. Every time there was fear. Fear she might not be able to sit by the window. Fear she was dead. Fear he would never see her again.

The times of day always alternated sometimes he rode at night and sometimes at noon like today. On the way there the fear ate its way through his bowels, but the way back was worse having to leave her alone again hurt the most.

He followed the main street that led him out of town while the guards took no notice of him, they knew the veiled figure by now. After crossing the long bridge beyond the city gate, he spurred the mare on.

After night had fallen, he was climbing the last stretch of the steep rise to the Weather Point with his heart pounding and was relieved to see that the lantern was burning in the window. Their agreed sign that Ethan was not home and that it was safe to approach the building. During the day, she instead hung a red cloth over the window sash.

Ethan Walsh was an officer in the army of the Kingdom of Voynar and so despite his noble descent he had to serve like any soldier from a simple family. He had to do his duty sometimes during the day and sometimes at night and they regularly used the time of his absence to meet and talk to each other.

The first time Yary had sat under the window and talked to Eadda; he had literally forced her to tell him about the things her husband did to her. She was his prisoner, locked in his house and only once a day, he let her outside to empty the bucket into which she had to relieve herself. Ethan did not even allow her to use the toilet, a simple wooden shed that sat outside behind the building. He also starved her, only getting a meagre meal every two days. Their common plan to get Eadda's husband to abandon her through the childlessness had not worked out, but she still did not want to give her husband a child which is why she continued to take the drink that her brother made for her. Even if she paid for it, every day anew. She was worthless to her husband, a toy with which he could do as he pleased whether she gave him a son or not, he would still be happy to mistreat her. The two would have loved to poison Ethan, but Eadda would have been blamed for the murder and had she been thrown into the dungeons, she would undoubtedly have fared even worse than her marriage and so they failed to do so and continued to meet at the kitchen window.

He tied his horse to a tree a bit away from the village before he hurried to fix the light of the lantern on the window and stopped below, then he knocked softly against the pane with a branch lying around. The casement opened immediately and as far as it was possible.

"Eadda?" Yary called up softly.

But it wasn't until she answered that he was completely reassured.

"Yes, I’m here," her voice sounded weak and powerless through the narrow opening.

Then she quickly let a hook attached to a rope down to him on which he hung the bag he was carrying. She pulled the little bag into the house through the window, and half a minute later it came back out the same way. As always there was an empty glass vial in it – the sign that she had taken her herbal drink.

“The pastries were left over last night. We had guests and the maids had baked too much as I instructed,” he said quietly.

“Thank ya, Yary. Wot would I do without ya..."

When Eadda's voice faded into a murmur, tears welled up in his eyes they couldn't even see each other and all he heard was her low desperate voice. He sat down on the floor under the window and leaned against the wall then pulled himself together and told her about the latest happenings in the Blake house. Aside from the guests they had received there was only one thing worth telling.

“Sean was promoted to lieutenant the day before yesterday. Father and mother are very proud of him, he has come a lon’ way in such a short time. After all, he's only just eighteen years old. But ya know that. They even went to the market yesterday and passed the news around,” Yary reported cheerlessly.

"It's a shame ya can't convey my congratulations to him," Eadda said through the window.

Their meetings were kept secret, nobody knew that Yardleyu went to Walsh's estate regularly to speak to his sister but he hadn't seen her since their wedding. In his memory it was a black day, he couldn't bear to see her standing there in the white wedding dress that made her look like an angel. In her eyes he could have read the fear she must have been in and Walsh had stood next to her and smiled. When the cleric had explained the duties of the married couple and all the guests present were to pray for numerous descendants Yary had turned away and left the place in a hurry, he had gone down the hill, sat on a tree trunk and wept.

After a moment of silence, Yary asked, "Ya like the pastries?"

"Very well indeed!" A touch of enthusiasm was in her voice and a smile flitted over her brother's features then he fell silent again and let her eat in peace.

A few minutes later he pulled a book out from under his cloak. "This time I brought a book about La'zhij with me as ya had wished." A faint cheer came down to him from the window and with a smile on his face he whispered a few unintelligible words causing a glowing ball to float out of the palm of his hand.

When the magical source of light stopped in the air above his head he began to read Eadda from the book about the island of La‘zhij, the capital Davaj and the elves who inhabited it. They sat like that until dawn Yardleyu on the floor next to the house and Eadda inside by the kitchen window.

At some point she interrupted him excitedly, “Yary, be quiet! I hear his horse comin’!"

The light bullet disappeared instantly and he hastily tucked the book back under his coat, stood up and pulled the hood over his head.

Eadda whispered softly through the narrow opening, “Thank ya for this wonderful night. It's so good to hear yer voice. Take care of yerself."

"Ya too," he wanted to answer but by then she had already closed the window and turned off the light of the lantern.

Yary picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder then peered around the house to the stable where Ethan was unsaddling his horse, watering and feeding it. He watched his brother-in-law with a grim expression and would have liked to have fired a few magical projectiles at him. When Walsh had disappeared with self-confident steps towards the house, Yary hurried on his way home, he knew exactly what was going on in this property and wanted to be far enough away before he ran the risk of hearing something.

'Bad enough that I know...' he thought.

Arriving at the point of the path where it went steeply downhill, he reined his brown mare. Like every time he visited his sister at night he stayed there, it made him feel like he could help her with what was about to happen. When a few minutes later the light shone from the bedroom window of the Walsh couple he began to cry silently, thick tears rolled down his cheeks and into his beard while he sat on his horse and swayed his torso back and forth in despair.

Only when the light went out did he slowly calm down and realise that he had left traces in the snow for the hundred meters to the house which at this time of year only stayed at the top of the Weather Point for more than a few hours. With a gentle movement of his hand came a light wind which he let blow over his footprints and thus made them unrecognizable. Nothing now indicated that his sister had received a nightly visitor. It was already noon again when the hooded figure passed the city gate again and again nobody looked at him.

Eadda hid the remains of the apple she had just eaten, then hurried up the stairs to the bedroom, crawled quickly under the sheets and pretended to be asleep. She had been wearing the nightgown the whole time in case Ethan came home earlier than expected and she had to admit that she had had a glass of water in the kitchen.

A short time later, her husband came up the stairs, opened the door and entered the room she stood up without a word and lit the lamp on the bedside table then she knelt in front of him on the floor and prepared to pull down his pants.

"No’ today," he growled and pushed her aside so that she fell full-length.

He undressed himself while Eadda got up undressed, too, and laid back on the bed.

When he came to her, he turned her onto her stomach pulled her onto all fours and asked, "Are we as mute as a fish again today, Eadda?"

She was silent closed her eyes and thought of her brother, of his voice which gave her the strength she needed to stay alive while Ethan angrily went to get the knife. She had last heard from Yary just a few minutes ago, but she was already longing for the day he would come back to read to her again.

When Ethan came back with the knife, he set the blade down on the bedside table before caressing her scarred back. “Ya know with these scars no one else will ever love ya. Niver,” he whispered. Then he began the whole cruel procedure again after which Eadda would get another scar on her back.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 6 - Light

Weather Point, Kingdom of Voynar, The Ice Lands, Caligon of the year 66

It was already late in the evening and Sean didn't even bother to knock but simply marched into the library, Yardleyu looked up angrily from his documents.

"As if the civil uprisin’ last week wusn' bad enough, strange thin’s are happenin’ in the city, too," began Sean and sat down on the stool in front of the desk, they looked at each other seriously.

"Tell me more ‘bout it," Yary asked, putting the quill aside.

“It started sum time ago, but so far the army hasn’ paid much attention to it. But since the reports of wild beasts wanderin’ the streets at night and attackin’ people indiscriminately are pilin’ up, the troops are on alert and patrollin’ the streets," said Sean in a husky voice. “I'll be joinin’ ‘em shortly. Stay in the house at night and lock the doors an' windows."

"Ya don' know any more about it yet?" Yary asked inquiringly.

Sean who was already wearing the undergarments of his armour rubbed his temples. “A man who escaped spoke of a wolf, a giant beast that wus able to climb a building. As I said the attacks mainly took place at night under cover of darkness.” Sean looked up and was silent for a moment. “It scares me, Yardleyu. Lately people are dyin’ every night. An' Kavanagh doesn' do anythin’ ‘bout it."

Yary just nodded silently as he got up and went to a bookshelf.

'Wolves...' he thought.

Sean also got up. “Just dedicate yerself to yer books. I have to leave now," he said acidly, left the library and closed the door behind him.

Yary found the book he was looking for and took it off the shelf before checking the windows. Those were tightly locked but to be on the safe side he closed the heavy curtains and then went back to his desk. Before starting to read, he thought of his sister and decided to bring her home first thing tomorrow, no matter what her husband and family thought of it. Only here was she really safe.

Eadda knelt on the floor and used a brush to scrub the floorboards in Ethan's room across from the bedroom which he liked to find sparkling clean when he got home. It was cold in the house, the water on her hands cooled quickly and made her skin rough and cracked. Even though her knuckles were already bleeding, she continued to clean.

Then she heard a loud crash from below.

She jumped up, ran over to the dressing room and pushed the heavy vanity in front of the door with all her strength. At the bottom of the cabinet was her dagger well hidden from her husband's sharp gaze. He was just on duty and wouldn't be back until the evening so she would have to defend herself. Presumably, it was robbers who were after the valuable belongings that had to be in a property like this.

The young woman took the dagger out of its sheath and backed away to the furthest corner. She held the weapon towards the door and waited. Only seconds later she heard noises from the other side, footsteps approaching across the bedroom and someone rattled the handle of the door behind which she had barricaded herself.


This voice was familiar to her, she immediately let go of the sharp blade which fell with a clatter to the floor and laboriously pulled the vanity aside before she opened the door and faced her beloved brother. While they looked at each other, Yary's eyes filled with tears. Stunned he went on his knees in front of her, one hand pressed to his mouth and stared at her, shaken.

'She looks so different…' he thought.

Her thin emaciated body was in one of the dresses her mother had sewn for her before her wedding but it was not a splendid robe as it used to be, but a rag that was staring with dirt and full of holes which was now much too big for her. Her hair was short and didn't even reach her shoulders. Some strands stood up in a tangle from her head. Even her face looked so different that he would not have recognised his own sister on the street.

Protruding, cloudy eyes above the pale, sunken cheeks looked at him in confusion when she asked in a thin, powerless voice, "Are ya... are ya really ‘ere, Yary? Or am I dreamin’?"

He grabbed her hand and pulled her close so that she also fell on her knees, then he put his arms around her and carefully hugged her. Still crying he stroked again and again what was left of her once long, beautiful hair.

"I am here, Eadda, I'm here..." Yardleyu sobbed and cradled his little sister in his arms who didn't move or make a sound. "Wot did he do to ya..."

He held Eadda for a long time and cried until there were no more tears then he picked her up from the floor and carefully put her on her feet. "I'll take ya away from here, back home."

She stared at her brother incessantly just nodded still confused and didn't seem to fully understand that her ordeal was now over.

"Ya want to take sumthin’ with ya before we both get out of here?" he asked a little more calmly.

Nodding again she turned around, picked up her dagger and sheathed it back in its sheath, then a tentative little smile stole onto her face. "We can go."

Yardleyu put one of her cloaks around her shoulders before he took her by the hand and led her through the broken-in front door to the outside where his horse was waiting.

Although it was Caligon, the first month of the new year, it was one of the few days when the sun shone through the clouds.

"Wait a moment," asked Eadda, holding her face blissfully in the warm rays while he watched her touched.

He gently took the dagger from her hand and stowed it in the saddlebag then hugged her again. "Let's go home."

Eadda nodded and skilfully climbed into the saddle while Yary took a seat directly behind her and held her while he drove the horse to a gallop and steered it onto the road to town. 

They rode over the bridge to the market square and then turned left to the property where Yary finally reined in the brown mare and dismounted. His sister followed him to the ground and patted the animal on the neck in praise.

The servant was already hurrying over and with a startled glance at his master’s daughter took the reins to bring the horse back to the stable. Eadda took the dagger out of the saddlebag and walked towards the property with her brother.
In the entrance hall a maid was busy sweeping the floor. When she saw the two of them come in, she excitedly called for her masters who hurried up immediately and Sean came down the stairs, too. Eadda looked embarrassed at the floor when she noticed the horrified looks of her family, she expected trouble like she always got when she got back home. But Sean went up to her surprisingly and hugged her wordlessly. Abigail turned around and hurried into the kitchen and one could hear how she yelled at the servants to warm water for a bath. Faegan merely nodded to his only daughter, then went back into the parlour he had come from. He couldn't stand the sight that worried his otherwise cold heart.

The kitchen door opened again her mother came up and hugged her regardless of the dirty clothes. “It's good to see ya again, child. The girls will fix ya a bath. Come along."

Eadda looked at Yary, he also gave her another brief hug and took the dagger from her hand again. “Go. I'll wait for ya in the library."

She followed her mother upstairs into the wash room who was constantly muttering curses that were meant for her son-in-law. 

To Eadda's surprise the entire family was shocked by what had happened to her and it was them who had forced her to marry Ethan.

Arriving at the bathtub Eadda asked, "Mother, I ask yer forgiveness many times, but I would like to wash myself alone, if ya allow me."

“Sure, Eadda. I'll just get ya clean clothes." Abigail couldn't shed her old ways. She didn't seem to have realised that her daughter was now a grown woman who could keep herself alive for years without her. One could still see the shock at the condition of Eadda, she was pale as a sheet. If she had always assumed her child was in good hands, she had now been taught better.

Eadda stopped her. “Are there any of my old things here? Could I get sum of it please?"

"Course." Her mother quickly left the room and hurried down the hall to look for the clothes she had asked for.

The maids had already poured the water into the brass tub when Abigail returned. She actually had trousers and a shirt with her along with simple underclothing and stockings made of linen as well as her beloved black leather boots which were polished to a shine. Eadda thanked her warmly, she hadn't expected that Abigail hadn't disposed of the things. Only after her mother had left the room did she take off her dress and step into the pleasantly warm water into which the maids as usual had given herbs and milk.

She hadn't been allowed to bathe for what felt like an eternity. Ethan hadn't allowed her, he had only had her fetch cold water from the well behind the house and she had to wash herself with an old sponge crouching in a small wooden tub.
Eadda lay in the bathtub for a few minutes with her eyes closed and enjoyed the warmth of the water that washed around her battered body, but she still couldn't really believe that she was actually back home. Carefully she began to wash herself from head to toe, not leaving any place out, washing away all the worries and fears, trying to push the memories of Ethan far back and lock them in a dark corner of her mind. Then she dried her finally clean, fragrant body, rubbed her short hair with the woollen cloth until it was almost dry and looked in the mirror.

She couldn't remember what her face had looked like on her wedding day the last time she looked at herself but she looked bad. One of her eyes was black. She turned around and looked at her back which had gotten worse than the rest of her body. Numerous scars shimmered on the light skin, the fresher cuts had not yet healed properly, three of them were even bleeding. Apparently, she had not been careful enough. Actually, she would need an ointment for it, but she would not be able to get there on her own and then she would have to ask her mother who she would rather spare the sight, so she grabbed her clothes and got dressed.

She had to turn the waistband of the pants a few times so that they wouldn't slip down, only the boots still fitted her perfectly, but she didn't care about any of that, she was glad that she no longer had to wear a dress.

Eadda left the wash room, walked down the hall and stopped in front of the library the door of which was open. But she didn't dare just go inside, so she waited until her brother looked up from his book and waved her inside.

"Come and sit down please," he asked as he approached her.
He pointed to the armchair by the fireplace where it was warm, and closed the door behind her after she entered.

She walked slowly to one of the seating furniture and took a seat by the fire then she looked at her brother who had also sat down.

“I canno’ quite believe I'm home again. It seems so unreal to me,” she muttered.

Yary smiled cautiously. "I missed ya."

"Missed ya, too, big brother," she whispered back and returned the hesitant smile. After a minute she continued much more seriously, “If ya hadn' visited me so often, I probably wouldn' be sittin’ here. Yer voice kept me alive; a light in the dark."

Yary nodded. “They were for me, too, the days when I went to the window. Even if it hurt to return home."

"How lon’ have I been gone?" she asked flatly even though she feared the answer. She wanted to know how much time in her life Ethan had robbed her.

Yardleyu did the maths then stared at his knees. "In a month it would have been six years."

'Six years…' she thought.

Eadda nodded silently, for a while they just sat across from each other and savoured the other's presence. “Why did ya brin’ me home right now? An' how will it go on now? I don' have to go back to him sumtime?"

He shook his head violently. “No, ya niver have to return to him, I swear. No matter wot, I won' let it happen. The circumstances of yer return... Well, let's say there wus an accumulation of worryin’ incidents that ended up bringin’ ya here. Voynar is no longer safe. And in such a remote property ya would have been defenseless."

"Incidents? Voynar is no longer safe? Wot ya mean by that?” Eadda wanted to know and looked at him worried.

'I jus' have to tell her…' he thought.

He struggled for a moment. “There were nightly attacks on citizens an' house break-ins. Sean spoke of wolf-like creatures that climb buildin’s. Many people are dead or have disappeared. The army is doin’ wot it can, but even King Kavanagh doesn' seem to know wot's going on."

"But ya know," she whispered and looked at him steadily.

Yary nodded. “At least I think I know. Ya can probably no’ remember our grandfather Oisin, he died when we were both very young but he wus a magician like me. But unlike me he completed his trainin’ at the Magical Academy of Voynar an' had access to their library, he made a copy of a book he found there an' kept it here in this room; all these years it wus owned by the Blake family. And at sum point I found this copy an' read it. When Sean told me ‘bout the citizens' reports I remembered it and took out grandfather's old record to read it again. The original work goes back to one of the academy's chief magicians, Auhur. He wrote about a parallel dimension that has almost been forgotten today." Eadda hung on his lips and Yary continued. "A lon’ time ago a magical novice who wanted to open a portal got lost so far that he managed to get a passage to establish this dimension. When it wus noticed wot exactly wus on the other side of the portal, Auhur first began to research on behalf of the academy. But it quickly turned out that those wolves were not jus' any wild animals, but real beasts that killed indiscriminately. An' after one of ‘em was summoned an' half a library was torn apart, the arch magician wus forbidden from any further research. But Auhur didn' think of stoppin’, but summoned another beast that bit him before he could send it back to where it came from. Although the bite wus treated, Auhur wrote of the severe pain it caused him. The records end a little later." Yardleyu rubbed his forehead before continuing. "If I am right then our kingdom is goin’ to be bad, very bad. So far no one has been able to stop these beings. The people of Voynar would hardly have anythin’ to oppose them."

"Ya have to tell the King ‘bout it so that they can be relegated to their own dimension again, Yary!" Eadda had leaned forward and looked at him intently.

But her brother shook his head tiredly. “I already asked for an audience with Kavanagh early this mornin' but they won' let me see him. They think I'm crazy, they turn a blind eye to danger an' leave the citizens to their own devices. That's why I brought ya home. Yah’re only really safe by my side, Eadda."

She sat there thoughtfully and processed what her brother had just said and sounded so logical to her ears.

Eventually she asked, "If they attack us, wot can we do?"

Yary looked her in the face so gloomily that she had to gulp involuntarily before he said flatly, "Kill ‘em."


Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 7 - Burning

Voynar, Kingdom of Voynar, The Ice Lands, Fulgyr of the year 66

In the past two months Eadda's physical condition had improved significantly and she looked like she had before her wedding to Ethan, but Yardleyu was worried about her spirit. Every night she woke up drenched in sweat and screaming and he worriedly ran over to her room to check on her. Her husband haunted her in her dreams and still tormented her even though she hadn't seen him since the day she escaped from the house. However, the experience had left deep scars on her skin and soul. Contrary to Yary's expectations, he had not shown up, had not come to reclaim his wife, probably he knew how he would have been received at the Blake house.
Sean had also changed a lot in the meantime which had been shown when the three siblings had sat together in the library for one evening and talked. He had apologized to Eadda for being so mistaken about her marriage and expressed his regret over what had happened to her. In addition, the powerlessness of his military engagement in the fight against the attacks made him very troubled. There was not much left of his self-confidence and the conviction that he always did the right thing.
Yardleyu's theories became more plausible every week, and so the three of them allied and prepared for an eventual attack. Eadda regularly practised fighting with her dagger and showed astonishing skill, she was quick and fought extremely ruthlessly. Sean trained every day with her and often ended up on the seat of his pants.

The Blake parents, however, believed that Kavanagh had the state of affairs in the kingdom under control and it was only a matter of time before the excitement about the attacks subsided.
One evening the siblings were sitting together in the dining room and having a late meal.

Sean had returned from duty a few minutes ago exhausted and said sadly, “There wus another incident. A farmin’ family in Vorsted wus found dead an' even the children were literally torn to shreds. A sight that I would have liked to save myself."
“Nobody envies ya for that, I'm sure. Yah're really honoured by yer service to our people.” Yary’s reply sounded concerned.

Sean thanked him and stood up. “I am now going to rest, it wus an exhaustin’ day. Let's keep practisin’ tomorrow, Eadda. I wouldn' be a serious opponent for today."
She nodded in agreement and wished him a good night's rest before turning to Yary. “I'm very tired, too, an' will do the same. Yah’re sure to go straight to the library to read, won' ya?"

"I will, yes. I have found sum more promisin’ notes dealin’ with the Virtheriā,” he replied.

"Hopefully ya will find out sumthin’ that will help us. Good luck an' a quiet night, Yary,” she wished, hugged him, and left the room.

It was already dark when Eadda walked through the property, Abigail and Faegan had also already gone to bed and it was dead quiet in the Blake house. Also, Sean was no longer to be seen, the door of his room was locked and the young woman lay exhausted to rest. A few minutes later she was overwhelmed by a deep sleep, so that she could no longer hear the soft noises outside her window. Yary was already sitting over his books absorbed in the words that always so captivated him, he only heard the crackling of the fire in the fireplace and the scratching of his quill on the parchment.

Ethan knelt directly in front of her and reached out to strike with one hand. In the other he held a bloody knife. It was her blood. The entire bed was smeared with blood. Eadda wanted to scream, but no sound came from her lips. But she could hear screams. They sounded far away. She listened. The screams got louder and closer and she recognised her parents' voices. It sounded like they were scared to death as well.
Suddenly Eadda woke up from the dream. Her parents really screamed. Panicked, she jumped out of bed and opened the door of her room a crack. A deep roar sounded over the screams and suddenly she knew what was happening.
She rushed down the hall into Sean's room and shook him awake. "They’re here!"
He opened his eyes, for a moment didn’t understand what she was talking about. Then another roar. The screams had ceased now. Sean uttered a low unintelligible curse as he quietly got up and looked out the door. Then he took his little sister by the hand and pulled her into the hallway over to the library.
Yardleyu looked up from his book as they entered. He knew immediately what was happening and motioned for Sean to help. Together they pushed the heavy desk in front of the door.
“Hold on, I'll seal the windows. The door should hold ‘em lon’ enough.” Yary spoke softly and hurried in the other direction while Eadda and Sean pressed the table against the door.
Sean was pale as a sheet when he realised in panic, "We have no weapons."
He was right they couldn't defend themselves.
Eadda looked over her shoulder at her older brother who was standing in front of one of the windows and holding his hands against it mumbling softly. The other was covered with a blue shimmer that wafted gently across the pane. A few seconds later the second window was also sealed and the magician hurried back towards the door.
Then they heard a rapidly approaching growl in the hallway, claws scratched over the wooden floorboards.

Yary got on the table and put his hands flat on the surface of the door. When he began to mumble again, the blue glow from his palms spread slowly over the wood, like fingers that felt their way forward, searching. When the surface was almost complete something on the other side bumped into the door so hard that Yary was swept off the desk. The table also slipped a bit and the entrance opened a crack.

Before they could slide it back a hairy arm shot through the opening and long razor-sharp claws dug into the wood of the door. Above the arm were two bright orange eyes in an equally hairy wolf face. The Virtherion growled, huge bloody fangs flashing from between its maw.

Eadda stood there frozen until Sean pulled her back away from the door, he stood protectively in front of her. Yary who immediately jumped up after his fall stood next to his siblings and mumbled again incessantly. From his hands lightning-fast blue projectiles flew towards the door. They met the beast but only seemed to make it angrier. Roaring loudly, it threw itself again against the wood which cracked.
The Virtherion was over two metres tall and pitch black, it walked upright towards the siblings, a second with lighter fur followed it on all fours. Yary continued to cast spells at the two beasts but it didn't seem to affect them. The muscles of the black Virtherion tensed then it jumped directly onto the magician who immediately threw himself to the side thus avoiding the claws. The monster roared loudly again, angrily, and now set its sights on Eadda and Sean.

"Run!" Yary yelled and his brother pushed his sister in panic towards the window knocking her to the ground.

Eadda crawled under one of the expansive armchairs, the next moment Sean landed next to her on his stomach, his eyes fixed her briefly then his gaze went blank. Lots of blood ran down the floor. Torn apart flesh and entrails lay scattered next to his body. She put a hand to her mouth to suppress a scream then closed her eyes. Yary stopped muttering; he shouted words in a deep twisted voice that she couldn't understand. The hair on the back of Eadda's neck rose sharply the sound went through her marrow and bone. Then a low whine. 

She opened her eyes again. The black beast sat directly in front of her, gazing at her, drooling, and stretching out it’s claws at her. Eadda screamed and crawled away from the Virtherion. It swept the chair aside as if it were a leaf in the wind. Slowly it followed her, its gaze still fixed on her while she continued to slide across the floor away. It got on all fours and opened its stinking mouth in a roar.

When she got to the far corner of the room, she closed her eyes and curled up with her knees drawn up, her arms wrapped protectively around her head.
It was over. She was trapped. Sean was dead. Yary she couldn't hear either.
And the monster was right in front of her.

A bright flash of light illuminated the room. So bright that she could see it through her eyelids. She hardly noticed the second whimper. Neither the oppressive silence that followed. She lay trembling on the floor and whimpered lowly.

"Eadda," Yary muttered.

She raised her head and looked around for him.

The black Virtherion was gone as was the other beast. Sean's disfigured corpse lay in a huge, red puddle behind which Yardleyu stood in the middle of the room. Eadda stumbled hastily towards him and fell on his neck but he groaned in pain.

Immediately she let go of him and took half a step back. "Yah’re injured."

Yary nodded one hand pressed to his side blood oozing from between his fingers.

"Show me, I'll take care of the wound," she demanded.

“No, Eadda. It's too late,” he whispered.

Then he took his hand away anyway and she could see the bite through his tattered shirt.

For a moment everything was in suspense, became velvety dull, time stood still.

'No...' she thought.

She fell on her knees in front of him. "We have to get out of 'ere, Yary."

“I can't come with ya. Ya need to understand."

But she didn't understand. "Why no’?"

Tears. Someone was crying.

“’Cause I'm goin’ to be one of ‘em. I'm infected,” Yary whispered.

She realised it was she who was crying. "No. No, yah’re no’."

Groaning her brother pulled her up, grabbed her shoulders and shook her vigorously. “Yes, Eadda. I know it. An' ya have to flee."
"I will no’ go without ya, niver." Slowly her thoughts cleared again and she promised, "We will find a cure."

Yary was crying too now. “There is no cure. I would kill ya if I went with ya. Ya have to go alone. But before ya do that I'll ask ya a favour. Get yer dagger... an'... an' release me... Please... I don't want to become a monster…" He could barely speak, he sobbed so hard.

"No! I will no’ do that! Ya can't ask that of me!” Eadda screamed in disbelief.

Startled Yary waved one hand to keep her quiet. “If ya scream, we'll both be dead in a moment. Please go, Eadda. If I kill ya, I will niver be able to forgive myself…” His voice broke again. "Please..."

When she didn't move, he hobbled out into the hallway; he knew exactly where she kept her dagger and she followed him as expected.

As he got to her room, he took the blade from the wardrobe and handed it to her.
Eadda took it but she shook her head. “I won' kill ya. But I promise that I will find a cure and come back." 

Yary put his hand on her cheek and caressed it lovingly. “Take care, little sister. I will always love ya no matter wot I am."

Eadda was still crying. “I love ya, too. No matter wot ya are, Yary."

Despite his pain he hugged her tightly, and weeping they lay in each other's arms for a moment.

When a sting began to slowly spread through his body from the bite, he let go of her. "It begins. Quick, Eadda."

She grabbed her boots by the bed and put them on. Then they looked at each other for a long time. It was almost a reflex that made her wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him full on the mouth. A moment later she was running down the stairs with her fur coat in hand, leaving her confused, injured brother behind.

Eadda crossed the kitchen and left the building through the back exit normally used by the maids. She stopped a few yards from the property and listened.


Then distant wolf howls.

She continued on her way, hurried through the streets, always looking for cover and soon reached the unlocked, unguarded city gate. If Yary really turned into a beast and followed her, she had to make at least one attempt to shake him off. So, she climbed onto the parapet of the bridge took a deep breath and in one leap was in the ice-cold water, swam swiftly over to the bank. Gasping and panting from the cold, she pulled herself ashore with the help of a protruding root. The earth was slippery and she kept falling into the mud but at some point, she reached solid ground, ran as fast as she could through the forest and disappeared under her trap door within a second.

Yary stood in the dark room completely confused.

'Did she really...? No...' he thought.

He shook his head and shuffled out of the room going left in the hall.
A few metres further across from the stairs there was an open door. It was his parents' bedroom, their bodies laying side by side in bed, the sheets wet, soaked with blood.

The floor was also full of blood.

So much blood...

He felt dizzy, his body burned worse and worse.

'Sean…' he thought.

He had to at least see, if he was still alive.

The hallway was longer than before, the scratch marks on the floor left by the attackers' claws. He had to brace himself against the wall, but eventually he made it to the library where Sean was still in the same place.

Yardleyu Faegan Blake sank down crying next to his dead brother. The burning sensation had reached the last corner of his body and his muscles were starting to cramp, he lay twitching in the red puddle.

It cracked loudly as the bones broke and his body began to deform. He screamed as if from his senses as silver fur sprouted from his skin and his face contorted, the teeth became long and pointed, as did the nails on his fingers and toes. The fabric of his clothing stretched further and further until it finally tore.
After a few moments, the young man was replaced by a huge silver grey Virtherion on the library floor.

With a whimper, he got up on all fours, looked around, and sniffed. The subtle senses bothered him for a moment, there were too many details at once for his overwhelmed human mind.

It was bright as day in the library and he smelled the metallic note of blood in his fur, the remaining bitter smell of the two vanished Virtheriā, then a fragrant trail in the air. The tip of the nose twitched with interest. Feminine, young, healthy... delicious.

'Eadda... no…' he thought.

Against his own will, his body moved in the direction that her smell pointed him. His fine ears perceived every noise no matter how quiet, but apart from the cracking of the slowly charring logs in the fireplace it was quiet in the property. The scent led him down the hall and through the kitchen. When he got to the open door, he paused again. The various traces of smell ran through the air like coloured lines, he could almost see them. Eadda had fled the city and he was rushing through the streets with great leaps.

His own mind was no longer there, slumbering suppressed far back. The beast had taken over his body and was in pursuit and with another powerful leap he reached the bank of the river. The smell was only very faint in the churned-up mud and his nose sniffed the cold night air. He howled loudly, annoyed at having lost track before running off in another direction.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 8 - Boat

It was quiet above the trapdoor, mud smeared and freezing Eadda lay in her refuge. She had been here for four days without a bite to eat, only a sip of water in a thick-walled glass bottle was left. She had to disappear, otherwise sooner or later it would come to an end here. But where to? The wall would still be impassable and she could not return to her family's home either.

She knew she had to leave Voynar, the only way was to disappear over the sea, but she needed a boat for that, she would probably find one near the Bluffs, even if it was dangerous to go there, a plan formed in her head.

Eadda sat up and lifted the trapdoor just high enough for her to see outside through a crack. When she saw no imminent danger she pushed herself outside and crouched behind the ice rose bush, the dagger in her hand trembling with excitement and cold.
She turned south-east as planned toward the cascading cliffs and wandered off-road for hours through the wilderness always on guard and ready to hide.
The closer she got to her goal the colder it got because she was also approaching the Weather Point and thus the coldest point of the Ice Lands where despite the season of the year there was still snow. She knew that there was a landing stage for fishing boats a bit beyond the forest that lay in front of the bay and through which the only river ran – that was her goal.
When she finally reached the spot she remembered she crouched on the ground and peered between the branches of some other bush at the bank. Here, too, there was no one to be seen far and wide, but a row boat drifted in the water next to one of the boardwalks.

'It almost seems like I'm the last person in the Ice Lands...' she thought.

She watched the area for a few more minutes and when she was almost certain that no one would come, she climbed down the small slope to the water. Eadda ran as fast as she could across the slippery, icy ground towards the boat, threw her bag in and was about to jump after it when she lost her balance and fell lengthways.
As she sat up she recognised a rope that had wrapped around her ankles and so caused her stumble at the ends there were two stones, but she only realised that she had been deliberately brought down when she had seen a huge man running towards her. She hastily began to cut the fibres of the rope with the dagger, a second later she was free, struggled to get up and was immediately torn from her feet again.

"Stay there!" hissed the guy who was now crouching over her. Then he took the blade from her hand and tossed it aside a little before scanning her for more weapons.

She stammered startled, "Please... don' harm me..."

"Who are you, girl? And why can you talk to me?" the grim-looking stranger wanted to know and turned her onto her back, his black eyes literally piercing her.

"My name is Blake... Meyja Blake..." she said fearfully.

She had been told about the black-eyed men as a child, allegedly they were members of a warring tribe with Kavanagh who lived somewhere near the Bluffs in the wilderness. She had often heard the warnings about the savages better avoided, if you didn't want to be slashed, but as she got older, she had thought it was just a horror story to be told to keep her home and not hang around.

But now one of the black eyes was sitting over her and glaring at her. His braided, beaded beard and hair were as black as his eyes and there was a scar above his right brow that ran straight up over his forehead. He looked huge, not only because she was small and laying under him, he was really bigger than any normal man she had seen before. His clothes were also different from anything she'd known. His upper body was wrapped in thick fur which he had tied with a rope so that it was firmly attached to the body. The feet were in similarly tied shoes and the pants were made of coarse leather. On his head he wore a kind of cap, the skinned head of an ice wolf even its paws and claws dangled down and in his left hand he held a spear the point of which was not made of metal, but of a cut stone.

"Should I know you?" he asked studying her face again.

“Please... I'm no’ a threat to ya," she whispered in a halting voice.

The guy laughed softly. “You come from the city, right? You speak strangely, but I can understand you."

She nodded hastily, although she didn't know if it was wise to reveal her origins, but it couldn't seem to be denied either, so she stuck to the truth.

“So, should one know Meyja Blake from town? Are you anyone important?” the man asked while he was fascinated by twisting a strand of her half-length red hair between his fingers to look at it.

"No, I am no’," she replied.

He grinned strangely and she could see a row of snow-white teeth. “So, an unimportant girl tried to steal a boat. Why does someone like you need a boat?"

“Please forgive me, it wusn' my intention to steal. I... I have to get out of the Ice Lands, that’s why I need a boat," she admitted shivering. She was still laying in the snow and the cold crept inexorably into her body. Despite the fur coat she was increasingly freezing.

The giant had apparently noticed, at least he got up and easily lifted her to her feet before kneeling down in front of her so that he could look into her face he was about three metres tall.

"Why do you have to leave?" he asked suddenly appearing suspicious.

She noticed movement behind him and pointed to the spot. “We should both run. If I'm no’ mistaken I just saw a Virtherion there."

"A what?" he looked over his shoulder and got up just as the hairy snout of a bright Virtherion pushed out of a bush. "What kind of lazy spell is that?" muttered the giant pushed Meyja behind him and raised his spear.

When the Virtherion jumped at them with a growl the man threw his weapon at the attacking beast which had just been in the air and could no longer evade. With a disgusting noise the stone tip dug into the body and the Virtherion fell into the snow where it slipped a little further and lay right in front of the giant's feet.

Eadda looked startled down at the twitching corpse which after a few seconds shrank, leaving behind the human whose appearance the beast had suppressed. It had been a woman, young, pretty and blond like most Voynarians, her blue eyes staring into nothing and her body bare except for the tatters of a simple robe. Eadda turned away hastily and pressed a hand over her mouth. She had to fight back tears because the sight of the dead had reminded her of Sean.

The giant turned her with a jerk and snapped at her, "What was that, girl?!"

“A Virtheria. The reason I want to leave Voynar behind. They are everywhere attacked my family. One of my brothers wus bitten and the other wus killed in front of me. My parents are dead too. There is nowhere to go. At least, no’ in Voynar behind that damn wall…" she muttered sniffing.

"A... what?" the guy asked with a frown.

"Virtheriā. Wolf beings that kill people or infect ‘em with their bite. A male is called a Virtherion, a female Virtheria,” she explained impatiently.

He looked at her suspiciously again. "How do you know?"

With a nervous shake of her head, she dismissed him. “It's too dangerous to stand here with ya and gab. More could come at any moment..."

Far away a howl rang out which joined numerous other wolf voices and she looked at the giant meaningfully.

"Come with me, Meyja Blake from town," the man muttered, giving her the dagger back before he took her pouch from the boat and handed it to her then he trudged ahead through the snow.

She followed him after a moment of hesitation, but he had at least protected her from the Virtheria and she was ready to grab any straw to stay alive even if it meant walking along the cliffs with a grim giant – under wrong name.

The name Meyja had just tumbled over her lips, she hadn't even thought about it, but she liked the result of her inspiration and she decided to call herself that from now on, especially since it didn't indicate her origin.

'Eadda Walsh is dead... from now on I'm Meyja Blake...' she thought.

She would have felt liberated not to have to be Eadda anymore, but too much had happened in the past few days that she couldn't just shake off. The burden of losing her brothers remained and she would miss Yardleyu more than anyone else. And although her parents were anything but considerate, she missed her mother and father who had also lost their lives.

The giant moved forward with fascinating ease while Meyja struggled to keep up. She kept falling into the snow which got deeper and deeper the further they penetrated into the wilderness.

At some point it seemed to go too far for the man because he had to stop and wait for her, so he simply picked her up after she had caught up with him and set the surprised young woman down on his shoulder before moving on. She didn't fight it just stayed silent and looked around. She had never been to the Bluffs before, the stretch of land owed its name to the porous coastal structure, parts of which repeatedly plunged into the icy floods and which thus worked its way deeper and deeper into the interior.

Blackeye – as she had quietly baptized him – circled the cliffs with unbelievable speed, after half an hour they had passed the southernmost point and Meyja had become a bit queasy at the sight of the steep cliff on her left. But he followed the unperturbed path that led exactly to the east and to the coast. It was only when a waterfall fell from the mountains to their right that he set her down on the ground.

“You are small enough and you can walk behind it. And I can jump better, if I don't have to carry anyone,” muttered the giant before taking a run and crossing the wide trickle that poured a few metres further into the bay.

She hurried towards the falling mass of water and pushed herself with her back pressed against the rock just past certain death. Here the snow was no longer so deep and she could go on herself, followed him in silence through a small grove of dark-looking conifers until she stopped astonished.

It was located high above the sea on a headland from which one had a clear view of the rough sea on the surface of which was foaming spray. But that was not the reason for Meyja's astonishment, but the village that lay before her. Blackeye was just one of many, there was hustle and bustle everywhere. It smelled of burnt herbs, the houses they lived in were just tents made out of hides from animals. Men, women and children went about their trade, played or talked – and they all had the same black hair and eyes as the man who had saved Meyja. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 9 - Purification

Meyja hurriedly closed her open mouth again when she was eyed by the black-eyed people and a menacing-looking man who was even bigger than the guy who had brought her rushed towards her.

"Askil! Why are you bringing a human here?!" the giant barked furious.
The rescuer hurriedly lowered his head knelt down immediately and Meyja hastily followed suit.

“Forgive me, Airikr. I take responsibility for her. Her name is Meyja Blake and she can talk to us. There was an incident that worried me, and it seems that she knows more about why I want to introduce her to the elder,” said Askil.

Airikr just grunted sullenly and looked down at the young woman.

"He saved me from a Virtheria, that’s right," Meyja confirmed quietly.
"Get up," ordered Airikr and she did as she was told. "What is that supposed to be, a Virth...?"

With a cautious nod Meyja looked up at him and explained, “A Virtheria. It wus a woman and the origin of it all is believed to be sum kind of disease or curse that spreads quickly and turns people into vicious wolves. They are all over the Ice Lands. Many Voynarians have already fallen victim to ‘em, including my entire family. Down there on the cliffs, Askil – as ya called him – saved my life."

Airikr's expression changed suddenly, he looked incredulous and fearful at the same time. "Are you talking about the wolf spirits, girl?" he wanted to know and in turn went down on his knees in front of her to look her in the face as Askil had already done.

Meyja shrugged helplessly while looking into his black empty-looking eyes which looked even more unsettling under the bushy dark brows. "I... I don' know. My brother called the beings Virtheriā, I do no’ know much more than that. Only they should come from another dimension," she replied in a whisper.

She had a lump in her throat and had to pull herself together so as not to cry whilst she felt increasingly uncomfortable in the middle of the village while more and more black-eyed people joined them. They obviously viewed her as a stranger and perhaps even as a threat. Secretly she was glad that Askil was still here, but when she glanced over at her saviour, he stared at her with the same horror that spoke from the rest of the black eyes.

"Spirit Wolves..." breathed Airikr marked by bewilderment.

Meyja almost started to cry and pleaded with a halting voice, "Please... please don' do anythin’ to me... I'm innocent, I had nothin’ to do with any of this…"

“Askil, bring her to my tent. Asta and Aric, call the council together! I'll notify the elder!” Airikr yelled stood up and looked around wildly while the black eyes ran away in all directions.

Then he went away without answering her and Meyja looked fearfully at Askil who simply picked her up and carried her to a huge tent.

"Askil? Is that yer name?“ Meyja asked. “I ask ya no’ to harm me. It's no’ my fault, I swear."

He had to duck his head quite a bit when he pushed aside the fur that was hanging in front of the entrance and entered the warm tent, in the middle of which he finally set Meyja down and looked down at her.

“Nothing will happen to you, Meyja Blake from town. At least the Ares won't hurt you,” he replied with a wink and a tiny smile on his lips.

She had already feared for her life whether the men and women who looked threatening and whom she had been warned of since she had been able to walk. Nevertheless, she was still not clear what was happening around her and what the black eyes were all about, after all, she had been explicitly referred to as a human being which suggested that Airikr's subordinates weren't.

"Ares? Is that the name of yer people? And ya all have a name that starts with A?” she asked further.

Askil gave a little laugh then nodded and pushed her over to a huge stool sat across from her and watched as she had to climb onto it to take a seat, too.

"You’re a strange person, Meyja Blake from town," he smiled and pushed his hood back.

He held out his shovel-sized hand and when she reluctantly put hers in, he lifted her arm and looked at it.

"So narrow..." he muttered fascinated.

"Ya Ares rarely seem to meet humans," she replied, just as confused as her saviour.

The whole situation was absurd, humans and Ares lived almost as neighbours in the Ice Lands and knew each other, but apparently the giants were just as alien to the people as they were the other way around.

“You're right, Meyja Blake from town,” Askil began.

She interrupted him, "Meyja is enough."

With a nod he continued, “Then Meyja. But you're right, we don't see humans very often and they see us even less often. And you're the first human I see with my own eyes. We are told we cannot speak to you because your language is different. But I understand you. Why is that?"

"I don' know and I speak as usual, I can't explain the whole thin’ either," she replied quietly and let him look at her hands more closely.

Then she noticed the warmth that reigned inside the leather tent walls, so she freed herself and pushed the fur coat off her shoulders.

Askil gently reached for her hand again to pull back the sleeve of her linen shirt and examine her forearm.

"You also don't seem angry as humans have been described to us Ares from childhood," he replied letting go of her arm and looking her face again.

“I know similar stories from my childhood. The talk was of barbaric savages - yah’re called black eyes in Voynar. We've always been told to stay out of the woods near the Bluffs, if we don' want to be slashed,” she muttered.

Askil snapped and jumped from his stool. "We would never do that!"

Meyja raised her hands soothingly and hastily apologized, “Askil, please calm down. These are just the stories I heard. I niver thought it was the truth anyway. I'm sorry..."

He sat down a little more calmly and looked into her face so that she looked down.
When she felt his finger brushing her hair, she backed away from him because she found the gesture uncomfortable.

He had put his hands back in his lap when he mumbled, “Sorry, Meyja. I'm only interested. I've always been told that you humans have white hair. To see a fiery head is very amazing. Like those eyes. Not like ice but like water."

She nodded a little embarrassed. “I'm unlike the other people from Voynar. Red hair is also very rare there and my eyes are a very dark blue in contrast to those of the others."

“But it's not just your hair and eyes that seem different. My teacher told me about the darkness in people's hearts, about their depravity and their anger,” Askil replied thoughtfully. "You, on the other hand, have pain in your chest." 

She took out her dagger, first severed a loose thread of her linen shirt before cutting off a strand of her hair and tying it up with the linen thread. "A humble gift for savin’ my life," she muttered, handing him her hair.

Askil accepted it almost reverently. “To give of one's earthly born fire is anything but modest. I thank you, Meyja."

As she was about to answer him, the fur in front of the entrance was pushed aside again and Airikr stuck his head in. "Come with me. The elder is waiting for us,” he ordered gruffly.

Askil got up again with a short nod and waited for Meyja who hastily put on her coat.

Fearfully she stumbled after her rescuer who led her out to Airikr and across the village where she was again examined with black eyes. The path led them out of the tent city and up a slope where there was another single tent and the smell of herbs grew stronger as they approached.

"Wait here a moment. I'll announce us,” Airikr mumbled and pushed aside the fur that was hanging in front of the entrance before he disappeared into it.

Meyja obediently stood still, still too scared to look around, so she just stood next to Askil and was silent.

She could hear Airikr's voice inside the tent, “Arnor, I honour you. The whisperer is here, she's waiting outside."

Whisperer..?‘ she thought.

"Let her in," replied a second voice that sounded old and kindly in a way.

Airikr pushed his head outside towards her and nodded then let the young woman and Askil into the dwelling where she faced an ancient-looking giant who was sitting on a stool enveloped in the vapours of various burnt herbs.

His hair was pitch black and dropped almost to the floor, his eyes jet black like the others. Tufts of dried plants dangled from the tent roof next to small shapes tied together from wooden sticks which were decorated with feathers and in the misty steamy haze of the smoke looked like bizarre works of art by a madman.

"Good afternoon, whisperer. I'm Arnor, the eldest of the Ares” the stranger began in a friendly manner and pointed to an empty stool across from him.

Meyja shyly pushed herself up even if it took a little effort because the seat was also at the level of her back here. "Thanks," she mumbled cautiously after she was seated.

Airikr and Askil also sat down on stools and the latter reported in detail about the Virtheria on the Bluffs.

When Arnor looked at Meyja again his face looked even paler than before and the white border around the black iris had disappeared, so that his eyes looked like empty holes in his skull.

"Spirit wolves," he breathed aghast.

Unsuspectingly, she shrugged her shoulders. “I don' know, please forgive me. I know of another name for these beasts. My brother called ‘em Virtheriā."

The eldest nodded encouragingly and Meyja told what she had learned from Yary about the Virtheriā, without leaving out a single detail while the three giants were hanging on her lips.

"...and that’s all I know," she finished and swallowed at the gloomy faces that sat across from her.

Arnor nodded slowly. “I thank you, whisperer. Your words were very precise."

She replied cautiously, "If you will allow me, I would like to ask a few questions."

"Ask, child," said Arnor.

Meyja asked, "Wot is a whisperer?"

Arnor smiled and pointed at her as he explained, “You are one, as you surely have already noticed. We call those who are able to speak to us whisperers. However, it has been many decades since we last met a representative of your race who possessed this rare ability."

“That leads me to my next question. Askil already said that I wus the first human he ever saw and yet we all live in the Ice Lands. In Voynar the children are even told stories ‘bout – as yah’re called there – black eyes. It is said that yah’re cruel and that ya have to be kept away from yer people, if ya want to stay alive, but now I have been rescued by Askil and I am still alive. Is it only thanks to my ability to speak to ya? And why can I do it at all? Nobody taught me,” she continued researching.

“Humans and Ares once lived side by side, our home was the flat land around the Bluffs. Only every few years a so-called whisperer was born among the humans. I don't know how you earn this gift or how exactly it happens that so few people can speak to us. But they all shared a pleasantly deep voice, like yours. Presumably, it is a miracle or an ancestral blessing. The reason for your survival is probably Askil's good heart and his feeling for the uniqueness of you,” Arnor replied with a smile on his face.

"Ya just mentioned ancestors which suggests yah’re shamans," remarked Meyja.

"Your people learned shamanism through us, even if they call it differently today," explained the elder before his expression darkened again. “However, the magicians of man began to change our teachings, using the forces of nature and the elements to do things that the Ares vehemently opposed. The conversations with your leader were fruitless because he did not feel responsible for them and said that he could not stop the progress of the Academy just because someone had concerns. But we didn't give in and Airikr threatened the magicians with the consequences of their actions. A conflict arose that neither humans nor Ares were soon able to bring under control. Then the last whisperer we knew died and no one was able to understand what we were getting at. For this reason, they soon hunted us down and drove us up here into the mountains."

Airikr muttered an apology, got up and left the tent while Arnor and Askil just sat there.

Meyja had already listened to the terms magician and Academy which she closely associated with her brother and despite the lump in her throat and wet eyes she asked, "Wot did the magicians do?"

“That's a big question, my child. Let me go a little further to explain the circumstances of all this sufficiently,” he asked and waited for her nod before continuing. “You are probably familiar with shamanism, but you cannot know how the Ares practice it because you are far too young for that and this knowledge was probably forgotten by your peers’ decades before you were born. Shamans make contact with the hereafter, with the ancestors, and the deceased as well as the elements. This connection to the hereafter is sacred to us and we devotedly honour both the ancestors and the elements. Those who call themselves clerics and are seen in Voynar as something like their church once had the task of healing injuries and helping people a long time ago. In the meantime, their teachings have been eroded and a cleric earns himself a salary by using the knowledge of herbs and alchemy to make potions and tinctures that do more harm than good. They are poison mixers who can produce terrible effects by filling wilfulness, insanity and worse in glass vials and selling them for gold to anyone rich enough. Power in bottles, I can hardly call it any other way. Magicians are nothing more than former shamans who have learned to use their spiritual resources and their minds to cast a wide variety of spells.

“The Academy in Voynar is mainly concerned with the magic practised by magicians and there they gather to research... They build portals to other dimensions, throw fireballs or lightning bolts, build glowing barricades they call shields and with all that, they're not even the worst this world has ever seen. The teachings of the shepherds of souls were forbidden even in the depraved city of Voynar before the Ares could be driven out. These also go back to shamanism, but a shepherd of souls uses their knowledge to subjugate the souls of the hereafter, they bind them into worldly objects or form a kind of deadly mist out of them. You have to know that the souls in this world have an unimaginable power which not only elevates whoever practices this witchcraft above all other magicians, clerics or shamans, but also corrupts them. It poisons the shepherd's mind and emotions. And that's what people did. They have used the wise, considerate, and peaceful teachings to pursue their own ends. Even if some people presumably have honourable intentions, it is still wrong to seize something larger that poses an unforeseeable danger."

“I understand.” Meyja remembered something and she remarked, “At that time I also got tea which a cleric sold to my parents. From the day I was eight years old I had to drink it every evenin’, even if I didn' understand why for a lon’ time. My mother said it would make me a real woman."

Arnor nodded. “I am aware of the circumstances affecting this tea. And I'm very sorry that you've been exposed to this, child. I hope you haven't suffered any deformities?"

"Deformities?" she repeated worried.

“Well, this concoction is given to high-born girls so that they mature prematurely. The aristocracy wed their offspring at a very young age and tea sets processes in motion that make the girls' bodies grow faster,” explained the eldest patiently. “In the time before the Ares were evicted, I often saw children who had parts of their bodies developing incorrectly as a result. The young women who should actually still be girls at this age sometimes only had one well-grown breast, or both were much too pronounced. Small body size is also one of the possible consequences of tea. Then the parents usually sought help from the shamans because the clerics refused to admit their mistake and were not ready to help. Later it often happened that these girls – even if they had already given birth – could not have any more offspring because the early onset of fertility bleeding did not materialize."

Meyja thought of her family none of whom had been particularly small in contrast to her. "Then I was probably lucky."

She didn't want to tell the two strangers that she had started bleeding when she was twelve and that this unpleasant phenomenon had disappeared after two years. Nor did she want to mention the potion Yary had made for her. In the end, she ran the risk of Arnor giving her some kind of treatment that would cause her to become fertile again and still bear a child if a man were to abuse her again.

“You’re a strong young woman. The first impression didn't deceive me,” said Arnor with a smile. “Our whereabouts are secret and Askil was actually instructed to kill anyone who could find out about us. But at the same time, he probably noticed your aura and that you’re a whisperer. In addition, the fire and the water. It was an extremely lucky coincidence that brought you to us."

She frowned at him, the meaning of his words she didn’t understand because in her own eyes she was nothing special at all.

“Only in the strongest do the elements of fire and water manifest themselves together. Your red hair and dark blue eyes show your will and your inner strength,” added Askil.

At that moment Airikr returned and exchanged a meaningful look with the elder.
"Airikr, we have to take precautions," Arnor opened. "Now it is up to us to put an end to this threat."

"Wait! Put an end to it? My brother is one of ‘em!“ Meyja exclaimed and she started to cry involuntarily.

Arnor held up a hand, silencing her, then declared, “We're not going to kill him, don't worry. But we’ll try to help them by giving them back control of their transformation. But by then you won't be here with us anymore. It is too dangerous to be in the north of Abarglen these days and we will take you away from here tomorrow, so that you are safe when we begin the purification."

“But I want to stay and see my brother,” Meyja objected vehemently.

Airikr gritted his teeth audibly and Askil was silent while Arnor continued to appeal to the young woman's reason. “You may be the last whisperer in this world, Meyja Blake. Your life is too valuable to be so easily compromised. In addition, we Ares are very few, which could well result in us not achieving success and being wiped out ourselves. And then I want to know you’re far away, too, before you become one of the spirit wolves. If we find your brother, we'll let him know you're okay, and help him find you. I promise it."

She nodded as she wiped her eyes. “His name is Yardleyu and my real name is Eadda. When Askil threatened me, I lied about my name. But I will continue to call myself Meyja when I have left the Ice Lands." The tears just wouldn't go away, so she got up. “Can I get a moment to myself outside? I swear I'm no’ up to anythin’. I'll leave my dagger here, too."

Arnor waved generously. “Go ahead and keep your weapon. I know that you don't mean any harm to us."

With another nod she went to the exit and slipped past the fur into the open where she looked around briefly before heading for the edge of the cliff and finally stopping. As she looked down at the icy waters crashing against the land masses, she began to cry softly again.

Where are ya, Yary..?‘ she thought.

The Ares could promise her a lot, but she didn't believe that everything would turn out all right. Because as much as she felt for her brother, she could no longer feel him as she used to when she instinctively knew he was fine. Perhaps he was no longer alive, but had been killed like the poor woman who lost her life on the Bluffs.

Yary had been her everything, her light in the dark.

Her big brother who had always been there for her.

He had given her support in the moments when she had stood on the edge of a cliff as now.

But this time the cliff wasn't just in her head, it was real.

And he wasn't here to keep her from falling.

The icy wind tore at her and Meyja spread her arms, relaxed and let herself be gently rocked back and forth.

She was alone.

She was lost.

And all her attempts not to go under were in vain anyway.

When Yary was out of this world there was no longer any reason for her to hold onto what was called life.

She wanted to feel his hands that had held her face when she cried.

But he just wasn't there.

She still was alone.

Still lost.

If she just let herself go... would they be reunited?

May she see her brother again?

Just one last time?

A gust of wind hit her back and her body began to tip forward.

Then she went down on her knees crying and let herself fall into the snow where she curled up, sobbing uncontrollably.

A few minutes later Askil came to her and lifted Meyja who was still crying and shivering from the cold in his arms before he carried her back to the tent.

She didn't even feel that the Are was with her when he put her on the stool and covered her with a fur.

Askil knelt beside her and took out the strand of hair she had given him, then looked at it for a moment and began to whisper.

The hair crackled on fire, faded in the blue flames that licked up from his hand until only the thread was left with which she had tied it together.

At that second, she opened her eyes and looked disoriented at Askil.

“Take a rest, Meyja. I'll watch over you.”

Meyja spent the night in one of the tents in the village and the next morning the ship with which they brought her to safety set out to sea. Even if there was a lot of melancholy because she had to release Yary into a future that was more than uncertain for him on which she could no longer influence, she submitted to the will of the Ares and left her home behind.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 10 - New Beginning

Northaven, The Riverlands, Kingdom of Jevarish, Fulgyr of the year 66

Northaven was a beautiful small port town at the northern end of the Riverlands and ruled by the Kingdom of Jevarish. The Ares had landed Meyja out of sight of the town and she had waded through the swampy, stinking ground to the nearest path on foot. Cursing softly because her beloved boots were smeared with mud. When she lifted her head and looked around, her slightly narrowed eyes recognized the reason for the whole misery. The Riverlands lay at the foot of Hyrunar which meant that all meltwaters ran down and was caught in the fertile soil of the Riverlands. She walked on to a road to the south where a farmer met her on a cart and took her to Northaven. It made her look like a simple traveller rather than a Voyneress on the run. Fremar, the helpful farmer, invited Meyja for a mug of beer. As they had just arrived at the port it was late in the evening, but he showed her the most important places in town before he took her to an inn.
“The dive bar here belongs to my sister. You can have a room for tonight if you want. In any case there have hardly been any guests since the war broke out. Even the residents are gradually leaving as life is difficult up here these days,” said Fremar, a tall man.
Meyja nodded and sipped her beer. "Understandable."
They talked for a while about the town and she learned that Fremar had been born in Northaven and had lived his entire life in the rivulets of the rivers. She didn't want to talk about her origins, but apparently it was harder to hide than she realised because Fremar remarked, “You don't look like you came from the north, girl. But you speak like the Voynarians I once knew in times of peace."
"That... I..." Meyja began to stammer, but then she just looked down.
Fremar put a hand on her arm and whispered, “Don't worry. I will not betray you. But you should be careful because in fact Jevarish is still at war with the north."
“I am aware of that. But there is no longer a north with which to wage war. Voynar fell," she replied gloomily.
Fremar looked at her in shock and asked, “What do you mean? Against Destrothos?"
“No, it wusn't Destrothos, they did it themselves by tryin’ to get hold of sumthin’ that did no’ come from this world. Like the undead they brought 'bout their own downfall,” replied Meyja. 
He nodded at his beer. "You don't want to tell me more about it, do you?" 
She shook her head slowly. "Sorry. It's hard, and I've already given more away than I wanted because ya helped me. To warn ya wus the bare minimum."
“I thank you anyway. And I'll talk to my sister, then you can stay here until there is an opportunity to get out of here,” Fremar replied with an encouraging wink.
 "Thanks very much. That is really very generous," remarked Meyja a little surprised and grateful at the same time.
"Never mind. We are happy when we can help,” he replied with a smile.
Finally, he said goodbye and she went to the room that the landlady kindly put at her disposal – only a bed and an old sailor's chest were in it.
Meyja was just sitting on the mattress when there was a knock, she hastily drew her dagger, and scurried to the wall next to the door before she asked, "Who's there?"
"Sala, the owner of this modest accommodation."
Meyja put the weapon away and opened the door when she recognised the voice.
Sala gave her a friendly smile. “I found some of my brother's old things here. For a little help in the kitchen, I would leave them to you and wash your own clothes.” She showed Meyja a pair of worn shirts and black leather pants.
"Sure, thank ya very much," Meyja mumbled cautiously.
The landlady laughed. She had the same smile as her brother. "Fremar wasn't lying you are really very polite," she remarked with a wink.
Meyja took Fremar's old clothes, closed the door for a moment while she changed, and then passed the dirty things out to Sala. "Thank ya again, Sala," she thanked the landlady again.
  "It's okay, you're welcome," Sala waved her off with a smile. “Just come down to the kitchen tomorrow as soon as you wake up. I'll have breakfast ready for you, too,” she added and then went down the stairs.
Fremar's clothes fit well he used to be very slim. She especially liked the pants, the soft leather that hugged the skin comfortably. But she was also a little ashamed because these people were so kind and generous although they had so little, and she herself was so closed.
Tired she returned to the bed, lay down to rest and fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.
Sala was very satisfied with the work Meyja was doing and offered her to stay longer, she was allowed to live in the room, got something to eat, and a few silver coins a day. The young woman gratefully accepted the offer and spent several months in the inn. During this time, she learned a lot that had to do with the business of an inn like this one, as well as cooking, washing, and not being put up with by the guests. Ethan hardly appeared to her at night and she managed to suppress her Voynarian accent so that not everyone could immediately deduce her origin. She liked the small town very much, she almost felt at home and yet at some point she wanted to move on away from Northaven. 

The Riverlands, Kingdom of Jevarish, Ruis of the year 66

One day Fremar came to his sister's inn with interesting news. “Tomorrow a large cargo ship is leaving. It goes south to bring goods to Sharaya. Even if it only goes as far as the Darklands and you have to make the rest of the journey on a cart."

Meyja listened up. "Sharaya?"

"You said a while ago you wanted to go there," the farmer remembered and she nodded.

"That would be wonderful. But I can't let Sala down,” Meyja muttered.

Sala smiled flattered, but waved her off anyway. “Child, I expected that you would move on at some point. A city like Northaven has nothing in store for a young woman like you. I am grateful for your help and love to have you with me, but I understand it very well. Trip to Sharaya, such an opportunity does not come up here often."
The next day the huge ship cast off. Sala and Fremar stood on the jetty and waved goodbye, Meyja waved back a little wistfully. By the time the freighter picked up speed and a stiff salty breeze was blowing around her nose, she had almost forgotten them both. Her heart jumped excitedly in joyful anticipation of the capital of Jevarish, even if there was still clear melancholy because her home was now even further away than it already was.

Copyright: Larissa Doe