Part one of a fantasy story that still need a real name. any suggestions. i know everything that happens in this story, there's just the matter of sorting it out. part two coming soon. feedback loved and begged for. seriously, I'll grovel if necessary.
Lirin had taken to sleeping most nights on the couch in front of the fire, as it was the warmest place in the little cottage and the winter was one of the coldest and fiercest that Lirin could remember. It was nothing compared with a Ravenswald winter, she knew, but she had become spoiled by the relatively mild and even winters at the capital. The mage guild complex had been large and well heated, as had the palace, which employed mages simply for the task of regulating the temperature.
Since the mysterious Warlord’s rise to power and his subsequent persecution and outlawing of mage arts and their practitioners, the infrastructure of the country had disintegrated with alarming rapidity. So much had relied on magic and mage art, more than anyone outside of the guild knew. Heat, healing, crime prevention, law enforcement, postal service, all of these and many more had relied heavily on mage work, and had done so without the majority of the population seeming to realize it. The weather mages that had prevented drought and flood, the seers who could predict how hard the winter would be and how to plant accordingly, the midwives who made charms against robbery and ill health and unwanted pregnancy, truth seers who watched over court proceedings to see who was lying and who wasn’t, all were imprisoned or in hiding or turned away from their professions and forced to find some other livelihood to support them that would not be in violation of the warlord’s new order.
The Ciman economy was limping, everywhere she looked there was trouble and hardship and growing tension and frayed tempers. Lirin could do very little as she too was wanted by the law for being the former head of the mage guild and a leading member of the resistance party. She had to stay well hidden. Lirin had more code names and alternate identities than she truly felt comfortable keeping but as yet she hadn’t gotten anything mixed up.
It was all necessary. She still felt responsible for all of the mages in Cima, all of whom had been certified and kept track of and had been under the jurisdiction of the mage guild. She had been so good at her job as guild mistress, keeping everything organized, communicating frequently with the all the branches and sub-offices of the guild. She had been meticulous about keeping records. Lirin had been the guild’s Chairman for the past ten years. Maybe if she hadn’t been so good at her job there wouldn’t have been such ample and damning documentation of the location, identity and power of each and every mage who had crossed paths with the guild during her tenure as Chairman. Information that was just waiting for the Warlord’s people to find it and use it to their advantage. Lirin would never stop regretting her thoughtlessness in fleeing before seeing that all those documents had been properly hidden or destroyed. But she had been sure that the Warlord’s forces would never gain any real power, and certainly that they would never take the capitol.
Now here she was, back in the cottage that she’d spent the early years of her life in. It was a tiny house in the middle of the forest, a day away from a tiny village right up next to the eastern boarder of Cima. It was a place of so little status that it never appeared on any map. It was a perfect place to hide. It was an even better place to use as the headquarters for a resistance force and underground caravan to get mages in danger out of the country. It was also a place that seemed stiflingly small to Lirin and it was fraught with memories, so many of which were sad or so full of happiness and contentment that she couldn’t stand to think of them.
Most of the time Lirin kept herself dizzyingly busy. But now there was too much snow and cold to do more than bring in firewood and cook her meals and hope she didn’t run out of stores before the weather broke and gave her a chance to go into town and buy more supplies. There was also plenty of time to think, to reflect, and to brood over her regrets and fears.
The letter from Lord Vlarin had been both a relief and an added worry. She was overjoyed he was alive and well enough to contact her. But his last note, telling her that he was returning to Cima, regardless of the danger, had her suffering through anxiety and excitement in turns. She felt guilty about wishing Lord Vlarin to return and take over the burden of leadership. The danger to his life, especially when crossing the border, was greater than Lirin wanted to contemplate and then there was the distinct possibility that if found out, Lord Vlarin could be followed and lead the Warlord straight to her. Simultaneously, Lirin was anticipating his arrival with hope, wishing for her loneliness to be abated and for the company of her oldest friend. She knew that she wasn’t going to be able to relax until he appeared, safe and sound at her door.
The wind was startlingly loud around Lirin’s small house. The first day of the storm, Lirin had felt threatened by the noise and the constant fury of it, but by now the roar was almost comforting, a companion in the lonely hours.
Lirin remembered a summer five years ago when she had accompanied the diplomatic delegation on a trip through T’Lim, Laroont and Cameeran, three neighboring countries to the south, all of whom where hot and alternately covered in jungle vegetation and arid desert. The heat there had been a presence, something you could almost talk to. There had been a day or two towards the end of the trip, when overheated and exhausted, Lirin had suspected that the heat might just respond if she started a conversation with it. Despite the generosity and the displays of opulence displayed by those small, hot countries, Lirin had been glad when they returned home. Now that all that exotic grandeur seemed like a dream she wished they had stayed longer and seen more sights.
Living in her childhood home again, she was almost inclined to believe that all that time in the interim with Lord Vlarin had been some sort of elaborate conjuring. But Lirin felt that she had to trust her memory because she had very little else left.
Lirin walked into her kitchen and started preparing tea. Water was one thing that she wasn’t worried about running out of, all she had to do was step outside her front door and collect some snow to melt. She hoped some hot tea would relax her enough to allow her to sleep. It was late at night, though she didn’t know the exact time. There were no clocks or timepieces in her house. There had been a time when she’s had an innate sense about the time of day, Tikee used to say that she was more reliable than any watch, but that sense seemed to have left her sometime in the last year.
She puttered around the kitchen for a while cleaning it unnecessarily while the water boiled and the tea steeped. Over the past year in hiding, Lirin had whole-heartedly embraced the small necessary tasks like cleaning and weeding her garden, planting vegetables and mending her clothes. There were things that she had done only because she had to in her young adulthood, and then when she had gone to live with Lord Vlarin there had been others to take care of the minor chores for her. Now she liked having small physical things to fill her time because otherwise her life would consist mainly of waiting and worrying.
Last spring she had spent her time on the run, creating a string of false identities and hiding her trail. Eventually she had even tried to fake her own death, even though it was a grave risk to take because it took large amounts of very noticeable magic. It had kept the Warlord’s people off her trail long enough for her to find a place to stay where she felt relatively safe. They had, of course, seen through her deception eventually, but Lirin knew that they didn’t know where to begin looking for her so she no longer felt the need to be constantly in motion.
After a time she began searching for old friends as quietly as possible, trying to see who was still alive, still in the country, and still on her side. Lirin knew that many people in Cima were outraged by the treatment of the mages, but were afraid to speak out because they didn’t want to become just as ostracized as the magic practitioners. Lirin cultivated contacts among former mages and mage sympathizers. Anyone who disliked or feared the Warlord and kept an ear to the ground knew that there was a resistance building and quickly did small things to let Lirin, Tikee and her fellow constituents know that there was support behind them if they wanted it. Lirin didn’t always approve of the things people did to show their rebellion, she didn’t want violence, she didn’t want acts that would hurt the citizens more than it hurt the Warlord, and certainly she didn’t want an escalating conflict. There was no way to win a war against the Warlord’s army, the losses they would face if they tried were so great that even if they won, in the long run it would be almost as damaging as a defeat. But the resistance desperately needed support, and Lirin felt gratified that not all of Lord Vlarin’s former citizens had been frightened into compliance and subservience. Lirin was also glad to find that Tikee was still in a position to facilitate some change in the country.
Tikee was a long time friend of Lirin’s. Tikee had been Vice-Chair of the mage guild for a brief time before Vlarin had appointed her as head of the Flora and Fauna guild. The appointment was made in return for her willingness to sacrifice her political career by supporting Vlarin’s controversial directive to stop the logging of old-growth forest by farmers whose land was exhausted by poor crop rotation. Remarkably the Warlord had allowed Tikee to keep the position of guild master because she publicly denounced the use of magic and made a few other politically sound but ultimately hollow and ineffectual gestures in support of the Warlord’s new regime.
“I feel bad about publicly going against my principles about this,” she had told Lirin upon their first meeting since the Warlord took the country. “But I knew that I wasn’t in immediate danger of going to prison for being a mage. I thought that if I could just keep a little status, I might be able to do something to help, to keep this country from going all to seed. This is my home, I can’t let this man with no name come in and destroy it without putting up a fight.” Lirin assured Tikee that she had made the right choice. Lirin didn’t know what she would have done if she had found that Tikee had been forced into hiding or that she had simply disappeared. No one really knew what happened to the people that the Warlord’s army caused to disappear but everyone knew it was something to be feared.
Over the summer and fall Lirin had been able to arrange and attend covert meetings in person, but now that the bad weather coupled with the fact that the warlord’s regime seemed to be finding it’s feet, making all meetings more dangerous, Lirin found her role reduced to leader-by-correspondence. She knew completely untraceable ways to communicate, but there was always the danger of having the message intercepted. Lirin always waited anxiously for responses from her colleagues. They communicated frequently but sometime it was just to reassure each other that they were all hidden and safe.
This wasn’t the first time Lirin had helped to change the balance of power in Cima, but the first time she had been younger and more foolhardy. And Lirin hadn’t been shouldering the responsibility of leadership alone. Sometimes she wondered if, by some miracle they managed to take Cima back from the Warlord, would Lord Vlarin be willing to return to his place as king, or would he decide that he’d had enough of that responsibility?
After finishing her tea Lirin returned to the couch, pulled a blanket over her legs and fell asleep watching the fire in the hearth. She awoke sometime later while it was still the dead of night. The fire had dwindled and she automatically tended to it while she wondered what had pulled her from deep sleep. After a moment she realized that the wind had stopped, the complete absence of sound was what had startled her awake. The silence was so complete that it was loud. She missed the sound but knew that it was a good sign. If the storm had passed she could hope that the weather would hold long enough of her to make a trip into town to buy more grain and sugar and candles and various other small items that were running low.
Deciding that she felt too awake to sleep again easily, Lirin began to inventory the contents of her pantry, humming softly to fill the void left by the wind. Yet, as she started acclimating to the quiet she began to think she heard something outside. It was a quiet sound, like something rustling or moving around, footsteps in snow. Immediately she tensed, imagining the Warlord’s men in their gray uniforms and cold weather gear surrounding her house and getting ready to storm in. There came a knock at the door. Lirin grabbed a kitchen knife and stated edging towards the door, calling up protection and defensive spells in her mind, ready to say the words aloud if indeed it was the enemy. The knocking came again, louder this time.
“Lirin,” a familiar voice called through the door, “It’s Vlarin. Please, let me in before I ice over. Are you there? Lirin?”
“Lady of the Stars,” murmured Lirin, going numb in a buzz of shock and relief. She carefully set the knife down on the counter and ran to the door. Thank the Sovereign he had finally arrived. She hated to think of him travelling in that storm. It would have been so easy to get lost and freeze in all that wind and snow.
Lirin ushered Lord Vlarin inside quickly and shut the door against the draft of shocking cold that tried to follow him in. Lord Vlarin was almost unrecognizable, he was so swathed in cold weather gear and covered in snow. Wordlessly, Lirin helped him off with his cloak and muffler, still trying to absorb the fact that Lord Vlarin was actually there in her house, with her, breathing and apparently solid. She hung his things on the peg next to hers and the sight of their two cloaks next to each other filled her with warmth that brought tears to her eyes. She realized that she had started trembling with relief. She had been tensed and ready to fight for her life and instead she was greeted by and old friend, one she had worried that she would never see again. It was the best surprise she’d had in a very long time.
Lirin watched as Vlarin took off his hat and coat and gloves. He was clean and tidy, but he looked more tired than she ever remembered seeing him and his clothes hung loosely on his naturally narrow frame. He was dressed like a vagabond rather than the nobleman that she had always seen. His thick black hair had grown longer since she’d seen him last, past his shoulders and tied back in a ponytail. Lirin thought he looked older, or perhaps for the first time he was looking his age. He was after all, ten years Lirin’s senior. His face, though, was wonderfully familiar, the first familiar face that she’d seen in months.
Lord Vlarin was looking at her with that same intensity that used to unnerve her, even frighten her sometimes, but now it was comforting. She knew that he was looking at Lirin Emeldia Emeren and not some alias or disguise. She didn’t like his expression though, it was one of remorse and wanting.
“Lirin,” he said very sincerely, “I’m sorry. You were right. I shouldn’t have argued with you, you were right about everything. I kept thinking about it this past year, regretting that we spent those last moments arguing. That could very well have been the last time we ever saw each other. There were so many other things that we could have and should have been talking about then, and we wasted the opportunity.”
Lirin tensed. She was a woman who had never been comfortable with her emotions, and even less comfortable discussing them. Vlarin had, on a few occasions over the years, alluded to having strong feelings for her, but Lirin had never really been willing to listen. Over fifteen years of friendship, they had built up them between them a history and many emotions that neither of them really talked about.
Twelve years ago, the day before they planned to confront the Phoenix King, Vlarin had told Lirin that he loved her, and she found herself confessing all sorts of feelings in return. Vlarin had promised her that, if they survived the revolution that was coming, he would marry her and she would be queen. It had been a nice dream, a nice pretend, but both of them knew that nothing would ever come of it. Either they would loose to the Phoenix King, Vlarin’s brother, and face the Sovereign knew what afterward, or they would win and Lord Vlarin would take his place as king. As king he would have to make a politically sound marriage, to a foreign princess most likely, some mage-woman of questionable heritage from an unknown village was not acceptable choice.
Despite whatever feelings might have been between them, their relationship had always been platonic and nothing more, though they had suffered through more than their fair share of courtier’s gossip about their past. After a time Lirin began to doubt her emotions. Had she felt love, truly, in the way she suspected Vlarin did? She was never quite sure.
Two years into his reign, Vlarin cemented relations with Cima’s largest trading partner, a country across the Timeran Sea called Apernah, by marrying their princess. She was a quiet, sweet woman by the name of Shamarna, with satiny brown skin and smooth black hair and a docile sort of solemnity. Shamarna had been a few years younger than Lirin at the time of the wedding and had looked up to Lirin, not minding in the least any past Lirin might have had with her husband. Lirin befriended Shamarna early on and helped her through her homesickness in the cold and foreign land of Cima. Not too long after he married, Lord Vlarin accepted her application and appointed her as Head of the Mage Guild and her life was caught in her hectic job.
Shamarna had been her first real female friend. Lirin had been impressed with Shamarna’s seemingly endless capacity for caring and thoughtfulness, even in the face of a foreign and confusing royal court and obviously cool marriage. Shamarna confided to Lirin all her hopes and fears, and Lirin found herself returning the favor. She was surprised at the intensity of their sisterly bond and was far too committed to her friendship with Shamarna to start any dangerous conversations with Lord Vlarin.
While Lirin had been afraid that she would never see Lord Vlarin again she had begun to regret their policy of non-communication. But now that he was here she felt that they had far more important things to talk about. The resistance movement, for example, and the strange confusing status of the father she had once presumed dead. Lirin wanted to know if he’d had any more success in contacting Shamarna than she had, and she wanted to know what had become of Vlarin’s son, Owan. Everything else could wait.
Another thought occurred to her, Vlarin had never once been to her cottage before. He should never have been able to find it. “There will be time to talk about all that later. Sit, I’ll make tea,” said Lirin firmly, and Vlarin took a seat at her table.
“We have to discuss this someday, Lirin.”
“I know. Not now, though.”
“Will you at least accept my apology?”
“Yes, of course. I was never even angry with you. I was just frightened. The Warlord’s army was coming and the Mage guild had already fallen and I was frightened. You understood that, didn’t you, Lord Vlarin?” her tone was soft and she met his eyes searchingly.
“I did. But I was wrong and I think it’s only right to apologize to you.”
“Thank you.” Lirin reflected that when she first met him, or even just a year or two ago, lord Vlarin would never have apologized, even if he knew he was in the wrong. It suddenly occurred to her how all that had happened to them recently had changed them more than she had realized.
Her cottage seemed so small and humble compared to Ravenswald, the manor where Vlarin had lived when she first met him, and certainly it was tiny compared to the castle in the capital. She had never even tried to picture Vlarin here. Her parent’s cottage seemed like something out of a past life, completely irrelevant after her move to Ravenswald to begin her training as a mage. But she was so glad to see Vlarin that she didn’t have time feel self-conscious. She fixed a pot of tea and pulled clean mugs down from the cupboard.
“How did you manage to find my cottage? I didn’t know that you knew where it was.”
“I know ways of finding things. I taught you some of them.”
“Magic? You used magic?” Lirin was disproportionately angry with him for being so reckless. “The warlord will be able to track you!”
“Lirin, no, calm down. I used no magic within the Ciman border. We’re safe. For now at least. I promise you that.”
“You should learn not to make promises that you can’t keep.” It was a barbed, angry comment Lirin knew it.
Vlarin looked down, chastised, but he didn’t try to apologize, for which Lirin was glad.
“I thought you said didn’t want to have that discussion,” said Vlarin, a hard edge creeping into his tone.
“This is a new record for us. You’ve been here less than fifteen minutes and already we’re arguing.” Lirin said acerbically, as she poured the tea and then slammed the teapot back on the counter with a loud thunk. They both jumped at the sound.
“Lirin…” he began, sounding weary. He shook his head, as if to say he didn’t know where to begin, or maybe to apologize once more.
“Please, Vlarin,” said Lirin, suddenly feeling close to tears, “Let me have a moment to gather my thoughts and absorb the fact that you’re here.”
She brought the mugs of tea to the table and sat down across from Vlarin. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths and tried to collect herself.
After a long moment she began. “My father is the Warlord.”
Vlarin looked up sharply. “Colonel Dargo Emeren died thirty years ago.”
“No, he didn’t. The Royal Army classified him as missing in action, presumed dead.”
Vlarin didn’t know how to respond. He began to wonder if all this time alone had affected Lirin somehow. Dargo Emeren had been his mentor. The Colonel was the one who had taught him his first lessons in magic. It was impossible that the Warlord was Dargo Emeren, if simply because Dargo would be in his seventies now, and the Warlord was known to be in his fifties at the most.
“Perhaps you’d better start from the beginning,” said Vlarin.