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Keyla
August 16th, 2005, 11:04 AM
Still very rough- I am particularly unhappy with the speech, but then again I am awful at accents- and any suggestion for a better name than Avila would be gratefully received. All in the relevant forum, of course. ;)



Chapter 1:

I

Winter held the land in its numbing embrace. Beneath the pristine blanket of white each blade of grass was preserved in frozen perfection. Sheets of ice covered streams and rivers, concealing the chill current beneath. Through undulating drifts of snow bare trees groped blindly at the sullen clouded sky. In this barren world no life quickened; no paw stirred; no beast dared walk abroad, in reverence of that all-subduing goddess, Nature Indomitable. No beast but the badger and the hare.

Through eyes not twenty seasons old Avila watched her Lord pressing doggedly onward against the wind, his silvered head bent, a fragile vision of aged nobility. For almost a day they had travelled without rest, his will resolute, though his body failing. Even now as the first telltale flakes of snow fell his pace showed no sign of slacking.

What had the seer said to him that autumn night? A thousand questions quested for answers in her mind. Why had he spoken of it to nobeast afterwards? Not even to her, his ward as well as his subject since her parents’ death, and yet he had selected her to accompany him. Why her? She was no more than a young inexperienced pawsoldier. But above all else: where were they going? She could easily have believed he did not know himself.

Now as the snow fell thick and fast, renewing the shroud of snow that lay upon the earth; now as he seemed almost to fade into the flurries of white about him, she called out to him, “Lord Orlando, it’s snowing.”

In spite of herself she smiled at the inanity of her statement.

“Lord Orlando, should we not search for shelter?”

He halted and turned slowly to her, seeming as if woken from some deep sleep. Weary was his face and Avila felt within her a sudden rush of fear for his health.

“Lord, it’s cold,” she called, her voice almost lost in the wind. “Can we not find some shelter?”

After a moment he gave a small sharp nod and lumbered off slowly amid the dark shapes of the forest. The thought of bedding down for the night filled her with a flood of relief; be it in stony cave or leaf-quilted hollow, she cared not. Tomorrow, like- it seemed to Comfrey- countless days before it, they would continue their journey, but tonight at least she and, more vitally, he would rest.



Through opaque eyelids she felt the day’s first light drive out the shadows of the night. Dreams and memories, which had seemed so real but a moment before, became now vaporous and elusive. Stretching each limb slowly, she smiled to touch the soft linen of the bed beneath her, then she lay still and absorbed the life that chamber by chamber awoke, like faded fires stoked from faded embers. Already she could hear the hustle and bustle of morning as in the kitchens Salamandastron’s cooks prepared the morning’s breakfast.

From outside her window she heard the song of the sea. She thought it the very rhythm of life, having rarely been far from the shore since that ill-fated journey of her youth- now in waking so distant, that had before seemed so near: each wave with its frothing crest consumed the sand, only to surrender it with an angry hiss.

“Mother, mother.” Her daughter’s voice rang at her door, urgent and joyous as birdsong. “Get up! Get up! The sun has already and you should have too, bally hours ago. We only have until midday to get me ready”

“Come in, come in, Twayblade m’dear. Goodness me, we can’t have you jiggling about in the corridor?”

With a squeak of its hinges the door burst open and her daughter bounded in to find her watching her from her bed with a twinkle in her eye.

“How can you not be up?” Twayblade squealed as she sprang onto the end of the bed by her mother’s footpaws.

At times like these she seemed to Avila little more leveret than hare of the Long Patrol¸ or a young haremaid flitting about with impatient glee before her first spring dance. She could scarce believe that today was to be her wedding day, that today her daughter would be a wife. A jolt of sadness touched her as she thought of the empty bed beside her. Upon the shore she heard a wave whimper in retreat. She wished with painful fervour that he might have seen this day. Had she been alone now, she would have cried, but she checked herself before her daughter, teasing her with a smile:

“I should call for some zealous young recruits to take you away. Can’t a General- Great Commander in Chief of the Long Patrol, don’t y’know- be allowed to lie in once in a while?”

Twayblade gave her a glare that would have been sufficient to shatter granite, Avila mused, and it might have been quite enough to induce her immediate compliance, had it not been for the giggle that escaped her daughter’s lips a moment later.

“And I’d give ‘em blood’n’vinegar and send ‘em packing; show them what a real hare of the Long Patrol is like,” she retorted, leaping with a fearsome cry into the air, only to land beside her mother in a fit of giggles.

“Nothing comes between a bride and her groom, eh?” smiled Avila. She ruffled her daughter’s ears tenderly. “Oh alright,” she relented with a playful sigh. “Give me a moment to get dressed and I’ll be down in a tick.