OF THE WHITE HAWKS
Rhiannon the Fey rested a hand at the sill of her window, ignoring the piercingly cold wind that beat indecorously against the castle wall. Shrill cries from the peak of the mountain cliff pounded without mercy on the rocky plateau that supported the Castle Veramere. The flaws of the Acropolypse and Veramere never ceased to amaze her; they were scars upon Novegard, lacerations that could not be fused. Rhiannon flicked a chip of ice that had come to land on her sill and watched it plummet downward, hitting the cliff’s edge and then bouncing off to the bottom.
She often wondered if her powers were enough to mend the openings of the Acropolypse and Veramere, once she had tried, not long ago, and was left emaciated, struggled to hold on to her own life. No, she would not try to heal that particular scar upon Novegard, it was far too wide, and much too deep.
There was no power left in Novegard for her fingers to cultivate. It had all disappear and faded away before the death of Kay Ravengard. Rhiannon smirked, she thought she was so much powerful then, but now her magic held no boundaries, within Novegard at least. She faltered to think of what the world would be like if Ravengard returned from the dead, or from her imprisonment.
A swift breeze turned fiercely into the window and nearly pushed the queen aside. It was so fast that she could almost see the thin threads that held it all together. The wind circled around the cold castle room plunged to the ground and then darted underneath her door. The latch in the door sprung and the knob clicked in its place. Rhiannon could hear the snickering breeze push it open with raw force.
“I thought I informed you to leave the door shut, Emmanuelle.”
But her maidservant was not there and neither was the breeze. Instead a twinkle of starlight flickered in the doorway and grew into a slim beam of light, stretching itself into a being. Rhiannon found herself facing a tall, slender woman clad in blinding white sheaths. She carried a scarlet quiver with twinkling white arrows.
“Aya Rhea,” Rhiannon whispered in awe. She had not seen her grandmother’s guardian since she was but a small child.
The woman held out her hand approached Rhiannon gracefully, tipping the contents on her fingers into the Queen’s palm. Two cold diamonds rested peacefully on her palm, gazing up at her like two dew drops. Rhiannon stared into the amber depths of Aya Rhea’s eyes, seeing flashes from her grandmother’s past.
“I have arrived my queen, bringing with me my powers and those of Rhialnoon which have now become yours.” The Hawk woman knelt before the queen and bowed her head, setting her red quiver on the ground in front of her. Rhiannon closed her fingers over the diamonds and the glowing light that surrounded Aya, subdued into a dull white color. She accepted the gift and realized that Aya Hawke had related to herself her freedom, her ability to become a true mortal.
Rhiannon clenched her fist tightly, making sure that the diamonds did not slip out onto the cold stone floor. She removed herself from the bowing hawk woman and slipped the two diamonds into a glass bottle. They rattled when they hit the bottom and tinkled as they came to rest. Rhiannon smiled faintly and returned to Aya.
“Lift up Aya Rhea, the presence of your being has greatly improved Novegard. But you have not reached the mortal figure since before my grandmother died.”
“My lady, the summons was read. And when my hawk ears heard the quiet ringing that soon resounded into all of Tiernanell, I flew swiftly to the wood where I met the young master who unknowingly read the little rhyme.”
“And who was this young master?”
“Young Todd Flannery of Ariead.”
Aya nodded. “You know him?”
“I knew the family, they are quite well known in town. His younger sister especially, that boyish young girl who I can spy from my window running along the mountain side. I would never suspect that young Flannery would have had anything to do with magic. He’s much too conservative.”
Aya shrugged, not too curious on the source of Rhiannon’s information. “I have reason to believe my liege, that-“
Bravely, Rhiannon suggested the worst of her fears. “That Kay Ravengard has also arisen?”
The pale hawk woman nodded. “I heard the other animals whisper her name from tree to tree.”
Rhiannon ignored Aya’s reference to nature. She herself did not believe in wind spirits or talking animals, there was no magic in nature, just illusion.
“And I heard the screech of a raven dying, perhaps it was her, escaping from her prison shape,” Aya added.
Rhiannon scowled. “That woman I cannot kill. She will not die, Aya. Somehow her mother lives inside, keeping part of her immortal. We must not let the people know that Kay Ravengard has once again risen, for that name will deeply scar Novegard.”
“She must be imprisoned once again.”
“And how might that happen Aya Rhea of the White Hawks. How might that happen?” Rhiannon’s voice trailed off and she turned her head toward the window.
Aya ventured a soft whisper, “Ravenwood.”
Rhiannon turned her head sharply, her black eyes flashing angrily. “Speak of evil,” she remarked, her face drawn and the five scars that ran nearly invisibly down her face deepened to a dark rouge, ” and it will slap you in the face. That bitch will pay for closing off the portal.”
Rhiannon’s face twisted as she spat out the words vehemently. “She left me trapped here and killed off everything that passed through that door. The greatest magic in the world lay across Ravenwood and the least I could do was try to kill her, but I couldn’t even do that. And now that place has become desolate for the past two ages and surrounded by the belderim trees that curl around the woods like a net.”
“The only way that she can be destroyed is if she is killed beyond the cottage. If Kay Ravengard ventures into the land beyond Ravenwood, she will become susceptible to all ways of death as any mortal.”
Rhiannon’s lip curled down exhaustibly. “And if Ravenwood is open it also allows for the potential destruction of Novegard, my creation.”
“Kay Ravengard sealed the portal, and she is the only one who can open it. If she gains access to the lands beyond Ravenwood, she may very well find the way to destroy you and Novegard.”
Rhiannon sneered and she grasped Aya’s hand. “Then you,” she said through her gritted teeth, “must lure her there.” Aya’s face convulsed with the blood that rushed to her brain. Rhiannon’s strong grip forced much of her power through her fingers that dug into Aya’s palm. The queen let go and Aya Hawke’s face returned to normal.
As Aya approached the doorway to leave, Rhiannon commanded from her position at the window, “Return to Ariead and seek out the young Flannery, make sure he is not there to help Kay. Make use of what you can learn from him, perhaps it will be useful, perhaps young Flannery himself might also be a beneficial pawn in this game of cat and mouse.”
“In your essence,” Aya Hawke replied, massaging her broken skin that spilled crimson gore on her flawless white gown. She left slowly, her head bowed and her spirit somewhat diminished.
Rhiannon waited until Aya was gone, then she made for the glass bottle which held the two diamonds. She emptied them into small ceramic bowl marked “Flannery” at the bottom. Rhiannon grinned, the irony too much for her to bear. In a few crushing strokes, she smashed the diamonds under a ceramic herb mixer. She took the small bowl and spilled its contents out the window. She watched them sparkle as they fluttered down with the wind that carried them the castle road a few feet from the edge of the cliff. Aya Rhea would become her familiar forever.
From a long ways down the hall, Aya Hawke clasped her heart and two crystal tears dropped from her eyes, splashing onto her hands. She felt a tearing inside her chest and shook her head sadly, wondering how fate could be so cruel. Rhiannon the Fey had already taken so much.
Outside the cold winds that blasted from the east-side of the castle were beginning to get to Meg Flannery, and her ears grew numb with cold. She peered up into the skies, looking for the source of the light snow and ice chunks. Suddenly she shrieked, catching something cold and hard in her eyes, splinters of ice, her mind told her. Meg shriveled back and tripped over a rock, falling onto the warm grass on the side of the road. She fought for what seemed like hours to get the splinters from her eyes. She rubbed and rubbed and knew from experience that it would only get worse, but the pain was so great that she pushed harder. Finally, the ice fell out and undoubtedly melted on the warm grass. Meg picked herself back up and continued to make her way up the Acropolypse. Only a mile left and she would find herself at the foot of Veramere, with eyes and ears ready to report mysterious happenings-and a splinter of diamond behind her eye.
When Todd Flanney looked away from his work and towards the window of the potter’s shop, his uncle became angered. “You must keep your eyes on your work, as my apprentice you will one day run this shop, but I will bequeath it to my daughter instead, if I must.”
Todd took his eyes away from the hawk that flew near the mountain cliff and cast them down to his clay pot that had crumbled on the potter’s wheel. “Sorry, uncle, I just don’t know . . .”
“Is something troubling you, Todd? You know you can tell me anything.”
Todd craned his neck around his seat and glanced at his uncle polishing finished pots. He was a distant man, with stern morals and a strict sensible code; Todd could never tell him anything. Peter Finsson was a man who was so honorable, that when his sister died, he took in his sister’s son and apprenticed him instead of his own daughter. Todd’s uncle never let him forget it. So instead he ventured a question that Kay Ravengard had put into his head. “What was it like for your father,” he asked, “what was the country like?”
“Much the same as it is.”
“When did Rhiannon come to rule?”
“Rhiannon, our queen? Well, I, I really don’t know . . . perhaps it was when I was just I child.” His father paused. “Though she must be quite old by now. She’s a strange one, a good ruler, but she never comes out of that castle. The last time I saw her was when I was ten years old. It was midsummer’s festival and she came out to speak to the people. She was quite pretty, I remember, raven hair, dark eyes, clad in a beautiful green and gold gown. Yes, she was quite a site to see. Her hair’s probably gone white by now.”
His father finished polishing a vase and picked up a bowl. Todd sighed, thinking that perhaps his aunt might know. He shifted lazily in his seat and the suddenly stood up, knocking his chair over. His uncle looked at him strangely when he put on his vest and scarf. “I’m going out,” Todd said. “Just for the moment, I need some fresh air.”
Todd stepped outside of the shop and didn’t dare look back into the window where he knew his uncle’s eyes would be watching him. Instead he rubbed his cold hands together and in long strides, ventured down the brick road of the town. He knew, and his uncle knew that he wouldn’t be back that day for work. For some reason Todd felt a want that Ariead and his family couldn’t satisfy. There was a hole in his life that seemed it had been there forever.
He took a deep breath of the cold mountain air that was out of place in the sweltering summer heat, and took the road in direction of the stone mason’s yard; perhaps Brock would be willing to talk about Kay and the strange proposals she made at the tree.
The Stone Mason’s shop skirted the edge of the village near a large stoneyard where Brock and his father did most of their cutting. Todd approached the rather large shop, and the even larger house that stood next to it. Brock’s home, being completely fashioned out of stone, was the strongest and best-looking house in all of Ariead, and the same could be said about Brock.
At first he planned to enter the shop, but knowing Brock, he wouldn’t be the one doing all the pounding and chiseling that sounded throughout the ground. So Todd hopped up the steps of Brock’s house with his hands in the pockets of his vest, shivering. He ignored the cold and used the dragon’s head knocker three times. His call was answered immediately by Brock’s younger sister, a girl slightly older than Meg, and already promised to the head Councilman’s son. It made Todd wonder what would really become of Meg.
“Good morrow, Master Flannery,” the girl said sweetly as she curtsied before him.
Todd pushed her playfully aside. “Enough of that Diana, you know me well enough to call me by my first name.”
Diana Berlinbrau rolled her eyes and straightened her cap-the one Todd had knocked off-over her dark brown hair. “Alright, Todd, but mother is having me practice proper etiquette. I must be a good wife, you know. The wedding takes place next spring.”
“Wonderful, then Brock and I will be rid of you when I come to visit.”
Diana shoved him. “That’s my girl,” he said, smirking, “ignore those lady like ways and become one of Meg’s followers.”
“Speaking of Meg,” Diana snickered, “who has she been betrothed to?”
“The prince of Feria’lai, love.”
“Nothing, Diana. Why don’t you go and knit somewhere.”
“Alright,” she replied, a little too coyly. “But Todd . . .”
“Yes,” he said, exasperated.
“When are you going to wed Rika.”
“I said git!” Todd reached forward and pulled her cap over her eyes. Diana squealed and retreated into the kitchen. “Nosy brat,” he muttered to himself.
“Yes, it’s a good thing that she’s getting married,” Brock’s voice called from upstairs. His strong lined face came into view. “Then we will be rid of her won’t we?”
Todd grinned. “Brock Berlinbrau, exactly the man I wanted to see.”
“I know. Why else would you come here, not to tease my sister, surely.”
“Of course not, did you hear that impudence. When will I wed Rika?” Todd remarked cynically.
Brock made no reply back and changed the subject. “I suppose you’ve come to talk to me about that . . . woman.”
Todd shrugged. “Don’t you think she needs to be discussed.”
“Surely I do, but not in here. There are too many walls, and as we all know, the walls have ears . . . and eyes where Diana is concerned. Did you know she made a hole in our private gathering room so she could spy on you, me, Dain, Keana, and Rika. The things she does these days. Come, we’ll build a fire near the stone pit and talk about it there.”
“Fair enough, but I suggest that you bring a sweater or some other over garment to wear. It’s colder out there than it has been since last spring.”
“Odd,” Brock remarked, thinking. He turned up the stairs. “I meet you in front of the stone pit then.”
“Right,” Todd called, “and bring me a sweater, too!”
Brock motioned that he had heard Todd’s plea and then ran up the stairs, causing his mother to yell at him for rocking the ceiling.
Not eager to be part of the household scoldings that often took place at the Berlinbrau house, Todd fled to the door, but not before Diana whipped him with a scarf that she was knitting.
He rushed down the stone porch steps before Brock’s sister could have another whack at him and made his way quickly to the stone pit behind the shop. As Todd passed the place he noticed that the pounding sounds of stone against stone had stopped and low voices could be heard instead.
Todd grinned to himself and decided to quietly sneak up next to the window and spy on Brock’s father. It was a rare occasion when the stone mason was caught talking to himself. Todd could taunt Brock for weeks; Dain and Rika would join in the fun, and even Keana would have a good laugh of it.
He mustered his eavesdropping skills together and crept silently over broken stone that littered the boundaries of the shop. Todd lifted his head up carefully, making sure to keep it at an invisible angle, and peered inside. The first thing he saw was that Brock’s father was indeed talking in a low voice and was staring across the room. Todd smiled smugly to himself and thought what a rapturous victory he had just attained. And then a dark cloaked figure stepped from the shadows and also spoke.
“Damn,” Todd cursed, his fun was ruined. He nearly retreated but the dark figure held his attention and he continued to listen.
“Then you have not seen anything strange lately,” the dark figure questioned.
“No, I told you already that I haven’t, neither has my family or servants. They would have told me.” Brock’s father held a large hammer and chisel in his hands, his face was dark and crossed. It appeared that the stranger was asking the same questions over and over.
The stranger grunted and turned to leave. Todd jumped back, afraid that the slight noise he made would be enough to attract the person’s attention. And something did; though it wasn’t Todd. Master Berlinbrau had said something and the stranger turned back. “I have noticed something about this particular summer,” he mentioned.
“Yes,” the stranger hissed.
“These past few days seemed to have opened a cold front. It feels more like fall and not a week past midsummer. Does that have anything to do with what you’re looking for? I find it strange enough.”
“No!” the stranger snapped. “That is just the weather.” He slammed the shop’s back door and left without hesitation.
“Nice fellow,” Brock’s father muttered and then continued to chisel away.
Todd backed away from the window just in time to see the cloaked stranger mount a horse and gallop off down the road. It was an odd enough site that he considered to tell Brock. He stood for a moment thinking absently when he remembered that Brock would be at the stone pit and that he was supposed to wait for him.
Todd grumbled when he saw the faint wisps of smoke cradled in the stone pit. Brock would be irritated and would have a good word to say to him. But when Todd arrived he saw not Brock but Meg, huddled around the fire with Dain. They spoke in low quiet voices and Meg was wrapped in Dain’s thick scarlet cloak that he used only during the winter months. Her feet were bare and thick with blisters, her right eye was red and swollen, as if she had been beaten. Todd forgot his cold body and ran to his sister’s side.
“Meg, Meg!” he cried. “Are you all right?”
Meg’s pale face dropped into her hands and she began to weep. Dain swept his arm over her shoulders for comfort. Todd grasped her hand that was stuck with tiny splinters and bleeding. “I saw . . .” she stuttered uncontrollably from cold. “I saw her, she . . . she was just like you said . . .pale, white, cold.”
Meg collapsed and Todd laid her down in front of the fire. Immediately he turned to Dain. “What happened, did she tell you anything.”
“I found her at the foot of the mountain while I was on my way to Brock’s. Todd, I’ve never seen her more exhausted in my life. She was bleeding for goodness sakes.”
“Enough of her state,” Todd stammered. “What did she say?”
“She saw her, she saw Aya Hawke, but from the look of it, it was a frightful encounter.”
“Did Aya Hawke do that?” Todd rambled, pointing to Meg’s swollen eye.
Dain shook his blond head. “No, she complained to me that a splinter of ice fell into her eye. She thought she got it out, but her eye’s still swollen. I laid her across my horse and brought her here. Brock saw me right after you left, he said, and then he went back inside to grab some blankets.”
“Yes, then said something about talking to his father.”
“Damn!” Todd dropped Meg’s cold hand, his eyes burned feverishly. “Stay with her, Dain. I’ll be back in a flash!”
Todd gathered up speed and raced through the stone pit, tripping over broken granite and sharp, protruding rocks. A little ways ahead he could see Brock’s bouncing dark head cantering along to his father’s shop, calling his father to come out.
Todd picked up his speed when he heard Master Berlinbrau answer. His legs felt heavy and his eyes were basted open by cold shot of wind that nearly pushed him head over heels. He met Brock halfway and knocked him aside in effort to stop himself. “Blast,” he muttered when he found himself on the ground next to Brock.
“Easy, Todd,” Brock whispered. “I know about Meg, we’ll get help.” He motioned to his father’s shop.
Todd shoved him aside so suddenly that Brock was shocked. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Look Brock, Meg has been through worse. She’ll survive. She can stay with Dain tonight, but she can’t go home with me, I’ll make up some excuse that she’s staying here with Diana, otherwise there will be too many questions asked.”
“But Dain has others in his family,” Brock protested.
“He lives with his grandmother and little sister and brother. His sister is sick, his grandmother is blind, and his brother wants to be like him, so he won’t talk.”
Master Berlinbrau’s voice boomed across the threshold of his shop.
“Is that you Brock, was there something you needed?”
Todd gave his friend a long hard stare. “No father, everything is fine, I was just speaking to Todd Flannery out here.”
“Young Flannery,” Brock’s father chuckled. “Are you helping him plan an elopement with the pretty Miss Lucius!”
Todd groaned sheepishly. Brock grinned, “Not yet father!”
Todd changed the tone of the conversation once more. “Listen, Brock, your father was just speaking to a very strange person. One who wanted to know of the happenings around here. If you tell your father about Meg, something is sure to happen. That man was not of this place and wanted to bring no good. I think he’s here because of . . .”
Todd caught his breath and nodded. “She may be mad, Brock, but I think she knows something more than she’s letting out.” Todd lowered his voice and suddenly halted. His eyes darted across the enclosure to the stone pit where a hawk with white feathers was perched. Looking out across the pit at what was sure to be Meg and Dain. Slowly the hawk began to turn around.
“Damn again!” Todd yanked Brock’s leather jerkin and dragged him to the side of the shop, out of the hawk’s view. Brock spotted the hawk just before it turned around.
Todd cut him off. “Aya Hawke, definitely. How many white hawks to you see eavesdropping on potential victims for the queen.”
Brock eyed him strangely. “You’ve been talking very peculiarly lately, what’s gotten into you? What has the queen got to do with it.”
“Nothing,” Todd shrugged, “that I can tell now, but Brock, something is happening in Novegard and I think that she is the only one who can tell us about it.”
“She, you mean . . .” Brock looked away towards the woods.
“Yes, Kay Ravengard.”
“Then we’ll have to go back there.”
Todd nodded. “You and I will have to speak with her.”