Character Name: Amythyst Dawn
The Story of Amythyst Dawn
"I know, mama! The ham is near done, and I've got this entire pot full of peas. The bread'll be out in about three or four minutes, and it's still a good ten or more a'fore they come in from the field. If it don't all get on the table a'fore then, they c'n just come on in here and help theyselves, same as usual," Amythyst said, smearing flour across her forehead as she wiped the sweat away. Lunch hour on the farm was always difficult, with cooking for papa and the twenty or so hands that helped out with the growing and animals. But lately, with mama expecting another baby any day, and therefore not able to help out around the house, most of the duties had fallen to Amy (as everyone called her) and her older sister, Sarah. At least it had until Sarah had taken off with one of the newest ranch-hands, left in the middle of the night to go get married or who knew what, two days before. Amy couldn't remember a time when she'd ever seen mama so mad, or heard the kind of words from papa that he'd said when the two of them went in and found her bed sheets tied up into a rope leading out of her bedroom window and a note that just said, "Gone with Bobby to git hitched."
"I know, Amy, darlin', I know. I jus' get worried when the food ain't all on the table. You know how yer papa gets when he has to come in here and help hisself out of pots and pans," mama said, with a smile. She rubbed her belly absently, and went to stir the peas again. Amy watched her, not quite able to return the smile. She knew that when Jamie, the youngest of the brood at the moment, had been born, things had been hard on mama, and the healer told her then he wasn't sure she should have another babe, but try telling that to papa. He was determined that mama would do her 'wifely duties', and if another baby came of it, well, that was one less ranch hand he had to feed and find a spot for in the hayloft a few years from now.
Amy grabbed a towel and took the bread out of the oven, sliding it onto a board on the counter, just as she heard Jack's voice out on the porch. The biggest and strongest of all of the ranch-hands, Amy often thought that if she were going to run away like Sarah did, it would be with him. He was always laughing, calling her "Beautiful Morning" as a play on her name, and generally making her feel special. Towering over the others by at least a hand and a half, his wavy dark hair and deep set blue eyes made her feel giddy. She felt terribly self-conscious now, standing in the kitchen covered in grease and flour, but she supposed it was silly to try and run for her room and put on a clean dress just to slop ham and peas on plates, and mama would absolutely kill her for dirtying up more clothes.
"Hey there, Amy, what's cookin'?" Jake said, with a grin. Amy grinned back, blushing, and mumbled about it being ham & peas.
"Hug you please?" Jake said, and Amy's head snapped up, her eyes wide. "Well, Beautiful Morning, if that's what you want, you shoulda jus' ask me. I'd be happy t'hug ya." Amy nearly died, then shoved him a little, making all the other hands laugh as they circled up to the huge long table and began passing plates full of ham and large pots of peas back and forth, everyone digging in with hands clean only to the wrist after having washed at the hand pump out front on their way in. Amy watched as papa pulled mama close, a little too roughly, and saw her wince as he nearly knocked her off balance. She also watched as her three younger siblings tried to get a bite of ham here, a bit of bread there, and shooed them all to the kitchen and out the back door to start hauling in small buckets of water to heat so Amy would be able to clean up once everyone was done and back to work.
Amy finally retreated to the kitchen herself, once everyone was settled down and eating, so she could start putting away some of the clean dishes from breakfast, and dumping the first pot of boiling water in the washtub. Jamie came in, carrying a now-only-half-full bucket of water nearly as big as he was, and she took it from him with a pat on his head and dumped it into the copper kettle to begin heating. She always went through the kettleful of water at least three times after lunch, what with the dishes, floors covered with muddy footprints to be mopped up, and her brothers and sisters needing baths before papa came in for dinner. Coming to the supper table with dirty faces and muddy shoes would get them knocked from the chair while papa screamed about eating with pigs instead of children. Amy knew this one from experience, and did everything in her limited abilities to make sure that Jamie and the other little ones never ended up with loose teeth or black eyes that would get them unwanted attention at school.
When she'd finished cleaning up the house, Amy grabbed up her basket and looked into the sitting room, finding mama asleep in the chair, with Jamie and Gareth playing on the floor at her feet. Sanda would be upstairs, playing with her dolls by now, because she knew that Amy and mama both would be after her with a switch if she got dirty again by going outside.
"I'm going out for eggs, you two. Be good and don't wake up mama," Amy whispered, and Jamie and Gareth both nodded absently and went back to playing with their toy horses, making quiet fighting noises as if they knew just how a real battle might sound.
Walking out to the coop, Amy watched as a number of the hands pushed a large plow through the south field, and she wondered where Jake was at this point, whether he was out there, too, or if he was in the barn today, helping with the horses and cows. If there was a farrier job to be done, or something going on with some of the bigger stock, he usually worked the barn since he was about the only one big enough to manhandle some of the animals if it was needed. She reached the chicken shed and went into the cool darkness, moving aside some of the roosting hens to get the day's eggs so she could get supper cooked before papa and the men came in for the day. As she bent down to the bottom row of nests, someone temporarily blocked the light from the door, and she shaded her eyes against the surrounding glare, trying to figure out who it was.
"Hey there, Beautiful Morning," she heard, and though she couldn't see his face, she smiled and said, "Hullo, Jake."
"Collectin' in the eggs, huh?" he asked, stepping a little closer.
"Aye," Amy said, standing up. "What are you doin' over this way? Ain't you supposed to be helpin' in the barn?"
"Well, I was helpin' over there, yuh, but I seed you come over here, and thought I'd come give you that hug y'wanted back t'lunch time," he said, with a chuckle.
"Oh, uhm… yeah," Amy said, blushing again. "I was just saying ham and peas, and you said that, and I was kinda surprised. I didn't mean nuthin' by it," Amy finished, but Jake stepped even closer to her.
"I wouldn't mind huggin' ya. I wouldn't mind doin' a lot of things with you, Beautiful Morning. You're awful pretty," he said, and tried to grab for her. Amy spun away, but knocked the basket of eggs from her hand in doing so. As she bent down to grab it back up and see if any of the eggs were still ok, Jake grabbed for her again, this time getting his arms around her tightly and pulling her close.
"C'mon, Amy, gimme a kiss," Jake said, and Amy could smell corn liquor on his breath and realized suddenly that she was in real trouble. As big as Jake was, he could easily hurt her, and he didn't seem to be in the mood for hurting her in any way other than something very personal that a man his age shouldn't be interested in. She was barely old enough to have started having her womanly troubles, let alone old enough to be grabbed by a boy, let alone a man as old as Jake, like this. All of her girlish crush disappeared in the time it took for him to reach down and start to undo the front of his pants, and her breath was slammed from her as he threw her to the floor with a grunt.
Jake covered almost her entire face with his huge hand as he tore her skirts off of her, and Amy began to twist her head, trying to get a breath, trying to get away. She finally got her mouth open a small amount and bit into his palm, expecting Jake to let go of her and get up. Instead he just laughed and pushed against her that much harder. When he finally managed to accomplish what he wanted, Amy gagged on the blood flowing from his palm when she screamed, and he cut the scream off abruptly when he removed his hand from her mouth and slammed the back of his fist into the side of her head, knocking her unconscious.
When Amy came awake, it was full dark outside. She tried to scramble to her feet, only to slide in the blood and muck beneath them. Finally managing to pull herself up, she doubled over in pain at what had been done to her. She stumbled outside the chicken coop, spinning around the corner and leaning over the fence to heave up what little amount of lunch was still in her stomach. Tears streaked the dirt on her face as she sobbed, and after a few moments, she was able to get herself under a mite of control and head back towards the house. She wasn't sure what would happen when she got there. With the sun already down, it had to be after suppertime. How in the world did no one come looking for her?
As she approached the back step, she heard Jake's voice and froze in her tracks. He was in the kitchen, talking to her father, and Amy could hear their conversation clearly. She crept closer to see if she could see them, as well.
"She's worse than that there sister of her'n," Jake was saying, "nothing but a regular tramp, callin' me in the coop and wantin' me to do stuff to her that I didn't think was right. I tol' her I wa'nt gonna do nuthin' like that with her, and she got mad. So I left 'er in there with them chickens and went back to the barn. Damned if the big sow didn't take a big ol' bite outta my hand soon's I did, look at this, Martin!" Jake said, holding up his bloodied and mangled palm.
"Well," his father said, and Amy could see him shaking with rage. "If the little tramp shows up here in my house again, I'll beat her within' an inch of her life, see how she likes that. Her sister done run off with that no-good Bobby, and I won't have this one doin' somethin' just as dumb. When her maw has that baby, she won't be good for nothin' for a long while, most especially the parts of bein' married to her that I like best. So if that little tramp wants that kinda thing, mebbe her papa oughtta make sure she gets what she wants now and again, huh, Jake?"
Amy felt like throwing up again, and to hear Jake begin to laugh and see him nod along with the thought of her father… doing… that…
Amy spun, dropping the basket of eggs she still carried, and ran into the dark, starless night.
Walking down the gangplank, Amy slung the small wrapped package of her clothes over her shoulder and looked around at the people who went about their business on the docks. When she'd first taken passage on the ship, the captain wasn't thrilled about taking her on board. He'd said that women were bad luck, and one with nothing but the clothes on her back couldn't be much better. But when he'd found out that Amy knew how to cook - and that she could cook well, and for a huge crew of men - he grudgingly gave her a spot in a pantry behind the galley and told her that she could defend herself, eat after his men were done, and if she didn't pull her weight that he would have no reservation whatsoever about pitching her overboard in the deepest part of the ocean. Amy didn't care what she had to do - within reason - as long as it got her off the island of North Jhelom and into a town where she might be able to lose herself in the crowd. And from what she could see of the number of people and animals all around her, she'd found just such a spot.
Moving on down the docks, she jingled the few coins in her pocket that she'd gotten from the ship's crew for making them special meals and sneaking food to them late nights after the captain was snoring away in his own berth. She knew it wasn't much - probably not even enough to get her a place to sleep that wouldn't be infested with mice and bugs - but it was more than what she'd left with. She had sometimes wondered, in the last week, how her mama was getting along without her, but put the thoughts from her head. She knew she would never be able to go home again.
She finally found someone who looked friendly, even though there was a creature following him that was absolutely terrifying to her. Wearing a bright red robe and cloak, with wavy dark hair streaked with gray, he looked a bit older than most of the folks nearby, and he had a nice smile. Amy momentarily remembered how nice Jake's smile seemed to her once, and pushed the thought away quickly before it upset her again.
"'Scuse me, sir?" she asked the man, and he turned to look at her. "C'n ya point me to'ards the local inn or bakery? I need to see if'n they need some help cookin' and cleanin'."
"Aye, that I can, young lady. There," he said, pointing, "is The Falconer's Inn. Although I'm afraid they don't actually have any provisions for cooking there. If you wish to cook, you'll want to go northeast, to the Shattered Skull."
"The Shattered what?!" Amy asked, appalled.
The man chuckled, and the large white dragon behind him snorted, as if it understood what she'd just said.
"The Shattered Skull. I know, it sounds terribly frightening, but it's really a lovely place, the best that Skara Brae can offer. Speak to Justine, she's the owner. Tell her that StarBlade sent you over, and I'm sure that she'll do her best by you," the man said.
"StarBlade?" Amy asked. "Is that you?"
"Aye, miss. StarBlade Ashke, animal tamer, magician, and all around scoundrel," he said, with a smile, and offered a hand. She took it, and did her best to drop a curtsy in what remained of her dress.
"Amythyst," she said, still not trusting enough to offer her full name. "So you think they'll let me cook 'n clean fer 'em?" she asked, and the man nodded. "Thankee, sir," Amy said quietly, and began to make her way towards the tavern.
Upon arrival, Amy found Justine behind the counter of the tavern, cleaning up glassware and wooden trenchers left by departing customers, some men who looked like dockworkers. She explained her situation, and the tavern keeper looked at her with some skepticism until Amythyst said, apparently, the magic words.
"But StarBlade said that you might be able to he'p me," Amy said, now nearly in tears.
"You know Master Ashke?" the woman said, startled. "Aye, if he sent thee, then by all that is good, I'll find a spot for ye. Where are your things?" the woman asked, looking around.
"This is all I got," Amy said, a little ashamed.
"Well, then, come with me. I think you're about the size I used to be, and I've still got the frocks in a trunk. You can make do with those until you earn some coins, and buy something you care for," and with that, led Amy up the stairs.
It may not be home, Amy thought to herself, but at least it's a start.
As the days to follow became weeks, and weeks turned into moons, Amy soon proved that her skill in cooking for large groups was a welcome addition to the cook staff at the tavern, and soon the common room was filled every lunch and dinner hour with large groups of dock workers who enjoyed the hearty stews and well-spiced meats that Amy often made. She had learned to stretch a budget early on, and soon Justine had nearly doubled her weekly pay, in return for the gold that Amy was able to save her on sundries. Before long, Amy would actually give up her day off simply because the men would complain loudly if she wasn't there to cook and serve their meals. She didn't mind, simply because she had no friends, no family to look in on, and nothing took her fancy much to do other than what she knew and was good at… cooking. Her speech began to pattern itself after those around her, and soon every trace of the country farm life she'd known dropped away. Her hair got longer, and she began to wear it in a practical ponytail over one shoulder, the red gleaming over the oven like its own fire.
Eventually, though, Amy began to wonder what else there was in the world to see, having reached that age where all young people begin to get the wanderlust and courage to move on from what they know. Bidding Justine farewell at last, having taught her the tricks and tips she'd used, Amy struck out on her own toward the far eastern edge of town. From the stories she'd heard, there was a special ring of stones there that would take her anywhere else she might wish to go, and she'd heard enough tales of the great Lord British's castle that she couldn't resist the temptation any longer. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to wander amongst an entire garden full of fruit trees, or see a real throne made of gold. To her, this was an extravagance that she nearly didn't think could be real.
When Amy reached the ring of stones, she found a swirling cloud of blue dust there, full of stars. She stared at it for a long while, thinking that perhaps this wasn't a good idea. But when a woman stepped through it - on horseback! - she was sold. A new adventure was just what she needed, she supposed, and before she could talk herself out of it, she stepped into the eddy. She felt odd, not knowing what to do to go where she wanted to, but unbidden, a picture formed in her mind of a city full of people, with an enormous gate flanked by guards.
Yes, she thought, that must be it, and with a nauseating sideways slip, she opened her eyes to see that things around her had… changed. Stepping out of the misty, sparkling cloud, she realized that she must have, indeed, traveled to somewhere other than Skara Brae. Two men were standing just outside the ring of stones there, and she approached them with caution. They seemed alright, and both wore medallions at their waist with the legend "C of B" engraved on them, but she was still cautious.
"Pardon, sirs, but can you tell me where I am?" she asked, demurely.
"Certainly!" the nearest man said. "You're just outside of Britain. Right through those trees over there is the road, and if you follow it up that way," he said, pointing generally north and east, "you'll run right into the town. Can't miss it, no matter how hard you may try," he finished, with a laugh.
"Thank you, sir," she said, and before she could leave, the man stopped her again.
"Are you new here?" the man asked, and Amythyst nodded, laying a careful hand on the dagger hilt at the belt around her waist.
"Oh, now, no need to go grabbing your knife, lady," he said, stepping back once. "I'm not going to hurt you. Quite obvious to me someone already has, but I'm not the type to do that sort of thing. Name's Reginald. This gentleman here," he said, motioning to his companion, "is Lord Mortivex, guild master to the best blacksmiths in Brit. We're crafters, ma'am, not brigands. And if you need anything, you come look us up. We're most usually around the Hammer & Anvil, the big smithy up north side of town. Take care, ma'am," Reginald finished, and bowed formally to her.
"I will, sir, and thank you," she said, and struck off through the trees towards the road. Blacksmiths, eh? Perhaps they could help her out some time, should she ever need some armor or to get her skillet repaired! And without another thought for the men, she started up the dirt road, headed for the most interesting chapter of her life yet.
As Amy made her way up the packed-dirt road, she marveled at the wild creatures that wandered so freely here. Deer, wild dogs, birds, and even an untamed horse, all of them walking about calmly as if they had no concern whatsoever for her presence. While none of them would allow her to approach closely, many of them did not run from her when she neared, but simply turned and walked the other way. She wondered if she could learn, like StarBlade Ashke, how to tame them. Having a horse would certainly make things easier for her, but she knew that she didn't have the gold to spend on feeding and stabling a creature like that; horses were the province of the rich.
Soon, the sounds of the birds and squirrels gave way to the sound of fighting, much the same sound she was used to hearing in the fighting pits at home, and her stomach lurched. But as she approached closer, she realized that some of the noise she heard was coming from a blacksmith's shop. She checked the sign, and her limited reading ability told her this was not the Hammer & Anvil that the men had spoken of, so she didn't bother to stop. She then found the Warrior's Guild, the source of the fighting noises - trainees learning defensive and fighting skills, no doubt. To her left, the stables, and the final source of noise, the sound of horses stamping their hooves, as well as a strange chirping sound she'd never heard before.
She couldn't resist finding out what that noise could be, and approached the stable yard cautiously. When she leaned on the fence and looked around the large field, she saw it - a large bird-like creature with a plume of feathers on its head, but skin more like the alligators she was familiar with from home, this one a brilliant emerald green. What in the world could it possibly be?
The stable hand was doing everything in his power to drag the creature forcibly into the stables by the reigns that had been fitted to her head, and her powerful back legs were digging deeply into the sparse grass as she chirruped her displeasure with the thought of going back into the stall. With a toss of her head, the stable hand went flying, and Amy had to stifle a terribly inappropriate laugh as the creature dropped a pile of dung quite artfully right beside the sprawling man's head. Then, without even a backwards glance, the creature approached Amy as she hung from the fencepost.
"Hello, you emerald lovely, you," Amy said, cautiously holding out a hand to the strange creature, ready to pull it back she made any sign that it meant to bite. Instead, it nuzzled her hand, chirping softly. Amy laughed as the plume on its head brushed her face, the soft feathers smelling of fresh air. The creature looked up as she laughed, and chirruped quite loudly, almost as if joining her in laughter.
"You want her?" the stable hand called, as he approached. "She wandered into town three days ago, she don't belong to no one, fitted her up with some pony tack. Stubborn as a 10-year mule and too smart for her own good. Won't touch grain or hay, and I'm tired of the healers pouring healing potions down my throat from her biting and kicking me with them legs. The stable master said he was gonna try to sell 'er off, but I don't think no one will pay good money for something so ugly, and they sure ain't gonna pay for somethin' they can't ride. Maybe keep her for a zoo or something."
"You'll do no such thing, give her to a zoo! She's absolutely wonderful," Amy said. "What is she, exactly?" Amythyst asked, scratching just behind the plume of feathers and eliciting a contented trill.
"Ostard. The tamers and vets go somewhere and get 'em, but I never much knew or cared where they come from. I jus' know they's a pain to take care of, especially once someone tames one then lets her run loose, like this one here."
"Well, as much as I would love her," Amy said, sadly, "I can't afford her. I've got just enough gold to get a room until I can get a paying job, and barely enough to feed myself, let alone this fine lady," she finished. "But thank you," she said, stepping down from the fence, "for the offer."
"Hold on, hold on!" the stable hand called. "Let's talk this over," he said, climbing the fence. "I'll make this easy. I will give her to you free of charge. Cause she certainly ain't gonna do me any good, and when someone sees what a pain in the hindquarters she is, they certainly aren't gonna pay money for her, and then I'll get stuck with more potions and goin' home in a bad mood from dealin' with that thing. She likes you, 'parently, so by all means, she's yours. I'll just tell the stablemaster she ran off, he won't care. Nothin' he hates more than feedin' somethin' he ain't getting' paid for. And there's the farms up north of here, and they's the Lord's free farms. For the poor and them as can't get work right now, you're welcome to whatever you'd like. And I'm bettin' that this one might eat some carrots or turnips, given a chance. So you could feed her. And yourself, if you've a mind to. And that'd save you on the gold, plus the two Inns there in town both have hitchin' posts for free, and I'm bettin' as much as she's taken to you, she'd let you hitch her up and she'd stay right there. Please, miss, take her?"
Amy was stunned, but simply nodded, and the stable hand grinned. She followed him into the yard, where the ostard quickly came up to her with a friendly chirp. She took the reigns, and began to lead the ostard around the yard, and it followed her placidly. The stable hand watched in amazement as the creature followed the young lady around like a pet dog, and was even more stunned when it nudged her with its head, then, as the girl turned around, it stooped down in the crouch for her to climb on its back like a horse.
"Well, I'll be…" he muttered, as the ostard allowed Amy to climb up on her. It gracefully stood up, and very calmly walked over to him, chirping loudly and making one last snap at him, which sent him jumping backwards, where he promptly stepped in a huge pile of her dung.
"Emmy, be nice," Amy said, naming the ostard unintentionally, but the creature definitely had a satisfied look on her face. "Come on, let's go see if we can find you a bite to eat. I've got cookies, but I'm pretty sure you won't want those. Thank you, again," Amy called to the stable hand, who absently waved as he walked backwards, trying to get most of the dung from his boots, and with that Amy rode her new mount out of the stable yards, following the road northwest until she found the public farms.
The rancher and farmers waved to her as she dismounted and tied Emmy to a post, then went into the field to pull up four carrots, brushing the dirt from them as she went. She carried them to a pump just outside and washed them, then began munching one herself, giving the others to Emmy in chunks, who wolfed them down greedily after not having been fed for days. Then, both content, Amy climbed aboard Emmy once again, and they headed back toward town.
Just as they rounded a corner between the farms and the stables, Emmy suddenly jerked to a stop, the crest feathers on her head standing up as she lowered her head and emitted what sounded like a growl. Amy was puzzled, until a small brown creature with wings wandered onto the road and began chattering at them. Then, without warning, it charged, barking and screeching.
Emmy shook herself once, an unspoken hint for Amy to get down, which Amy took quite readily. Almost immediately, Emmy's foot kicked out, slamming into the little bat-creature. It fell over, hurt, where it was unceremoniously stomped into mush beneath Emmy's strong claws. Then, unconcerned, Emmy looked over her back at Amy, then crouched down for her to mount once again.
"Well, that was interesting. I hope there's not much of that going on around here. I'm not good with a dagger, and I certainly don't want to end up in warrior training just to go get you a turnip!" Amy said, patting Emmy's neck as they rode toward town.
Amy could hear the town before she actually reached it, and stopped before the wide bridge that crossed the river that edged the city. A town crier stood at the edge of the bridge, and Amy approached him to find out if there was anything truly exciting going on, as if anything could be more exciting than simply being in the same city as the ruler of the entire land!
"What news, good sir?" she asked, and the crier turned with a flourish.
"Well, milady, there is news of a stranger in town, one who claims to have just come from a visit to a land which no one has ever been to other than him. Rumor has it he's in one of the taverns in town, talking of a land in the clouds, of all places, and a city full of mages who cast dark and evil spells, animating corpses and summoning all manner of nasties to do their bidding. Of course, they say he also talks of a city at the other end of this place where the people dress in white and are holy warriors, invoking the names of strange gods and doing their own strange magics. As you can well imagine, I'm quite ready to be relieved of duty for the day so's I might go find this man and be the first crier in Brit to have the truth of it all!"
"Aye, kind sir, that sounds like a fine goal," she said, smiling, then rode across the bridge and into the throng of walking and riding people who milled through the city. Amy couldn't help but feel like a real country bumpkin as she goggled at the people who were standing around outside the bank in the common market, some of them appearing suddenly on the roof, and then back on the ground once again. She passed slowly among the people, watching them, and wondering how she would ever learn to find her way around. She eventually dismounted, knowing that in the days to follow, it might be necessary for her to go on foot from place to place, and naturally everything looks much different from the ground. She didn't want to ride around on Emmy, then find herself lost two days later.
Amy found the tavern first, and a large place it was, with twice as many tables as the Shattered Skull had, and not one but two ovens. But sadly, she spoke with the tavern keeper who told her right away that there were no jobs to be had, not even for someone who was a skilled cook and had the experience cooking in Skara Brae. She moved on up the street, passing a large Inn, whose keeper told her that there was no work there to be had, and when he told her the price of a room for the week, she nearly threw up her carrot.
"Emmy, we might be camping out for awhile," Amy said, quietly, as they moved on up the street further, passing the healers and the alchemists. Amy rode past a large building that she initially mistook for Lord British's castle, but found that it was simply a grand guild house for the alchemists and mages. She knew that there were those around who could cast magic, but she suspected that most of it was sleight of hand and diversion. She'd never known anyone who could do anything of the sort, other than the old water witch who'd doused their farm for the new well when she was no older than three or four.
Amy smiled as she rode past the Bardic Guild, listening to the alternately pleasant tunes from a harpsichord and the discordant twang as a still-green student tried his or her hand at a lap harp for the first time. "That would be a good weapon, that horrible twanging, huh, Emmy?" Amy said as Emmy shied sideways and shook her crest feathers in irritation at the noise. They moved on down the street past the bowyer's shop, and that's when the smell of bread and honey hit Amy's nose. A bakery! Perhaps they would have work for her there!
Dismounting from Emmy as she approached the building, she was nearly knocked down as the door was flung open from the inside, and out stormed a young man in cook's whites and an apron, covered with flour.
"Fourteen hundred loaves of bread by tomorrow night? Are you insane, Arlene? Why did you tell them we could do it? You know there is no way that we can manage, even with both ovens going constantly. Well, you can do it yourself, because I'm going back to Minoc. There was never a call for fourteen hundred loaves of anything there, most especially not bread for a castle where no Lord has lived for moons!" he yelled, throwing his cap to the ground and storming off.
Amy stepped into the doorway, pulling the door shut behind her with a smile. "Arlene," she began, "my name is Amy, and I think you and I have a little to talk about…"
As Amy wearily walked Emmy down the wide and empty street, the crier on top of the castle battlement cried out that it was 2:00, and all was well. Amy couldn't even muster the strength to be thrilled about castle battlements or that there was a castle at all. She moved on down the street, hoping to find somewhere in the woods close by to camp out, and she turned a corner to find a crowd unexpectedly, all gathered around a large stone forge full of glowing coals. This, then, had to be the Hammer & Anvil.
Amy wandered over to the forge, warming her hands over the forge and resting momentarily before she moved on into the woods north of town. She looked around at the faces, not recognizing any of them to be the men she'd met earlier, but there were plenty of smiths around, each with the same medallion hanging from their belt that Amy remembered seeing on the two men from the gate. She could understand quickly why they wouldn't have jewelry on to show their guild - crafters like these could hurt themselves pretty quickly if a weapon or piece of armor caught on it.
"So I told Kenzo that Mortivex had taken over, and he was alright with it, I think," one lady said, and Amy recognized the unusual name of the man from the gate. The speaker was a smallish woman with dark hair and bright eyes, dressed in a very feminine pink blouse and black skirt, with a dark charcoal apron of mail on while she worked. She smiled at everyone she met, and worked carefully and quickly for the fighters who came in to have weapons repaired. Amy watched her for a moment, and suddenly, the strangest sensation came over her. She felt dizzy, but put that off to her exhaustion at having kneaded and shaped nearly 600 loaves of bread that night along side Arlene. But then her leg started to feel almost as if she'd burned it, and suddenly the world around her went dark except for a glowing aura around this woman in front of her. Then suddenly Amy was swept with a vision of the woman screaming as coals poured from a broken corner of the forge where a horse had just kicked the stones loose. The vision disappeared as quickly as it had come, and without thought, Amy grabbed the woman and pushed her backwards.
"Hey!" the woman shouted, startled, dropping her smith's hammer into the forge. A scant two seconds later, the horse who'd been standing on the other side of the forge reared and screamed, a hot coal having apparently popped and showered his nose with sparks. His hooves came down, bashing the stones on the far corner into dust and letting the glowing coal spill out onto the ground, right at the very spot the woman had been standing.
"I'm sorry," Amy mumbled, helping the woman to her feet. "I just had this feeling, and then I got this picture in my head, and…" Amy said, and the woman interrupted her.
"Well, whatever it was, thank you! I could have been really hurt! Sounds to me like you've got Second Sight. I bet you're a great mage! I'm Lara, by the way," the woman finished, holding out her hand.
"Amythyst Dawn," the girl said, smiling slightly and shaking Lara's hand. "And I'm not a mage of any kind. Magery isn't real, anyhow," Amy said, and Lara laughed.
"Of course it is, silly," Lara said. "I'm Grand Master level, and let me tell you, it's quite real. If it wasn't for magery, I wouldn't have the ability to haul all these ingots and weapons from place to place some days, and I certainly wouldn't be able to defend myself. I can make a sword that will decapitate even the meanest monster you can find, but by no means can I swing one! If you ever want to learn more about it," Lara said, digging another smith's hammer from her pack, "you let me know and I'll help you as best I'm able."
"Thank you," Amy said, amazed again by the helpful demeanor of these blacksmiths. To cover her social awkwardness, Amy fell back on the one thing she knew to do…"Is anyone hungry? I've got some cookies I made yesterday, and I'm more than willing to share."
The offer was greeted with quiet cheers, and Amy reached in her own pack to pull out a packet of cookies, passing them around to everyone.
"So, Amythyst," Lara said, around a mouthful of cookie, "would you be willing to enter a little trade agreement? I'll train you in magery, and my fellow guildmates and I will keep you in weapons and utensils, in exchange for your cooking. Because I know that I, personally, often stay up much too late - as you can see! - smithing and crafting, and forget that my body needs fuel just as the forge fire does. So what do you say? Sound like a good trade?"
Amy smiled and agreed, after explaining that she had to help out at the bakery for a few hours each day so that she had gold for a room and such, but that she would be happy to cook for them. And Amy stayed at the forge that night almost until time for the sun to come up, sharing stories and laughing with the blacksmiths, finally feeling at home for the first time in her short life.
"I swear it to you, my good man, there are creatures there made entirely of crystal, and they will rain damage down upon you the likes of which you've never seen. They killed my ancient wyrm with two blows, and came after me. But with the grace of the Dark Fathers, I was able to avoid their wrath. Once I'd killed one of them with the new magics I've been gifted with, I reanimated the corpse, and the resulting skeletal mage followed me for days, killing anything that threatened me with harm," the man said, thanking the waitress for his fourteenth mug of free ale. The clientele had been buying his meals and drinks for weeks now, simply to keep him talking about this new land he supposedly had visited.
"Aye, Umbra is a dark city, but the powers of those there, the things that they can teach us. I'm sure that some would find the city of Luna lovely, with the paladins gathering to crush the necromancers, but for myself, I like the shadows," he finished, fingering his pendant of blood-red stone.
Amythyst watched him from across the room, while she ate her dinner, and felt that she'd met the man somewhere before. She couldn't place where she might have seen him though, and figured that it must be someone who had come into the Shattered Skull once, or someone who had stopped by the forge for repairs. But when she heard the next words from his mouth, she nearly dropped her mug of cider.
"The name is Ashke, my friends call me StarBlade. The necromancers call me Master, now, and the Dark Fathers call me Minion. Call me what you will," the man said.
Amythyst couldn't believe her ears. THAT was StarBlade? But he'd changed so much from just a few moons ago, in Skara Brae! His hair was now long, and snow white, his robes black now instead of the bright red he'd worn then, and his skin was so pale that he nearly glowed in the half-light of the dark tavern common room. And all this talk of becoming a necromancer… Amy had learned from Lara that they were evil mages, those who did terrible things, thinking that the more evil they became, the better it was. He'd been so nice to her in Skara, how could he have turned into the thing that was sitting a few tables away, rejoicing in the spilling of innocent blood?
But she would feel bad if she didn't speak to him, at least, considering all he'd done for her once. She got up from her bench, having finished her meal, and went to the table where he sat. Before she could speak to him, he spoke, without even looking up at her.
"I see you finally decided to come and greet me, little Amythyst Dawn. You've been watching me like the hawk you are for at least an hour, and I wondered if you would say hello now that you know what I've become. Tamer and magician, patron of the arts no longer, I'm now one of the most powerful necromancers that Umbra has yet to produce, and I look forward to being able to recruit more to our cause before I leave this rathole to go home again. And you, Amythyst Dawn," he said, finally raising his eyes, "what is it you will do?"
Amythyst stumbled back involuntarily at the sight of his eyes, which had turned pure and solid black. It had been impossible to tell this from any distance, and it explained why no one would sit too close to him, because it was an extremely frightening change. "I don't know," she stammered, as she realized that he was calling her by her full name, one that he'd never been given.
"Aye, I know a lot of things," he said, rising slowly to stand close to her. "I know about your friends, the blacksmiths, and that you now ride about on that stupid bird lizard as if she's your lifemate. You cook three days each week at the bakery near the bowyer's, and the rest of the time you're cooking for that gaggle of honking geese at the Hammer & Anvil. And I promise, there is much more that I know. But we shall meet again soon, Amy, and we will talk then, won't we?" he said quietly, and Amy felt her head nodding up and down, unbidden. He's spelled me, Amy thought to herself, and shuddered.
"Nay, but I could. Farewell, hawk," he said, running a single, pale finger down the side of her face and turning to leave. Once his eyes left her face, she could feel her own conscious thought returning, and she shuddered involuntarily.
I have to warn Lara and everyone, Amy thought, and went out the side door of the tavern to retrieve Emmy and do just that.
When Amy arrived at the forge, she was greeted warmly by a number of the smiths there, most of them members of the same guild as Lara. Their medallion gave their guild as "C of B", and Amy had never really asked what it meant. She left Emmy to crop at the grass around the Hammer & Anvil, having learned by now that the ostard wouldn't wander off, and if she did, she wouldn't go far. Amy felt lucky to have gotten her, but at the moment, her only concern, truly, was letting Lara and the other smiths know what she'd heard, and what had been said.
Amy looked around for Lara, but didn't see her familiar pink garb, nor did she recognize the few smiths who were there, other than Marlowe, who very rarely showed up at the smithy, repaired for a bit, said his farewells, and disappeared for another few days. He waved now, then muttered a magical spell and disappeared. Amy was even getting used to seeing that, people saying, "Kal Ort Por" and poof, they were gone.
"Excuse me," Amy said to one of the smiths who was standing at the forge, another woman wearing the medallion, "have you seen Lara?"
The woman turned and looked at Amy and smiled, and Amy immediately felt her heart skip a beat. This woman was very attractive, and the way the forge light shone on her auburn hair… what in the world is happening to me? Amy thought to herself. I'm reacting to her like I did that night that the accident with Lara happened!
Since that night, a number of times Amy'd had episodes where she'd had an odd feeling or a stray vision, and it usually meant that something important was happening at that moment or was going to happen. But this was the first time that she'd ever had a feeling like this, and the vision that flashed across her mind was one that would never have come into her head consciously… an image of her holding hands with this woman, and it wasn't a sisterly hand-clasp, but one much like she'd seen her sister Sarah having with Bobby, just before they'd run off together. Then the woman spoke, and Amy's vision was gone instantly, though the strange feeling remained.
"No, milady, I'm sorry. I haven't seen Lady Lara today at all. I believe she's gone to Yew to visit her sister, Aiden. Is there something that I can help you with?" she asked, with a smile.
"Well, I… no, I think I'll just wait and talk to Lara tomorrow. But thank you, ma'am," she said, and the woman chuckled.
"Ma'am? How about if you call me Rhi? The name's Rhiannon, but people call me Rhi all the time, and I'd be glad to have you call me that, as well. And what should I call you? Or should I call on you at all?" she said, with a wink.
Amy blushed and introduced herself, then went to retrieve Emmy from under the walnut tree, using that as an excuse to get away. But when she turned back, to ride past the Hammer & Anvil and head for the Northside Inn, where she had a room, she found Rhiannon packing her things and getting ready to leave, as well. She thought it would seem rude if she just rode off without saying farewell, so she stopped and waited, then just as she began to speak, Rhiannon interrupted her.
"I'm headed up to the Northside Inn for some dinner. Want to come with me?" she asked, shouldering her pack and whistling for her beetle to follow, another thing that Amy had finally gotten used to, seeing people ride around on giant beetles that were fierce fighters and meat-eaters.
"Well, since that's where I'm living for the time being, I suppose that would be alright," she said, and the two of them rode side-by-side toward the Inn. This should be interesting, Amy thought. I wonder what will become of this?
"So he started calling you 'hawk', told you he'd see you again soon, then left?" Rhi said, in amazement. "The thought of him makes me feel like bugs are crawling on me," she continued, "and I hope that if he DOES show up, he does it at the forge where you'll be protected. Because I can't quite stomach the thought of you getting hurt by this obviously insane man."
Amy smiled and blushed a little, not sure how to take her feelings for this woman. Sure, she'd heard on occasion of women who didn't care much for men, but usually they were laughed at or even hurt, and she certainly didn't want that to happen to Rhi, or to herself, for that matter. But perhaps here in a larger city, it was more acceptable, and obviously the blacksmithing guild took Rhi's lifestyle in stride, because earlier in the evening Rhi had mentioned having a former partner, also female, who had been a smith. This woman had been killed while fighting dragons in a dungeon a few years ago, and Rhiannon had been alone since. Amy had then poured her own heart out, Rhi being the first to ever hear the story of Jake and the ensuing conversation with her father, and Rhi had held her hand and told her it was alright, that she would make it through the pain some day and be stronger and better for it.
"The only thing that concerns me," Amy said, staring down into her mug of ale, "is that he threatened you all. I'm pretty sure that Lady Lara can defend herself with magic, but I'm really worried that even her mage skills won't be a match for his evil work. She's told me a thousand times if she's told me once, she can't fight hand-to-hand to save her life... literally. And I wonder how many of the other smiths are the same?"
"Well, Lara can definitely defend herself, and as for me, I can not only craft a war mace that can take down a Titan, I can wield it just as easily. Smacking iron all day builds muscles," Rhi laughed, showing her biceps. "But don't you worry. We smiths are a crafty bunch -- no pun intended there -- and we'll make sure you're quite safe," she said, and took Amy's hand again. "I promise you, beauty, that nothing will harm you if I can help it."
Rhi got up from her bench and came around to the same side of the table as Amy, sitting down close to her and taking her hand again.
"Ever since I joined the Circle of Bastards," she began, and Amy laughed.
"The Circle of who?"
"Oh, you didn't know? That's our guild. The Circle of Bastards. Most of us are outcasts from our families for one reason or another, whether it's because we prefer crafting to fighting, or because we chose not to follow the path our parents set out for us, or because of our lifestyle choices. And the rest, well, when you've been working on a particular piece of chainmail for three days and break it beyond the point that you can repair it, a few choice words tend to come from the mouth. And for many of us, that particular epithet was a regularity," she laughed. "And so Kenzo, our original guild master, along with a few others, began to gather quite often, and eventually formed the guild we are today, the Circle of Bastards. And one of the main guiding principles of our group is that we care for one another, simply because we are all Bastards in one way or another. I know we're a crafter's guild, specifically blacksmiths, but I'm pretty sure that we could find room in our fold for an honorary chef. I'll talk to Lara and Morty about it, but you're as good as in.
"Now as for this issue with StarBlade, please be at peace. Tonight, I want you to get some sleep, and not think about all of it. You need to rest, and worrying over this silliness will only dull your senses when you really need them. And on that note," she said, and leaned over to kiss Amy on the forehead, gently, "I'm going to leave you to your rest. I have four fighters coming in from the lowest levels of the Despise Dungeon, and if I'm not there to repair their swords, they'll raise four kinds of hell. I'll see you at the forge tomorrow evening, right?"
"Of course," Amy said, and threw her arms around Rhiannon. "Thank you for everything," she said, and Rhiannon kissed her hair.
"Any time, darlin', any time. Now off to bed with you!" she scolded, and Amy got up, heading for her room while Rhiannon shouldered her pack and went out the door. Amy watched her go from the hallway, before going into her room and dropping her pack on the floor and falling into the bed. She knew she wasn't going to get much sleep, ordered or not, and lay looking at the shadows dancing on the ceiling for a very long time before exhaustion finally won out and she dropped into a fitful sleep after getting up long enough to change into her sleeping gown.
Nightmares plagued her through the wee hours of the morning, and she woke up before dawn with a scream on her lips that was bitten back only with sheer will. She lay back, sweat drenching her clothes and her heart racing a mile a minute. Images of the horrors still lingered, and she wondered if it was something her mind created or something that StarBlade had sent to her, mind to mind, while she slept. Images of people dying, images of gutters running with blood like a river, images of signposts made of stacked skulls and barren, blackened trees. And throughout it all, she was running, terrified, from a shadow that followed her and the sounds of wicked laughter all around.
Amy rolled on her side, looking out the window into the darkness, and listening to the sounds outside. That's when she realized that this early in the day, before business began and people began coming into town, the sounds of the Hammer & Anvil carried to the Northside Inn, and she wondered if the pounding and clanking she heard was Rhiannon working, still, at this hour. The thought of the woman made her smile, and she took the time to really think about her feelings, finally deciding that love was love, the package that it came in didn't matter all that much. She'd let herself feel what she would, and the rest would come in time.
Amy knew she wasn't going to sleep any more, and when her feet hit the cold floor, that washed away any traces of drowsiness that still lingered. She padded over to find a clean pair of trousers (she'd learned early on that when it came to working the flour mill, the less billowing skirts a woman had on, the better!) and a blouse. She tossed her apron in her pack and went out to the post to get Emmy, then headed toward the Hammer & Anvil to see if anyone she knew was about, maybe buy some eggs and bacon on her way out and fry them at the forge as she'd done once or twice before.
When she arrived, she was glad to see that Rhiannon was indeed at the forge, as were a number of others she knew. She greeted them warmly, and began getting out the supplies to make breakfast. After everyone had eaten, she cleaned everything up, and then turned to speak to Rhiannon about the nightmares. But she found that Rhiannon was sitting with her back to the walnut tree, nearly asleep.
Amy slid down to sit beside her, and Rhiannon smiled, a tired grin. "Too many repairs and not enough sleep," she mumbled and Amy nodded.
"Come on, smith lady," she said, getting back to her feet. "Let's get you to a bed." Rhiannon took her hand gratefully and Amy whistled for Emmy to follow them, as well as for Rhiannon's beetle, Squish. They both followed like children, and for once Amy was glad she didn't have to lead them along, with her attention focused on Rhi at the moment.
They got back to the Northside Inn, and Amy helped Rhi into the room and laid her down on the bed. Rhi patted the blankets beside her, and Amy sat down.
"You haven't slept much more than I have," Rhi mumbled, and Amy smiled, nodding.
"You're right. Nightmares," she said, and Rhi nodded. Then Rhi lifted herself up on one elbow.
"Lay down with me?" she said, and Amy agreed, knowing that the bakery would be fine this morning without her. They talked quietly about her nightmares until Rhiannon couldn't keep her eyes open any longer, and, with Rhiannon's arms around her, they slept, peacefully.
When she woke, Rhiannon was already awake and rearranging the things in her pack, having changed into a fresh set of clothes. "Good morning," Amy said, and Rhiannon laughed.
"More like good evening, but the thought's the same," she said. "Are you ready to go to the forge and see if we can get some work done?" Amy nodded, getting up, and changed quickly into something more comfortable than the clothes she'd had on for work that morning.
When they reached the forge, Lady Lara was already there, as were Mortivex, Reginald, Solstice, and quite a few others from the guild. They all greeted her, and Lara began putting away her smithing tools.
"Tonight," Lara said, "we're going to work on your meditation. It's something you'll need to know well to make you a more effective mage. Using magic drains your energy, and you'll need to be able to ground yourself quickly to regain it, especially in a battle situation. I'd even venture to say that this is more important than your skill at actually casting the spells," she finished, as she shoved the last of her ingots in her pack.
Lara and Amy made their way over to the grass beneath the tree, and sat facing one another as Rhiannon and the other smiths began greeting customers and working on new weapons for orders they'd received earlier in the day or week. At first, Amy had trouble concentrating with all the noise, but before long she found that she was able to close her eyes and slow her breathing down enough that all of it seemed to disappear. She was in this state of total unawareness when it happened, a moongate appearing just behind her, but this one, unlike those everyone was used to seeing, was as black as night and swirled with stars as cold as ice.
Amy's eyes snapped open as she heard it, the sound of laughter that had chased her through her dreams all night, and she turned just in time to see him step through the gate, StarBlade, with something in tow that looked like a human being had been turned inside out. She couldn't even scream, her terror so great, as she backed away from him.
"Oh, gods," she heard Lara mutter, and suddenly Lara doubled over in pain from an unseen blow.
"Yes, gods," StarBlade said in a voice that sent a chill through the entire crowd around the forge. "Dark gods, and ones that you'll be seeing soon, little hawk," he said, continuing to approach Amythyst.
Behind her, Amy heard Reginald scream something that sounded like, "Taste my Bolas, you evil bastard," and with a hurling motion, three huge iron balls on a leather cord spun through the air, wrapping themselves around the neck of the thing that trailed behind StarBlade, neatly decapitating it. It fell to the ground, twitched once, and moved no more.
StarBlade merely laughed as it fell, then turned, motioning towards Reginald, who began to choke amidst a cloud of green gas, falling to his knees. Mortivex jumped up on one side of the forge, across the hot coals, then down to the ground, where he threw three knives in rapid succession, each of them falling well short of their mark as if they'd suddenly gained thirty stones of weight.
Lara, having crawled closer to the building and now hiding as best she was able behind the water barrel, began to mutter a spell, and StarBlade took his first hit as lightning struck him from a clear sky. Knocked from his feet momentarily, Amy scrambled up from where she sat to dive behind the water barrel and Lara, while she could.
"Oh, my darling hawk," StarBlade said, coldly, as he regained his feet, "your friends are amusing, I'm sure. But I'm afraid that they're going to have to die horrid, ugly deaths in order for me to bring you to the place you belong. You will follow me, little bird, and you will learn to love the ways of the darkness. Oh, yes. You will become the queen of Umbra, and I the king, and we shall worship the Dark Fathers in the pits of Doom."
"I think not," Rhiannon said, and as StarBlade turned, she swung the mace she'd been crafting, still molten from the coals, breaking his arm. StarBlade screamed as Rhiannon drew back for another strike, and the sound mobilized Amythyst at last.
She knew her skill was nowhere near where it needed to be, but she hoped that whatever gods looked down on them would favor her over this terribly evil man, and she chanted the spell to summon a familiar, hoping that it would be something strong enough to assist them.
As Rhiannon prepared to swing her mace again, this time aiming for the man's head, a giant serpent, exactly like the ones that she'd grown up with in Jhelom, appeared beside her.
"Kill him," she whispered, and it moved quickly to do her bidding. With a strike so rapid it was nearly invisible, it plunged fangs into StarBlade's leg, just as Rhiannon's spiked mace made contact with his head. There was a sickening crack as his skull broke, and he crumpled to the ground.
Everyone stood motionless for a moment, waiting to see if he would rise again, but it was clear that StarBlade would never get back up. Amy stood and walked to where Rhi was, and looked down on the man as he lay bleeding, his life draining away quickly. He looked up at her, and spoke one last time.
"They will get you, little hawk. The minions, the golems, the horrors from the pits of Doom. They will rise up and follow Minax when she comes, and you all will perish at her hands. Mark my words, little bird, your days are numbered." And finally, his eyes closed and he became still, looking more peaceful in death than he had ever looked in life.
Amy stood looking at his body for a long while, wondering what could have been so amazing that it would change this caring and wonderful man into the evil person he'd become, until Rhiannon finally wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her away.
Lara was next to Reginald behind the forge, while Mortivex sat on the ground with his back against the water barrel, head in hands, still shaking. When Lara looked up and nodded, they knew Reginald would be alright, and Amy finally slumped to the ground and began to cry.
"I'm sorry," she wailed, "I never meant to bring you into this, I'm so sorry," she cried, and Rhiannon knelt beside her.
"No worries, beauty, it's alright, he's gone now, and there won't be any more trouble. We've dealt with Minax before, and she's never been able to get her forces together enough to start a battle, let alone finish one. Even with Lord British gone, there are still enough of us to fight if she does manage to do something, and with smiths like us, there will be better weapons and armor than ever before. So don't cry, Amy. We're here to protect you. We're your family now, us Bastards, and we'll never let you down."
Today, Amy and Rhiannon have become an accepted couple among their friends in the Circle of Bastards. They have their own home, oddly and ironically enough not far from the Necromancer city of Umbra.
A few moons ago, a very young lady named Beryl appeared in Britain, and found Amythyst as she stood at the forge, smithing with her friends. A crafter by trade, this young girl has displayed a talent for crafting maces of her own, taught by Rhiannon. Of course, all of the girls from Amy's family have talent, and the youngest sister, born just after Amythyst left, is no exception.
Amythyst has continued to study her magery and meditation, and in addition to having become the Honorary Chef for the guild, she has achieved the status of Elder Stoic and Grand Master mage. She still has no taste for violence, preferring to use her magery for healing and resurrection of friends who've gotten themselves in trouble.
And, at last, she has found peace with her true family in Britain.
~ The End ~