Kiem's Essences, Excerpt from Kfiks ir Dilwoh

Pg. 38 beginning in the fifth paragraph:

It is my understanding that Kiem has provided a means of travel between each of the six worlds he created. As is common knowledge, one such portal exists on Tiweln. Its precise location has been held secret by the elves for generations, but certainly the masses know the natural gateway is housed on Wefleca for many tales of disappearances surround that particular continent. Although this closely-held secret is in my possession, I hesitate to open it here for the chaos such knowledge may bring. I foresee a great power that will harness this gift, twist its neutral existence into a powerful force of evil.

However, my understanding of this special travel goes beyond mere common knowledge. Through much research and time spent with the royals of Meufa, I believe I have unearthed an even greater secret than the whereabouts of a stationary portal. The elves hold the means of planetary leaps within their very palms…a portable portal.

Never directly stated, but nonetheless greatly implied, the information was imparted to me after I was shown to a chamber deep within the castle. There were thirty-four steps down into a circular room of fifteen foot diameter. Nothing was in the room save a single pedestal on which rested a beautiful emerald upon a silver, satin pillow. This small gem, no bigger than an average button, was carefully cradled within the monarch’s palm, and with a small smile of invitation, he ascended the steps, leading me for fifteen minutes to a specialty shop. There I watched as a golden chain was forged, pieced together link by link until 14 inches long…and then came the setting for the stone. It was a small oval, again golden with a hinge on one side. In this setting the emerald was placed, words whispered softly, and then the monarch gave a nod of satisfaction, fastening the jewelry round his neck and hiding it beneath the folds of his robes.

This moment altered my perspective. I had been given great knowledge, secret knowledge, knowledge that I share here. It is my belief that each world was given such a gem, and following are my presumptions on which gems these may be, assuming they are indeed gems we possess on this planet of Tiweln.

  • For air, I believe the gem to be diamond, its crystal clear appearance being equivalent to that of the wind and its durability being beyond compare with other gems.

  • For fire, a ruby would be quite appropriate, perhaps a garnet or the rare tourmaline – however, the ruby is a close second to diamonds as the hardest gem and, thus, would be a more powerful conductor.

  • Water would be the blue of the beautiful sapphire, which would represent this essence in addition to its durable nature – equal to that of the ruby.

  • Earth, as I witnessed myself, is represented by the emerald gem. This is not surprising, seeing as it is one of the most treasured of all gems – among its brothers: diamond, ruby, and sapphire.

  • As to light, this one is difficult to pin down. I have narrowed it to two: Citrine and Golden Beryl. Citrine has some promise not just because of its beautiful, vibrant color, but also for its meaning. I found people attribute happiness and an optimistic view toward life with this particular gem. More promising, however, is the golden beryl, which is of a more gentle hue but nonetheless remarkable. The golden beryl is much harder, akin to the emerald, which is also a form of beryl.

  • The last gem to be placed was not difficult for me to decide. I believe the gem to be onyx. Although it is not as hard as all the other gems listed, I choose this gem for superstitious reasons. It is said that this gem can make the wearer strong and determined, that it amplifies all characteristics. I sense it may be due to this gem, in part, that the sixth element turns away from its ultimate purpose.


I will not live to see the day that my theories are realized or to witness what creations are formed to surround the precious stones, but I pray my visions of the future are nothing more than mere dreams… for what I see is a terror to behold.

Who is Asben?

As you all well know, Asben is incredibly intelligent, but what really makes him stand out is his ability to research and find any piece of information he desires. In fact, this talent comes from the drop of Elven blood he carries, a secret he has yet to unearth himself. Everything happens for a reason, right? Genevia choosing to enter the one bakery that housed the brilliant mind she needed to succeed in her quest was certainly no accident. Just as the prophesy foretold of her journey, the prophesy's writer had a hand in helping her fulfill it. As I'm sure Asben will eventually discover, Slandis is his ancestor, so he is more than a mere human...alas, he still has the lifespan of one. However, with Jezzie by his side, his human lifespan will be full to the brim with happiness and bread.

Jezzie was born to be a mother, but nature had other plans. Instead, Jezzie mothers all those around her - loving them, comforting them, stuffing them with food. She and Asben grew up together, lived right next door. She befriended and took care of him when they were younger, bringing him down to earth and away from the books when needed. He, in turn, helped Jezzie to recognize her dream of owning a bakery, where she could socialize with all the customers (and thus hear all the good gossip) and feed people to her heart's content.

Although they are both quite different, they compliment one another. Where one is lacking, the other is there to pick up the slack. Their relationship is one built on mutual respect and adoring love. Asben may travel all around the world to glean the knowledge he desperately craves, but he will always have a home, smelling of freshly baked bread, and a loving wife to return to.

A Man of Many Names,  Shedding Light on Darkness

Every story has its villain. Some are evil masterminds, some are giant monsters, some are evil wizards, and some are business tycoons. They have their evil tendencies, they have their flaws, and they have ambition in abundance without those pesky consciences to hold them back. Fezam is no different, but his story is unlike any other.

In Tiweln’s Redeemer, Fezam is like a shadow. He is definitely there, but his purpose and true form is a bit rough around the edges. He is merely a sparse introduction in this book; his name and purpose are known, but there is a lot about him that is still to be learned. As the story continues with Eorian on Randor and Diahyas on Faencina, more is revealed.

Fezam, who goes by Raef on Randor and by Dehga on Faencina, was born on Ashneer under the name of Bemton. His was a terribly difficult childhood and youth with one bright shining moment that was destroyed before his very eyes. From that moment, his soul became forfeit, and he morphed into a new creature now bent on total control over the universe. Power is his goal; it is power he believes he needs to ensure that no one can destroy him again. So, in a way, he is merely acting out of self-defense, but on a tyrannically large scale.

Bemton was born into his world with Kiem’s essence of darkness. It was intended that he be for Ashneer what Alernoa was for Tiweln, a warrior to combat the evil sweeping throughout his world. Unfortunately, his destiny was thrown off-course, and what was originally a power for good became twisted. His story is a difficult one, his life full of the fear he now inflicts in others. This story will be shared in the fourth book, which is devoted to him, and then understanding of this villain and his motives will be complete.

 
 

A Little of What Was Left Behind, Excerpt Cut from Tiweln

As you may know, the gruff, silent Pilloop was initially one of Genevia's traveling companions. Unfortunately, he ended up becoming a minor character, but this was one of my favorite scenes of him.

 

End of original Chapter 28:

Well, this is better than the sea, Pilloop thought to himself.
He and Traynord were chained to the ground. It was pretty uncomfortable. There were several little pebbles sticking into their backs and causing great discomfort.

“Lo’ a people couldn’ see a brigh’ side ta this.” Traynord chuckled to himself. “Even though tha’ brigh’ sun is beatin’ straigh’ dow’ on us.”
Pilloop grunted. How could that man always find something to laugh about?
“Interestin’ how they knew ta sep’rate the group. Prolly knew tha’ tagether we couldn’ be stopped, huh?”
“Maybe,” Pilloop said gruffly, but he doubted it. It was just smarter to separate prisoners. Otherwise, they’d start hatching plans.
“I be’ there’s a real easy way outta this,” Traynord said as he pulled against his chains.
Of course, sometimes they might be dumb enough to hatch plans all on their own, Pilloop thought in annoyance and slight amusement.
“Well, tha’ was easy,” Traynord said, standing up. “Now ta brush away these annoyin’ li’l rocks.”
Pilloop stared at him. “How did you do that?”
“Well, the groun’s pre’ty dry, an’ I figure they couldn’ stuff the chains dow’ too far. A bi’ o’ wrigglin’ an’ pullin’ an’ squirmin’, an’ I was ou’,” Traynord explained while brushing off the ground.
“But the chains are undone, not pulled out.”
Traynord grinned. “Yea, me though’ was wrong, so’s I picke’ the lock. I allays carry a pick with me, jus’ in case, ya know?”
Pilloop stared at him in amazement. “Well, get me out!”
Traynord looked over at him as he lay back down. “‘Frai’ I can’ do tha’.”
“Why? What are you doing?” Pilloop asked suddenly as Traynord clicked the lock back in place.
“Well, la’, there’s no’ much we ca’ do ta help ou’ the others, so’s we migh’ as well stay here ‘til we ca’ help ‘em. Besides, we still nee’ the noma’s help. They won’ be very incline’ ta help us if we’s escape.”
“Then why did you unlock yourself in the first place?” Pilloop asked in bewilderment.
“The rocks were a hurtin’ me back,” Traynord said matter-of-factly.
Pilloop rolled his eyes. Crazy old man, doesn’t even know how to escape when he sets himself free.

 

Flashing Waves, A Tale by Traynord

The seas were rough that night, waves splashing over the sides of the ship. All of the crew was half drowned as they tried to bail the water out, only to watch the hull fill again at the next swell. Rain pelted downward in a thick sheet that the eyes could barely penetrate, but the frequent lightning strikes helped to find one’s bearings.

I was working just as hard as my crew, trying to secure any loose items and fixing any rigging that decided to give way. I was sure this would be the night I died, and for me it wouldn’t have been a bad way to go.

We were all exhausted after hours of fighting through the storm in near darkness, but daylight was long in coming and the storm showed no signs of slacking. I had lost track of where we were in the sea, a terrible thing for a captain to admit, but I don’t think many a captain would blame me for that. I was hoping for some miracle, that a port would be nearby or a natural cove…something to protect us from the gales of wind and swamping waves.

Now, you may not believe me, but my crew will swear to their graves, just as I will, that what I say is true. All of a sudden, there was this bright light in the sky and descending from it was an angel. She looked like the goddess of the sea, but in child form. A young thing, she was, seeming to be slowed by the rain all around as she fell toward the water.

Now, once she landed, my guess is that she wasn’t too keen on being beaten by the rain, and she kept tripping over the waves where she stood on the water. Surprising us all, she petulantly yelled out, “Be still!”

You want to laugh, and I must say that was my first reaction too, but wouldn’t you know that all that water flying around actually paid her attention. It was like she had a large bubble around her, and the rain just slid right off and the waves beat against it without breaking through. Me and my crew sure wished that we were in that bubble, tired and drenched as we were.

We all watched her, though, as we continued to fight. She was laughing and skipping around on the water like she didn’t know there was a storm around her, so I decided I’d remind her…and maybe get her help too.

“Hey, lassie!” I yelled, and she looked my way in surprise.

She stood still for so long that I was beginning to think that maybe she hadn’t heard me after all. Then the boat began to move forward. Everyone was scrabbling around for extra handholds as we burst through a wall of water to the calm she had created in her bubble. One minute, chaos…the next, peace. I thought I might have died after all.

The girl giggled and clapped her hands, smiling up at us. Now that we were closer and there weren’t layers of pelting rain between us, I knew that I was in the presence of a water goddess. Her hair was pale blue, looking like waves swirling around her face; there was even some white to it so that it looked like the crest breaking. To top it off, there were actually a few fish and a small starfish swimming in the moving strands. Her skin too was blue, though it was lighter than her hair, and it seemed to sparkle like sand when our lamplight hit it. That’s it…her skin was like a sandy beach if the sand were a soft blue instead of yellow. However, it was her eyes that caught and held you. They were a deep blue - rolling and tumbling waves lived there, flashing as she stared directly at you.

Then she blinked and twirled around, laughing brightly. She looked no more than a child of five or six, but surely the sea goddess is ages and ages older.

The girl jumped around, examined my ship, waved to each of the crew. She reached into the water once to capture a small crab, and upon examining it with a smile, she nodded her head and inserted it in her hair. But she said not one more word.

She stayed for an hour, stayed until the storm broke. Then, when the weather cleared and the stars could again be seen, she gave us one last smile and wave, rode a spout of water high into the air, and disappeared in another ball of light.

The sea goddess saved me and my crew that night, I don’t doubt it for a minute, and you may not believe me, but every word of it is truth. Sailor’s do tell tall tales, I’ll admit, and I’ve told my fair share of them, but that night’s story was woven so well that I need add no embellishment…but I’d be willing to bet that even without stretching the truth you don’t believe one word of it, do you?

 
 

Tolkien or Keebler? Which type of elves are they anyway?

Descriptions of elves abound in today’s society. Some think of Santa’s elves with their green, curled-toed shoes and knack for building toys. Some think of the shoemaker’s elves of two inch height, afraid to be seen but quite helpful. Of late, the most popular type of elf is that of Tolkien. These are tall, beautiful, graceful elves granted great intelligence, immortality, and a kinship with nature.

The elves of Tiweln most closely resemble this latter description. They are tall, beautiful, and graceful, but there are differences between the elves of my imagination and those of Tolkien’s. Here, I will provide an in-depth description, reveal their closely held secrets, and lead you through the forested paths of their lives.

Kiem created the elves of Tiweln as the first race, the creatures with whom he would house his essence of earth. As such, they also received his knowledge and are the speakers of the ancient language, known as Alzam on Tiweln. This used to be the language of all creatures on Tiweln, but as time changes the land and the customs of those roaming it, the language changed as well, making the elves the only creatures still speaking Alzam.

There are two specific places that the elves call home, or called home before Fezam’s purge. Most elves lived in the forests of Omhemalem. A select few - consisting of the royal family, their servants, and those high ranking of their race - lived on Meufa, which is the less wooded of the two.

All elves do tend to prefer to delve into the heart of their natural landscapes and quite a few show incredible insight and wisdom. However, my elves are not immortal; instead, they possess great longevity. They can live three or four or five lifetimes of the humans that began populating their planet (humans were not one of the original races on Tiweln). In fact, it was for this very reason that elves withdrew to reside only on Omhemalem or Meufa, which in turn led humans to believe them haughty or intimidating.

However, despite the rumors that spread about them, the elves are quite kindly and helpful, generally speaking. That is not to say that they do not possess great power. This is another area in which my elves differ from those of Tolkien. Each of my elves is born with a gift. For example, in the book, Frelati can predict the weather. Other elves may be able to control fire, read minds, or take on the looks of another. Whatever the gift, it is related to the gifts of the parents. Frelati’s mother could direct the path of sunlight, and his father could cause rain. Genevia’s gift of control over nature was just another such amalgamation but with a kiss of the divine. Her gift was amplified with Kiem’s essence to enable her to do much more than she ever would have achieved on her own.

As to Elven society, Meufa has the most extensive library of all the races, containing some of the oldest tomes. It also houses the most gifted physicians of the time – mainly because of the numerous medicinal herbs found nowhere else on their world. Those living on Meufa strive to learn as much knowledge as possible, gathering that information, recording it, and keeping it safe. They watch over the world without being a part of the world outside their race, ready to provide protection if need be.

The royal castle is more elegant and beautiful than any other structure, yet still staying true to nature. This is the case with all of their structures, be it business or home. There is no city or town feel. In fact, on Omhemalem, many a traveler would pass through their villages without having knowledge of visiting. Homes are nestled high in the trees, businesses burrowed in hills, and families sleep in hollowed out trees. These dwellings are not, however, hovels or simple forts and cabins. Intricate carvings, natural lighting created by one of the more gifted of their society, comfortable furnishings, and beautiful décor work together to awe those few voyagers invited inside, yet all is cleverly concealed – a warm cocoon within which the elven community thrives and grows.

In contrast, Meufa is a bit more like an exclusive village. The elves living there often receive visitors, be they from Omhemalem or humans wishing to gain knowledge of one type or another. Very occasionally a dwarf will stop by, but the royal family does not see much of any of the other races. The royal family of elves does not govern the elves in the typical fashion. They hold the position to be a safeguard of all the ancient knowledge and to be the deciding factor in case of the rare feud or if need of a commander for war arises. The elves that make up their community are expected to settle disputes among themselves; neighbor is to help neighbor in time of need, and only in serious cases is there cause to call on the king and queen.

The elves mainly work on the barter system, swapping favors or simply sharing. They live off the forest but have many craftsmen to make life easier. Most have small gardens to tend. A few are in charge of livestock that are to be shared. It is a simple, quiet life that they all lead.

However, this particular lifestyle is the reason they were so easy to capture when Fezam took control…but the elves are smart, they learn from their mistakes, and you can be certain that there will be change in their future.

So are they Keebler elves? They are helpful and live in trees.
Are they Santa’s elves? They do live in only particular places and avoid contact with humans.
Are they the shoemaker’s elves? They are quite sneaky.

In fact, they are most like the Tolkien elves with a few differences. But the one characteristic all of these elves share, the one obvious feature that truly sets elves apart are the ears…and yes, my elves too have those lovely pointed ears.

 
 

Remembering Jackson, A Tribute to a Friend

Jackson was not a soldier at heart. In fact, he couldn’t even use the excuse of wanting to follow in the family’s footsteps…although his father and grandfather had both served. No, he was there for a nobler cause than pride or duty. Jackson joined up because he loved his little sister and wanted to protect her, but perhaps a bit of backstory is in order.

Jackson was the necessary son in a family known for having hard, heartless men as patriarchs. He was the firstborn to boot and, for eleven years, the only child and grandchild. Needless to say, he was the focus of everyone’s attention. Unfortunately, this attention was not the loving encouragement necessary for good development but instead a demanding and criticizing set of orders meant to strip that annoying sensitivity he had inherited from his mother.

At mention of his mother, Jackson would always wear a bittersweet smile. She had been the sweetest creature on Tiweln, always ready to help anyone. That was what had gotten her into trouble in the first place; she hadn’t seen Jackson’s father for what he truly was until after she had sworn to be with him forever. Instead, she had pitied the wounded ex-soldier who would forever walk with a limp, not seeing the cane he used as the potential weapon it became. Her gentle son was the only thing that kept her spirit alive, and she did try her hardest to protect him. However, in the face of her large husband and overwhelming father-in-law, there really wasn’t much she could do…she bore the marks to prove it.

Just after the birth of Jackson’s little sister (the small girl not even a blip on her father’s radar), she tried to take her children and leave. They didn’t make it.

Jackson’s father couldn’t contain his rage. Eleven-year-old Jackson, holding his crying baby sister, watched as his mother’s spirit was finally completely broken. In fact, it was that one moment that defined Jackson. He determined that very evening that his sister would never be touched by his father, and his mother would not again be harmed.

The remainder of his childhood followed a typical pattern. His father would “teach” him most of the day as they worked the garden or tended the animals, his mother would unthinkingly perform her routines, and his little sister continued to grow and play with him in the evenings. He and his sister had fun after dinner, when Jackson was finally given some free time. They would go down to the river to swim, he would push her on a swing he’d hung from the large oak near their house, they would explore the woods, and on occasion, he would even play dolls with her if he couldn’t convince her otherwise.
 
There was plenty of tension, though, and Jackson was alert, waiting to take the punishment his father meant for wife or daughter. Finally, one month before Jackson turned eighteen, his father spoke to him about becoming a soldier. It had surprised Jackson a bit because his father had refused to speak about the army since his injury had forced him to leave his beloved career behind. Jackson had no intention of joining the army, which threw his father into yet another rage. Despite Jackson’s attempts to the contrary, his father finally managed to hit his little sister, and his mother merely protected her face as she accepted the blows. Finally, Jackson got the upper hand and managed to subdue his father. Thinking only of protecting his mother and especially his young sister, he agreed to do as his father wished…but only if his father promised not to look for his wife and daughter ever again.

The ultimatum didn’t seem to bother his father; he didn’t care for womenfolk anyway. Jackson left that very moment with his sister and mother. They traveled far away, from the tip of Omhemalem (his father wanted to show those uppity elves who was truly in charge by living on their land) to Magfel, and Jackson secured them a house from his savings and introduced them with different names. Finally, after nineteen years trapped in a terrible marriage, his mother began to show a little a spirit. Jackson saw her truly smile, a small smile, but it was there.

Jackson also managed to find a nice older woman who agreed to pay his sister for looking after her since she had no family, and his mother had decided to try her hand as a seamstress – she had always enjoyed sewing. When Jackson finally left to join the army, his heart felt lighter. His family was safe, and he would send part of his salary to them each month. They would be fine, with or without him now.

The letter he had received from them just before meeting Genevia and Frelati had lightened his heart even more. A kind man, a business man with money to spare, was going to marry his mother. He would provide for all her monetary and emotional needs, and he would be a good father figure for Jackson’s sister as well. Finally, he would be able to relax in the knowledge that his mother and sister would be looked after.

This is the story of Jackson’s life, short as it was. His childhood was not easy, but despite his troubles, he made a difference in many lives…more than just his beloved mother and sister. He saved an entire world simply by being true to himself.

Deep in the Undergrounds, On the Dwarven Society

Throughout our tales of fantasy, dwarves typically play a roll. They love riches, live underground, are short with long beards, and often are not the friendliest of creatures. The dwarves on Tiweln follow the same pattern, Pilloop being a prime example. Here is a look into the dwarves that dwell beneath Yima Olem – what drove them underground, their everyday lives, and just a brief look into dwarven politics.
 
Tiweln’s dwarves, just as in usual fairy tales, do thrive on finding the riches that the earth contains. This was so from the very beginning. They mined, starting to build a self-sufficient society with the wealth obtained, but they did not always live underground where they worked. In fact, the idea didn’t even cross their minds for every other creature lived above ground, crops needed sunlight, and their water supply certainly didn’t run as deep as they would have to dig.
 
However, unlike the other creatures, the dwarves’ eyes were extremely sensitive to sunlight, not that they would ever share this weakness with outsiders. The heat present on the surface of Yima Olem was nearly more than they could bear, and productivity was not nearly what it could have been had it not been necessary for them to retreat to the cool of the caves or their homes every few hours. It was a problem that was merely accepted, a way life…until the dragons began to become a menace.
 
Socuma, the dragon’s territory, was Yima Olem’s next door neighbor. The sea between them was not nearly wide enough to cause the dragons too much difficulty to cross, and once the creatures realized that the small dwarves were the perfect size for transport, unlike the pesky humans and elves, and for consumption, unlike the tiny pixies, Yima Olem became the perfect feeding ground. This was when the dwarves retreated to the caves, when they finally realized the solution that had been staring them in the face. Build an underground city – and while they were at it, make it impenetrable by all without their secret because eventually the prophecy would come true.
 
The transition was a bit difficult at first. They had to create an aqueduct system to ensure water for citizens, animals, and crops. They had to find a way to get some sunlight to stream in for their produce, to get the proper earth for the crops to grow. They had to build their city all over again, and they had to do it all without losing the integrity of the earth that would be high above them, capable of crushing them were they to fail. Even the most optimistic among them couldn’t imagine that their city would become as magnificent as it did.
 
The people began to thrive, able to work throughout the day and use their eyes to the fullest. Almost immediately, they began to specialize as craftsmen, miners, farmers, artisans, healers, advisors, and librarians (some of the most important in their society). They already had a king, and they created a council to aid him. It was a council made up of the leaders of each of the main families, so as to reach an accord and stop the bickering that had previously been such a problem. There are on average fourteen families to be represented, and the patriarch of each is the one to sit on the council.
Within the families, there is a mini-societal structure. The main branch is made up lords and ladies, and often families try to join in matrimony, which reduces the number of families for a time, but upon the birth of two males, each male is assigned a family to govern. Later born children of the lords and ladies choose vocations and become part of the working class, which is actually made up of several levels, each with its own set of rules for decorum, interaction, and marital unions. However, families are close, regardless of class, and look after one another.
 
The dwarves on an individual level are typically silent, speaking only when necessary, but parties do tend to get rather boisterous. Families of the same class live in one area that is typically also sectioned off by family. Within the lower classes, sharing of resources is quite common, becoming less so the higher up the chain one climbs. The dwarves are cordial and polite, arguments rare and grudges persistent.
 
All children, boys and girls alike, are taught to fight with multiple weapons and to recognize all the different types of stone and earth. There are daily gatherings for the children to learn these important skills until such a time as they are deemed competent, and mothers teach the children all the other knowledge needed until they are old enough to become apprentices, which is around age fourteen.
 
Men and women both work, but it is understood in their society that mothers of children under fourteen are to be given several hours daily to solely focus on educating their children. If necessary, fathers are given this right as well.
 
The dwarven society is one of many layers. There are no extremely poor, the disabled and elderly are cared for by family and class both. Because of its intricate formation, none of the society can fall through cracks…the family looks after them or the class cares for them or both do. One cannot be born outside of the family, and often one is born of two different families, both of which are duty bound to ensure the individual’s needs are cared for. One also cannot avoid being part of a class. Overall, the king looks after his people and the council does so as well.
 
The dwarven society has bloomed, enabling a rich life underground, free from the threat of dragons, the difficulties of the heat and bright light, and the dangers of attack by other creatures. They are self-sufficient, rich from their mining, and all are cared for by an intricate societal system. What more could a dwarf ask for?

 

Gaze into the Universe, Imaemaroza Explored

From the beginning, Kiem knew of the end. He saw the struggles his children would endure and planned to protect each of the worlds he molded by placing on every one a piece of himself as protector. In addition, he created six wise prophets and whispered to them eight lines of the future, only two of which were the same for all worlds. However, just in case all of these precautions were not enough to guide his children, he gave one more subtle hint of what was to come and hid it within the universe itself. Imaemaroza, the name Kiem bestowed to his greatest work, was the last piece to this intricate puzzle for with the name he told them there would be one against five. Ima for one, roza for five, and if only they bothered to gaze at the stars for inspiration, the answer would be found.
 
The worlds were peaceful in the beginning, and there was much travel between them. Most used the natural portals, but those destined to be the ancestors of the children blessed with Kiem’s essences were given special stones to aid them in their travels. This resulted in the elevation of those great families harboring the stones because clearly they had Kiem’s favor, which is precisely why it will be found that each of the essences’ hosts are somehow related to royalty.
 
But let us take a closer look at the hosts you have not yet met.
 
Eorian of Randor houses the essence of air. He is a blond haired, blue eyed twenty-six year old born into a wealthy family. He is half-human, half-wisper with a carefree, fun-loving cousin and a sweet, younger sister. He was in what Sohsenian’s call the King’s Army. Sohsena is the country in which he was born and raised, the most powerful country on Randor. He then became a pirate with a faithful sidekick, but the rest will be revealed in the second book, Savior of Randor, Master of Air.
 
The essence of water is on Faencina in a spoiled princess named Diahyas. She is a mermaid, but she is not quite like the mermaids that initially come to mind. There is no need to worry overly much about her current disagreeable princess disposition because she grows throughout her book, seeing things as they truly are, taking them to heart, and allowing that to form her into a much more likeable character. Her book, Faencina’s Hope, Water’s Maiden, will follow Eorian’s story.
 
A bit is already known about Fezam/Raef/Dehga, who is Ashneer’s host for the essence of darkness. He was initially completely human, but due to an unfortunate occurrence, he was born with a little extra something. Yes, this man has a touch of the Cual, or shadow beast, about him - something he fought fiercely against as a child and young adult. However, after life tossed him down one too many times, partially as the result of a power-hungry witch, he gave into that darker side completely. It is this sad tale that will be found in Destroyer of Ashneer, Creature of Darkness.
 
Fiodora is the hot-tempered girl who has the essence of fire to make her really dangerous on Zilcemi. She is of a race of coal-black skinned, hard-working individuals. However, it’s more than just her gift with fire that sets her apart. Unlike her compatriots, her hair looks like living flame and her eyes are the yellowish-orange of candlelight. Her childhood was not an easy one, a plight with which Raef can sympathize, and that is precisely why her loyalties are a bit difficult to determine throughout Healer of Zilcemi, Mistress of Fire.
 
Lastly, on Humsoma is Jensin, who has enough brilliance to match his essence of light. He has a sunny disposition as well and quite a friendly personality. Humsoma is a world that extols intelligence, and it has the advancements to prove it. However, most of the inhabitants of this world see neutrality in the universal war as the best policy, and Jensin’s own beliefs follow the same course. It is going to take a lot to shake him from this conviction, and his choice will be revealed in Humsoma’s Strength, Light’s Herald.
 
This is what was and what is to come. Let the adventure begin. 

 

Plateau Wrestling, A Nomad Sport

One of the adventures I truly enjoyed never actually made it into the final edition of the book. That was the easiest way to meet the word count, unfortunately. This particular scene takes place on Suta after the nomads have captured Genevia and her group. Originally, the nomads had planned to play three sports before these unusual travelers managed to win their freedom instead of merely the battle of wits that Asben plays. What follows is the short addition to a scene that remains in the book that describes the nature of plateau wrestling and then comes the actual sport itself. I hope you enjoy.
 
           “I’m just here to tell ya what to expect tomorrow,” the nomad said.
           He was young and seemed nice, if a bit uncomfortable. Frelati and Genevia said nothing. The youth shuffled from one foot to the other.
           “Well, you’re going to participate in a sport,” the nomad finally said as he pointed to Frelati. “I can’t tell you which one it is, but I can tell you three of our common sports. There’s a fight with knives, short knives, to the death.”
           Genevia gasped and gripped Frelati’s shirt. “You’re kidding, right?”
           The nomad’s brow creased in confusion. “No, why would I kid? All of our sports are to the death.”
           “That’s barbaric,” Genevia exclaimed. “What is wrong with you people?”
           “Genevia,” Frelati said quietly to silence her, pulling her closer to him and rubbing her back before speaking to their visitor. “What are the other two sports?”
           “Plateau wrestling and a battle of wits.”
           “Would you mind elaborating?” Frelati asked, cutting off Genevia’s exclamation.
           “Plateau wrestling is wrestling on the top of a nearby plateau. Each person tries to knock the other off or injure them greatly through the wrestling. The plateau is twenty feet high, so any fall means instant death, or relatively instant anyway,” the nomad said with a shrug.
 
I’m going to break off here because the remainder of this scene that describes the battle of wits is actually in the book; besides, the next day is when the fun begins.
 
             Frelati rolled his shoulders back and shook his arms, cocking his head from side to side. “I hope I don’t have to do that trivia, battle of the wits thing. That sounds more like Asben.”
             Genevia rose to stand beside him. “I hope they change their minds and decide not to make you do this.”
             Frelati gave her a smile. “Oh, come on, you don’t think I can beat the guy?”
             Genevia sighed and rolled her eyes. “You know that’s not why I don’t want you to go out there; you might beat him, but you know they’ll put their best guy against you. You will get hurt.”
             “I appreciate the vote of confidence,” Frelati said sarcastically.
             “Just be careful,” Genevia said, brushing an invisible speck of dust off his shoulder. She needed to touch him, needed that reassurance, that connection.
             “Genevia,” Frelati said, turning around and capturing her hand. “I told you I would be careful, and I intend to do just that. Stop fussing over me; you’re acting like a wife.”
              She glanced up at him quickly, speaking softly. “I could be.”
              Frelati scowled. “Leave it alone, Genevia.”
              He instantly regretted his tone when he saw the hurt look on her face. With a frown, Frelati turned back to the entryway just as the nomads appeared to take them to the challenge.
             “Why can’t they just let us go,” Genevia moaned, her worry attacking full force. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”
             “I’ll be fine, Genevia,” Frelati said over his shoulder.
              She just sighed and came up close behind him, grasping his arm tightly.
              The nomads opened the door to their cell and led them out. “Your sport is the plateau wrestling.”
              Frelati nodded. “I figured as much.”
              After a few steps, they met up with a swarm of nomads who guarded the rest of their group.
              “Now you will meet your opponent.”
              From the other group emerged a huge, massively built man. His face was fierce, his arms the size of large logs, and he was taller and wider than everyone around him.
              Genevia gasped, her eyes widening and her grip tightening on Frelati’s arm. “Frelati, you’re going to die!”
              Frelati was thinking the same thing, but he refused to let anyone know it. Drawing in a deep breath, he looked the man up and down. His gut clenched. They could have at least left him his knife to even out the odds. It wouldn’t be much, but he would have had a chance to beat the giant if he had that slight protection.
             “Both of you head to the top. You will hear a horn blast when the game begins,” one of the older nomads said. “You have a few moments to make your farewells. Only one man will be coming back down alive.”
              Frelati nodded grimly. Genevia threw her arms around his neck, giving him a fierce hug.
             “Listen, I’ll find some way to keep you safe,” she whispered. “But you have to stay alive for a while.”
             “Genevia, it’ll be okay,” Frelati said softly, allowing himself to hug her before stepping back.
              Tears glistened in Genevia’s eyes as she nodded. Her hand gripped her locket tightly. “Just come down the winner, okay?”
              Frelati didn’t answer, just started up the path after the huge nomad. Genevia’s eyes never left him as he walked up the long, steep path. She knew it was up to her to stop the fight. Otherwise, she wouldn’t see Frelati come back down that path. Fortunately, she had an idea. She just hoped it would work.

XXXXXX

              Frelati hated the feeling he got when he realized that nothing good could come from the situation he had gotten himself into. That tightening of his gut, like an iron hand was clenching his insides between hardened fingers, was one of the single worst feelings he could imagine. This was going to end badly, definitely. There was no escaping that fact, and he wasn’t even going to try to disillusion himself into thinking there was some hope. His death, perhaps preceded by severe pain, was eminent.
              At first, he had thought he had a chance. Then he’d seen his opponent, who towered a minimum of five or six inches above him and outweighed him by at least a hundred pounds. Frelati realized then that his chances were nil. Of course, if the man happened to mysteriously collapse just as the fight began, Frelati wouldn’t complain. Unfortunately, the nomad seemed to be in perfect health.
              Upon reaching the top of the plateau, Frelati noticed several huge boulders sprinkled across the flat tabletop. He could probably dodge behind them and buy himself some time, but eventually he would have to face the nomad, which would seal his fate. What irony – he had survived the worst prison conditions, maintained his sanity, walked away from severe beatings, escaped a prison that was deemed inescapable, traveled thousands of miles in that terrible, beaten state by means of a dangerous portal that could kill or misplace him, and then began the journey back to the desolate place he had come from with soldiers at his back, all without getting caught or killed  - yet now he was facing a huge nomad that he was supposed to wrestle, and only by defeating him could he live. What twisted hand of fate had landed him here? A body wasn’t supposed to go through so many dangerous and deadly things in one lifetime. Had everything before simply been a path leading him to face his death at the hands of this dirty, desert man? That would certainly be poetic.
              A shout from below brought Frelati from his reverie.
             “Take your places!”
              Frelati walked toward a boulder with the intent of crouching behind it. He knew it wouldn’t do much good, but it was worth a try.
              Then the horn sounded, its deep music echoing throughout the barren landscape, rolling over the top of the plateau. Frelati grimaced.
             “Great,” he muttered.
              He looked around the side of the boulder and came face to face with the nomad.
             “Any chance we can call a truce?” Frelati asked as he backed around the boulder with the nomad following his every step.
              The nomad took a swing toward his stomach, but before he made contact, Frelati skillfully sidestepped the onslaught.
             “I take that as a no.” Originally, Frelati’s prattle was merely nerves, but once he realized that it made the nomad angry, he began to push his advantage.
              The man took another swing, this time aiming for Frelati’s head. The wind that rushed over him as Frelati ducked ruffled his hair. That was entirely too close, Frelati thought.
              He verbalized the opposite. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to fight? You missed by a mile!”
              The nomad gritted his teeth and made another, rather wild swing. It clipped Frelati on the arm and caused a piercing pain to shoot up its length. Frelati shook out the pain and danced backwards a little further. The contact had made the nomad smile.
             “Can’t hit anything, can I?” his voice wasn’t as deep as Frelati had guessed it would be, and his speech was slow. Upon noticing the slightly vague gleam in the man’s eyes, it became clear that his intelligence was limited.
             “Alright, so maybe you’re lucky enough to hit something right in your path, but you obviously don’t have the strength to make it hurt or the aim to make it count,” Frelati taunted, stepping just beyond his reach as he swung again, his knuckles brushing the front of Frelati’s shirt as his fist whistled past.
             “Why don’t you fight, little man?” the nomad countered. “If you’re so good, show me.”
             “I wouldn’t want to wound your pride.” Frelati shrugged.
             “You won’t wound my pride,” the large man snickered.
             “You force my hand,” Frelati said with another shrug and a mischievous smile.
              With lightning fast speed, he delivered two powerful, quick punches to the surprised man’s stomach and scooted out of the way before any retaliation knocked him unconscious.
              Maybe I can beat him, Frelati thought in surprise. He’s huge and muscular, but he’s slow.
              The nomad was just a bit winded and a lot mad. He charged after Frelati.
              Frelati cursed in Elven, then again when he realized the position he was in.
              He had backed up against the edge of the plateau. Once the man hit him, Frelati would be off, and the large nomad could watch from his high perch as Frelati fell straight to the ground. Frelati’s eyes followed the nomad as he closed the distance between them, which wasn’t that far. It seemed to be happening in slow motion, giving Frelati ample time to curse himself, colorfully, for every idiotic thing he had failed to do.
              After being trapped in that awful cell on Rom, he had promised himself that he would confide in Genevia and tell her how he felt, and he would turn Lela, Genevia, and himself into a real family. Of course, he had to ruin that, distancing himself after figuring out her ultimate importance. He was given another chance when the nomads put them in a cell together. She had given him plenty of opportunities to tell her that he thought he was in love with her, but again he’d clammed up. There was no way now that he would be given yet another chance, unless he was seriously lucky.
This time, though, truly this time, if he lived to talk to Genevia again, regardless of everything else, he was going to tell her. He would swallow his stubbornness, relinquish his inferiority complex, and just say it. He wouldn’t get that chance, though. Fate didn’t work that way; you only got so many opportunities.
              So Frelati watched in acceptance as the man advanced, his thoughts flying rapidly, his heart beating even faster, just waiting for the impact that would throw him over the edge. 

XXXXXX

             “Okay Dayze, you know what to do, just wait until I tell you it’s time,” Genevia whispered, praying that none of the nomads would overhear her.
              She knew Frelati would be a goner without their help. It wasn’t that she doubted his abilities in fighting; it was just that when you were against a man twice, no three times, your size - okay maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration - your chances of winning dropped considerably. Genevia cringed inwardly as she heard the horn that signaled for the fight to begin.
              Please be okay, Frelati. Hang in there for me, please, just hang in there, she chanted within the confines of her mind.
              She could see them relatively clearly. The whole crowd had backed away from the base of the plateau and up a nearby incline in order to watch the fight, and although they were both small, it was easy to make out what was going on. She gasped each time she saw the nomad lunge at Frelati and let out her breath slowly when Frelati managed to jump out of the way. After the nomad made contact, she saw Frelati shake out his arm to clear it of pain, but she still worried that it might be fractured in some way.
              Genevia was quite impressed when she saw him dart close to deliver several punches and then retreat before being pummeled himself. She blew out a deep breath after that, not aware beforehand that she had been holding it. Finally, she saw their chance. Unfortunately, if they messed up, Frelati would… Genevia shook her head, no, that was not going to happen.
             “Okay, Dayze, now,” she whispered, and she watched as very subtly the plateau began to change.
              No one would notice if they weren’t looking for it, but everything began to shift. Frelati was moved a few paces to the right, and the cliff’s edge extended minutely. Genevia watched as if in a trance as her plan began to unfold. It seemed to take forever, like time stood still.
              Please, be okay Frelati.
              Then a thought struck her. She was killing that other man by saving Frelati. If she did that, she was no better than the nomads.
              Quickly, she concentrated solely on lifting the ground at the base of the plateau high enough to catch the man so that he wouldn’t be too badly hurt. Unfortunately, she didn’t have much time and, with the small amount of practice she’d gotten lately, time was exactly what she needed.
              She didn’t notice the woman glancing her way, eyes wide as her focus jumped from the steadily growing ground to Genevia. She absently tapped the man standing beside her, who like everyone else had been watching the ground intently, and brought his attention to Genevia. A small smile graced his lips. He had been wrong - an unusual occurrence. It seemed the male was not the more powerful of the elves.
 
This is where you would have first met Quiz, the nomad leader. There is just a bit more left that I will share, although this scene tumbles into a few others that were also removed. Now to finish the story…
 
              As Frelati watched, it suddenly seemed like the nomad was veering a bit to the left. Was his aim really that bad? It couldn’t be, but the nomad continued running a little to Frelati’s left. He stayed right where he was. Maybe he’d run himself off the cliff without making contact. It was a selfish thought, but Frelati wanted to live and didn’t care altogether that much about his self-centered thought.
              Yet to his utter astonishment, the nomad did indeed run right off the edge of the cliff and landed a few feet lower on a ledge that Frelati could have sworn hadn’t been there earlier. When he saw the ledge slowly lowering, he knew why. He couldn’t suppress a chuckle. Frelati stood staring at the ground for a bit, and then he descended the path to the ground, the wonderful, even, non-lethal ground.
              He had just touched bottom when he was almost knocked off his feet by Genevia, who squeezed him tightly in a hug. After the initial impact, he slowly hugged her back.
             “Don’t you ever do that to me again!” Genevia admonished fiercely.
              Frelati took a step back to get a look at Genevia’s face, but she just followed him, hugging him even harder. “You could have died. You almost fell off that plateau. Then what would I have done? You told me you would be okay, but…but…”
             “I am okay,” Frelati said, trying to calm her down.
              Genevia found his voice soothing, the timbre of it calming her almost instantly. She stepped back, a bit embarrassed by her display, but she couldn’t help looking him over for any sign of wounds. After she convinced herself, she nodded.
             “Yeah, yeah, you’re okay.” She took a deep breath but avoided looking him in the eyes. “I know that; it’s just that you scared me.”
              Frelati raised a brow. “You seemed to have it under control. There was no reason for you to be scared. I, on the other hand, had no idea what you were planning and was fully expecting a terrifying plummet from the top of a twenty foot plateau.”
              Tears gathered in Genevia’s eyes, and she balled up a fist to hit him on the chest. “Don’t even say that. It could have happened. I would have died if you had.”
              Frelati recognized her distress and gathered her into his embrace. “I’m okay, Genevia. It was a close call, that’s all.”
             “It was more than a close call, Frelati. You almost died,” Genevia mumbled against his chest.
             “You wouldn’t have let me die. You had a plan, remember?”
              Genevia looked up at him. “I thought that up last minute. If I had frozen, you…you…”
             “I didn’t, though. It’s okay; now stop fretting over me.”
              Genevia nodded, swallowing hard and trying to keep the tears at bay. She squeezed him in her arms, taking in a deep breath, before stepping back reluctantly and clasping her hands behind her to keep from reaching out to him.
             “Just… just don’t ever do that to me again,” she said emphatically.
             “Believe me, I wouldn’t have done it this time if I had been given a choice.”
              Frelati ran a hand through his hair. “How’s the other guy?”
             “Oh!” Genevia turned around to look at the group several feet away surrounding Frelati’s opponent. “I forgot. I was so worried about you that I overlooked him.”
              Genevia tugged on his sleeve, and they jogged over to the group. All the nomads moved away from Genevia as she approached. All, accept one woman.
             “You nearly had him destroyed,” she said sadly with tears in her eyes. “But you saved him. I want to curse you, but I must thank you for sparing his life.”
             “Is…is he alright?” Genevia asked tentatively. “I didn’t mean to hurt him. I’m just learning how to do that, and I’m not very good. I needed more time to lift it just a bit higher. I’m sorry, but you have to understand that I had to keep Frelati safe.”
              The woman nodded, one lone tear leaving its trail upon her cheek. “We each wanted our own to win. You made it possible for both to live even though there is a loser. My son will be alright, in time. There are broken bones, but they will heal.”
              Genevia nodded, and it was clearly visible to all the relief that swept through her at the news.
             “Is it over then?”
              The leader of the nomads stepped forward. “This one sport is finished. You have won. Because Lufa’s life was spared, we will permit one sport to be eliminated. If your man,” he nodded toward Asben, “succeeds in the battle of wits, you may travel with one of us as a guide through Suta. However, if he fails, your group will be left to wander the desert and you, young elf, will remain as my slave.”

 

Species Relations

There are many different species on Tiweln. There are the lefnodes, zarpinks, dolsiyots, and flifnimps that were mentioned in the book, along with some others that can be found on the website such as the grunts and xeenos. While all of these creeping critters are interesting and new, they are mere animals and not nearly as complex as the other myriad species that contain the brilliance to form societies. Here I will divulge some secrets as to how these species relate to one another and where their unique beings originated.
 
On Tiweln, there are the humans, elves, dwarves, dragons, shapeshifters, pixies, dreamers, and mermaids…but then there were also the invading shadow beasts, known as Cual on their home world of Ashneer. I will try to take each one at a time if possible, but there is some cross-over.
 
Humans can be found on nearly every planet. They are the nomads of all the species on Tiweln. They originated on Ashneer, but are present on most of the other planets. Humans are typically a medium for the alteration of a species into something a little different, as will be shown with the description of later species.
 
Elves and dwarves are the original species on Tiweln, but while some dwarves may also be found on Zilcemi, elves only reside on Tiweln. These species are not the result of any mixed breeding with humans, but they are quite similar to humans in many ways.
 
Now, the Cual and the Dreamers are cousin species that originated on Ashneer; however, there are no longer any Dreamers remaining on Ashneer. The Dreamers and Cual were both created by a powerful force, but there is one key difference between them. Instead of harmless tricks or bringing dreams to life like the Dreamers, the Cual inflict nightmares into the soul. All in all, the two are similar as far as form and with their gifts, except that the Cual have the power to alter the DNA of other creatures to turn them into creatures of darkness as well.
 
Shapeshifters were formed by uniting human genes with those of dreamers. This result was created on Tiweln in ages past, and so these creatures will be found only here.
 
Dragons come from Zilcemi. There is a difference though. While the dragons on Zilcemi have the intelligence present in all the other primary species, on Tiweln, the dragons lost that sense of self. They are more related to animals on this planet.
 
Much of the same can be said of the mermaids; however, there still is enough intelligence there to form communities and launch attacks. The mermaids are self-centered and prefer to remain isolated. Originally, they came from Faencina, but once again, there is a difference between them. Whereas the mermaids on Tiweln are confined to water, on Faencina, the humans and mermaids came together and created a whole new mutation. The mermaids on Faencina can go on shore as well, but that mutation can only last so long…
 
Lastly, we come to the pixies. This species is much the same as those on its home planet, Humsoma. There will be differences of course, but the line is pure.
 
Here you have seen the connections between the species found on Tiweln. There are many more species throughout Imaemaroza…the wispers on Randor for one, which are similar to dreamers just as the elves are to humans. All these species are related, all are intertwined, and all must join forces if they wish to survive.

 

Silver, A Bedtime Story for Lela & Dayze

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Silver. She lived on a world very different from Tiweln. It never rained because there were gentle rivers underground to nourish all the plants, but the sun was never too hot either. Silver loved to play. She was a happy child, about nine years old, and she liked nothing better than to laugh. Every morning, she woke up at dawn, the light teasing her eyes open and glinting on her shimmery, silver hair. Bounding from the bed, she would rush outside to the hummle trees. These trees grew oval, light pink fruit with the sweetest juice inside; Silver would pop out the stem and slurp it down like a hummingbird would nectar. Then she would move on to the bejin bush growing along the fence surrounding her small home, and from it she would pluck a spongy, star-shaped flower that was buttery and filling. Her breakfast was complete then, and Silver skipped through the turquoise grass to the lake, where she always met her friend, a wolf named Deedo that had the ability to talk.

The two friends would chase firebugs, which looked a little like our butterflies, but their wings looked like flickering fire made of many different colors. The girl and wolf would spend the day visiting new places in their imaginations, and they would also explore caves, race through the woods, and help any creature needing help along the way...but one day, when Silver went to meet her friend, Deedo was not there. Silver checked all their favorite places, but no wolf came to greet her. In sadness, she trudged home, hoping that tomorrow would be different, that Deedo would meet her by the lake as usual.

Another day passed...another day without Deedo. Silver began to worry. Had someone discovered her talented wolf? Did his gift of speech catch some wicked man's attention? Silver, a rather impatient girl, decided to take matters into her own hands. Deedo must be somewhere, and since he would not willingly miss seeing her for two days in a row, he must be in trouble. So she packed a bag with hummle fruit and bejin flowers and began to make her journey.

There were looping hills that she had to twist and turn around, being extra careful not to fall when crossing the curving center...these hills had always been a little scary, but a kind woman had pointed her in this direction, and for Deedo, she would do anything. Then she had to skip across the invisible lake by jumping from one squishy, gray blob to the next where they bobbed in the water. A teeny tiny ruffim - which is like our pixies, but they can't fly and are much more neutral colors - told her that her wolf had been dragged below the Gap and through the Barrier, and was now being held in the Gloom, where a witch had been banished for eternity to live in the deep blackness where no light could penetrate.

Although she was scared, Silver bolstered her courage and grabbed the vine that would swing her beneath the Gap, a terrifying pit that went up to the sky instead of hiding within the ground. To anyone not from Silver's world, this would seem a silly thing to fear, for no one can fall up...but this pit was different. It sucked you up, high, higher into the sky until you left the world altogether. Silver gripped the vine tightly, closed her eyes, and swung. She felt the force of the Gap, but the vine held tightly to the ground, her speed carrying her forward until she plopped on her back just beyond the Gap. With a great sigh, Silver picked herself up, brushed off some dust, and continued on to the Barrier.

Now, the Barrier was tricky. It was quite solid, definitely impossible to overcome, but it would take days to go around. Silver was worried she didn't have time for that. How to pass through a barrier, though? Well, she stared at the barrier and stared at the barrier...it seemed to get bigger, thicker, darker as she pondered it. Then she saw a frog hop right through it. Silver blinked; had she imagined it? Just as she began to think that she was going crazy, a slow lizard ambled up to the wall and then through the wall. So she wasn't imagining things! But...wait, she looked again at the wall, recalling all those fun days with Deedo when she would imagine all sorts of things. Closing her eyes, she imagined the wall disappearing, and when she again opened her eyes, there was no Barrier. Silver smiled. Imagination was such a useful thing, overcoming even the toughest obstacles.

Now, she had the witch to face. The evil witch, who had been banished and who had stolen her dearest friend. The darkness was instantaneous, one moment all light and then complete night. At least, it was supposed to be. Silver noticed that she was shining, a very bright silver light that cut through the Gloom, revealing a sad Deedo and a small, young witch that did not seem evil at all. Silver was who she had really wanted, the girl who could bring her light, the reason she had done such a bad thing. Yet it was always so very dark in this home of hers, a home she had been thrown into because people were afraid of what they did not know. The witch stayed because she did not wish to frighten them, but she was so lonely, and she wanted just a bit of light.

Silver immediately began to chastise the witch for her ill treatment of Deedo, but the wolf quickly jumped in to quiet her...only, Silver discovered that in the Gloom, he could not speak. In dismay, Silver realized that her beloved wolf would never be whole here in this Gloom, and she needed to set him free, but her heart went out to the lonely witch as well. They struck up a bargain. Deedo would be freed, and Silver would stay as the witch's companion, but once every month, she was to be allowed to leave.

Thus it was that Silver became the night's light with several firebugs to gleam with her faintly, keeping a lonely witch happy for all but one night a month, when she gets to play with her friend Deedo, who howls for her return every other night.

"So, you see, girls, that the howling is not scary. That's just Deedo. And if you ever get frightened at night, you can look up at the firebugs that twinkle in the sky and see Silver's bright, friendly glow." Genevia smiled as she kissed Lela and Dayze goodnight. "You girls can overcome anything if you work together and care for one another as friends should. Just like Silver and Deedo."

 

Until Darkness, When Dreams Come Alive

Sunlight beamed down upon a world that appeared perfect. The green grass was fresh and sprinkled with the colorful cheeriness of wildflowers. A gentle wind lazily drifted among trees and floated on the small, glistening stream nearby. Lovely butterflies and dragonflies and those finicky, fire-starting flaries kissed flower after flower, paying no mind to the slightly troubled man that turned from the road to join them in the meadow.

The green carpet was so inviting, he could not resist its persuasive call, and he found himself sinking his weary self into the earth’s cradling arms. He didn’t intend to fall asleep, but he could not fight it. He was exhausted, as he had been for days, weeks, months…he couldn’t remember how long anymore, and it was all because of those terribly realistic nightmares.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A splash of frigid water slapped him in the face, startling his eyes open.

“Asleep again,” his tormenter sneered before turning to speak to a fellow soldier. “Spends more time out cold than awake anymore. Can’t last much longer.”

Although his heart beat faster, his face registered no emotion. It was the dream again. Always, he was here in this dark, stone cell. Always, he was woken by the icy water and the soldiers jeering. And always, just after, the creatures would come.

He heard the soldiers retreat and closed his eyes as he waited. Any moment now…just seconds more…there.  The burning, icy touch from a shadowy talon landed upon his wrist, although that was nothing compared to the visions it inspired. Instantly, his skin was crawling, as if thousands of ants were both under and over it. His head felt split in two as he choked on his own blood and could not catch his breath. Someone was screaming…not him, not this time. He knew better than to look, he knew he should shut his eyes, his mind, but that wasn’t an option with these creatures.

Against his will, he turned to find his precious daughter being torn apart amid the remains of people he had once known. Even as he watched, she cried, tried to defend herself against wolves and crows and the same evil creatures tormenting him. Her gaze met his in misery, and she cried his name in terror, begging him to help her.

His vision began to grow dim. He was losing consciousness, but he had to help her. She was screaming and crying, losing blood and life.

“Papa!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He startled awake, heart pounding and gasping for breath.

“Papa, I was so worried!”

Slowly, he turned to face his beautiful, unharmed daughter. Relief flooded him, and he closed his eyes.

“Still just a dream,” he muttered beneath his breath.

He heard her sigh.

“You’re still having them.”

He rubbed a hand over his eyes, noticing as he did that there was still a slight tingling sensation on his skin like bugs were crawling there, and on his wrist, there was that same miserable burning.

As if reading his mind, his daughter’s eyes fell onto his wrist, and she cried out in dismay. “Oh no! A terrible flary has burnt you just here. That must hurt something dreadful!”

Then she glanced to his calves, where the skin still tingled with remembered bugs…but no, there were ants crawling about that she quickly brushed off.

“You should be more careful where you fall asleep, Papa.”

“I hadn’t planned it,” he defended weakly.

Her eyes grew soft with pity , and she traced the deep circles beneath his eyes. “I wish I could free you from this.”

He mustered a smile. “Memories only, that’s what you keep telling me. I am haunted by memories. I have escaped, and these nightmares will fade.”

She smiled brightly. “Yes! Exactly so! Just keep telling yourself that, and I’m certain these horrible dreams will go away. You deserve at least one good night’s rest. Come, it’s time for dinner.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fresh, red potatoes and crisp greens from their garden, fluffy homemade rolls that melted in his mouth, and lean, perfectly seared tenderloin was the feast placed before him. His daughter was a truly wonderful cook…and baker. No sooner had he taken his last bite than a perfectly cut slice of peach cobbler was presented.

He dug in gratefully, appearing more like a starving man given a life-sustaining crust of bread than a well-satisfied farmer who had most likely indulged a bit too much with his meal.

“Everything was wonderful,” he complimented with a smile.

“Then have more,” his daughter offered. “There’s plenty left.”

She brought the pot of potatoes to the table and loaded his plate.

“No, I couldn’t possibly eat more…” he began to protest and stopped.

He shouldn’t be hungry, but now that he thought about it, he didn’t feel full. He shrugged and shook his head just as his daughter spoke the words she always did, the words that had popped into his mind a moment ago.

“You know that your body still has not recovered. You were near starved for months and haven’t been home long enough yet for everything to become normal again. Eat all you want; that’s why I made it.”

And he did just that, relishing the flavors and aromas that he had so missed while in prison.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Cold and wet. The combo that woke him to this nightmare every time.

“Guess what time it is?” the soldier jeered.

He closed his eyes. “It’s only a dream.”

“Stop mumbling,” came the snapped command.

Then hands dragged him to his feet. What were they going to do now?

He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut. “It’s only a dream.”

They prodded him to a bare room with a single chair in the middle, which they pushed him into. He remembered this room. He had wondered how long it would be before his tortured mind brought him back here. Why, oh why couldn’t he move past all this? Why did he revisit this terrible place with the cruel tormenters every night?

The soldiers retreated, and that all-terrible being stepped inside. Red eyes drilled into him, and then the beast began clawing through his very mind. The sensation of invasion was all too familiar. He whimpered before he could stop himself, feeling a little more of his soul and his sanity crumble beneath this fresh attack.

“It’s only a dream,” he muttered.

A chuckle. “A dream, is it?”

“It’s only a dream.”

He felt the evil fingers prying insistently through his mind until they landed on what they sought. Then the man retreated and walked to the door, tossing four sobering words over his shoulder.

“Which is the dream?”

The words followed him back to his cell, where the soldiers left him in a heap, rocking and muttering, “It’s only a dream.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Papa, Papa! Wake up!”

His daughter shook him awake, her eyes full of worry.

“Oh, Papa, it was that horrible dream again! You were talking in your sleep; I only wish I had been here sooner. Are you alright?”

She threw her arms about his neck and held him close.

“It was so real…”

She pulled back slightly and held his cheek. “But it wasn’t real. You mustn’t think that. It’s just that Fezam has such a terrible power; it scrambles your wits. Look around, feel the bed…see and hear me. You know I’m real at least, right, Papa? I’m right here.”

He nodded. Relief filled him. “Yes, yes, this is real.”

His mind jumped back to the dream. “But that felt real too. So very real. When I’m there, that’s all that exists, and when I’m here…of course, when I’m here, the other seems to be only a dream…but…”

“It is a dream. Does this seem like a dream when you’re there?”

He stopped to consider. “No, no, it doesn’t. I keep waiting to wake up and to be in the real world again.”

She smiled. “There, see? You know, deep down, which is the dream. Now, how about I go and make breakfast?”

With another wide smile, she brushed a kiss across his forehead and left the room.

The mirage ended where she stepped out of his line of sight. There was no comfy cottage, and she was not his daughter. There was simply a cell, the cell just next to the man’s, that imprisoned a kindly dreamer. She could not free him or herself, but she could make his days so much easier as he dreamed…until darkness fell.

 

The Truth of the Past, A Play by Lius

This is the play that got Lius branded for treason and thrown in the boat destined for Nohaf Dosam with Eorian and what would soon become the crew of the Silver Wing.

 

Smoke billows forth across the stage. Under its cover, the narrator walks out to front mid-stage and appears from within the smoke to deliver his message.
Narrator:   Listen, my companions, and heed me well,
                   For strange happenings have begun to occur,
                   Reflect on this - the story I tell,
                   Gathered from whisper and murmur.
 
                   I speak of a man close to Sohsena’s King,
                   Whose announcement brought shock to all.
                   Ne’er before heard, and ne’er before seen,
                   Yet claimed to be ruler at the King’s fall.
 
                   Who is this man, from what lands does he hail?
                   Answers are found in my well-woven tale.
 
Narrator backs away to stage left, still viewed by audience.
Scene:   Dining room of a small, country home, table set for midday meal.
 
Narrator:   The first tale, my friends, is simple at best,
                   Yet perhaps it is closest to truth.
                   Single and barren, but suddenly blessed,
                   She now has a boy in tender youth.
 
Mother:      Eat up, now, son. You must build your strength for one day you will be great and powerful.
Son:            But how? We live far from the city, we have no money, and I have no father to teach me a trade or help me through well-placed friends.
Mother:     But you do have a father, dear one. Kiem heard my prayers and blessed me richly. We shall both achieve greatness through Kiem’s might. Never doubt this.
 
Narrator:   But as she thought back to the facts that night,
                   In her heart, she knew it was wrong.
                   Yet worse was to tell, causing such fright,
                   And lose the love for which she longed.
 
Scene: Ancient hut in a dark forest. Out front, a caldron with red smoke billowing forth.
 
Witch:                  I must warn you of the dangers on the path you tread.
Mother:               (looks behind her) It didn’t seem so very bad.
Witch:                  (cackles and shakes her head) For your child, girl.
Mother:               I do not have a child.

Witch gives her a long, knowing look.
 
Mother:               I do seek for a way to have one, though. It is all I desire.
Witch:                  There are the usual ways. Find yourself a husband.
Mother:               I cannot. I have been disgraced and shunned by my family and friends. I…I am branded.
Witch:                  I see. What would you have me do?
Mother:               What can you do?
Witch:                  There are always consequences.
Mother:               (hesitates) I can handle it.
Witch:                  (reaches deep into an inside pocket, pulls out a vial, turns to the cauldron and scoops out some deep red liquid, stoppers the potion and holds it out) Drink this on the full moon, then rest for one hour. You must then kill a chicken and sprinkle its blood around your home. An egg it laid that morning should be broken and left on your front stoop. By morning, you will be with child.
Mother:               (reaches for the vial) That’s it?
Witch:                  (pulls the vial back a bit, just out of reach) Be sure you are prepared. There is always a cost.
Mother:               I can handle anything if I can have a child. (snatches the vial away from the witch and tosses  a pouch of coins at her feet) I hope it is sufficient compensation.
Witch:                  (never looks at the pouch, stares intently at Mother) As do I.
 
Mother turns slowly and walks away. Witch makes a sign against the devil, claps her hands. Smoke appears to hide her and when it clears, she is gone.
 
Narrator:   Pale as death, black hair, eyes of red,
                   With dark magic father, his heart should be dead.
 
Narrator skips to the middle of the stage and strikes a dramatic pose.
 
Narrator:    Yet perhaps this next story rings more true,
                   To an audience so bright and fair,
                   He seems otherworldly, does he not to you?
                   With those red eyes and the darkest hair?
 
Narrator, back away to stage right while pointing high above to a large sphere.
Scene: The sphere whirls from high stage right to crash into stage left, which is a meadow. There is a tall rock center stage. High pitched squeals and bells sound.
 
A man looking similar to Raef bursts from within the sphere, coughing and stumbling. He is holding his ribs painfully while looking at his surroundings.
 
Raef:          (wheezes) What is this strange place? (begins to take a step and collapses) I am so very broken and weak…how interesting. But enough of this pain. I must heal myself.
 
Raef yells loudly, head thrown back as he proceeds to heal himself. Then he stands and strides around
comically.

 
Raef:           Ha ha! (notices a small rabbit perched on the tall rock) See you, small, furry owner of this planet, I have great power. What can you do? (pauses with a frown while studying the animal) Perhaps I underestimate you. You look so weak to own a planet; I must be overlooking something. Take me to your leader!
 
Raef waits a moment for the rabbit to respond, then straightens to look more intimidating.
 
Raef:           Hear me, small creature. I will kill you if you do not take me to your leader. Respond!
 
The rabbit hops off the rock and continues hopping away to stage right.

 
Raef:          Finally, some intelligence shows.
 
He walks offstage after the rabbit, only to return back to mid-stage at a dead run, swatting all around his body.
 
Raef:         It is a fiend! And how clever, being in league with even smaller, stinging warriors! I must avoid these tiny soldiers and their furry spies. A war will be waged once my world is populated and a palace constructed. (turns his back to the audience and takes a deep breath) Yes, my new world will be perfect. I’ll build a castle just there, maybe have a moat. I’ll have to bring in many people from my own world, some to wait on me, some to guard me from the small enemies that swarm this planet. We’ll have to start all over here, but I will be the ultimate ruler.
 
As Raef is speaking and making plans, a man walks out stage left, upstage, watching the grand gestures in silence until Raef finishes.
 
Man:          Can I help you with something?
Raef:          (swiftly turns to face the new arrival) How dare you interrupt me! Who are you? What is your purpose on this planet?
Man:          Well, I’m a carpenter…one who’s looking for work. I could help you build a…a castle, did you say? Name’s Clinus.
Raef:          Are you a slave of the small, furry overlords and their stinging warriors?
Man:          (takes a step back) I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m not anyone’s slave.
Raef:          So you are the ruler here?
Man:          (shakes head and chuckles) No, I’m afraid not. The ruler is in Cekogel, King Nelios, with his five sons. You have to know that.
Raef:          I don’t. Take me to him.
Man:          Well…you see, I can’t actually do that. I’m not exactly the King’s best friend, if you know what I mean.
Raef:          I don’t, but I suppose that means you are useless to me?
Man:          Not if you need help building a castle.
Raef:          The current castle should be satisfactory. Be gone. (flicks man on the forehead)
Man:          Did you just flick me?
Raef:          (frowns) Flick? No, I just performed hinnus, the most powerful stroke in fighting that one can bestow upon his opponent. It renders a man dead instantaneously.
Man:          (feels his chest in a panicked frenzy) Am I…? (sighs deeply) I think you need to work on that flick of yours. (begins to laugh, then suddenly stops and keels over backward)
Raef:          (looks down at the man and kicks him) Took a little longer than usual. Perhaps the inhabitants are not as susceptible. I shall discover a better way to conquer and rule this world.
 
Narrator takes center stage as Raef strides off stage left with purpose.
 
Narrator:    A stranger is he to this land of ours,
                   Our customs he does not know.
                   So when in battle and facing his powers,
                   Beware a flick on head or toe.
 
                   Yet for you to prevail against this fearsome foe,
                   A wasp or soft bunny is all you should show.
 
Narrator slowly backs away from the audience as he speaks his part.
 
Narrator:   Last in this trio of stories I bring,
                   Is a tale of love that is lost.
                   So devastated was he, his life despairing,
                   He sought release at great cost.
 
Scene: Bedroom, with a young maiden lying on a bed on stage right. Young, blond Raef weeping over her body. Two women hovering stage left, whispering and gesturing toward him.
 
Woman #1:        He won’t let a soul near her….and it’s been two days already.
Woman #2:        Poor dear, he loved her so very much. I’m sure it’s difficult for him to come to terms with it. She was so young…
Woman #1:        Too young. But consumption does not discriminate.
Woman #2:        We have to do something about…her, but he…what can we do?
Woman #1:        (walks over to the bed and taps the young Raef on the shoulder) Dear, we must make preparations. You know this. You have to let her go.
Raef:                     (sobs but keeps his face hidden) I can’t.
Woman #1:        You have no choice. You can’t bring her back to you.
Raef:                     (finally turns, revealing blood running down his face instead of tears; his eyes have turned red) Then I shall go to her. (stands and walks off stage)
Woman #2:        (rushes over to Woman #1) Whatever is the matter?
Woman #1:        His eyes. Blood red.
Woman #2:        It can’t be. You must be seeing things.
Woman #1:        (shakes head viciously) His tears were red, as if he cried out his heart, and his eyes…his eyes… (both women turn to face where Raef exited) He means to die.
 
The narrator walks out as both women exit, giving his next speech while crossing from stage right to stage left.
 
Narrator:   We all know the grief of love’s final sleep,
                   Yet still it comes as a surprise,
                   When one so young feels love so deep,
                   That tears of blood stain his eyes.
 
Blond Raef walks out to center stage, holding a vial of black liquid.
 
Raef:          This poison should do the trick. I pray that it does. (holds the vial up in a toast) My love, I am coming to you. (drinks poison, stands a moment, stumbles down to one knee, then collapses and drops the vial to roll a bit away from his hand)
 
From stage left, his young love enters in a white gown, gasps, and rushes to the small bottle, bending down to examine it.
 
Young love:        Oh, my dearest, what have you done! (caresses his face) I do not wish for you to join me just yet. Live on! (kisses him on the lips, hugs his head to her – while putting on a black wig - then stands and backs away stage left)
 
After his young love exits, a black-haired Raef sits up with a gasp.
 
Raef:          What is this? I feel as if I have been kissed by an angel. (sees empty vial and picks it up) But how am I living? You promised my death! I should be with my love by now. What is this cruel fate? What am I to do now?
 
He begins walking slowly upstage, engaging the audience in his speech while behind him a small pond is constructed.
 
Raef:          What is the point of my living when I have nothing to live for. The one bit of brightness in this gloomy, cruel world was stolen away from me, never to return. Yet I feel as if she has stayed my death. As if, perhaps, taking my own life would sadden her. Surely, then, I must find another means by which to ensure my death. I must join her, of that I am most certain.
 
Begins walking back toward the pond.
 
Raef:          But how do I kill myself without killing myself? I cannot force an illness to befall me or convince a wild animal to attack me. (sees the pond) I wish I could drown myself. (leans over, startles back, and then looks again while touching his hair) Black? Deepest black. So the dark poison did touch me after all. (snaps his fingers) I have the perfect thing. I will do as those blackguard swordsmen do. I will die in a duel and thus join my love.
 
Raef walks to the edge of the stage to grab a sword as men begin to spill onstage. Duels break out, and each man falls to his death. After the last, ghostly women flutter out and circle him, chanting while powdering his face to look deathly pale.
 
Women:              Your love of violence comes at a cost
                            You shall not be with the love you lost.
                             Instead you hold the souls of the dead,
                             Upon your face and heart do they tread.
                             From this day forth a man you shan’t be,
                             But a wraith drawn to power and majesty.
 
The women flutter off stage left. Raef takes center stage, surveying the crowd, and finally looking like the currently ruling Raef.
 
Narrator:   So which is true of this man who would rule?
                   Magic, alien, love – what made him so cruel?
                               
                   It’s up to you to decide, perhaps all or none,
                   Truth is, we don’t know - what he is, what he’s done.

 

Love A Fair, Embrace the Fall

Hustle and bustle chased away the usually serene and slumberous air of the meadow, and excitement could be felt just as easily as the slight nibble of cold that autumn brings. The leaves were changing into their vibrant burial shrouds, and the summer flowers had already collapsed into sleep. None of the people noticed. They were far too busy with their tasks.
Humble business men and women set up their stalls, prettied up their wares, and prayed that sales would be just as good as last year. It would be a few hours yet before the crowd came barreling in, loud and ready to spend their money. The annual harvest fair was here, rich and poor alike would celebrate, and the preparations were now well under way.
Upon first entering the lovely and spacious meadow, the eager fair-goers would have two paths: food stalls on the right and non-edible goods and services on the left. In the center of it all, where the stall owners and crowd could all have the easiest view, were the games. There would be races, tests of strength and cunning, throwing, fighting (both hand-to-hand and sword), shooting (though not with the real, single-shot pistols), some with teams, and all with prizes. Then, finally, at the far end nearest the lake, the performers were set up. Musicians sang and played, dancers twirled, jugglers and fire-eaters thrilled the crowd, and actors would enact short skits.
It was a lively time, this one day when everyone could throw off responsibility and enjoy life just before the winter sealed them indoors. Rida was caught up in it as well, even though she was busy helping her father set up their food stall. Her father’s wonderful bread and muffins and her mother’s fabulous pies and pastries would certainly be as much of a hit this year as they ever had been. She was in the woods just beyond the fair right now, collecting flowers and some of the colorful leaves that had fallen. Rida looked forward to decorating the stall and even working it because she loved seeing all the milling people, especially the rich ladies in their beautiful gowns and the wealthy men in their distinguished finery. Even they would be enjoying themselves here, side by side with the people they looked down upon every other day of the year. It truly was a wonder, this autumn fair, and she only had to wait a few more hours.
* * * * * *
“Where do you think you’re going, son?”
Jano stopped with a sigh before turning around. He had hoped to be out the door before his father had a chance to try to change his plans.
“You know where I’m going,” he said.
“To the fair perhaps?” his father asked with a slight smile.
Jano rolled his eyes. “Of course not. It’s loud and crowded, and even the adults feel a need to act like children. I’m going to the mill to take a look at the new equipment, and then I thought I might take inventory of our yield.”
His father raised a brow. “You’re twenty-four years old. You should be out with friends, getting drunk and flirting with girls at the fair, not examining equipment and counting beans. You work hard enough during the year, I think you can take one day to ‘act like a child’, as you put it.”
Jano sighed again but made no comment. His father scrutinized him.
“I want you to go to the fair.”
“Pa…”
“No arguments,” he interrupted. “Find one of your friends and go have some fun. Here.”
He turned into his office and rummaged around in a drawer, coming back with a handful of money.
“I want you to spend it all,” his father ordered as he passed over his wealth. “Buy some food, play some games, get a pretty necklace for a girl you fancy…you are not to work at all today, and you are not to come home until sundown. Understood?”
Jano stared down at the coins in his hand. He was honestly expected to spend all of it? He offered the money back to his father.
“Honestly, Pa, I don’t want…”
“Go. Have fun. Be the unruly young boy I had been dreading instead of the upstanding man I am so proud of. You deserve one day at least.”
With that, his father pushed him out the door of their country estate to stand indecisively on the porch for one minute…then two. What now? He was supposed to spend all day at the fair? What could possibly hold his attention there for an entire day?
He grimaced and began to walk. It would take twenty to thirty minutes to arrive by foot. Maybe he would meet someone along the way that he could call a “friend” for his father’s benefit. He certainly wasn’t going to have much fun, not with all the work that still had to be done. Why was it so important for him to act like an immature rich boy?
About ten minutes after he’d left home, he saw a pretty girl with a pile of flowers and sticks at her feet. She was reaching up to a branch with some very beautifully colored leaves, but it was just out of reach.
“Come on,” she muttered. “Just a bit…more.”
“Need some help?” he offered.
She spun to face him and pushed some of her lovely, golden hair out of her blue eyes. “That would be fantastic.”
He snagged the branch easily and set it on her pile.
“Thank you so very much!” she said with a dazzling smile.
He nodded. “Do you need help carrying this?”
She shook her head. “No, I’ve got it. I need to gather a bit more first, anyway. Thank you, though. That’s very kind.”
With a shrug, he set off again, and he didn’t meet anyone else until he was just a few minutes from the fair. Unfortunately, they weren’t eligible to be his “friend” as they were all families with small children.
He could already hear the music and the loud buzz of the crowd, and he could smell the conflicting aromas of all the food stalls. He glanced back down the road toward his home longingly before delving into the crowd and beginning to search for a place to spend his money.
* * * * * *
“Freshly baked pies and muffins! Try some tarts or scones with berries or icing! Nice, warm and flaky bread…you, sir, how would you like to give your little girl a treat? This small cake would be just the thing!”
Rida’s grin grew larger as the middle aged man and his adorable daughter walked over.
“Ooooh, can I have that one, papa?”
The little girl’s big, brown eyes were wide with excitement and hope. Her father didn’t stand a chance.
“We must look like some easy targets, don’t we, miss?” he asked with a chuckle.
“I just have a soft spot for beautiful children,” Rida replied happily as she wrapped up the small cake and passed it to the girl. Then she pulled out a sweet for the child. “And this is on the house.”
“Thank you!” the little girl shouted with glee, popping it in her mouth while her father paid. Then she skipped off hand-in-hand with her loving papa.
Rida watched them with a smile.
“I hope you don’t plan on giving out free sweets to every child here. Those are expensive, probably more than your cakes and breads, and you’ll never make a profit.”
Rida startled and spun to look at the serious young man standing just beside her stall. She clapped a hand over her heart and chuckled.
“You startled me! I’m so sorry I didn’t see you there.” She paused to study him. “Oh! You’re the man who helped me earlier. Thanks so much again. How do you like the decorations?
He admired them. “You did well. Much better than I would have guessed possible with sticks from the forest.”
She chuckled. “Thank you. And can I get you something?”
The man shrugged. “I suppose. I need to get rid of this money somewhere, and I am a bit hungry. What do you recommend?”
Rida frowned. “Not to push into your business, but you don’t seem particularly fair-minded today…”
“I am perfectly fair,” the man argued. “Whatever would give you the idea…”
Rida smiled and laughed. “No! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…let’s start with this then. I’m Rida, and you are…?”
“Jano.” He shook her offered hand in confusion.
“Are you here by yourself then, Jano?” she asked.
He nodded.
“So that’s why you don’t seem to be enjoying yourself. I knew there must be something. So would you prefer really sweet or a bit tart?”
Jano shook his head, his brow creased in confusion. “I would prefer for you to be nice to me.”
Again, Rida laughed, her blue eyes sparkling and her golden hair capturing the sunlight to mesmerize him. “I am not expressing myself well at all today, am I? I was wondering if you would want one of our tarts or an iced cake…maybe a muffin with berries? No! I have just the thing.”
She twirled to her right and snatched up a scone. “I made this one myself. It’s just a bit sweet without being overly so, and there are very subtle flavors that you will love. I think it matches you.”
“How can a pastry match me?” Jano asked as he examined the treat.
Rida gave him a small smile. “I know food, and I know people. Trust me when I say, this is what you need. Try it. If you decide you don’t want it, I’ll give you another for free.”
“Do you make a habit of giving things away for free? Because you will never grow your business that way.”
Rida shook her head. “There is more than one way to make a profit. Just try it.”
Obediently, Jano took a bite, surprised by how much he enjoyed it. She was right. It was just a bit sweet, and he did like the flavor.
“This is very good. Nice choice,” he said with surprise and approval in his voice.
“Thank you. Think you can guess my secret ingredient?” Her eyes twinkled a challenge.
Jano rose to the bait, giving into the rare urge to tease her. “And what do I get if I can?”
She thought a moment before nodding decisively. “If you can guess my secret ingredient, then I will be your companion during the rest of the fair. Once my father gets back in two hours to handle the stall.”
Jano smiled a bit, pleased when Rida’s eyes widened.
“Well look at that! You are downright handsome when you let yourself enjoy life. I may just join you even if you can’t guess correctly just so I can tease that smile back out again.” She gave him a big smile and wink. “Now, off with you. I see some potential customers, and I won’t sell a thing with you stealing all of my attention. Be back in two hours.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Jano agreed in some surprise before shuffling off. He found himself glancing back at the stall with the pretty clerk far more often than he should as he walked away, munching on the delicious scone and trying to figure out what the secret ingredient could possibly be.
* * * * * *
Two hours had never felt so very long. Rida was a bit surprised at herself. She hadn’t ever been this impatient to spend time with a boy. There was just something about him…like he needed her.
She grinned as she spotted her father making his way back to the stall.
“Father!” she called and waved.
His eyes lit up, as they always did when he saw her, and he lengthened his stride. “Rida, my girl, how are the sales?”
“I’ve made quite a few, and the crowd isn’t even as large as it will be soon. Not to mention, lunch will bring them over.”
“Very good! Now it’s time for you to enjoy yourself. I’ve had about as much fun at this festival as I possibly can.” He looked around at the crowd and the games with a mocking smile. “Fairs are for the young.”
“You, my wonderful father, are plenty young,” Rida complimented with a hug.
“If not for the money this stall brings, I’d be home with your mother. She has the right idea.” He winked. “And which of your friends are you meeting up with today? A whole gaggle of them, maybe?”
Rida felt her cheeks bloom. “Just one. I met him a few hours ago when he made a purchase.”
A glance upward revealed her father’s worried frown. “He’s not one of these wealthy, spoiled brats with the fancy clothes that you find you so appealing, is he? They’ll pay you plenty of attention today, but tomorrow, when it’s back to the real world, they’ll have nothing to do with you.”
Rida gave him a small smile. “I don’t think he’s wealthy. He was dressed in regular work clothes, a nicer pair since it is the fair, and he was giving me tips on making a better profit. If he grew up with plenty of money, I highly doubt he would think twice about me giving a free sweet to a little girl…which, by the way, brought the father back just a few minutes ago to get another iced cake for himself, and he brought a friend who got two muffins.”
“You always were good with people, my girl,” he smiled proudly and clapped her on the back.
That’s when Rida saw Jano standing just across the way, patiently waiting for her to join him and looking a bit unsure of himself at the same time. She imagined uncertainty was not a typical emotion for him. Her father followed her gaze, nodding his approval.
“Hurry on, then,” he said with a small push. “Enjoy yourself but keep him in line. He does look to be a good sort, though.”
“Thanks, papa!” Rida called as she jogged over to Jano with a huge grin. “So you didn’t forget me.”
He frowned in confusion. “Couldn’t get you out of my head.”
Rida bit back a laugh. He was certainly straight-forward. She grinned and leaned toward him like she was imparting a secret. “That makes two of us.”
His startled gaze met hers, and she saw a small smile lift his lips a bit. “I don’t know what the secret ingredient is. All I could think of were the usual ingredients for scones…and of course, the pumpkin.”
“Pumpkin in a pumpkin scone!” Rida laughed, threading her arm through his and beginning to walk. “Whoever would have thought?”
They walked in silence for a little bit.
“Are you going to tell me what the secret ingredient is?”
“Of course not. I can’t go telling everyone, or it wouldn’t be a secret. You have to earn it by guessing…or be very special to me. I always tell my parents, you see.”
Jano nodded. “Very wise. I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.”
Rida cut her eyes up his way. He seemed silently pleased to be with her, but she wanted a smile and she wanted to hear him laugh. He was far too serious for someone so young.
“Are you ready to have some fun?” she asked mischievously.
“What do you mean?” he asked with a lot of trepidation.
She pulled him to a halt. “Promise me something.”
“What?”
She had his full attention.
“My mission tonight is for us to have the most fun either of us have ever had. So I want you to promise that you won’t back out. If I pull us up to a game, we are both going to play, and if I pull us onto the dancing green, we are going to dance. We are not going to say no tonight. Promise?”
She saw him struggling. He wanted to say no; he wanted to walk away. He looked around at all the people, all the games, all the entertainers, and all the stalls. Her heart faltered. He was going to leave her here. She should backtrack. He just wasn’t ready yet, and he certainly didn’t know her.
When he looked back down into her eyes, she opened her mouth to save him but stopped. His jaw firmed in decision, and he nodded. A curiosity had filled his eyes, and an expectant smile lifted his lips. He was trusting her.
“Alright. Let’s have some fun.”
With a huge grin, she pulled him into the crowd. He balked at a few of her suggestions, but he never said no. After several hours, he was smiling liberally, and by the end of night, she had heard him laugh three times. She considered the day a huge success, even better than she had imagined. She also knew she was dangerously close to falling for this man, even though it seemed ridiculous with her having known him only one day…a day that was ending.
They were walking hand in hand back to the entrance. He had spent all his money, which had been much more than she had expected, and he had an early morning of work ahead of him. It was time for him to go home, and she had to help her father pack everything up.
“I had a wonderful day,” she said, glancing his way to catch a smile.
He chuckled. “I did too, surprisingly. I wouldn’t have if not for you.”
“Oh, you most certainly would have. Maybe not quite as much, but it’s a fair!”
He shook his head and pulled her over into the heavy darkness beneath a tree.
“I don’t know how to have fun,” he confessed.
She laughed. “Yes, you do. Look at how much fun we had today.”
“All you. I couldn’t have done that without you. Thank you.”
She blushed and looked down. “Well, I did it for myself too, you know.”
They were quiet for a little bit, and then Jano took a deep breath.
“Ok, I haven’t said no to you all night, and some of those games and things were a bit…no, a lot outside of my comfort zone, but I didn’t ever say…”
Rida went up on her toes and kissed him. “You can talk too much sometimes. All you had to do was ask.”
“Then, can I kiss you?”
She laughed. “Yes, yes you can.”
With a huge grin, he did just that, and when he pulled back to look down at her, the smile was still as full.
“Can I see you again?” he asked.
“Yes.”
“Tomorrow?”
“Yes.”
“For lunch? Noon? We can meet here.”
“I’ll bring a picnic lunch,” she offered.
He nodded with a very pleased smile. “I’m so glad I met you.”
She grinned and then leaned forward to whisper softly, “Cinnamon.”
His brow furrowed. “Cinnamon?”
She smiled with a wink before walking off. She didn’t turn back around, but she knew when he figured it out because he gave a soft chuckle. She certainly did love a fair; it made magical things happen.

Rida & Jano, The Story Continues

A chilly wind blew all around Rida as she sat on a blanket in the middle of the meadow. The ground was trampled with large pathways of dirt that had once been all grassy. It was a bit depressing, witnessing the aftermath of so large and boisterous a fair crowd.
Rida reached down to readjust the bowl of apple slices for perhaps the fifth time in three minutes. Quickly, she snatched her hand back into her lap with a grimace. There truly was no need for her to be nervous. He would be here soon, and she couldn’t let him see this frustrating weakness of hers.
She bit her lip, casting around in her mind for a distraction. Unfortunately, every topic she landed on ended up bringing her right back to the one man she was so impatient to see. She closed her eyes and lay back, drawing in several deep breaths.
They had a wonderful time at the fair. They had truly connected. He was kind and considerate and clearly a hard worker. He was so very handsome though…was she pretty enough for him?
She squeezed her eyes shut tighter. No, new topic, new topic.
He was quiet, brooding - the strong, silent type. Yes, very strong, very fit. She wasn’t fit. In fact, she was getting a bit plumper every day because of all the sweets she consumed at the bakery. She really needed to stop doing that, especially if she wanted him to keep seeing her.
Her brow furrowed. These were not good thoughts to have moments before having a picnic with such a wonderful man. She needed to be cheery not worried. Her father always told her that if a boy couldn’t see what a precious spirit she had then he wasn’t worthy enough for her. Jano would be though. She somehow knew it deep down, and she really didn’t want to mess this up. She wanted to be perfect for him.
A small grin tugged the corner of her lips as she pictured his smiling face. He was all she could have dreamed of, and for lunch at least, he was all hers.
“I’m glad to see your dreams have turned happier.”
The teasing words startled her to a wide-eyed sitting position. She caught a twinkle in Jano’s eyes at her reaction and gave him an exaggerated frown.
“How long have you been sitting there?” she asked with narrowed eyes.
“Just a few moments.” He filched an apple slice and took a bite. “You looked so peaceful, I hated to bother you. Almost did when the frown showed up, but it turned to a smile quickly enough.”
Rida ducked her head and brushed back some hair as she tried to battle down the rosy hue blooming on her cheeks. “I was simply thinking. That’s all.”
Jano nodded as he surveyed the food: sandwiches, apples, fresh rolls, and pecan pie. “This is quite a spread. I hope you didn’t go to much trouble.”
Rida smiled. “Of course I did. I wanted this picnic to be perfect. Woke up early to get the rolls and pie done.”
Jano frowned. “You shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble for me. I’d have been fine with just the sandwiches.”
Rida felt herself shrink a bit inside as she looked down at her folded hands. She was just about to apologize when Jano continued.
“It all looks fantastic though. I’m afraid this is going to spoil me. I already know that I’ll miss your company every time I eat alone.” He paused, waiting for her to look up at him. When she did, he smiled. “I may just start thinking you’re trying to trap me through my stomach. I still can’t stop thinking about that scone.”
Rida’s heart leapt, and her grin was quite wide as she replied. “I’ll admit to no such thing, but women have been known for such underhanded tricks.”
With that, she began serving them both their portions, and they began munching happily.
“I usually don’t take lunch,” Jano said between bites. “Sometimes I’ll grab something quick and eat while working.”
“Jano!” Rida scolded. “That is not good for you. Three meals a day, that’s what you need.”
Jano shrugged. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
“Surely, your boss can’t expect you to work so hard as to miss lunch every day?”
Jano gave her a funny smile as he ate another apple slice.
She continued. “In fact, I’ll go up and have a talk with him. I will explain to him exactly how important regular meals are.”
“And how important are they?” Jano asked with mock seriousness.
“Well, they keep you strong and healthy. They also provide more energy to help you focus on your work. It will increase productivity, I assure you.”
“Will you be the one providing these meals?” Jano asked.
Rida nodded resolutely without pause. “I will bring you lunch every day, a good lunch too.”
Jano leaned back on his elbows and laughed. “You’ve persuaded him.”
“Persuaded who?” Rida asked in confusion.
“My boss.”
“But…” Rida shook her head.
“I am my own boss,” Jano explained. “My father wouldn’t make me work at all if I didn’t wish to, but I feel it’s very important to understand the family business and get to know the tenants and other workers.”
In rising alarm, Rida straightened and slowly asked, “What do you mean?”
Jano too sat up straight. “You did know that my father is Lord Chanthen, right?”
“Lord…,” Rida sucked in a deep breath. “He’s one of the wealthiest men in the capital, not to mention here in little Breezen, which he visits once or twice a year to check on hiscountry home. Lord Chanthen is your father?”
Jano’s brow furrowed. “Well, yes…is that a problem?”
“Of course it’s a problem!” Rida yelled. “Why are you even here with me? What could I possibly offer you? Does your father know about this? What would he say? Or am I just a distraction while you’re away from your fiancé in Cekogel?”
“What?” Jano exclaimed in alarm. “Who are they saying I’m engaged to?”
“How should I know?” Rida asked as she began packing everything away in her basket. “This was a mistake. I should have known. So foolish.”
“Rida,” Jano said, but she ignored him as she stood and scooped up her basket.
He scrambled up after her and caught her arm gently. “Rida, please. Don’t. I’m still me.”
Her mouth firmed, and she was about to contradict him when she noticed the look in his eyes. They were pleading with her, and it wasn’t false. One thing she knew about herself without doubt: she could read people. What she read in Jano was that he needed her.
She took in several deep breaths. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought you knew,” Jano said. “And then, even if you didn’t, you treated me normally. You weren’t putting on airs or fawning over me. It was…nice.”
“Why me?”
The question slipped out before she realized it had even made it to the tip of her tongue, but since she couldn’t call it back, she lifted her chin and waited for his response.
He shrugged. “You made me smile.”
“Most girls can make boys smile,” Rida scoffed.
“Not me,” Jano said flatly. “And they most certainly don’t make me laugh.”
“So I’m your entertainer?”
Jano’s brow furrowed as he shook his head. “You’re the most honest and kind-spirited person I’ve ever met. I knew that within moments.”
Then he gave her a shy smile. “And you have some of the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.”
“Truly?” Rida asked softly.
“Truly.”
Again, Rida looked down to the ground. “But this can’t go anywhere. We both know it. I’m a baker’s daughter! We need to call this off now before one of us gets hurt.”
Jano chuckled, causing Rida to look back up at him.
“What? What could possibly be funny about this?”
“I’m just not used to someone using logic against me. That’s always been my job.”
Rida pulled away from him, watching his arm drop back to his side. He continued to stare at her though, capturing her gaze and not permitting her to look away.
“You’re determined to leave me standing here, watching the one girl who could make me really enjoy life walk away from me.”
Rida swallowed. “It’s for the best.”
“Not mine.”
Tears were threatening, and Rida would not have him see her cry. Somehow, she managed to hold them at bay as she shook her head.
“No, for mine.”
With that, she quickly turned and rushed away, feeling salty tracks form along her cheeks. She didn’t look back, couldn’t look back, but she knew that every day after this one she would. Jano would be her biggest regret, but at least her heart would still be intact when her memories brought her back to the meadow.

Together Again?

“Son, I don’t mean to inquire into things that are not my business…”
Jano sent a quick glance toward his father before staring back down at his plate of food and continuing to push things around with his fork. “Then you’d best stop talking now because you are circling that territory.”
“See, that’s what I mean,” his father said with a frown. “You’re grumpy and sullen and getting dangerously close to disrespectful.”
Jano’s mouth tightened minutely.
“What’s happened, son?” His father waited a full minute before continuing in frustration. “I know that something’s happened. You’ve always been driven and focused, but you weren’t unhappy with your life. Now you seem to be going through the motions and enjoying nothing. Is it a girl?”
“What would make you think it’s a girl?” Jano asked absently, again looking up at his father.
“That question for one,” he replied with a knowing look. “Would you like me to tell you how you’ve always responded to my inquiries about girls before?”
Jano sighed. “No, I got it.”
“So, are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to continue tiptoeing around this issue for a bit longer?”
Jano twisted his fork around in his hand a few times before finally throwing it on the table and collapsing back in his chair.
“She just left me standing there. I told her that she made me happy, made me enjoy life, and she just…she said it was better if we let it all go now.”
His father was quiet for a bit before speaking. “Was she right?”
Jano scoffed. “Of course not.”
“Then why did she say it?”
“Because…” Jano blew out a breath. “Because it wouldn’t be easy, and she’s afraid she can’t trust me.”
“Can’t trust you?” his father repeated in surprise. “Why would she think she couldn’t trust you? And why wouldn’t it be easy? Is it Selma? I know her mother can be a bit…and her father…”
Jano nearly shuddered at the thought of having anything to do with the obnoxious, spoiled daughter of Cekogel’s leading banker. She had been after him for almost a year now, and the stunts she pulled were getting tiresome.
“No, Pa, it’s not Selma.”
“Rossin? I know she’s been trying to catch your eye.”
With a grimace at the thought of that shameless flirt, who also happened to be the offspring of a wealthy papa, Jano shook his head. “No.”
“Is it shy little Evin? I can see her having trust issues.”
“You know she’s happiest with her books,” Jano said with a soft chuckle. “She’s sweet but detached. You’re grasping now.”
“Perhaps.” His father smiled. “So which of the debutantes is it?”
Jano felt a little sorry for his father at that moment. He hadn’t yet made the connection, and he was not going to be teasing and laughing when it finally clicked.
“Which debutante is here in Breezen?” he asked softly while watching his father’s face.
His father’s head tilted slightly.
“Actually, now that you mention it…” His face transformed to one of minor alarm. “Son, you didn’t get involved with a local girl, did you?”
“It’s not what you think.”
“She’s after your money. You realize that?” His father’s gaze had turned steely.
“No, she’s not.” Despite himself, Jano started getting a little angry about the attack on Rida. “You don’t know her. If you did, you wouldn’t think that.”
“Son, I don’t have to know her,” his father said a little more gently. “The people of this town are not wealthy, and while they are not around many who are, they can see our lives and envy them. As a rule, they don’t want to fraternize with us…and yet this one does? You are an eligible bachelor who happens to have quite a bit of money. Why do you think she is spending time with you?”
Jano stood and cleared his throat. “She spent time with me first because she thought I was lonely, which I had been when I went to the fair you forced on me, and second because I asked her. She knew nothing about my money until the day she called everything off, and do you want to know why she did it? Because my father would not approve of her, because I would find a rich girl that was better than her, because she would never be able to fit into my world…”
Jano broke off and chuckled. “You know, I had fully intended to leave her be, but now that I hear it out loud…she’s scared.”
“No, she’s playing you,” his father intoned.
Jano’s gaze hardened. “Rida would not toy with the feelings of anyone. She went out of her way to make me laugh when I was a complete stranger, and I am not going to abandon her now. I will prove her doubts wrong on all counts.”
“All but one.”
“No, Pa,” Jano said decisively. “Either you will approve of her, or I will no longer have a father from whom approval is needed. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a blanket to deliver.”
With that, Jano strode from the room, retrieved the picnic blanket that Rida had left behind, and began the mile and a half trek to the bakery.

* * * * *

Dough was so very malleable, so easy to shape and change. Too bad the heart doesn’t work that way, Rida thought as she continued to knead. The bakery had been quiet all day, which meant Rida had ample time to think – something she had been trying for days to avoid. She glanced out at the street. Not a soul was walking past. Looked like their typical lunch crowd wasn’t going to make an appearance today.
Rida sighed. She did not need this. The one day she was here alone in the shop did not need to be the one day that no customers came by to distract her. Her mind traveled to her small home upstairs. Both her father and mother were sick, not deathly ill, but decidedly under the weather. She had wanted to keep the bakery closed and care for them, but they needed any income they could get, and her younger sister was capable enough to handle the task on her own.
The dough began to stick to the counter, and Rida bent down to grab another handful of flour to sprinkle on it when the bell above the door chimed. The sound was loud in the silence that Rida had grown accustomed to, and she slammed her head into the underside of the counter, spilling some flour in the process, before finally straightening to greet the customer.
“I’m sorry; I’m being awfully clumsy today,” she said with a large smile. “And how may I…help…”
She froze, eyes wide and hopeful, mouth slightly agape, hand full of flour, to stare at her unexpected guest. He gave her a lopsided grin and held up something…Rida finally forced herself to focus and recognized what he had. Her stomach dropped with her hopes, and she closed her eyes briefly. That stupid picnic blanket that she had forgotten. She forced another smile.
“Well, didn’t think I’d ever see that again.”
Jano’s smile faded, and he cleared his throat. “I was hoping that wasn’t the only thing you wanted to see again.”
Rida couldn’t look at him, couldn’t stand to see the hurt on his face. She tossed the flour onto the counter and began to viciously knead the dough.
“I appreciate you bringing the blanket back,” she said softly, snapping her mouth shut immediately to hide the quiver of her lips. Why had he come back? He needed to leave. Just tell him to leave.
From the corner of her eye, she saw him set the blanket down on an empty part of the counter, but he didn’t make a move for the door. She felt his eyes on her and became fully aware of how terrible she must look. She was sure her hair was disheveled. Her smock, which had never been the height of fashion, was covered with food splatters, and her hands and arms were covered in dough and flour.
Then he started walking closer to her, and she felt her heart skip a beat. Stupid, reckless heart, she chastised as she tried to get herself under control. She still couldn’t look at him and couldn’t think of a thing to say.
He stopped just before her and simply waited…waited for what? Why wasn’t he saying anything? Her hands began kneading more and more slowly until finally she was perfectly still. He remained right where he was, silent and sure. She swallowed and finally looked up at him. For a moment he just stared at her, and then he smiled and nodded.
“What?” Rida asked nervously. “Why did you nod?”
Jano tilted his head, still keeping that endearing smile. “Thought I must have been exaggerating, but I wasn’t.”
Rida’s brows drew together. “Exaggerating what, exactly?”
“Those beautiful eyes of yours in such a pretty face,” he glanced down momentarily as if a bit embarrassed at his honesty, but then he took a deep breath and leaned closer. “Even with the flour.”
“What?” Rida asked in alarm.
Before she could do a thing, he reached out a hand to brush the white powder off her cheek. He didn’t remove his hand, though.
“I want to court you, Rida.”
She shook her head slightly. “I already told you…”
“I know what you said,” Jano interrupted. “You’re wrong, and I’m going to prove it to you. It’ll be a lot easier, though, if you let me court you.”
“Jano,” Rida said softly, her voice sad. “I can’t.”
“You’re scared,” he accused. “That’s all it is.”
Rida laughed. “Yes, I am and for a very good reason.”
“No, it’s not,” Jano argued. “Your head is telling you that rejecting me is the wise move, but you read people with your heart. What does your heart tell you I’m going to do?”
Rida shook her head slowly and bit her lip. Jano stayed silent, waiting.
“How do I know that it’s telling me the truth? How do I know that it’s not just me hoping for the impossible?”
“When you first met me, you didn’t know what was or was not possible. It was just you and me, a simple boy and a simple girl, nothing else. That’s what you can trust.”
They were both quiet for a while, and finally, Jano dropped his hand to his side.
“I’m going to stop by tomorrow, and I’m going to ask you to go to lunch with me. You can say yes, or you can say no, but I’m not going to stop until you finally give me a chance.” He paused and looked away, debating with himself. “I haven’t ever gone against my logic. Logic is telling me that pursuing this is reckless, that I could lose my inheritance, that I could lose family ties, that it might not even work despite everything…but it feels right. I have this good feeling when I’m with you, and I don’t want that to go away. If I am willing to take this risk, why can’t you?”
With that he turned and left the shop, left her standing there with her hands in dough that was just as limp as her entire body felt at the moment. She turned to the wall for support, feeling happy and confused and scared and overwhelmed and special…so very, very special.

* * * * * *

Jano did come the next day, just as he’d said. Rida had spent a sleepless night trying to decide exactly what she was going to say. She had settled on telling him no, but when the time came, a different word slipped out instead.
They enjoyed themselves, as they always had together, and he came the next day and the next and the next. She invited him to dinner with her family, and while it started out a bit stiffly – her parents just did not know what to do with a man like him in their humble home – the evening ended in laughter. Rida could tell that she had been completely wrong about him wanting to be with some wealthy girl, about him getting bored with her or being ashamed of her because of her common background. He was completely devoted. However, now she was worried about how his family was handling it, and whether or not he was actually giving up his inheritance as he had mentioned before. They had been courting four months when she finally got up the courage to ask him.
“Jano,” she began hesitantly as they walked along a path at the edge of the woods. “Your family isn’t too very upset about all this, are they?”
His jaw hardened almost imperceptibly, but he quickly turned to her with a smile. “My mother is looking forward to meeting you. I wrote to her, asking if she would come here so you and my parents could get to know one another. She isn’t particularly fond of small towns, so she very rarely comes with Pa and I when we visit, but she is planning to stay for a week and should arrive in two days.”
“Oh!” Rida said. “I didn’t mean to cause her any trouble.”
Jano laughed. “It is absolutely no trouble. Besides, she needs the fresh air.”
He twined his fingers through hers as they continued on.
“You didn’t mention your father,” Rida finally pressed.
“He’s being difficult,” Jano said with a frown. “He’s convinced that you’re after our money, but I know that once he meets you, he’ll love you and feel foolish for even thinking such a thing. He truly is a good man, but he’s quite stubborn.”
Rida cut her eyes up at him. “And you would know nothing of being stubborn, would you?”
Jano gave a guilty smile. “I come by it honestly, but I don’t think I’m as bad as he is.”
“Well, I will work extra hard to win him over because I know that it’s important to you.”
Jano shook his head. “It’s only important to me because I know that you are worried about it. It would make our lives easier, no doubt, but nothing is going to change if Pa doesn’t come around…which he will.”
The following two days were stressful. Rida’s mother made it a little less so when she purchased a beautiful, new dress for Rida to wear to the dinner. When she put it on that evening, she felt more confident than she could have imagined. Jano picked her up in a carriage and gave her encouraging smiles as he led her up the stairs to his home. The house was impressive and a bit intimidating, as was the butler that opened the door…until he gave her wink of encouragement.
Jano’s mother enveloped her in a hug the moment they stepped into the parlor, and her excited chatter filled the room and further lessened Rida’s worry. Then she saw the impressive figure that was Jano’s father. He was scrutinizing her, showing little emotion. However, he seemed so much like Jano that Rida instantly relaxed. She summoned up her most dazzling smile, reached into the small bag she had kept close, and walked right up to him.
“Lord Chanthen, I have just the thing for you.”
One brow rose in intrigued surprise.
Rida drew out a small morsel wrapped in cloth and presented it to him.
“I’m sure you were told that my family owns a bakery, which is not quite what you wished for your son, but I’m hoping that once you taste this little treat, you’ll see exactly why our little bakery is so special.”
Lord Chanthen looked down at the thing in his hand but didn’t make a move to unwrap it. Rida leaned forward slightly.
“I know one shouldn’t eat dessert before dinner, but I won’t tell a soul if you take a bite,” she whispered.
Despite himself, a corner of his lips lifted, and he unwrapped the tiny pecan pie she had painstakingly made for him that morning.
“See if you can guess my secret ingredient,” she challenged.
His eyes sparkled, and he took a small bite. A full grin spread across his face at the taste.
“This is fantastic. You made it?”
“Thank you; I did. Jano told me that pecan was your favorite.”
“It is.” He cleared his throat. “You’ve surprised me.”
Rida laughed. “Hopefully in a good way.”
“I believe so,” he said thoughtfully just as the bell announcing dinner rang.
Lord Chanthen offered her his arm. “May I?”
Rida smiled as she took it. “You may.”
“So what is the secret ingredient?” Lord Chanthen asked as he led her to his seat.
She settled into it and glanced upward. “I only share my secret ingredient with family.”
Lord Chanthen pushed in her chair and stood a moment behind it.
“Then I do not see any reason why you cannot tell me,” he finally said.
Rida nearly broke her neck as she whirled around to face him, her gaze hopeful. What she found in his eyes was acceptance. She could hardly contain her excitement, but somehow miraculously, she managed to keep her voice steady as she responded.
“Well, in that case, sir, I will tell you that when baking, you can never go wrong with just a pinch of cinnamon.”

 
 
 
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