The dragon watched the girl as she climbed up, the sun casting gold light through the oak’s crown.
“Careful,” the dragon warned.
“You know I’m safe, Rustblade,” she replied. She spent half her time climbing, and she knew each branch and twig. She stood on a limb for a moment, and decided to go back down. When she reached the grass, she stretched and half-curled her fingers as if stretching claws.
“You want a fight, don’t you, Brightheart?” Rustblade asked, and the girl laughed harshly in return, grinning. Getting up, Rustblade lumbered out of the cave and into the clearing about his home. Brightheart ran towards Rustblade, snarling just as the dragon always did. Brightheart leapt over Rustblade’s head and spun around to face him again. Curling her fingers again, she raked her nails across the dragon’s scales. Rustblade raised his huge paw and swung at the girl, who ducked and ran up onto his shoulders. Rustblade shook Brightheart, but she didn’t budge. She held his ivory horns tight and when his head was still again she bit him hard with her blunt teeth. Rustblade roared.
“Alright, you win,” accepted Rustblade, and Brightheart laughed.
“You fought well,” she replied.
“So did you,” smiled Rustblade.
The sun set as both girl and dragon ate. Brightheart ate half a deer and Rustblade ate the rest and another. Brightheart climbed up half the mountain their caverns belonged to to see the last of the day, then came back down and snuggled under Rustblade’s wing. When the sun brought the dawn, each woke and went to hunt again. Afterwards, Brightheart sat in the sun carving a stone into a gem. The sun warmed her back and hair, and when she got tired of carving she curled into a ball and slept. When she woke, it was afternoon. Rustblade was crunching some bones, and there was a rabbit lying on the ground for Brightheart. She thanked the dragon and ate.
“Brightheart, I think it’s time you learned the forest on your own. Hunt our dinner and tell me when you return,” Rustblade offered.
“But you won’t be there. You’re always with me,” Brightheart wrinkled her brow, huffing.
“Then take one of my scales,” replied Rustblade, and scratched at one until it peeled off.
“Didn’t that hurt?” Brightheart asked as she picked the scale from the ground.
“Only a little, but if it’ll keep you safe then it doesn’t matter,” Rustblade smiled, and Brightheart in return. The scale was a dirty grey and a dull rusty colour. It looked as though it was rough but was instead smooth and polished. It had a round end and a sharp end, and a small ridge down the middle on the top. Brightheart turned it over in her hand then put it in her hair. Although the scale was quite dull, it stood out in her midnight hair.
Then Brightheart entered the forest alone. She wandered in the shadows and sunlight. Wind rustled the leaves and birds sang, yet Brightheart felt as though it was silence she walked in. there was always the rumbling of Rustblade’s breaths, with his heavy footsteps or thunderous wings as he flew. And whenever they were in the woods, they were hunting, but Brightheart didn’t have to hunt quite yet, so she continued walking in the emptiness of the sounds of the forest. The grass and moss was green and soft beneath her feet, and patches of violets spread across the woodland. Brightheart eventually grew bored of walking, so she climbed a tree, and when she reached to top, she found the same view as when she flew with Rustblade. Brightheart had watched this view since she could ride Rustblade, yet she never really looked past the first few fields behind the forest. Beyond the woods were fields and crops of wheat and vegetables, pastures where sheep and cattle roamed, then a town, and a hill with a castle on it. The hill was tall, as were the castle’s towers. The castle was made of stone, greyed and dulled by time, and ivory crept up most of the walls. The sun began to cast a gold light onto the mountains behind Brightheart, sending the castle into shadow.
Brightheart climbed back down and began to hunt. A herd of elk had gone through while she was in the tree, so she followed the tracks. She hunted through the twilight, eventually getting close enough that she could draw her dagger, leap from the shadows of an oak, and land on an elk with her dagger in its shoulder. The rest of the herd scattered and when Brightheart’s elk lay still she began the arduous way back to her home in Rustblade’s cave. She would kill two as they normally did, only she was alone and elk are heavy. When she reached the caverns, Rustblade woke and flamed the elk for a moment, then divided it into three; two parts for him and one for Brightheart. They ate beneath the starlight and thin crescent moon, then the dragon curled up and the girl snuggled against his belly, the scale still in her tangled midnight hair. A wild girl, who spent her energy each day and fell asleep fast, never seeming hearing the faint rumble that seemed to draw nearer each night. Or maybe it could only be heard to a dragon’s ears, however heightened Brightheart’s senses were.
Brightheart woke even before the first owl went home, out a nightmare of a thunderstorm where Rustblade became lost to her. The dragon opened one eye at her movements and sent her out to forage and hunt, after getting Brightheart to find a torch and lighting it for her. Brightheart checked her scale and adjusted it, then went off to hunt in the night. Her torch flickered in the wind and she shivered a little. Her mind wandered through her nightmare, and she wondered what had happened, but then an owl hooted somewhere above the trees and something rustled in the bush, startling Brightheart. A moment later, a herd of deer ran past. She drew her dagger and ran after them, catching up to the last deer in a few seconds. She killed it and dragged it back to Rustblade, then went out to forage for berries and vegetables.
Rustblade ate, and Brightheart thought he’d also had a nightmare, since he appeared nervous and startled easily.
“Are you alright?” Brightheart asked, and Rustblade slowly turned to face her, a strange look in his eyes.
“No,” he sighed with a deep rumble in his throat, “but it’s just a nightmare.”
“What about?” Brightheart tilted her head and furrowed her brow, but Rustblade only shook his head and continued eating. When they were finished, Brightheart went back out into the forest. She walked and walked, then came across a stream. It was a thin little brook, filled with rocks. Brightheart crouched over and cupped her hands, splashing her face with the cool clear water. Filling her hands again, she drank and stayed a while in the peace. A bird sang and a breeze blew her hair across her face. Brightheart closed her eyes and breathed in, and when she opened them again she pushed herself up and continued walking, only this time she didn’t wander. She meandered, wanting to reach all ends of the forest but at the same time still amble about.
After a while, Brightheart found a clearing, and saw that it was nearing midday. She went on, now keeping an eye out for berries and burdock. She stained her hands and mouth as she ate, and almost as soon as she had finished she spotted a burdock plant. Brightheart found a strong stick and began digging. When she finally managed to yank it out of the ground, she sat for a moment dusting off her gritty hands before eating it. When she finished, Brightheart moved to a sunny spot and wondered what Rustblade’s nightmare was. Had he also dreamt of a thunderstorm? There was no way to find out, since he rarely explained his dreams. Then, with a sigh of dismay, Brightheart realised that Rustblade would be hungry. She stood up and ran back to the cave to ask what food he wanted, wishing to make him feel better by bringing whatever he wanted rather than what she got. And apart from that, no birds were singing and a fierce wind was blowing. Something was surely wrong.
The wind grew wilder the nearer to her home Brightheart ran. At last she reached her cave, but Rustblade wasn’t there. He never went anywhere without her. A gust of wind forced Brightheart to stumble back, and a roar turned her face towards the sky. Rustblade was fighting another dragon, who was the colour of ravens. They each tried to burn the other, scratch each other, bring the other out of the sky.
“Rustblade!” Brightheart screamed, baring her teeth and growling as she curled her fingers.
“Go, dear one! Hide and don’t let the dragon find you!” he roared, never losing focus on the other dragon, but Brightheart was sure that he was not going well. She bolted into the caverns with fists held so tight that her sharp nails dug into her hand, scampering through the twists until she found the deepest nook, and cramped herself in, piled Rustblade’s old pile of gold around and left only a small gap between the gold and her corner. The passage into her space was small and the dragon was huge. Brightheart trembled, hoping the other dragon didn’t bring her caverns down into rubble around her as he looked for her. If he looked for her. But he was a huge dragon, fighting Rustblade and winning. Brightheart was deep inside the mountain, and the roars reached even there. It sounded as if a relentless and vicious storm was raging on outside, with the roars as thunder and the wing beats great gusts of wind and torrents of rain. Brightheart took Rustblade’s scale from her hair and stared at it. She wanted to carve something, but she was too scared to move from her spot and risk getting found.
For ages Brightheart sat in the dark with the pile of gold before her and the stone nook behind her. It felt like hours, but might only have been minutes. At last, there came one final deep shuddering roar and a resounding rumbling growl, and silence. A shiver racked Brightheart’s body, and she continued sitting in her corner, not knowing if Rustblade was alright. For ages more she waited, preferring to wait than find him gone. Eventually the heavy thuds of the dragon came, shifting the gold. The tops of the piles slid down in chiming twinkling music, yet Brightheart could only focus on the uneven timing and heaviness of each of the dragon’s steps.
“Brightheart? Where are you?” asked Rustblade, almost moaning.
“Here!” she called, and then the cave was filled with flame-light. Brightheart crawled out from her nook, sending the gold tumbling down, and as she drew herself up to standing, a tiara slid to her feet.
“Oh, I was about to look for that.”
“Why? And are you alright? What happened?” Brightheart picked up the tiara. It was gold, like the rest of Rustblade’s treasures, and set with a stone the colour of boysenberries.
“That dragon is evil, filled with rage and the desire to destroy. It came here because the castle on the hill has something it wants, probably gold. And believe it or not, it has a name and a hunter. It can itself be destroyed, though I pity the person who can for their time ahead, and wish I could keep them here in safety forever but I can’t.”
“What’s its name?”
“I don’t know,” Rustblade sighed, then began to take a step forward but stumbled. Brightheart bit her lip.
“Are you alright?”
“No. The dragon managed to loosen a scale, and so I’ve got a huge gash on my foreleg.”
“I’ll get something for you. Stay here and don’t move.”
Brightheart ran through the stone halls and went through the small stores of herbs. She took a little of everything she knew would help, several canteens of water, and lengths of cloth. Back to the dragon she hurried, being careful not to drop any of the jars that she’d bundled into the cloth. When she returned to the dragon, she knelt down beside him and washed the wound before smearing the mixtures in and wrapping Rustblade’s foreleg tightly with the cloth. Brightheart sat back for a moment, as Rustblade cautiously got up and lumbered over to one of the walls. He blew hard and layers of dust swirled around before settling. Painted on the wall were vague images of a knight holding a baby, and a dragon.
“What’s that?” Brightheart pointed to the wall, and Rustblade stretched out his head to point with his snout. He pointed to the first group of images; the knight riding a horse with the Princess in his arms.
“The knight brought a baby to me on the night of the battle between the Dark Dragon, the werewolves and werecats, and the soldiers of King. The castle was burned and the King and Queen were killed. The castle has been rebuilt, as you would have seen, but it isn’t used as a palace any more. The werewolf king – the werewolves and werecats won the battle – lives elsewhere. The knight said that the baby’s name is Ailith and rode back through the forest,” Rustblade explained, and moved on to the next image, “Here, I raise the Princess, and she grows. She is wild and untameable, a dragon in all but looks. She even has the habits of a dragon.” Brightheart smiled at that, thinking that she was the same as the Princess in so many ways, wanting to meet her. Rustblade lumbered away and came back with his bad paw covered in something colourful.
“And now…” the dragon painted with his paw, and when he finished, he continued his explanation. “And now I tell you this, after fighting that evil dragon, too wounded to look after you any more, after showing you the paintings. I tell you that you are Ailith the Princess, and you must go to the castle to learn wizardry. I don’t want to send you there, but I must, and you will find out why soon. I also hope that you can return to me sometime after you have left.”
“How can I be Ailith if you have always called me Brightheart?”
“Because Ailith isn’t much of a dragon name. Besides, you might be different and your future different if I didn’t. Would you be such like me if you were Ailith not Brightheart?”
“I suppose not.”
“And you do have such a bright heart. I don’t advise you to be Ailith until you leave the castle.”
Rustblade watched Brightheart climb the oak, dagger in hand. She found a suitable branch and began sawing at it with her dagger. When it came off, she threw it down and jumped down herself.
“What are you doing?” asked Rustblade.
“I’m going to carve a staff,” replied Brightheart, laughing harshly. She grabbed her carving things from the cave and sat in the sunshine to carve. At the bottom she sharpened it, and at the top she carved the smaller branches she had left into a twining, patterned knot. As the day drew on, she smoothed everything and searched the gold piles for a jewel to fit into the knot. Rustblade helped to fit the jewel, then he scratched a mark into the wood and claimed the staff finished.
Brightheart returned from hunting just past sunset, and the girl and dragon ate. It would be their last meal together, since when the morning came Brightheart would leave. Brightheart had trouble sleeping, and woke throughout the night. At some point after the moon had set, Brightheart made no effort to continue sleeping, and instead stayed up while she and Rustblade sang old dragon songs of dragon lore. They sang the echoing songs of gold and jewels, of hunting in the night amongst flames, of sleeping for years beneath blankets of stone, of sometimes wishing for a friend, of the fierce pleasure of flying above the clouds in the starlight. When at last dawn came and the birds began their songs, Brightheart was loath to leave, but Rustblade had said she must. Brightheart packed her small collection of belongings into a small pack, carefully placing the tiara among her things.
“Dear one, go to the castle and stay there until you cannot learn more about the Dark Dragon or the werewolves and werecats. Stay there until you cannot learn any more moon spells,” Rustblade instructed.
“Take care of yourself, Rustblade. I know you will want to sleep for the years, but you must stay awake for one month before you enter the dreaming realm. I will return to you one day. I will defeat those that made my life here by ruining it in the castle. I will be Ailith, but I will forever be your Brightheart, an untameable dragon princess,” Brightheart promised, her eyes misty, as were Rustblade’s.
“My Brightheart, my wild one, the Princess of Goldhalls, I bid you farewell,” the dragon said.
“I also bid you farewell, and hope you heal fast and enjoy your sleep, my dragon of caverns and gold, the great Rustblade,” replied the girl, and the two parted.
Brightheart trudged into the forest, staining her fingers with berry juice as she ate. The usual brightness and colours seemed dull and pale to her. By the time she reached the edge of the woods and the beginning of the fields, it was close to midday. Brightheart had been eating berries as she walked all morning, so she didn’t bother about lunch. She took one look around the forest, and stepped into the fields. She walked through the rows of wheat and corn, sometimes by the fences of paddocks that held cattle or sheep. As the westering sun dragged the day on, Brightheart continued past the town and up the hill to the castle.
A man-made moat surrounded the castle, and a drawbridge was held back over the water. The towers were tall, blackened with soot, and mostly covered with ivy. The air was thick with magic, and smelled so different from Brightheart’s forest and caverns. Suddenly, a rough yet light voice called down and startled the girl. She gripped her staff tighter, curling her fingers out of habit, and looked up to see a man leaning over the battlements.
“Ho! What brings you here so late in the day?” he cried.
“I was told to come and learn,” Brightheart replied, shading her eyes with a dusty hand.
“Then come. I’ll take you to the headmaster, if you’ll wait a minute,” the man said, and he disappeared from sight. After a moment, chains began to grate in a similar way to Rustblade’s growls. Brightheart gripped her staff and straightened her dragon’s scale. A moment more, and the drawbridge was lowered.
“There you go,” the man smiled, and Brightheart crossed into the castle. “So, where did you hear about us?”
“A dragon told me,” Brightheart answered, deciding that she would say as little as possible about who she was. The pair walked through the stone halls, Torin slightly in front as he lead Brightheart.
“And oh!, how rude of me. Let’s begin again. My name is Torin,” he introduced himself.
“I’m Brightheart,” she replied.
“That’s a strange name. Any reason to it?” Torin asked.
“I have a bright heart. It’s a dragon name,” Brightheart explained.
“Do… you have a normal name?” Torin hesitated, and Brightheart shook her head.
Then they came upon a door, and Torin knocked.
“Come in,” a husky, fruity voice said, the pair entered the room. The headmaster sat in an old armchair at a desk.
“Ah, Torin. Who is this, may I ask?” the headmaster inquired.
“I’m Brightheart. I’ve come to learn wizardry,” Brightheart answered, and the headmaster nodded.
“Well, I’m Riverrune. You’ve come to the right place. I’ll find you a dorm and help you settle in tonight,” Riverrune said.
“Isn’t that a dragon name?” Brightheart frowned.
“It’s nice I think. Anyway, you must be hungry. Come on, I show you to the dinning hall,” Riverrune avoided a proper answer, then stood and led Torin and Brightheart out of the room. Torin followed for a little while, then turned down a different path, back to the drawbridge.
As Riverrune and Brightheart walked, warm aromas drifted through the corridors, as did cheerful chatter. At last they entered a huge hall where a few hundred students sat eating. Several looked their way when they appeared in the doorway, wondering at Brightheart’s wild hair, nervous face, and her beautiful staff. Riverrune searched the crowd for an empty seat, and pointed one out when he found one. Brightheart kept her head down as she walked between the rows of tables, gripping her staff tightly. At last she found the seat and sat, keeping the staff close and out of the way.
“Hi, I’m Kyra. Are you new?” asked a girl across from Brightheart, and she gave a timid nod before introducing herself.
“This may sound strange, but you don’t look as if you’ve ever been among, well, humans very much. Where do you come from?” Yes, there were so many humans about Brightheart, and it was strange to her. And Kyra had asked one of the questions Brightheart didn’t want to have to answer.
“I come from under the mountain and through the forest,” Brightheart replied slowly, unsure where it would lead and what Kyra would make of it.
“Oh, you mean from the old dwarf city in the Stonefells?”
“No, I mean under the mountain and through the forest,” Brightheart repeated, trying to focus on not being her dragon self. Her eyes wandered to a bowl of soup.
“You must be hungry, if you came all that way today, wherever from. Here, have my bread, I don’t want it,” Kyra smiled, offering the role of bread.
It was still a little warm from the ovens. Brightheart took it, and turned it over and over as she examined it. It was crispy on the outside, smelt amazing, and was soft when Brightheart bit into it. She devoured it, and Kyra served her some soup with another bread roll. Brightheart dipped her fingers in, and when she found it to be liquid, she frowned and licked her fingers before doing it again.
“There is a spoon,” Kyra laughed, pointing it out, “And you might need a napkin too.” Brightheart wiped her fingers on the napkin and picked up the spoon. She held it upright and dipped it in, but of course that failed. Kyra showed Brightheart how to use her spoon, and once she had it mastered the soup and bread role quickly vanished. The girls chattered for a while, before Riverrune walked up to the stage and called for silence.
“Most of you would have noticed someone walking past the tables earlier. I’d like for you all to give Brightheart a very warm welcome-” the students erupted into cheers and applause, and when they settled, Riverrune continued, “and if you have her in your classes please make an effort to say hello. Out of the three houses, – Liraly, Taurinou, and Atunfe – she will be in Liraly. Thank you.” About a third of the students erupted again, some whooping, and overall causing a commotion that made Brightheart anxious.
“Come on, let’s ask Riverrune whose dorm you’re in,” Kyra said, and took Brightheart by the hand, dragging her through the crowd to the doorway. Brightheart grabbed her bundle and staff, and hurried after Kyra. Riverrune was watching from the doorway, beckoning to Brightheart. She somehow made her way to the pair without being shoved too much.
“Liraly is the house you’re in. It has a copper birch leaf as its symbol,” replied Kyra as Riverrune turned and led the girls to the Eastern Tower.
“Lady Lavender will find you a dorm,” said Riverrune when they reached the Tower. Kyra groaned.
“Why Lady Livy? Wouldn’t Rosie be better right now?” Brightheart looked to Kyra then Riverrune.
“Maybe, but Lady Rosemary is busy right now,” Riverrune answered, and Kyra sighed. “Lady Lavender, can you please find Brightheart a dorm?” A moment later, the door opened and Lady Lavender led Brightheart and Kyra up the stairs.
At the top was another door, and when Lady Lavender opened it Brightheart found herself in a wide room filled with chattering people. A fire burned in the hearth, casting a familiar light through the room.
“Stay here, and I’ll find you a dorm,” Lady Lavender instructed. Brightheart sank into an armchair and waited. It was so squishy and soft, and as Brightheart made herself as small as possible the sides became shadows. The chattering grew louder and the flames dimmer as Brightheart sat. She closed her eyes for a moment, and the chatter turned to roars of dragons fighting.
“Brightheart?” Rustblade called, and Brightheart jumped, grabbing her staff and opening her eyes. She sighed in relief that the voice was actually Lady Lavender, but glared anyway.
“Don’t scare me,” Brightheart growled, curling her fingers.
“You looked like you were asleep,” Lady Lavender raised her eyebrows.
“I wasn’t. Anyway, did you find me a dorm?”
“Yes, with Kyra.” Kyra walked over, smiling at Brightheart as she stood.
“Don’t smile at me like that. You look like I’m a kitten you just scared. She scared me, you didn’t scare me, and it’s neither of your business either. Just show me the dorm before this room gives me nightmares, please.”
Kyra sighed and walked up a staircase that Brightheart hadn’t noticed. When Kyra stopped, Brightheart noticed the quiet even so close to the common room and a thin whistling noise. Kyra knocked on a door and went in as Brightheart followed. There were four bunkbeds, and another girl sitting on the closest.
“You can have either of the top bunks,” Kyra said, and Brightheart immediately climbed up onto the furthest bunk, claiming it as hers.
“Hmm?” the other girl looked up, looking alarmed.
“The new girl’s in our room,” Kyra explained.
“Hey Brightheart. I’m Amaya, but you can call me Ama,” the girl grinned, and went back to reading.
“Alright, well I’m tired. You two can do whatever. Oh, and Ama, can you close the window please?” Kyra plonked herself onto her bed and began taking her shoes off.
“But I like it,” frowned Brightheart, realising where the faint whistle was coming from. A slight breeze was flowing through the window, rustling Ama’s pages. Brightheart jumped down and stared outside the window. She could just see the mountains in the twilight, and when she looked carefully she could just make out a shadow where her cave would be. Rustblade flew into the cave and left a spiralling ribbon of smoke behind. Brightheart sighed, wishing to be back with him and eating elk they had hunted together. She turned towards the stars, looking for the moon, but it was too thin to give any light.
“You can’t learn spells and words from looking at the stars. If you’re in our classes then you’ll have astronomy tomorrow,” Ama said, closing her book.
“Astronomy? I didn’t think that was wizardry,” Brightheart turned around.
“It’s not. And yet it is. You’ll find out,” Ama answered, rolling over, “Get some rest.”
“Brightheart,” Rustblade called, but she knew something was wrong. There was no rumbling, and he sounded entirely wrong. The blurry outline of a beam appeared, and Brightheart sat up.
“You awake? Good, come on, it’s breakfast time!” Kyra said as Brightheart pushed her blankets aside.
Brightheart dressed and grabbed her staff then followed Kyra and Ama down the stairs.
“Do you really need your staff?” Kyra asked.
“Yes. I’m not leaving it anywhere,” Brightheart replied, suddenly checking her hair for Rustblade’s scale. It was safely tucked behind a knot, and once Brightheart was satisfied with its placing she turned her attention to wondering what she might learn.
The dinning hall was loud with chatter. Brightheart gripped her staff tighter, trying to focus on something other than sound. She inhaled, discovering the smell of scrambled eggs and porridge.
“Mmm, that smells amazing! Let’s find seats,” Brightheart exclaimed, and the trio hurried to sit down.
“Quiet down!” shouted someone, and everyone looked to the stage. A tall, black-haired man was standing there.
“I hope you all had a good night’s rest and are ready for today. Just remember there is fencing club on today. If you would like to sign up please see myself or Sir Kantery. You may eat now,” he said, and walked off the stage.
“Who was that?” Brightheart asked.
“Sir Owen, but we all call him O,” Kyra answered, serving herself a bowl full of porridge. Ama filled her bowl with scrambled eggs.
“Oh. Which should I have?”
“I think I’ll have scrambled eggs,” Brightheart served herself and dug in.
“So where do I find out what classes I have?”
“Um, I think you ask O,” Ama answered without looking up from her book. Somehow she was reading as she ate. Brightheart nodded, finished eating, and ate a second bowl of scrambled eggs.
Having asked Sir Owen what classes she had and been taught how to read a timetable, Brightheart made her way to her first class. The teacher came and the class walked in, picking seats. Brightheart was pushed in as the rest stumbled past, leaving almost no chance for her to find a good spot.
“Brightheart, come sit here!” called Ama, with her hand on a desk to defend from any others. Brightheart sat, laying her staff on the ground beside her, and settled. The class quietened quickly, and the teacher began. Ama and Kyra clearly found it boring, but Brightheart was curious to learn spells and magic. Lady Vaerian, or the Stone as everyone called her, was the teacher of basic spells. She didn’t seem to quite explain enough, but after years of watching the forest grow as she sat in the sun, Brightheart understood easily. As the lesson ended, Lady Vaerian complimented Brightheart. Kyra, Ama, and Brightheart pushed through the crowds to their next class, whose teacher was a tall, smiling man. Ama said his name was Sir Theodric and his nickname was Sir Theo. He was a warm kind of person, the kind that earns student’s respect by being kind and wise, and teasing each just as friends have jokes.
After Sir Theo’s class of history of magic, Brightheart followed Kyra and Ama to attack and defence. The teacher was Lady Archer, or Arrow. Even though they didn’t get to try any spells Brightheart knew it was probably the most important class for her quest. Besides, Arrow was just like Brightheart; wild and brave. The last lesson of the day was with Sir Kantery – Centaur – in astronomy.
“Ah, Brightheart. Welcome to my class and to the school – Aker’inra. I expect you will quite enjoy it here, and if anything is troubling you then feel free to come and talk to me,” Centaur smiled as Brightheart followed Ama in.
“Thanks,” she replied, sitting and settling, waiting until he began. It was hard for Brightheart to make up her mind whether she liked history of magic or astronomy best, and despite Sir Theo’s warmth, she decided astronomy was best. She could watch the skies turn all night without getting bored and do it again the next day and the next, and she was eager to know what a moon spell was.
The girls walked to the dinning hall for lunch together, and when that was finished Brightheart headed back to the dorms for a while. She stood looking out the window for ages, watching the forest and mountains for Rustblade’s smoke, anything to reassure herself of his well-being, but there was nothing.
“What are you humming?” Kyra asked, and Brightheart spun around in shock.
“How long have you been there?” she asked, baring her teeth.
“Only a little while. It’s a pretty song,” Kyra replied, biting her lip, wondering at Brightheart’s fleeting emotions.
“You shouldn’t know that. You should-,” Brightheart snapped then sighed, “Sorry, I shouldn’t snap. You scared me, and I’m still getting used to, well, people.”
“It’s alright, Brightheart. I forgot you might need space. I’ll knock next time,” Kyra said.
“Thanks. Um, so how much did you hear?” Kyra hummed for a few seconds then stopped and Brightheart nodded.
“Am I allowed to know what song you were humming?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Do you want to come with me and play a game of hide and seek tips?”
The girls traipsed down the stairs and through the school, with Kyra inviting others to come as they went. At last they reached the field, with a huge group of people behind them. Kyra explained the game and picked two people to count with her; one was Connel and the other was Kella. They counted aloud as everyone dispersed into the surroundings. Brightheart ran and found somewhere to hide, crouching low with her staff beside her. She waited as the counters droned on, then suddenly they called in unison ‘ready or not, hear we come!’. There were the thuds of running feet and cries of people being found. The runners grew with time, and when someone cried that they’d found Brightheart she jumped up and took off, pretending that she was hunting a pack of elk. She ran until her breath stayed behind and still carried on, determined to win. Looking over her shoulder, Brightheart saw the others far behind. She laughed and continued, slower now in the knowledge that she was faster. Once her breath returned a bit, Brightheart sped up again, but Kyra seemed resolute in her decision to chase. Kyra cut corners and zigzagged about in Brightheart’s steps. The girls ran on, until Kyra began to catch up and finally caught Brightheart. They laughed and panted, waiting for their breath to return and stay.
The days passed and Brightheart began to get used to the school. She slowly formed a group of friends and the beginnings of a routine as she familiarised herself with how people do things and why, and what everything was. Ama taught Brightheart how to use a quill and she slowly learned to write. The girls grew closer, and Brightheart used to keeping her past a secret. The teachers became accustomed to her strange ways.
“Do you really need to carry around a staff all the time? You’re in a school,” spat Weylen.
“I will take my staff where I like. Leave me alone,” Brightheart growled, baring her teeth, continuing walking without turning her head.
“I bet you’re not even human, I think you’re a werewolf, and one who has contact with the Dark Dragon no less! Look at your hair; it has a dragon scale in it,” Weylen taunted.
“I am a wild one who is neither human nor your despicable kind, who mocks and bullies others for being different. I am not a werewolf, but I think you might be. Do not annoy me or you’ll find yourself with at least a bruise if not more. I know how to kill,” Brightheart walked on, Kyra and Ama beginning to mutter besides her. Weylen stood dumbstruck for a moment, the others around him smirking.
“You just insulted me! You liar, you said you wouldn’t bully or mock because of difference!”
“I was responding, calmly and patiently. Leave me alone, or you’ll find yourself with a sore arm.”
Don’t threaten me! I’m in my third year here, and you are in your first year. You haven’t had any combat classes and you’re not in the fencing or archery clubs.”
“I don’t need that. Have you ever hunted? Have you a blade or sharp point? No, I see none; all I see is a weak tormentor. Leave me alone,” Brightheart gripped her staff tighter, speeding her pace to get away from Weylen. The students began to snicker.
“How do you stay calm? It takes a lifetime of practise for most people to even control themselves in that situation,” Kyra asked.
“Secrets and confidence in those,” Brightheart replied. Kyra and Ama had learned not to interrupt Brightheart when she replied to Weylen, and she could clearly handle it.
Centaur wandered about the classroom as the class copied from the board.
“Look here. You’re learning the alphabet for the language of the stars; Sûtaŕynæ, which is Starion in our tongue. I’m also going to hand out an assignment, then I’ll explain it and write some words for you to learn on the board,” he said, picking up a stack of scrolls tied with blue string. When Centaur put one on Brightheart’s desk, she stopped it from rolling away and hurriedly finished copying. Then she untied the string and unrolled the parchment.
“I have assigned you all a star to talk to. You need to organise eight questions to ask them. You must record you questions and their answers, and of course you will need to speak in Starion. I have told the Starion about this and they will tell me if you spoke to them. You have two weeks from today,” Centaur explained. “Now, look here, did I teach you how to speak to the stars?” There was a murmur of dissent.
“I thought not. Alright, so it’s a sort of telepathy. You have to start by thinking a spell of calling and wait until they reply to you. Has everybody got that?” Centaur asked and the class mumbled ‘yes’. Centaur began writing words on the board, and the class began copying, filling the air with the sound of scratching quills.
“So now we have homework. How are you going to plan it out, Brightheart?” asked Ama as she and Brightheart entered their dorm.
“What do you do?” she replied, stretching out onto the floor where the window let the sun creep in.
“I divide it into sections and set deadlines for them, with the deadline of the last section a few days before I have to hand it in,” Ama answered. “I think it’ll work quite well for you.”
“Alright then. So we have to come up with questions to ask our star, practise the calling spell, then call our star and talk to them,” Brightheart suggested.
“Don’t forget practising our questions and writing them down,” added Ama, and Brightheart nodded. “Which star have you got?”
“Tŕnjyl. I think she’s the brightest in the arrow constellation. What’s yours?”
“Ah yes, Primis Sagitta by our names. I wish I had Secondus Sagitta, I hear he’s quite interesting. Lady Archer quite likes talking to him. Anyway, I’ve got Kintûlral, and she’s Quartus Imber.” The girls wrote out their plan and started coming up with questions to ask their stars.
“Kella’s hurt and Connel’s missing!” Kyra flung open the door, panting and frightened.
“What?” Brightheart looked up from the assignment, grabbing her staff.
“We were playing hide and seek, I was in and when I found Kella she had scratches on her arm and a sprained ankle and she said that Connel had been attacked and-” Kyra babbled.
“Woah, slow down. Kella had scratches?” Ama asked.
“Yeah, she said a creature attack Connel who was hiding near her, so she tried to stop it but it got away anyway. Come on!” Kyra continued then turned and flew down the stairs, leaving Brightheart and Ama to glance at each other before racing down after her.
Kyra led them to a small crowd of students who were all mumbling questions about what had happened. A few teachers were standing around, herding the students away.
“Alright, quiet please! Would someone explain what happened, calmly and slowly?” called Riverrune, “Kyra, come here.” Kyra made her way to the headmaster, trembling and still panting. Brightheart and Ama followed her part of the way to get closer.
“We were playing hide and seek,” Kyra said, looking at Kella who was curled up in a ball with Lady Rosemary by her side, then paused and took a deep breath before beginning again. “We were playing hide and seek, and I was in with Keane and James. When I found Kella she was hiding in a corner and shaking. I asked what happened, because she had scratches and blood all over her arm. She said that something had come out of the shadows and was creeping to where Connel was hiding, but she couldn’t really see it because her arm was in the way and she didn’t want to attract attention. And then Connel kind of screamed, but it was like a yelp, so she rushed out of my hiding spot and attacked the thing, which I think she said it was a wolf? Anyway, it clawed Kella’s arm and she fell over and it dragged Connel away.”
By then the crowd had dispersed somewhat, and only about ten people remained.
“And who else were seekers?” Riverrune asked.
“James and Keane,” Kyra answered, and Riverrune called them over, asking them where they’d been when Kyra found Kella.
“I was near the southern tower, and Keane was with me,” said James.
“Do you know anything about what happened?” Riverrune inquired, and James shook his head.
“I thought I saw something in the shadows when I was counting, but my eyes should have been closed so I shut them again in case it was someone we were playing with. I don’t know,” Keane explained as Riverrune frowned.
“Do any of you know anything?” he asked, but the only answer was an awkward murmur of ‘no’.
“Alright then. Off you go, we’ll soon have this sorted. Lady Rosemary, take Kella to the infirmary,” instructed Riverrune. Everyone obediently wandered off, most to the courtyard. Kyra, Ama, and Brightheart meandered about, unsure of where to go, not wanting to have to answer anyone’s questions about the incident.
They eventually ended up in the library, where Ama went to browse and Kyra went to borrow, leaving Brightheart to amble through the tall rows of shelves. There were books and scrolls piled against each other in a somewhat organised manner. She picked a book and found it to hold instructions on the correct handling of mythical creatures, so she returned it to its place and wandered on. After a while, Brightheart picked up a book whose pages were filled with words from Sûtaŕynæ, and a scroll with a map of the skies. Brightheart went on through the shelves, although now a little bored, eager to return to the Liraly common room to pore over the book and scroll.
Almost an hour later, Brightheart found herself at the borrowing desk with an armful of books. The helper recorded the books and sent Brightheart on her way, so she found Kyra and Ama, and the friends went back to the Eastern Tower.
“Ama, where can I sit and talk to Tŕnjyl without others walking past and distracting me? And I feel like it’s wrong to do it in daylight, so is there anywhere I can do it after sunset?” Brightheart asked Ama.
“Um, I don’t know. I’ll think about it, but in the meantime, let’s practise the calling spell,” Ama answered, and went back to her homework.
“Alright then. Ma zal Ama thû listy,” Brightheart said after a moment, giving Ama time to focus on her work. Ama immediately looked up, her focus on her homework completely gone.
“Good job. Now it’s my turn,” Ama said, and Brightheart stared at the window. “Ma zal Brightheart thû listy.” Brightheart stared a little longer before her attention was drawn to Ama.
“Why didn’t it work properly?” Ama asked.
“I don’t know. Brightheart’s my name, so it should have worked,” Brightheart frowned.
“Unless it’s not your name. The only thing is, I’m Amaya and everyone calls me Ama, so Ama works for me. And everyone calls you Brightheart. Or maybe…” Ama paused and went on, “Where you came from, did everyone call you Brightheart?”
“Yes. Well, not that there were a lot of people there,” Brightheart smiled, though painfully. “Actually, we never really said our names. We knew who we were talking to and there was no-one else around.”
“That would have something to do with it,” Ama said. “But then how many people were there?”
“Myself and one other.”
“Only two? Where’d you come from, again?”
“Under the mountains and through the forest.”
“No, tell me the name of the place.”
“It doesn’t have one.”
“So you don’t know the name?”
“I told you, it doesn’t have one.”
“Describe it, then.”
“My home is tunnelled deep beneath the mountains, and outside is a large clearing and the forest,” Brightheart answered carefully, nervous of where the conversation might lead.
“A cave? Who lived with you?”
“Someone loyal and stubborn and protective and wild.”
“What’s their name?” Ama asked, and Brightheart curled into a ball, growling as she held back the mist that threatened to become tears at the memories of the dragons fighting.
“Are you alright?” Ama inquired.
“No,” Brightheart said firmly, hoping that a solid word would hide tears.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“Then did I stir memories you’d rather not relive?”
“Only two, but because of that one the others are tainted until I can return,” Brightheart sniffed.
“Oh, you’re not crying are you?” Ama sat back and rocked to and fro. “Will you tell me what they were? As in, ever?”
“Probably not,” Brightheart answered, and Ama sighed. The girls were silent for a few moments.
“Come on, it’s time for dinner, Ama said.
Brightheart set her plate aside, having finished her serving of roast beef.
“Ama, did you think of somewhere I can talk to Tŕnjyl?” she asked.
“Hmm? Oh, kind of. You could do it now, like leave the dinning hall and find somewhere,” Ama suggested.
“Is that allowed?” Kyra put her cutlery on her plate and stacked it won top of Brightheart’s.
“I’m pretty sure it is,” Ama answered. “If anyone asks just say you feel really tired or you really need to do homework. No-one’s going to ask, and you’re not doing anything wrong.”
“That’s something I would say! You’re the quiet bookworm, Ama,” Kyra pointed out, but Ama simply shrugged.
“Go now,” Ama advised, and Brightheart got up. She quietly walked to the end of the hall, feeling as if everyone was watching her. Brightheart walked quicker and once she was out, she broke into a run, hurrying towards the Eastern Tower to grab her parchment, quill, and a lamp.
Almost tumbling down the stairs, Brightheart stopped to open the door out of the Tower. She crept through the fire-lit silence, then after a while, she pushed a door that opened into a courtyard. Brightheart sat in a corner, leaning against the sandstone wall.
“Ma zal Tŕnjyl thû listy,” Brightheart thought, staring up at the sky, searching for the arrow constellation.
“Hilu? Ny an litûnij,” a clear and sweet voice called. It was like bells or wind-chimes, silvery and beautiful. It seemed like honey, slowly filling Brightheart’s mind but politely never spilling into the depths.
“Tŕnjyl?” Brightheart asked.
“Yx,” Tŕnjyl replied as the star that was the tip of the arrow seemed to twinkle brighter.
“Sù yu kuw aböt ni hönvûk?”
“Wat ic iûl lic byij ænû Sûtaŕynæ?” Brightheart began, watching her lamp flicker in gold light for a second.
“Öst, intŕaxuhij,” Tŕnjyl answered, and Brightheart scribbled down her answer in Sûtaŕynæ, not bothering to translate yet.
“Wat daz tû wùd lùk lic fŕön ùkûl typŕ?”
“Möslŕ ucan blû fit lad patksæg gŕn, ylöw, ad gŕæ.”
“Dæ yu slŕp?”
“Kut ig yuŕc wæz.”
“Wat hapûnæj wûn iûl ic dyj hŕna?”
“Wi fulan pæty tŕögûz tû skù.”
“Cun yu stiûl sy ux?”
“Yx, wi cun stiûl yfaliwŕ.”
“Dæ yu gat budæg?”
“Wat daz Tŕnjyl myn?”
“Iûl mynæj ‘tŕn jyl’. Ny kut cun tŕanslùt futö.”
“Wuw dæ yu lic ùgisij tû mös ad fikûl?” then Tŕnjyl’s star stopped twinkling and simply shone for a moment. Brightheart shivered in the cold night air, observing the star in the eerie yet beautiful silence.
“Yu, bycaz ön yuŕc pæt. Ny haf ùgisæg yu sinz yu wŕa yung,” the sweet voice of Tŕnjyl returned, as did the twinkling of the star. A moment later, the honey of Tŕnjyl’s presence in Brightheart’s mind vanished.
Brightheart sat for another minute, disregarding the goose bumps covering her arms, wondering if Rustblade had ever talked to the Starion. She stood, talking her parchment, quill, and lamp with her, creeping back up the stairs to her dorm. Discarding her things, Brightheart opened the window and watched Tŕnjyl shimmering and glowing in the sky, the arrow pointing south-east. When a cloud covered the stars, Brightheart closed the window rather than looking for her cave, knowing it would only hurt. But she was learning, and every day she learnt spells she was closer to leaving.
Brightheart handed in her assignment on Wednesday and it was returned to her the next Monday, with full marks. Kyra spent most of her spare time with Kella, and Ama and Brightheart visited her almost everyday. Brightheart found herself turning to the sky every night, finding Tŕnjyl’s constellation almost instantly every time. When Kella was released from the infirmary, she kept to herself a lot, not that Brightheart knew if she had done so or not before the incident. Kyra kept complaining that Kella wouldn’t talk to anyone and couldn’t be coaxed out to play tips either. At this point, an idea formed in Brightheart’s mind.
“I’m going to visit Kella,” Brightheart announced to Kyra and Ama as she left the dorm.
“She’ll in the library, but she’s not going to say a thing,” Kyra replied, almost sulkily.
“I know,” said Brightheart, and closed the door. She made her way to the library and found Kella. The girl looked up at her nervously, eyeing Brightheart with an annoyed gleam.
“Can I ask you something?” Brightheart inquired, and Kella nodded.
“You don’t know what attacked you, right?” Kella nodded again, this time slower, as if to say ‘go on’.
“I know a way to find out, and I’ll figure out where it took Connel, too. Can I do it?”
“Yes,” Kella whispered, barely audible, looking pleadingly at Brightheart.
“Thank you,” she murmured, turning and walking out of the library and into the courtyard.
There were only a few students about, all sitting in the afternoon sun and keeping to themselves, so Brightheart settled into her corner and stared up at the clouds.
“Ma zal Tŕnjyl thû listy,” she thought, calling to the Starion.
“I am listening,” Tŕnjyl answered as her honey-presence and silver-bell voice entered Brightheart’s mind.
“The other day – or night – when I was talking to you, you said that you can see everything.”
“Do you know what happened to Kella and Connel?”
“Oh, yes. I assume you will ask what attacked them? Well, it was a werewolf.”
“A werewolf?!” Brightheart sighed. “But it wasn’t a full moon.”
“No, because these ones are a different kind. The werewolves and werecats that took over the castle that is now Aker’inra and the town called Erolbie can change form at will.”
“Oh. So where did the werewolf take Connel?”
“I so want to tell you, but you aren’t ready to leave Aker’inra yet. You must stay until you’ve learnt what Rustblade told you to.”
“But I promised Kella,” Brightheart moaned.
“I can’t tell you,” Tŕnjyl replied. “But I promise I’ll tell you when you are ready to leave.”
“That’s ages away! I’ll have to wait at least two years!”
“Riverrune can help you. He will, and it’s safe for you to ask.”
“So I walk up to him and ask him to teach me all the moon spells and every secret about the were-army and the evil dragon?” Brightheart was incredulous.
“Do you want to wait two years, by which time Connel could be dead?” Tŕnjyl countered, and Brightheart sighed.
“Alright then. Go now before you lose your courage!” and with that the star was silent, her honey-presence gone. Brightheart leapt up and away, running to find Riverrune. She almost crashed into Kella, who had left the library to return to her dorm in Tarinou.
“A werewolf,” Brightheart managed to splutter, hoping that Kella knew what she was talking about since she didn’t want to stop and waste time giving context. Kella seemed to go to say something, but Brightheart raced off before she had a chance.
At last Brightheart found Riverrune after several minutes of frantic searching. Someone had kindly told Brightheart that Riverrune was in his office and led her there. She knocked and was invited in.
“Ah, hello Brightheart. How are you?” Riverrune inquired.
“I’m alright, I suppose. You?” Brightheart replied.
“Good. What’s happening?”
“I was asking Tŕnjyl what creature attacked Kella and Connel. It was a werewolf by the way. But she wouldn’t tell me where it took Connel, because she knew I would leave to rescue him even though I wasn’t ready.”
“When did she say you would be ready?”
“When I’d learnt what I came to,” Brightheart took a deep breath, “which wasn’t just wizardry.”
“It isn’t? What did you come to learn, then?” Brightheart bit her lip and reached up to fiddle with her scale.
“A dragon sent me. He – Rustblade – told me to stay until I’d learnt every moon spell I could and every secret of the were-army and evil dragon,” Brightheart dropped her scale, and quickly picked it up.
“Rustblade… Well, Brightheart, I lied to you when I said that Riverrune isn’t a dragon name. I assume Rustblade told you how you were brought to his cave?” Brightheart nodded, and Riverrune sighed and went on, “I was the knight who took you to him, so many years ago. I was wounded, of course, having ridden through the battle before your parents asked me to take you. Once you were with Rustblade, I rode away, but I was too hurt to go any great distance. I found a stream that ran through the forest, and stopped a long while to clean my wounds and try to heal them with the one healing spell I knew. I know more now, of course. Nightfall came and I was tired, so I stayed the night. I was woken in the morning by hot air and when I opened my eyes I was face to face with the dragon again. I calmed my horse and the dragon remained there, watching me. He said that I would be called Riverrune from then on, after I told him why I had lingered. He asked me to start a school in the castle, and now here you are, in the castle-school talking to the knight who took you to Rustblade.” Brightheart stood fiddling with her scale and Riverrune sat in the silence, each waiting for the other to say something about every strange turn of events.
“So I have you teach you moon spells and about the were-army and evil dragon?” Riverrune clarified.
“Everything, yes,” confirmed Brightheart.
“And you don’t have anything after classes, do you?” asked Riverrune and Brightheart shook her head, “Then you have lessons at one-fifteen until two-fifteen.”
“Thank you,” standing up, Brightheart left and made for the Liraly Common room.
She sunk into an armchair and watched the fire burning in the hearth. Despite having spent her life with Rustblade, Brightheart had rarely seen flames for any particularly long time, and whenever she had the chance there were other things she focused on. Besides, she preferred to keep out of the common room. It flickered about, mesmerising Brightheart until she was more watching the flames that contemplating her new knowledge, and anyone would have though she was almost half asleep.
The mild chattering might have become dragon’s roars, but this time it merged with the fire’s crackling, growing louder and fiercer as the fire seemed to grow larger, consuming the Liraly decorations, replacing them with a clear wall that was clean of soot and a small bookcase. The fire remained, burning everything in its path, moving towards the door. There was a rug on the stone floor and a bed. Suddenly, a woman came hurrying down the stairs that Brightheart knew as leading to the dorms, holding a baby that was wailing just about the same as the woman. The baby had Brightheart’s midnight hair and odd green eyes. They carried on past Brightheart, the woman not noticing her, the baby almost reaching out to Brightheart but never touching.
Brightheart followed them down the stairs and through the burning castle, around familiar corners, – although new in that they were clear of soot and decorations the school had arranged – eventually amongst a crowd of fleeing servants, and across the drawbridge. The woman turned around to watch the castle, whispering a lullaby to the baby, and Brightheart followed her gaze. A huge black dragon was burning it, and when Brightheart turned to look at Erolbie she saw that it too was under attack.
“Enya!” cried a man who looked rather worried, breaking into a run and coming towards the woman.
“I’m safe, Thayer,” said the woman, whose name must have been Enya.
“Very good. I am also. Now, we can’t let our dear one be taken by the were-army or dragon,” the man who was Thayer replied, and Enya nodded. “Kai! Come here.” The knight came, and Thayer ordered him to take the child to a dragon through the forest, and if any of those were-creatures were to follow him he was to kill them and protect the baby with his life. Enya took off her tiara, which Brightheart hadn’t noticed was there before, and put it in the baby’s arms.
“Take care, Sir Kai. Go swiftly,” Enya said.
“Be well and ride so. Deliver our dear one to safety,” Thayer added, and Kai rode into the night, galloping towards where Brightheart knew to be her cavern-halls home. Then, as the scene appeared to fade, the King and Queen – as Brightheart had figured Enya and Thayer to be – ran down the hill in the direction of Erolbie. She looked habitually to the sky, finding Sagitta rising in the east.
Brightheart opened her eyes with a start, finding Kyra and Ama beside her.
“Are you alright?” Kyra asked, “I don’t need another person who isn’t in the best state of mind.”
“I’m- no, I’m not really. I’m not alright, but I don’t want to say why, especially not here,” Brightheart faltered, beginning to think she would have to tell them about Rustblade.
“Dinner will be in a moment,” Ama said.
“Not another crowd! I’ll stay here,” Brightheart replied, slowly getting up and dragging herself to the dorm.
“You aren’t sick, are you?” Kyra moaned.
“No, just exhausted. You go to dinner, and try to bring some back please,” Brightheart sighed, and continued up the stairs.
Brightheart set down her staff and opened the window, letting in the wind. Then she pulled out her little bag from the drawer, sitting it in her lap for a moment, not daring to open it yet. Carefully emptying the bag, Brightheart picked up her tiara, looking properly at the gems for the first time. It was beautiful, but Brightheart couldn’t quite enjoy it for its meaning. The King and Queen, Thayer and Enya, could have survived somehow by going at least into Erolbie if not through to somewhere else, but they would have to be found and Brightheart had to defeat the dragon first.
“Come, dear one, you’re safe with me. The stars shine bright around the moon,” Brightheart began singing the lullaby Enya had whispered to her that night. She nervously, timidly, put on the tiara. It was an unfamiliar weight, and though it was light its meaning and all the hopes and fears that went with it sat heavily.
“Come, dear one, you’re safe with me. Soon, in the east, the sun will rise,” Brightheart took off her tiara and returned it to the bag, and it to the drawer. She stood and went to the window, breathing in the cool wind and watching the stars. Tŕnjyl shone, winking brighter, knowing where Brightheart’s gaze rested.
“Sleep now, sleep now, I am here. Dream amidst silvery light,” Brightheart turned her eyes over the fields and forest in the dark, towards her home. This time, at last, she thought she saw a whisper of smoke, and even the light of flames.
Brightheart climbed up onto her bed and stared at the window from there, humming and singing the whole time. At first she was a little bored but she seemed to have a knack for zoning out easily, and time quickened as she again was lost in thought. The wind grew, howling outside the tower, and Brightheart was startled when Kyra and Ama entered.
“I did knock,” Kyra said, and Brightheart smiled thankfully in reply.
“We brought you bread rolls,” Ama pulled out two from her pockets, and Kyra did the same.
“Thanks,” Brightheart took the rolls and started devouring them.
“Kella asked where you were,” said Kyra, sitting on her bed.
“Why?” asked Brightheart between mouthfuls.
“I don’t know,” Kyra answered.
“Oh. I have lessons with Riverrune after lunch now.” Brightheart took another bite, and Kyra and Ama asked why in unison. “Because-” Brightheart swallowed and thought for a moment, chewing the next bite.
“Because what?” Ama inquired.
“I’ll have to tell you everything, won’t I? And i’d have to start from the very beginning, which I only found out today,” Brightheart sighed, “Well, I didn’t want to yet, and I don’t think I ever wanted to. But of course I’d have to, and after such a day, too!” Kyra and Ama glanced at each other, wondering if she was talking to herself or them.
“Tell us what?” Ama urged, and Brightheart sighed again, seeming almost impatient.
“Alright then. But I won’t say all of it tonight, and you’re not to breathe a word of it to anyone except maybe Riverrune if you must,” she said as the others nodded fervently, she fiddling with her scale, and began the story. “If you know about the attack on this very castle when we were babies then think of then. The evil dragon and the were-army conquered the King and Queen and their people, which you would know. But what you mightn’t is that Enya and Thayer – that’s the King and Queen, respectively – had a daughter, who they sent with a knight through the forest to the mountains. The knight was Sir Kai and I don’t know his last name but I do know what he uses as such, and that will come in later. Sir Kai took the Princess-”
“What was her name?” Kyra asked. Brightheart didn’t want to lie that she didn’t know, so she pretended she hadn’t heard.
“Sir Kai took the Princess and gave her to the dragon in the mountains, who took her in and sent him back on his way. He rode a while, but had been in the battle and so had a wound in his side, and stopped by the stream for the night. He was woken in the morning by the dragon, and he told him that he had stopped to wash his wound and try to heal it as best he could with the only spell he knew then,” suddenly Brightheart stopped and waited a moment, and the girls heard footsteps coming up the stairs.
“I’ll tell you more tomorrow night,” Brightheart promised, and began getting ready for bed.
Somehow the girls made it through the day without talking about the first part of Brightheart’s tale, and when they got bored they wondered how the rest would go. When Brightheart went to her lesson with Riverrune, she was told what she already knew: the attack on the palace and a quick reminder of Riverrune’s part. The afternoon went slowly after that, because the girls wanted to hear more and couldn’t discuss it, and it was already going slowly because of that. There wasn’t much to do, since no-one felt like tips when such a secret lay on their minds. In the end, Kyra, Ama, and Brightheart went to the library and stayed there until dinner, wandered about and flicking through various books.
“Where was I up to? Oh yes, Sir Kai and the dragon. Wait, did I say the dragon’s name?” Brightheart asked.
“No,” Kyra answered.
“His name is Rustblade. So anyway, Rustblade found Kai in the woods by the stream after healing himself as well as he could, and so said that from then he would be called Riverrune,” Brightheart stopped to let it sink in as Kyra and Ama gasped, “and he said to make a school of the castle. So yes, Aker-inra is the palace. Now for the next part, which is the one you really mustn’t talk about. I really didn’t want to tell it yet. Oh well. The Princess grew up with Rustblade, becoming like a dragon in almost every way, such that she might as well be. She hunted with him every day for meals, and both were, or still are I would say, great friends, closer than anything. One day, Rustblade sent mm-her out to hunt alone, and she did so for the next few days. One time she woke early, out of a nightmare of a thunderstorm where the dragon became lost to the girl, and the dragon sent the Princess out to forage and hunt, having also had a nightmare.”
“How do you know all the details?” interrupted Ama, a look of curiosity all over her face.
“You’ll see. Now, the girl found burdock and berries, and that was her breakfast that morning. After she was finished, she hurried back to ask Rustblade what he wanted to eat, since he had clearly had a terrible night. No birds were singing and a fierce wind was blowing. The girl ran back to the cave, and when she got there the dragon wasn’t! Suddenly there was a roar, and she looked to the sky. Do you remember the day when two dragons fought?”
“No,” Kyra shook her head.
“Dragons fought? When?” Ama asked.
“You don’t know?” Brightheart was astonished. “Two days I think it was, before I arrived here, Rustblade and the same dragon who is with the werewolves and werecats fought. The Princess found Rustblade fighting it, and he told her to hide in the deepest part of the cave, so she ran through the caverns and hid where Rustblade’s gold mountains were.” Voices floated up the stairs as others headed to bed, so Brightheart left the story there and the girls got into bed, although it took a long time to get to sleep.
“The Princess hid in a nook, piling gold around herself so she would be less likely to be found. The dragons roared and growled for what seemed to be forever,” Brightheart shivered and took a deep breath, “She tried to pretend there was a thunderstorm, but she was too scared. I don’t know how I- she managed to last the time, but eventually there came the loudest and deepest shuddering growl then silence. I- she didn’t dare to look for Rustblade in case some- something bad had happened. She waited for ages, even more frightened, until at last Rustblade came looking for m- her. Flame-light filled the cavern and he called for me- her.” Brightheart gave up telling the story and broke into tears, and a few had already dripped down as she spoke.
“Are you alright?” Ama asked, but she only sniffed. “No, don’t cry!”
“What’s wrong?” Kyra inquired.
“I don’t want to talk about it! Just- just leave me alone,” Brightheart meant both why she was upset and her story, since they were the same, and crawled into bed with her clothes on to sleep. It took forever and she cried far more silent tears than she thought were possible first, trying to hum the Queen’s lullaby through her sorrow and homesickness.
“Brightheart, you will tell us the rest of the story, right?” Kyra asked the next night. Brightheart gave a feeble nod.
“Thank you,” Ama replied, and she and Kyra sat back to let Brightheart speak.
“Rustblade came lumbering into the cave where I- the Princess was sitting, and I- she went to him. Argh!” Brightheart moaned and leaned her head on her knees.
“No, it’s alright. Please go on,” Kyra said, and Brightheart lifted her head a little, looking to her drawer, speaking softer this time.
“A tiara slid down one of the piles to… the Princess’ feet and Rustblade said he had just been about to look for it. She asked why, and he turned to one of the walls, blowing off thick layers of dust. There were crude paintings there, of a knight, a baby, and a dragon. He told… her what they meant, explaining all about how she was brought to the cave. Of course, as you would have guessed by now, Rustblade told me that I am Ailith the Princess and to come here, and learn wizardry. I especially have to learn about werewolves, werecats, the dragon, and – although I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell you – every moon spell there is. that’s why I’m here, to learn everything I need to know to defeat the Dark Dragon,” Brightheart had somehow managed to get through the story, and Kyra and Ama sat in astounded silence.
“So- so you’re the Princess?” Kyra murmured, and Brightheart nodded. The three sat in silence again as they absorbed the information.
“I can show you my tiara,” she whispered.
“Really?” Ama smiled. Brightheart quietly retrieved it from the drawer and showed the girls, who gasped and gaped.
“Put it on!” urged Kyra, still whispering. Brightheart carefully, cautiously, put it on, wondering how she looked since she hadn’t worn it yet, even for a second. Kyra and Ama gasped again.
“You look so strange,” Ama said.
“You look amazing!” Kyra smiled. Brightheart stood and looking in the small mirror by the door. The tiara stood out in her midnight hair, and the gem sparkled. Brightheart only saw someone she wasn’t; someone who was calm and polite and perfect all the time, never doing anything. Someone the entire opposite of Brightheart, and someone who surely wasn’t even Ailith, who had at least a little wildness in her. Brightheart tore it off and returned it to her bag.
“Don’t you like it?” Kyra inquired.
“No. I’m not a princess, I’m someone wild and fierce. It doesn’t match me,” she answered, and began readying herself for bed.
“So we aren’t going to stay up late whispering to each other?” Ama frowned, disappointed, and Brightheart mumbled a no.
Brightheart had been right in dreading explaining everything to her friends: all the memories she had tried so hard to hide at last had resurfaced and wouldn’t be shoved down again. It was a small relief to have the secret out of the way, but then Kyra and Ama accidentally began treating her more carefully, as one only ever could if they were friends with a princess. Brightheart started keeping to herself in an effort to escape that, but only ended up with time to dwell on her thoughts, drawing her into homesickness even more. She spent her time in a corner in the library, sometimes with tears trickling down. She hid them, but try as she might she couldn’t hide her memories.
“Hey, Brightheart, what happened? You don’t seem yourself. More like Dullheart!” called Weylen as Brightheart walked to class.
“Well maybe you should be Eviltaunt,” Brightheart replied. Everyone went ‘ooh’ and Weylen almost turned red.
“How do you still have energy to reply, Dullheart?” he taunted.
“Because of anger-flames,” Brightheart growled.
“What are you angry at, Dullheart the werewolf?”
“You, Eviltaunt. And I’m not a werewolf! Next time you dare call me names or anything like that, I will challenge you to a duel!”
“You said that last time, Dullheart! Do you really think I’m scared of you?”
“There, you’ve dared to say it! You called me Dullheart again! So, right now, right here, I challenge you to a duel! Meet me in the courtyard at two-twenty, and if you don’t then I’ll find you! Oh, that’ll be trouble for you if you don’t turn up, Eviltaunt,” and Brightheart hurried on to class.
“Are you really going to fight him?” Kyra asked, knowing the answer.
“Of course,” Brightheart smiled, already anxious for the afternoon.
“If he knew who you were, he wouldn’t dare,” Ama mumbled.
“If I were my actual name I’d be so different. Besides, I’ve been waiting for a real chance to challenge him. There were more people in the corridor than normal, so everyone knows and will expect him there,” Brightheart replied, equally quiet. “Besides, I’m not her: she’s not as wild and fierce as me.”
“Hi,” Brightheart said as she entered Riverrune’s room.
“Hello. You’ve got that book I gave you?” he replied, and Brightheart nodded, taking her seat. She opened up her book and got out her quill. They had agreed that she could use Riverrune’s ink.
“Alright, you need to write this down in your own words, as usual. The title is ‘Packs and Pounces’,” Riverrune began, stopping for a moment between sentences and spelling any names, “There are Packs and Pounces in the werewolf and werecat community, respectively. These have about twenty to thirty werewolves or ten to fifteen werecats. These are formed by pup’s or kitten’s choosing, by either family ties, whichever a child found the most friends in, or whichever the child thinks has the best morals and ideas. There isn’t a ceremony or any special day to celebrate a pup or kitten choosing a Pack or Pounce. Sometimes a whole new Pack or Pounce is formed because some people decided they didn’t fit in any others, and other times packs die out because no-one joined and the rest died/left. The Packs and Pounces are recorded, with everything such as the name, who joined and when, and the morals and ideas it had. The werecats’ Pounces are formed in much the same way as the werewolves’ packs, although family rarely stick together (except for parents).
“Doriima is the King of the werewolves, and his son is Dorriku. Doriima and Dorriku are in the Iyslyet Pack, the oldest in existence. The Queen of the werecats is Iladien, whose sister is Keelary and whose daughter is Ladenia. Keelary’s daughter is Kelyarin. Iladien and Keelary are in the Scyflit Pounce, Ladenia is in the Raynndai Pounce, and Kelyarin is in the Shadurmon Pounce. Also, the names of the Packs are made in the same way as the Pounces, so it’s not uncommon for werewolves and werecats to be conversing and one ask ‘Pack or Pounce?’.”
Brightheart finished copying, butterflies growing in her stomach, as she glanced at the clock in waiting to duel Weylen. Riverrune set her some questions and once she’d written them down and begun answering them. Brightheart finished the questions and quickly checked them, then showed Riverrune.
“Very good,” Riverrune said, and continued to ramble on about the Packs and Pounces and their names. He gave a quick explanation of each Pack and Pounce, then turned to talking about the naming style of the Packs and Pounces. At last, it was the end of the lesson, and Brightheart hurried to her dorm to put away her book and quill. Once that was sorted, she ran back down to the courtyard. Kyra was there waiting, as were many other people.
“What’s the time?” Brightheart asked.
“Just about twenty past,” Kyra answered, and Brightheart nodded in thanks and reply. “Weylen’s over there. Oh, but you don’t have a weapon.” Kyra pointed, but Brightheart only lifted her staff a little.
“The thing will be to find his,” she said, stepping forward into the middle of the courtyard.
Weylen also came forward, holding a short sword.
“Where’d you get that?” Brightheart asked, surprised, stretching her fingers and gripping her staff tightly.
“The combat room,” Weylen answered. “Where’s your weapon? Are you too much of a good student to ‘borrow’, or did you think we would fight with fists?” Brightheart growled and poked him with the sharp end of her staff, having taken up the other end with her other hand.
“This, my hands, and my teeth are my weapons. Now get on with it!” she cried, beginning to circle him. He copied her. Brightheart struck out first, jabbing Weylen’s hand, causing him to almost drop his sword. They circled again, and this time it was Weylen who struck first. He tried to lunge at Brightheart, but she dodged and attacked, swinging her staff around and down onto his shoulder. Weylen lunged again, and Brightheart ducked and brought her staff to his side. They stood still for a moment before Brightheart retreated and returned a second later, jabbing Weylen’s hand hard enough to make him drop his sword.
“Get him now!” Kyra called, causing shouts and encouragements for Brightheart. Instead, Brightheart waited until he got his sword again and the pair began again. They circled, the suddenly Weylen somehow managed to knock Brightheart’s staff out of her hands. She curled her fingers, baring her teeth, as she cautiously moved towards it, but Weylen dashed in front and blocked it off.
“Ha! You thought you were going to beat me, but you shouldn’t have been so kind and let me get my sword. What are you, a cat playing with her food?” he taunted. “Only, now I am winning, so maybe that makes you the mouse!”
“Then how do you like this?!” Brightheart shrieked, raking her nails across his arm. They weren’t as sharp as they had been with Rustblade, but they were still sharp enough to leave a red mark.
Weylen winced and struck out at Brightheart, but she ducked and danced around to his back before he could turn around, and was soon crying out as she scratched his back. By now, Rustblade would have admitted defeat, but Weylen wasn’t used to Brightheart and her fierce energy or anger, and so continued, determined to win. Both were furious and their hearts thumped in their chests as Brightheart scratched Weylen again, and Weylen tried to jab at her. Brightheart kicked it away, standing in front of it just as he had when he knocked away her staff.
“Teeth and claws now, and if you’re too weak for that then surrender now!” Brightheart growled, waiting a moment. Weylen didn’t move, so she scratched him; once on each arm and once on his left cheek. Weylen shouted in shock and pain, and Brightheart cackled. She was winning again.
“Why don’t you surrender? Don’t you see that you won’t win? Your reflexes are too slow and you’re scared to get blood on your hands. I won’t be able to control myself much longer, and I might end up drawing blood soon,” Brightheart reached to scratch Weylen’s face, but he dodged it and returned two of his scratches to Brightheart, although she avoided one. This went on for a little while longer, then suddenly Weylen was on his knees.
“Stop, stop. I surrender,” he said. Brightheart had won, and there was no way he could ever switch the places now. Everyone on Brightheart’s side cheered, and everyone on Weylen’s side booed.
They each picked up their weapons, and Weylen returned sulkily to his side as Brightheart returned triumphantly to hers.
“That was amazing! He’ll be too scared to bully anyone while you’re here, and besides, he’ll never live that down. Ooh, you’ve got blood on your hand,” Kyra pointed at Brightheart’s hand, and she also inspected it. There was a scratch, like one might get from giving a cat a belly rub, diagonally across the back of her hand. She shook it, beginning to notice the pain and her weariness.
“Come on, I’ll have to take you to Rosie. She won’t be as hard on you as Lady Livy might be if she heard you’d fought Weylen. Besides, the teachers will have found out by now what happened and some of them might be Stone or Shifter or Phoenix,” Kyra pulled Brightheart towards the Eastern Tower. Stone, Shifter, and Phoenix were Lady Vaerian, Sir Lewis, and Sir Ainsley. Brightheart hadn’t met really Shifter or Phoenix, but she knew from Kyra and some other students that they weren’t the friendliest and definitely not the ones you wanted to get in trouble with for any reason.
“Rosie, can you please help Brightheart?” Kyra knocked on a door in the stairway and it was opened by Lady Rosemary.
“What happened?” Rosie asked.
“Um, I challenged Weylen to a fight this morning when he called me ‘Dullheart’. I’d had enough and I’ve been promising him a fight basically since I met him. So, yeah, I have a scratch on my hand,” Brightheart answered. There was a rule that students couldn’t heal themselves of anything, so that the teachers would know if a student got themselves into trouble.
“Oh. You know you should have told a teacher he was bullying you,” Rosie replied.
“I suppose. But I won. Does that change anything?”
“Definitely, since he probably won’t go back to bullying while you’re around. But you’ll still get punished, and so will he,” Rosie said, “Now, show me your hand.” Brightheart lifted her hand, and Rosie inspected it.
“Læt six bym hŕalöt,” she said, and a strange tingling sensation replaced the little stinging Brightheart’s scratch produced. The next moment, the cut was healed, leaving the faintest scar that almost impossible to find. Brightheart had been taught that healing with magic always left a scar, no matter how deep it was. Sometimes it was better to let cuts heal naturally, but if one wanted it to be gone and not worry about infection then magic was the best solution, even if it left you littered with thin silvery marks.
“Thank you, Rosie,” Brightheart smiled.
“That’s alright. But now I’ll have to sort out your punishment,” Rosie paused and thought for a moment. “Detention, right now, for twenty minutes. And minus forty points from Liraly.” Brightheart decided this wasn’t bad, and followed Rosie to detention. Besides, she couldn’t object anyway. It was a boring time, and Brightheart wondered what Riverrune would think.
Brightheart, Kyra, and Ama headed back to their dorm after dinner, and as they walked through the common room, Brightheart wondered about how she had seen Enya and Thayer.
“Can you help me? I really want to know something,” Brightheart said.
“What is it?” Kyra replied.
“Remember the day I didn’t go to dinner and afterwards began explaining everything?” Brightheart asked, and Kyra nodded. “I didn’t go to dinner because I’d had a really strange day, and needed to think. I had a dream or vision or something – I don’t know.”
“Mm-hmm. What was it about?”
“Enya and Thayer, the King and Queen, my parents. I was watching the fire in the common room, and then it grew and grew until the whole room was filled with fire. But it wasn’t the common room any more, it was a bedroom. Enya came hurrying down the stairs that now leads to the dorms, with me in her arms. Enya ran out of the castle and watched the castle burning, watched the were-army and Dark Dragon attack. Thayer came running over, glad that we were safe. They talked a little and sent me with Riverrune, and from there you know the tale. But that’s not the point; the point is I don’t know what happened and I want to see Enya and Thayer again, so I need to find out what it was.”
“Woah, wait. You saw what happened on the night of the attack?” Ama looked up from her book.
“Yes,” Brightheart confirmed.
“Oh wow! I can’t even think. What else that’s amazing about you is there?” Ama asked.
“What do you mean? Doesn’t that randomly happen to people sometimes?”
“Nope,” Kyra answered, having recovered from her astonishment.
“Then what is it?” Brightheart moaned, getting slightly frustrated that people didn’t explain everything she needed to know straight away.
“You have a magical talent that people would give anything for!” Kyra said.
“So some people have visions of the past all the time?”
“No, no, it’s not like that. Kyra, you’re no good at explaining,” Ama smiled at Kyra, and continued, “You have the. Rarest. Of the powers people with this can have. It’s called Magysûbym, and yes, that’s in Ŕönvyx, because ‘magic-be’ doesn’t sound as good and doesn’t make any sense. It’s a rare thing where a tiny handful of people have abilities, like seeing the past or future, or any kind of kinesis. And I think your ability isn’t just seeing the past. You could move around, but you really hadn’t moved from the chair, right?”
“You definitely have the rarest ability. There’s only one other person recorded with it. Usually people can’t move at all when they go into trances or dreams or visions like that,” Ama gushed. “Oh, and one thing I forgot: don’t let anyone make it sound like a condition or something bad. The only reason people don’t like Magysûbymica is because they’re jealous.”
“Do you know how Magysûbymica get into their dreams?” Brightheart asked.
“I’m not sure. It varies between people, even of the same gift. For you, I think it’s zoning out while watching something related to the dream you’ll see. That’s weird enough, so you should probably ask Sir Theo,” Ama answered.
“What about the other person with my talent?”
“He avoids people mostly, and when people asked about it, he refused to answer. He doesn’t really like talking, and no-one knows much about him.”
Brightheart was just about to fall asleep when Tŕnjyl seeped into her mind, bringing her wide awake. Brightheart thought some noise that was half-way between ‘wat’ and ‘huh?’. Clearly the star had used the calling spell.
“Suŕy. Yu nid töf litûn,” Tŕnjyl said.
“Fikûl?” Brightheart asked.
“You can’t just challenge people to fights. You could have been hurt badly, and been in a worse position than you were before you fought Weylen. Please, don’t do that unless you’re certain of victory!” Tŕnjyl chided, in Starion as always.
“Why do you care, since I won? Besides, I did win, and I was certain of victory the entire time!” Brightheart argued.”
“Were you? Did you know exactly every move he would make and what he knew?”
“You didn’t know. He could have hurt you badly, and then you’d be stuck in the infirmary for weeks, even with all the healing spells, for all you knew.”
“But I’m not!”
“Dŕæunt, ny caad föz yu,” Tŕnjyl sighed, catching Brightheart off guard.
“Dŕæunt?” she repeated. She didn’t always know every word Tŕnjyl said, but could usually make out the meaning. This was an exception, and the Starion had said it so softly and carefully that Brightheart was almost afraid of what it meant.
“Dear one. Brightheart, that is what you have been called almost your whole life. Why did you never see it with Rustblade? How did you think I called you if Brightheart doesn’t work?”
“But why do you care so much about me? I’m only… I’m only the Princess.”
“Only?! Dŕæunt, you are so special and wonderful, you will never be ‘only’ something!”
“Just explain it already then.”
“You already know, Dŕæunt! You must defeat the Dark Dragon.”
“Don’t you think? Why did Rustblade tell you to learn moon spells?”
“What are they, anyway?”
“Dŕæunt, you are hopeless sometimes. Riverrune will tell you soon, and more about the evil dragon. Get some sleep, Brightheart, you’ll need it.” Brightheart decided not to question why, and Tŕnjyl withdrew from her mind. She drifted into sleep, dreaming of the evil dragon and the moon.
“Come in, Brightheart. Now, I hear you fought Weylen yesterday?” Riverrune said as Brightheart sat, nodding with her head down. Riverrune asked if Lady Rosemary gave Brightheart a detention, and she nodded again. Riverrune said that it was sorted then, but to please come to the teachers if there was a problem.
“Yes, Riverrune,” Brightheart sighed.
“Good. Well, today I’m going to tell you some things about that wretched dragon,” Riverrune said, causing Brightheart to perk up a bit.
“Do you want play hide and seek with me?” Kyra panted, poking her head through the door.
“Alright,” Ama answered as she and Brightheart put away their books and went with her. The friends raced each other down the stairs and into the courtyard where Kella and some others were waiting. Three seekers were picked and began counting, and everybody else ran off to hide. Brightheart hurried around the corners and wedged herself into a gap between the cool stone walls and some chairs. She waited in the quiet, trying to silence her panting. Footsteps began to pad towards Brightheart, and she watched the feet pass as she stifled a giggle. The feet padded away, more carefully this time, and eventually the footfalls disappeared. Brightheart grinned.
“I found you, Kella!” the seeker said, and there were the noises of someone scrambling out from a hiding place. Brightheart chuckled to herself.
“You too, Brightheart,” added the seeker, and Brightheart clambered into the open space.
“Hey, Kella,” she smiled. The pair were on their way back to the courtyard when the cry rang out that the round was over; everyone was found. The first person found by each seeker became the new seekers, and everyone went off again. They played so many rounds that Brightheart lost track, and she was so exhausted after dinner that she fell asleep without going to the window and looking for Tŕnjyl or any trace of Rustblade.
Brightheart sat in the library with Ama, reading a book about fauns and dryads. In the world of ink and dreams, the strange creatures danced through a warm summer evening until midnight. When dawn came, the fauns and dryads set out on a hike through the mountains where daisies and buttercups grew in the crevices and butterflies flitted by. The creatures headed through a forest filled with birdsong, and there Brightheart stopped reading for a second to remember her times in her forest hunting with Rustblade. She remembered the moments of peace, joy, and exhilaration. She remembered the strange morning of the dragons’ fight, and the day she left her cavern-hall home. Brightheart returned to the book, her mind still half on her memories tainted with homesickness and bittersweetness. On she read, only half forming the images of the fauns and dryads.
“Dear one, come back! Don’t go there,” Brightheart startled, then realised it was Enya’s voice. She smiled, looking around for the Queen. She was sitting where Brightheart had been before she found herself in the past again, and Brightheart found herself standing – just as she had been in her first vision. Baby-Brightheart was wriggling around on the floor, trying to go into one of the rows of shelves. At Enya’s call, the child crawled back, and the Queen lifted her onto her lap. There was a book on a small table beside Enya, and when Brightheart looked at it she recognised it as the cover of the story she had been reading a moment ago. Brightheart sat in the other chair, where Ama was sitting in the present time.
“Dear one,” Enya murmured to the Princess, and the two played a game of tickling and rocking about. Brightheart watched as Enya set baby-Brightheart on the floor again and returned to reading, watched as she wriggled about, watched as her mother lost herself in the tale.
People came and went, and as the past-time became hours to Brightheart, even the scholars left, leaving the library empty but for the Queen and both times of Princesses.
“My child, I know you’re here,” Enya whispered, and Brightheart looked around for her younger self, thinking she was playing hide and seek or something.
“I can see you, Ailith. No-one else can, but I always will.” Brightheart flinched at her birth-name.
“Aren’t you called that? It’s alright, no-one can here you. You can talk.”
“Are- are you a Magysûbymica?” Brightheart asked.
“Of course. But what are you called? How are you? What happens in your time?” Enya was eager to know about her child.
“Rustblade sometimes called me Brightheart, and that is my name to the people at Aker’inra – the school this castle is in my time. I am homesick for Rustblade, but that evil dragon who caused me to go to Rustblade fought him, and I am learning at Aker’inra until I am ready to defeat it. Riverrune, uh, Sir Kai is the headmaster, and he teaches me everything I’ll need to kill Nightscar – that’s the evil dragon’s name,” Brightheart explained. “Oh and Tŕnjyl, the Starion we call Sagitta Primis, is my friend. She calls me ‘dear one’ in the calling spell, and when we speak.”
“Wonderful. She’s my friend also,” Enya replied. “So if ‘dear one’ works for you in the spell, does Brightheart not?”
“No; Tŕnjyl said Rustblade always called me ‘dear one’, so it’s more my name than Brightheart is. Oh! If you’re still here then the dragon and were-army hasn’t come yet.”
“Yes, I have gathered that they will. I’m sorry we couldn’t keep them away and you have to live without us. But do you know how to control your Magysûbym?” Enya said, and Brightheart shook her head. “Then please learn; I would so wish to see you more than if every time was an accident. Besides, it could be useful.”
“Brightheart, are you alright there?” Ama asked, and Brightheart nodded.
“Just another dream. I have so much to tell you and Kyra after dinner!” she replied, getting up to look for books about Magysûbym. When Brightheart had found a couple, she borrowed them and the book she had been reading. She wished she could return to the past already, but she would have to wait. Brightheart meandered up to her dorm and put her books on her bed before heading back down to the hall for dinner. The girls chattered away, and Brightheart hinted to Kyra that she had news. They eagerly awaited the end of dinner to discuss Brightheart’s ever-growing list of secrets.
“What have you found?” Kyra asked anxiously, expressing both her and Ama’s yearning to know.
“I had another dream,” Brightheart answered, smiling. They were all sitting on the floor.
“What was it about?” Kyra and Ama squealed, just out of sync.
“I was reading a book, and got distracted by thinking about Rustblade. When I went back to reading, I was still half-focused on Rustblade, so I ended up being zoned out and then I had a dream. Enya was sitting where I had been, and baby-me was crawling around. I only realised it was a vision when Enya called for the baby to come back. They played for a little as I sat watching in the chair that Ama had been sitting in. At some point, the library was empty except for the Queen and me – both baby and myself now,” Brightheart began.
“What then?” Ama murmured, leaning forwards.
“My mother said she knew I was there. Well, she said ‘my child, I know you’re here’. That confused me, but she managed to mean myself now with a second sentence,” Brightheart continued, explaining what had happened to her amazed friends.
“Quiet! Listen, would you? Alright then, today you will learn the silencing enchantments,” Arrow declared, then paused just long enough for the class to start talking again. “Simökûlnga!” Glass-sharp silence fell on the classroom, although everyone’s mouths still moved. After a moment, they look confused, then tried to speak again. It was hopeless.
“Yes, this spell silences everyone you mean to. Zal simökûlnga ævö,” said Arrow, and the silence shattered as the class sighed with relief. The enchanted silence had been cold, and as Brightheart had imagined, like trying to look through mist.
“Now break off into pairs and practise. I will test you before the end of the lesson,” Arrow instructed, and each student found a friend to go with. Then the spell casting began. Brightheart and Ama successfully silenced and un-silenced each other five times before Arrow called the class to stop. Everyone had a turn at silencing their classmates. A couple of students didn’t manage to quieten everyone, and one even hushed Arrow, who was not happy. Brightheart, Kyra, and Ama performed the enchantment perfectly.
“I’ve got too much energy and I want to run. Come on, we’re playing gang-up tips!” Brightheart pulled Kyra and Ama from their beds and out onto the field. “I’m in. You get people and I’ll get you in a moment.” The girls ran off, shouting invitations to the game to anyone they passed. She imagined that the others were deer and she was hunting as bright fire burned in her blood, giving energy and fierce joy. Brightheart cackled, and drew closer to Kyra. Kyra ran faster, but was no match for the hunter and Dragon-Princess that Brightheart was, and was soon caught. Everyone who was caught helped Brightheart, and soon only Kella remained.
“You must be strong to have lasted until now,” Brightheart said.
“Yes, but I’m also nimble,” Kella replied, smiling. Brightheart feigned running to her right, then leapt left and fell on Kella.
“I got you,” she laughed, grinning. The pair panted as they lay on the ground, and after a moment they stood again.
“Hello Brightheart. How are you today?” Riverrune asked as Brightheart sat down.
“I’m good. You?” she replied, opening her book to where she had last written her notes.
“I’m alright,” Riverrune answered, “Well, today I’m teaching you your first moon spell. Write this down: The Mist-Light enchantment fills the area between the opponents with glowing mist, blocking their view of each other. It’s a good spell for defending yourself or escaping a situation. However, the mist is so thick that you can’t see your hand in front of your face, so it’s also good for advancing on your opponent without being seen. The mist only extends as far as the caster was from the other when they cast the spell.”
“That sounds amazing. How did people find out about this enchantment?” Brightheart asked.
“The Starion told the werecat queen many years ago, well before we began shunning their kind,” said Riverrune. “Anyway, the words are micy lijût.”
A bright, silver light covered Riverrune’s desk, foggy and as if Brightheart were trying to look through a pitch-black cave at midnight, for all she could see through it. Quiet footsteps moved around on Riverrune’s side, and then he was behind Brightheart. She gasped, and Riverrune smiled.
“Vaŕöx micy,” he said, returning to his seat as the mist cleared.
“Does Nightscar know any magic?” Brightheart asked.
“No-one knows. He didn’t appear to know any when he attacked here,” Riverrune answered. “Now, it’s your turn to say the spell.” Brightheart practised the spell over and over, creating the glowing fog and making it vanish. They stood in opposite corners of the room as Brightheart filled it with mist, Riverrune challenging her to switch sides. They bumped into each other, unaware of the footsteps coming towards them as they focused on not running into the desk. By the end of the lesson, Brightheart was sick of the mist, and exhausted from casting the spell so many times.
“Brightheart, I’m going to give you homework. You need to practise moving silently and sneaking around. If that means breaking school rules and slinking around after lights out, then go ahead. Actually, you know what? I will hide a book in the library that you need to ‘steal’ when you’re supposed to be in bed. It will be ‘Werewolf History’, which I was going to get you to find and read, too,” Riverrune said. “I’ll borrow it for you and put it somewhere tricky.”
“Why do I need to practise sneaking around?”
“So that no-one hears you moving when you use the enchantment, and it could come in handy at other times as well. I’ll see you tomorrow, and remember that you need to bring the book to me by Friday.” Bright stood and thanked Riverrune, eager for it to be night so she could do her homework.
“Kyra, Ama, I’ve got homework from Riverrune!” Brightheart burst into the dorm.
“Homework? Why are you excited then?” Kyra asked, looking up from her own.
“Because I get to sneak around after lights out! I have to get a book from the library so I can read it,” she answered, swinging herself up onto her bed.
“Not fair! Can I help?” Ama looked up from her book.
“I don’t think Riverrune would be happy if I got help, sorry.”
“Oh well. Can I sneak around and try to catch you?”
You’ll have to ask, I suppose,” Brightheart frowned. “But you can definitely help me practice ways to be silent for now.” Ama nodded, deciding to be content with that for the moment.
“Kyra, are you going to help?” Ama asked, and Kyra began to pack up her homework.
“Yep. Hang on,” she replied.
“Alright. Brightheart, you need to make sure your breaths are deep and silent for a start. We’ll all sit still and focus on our breathing,” Ama said as the girls got comfortable. Brightheart closed her eyes and slowed her breathing, deep breath in and long breath out, as silent as she could manage.
“Good! Now, up you get and we’ll walk around the room one at a time. Go!” Brightheart went first, moving quietly and calmly focusing on cautiously placing her feet on the rug that covered the cold floor, heels first then roll onto the side and toes. Then Kyra went, and she moved similarly to Brightheart.
“You’re really good, Brightheart,” Kyra said.
“Thanks,” Brightheart smiled, then stretched, “Mmmm. I’m hungry.”
“So am I,” Ama added.
“Hey, what if you be really quiet and sneaky during dinner and we’ll see what happens?” Kyra suggested.
“No, then people will wonder if there’s anything wrong and look around for her afterwards,” said Ama.
“Oh. How about we just sneak down to the hall right now? It’s nearly time anyway,” Brightheart leaned her head on her fist.
“Good idea. Let’s go!” Kyra was already halfway down the stairs by the time Brightheart and Ama got out the door.
“Woah, slow down!” Brightheart called. The three sets of footsteps stampeding down stopped, and after a moment they continued, each half focused on their own footfalls and half on the others’.
Left foot; heel, outer arch, toes, right foot; heel, outer arch, toes. Brightheart trod softly on the stairs, slipping through the shadows like a fish through water. She soon reached the library, and stopped when she saw that there was light. Staying in the dark a moment more, Brightheart regained her slow breathing pattern and continued, slowly seeping from one shadow to another and behind a bookcase to see who was there. It was Centaur, with his back to the rest of the library. Brightheart had spent her life hunting, and all her instincts and habits were pulling her mind to figure out what direction any wind was blowing and get downwind. She focused again, knowing that only some tricks would work then, and began to creep to where ‘Werewolf History’ would usually be, hoping against logic that it would be as simple as that. It turned out to be partly that.
Brightheart found a piece of parchment between two books that read ‘Brightheart, your book may be where the cat leads. Choose wisely: help or none.’ She looked around, and started when she saw a cat watching her with shining eager eyes. It blinked slowly, twitching its tail. Brightheart stared for a while, moving quietly back into shadow even though it was no use. The cat padded towards her, and Brightheart timidly reached out to pat it.
“Do I dare trust you?” she breathed, barely a whisper, as the cat turned and asked (in the way cats do) for its cheeks to be scratched. The cat only looked at the shelf and moved away. Brightheart tucked the note into her pocket and crept towards the cat as it led her through the gloom in a round-about way to the borrowing counter where Centaur was standing. Silence, yet so many whispering rustles deafened her. At any moment, Centaur could turn and see her, and she would have failed. Left, right, left right, keep going silently. Centaur still hadn’t turned, and then the cat and the girl were around the corner, still in deep shadows.
The cat sat down, staring up at the highest shelf. Brightheart followed its gaze, and found ‘Werewolf History’ displayed there, beyond her reach.
“I cannot help you now, but I’ll be here,” a voice murmured, and Brightheart turned to the cat, surprised.
“Climb,” it purred, its voice half-familiar except that purrs and meows hid whose voice it could be.
“Simökûlnga ma,” Brightheart said, and slowly began to climb the bookshelf, her only concern that it would fall. Left foot in the gap between two thin books, right foot on the next shelf where books would be were they not borrowed. Grip the shelves with a hand and move the opposite foot, repeat. It was a little hard but truly didn’t take very long. Brightheart was standing on the third shelf, reaching up to the book.
Brightheart’s fingers brushed her prize, and she almost toppled. Adjusting her grip, she flicked the book forwards until she could reach it. She slowly climbed down, resting the book on each shelf, then her foot had slipped and she was on the ground. There was a reason she had cast a silencing spell on herself. Brightheart rolled back into deeper shadows, hugging ‘Werewolf History’ to her chest. She sat against the wall, calming her breaths, head against her knees as she wondered if thumps could be felt. Footsteps came around the corner, and Centaur was looking into the darkness. Brightheart made herself as small as possible and tried not to move, knowing that she was already as good as found.
“Huh?” Centaur shook his head and went away. Brightheart let her instincts kick in again, knowing that she was the deer, playing hide and seek with trouble and failing in the dark. Yet she was also the hunter, and she had her prize, if only she could return to her dorm quickly enough.
Brightheart stood, slowly and carefully, tightening her grip on the book. She stepped around the library, keeping in the darkest shadows. She heard the pitter-patter of the cat following. The library door creaked when Brightheart opened it, and Centaur seemed to have locked eyes with her when he looked, but he said nothing. As soon as his back was towards Brightheart, she and the cat turned outside and shut the door again. Silently, through the gloom and streams of moonlight, they padded away from the library.
“Zal simökûlnga ævö,” Brightheart breathed, glad to hear herself again, despite that silence had saved her.
“Good job,” the cat murmured.
“How can you talk, even?” Brightheart whispered. “And why did you help me? What do you know of my mission in there?”
“You’ll know, but for now you can only be told that I’m yours to trust and you’re mine to accompany,” the cat replied, never turning its head. “I’ll see you tomorrow, although you won’t know it. Say nothing but to Sir Kai.” It continued down a different corridor, and Brightheart followed hers back to her dorm.
“Is that you, Brightheart?” Ama asked.
“Yeah,” she climbed onto her bed, not bothering to change, yawning as she tucked ‘Werewolf History’ beneath her pillow. If not for the moon, the dorm would have been too dark to see.
“Did you get the book?”
“Mm-hmm. Did… were you waiting for me?”
“Yes. Oh, it felt like you took a century.”
“Well I nearly got caught.”
“But you’re here and you haven’t been caught,” now it was Ama’s turn to yawn.
“I’m going to sleep,” Brightheart grunted, sighing. Bed sheets rustled, and the occasional owl hooted as it passed by the Eastern Tower. If only Brightheart was with Rustblade, it might all be alright, although everything was. But she missed him, and then what if she couldn’t defeat Nightscar? Thoughts swirled around in Brightheart’s mind, and she wondered how Tŕnjyl and Enya were going with their lives, eventually getting distracted by more things and falling asleep.
“Quiet, look here now!” Centaur yelled across the hall as everybody hushed, “There is a thief here! I am amazed, but someone was in the library last night, stealing a book. If anyone knows anything about this, please tell myself or Riverrune. Remember that you should not be sneaking around the school after lights out.” Chatter arose as everyone discussed the news and served themselves porridge.
“Oh, they were seen!” Ama moaned, knowing that anyone could overhear them and tell.
“How could they, though?” Brightheart sighed.
“What if anyone else did see and will tell though? Some things are important for homework doesn’t Centaur know?” Kyra added.
“I can’t believe there’s a thief here, at Aker’inra. you’d think they would know enough magic that they wouldn’t be able to get caught,” Ama shovelled a spoonful of porridge into her mouth.
“Well they clearly didn’t,” Brightheart repeated the action, eating quietly, almost sadly.
“Brightheart, I need a word with you,” Centaur said as she hurried to her lesson with Riverrune.
“But I need to go somewhere,” she frowned, afraid that he knew it was her in the library. She thought of ‘Werewolf History’ tucked beneath her clothes, knowing that one wrong move and she’d have trouble.
“It’s alright, we’ll walk.”
“Have you been researching the were-army?”
“Nothing much. Also, did you know there’s been a stray cat running around the place lately?”
“Uh, no, I didn’t.”
“Alright, well just be careful, whatever you do,” Centaur said, as Brightheart realised they had reached Riverrune’s room. “Hello, Sir Riverrune.”
“Hello Sir Kantery. Brightheart, go in and I’ll be there in a minute,” Riverrune smiled. Brightheart timidly went in, sat in the chair, and pulled out her book.
“Hi. I just needed to have a quick chat to Sir Kantery. How did you go with your homework?”
“Good. I got the book,” Brightheart lifted it a little.
“Yes, but you were caught. And you’ve been worried about that all day, I expect?”
“Mm-hmm. Centaur didn’t say he’d found me last night, even though I could have sworn he saw me.”
“That’s because I told him not to say anything. Now, tell me what happened.”
“I snuck down and into the library successfully, and hoped that the book would be where it might normally be. It wasn’t but there was a note in its place, telling me that the cat might be of help. I didn’t know there was a cat until then, but it was there in the shadows, staring at me. I decided to trust it, and it led me to the really tall bookcase around the corner from the borrowing desk. I climbed the shelves and got the book, after casting a silencing spell on myself. I fell on the floor and once Centaur went away I followed the cat out,” Brightheart recounted.
“What do you know of the cat?” Riverrune asked after a pause, and Brightheart told everything that the cat had said. He nodded to himself, seeming pleased.
“Good, good. Well, you just need to read the book. And don’t worry, I’ll tell everyone that the ‘thief’ has been found. That was just to stir you.”
“Oh,” Brightheart frowned, “So I come here and read ‘Werewolf History’?”
“Feel free to ask any questions,” Riverrune nodded, and gestured for her to start reading then.
Brightheart hurried down to the courtyard with her friends. Kella, James, and Keane were waiting with a few others.
“Is anyone else coming to race?” James called, wanting to be heard in the corridors. A few people ran in, and James explained the rules. The friends lined up on one wall, James shouted ‘go!’, and everyone flew across to the opposite wall. James called someone out and they went again and again and again, the losers starting up cheers. People in the open corridors above watched, joining in the chanting too. The games they played in the afternoons generally attracted about a third of the students, and two-thirds of that was players.
“Quiet! Everyone quiet! Are you all listening? Good,” Riverrune said, “The thief has been found, and there is no need to worry about that. But I have another announcement: the Muarrfirn Festival is coming up soon and, as is every year, we are to choose five students to compete in the Scavenger’s Maze. You must be over twelve years of age to enter. We will choose five out of whoever signs up, and if you want more information then please see Sir Owen, Sir Theodric, Lady Asena, or myself. The sign-up sheets are not up yet, because we want you to consider carefully whether you will make a good competitor. Thank you.”
“Myoo-feern?” Brightheart checked the pronunciation with Ama and Kyra.
“No, it’s myur-ar-feern,” Kyra replied. “I think you’d be good, if you’re over twelve.”
“Yeah, you would almost definitely be chosen,” Ama smiled.
“What is the Muarr- Scavenger’s Maze?”
“Erolbie celebrates Muarrfirn on the last full moon of Autumn. There is a huge bonfire on the night and heaps of dancing, and the festival is celebrated for a week beforehand. The Scavenger’s Maze Tournament starts on the second day and finishes at sunset on the fourth. There’s a list of things everyone has to gather, always including a bottle of ink, a wooden carving, and a set of windchimes,” Kyra explained.
“But there’s not enough of everything, usually there’s only five windchimes, so people have to fight for the objects. No-one’s allowed to actually hurt any of the other competitors, only disarm them long enough to steal some items,” said Ama.
“And why did Riverrune say that they want us to think about it before we put our names down?” Brightheart asked.
“Because you have to stay there for two nights, and the maze is really big. Every year, at least two people get lost and have to stay another night because they didn’t get out before sunset. Sometimes the competitors come out early because it was overwhelming,” Kyra answered.
“You said I’d be a good choice. Why?”
“You’ve got every skill needed, and why wouldn’t you want to?” Ama replied.
“What if I have a vision and get distracted by it? What if I get really homesick?”
“You won’t. There can’t be anything that the Queen had to do with in the Maze, and you’ll be too focused on trying to win,” Ama said, Kyra nodding.
They checked with Riverrune that Brightheart was over twelve years old, knowing that he would know when she was born. Riverrune said that her birthday was very soon, and that she would be twelve by the time Muarrfirn came. So, first thing in the morning, Brightheart wrote her name on the piece of parchment pinned to the noticeboard.
A week later, the list of the chosen competitors was pinned in the sign-up sheet’s place. The girls raced from the dining hall after breakfast so as to not get too caught up in the crowds.
“Yes, yes, yes! I’m in! Oh!” Brightheart exclaimed, and Kyra and Ama squealed, jumping about.
“I can’t believe it! You’re in, you’re going to be in the Scavenger’s Maze Tournament!” Kyra spun the others around, all laughing.
“Who else is competing?” Ama asked once they had stopped spinning and were heading to class.
“Weylen, Kella, James, and Liri. Apparently James is in second year? Also, I don’t know who Liri is,” Brightheart replied.
“Yeah, James and Keane are in second year, and they’re brothers if you didn’t already know. Liri’s in third year, but I don’t really know her,” Kyra said.
“Hey, Brightheart, happy birthday!” Riverrune came up beside her and her friends. Brightheart’s hand flew to her mouth as she gasped, excited.
“Yep. You’re twelve now! Enjoy the day, and congratulations on being chosen for the Scavenger’s Maze Tournament,” Riverrune smiled, and continued to wherever he was going. The same thing occurred with every teacher Brightheart saw.
When they arrived for their class with Sir Theo, they found Stone standing there with him.
“Alright, so every time both of us have you back-to-back, you will be taught how to dance, because guess what you’re doing at the Muarrfirn festival. Come on, we’re going to the courtyard,” Sir Theo said, and the students followed the teachers, setting down their things against the walls once they arrived.
“Right, form a circle,” Stone instructed, and everyone obeyed, although rather glumly, “Every second person, face the person on your right.” Stone and Sir Theo taught them the dance, and they soon had it mastered. After that, they began to learn the next dance. This pattern was repeated every time as the students got used to the idea of dancing with a partner of the opposite gender.
“Hey James,” Brightheart called as she ran onto the field with Kyra and Ama.
“Hi,” he called back, running with Keane and some others. They played tips and raced a few times, running and laughing with the others. Kyra tripped and gave a wonder tumble into the grass, and everyone laughed so hard that she tried to replicate the stunt, and ended up with so many different endings that it was hopeless and people’s ribs hurt. Then Ama decided that they would have a tumbling contest, and oh, how Brightheart’s stomach hurt after five people’s attempts. She was too sore and laughing too much to have her turn in some composed state, so off she went; running and tripping on purpose, trying to make a fool of herself for chortling’s sake. All the words to describe laughing were used up, and some were added, such as gurgling, because Ama fell on the ground after her first tumble and lay there laughing so hard that is came out silent except for the small gurgle in the back of her throat as tears slid down into her ears and through her long dark hair. From there it was more a competition of who could laugh the hardest, and then (because everyone was on the floor giggling their heads off) it turned into a cloud-watching experience, as the sun turned the clouds into honey and rosehip.
Brightheart said the calling spell in her mind even as her attention was called to Tŕnjyl. This time her presence was more inky, flowing quicker and smoother, although it was still honey-like.
“Hey Tŕnjyl,” Brightheart said.
“Hello my Dŕæunt,” the Starion replied.
“I’m twelve and I’m going to compete in the Scavenger’s Maze Tournament at the Muarrfirn Festival!”
“That’s what I was coming to talk about. Well done! Also, what about having to dance?”
“Oh, it’s alright. I like the dancing but the pairing-up is weird.”
“Well, you’ve had a fantastic day turning twelve. I imagined something special would be done,” Tŕnjyl said after a snort-laugh.
“Like what?” Brightheart grinned, cocking her head.
“I don’t know,” the Starion would have smiled with a mysterious secret in her eyes if Brightheart could see her.
“Ooh! I just had an idea: since you can see everything and talk to anyone using Ŕönvyx, can you get Rustblade to give you a message so we can talk?” she stretched her fingers, hoping.
“Yes, I think I could,” Tŕnjyl answered after a moment’s thought.
Brightheart squealed and clapped her hands together.
“What is it, Brightheart?” Ama asked, without looking up from her book.
“Tŕnjyl’s going to talk to Rustblade for me!” she explained, beaming and laughing her harsh cackle, then continued to talk to Tŕnjyl.
“Well, today is wonderful. Tell Rustblade that I miss him, and I hope he’s healed well, and I look for a trace of him every night. Tell him I’ll be in the Scavenger’s Maze, and that I’m a Magysûbymica. Tell him I saw Enya and Thayer – my parents – through a dream, and that I talk to Enya whenever I can through those visions. Oh, you’ve been watching me. Tell him what he would want to know,” Brightheart sighed, wishing she could just go home.
“Alright, I’ll do that,” the Starion said, and a moment later her presence was gone. Brightheart squirmed under her blankets and fell asleep wondering about Rustblade in the deep caverns, listening the the lullaby of memories of their echoing dragon songs.
“Brightheart, wake up,” Rustblade-of-Brightheart’s-dreams said, and she became aware of a hand on her shoulder. Opening her eyes, she blinked and found Ama in the dark, silhouetted by moon- and candlelight.
“Huh? What’s happening?” Brightheart mumbled.
“Just get up, and make sure you’re warm,” Ama replied, and Brightheart tumbled out of her sheets and climbed down. There were three candles on their dishes set on the floor with small bundles of cloth. Kyra and Ama sat on a blanket each, wrapped in soft fluffy warmth. Brightheart pulled hers off and arranged herself. Ama began to unwrap the packets and Kyra did the same, revealing a small pot of honey that could fit in Brightheart’s palm, small cakes and biscuits, dried fruit, and some candied chestnuts.
“What is this?” Brightheart asked.
“A midnight feast; your first, and our celebration of your birthday and getting into the Scavenger’s Maze,” Kyra spooned honey onto a cake and gave it to her. She took it and gobbled it down, enjoying every crumb and the sweet honey. She hadn’t had honey in ages.
“It’s a tradition among children to sneak away food for friends in secret and all share it during the night when the adults are asleep. It has a magical, mysterious, and secretive feeling to it, and the time is often spent spilling secrets such as embarrassing stories and people who one might like. It’s an easy achievement to not get caught, but is still amazing when you don’t,” Kyra explained, she and Ama also taking a honeyed cake. They talked and ate, each taking turns at telling stories and secrets. Brightheart sang Enya’s lullaby for her friends, and one of Rustblade’s songs after much persuasion. She considered telling them of the cat that helped her, but she had promised. Instead, Brightheart recounted some of the more eventful days when she had hunted with her dragon. Kyra told of the time she called someone who was being annoying a broken and brittle sword, and the whole class laughed but Arrow thought it was directed at her. Ama described how, for some reason, a little girl down in Erolbie decided that Ama was her mum and followed her around until the real mum came looking for the child. Every time Ama goes back to Erolbie with other students, the girl finds her and follows her around. Then began the spilling of secrets, each promising to keep them in return. Kyra told of her irrational fear of the dark and that sometimes she thought she saw shadows move only to find that it was truly too dark for her to see properly anyway which frightened her more. Ama said how scared of the were-army she was although she had little reason to fear the were-creatures.
“And I fear the common room, since the topic of secrets seems to be fears. Anyway, the secret I really want to tell you tonight is about someone I met- no, about the King and Queen and that… mmm no, my secret is,” Brightheart was going to talk about the cat, and then her hope that Enya and Thayer lived on, and then she thought for a moment more as she fiddled with her scale, “My secret isn’t really a deep dark one, but I wish I didn’t have to go years without seeing Rustblade and then once I’ve defeated the Dark Dragon and the were-army I would have to become queen. I’m used to my quiet forest and his echoing cavern-halls, and I’m not Ailith, so how can I even be the queen then?”
“You don’t want to become queen after your adventures?” Kyra asked, shocked.
“How can you not want that?” Ama shook her head in disbelief.
“I’m not used to it. Even here there are too many people, and I don’t think I’m old and wise enough to rule my kingdom,” Brightheart sighed, leaning towards the drawer with her tiara. She pulled it out and stared into the reflection of the flickering candles in the boysenberry-jewels.
“It’s so beautiful. And so many queens and kings are young in this land,” Ama said.
“My parents didn’t look that young. I’m content to return to Rustblade and stay there forever,” replied Brightheart sadly, knowing that it wouldn’t be like that. She had to avenge Enya and Thayer’s death before she could return, Rustblade had said so. Brightheart had never put it that way before, and now she was a little more eager since if not for Nightscar she might have had a different life, but she knew it would be an arduous task with more years to come that took her further away from Rustblade to who knew where and the evil dragon’s lair.
The three continued to talk for a while, telling more stories and eating. Kyra and Ama had snuck the treats from dinner (the honey had been a dangerous mission to the kitchen), knowing that the items were things Brightheart would welcome as familiar to her from when she had still been in Rustblade’s caves and sweet desserts that would be savoured. When the food was finished, they packed up and returned to their beds after blowing out the candles. They talked a little more, and one by one returned to sleep.
Brightheart sat in the chair in Riverrune’s chair and opened her books, reading ‘Werewolf History’ and taking notes. The book explained that the werewolf King’s bloodline was pure and old, as old as the Iyslyet Pack. The Iysleyt was a Pack of the monarch and their family, valuing strength, ambitiousness, caution, toughness, and quick-thinking, among other things. Doriima was a wolf with shaggy and knotty black fur, and an olive-skinned, tall, broard-shouldered man with a long braided black beard, much like any description of a time-worn dwarf, only much taller. His son was much the same, only a little shorter and much younger, without so much anger and battles etched into his past but still knowing, understanding, and joining in his father’s wars. The book described their personalities, and Brightheart continued, only have taking it in, until a more interesting part. There it expounded a little more of the werewolves’ various major events, such as the reasons that they were shunned in Rabeith in the first place. The day the old king, Soren, declared the were-creatures outcasts was a sorrowful day for all of their kind. They were already disliked, being part-wolf and prone to being recklessly dangerous, but King Soren came to despise them for other things as well.
King Soren was one of the longest-living kings of Rabeith, and had two sons and three daughters. He was friends with the were-creatures and even had some as his advisors. Then in the fourteenth year of his rule, when he and his family were out hunting, two wolves and a cat came out of a thicket and leapt upon a prince and two princesses, badly hurting them. King Soren and the hunting party hurried to the castle. The healers couldn’t do anything for the son and daughters, and they died within the week. Soren was enraged, and when his werewolf advisor heard what had happened, he fled. The guards said they saw him preparing his horse muttering that it wasn’t his fault but the king wouldn’t understand so he had to leave, although no-one quite believed it. Every were-creature in the palace had fled soon after in fear of King Soren’s wrath, yet knowing that running would only strengthen his suspicions. One werecat stayed, hoping that it would be alright, but he also left after King Soren decided to kill him since a cat had helped in the deed. Thus, were-creatures left the court of King Soren and his bloodline, and were declared treasonous outcasts from there on.
It was not uncommon for children to be told to ‘be good, or else the werewolves will get you’ after that, and when King Soren’s remaining daughter vanished and were-creatures were seen gathering together beforehand, the situation worsened. Being called a werewolf became one of the worst insults, and normal cats were treated with caution just in case. If anyone owned a cat they were considered treasonous by most, so a lot of pets were turned away and they ran wild and feral, wandering Erolbie’s streets until the were-creature guards started patrolling more and killing the poor cats.
Brightheart stood on the soft grass, barefoot as usual, surveying all who played there. She stretched her fingers, then cast aside her staff and called out to Kella to have a race.
“Where’s the finish?” Kella asked.
“Your choice,” Brightheart answered.
“Then the finish is there, in the cluster of trees,” Kella said, “Three, two, one, go!” The pair sprinted away, each a good match for the other. The cluster of trees was a good way away, and Brightheart wondered why that was the goal instead of a group of their friends as was normal. She ran, panting, and almost stumbled on a stick. Almost there, getting closer, catching up to Kella, then a tie! They were equals, and the fact was proven for the fiftieth time. The friends caught their breath for a moment, sitting in the shade.
“Do want to race or walk back?” Brightheart asked, and Kella shook her head.
“I need to talk to you,” she replied as Brightheart tilted her head in question. “Riverrune wants me to talk about the were-creatures. The book, ‘Werewolf History’ doesn’t say all of the situation. Not all the werewolves and werecats were in agreement with those who killed King Soren’s heirs. They left his court because they weren’t in the plot, and knew they would only be in danger there. One third of werewolves weren’t and aren’t hateful of humans, and two thirds of werecats are the same.”
“How- do you have lessons with Riverrune too?”
“Yes, every second day, in the mornings.”
“Why? Just curious.”
“Oh, same as you. But I expect he hasn’t told you anything yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will know, but for now you can only trust me,” It struck Brightheart’s mind that the words Kella said were very similar to what the cat had said on the night she ‘stole’ the book.
“Why are you looking at me funny?”
“Never mind,” Brightheart looked away and blinked; it was her secret.
“I’m sure you could spill that secret, but anyway, you can talk to me about whatever you learn with Riverrune, and we can practise spells on each other,” Kella smiled, standing up, seeming to know more than Brightheart did. The girls walked back to the rest of their friends.
Tŕnjyl’s gold-ink presence came to Brightheart’s sleepy mind, pulling her attention away from her breakfast.
“Hey Tŕnjyl. Did you talk to Rustblade?” she asked in Sûtaŕynæ.
“Yeah. He was really happy to hear from you.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he was glad you have friends and good teachers. He thought you’d have trouble getting along with them since you were brought up alone with him. He said that you’ve done a good job on learning some moon spells already, and on how well you cast them. He said ‘good job on getting that book’ – he grinned when he said that – ‘a true dragon’. Rustblade also said that his gash has healed well, although it won’t ever be quite as strong. He’s been lonely without you, even though you only left a few months ago, and that is a mere blink of an eye to a dragon who usually sleeps for years on end.” Brightheart sighed, homesick again.
“Only a few months? It feels like I’ve been here for years.”
“It was around midsummer when you left, and the end of autumn is coming, along with the Muarrfirn Festival.”
“Oh. I never noticed the turn of seasons, and I play outside every day.”
“Brightheart, are you alright?” Kyra asked.
“Hmm? Oh, yeah, I’m talking to Tŕnjyl,” she answered, picking up her cutlery and continuing to talk to the Starion as she piled scrambled eggs onto her fork. She’d forgotten to eat.
“Rustblade said that you should ask about specific ways to kill the Dark Dragon. Oh, an you can talk to him using the calling spell if you need,” Tŕnjyl said, and Brightheart gasped.
“Really? Awesome! I’ll do that later, and if I forget then remind me.”
“Alright then. I’ll talk to you again soon,” and with that, the Starion’s presence seeped away.
Brightheart continued to eat, the breakfast filling her body with warmth and energy. Yes, it was definitely cooler than when she had left her home. Her old instincts of gathering extra food made her panic for a moment, then she remembered she didn’t have to. But to keep that instinct and the habit, she decided to find food to keep, for midnight feasts and snacks. She sighed, realising that she wouldn’t have Rustblade to keep her warm. If she got too cold, she could probably always sleep in the common room in front of the fire.
“Hey, Kyra, wasn’t I going to research Magysûbym?” Brightheart asked, remembering that she hadn’t had a dream in ages.
“I think you did, but I’m not sure. If you want to know how to get another vision then you should probably ask Riverrune,” Kyra answered.
“Oh, I researched that a little for you, Brightheart. I forgot,” Ama piped up. “So there’s a heap of different things that trigger the dreams, and I know yours is to zone out thinking about something related to the vision you’ll have. I think a good way for you to purposefully get a dream is to ask Enya when next to see her and then to focus on something relating to the thing. I don’t know though.”
“Thanks. I’ll try that this afternoon once I’ve talked to Rustblade,” Brightheart smiled, a little painfully at all the tainted memories filling her mind.
“Wait, you can talk to Rustblade?” Ama asked, startled, having just started reading again.
“Yeah. Tŕnjyl said he said to use the calling spell so we can talk,” replied Brightheart, “You know what I just realised? I know more magic than Rustblade, unless he knows magic but I never knew. I don’t think he does, or else I wouldn’t be here right now and I could already be trying to defeat Nightscar so I can return to my home.”
Brightheart, Kyra, and Ama lined up with the rest of their class and waited for Sir Theo and Stone. Once they arrived, the students were led down to the field and formed a circle.
“Alright, listen up here!” Stone called, and everyone hushed.
“We’ll just go through the first few steps and then you can learn the next part of the Fire Vine-Step. Everyone ready? Off you go!” Sir Theo said in his quiet voice. Fire Vine-Step was the name of this particular dance. The first step was hard: it involved jumping sideways on tip-toes. The circle span to the right, eight beats of the strange curtseying-cross-legged-leap move. After that, each span on their own to the right. Left foot pointed and right over left, Brightheart sprang up and ducked down, eight beats again to her beginning spot. Then she linked arms with the boy on her right and turned for four, clapped both hands together twice, and span the opposite way again for four beats.
“Good. Now, boys, you form a circle in the middle and the girls hold hands, yes. Now gallop to the left for eight, opposite ways. Jump twice on the spot and gallop back for eight,” Stone instructed, and the children did as she said.
“No, boys, your circle needs to spin to the right first. Try again,” and so they tried again and again until she was happy with it. Then they had to figure out what Stone meant by ‘girls turn around and spin for four then back, turn around again and clap hands with partner’. Brightheart groaned when the teacher corrected them for the third time, and then Sir Theo stepped in to try and make them understand.
“Alright, yes, you’re all doing well. How about we try with music?” Sir Theo said, and Brightheart tilted her head, eager to see what the music was like. Stone pulled out a violin out of a case no-one had really noticed was there, and Sir Theo got out a banjo.
“One, two, three, four!” Stone called, and they began playing. Almost immediately the students started the steps, finding the beat. They were corrected again and again until they were doing the right moves at the right time with the music, and then at last class was over.
“Hey Brightheart. you’ve just about finished reading that book, haven’t you?” Riverrune asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Well, today I’m going to teach you another moon spell,” Riverrune said, and began to explain. Brightheart wrote down what Riverrune.
“Silkaatæzŕd,” he said, and thin silvery ropes bound Brightheart. She tried to move, but they were very strong. She felt as if she was caught in a spider’s web as she squirmed.
“You can’t escape, you know. Moon thread is the strongest thing,” Riverrune smiled, and Brightheart sat still again. He explained a little more and then told Brightheart to stand up, who tried but found she’d forgotten she was bound since the rope was feather-light. Riverrune chuckled and went over to untie her. Gathering it in a loop, he gave it to Brightheart.
“It’s actually kind of soft,” she noticed, getting a feel for it. It was woven together tightly and well, if you could say that light could be woven. It was pretty and had a faint glow, although nothing like the mist or moon itself, just enough to know it was there and maybe be able to make out shapes in the dark. The moon thread was so light, no wonder Brightheart forgot it was there, and the spell didn’t make it too tight or she’d have remembered. However, she did wonder how it could be so strong yet so thin and light.
“Yes, it’s thin and light, but it’s moon thread and even at new moon you can still make out the shape of it. The moon is strong, and so are its spells, just like you,” Riverrune said, and Brightheart smiled. Then he got her to practise the binding spell and every other spell she knew, vanishing the piles of rope that built up between. Riverrune had to remind her of some spells she’s forgotten, and reteach others; proof that Lady Vaerian never explained quite enough.
“You will do well on your journey, but you don’t know enough yet. Practise the binding spell and I’ll teach you another,” Riverrune said, a twinkle glimmering in his eye like a star.
“How many moon spells are there for me to learn? And why moon spells rather than any other kind?” Brightheart asked.
“Because they’re the strongest enchantments we know, so you will have more chance killing Nightscar,” explained Riverrune. ‘We’ meant him and Rustblade, Brightheart figured, sighing.
“Moon spells are generally taught in third and fourth years, and there are other things you need to learn but have no time to wait several years,” Riverrune held a secret in his eyes, and he was about to spill it. “I’m going to move you from your history of magic class up to the second years’ changing class. You will ideally, of course, have to return once you defeat the Dark Dragon, which I suppose you would have known. I will try to get you taught faster so you can move up in your other classes as well, but I will have to ask the other teachers.”
“Oh!” Brightheart gasped, beaming.
“Yes. I think what Lady Asena teaches is going to be helpful for you. So all your history of magic classes are now changing classes. But you still have to learn the dances for Muarrfirn, so you’ll still have history of magic until the Festival,” Riverrune grinned.
“Ma zal Rustblade thû listy,” Brightheart thought, sitting on her bed and looking out the open window. Everyone else was playing tips on the field, and Brightheart could just hear them. The crop fields and pastures stretched beyond the school grounds to her forest and mountains, to where Rustblade raised his head in his cave. He had been asleep.
“Brightheart?” Rustblade’s burning presence filled Brightheart’s mind, filling her with joy.
“Rustblade! Oh, how I miss you!” she cried, trying to remember not to speak Starion because a dragon isn’t a star and she wasn’t talking to Tŕnjyl.
“I miss you too. How are you?” Rustblade asked, his rumbling voice washing over the girl.
“Good. Tŕnjyl already told you a heap, I expect,” smiled Brightheart.
“Yes. you’re doing well. It’s great that you’re learning and getting along well. The Muarrfirn Festival is fun, though I’ve never been of course,” Rustblade chortled, “and so is the Scavenger’s Maze. Now, what subjects are you being taught?”
“Astronomy, basic spells, herbal remedies, healing, attack and defence, and history of magic. Only, Riverrune is going to move me to the changing class after Muarrfirn because I need to learn quickly so I can defeat Nightscar. Nightscar is the name of the Dark Dragon that attacked you, by the way,” Brightheart frowned at the memory, but she’d gotten a little used to talking about the dragon.
“Ah, good. Changing will be useful. Are you having fun?”
“Mhmm. Enya’s so nice, but I haven’t had a vision in a while. She’s the Queen, or was. You know Enya’s the name of my mother, right?”
“Yes. She was an amazing queen, and it’s good that you both have Magysûbym so you can speak. Tŕnjyl told me Enya’s ability. Hey, you know Muarrfirn is only in a week’s time.”
Then Rustblade began to rumble more, and a few moments later Brightheart saw him flying up from the cave to the clouds.
“Oh!” she gasped; it had been so long since she saw him. “Where are you going?”
“There’s a nice cold river in the mountains, and I’m going to get a drink. Besides, if I go to that one I can stretch my wings and you can see me,” Rustblade smiled, wheeling around then soaring to the horizon.
“I want to fly. Why can’t you take me to Nightscar’s lair?”
“Because I don’t know where it is, – which you’ll have to figure out anyway – and he’d see it as a threat that you are bringing a dragon with you. You’re safer without me, and you have to do it yourself. I would love to take you flying again, it’s been too long since anything, but you have to learn. Remember, you’re to come see me before your adventure truly begins. I’ll see if there is a chance to fly then.”
Brightheart continued to watch the land outside the window once their conversation had ended, wondering about all Rustblade had said. Somehow she slowly ceased to think and only watch the unchanging scene. Birds flew across the sky and the farmers worked in their fields. Wind blew the trees’ branches towards the north, and shadows of the clouds flowed into shapes and onwards to whichever horizon they were headed to.
“Ah, Brightheart, I was beginning to wonder when you’d manage to get back,” Enya said. Brightheart looked around to find the bunkbeds gone and herself at the window besides her mother.
“Hello,” she replied.
“What’s happening in your time?” Enya asked.
“Not that much, I suppose. The Muarrfirn festival is a week away, and I’m in the Scavenger’s Maze Tournament,” answered Brightheart.
“Oh, that’s fun. The markets and dancing are just splendid. My mother had to give away her best gold bracelet several years ago for it, you know – the winner is given a piece of jewellery from the King or Queen. You’d better practise your combat skills if you haven’t already,” Enya smiled.
“Oh, that’s alright. Do you know what’s been on the scavenger list?”
“Sometimes. I know this year – it’s you’ve come back ten years exactly, I think – there’s a rock, a shell, and a quill on the list.”
“Is it hard?”
“Oh, yes. You get lost and you’ve got a little Haven to sleep in, and you have to find your way out by sunset on the third day or you get disqualified. The Maze is really old, too. It’s a wonder there aren’t parts that have simply crumbled into ruins, but everything’s still standing perfectly fine, including the trees at each Haven.”
“Cool. I wonder if we could see it from here, like an overhead view.”
“No, not quite. But you can get a good idea of the twists and turns from one of the open corridors on the east side. Come.” Enya led Brightheart through the castle, explaining little things like castle life along the way. At last they reached the spot, and Brightheart leaned over the wall, looking out through the huge arch over Erolbie to the huge stone formation. There were ten trees marking the Havens, and the paths were hemmed in by the stone walls.
The week went on, and Brightheart talked to Rustblade every day, although it wasn’t the same as when she had really been there. Weylen mumbled that she was ‘Dullheart’ again one day as he passed, answered by a furious glare that made him look away in fear. He knew the consequences. Riverrune gathered Brightheart, James, Liri, Weylen, and Kella two days before the Festival began, explaining all the rules of the Maze and giving them a lesson on combat. Butterflies began to grow in Brightheart’s stomach, although she didn’t notice them until the second day of Muarrfirn: she was busy decorating. The hall and corridors looked wonderful, filled with their ribbons and banners and other such ornaments. On the first day of Muarrfirn, almost the whole school ground were empty because everyone had either headed down to Erolbie of off to the field for the day, playing games or wandering around the streets.
Brightheart woke early with a start. It was the first day of the Scavenger’s Maze Tournament, and she had to be ready and down at the Maze by seven so the rules could be explained and themselves off to begin. Brightheart dressed and headed to the hall, where the other four were sitting. They ate their plain fare quickly, barely talking, sitting alone at the end of a table.
“Right, come on now. Is everyone ready?” Riverrune asked, and the five each gave a nervous nod. Butterflies made the food sit funny, but they had to eat. Out of the castle and down through Erolbie they hurried, the other five from the town joining them, with whoever it was that was leading them. Kella gasped, suddenly seeming to recognise the lady with the others.
“Hello dear,” she said.
“Do you know her?” Brightheart asked.
“Yeah,” Kella looked flustered and frightened, acting almost embarrassed like she shouldn’t know the lady. Brightheart decided not to continue the conversation, but then discovered she didn’t have to anyway. There in front of the twelve people was the Maze, greatly unchanged from how Brightheart had seen it yesterday (or was it ten years ago?) with Enya. There was more ivy and moss on the stone, but that didn’t matter.
“Listen please,” Riverrune called, and everyone stopped to look at him “Well good morning. I hope you’re all ready for the Tournament. I’m Riverrune, headmaster of Aker’inra.”
“And my name is Queen Iladien of the werecats. I will be awarding whoever wins at the Crowning of the Winner Ceremony in four days,” smiled the lady who Kella knew. Brightheart bit her lip: this was one of the kind who had helped to kill her parents. Queen Iladien frowned at Brightheart, supposedly having seen her bite her lip.
“There is a clear path all the way around the Maze, and ten Havens are scattered throughout, each with a tree so you know when you’re near one. The Havens have keys, and these you aren’t allowed to steal from others,” explained Queen Iladien.
“There are two Glens, and you cannot fight anyone there. No trinkets are in the Glens, either. Here are your weapons – Brightheart, you’ve got your staff… And here are your satchels with you key and list of items,” Riverrune handed out the things, “I suggest you find your Haven first.” And with that, the ten competitors entered the Scavenger’s Maze.
“Good luck to you all!” Queen Iladien cried, waving, as Riverrune smiled encouragingly.
Brightheart turned to the left and walked the whole way around the Maze, getting a feel for it’s size. Five of the Havens were reasonably close to the edge, but none were hers. Just after passing the second gate, Brightheart found a set of windchimes made with broken cutlery and cord. Translucent beads hung on the cord, glowing in the warmth of the light like a jingling suncatcher. Into her bag it was hidden as she continued, turning to her left, straight, then right. A moment more and she stood in a Glen. Brightheart hadn’t seen anyone the whole time, only sometimes hearing a kerfuffle a few paths away. Three others were sitting on the mossy grass.
“Hey Liri,” Brightheart said. Liri replied with a smile. Brightheart decided to sit for a while, to look at her key and read the list, neither of which had she seen yet. She pulled out her key and turned it over in her hand, like she did with her scale all the time. It was small and silver, with an elegant knot of metal at the end.
“Nice key!” said one of the people from Erolbie.
“Thanks. I’m Brightheart by the way,” she watched her key reflect the sun. “What’s your name?”
“Rosalind. And that’s Colin. We’re family friends of Liri’s,” Rosalind answered, pointing at the man. Brightheart pulled out her list of trinkets and read through it.
“What’s a shell?”
“Oh, I haven’t read the list properly, have I?” Colin sighed. “Someone’s been to the sea for that.”
“What’s the sea?”
“Like a great big lake, bigger than anything you could imagine, and it goes on forever. Wherever it is, that’s the end of the land,” Colin skimmed his list, “There’s only one shell. Good luck finding it and keeping it, Brightheart.”
Brightheart stood and headed back to the outside corridor. She walked on, following only whimsy, and finding a path that somehow twisted enough to reach another Haven. Fitting the key into the lock, Brightheart let the gate swing inwards just as she spotted something to her right. Leaving her Haven open, she picked up the item and saw that it was a large piece of fabric.
Brightheart’s Haven had a birch tree in the middle, old enough for it’s branches to spread almost across the entire square that was her’s. The Haven was four times the width of the paths. Up into the tree she climbed, clambering as high as she could go. She peered through the branches facing east to Aker’inra, a reversed view of what she and Enya had looked out upon yesterday or ten years ago. A wave of homesickness swept over Brightheart as she remembered the first time she saw the castle, not knowing who she was or why anything in her past was as it was. She’d give everything to return to that, but she had to conquer Nightscar first, and then how would she escape her identity as Princess Ailith? Brightheart huffed, stretching her fingers and bearing her teeth in a low growl.
She swung back down, finding a book on the way. Checking the sun, Brightheart realised almost half the day was gone, and she would need food soon. The only trick would be to keep what she’d found and find her way back to her Haven every time she left it. Brightheart looked carefully around, finding a loaf of bread and a huge hunk of cheese, clearly meant for two meals, but decided to leave them for when she needed it in a hurry. Returning to the dangers of the Maze, Brightheart locked her gate and followed the path that had lead her there, so as to remember it. Again following whimsy, she wandered. She found nothing else that day, but gained a feel and a mental map for the more northern end of the Scavenger’s Maze. There was another Haven near Brightheart’s, and a knot of dead-ends quite close to that. Sometimes she felt as though she were in a maze within the Scavenger’s Maze, so complex some paths turned out to be.
Brightheart woke early from being tucked in the corner, and got ready to head out, looking for food. She managed to find some quite quickly, then ambled around. At sometime closer to noon than dawn, a dried flower pressed between a folded piece of parchment was tucked into her book to keep it safe, which she had left in the Haven so she had to go back first. Out again she meandered, heading to the west side. There Brightheart found a length of plaited horse hair, much to the disappointment of James, whose haven was just ahead.
“I’d fight you, but there’s ten of those,” he shook his head.
“Oh. Thanks, I guess. How many things have you found?”Brightheart asked.
“Uh, three maybe? I don’t know. But I haven’t got anything like the carving yet.”
“I don’t have one yet either.”
Brightheart sat in a dead-end near her Haven, eating a late lunch she’d found with the shell. It was fairly big, a beautiful smooth thing that twisted into a point, off-white with orange stripes. If she had known that she could hear the sea through it, she would have listened and thought it sounded like Rustblade’s breathing. Far away, there was fighting. Brightheart strained to hear what was happening, since it sounded like Kella. The voices and clashing blunt metal screamed and edged away, out of hearing range.
Almost immediately they came back but they didn’t sound the same. One voice still seemed familiar as they drew nearer. Brightheart reached for the remaining piece of cheese, and finding it gone she frowned, certain that she hadn’t finished it. Standing up and taking everything she had in her lap, she hurried towards the fight, fist tightened around her staff. Everything that hadn’t been in her lap had vanished. When she found the fighters, she thought she could recognise the girl whose voice was familiar, if only she were older.
“Give me your carving!” the other said through gritted teeth, pushing his sword against the girl’s. “Just because you’re the Princess doesn’t mean I’ll be nice to you, Enya.” Brightheart gasped. Her mother had competed in the Tournament. But she couldn’t talk to her, Enya might lose her battle or get frightened. Instead, Brightheart hit the boy with her staff, and he stumbled back surprised. Terrified, the boy ran away and left the two girls alone.
“Thank you. Although I suppose you want a trinket I have?” Enya sighed, ready to fight again.
“No, it’s alright,” Brightheart answered, taking in how the younger version of the Queen looked.
“I don’t recognise you. What’s your name?”
“Well I’m not sure if you’re from this time. Oh my, this is going to sound weird if I’m wrong and you’re someone I’m supposed to be competing against. I’m a Magysûbymica.”
“I know. I’ve met you when you’re the Queen. I haven’t come back this far yet.”
“Oh, good, I was right. Sorry,” Enya said and Brightheart smiled. “I’m not quite used it yet, people just popping out of nowhere and I’m the only one who can see or hear them. The first time it happened, I thought they were a ghost.”
“Well. So I’m you’re daughter, the Princess. I assume you’re the Princess right now?”
“Yes. What’s your life like?”
“Not the best, but it’s alright. I’ve got friends, school is great, and I’m learning as much as I can to defeat…” Brightheart trailed off, deciding that Enya mightn’t want to know the future yet.
“School? Wait, there’s something you have to defeat?” Enya looked troubled.
“Um, the castle’s been turned into a school. But I suppose you don’t want to know why, as um, yeah no.”
“Alright then. For once I’m not told things I don’t want to hear, especially since I can’t do anything about it. Thanks for that.”
“It’s alright. I hope you win, and I’ll try to see you again after Muarrfirn is over, when you’re older and a mother.” With that, the past faded and became the present.
Brightheart finished her lunch and gathered her things, taking them back to her Haven. After that it was time to head south. She found a painted rock with a pattern of leaves on it and the other Glen, where Kella and three others were resting. Just outside the Glen was a mirror of polished copper that fitted in Brightheart’s palm. Then the sounds of a fight pushed her to find a safer place, and she found a quill and inkwell. As the day drew on, Brightheart continue to meander about and eventually returned to her Haven. The stars shone brightly above her, laying on the ground and watching the sparkling pinpoints float across the sky. When she drifted into sleep she dreamt of playing with Enya as friends might, since they were similar ages when Brightheart managed to see the past again.
The sun rose beyond the castle, and Brightheart with it, half-thinking she was back with Rustblade from how the sunlight looked. She had spent her life outdoors, so she knew the time by the sunlight without having to look at the sky, and she was good at telling the weather. The sky had some low dark clouds on the horizon, from what Brightheart could see of the sky. Today it would rain. She gathered her stuff and headed out, taking her breakfast and lunch with her, which was the food she’d saved at the start of the Tournament. She ate as she walked south along the outermost wall, and once she’d finished she randomly took a turn into the twisting corridors. She found a ball of wool and a string of pretty beads. There were plenty of glass beads and three pearls, arranged in some semblance of a pattern although every one was different. Heading back to the entrance, Brightheart found a carving at last, but so had Colin.
“Don’t you dare!” Brightheart cried, throwing her things on the floor and gripping her staff tight with both hands, pointing the end at Colin, who drew his rapier.
“I never said I’d be fair! Colin smirked, though not particularly mockingly. The two clashed weapons, each getting jabbed a couple of times.
“You can’t win!” Colin pushed with all his strength against Brightheart’s staff.
“Said who?” she smiled, pushing harder.
“Might is nothing. And neither is magic,” he was fishing for her weak spot. Brightheart imagined him as Weylen.
“No, but taunting me and trying to make me give up is less than nothing. I will not lose to someone whose first time touching a blade is in a Maze where you aren’t allowed to hurt anyone,” Brightheart smiled, giving him a sharp poke in the stomach.
“Spitefulness gets you nowhere,” Colin grunted, somehow taking a small victory over the girl. She brought her staff down and around, whacking his back as she spun around out of the way.
“Ha!” she cried. Colin had fallen face-first into the dirt, some of his trinkets spilling from his satchel. Before he could recover, Brightheart had picked up the carving and Colin’s figurine and run back the way she’d come.
Her piece of wood was a whistle, beautiful carved. She blew it, and there was a long high, clear sound, not unlike Tŕnjyl’s voice but still very different. The clay sculpture was a unicorn, delicate and intricate. It was a little larger than Brightheart’s hand. She shivered as a cold wind blew through the path, and began to keep moving so she could find the exit, the clouds gathering overhead. She hummed Enya’s lullaby, thinking of how excited her mother, Tŕnjyl, and Rustblade would be when she told them – not that Tŕnjyl wouldn’t already know. As soon as she’d found the outer corridor, she heard James shouting at her to fight. Brightheart began to run, and James picked up his pace. She’d been near the first gate they entered, so she just had to run up the path to find the exit, but it was a huge Maze and she was out of breath. Bare cold feet pounding on the earth, blood rushing in her ears, struggling to keep all her things until she exited the Scavenger’s Maze. There was the gate, she could see it… it was already open… and Brightheart tumbled out onto the grass.
She’d done it! Brightheart had all of the trinkets and was out before sunset. James stumbled out after her, then realised he didn’t have everything, and tried to go back in but remembered that once you’d left you couldn’t return. Besides, he couldn’t get another shell. Brightheart sank to the ground in relief, leaning on the wall. The icy wind whipped her hair around her face.
“Hey! Brightheart’s out!” Kyra called. Ama, Keane, and several others friends jumped up and ran over, asking if she’d won or not. Brightheart only closed her eyes and took a deep, rather tired after the Tournament.
“Leave her alone, she’s had some long days. You’ll find out tomorrow,” Ama said, and the people stepped back a little. Brightheart smiled gratefully without bothering to open her eyes, too busy imagining Rustblade’s and Enya’s joy.
Riverrune and Queen Iladien came over to Brightheart’s table where she sat eating soup with Kyra, Ama, and Kella in one of the inns.
“Can I borrow you two, Brightheart and Kella, please?” the werecat Queen asked.
“Alright,” Brightheart put down her spoon, and she and Kella stood up. Kella looked rather downcast. They headed outside where it was drizzling and huddled beneath the eave.
“Since everyone comes out at different times, we’ve been trying to find each as they return. Just show us what you’ve found please, and give me your keys,” Riverrune explained. Kella opened her satchel and pulled out everything one by one. When she realised she didn’t have enough hands, she crouched down and spread them on the cobblestones, smiling weakly at Queen Iladien.
“Yeah… Brightheart?” she said as Kella packed up her eight things, returning her key. Brightheart crouched and spread everything out, taking the dried flower from the book. She heard Riverrune counting under his breath.
“Well done, both of you, really good job. There’s no need to say any more,” he said aloud, sending them back inside once Brightheart had given her key to him.
“You did a good job, you really did,” Brightheart said, looking at Kella with concern. She was staring at the ground, her lip trembling.
Brightheart, Kyra, and Ama trudged back to Aker-inra through the rain, talking about the day’s events. Brightheart refused to tell them if she’d won or not. Brightheart hurried up to the dorm to put down her satchel, which she’d been told she could keep, before running back to the hall for dinner. The hall was loud, reminding Brightheart of Rustblade, but she was getting better at surviving crowds. She was constantly asked what happened in the Maze, so she had to tell the story about seven times at dinner and nine in the common room. At last she managed to get to her dorm without someone calling her back again. She would have talked to Rustblade and Tŕnjyl but she was too tired, barely managing to crawl under the blankets before she fell asleep.
“Come on, Brightheart, it’s breakfast time!” Ama said and Brightheart opened her eyes, wiping away sleep dust. She slid down the ladder and got ready before somehow making it down the stairs without tripping. After breakfast, the girls followed their teachers back down to Erolbie, since they had to wait about half the day until the Crowning of the Winner Ceremony. They were allowed just about anywhere within the town. Brightheart ended up spending the morning in a book shop, browsing through the tales countless poets had told in the ink. It reminded her of her book, quill, and ink she’d won in the Scavenger’s Maze, and of the book Enya had been reading the second time she’d seen her mother. Brightheart huffed, realising something. She hadn’t taken anything into the past before, but in the Maze she’d taken at least her staff.
“Brightheart! Come on, it’s time for the Ceremony!” she heard Ama call from outside. Brightheart hurried away to the huge square and the huge crowd that spread into the streets radiating from it.
“Excuse us,” Ama mumbled as she pushed through the people, heading for the stage that had clearly been set up for the occasion. Riverrune, Queen Iladien, and another man stepped up, and the chatter fell to a murmur.
“Welcome to the Crowning of the Winner Ceremony!” the man said, and the crowd applauded.
“First we would like to thank the contestants for their bravery in competing, and for everyone who has helped to organise this year’s Scavenger’s Maze Tournament,” Riverrune smiled as everyone clapped.
“There were fourteen things for each person to find, and of course there wasn’t enough of everything for everybody. There was one shell, three quills and three inkwells, four wooden carvings and clay figurines, five windchimes and mirrors, seven strings of beads, and ten balls of wool, painted rocks, books, pieces of fabric, lengths of plaited horse hair, and dried flowers,” the werecat Queen explained.
“Everyone in the Tournament did very well, and of course they will all keep whatever they’ve found. As you would all know, the prize is a piece of jewellery from the King or Queen. Queen Iladien will let the winner chose from her collection,” the man said.
“Yes indeed, King Doriima,” the werecat scanned the crowd, stopping when she found Brightheart, who had been scowling at the realisation that both kinds who had helped kill her parents would be right next to her in a few seconds. “…And the moment you’ve been waiting for: the crowning of the winner! Brightheart, would you please come up?” Brightheart pushed forwards and climbed up onto the stage, beaming despite her dislike for King Doriima – Queen Iladien seemed alright. It was strange to meet him in person, finding what her book had meant when it described him.
“Well hello Brightheart,” King Dorriima smiled, but his eyes were coldly searching her’s, seeming to know something she didn’t.
“Just over here,” the werecat said quietly, opening a chest Brightheart hadn’t really noticed. Inside was so much jewellery that it really did shine, reflecting the bright sunlight that had cleared the clouds from yesterday in the morning.
“Pick anything. I’ve got so much that I’ve probably forgotten half of what I own,” Queen Iladien continued. Brightheart began rummaging through the chest.
“I have no idea what I want, you know, this might take a while,” she said, and the Queen nodded. She didn’t want a tiara or anything particularly splendid, something simple. Then two things caught her eye at once: a necklace with a indigo gem that sparkled as if it were the night sky, and a bronze cuff in the shape of a dragon curling around a wrist like a snake.
“Oh, take both, for I know your path. I’m sorry for what the were-army has done for your life,” the werecat whispered.
“Huh?! What do you know about me?” Brightheart looked at her, startled.
“That you will defeat Nightscar,’ Queen Iladien said, half-smiling, “But take your prize and say that Kella gave you the dragon cuff as a birthday gift.”
“Thank you,” Brightheart put on her necklace as the crowd cheered and whooped, trying to hide the bracelet until later. She wondered how Kella knew Queen Iladien personally, and why the werecat Queen knew so much about her. Probably Kella had told her, but that returned Brightheart to her first question. Brightheart was carried from the stage by the crowd, floating upon a sea of hands. She laughed, beaming as she was pushed from person to person. As she was passed over everyone else who’d been in the Tournament, they congratulated her before she was pulled away.
“Hey Rustblade,” Brightheart thought after she’d performed the calling spell.
“Hello. Have you had a good time in the Scavenger’s Maze?” he asked.
“Yeah, I won!”
“Really? Good job! What your prize?”
“A necklace from the werecat Queen’s collection of jewellery, and a cuff in the shape of a dragon. She said I could have it as a birthday present from Kella, one of my friends who was also in the Maze. Somehow Kella knows Queen Iladien, and I think she’s been telling the Queen little things about me.”
“Oh. Just be a little careful around her then. What does the necklace look like?”
“It’s just an indigo-coloured gem that looks like stars when it reflects the sun. I couldn’t decide between it and the cuff, that’s why the cuff is supposedly a gift.”
“Nice, though I wonder how she got that. Anyway, tomorrow’s the markets, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” they continued to talk for a while, Brightheart wishing she could just get up and run back to his cavern-halls.
Brightheart was about to call Tŕnjyl when the Starion called her, her inky presence seeping hurriedly into her mind.
“Do not call me when you’re wearing that necklace! It’s a special stone,” Tŕnjyl blurted out. “Sorry, just take it off if you need to talk to me. There’s an enchantment that can only be cast on that kind of gem, and it’s really rare. It’s not bad, I just don’t want to scare you.”
“Oh. What kind of enchantment?” Brightheart asked.
“The Sûtaŕynæ-sænû spell. If the wearer uses the calling spell on a Starion then the Starion will have to take their form that isn’t that of the star they are in front of the spell caster.”
“Cool. Alright then, I’ll try to remember to take my necklace off before I talk to you.”
“So I won the Tournament.”
“I saw. Good job.”
“Thank you. Hey, um, Rustblade wanted to know how Queen Iladien got the necklace. Is the spell hard to cast?”
“Yes, it’s extremely hard to get right. She doesn’t realise what she’s lost today, but she doesn’t know any magic anyway. The person who gave it to her didn’t understand how much it’s worth, and the person who made it is going to get a talking to from me.”
“Wait, you know who put the enchantment on the gem?”
“Yeah. It was Novem Lupus; Gŕæxind. Only a Starion can cast the spell, as it’s too hard for anyone else to get right.”
“Isn’t that one of the stars in the wolf constellation?”
“Yes, and now I’ve got to talk to him. Why he did it is a mystery and how he managed to get all he needed for the necklace is an even bigger one. Bye!” Tŕnjyl’s presence vanished almost straight away: clearly she wanted to yell at that Gŕæxind.
Brightheart, Kyra, and Ama ran down the hill to Erolbie, eager to get to the markets. It was fairly late in the morning, which they’d spent anxiously waiting until Riverrune said they could go. The square was already bustling, full of people and stalls.
“Come on, let’s look around and see what’s here!” Ama called after a moment of staring, already heading to the closest stall. There was a stall for each item Brightheart had had to find, varying in expensiveness depending on how many there had been in the Maze. When the sun reached its zenith, the girls looked for a food stall, and found one selling hot pies and bread rolls. They each bought a pie and a roll, and happily ate them as they continued to wander around. They discussed what the bonfire night would be like, and Brightheart told them about seeing Enya in the Maze. Having looked around at everything, they split up to buy what they wanted. Brightheart went back to the stall selling books, and bought the book she’d found yesterday before the Ceremony.
The students were divided into groups of ten to gather firewood for the bonfire in the evening. Brightheart was with Kyra, Ama, Kella, James, Keane, Muriel, Conrad, and two others (Muriel and Conrad played with them in the afternoons). They headed to the forest with four more groups, and were warned not to go too deep in. Brightheart smiled at that, knowing Rustblade wouldn’t be disturbed.
“I think we should have a leader,” Ama said, and a few nodded. “Who wants to be the leader?” No-one said a word, only shifting their feet.
“I’ll be the leader,” Brightheart replied, “I know these woods best.”
“Alright then,” Ama smiled; she and Kyra both knew.
“Keep in sight of each other, and remember we’ve got to be back for lunch. We need plenty of dry branches, so don’t try to pick them up on your own,” instructed Brightheart, and they began their hunt.
Brightheart wanted to see Rustblade but she knew she couldn’t leave her group, and they weren’t allowed too far in. She wandered around with her friends, building up the pile of firewood she carried. Eventually they reached the stream, and sat down to take a break. Brightheart splashed her face and drank, remembering her life before Nightscar. Oh how young it seemed she’d been, when it had only been five or so months since she left the forest. She wondered where the tree that she’d climbed was.
“Time to head back now!” Brightheart called after a few minutes. Burdened as they were, they returned quite quickly, dragging along their harvest. They put the firewood on the growing pile that had appeared in the early morning, somewhere just north of Erolbie. After that it was time for lunch, then waiting until dusk.
“Tonight is the last full moon of autumn. Tonight is the bonfire, which we have held for hundreds of year, celebrating the warmth of the sun that goes and returns with each year, each summer and spring. As the moon pulls the tide, so the sun pulls along the days, ever returning. I welcome you now to dance until you are exhausted, and to sing until your voice is hoarse,” King Doriima declared, “Let the bonfire be lit and the night begun!” The great fire was set alight, brilliant flames climbing high in the freezing wind, chasing away every fear and shadow. Everyone mingled to form five huge rings, each larger than the one before, and some musicians began the familiar tune of the Fire Vine-Step. Song after song after dance after dance, on and on, the night grew slowly older.
At what Brightheart supposed to be eight, there was a feast that had been prepared on the edges of the fire, unnoticed by Brightheart who had been too absorbed in the dancing. It was a magnificent feast, and there was plenty to go around. Pies and roast meat of every sort, delicious drinks that both warmed and refreshed, and wondrous cakes covered in honey.
“Look at the moon!” Brightheart pointed to the shrouded horizon, as did many others. The silver sun was gleaming upon the delighted faces of all. Glowing as brightly as all the stars in the sky combined, the moon – so perfectly round as it was – lit up the land below it illuminating any shadows that had crept back. Brightheart had spent countless nights awake with Rustblade watching the glittery world above hers in awe, and would have done again on that night, except for something that changed the festival completely.
A different light, a golden-red light, was somehow sent streaking across the sky. The night exploded into panic and chaos. Half of the people sitting around the bonfire got up and fled, either into the bushed or back to Erolbie, while Brightheart was left standing, looking up to the moon, as Rosie called for all in Liraly to follow herself and O.
“Brightheart! Brightheart, come on!” Kyra pulled her along, sounding terrified.
“What- What’s happening? Why was a burst of flame in the sky?” she asked as they trotted to keep up with Rosie’s hasty walking.
“How are we supposed to know? But I think it’s got to do with the were-army and that Dark Dragon,” Ama’s brow was furrowed in concern.
Just before they entered the castle, Kella broke away from the Tarinou group to talk to Brightheart.
“Meet me in the courtyard when the bell chimes midnight. Yes, you’ll have to sneak out,” she murmured in her ear before vanishing back to her house. Brightheart stared after Kella, wanting furiously to know what was going on. Kella had told her things about the were-army before, so maybe she had answers. Brightheart continued walking to the Eastern Tower, following only by habit and knowing where to go than sight.
“Right, I want you all to go to bed straight away, lights out and no talking. Understood?” Rosie announced, and a few voices murmured ‘yes’, then turned out of the room and closed the door behind her. Only few people obeyed, the rest wanting answers.
Go on, you heard Rosie,” said one of the older students firmly, who obviously had some authority, because everyone headed up to their dorms at that.
Brightheart climbed onto her bed, staring blankly at the closed window, waiting until midnight.
“Do you think Riverrune will send me on my quest now?” she asked glumly.
“No, you haven’t learnt enough yet. Although he’ll probably give you heaps of extra homework to speed you up,” Ama mumbled. Kyra’s breathing was even and deep, so she must’ve dropped off right away. Brightheart persisted in waiting, whether patiently or not who could tell,listening to the slow breaths of the sleeping house of Liraly.
At last the clock tolled out, and Brightheart shook herself out of her dozing. She climbed down and grabbed her staff then slipped through the common room, down the stairs, and out into the courtyard beneath the pale cold moonlight. Kella arrived only a second later. They sat together in the darkest corner, keeping their voices low.
“What happened tonight?” Brightheart asked.
“I have no idea, but they’ve done their work: to cause panic. The were-army is planning something, and it’s going to be bad. Listen to me, and don’t go anywhere alone,” Kella said, looking really worried.
“So I can’t play in the afternoons?” Brightheart sighed.
“Well, no, actually,” A small half-smile spread on Kella’s tense face, “That’s how we’ll try to stop them. You and I are going to be the seekers in hide and seek, and we’re going to stick together. We’ll stop their plan from working.”
“How do you know what they’re doing?” Brightheart asked.
“I just do. But I’m not supposed to, so don’t tell anyone that I do, they’ll ask awkward questions. No, you can’t ask those questions either. I’ve probably said too much already,” Kella answered, and Brightheart’s mind returned to wondering how she knew the werecat queen.
“Oh, you’ve supposedly given me the dragon cuff. The Queen said so, since, I couldn’t decide,” Brightheart smiled, wanting to ask how the Queen and her friend knew each other, but she knew it would be defined as awkward.
“Yeah, she told me. That, and that you need to stick with me since the were-army wouldn’t dare touch me-” Kella stopped abruptly, Brightheart tilted her head, Kella blinked. How was it that Kella always said too much but Brightheart didn’t, and yet she was always told more than enough?
“Riverrune tells you to tell me things, doesn’t he? Why doesn’t he just tell me himself?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he wants you to learn that you can trust me and build a strong friendship.”
“Then why aren’t I in Tarinou with you?”
“It’s not about people in houses, it’s about your personality. You’re in Liraly because you do things with all you learn: you’re an achiever. I’m in Tarinou because I can figure things out: I’m a knower. People in Atunfe are there because they’re the best at casting spells: they’re enchanters.”
Brightheart and Kella counted in sync in the weak winter sunlight, a few days after the end of Muarrfirn. They reached sixty, and ran off together to search. They found Kyra, Ama, Keane, and then…
“No!” Kella yelled, and Brightheart caught up to her. Before either could say another word, Brightheart heard a growl and saw a werewolf creeping towards a rock where James’ head was sticking up.
“Don’t you dare!” Brightheart warned. The werewolf bared its teeth. Kella was shaking but inched between it and James.
“I know you will not touch me, he who is Iyslyet,” Kella seemed to make herself bigger, drawing on fear and anger.
“I will if I must! You are only young, you cannot stop me!” the voice was slightly familiar, in the same way that the cat in the library’s voice had been. Why was everything so out of Brightheart’s reach?”
“You are not worthy to be any Koldu. No! I don’t care what you’ll do, because you won’t! she’ll kill you and the second isn’t ready!”
“Well she will hear of this. You cannot possibly speak to me like this! And that girl-” Kella scratched the werewolf’s face, grabbing its tail and yanking hard, since it had lunged forwards and taken poor whimpering James.
“You are no Koldu to me! Out of either, the Keldi is the only worthy one! You can do nothing, and I have already been working against you for years!” Kella screamed after the werewolf, running with Brightheart to try to rescue James.
There was no point. Other werewolves had taken three others, who were crying and shouting.
“Liri! Conrad! Muriel!” Kella wailed shakily, tears beginning to stream down her face.
“What wa- was that about?” Brightheart gasped.
“They would have taken you if I weren’t there. But I failed to keep the others safe as well,” sobbed Kella.
“But why?” Brightheart cried, shaken and scared, and beginning to choke on her own tears.
“I’ve told you too much already!” Kella’s face was a waterfall, “We need to find Riverrune.”
So they ran, tears pouring from their eyes, calling desperately for the headmaster. Teachers heard the commotion and hurried past the girls to to others who’d been playing. At last they found Riverrune racing towards them.
“Come on then! Kella, you did as I asked?” he panted.
“Yes, but he still took James. I’m sorry. And there were others. Muriel, Liri, and Conrad are gone. I told the werewolf that he’s no Koldu to me, and only the Keldi is worthy and true,” Kella gasped through her tears.
“You’ll pay for that. He’ll find some way to punish you. But we must see how much we can mend this,” Riverrune pulled the bawling girls along.
The field had turned from games to chaos, everyone rather confused and frightened. Kyra and Ama were trying to help calm the others down, but of course they were in as much a state as the rest.
“Calm down, it’s alright,” Centaur shouted over the turmoil, but no-one listened. It wasn’t true anyway. Nothing had truly been alright since Nightscar attacked Rustblade, and it was all getting steadily worse.
“Quiet!” Riverrune roared, “Everyone to their common rooms now and do. Not. Leave. Anyone who actually saw what happened, come with me.” Keane and Kyra left rather reluctantly, leaving Ama, Brightheart, and Kella to follow Riverrune.
O, Stone, and Centaur also came, the other teachers having escorted their young charges back to their houses. Riverrune took them to his office, where they sat or stood stiffly about in a porcelain silence, similar to the kind made by the silencing spell.
“Well, Ama, would you like to go first?” the headmaster asked after a moment. Ama gave a slight nod.
“Kella and Brightheart found me quite quickly – we were playing hide and seek –and I sat down to wait. They found Kyra then Keane, and they came to sit with me. They started talking and I watched Brightheart. they’d almost found James, no, they had found him, but at the same time as a werewolf did. Somehow we didn’t see it before,” Ama paused for a moment. “Then Kella started arguing with the werewolf and it argued back. I’m not sure what was said.”
“Alright. Brightheart?” Riverrune gestured for her to say her part.
She explained what she thought had happened, wondering why they all had to recount it if their tales would be the same, albeit with more detail depending on who said it. Kella clarified what she’d said to the werewolf and the teachers questioned her on the werewolves’ appearances. Brightheart couldn’t make heads or tails of the teachers’ worried looks and murmurings. No-one explained anything, having apparently decided that Brightheart didn’t need to know any more than she already did. It was a riddled conversation Kella had with Riverrune, full of tears and thinking she’d failed.
“Kella, you did well. Yes they kidnapped four people, but they will be taken to Nightscar’s lair and Brightheart will rescue them. They are a bait for her, but she will be strong enough, and of course I will send the Keldi’s ternsa’s datry with her,” Riverrune said.
“What does all that mean?” Brightheart cried.
“Nothing to you yet. I’m sorry, but I can’t explain right now. The were-army’s plan will not work: you and your friends will not be killed,” he answered quietly, “and I know because I will teach you. The Keldi’s ternsa’s datry will explain to you all of it, but you need to learn first and you won’t meet her until you meet my friend in an inn. Oh, why do we always say too much? I suppose it’s because I don’t want to keep you in the dark for much longer.”
“You won’t have to,” said Kella and Centaur at the same time, then Centaur stopped and Kella continued. “The ones against it all are very strong and soon there will be war. The Orrazens will soon have a plan and they hope the dreyin-halern will agree to help afterwards since the dreyin-halern’s life has been affected by the ones the Orrazens rise against.”
“Stop being so cryptic! Who are these ‘Orrazens’ and this ‘dreyin-halern’? What on earth are Keldis and Koldus? Who is the Keldi’s… Keldi’s ternsa’s datry?” Brightheart shouted at last in frustration.
“We can’t tell you too much yet,” Centaur shook his head.
“Well if there’s nothing you can tell me that doesn’t need deciphering then I’m going to my room!” she stood up and moved towards the door. Nobody said anything, so she continued to storm out, raging. Kella hadn’t even looked at her as she left, looking at her hands instead, avoiding eye contact.
The halls were empty, and an eerie silence had filled them. Brightheart supposed she’d hear a lot of nothing useful for a while. She didn’t want to tell Kyra what had been said, and she didn’t feel like talking to anyone anyway. Four of her friends had been taken and it was her fault for not helping Kella or watching around the area. Glaring at the door for not opening as quickly as she would have liked, she stomped halfway up the stairs then stopped. It would be loud in the common room, and people would want to know what happened. Brightheart continued slowly, quietly, the chatter growing louder. She sat down on the stars next to the door, where she could hear quite clearly what was said.
“It was crazy. These werewolves came out of nowhere and just took Liri, Muriel, James, and Conrad. Keane and I were really scared. And Kella was having an argument with the werewolf that kidnapped James, can you believe it?” a voice that sounded like Kyra’s exclaimed.
“Didn’t Ama see a bit? Where’s she?” someone else inquired.
“She’s with Brightheart in Riverrune’s office,” answered a third voice.
“Poor them, seeing that. And Brightheart, where’d she even come from? She just turned up one day with her stupid staff and Lady Livy put her in your room,” the second voice said.
“She came from from under the mountains and through the forest, I’ve told you a thousand times! And don’t you dare try to rant to me again that she could be in the were-army! she’s not, her life was ruined by it, and if you suggest it again I’ll curse you!” Kyra snapped, her voice rising.
Well, whoever’s voice it was was going to have a bad time if they didn’t take Kyra seriously. they’d learnt a curse of shadows in astronomy the day before, although they weren’t supposed to use them. The curse was the ‘shadows’ life’ curse, and it made all shadows near the victim seem to move and change into grotesque creatures that only they could see. When they were taught the curse, Kyra said she’d like to use it on someone, and now Brightheart knew who: someone in her own house thought she was in the were-army. The jabbering continued, sometimes with raised voices between Kyra and the others.
“Saady’ök’æc lilk!” Kyra yelled at some point, so apparently Brightheart had been called a werewolf or werecat. “See how you like that! I don’t care that I’ll get in trouble, it’ll be worth it!” there was confusion for a few minutes within the common room, then as whoever had been cursed understood the effects they stopped screaming.
The sound of the babbling conversations rose and fell throughout the rest of the long afternoon. Brightheart’s mind wandered through the day’s events, ever returning to the strange words Kella had said. And only Riverrune seemed to understand them. Koldu and Keldi, Orrazens, Keldi’s ternsa’s datry, dreyin-halern. ‘Koldu’ was obviously some kind of authoritive figure, as was ‘Keldi’, if she was right, but Brightheart couldn’t figure the others out. Weary and saddened, she began to hum her mother’s lullaby, trying to hear it in Enya’s voice at the same time, in order to see the old queen.
A baby’s cry startled Brightheart and she looked up. The Liraly banner beside the door was gone, as was the soot covering the walls. She’d done it, and on purpose for once! She stood and entered what was to her the Liraly common room, slipping through the door.
“Hello,” Brightheart smiled.
“Oh, hello dear,” Enya turned around, “How are you?”
“Not good. Everything is terrible and I can’t do anything because no-one will explain it even though half of it’s to do with my fate,” Brightheart sighed.
“Oh my child. If it weren’t for that were-army, you’d be here and grow up here. But how can I help you as things are?”
“I don’t know.”
“Explain what happened then. You cannot bottle up these things.” So Brightheart told the story again, with difficulty, adding in the part about Riverrune’s office.
“We can’t do anything, I’m sorry. None of it makes sense to either of us, except that these werewolves are after you,” Enya smiled sadly, putting an arm around her daughter.
“Riverrune’s supposed to be taking care of me, so he tells me I’ll learn all I need to take on the Dark Dragon and win, but it’s the were-army who’s trying to kidnap me. And I’m scared: my friends could be dying right now yet I’m not allowed to rescue them,” Brightheart wailed.
“Follow me,” Enya picked up the baby Princess and led Brightheart up the stairs straight into what was her dorm. By the window was a stool and a little pot of honey.
“I sometimes gave you a little honey if you wouldn’t sleep, you know. And then I had some too,” the Queen dipped a finger into the honey after uncovering it, and Brightheart did the same. They stood there for a while, simply enjoying each other’s company as the sun began to set.
Brightheart cried out, seeing the past fade and become people stampeding down the stairs.
“Brightheart, are you alright?” Kyra was crouching in front of her.
“Yeah,” she nodded.
“It’s dinner time. Do you want to just stay here and I’ll bring you something?” asked Kyra, and Brightheart nodded again. Kyra hurried down the stairs and Brightheart tried to return to the past again. It wasn’t working, so she moved to her dorm and tried there.
She saw the beds vanish and the past she’d left only seconds ago reappear. Yet she was still there, a paler version, as though reflected. Brightheart stood still for a moment, confused. Then herself from a minute ago gave a strangled yell and faded.
“Oh!” she exclaimed upon seeing that, and her mother turned around.
“Wha- You were just here…” Enya trailed off.
“I came back. My friend woke me from my trance and told me it was dinner time,” she explained.
“So you had dinner?” the Queen asked.
“No, I wouldn’t be able to survive in the corridors let alone the hall after-” Brightheart smiled then stopped, not able to find words for the day. Her mother nodded, understanding, drawing her child closer. They went on standing by the darkened window as they had before.
“Today I will be handing out your second assignment.” Centaur sent the rolls of parchment flying across the room. “You will need to ask on of the Sûtaŕynæ to teach you a spell of any kind. I would prefer if you talked to a Starion you haven’t talked to yet, since it’s useful know a few of them. Also, I will be teaching the rest of the class the spells you learn, so choose an interesting one.” He continued to explain the assignment for most of the lesson, then let the students pick their Starion. Brightheart took Kintûlral, Kyra elected Tŕnjyl, and Ama chose Xûydûsöz, saying that he sounded interesting.
“So Primis and Secondus Sagitta, and Quartus Imber. Nice,” Centaur walked past the three girls, “Brightheart, I think Riverrune said I’m showing you the way to your new class with Lady Asena.”
“Right,” she mumbled, but Centaur had gone on.
“For my assignment, can I learn a moon spell?” Brightheart asked as Centaur steered her around a corner she hadn’t thought they’d turn.
“Well, if you think that’s alright. there’s no limit to the spell you learn in this, so you could ask to be taught something that we’d usually leave until your fourth year, although I don’t recommend it,” Centaur answered.
“Oh. But I find moon spells easy. I know at least five,” she replied, thinking of all her lessons with Riverrune, trotting to catch up since she’d fallen behind. She wondered why she felt like she had said too much, why she didn’t want to trust Centaur even though he was one of her favourite teachers.
“Well unless you want your class knowing how powerful you are. I suggest you choose a curse instead, it could be useful,” Centaur said. “Here’s your classroom. Just a warning: Lady Asena is pretty strict.”
Brightheart lined up with the second-years, ignoring their stares. The teacher came out of the room and beckoned the students to enter. Upon seeing Brightheart she nodded, then followed her students in.
“Yes, we have a first-year joining us. Riverrune has told me that she is entirely competent,” Lady Asena said. Then she instructed them to open their textbooks to page eighty-two and read about the effects of a set of charms apparently known as the Metamorphosis, according to the boy sitting next to Brightheart who’d introduced himself as Gwaine. She’d replied with her name then went on reading, absorbed in how one of the enchantments apparently led to memory loss if used too often and for too long. It was an enjoyable lesson, although Lady Asena – or Snowy, as Gwaine called her – wasn’t Brightheart’s favourite teacher. Rain had begun to pour down the windows halfway through the hour, startling her occasionally with impressive displays of light. Had her work not been so interesting, she might have struggled to focus, reminded painfully of Nightscar.
The rain did, however, create an opportunity for Brightheart to talk to Rustblade in peace, and escape everyone. She wandered around beneath the eaves outside, generally lurking in the shadows even though she wasn’t doing anything wrong. Most people were in the crowded library of their common rooms. Brightheart had spent more time with Enya, just sitting by the window as she had the first time she did it on purpose. Rustblade had comforted her and told her to trust Kella and to stick to her since in her presence Brightheart was protected somehow. The old dragon didn’t know what anything Kella had said meant either, when Brightheart asked him.
Reminded by Ama, Brightheart did her assignment one night as the rain continued to flow from the clouds, although there was no thunder.
“Ma zal Kintûlral thû listy,” she thought, fidgeting with her necklace, having remembered to take it off. Kintûlral seeped into Brightheart’s mind, her presence light and cool, like water from a spring.
“Hilu,” a voice airier than Tŕnjyl’s said.
“Hilu. Ny haf hönvûk… bûth yu kuw?” asked Brightheart.
“Yes. Sir Kantery recommend that I teach you a curse of shadows. I chose ‘energy-take’. The spell brings a monstrous shadow to life that feeds off the victim’s energy,” Kintûlral said, still speaking Sûtaŕynæ.
“Oh, that sounds useful. Good choice,” Brightheart replied. “Thanks.”
“What happens to the monster-shadow when you end the spell?”
“It dissolves – it still has a form though – and follows you until you take the energy it stole. In short, it is an energy provider, and can store the energy for years, gathering it until you could never need to sleep again if you were to use the curse often,” Kintûlral explained, “Although I don’t think you should do that. It is a curse, and yours is a pure heart.”
“Alright. Besides, I prefer moon spells,” Brightheart took the warning to heart and stifled a yawn.
“Good. You should go to bed; this is more advanced magic and you won’t be able to do it tonight.”
“Mmm. Goodnight.” She let the Starion seep away, and got ready for bed.
Instead of going out to play in the afternoon the next day, Brightheart sat close to Kella – Riverrune had told the two not to leave each other’s side – and continued her assignment. It was not as difficult as Kintûlral had made it seem, but Brightheart knew the Starion was right that she wouldn’t have been able to do it the night before. It was very strange talking to the Starion in her mind and her three volunteers at the same time. The monster-shadow was tiny, apparently a sign that the curse had been cast weakly. Brightheart’s volunteers also reported that they weren’t getting tired.
“Ynŕgû-tæc!” she said firmly, frustrated. At last her monster-shadow was closer to the correct size, and Keane began to look sleepy within about ten minutes.
“Good, good!” Kintûlral exclaimed. “Let’s continue trying tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” Brightheart thought as the Starion seeped away, then said aloud, “I wish I could give you back your energy but I can’t, so maybe go have a nap… And I’ll need to practise again tomorrow, if that’s alright. So, um, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Her friends nodded and headed off.
A few days later, Brightheart had perfected the curse. According to Kintûlral, if the monster-shadow moved quickly then it had a lot of energy stored. The curse-formed creature moved at the speed of a slow walker, much faster than the snail-pace it had had at first. Meanwhile, Snowy had taught Brightheart one of the Metamorphosis, a relatively easy charm that changed the caster’s facial features. They had practised with mirrors on their desks to check if the spell had worked. It had been eerie, looking at herself with blonde then brown hair. Her hair had been all she could change, and relief washed over her when she returned her hair back to midnight. Odd green eyes didn’t fit with blonde or brown hair, although appearance didn’t change fate or past. Brightheart thought that was why the words ‘tŕanxvigöö væx’ didn’t work as well for her: she was content with who she was, even though she disliked how she’d become herself. The practical lessons were spaced apart by two theory lessons, so they didn’t lose their memory like the textbook had explained. That seemed to have something to do with forgetting one’s identity after having used the Metamorphosis. This was also why Snowy didn’t set their homework to be practising it.
Brightheart retreated into her own world, mostly, just as Kella had done when Connel was stolen. She visited Enya a lot and talked to Tŕnjyl and Rustblade less. Kella seemed less shocked than the first time, but she and Ama still cut themselves off. Sometimes the tree talked, only to be joined by somebody who wanted to hear what they had to say. Brightheart and Ama asked about the strange words, but Kella never answered. Brightheart asked Riverrune and Centaur, but they didn’t answer either, frustrating her and causing her to retreat from socialisation even more.
The astronomy assignment was handed in on a frosty morning, the ground still slushy and leaving anyone brave enough to go barefoot with mud between their toes. This included Brightheart, who’d never had shoes on her feet in her life. The spells picked by her classmates were interesting and most a little challenging. When the lesson came for Centaur to teach his students the energy-take curse, Brightheart was the only one who could do it, but half of the class could draw a monster-shadow to life.
“If you look around at the monster-shadows, you’ll see that everyone’s curse-creature is different, depending on their fears or something that has majorly affected their lives,” Centaur explained something that Kintûlral hadn’t mentioned. Brightheart cast the curse again, sending it towards a random student, watching the monster-shadow. It looked a bit like a dragon. Yes, the longer Brightheart watched the clearer it seemed. She wasn’t sure if it was Nightscar or Rustblade, but for life-changing things it was both, so it didn’t really matter. Suddenly Brightheart noticed how tired her class mate had become, and called of the spell, calling out an apology to the yawning boy. Had anyone seen the form her curse had taken? Brightheart glanced around the room nervously, but it appeared that no-one had seen it.
Dragons. Two in her life, one to care and one to kill. A scale in her hair and a cavern-hall home, a scar upon her past and a shadow on her future. Brightheart sat in the courtyard beneath the bright sun with her staff by her side. She remembered carving it and putting the gem into the knot of wood. Rustblade had carved a rune on it with his claw… Brightheart looked for the scratches the dragon had left, and smiled when she found it. It was the rune of safe-keep, like the constellation Cantio Custodia. She wondered if it had worked, then with another smile knew it had, even if it hadn’t kept her friends safe. Brightheart decided that she would find out more about the runes.
The days blurred into weeks, with little to tell the days apart but the presence of snow. Sometimes there was a thin layer on the frozen muddy ground, other times it came down in flurries, swirling around and stealing all sound but leaving frost-bitten footsteps. Brightheart had spent a few nights sleeping in front of the common room fire, still in her own world. Ama and Kella lived in theirs, yet somehow they all ended up in the library. Brightheart read of runes and fairytales, drawing the runes in her books and on the bag with her tiara. Ama seemed to be researching the were-army, leaving notes around their room about how some creatures didn’t approve of the allegiance. Kella just sat in a chair, watching blankly, contemplating things only she knew. Riverrune taught Brightheart a spell almost every lesson they had, as if frantically cramming knowledge and protection into her mind. When Kella talked, it was timidly yet somehow with strength – she was holding on to some hope – and spending silent time with Ama. When Brightheart ran out of books to read she watched Ama absorbing all she could about the were-army, sometimes re-reading books.
“You should talk to Secondus Sagitta – Xûydûsöz. He’s really cool,” Ama said quietly one day.
“Any particular reason?” Brightheart replied. There was none. Instead of watching that day, she called the Starion after taking off her necklace.
Xûydûsöz came like bronze ink; slow and thoughtful, and quick and mischievous.
“The first thing I’d like to say to you is this: how does my presence sit in your mind?” the Starion asked after they exchanged names. Brightheart described it.
“Well yes, that would seem true. But how you can tell ink’s colour by texture I don’t know,” he said.
“It’s more like who they are. If I were to talk to an evil person using the calling spell then to me they’d probably be black or red ink,” Brightheart explained, enjoying the talk that involved nothing of recent events.
“Alright,” Xûydûsöz said, “You’ve been down a bit lately. Do on thing for me, please, and imagine a book wearing a hat walking with a sword wearing socks.” Brightheart did so, and snorted with laughter.
“Thank you, I needed that,” she said, still giggling with a wide grin. And so their conversation went, serious one moment and hilarious the next. It added some much-needed humour.
Later in the day, Brightheart talked to Tŕnjyl and found that Xûydûsöz was her brother. Brightheart was astonished, yet also knew that the connection was there if she had thought about it. She and Tŕnjyl talked of the snow and memories of flying through the sharp wind above the whitened forest. In those times, Brightheart had returned from the hunt with Rustblade to eat and be warmed by the dragon’s fire, and sing the songs of dragon lore. She wished for that for the thousandth time, and Tŕnjyl reminded her of the sad dull message that she had to defeat Nightscar before she could return to her caves.
Talking to Tŕnjyl’s brother had lifted Brightheart’s spirits, helping her to shake off her misery. There was an announcement at breakfast a few days after her first talk with Xûydûsöz.
“The merchants are coming to Erolbie, and the famous market will be next week. Usually I would say that you can go without bothering to find a group of friends that you must stick to, but given the circumstances we must take precautions. Anyone who wants to go must find at least two friends to go with, and any one person is not allowed to be alone even for a moment,” Riverrune said.
So after breakfast, Brightheart, Kyra, and Ama pushed their way over to Kella and told Riverrune as they went to their classes that they were a group. Riverrune agreed, saying it was what he’d hoped. Restless with their excitement, Brightheart, Kyra, and Ama chatted without gloom, waiting for the next week.
“I’ve heard that the things they sell are magical. My mum once bought ink from one of the merchants, and everything she wrote was drawn on her hands and arms instead of the parchment. She couldn’t wash it off for a month,” Kyra smiled.
“That’s only a little of how wonderful and mysterious the things to barter for can be. There are enchanted flames, mystical plants with amazing healing powers, and charmed jewellery,” Ama said.
“Woah. Are the merchants witches and wizards or what?” asked Brightheart.
“Probably. But you can’t learn anything like the magic they know here, I don’t think,” Kyra answered.
“The merchants are coming and there’s going to be a market. They sell magical things, and I’ve heard that acrobats and minstrels are coming too! I’m going with Kyra, Ama, and Kella,” said Brightheart to Tŕnjyl. It was the night before the markets.
“So I’ve seen.” There was a smile in the Starion’s voice. “And I’ve seen what they bring. Will you let me say that you must buy at least three things I tell you?”
“The first is magic ink, like Kyra’s mother had. The second a lantern of Ever-Flame, properly known as the Xyvŕ-Vlam Lætŕn. The third is a healing drink called Hŕallilk Dyp.”
“Why?” Brightheart knew it was probably for her quest to Nightscar’s lair, but she didn’t think it would be that close. Fear filled her mind, trying to douse the flame of excitement that had sprung up for the markets.
“Draw the rune of safe-keep on your friends. Give them the ink if you must,” Tŕnjyl seemed to be being cautious.
“What’s happening? What aren’t you telling me?” Brightheart demanded, almost screaming in her mind.
“The Lantern you need will be the dimmest at the stall. And to talk to your parents, – yes, both – buy Time Ink and a Time Book.” Tŕnjyl didn’t answer, offering only one more thing, and then her gold-ink presence seeped away, more like honey as it used to be. A sorrowful part of the Starion seemed to linger or maybe Brightheart imagined it. All through the night, Brightheart felt that something didn’t seem quite right, that something bad was about to happen.
Brightheart woke happy and excited for the markets, although still wary of what might come. She, Kyra, and Ama got ready before heading down to the hall to eat. It was hard for Riverrune to settle the students to remind them not to leave their friends’ sides. When at last the meal was finished, the teachers led everyone down to Erolbie – which was filled with brightly-coloured stalls and warmth. There was music, singing, and dancing in the middle of the huge square, where the acrobats and minstrels were. Brightheart and her friends wandered around, seeing what was there. The air thrummed with spells unknown to the girls, and there was warmth despite the winter. There were benches covered in bottles and boxes, piles of book, and bundles of mismatched things. Everywhere Brightheart looked there were gleaming symbols.
“Look! Time!” Ama exclaimed, pointing to a table with books and ink.
“What do you mean, ‘Time’?” Brightheart asked.
“Time Ink and Time Books,” answered Ama, “They have two parts, one for each person. They let you talk to the other across time and place. Since you’re a Magysûbymica, you could hold it and go back, and give the second half to your parents so you can talk to them without going back in time.” The symbol on the books and inkwells was a circle with twelve marks and another incomplete circle inside. It glowed a pale aqua. Brightheart chose a fairly large inkwell and a plain, pretty, leather-bound book.
After some more wandering around, Brightheart found the Lanterns, and chose the dimmest, as Tŕnjyl had said to. It was octagonal, and had two rows of stars etched into the glass, one at the top and one at the bottom. The symbol was small and close to the top. It was five tongues of fire of varying sizes, and glowed amber. But the fire inside was more wondrous than the outer beauty of the Lantern. The Ever-Flame flickered scarlet-gold, warm and bright, full of magic.
Then the minstrels struck up a new tune to play, and the four friends turned around to watch.
“Come all to listen, for now we will tell the tale of the ‘Promise Of The Hunter’!” called one of the acrobats loudly. He was dressed in green and brown, and the others in black or red. One of the performers in red had a long stick tucked into his belt and wore a paper crown.
“Once when the stars were new and there was yet still little magic, a dragon was tormenting a village,” one of the minstrels said, and the performers in black roared, the three in front of their group waving torches high.
Brightheart listened as she and her friends wandered to the other side of the market, having spotted the Hŕallilk Dyp. She bought a bottle as the performers acted out an argument between a king and a huntsman. When it came to an end, the hunter stalked towards the roaring dragon and the actors in red appearing to prepare for battle.
“There’s the magic ink,” Kella pointed it out as they tried to find a good place to watch. Brightheart picked up an inkwell, realising she now had three.
Just then, she noticed that there were real soldiers strolling around the marketplace.
“What are they doing here?” she asked, gesturing to the tense-looking soldiers.
“Because they think the Orrazens are going to attack today. Those soldiers are werewolves, and are on the brink of war with the Orrazens,” Kella answered, her eyes twinkling with some secret. Brightheart untied the quill that had come with the magic ink and unscrewed the bottle.
“Come here, all of you,” she said, and drew the rune of safe-keep on Kyra then Kella.
“I figures something out!” Ama said excitedly, and Brightheart half-sighed because she was anxious to keep her friends safe. “There are some were-creatures that don’t agree with the rest of their kind. they’re rebels, and call themselves the-” Then she screamed.
One of the soldiers had grabbed Ama and was dragging her away, turning into a werewolf as he went. Ama was helpless, and neither Brightheart nor Kella could safely rescue her. The werewolf looked familiar, and suddenly Brightheart knew it was both the one who had kidnapped James, and King Doriima. Teeth bared and fists clenched, Brightheart roared as if she had fire in her mouth to burn the town.
“Give Ama back! You kidnapped enough of my friends and what for!!!? Give her back!” tears tumbled down her reddened face as she stepped forward to give chase and try to kill Doriima, but Kella sobbingly pulled her away into a quiet alley.
“Why did you stop me? I could have rescued her!” Brightheart’s fingers were half curled, angry and scared, and just about ready to fight Kella.
“He would have killed you,” Kella stood against a wall.
“Why do the werewolves want to kill me? Why are they taking ‘bait’ for me to go to Nightscar’s lair? I know enough moon spells to kill him and all the were-creatures!” Brightheart cried. Kella only sunk to the floor, her face in her hands, her body rising and falling with heavy breaths.
After what seemed forever but might only have been five minutes, Kyra came into the alley and sat quietly with Kella and Brightheart. All three were weeping. Snow fell, softly, resting on stray hair and cobblestones, stealing sound and warmth. Eventually they stood and walked up to Aker’inra, and from there left each other alone. Kella meandered off to her common room, Kyra to the Eastern Tower, and Brightheart to the library. They were the only three in the whole castle, which seemed loud with the memories of the day and of Ama. She sat in the darkest corner of the library, holding the Time Ink and Book, trying to turn the silence to her mother’s voice. Slowly the quiet turned to Enya talking, and the present to the past.
Thayer was there, talking to Enya. Brightheart almost said hello before remembering that he wouldn’t be able to see her. She waved at her mother, who smiled and somehow finished the conversation quickly.
“Hello dear. Are you alright?” she asked.
“No, there’s been another kidnapping and this time it’s my friend Ama,” Brightheart sniffed, yet another tear rolling down her stained cheeks.
“Oh Brightheart, what are we going to do?”
“I’m going after her tonight. I know where the Dark Dragon’s cave in, and she will be taken there, I expect.”
“Who are you talking to?” Thayer asked.
“Our Princess, Alith, only she is called Brightheart, because the dragon that raised her gave her a dragon name,” answered Enya.
“So today was the market, with the merchants that sell magical things, and I bought a Time Book with Time Ink so we can talk when I’m not where you’ve been, and so I can talk to my father,” Brightheart said, handing Enya the gift.
“Oh, the markets, yes they’re amazing. Thank you,” the Queen said, taking the Book and Ink. “Thayer, Brightheart got us a way to talk to her when she cant visit the past – that is, our present.”
“Well, thank you, little one. I have wished for a way to talk, since you mother explained that you do not end up growing up here,” Thayer said, not quite looking at his daughter because he couldn’t see her.
Brightheart stood and walked up to her room, hoping that Kyra had gone elsewhere. She had. There was a note on Brightheart’s bed from Riverrune. It read ‘Enya told Tŕnjyl to tell me that you have decided to start your quest tonight. Take care and pack little. You know where to go, and it is a long way. I won’t try to stop you, because you won’t listen, and you would resent me if I did. The war has started, and you will be hunted. Go first to Rustblade, then walk along the Merrylune River until you find the Reed Inn. Stay there one night and continue on your way. You know how to kill Nightscar. Return to Aker’inra when he is defeated. I wish you luck, protection, and an easy journey.’ Brightheart re-folded it and put it in her bag with her tiara. There was a rucksack on the bed where the note had been, too. It had one pair of boots, a knife, a few changes of clothes, and food that would keep. There was also a travelling cloak and a blanket, both warm enough for winter. Brightheart put her bottle of Hŕallilk Dyp and the Time Ink and Book in with her tiara, along with her prizes from the Scavenger’s maze. She wrote a note to Kyra saying the magic ink was for her and her friends to draw the rune of safe-keep on themselves with, and put it with the ink on Kyra’s bed. Then she went down to the kitchens to ‘borrow’ a pot of honey, some bread and cheese, and two bottles to fill with water. Back up to her dorm she scurried.
She put in her book from her lessons with Riverrune, and scribbled all the spells she knew in the back. Most spells she could do best were moon spells. Brightheart also packed she book she had bought at Muarrfirn, then wrote another note to Kyra explaining that she couldn’t sit still any longer and had left before more could be taken, telling her to keep close to Kella. She was sorry to go, leaving Kyra with worry, but she was ready for her adventure.
It was with a fire running in her veins that Brightheart left the castle in the late afternoon, hurrying to her cavern-halls home. the day grew ever older as she went, and somehow she arrived before dusk had turned to night.
“Rustblade!” Brightheart cried.
“Brightheart, my dear one!” the old dragon was surprised to see her. the familiar rumbling of his breath echoed in the cave, memories awakening.
“I can only stay tonight, then I will begin my quest,” Brightheart said.
“Of course. There is some of my huntings left over, if you want. I didn’t finish it.” Brightheart nodded and ate hungrily. It comforted her to have Rustblade’s scales around herself again.
Rustblade’s fire kept her warm through the night and the next day. They woke early and flew above the clouds, watching the sunrise as it tipped the clouds with honey and copper. The birds sang with joy at the dawn and clear day, and Brightheart laughed her cackle that had softened, – yet would no doubt harshen again – raising her arms to feel the wind. they wheeled an soared, turning higher on the thermals. The white, bare trees stood still like sentinels below, laden with ice, but above on dragon-back Brightheart flew, grinning with another cackle of glee. They flew a while more, then swooped down to hunt, then ate.
“So what happened that your quest begins now?” Rustblade asked.
“My friend was kidnapped, right before my eyes. And she was taken by that wretched King of the werewolves!” Brightheart’s voice lowered to a growl. “Ama was about to tell me something important. She’d figured out what Keldi and Koldu, Orrazen, Keldi’s ternsa’s datry, and dreyin-halern mean, and now I’ll never know!”
“Oh my dear Brightheart, I am sorry that everything seems to be going wrong. Have courage and stand to fight, for you are strong and can’t be beaten, whatever you may think. You are a warrior and a hunter, a child and a sorceress, a Princess and a dragon,” Rustblade replied.
“But I’m leaving all I know. How can I have courage?”
“You’re not: there is that calling spell, so you have Tŕnjyl and me at least. and don’t you have Time Ink and Book, so you can talk to your parents?” They talked a little more, then Brightheart mounted Rustblade again and he flew to the edge of the mountains, setting Brightheart and her possessions beside the Merrylune.
“Remember who you fight for, and all they’ve taught or given you. Keep hope in your bright heart –for which you were named. You will win for freedom, my child,” he dragon said to the girl.
And so with a regretful yet hopeful heart, and misty eyes, the quest was truly begun. The long, arduous adventure to the lair of the evil dragon seemed it would be a long one. So Brightheart set out, in the mid-morning, knowing what lay ahead: revenge for her fate and past. The way through the days were dull as Brightheart trudged through the cold meadows. The Lantern hung from her staff, clanking as she walked, the only light and fire on starless nights, the only warmth on the snowfields. She sang Enya’s lullaby and songs Rustblade had taught her.
Brightheart took out her Time Ink and Book, and found that her mother had been the first to write.
“Dear child, I hope you are alright and have all you need. Did you take anyone with you? If not, you’ll be lonely, and it would be a long way,” Enya had written.
“Yes, I’m alright and have everything. No, I’m alone, and yes it’s lonely. I wish there had been someone I could have brought, but there are none that could understand,” Brightheart then replied, the Ink coloured like a bluebird rather than Enya’s violet Ink, “I went to Rustblade before I really left, and that was now four days ago.” It would be a slow conversation, each waiting for the other to respond.
The snow was deep, the cloak warm, the Lantern bright. Brightheart sang a fragment of a ballad she’d heard at the market.
“In between the/ snow and river/ there lies secrets/ ‘neath fog and earth./ Winds and rains go,/ moon and stars glow,/ there comes dragon/ with twisted path,” then she hummed for a time, knowing only that and the last sentence, “Only the dragon/ could continue now,/ so left guide and light/ for stars’ voice and dark.” It was a pretty song and kept a rhythm to her steps.
“That would have been nice,” Enya had written when Brightheart next opened the Book.
“It was. He told me me to brave, to stand and fight. He said I’m such a strong fighter that no-one can beat me. But I miss my friends,” she scribbled.
“Yes, you are strong and brave. It will be alright,” Brightheart had looked out across the snow through the dark night, and now Enya had replied.
“I have so far to go. It’s boring, to walk and do nothing else,” Brightheart wrote. Enya’s Ink wrote itself onto the page letter by letter, sometimes pausing as the Queen though what to say.
“Talk to the Starion. They’re also your friends aren’t they? So you won’t be bored.” Brightheart spent the next day talking to Tŕnjyl, walking beside the icy Merrylune. For the way it brought Brightheart, she thought the river should be named ‘Sorrowlune’. But the river was pretty nonetheless, a babbling noise that reminded her of Rustblade’s breathing. Tŕnjyl kept Brightheart company through the day, talking about dragon lore songs and the softly falling snow. It rested on her hood and eyelashes as she walked. the only noise was snow crunching beneath her feet – she was wearing the boots Riverrune had given her – and Tŕnjyl’s twinkling-bell voice telling the story the minstrels had told at the market.
“Once when the stars were new and there was yet still little magic, a dragon was tormenting a village,” the Starion began, the words the same as at the market, “The people had had enough, and so they became an army, gathering weapons to attack the dragon the next time it came to raid. A hunter came, called Venandi-”
“Isn’t that the name of a constellation?” Brightheart interrupted.
“Yes. this is a tale of the stars,” Tŕnjyl answered, then continued. “A hunter came, called Venandi, and said to the king, ‘let me try to kill the dragon, before you begin war against it. That way, no men might lose their battles, for I am a great hunter.’ So the king let Venandi go to kill the dragon, making him promise that if he failed in a year that he would return and let the soldiers try. The hunter agreed, and went, with his weapons and horse. For two and a half months he travelled, and came to the dragon’s lair where no sun shone.
“Venandi fought the great dragon, but to no avail. Every day for a month, the hunter tried, with sword and shield or with chains, only gathering wounds. Nothing could pierce the strong scales, and nothing could hold the dragon down. Venandi began to lose hope, but never gave up, and so he rested then fought for another month. Again, he couldn’t overcome the dragon. So the hunter rode out and found a blacksmith, who forged for him a mighty blade and a strong shield. Venandi went back to the dragon’s lair, and fought it again, this time loosening a few scales. The next day, he rested to regain his strength. The day after, the hunter’s sword let the dragon’s horns fall to the floor. Venandi fought again the day after that, with no rest, and killed at last the dragon.
“And so Vendandi returned to the king, taking a scale and the horns as proof. The king rewarded him well, and there was no need for the war. The townsfolk rejoiced and lived without torment for the next ten centuries.”
“Wow. To are the constellations Draco and Ignis also part of the story?” Brightheart said.
“Yes. I’m surprised you weren’t told this in astronomy or history of magic,” Tŕnjyl replied. “It’s a big part of mythology and history.”
“Oh, we Sûtaŕynæ used to walk in your world. That’s why the first line in the story is always the same: ‘once when the stars were new and there was yet still little magic…’ I have followed the rivers as far as they would twist, I’ve walked amongst your ancient trees when they were saplings, I’ve taught people magic and the words of R̀önvyx,” the Starion said.
So then they talked about magic. Brightheart knew twenty-four spells, maybe more. She’d forgotten about the fire spell, which could set fire even to water.
“Vŕvlam,” Brightheart set fire to a patch of snow, and had a hot dinner that night. She wrote in her Book, and was answered by Thayer. Her father wished her luck and said that he’d send a dagger with her when the Dark Dragon came. Brightheart pulled out her dagger from her bag, where it had been abandoned. Holding it made her confident. She thanked her father for his gift. They talked in the slow way of writing in the Time Book for a while, then Brightheart slept.
A footstep woke her into the dark night. Brightheart reached for her staff and kicked her bags away. she stood and turned in a slow circle, growling, heat pumping fast. She lifted her Lantern high and saw a werewolf.
“Ynŕgû-tæc!” Brightheart shouted, and her monster-shadow crept around it, drawing energy from Brightheart’s enemy. She heard another behind, so whirled around and stabbed the other werewolf with her staff.
“Your friend isn’t here to protect you. You left her behind, unaware of your danger,” the first growled.
“What do you want?” Brightheart cried, giving him a sharp jab.
“You won’t reach the Dark Dragon alive,” the second said.
“Stöna!” Brightheart yelled, and the werewolf froze, turning to stone. “Now you. Why is every werewolf chasing after me?”
“Didn’t that stupid knight-turned teacher tell you? Or are you too dumb to work it out? We know you’re going to try to kill our dragon. We know who you are, and you’re nothing but a girl who thinks she can fight,” the remaining werewolf spat.
“I know more than you think. And you’re too weak to fight, my spell is strong and has drained you. If you ever manage to return to wherever your thieving, lying King is, tell him I’m not afraid of him and that I agree with Kella even though I don’t understand the word Koldu,” Brightheart said in her most menacing and commanding voice. Just then, the werewolf collapsed. Brightheart let her monster-shadow disappear, gathered her belongings, and moved on to another place to sleep is she found one before dawn, covering her footprints.
For nearly one cold hour Brightheart walked beneath the moon, humming her mother’s lullaby. Her friends were bait and Doriima was convinced that she was a weak fighter. She took her dagger from her bag and hid it in her cloak, listening to the calming rippling of water. The sun began to rise, shining into Brightheart’s eyes. She sat down and had breakfast, deciding never to have a fire if she didn’t want to be found, which should have been obvious.
“Starlight, starlight,/ how the wind blows when the stars shine./ Beneath the moon/ I fly,/ ever soaring, ever roaring./ Scales glinting in the/ moonlight, moonlight,/ in the dark night./ far above the clouds/ I fly,/ ever twisting, ever turning./ wolves howl, fire glows,/ I am ever free,/ no-one can stop me./ flames in my heart/ and iron as my armour,/ mountains deep/ and piles of gold./ and yet I care not!/ for only the birds/ beside me as I fly/ are mine./ Twilight, twilight,/ how the day turns to night./ in the silvery light/ I fly,/ ever watching, ever seeing./ and you will never know…/ oh… oh…/ hear me sing, little dragonling,” Brightheart sang a dragon song in the dull sunlight. Clouds covered the pale blue sky, gathering and darkening. Snow began to fall, the wind blowing fiercely around Brightheart as she walked through the storm. She pulled her cloak around herself tightly. Her Lantern provided warmth and light, enough that it was as if the sun wasn’t hiding from the snow.
“Hi Xûydûsöz,” Brightheart thought.
“Hello,” the Starion said.
“Do you know any stories of the stars?”
“No, that’s Tŕnjyl’s thing, sorry. But why aren’t you sitting in a boat and flowing down the River? That would be quicker.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. And where am I going to get a boat at this point?”
“That’s true, but still. Anyway, could you sing that song you sang a few days ago?” So Brightheart sang the song in her thoughts, and talked about flying. She asked what it was like to watch the world from the skies. Xûydûsöz answered, then sang a jester’s song that made her sides split with laughter. It was about a rabbit whose ears where keen and feet were swift but all the rabbit cared about was his tail. The rabbit in the song jumped up to show his tail and then fell on its nose, before getting scared of its feet and scurrying away.
Brightheart slept uneasily, waking many times to footsteps and growls. She woke earlier than she’d have liked, and set of quickly, eating a she walked. Whoever was hunting her followed through the morning mists. Around noon, Brightheart found a single tree, and climbed up for a rest and to changer her appearance. A tiny smudge on the horizon, hardly big enough to see, was a building: the Reed Inn. it would take a few more days to reach it, not that Brightheart knew why she had to stay one night.
“Tŕanxvigöö væc,” Brightheart said to herself, concentrating on having brown hair and eyes. Looking over into the river at her ripping reflection, she saw someone who was most definitely not her. That was good. But her staff and dragon cuff would give her away. Brightheart put her bracelet into her bag and made her staff look like a sword she’d seen at home. Was her staff really that heavy, or was it because it was now a sword? Brightheart looked to where Erolbie and Aker’inra were, wondering if she was still in the kingdom of Rabeith. Then she looked to the Inn, where she would have a bed and hot food, and perhaps a night’s peace.
Brightheart sighed, and climbed down the tree to go on her way. Only watching that her feet didn’t lead her into the Merrylune, Brightheart paid no attention to the bleak snow around her. Tŕnjyl told her the story of Eques, a knight riding into battle. When night fell, sleep refused to hear Brightheart’s pleas. She endured another uneasy night, and woke, tired just after dawn. There had been strange noise in the night, something like swishing and muffled footsteps. There’d been snowfall too.
Brightheart talked to Kintûlral that day, warning her to remove the Metamorphosis charm at night and when she was certain she was safe. Apparently, that was not today, and Brightheart kept out her dagger all day, wary and alert. The sounds of the night didn’t follow her in the sunlight, so she convinced herself it was dreams and wind. Yet she still knew that she wasn’t safe. And Brightheart had to keep reminding herself that her staff was a sword.
“Look around and tell me what you see,” Kintûlral said, when Brightheart sighed that walking through snow day after day was boring.
“There is glittering snow everywhere I look, glaring in my eyes. far on the horizon I can make out a dark shape that must be the Inn,” she replied.
“What about to the east?” asked the Starion, since Brightheart had followed the Merrylune as it twisted south and no longer faced the dawn.
“A road, maybe, leading from the north to the Inn. Oh, there’s a bridge over the Merrylune at the Inn. Where does the road go?“
“From the dwarf city in the Stonefells to other kingdoms further south. Maybe you will follow that road when the war is done, to see where it goes.“
“Stonefells? Where’s that?” Brightheart had heard of it once before, when she first arrived at the castle. She’d been wilder then. Magic had tamed her, but she was still fierce and dragonish.
“Stonefells is a mountain range surrounded by ancient forest, the small kingdom of the dwarves. your parents never cared much about it, since no trouble was caused by the dwarves. Watch out!“
A werewolf had leapt to her, but fallen short. Then it’d gone to scratch Brightheart jut as she turned around, nearly missing. that earned the werewolf a sharp jab from her staff and a push, and he stumbled backwards.
“Sŕldaling abön ma!” A shield of light formed around Brightheart, too bright for her attackers to see and too strong to be penetrated.
“Coward! Come out and fight! You told one of my comrades that you’re not afraid. Liar!” taunted a human.
“I’m not. if the fight is to be fair, I must know who I fight. I thought my only enemies were were-creatures who listen to that scoundrel Doriima.”
“Yes, apart from our dragon. I’m a werecat,” the human said, shifting to cat form. Brightheart huffed, baring her teeth and half-curling her fingers. The werecat was small and nimble, and would be harder to fight unless she turned him into stone or something.
“Silkaatæ zŕd,” Brightheart said, and ropes of moonlight bound the werecat. “Don’t bother struggling.”
“You don’t fight. You stand in your shield of light or stand by Kella. You don’t have a sword, you only have a staff. You’re weak,” a werewolf mocked.
“Be quiet, you,” Brightheart growled, and bound two werewolves.
“All you do is cast spells. You’ve never killed anything in your life. You won’t be able to kill Nightscar,” a were-creature in human form said. Brightheart turned them to stone, then let her shield spell end.
She leapt onto the remaining werewolf, scratching and kicking, stabbing it with her dagger. Blood wept into the snow like scarlet ink. The werewolf groaned. Then Brightheart drew red lines on the creatures who were bound, trying to ignore the slight twinge of guilt in her stomach.
“I am a fierce dragon who’s not to be tangled with. You can’t win against me!” she cried, and hurried away as fast as she could without seeming afraid. She’d probably killed that person. The werewolf would bleed to death, because King Soren had turned against the were-creatures. Brightheart hated the fact that she had to pay for past stupidity and an ancient king’s fear and unfairness.
“Xûydûsöz, why is my life a tale of vengeance?” Brightheart sighed.
“Why do you think?” the Starion replied.
“Because Nightscar attacked Rustblade and he told me about my parents, and then I had to go to Aker’inra to learn how to kill Nightscar.“
“Yes, but is there more to it, perhaps?“
“What do you mean?“
“Venandi went to kill Draco so that the townspeople wouldn’t die.“
“But there’s war between whoever the Orrazens are and the were-army.“
“Don’t despair, Brightheart. Everything will be made right,” Xûydûsöz promised.
Brightheart watched the sky that night. Roses bloomed upon the lilac clouds, light dancing like fire in the west. She couldn’t find Sagitta but Draco and Ignis were chasing Venandi. Xûydûsöz had said there would be no need for disguises any more when Brightheart asked, and besides, it hadn’t worked anyway. The stars moved slowly across the sky, twinkling as Brightheart found sleep.
When she woke it was pitch black and freezing cold. She felt stiff and there was hardly any room to breathe. Brightheart was buried beneath snow. She began to wriggle forward, sitting up as the snow fell in. Slowly she dug herself out, teeth chattering and fingers blue. The sun had risen long ago, yet provided little warmth. She had to dig out her staff and baggage, still cold, her cloak and blanket caked with snow, no matter how she shook them. At last everything was beneath sun and not ice, and Brightheart had a break and an early lunch. Seeking something other than frozen water to drink, Brightheart drank a couple of drops of the Hŕallilk Dyp that was somehow not frozen.
She was instantly warmed, like she’d drunk a cup of hot soup. Brightheart knew she had one or two cuts from her fights that she hadn’t bothered to heal, but now they were gone. So except for her morning, her day went well, and she sang the song about the rabbit, keeping her feet to the beat, a smile gleaming upon her lips and eyes as she imagined the rabbit hopping about.
The Reed Inn seemed an empty place, but there were ten people sitting around the tables. Horses were stabled outside and a beautiful fire burned in the hearth. Brightheart had forgotten how warm fires were.
“Hello little miss. How can I help you?” the innkeeper asked.
“Uh, could I please have a room to stay for tonight only?” Brightheart replied.
“Yep. and what’s your name?”
“Oh, there’s a man and his cat who says he’s waiting for you. Said you’d have a staff, Lantern, and matted black hair. He’s over there in the corner,” said the innkeeper, pointing. Brightheart nodded and went over.
“Are you Brightheart?” asked the man.
“Yes,” she answered.
“I’m Sir Zane Tudor, father of Keane and friend of Riverrune,” Sir Zane said. “But just call me Zane. It’s so much easier.”
“Alright,” Brightheart sat down, and the cat sitting on Zane’s lap meowed, a familiar voice and face. “Hey, I’ve met your cat!”
“Yes, I believe you have. and more than once. her name is Tille-Tirgan, or Tillea,” Zane smiled. Brightheart let Tillea sniff her hand, thinking that she’d only seen the cat in the library when she ‘stole’ ‘Werewolf History’.
“Doesn’t Tillea speak?”
“Yes, but she refuses to talk down here in the open.
“Once I’ve eaten, can we go up so Tillea will talk?”
“Riverrune probably told you a few times that you would meet his friend on your quest.”
“Yeah. He said I wouldn’t meet the Keldi’s ternsa’s datry until I met you,” Brightheart said, then ate a mouthful of hot potato, “Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, but I won’t explain it here. Oh, I told the innkeeper when I got here to book you into my room when you arrived. He’ll probably come over soon to tell you.” Brightheart continued to eat, enjoying the warmth that flooded her body and, sure enough, the innkeeper came over to tell her that her room was shared by Zane. When she finished eating, they went up and closed their door.
“I am the Keldi’s ternsa’s datry. You know me well. In the weeks before you left Aker’inra, I was always by your side,” said Tillea, blinking and putting her bags in a corner.
“I only remember seeing you once,” she frowned.
“Only once in this form, yes. I’m a werecat.”
“The only werecat I know is Queen Iladien. Is she the Keldi?”
“Yes. I’m the Queen’s sister’s daughter.”
So you’re Kelyarin?” Brightheart tilted her head, disbelief on her face, and the werecat nodded.
“I’m also part of the Orrazens, a rebel group of roughly half the total of were-creatures. And I can protect you: those who aren’t Orrazens know Queen Illadien will kill them if I am hurt.”
“You remind me of my friend Kella. Doriima never even pretended to scratch her,” Brightheart said. the werecat shook her head, smiling.
“What? You’ve got a secret. Come on, I’ve had enough of riddles,” Zane was watching, looking about ready to give up on the riddle the werecat had set. “What am I supposed to call you, anyway? You’re Tille-Tirgan, Tillea, and Kelyain.” The one who had three names grinned, hardly able to contain the riddle’s answer.
“Go on, Tilleah, don’t make her wait any longer,” Zane urged encouragingly. So the werecat left the room.
“More waiting!” Brightheart wailed in exasperation.
“Just hang on a moment. She’ll be back in a minute,” Zane said.
The door opened and in walked a girl with chartreuse eyes, gingerbread hair, and four short, jagged scars across her left upper-arm.
“Kella!”Brightheart cried, jumping up and hugging her friend. “What happened to your arm?”
“I’ve nearly always had it, you just didn’t see because I always wore longer sleeves at Aker’inra. a werewolf tried to kill me once and now they’re dead by Queen Illadien’s own hand. She’s fierce when angered, like us,” Kella answered.
“I was an Orrazen, even then. The werewolf wanted to scare and scatter us.”
“There was a werecat in here before you came. Did you see her?” Brightheart asked.
“You want your questions to be answered. Kelyarin has given you the answer, and yet you can’t see. I’ll go look for her then,” and Kella went to look for Kelyarin.
A moment later, Kelyarin came back.
“Where’d Kella go?” Brightheart asked.
“So you still can’t find the answer? Think!” the werecat jumped up and sat on the bed, watching Brightheart unblinkingly. Brightheart couldn’t think how to solve the riddles, only how alike Kella and Kelyarin were. Their names sounded similar, Kella’s hair was gingerbread and Kelyarin was a tortoiseshell. Both had protection from their enemies. Brightheart looked at Kelyarin, who meowed, her piercing eyes watching Brightheart. All the pieces came together, and suddenly Brightheart understood.
“But you can’t be…” Brightheart breathed. The werecat continued to stare at her.
“Kella! Why didn’t you tell me you were a werecat?” Brightheart exclaimed.
“Because we could have been overheard, and the Keldi doesn’t want the students to know, and you might have thought I was one of the bad ones and no longer be my friend,” Kella replied. That was true: Brightheart had only trusted her a few minutes ago because she’d already proved herself as a friend.
“But I still don’t know what to call you.”
“Whatever you like!” Kella laughed.
“Then you’ll be Kella, and Tillea as a cat,” Brightheart smiled, thinking Kelyarin was like Ailith: somebody too high-up to be who they really were.
“Five riddles down and one to go, but most were the same riddle. and if it takes that long to find answers, I say that’s enough for tonight,” Zane said.
“She’s waited long enough,” Kella frowned.
“Yes, but the next answer shouldn’t be given now,” replied Zane. “We all need sleep and she needs to take it all in.”
“Alright. Brightheart, I’ll explain who the Dreyin-Halern is once we’re on our way,” Kella sighed, and Brightheart nodded dejectedly. They began to get ready for bed. Zane slept on the floor, and Brightheart and Kella slept apart on the bed.
The sunlight broke through the mist, melting it away, the light glowing in shafts and shadows, dust floating like magic and glitter. To this and clear blue skies woke the three, packed up, and headed down for breakfast. They ate, thanked the innkeeper, and went out to the stables.
“You have a horse!” Brightheart cried in surprise, having expected to continue on foot.
“Two, actually. You and Kella will share Asra, and I’ll ride Bimble,” Zane released Asra and Bimble from their stables and set about putting their gear on.
“I’ve never ridden,” Brightheart said.
“You’ll learn. Here, step on my hands, push up hard, swing your leg over, and sit,” Zane instructed, holding his hands together to form a step, and Brightheart obeyed, taking a few tries before successfully sitting without falling.
“There’s no saddle on Asra because you can’t both sit on one saddle. But there’s blankets instead,” Zane said. Kella climbed up and helped Brightheart to figure out the reins. Then Zane climbed onto Bimble and they left Reed Inn. They only went slowly, Brightheart learning to keep balance and steer Asra. For three days the horses walked through the snow, and Brightheart discovered it was her new companions who’d made the swishing noises in the night several days before.
A sip of Hŕallilk Dyp each night healed the few bruises Brightheart had won by not paying attention. Riding was like flying, and she had the hang of it within the week. Then she could listen and not fall off, and the last riddle would be answered.
“Do you know the tale of the Promise Of The Hunter?” inquired Zane.
“That’s the one about Venandi, right?” answered Brightheart, “Tŕnjyl told it to me.”
“Good. and did she tell you about what Venandi promised at the end?” Zane asked and Brightheart shook her head, confused. Why would Tŕnjyl leave out something?
“So Venandi returned to the king and the people rejoiced. Now listen, Brightheart: the townsfolk rejoiced and lived without torment for the next ten centuries,” said Zane.
“I don’t understand.”
“This is history. ‘Without torment’ means no dragon trouble. Twenty years ago the were-creatures formed an alliance with Nightscar.”
“This is where the Dreyin-Halern comes in. The last part of the story is this: then Venandi the hunter promised that another dragon would come and another hunter.”
‘All again will come: a dragon with mighty flames and a hunter fierce. A princess torn from a castle, a girl torn from her dragon, by an evil dragon’s claws. She will be a witch, skilled by the moon. They will call her weak, never knowing strength and weapons. This mighty dragon-hunter alone can kill the evil dragon. Where no light goes, she must, and will take her own silver light in her heart and as a guide,’ Venandi said.”
“That’s not… me… is it?” Brightheart shifted her grip on her staff that she held by Asra’s flank with one hand.
“It is. You are the Drayin-Halern, the dragon hunter,” Kella said as they rode.
Then they rode in silence, the sound of horses upon snow and bouncing baggage the only sounds. Brightheart sorted the answers she’d found from each other. The Keldi was Queen Illadien and the Koldu was King Doriima; rulers of the were-creatures. The Orrazens were were-creature rebels, fighting against the were-army. The Keldi’s ternsa’s datry was the Queen’s sister’s daughter, Kelyarin or Tillea or Kella. The Deryin-Halern was herself, the dragon hunter, like Venandi ten centuries and twenty years ago. Brightheart was reminded of one other question she had: how did Kella know Queen Illadien? But that was answered; Kella was her niece. Brightheart had no more riddles. She smiled.
Fast was the wind and swiftly they rode through the snow by the Merrylune. Brightheart sang a dragon song of flying, a fierce quick-paced song, easily matched to Asra’s gait. It didn’t echo like it would in Rustblade’s caves, but whistled and howled like the wind. Kella learned it fast and they taught Zane, and then all three sang as Bimble and Asra galloped.
“Clear is the sky and high I fly,/ bright is the sun as shines on I./ Ai-i-i-eee a lee-lee-lay!/ Owl-o-ooo-la!/ Fierce am I that soars on the wind,/ sharp are my claws, and mighty./ How the wind whistles, how it howls,/ and so I sing./ Ai-i-i-eee a lee-lee-lay!/ Owl-o-ooo-la!/ I swoop and I soar,/ floating upon the blue-sky clouds./ My wings are strong,/ they beat hard and quick./ Ai-i-i-ee a lee-lee-lay!/ Owl-o-ooo-la!/ I am hawk and gale,/ wolf and flame./ See how powerful I come,/ hear my heart pound.”
They galloped through the snow, talking as they went. Brightheart sang the rabbit song, and Kella’s and Zane’s sides split from laughter. Brightheart lifted her head and let the wind blow in her face, whipping her hair about. It was warm, and brought the beginnings of spring. Soon the snowmelt would flood the Merrylune, coming rushing down with freezing water and chunks of ice. Plants would grow that she could restock her provisions with. She knew Zane and Kella had brought food, but she wanted to know that her own supplies weren’t dwindling too low. They rode against the winds, speeding along the River, knowing it would twist east again soon.
Brightheart wrote in her Book to tell her parents about the answers to her questions. They were glad to know she had protection again and someone she knew to travel with. Thayer had been completely surprised that she was the dragon-hunter Venandi had promised, but Enya said she’d begun to wonder. Brightheart’s mother also suggested that for a friend and advisor on Nightscar-related matters she should talk to the Starion called Roseus Vesperum. So the next chance she got she called the Starion.
“Hi Aalxtsind,” Brightheart throught.
“Hello little dragon-hunter. Yes, like Tŕnjyl, I too have watched you since birth,” Aalxtsind said.
“I’m only the dragon-hunter, and I never wanted to be that! I‘m not interesting, and I hate my destiny,” Brightheart sighed.
“Yet you are. And you’re such a precious warrior. Aren’t you a dragon?“
“Then you are strong and bold. you have the knowledge and ability to kill Nightscar. Why are you doubting?“
“Because… because I’m afraid, and there’s war, and my friends could be getting hurt. And I’m sure they’re safe, but Kella never told me she was a werecat, and what if my other friends are like that? And they’re so kind and amazing. Oh! Riverrune is a knight, so he could be fighting. Surely he’s too old for that.“
“They’re safe. Some of the Orrazens are protecting Aker’inra. None of your friends are being hurt. and dear one, you have Kella and Zane. There’s no need to be scared,” Aalxtsind reassured her.
That night, the eerie cry of wolves was sung across the snow. The horses rose their heads and pricked their ears, fear in their movements. Brightheart sat up and listened. She had heard these songs before, but this one was near, bearing the plan of danger. She didn’t understand this until she listened to each voice. One was Doriima’s. and the howling was growing louder, drawing nearer quickly.
“Wake up Kella, Zane, werewolves are coming!” she cried, stuffing her things into her bag. Zane stirred but slept on. Brightheart shook him, then Kella, eager to ride away through the dark and be safe.
Once Kella and Zane woke, Brightheart hurriedly explained, and they listened as they blinked in the moonlight. Barks and voices could be heard coming across the snow. They readied Bimble and Asra, then rode through the night, escaping the attack. It was beginning to lighten in the east, bringing a new day warmer than the last. The trio set up to sleep again, taking turns keeping watch until noon.
The winds that had once blown cold now brought warmth and a light smell that Brightheart described to herself a hopeful-freedom. They saw a few flocks of birds on the south horizon, and knew spring was near. Soon the Merrylune would be flooded with rushing snowmelt. Her sudden doubt from yesterday had faded, Leaving the slightest trace, barely found. It was like the path forged by ants in the grass. Oh, how soft grass felt beneath bare feet. There’d been snow and cold stone floors for months, then fur boots that kept toes warm but wasn’t grass and soft dirt dug up by Rustblade’s paws as they fought.
Soon, soon she might have that again, but for now Brightheart was on a quest to kill Nightscar. Zane, Kella, and herself sang the dragon song as they rode, galloping against the wind. That night, Kella and Brightheart sparred, using weapons they’d transformed into wooden swords. Seven fights they had, all draws. Brightheart remembered how they had raced so often at Aker’inra and so often proven equals.
“I’m happy you’re here,” she said, to both companions.
“I’m happy that we’re here too,” Zane smiled. Brightheart took out her trinkets from Muarrfirn, holding out the windchimes to hear them twinkle, flicking through the book and wondering if she’d ever read it, feeling the soft fabric.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” she asked, holding it up.
“Make a blanket, when all the knots of war are untied and all the threads laid straight,” Kella replied and, although it would be ages until then, Brightheart nodded. Also ,in her bag was her tiara, glinting in the light of her Xyvŕ-Vlam Lætŕn. She missed seeing Rustblade and Enya.
Kella sat in Brightheart’s lap in the form of Tillea, her fur warmed by the sun that grew stronger and brighter every day. Asra didn’t seem to like the werecat, wary that she would scratch her, but didn’t fuss.
“Hey, why do you know all these funny words like Keldi and Orrazens?” Brightheart basked.
“Were-creatures have a sort of half-language, a jumble of your tongue and Fŕûcatùn, which is a Starion name given by Rùnöadwùdnæmauk, Inero Primis,” Tillea began to explain, and Brightheart could tell it would take a while for whatever tale this was to be told.
“Rùnöadwùdnæmauk is one of the oldest Starion, nearly twice as old as Venandi. He came down and named all the creatures and places. He gave people language and thought. He named my kind werecats, and our language – it was still a full language then. The werewolves also speak Fŕûcatùn, but we never mingled much, keeping to ourselves. There were whole areas where a Pack and Pounce lived together. The Pack would go to hunt together and act like a tribe, and the Pounce would simple be living there and each member doing their own thing, rarely knowing more than two cats in the Pounce. Eventually we came into contact with humans, slowly learning the language so we could communicate. Over time, the were-creatures began to live with humans, speaking their language and forgetting most of theirs. There are one or two fully-wild Pounces who speak Fŕûcatùn, but the language would have evolved, so none of us could understand. Even what words we still use have changed: Keldi used to be Quiledi.
“Some were-creatures don’t speak any Fŕûcatùn anymore, but they’re mostly younger. Most were-creatures my age only know a little. I can speak almost all of what’s left of our language because my mum decided I should learn with the Pyrinica, my cousin Ladenia.”
“Ladenia… So ‘Pyrinica’ is ‘princess’ then?” Brightheart asked.
“Yes,” Tilllea nodded, purring. Brightheart could hear the meow in her voice that meant yes and smiled.
“Your language is so cool. The words are pretty,” she said.
“Thanks. My favourite word is ‘istarelbarris’, meaning strawberries,” Tillea said.
The sun had begun to rise warmer and stay a little longer. The snow was muddier than before, slowly melting. The Merrylune began to swell with snowmelt from the mountains. As the days went by the birds returned, eating things they found beneath the thinning snow. Brightheart counted seven days between the swelling of the River and the vanishing of the snow. Now the horses ran through cold mud and ate the young grass pushing through to the sunlight. Brightheart put her boots into her pack, grateful that Riverrune had given them to her.
Their food had begun to diminish, so spring had come at the perfect time. Kella helped Brightheart pick plants to eat, both for lunch and provisions.
“Nearly a year has passed since Nightscar attacked Rustblade and he sent me to Aker’inra. It was around the middle of summer.
“That’s so long ago. How is it nearly a year already?” Kella replied.
“Yes, and it seems so long since I left Aker’inra. I miss all my friends, especially Kyra and Ama,” Brightheart stopped her work a moment, remembering with a pang that Ama had been kidnapped. The the sadness turned to anger, and she continued, working as if time might go faster the quicker she moved.
“Are you alright?” Kella asked.
“Hey could you tell me what it was like to live with Rustblade?”
“Alright. We hunted every day, usually twice, sleeping, flying, singing. Sometimes we’d play-fight, but mostly I climbed the oak at the edge of the clearing or carve or just watch the day pass like Rustblade did.”
“Mm-hmm. I carved my staff, and I’ve made some really pretty stone carvings.”
“That’s so cool. Where’d you hunt?”
“Mostly in the forest. Sometimes Rustblade took me into the mountains and we’d hunt and fly and explore. If we went far enough from home we might see a wild cat,” Brightheart said, Kella taking a deep breath, “I think there’s a family with three children, because sometimes I’d hear light footsteps, and I heard three children’s laughter once.”
“Three children… What did the cat look like?” Kella asked.
“It was black and had white socks.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s Ostailaren, leader of the Maydorscy Pounce, one of the last Pounces that is cut off from the world.”
“Wow,” Brightheart wondered at how she’d never really been sure that anyone was there besides the cat.
Finished gathering the food, they returned to sit with Zane and the horses. They were about to start a fire to make soup when Kella shouted at something in surprise. Brightheart felt hands holding her back, and twisted around to escape their grasp. She unsheathed her dagger and took up her staff, which she’d put down to light the fire. Zane and Kella both found weapons and they began to attack the were-creatures.
Brightheart swept the on-comers aside with her staff, letting them stumble to the ground. She stabbed another who came from her left. Blocking again, she stabbed again and again. It was like a dance. She blocked and stabbed, jabbing at were-creatures who looked ready to attack again, twirling around to stop anyone who would come up from behind. She and Kella stood back-to-back, dancing as partners.
Zane seemed to be going well and proved that he was indeed a knight, although Brightheart hadn’t doubted it. Their hearts were pounding and their brows covered in sweat. They didn’t and couldn’t stop to think, only dance the fight of fear. At last there was only one creature left, and Brightheart hadn’t the strength to strike it with her staff.
“Ynŕgû-tæc,” she said, just firmly enough for it to be strong. Baring her teeth, Brightheart scratched the were-creature across his face, feeling her nails cut deep – they were long, and she’d sharpened them several days ago. The last opponent retreated, still circled by Brightheart’s shadow-monster. Only then could they look around at the damage they’d wrought. There was almost thirty creatures, some werecat, some werewolf, some in human form. All but the last lay dead or badly wounded on the bloodied soil. Brightheart shuddered and put her stuff onto Asra.
“Let’s not stay here,” she said, and they left.
Brightheart lay awake for ages as she tried to sleep, thinking the say through. She had killed people. Embedded in in her mind was her fear and the angry expressions of who she’d fought. When she opened her eyes she saw the reddened ground and blades, and when she closed them again she saw the bodies. All of it was for revenge and to rescue her friends. Brightheart decided to talk to Aalxtsind.
“Wearisome, isn’t it?” said Aalxtsind.
“All the wrongs will be made right.”
“Not for a while though.”
“That is true. Remember what Rustblade said: have courage and stand to fight, for you are strong and cannot be beaten. You are a warrior, Princess, dragon, sorceress, and hunter. Keep hope in your bright heart, for which you were named. You will win for freedom.”
“I know. But I’ve killed today.”
“You can call Rustblade with the same spell as you’re using now. And remember the power you hold by knowing the spell curse.”
With that, the crimson-and-cobalt ink of Aalxtsind’s presence seeped away. Brightheart remembered her last conversation with Rustblade, realising she’d forgotten she could talk to him. She pulled out her scale from her knotty hair and continued to think. She remembered the power she’d felt when memorising the words for the Spell-Curse that would kill Nightscar. She whispered it softly in her mind, scared by the strength the words gave her. Her heart pounded like it had when she was fighting the were-creatures. Then Brightheart knew she wouldn’t find sleep that night, no matter how she wished for it. Deciding that she would sleep as they rode, she talked to Rustblade until dawn. The sun rose, and Brightheart sleepily climbed onto Asra. Breakfast was a stale biscuit and a few leaves from a plant she’d picked yesterday. Before long, she was asleep and Kella was guiding Asra as they travelled.
The next day was quiet, each to their own thoughts about the past and future. Brightheart talked to Rustblade again.
“Oh my dear dragon-child,” he said.
“What am I going to do? When I go back I plan to help fight the war, but that’s more than eleven people I’ll have to-,” replied Brightheart.
“That’s how thing work. it’s still painful to talk about Nightscar’s attack and the reason you know all you do now, right?”
“And it likely always will be so,” Rustblade sighed, seeming to smile gently, “But tell me what’s happened since your quest began.” So Brightheart recounted her travelling from the last time she saw Rustblade, to the Inn and meeting Zane and finding Kella, to where she was now. He was glad she had protection and companions, like her parents. Rustblade said he had watched the battles from the mountains and the Orrazens seemed to be going well so far. Brightheart thanked him for the news and told Kella.
“In three days I must leave you to go on. I have to take care of Keane and a few of his friends,” Zane announced as they ate by the fire.
“Oh,” Brightheart replied.
“That soon already?” Kella asked, having apparently been told long ago.
“Yes. Also, we’re being followed.”
“By who?” Kella asked.
“Were-army,” Zane clicked his tongue and gave his reins a flick.
“I thought we killed them all, at least the one who’re following us.”
“So had I. But nonetheless more are following us.”
“What’re we going to do?” Brightheart asked.
“We should travel at night,” Zane answered.
“They’ll still find our tracks,” pointed out Kella.
“We’ll go onto the other side of the River and, when most of the snow-melt has flowed away which will be a few days after I leave, you can walk through the River.” So they steered their horses across the water, their feet being washed by the cold water. Brightheart found that her feet had been caked with dirt after walking barefoot since the beginning of spring. They stopped in the mid-afternoon to rest, and began to ride again around midnight.
Tillea sat on Brightheart’s lap, purring. She patted the werecat, watching the sky and guiding Asra. Brightheart found Venandi, Kintûlral, and Aalxtsind, wishing she could find Tŕnjyl. The stars danced slowly across the sky and the moon rose, glimmering, half full. Brightheart hummed Enya’s lullaby and a dragon song her companions didn’t know.
“Sleep never comes when there’s sunlight,” Brightheart frowned.
“You’ve got to try,” replied Zane. She had been for the past half hour or so. She sang her mother’s lullaby in her thoughts, memories of Enya singing mingling as Brightheart tried to see her, forgetting she wasn’t at Aker’inra. Homesickness swept over her as she thought of all she had come to know there. Brightheart missed her friends and playing in the afternoons, she missed learning and the kindness of her favourite teachers, she missed the castle and Riverrune. Eventually sleep came, then after a while so did waking. The sun set when Zane, Kella, and Brightheart rose. Their days were nights and sleep-time was day time, everything seeming backwards. Breakfast was had at dusk, lunch midnight, and dinner at dawn. So they went, riding in the starlight, on the right-hand-side of the River, trying to lose who followed.
“I wish you good luck in your quest. Keep safe, stay strong and hopeful. Farewell,” Zane said, turning and crossing the river upon Bimble, riding through the twilight. Brightheart, Kella and Asra were now alone in the open, although night was a good enough cover. Nothing had been heard of the were-army who followed, so they were still safe.
“How are you?” Tŕnjyl asked.
“I don’t know,” Brightheart answered, thinking for a moment, “Sad, happy, scared, adventurous, bored.”
“You should talk to Enya and Xûydûsöz.”
So Brightheart got out her Book and let Kella steer Asra. Enya asked if Brightheart was alright, and she gave the same answer she’d given Tŕnjyl. The old Queen was sympathetic, and both wished they were in the same time.
Kella and Brightheart hadn’t ridden beneath the sun in weeks, but instead kept track of time by the moon and stars. A month had passed since Zane left them. Kella had explained that Riverrune had asked Zane to give Brightheart company, guidance, and protection. Protection both had given: were-creatures had begun attacks expecting only Brightheart and fleeing when they saw Kella. They sparred at the rising of the sun every day, in preparation for the coming battle against Nightscar. Brightheart grew anxious and restless. The rift that was Nightscar’s lair was black on the horizon.
“Xûydûsöz, what am I going to do?” Brightheart thought to the Starion.
“You are going to ride to the edge of the lair, rest, and go on,” Xûydûsöz replied.
“No, not that! I’m scared, and I grow more so every step I take.”
“What do you think you should do about it?”
“Get your help; you’re thoughtful and mischievous, so you’ll find a way.”
“Mhmm. Well you should rest. Breathe, watch the little things like grass in the wind, and remember that you’re strong and brave.”
“I’ll do that, but what about the battle, and the Spell-Curse? I’m scared of it for the power it gives me. With the knowledge of it, I have the only weapon to kill the evil dragon. I’m the only person with the strength, but when I speak it, he will die and that’s huge. I had to search myself to find strength and I had to search the depths of the castle to learn of it, since not even Riverrune knows the words. I put work into this, but I’m scared and I feel weak,” Brightheart said softly.
“And you’re right. You’re weak against that darkness called a dragon, except for the Spell-Curse which gives you great strength. And still you are unbeatable without it.” Xûydûsöz seemed to smile reassuringly.
“Oh. You know, I never thought of it that way.”
“You will win, and return with Connel, James, Liri, Muriel, and Conrad.”
“All of this for the hate King Soren began.” Brightheart sighed.
“That is past. Fight in this age for your friends, fight for all you care about.”
Brightheart thought about how she’d discovered the Spell-Curse. Riverrune had given her a clue of where to begin, handed down through time from Venandi. Brightheart had followed the clue into the hidden – and rarely ever used – dungeons of the castle, and there found a riddle that led her deep into the past. She’d followed an old man and a little girl into the heart of the hill where Aker’inra stood. The old man etched the Spell-Curse into stone, muttering under his breath.
“Poor girl who must speak these words. She will follow her fate blindly into death, I say. But all the hopes say she will be strong and live, this Dragon-Princess. I hope she does,” he’d said, unaware that who he spoke of was watching him. Right then, Brightheart had promised herself to try as hard as she could to kill the evil dragon, although she now she was sure those words had planted her doubt. When the past became present again, she went back up, weary. It had taken her almost four hours since she began her mini quest to return, and it was past midnight when she got to sleep.
Brightheart thought how real everything was becoming. In two days, she would be climbing down the chasm and walking to meet destiny.
“Kella… I’m scared,” she whispered as the sun began to rise.
“Oh Brightheart, I’m scared too,” Kella replied.
“Why?” she looked at her friend.
“I’m worried that everything will be alright, no-one will get badly hurt.”
“You’ll be with me, though. You can help ensure that nobody gets hurt.”
“But I won’t I can’t go down there, it’s not my place to.” Brightheart frowned, now feeling weaker than she already had been. So she sang Enya’s lullaby to herself, and talked to Rustblade and Aalxtsind, and wrote to her mother, unable to sleep.
“My dear child, will you be alright?” Enya wrote.
“I don’t know. Kella can’t come down with me, and I’m scared of the weapon even though I’m the only one who knows it and is strong enough.”
“I wish I could be in your time. I wouldn’t be able to do much, but I’d rather see you than write, because there’s so many years between each of us.” A splash appeared on the page, making some of the words run and blur.
Sleep refused to come, and so Brightheart was still awake at dusk. She had a bit of food and a nap, then read some of her book before eating again. Kella had built a fire, so Brightheart watched it flicker, ribbons of smoke unfurling into the night. The stars were tiny pinpricks of life and hope, and strength and courage grew in Brightheart again. But that would be torn away as soon as it had come.
Werewolves came into view, leading James, Liri, Muriel, and Conrad. Brightheart knew it was the past because Kella had vanished, as had the fire.
“I hope everyone is alright back home,” James said quietly when the werewolves went a few paces away.
“Me too,” Muriel said.
“Poor Brightheart. I heard the werewolves saying Doriima was planning to take Ama as well,” whispered Liri.
“Oh good, she can help us escape. Ama’s smart,” Conrad said, earning a few angry looks.
“No she can’t, because they also said that Brightheart knows where we’re being taken so they’re not bringing Ama here,” Liri replied.
“Where will they take Ama then?” Muriel asked.
“I think they said they were taking her to the were-creature castle, which is somewhere north of Erolbie as far as I know,” answered Liri, and James groaned.
Brightheart’s hope died again as the past faded. Tillea was watching Brightheart, concern in her eyes.
“Ama isn’t down there,” Brightheart said.
“They knew I was going to rescue everyone, so they took Ama to the were-creature castle.”
“They took Ama to Lohrasait?!” Tillea flattened her ears against her head, fully alert, “No, they can’t have.”
“Why not?” Brightheart asked, fear and worry in her voice. Tillea gave no answer.
“In between the/ snow and river/ there lies secrets/ ’neath fog and earth./ Winds and rains go,/ moon and stars glow,/ there comes dragon/ with twisted path,” Brightheart sang softly. It was the ballad she’d heard at the markets.
“And there lies her fate/ with her stars and staff,/ none yet here to guide/ still she wanders on,” Tillea continued. Then they hummed the tune for a while, repeated the chorus, hummed, and sang the chorus again.
“So dragon and guide,/ tired and dusty,/ crept to the stones/ to find evil darkness,” sang Tillea.
“Only the dragon/ could continue now,/ so left guide and light/ for stars’ voice and dark,” ended Brightheart.
The time to sleep came again, and Brightheart somehow slipped into the much-needed rest. In her dreams Rustblade fought Nightscar again and set the forest on fire. When she awoke, the sky was aglow, crackling with flames.
“Duck!” Kella cried, and both cowered low with their hands over their heads. Nightscar swooped overhead, flying down into the rift to his lair. They ate a hurried breakfast and Kella pulled out a huge coil of rope from her bag. Brightheart carefully climbed down, somehow holding all her things and not falling. The Merrylune was a waterfall the whole way beside her, and split into three rivers at the bottom.
“Good luck Brightheart!” Kella called and the caves gave the same message over and over, quieter each time. Brightheart waved, and began the next part of her journey alone.
The moon was somewhere out of sight, so it was probably low on the horizon and therefore giving light only to Kella. The stars were shining brightly and Brightheart’s Lantern was glowing. Everything was almost silent, and her footsteps echoed emptily. The night grew colder, but it seemed to Brightheart that she had gone nowhere. The only measurement of time was light and how far away the waterfall was. Brightheart talked to Rustblade, telling him all that had happened in the last few days. He shared her shock and dismay that Ama had been taken to Lohrasait.
“It just adds more time until I can return to you.” Brightheart moaned.
“I wish I could help you defeat Nightscar, but I can’t. Stay hopeful and never give up. The Dark Dragon will fall,” Rustblade said.
“How strong is he?”
“Very, but weaker than you.”
“I feel weak. I’m lonely and scared.” They talked for a while more, then Brightheart slept.
When she woke she continued, hanging her windchimes onto her staff. The old bangles jingled a pretty song that dulled the night and lit up Brightheart’s heart with hope. She hummed, and sang the flying song. Her smile stayed even when the sky vanished and the rift became caverns. It was lonelier and darker there, and although the Ever-Flame seemed dimmer it still gave light and warmth. With her hope, strength grew in Brightheart’s mind.
The darkness and constant night was desolate. Brightheart tried to light a fire with magic, but the flame wilted like a flower. Spells seemed weak, and the air filled with dark magic and strong curses, somehow increasing Brightheart’s strength. She was determined, but still lonely, and she supposed that was why she couldn’t make the fire. She rummaged through her bag, pulling out the figurine and carving. The figurine was a unicorn and the carving was a whistle, which Brightheart had forgotten. She put the unicorn away and blew on the whistle, learning how to play Enya’s lullaby as best she could. After a while she put it away, and her fingers got caught on something. Brightheart pulled it out and found the necklace from Muarrfirn. In the darkness the indigo gem seemed to sparkle brighter. Brightheart remembered Tŕnjyl telling her about the spell on it. Smiling, she realised she wouldn’t be alone if she called the Starion to be her companions.
“Ma zal Tŕnjyl thu listy,” Brightheart thought, and a light began to glow beside her. She turned to look, and for a moment thought it was Enya even though the lady walking beside her looked nothing like her mother.
“Hilo Dŕæunt,” the lady said, proving herself to be Tŕnjyl. She had flaxen hair and light brown eyes, and she glowed like the Lantern.
“Ha Tŕnjyl,” Brightheart said, about to think it, being unused to having the Starion right next to her.
“Good choice of the time to call me here. This is something best walked up to with friends.”
“It’s been too long since I walked on the earth. We Starion should return more often,” Tŕnjyl said, her voice like bells as it always had been. Brightheart asked the Starion to tell her what it was like the last time she’d wandered on earth. Tŕnjyl told of watching trees grow, of hearing nature’s orchestra in which crickets and birds sang the melody. She told of looking up at night to see the stars where she lived and of the wonder on people’s face when she taught them magic.
They continued in silence for a while, and then Brightheart called Xûydûsöz.
“Bötûùù!” Tŕnjyl cried.
“Syza!” Xûydûsöz replied, and they embraced. Thus he joined the group Brightheart was forming. They walked for a while, singing the rabbit song in the dark where the Starion shone. Then Brightheart called Kintûlral and Aalxtsind. All four glowed and their appearance matched the way Brightheart described their presence in her mind when she talked to them. The Starion lit up the endless night chasing away shadows of fear. Those four talked amongst themselves for about an hour, leaving Brightheart to listen and take it all in. then they stopped to eat and sleep. Kintûlral helped Brightheart cook, conjuring food with some spell Brightheart hadn’t learnt. So Kintûlral taught her it. Then the five ate, and slept on conjured bedding.
The next day they talked about life in the sky. Brightheart listened to the stories and their echoes, noticing that the empty caverns weren’t so deadly empty as they has been when she was alone. The Starion’s light and voices filled the space, guiding her as she walked towards battle. On the third day since entering the caverns, they discussed their vague battle plans. Kintûlral said Brightheart should just say the Spell-Curse. Xûydûsöz didn’t have a plan, so he said he agreed with Kintûlral.
“I think you should get your friends away then say the Spell-Curse, Tŕnjyl suggested.
“It takes a while to say, so there will be a huge battle in which I distract him long enough to say it,” Brightheart replied.
“We should rescue the prisoners while Brightheart distracts Nightscar, then as we take then to a safer place she buys time to say the Spell-Curse, Aalxtsind said. Everyone agreed that was best.
With the battle planned, the group fell to quiet talking. Brightheart talked to Aaalxtsind about Nightscar’s weak spots. After that, she walked in silence, thinking about it all and half listening to Tŕnjyl tell her the story of Rùnöadwùdnæmauk. Every step brought her closer to battle, closer to speaking those words of death that gave her strength yet made her tremble. Brightheart closed her eyes for a second and saw Rustblade fighting Nightscar, when she opened them again she heard a faint rumble. Closed eyes: Ama being kidnapped, opened eyes: Starion leading her to sorrow and fear. Somehow there was nothing to regret. At least after Nightscar was defeated her friends would be safe.
“Is it day or night?” Brightheart asked as they ate.
“I’m not sure, “Kintûlral answered there was no way to tell the passing of time but for waking and sleeping, and nobody knew how long they spent each part of the day. Tomorrow they would go over the plan and prepare to fight. Until then , Brightheart tried to sleep, only finding nightmares and uneasy rest. The stone floor was uncomfortable and everything was too silent. Brightheart wanted to see Enya, but she wasn’t at Aker’inra.
“I have four Starion as companions: Tŕnjyl, Xûydûsöz, Kintûlral, and Aalxtsind. We have a battle plan, and the day after tomorrow we’ll reach the Dark Dragon,” Brightheart wrote.
“Oh Brightheart,” Enya replied, almost straight away.
“It’s so soon. I’m not ready.”
“Could any time or practise prepare you?”
“No,” Brightheart let out a sigh.
“Then remember you are strong. I’ve said it all a thousand times, and I’m sure others do too.”
“Yeah, I’m strong, and I’ll win. That doesn’t help when I’m scared.”
“Well, you’ll be safe and you’ll come through alright. I’m worried about you, Brightheart, but I know you’ll conquer the Dark Dragon.”
“I miss Kyra and Ama and all my friends.”
“I wish Tillea – Kella – was here. She’s a werecat, and Orrazen. They’re rebels, and they’re fighting the were-army, who are on Doriima’s side. Doriima’s the werewolf King, a thief and a scoundrel too.”
“I didn’t know there was good were-creatures.”
“I only know two Orrazens, Queen Illadien Kella. they’re both werecats. Every werewolf I’ve ever seen was in the were-army.
“I never hear anything but that all of them are bad.”
“I don’t even know why I trust Queen Illadien. Not that I shouldn’t. Kella’s her niece.”
“Alright, well Thayer wants to talk to you now. You should talk to Riverrune about it all when you get back.”
“Sure. I love you, Mother,” Brightheart smiled.
“You too, my child,” Enya wrote. There was a pause, and a different hand began to scratch words onto the pages.
“Hello Brightheart,” Thayer wrote.
“Hey,” she replied. “The day after tomorrow I’ll reach the Dark Dragon. I’m four days deep into his lair already.” They talked about what Brightheart had already said to Enya.
“You are Brightheart the Dragon-Princess. You are strong and brave, and you have a hopeful heart. You will fight and you will win,” Thayer said.
“I am Brightheart the Dragon-Princess. I am strong and brave, and I have a hopeful heart. I will fight and I will win,” she whispered allowed. The words made her feel powerful and strengthened her hope. Brightheart closed her eyes and, at long last, fell asleep.
Tŕnjyl woke Brightheart and gave her breakfast, then they packed up what little they had and began their last journey together before Nightscar was killed. They recited the plan again and again. The Starion would find and rescue Nightscar’s five prisoners whole Brightheart distracted him, then she would buy enough time to say the Spell-Curse. All sounds fell flat, echoes were hushed, and even the Merrylune babbled perfectly silently beside them. There was a constant rumbling that grew louder with every hour, taking all other sounds’ places. The five walked in silence, watching, listening, thinking. There was gold scattered about, glistening in the white light that made the Starion glow. The further they travelled the more gold there was.
The air hummed eerily, filled with danger and magic. Nightscar was closer than Brightheart liked, but the Starion were here by her side, keeping her safe them and her Lantern were her lights, but Starion were stars, not sunlight. Brightheart was growing sick of the endless night and she wanted to be out of the chasm with Kella again. Brightheart’s thoughts were tainted b y the foreboding storm of magic, claws, and fire. She couldn’t think about anything else, except what her parents had said. She wished she could see them, and be safe back in her own caverns with Rustblade. Brightheart hated the emptiness and darkness of Nightscar’s lair. She longed to see her friends safe and back above ground again, but at that wish time slowed even more.
Again, sleep refused to come easy, drawing near then running away like an unsure kitten. Dreams and nightmares came, each waking Brightheart, yet never leaving any memories. Everything was too hard, too cold, too light, too short. Whatever time it was above in the fresh air, it was an hour to dawn in Brightheart’s mind, leaving her awake. Any thoughts were pushed away by the memory of the Dark Dragon attacking Rustblade. She’d come out of the forest, and there was no sound, and she looked up. There were two dragons in battle, roaring and red gashes. Rustblade had told her to hide, so she’d run as deep into the caves as she could, able to hear the echoes of roaring. Brightheart ad pretended it was a thunderstorm. she’d been younger then. Brightheart curled her fingers, letting a tear fall down her cheek.
At last the Starion woke, and they ate a big breakfast, knowing they wouldn’t get to eat for the rest of the day. The next meal they would have, the evil dragon would be dead and Connel, James, Liri, Muriel, and Conrad would be safe.
“Is everyone ready?” Aalxtsind asked. They nodded.
“Alright then. Brightheart, good luck,” she said.
“You’re strong. Even when you don’t feel like it,” Kintûlral added.
“Fight for all your friends, not for revenge or long long past grudges that aren’t yours.” Tŕnjyl whispered as they hugged.
“You will win. Remember that, in that bright heart of yours,” Xûydûsöz smiled.
“Thank you all,” Brightheart said. With them she felt safe, but now the group was split until the quest was completed. The Starion went one way, while Brightheart trudged on another way. Every movement was filled with danger.
Brightheart walked alone beside the Merrylune, which still flowed silently. Her bare feet didn’t make a sound, and her lamp lit her path with flickering scarlet-gold firelight. She’d taken it off her staff and now held it with one hand. She was lonely, but somehow that made her feel ready. She couldn’t have gone on this part yesterday, and she couldn’t tomorrow, even if she had the choice. Brightheart would never be ready to kill or cause destruction, but she was ready to walk into her fate today.
On and on she walked, the rumbling growling less distant and less quiet. Then, a great eye appeared. It blinked, the black scales around it reflecting Brightheart’s Lantern-light. The eye blinked again, and she saw herself in the pupil. Then it rose, and Brightheart realised with a start that Nightscar was getting up. She watched, spellbound by fear, and then with a roar the cavern was lit up by fire.
“Sŕldaling abön ma!” she cried, then said another spell as the fire swirled outside her shield of moonlight, “Amŕa æpak.” Strong armour covered her body, heavy and plated, making her feel truly like a dragon. It would protect her from Nightscar’s flames. Brightheart let the shield disappear.
She walked through the mist right up to the dragon. Brightheart climbed up Nightscar’s flank, her armour clinking as she trod on his scales toward his head. She’d put down her Lantern long ago, now only carrying her staff. Nightscar shook his head, but Brightheart held onto his horns and he couldn’t get her off.
“Here is revenge for all you have done,” she growled, stabbing near his neck with her staff. Nightscar roared and took flight. And so they danced the battle of magic and anger. It was unlike the dance Brightheart had learned from fighting the were-creatures, but it had the same feeling of fear and pounding heart. Flames burnt the air, and spells kept Brightheart safe from all. Few moments of rest could she find. Nightscar was a fearsome monster, mostly playing with the girl who had waltzed right towards darkness.
She had escaped when her parents hadn’t, all those years ago. Now she was here to kill him, but he didn’t care, because how could a twelve-year-old kill a dragon who had liven for thousands of years? He didn’t need to worry, he only needed to scare her. Brightheart could tell Nightscar was only playing, thinking she couldn’t kill him. She huffed. They were both playing; he because he thought she was weak, and she to give the Starion time to rescue her friends. Curling her fingers, Brightheart continued the battle. She dug her staff under a scale and pushed it off then stabbed. Nightscar let out a roar of pain, rearing up like a frightened horse. Her grip loosened and she was flung to the floor.
Groaning, Brightheart got up and faced her enemy again.
“I am Brightheart the Dragon-Princess. I am strong and brave, and I have a hopeful heart. I will fight and I will win,” she murmured, fire flowing as her heart pounded in her chest. Brightheart ran forward, transforming her staff into a sword. She drew it across Nightscar’s huge foreleg, leaving a cut like he’d left on Rustblade. She repeated her chant, louder this time.
“They’re safe!” she heard a voice call. Time to begin the true fight.
“Ynŕgû tæc!” Brightheart cried, running under the dragon with her staff-turned-sword held aloft. It pierced his underbelly, dripping red. She ran, hiding behind a rock. Fire burst into the cavern, crackling overhead. Brightheart waited until the flames vanished, then bolted into a stairway. She followed it, and came out onto a ledge just below eye-level with Nightscar. He saw her and raised a paw with talons outstretched.
Brightheart hid again, running along another path as rocks fell to the floor. They repeated this, Nightscar taking longer to find Brightheart each time. She raced down a flight of stars and nearly tripped over a chain. If there was enough of it, she could tie him up. Brightheart huffed. How could she forget one of the best spells she knew?
“Silkaatæzŕd,” she said, and ropes of moonlight bound the evil dragon. He let tongues of fire drip from his mouth again. She didn’t know a spell to stop fire. She couldn’t just run around and confuse the dragon, or he could fill every space with flames. If she lay low for a bit then he would think she’d given up, and rest. Besides, he would be getting tired now from her curse of shadows.
Brightheart shifted her position to a crouch, closing her eyes and just breathing for a moment. For nearly a year she had worked towards this. In an hour it would all be over. Yes, Brightheart would still have to rescue Ama and fight as an Orrazen, but that wasn’t her quest it was a rescue mission. She sighed. In her mind’s eye, Nightscar engulfed her in flame and watched her scream.
‘Hush,” Brightheart whispered to herself. She opened her eyes and stared at the walls of stone. They were plain and dull, somehow untarnished by the Dark Dragon’s claws. Brightheart listened, and heard quiet. With a dragon there couldn’t be silence but there could be quiet, and it was just about the same thing. Nightscar had stopped looking for her. Butterflies swirled in her stomach. Brightheart stood, whispering her chant. It was like a battle cry. She took a deep breath.
“Yvik dægön dæc, ma vit yaz naöw. Yaz ŕömûöt ma pæs, yaz ŕömûöt ma væût. Naöw ma sly yaz wij tyzy ancyant wöd’ök jav mŕnalislijût: valk daöwn kilöd æn dyûd. Yaz’æcyvik bym inædyöt,” Brightheart said loudly, looking out on the dragon. It seemed to her that magic flowed from her fingertips and rose from the dust, bidden to come by her voice. Nightscar reared up, like before, roaring and growling, then fell. He landed with a thunderous crash, sending rocks and dust to the ground. It was done; the Dark Dragon had fallen.
Brightheart leaned on the wall, exhausted, and breathed a sigh of relief. Then she walked down, collected her Lantern, and somehow managed to find the Starion and her friends before she fell asleep.
“Oh, you’re safe!” Liri cried when she saw Brightheart. Liri, Muriel, Conrad, James, and Connel all rushed towards her and hugged her. Brightheart flinched, realising her hurts.
“Come here and sleep, dear one,” Tŕnjyl said. She and the other Starion were sitting. Brightheart sat and leaned on Tŕnjyl, her arms holding Brightheart safe. Tŕnjyl sang Enya’s lullaby softly over and over as Brightheart drifted between memory-nightmare and waking. Every time she opened her eyes the Starion would tell her she was safe. Sometimes Tŕnjyl didn’t realise she had woken, so she would listen to the talk.
“There was always something strange about Brightheart,” said Liri, “She kept to herself, only talking to Kyra and Ama. Even then she seemed to have secrets. I wonder if they know that.”
“They do. She told them, I think. She was just scared and sad, but it’s because of the evil dragon,” James replied.
“She’s like a dragon herself sometimes, especially when she’s annoyed,” pointed out Muriel.
“Brightheart is a strong warrior though. She’s only strange because she’s dragonish and clearly hadn’t been around humans much when she first arrived,” James turned to glance at her. Brightheart shut her eyes and fell into sleep that, for once, was dreamless and easy. She drifted a while more.
“Remember that story about how Aker’inra was once a palace?” Connel asked.
“Yeah, the Dark Dragon came along and attacked, and the King and Queen were killed,” Conrad answered.
“That’s not all. They had a daughter, didn’t they? Not that anyone really knew her name. Some say she survived,” Muriel said. Brightheart looked at Tŕnjyl who smiled at her and continued to watch over them like a mother over her children.
“She did. My dad, Sir Zane, said his friend took the Princess somewhere safe,” James smiled. He probably knew the story, at least vaguely.
“You’ve told me a thousand times. Didn’t the knight die after delivering the Princess?” Liri asked.
“No, I’m pretty sure he was alright,” answered James. Brightheart looked at Tŕnjyl again, silently asking if she should tell her friends yet. The Starion shook her head after a pause, meaning ‘if you like, but maybe not now’. She slept again without waking for a long time.
Everyone but Xûydûsöz and Aalxtsind were sleeping when Brightheart was drawn from her dreams for enough to be unable to find her way back.
“I would say good morning, but it’s late afternoon,” Xûydûsöz said, “Here, there’s what might as well be breakfast.”
“Thanks,” Brightheart took the food and ate. Xûydûsöz waited until she was finished before talking again.
“How are you?”
“Tired and relieved, I guess. I don’t know.”
“That’s alright. The others are about the same.”
“How are they?”
“Tired, hungry, you know. A dragon isn’t exactly a hospitable captor.”
“Are they hurt?” Brightheart asked and Aalxtsind shook her head.
“James, Connel, and Liri had a couple of scratches but they were mostly healed, and somehow they all knew not to struggle too hard or else their wrists would be badly bruised,” she replied. So they’d been chained. If that was how things had been here, how much worse would Ama be?
“My friends were talking about me last night,” Brightheart said.
“They didn’t mean what they said in a mean way,” replied Aalxtsind.
“I know. I think James knows I’m the Princess.”
“He doesn’t. But he wants to figure out who it is, since Zane won’t tell him. He’s pretty close though, given that some call you a dragon and he knows the ballad about the Dragon-Princess who would kill the Dark Dragon.”
“That song I heard at the market? That’s about me?”
“Yes. If there’s something that gives hope then, very often, a lot of people know about it,” the Starion sighed.
One by one, the others woke and ate, chattering and telling Brightheart how amazing she was. As they ate, she sat apart, mostly watching. Liri, James, Connel, Muriel, and Conrad were talking cheerfully, as though all was alright. However, the longer Brightheart watched the more she could see that they were half-pretending, still scared and traumatised like herself. She didn’t feel weak any more, but broken by all the evil caused by the Dark Dragon. Brightheart felt as though her world was falling apart, but didn’t know why, because it had fallen apart long ago.
The companions began the return journey to Aker’inra, walking in the quiet. There was minimal talking – most of that seemed to be done at meal times – leaving Brightheart to try to sort out her thoughts. She had completed her quest, and was somewhat glad that there was more to be done. It meant she didn’t fell empty. But what about after she rescued Ama and the war was over? She couldn’t, wouldn’t, be Queen, although she had to finish learning at Aker’inra before it really mattered. But what would she do? Brightheart sighed and shook her head, and began to hum her mother’s lullaby.
They travelled slower than on the way into the chasm, although with all that’d happened it could only be expected. Each day they were further from where Nightscar had lived, and each day the thrumming magic grew less. On the day they saw they sun and sky and world for the first time in who knew how long, everyone rejoiced. Brightheart felt a bright and inexplicably light feeling in her heart at the sight of the sky, and sang Rustblade’s dragon songs. Xûydûsöz sang his rabbit song, bringing laughter to the other nine.
Then, after what had seemed an age to Brightheart, they had climbed up the cliff besides the waterfall.
“Kella!” Brightheart cried, and the friends rushed to each other.
“Oh, you’re safe, you’re safe!” Kella exclaimed. How hard it would have been for her to wait for nearly a month. They talked and talked, Brightheart’s quietness forgotten. Up in the world above the lair with Kella it was easier for Brightheart to remember that she had indeed conquered the evil of the dragon. That night, the four Starion announced that they had to return to their homes in the sky. Brightheart supposed she’d begun to expect they’d go soon, but she still didn’t want them to go. The Starion had helped her in so many ways.
“You’ll still be able to talk to us with the calling spell,”” Kintûlral reminded her.
“I know,” Brightheart replied, and hugged her friends. Silently she told them ‘you kept me safe, you helped me in my quest, you taught me, and you gave me hope and courage; and for that I thank you’. Then Connel, James, Muriel, Liri, and Conrad said goodbye to the Starion, and they were gone.
Connel told his story of being kidnapped and lonely fear until the others came, and then he was rescued. Liri, James, Muriel, and Conrad told of how they’d all been kidnapped and taken to the lair, found Connel there, and been rescued. Brightheart recounted the story of her quest, helped by Kella as much as she could. In the morning, the group packed up their camp, putting their packs onto Asra, and then walked in the direction of Aker’inra. The days were warm and full of bright sunshine, but spent chiefly in silence. Brightheart thought she should have been joyful, but it was like when those she’d rescued had been stolen away. And they others seemed to be in the same state of mind as she was. After all, they’d been held captive for at least five months – Connel for about as long as Brightheart had been at Akerinra. The seven friends walked a more direct route than Brightheart had taken, following some trail known only to the were-army. The sun grew hotter and the days grew longer as time passed. One day, it crossed Btrightheart’s mind that summer had come, and they’d probably arrive back in Erolbie around the same time she’d gone up to the castle a year ago.
“Hi Rustblade,” Brightheart smiled.
“Hello my dear one, how are you?”
“I’m alright. I’d say we’re halfway to Erolbie. You going alright?”
“Yeah. The war is going well for the Orrazens, but it will be good when you arrive with your news,” Rustblade said.
“Hey, why don’t you fly over them and announce it?”
“The Orrazens might think I’m the evil dragon and despair.”
“Alright, how about I come quietly up to the castle – I’ve got to tell Riverrune I’m back – then go down to you and we fly over them?” Brightheart suggested, “ We’ll cry out ‘the Dark Dragon is defeated and the Dragon-Princess is come!’ and the Orrazens will be heartened… or something like that.”
“Do you want everyone to know?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to tell them I’m Ailith soon, not that I’ll ever really want to.”
“Then we’ll fly over with our declaration.”
The crickets sang as the friends took turns to spar around the campfire.
“Come on Liri!” Muriel cried.
“Strike now! Swing your sword around and block him!” Conrad called. Liri didn’t listen to Conrad, instead bringing her makeshift sword over her head and onto James’ weapon, which snapped. James dropped the stick in surprise and backed away.
“That’s it!” Brightheart said, and the pair came away to sit. She and Kella stood up and began to circle each other. Kella took Liri’s stick and Brightheart held her staff. She bared her teeth playfully and tightened her fists.
“Ready? Go!” Conrad shouted. Brightheart and Kella played at anger, fighting well and fighting hard. Brightheart grimaced, unfortunately all too familiar with the steps of the battle-dance. But this was practise, so there was no anger or fear in her movements, only a wildness that awoke when she play-fought Rustblade. Kella’s weapon clashed with Brightheart’s in a challenge of strength. It was tug-o-war, or rather, push-o-swords. Embers flew up from the fire.
“Still equals,” Brightheart cackled harshly, feeling dragonish. They sat down, the others cheering; their sparring had been mostly performance.
They sparred every second night. The castle appeared on the horizon, a tiny speck that was like home to Brightheart. She grinned when she saw it, and was glad of her quest that would bring peace to her friends. One day, when all the knots of war had been untied, there would be peace. But she was strong and brave, and no-one had yet beaten her, even the Dark Dragon. So her wild hope grew, leaping up like fire, and wouldn’t whither. The mountains and forest that had been Brightheart’s world for so long were just south-west of the group, a sign that their journey was almost at its end. Brightheart thought about King Soren, his hate for were-creatures, and all the were-army had done. But that would soon be ended, because she would fight the war.
Their last night as Brightheart’s companions on her quest was spent sharing tales around the campfire.
“Rustblade told me this story many times, and it’s my favourite of the dragon lore tales,” Brightheart began, “There once was a dragonling called Starstone. She was alone, and her home was small, but she wasn’t lonely because she was friends with the dragon who lived on the other side of the hill. E very second day, Starstone would climb up the big hill and meet Moonrose in the ring of boulders. They always met on top of the hill, and Starstone wasn’t allowed to go past the biggest boulders that blocked her view of the other side. Moonrose loved Starstone as her own, and sometimes they’d fly above the clouds together, singing dragon songs. Moonrose was always there when Starstone got to the ring of stones. But one day Moonrose wasn’t there. Starstone waited for a while, hoping she was just late, but was forced to accept that something had happened. She’s have to go to the other side of the hill. Starstone mustered up all her courage and disobeyed the one command Moonrose had ever given her, and walked between the boulders to see the other side of the hill.
“There was a wide road leading down the hill lined by dark and ancient forest filled with fog. Two ravens crowed, but other than that all was silent, “ Brightheart paused, thinking of Rustblade’s fight and then continued, knowing the story didn’t lead there, “Starstone followed the road and found what must have been Moonrose’s home, but she wasn’t there. She entered the forest, peering through the fog. The gloom blocked the light, making the forest an eerie place. Starstone began to get hungry, but she couldn’t see any food, so she sighed and went on. Starstone found a river with banks of mud, and there was a huge footprint. Moonrose had gone that way. Starstone smiled; she’d found a trail to follow. Soon the mist and trees began to disappear.
“Starstone found Moonrose amidst a pile of gems that glowed in the sunlight. Moonrose turned and startled, exclaiming ‘Starstone! What are you doing here?’. ‘I’m looking for you,’ she replied, looking around. The gems were of all colours, but the largest were yellow, pink, green, or violet. Moonrose sighed and said that Starstone wasn’t meant to be there. Starstone already knew that, said so, and told Moonrose that she was sorry but she’d been worried because Moonrose hadn’t been at the boulder ring. ‘Since you’re here, could you please help me find the white gem?’ Moonrose asked, and Starstone said she would. She found that they were looking for after a while. The pretty stone was silvery-white, like Starstone’s scales, and it reflected the sun. she gazed at it, and thought she saw something move within the gem.‘Go on, you’re old enough, look into the stone of stars!’ Moonrose smiled and said.”
“What did Starstone see?” Liri asked.
“I don’t know. Rustblade never heard the end of the story, so he couldn’t tell me,” Brightheart shrugged.
“What do you think the ending is?” said Kella.
“I always imagine that the gem shows the stars in their slow dance across the sky. I also like to imagine that Moonrose is actually Starstone’s mother,” Brightheart replied.
“That’s cool,” James said, and Brightheart smiled. Muriel sang a song for them as the fire dies down.
Brightheart fell asleep watching the stars, humming. She had gone out from the castle, travelled, killed the Dark Dragon, and returned. She was a warrior, Princess, dragon, and a sorceress. She was brave, strong, unbeatable, and her heart was filled with a wild hope lit up a a few rays of joy. Thus ended Brightheart’s quest.
Brightheart, Kella, James, Liri, Muriel, Connel, and Conrad rose with the sun. They packed up and walked the rest of the way to the castle, going around to the gate. There was a man leaving over the battlements, who Brightheart recognised. They’d seen him around the castle doing minor jobs.
“Hi Torin!” Brightheart and Kella called.
“So the quester returns,” the gatekeeper replied.
“How do you know him?” Brightheart asked Kella.
“He helps us Orrazens keep everyone at Aker’inra safe.” They walked over the bridge across the moat and followed Torin to Riverrune’s office.
“Ah Brightheart. Welcome back, to all of you,” Riverrune said. “Where’s Ama?”
“She wasn’t there. I saw the past just before I went down into the chasm, they took her to the were-creature castle,” Brightheart frowned.
“So you’ll be off again soon.”
“Yes. And I plan to fight with the Orrazens.”
“I had expected so,” Riverrune sighed, shifting something on his desk. “A year ago you came here, young, wild, strange. You’ve learnt so much, and it seems more than a year that you’ve been here.”
“I’ve had to fight and kill,” Brightheart tried not to think about those words. She would always have memories to hide from herself.
“Unfortunately. Now, all of you, off to your common rooms,” Riverrune rose and walked with those in Liraly. Brightheart sat down before the fire, watching it as Riverrune spoke to the others who were there. She wanted to see Enya again, but was interrupted by Kyra.
“You’re back!” Kyra hugged Brightheart, “It’s been ages! I was so worried. But where’s Ama?” Brightheart explained.
“So you’re not staying long then,” Kyra said sadly.
“No.” They talked for a while, each telling the other about their time since the markets. Eventually dinner time came, and Brightheart stayed by the fire.
She watched the flames flicker, their light dimmer than her Lantern but still bright. The fire crackled and roared, growing fiercer and larger. Brightheart recognised all the signs that meant she was in the past. She saw herself from the first time she’d been to this moment, and heard the Queen coming down the stairs. This time she could understand Enya’s callings: she cried to follow, and that she didn’t know what was happening. Brightheart ran through the hallways with her mother and two younger selves. Thayer came running towards them, and they sent the baby Brightheart to Rustblade. Her older self now recognised her headmaster, and saw Zane fighting. As the past faded she once again saw her parents fleeing towards Erolbie.
Kyra came back with food, which Brightheart ate in their room. Everyone else from Liraly came up soon after, knowing nothing of her return.
“Did they realise I’d gone?”
“Yeah, after a couple of weeks. Only our friends realised quickly, although they didn’t talk about it.”
“Alright. Well tomorrow I’m going to Rustblade, and we’re going to fly over the battlefield declaring the Dark Dragon’s fall. Oh, and before that I have to talk to Riverrune about rescuing Ama. In the afternoon I have to talk to Queen Illadien about that as well, because I’ll need a guide at least.”
It felt strange to be back, and it took Brightheart longer than usual to go to sleep. She looked slowly around the familiar room, watching the shadows, reliving happy memories. She’d missed Kyra and all at Aker’inra, and she missed Ama and the Starion. Brightheart would have to rescue Ama and return. How long would it be until everything was truly calm and peaceful again? Brightheart sighed and rolled over, humming her mother’s lullaby as she fell asleep
Kyra and Brightheart got ready and went down to breakfast. A few of her friends noticed her and smiled, seeming to know the meaning of her return. Nothing appeared to have changed, except Brightheart’s experiences. When they were dismissed, Brightheart hurried to Riverrune’s office, trying not to be seen by any other than her friends. Kella and Riverrune arrived just after her, and they went in.
“Kella, how much do you know about the were-creature castle?” Riverrune asked.
“We usually call it the Lohrasait. Obviously Queen Illadien and that stupid Doriima live there – he’s no Koldu to me any more. It’s a day away by horse, probably two by foot. There’s guards and it’s hard to get in, although some guards are spying Orrazens and could help.”
“Alright. Your mother doesn’t want you going to Lohrasait, since it’s dangerous,” Riverrune said, and Kella nodded. After that they talked about how the Orrazens had previously tried to overthrow the were-army.
Then Brightheart walked down to Rustblade, her tiara and something to eat in a bag. All the way she could see signs of war, even as Brightheart turned her head to face her path. She entered the forest and there felt safer. The trees were close and formed a roof of leaves, and creatures filled the air with noise. Wind stirred the trees and the stream babbled like a friendly voice. All of it was familiar. At last Brightheart reached the clearing with the old oak and her cavern-halls home. Rustblade was there, ready to go. Brightheart put on her tiara.
“Are you sure about it?” Rustblade asked.
“Yes. The were-army already seems to know, and it will give hope to the Orrazens to know that I’m the Princess,” Brightheart replied.
“Alright. Come on then,” Rustblade said, and Brightheart climbed up. The dragon began to fly, an she smiled.
There were tents and a clear battlefield, beyond the Scavenger’s Maze. There were some people doing things in the camp, who looked up at the sound of dragon’s wings.
“Listen all who can hear!” Rustblade roared. They soared and wheeled around, watching the soldiers come out of their tents to see what was happening. Soon several thousands were standing around craning their necks to look at the sky.
“The Dark Dragon has been defeated; he is dead! The Dragon-Princess has come!” Brightheart declared. Rustblade turned again and she lifted her staff, roaring as Rustblade lit the air with flames. They swooped low to the ground over the Orrazens, and the were-creatures cheered. As they flew over the were-army’s tents, the soldiers’ faces whitened with dread. Brightheart’s tiara glinted in the sunlight as they shouted again, Brightheart laughing wildly. Rustblade turned and lit the sky again before flying away from the battlefield to land.
Brightheart walked to the Orrazens’ camp, feeling dragonish and confident. There was a werewolf who said she was waiting for her.
“Hi, I’m Narianoly. You must be Brightheart,” the werewolf said.
“Hello,” Brightheart smiled.
“So the evil dragon is really dead? Our spies said the army was worried about something, and we thought it might be that, and it’s true!” Narianoly showed Brightheart the way to Queen Illadien’s tent.
“Yes, the evil dragon is dead.”
“Elivra, Muthergan! The Keldi wanted you five minutes ago! Come on,” Narianoly stopped and glared at two were-creatures who stood up and followed. They reached Queen Illadien’s pavilion fairly quickly.
“Elivra, Muthergan, Brightheart, and myself to see the Keldi,” Narianoly said to the guard standing by the entrance, who said for Elivra and Muthergan to enter first.
Brightheart could hear the werecat Queen yelling at the two for being late, and a few moments later she and Narianoly were beckoned in. Elivra and Muthergan were standing to the side, looking rather sheepish, with seven others.
“Thank you Narianoly,” Queen Illadien nodded, and the werewolf stood with the rest, “Welcome Brightheart. On behalf of all the Orrazens, I thank you for conquering Nightscar. The trouble it will cause the were-army is a great blow that was badly needed to be thrown.”
“It’s an honour. I plan to throw more blows against the were-army,” Brightheart smiled, curtseying.
“They will be much appreciated, but I believe you’re on a rescue mission at the present time?”
“Yes, I’ve come to ask for help to rescue my friend Ama from Lohrasait.” Queen Illadien beckoned to Narianoly, Elivra, Muthergan, and one other. They stepped forwards.
“These are your guides: Narianoly and Muthergan the werewolves, and Elivra and Serulau the werecats. They will take you to Lohrasait and help you rescue your friend. You will leave tomorrow, meeting at the Scavenger’s Maze.”
“Alright. I’ll be ready.”
“Good,” Queen Illadien said, “Now you four, would you escort Brightheart to Aker’inra.” They nodded, and the five began to head up to the castle.
The were-creatures gave a proper introduction of themselves. Narianoly was from the Cylvaske Pack, and friends with Kella; Muthergan was a messenger and sometimes a soldier, and he was in the Cyvaske Pack as well. Elivra said she was from the Shardurmon Pounce and was friends with Kella; Serulau was a spy for the Keldi, and he was in the Biardharnt Pounce.
“Hey Lea, hey Ellie, how are you?” Kella asked when they reached the castle.
“Good,” Narianoly replied.
“Same as Lea. You?” Elivra added.
“I’m alright,” Kella answered. “I heard about your latest task, Runner.”
“Yes, it was more difficult than usual,” Serulau said.
“And Raven, I didn’t expect you’d be here.”
“Well I am,” chuckled Muthergan. Whereas Narianoly’s and Elira’s human names were hidden in their real ones, Serulau’s and Muthergan’s weren’t so easily found and were probably nicknames.
Brightheart went up to the Eastern Tower and found nearly three-quarters of Liraly waiting for her. Everyone cheered and some bowed or curtseyed.
“No…What- Kyra, what’s happening?” Brightheart looked to her friend.
“They heard of your declaration,” Kyra sighed.
“This isn’t… that’s not…”Brightheart stuttered, surveying the common room.
“Show us your crown!” someone called.
“What was it like killing the dragon?” another asked. They pestered her, noise growing into roars and fire, and the memories of her battle filled her mind. She turned and fled down the stairs, running to wherever she deemed safe from memories and questions.
She crouched beneath a tree, staying still. Footsteps came, then Kyra, James, and Liri.
“We told them there was a reason you hadn’t told them, and that you wouldn’t like it, but they didn’t listen,” James sighed. Kyra sat next to Brightheart.
“It’s alright. I hadn’t expected it. I hadn’t told them because I didn’t need to, and I knew they’d treat me differently. They also brought back painful memories – which we all share in,” she said, her head resting on her knees.
“Clear is the sky and high I fly,/ bright is the sun as shines on I,” began Liri.
“Ai-i-i-eee a lee-lee-lay!/ Owl-o-ooo-la!” Brightheart and James joined in. They sang the dragon song of flying, and Kyra sang the whistling and howling of the wind. After that, they taught Kyra the song and sang it again as they headed back to the castle for dinner.
Riverrune asked Kella to walk with Brightheart down to the Scavenger’s Maze just after breakfast. The pair picked their way through the grass and met the four were-creatures.
“See you when you get back, Lee, Ellie, Runner, and Raven. Good luck, Brightheart!” Kella smiled.
“Keep safe, Tille-Tirgan,” Elivra replied.
“Bye!” Brightheart called as they turned and began their journey. It would be very much shorter than her quest had been, but no less dangerous. They travelled near the road but not on it, staying quiet and wary. They would have preferred to travel at night, but couldn’t wait until dusk. It was dangerous where there was only tall grass, and thankfully around noon they reached bushes and heath.
“We’ll rest here for a bit,” Serulau said. Everyone sat and took out what they’d packed for lunch.
“So why are you called Runner and Raven?” Brightheart asked Serulau and Muthergan.
“I’m a spy, and I’m quick and nimble,” Serulau replied.
“I’m a herald and part-time soldier, so I’m basically a messenger of war, like Moriggan of legend,” Muthergan said. Now Brightheart understood his name.
“Why are you called Brightheart?” Narianoly asked.
“I have a bright heart. It’s a dragon name given to me by Rustblade, who raised me. He didn’t want to call me by my human name because a dragon can’t really raise a human as a child. That’s also why I’m dragonish. My human name is Ailith, but I feel like that’s someone too different from who I am, so my name remains Brightheart,” she said.
The five crept amongst the bushes, being careful not to be seen by the guards atop the battlements. The castle looked strange and Brightheart wondered why until she realised it hadn’t any soot.
“Most of them are Tarbly, but some are Orrazens,” Serualau said as he looked out over Lohrasait.
“What’s a Tarbly?” Brightheart asked.
“Someone in the were-army,” answered Elivra. They kept going, discussing their plan in hushed voiced. Hoof-steps came trotting along the road, and the group ducked. As the horse and rider passed them Brightheart held her breath, staying still as he rode away. When he was gone they got up and continued, more carefully than ever. The wind blew Brightheart’s hair around and she wished she could call Tŕnjyl.
The Orrazens and the girl walked up to the gates.
“Who goes there?” a voice called, “Are you friend or foe? Recite the code.”
“Kumo dia barlang dol’laaku,” Serulau said and the gate was opened with a great creaking and groaning of metal.
“Behrran, what are you doing here with them? And Muthergan, what’s your message?” the gatekeeper asked. Behrran was Serulau’s spy name.
“In case none here have yet heard it, the Dark Dragon is dead and the Dragon-Princess is come,” Muthergan answered.
“New recruits for the Koldu to approve and a witch seeking to entertain for a while,” Serulau told his lie.
“Good luck to you all,” the gatekeeper winked, and they went on.
“Orrazen,” Serulau answered Brightheart’s unspoken question.
They moved through the hallways, meeting no-one except a few guards who they quickly defeated. Serulau led them to the dungeons and they found Doriima with ten of his soldiers. Growling, Brightheart began the attack, unsheathing her dagger and stabbing whoever she first reached of the Tarbly. Elivra and Narianoly, who only carried daggers, shifted from human form into a cat and a wolf. They fought while Muthergan and Serulau unsheathed their swords. Hate move Brightheart’s arms in this dance, carving a path to the door Doriima and his men had come from. Narianoly protected her as she picked the lock with the tip of the dagger and entered.
Ama was cowering in a corner, weak and pale.
“What have they done to you?” Brightheart murmured. This wasn’t the girl she knew. Ama shook her head.
“Go, they’ll kill you – but not after-” words failed her, and she shook her head again, holding up a bruised and scarred hand.
“What did they ask you? Brightheart asked and Ama shrugged. Brightheart bared her teeth at the closed door, rage boiling inside.
“I never answered them, but I think they mostly wanted your reaction.” Tears rolled down Brightheart’s face as she lifted up her friend and helped her to the door.
“She’s too weak. Take her and go, all of you. I’ll come soon after. Don’t worry, I’ll be alright,” Brightheart said, and the Orrazens went.
“After them!” ordered Doriima, turning to face her. “You shouldn’t have returned. You should have died when you tried to kill the dragon”
“Well I didn’t, and it was your dragon who died. You never should have underestimated me! I’m the Dragon-Princess, who is strong and unbeatable!” she cried.
“Then why are you about to be beaten once and for all?” Doriima sneered, aiming his sword-stroke towards her heart. Brightheart deflected the blow and stabbed him in return, missing his chest and getting his shoulder. After that, fear took over and she ran, her breathing ragged.
“Brightheart, you’re bleeding,”Elivra gasped.
“Where?” she had no memory of having been hurt.
“You’re left arm.”
“It is indeed bleeding. Must’ve happened when Doriima tried to stab my chest and I deflected his sword.”
“Wait, he tried to kill you?!” Narianoly exclaimed. Brightheart nodded weakly, feeling exhausted. Thunder crackled overhead.
“We’ve got to find shelter,” Muthergan said, shouldering Ama. Narianoly helped Brightheart and they hurried to a cluster of trees where they’d be safe for a while.
“We haven’t got anything to heal you two with,” Narianoly sighed, rummaging through their packs.
“I know a spell,” Brightheart said. Ama nodded, her eyes saying ‘say it then’.
“Læt six… læt six bym- læt…” she was weakened by her wound and distracted by her anger towards Doriima, but she took a deep breath and tried one last time, “Læt six by hŕalöt.” With that she gasped and closed her eyes.
“There will be a storm soon. If Brightheart escapes after trying to rescue her little friend, they’ll have to find shelter. We’ll set up an ambush,” Brightheart heard Doriima’s annoyingly familiar voice.
“But, your Highness, this is a very small copse. Won’t they see us sir?” She opened her eyes and saw the werewolf King talking to some soldiers.
“Did I say you’d be standing around on the ground, you fool? They won’t see you if you hide in the treetops.”
“Yes sir,” the soldier said, and Doriima walked off.
“Ambush!” Brightheart screamed as the past faded, “They’re in the trees.”
“What?” Muthergan drew his sword.
“Ynŕgû tæc,” she said, and her shadow-monster leapt into the tree she leaned against, “Saady’ök’æc lilk!”
“Argh! What was that?” a voice from the trees cried, and soon after a Tarbly jumped to the ground, followed by others.
“Sŕdaling abön ma.” A shield of light formed over Brightheart and Ama, and with that most of her energy was spent.
The four Orrazens fought the Tarbly, as Ama and Brightheart watched in a daze. Then something caught Brightheart’s attention: Doriima was watching the fight, standing beside the shield of moonlight. Only he looked like she did when she saw herself if she went to a specific moment in the past multiple times.
“I think Doriima’s a Magysûbymica. He looks like I do when I go into the past and see my past selves visiting that time.” Brightheart held onto the past but spoke in the present.
“Where is he?” Ama asked. Brightheart pointed at him.
“Can’t see him. And yes, he’s a Magysûbymica, he’s got the same gift as you.”
“What do I do?”
“Attack him, I guess.” So Brightheart mustered all her energy and joined the fighting.
“Silkaatæzŕd,” she said.
“Is that all you’ve got? A stupid spell?” Doriima spat. Brightheart glared at him, baring her teeth. She drew her dagger and stabbed him, yet he didn’t die.
“What?!” she cried.
“You can’t kill someone in the past.”
“Then I can have the satisfaction of trying many times over,” Brightheart snarled, wondering when she became so ruthless. She stabbed again, and this time Doriima ducked, so she missed.
“Ha!” he taunted her, shifting into a werewolf. Fear filled Brightheart, And he moon ropes vanished. Doriima raised one great paw, sharp claws ready.
“Brightheart!” Ama screamed as she fainted and returned to the present.
She drifted from nightmares to vague wakefulness to nightmare to Elivra’s voice to sleep. When she woke, it was morning. Her right shoulder and left arm were bandaged. Ama was still asleep, as was Elivra, but the others were all awake and eating breakfast.
“Oh you’re awake,” Narianoly smiled, getting up to help her sit and lean on the tree.
“What were you doing yesterday? Ama said you saw Doriima but we couldn’t find him,” Serulau said.
“He’s a Magysûbymica like me. He was here, but in the past. Sometimes I go to a moment in the past several times, so I see my past selves visiting that time, and when that happens my other selves are a bit translucent like a ghost. Doriima was like that, and we interacted. I tried to kill him but it turns out you can’t kill someone who’s in the past, and he scratched me with his wolf claws.”
“He didn’t just scratch you, they’re pretty deep cuts.”
“Are they bandaged right?”
“Yes; Ama told Narianoly and Elivra how to make up a poultice to heal you both. She said you’d told her when you studied for herbal remedies together, and that your teacher didn’t know as many tricks as you.”
“Rustblade taught me herbal lore,” Brightheart said.
“He’s a smart dragon. Anyway, it seems that most of Ama’s wounds are already healed,” Serulau replied.
They travelled back to Erolbie, going slower because of Ama’s and Brightheart’s wounds. They changed their bandages every day. Brightheart wished she had her Hŕallilk Dyp, but she’d forgotten it. Ama was silent and Brightheart saw little point in talking, instead listening to Tŕnjyl tell her a story. Narianoly, Elivra, Muthergan, and Serulau chatted about things they’d heard back at base. When Tŕnjyl finished her story, Brightheart listened to the Orrazens, learning about their lives.
There were a few witches and wizards who were well-known to the Orrazens, and seemed to be collectively known as Gamniyans. One of these was Alecky, who’d apparently known Enya. Alecky, it was rumoured, could fly. Narianoly and Serulau said she couldn’t, and Elivra and Muthergan said she could. Siding with Serulau and Narianoly, Brightheart turned her attention to where they were. Tomorrow they’d be back at Erolbie. When the dispute over Aleky’s flying abilities was over, Brightheart listened to Muthergan tell a tale about a guard. The guard thought Muthergan was his brother, and refused to let Muthergan tell him what his message was. Apparently this was a popular story amongst his friends.
“Did I tell you I killed Nightscar?” Brightheart asked Ama.
“No, but when… Doriima heard that you had, I earned this,” she lifted the back of her shirt a little, revealing five jagged silvery-pink scars, “It was the only night I let them see me cry.”
“I’m sorry,” Brightheart curled her fingers, glaring back in the direction of Lohrasait.
“It’s alright. I cried because I knew his downfall had begun: I wept tears of joy and sang the day after. Oh sure, I was punished for singing, but I laughed in their faces in spite of their threats. You gave me hope,” Ama smiled, her face brighter with cheer. She had been broken a little, and still was, but she had hope and that was something good. Brightheart laughed, cackling, feeling dragonish and fierce. They laughed, in spite of all Doriima had tried to do. Nightscar had fallen, and so would he.
Kella was watching for their return, standing on the battlements. Brightheart and Ama entered the castle, and the Orrazens returned to their camp.
“You’re back! Oh! Ama, are you alright?” Kella was beaming.
“Yeah, bruised and scarred, but I’m alright,” Ama replied.
“Come on, Riverune wants to see you both,” Kella, Brightheart, and Ama walked through the corridors, following the familiar route to the headmaster’s office. Kyra was waiting outside.
“Ama!” she cried, hugging her friend tightly but still being careful of her bandages.
“Kyra! I missed you so much,” Ama smiled, “I missed everyone.”
“Don’t just stand outside talking, come in,” Riverrune had appeared, holding the door open for the girls.
They went in and sat.
“First of all, I’d like to say that you’ve all done very well in the past few months, and you’ve all stayed strong,” Riverrune smiled.
“Thank you,” the girls chorused.
“Brightheart, I talked to Queen Illadien and she has accepted your help in the war – Kella, you may also fight. Ama, you’ve been scarred, you’ve faced Doriima’s hate, and you’ve come back laughing in spite of all that happened. And Kyra, you’ve had to sit here in the castle alone, wondering if your friends are alright,” Riverrune said, “You all have different strengths, and you are all strong.
“I want all of you to stay here for a week to just rest, regardless of your plans.”
“I’m going to stay here, away from the war,” Ama said.
“I’ll stay here too, with Ama,” Kyra added. Riverrune nodded approvingly, and sent them all to Lady Rosemary.
“What did Riverrune send you here for?” Rosie asked Kyra and Kella.
“I don’t know,” Kyra replied.
“Then sit over there,” Rosie pointed to a chair.
“Brightheart, what happened to you?”
“Doriima: he tried to kill me but I pushed his sword away and he got my arm, and later he scratched my arm. Ama told one of our companions how to make a poultice,” she answered. Rosie carefully unwrapped Brightheart’s bandages and examined the wounds as Brightheart tried to stay still.
“The cuts from Doriima’s claws are deep, but everything is healing fine,” Rosie said, and began checking over Ama as the others talked.
“Most things are looking good, but let me just see if I have any Hŕallilk Dyp just to be sure.” Rosie looked amongst her small collection of bottles. She had much less compared to Lady Livy.
“I’ve got some Hŕallilk Dyp up in my room,” Brightheart said.
“That’s good, because I’ve run out. Give Ama a sip. And just so you know, letting things heal naturally is sometimes better than always using a potion, so don’t use it for everything,” Rosie replied, and Brightheart nodded.
“Brightheart, you’re back,” said one of her friends in her astronomy class.
“Yes, but only for the week,” she replied. Centaur came and they entered the room. Brightheart sat inher old seat next to Kyra and Ama.
“Alright, look here everyone. Quiet,” Centaur said, and they hushed to a scattered whisper, “Today we’ll be looking at Sagitta and the legend behind it. Yes, I know you’re all excited and none of you seem to want to settle at the moment, this isn’t acceptable. I think you’ll find this very interesting.” there was more murmuring, then Centaur called for quiet again and told the class who the Starion in the constellation were. Brightheart smiled when he talked about Tŕnjyl and Xûydûsöz.
“Sagitta is an arrow said to point the way for a Princess,” Centaur said, looking at Brightheart.
“Everyone’s been talking about you and your quest for a week, since you told everyone your secret as you flew with Rustblade,” Whispered Kyra, “He’s practically asking you to answer all their questions.”
“Sir,” Brightheart raised her hand, and Centaur nodded. “I think Sagitta did a very good job pointing the way for the Princess.”
“Would you like to explain why?” Centaur asked.
“Well, Tŕnjyl is just amazing, and Xûydûsöz is pretty awesome too.”
“Go on, tell them, they basically know already,” urged Kyra, and Brightheart rolled her eyes, wondering why she had butterflies. She pulled her dragon scale out from her hair and ran her fingertips over its smooth surface.
“As you probably already figured out, I’m the Dragon-Princess. I disappeared from here for what, five months?, because I was on a quest to kill the evil dragon. And so he’s dead now.”
Excited chatter rose, but fell as Brightheart waited.
“I followed Sagitta south east to the dark dragon’s lair, walking along the Merrylune River. When I reached the chasm where he lived, I called Tŕnjyl, Kintûlral, Xûydûsöz, and Aalxtsind to walk beside me in the dark.”
“Wait, you walked with stars?!” someone’s incredulous voice called out. Brightheart nodded as more questions were shouted.
“How did you kill the dragon?”
“What was it like?”
“After the merchants’ market I began my quest. I followed the Merrylune and was sometimes attacked by were-creatures. There was an inn where I stayed for one night, and there Kella and Sir Zane became my companions. Some time in spring, Sir Zane left for home as he couldn’t go all the way. Kella and I got to the rift, and I continued alone while Kella waited. When the stone closed overhead and I couldn’t see the sky overhead any more, I called the Starion, and they were my companions for twenty-four days. They rescued my captive friends while I fought the evil dragon, and I killed him with a moon spell. Then we began the return journey,” Brightheart told a short version of her tale, and refused to answer all questions but one.
So if you’re the Dragon-Princess you’re King Thayer’s and Queen Enya’s daughter, right?” James asked, and Brightheart nodded. After that, the questions were louder and even though Brightheart tried to shut out the noise it began to sound like roaring. Brightheart got up and left the classroom, and Kyra and Ama followed.
“I should have warned you,” said Kyra as they sat against the wall.
“It’s alright,” Brightheart replied, and hummed Enya’s lulaby quietly. After a moment she stood and went back inside. The class had settled down and they continued their lesson.
The week was spent avoiding questions and people. Brightheart had become a sort of legend, and the only peace she could get was in the past with Enya or at night watching the stars. She would stare out the window in with afternoons, watching for Rustblade. Oh how she wished she could just return to the quietness of those cavern-halls. But she also wanted to fight the were-army, so Brightheart resigned herself to the wait. One day she’d be free from the chains of fighting, one day she’d have no more enemies. She spent a fair bit of time in the library, reading or talking to the Starion. And if she wasn’t in the library, the past, or her room, she was out in the fields with Kella. They sang the dragon song of flying, and Brightheart learned to play her whistle. They talked about life as an Orrazen and words the were-creatures commonly used. Mostly they just watched the wind blow on the grass and listened to the insects. It was a bit like being back at Rustblade’s cave.
Near the end of the week, Brightheart realised she was now in second year. She hadn’t even thought twice about the fact that she had combat classes instead of basic spells. Kyra said she’d picked it for her, and Brightheart said she’d picked well Brightheart was enjoying her week of rest, but it was disappearing quickly. Ama was going well, keeping to herself mostly, joining Kyra and Brightheart in conversation occasionally. Connel, James, Liri, Conrad, and Muriel were happy to be back at Aker’inra. Everything was alright, even the fact that there would soon be battles for Brightheart to fight – after all, she was unbeatable.
One Saturday, Brightheart and Kella went down to the Orrazen camp. They headed straight for Queen Illadien’s pavilion, and were immediately admitted an audience.
“Welcome to this army of rebels, Brightheart and Kella,” Queen Illadien said – although Brightheart thought Kella was already and Orrazen.
“Thank you,” Kella nodded.
“You have been assigned to the Gamniyan Sector Lilac, otherwise known as the sorcerers. Your commander is Jolana. And by the way, you did a good job rescuing Ama, Dorimas’s furious about it,” the werecat Queen explained.
“Thanks,” Brightheart curtseyed, and she and Kella exited the pavilion. Kella knew her way around, and led Brightheart to their sector.
“I can’t believe we’re in this division. Only the most powerful witches and wizards get to be here,” Kella smiled.
“Welcome to the Orrazens, Brightheart. Congratulations on being chosen for the Gamniyan Sector Lilac, the most powerful sorcerers, the most feared. I’m your commander, Jolana,” said a black cat. Jolana changed into human form and shook their hands. She then proceeded to explain to Kella and Brightheart where everything was and what to do. Jolana seemed to think they were too young to fight, but had accepted that they were powerful and needed.
“Now, do you have any armour?” the commander asked.
“Amŕa æpak,” Brightheart said, and armour covered her. It was the same as it had been in the Dark Dragon’s cave.
“Nice. This is perfect for what you need. Wow, it’s got a shield spell on it. No, even better, a rebound curse! You’ve got to teach this spell to the others,” Jolana said as she inspected the armour.
“Why don’t they know the armour enchantment?” Brightheart asked.
“Most didn’t go to Aker’inra. The castle looks old but the school is new. They learnt what they know form their parents or the Starion themselves,” Jolana answered
“Alright,” Brightheart nodded.
“We each have our specialities. Some are healers, some are attackers, and some are defenders. We all have our favourite spells, too. I’m a defender specialising in the shield spell.”
“That’s the one where it blinds opponents, right?” Kella asked, and Jolana said it was.
“I’m really good at moon spells in general, and I think I’m an attacker,” Brightheart said.
“I’m best at silencing, and I’m also an attacker,” Kella added.
“Silencing, hmm, that’s a new one. Perfect for giving us a break from oncoming spells so we can focus on attacking the Tarbly,” Jolana explained. “Yes, both of you are perfect for attacking. Now off you go.” The commander strode out of their section, leaving Kella and Brightheart to find their tent with the other attackers.
The Gamniyan Sector was set up like the courtyard at Aker’inra: an entrance and three walls. The three walls were actually long tents, each with a symbol near its flap.
“Defence, attack, healing… supplies,” Kella pointed to each of the tents. The healing and supply tents were half the size of the other two, standing next to each other. The symbols were a shield, a sword, a semicircle, and a square – respectively. Kella and Brightheart entered the attackers’ tent and found within it a group of about twenty people. Two stood up and made their way over.
“Hey Alecky, hey Elivra,” Kella smiled.
“Elivra, you didn’t tell me you knew magic,” Brightheart frowned a bit.
“Well it’s normal for me, you know, and most people already know, so I forgot,” Elivra shrugged.
“Welcome Brightheart, and it’s good to see you again Kelyarin,” Alecky said.
“I’ve told you, I prefer Kella – especially in casual talk,” Kella sighed, narrowing her eyes.
“I just like seeing you get worked up about it,” Alecky rolled her eyes as she chuckled.
“Yeah, that’s funny,” Kella said.
“Anyway. Brightheart, I used to know your parents. They were wonderful people, full of surprises,” Alecky said.
“I know. I’m a Magysûbymica, I’ve talked to my mother heaps,” Brightheart replied. “So Elivra, Muthergan, Narianoly, and Serulau were arguing if you can fly. Can you?
“Oh yes. I fly over the Tarbly and drop magic fire powder on them,” answered Alecky.
“What’s magic fire powder?” Kella asked.
“It’s usually called fire-dust. We create magic fire, force it to burn out, and wrap the warm ash into bundles. If that hits you then you’re dead because you won’t have enough time to blow the magic fire out,” Elivra explained.
‘That sounds pretty cool,” Brightheart said.
“We’ll teach you later at practise,” Alecky walked over to a corner of the tent with less people and they sat.
“We practise spells, our fighting techniques, and we spar,” Elivra added.
Kella and Brightheart settled in quickly, getting to know the others in their section. Jolana told them what their sector group name was the second day they were there; it was ‘Gamniyan Sector Lilac troop one’. There were other Gamniyan sectors but they weren’t as skilled as the lilacs. The Crimsons had enchanted blades, the small group of Cyans were Magysûbymicas, and the Limes were the major healers who could put spells into herbal remedies. Brightheart asked why the Lilacs had healers, and Jolana answered that since they were main attacking troops they needed quick healing sometimes. The werecat also explained that the defenders of the Lilacs were there to protect the attackers as best as they could.
They sparred four times a week and practised spells nearly every day. The work left Kella and Brightheart exhausted every night, but they were going well and were soon accepted as some of the strongest attackers. That meant that their first real order was to go with thirteen other Lilacs to the Tarbly camp.
“Alright Lilacs, you’ve been chosen to go on a mission to the Tarbly. We’ve got three healers, five defenders, seven attackers – including Brightheart and Kella here – and four spies,” Jolana paced along the line of Orrazens as she explained, then led them out of the camp. The four spies joined the Lilacs on the way out, and Brightheart saw that one was Serulau.
The werecat spy explained their mission as they marched to the Maze, which the would go around. There’d been an attack on the Orrazens two days ago, and a Crimson had been kidnapped. Now they were on a rescue and revenge attack, only no Tarbly would be stolen. Serulau said that they’d attack at midday, be in and out, and no-one would know they’d been until after. When the group exited the cover the Maze provided, a defender cast an illusion spell so the Tarbly wouldn’t see them coming. The twenty Orrazens hurried to their enemy’s camp, then lay in wait as the spies instructed the Lilacs on how to rescue the Crimson as fast as possible. Brightheart listened carefully, and when the sun reached its zenith they stood and snuck in.
They were swift and silent, made invisible by a defender’s spell. No-one saw them but all in the group’s path lay dead when they had passed by.
“This way,” Serulau led them to the kidnapped Crimson Orrazen. There were guards surrounding the were-creature the twenty were rescuing, and within a minute most had been turned to stone by whispered spells. A mixture of Orrazens worked on freeing and escaping with the Crimson while the rest fought off the remaining Tarbly.
“Simökûlnga,” Kella said, so they could fight in silence. Brightheart bound a guard with moon-rope then turned them to stone. She looked around and saw that the rest were just about finished dealing with their opponents, so she cast a spell to carve a staff and rune for dragon in the guard’s stone-turned back. Jolana said they wanted Doriima to know she’d been there, said it would scare him.
Finished their mission, the group fled the Tarbly camp, and they soon caught up with the others who gone ahead with the rescued Crimson.
“Good job, troop,” Jolana said, “that was perfect.”
“That Koldu’s been at his old habits again. We’ve patched Maikyn up, but he’ll need Hŕallilk Dyp,” a healer called Fehrhiren said, and Jolana grimaced. Brightheart had left hers back at camp.
“He’s trying to make more work for us, angry that Brightheart’s here,” Fehrhiren added, then turned to Brightheart, “Still, with you his anger will turn to fear.” Brightheart nodded, smiling. On the way back, Brightheart thought about this new part of her being the Dragon-Princess. Her identity meant going on missions like this, but it also meant praise that left Kella out. She felt bad for her friend, who was already an important Orrazen, but now forgotten in Brightheart’s unwanted popularity. Brightheart stayed at the back of the troop to walk with Kella, humming the dragon flying song.
Brightheart wondered what Doriima’s ‘old habits’ were, but didn’t dare to ask. She wrote to Enya and talked to the Starion whenever she could, and sometimes she watched for Rustblade. The dragon had taken to showing himself every few days, and it made Brightheart want to fly with him, but she couldn’t. She and Kella were constantly sent on rescues and attack missions. Brightheart thought about the reason she was a part of the Orrazens: Nightscar had attacked Rustblade and she’d gone to the castle to learn wizardry so she could kill the dark dragon. Then, she’d thought it was revenge, but had long ago learnt that revenge wasn’t something to spend a long time on. Revenge could easily turn to hate, which King Soren had begun. A long time ago, Brightheart had decided she was fighting for her friends to keep them and everyone else safe.
“Today we’ll be making fire-dust to store. You know what that means: duck and catch practise,” Jolana said to her gathered soldiers. “Everyone formed their teams of five – they practised in groups, especially for game-like practises such as this. Brightheart’s team was Alecky, Ellivra, Kella, and a werewolf named Shuryno.
“Vŕvlam! Vlam tihûn kilöd,” Brightheart’s team chanted in unison, drawing a rune of ice with a stick amongst the flames they’d each created. Their fires turned to hot ashes, which they bundled in pieces of clothe.
“Go!” cried Alecky, and they tossed their bundles. The team continued to make more fire-dust as the other teams bobbed up and down. The other teams were catching and passing along fire-dust balls towards the storage tent, while teams of defenders caught strays and passed them along.
“Ready yourselves! The Tarbly are preparing for battle!” a voice called. Brightheart saw Muthergan running outside the Gamniyan Sector Lilac towards Queen Illadien’s pavillion.
“Alright up we get, drop your food and get your gear,” the commander ordered. There was a scramble to get armour for those who hadn’t mastered the armour spell, then the Lilacs marched out to the battlefield. There were other troops marching as well, and everyone was hurrying on with tension showing in their faces.”This is our first proper battle. Do you think we’ll be alright?” Kella whispered. Brightheart nodded, unsure if she was right.
The fighting would be soon, but first the Keldi had to organise a plan. Orders were shouted and echoed, and the rebel army hurried to ready themselves for the Tarbly’s attack. Then at last a sort of silence fell, everyone watching and waiting for Queen Illadien’s signal. The Lilacs were standing on the left of the Orrazens. Alecky had a satchel full of fire-dust they’d made and stored for surprise battles like this. Brightheart had her dagger in her hand and her staff in her other, clad in magic armour, spells ready on her tongue. Kella shifted her feet. The Lilac defenders and healers quietly wished everyone luck. Banners fluttered in the gentle breeze.
Suddenly several horns were blown in a long call to fight. Thousands of cries broke into the sky, howling, yowling, shouting; each calling one thing.
The Orrazens rushed forwards, arrows flying from each side, all swords raised high. Alecky said some spell, the words lost beneath other sounds, and took flight. Brightheart and Kella set their shadow-monsters on all the Tarbly, and fought with magic as well as weapons. Spells from the were-army rebounded of Brightheart’s armour, injuring or killing the casters. She growled, clenching her fists, striking at any enemy she saw. In the very few moments when Brightheart could catch her breath, she checked that her team was alright: Alecky was still throwing down the dreadful fire-dust, Elivra and Shuryno were fighting hard, and Kella had silenced the Tarbly Gamniyans. A piecing cry caught on the wind, and Brightheart looked up to see Alecky falling. She rushed forwards, stumbling over all bodies alike, calling the defenders and healers. They were already running towards the falling attacker. Kella called Brightheart for help; Tarbly were closing in around her. She changed direction, cutting a path towards her friend with magic and staff, binding or halting the on-comers with rope or stone. When Brightheart reached Kella she looked back at her path for as long a moment as she could bear – or spare, for that matter.
“You going alright?” Brightheart turned to Kella, who nodded. They stood back to back, fending off the Tarbly who dared to attack.
Weariness grew in Brightheart’s limbs, and her staff seemed to be heavier than usual. Sheathing her dagger, Brightheart growled and curled her free hand. Friends and foes had fallen, and she was angry at Doriima. She declared her warcry-chant over and over as she fought, forcing her tired arms to wield her staff and her dry lips to form spells so she could survive. Volleys of arrows rained to one side of her, picking off the Tarbly to her left, and Brightheart faced her attackers, most of which were were-creatures with strong teeth and claws. One was a women, wearing a black cloak that shadowed a purple-dyed face. The Tarbly woman muttered words in Ŕönvyx and a glowing emerald orb flew towards Brightheart, who ducked just in time to escape most of the hurt.
Brightheart rolled to one side, winded and badly injured. She felt sick, and her skin stung. Just then the horns sounded to retreat.
“So you live, for now. Good luck to those who must heal you,” spat the Tarbly Gamniyan, the first non-Ŕönvyx words spoken to Brightheart in a while. She gathered herself and, leaning heavily on her staff, made her way slowly across the bloodied battlefield. Her breastplate was dented and her head was pounding. Somehow she made it back to base. Alecky had mostly been healed already, but needed a potion only the Limes could brew. She and Brightheart were helped along by Fehrhiren and another healer called Shanfray.
“What happened to you?” Shanfray asked.
“A Gamniyan wearing black cloak with a face dyed purple cast a spell that sent a green orb towards me, which I only just got out of the way of,” Brightheart rasped.
“That’s Naitoshurdal and her notorious curse of – ooh I don’t dare name it!” Fehrhiren said, “She’s killed too many to count. It’s a good thing you ducked, but there’s a shadow lodged in you heart and mind now, and only a Lime can heal that.”
“You’ll be alright in a week or so, I think. Now come on, we both need rest,” Alecky said.
“Drink these,” a Lime said once they’d gotten Brightheart’s armour off and she’d sat on a bed in the healers’ huge tent. The first was a little of Hŕallilk Dyp, and the second tasted disgusting. The third tasted like honey, strawberries, sunshine, and songs sung with friends. After that they told her to sleep. Brightheart dreamed of thunder and starless nights, shadows driving her into memories of the evil dragon’s lair. She woke for a moment, seeing worried faces standing over her, then drifted into dreamless sleep.
Brightheart opened her eyes and blinked in the sunlight.
“Brightheart’s awake,” called a lady sitting next to her.
“Good job, Ilasa,” replied someone else. Ilasa gave Brightheart a small piece of bread.
“Here. Go easy on it though, you haven’t eaten since this time yesterday,”Ilasa said as Brightheart took and ate it.
“So I didn’t dream about that strange Gamniyan, – what’s her name? – Naitoshurdal?” Brightheart asked after finishing a bite.
“No, but you did dream of dark things, didn’t you,” Ilasa answered, and Brightheart nodded.
“The spell that hit you is a very powerful curse. If the full force of it had hit you, you’d have died. Very few have ever escaped that, so we don’t know exactly how it affects survivors yet,” the healer explained, “So far every one of that curse’s victim’s have become cheerless, troubled, and panicky. Things will startle you and you’ll be exhausted, and when that happens you must think of something that makes you happy. Every day we’ll give you a potion to ease the restless shadow lodged within your mind, which is the cause of the sadness. Until then, you’re to stay in the Gamniyan Sector Lime so we can keep an eye on you.”
“I understand,” Brightheart said weakly.
Brightheart mostly slept and talked to the Starion and Rustblade for the first few days in the healers’ tent. Whatever curse she’d been hit with was strong indeed, for Brightheart constantly felt tired. Her dreams often forced her into memories of killing Nightscar, but each morning she fought that with the memory of sleeping beside Tŕnjyl. When Brightheart was allowed to stand up and walk around, shadows danced in the corner of her eyes, always startling hers as if the curse that struck with had been the shadows’ life curse. Loud noises took the form of dragon roars, striking fear into Brightheart’s heart. Yet somehow she held onto her hope that seemed to grow stronger every day despite the strange curse. She often whispered Enya’s lullaby and fiddled with Rustblade’s scale when she grew nervous. More than once had Brightheart woken to see Ilasa singing the lullaby and thought she was her mother, but Ilasa looked nothing like Enya.
Brightheart wrote to her mother, telling her about the battle.
“Oh that Naitoshurdal is a real nuisance and a formidable enemy. She killed two of our knights a month ago in my time. They survived three days after being hit with the curse and passed on the fourth. They became troubled and anxious, and a shadow stole away their hope. Only they could see their shadow that caused all this, these shadows that were filled with some kind of rage,” Enya replied. Brightheart wrote that she was sorry, and her mother said it would turn out alright.
“What kind of shadow is it?” Brightheart asked.
“I think there’s two parts to the shadow: one is the cursed’s own which is of their mind, and the other is fear which is of the heart. The mind’s shadow leaves first, if it is weakened enough,” the old Queen answered. After that, Brightheart slept and dreamt a little, but what she could remember was fire. She let it fade from memory as she ate. Brightheart sat in the sun while she was awake, thinking about the battle. It was two weeks ago now, and she wondered when the next would be – not out of eagerness of course – since she would be bored if they practised for months in between. Brightheart realised she hadn’t known what war was about before this, but even so she’d have chosen to fight instead of watching it; she’d have chosen to stand and fight instead of running away and letting more die.
“The song you often sing, I’ve heard it before. Where’d you hear it?” Ilasa said, sitting beside Brightheart.
“My mother, Queen Enya, sang it to me,” Brightheart answered.
“It’s a pretty lullaby,” the werecat Healer nodded. “Would you like to hear a story?”
“Yes please,” Brightheart said. So Ilasa told a tale Tŕnjyl had told her before. It was about the constellations Angelus and Clavis, the angel and the key, and Brightheart noticed that Ilasa told it differently from Tŕnjyl’s way. Afterwards, when Brightheart thought about the ways each had told the tale, she realised what the difference was. Ilasa was in awe of the Starion, constantly wondering at their power and immense knowledge of magic. Tŕnjyl knew those she talked about, and was proud of who she was, and when she told those stories it was as if she were sad that the time when Starion walked amongst humans was gone. Then Brightheart wondered what her way of telling the stories would be. She tilted her head and thought about it, then nodded when she decided she’d probably speak of the Starion as if they were close friends (which they were).
Ilasa’s calming voice and presence, along with what Brightheart liked to call the ‘sunshine potion’ had kept the shadow at bay while Brightheart was awake. Her dreams worsened, but Ilasa said she was in control and that was just the shadow’s anger at being weakened. When Brightheart had three full nights without the shadow tormenting her, she was allowed to return to her sector. It was a month since the battle.
“You’re strong. I wish you luck, Brightheart,” Ilasa said. She walked to the Gamniyan Sector Lilac, and was met by her friends.
“You’re back! It’s been forever!” Kella hugged Brightheart.
“Good to see you again,” Elivra smiled.
“Jolana’s been getting eager for you to get back. You should go tell her you’re here,” said Alecky, who’d returned three weeks before Brightheart.
“How are all of you?” Brightheart asked, and her friends answered that they were good. Then she went to find her Commander.
Brightheart had to work extra hard at training for the next few weeks, building up the strength she’d lost while in the Healers’ tent. She was glad to be back with the Lilacs, and they were glad she was back as well.
“We all knew you were strong, but during the past month I think we’ve all doubted it. Yet you overcame the curse which few have ever done before,” Jolana said quietly as she passed Brightheart while they practised.
“Nothing yet has stood in my way that I haven’t overcome,” Brightheart replied.
The next battle came soon, and Naitoshurdal was surprised Brightheart had survived. The were-creature nuisance of a Tarbly Gamniyan was then turned to stone and shattered with a bundle of fire-dust. Brightheart went on more attack missions, every time being silent and leaving many statues. Doriima quickly came to fear Brightheart’s name, and that fear spread to the rest of the Tarbly as well. Time passed quickly and before Brightheart knew it, it was a week before her birthday.
The ten competitors for the Scavenger’s Maze had been chosen, Kyra, Ama, and Keane being three of them – which Brightheart was glad of because being in the Maze would keep them safe for a few days – and decorations were being put up in Erolbie. On the first day of Muarrfirn, Kella and Brightheart were allowed to go up the Aker’inra. Everyone was excited, especially the competitors. The pair spent the day with their friends, telling them little tricks about what to do. Brightheart went to the past for a bit to see Enya and tell her of all that was happening. They stayed the night, and returned to the Orrazen camp in the morning.
Serulau rushed in to the Lilacs around mid-morning and held a hushed conversation in a corner of the space between tents. A moment later, he and Jolana hurried off to see the Keldi, and the Commander didn’t return until almost noon.
“I have been in an urgent meeting with the Keldi, along with several other commanders. Doriima is planning to attack us on the fourth day of Muarrfirn. We are to attack him first, and he will die. This war will be over by the time the competitors in the Maze are out!” Jolana said. Everyone nodded, then they were dismissed to pack their ‘mission things’: rations, a blanket, clothes, and a water bottle.
Eight hundred Orrazens were being sent on this final attack, and the troop would leave in staggered groups across the days until they were massed behind the hills beyond the Tarbly camp. The Lilacs arrived around dusk and found the Archers already there. Through the night, the Cyans, Swordsmen, and one other troop arrived. Everyone waited as the soldiers came to the smaller camp behind the hills. On the night before the battle, the Keldi came with her body guards. The rest of the Orrazens had been instructed to attack the Tarbly and disguise the fact that there was eight hundred other soldiers filtrating the Tarbly camp until the last moment. Brightheart was nervous, and only managed to sleep when she called Tnjyl and let her sing her to sleep. They woke when the sun gave even the slightest light, and readied themselves to end the war. Jolana ordered the Lilacs to march into the Tarbly camp. The Archers and the Keldi marched as well. Queen Illadien demanded an audience with Doriima, but the Tarbly soldiers said it wouldn’t be possible. The Keldi smiled that it was, knowing full well he would not be out fighting the other Orrazens, and marched on towards Doriima’s tent, and someone hunted those Tarbly so they no longer breathed.
They entered Doriima’s tent, and saw him sitting on a kind of makeshift throne that, to Brightheart, mocked rather than glorified him – the wood would be better used as firewood. And so it should be, she thought, for he was evil. She bared her teeth, growling, then let out a roar as the Keldi shouted to kill him. The Orrazens yelled ‘ariallyeno’ and rushed forwards. Those who were still waiting behind the hills would now begin their attack. Doriima ordered his guards to fight, and for a while the wrewolf sat upon his throne watching the battle with a bored expression. However, Brightheart and her team, along with Queen Illadien, soon got through the Tarbly and forced Doriima to his feet.
“Fight, you coward! Don’t just sit there watching your soldiers die, do something!” Brightheart yelled at her enemy, striking his arm, angry that so men had to die for someone who wouldn’t lift a finger to do anything but kill her.
“What makes you think you’re so special that you should be fought by me, who killed your parents?” Doriima laughed, apparently trying to bring her down.
“Because you already tried to kill me, but you’re too scared to be able to finish the job,” answered the girl, “I’m Brightheart the Dragon-Princess. I am strong and brave, and I have a hopeful heart. I will fight and I will win!”
“You can’t win!” Doriima sneered.
“Says you, the cowardly, thieving, stupid, man who calls himself a king. I will always overcome!” Brightheart spat at the werewolf, cackling as she raised her unsheathed dagger high.
With all her strength, Brightheart plunged it down and the werewolf king fell to the floor. She’d done it. Her enemies had been defeated. Brightheart turned and roared, laughing. Anyone who didn’t know her well would have thought she laughed maniacally – she had just killed someone, after all – but she was cackling because she was now free from war. Free! Brightheart grinned.
The Orrazens cheered, calling out their war cry ‘ariallyeno’. The remaining Tarbly fled. Brightheart walked slowly towards the Keldi and Kella, her mind reeling. Both were smiling, glad the war was won. Doriima’s son, Dorriku, lay not breathing on the floor somewhere, leaving no-one to continue the war.
“This destruction is over! Doriima is dead and the Orrazens have won. Any remaining Tarbly must surrender!” Queen Illadien declared, and the message was passed on, dancing on the wind. Brightheart and Kella walked out of the tent and into the sunlight that was dimmed by storm clouds.
“We did it Brightheart! The war is finished,” Kella was practically dancing as they wandered through the Tarbly camp. The memoires of the last few months filled Brightheart’s mind, and suddenly she was overwhelmed.
“I… can’t stay. Please don’t follow me.” The words rolled unbidden off her tongue, and her legs carried her running towards Rustblade’s cavern-halls.
The wind blew in Brightheart’s hair as thunder rumbled like a dragon roar. She felt bad for leaving the Orrazens to clear up, but she couldn’t stop running. Brightheart wanted to hide from everything that had happened because of the Tarbly, and where could she go but where the were-creatures weren’t? By the time she reached the forest, she could run no longer but neither could she force her legs to take her back. She continued, never pausing, at last reaching Rustblade. He appeared to be half-asleep but Brightheart knew he was watching.
“The war is over. I don’t know why I’m here, I just felt overwhelmed by everything and started running,” Brightheart said.
“That’s alright, you especially should be allowed to rest after all that’s happened,” Rustblade replied, his familiar rumbling breath washing over Brightheart.
“I guess I’m trying to hide from my memories, even though it sounds silly. I need to get as far away from the were-creatures as I can,” Brightheart sighed.
“Then you should continue. Gather some things and go, and remember winter will be soon,” Rustblade said, understanding showing in his wise eyes. Brightheart went into the cave and picked out some of her old clothes, and her bag of special things she’d left wit Rustblade for safe-keeping during the war. It was a shame that her Book was in the Orrazens camp. She left Rustblade’s cave just as the rain began to fall.
Brightheart wished she could fly so much, but that would show everyone where she was. She trudged on through the rain, her hair dripping into her eyes. Brightheart liked the sound of the rain listening to the repetitive pitter-patter-splash as puddles formed. It was almost like a song, and that thought started Brightheart singing every song she knew. Enya’s lullaby, the flying song, the ballad, and the song she’d sung with Rustblade the night before she left the cavern-halls. She’d sung it to Kyra and Kella when they had their midnight feast too. She didn’t know many songs, but it was enough to light up the overcast afternoon.
Brightheart’s stomach rumbled, and she realised she hadn’t eaten since the morning. There was little around to eat, but there was enough that Brightheart could wait until tomorrow for a proper meal. She found an overhang that offered shelter from the sleepy ran and settled there for the night. The sun had set not long ago, judging by the light, and the dark was cold because of the rain. Brightheart lit a fire with magic to kept her warm, and slept. She dreamt of her mother and father being with her in the quiet world away from her fears. Brightheart woke and tried to remember her dreams, but they’d vanished like mist. Once what little she had had been packed up, she went hunting. The day was spent travelling south, and by the next she was beyond anything she’d ever known. The mountains were quiet, and it was calming. Rustblade’s breathing and rhythmic wing-beats would have been better, but what Brightheart had was good enough for its purpose. Here her hope grew even stronger, and she smiled, now sometimes running instead of walking.
Brightheart hummed; not a song she knew, but a melody that the wind and sunlight had taught her. She let it take her into a daydream, and built a story upon the sounds. It was her story, but one where she didn’t have such memories as she now hid from. Her daydream story was similar to her forgotten dream, she realised and wondered if her parents could have survived. The two times she’d seen the time when her baby-self was sent to Rustblade she’d seen the old King and Queen escape, and hoped they lived. Could they?
Brightheart imagined she heard Enya calling out her name, and stopped to look around. She was alone. Sighing, the girl went on. The mountains began to become greener, and soon there was a forest ahead of her. She made camp there for a night, and decided to explore the next day. Who knew how long it had been since she last climbed a tree and ran along the treetops as though she’d lived in trees all her life. Brightheart watched the sky turn pink through the leaves, and slept.
The sun, much cooler than it had been several weeks ago, woke Brightheart. The dull brown of dried leaves in piles around their trees and they grey-brown bark reminded her that she’d turned thirteen three weeks ago and winter had come. She hunted then climbed, enjoying herself immensely. It was quieter than summer would be, because the birds had flown south, but wind and song was enough to fill the silence. Brightheart hummed the tune she’d made up yesterday. She continued to travel south, day after day, sleeping in trees because she could, gathering food for when she couldn’t find anything to hunt it rained a couple of times, and even snowed lightly one night.
The wind howled, and Brightheart sang of flying as she cooked her lunch. The wind brought a faint echo of a voice, and Brightheart stopped to listen as she rested on her haunches. It was Enya’s, but how could it be? Brightheart ate, listening to the forest, wondering how she could hear her mother’s voice. She thought she’d heard it several times in however long it had been since she started travelling. Brightheart stretched and curled her fingers, then stopped. She tilted her head and listened again, and heard it again. A twig snapped and Enya’s voice came singing into Brightheart’s ears; there was no doubt about it this time.
The voice came nearer, and then Enya appeared between the trees. Brightheart and her mother starred, surprise on one face and confusion o the other. Brightheart thought she might have gotten into the past, but Enya looked older than she always did when Brightheart visited the past.
“Mother? Enya?” Brightheart was incredulous.
“Brightheart?” her mother replied, the same shock mirrored.
“Enya, my dear, what’s taking you so long?” Thayer’s voice called, and Brightheart jumped up.
“Yes dear one. And for once this isn’t your past,” Enya smiled, tears of joy springing into her eyes. She put her arms around her child, pulling Brightheart into a hug full of motherly love. Enya had spent so many years waiting for this reunion, waiting for her, her love built up into longing.
“Come on, let’s not keep your father waiting,” Brightheart’s mother said, leading her to a hut. Thayer was sitting on the ground, and looked up at the sound of footsteps.
“My daughter, my Princess,” Brightheart’s father stood, joy on his face. King and Queen and Princess embraced, a family at last.
“How is this real and not the past? How did you escape?” Brightheart had twice seen them run towards Erolbie in the past, but always vaguely supposed they had been tracked down.
“We ran into Erolbie, but there were were-army soldiers there. We headed into these mountains and found safety. A lot of people were fleeing, so no-one bothered to stop up, especially since it was dark and one could barely tell who was who,” Enya explained, and Thayer nodded.
“We wanted to give you a sign that we still lived, but we didn’t know how to without the were-army knowing, because we knew nothing of what went on in Erolbie,” Thayer added. There was another layer to what he said, one implying a selfish fear of the were-army, and Thayer seemed ashamed to admit it aloud. Brightheart’s parents drew her into a hug again.
After a good night’s rest and a delicious breakfast, the questions began. Enya and Thayer had lost their Book when Nightscar came, so the last time they’d heard from Brightheart was eleven years ago. Even though Brightheart had told them everything, they’d forgotten most of it and besides, they wanted to hear it again in person. That first day was devoted to her tale and all the questions that came with it, and the next was for Brightheart’s questions that were happily explained by her parents. Oh, how perfect the world was where the King and Queen lived!
Sleet turned to snow, falling all day, keeping the family inside the fire-warmed hut. They talked all day, and Brightheart taught her parents Rustblade’s flying song. The days began to blur together, and Brightheart picked up the routine. In the moments when she found herself alone, she put words to the tune she’d made up. It was strange to think that her parents, royalty, had lived simply here in the forest for eleven years, as she had in Rustblade’s cave for ten. Brightheart asked them about it, and they answered that they somehow grew used to it.
Snow fell regularly now, and each day they cut more wood for the fire in their hearth. When Brightheart finished her song, she sang it.
“I will run, I will fly,/ I have fought/ beneath the sky./ My hope is strong./ Dragon-Princess:/ magic and power,/ courage and strength./ Forests, meadow,/ mountains, river;/ there I’ll go/ where I have been./ Dragon-Princess:/ magic and power,/ courage and strength./ Spells and stars,/ light filling the dark./ Memories can be scars/ that I must accept./ Dragon-Princess:/ magic and power,/ courage and strength./ Dragon and song,/ these have taught me./ There I belong/ where sound echoes./ Dragon-Princess:/ magic and power,/ courage and strength./ Queen and King,/ I am their daughter./ Peace we will bring/ to this kingdom.” Enya and Thayer smiled, saying it was good, and sang it with her. They danced, singing until they were out of breath.
Suddenly Brightheart remembered at Muarrfirn she danced with her friends, and that it was vaguely the middle of the first month of winter. She had forgotten the badness of memories and even come to accept that she had lived through evil. Everything had led to good things in the end and that knowledge seemed to be what Brightheart was seeking. She became eager to see her friends and tell them her parents lived. She wanted to tell Rustblade everything and then laughed as she realised she could call him. And maybe they would all four of them fly to Aker’inra. Brightheart told Enya and Thayer, and then talked to Rustblade.
“Hey Rustblade!” Brightheart thought.
“Hello Brightheart, how are you going?” the dragon replied.
“It’s amazing. You’ll never guess what happened,” Brightheart smiled.
“Well at first I thought I’d gotten into the past again, but it’s real. I found Enya and Thayer! They escaped, and they’ve been living in a forest in the mountains this whole time!”
“That’s awesome. How many days south are you?”
“Seven, I think. I’m ready to come back now, too.
“We shall fly together tomorrow.”
Brightheart told her parents, and they all packed their things up. Brightheart had little so she helped her parents. They had gathered a fair amount of things through the years.
“This is such a nice place, are you really going to leave it forever?” Brightheart asked.
“No, I’ll come back when I need some time to myself for a while, like you did,” Enya answered. When they had packed everything they could, Brightheart went outside and carved a message on the door with her dagger. She carved cantio custodia and cantio vigilia, and ‘enter: here find safety and rest’. It was now mid-morning, and Brightheart was waiting anxiously for Rustblade. It was foggy and the sun shone weakly. The wind began to pick up, and then a rumbling came: this wasn’t wind.
“Rustblade!” Brightheart jumped up, rushing to the dragon.
“My little dragonling!” replied Rustblade. Brightheart, Enya, and Thayer climbed up to sit upon the great dragon, then Rustblade took flight, clutching their bags with his claws. And they flew!
Wheeling, swooping, soaring, they flew above the clouds and low to the ground. They laughed, smiles wide of cheerful faces. Rustblade roared and burnt the air with hot fire. His wing-beats were a calm rhythm and his scales were warm. Brightheart lifted her hands, letting the wind blow her hair around. they sang dragon songs and Brightheart’s song, which was a kind of dragon song.
Then Aker’inra and Erolbie came into view. That meant the end of flying but also seeing friends again. Rustblade turned to light the sky, Brightheart cackled, and her parents laughed with her. They hadn’t seen their town for many years, or their palace for that matter. Rustblade and Brightheart roared together, a joyous declaration that something good had happened – and returned. The three climbed down to the ground once Rustblade landed on the side of the hill. Kella, Kyra, and Ama had heard the roars and were running towards the group.
“Ama, Kyra, Kella!” Brightheart exclaimed as she hugged her friends, and breathlessly told them about her parents, and her friends curtseyed to the King and Queen.
They entered the castle, heading to Riverrune’s room, greeting everyone they met along the way. Brightheart knocked on the headmaster’s door and he told them to enter. They did, and when Riverrune saw the King and Queen he stopped, mouth agape.
“Y-your Highnesses, I didn’t know you’d survived! Uh, I’m in no presentable state,” Riverrune stammered, standing up and bowing.
“It’s alright, good sir Kai. You couldn’t have prepared if you weren’t warned,” smiled Enya.
“Oh, well… to what to I owe this visit?”
“We came to tell you that we’re alive and well. We’re sorry we did not return much earlier, but we didn’t know how much the were-army controlled Erolbie,” Thayer said.
Riverrune offered to show them around the school, and they said it would be wonderful. Kyra and Ama were sent to play while Kella and Brightheart went to see Queen Illadien who was apparently in the marketplace. Brightheart explained why she’d run away to Kella as they walked. The werecat queen was indeed in the marketplace, and was perfectly happy to talk to them. Brightheart quickly apologised for vanishing after the war.
“Queen Enya and King Thayer never died when Nightscar came, and when I was gone I found them. Riverrune is currently showing them around Aker’inra, and they’ve asked us to ask you if they may stay at Lohrasait.”
“I shall be honoured, Brightheart. Thank you for your help in the war, I greatly appreciate it,” Queen Illadien said.
“It’s alright,” Brightheart curtseyed.
“And how are you, Kella?”
“I’m good, you?”
“The merchants are coming soon, and I’m excited for that.”
“Oh yes, I’d forgotten, but I can’t wait to see what they’ll bring this year. Thank you, Queen llladien!” Kella replied, and she and Brightheart turned to run back to Aker’inra.
They quickly found Kyra and Ama in the courtyard, and everyone sat down to listen to Brightheart’s story. After that, they talked about Muarrfirn: Kyra had won and had a silver bracelet with gems of opal to prove it. Brightheart congratulated her. There was so much to talk about.
“I just realised, I’ve barely been inside Aker’inra for a year. I’ve only spent nine nights here since I began my quest,” Brightheart said.
“That’s a long time,” Ama replied.
“Yes, and I’ve missed everyone terribly.”
News travelled swiftly, and by dinner time everyone knew of the King’s and Queen’s return. A great feast had been prepared in their honour, since Brightheart’s parents were to stay at the school that night. The feast was amazing, and Brightheart enjoyed herself. When the meal was finished, Enya and Thayer went up to the front of the hall and told the school how wonderful it was to see their castle put to such a use as learning. They were proud and pleased and glad to be back, and so blessed for their daughter be Brightheart who had killed Nightscar and Doriima – though that felt like a lifetime away now. A roar of applause rose up, and everywhere there were merry and jubilant faces.
Enya and Thayer had decided a couple of weeks ago that they would keep Aker’inra as a school. They wanted to see if they might permanently stay at Lohrasait. Brightheart thought long and hard about what she wanted to do, and decided she’d complete two more years at Aker’inra, visiting Rustblade on weekends – if Riverrune allowed it of course. After that, she’d return to Rustblade and their cavern-halls, visiting her parents regularly. She longed for the peace of the forest. When morning came Brightheart and her parents, who’d slept in the Liraly common room, got ready. They went down to breakfast, and afterwards they talked to Riverrune. They discussed their plans, and Riverrune said Brightheart could go along with hers.
“Thank you Riverrune,” Brightheart smiled. When the meeting was over, Brightheart talked to the Starion.
A week before the merchants came, there was a celebration of Enya’s and Thayer’s return. The Queen wore her tiara which Brightheart hadn’t touched for several months, the King wore his crown that Riverrune dug out of a chest in his office where he’d put it for safe-keeping, and Brightheart wore her necklace and dragon cuff, and decorated her staff with vines and flowers. The three of them wore magnificent clothing, the likes of which she’d only seen a few times. Rustblade came and flew overhead.
“All people of Rabeith, your King and Queen shall rule once again! I give you King Thayer the mighty, Queen Enya the kind, and their daughter, Brightheart the Dragon-Princess!” declared Riverrune.
“Long live the King! Long live the Queen! Long live the Dragon-Princess!” came the cheer, and Rustblade roared fire over the winter landscape. The celebrations lasted several days.
Brightheart found comfort in the familiar routine of school. She went down to Rustblade on the weekends and visited her parents every other. When she finished at Aker’inra she returned to her cavern-halls home, still visiting her parents every other weekend. Brightheart was content with the calmness of the forest and living with Rustblade again, and overjoyed to have come back. When she turned eighteen, Brightheart would accept her role as Princess and got to live with her mother and father at Lohrasait – and perhaps be Ailith. But that was a long way off.
Brightheart cackled as she sang with Rustblade, their dragon songs echoing through their caves. The sky, woods, mountains, and everything in between was hers, and she was free.