New Dawn-the countdown begins

Swallow sat at the back of the high priestess’ room, watching as the others flocked around Starling, attending to her every need. The event the day before had created a quiet panic among the order, and Swallow felt a nervous excitement grow inside her. She had already known the prophecy, having seen it in a dream, but she wouldn’t let the other women know that. They would only create problems. She had seen the chosen one too, and sent an assassin to bring her to the order so that she might see her enemy just once, there was no way a little girl could defeat me, she thought to herself.
The room was alight with sparkling gold, the sun lighting up the ornamental decorations of the high priestesses possessions. Slowly the day passed, and Starling’s room grew dark. The other women started to dwindle, till eventually there was no one but Swallow. She smiled darkly to herself while she watched Starling sleep. As the sun set, Swallow went up to the High Priestesses’ bedside, and poured a small vial of poison into her goblet of water.
‘You will die before the summer solstice, high one,’ she whispered, looking at Starling’s crinkled, sickly face.
She swept up her skirts and walked quietly out of the room.

Shadow sat silently in the gloom of the camp fire. Anora, the witch, was fast asleep, which helped. Meant he didn’t have to look into her eyes. He felt very strange about her. After the morning’s events he doubted whether he would be able to complete his job. Was this young woman really marked to die by the order? If hadn’t been for her, he might have forgotten himself, and have been lost to the dead forest. He had never lost it like that before. Ha had travelled through there so many times before. It bothered him that he had forgotten the most important thing about the dead, not to give in to what you see.
It bothered him greatly that, thinking back on the event, all he could think was how to keep the witch safe. She was a prisoner, not a friend. Something was wrong about all this. Shadow’s gut told him that there was nothing he could but continue on like nothing was wrong even though it went against his whole being.

Swallow lay awake listening to the frantic scurrying up and down the corridor next to her room. She knew that Starling had been found in a worse condition than earlier that evening. She felt a deep satisfaction knowing she wouldn’t be caught. She felt giddy knowing that in five more days the beloved high priestess would be dead. And then she, Swallow, would be in charge.
A knock at her door startled her, but was not unexpected. The ornately carved wood creaked open and one of The Order tentatively poked her head into the room,
‘Sister, you should come quickly. The high one is asking for your presence.’
‘Thank-you, sister. I shall hurry,’ she said with perfect innocence.
Swallow waited for the girl to close the door behind her, and knelt under the bed pulling a wooden crate out from under it. At first glance it looked like a crate that was used for storing sewing equipment. It was plain and showed nothing amiss. But hidden at the bottom, Swallow had concealed a secret compartment containing poisons of many guises. She picked a vial, small enough to conceal in her sleeve, and then rushed from the room, in pretend anguish.
The door flung open as Swallow entered the room.
‘Mother, I came as soon as I could,’ she lied.
‘Ah, my beloved daughter,’ Starling rasped from the large bed. ‘Come comfort me, my Swallow.’
Swallow pushed past the other women in the room to sit in the chair that had been placed by the bed. She sat and reached out for the woman’s hand, which had grown weak from illness. Swallow smiled inwardly.
‘What would you like me to say, Mother?’ asked Swallow, in a quiet distort voice.
‘That you will look after the world when I am gone. That you will keep my memory safe in your heart. And that you will not be tempted by evil.’
‘You make it sound as though you are dying mother,’ said Swallow, fake tears brimming in her eyes.
‘I am, child. I am betrayed,’ Starling whispered, pulling Swallow forward. ‘And before I die, I will find out whom.’
Starling rested back into the bed, already exhausted. Her chest rose and fell unevenly, and she looked very old. Swallow held her hand until she slept, and told the other women to leave the high priestess to sleep. Swallow stood and looked darkly upon Starling’s face. Once again the vial of poison was poured into the goblet beside the bed.
‘Foolish old woman,’ Swallow muttered.
Back in her room, Swallow paced on the balcony. The sea crashed repetitively calming the nerves a little, but Swallow was excited, nervous, and giddy. She walked back into her room, as a knock came from her secret passage way. She pulled one of the candle holders that sat on her shelf which opened the concealed entry way.
‘Come in Ben,’ she said to a man in the darkness of the opening.
‘You called high one?’ he questioned.
She liked Ben. He already called her the high one. He was her favourite. ‘I won’t be sleeping tonight,’ she said seductively. ‘At least not alone.’
He crossed the room in a heartbeat, and Swallow, dress flung on the floor; let him have her as he had so many times before. She didn’t care if anyone found her. She didn’t have a care in the world if anyone heard. As far as she knew, she was in charge now.

Anora awoke cold and stiff. Her legs felt like lead, and her head felt three times too big for her body. All the adrenaline from the previous day had left her feeling empty and used. The fire was nothing more the smouldering coals, so she couldn’t warm him numb limbs. There was very little meat left, and she wasn’t tempted to eat the mouldy bread either.
Shadow was nowhere to be seen, which bothered her a little. The whole point of all this trouble was that I was a prisoner, she thought to herself. You’re not supposed to trust prisoners. But since yesterday, Shadow had treated he like a person. He had walked with her, not in front of her and had made small talk. Anora had been pleasantly confused, and wondered if Shadow had felt the same way. The sky was turning pink with the upcoming summer solstice, which was now only a few days away. Anora had always loved watching the colours change in the sky. It felt mysterious, and romantic.
Crashing in the undergrowth of the trees next to her announced the return of her white haired companion. She stood up and stretched, ready to move on as she knew he would instruct.
‘Ready?’ he asked coming in to view.
She nodded affirmative, and he collected his belongings. The morning was spent in silence, jumping over fallen logs and climbing up boulders to find direction. At one point Shadow offered his hand to help Anora cross a stream, which took her by surprise. The landscape slowly began to change, the trees began to thin and the ferns disappeared, giving way to long grass. Smoke on the air indicated a settlement not too far away.
As the sun reached midday, Anora could hear dogs barking and people talking. A village lay just through the edge of the trees. That meant food, if that’s where Shadow was leading her.
‘Shadow?’ she asked, ‘Are we going to be going through there?’
He nodded, ‘Yes. Got to pick up some food, and see if we can get some other means of transport.’
‘What, no more walking?’
He sniggered. ‘Yes, no more walking.’
They were soon on the outskirts of town. Shadow put his hood up to conceal the strangeness of his long white hair which Anora had become used to. His piercing blue eyes lost some of their colour when hidden in the shadows of the material, so he looked less foreboding. He nodded at her once and strutted in to the market square, Anora jogging to keep up.
The square was packed; people from everywhere had come to town. This was nothing like the markets she was used to in Delass. Exotic spices tickled her nose, strange birds squawked in cages. Materials in colours she had never seen before lined stalls that sold necklaces and earrings. People pushed past her roughly, moving about with their daily business. She had never been too far from Delass. She’d never seen another town before. She looked around for Shadow and found him buying cheese and bread on the other side of the square. The seller was trying to make small talk she observed, but from his expression she guessed Shadow had said not a word. She made her way over as Shadow paid the man what he owed, and they left the square together, heading towards the animal pens on the other side of the town.
A sign read, Marvelo’s Miracle Monsters- pets and work animals great and small. Anora wondered how much time and effort had been put into the name. The though made her laugh inwardly, her lips twitching into a smile. Sensing her amusement, Shadow turned to her.
‘Don’t be fooled by the name, Marvelo does know what he’s doing when it comes to all creatures great and small. He is a little out the ordinary, but has a brilliant mind.’
‘I’ll take your word for it,’ she said.
They made their way into a rudimentary built barn that had open stalls on both sides. All kinds of noises came from all around and people rushed around carrying hay and shovels. All kinds of animals surrounded Anora, some she recognised and some she didn’t. A fat little man stood at the opposite side of the barn, shoulder length black hair, hat sitting titled to one side, yelling instructions to passersby. His belly wobbled as he flung his arms about pointing in different directions that went with his words.
Shadow made his way up to the man, whom Anora guessed was Marvelo. It was clear by the look on Marvelo’s face Shadow had been there many times before, but was still somewhat a stranger.
‘Ahh, my dear mystery friend,’ Marvelo boomed as Shadow reached out to shake his hand like old friends. ‘What can I do for you this time? Travelling again I see, and with company. Unlike you.’
Shadow’s face was still hidden under his hood, so Anora couldn’t see his expression, but from his voice she guessed he was amused by the man. ‘I need to beasts capable of moving quickly,’ he said offering no other explanation.
Marvelo’s face transformed into one of great thought, and then he beamed. ‘What you need is a pair of Kinkas.’
‘A pair of what?’ asked Anora.
‘A pair of Kinkas, girl. Fastest animals I know of,’ said Marvelo.
Marvelo lead Anora and Shadow out the back of the barn to a paddock filled with the strangest animals she’d ever seen. They had the same build and height of a horse, but had scales. Their tails were like that of a cat, with a bushy part at the end, perhaps the only part of hair on their bodies. They had crests on their heads that rose when agitated or nervous like a bird. They were bizarrely beautiful.
‘Fastest creatures in the known world, they are,’ the fat man boomed.
‘I want two. How much?’ asked Shadow.
Anora let the two men argue over price, and stood on the fence railing, looking at the animals. One walked its way over to her. Its scales had an aqua tinge and its eyes were red. She was scared to touch it, but her curiosity was more overwhelming. She reached out her hand as it came up to her. Its scales were soft and smooth, and she could see in its eyes it was just as curious as she was. Its crest rose and gave it a majestic appearance. Anora smiled at the kinka as the two men decided on a price. Bartering had never been her favourite way to shop, and she avoided it when she could.
‘Well go on then, man. Choose your beasts,’ Marvelo said, waving his hand at the paddock.
The one that Anora had been transfixed with trotted towards her through the gate Marvelo had opened. A brown eyed beast with a red tinge to its scales came forth, interested in the world beyond the paddock.
‘These two will do,’ said Shadow.
‘Very well then. Now, accessories,’ the fat man said, heading back towards the barn shop.
‘You’ll need saddles, bridles, feed, cleaning equipment, whips, riding clothes…’
‘We won’t be needing all that, Marvelo,’ said Shadow, ‘just the saddles and the bridles.’
Marvelo looked at Shadow, almost like a child who had been told he couldn’t have a bit of candy. He shook his head and his cheerful demeanour returned. ‘Of course, what was I thinking? You wouldn’t want to travel with too much.’
Shadow nodded once with a slight smile, as Marvelo headed off to find the fight gear for the Kinkas. Anora’s new animal came up behind and nuzzled her hair, startling her. She patted it, loving the strangeness of it. Marvelo quickly returned with two strange looking saddles and two decorated bridles.
‘Here we are,’ he said flinging them into Shadow’s arms. ‘All yours.’
‘Thank-you,’ said Shadow. He handed Marvelo a bag full of money, and Marvelo’s eyes sparkled. ‘Till next time.’
‘Nice doing business with you,’ Marvelo waved goodbye.
Outside the building Shadow saddled up the Kinkas. Anora watched as the high placed saddles went on, with a spike at the back, almost like to lean on made the Kinka look very small. The bridle was decorated with patterns in the leather. The black was a strong contrast on the aqua of her animal. Anora scrambled up onto the beast and felt very peculiar sitting up so high. She smiled to herself, that stupid child-like smile when you do something new for the first time.
‘Ready?’ Shadow asked behind her.
‘Let’s go,’ she said pointing to the far horizon.
They walked out of town slowly, both getting used to the new way of travelling. It was riveting, not having to use her own legs. The buildings thinned as soon there was no sign of anyone for miles. As the world opened up to a far horizon of fields she realised that she was happy to be travelling when she should be terrified. The idea had her excited and terrified, maybe she was meant to be here, doing this. She watched the sun set, making the sky blood red. The summer solstice was only five days away now.

The morning was bright in Swallow’s room. An arm held Swallow in her bed close against the bare skin of another being. It was a new experience. Usually he had to be gone before the sun rose. It was nice decided Swallow. She rolled over to watch Ben’s sleeping face. In sleep he looked so young, yet he was nearly thirty. She slowly and gently got out the bed and dressed. She didn’t want to, but she had to put up the appearance of concern for Starling. A tedious job, but she knew it would be over soon.
The corridor outside was unusually empty. This worried Swallow slightly, but she kept walking. Starling was sleeping fitfully and there was a servant girl moving about the room cleaning.
‘Out,’ commanded Swallow. ‘Do it later.’
The girl nodded, and scurried out, and Swallow took up her customary seat by the High Priestess’s bedside and waited. Her concern in the emptiness of the building was growing when the door was flung open. Hawk, one the other higher members of the order strode in followed by a well dressed man. He was cloaked and covered in chunky gold jewellery. Tacky, but clear he was wealthy. Markus was lord of the city in which the order resided. Their business was his business. He was a tedious man, but a reliable source of money. Hawk and Markus walked over to the bedside. It then occurred to Swallow that the members of the order had been giving Markus audience and prayer in this troubled time, and her tiny fears that she had been discovered fluttered away.
‘Any improvement, sister?’ asked Hawk. Inward, Swallow laughed. Stupid woman had assumed she had been there all night. A beautiful alibi for any awkward questions.
‘No,’ she answered quietly.
Hawk sighed. ‘May the Devourer heal her or end her suffering quickly.’
Swallow nodded. The second is certain to be the outcome, she thought to herself.
‘Theses are dark times,’ said Markus. His voice was high pitch, an ugly trait for a man. ‘May you strong when her time comes.’
Again Swallow simply nodded. She played grief well she thought.
‘So what is the procedure when the woman dies?’ he asked Hawk.
‘We will perform our ancient and secret ceremonies and Swallow here will become our new ruler,’ Hawk replied.
‘And what of the summer solstice prophecies for the follow year?’
‘Swallow will perform them, as though she is the High One if Starling cannot.’
Markus cleared his throat loudly. ‘And when Swallow rules, does that mean there will be a new set of laws made?’
‘Maybe,’ said Hawk, ‘That will be up to the High One.’
‘And will prayers continue as normal?’
‘Yes, they will not cease,’ answered Hawk. She was a patient woman, but even her careful demeanour was starting to crack.
‘And will there be a need for my money and services still?’
‘Yes, there will.’
Swallow coughed. ‘As much as I understand your concern,’ she said, her tone bitting, ‘can I ask you that you stay silent or leave? I am not in the mood to tolerate you.’
Hawk looked horrified. Markus looked stunned.
‘Of course,’ he stammered, ‘I just…’
‘NO. Silence. Not another word,’ Swallow cut across him.
‘Come,’ said Hawk to Markus. ‘We shall leave.’
‘Yes,’ he said, and walked out the room a little wonky, clearly put-off.
‘Be careful Sister. You may not like him, but we need him on our side,’ Hawk said as she walked out.
The door closed with a gentle click, and Swallow looked up from the sleeping woman’s face. ‘Not if I have it my way,’ she said to herself.
As the day passed slowly, Swallow drifted in and out of consciousness, barely aware of who moved around her. Starling never woke, and Swallow didn’t care. Her vision slowly went black. A voice whispered in her ear, you are going to fail. Swallow felt angry, but her vision went bright and a sea of grass, bending in the wind lay before her. Two figures on strange animals rode across the plain. They were laugh and talking like old friends. One had white hair and the other had red eyes. The anger in Swallow grew. She had given the assassin specific instructions how to bring the witch back, and clearly she hadn’t been listened to. Her eyes went black again and she blinked. The candles had been lit and the sun was set.
‘Traitor,’ she whispered and stood up from her chair. She poured a vial of poison straight into the high priestess’s mouth without bothering with the water. The woman was going to die regardless. She walked back to her room, and slammed the door as she walked in.
‘What’s wrong, high one?’ asked a voice.
‘Your still here,’ she said surprised to Ben who was sitting in her chair.
‘Well, you never told me to leave, so I didn’t.’
Swallow smiled slightly. ‘So you going to tell me what’s wrong?’ he asked.
‘I need a new plan,’ she said. ‘There has been a complication.’

Anora looked up at the moon, beautiful and half crescent shaped, the light filtered down to the earth and gave it a ghostly glow. The day had been smooth travelling. It felt like a holiday. She had laughed and talked and joked with her captor. They we like friends now. It was strange. He sat across from her on the other side of the fire. He was watching the fire a half smile on his face. Anora sat there playing with her skirts, and rediscovered her casting stones. She suddenly remembered all the rituals she was supposed to be performing with the upcoming solstice in four days. She fished out the small bag of stones.
‘Mostrimi il percorso alla regione sottoterra,’ she whispered drawing three stones out of the little decorated pouch. ‘Was tut, mögen Sie mir zeigen.’
Catalyst she drew again. She still could not interpret that. Passion was also a mystery; the stone for love didn’t belong in this casting she felt. Climax was also new. That she guessed meant the end of this venture, where-ever it was leading. She felt more confused than she had before, but was content to feel confused. She lay down, her arms under her head and looked at Shadow. He looked at her and smiled. She smiled back, and felt something new.
‘Not long now,’ he said.
His voice sounded new to her. Shit, she thought to herself as a stone revealed it’s self to her.

New Dawn-the countdown begins

Terri  Kruithof

Maffra, Australia

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

the next bit in the story New Dawn.

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