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Mage's Blood Prologue
The sound of horses’ hooves filled the air that was previously full of birdsong. It reverberated off the cliffs and hills. Mother’s face filled with panic as six tall black stallions came into view. Their riders were strong handsome men with gray and red uniforms. The sun glinted off the Imperial seal on their coats. The Emperor’s seal. The only group permitted to wear the Imperial seal, was the Imperial Guard.
Mother quickly handed my baby sister Anna to my older sister Christina. Mother bent down to wrap me in a hug. She whispered in my ear-
“Blood of Mage,
Kin of King,
Line of Sun and Moon,
The Eastern light reveals the Path,
The Looking Glass,
Kingdom’s perfect rose,
The six combined with key unveiled,
The Phoenix and the Raven’s rite,
Inheritance to prevail.
“Aura, I should have warned you. But now it is far too late for regrets. I had hoped they would not come, so much I had hoped. I am young and vain; I thought I could protect you. I can see now that I was wrong, and it may yet be the death of both of us and many others. But there is no turning back now. They will return,” she murmured casting a fleeting glance at the guardsmen who were now making their way closer with grim determination, “and when they do, they will want you. They will think my mage’s blood runs though your veins. If they only knew. When they return, you must run away, leave everything behind. Run to the east, over the mountains. There are allies in Cautyala. I believe they will come this time of year, when they think we are weaker. Do this for me, promise me.”
“I promise mother.” I whispered back. She made a sign on my forehead and there was a brief flash of silver.
“What a good girl.” She said. Then she let go of me. One of the guardsmen dismounted.
“Are you the lady of the house?” he asked.
“Yes sir, can I help you.”
“You are Naomi Palov?” he questioned gruffly.
“Yes sir.” After that they talked in hushed voices. I heard only bits of the conversation.
“You are arrested on suspicion of being… and having loyalties to…” I caught some of the man’s words.
“But it’s not true. Please let me stay. My children can’t stay by themselves… their father is away on business, he is a merchant.” She argued, her voice filled with desperation.
“Send you eldest for the neighbor; our orders are to bring you to the Imperial City, now.” Mother knew she had lost. She took Anna from Christina and put her in my arms. She hugged Christina and then sent her for Mrs. Canton.
“Aura, as soon as possible send for Aunt Nina. I may be… gone awhile. Tell you father and brothers I love them.” Her voice cracked and a single tear rolled down her beautiful face. She allowed the guardsmen to tie her wrists and help her onto the enormous horse.
My mother was a prisoner of the Empire. That was the last time I ever saw her.
The bright streaks of the sun climbing over the eastern mountain peaks slowly brought me into wakefulness. The smell of cool air and harvest was a constant reminder that summer was coming to a close. I scurried downstairs, careful not to wake Anna who slept soundly on the other side of the bed. I was surprised to find Aunt Nina already working in the kitchen. I was going to try to get out without being assigned any chores, but the prospects of that happening now were slim.
“Good Morning Aura,” Aunt Nina said slyly, as if she knew she was spoiling my plans.
“Good Morning,” I replied.
“Glad you’re up. It would be great if you could go to market, if you leave now you’ll be their early enough to strike a good bargain still,” she announced without taking her eyes off what she was cooking.
I didn’t mind going to market, and today the sellers would be in good moods. The harvest had begun exceedingly well, far better than expected after a harsh cold spell early in the summer. So even though people were still raging over the latest tax increase inflicted by the Emperor, they would still be in a kinder mood.
“So all I have to do is go to market?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes, I suppose that’s it. But remember that the Chapman’s ball is only two weeks away, and you will be attending.” She would have continued but she realized I wasn’t listening. I had heard enough about the Chapman’s Ball. “Here’s the money dear,” she said as she handed me the thick leather purse.
“Thanks.” I called over my shoulder as I walked out the door.
I glanced across the front gardens searching for Ben’s familiar figure. Ben and I had been best friends for a long time. As I expected he was looking at the blood red lilies his mother had given us. They were the most notable flowers in the unkempt garden, their tall regal necks put them a head above all the rest.
I walked too close to a bush and the sound of a million dew droplets hitting the ground made Ben look up sharply.
“What took you so long?” He asked playfully. From the look in his eyes he could tell exactly what had kept me.
“I had to avoid another lecture on the Chapman’s Ball.” I said. We both laughed but I noticed a strange shadow of emotion go though Ben that I couldn’t identify, but as quickly as it came it left and conversation returned to normal.
“Oh and I got roped into going to market. Want to come?”
“Sure what else do I have to do on one of the last gorgeous days of summer.” He said with a smile. Ben really was the best friend I could ask for.
“So let’s go.” I declared. We began a fast walk along the well known paths to the stables. Both of us were quiet. Tomorrow was a big day. It would be seven years since the day my mother was arrested and taken to the Imperial City, and the second anniversary of Christina’s disappearance.
“Tomorrow makes seven years, right?” Ben asked, but he already knew the answer.
“Yeah. You’ll be watching with me right?” I questioned, almost inaudible.
“Where else on earth would I be Aura.” He replied reassuringly.
“Thanks.” I muttered. But I wanted to say that he should be somewhere far away from me. My mother had spoken of danger. Danger that was not Ben’s to deal with. Ben understood about my mother. He was the only person I told everything to, all the things she said that morning. Each year since I was ten, my first year without her, we’ve sat in the same spot watching for the guardsmen. I’m now almost sixteen. I go to our spot ready to disappear, because if they come, that’s exactly what I have to do. Ben wants to come, he says I can’t go alone, I’ve told him a hundred times he can’t come with me, and he’s told me I can’t, no, that I won’t, stop him. The sad thing is, he’s right. What kind of person am I to let my best friend be put in that kind of danger. I’ve yet to answer that question.
We reached the stables and the soothing smells of horses, hay, and grain surrounded me like a blanket. My brother Peter was also at the stables, as usual. He spent most of his time at the stables. Peter is my second oldest sibling, a year older than me, and Christina was a year older than him. Three years younger than me are my twin bothers Timothy and Joel. Then there is Anna, the youngest at only seven years old, she was just a few months old when mother was arrested. My father is a merchant, very wealthy, but seldom home to enjoy it. When my mother was arrested, her widowed sister Nina came to live with us. And then two years ago Christina went for a walk and never came back, leaving only the horrors of our imaginations to answer questions.
Ben and I saddled our horses and started along one of the main roads to the market. Many leaves were beginning to hint of orange or red and the animals were becoming shaggy with warm winter coats.
Market wasn’t very busy yet so I made my purchases as quickly as possible and returned home. By the time we got home it was late afternoon so Ben and I sat in the gardens and talked.
“Do you think they’ll come this year?” Ben asked, getting to the heart of my worries.
“I don’t know. It feels different this year. The air, the sunshine, it all feels… unsubstantial. But that doesn’t mean anything. Maybe all those words were only the mutterings of a very scared woman. What if we’re waiting for something that will never happen?” I rambled in response.
“Is that what you think?”
“No, it’s not. I think it’s true. I think they’ll come, but I don’t understand. I don’t know why or when. And I want to know, I want to be able to understand these events that all but define my life.”
“No event or series of events can define your life. Only you define your life.” Ben said firmly. Soon the conversation returned to light banter and periods of comfortable silence. We watched as the setting sun left streaks of color as it left dusk behind, and as dusk faded slowly into night. We looked at the stars, we had always been fascinated by them, always curious as to what they are.
“You know. Scientists are saying now that all the stars are just far away suns, just like our sun.” Ben said. I thought about it.
“These are the same scientists who insist that the world is flat. Father says that’s nonsense, he sailed all over the world when he was just a bit older than us, and if it were flat, he wouldn’t be here. I don’t think scientists are all their cracked up to be. But what do I know.” I finished with a chuckle. We made our own constellations, a favorite childhood game of ours.
Eventually Aunt Nina called me in and Ben went home. As I fell asleep thoughts of tomorrow rolled around my head like waves in the sea, but finally sleep took me.