Note: The world of Dawngate can, at times, be a dark place. "Unravelled" details the background of a Shaper who has seen such darkness. The following story contains mature language and content. Please read at your own discretion.
Mai 3, 1524
Nineteen years before the Dawngate opened
"Hello," she said, poking at the bug. It curled itself into a ball and waited for her to go away.
She laid on the ground, elbows in the dirt, fists under chin, and waited for it to come out. "Where you going? You going home? You hungry?" She looked around, thought grass might be good, and plucked a pale green shoot from the ground nearby. She laid it on the ground in front of the bug. Not that it had a front right now. Balls didn't have fronts unless you said they did. She painted faces on hers so she could always tell where their fronts were.
"You like plants, right?" she said to the bug. "I bet you do." She imagined it picking up the blade of grass and carrying it back to some hole or other, where littler bugs would gather round and nibble nibble nibble it to crumbs. The bug unpeeled itself and walked right over the grass she'd left for it, trundled off on its own business. "Still here," she said, and poked it again. It wrapped itself back up.
This was boring.
She got up and looked back at the colorful pavilions dotting the meadow. Shouting people in dirty clothes moved boxes and horses this way and that as shouting people in shiny armor pointed and complained. A stack here became a pile there. It didn't make much sense.
She meandered towards the guest stables, picking occasional spring flowers, because flowers meant honey, and honey was sweet, so naturally flowers would taste better than grass, and anyway, she'd tried eating grass, and it tasted bitter and spitty, so naturally horses would rather eat flowers, and she'd bring them some.
"It makes perfect sense," she said aloud.
"What was that, Mistress?" a sweating laborer ground out, shuffling around her with a thick bundle of cloth.
"Sense. It makes it. Perfectly," she said carelessly, and continued on her way.
"Uh... very well, Miss," the man said, quizzically. "Be careful."
She threaded her way through tents and people to where the horses were tied up, snorting and whickering softly among themselves. She stood at the edge, the messy bunch of flowers clenched under her chin, hopping from one foot to the other as she peered through the forest of legs. They were all huge, smelly, flicking their ears and tails at black flies. Not at all like they looked at tourney, racing about in colorful caparisons, manes and tails braided with ribbons and flowers.
There was a set of silvery legs in the distance. Just like Lady Oriabelle's horse in the Chronicles! She wound through the smelly forest. Father had read her all of Oriabelle's adventures twice, or maybe five times, or maybe he was making up new stories for her every time, but it didn't matter because Oriabelle was amazing, and so was Clairune, who was her horse.
"Hello," she said, staring up at the giant animal. The mare's coat was snowy, sparkling in the light. She lowered her head and turned one great dark eye to face her. She noisily blew air out of her nostrils.
This was clearly a Noble Steed, which was a special kind of horse that knights had. That's what father's books said, and they were always right because smart people who read books had written those books.
"I brought you these," she said, tentatively holding up the spill of bent, fragrant plants. The giant nose snuffled hotly around her fingers. Delicately, the mare plucked the flowers out of her palms, and wuffed them down. She blinked long white lashes and made a soft chuckling noise.
"Did you like them? Can I get more? Can I touch you?" Uncertainly, she reached up towards the great animal's head. The mare bent her neck and let her place a small white hand on her nose. Radiant heat pulsed off her spiky, ruffle-y fur.
"You're beautiful," she whispered to the deep, calm well of her eye. "But you're so big it's scary.” The mare blinked and tossed her head, wispy mane rippling in the spring wind.
Having found the absolute best horse in the world, except for maybe one she hadn't seen, like one from the east - they were supposed to have great horses in the east - her mother needed to know about it. She carefully backed away from the giant animal, then turned and skittered across the muddy, churned-up meadow towards the manor.
She trotted through the gate, waving at the man working on the hinges, who gave her a gruff, "Hullo, Mistress," before returning to his work. The liveryman was brushing down one of their knights' horses. It wasn't silver, just a splotchy brown and white. More like a cow than a Noble Steed. And anyway, it didn't have any caparison or ribbons either.
She slid along the walls of the small courtyard, staying out of the way of the clanking knights and retainers scurrying to and fro. When there was a break in the flow of people, she ducked inside the through main entrance, dark hair flying behind her.
"Hello," she said to no one, peering about. The great hall was bright and full of sound. Her mother stood on the raised platform, overlooking a table covered with hand-drawn maps, surrounded by agitated scribes and unarmed knights who looked either bored or anxious.
"Hey," she said to the closest person, a servant carrying a try of food. "I found the best horse."
"Wonderful, Miss," he grunted. "Excuse me."
"She's silver," she said to his back. "White. But silver sounds better, because silver is all sparkles and white is just snow."
A hand snatched her out of the flow of traffic and held her briefly against the wall. A huge, sloshing barrel of something rolled where she’d been standing, guided, sort of, by a pair of inattentive laborers.
"Careful. You almost got squished." One of mother's knights squatted to look her in the eye, carefully arranging her sword to avoid banging it into the wall. She had long straw-colored hair, pulled back in a ponytail. He face was smudged with dirt.
"Hi. I found the best horse," she told the knight.
"Silver?" she grinned.
"Yes!" she exclaimed, eyes wide. "She ate my flowers. I picked them for a horse and I found the best one. Silver," she emphasized. "Like Clairune."
"Oriabelle's destrier. She was amazing."
Her mouth turned into a huge O. "You met her?" she gasped. "Oriabelle?"
"Oh, no," the knight shook her head. "I've only read the stories. Oriabelle lived a long time ago." A small laugh leaked out of her, and she glanced at the ground. "She's why I trained so hard to be a knight."
"Oh. I should tell Mother."
The knight looked at her oddly. "About why I trained, or..?"
"No, about the horse," she repeated patiently. "It's the best one. Silver. She has to see it."
The knight bit her lower lip. "She might be busy right now, mistress."
"I don't mind." She turned to go, but the knight gently took her elbow.
"Hold on," she said. "Your frock is dirty." She brushed the smudges of dirt off her chest and sleeves. "You want to look good for her, don't you?"
"I guess," she said, watching Mother shout and point. The papers on the table were making her angry. They were covered with building blocks, squares and rectangles, black and red. But they were using them dumb, not even stacking them, just moving them around on the paper and sometimes taking one away. Maybe if they were blue and silver she'd like them better, because she wore those colors a lot, but she didn't have any paint with her, and anyway the horse was silver. That would cheer her up.
"There you go," the blond knight gave her a final pat on the head. "Watch where you're going, now. All right?"
"Yeah." She swerved out into the flow of servants and soldiers, ducking under the arms of a man carrying a crate piled high with somethings. The knight made some kind of strangled noise behind her. Maybe she needed a drink.
She meandered through the cluster of people around the table, who were talking about points and averages and how some tree or barn was important and this knight or that had to be knocked out early so somebody else could do a thing. "I'm going to tell my mother about the horse," she told them, but could barely even hear herself over the shouting. She tried waving her arms, but the knights only glanced at her. "Your blocks are stupid!" she yelled at them, and turned to clamber on to the platform where Mother stood.
"Hi," she said, tugging on the hem of her court gown. "Mother, you have to see the horse. It will make you stop being shouty about the dumb blocks and the trees in the wrong place and the peoples gettin' knocked on the head."
Mother glanced down, her face pinched with worry. "Not now, sweetheart." She looked back up and said something about flanks, which somebody had once told her meant the butt of a horse.
"But it's silver," she emphasized, tugging harder. "You got to see it. It's the best horse. Except maybe an eastern one I didn't meet yet."
A quiver went through Mother. She looked down again, her face twisted strangely. "I do not have time for your stories right now," she hissed. "If we lose this match, we lose everything. That's it! Our family is done!"
"What?" she said, bewildered. "Are you going to go away? Will I have to live with somebody else? Where’s father?" But her mother was already looking up and yelling something about reserves and personal guards. "What's going on?" she said. It was getting hard to breathe, and her eyes were stinging. "I don't understand."
Mother was walking away down the platform, shouting for armor, calling for her sword with the shiny wolves that she sometimes let her look at.
She trotted after her, tugging on her dress all the harder. "What's going on? Where are you going?" Mother impatiently yanked her dress away, but she didn't let go, and suddenly there was nothing under her feet, and the stones lurched up from the side.
Everything was quiet.
There were stars at the bottom of a well, swimming around in lazy goldfish patterns.
"Oh," she slurred, and tried to reach for them, but her arms just sat there.
Sounds dribbled back in, muffled at first, rising to a sharp and painful din.
She pushed herself up, arms numb and prickly. A servant was next to her, hands hovering but not touching.
"Ow," she mumbled, the sounds falling limply from a puffy, split lip. The side of her head hurt. She put a quivering hand up and felt warm liquid in her hair, trickling down her neck. That wasn't right. She pulled the hand back and peered at it, red and glistening. "Oh," she said.
He mother stood a million miles away, pale, staring at her with stricken eyes and hands at her mouth. But her ladies-in-waiting bustled up, carrying bits of the elaborate armor that normally stood in the hall.
The blond knight appeared beside her out of the fog, telling her to stay still, brushing at her hair and hissing in sympathy. She looked up at her mother, "This has to be tended to, My Lady. She must be taken to the village."
Mother shook her head, snapped her fingers, pointed. Said something she couldn't hear.
And turned away, shrugging out of her dress as her ladies began to strap the armor on to her arms.
"What are you doing?" the knight demanded.
"Sitting," she vaguely replied. But the knight was talking across the room, where her mother was turning into a woman of cold steel.
"I'm needed on the field," her mother's voice carried through the hall. "We can't lose this. I - she's not really hurt," she said, uncertainly. "She's not even crying."
A ripple passed through the knight's body. She stood and balled her fists. "If you won't stay with your daughter, I will!" The room fell silent.
Mother whirled around, knocking away the hands of her ladies. Her brows crashed down like the arms of a storm, hands curling into claws. "I require you on the field. With the rest of my guards."
There was a moment of quiet. She thought maybe her ears had stopped working again. Then the knight said, "Only one of us is needed on the field of honor, My Lady. The other needs to be with this little girl."
"Let the servants care for her!" Mother thundered. "You swore an oath to this house. Are you forsaking it? Forsaking your honor?"
The knight glared across the room, then abruptly drew her sword. The guards sprang to surround Mother, but she turned to face her and went down on one knee, laying the blade across her palms. "Lady Salmesse," she asked her, loudly, "will you accept my service?" There was the stirring of a breeze as the room inhaled.
She stared at the blond knight, into her pale eyes. She felt dizzy. Her head hurt so bad. "Yes."
"Take my sword," the knight whispered, pushing the pommel towards her. It was heavy, and her hand was slippery. She couldn't lift it. The knight helped her place the flat of the blade on her shoulder. "Repeat after me, mistress," she said quietly. "'I accept your oath, Lady Rosimone of Inglaire.'"
"I 'cept your oath, Lady Rosimone of Ing- of Inglaire."
"'And charge you to defend my honor.'"
"An' charge you to defend my honor."
"'And serve those weaker than yourself.'"
"And serve those weaker than you."
"'Until the stars should fall and the sun go out.'"
"'Till the stars fall and the sun goes out."
The knight lifted the sword from her small hands and quickly, casually sliced her own forearm. She wiped the edge clean with a scrap of cloth and slid it back into its scabbard. "Come, My Lady," she said, putting her hands under her shoulders and lifting her as if she weighed nothing. The motion made the world dim, made her stomach flop like a dying trout. "There's a woman named Mirei I want you to meet. She can help with your head."
"Fine." Mother's voice broke the silence in the hall. She stood with fists clenched, teeth set and creaking, eyes shining, cheeks afire. "Fine! You want her that badly? Fine. She's your problem now." She turned and stormed from the room, her ladies-in-waiting trailing after her with scraps of armor in their hands and looks of sympathy over their shoulders.
"Mother?" she said, confused. She stretched her hands toward her back. "Don't go."
She was gone. Her eyes blurred. She couldn't catch her breath.
"I just wanted her to see the horse," she sobbed into Rosimone's neck. "I thought she'd like the horse. What did I do wrong?"
"You didn't do anything." The knight cradled her close to her chest, striding through the manor at speed, heading for the stables. "Your mother is scared right now. She doesn't know how to say that without looking weak. I promise you, she'll be back." The knight looked down at her, face tight with worry, wiping the blood from her forehead. "Until she does, I'll be here for you. I swear."
Gillai 7, 1520
Twenty-three years before the Dawngate opened
There was a soft knock at the door.
"Come in." Her voice was hoarse.
He opened the door slightly. "It's me, love," he called. "Can I come in?"
"Why wouldn't you?" she said, amused.
"You might be doing... woman things," he said, lamely, as he ducked in and eased the door closed behind him.
She was propped up on goose down pillows, long dark hair tied up in a messy something that was almost, but not quite, like a bun. "Sweetheart," she said, "you sat beside me throughout the most 'woman thing' there is." She reached out with her free hand and took his. "How's your stomach?"
"Fine. I'm sorry I, uh..." he trailed off, making a spilling gesture near his mouth. "I didn't expect... there was a lot of blood."
"I thought you were very brave," she said. "And quick with the pail."
He made the sweet, lopsided smile she loved. "I get the distinct impression you're mocking me."
"Did you know I married you for your incisive mind?"
He looked at her pensively. "Is it always like that?"
She shook her head. "Mirei said it was the most difficult she'd seen. The most difficult where... everyone lived."
"Are you all right?"
"I'm... It hurts," she said, uncomfortably, shifting her weight and wincing at the cat-claw sensations. "She had to stitch. That was... unpleasant." She lapsed into silence, and looked at the bundle nestled in the crook of her elbow. "She said – Mirei doesn't think I'd be able to... to do this again."
He lay on the bed beside her, sliding his arm under her head. "Ow," she muttered as she leaned forward.
"Sweetheart, that's fine. It will be fine."
"I'm broken," she said.
"Shh. Don't cry." He squeezed her gently.
"I'm not... oh." A drop fell from her chin. "I guess I am." She released his hand and wiped her eyes with the back of hers. "I'm sorry. There's a lot of stuff going on inside me right now."
"There's only one of her in the world," he said. "That makes her precious." He smiled and brushed the hair off her forehead. "We'll just have to take very good care of her. Right?"
"Of course we will." The tears came out again. He always knew what to say. "I'll make sure she gets everything she ever wants," she sniffed.
"I'll help her understand everything she wonders about," he replied. "Um... except for the woman- things. I think I should leave that to you."
She laughed through the tears. "And she'll have a host of knights to keep her safe." She peered into the tiny bundle, pushing aside the swaddling. "You have no idea how much you're loved," she said, delicately brushing her fingers across the soft down on the baby's head. The tiny girl yawned and hung wobbly, indistinct vowels in the air between them.
"Have you decided what to call her?" he asked.
The newborn looked up at the world, dark eyes huge with possibility, tiny fingers trembling on her mother's pinkie.
"Her name is Kindra."