Copyright ©2011 by Dawn Tevy
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
The End of the Beginning
“Evil brings men together.”
The energy in the air was palpable. Entering the grand ball room, Tynae seemed to move in slow motion. Thunderous applause rang out, echoing. The moment felt like a dream.
The purple and silver gown Tynae wore was exquisite. Her long dark hair was elegantly swept up, and in it a perfectly placed purple rose. As for her face, she wore a dual-layered mask.
Tynae took her place center stage at her father’s side, ready to greet their numerous guests.
King Yurgon took a step forward and the room fell silent. “Good evening one and all. I am pleased to see that so many of you could join us on this auspicious occasion, thank you. Tonight we celebrate another abundant year. It is a time for remembering those who have passed, welcoming those who will carry our future, and mapping out the coming year.”
Tynae gazed out over the crowd as her father spoke.
“It is also my understanding that a few of our visiting dignitaries,” Yurgon glanced down, giving Prince Kaleal a grin, “have some rather relevant announcements to make as well.”
“Again, welcome everyone.” The king turned to Tynae. “Is there anything you wish to add, Daughter?”
Smiling brightly Tynae stepped forward. “As my father said, welcome and thank you for joining us. Now, with no further ado,” Tynae clapped twice, “let the festivities begin!” Turning back to her father, Tynae curtsied.
The king leaned forward, whispering something in Tynae’s ear. The princess smiled, giving her father a nod. Returning the smile, Yurgon kissed his daughter’s cheek. The pair exited the stage in opposite directions.
Prince Kaleal greeted Tynae with a deep bow as she stepped off the stage.
Curtsying, Tynae offered the prince her hand. He kissed it lightly. “Shall we?” he asked, placing Tynae’s hand on his arm.
“By all means.” Tynae blushed, glancing at Vinard who stood beside her.
“You look amazing, Tynae,” Kal said as they strolled off, Vinard and Enessa following.
“Thank you, Kal, you look quite striking yourself.”
Vinard rolled his eyes, twit.
Tynae spent a majority of the night with Prince Kaleal, dancing, talking and laughing.
Enessa and Vinard sat at a nearby table, per Tynae’s request. Vinard watched Kal and Tynae as the night went on. “You don’t really think she’s going to choose him, do you, Enessa?” Vinard asked, never taking his eyes from Tynae.
“I certainly think there’s a genuine possibility. Why? Do you not like him?”
Vinard huffed, continuing to observe Tynae. “I don’t know. I just think she could do much better.”
“Yes—what?” Vinard looked at Enessa, humiliated. “No! I meant no.”
Enessa laughed, “I may be getting on in years, Vinard, but I’m not blind. You’re not the only observant one around here.” Enessa’s eyes were compassionate, “Just talk to her, my dear, she will listen to what you have to say.”
“And what is it exactly that I should say?” he questioned cynically.
“That you love her,” Enessa said simply.
Vinard’s gaze wandered back to Tynae who was laughing at something ‘clever’ the twit must have said. “You make it sound so easy,” he groaned.
“Is it not?”
Vinard shook his head, “I do not believe so.”
“The way I see things,” Enessa glanced briefly at Tynae before continuing, “You have a couple of options. One, take your chances and tell Tynae how you really feel and see where it leads. Two, say nothing and accept that she will eventually marry someone who is not you. But if you choose to say nothing, your jealousy will eventually force you out of her life forever.”
Vinard grimaced, weighing Enessa’s words carefully. He knew she was right. “I will consider it, Enessa…all of it.”
Enessa grinned. “Good boy.” Standing up, she placed her hand on Vinard’s shoulder. “It’s going to be alright. Now, if you will excuse me, I’ll be right back.”
Vinard managed a weak smile. “I’ll be here.”
“I know you will,” Enessa patted Vinard’s shoulder. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
Vinard resumed watching Tynae. I’ll be right here, doing nothing, like I‘ve done for far too long. Perhaps Enessa is right; maybe I should say something to Tynae. But if she does not choose me, I will lose her forever. Vinard couldn’t take his eyes off Tynae. Would she seriously consider me? I may have stood a chance long ago, but now…so much has changed.
Enessa’s return pushed all Vinard’s woes from his mind. She appeared almost frantic.
“What’s wrong, Enessa?” Vinard asked alarmed.
Shaking her head Enessa looked around the ballroom nervously, “I’m not sure.” Her eyes settled on Tynae.
“Enessa, what happened?”
“I received some disturbing information.”
Vinard immediately became concerned. Enessa had never been one to overreact. “What sort of information?”
Leaning in close, Enessa spoke in hushed tones. Her eyes filled with tears as she relayed the news. Taking a deep breath, Enessa choked back her emotions waiting for Vinard’s reaction.
Vinard’s eyes locked upon Tynae once more.
“We must tell her immediately, Vinard.”
Vinard nodded. “I agree,” he said reluctantly.
Enessa collected herself, then she and Vinard went to Tynae. Once the trio was safely away from inquisitive ears, Enessa and Vinard explained the situation. The three agreed on what they believed to be the only solution. Together Enessa and Vinard watched as Tynae disappeared into the inky black night.
“Did we do the right thing?” Enessa wondered aloud.
Vinard shook his head slightly. “I honestly do not know, but I pray to the gods above that we did.”
Shivering, Tynae made her way quickly through the frigid night air toward the Forest of Nombin. She had never been in the wood at this time. With the witching hour rapidly approaching, the peace and serenity this place once offered could no longer be felt. Replacing it was a feeling of foreboding.
Maybe he was wrong, maybe he misunderstood. But what if he’s right? Either way, I cannot return until the truth has been ascertained. Tynae looked around. Where do I go, which way?
Struggling to get to the heart of the forest with only the light from the moon guiding her, the blackness of the night began to close in around her. You can do this, everything will be fine. No-one knows this forest like you.
Thick fog slithered like a phantom, imprisoning everything it touched within its murkiness.
Tynae could feel eyes watching her from every direction. It’s your imagination…It’s only your imagination. Keep moving, just keep moving. You must find a place to hide.
Continuing through the wood cautiously, but quickly, Tynae kept a wary eye. Swirling black clouds rushed over the moon, blocking its silvery glow and bringing to life the haunting shadows lying in wait. There’s nothing there, there is nothing there, just move!
Running, Tynae threw herself to the ground thinking she heard a spear flying toward her. Just a damn owl! Pull yourself together, woman!
Getting up, Tynae pushed forward, rushing past the unseen ghosts lurking in the darkness. She felt eyes watching her. The howling wind made the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickle as it ripped through the forest like a disembodied voice searching for a host.
Tynae ran as fast as she could, but her dress repeatedly snagged on the thick foliage, slowing her down. Trying to outrun the demons hiding in the shadows, Tynae was certain she heard twigs snapping behind her. I beg, please be the wolves, please.
Tynae hit the ground again as a bolt of lightning collided with the top of a massive tree. The deafening explosion obliterated the stillness of the night. Tynae looked back as billions of tiny sparks rained down illuminating the forest floor. That’s when she saw them. Her heart skipped a beat. Not even in her worst nightmares could she have imagined this.
Shadows of several enormous hunters dressed in black leather armor ran through the fog-obscured night. If I keep running they’ll hear me, but I must stay ahead of them!
Tynae moved as quietly and quickly as she could; hiding behind trees, rocks, and whatever else she could find. Terror coursed through her veins as she ran for her life through the stormy night. Those who pursued her moved with the stealth of shadows.
“There she is!”
Fighting her way tooth and nail through the forest bramble, undergrowth clawed at her from every direction. Tynae’s gown was rapidly being reduced to rags. Her long hair fell into her eyes, unraveling from its once perfect arrangement atop her head, making it difficult to see. Thick branches from trees and bushes struck her bare skin over and over, stinging like whips.
Covered from head to toe with cuts, blood and earth, Tynae moved on desperately, doing everything she could think of to evade the hunters who sought to kill her.
With the heart of the storm rapidly approaching, relentless pounding exploded in Tynae’s head. She couldn’t tell if the deafening noise came from the hammering of her heart, which felt like it was about to explode, or the crashing thunder roaring overhead.
Overcome with fear and barely able to breathe, yet determined to live, Tynae continued weaving her way through the forest. Hastily looking back over her shoulder a blast of lightning lit up the entire forest, revealing her pursuers.
Tynae could not believe her eyes. She was outraged. No! No!!! Why are they trying to kill me? This cannot be happening. Tynae’s brain could not accept what she was seeing. This is madness…it just cannot be.
Tynae recognized Sir Gwillim at once by his distinctive armor. Sir Gwillim was also known as the Duke of Vaspear, and High Constable of Montronvarr’s army, her army. With him were several of the finest centenaurs who had ever come out of the great nation of Montronvarr.
Together these men, superior archers, along with eleven men-at-arms, made up the king’s personal guard. Tynae knew firsthand what these men where capable of and knew she could not elude them forever.
Unnerved, Tynae gulped a lungful of air, choking on it. Coughing, eyes watering, Tynae struggled to stay upright and moving.
Relentlessly Gwillim stalked his quarry through the misty shadows, savagely slicing his way through the thick forest.
Never stopping for long, Tynae fought to maintain as much distance as she could between her and her stalkers, who were pressing in.
Thunder pounded overhead like ominous war drums while bolts of lightning continued ripping through the black night sky, illuminating the forest with bright flashes.
Desperately trying to figure a way out of her hellish nightmare, Tynae zigzagged her way through the nearly impenetrable timber. Frustrated and tired of being slowed down, she ducked behind a large tree. Lifting her skirts, she removed a dagger fastened to her thigh. Using it carefully, she quickly sliced off several layers of fabric. Able to move quicker, Tynae continued through the forest, but she was not moving fast enough. Gwillim and his men were steadily closing the gap.
Panting heavily, Tynae continued through the undergrowth. Her mind began to swim, unable to fathom how her life had taken such an inconceivable turn. Lost in a haze of confusion, Tynae hadn’t noticed the onslaught of deadly arrows and spears racing toward her. Clearing her head just in time, she threw herself behind a large boulder. The weaponry sailed past, how’d…why didn’t any of those…never mind that, think…think!
Quickly pushing herself up Tynae turned to run, but couldn’t move. She was stuck. Lightning flashed, exposing the men that where quickly advancing. Tynae knew if she didn’t get out of there her life would be over.
Tynae tugged and pulled, unable to feel or see what she was caught on; but she could see her soldiers. They were mere meters away.
“We’ve got her, move.” She heard the captain mutter.
He was right and Tynae knew it. Oh God, not like this, please. Dropping to her knees, heart hammering and breathless, Tynae sat beside the boulder that had just saved her life…Would she die here?
“Where is she?” Gwillim demanded. “She was just here, she never moved.”
All the soldiers stood around her now, some less than a meter away.
Tynae watched in confusion as the soldiers looked for her. What are they playing at?
Gwillim stalked around the area, finally stopping directly in front of Tynae. He stood so close she could smell the leather of his armor.
Panicking and baffled, Tynae pushed herself as close to the rock as she could. Can they really not see me?
“Find her, now,” Gwillim snarled.
Tynae had no idea how or why they could not see her, but she was certain she was about to blow her cover. She fought it back desperately, but just couldn’t stop Mother Nature. Her sneeze rang out like an explosion and everyone stopped.
Frozen, Tynae sat motionless waiting for them to finally acknowledge her.
“Where did that come from?” Gwillim demanded.
“Over there, I think.” One of the men pointed toward a large tree.
They still can’t see me?
“We’re all going to lose our heads if we do not carry out this mission.” Tynae heard a soldier beside her whisper to another.
That was the last straw. She would use her invisibility to her advantage.
Closing her eyes Tynae said a little prayer. Please let me remain invisible to them. I do not know how or why they cannot see me, but I must know why all this is happening. Please keep me concealed.
Fists clenched, Tynae took a deep breath. “Sir Gwillim,” she called out warily.
Gwillim spun around, looking in the wrong direction. “Where is she hiding?!” he roared.
Tynae exhaled. Thank you, God.
“Sir Gwillim, why do you and your men do this, why do you seek to kill me? Have I wronged one among you in some way?” Desperation saturated Tynae’s confused words.
“Find her,” Gwillim growled between gritted teeth.
Gwillim collected himself. “This is not personal, Lady Tynae. It is just the way things must be. I give you my word. If you give yourself up, I will make this as quick and painless as possible,” Gwillim scrutinized the forest as he spoke. “Tis pointless to continue running, you will not escape us. It does truly pain me to have to do this, My Lady.”
The sincerity that had crept into Gwillim’s words puzzled Tynae further, causing even more thoughts and questions to bounce around wildly in her head. What does he mean, ‘it does truly pain me’? Why is he doing this? It is completely insane. Tynae needed to know more. “Then why do it? Whose orders do you act upon?” she demanded.
Each time Tynae spoke her voice came from a different direction. Her words seemed to bounce about, never staying stationary. The soldiers scattered searching in bushes and up trees far from where she truly sat.
Walking back and forth mere meters from Tynae, Gwillim never once looked in her direction. “We act upon Baroness Arona’s orders, Princess,” Gwillim divulged snidely. “It appears that your mere existence is, hmm…how shall I say?” Gwillim ran his hand under his chin, “well, it is a bit of an obstruction to her plans.”
Arona? Tynae was infuriated. Who the hell is she to be giving orders to my army, much less telling them to kill me? But more importantly, why do they follow her directive?
Tynae could hear several of the men whispering. “Where is she? How is she moving so fast?”
“We can play at this cat and mouse game for a myriad of hours, My Lady, but it does you no good. We must complete our mission.” Gwillim paused. “Spread out,” he hissed, “and find her now!”
Tynae had seen nothing significant happen, but something had clearly changed. Gwillim was now furious. He spoke with a viciousness Tynae had never heard. “By night’s end you will cease to exist, Your Majesty.” His words were as cold and hard as the boulder she sat against.
A blood-curdling chill flowed through Tynae as Gwillim’s brutal words burrowed into her mind. Head swimming, Tynae choked down the knot lodged in her throat. “What plans do I obstruct?” she asked. “The Baroness has spoken naught of any plans and has no authority to give you orders. Why do you follow them?” she challenged.
Standing mere millimeters from Tynae now, Gwillim expelled a vile, howling laugh. “Now, Princess, if the Baroness could have entrusted you with her plans, would we be here in the middle of the wood in the dead of night? I think not,” Gwillim taunted sarcastically, “and we act upon her orders because we think it best.”
Gwillim’s men erupted in a bout of barbaric laughter. Endless lightning strikes cast an eerie red glow against the maggot-white faces of Tynae’s would-be executioners.
Am I hallucinating?
Their teeth looked like razor sharp fangs in the bloody glow, and their eyes!—Horror-struck, Tynae stared into their beastly eyes, flashes of lightening punctuating their deranged madness.
Immobilizing panic grabbed hold of Tynae, she couldn’t breathe. Am I losing my mind? She did not want to know anymore.
“Where is she?” Gwillim pressed.
One of the soldiers climbed atop the boulder Tynae sat against. Terrified he might bump into her, she moved as far under the rock as possible curling into a ball. Dirt fell into Tynae’s eyes as the man moved around just above her. She dared not budge.
“Where is she?!” Gwillim roared. “Lady Tynae? Lady Tynae!”
Searching for their victim, the soldiers moved away from the immediate area.
Tynae tried to figure out her next move. Do I stay here, do I leave? Can I leave? Tynae gave her leg a tug, it was loose. What do I do now? She looked around, I can’t stay here all night, and if they come back they might see me…how did they not see me to begin with? Am I still invisible?
Shaking from fear and the stinging cold, Tynae stood up slightly, examining her surroundings. The assassins were moving away.
Maybe I should run back to the castle? If they cannot see me…I might make it.
Quietly Tynae got to her feet. Still petrified, she forcefully willed her limbs to move.
Which way do I go?
“There she is!”
Tynae hadn’t seen the soldier standing just a few meters away. Her mind was made up for her, there was only one way to go from here. Pushing her way forward, deeper into the timber, Tynae battled her way through countless obstacles hidden within the blackened forest.
The chaos of fear coupled with the blackness of night began to constrict around Tynae, suffocating her consciousness like a python, slowly tightening, crushing…smothering her sanity.
It took only a few minutes for Tynae to realize she did not hear the men following her, but she did hear something. The one sound she’d been truly dreading. Wide-eyed and panic-stricken, Tynae whipped her head around to see behind her. No!
“Set your mark!” Gwillim shouted.
The marksmen where assembling, she knew they wouldn’t miss. Oh God, this is it! Move, move, move!
Alarm shot through the terrorized woman. Tynae didn’t think it possible for her heart to pound any harder, nor beat any faster, but it did. She almost became hysterical when she heard Gwillim’s next order.
The ruthless hunters loosed a volley of arrows simultaneously. Swiftly the swarm of artillery made its way toward her, its designated mark. Running as fast as her legs would carry her, Tynae could feel the lethal weaponry drawing closer. The unmistakable hiss from the bloodthirsty blades ripped through the frigid night air, reverberating off countless trees.
Terror sliced through Tynae.
Arrows rushed past as she dashed and dodged from side to side. She only just evaded the bombardment.
Teetering on the edge of insanity, Tynae’s mind became lost in a dizzying succession of thoughts. Help me, dear God, please help me. If this is a nightmare please let me wake up before I die! Why is this happening?
Terrified beyond comprehension, Tynae’s heart pounded violently. It felt like a wild beast frantically clawing inside her chest, trying to rip its way out. With breakneck speed, Tynae jumped behind a large oak tree as another shower of deadly arrows rained down around her.
Standing in the protective shadow of the mighty oak Tynae doubled over in an attempt to catch her breath. Chest heaving, she labored to pull oxygen into her lungs. Her uncomfortably snug corset made it difficult to breathe.
Once the battery of deadly missiles ceased, Tynae carefully edged forward trying to see past her sheltering oak. Forked lightning hit three trees directly in front of her, illuminating a solitary spear hurtling directly at her. Jerking back, Tynae hid behind her oak shield once more.
The clouds overhead surged with a roar of earth-shaking thunder, concealing Tynae’s ear-piercing screams. The razor-sharp blade had hit its mark.
Drawing in a sharp breath Tynae instinctively pressed her hand over the searing laceration, running the length of her right cheek. The pain was excruciating. This is not happening. This is NOT happening!
Tynae took short quick breaths, desperately fighting the urge to scream as warm blood ran through her fingers and down her neck. She refused to give the vicious hunters the satisfaction of knowing they had injured her.
Doing her best to stay calm, Tynae pushed her back tight against the rough damp bark of the tree. She struggled to think of a rational solution to this sadistic confrontation.
Having been in this wood hundreds of times, Tynae knew there were loads of places to hide. But at that moment finding just one proved impossible. The soldiers were right on top of her. Trapped behind the thick oak tree, Tynae quickly became frantic knowing that the soldiers where only a few painful heartbeats away. Deliberating, she could think of nothing else. It’s my only choice…eventually they will capture me. Resolute in her decision, Tynae knew she had only one option. If I am fated to die on this night, it will be on my terms and no-one else’s.
With the end drawing near and the huntsmen quickly advancing, Tynae made one final attempt to have her life spared. There wasn’t much distance now between her and those sent to murder her. Tynae could see Gwillim clearly at the front of the hunting party, his long red hair and distinctive armor was difficult to miss. She prayed he might somehow find it in his heart to call off this unjustified pursuit, but she wouldn’t bet her life on it.
Taking a deep breath Tynae shouted in the direction of the approaching assassin’s. “Sir Gwillim, please, I’ve been good to all of you and your families,” Tynae’s pleading voice quivered. “Please tell me what it is that I have done to deserve this. I am entitled to at least that much. Am I not?”
For just a second all the men paused, as did Gwillim. That was all she needed. Yes…Without waiting for Gwillim’s response, Tynae leapt out from behind her oak guardian and was off like a flash.
Running as fast as she could, Tynae ignored the clawing branches attacking her from every angle, ripping and tugging at her flesh and shredded gown. She knew once she was beyond the trees and shrubs that slowed her down she would be able to run full out. But could she out-run the soldiers, and more importantly, could she continue evading their artillery?
The dense forest began to thin and Tynae picked up speed. Soon the forest became little more than a blur as she sped toward the cliffs of Nombin. Finally Tynae reached the grassy meadow she’d been anticipating. There was nothing here to slow her down.
The murky fog swirled like smoke as she ran through it. Almost instantly, the fog dissolved as the clouds overhead released their pent-up rage in a turbulent downpour.
Paying no heed to the storm surrounding her, Tynae concentrated on extracting every ounce of strength that she could from her exhausted body. Accelerating faster than she ever had before, it was only a matter of seconds until the cliffs came into view. With it came a volley of spears and arrows, each slicing through the air around her, only just missing their mark.
The pound, pound, pounding of Tynae’s heart exploded in her ears, booming relentlessly as the winged messengers of death flew past her one by one. Desperately, she wanted to scream into the night as a torrent of questions bombarded her brain. How has my life come to this? Am I not a good person? Have I not been a true friend? What have I done that would warrant death as my punishment? Father—what will become of my father?
Tynae began falling to pieces as feelings of dread and horror coursed through her veins like ravenous venom. But the terror she felt was not from running or from being chased, or even from the artillery hell-bent on killing her. It was from the realization that she was about to end her own life.
Looking back over her shoulder for the last time, Tynae saw the soldiers closing in. Tears streamed down her dirt and blood-stained face as her every thought, every emotion became frenzied. Will I make it to the cliffs edge before a spear impales…
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