I’ve never left the weathered docks of your loving mind, for I am in the moon, the wind and the whale’s evening song, I am the sailor of eternity whose voyage is not gone.”
Shannon L. Alder
Silence, except for the morning call of birds and the moan of wind in the trees, settled on the castle grounds as Dari and her horse made their way down the hill past the honor guard of Marius’ Dacian Warriors. Rolf tagged along behind the mare in an unhurried trot as wolves are want to do when the pack travels. He kept an eye on the guards. It wouldn’t do for one of them to make an uncharacteristic move as wolves are most dangerous in their heightened protective mood. Rolf had educated several troops already for approaching Dari too fast for Rolf’s comfort.
Alexandra watched the procession with a deep admiration for the regal figure sitting proud in the saddle. The ceremonial sword of Castle Razvan angled in a outward fashion across the horse’s flank arranging the handle for easy reach. The morning sun picked up the polished silver hardware adorning the saddle throwing blue flashes of light, creating a mesmerizing show that froze Alexandra in deep thought.
As the horse and Rolf disappeared below the Hillcrest of the castle grounds, Alexandra knew that Dari’s life would change and she would no longer be the handmaiden to the Duchess Dragana. She mourned the loss so soon after she reconnected with their eternal bond. The cruelty of letting go once again overwhelmed Alexandra and a sob escaped before she could choke it down.
Cesar’s hand reached across Alexandra and folded her into his chest. Alexandra melted into the curve of his body and tried to control her emotions. She felt safe in Cesar’s arms. She had never surrendered to anyone in this life and though she had been a toy in many an evil hand, she had not submitted. She forced them to take her against her will until she found Master Cho.
Alexandra felt a calm come over her as Cesar’s arms held her and the memory of her beloved mentor flooded her broken spirit. Cho had made her strong and nearly invincible. She had abused his teachings at first when she took pleasure in the pain of her opponents in the ring. He had held her accountable and no slip from his teachings of honor was ignored. Cho had saved her and given her life and dignity back to her. I can’t dishonor Master Cho, she thought.
Alexandra turned back around to watch as the honor guard closed the procession and marched back to the Castle to resume their duties.
“I will find it hard to get through the day without my Dari by my side,” she told Cesar.
“It’s for the best, Alexandra. You are ready to resume your training and we have much work to do in building our alliances with new allies. This all hinges on your ability to demonstrate a strong and determined character. Dari will return soon and she will not ignore her Duchess.”
Alexandra trusted Cesar. He was once again at her side and destiny felt fulfilled, her life was again returning to her control. Only now, she was not alone.
“Should I come to your meeting with the Count this morning?”
“Yes. You are now the head of state. It is time to rule in our people’s favor,” Cesar replied as he stroked the teary-eyed Duchess’ hair and cheek.
The couple looked over to Marius, who remained silent during the entire ceremony to see Dari off on her sojourn to become the Wolf Master. Alexandra could see he was absorbed in his own visions, the visions of the Revenants who inhabited this insular land of history and conflict.
Marius sensed them looking at him and turned in a vain attempt to look stern and disciplined. Dari’s departure had affected him too and it panged Alexandra’s heart to see such a fierce warrior succumb to his heart’s agony to let Dari go on this dangerous journey alone. Their memories of many lives taught them all that together they fought and alone they died.
“Come, let us get ready to meet with the Count,” Cesar said and not wanting to allow their sadness to influence their thoughts another minute, the three Revenants of old Dacia departed the stone balcony and went inside the Castle to begin their bold plan to strengthen their ties to other royal houses in an effort to stop the enemies of their land and long-held traditions from gaining a foothold in the Carpathians of Romania.
✽ ✽ ✽
Dari passed by the earthen pavilion where her Duchess was gunned down like a sick animal. Anger welled in her throat replaced by a deep regret at leaving Alexandra to fend for herself. She knew Cesar could not cross the invisible boundary that separates the men from women in their intimate lives.
Dari halted her mare at the trailhead behind the pavilion. She felt an ageless fear of the dark forest. Rolf came up beside the mare, looked at Dari, and whined his own anxiety.
“We’re going to be fine Rolf,” she lied.
With her stomach tied in knots and her breakfast threatening to break the seal her clamped throat imposed on her fear, Dari urged the horse on. Rolf resumed his march behind rider and horse.
Within a few miles, the high mountains and thick forest choked out the sun except in open areas where a blue-white light illuminated their path ahead. Dari touched the handle of her sword to make sure it was ready to draw in an instant and settled into the saddle for the long trek ahead.