Rionna’s steps were hesitant as she made her way down the humble garden path. Her life in Iridia was very unexciting, what with her husband’s lack of interest in her and the few amount of females in the local area. She’d learned quite suddenly that sons were the only acceptable offspring when it came to the gentry families who served the Drakis. It seemed as though women were imported from Marlowe purely for breeding sons, whereas any daughters that came about were sent to Marlowe to serve high born ladies and decorate the king’s court. Rionna’s own sister-in-law was preparing to make that venture this season. And as like all the years before the king would summon his children from all around the kingdom to welcome the new year.
There was a slight envious sensation in Rionna’s chest at the thought of all the young women going off adorned in jewels and fine fabrics. That was the life the of an unwed, beautiful girl. She had never dared to hope for that life for herself, knowing that she was not at all beautiful, and that the only man who could ever love her was the man who had broken her heart. Rionna looked up at the bold wooden doors barring her way. She had taken the evening to escape from her mother-in-law’s watchful gaze, intent on finding this ‘haven’ of sorts where Idelisa was being kept. Rian had told her that once he had his knighthood, he would come and rescue her and their baby. And they’d ride off and abandon the rest of society, all those who could not ever understand. They would live in the forests, and build themselves a cabin where they would raise an entire hoard of children! That had been the dream Rionna had carried for so many years, until she heard news that Rian had been sentenced to imprisonment.
With a sigh of resignation, Rionna moved toward the twin doors and let herself in. She gasped at the sheer size of the room, that seemed to reach toward the sun that shone through large, arched windows. There was a marble footpath leading down an aisle of seats, all filed neatly one after the other. Giant stone pillars stood at the corners of the room, and a fenced area behind the entrance loomed like a heavy shade over the building. Rionna took quiet steps, fearful of the sounds that echoed. Somewhere in this building, her little sister dwelled. Rionna couldn’t bear it; she knew that her twin had a fondness for red hair, but the knowledge that Idelisa thought herself good enough to replace her! Anger burned red hot in Rionna’s flesh, and she felt the relieving pressure of the babe inside of her, reminding her that Rian loved her and only her. What choice did he have? She told herself, their mother had sent her away, and he was without his sweet love. Any man would try and find comfort in another, if anything to pass the time.
She moved down the marble path, to where a dais was situated beneath the large arched windows. A part of her wanted to find Idelisa, to study her face and body and discover what Rian had found appealing, she wanted to look for any marks on the girl’s body – anything that revealed Rian had been there. Another part of her wished she could get the girl alone, and hold her pretty little head under water while she squirmed and twisted. That image brought a smile to Rionna’s face.
“May I help you, dear lady?”
Startled, Rionna turned to meet the eyes of an old man. His silver hair was grown long, with a beard that covered his entire torso. He looked well groomed, as though he spent hours each day untangling and brushing out his thick hair. Rionna spied gentle but curious eyes from under his brows, and she wanted to trust him.
“Hello,” she said in a sing-song voice. “I’m new to Iridia, and I was curious about this place. I’m sorry to intrude.”
“There’s no intrusion in this place, lady.” The man smiled, “Visitors are always welcome here.”
He had a soft, inviting presence about him, and Rionna mused at the idea of joining the old religion.
She smiled to him, “Who are you?”
“I am Grandmaster Pwyll.” He said with a grin. “My family have been serving here since the very creation of druidry,” he told her. “We are the followers of the fey, the ones now known as Oracles. When they saved our kind from the revenant – they taught us all we know today, and for that we practice our faith of worshiping their beliefs and prophecies.”
He waited for a moment, and then moved with swiftness that was almost remarkable and moved around her. She only understood snippets of his story, but many of the words he spoke held no meaning to her.
She turned to face him, “Go on.”
“My ancestors were the very first to learn how to read and write, they were architects and scribes, they helped establish the monarchy and order in the kingdom. They were loyal men and women, devoted to preserving the culture of the fey, and spreading their messages of love and forgiveness.”
Rionna felt a swelling in her throat, and she repeated his words “Love and forgiveness?”
The man nodded sombrely, “The fey taught us that love is the beginning and end of everything. That love means loss, but also creation. They taught us that great evils committed in the name of love are forgivable acts.”
“I love a man,” Rionna whispered, glancing down at her pregnant belly. “He is not my husband, but he is the father of my unborn child.”
“Ah, then you understand. In loving this man you have created this child, but lost whatever could have come from your life without him.”
His words broke her heart, and she couldn’t control the surge of emotions that were built up inside her. She was angry! Angry at her mother, angry at Rian, angry at Idelisa – she hated the people around her who could never understand the connection she had with her brother. She hated the king, who had doomed Rian to rot in prison like a common criminal. She hated them all, for discovering him with Idelisa, and taking him to trial for it. She hated Idelisa – the little bitch who thought she could steal Rian away. Her tears stung in her eyes as they sprung loose and began to stream like rivers down her cheeks. Her chest heaved with pain and longing to see her brother again, her agony was towering over her and she felt she was just a child.
The man looked down at her with concern, “Lady? Come now, don’t fear. You are safe here, in the arms of the highest. No one can harm you.”