I - The Lost LebuteA Chapter by Niki Badger
The swan maiden meets a pair of mysterious people and doesn't know what she is in for.
The doors to his private chambers burst open. Rather than jumping, as most people would, the muscles in his body tensed ready to spring at the intruder. He was, after all, a proper hunter.
“Pardon the intrusion Lord Prince Kiran, but we’ve just gotten word of the woman. She was seen heading toward the Sapphire nation lands.” The young soldier was shaking in his boots nervously, even though the prince sat facing away from him, waiting for his highness to process the information.
Prince Kiran remained motionless, staring blankly at the brilliant red jewel he was twisting in his fingers. Why would she make it so easy to find her after going through the trouble of changing her name? Not that a simple name change could hide a woman such as her. “Are you sure it is her?” he asked quietly, his eyes remaining on the jagged ruby.
The tiny hairs at the nape of the soldier’s neck stood at the sound of the prince’s voice.
“They said a large woman with facial tattoos but no sign of the fox." All he wanted was to be out of the prince’s presence and back out in the hallway standing guard.
The prince let his lips curl into a chilly smirk and turned toward the soldier. The soldier resisted a strong urge to flinch away from him even though they were an entire room apart. “Thank you that will be all, soldier.”
The soldier, thankful to be out of the prince’s chamber so quickly, bowed his head and swiftly exited the room. The doors made a reassuring click as they closed together.
“Ready or not,” his eyes widened madly as he squeezed the unpolished ruby until a thin trail of blood trickled down his arm.
I - The Lost Lebute
The mud felt slick and greasy on Fiona’s bare feet. Her platinum hair was drenched and stuck to her rain splashed face, as were her soaked clothes to her pale skin. She kept her thin arms clamped to her chest in a pathetic attempt to keep herself warm. The rain continued to assault her as the sky boomed with thunder. Even if she had bigger problems than getting hit by lightning, it was all she could think about as the thunder continued to roar.
“Just great,” she muttered. If she hadn’t been so careless she could be hidden under a willow tree with the rest of her flock. It was a shameful Lebute who left her gown and gem out where everyone could see. Though she had hoped the darkness of night had been enough cover. Clearly that had not been the case.
The feathered gown and swan gem where the Lebute’s pride and life; these were the very same things they were suppose to guard them with. But no, Fiona had carelessly left them both in plain sight for her evening swim. Once she had returned to the shore, of the lake that the Lebute called home, they were both gone. She had ended up having to fashion herself some clothes out of water lily pads and vines. She’d asked her mothers and sisters if they were just playing a trick on her but they all had shaken their heads no. They all looked upon her with sullen faces. Her alpha mother told her that if she could not locate her gem, the gown could be remade, then she would be cast out of her flock and doomed to live among the hinds for the rest of her life. Hinds were the human species of Teravieta, their world, and they got their name from their ability to hinder the species around them. So she’d packed her small bag with some spare food and her slingshot before making her way to the nearest town.
Fiona could not, even now as the mud got thicker on her feet and her legs started to feel as if they’d fall off at any given moment, imagine never being able to fly again. The air was as close to her as her family, the water was her home, but the air was her best friend. The thing that was always there to cheer her on a rotten day. The Lebute were an ancient people. They only consisted of females; hind males were never present in a Lebute’s life except for mating. Male swans though, were sometimes present but only platonically. The Lebute, or swan maidens, were shape shifters, and very private creatures when it came to their business, but they often loved showing off in front of the occasional passerby.
When a Lebute was born they were born in hind form, as that is their true form. They were given upon birth a beautiful jewel. Its milky white surface glittered with flakes of blue and small hints of red and had a smooth carving of a swan on the surface. It was called a Swan’s Gem. The Swan’s Gem was what allowed the young cygnet hinds to change into their swan form. It was much easier for the cygnet hinds to be protected while in their swan form. Lebute young were laid in eggs rather than born live. They remained in their soft eggs for an entire month. The soft egg allowed the egg to grow along with the baby inside. Once the egg was almost ready to hatch the shell would harden making it easier to break open.
Once a Lebute becomes of age they are given a long, flowing white gown made of hand spun silk and beautiful white feathers. This gown was hand made by the birth mother of the cygnet. The gown is simply the sign of a swan maiden and their only form of clothing. The origin of the gem and dress is a story many years old.
The most powerful witch in the world, Cahal, fell in love with a beautiful woman. She promised herself to him but her face still earned her many admiring looks from other men. In a jealous rage Cahal turned his beautiful love into a swan. He gave her a necklace with the swan gem hanging from it so she could turn back into her hind form when the sun sets. This kept anyone but him from seeing her beauty. The spell became such a part of his love that their daughters also had the ability to change into swans.
The swan maidens were known for their ability to create potent poisons with the herbs that grew in their territory. They were also known for seducing men and then poisoning the men that fathered their children. They killed their mates to keep it a secret that they needed any other man but their great father. Lebute believed their sacrifice would avoid the wrath of Cahal.
Fiona could hardly feel her feet anymore. She was worried of losing her toes to the blackness of the cold. Her ears twitched at the sound of Cavallo shrieks. The small feathers at the nape of her neck stood. She quickly turned to see a carriage, dark as the night itself, slowly coming her way. The thick mud was proving to be quite a problem for the Cavallo - large horse like creatures with the head of a dragon - as their hooves and the wheels of the carriage sunk farther below the surface.
She lowered herself into the mud and smeared it over her arms and face. She coated her curly pale hair in the thick sludge and watched, frozen like a stalking predator, as the carriage neared her. The Cavallo were struggling to pull the wheels through the deep mud. Their grunts were barely audible but their strangled breath filled the air like painful fog. Fiona felt disgust for the first time in her life. How Hinds could put other creatures through such pain so they don’t have to get wet. The rage bubbled under her skin. She had no idea what this feeling of intense fury was but as the Cavallo came upon her hiding spot the fury became stronger. The heat from her anger dulled the freezing rain on her skin.
The carriage stopped next to her, she readied herself to run but continued to hold herself still. The door flew open but the night was too dark to see inside the cab.
“No need to be scared little bird.” The voice was soft and smooth like a swan’s wing.
Her hear froze in her enlarged ribcage.
Light chuckling came from the darkness of the cab. A man leaned forward. He wore a black mask that covered his entire forehead and the rest of the left side of his face, leaving only a third of the right side visible to her. What she could really see was a pair of amber eyes and a brilliant smile. He held out his hand to her. “Come it’s ok, I don’t bite I promise.” His smile was trying to be charming but landed somewhere near eerie.
She stayed where she was, unmoving.
“Oh come on,” his expression grew annoyed. “You’ll freeze out here and it’s at least five more miles until the next town.”
Fiona weighed the possibility of her making it that far on foot without freezing to death - or getting struck by lightning - but then she thought of the warmth of the dark cab and the cushioned seats. She slowly stretched her hand out and placed the filthy thing in his clean perfect hand. He smiled and gently pulled her into the darkness. The heat wrapped itself around her. The smile stayed on his face as he looked over her nearly naked, mud and moss covered body.
“You’re awfully dirty little swan.” His smile seemed to be more of a mask than the one he wore.
She remained silent.
“Why are you so far from home?” he tilted his head causing loose strands of dark hair to fall in his honey eyes.
She didn’t know whether or not she should tell this stranger. After all how was she supposed to find her gem if she did not let people know it was missing? She opened her mouth, closed it nervously, then spoke. “How did you know I was Lebute?” her voice shook as her body no longer did.
His smile widened, the sight of it unnerved her. “The fair skin, though covered in grime, and fair hair told me. Of course the filth covering your body hides the feathers on your hands and feet. My turn. Why aren’t you in your gown?” his voice was calm and cheerful, like a chatty neighbor woman you meet at the market.
“I…” she was still unsure whether to trust this strange smiling man. “It was stolen sometime earlier this morning while I was swimming.”
“No! Stolen? Who would try to steal a swan’s gown?” His face turned into a mocking sort of shock. She wondered if all his expressions were just reflections of emotion as the water reflects the sun.
“Yes, my gem was also stolen with it.” Her voice was becoming stronger as her desperation for her gem leaked through the cracks.
His face suddenly got very serious, his only visible eyebrow furrowed. “Your gem too? I thought a Lebute could not change without her gem?”
Fiona was taken aback. How did this strange Hind know the secrets of her people? The Lebute were very mysterious, one of the many reasons the poisoned the male Hinds they mated with. Keeping their culture hidden was of the greatest importance. She supposed the shock had completely taken over her face, for the man began to smile again.
“Don’t look so surprised my dear. I know a lot more about the creatures in this world than you should think.”
A chill carved its way down her spine. Fiona shifted in her seat.
“I’m sorry,” he tried to touch her hand but she pulled it away. “I don’t know your name.”
Her mothers and sisters had always told her to never give away her name because a name gave away power to the individual. “My name is Bevin.” She whispered.
He smiled again. “Bevin,” he sighed, “do you know what it means?”
She shook her head.
“Fair lady, it’s rather suiting don’t you think?” His ocher eyes searched her face for something she didn’t know; acceptance or answers to unasked questions maybe?
She nodded hoping that was what he wanted. "How much farther until town mister…?”
“Lord Prince Kiran actually, of the Obsidian Nation Lands.” He dipped his head in a polite manner. “Shouldn’t be long I expect.”
“You’re the Obsidian Prince?” she asked softly. She’d never met one of the royals, not even the princess of her own home land.
“That I am.” He smiled yet again. It seemed it was a popular expression with this man, this…prince.
“Why are you so far from home? Is it business or pleasure that brings you to Sapphire? If you don’t mind me asking of course.” She added the last part hastily, realizing she may have said too much. She desired nothing more but to get out of the cab and away from this creepy man, prince or not.
“Well my dear Bevin, I was actually on my way to see an old friend and I hear they’re in town. So here I am” he held out his arms luxuriously.
The carriage came to a dead stop. Fiona heard a thud, loud squishing footsteps, and then the door to the cab opened. The driver bowed his head, rain colliding against his soaking hat. “We’re here your highness.”
A giddy smile crossed the prince’s face. “Fantastic, my sweet Bevin…” His face grew serious; he took her hand in both of his and stared into her eyes. “You should stay here. I can take you to my home, clean you, and clothe you. Just stay put little swan.” He then exited the cab and shut the door behind him.
Fiona began to panic, she didn’t want to go anywhere with this prince. She examined the rest of the cab for a spot to escape from unnoticed but there was nothing. She weighed her options, she could either stay and be taken by this prince to his home in Obsidian - and probably never return home to Sapphire ever again - or she could run from the cab and try to hide from the driver and the prince’s inevitable guards.
Only a moment passed before she hastily slung her bag over her head and bolted out the cab door. The town’s lamps blinded her momentarily and she heard the pained cries of a man behind her. She flew around and saw the driver holding his nose where, she guessed, she’d hit him with the cab door. She sprinted down the main street of the town blasting by door after door and occasionally running into a person here and there. The fact that the driver and the two other men, who were more than likely the expected guards, were chasing after her meant that her first instinct had been correct; the prince meant to keep her like a pet bird in a cage.
There was a loud cheer from a doorway ahead of her off to the left of the street. Golden light shone out the doorway and a large window revealed a huge room packed with Hinds. Fiona fled toward the door and shoved past the couple of people standing at the door. She began to scream for help but her voice was lost among the chatter of the pub. Fiona pushed through the thick crowd; the air around her was hot and smelled of alcohol. She glanced behind her, the driver and guards were struggling through the crowd after her.
An ear splitting whistle streaked through the room. Fiona covered her ears and cowered to the wood floor, groaning loudly. Everyone else in the room fell silent.
“Galvin, what brings you out here to Sapphire?”
A woman, tall as the sky itself, stood above the crowd. Fiona could not see what she stood on but no one could be that tall. The bit of her tan skin that was showing was covered in tribal tattoos, some even curling up the right side of her neck and one barely showing on the left side of her forehead. Her face was wide with thick rounded lips. She was strikingly beautiful but in a strange savage way.
The driver who had been chasing her started to laugh, his attention now on the woman too. “Well hey there stranger. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. Where’s your pet weasel?” The guards behind him let out a low grunt of a laugh.
The crowd spread apart so the woman and Galvin had a clear shot to each other. Fiona saw that the woman was standing on the bar of the pub. Her wild face contorted into a sneer. “Oh he’s around here somewhere. Where’s your master, or does he let his weasels run unsupervised now?”
Galvin and the guards pulled out long broad swords. The crowd broke into shocked whispers and growls. “Since when do royal guards need supervision?” The whispers grew even louder at this new information.
The woman was unfazed by their weapons. Her icy blue eyes landed on Fiona; she was still completely covered in mud, barefoot, and wrapped in water lily pads and vines. “Why are you chasing this girl?”
All the people in the pub's attention fell on Fiona. She gazed at the woman in terror, adrenaline was surging through her muscles and she was ready to spring. She shook her head wildly, her eyes wide in fear.
“That is none of your concern. She happens to be a guest of Lord Prince Kiran. We are taking her back to the Obsidian Nation Lands to clean her up a bit.” Galvin gave a fake smile as the two guards started to walk cautiously toward her.
Fiona caught the woman’s eyes and shook her head as if to deny what he’d said. She began to back up, her hand slid into her bag and she pulled out her slingshot. She loaded a hollowed eggshell into it and aimed but did not shoot.
Slings and slingshots were the classic weapon of the Lebut. They were easy to make and could be used at a distance to avoid physical contact. Lebut also took unused eggs, hollowed them, and filled them with ground herbs that were either chili powder or a paralyzing poison. They also used smoothed rocks as shot.
The two guards laughed boisterously. “What are you going to do with that little thing sweetheart?” The thicker one said. The slighter guard snickered nasally.
Galvin and the woman were both studying her now with great curiosity. Fiona’s eyes fell back to the two men slowly nearing her. She glanced around the room searching for an escape. There was a staircase behind her that led to a second story of doors and neared the very large chandelier hanging from the ceiling. She made her plan, readied herself, and did it all within moments.
Fiona pulled back the slingshot and fired the egg into the large one’s face where it exploded into red powder on contact. He bellowed, dropping his sword, and clutching his face trying to claw the chili powder from his eyes. Fiona leapt backwards over the stairways’ banister while pulling out a rock-shot and firing it at the smaller guard. It landed on his forehead causing him to groan, putting a paw on the red lump, and then charged her. She raced up the stairs, armed her slingshot, and then fired another shot but missed breaking the side window of the pub.
The crowd was roaring with panicked screams as everyone tried to force their way out of the pub’s door like confused stampeding animals. The heavy guard’s screams continued to pierce the air. Fiona reached the second landing, took aim, and nailed a second rock into the small guard’s left knee. He paused in pain for only a moment before continuing his charge. She fired off another shot connecting with the same knee but he did not stop. In panic she leapt from the balcony on top of the chandelier. It swung wildly under her weight. She checked the ceiling but it held securely. She glanced down to survey the rest of the room.
The woman was gone, as was Galvin, and the crowd was mostly through the door. The big guard was still on the floor whimpering. She knew the chili would burn his eyes and mouth, possibly blinding him forever if he did not wash it out quickly. The skinny guard was trying to catch the swinging chandelier but Fiona pulled out another rock and launched it with all her strength at his thin face. It connected with a thrilling crack and he fell backwards to the ground. She waited but he did not get up.
Now it was time to get down. She began to swing the chandelier back and forth, getting it closer to the second story landing. Once she deemed it close enough, she pushed off and barely cleared the railing. Her stomach managed to attain a large vertical gash that ended at her hip. She ignored the intense stinging pain of her wound and fled down the stairs taking three at a time. She vaulted herself over the first guard’s body and launched herself toward the door but felt a tug on her ankle and met the floor with a hard slam. The guard had grabbed her ankle and was pawing up her leg blindly. His hands were large and painful as they pulled at her flesh. She screamed, pulling back her free leg, and began to ram her bare foot into his wide face as hard as she could until he let go.
Not wasting time she pulled herself up and sprinted out the door. Fiona had no idea where to go; she just knew she had to hide. She fled down the first side street she found. As she passed through it someone grabbed her, slipping a hand over her mouth to muffle her screams, and pulled her into a warm dark room.
“Sssshhh…” a woman’s voice hissed. “Be silent or I’ll kill you right here and now girl.”
The voice was strong so Fiona, not doubting what it said as anything but the truth, quieted. She began to form an escape plan; her slingshot was still gripped tightly in her hand.
“You promise not to scream? I’m not going to hurt you as long as you’re quiet.”
Fiona nodded and the woman released her. She heard the strike of a match and light brightened the room. The woman from the pub was lighting an old lantern. The orange light from the flames reflected off her untamed black hair and made it seem like her head was on fire. She turned and put her icy eyes on Fiona. Even when she wasn’t standing on a bar, she was still a very tall woman.
“What does Kiran want with you?” she crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow which made the tattoo on her forehead wrinkle.
“I don’t know.” She said quietly. Somehow this woman was scarier than the prince had been.
The woman scoffed loudly. “I highly doubt that. Tell me what he wanted with you. I warn you, I have no patience child.” Her brow furrowed and Fiona believed her.
“I really don’t know. I was walking here and he picked me up off the road. When we got here he told me to stay in the carriage but I escaped and ran into the pub.” Fiona bit her lip nervously.
The woman’s expression deepened and she sat in silent thought for a moment. Fiona wondered if she would have been safer with the prince. You wouldn’t have to worry about being safe if you hadn’t been careless about your gem. She thought angrily at herself.
“Well,” she finally said, “you’re just going to have to stay with me until I find out why you’re so important to him. But in the mean time you can bathe in there,” she gestured to a side door, “and I’ll find you some spare clothes while you wash.”
Fiona nodded politely. “Thank you,” she squeaked.
The woman strode past her toward the door.
“What if someone comes while you’re gone?” Fiona asked nervously.
The woman froze with her hand on the handle. She turned; her piercing eyes were going to take some getting used to. “Don’t worry; it would be a great fool the Hind that comes in here.” She turned to leave but paused again. “By the way, my name is Sloan.” And then Fiona was alone again in what felt like days.
© 2010 Niki Badger
AboutMy name is Niki and I'm 21 years old. I'm from a small town in northern California and I'm not really sure if writing is my thing but I've done a lot of writing in the past. I first posted on this s.. more..
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