VI. Raine

VI. Raine

A Chapter by D.S. Dirck

VI: Raine

Year: 643 ALD

Twirling around in the mirror, she examined the gown. Sky blue velvet was one of the rarest fabrics, hand-woven and imported from Reysia. Golden lace trim ran the length of the sleeves and neckline, giving a regal look to the dress. “It’s a little tight around the waist.”

“How’s that, dear?” her mother asked, loosening the straps.

She inhaled for a moment, holding her breath to test the tightness around the waist. “Better.” Pulling her hair into a ponytail, she pivoted before the mirror, examining her figure. “This should be fine for the dinner tonight.”

“Wonderful,” her mother replied. “You never know who may be in attendance at these things. It’s important you look your best.”

Raine rolled her eyes.

Yes, mother.

  Marriage proposals poured in as her sixteenth birthday quickly approached. Whoever she married would become the Overlord of the Ashlands and the Lord of Brightshore Castle, meaning her hand in marriage was a valuable commodity to every family, great and small.

Yet despite the marriage proposals, she felt disappointed by the lack of quality prospects. The sons of the Torish lords were fat, loud drunks, with the exception of Graham Tosch, but the sight of his red eyes and pale skin terrified her. Felix Goodnorth, the son of Lord Attican, was certainly handsome enough, but he was twice her age, and while his younger brother Ryan was handsome as well, rumors persisted that he preferred the company of other men.

Several offers from lesser families arrived as well. The Blacks, hailing from the city of Cole, offered her the pick of three different men. Lucius Falger, the castellan of Brightshore, even offered his twelve year old son, which made Raine giggle.

Not a man amongst them met the vision she fancied of a prince with flowing blond hair and sparkling eyes, mounted atop a shimmering horse, ready to sweep her off her feet. The thought slowly occurred to her that her fantasy may never be more than just that. A fantasy.

The bower door swung open and Stewardess Berridia entered the room, sporting a look of curiosity and suspicion. “Let me get a look at that dress before you take it off.” The old woman looked Raine up and down as she struck one last pose. “You look absolutely radiant, child.”

Raine replied with a curtsey and a smile before undoing the straps of the dress. After slipping into more comfortable attire, the girl requested permission to escape the older women.

Twice a week, she ventured to the markets of New Astermark to see what the traders and merchants had brought from faraway places, like Reysia or the mythical outposts of Landria. On her way, she passed by one of the city’s brothels, where its master, Zwai Zadano, stood outside with two of his girls. The dark-skinned man’s appearance screamed of a foreign opulence, as he sported a bright white tunic over silk pants with gold lace and gold buttons. His fingers were covered by multiple rings encrusted with gemstones which glittered in the sunlight.

He wants people to know he has wealth. Perhaps it’s good for business?  

“My dearest sweet princess,” Zwai said in his strange accent. “What is one so beautiful as you doing near a place such as this?”  

“Oh, Mr. Zadano,” she replied with a feigned coyness. “You know where I’m going.”

“Indeed I do. But please, call me Zwai.” The courtesan master pulled a red dandelion from inside his tunic and handed it to her. “This is for you. The red dandy tiger flower.”

“Thank you so much, but don’t you mean dandelion?”

“Certainly. But, you must accept it on one condition,” Zwai bowed halfway to the ground with his earrings and necklaces tinkling.

Raine examine the flower closely, taking notice of the petals ranging in color from bright orange to deep crimson. “And what is that?”

I won’t marry you, Zwai.

“Do not tell your friend Charlene I gave it to you. Her father is very angry with me.”

“Zwai Zadano,” Raine replied in a half-scolding tone. “What did you do?”

“What I did was in the spirit of good business sense.” He scratched the back of his head, searching for the right words. “Let us say, men of the guard captain came to me, for my services, and some of them received more than they paid for.”

I have no idea what you’re talking about. Do I want to know?

She tucked the flower into her hair, smiled politely, and bid the courtesan master a good day. Continuing on past the rows of palm trees lining the sandstone streets, she made her way to the markets, just as the merchants and vendors opened their tents.

She breathed in the smells of fresh flowers, salty fish, and incense. Goods from every corner of the world made their way to the markets, as New Astermark was a major trading center between the Empire and the lands far to the east and south. Fine pottery and handcrafted jewelry from the Westerlies sold next to casks of Ionassian spices and bottles of Sargossian wines in every color.

As she finished perusing the markets, she made her way to the docks to watch the ships come and go. She arrived in time to watch a massive galley begin to dock, bearing the flag of a shark crossed with a harpoon. This particular vessel was twice the girth of any other ship in the harbor, requiring a hundred workers pulling on ropes to delicately guide the ship to the dock. The maneuver seemed well choreographed, with fifty men on each side pulling in intervals, as the dockmaster stood before the bow waving hand signals to each side.

She strained, recalling her lessons with Stewardess Berridia, to remember that the shark and harpoon sign belonged to the Laws of Sargossia.

Strange how a family renowned for its wine and vineyards would choose to have a shark as its sign. Why not a vine?

Many bystanders on the boardwalk below and streets above stopped to watch, as few had ever witnessed a ship so large. The hull of the vessel appeared a slight brownish-grey tint, as if it was made of iron.

A vessel made of iron? Surely such a thing would be too heavy to float.

Upon docking, the ramp was lowered, and two men in yellow doublets and one in a tan leather overcoat strolled over to the pier. Two of them appeared older, with black and grey hair, while the other sported blond curls and a youthful complexion. She tried to get a better look at the younger man, curiosity taking hold. She weaved her way through the stacks of cargo, getting as close as she could, when the faint sounds of a conversation could be heard.

“Can I be done, uncle?” asked the younger man.

“What’s your hurry?” a gruff older voice replied. “Where are you in such a hurry to?”

The sound of a clinking coin purse rang out. “I want to try my luck at the Fortunara here,” the young man replied.

“Gambling is a fool’s venture,” said the elder man, “but it’s your money to waste. If you lose it all, don’t go asking me for a single gib.”

“I never lose at the queek tables.”

“Piss on all that. Nothing but a bottomless money pit, if you ask me. Either way, be back by evening for the feast at the main keep.”

“Yes, uncle,” the young man replied with a droning sigh.

Raine hid behind the crates, as each one went their separate ways.

They’ll be at the feast tonight? Perhaps I may meet this young sir?     

As morning turned to midday, the usual sprinkling of rain blanketed the city. The rains of New Astermark were always warm and short, a welcomed relief from the hot midday sun. Yet no sooner had the warm drizzle subsided, when the humidity invaded, imparting an uncomfortable stickiness to the air.

Navigating the green hedgerows of the city plaza, she made her way to the fountain centered around a large marble statue. Many afternoons were spent at the fountain, where Raine would sweep her fingers across the surface as schools of yellow and blue fish swam by, sometimes nibbling at her fingertips. The white lotus flowers floating atop the surface were turning yellow and curling near the edges, a sign that summer was ending. Seeing the wilting flowers filled her heart with a mild despair, a stark reminder nothing lasts forever.

Walking around the quarter, she approached another young girl sitting alone on the rim of the basin. The blond-haired girl gave a warm smile. “Raine.”


“How were the docks today?” Charlene asked. “I see the rain didn’t get you too wet.”

She examined her feet, noticing the damp fringes of her tan sundress. “I was lucky. There was an awning to hide under.” The girls briefly laughed, until Charlene stopped with teary eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh Raine, my father offered my hand in marriage to Graham Tosch,” Charlene lamented, nearly in tears.

“The Lord of Banesbridge?”

“I can’t go to Banesbridge,” Charlene stammered, “It’s so terribly cold there all the time, and have you seen the man? His skin and hair are white as snow and his eyes are red like a rat's”  

Raine reached for Charlene’s hand, doing her best to console her friend. “I’m sure he would be the best husband to you. Everyone speaks highly of him. They say he’s very kind.”

In truth she knew little of Lord Tosch, except he was horribly disfigured. Whispers claimed he was secretly a blood wraith though she dared not say such things to Charlene. “When would your father have you meet him?”

“He hasn’t even been given the proposal yet,” Charlene replied in full-blown tears. “I pray to The Father he says no.”

“Oh, Charlene, he’s the Overlord of the Tor. You would be a queen.” Saying the words aloud gave Raine a faint twinge of jealousy.

She really would be a queen. Perhaps having a monster for a husband is not so terrible?

“What if he is a sundowner? Or cruel? Or both?” Charlene begged the question. In truth, Raine had little comfort to give, silently admitting her own anguish at losing her best friend.  

“Stop it, Charlene,” she chided. “Think about it. You’ll be a queen.”

Charlene brushed her long blonde hair aside, laughing behind the tears, “Oh Raine, why couldn’t my father at least marry me off to your cousin Chrystopher, or even his rude brother Kevyn?”

The mention of their names recalled faint memories of her cousins as children, splashing mud on her and chasing her with spiders and snakes. They seemed such awful creatures at the time, yet seven or eight years passed since she last saw them. They were grown men now, and she wondered what kind of men they had become. She agreed that either of them would be a better, more handsome match than Graham Tosch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent consoling Charlene over tea and fruit tarts. The tea was hot, but the tarts were stale, so they picked off small pieces and tossed them into the fountain. “Seems they’re too stale for the fishes’ liking,” Raine remarked lightheartedly.

“Are you excited for the feast tonight?” Charlene asked. “All of the smaller families are going to be there to honor Lord Attican before he leaves for the capital.”

In all the fuss over finding a proper dress, Raine nearly forgot the nature of the feast. Lord Attican Goodnorth was like a second father to her, and it saddened her to see him leave.  

“Of course I’m excited for the feast,” Raine replied, “I already have my dress picked out. Do you?”

“I do.” Charlene’s mood brightened when Lord Attican appeared in passing.

“Good afternoon ladies!” announced the always-cheerful Overlord of New Astermark. “How are New Astermark’s fairest maidens doing on this lovely afternoon?”

“We were just speaking about you, my lord,” Charlene replied with a curtsy.

“Well, well. I hope it was nothing but blessings and good tidings,” the man chuckled.  Aside from having a bit of a belly, Lord Attican was still handsome for a man of sixty three years. Some claimed it was his youthful demeanor, while others attributed it to Lady Julia’s fashion sense. His velvet doublets were the finest-made in the entire empire.

“We will miss you terribly, my lord,” Raine confessed with her own curtsy. “Please be sure to return safely to us as soon as you can.”

“Aye, my dear sweet girls. ‘Tis not love that sends me to the capital, but duty,” replied Lord Attican. “Sweet Raine, I’ll be sure to keep you and your wonderful mother in my thoughts and prayers at all times.” Raine blushed. “Now if you’ll excuse me, ladies, I have some business to attend to. I’m sure I’ll be seeing the both of you at my feast tonight?”

“Of course, my lord,” the girls replied in unison.

“Then a date it is!” he announced in a roar as the girls giggled. “Just don’t tell Mrs. Goodnorth I said that.” And as quickly as he appeared, Lord Attican was gone, and the girls resumed their midday gossip.

Much of the hearsay around New Astermark meant little to Raine: raiders in the freelands attacking merchant caravans, the Durs and Reys meeting in Springhaven, and troubles in the north. These rumors were all worlds away to Raine. But what piqued her interest the most were the whispers of Lord Attican’s wife having an affair with one of the city guardsmen, or the rumor that Martin, the keep’s head cook, was hoarding cats in his apartment for culinary uses.

There was a particularly strange murmuring regarding an olive skinned courtesan from the docks who was rumored to have a twig and berries between her legs, as Charlene put it. This particular girl was apparently the most beautiful of all the courtesans with long black hair and red, full lips.

Charlene explained overhearing her father complain about catching no less than ten of his own men frequenting this very courtesan, and some at the same time no less. The girls could hardly contain their laughter.

But the laughing came to an abrupt end at the mention of Raine’s uncle, Lord Peter Hathaway, and his rumored descent into madness. Some blamed the drinking and others blamed evil spirits as a bad omen of dark times ahead. Raine admitted not knowing her uncle well, as she only saw him once every few years.

“I’m sure they’re only rumors,” said Charlene in an attempt to console her friend.

He seemed like a kind man who loved his family and country. Peter ‘The Brave,’ they call him in song.

Everyone knew the tales of her uncle fighting in the front lines of his own vanguard during the famed Battle of Serraquoi. Every now and then a minstrel would pass through New Astermark and the older folks would often ask to hear the song, ‘Siege of Springhaven’ with its chorus:

Peter the Brave, Peter the Brave

The nation of men he rode to save

When clouds were dark and enemies came

The sword of our savior, Peter the Brave

Whenever she heard the song, a feeling of pride would well within her.

That’s my uncle Peter they’re singing about.

Yet her pride would give way to despair.

If my father had come back from Tor, would they have sung songs about him, too?

As a little girl, she recalled the words of her uncle, “Your father was the strongest and bravest man I ever met. Had he not done what he did, none of us would be standing here today.” The words were kind, but years later Raine overheard other accounts about Deckard the dunce Hathaway, who rode to Banesbridge with twenty thousand men and got them all killed. She chose to believe her uncle’s account of events, but to hear others speak differently hurt her terribly.

Why couldn’t it have been someone else’s father? Why did it have to be mine?

She bid farewell to her friend as the afternoon ripened. The sun lowered over the sea and the sky dimmed as she retreated to the castle in preparation for the evening’s festivities. Her mother looked on as she slipped into the velvet gown, examining it once more in the mirror.

It doesn’t have the same luster in candle light.

“Have you put any thought into the proposals we’ve received?” her mother asked.

Raine hesitated, carefully choosing how to respond. “I do not like any of them.”

“I see,” her mother said with a deep exhale. “We have been receiving more every week, so we shall wait and see. I want to see you happy, I really do. But�"”

“�"But what, mother?”

“How do I put this?” Her mother looked around the room. “You’re near sixteen and very young to understand the ways of the world. A good husband is so much more than someone to love.”

She rolled her eyes. “I know these things, mother.”

“You can find love anywhere, dear. A travelling minstrel. A crofter. A smith, even. All of them could love you no less than a lord. But will the minstrel provide for you and your children? Will the crofter see to it your sons or daughters have the same privileges you did?”

The subject made her squirm a bit, though she was without an argument. “I understand, mother.”

“Do you?”  

I do,” she snapped with a sliver of anger. “I understand half the empire wants to marry me for the castle and land that comes with my hand. None of them know me, or care about me.”

“It’s not like that, dear.”

Oh, but it is , mother…

Raine fought back the tears and stormed out of the room.

People loitered about in the Great Hall of the castle, engaged in mild conversation and greetings of laughter. Each table was decorated in a white table cloth and candles, with centerpieces of fruit and confections wrapped in vine leaf.

A lone violin player stood off to the corner, playing a soft melody. His serenade accompanied the murmurs of the audience, adding a jovial ambience to the room.

Nearly a hundred noblemen and women from the major cities of Allyoria were in attendance. They gathered to bid farewell to Lord Attican Goodnorth, as he embarked on his journey to Springhaven to take his seat on the High Council.

As Raine entered the hall, she bumped into Lady Julia Goodnorth, the wife of Lord Attican.  Lady Julia appeared particularly wroth, with sharp eyes which matched her ever-scowling lips.

“Good evening, child.” Her voice felt like a winter’s chill.

She replied with her most focused curtsey, keeping her back perfectly straight and bending her knees without straining. Stewardess Berridia would have been proud. “Good evening, my lady,” she replied, bowing her head.

The lady gave a formal nod of approval. Even the coldest noble woman could not deny a well-performed curtsey when they saw one. To receive one was the highest nod of respect in the vast and complex world of etiquette. Raine was a prodigy of such things, and her natural mastery of it was an armor even Lady Julia Goodnorth could not dent.

“I see your mother is not yet here,” observed Lady Julia with a raised chin and a loud breath.

“She is on her way, my lady.” Sweat ran from her forehead, as Lady Julia directed a cold stare her way.

“Oh good,” the woman replied in a strangely cheerful tone. “I’d hate for her to miss the festivities.”  

Is she serious? Why does she act like this towards us?

In the back of her mind she ruminated on the nature of Lady Julia’s cold disposition towards her and her mother, as a hand wrapped itself around her wrist. She spun her head around to find Charlene pulling her away.

“Raine, come sit with me and my mother. We've found our table already.” Charlene’s heels clicked loudly over the stone floor as she ran back to the table. “What did Lady Julia want with you?”

“I… I have no idea,” she confessed. “Thank the gods you showed up.”

A few minutes had passed, when Lady Meredith arrived, finding Raine with Charlene’s family. Charlene’s baby brother, Charlie, was crawling underneath the table, as Charlene’s mother Karina motioned to her. “Lady Meredith, please do sit with us. We would be honored.”

Little Charlie laughed, poking his head out from under the table cloth. “I see Charlie is growing well,” said Lady Meredith.  

“By the grace of The Father, my lady.”

“Please Karina, call me Meredith,” she said, swatting the formalities. “How long have we known each other?”

Karina smiled. “I’m glad to see you’re well, Meredith.”

Though the feast was a formal event, the exorbitant amount of alcohol and conversation lent itself to an atmosphere of casualness. Regardless, Raine and Charlene both meticulously ran through their etiquette training, gracefully opening their napkins and laying them over their laps in the proper technique.

Stewardess Berridia maintained a punishing zeal for inflicting the girls with lessons from her favorite book, Ninety-Nine Courtesies for the Civilized Lady. In truth, Raine had memorized less than half, with a strong focus on the ballroom dancing and courtship etiquette. Unfortunately, the stewardess primarily focused on training the girls in the ways of table manners. Raine and Charlene both found the rules to be the most boring, as well as the most difficult.

Proper posture and correct utensil placement were of paramount importance in the world of dinner etiquette. Though Stewardess Berridia was not in attendance, should the old woman learn either of the girls used a salad fork for the main course or cut their meat with a bread knife, a chiding lecture would be awaiting them.

Before the first course was served, the head priest, Father Carmine, stood at attention at the head table, and the noise of the crowd settled. “Let us bow our heads in prayer before we begin the feast.”

Raine and Charlene smiled to one another, folding their hands and bowing their heads as a cold silence descended over the hall, save for young Charlie giggling under the table.

“Dearest Father,” the priest spoke loudly with outstretched arms, “all-powerful creator and giver of life. We gather together to celebrate you and bid farewell to our gracious overlord and your humble servant, Lord Attican Goodnorth. May you watch over him and protect him as he takes his leave from us on his journey to the capital. May your wisdom shine down upon him as he takes his place on the High Council. Bless this food we are about to eat, and may your blessings continue. Praise and mercy…

“Praise and mercy…” the room chanted in unison.

“Let the feast begin!” Lord Attican declared, jumping to his feet with his sloshing wine cup in hand.

The murmurs of conversation slowly resumed, as the servants brought out the washing bowls, followed by the first course: a boiled shrimp and scallop soup in a cream sauce broth.

“Say Karina. What will your husband be doing, with Attican going away?”

“Once he’s returned from escorting Lord Attican to the capital, he should be resuming his duty as Captain of the Guard for Lord Felix.” Karina replied as the servants then brought out the second course, boiled lampreys in a blood wine sauce.

Raine and Charlene giggled as they dared one another to be the first to take a bite. As the conversation continued, Raine glanced around the hall until she spied the curly blond head of hair belonging to the young man she had spotted at the docks.  

“Mother, who are those men way over there?” she asked.

Lady Meredith scanned the room to see who her daughter was referring to. “I have no idea, dear.”

“I heard my husband talking about them,” said Karina. “One of those men is the brother of Lord Troy Law.”  

Lady Meredith scowled slightly. “I know that name all too well. The would-be king of the Ashlands, if he had his way. What are they doing here?”

Karina leaned forward to get a better glance. “Charles seemed a bit suspicious, too. They claimed to be sailing from the south. Ionassia, I think he told me.”

“Do the Laws swear fealty to the Empire again?” Charlene asked.

Raine’s mother seemed to hold nothing but scorn for them. “They swear fealty only to themselves. If not for their treachery, my sweet, sweet Deckard would still be with us.”

An awkwardness descended over the table, as Karina reached across the table for Lady Meredith’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Meredith.”

“It’s been fifteen years, but sometimes it feels like it happened yesterday.” Raine’s mother turned towards the table where the men in question were seated. “My brother-in-law should have smited their entire family, like Berrin Tosch did to the Broomhowres.”  

“What about that younger one?” Raine asked, attempting to lighten the conversation. “The curly haired one?”

“I think I heard Charles say his name was Marcus,” said Karina. “If I’m not mistaken, he would be the heir to the Sargossian Isles.”

Charlene nudged Raine’s arm. “Maybe he’d make a good match for you, Raine?”

“Absolutely not.” Lady Meredith rejected the suggestion as quickly as it was presented.  

Yet to Raine, the match made more sense.

We could join the families of Law and Hathaway. We could make sure Sargossia stays in the Empire. It could be perfect.

“But mother�"”

“�"No!” Lady Meredith blustered.

“What about what I want?”

“There’re a hundred better matches for you in the whole of the Empire. I’d as soon  marry you off to a Reysian than let you marry anyone from Sargossia.”

A host of servants appeared, distributing trays of food for the third course: roasted duck in a red wine sauce, with leeks and seasoned potatoes.  

Raine frowned, pushing the plate away in protest.  

It’s always like this. When do my feelings matter? She would have me marry some stupid, fat drunk who w****s around on me while I’m stuck in a frozen castle raising his children.

Clenching her teeth, she did her best to hide her feelings, but the tension was obvious to everyone at the table.

Her mother cut a piece of roast duck with a look of cold indifference, constantly shooting glances to the other table, unable to hide her scowl.

A quiet rage swelled within Raine. She breathed slowly to contain it, yet the harder she strained the more she felt like bursting. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to take my leave for a moment.”

“Where are you going?” her mother demanded.

She looked troubled, visibly pouting, pushing her chair back. Without saying a word, she stormed off, leaving Charlene and Karina staring awkwardly at their untouched plates.

Shuffling outside, she escaped to the comforts of the fresh night air on the balcony overlooking the western courtyard.

Placing her hands on the railing, she looked out over the landscape of the city and its speckles of tiny torchlights blanketing the darkness. Tears welled from within, and she fought to push them away as the music from the hall echoed outside.

It just isn’t fair! I’ll never be happy!  

She sniffled, straining to fight back the tears.

“My lady, are you alright?” asked a strange voice from behind.

She spun around, startled to see a shadowy figure in the entryway. “Who, who are you? I can’t see your face.”

The man stepped forward, revealing himself to be young Marcus Law, with the curly blond hair and blue eyes. His soft complexion and slightly upturned nose made it difficult to measure his age by looks alone.

He’s even more handsome than I thought.

“Are you Marcus?” she sniffled.

“I hate feasts, they’re terribly boring, and the food is bland. What are you doing out here?”

Her frustration gave way to embarrassment, as she quickly tried to think of something better than the truth.

He cannot see me like this; crying like a little girl.

“I�"I’m just grieved to see Lord Attican leaving us.”

Yes, that’s a much better story. A bit melodramatic, maybe. But better than the truth.

“Oh, he’s leaving? I had no idea.”

She was slightly taken aback by his answer. “What did you think this feast was for?”

Marcus grinned. “Does nobility ever need a reason to gorge themselves and get drunk?”

“I suppose not.” Her voice reeked of timidness.

“These things bore me terribly. Let’s get out of here. What do you say?”

Her tears instantly dried. “Yes, of course.”

Mother be damned…

He reached for her hand. It felt strong and soft. “Why don’t you show me around this city of yours?”

Raine’s eyes sparkled as the argument with her mother faded from memory. “I would love to.”

© 2016 D.S. Dirck

My Review

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I enjoyed reading this. You have created a rich world and strong characters. It might be a little heavy on exposition in places, but you should be proud. Good job.

Posted 5 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

D.S. Dirck

5 Years Ago

Thanks for the feedback. I certainly laid the exposition on thick in the earlier drafts while attemp.. read more
David Jae

5 Years Ago

It's a very fine line to draw, I agree...

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Added on March 21, 2016
Last Updated on April 4, 2016
Tags: fantasy, fiction, novel


D.S. Dirck
D.S. Dirck

Fort Wayne, IN

I am an unpublished author searching for a literary agent and eventually publication. In the mean time, I'm here to network with other like-minded (and even non-like-minded) authors. I'm by no mea.. more..