Chapter 3 - A Cast of the Die

Chapter 3 - A Cast of the Die

A Chapter by VassD
"

Encounters in the street and watchers in the wings.

"

Ania wiped the oil off her hands as she stepped back from the bellows. For such a simple looking contraption it sure had a lot of moving parts. She looked down at her fingertips, where the underside of the nails and the creases in her knuckles were tinted " she was almost sure it had to be permanent this time " a deep sooty grey. No matter how hard she scrubbed it, it didn’t want to come off. Oh well. It had to come off eventually.

 

“That’s a new sight.”

 

Ania glanced up, somewhat startled to see someone standing at the front of the shop. Most of the crowds had died down by now. They hadn’t had a customer in a while. “I’m sorry, what?”

 

The customer shifted, and Ania got the feeling that she " it was a female voice that had spoken, Ania could tell that much " was smiling. “A twelve year old girl hard at work in a smithy. Isn’t hard labor a man’s duty?”

 

Ania shook her head, smiling as she walked up to the counter. She’d heard that before. “Actually, it’s neither a male or female duty. It mixes hard work with an eye for beauty and refinement, making it equal parts of either gender. There are no skills that are purely one or the other, and all would benefit from a greater balance.” She’d perfected that speech over the past four years. It helped that she believed every word of it.

 

The customer nodded, a bare inclination of her head, and Ania blinked as she realized that the customer was hooded. The sun was settling down in the western sky and the shadows were lengthening, casting a deep golden sheen over the market place, and casting the hooded face of the customer into ever deeper shadow. How could I not have noticed she was hooded? Her cowl’s covering her eyes! I must have noticed. I just forgot. I’m tired, and I forgot. That’s all.

 

The hooded customer shifted, and this time Ania got a distinct impression of satisfaction. Satisfaction of what? My speech, or the fact that I realized she was hooded? Ania berated herself. Of course I noticed she was hooded! Why wouldn’t I? And why would she care if I did or didn’t notice? Of course it was the speech. Wake up, silly. You’re not asleep yet.

 

“You’re a very broadminded child. Those are some very lofty ideas you have there.” Ania was so busy talking to herself that she almost register that the customer was talking as well. “Oh? Oh! Right.” She blinked sheepishly as she remembered " belatedly - everything she’d said in her speech. Her voice grew in confidence as she slipped back into her element. “I’m not really all that broad minded. I just think I have a right to choose what I do, and I don’t see why anyone else shouldn’t do the same.”

 

“Some would call that broadminded. Others would call it naïve.”

 

Ania tensed. There was something ever so slightly unnerving about this customer. Ania normally felt comfortable around most strangers. They didn’t know her, and so they couldn’t attach the same stigma to her as the people who saw her regularly. There were some that raised her hackles, but she couldn’t figure out exactly what it was she was feeling. There was a tingling between her shoulder blades, but it wasn’t necessarily a good or bad feeling. It just was. It put her off balance, and what the customer said pushed her farther. It sounded too close to something they would say to her, right before they cut off her escape routes. “And what do you call it, ma’am?”

 

“I call it quick.”

 

“Ma’am?”

 

“You never skipped a beat. And you’ve got a strong sense of who you are. I used to know someone like that. She used to live around here, I’m told.”

 

Even though the words didn’t sound sinister, a chill ran up Ania’s spine to settle between her shoulder blades. Suddenly feeling the need to look away from the hooded gaze of the customer, Ania pulled out one of the rags from the pockets of the leather apron, and started wiping down the already clean counter top. Consciously making her voice steady, Ania asked, “Oh? And who might that be?”

 

“Did you ever know a woman named Alliania?”

 

Ania’s head snapped up so violently that she heard her neck pop. Her eyes were wide and her mind was buzzing so intensely that she almost failed to notice that there was something fundamentally different about the woman.

 

Her hood was down.

 

The woman was tall, with a darker complexion and deep, red-brown hair. She had dark eyes that caught the light like a mirror. They seemed ordinary enough, but every two seconds, Ania caught a glimpse of something deeper. For just a few moments, stolen here and there, Ania felt like she was staring out over a storm-darkened field that stretched out so far beyond her view that there was no horizon. Meeting this woman’s gaze was like standing in the path of a lightning storm. Ania could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, and she knew this woman was power.

 

But all of this, the one thing that drew Ania’s eyes like a moth to a candle flame was the leather headband wrapped around the woman’s forehead. Studded with metal plates, the leather had been worked so intricately that it almost looked painted. The swirling motifs seemed to shift in the corner of Ania’s eye, and she thought there were patterns and even words hidden in the apparent chaos. But standing out from all of that was a single symbol, directly between the woman’s eyes. IT was the symbol of a hawk’s head.

 

“You’re a Knight,” Ania breathed. She could hardly think. A Knight? Here? There hasn’t been one within five leagues of here since she died! And how could she have known I’d recognize the name? Likely as not, she would have been attacked if she’d mentioned that name to anyone else here. What on earth is going on?!

 

The woman smiled, a row of white teeth standing in clear contrast with her dark skin. “Just like I said. Quick. I am a Knight, young miss. And if I’m not mistaken, you’re Ania.”

 

Ania nodded slowly. As quick as this woman kept professing her to be, her mind felt very sluggish. Although, at the same time, it felt like the world was spinning around her so fast that she was sure that her eyes were about to roll back into her head from trying to keep up. “Y-yes. I’m Ania Kyatei. Alliania was my aunt.”

 

“Of course she was.”

 

Something about that woman’s smile made the tingle between Ania’s shoulder blades spider-web out, crawling up her back and across her neck like trickles of water. As hard as she tried not to, Ania shuddered, a single, uncontrollable burst of energy that shot from her spine out along her arms.

 

The Knight met her gaze. “Is something wrong, young miss?”

 

Ania forced herself to blink, using the few seconds of darkness to compose herself. Whatever was going on, she didn’t feel like she was in danger, so she might as well calm down. Breathe. Once in, once out. Center yourself. When Ania opened her eyes, she felt calmer. She felt her heartbeat pounding life in her chest. She took strength from the steady implacable rhythm. “Nothing’s wrong, Lady Knight. It’s just that it’s a rather rare thing to see one of the Covenant out by this part the border. We haven’t had any Knights here in Avionne since my aunt died, four years ago.” Even though she was able to say the words with a straight face, the memory of the black-clad Knights escorting the shrouded wagon through the streets created a deep, stabbing ache in her heart.

 

“That’s right. It was only four years ago. You were only eight at the time, were you not?”

 

Ania nodded, wondering who exactly this Knight was who seemed to know so much about her. Ania supposed it was possible that Alliania had spoken about her, but it didn’t seem likely that she had given so many details. While Alliania had loved to talk, she never had been terribly good at remembering details. Unlike this Knight, who seemed to be nothing but details.

 

That’s it. I’m tired of being off-balance. My turn for the questions.

 

“Lady, why is it that you are so far east? And without a file? Knights don’t normally make trips this far out unless there is a border raid, in which case there would be others with you, or some kind of a riot, which there is not,” Ania said smoothly, gesturing at the dwindling crowd of people moving peacefully through the streets. She knew it was probably an insolent question, but there were enough pieces of the puzzle missing that she wasn’t terribly concerned with how polite she was being.

 

The smile was back. “Oh, you do know your way around Knights, don’t you? You’re right " I’m not here with a file, and I’m not here to deal with an imaginary uprising.” The Knight brought her hands up to rest on the counter in front of her. “I’m here to recruit.”

 

The steady rhythm of Ania’s heart was abandoned for a furious, erratic thudding. Recruit? Did she really just say that? And she came out here? And started talking to me?! Ania tried to center herself again, but her heart was sending blood rushing past her ears so quickly that she could barely hear herself think. She picked up a carving knife from the display case in front of her, polishing it out of habit as she tried to order her thoughts. Somehow she managed to get out " in a relatively calm tone " “Recruit? Are the Knights looking to train a new file?”

 

The smile grew even larger, and the Knight’s eyes looked for an instant like a door into another world. Ania thought she heard the Knight whisper, “Quick.” Out loud, the woman said, “That’s right. Every six years, we look for potential Knights and invite them to be tested at the Capitol. We look for children whose minds haven’t been cemented the same way their parents have. We look for people who aren’t unwilling to think outside the box. We look for young women and men alike, because becoming a Knight requires hard work and refinement.” The Knight met Ania’s eyes, never once pausing as she repeated Ania’s own words back to her. “These are the things a Knight cannot survive without. Although, it does help if they have a certain aptitude for the rest of it.”

 

Ania followed the Knight’s knowing gaze down to her hands, and almost jumped. In her nervous state, her hands had reverted back to the one thing they knew to do with a knife. Without even realizing, Ania found that she had started to flip the sturdy blade over the backs of her knuckles, catching it first one way then another, occasionally tossing it to the other hands in a modified, less flamboyant version of the trick she’d shown her da that morning. She caught the knife by the hilt, feeling uncharacteristically self conscious. Something about the Knight’s gaze made her feel like a child playing in her mother’s clothes. Well, isn’t that what you are? She’s a Knight! She has trained for years to become the perfect human weapon. Like you can impress her the same way you scare off those bullies. All you’re doing is a cheap imitation of what she sees every day.

 

Ania blinked. What had that come from? She’d never said anything like that to herself in her life! She always hated it when people told her " or anyone else " that they were somehow a lower kind of human just because they had fewer skills or less training, and now she was treating herself no better? What had gotten into her? A righteous, indignant fire rose up in the pit of her stomach, and it burned away the haze of over-excited thought that clouded her mind. Looking the Knight in the eye, endless gaze or not, Ania squared her mental shoulders and said, “Dropping all the flowery speech, does this mean you’re inviting me to become a Knight?” When she said those words, Ania felt her stomach flip. How long had she dreamed of saying that? Was the day finally here?

 

“Oh, you are good, aren’t you?” In the light of the setting sun, the Knight’s eyes and teeth seemed to reflect the reddish glow that filled the sky. “You’ll dance with the counsel quite well.” Spreading her hands wide on the countertop, the Knight said, “Yes, Ania. I am asking you to follow in Alliania’s footsteps and become a Knight of the Covenant, to defend the Queen of Koronea and the borders of the Shining Land. I ask you to come to Magani by the last day of the Feast of Turning, and walk through the doors of the Compound to become greater then you are, and to become the Knight that destiny calls you to be.”

 

Ania felt a warmth cascade down her back, like the feeling of a summer sun at high noon, but it penetrated deeper than sunlight. It bled into the marrow of her bones, filling her with a heat that ebbed and flowed with her heartbeat. Matching the Knight’s pose across the counter, Ania grinned. “I think I can manage that.”

 

Straightening, the Knight held out her arm. Ania grasped it, feeling a thrill as she wrapped her fingers around the Knight’s forearm. It was almost as if the air around her hand thickened, cushioning her fingers in a blanket of unseen energy.

 

“I’ll watch for you, young Knight.” Looking to the sky and the fading light, the Knight said, “You many want to think about heading home. The night is closing fast.” The Knight reached behind her to something hidden in the folds of her cloak. When she pulled her hand back into view, a finely crafted dagger was held out, hilt first, towards Ania. “Take this. Destiny may be calling you, but not everyone listens. Prove yourself, and make them hear you.” She pressed the dagger’s hilt into Ania’s palm, much the way Alliania had gifted the set of throwing knives for years earlier.

 

Ania looked down at the knife with a craftsman’s eye. The blade was elegantly wrought, with a perfectly proportioned trough running down the length of it, giving it balance and strength. The cross guard curved upwards, perfect for trapping and locking larger blades. The hilt was wrapped in silver wire so fine that almost felt like leather in her grip. The pommel bore a copy of the hawk’s head, almost exactly the same size as the one on her necklace. It was a thing of beauty, and an effective tool. The perfect balance.

 

Wanting to thank the Knight, Ania looked up, but found she was staring at an emptying market street. The Knight was nowhere to be seen. Ania looked in the shadows between buildings, to the lines of trees near the edge of town. Anywhere straggled beams of dying light and shadow would mix together to scatter the image of a darkly clad person. Ania had often played in the forest with her aunt, where they would search for each other in places no one else ever thought to hide or look. But the Knight was truly gone. There was no sign of a cloaked figure anywhere.

 

Ania jumped as a hawk burst out of the trees to the south. It circled over the town, even swooping down over the forge for a few short moments. It spiraled away into the night, leaving those still on the streets to marvel at the strange appearance. While Avionne was a forest town, the animals tended to stay away from the houses, and the only birds that came near them were simple song birds. Birds of prey almost never came near because there wasn’t really any prey for them to hunt.

 

All of that aside, why on earth had it flown like that? Hawks weren’t show offs. They glided, only exerting energy when they had to. All of those spirals and dives… What was wrong with that bird?

 

“What’re ya looking at, little smith?”

 

Ania turned to see Karra walking towards her. The door to the back of the forge was opening, and she could see the pile of crossbeams that Karra and Wilem had been stacking for the last half-mark. Somehow, Ania wasn’t surprised that no one else had been there to witness her exchange with the Knight. Leaning against the counter, Ania said, ‘Nothing. Just a bird.”

 

Karra glanced at the sky for a short moment, and then took in the lengthening shadows. “Looks like it best be time for you to be headed home, little smith. The sun do no last so long this side of the summer feast. I’ll be getting yer purse while ya finish up.”

 

Ania walked over to the shelf where her things lay, pulling off the leather apron and replacing it with her tunic and over shirt. She was about to pull the door open when she realized she was still holding a bare blade in her hand. The knife the Knight had given her didn’t have a sheath. There was no way she could ride home with a span of bare steel in her hand.

 

Looking around the shop for something, Ania quickly found worked leather sheath that hadn’t been placed to a dagger yet. Checking it, Ania found that it fit her new blade quite nicely. Turning back to the door, another item caught her eye. Hanging from the wall was a sturdy canvas pack, reinforced with leather along the bottom. It was larger than any Ania owned, and it looked like it could easily carry enough supplies to travel to and from Magani twice over.

 

She took it down just as she heard Karra returning from one of the side rooms. Turning to face her friends with her new acquisitions, Ania asked, “Is it alright if I take these with me today? I’ve got a journey I need to take.”

 

***

 

They watched the young girl leave the forge with the large pack and the knife they knew so well. They watched as she ran towards her horse on the green, and they watched as she spurred her mount towards the road that would return her to her home. Her energy glowed with a vibrancy that almost outshone the earth itself. It pulsed with the vitality and vigor of youth. It resonated within them, and they felt alive once more.

 

She will go? one asked. They were not words in the way that these beings had once known words. Not sounds, or even thoughts, but impressions in the living energy in which they existed. They all felt and understood.

 

Yes, another sent. She has been drawn to that moment since before the time of her birth. Her spirit has hunger for this day, to the point where I could almost feel it overpowering me as we watched. Nothing can keep her from this end.

 

At least, not for long. A third being slid into the whirl of flowing energy. The youngling has much to learn, and she is wise enough to know that she does not possess even the tenth measure of wisdom. She may try to avoid going forward into the teeth of the unknown.

 

But another force with pull her into it. She cannot miss this moment. I do not believe she can stop herself.

 

The die is cast.

 

Destiny is calling.

 

It’s time to hear the players.

 

 

 

 



© 2013 VassD


Author's Note

VassD
Ania has an... encounter, shall we say? This scene is meant to reinforce who she is as a character, as well as show how she reacts to certain situations. Most specifically, her perceptions of other people.

Anyway, I would really appreciate feedback for this. Specifically, I want to know how engaging the story is. I have a lot of plans for this story, and I want it to fly. So, with this in mind:

►What did you like?
►What didn't you like?
►What was your favorite line?
►What do you want to see in the future chapters?

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Added on February 13, 2013
Last Updated on February 13, 2013
Tags: black horizons, draft two, edit, fantasy, knights of the covenant, ania kyatei, randen derris, alliania, vassternichdrauka, vassternich, drauka, novel, chapters


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VassD
VassD

A tiny random town-city-dimension, ID



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I'm a fledgling author with dreams about as big as one of Robert Jordan's books. Maybe more than one on top of each other. I love writing fantasy and science fiction stories (No matter how long a piec.. more..

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A Chapter by VassD