Haila's arms strained with the weight of the tray of food she carried. She entered the hall quietly, as unobtrusively as possible as all good servants were. Blaen followed behind her, bearing wine enough to drown six men. They reached the table and arranged the bounty for the three lords who conversed quietly at the head of the table.
The hall was brightly lit. There was candle after candle, each one a foot apart. They stood on mantles, tables, walls and on every available surface, warding off the dark and the chill of winter. The fire by the hearth cackled merrily, somehow mocking, out of place for it as the only one in the room that was not controlled. The fireplace was large enough to accommodate six grown soldier men standing abreast and at full height and sometimes, it did just that, an oven for those who resisted the Power.
Roses littered the floor of the hall, red, white, yellow, pink… petals fell from garlands that was hung in an attempt to make the hall look merry and welcoming, to keep the illusion that everything was as it was in this world, peaceful, beautiful, alive. Haila looked at the decorations and thought it was all a waste. She thought all it succeeded in doing was to remind everyone of death. It was only the lords at the table who believed this to be fooling anyone or perhaps they knew that everybody around them would be wise enough to keep up this pretense.
Haila adjusted her gloves and breathed through her mouth as the scent of the flowers threatened to choke her, the scent was pervading, overwhelming in its intensity she felt as though she was walking on their graves. She bowed and hurriedly walked out of the room to escape the smell but she was called back when the terrace doors rattled.
"You, maid, open the doors," the lord at the end of the table directed.
She nodded and rushed to do as she was bid. She touched the handle and gritted her teeth against the painful coldness. She opened the glass doors and the wind rushed in, seeping into her bones and robbing her of breath. It entered the hall and though it blew through it the candles remained lighted.
She stepped aside to welcome her. Haila kept her head bowed and her eyes downcast. Purple silk rustled before her, purple silk and chains. Startled that their guest was chained, she raised her eyes despite herself and met the eyes of the woman. It was all she could do not to gasp out loud. The woman was scarred. Her temples and the bridge of her nose were lined with disfigured tissue. Haila could not help it emotion rushed into her and filled her.
He woman had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes and yet those imperfections could not hide or remove her exquisite beauty. She remained breathtaking if not more. The purple of her dress emphasized the white of her skin, porcelain and as white and pure as the snow outside. Her pink lips were full but unmoving, her nose as regal as her bearing. Her eyes though, caught one's attention for it was gold. It was the gold that would remind you of a wolf's but as it was, those eyes stared back blindly. That brought Haila back to the present and she once again lowered her gaze.
She stepped inside the hall flanked by two guards that was followed by two others who held the chains that circled her wrists.
"Vilena! A pleasure to have you for dinner, an honor that you chose to grace us with your presence." The lord that sat to the left of the head greeted mockingly. He was a built man. He stood taller than the others and his width was more than both put together. He was often called the Captain for he trained and led the soldiers of the Power. Haila guessed though that he was not that intelligent. He prided himself for being the strongest soldier in the kingdom, putting too much faith in the physical, nobody was fool enough to challenge him. Nobody has ever seen his face. It always remained in the shadows, beneath cloaks and hoods. He also always wore his armor. Even now that they ate he was in full regale. Haila wondered how he could eat.
Vilena was lead to the other end of the long table. She gave no indication of answering the Captain or of having heard him at all. Haila closed the doors and after discreetly rubbing feeling back into her palms moved to serve the Lady Vilena. The guards flicked the chains and unlocked them. Vilena was seated but she made no move to touch the plate and bounty before her and as Haila watched, the men continued in their discussion so she thought that perhaps they expected this behavior.
Haila intercepted Blaen and took the wine decanter from her. She moved towards Vilena and was about to pour the wine when Vilena moved. She lifted her hands and pressed it against the valley of her breasts as if holding a pendant to her. Vilena's had came away and Haila bit back a gasp. An elaborate symbol lay on her skin where her hand touched. Haila closed her eyes and composed herself before pouring the drink. She adjusted her gloves before bowing to leave. She was walking out of the room but this time she was not as eager to leave it.
"I trust that your accommodations are to your liking?" the man at the head of the table said as he reached for his wine goblet. "Of course the invitation to my room is still open, I would think that candlelight will soften those scars you have given yourself, perhaps then I would be able to stomach them for long periods of time." He drank from the goblet. His voice was conversational. He continued eating and did not bother to look up and see if his words affected her. He knew they would not. The lords by his sides could not resist and watched avidly. They watched for any change in her demeanor. Their actions were wasted as her face remained impassive. It was as if she were not only blind but deaf too.
"She is a Gaellan after all, people of death, what can one expect from such a race? They were created and placed in this world simply to die at the whims of destiny at best and some crazy oracle at worst." The man on the right chuckled. "Her people try so hard to be noble for something so unsure, why it is even commendable if it weren't so foolish." He was the strategist of their plans. He was also the executioner. He was feared because of his maliciousness and cruelty. He was the one who thought of punishments for those caught opposing the Power and the screams of those he tortured were now legend in its notoriety. He thrived on people's suffering. He loved giving his victims hope, a chance to escape, to save themselves and when they believed he would take the chance back and kill them. What was ironic is that the man was beautiful, or he was once. Now his cruelty and malice ravaged his beauty. He still believed himself to be beautiful. He scowled when the woman's gaze did not even waver. She remained stoic.
"No. Vilena is different. She is not so noble as you and some others like to think. She is foolish, yes but not noble." The head lord looked at Vilena as he set down his fork.
"Why do you say so? She did ruin herself so the others would not be identified,"
"No. She ruined herself for nothing. All she succeeded in doing is to anger me enough to punish more people. Before, her actions only her people would be captured and be put to sleep; now everyone, all creatures with golden eyes would be seized. Tell me, Vilena, are you happy now? Are you so noble now?" There was frustration hidden by the humor and mocking note of his voice.
The man on his left laughed in glee. He loved situations in vain. "Pathetic!" he wheezed. "And to think all along you offered her comfort and luxury, now she has nothing left, not even the beauty that she was renowned for."
"Beauty is but a passing indicator of youth, to covet it is to lose it as you so obviously did," Vilena answered. All three lords dropped their utensils and turned to her in shock. "The noble undertaking is such that it is beyond your selfish and shallow understanding, no, you wouldn't understand its cause and reasoning." Her voice was deep and throaty, musical even. It had a rasp that seemed to have developed from its long lack of use. She reached for her goblet and circled its mouth idly with her ring finger. She seemed to be looking at all three men as she did this. She then lifted the goblet in mock salute and drank from it. "We are all put in this world to die in the end; we are all mortal, it is just that some of us, my people, simply choose to die in honor than to live in disgrace as you lords choose to do." She traced the symbol on her chest, smiled then proceeded to look elsewhere as if she did not just talk and insult the three men.
"Are you trying to anger me? Perhaps you think that you can anger me enough to kill you! If that is the case, you are failing miserably."
She smiled a secret smile, gave him the ultimate insult by not even deigning him a reply. Her eyes turned glassy and dilated even as she fell backward.
The guards rushed forward to catch her, one careless enough to touch her skin. He burst into flames and less than a minute later died.
The lords stood quickly and rushed towards her. All they caught was embers floating, flying, burning what it touched.
The head lord looked at the burning mess and in his anger swept of the items on the table near him. He had been so careful with her he thought, worked so hard to find her, to revive her, to keep her alive despite all her attempts to die. He breathed in air that seemed to fan the fire of his anger. Now that all his plans were laid out and things were finally falling to place she went ahead and ruined it! She ruined it by dying and fulfilling the prophecy.
His hands were clenched and his head was downcast. He glared at the floor, as if willing her to form and breathe again. He was blind to all else for a while until he saw the spilled wine, flowing like fingers from Vilena's goblet near his left boot. He watched in fascinated horror as the wine touched the fallen petals on the floor and withered them. "Poisoned?!" he said in outraged disbelief.
"The servant! Where is she?" The Captain bellowed and it would have been the only sound heard if not for the sound of the terrace glass doors breaking. They all whirled around and strode immediately to the terrace, ignoring the glass crunching beneath their boots.
Haila was falling with her arms spread in surrender to the fate that she believed to know so much more than her. With her death came a chance of life, a chance, if not for her then for her beloved world Erin.
She fell, her golden eyes dilating and her lungs expelling one last breath. She died even before she touched the red roses of winter. She burst into the very same thing, white petals of roses that rivaled the snow in its purity. It rode the winter wind and scattered, turning all that it touched to ash, to dust with the hope of being reborn in another time. She embraced death and it would give her life. Soon there was no trace of the petals, the bleeding red roses in the garden, not even the symbol that had lain so secretly in her palm ever since the Call. The same one that had nestled on Vilena's chest.
A heartbeat. Eyes opened into the cold, empty darkness of the room. They blinked and waited for the scene to change… and turned glassy when it didn't.
"I have failed you." The voice whispered, laced with anguish. "I have loved more than I should have… I have loved you." Tears threatened to fall unheeded down cheeks. "I could not go on yet, but soon," a breath was taken by unwilling lungs in a vain, already tried attempt to alleviate the pain. "Soon, I will be with you." Another breath was taken, this time with the knowledge that it would not help. Nothing could.
"Soon I will be with you." The voice said it reverently, said and called and chanted it like a prayer. "Wait for me." He begged. Then fear overwhelmed because nothing was sure. Red tears fell in earnest, unnoticed and like every time the body surfaced into the world, had no one to dry them.
end of prologue