Hi everyone, as you can see this is just my third story on here and I write pretty much for fun. This is a story which I sort of had an idea for and the inspiration for this actually came from my other story, Opening Buds of Spring. This is actually a prequel to that story and I know this may sound strange but it's probably better to read that before this one because the characters might be appreciated more. However, it's not necessary you read Opening Buds of Spring first. I just thought I'd tell you because some people like to read stories in order (although this one is a bit strange in that it's not really in order).

Anyway, I'm just blathering and I really hope all that stuff made sense. I hope you like this and tell me what you think!


Winters' Dreams

Prologue

The dewdrops shimmered on the tips of green blades and glistened like tiny crystal in the rays of the sun. Laurel Winters basked in the glory of such beauty and smiled to herself, she absolutely loved walks especially since today was the day of the month where she was allowed to go visit her parents.

She had set out early, for the fact was; the quicker she got there the more time she got to spend with them. Laurel worked in the palace of King Sebastian of Merin. Merin, to her, was the most beautiful place in the world, but then again she hadn't travelled anywhere else.

Humming a soft, melodic tune, she walked the familiar path which would lead her to her parents' house near the Taralk Woods. Although the name sounded quite harsh, it was a beautiful place with big trees embracing each other because there was so little room for them to grow, but somehow the suns rays always found their way to the ground to light the way.

Laurel drew closer to her house and as she did so, she thought of all the things she could tell her parents. The gossip the other maids had whispered in her presence since they thought that a cleaning woman of only eighteen would be too frightened to tell anyone what she had overheard especially since she had no friends. For that was Laurel's fate; she would always be a cleaning woman who was an outcast. She knew that it hurt her parents to send her off to the palace. They had been on the poor side since the beginning but they had always had the necessities, it had just been in the not-too-distant past where grief had left her family with nothing.

Laurel's sister had been sick. Freya had been younger than her and Laurel had hated seeing her kind and gentle sister stuck in a bed all day. The medicines were expensive and to pay for them, the family had gone days and sometimes even a week without sufficient food but just six months ago, death had knocked at their humble home and left with the life of Freya. Ever since the beginning of her sister's illness, Laurel had had to work and lucky for her, she had found work in the palace which gave reasonable pay.

Laurel clutched the coins in her hand tighter as she thought about her sister. She hated leaving her parents but she knew that they hated her leaving even more. They were ashamed that their daughter had to support them. They hadn't said as much but she had seen it in their eyes and her parents wouldn't dare tell her to stop working because it was the only way they could get any money.

Laurel sighed, her good mood forgotten. The light had gone our of her parents eyes and she felt partly responsible, if only because she couldn't have been there to look after her sister because she was too busy trying to get the hang of her job.

As Laurel walked with these thoughts swimming around in her mind, the neighing of a horse in pain brought her back to reality. She hurried forward on the path and the sight which met her eyes made her want to gag but she took in a deep breath and willed herself to look at the scene presented before her.

A horse lay on its side with a horrible gash across its flank. Organs could be seen, there was blood everywhere but what was the most unforgettable about the scene was the smell. The smell of blood filled Laurel's nose, it was a horrible and grotesque stench. As Laurel took in the scene with complete and utter horror, she finally noticed that there was someone under the horse!

Laurel uttered a prayer for the horse to the spirit element (for she knew that the horse was too far gone to save) and set to work trying to help the person under the horse. She tried pushing the horse off and surprisingly enough it was quite easy but then Laurel realised it was because the horse had lost so much blood, that both the horse and ground was covered with it making it easy for the horse to slip off. She shuddered at the realisation.

Laurel, being of average height, was surprisingly strong. She made a makeshift carrier from the noble's cloak (this was obvious since the quality of the cloak was quite good) and piggy-backed the noble. A gruelling one hour walk began for Laurel and she sighed, "I guess it's not going to be a quiet day in with my parents today," she muttered to herself.