He breathed heavily as he was all but dragged along by the strange man holding his arm. He was beginning to think that this man was not a friend of his parents as he had claimed to be. Zadkiel had no idea what he could do, though. He was a mere ten years old and this man was not only armed, but he was strong. He could feel the bruise forming on his arm where the man's fingers were squeezed tightly, all the way around his upper arm. As Zadkiel attempted to keep up with the stranger, though tripping along the way, he couldn't help but notice that they were making their way out of the forest, Zadkiel's home, all he'd ever known. The thought that crossed through his mind was, Is he going to kill me?
Even though it was dark, Zadkiel had no trouble spotting the tree roots that protruded from the ground. It seemed the man was struggling in this area, for he constantly growled when his foot caught or his toe stubbed against one. Suddenly, the forest was there and then it wasn't. Zadkiel looked up, fear now shining in his dark green eyes. Before him stretched a sandy, barren wasteland, also known as the country of Odested. The man released his arm, patting his head full of shiny, short black hair, chuckling as he did so. Zadkiel looked up at the man, but was not able to discern his face from the bandanna he wore on his head, which also covered his eyes with slits cut into it so he could see. "Go on, then."
"What?!" Zadkiel cried, jumping back from the man. "That's Odested! It's nothing but desert! I can't walk there!"
"Oh, you can…and you will." The man's sadistic grin faded as he reached for his gun. "Get going, lad. If you hurry while it's still cold and dark, you'll make it to their nearest city."
"I'll die without any water!"
"Having no water will motivate you."
The man growled deeply. "You test my patience, lad." He aimed the gun at Zadkiel, his eyes narrowed coldly.
Zadkiel stepped back rapidly, not wanting the weapon pointed at him. He looked at the man and the forested country of Linpadure behind him…his home. He twisted around and looked at the desert, its dunes, the wind, the sand, the lack of necessities for life. With one more glance at the man to see if he was resolved, Zadkiel swallowed the knot in his throat and began to walk, his steps slipping in the sand. He isn't going to kill me…but he's going to let me die. Such thoughts should not be in the mind of a child.
Zadkiel was only guided by the starlight and moonlight as he trudged along, feeling like each step was growing heavier. It was very cold, only made worse by the nearly constant wind, and the boy was only dressed in his nightclothes of a white t-shirt and black shorts. He shivered with each breath and kept glancing behind him to see if the man was there. It seemed that each time he looked, the man was still there, the same distance away. Was Zadkiel making that slow of progress? Or was the man following him? Maybe he was even hallucinating. He wasn't sure how it worked, but he heard of the illusions people suffered when they entered the desert.
It didn't seem like it had been hours when light began to enter the sky, signaling that dawn was quickly on its way. The boy hadn't realized how thirsty he was, or how exhausted he was, until the sun peeked over the horizon. He whimpered quietly with desperation as he fell to his knees. What was he supposed to do now? Glancing over his shoulder, he could still make out the man's figure standing in the distance, making no movement towards him. The man surely wasn't going to help him.
With the arrival of the sun, so came the heat. Sweat quickly began to form on Zadkiel's brow, and it made his stomach feel sick. No matter how sick he felt, he had nothing to throw up. He hadn't eaten all night, nor did he have any fluids of any kind. He was a forest child, not desert. He had no idea how to survive in a world such as this one. His limbs began to tremble, to the point where he couldn't even hold himself up. He could only see darkness before his head hit the sand.
She looked around the small hut, nervousness shining in her light blue eyes, wondering why there were some of her friends missing. They always gathered here at this time every other day so that they could both learn and share their knowledge. Why weren't they here today? They never missed a day. A boy of her age, ten winters old, broke into a smug grin and said, "They were probably scared because of the blizzard! It's not like this was a big one, though!"
She narrowed her eyes as dangerously as a ten-year-old could, giving the boy an icy glare from across the fire, which was placed in the center of the round hut. "Don't say that! You know that they could have gotten lost in the blizzard…"
"So what if they did? Guess I'll need to find someone new to-"
"Hush now. Don't you speak like that," scolded their lore woman, an elder woman in her early sixties. By ways of the snowy country of Terenuri Congelate, she was a woman of old age. Due to the harshness of the country, the average age its residents lived to was mid-seventies. While the homes were warm and cozy, there was just something about the climate that made it hard for them to survive.
The young girl jumped up and grabbed her fur coat, shoving her long, braided black hair down inside of it. As she fastened it shut, the lore woman cried, "Natara! What do you think you're doing?! Don't go out there!"
"Someone's gotta find them!" Natara replied hastily. "Hiemsa favors me, anyways, so I might as well be the one to go find them!" She opened the door with great effort, trying to keep the amount of snow that blew in to a minimum. She heard the lore woman say something else, but she didn't stop to listen. Her friends could be in trouble, and she needed to help them. As she said, their main deity, the Winter Goddess Hiemsa, was rumored to have Natara as a favored child of the gods. She had never gotten lost in the blizzards before, even when she was a toddler and accidentally wandered out of the house, not even properly bundled. She had disappeared from her home then reappeared a half hour later, her body warm and no wounds to speak of.
Natara kept her eyes narrowed, not wanting the snow that was blowing wildly around to get into her eyes. When she had first stepped outside, she couldn't see a thing due to the bright harshness of the white landscape. Once her eyes adjusted, she looked around frantically, looking for signs of her friends. She looked in the direction they would normally have come from, but saw no sign of them, nor any sign that they had even left their houses. Having to lift her legs high to maneuver through the foot and a half deep snow, she pushed her way towards their houses. Something stopped her, though. It's as if she heard a gentle, warm voice that whispered, "Turn around."
Not even questioning it, Natara turned to go the other direction. Maybe they couldn't see the building and went past it.
She passed by a few houses, all holed up tightly, fires burning inside, making it warm and cozy compared to the outdoors. Still, she saw no one. Then, she heard something else. It was something very quiet, riding on the wind. Was it voices? With the wind carrying on its wild currents, there was no way to tell where exactly it was coming from. She continued to just walk the way she had been going, hoping she would run into them. She was beginning to get ever so slightly chilly, crystals forming on her long eyelashes.
Then, she spotted something: shadows against the snow. The closer she got, she saw two of them. It had to be her friends! She could hear them crying out for help, looking around in circles helplessly, not able to see as well as Natara could. When she got close enough, she called over the howling wind, "Guys! I'm over here! Follow me back!"
The boys' eyes caught sight of her and relief danced in them. They broke into smiles, but didn't pause to celebrate. They made their way towards her as quick as they could, now following her back towards the lore woman's house. When they got there, Natara opened the door, and they ran inside, snow instantly beginning to melt due to the drastic temperature change. The lore woman made a startled sound before running to the three of them. "Are you okay, kids?"
Natara didn't answer, since she assumed the lore woman was more concerned about the two that had been out in the storm longer than she. Besides, she was fine. As they threw their jackets off, the two young boys nodded, though now that Natara could see their faces more clearly, they looked exhausted. "We're fine. Natara found us."
"Oh, good, good. Natara? You're okay, too?"
Smiling with relief, the lore woman reached a hand out and patted the little girl's head. "You really are blessed by Hiemsa, child. Very few can walk through a blizzard as if it weren't even there."
Natara beamed with pride at the compliment.
She giggled with glee, not able to withhold her joy. Today, she got to pick her riding partner for life! Or rather, they would choose each other. Not to mention, the herd was specially bred by her parents! How could the day get any better?!
She took several small leather strands and used them to secure her long black hair that trailed down to her lower back, putting each one a little farther down so that her hair wouldn't knot itself as easily. She then tucked her loose, tan colored pants into her boots as she slid them on. There was a humming voice that approached her. Her mother, Vendela, appeared at her side, beaming brightly. "Are you ready, Ingvild?"
Her light green eyes brightened with even more joy, if it was possible. "Of course I am! Now that I'm ten, I get to get my own horse!"
"Now, you know, Ingvild, dear…you don't pick him on your own."
"I know, he picks me too!"
"And you know that he will then be the beginning of your responsibilities with the tribe. The horses we breed aren't like regular horses elsewhere. Ours live for a human's lifespan, so he will be young and restless for many years, like you." Vendela turned her own eyes to her horse behind her, grazing absentmindedly. It was a rich copper color with a darker shade of mane and tail. Down the front of its face was a slim blaze, and it had a stocking on its rear right leg. "That also means you must train him to your liking."
"Yes, I know, Mom." Ingvild's own eyes darted to the enormous round pen, where her father, Normund, was atop his own horse, herding the rest of the horses into it so that Ingvild could walk among them without having to worry about them running. She was just ready to get this going!
Sensing her eagerness, Vendela laughed softly. "Well, then, shall we go?"
In their country, Dovenareal, they lived with few worries. Their country denied modern technology and lived a simple life in the plains. Their country was made up of several different tribes, all of which bred a different animal or crop to be traded and sold to all the other countries. However, to the people of Dovenareal, no tribe was as important as Ingvild's tribe that she was a part of. They bred horses that were the most loyal of all creatures and would only allow one rider on their back in their whole life.
Ingvild and Vendela made their way towards the round pen, Vendela's horse following along behind them, a questionable look in his beautiful brown eyes. As they made their way, so did the other tribes people, interested in what horse Ingvild would get. After all, their duties could wait until afterwards. This was a special time for the children of the tribe. Normund then made his way out of the pen on top of his white mare with a thinly sculpted body and not a mark on her, his eyes on his daughter. "Are you ready, kiddo?"
Rolling her eyes with a smirk, Ingvild nodded her head several times. Normund chuckled and rubbed his daughter's head as he made his way behind her. He gave her an encouraging pat on the back. She took a deep breath then climbed up the round pen boards. When she got to the top, she glanced around and saw that the other tribes people were now watching, some from the ground, some propped up on the boards. They were all smiling, though, especially the children, who knew it would be their turn one day.
Ingvild jumped down in the pen. The horses became aware of her presence and turned their eyes towards her, wondering what a human was doing among them. She looked at them each, one by one, not worried for her safety whatsoever. If she was worried to be amidst horses in a tight area, what kind of horse woman was she to be one day? She wasn't entirely sure how to tell when she felt she'd found her horse. All her parents ever told her was that she would know, which she found to be less than helpful.
More than once, she would lean closer to a horse to blow in his or her nostrils to see if it would accept her as a friend, but more than once, they snorted at her and backed up, wanting nothing more than to be back outside the pen, grazing. That was when Ingvild's eyes landed on a beautiful creature, the one that was the most beautiful as far as she was concerned. It was a horse of a larger build than most of the others were, its body a solid, sleek black. It had a lovely upside down triangular shaped star on its head, and it had one sock on its front right leg and a stocking on its rear left. On its legs, down near its hooves, it had large feathers. Its mane and tail were pure white and long, so long. Its tail almost dragged along on the ground, despite the fact that this beast was at least nineteen hands tall. Ingvild knew that these horses were normally bred for hard work and not riding, but something told her that this particular horse was much faster than it looked. She worked her way towards it – him – and reached out a hand.
The horse reared, neighing ferociously, its blue eyes wide. Though a single blow with those hooves would more than likely kill her if it hit her in the right place, Ingvild did not back down. This made even the onlookers nervous. However, when the horse touched down again, he tossed his head, sending his mane everywhere, and he then approached Ingvild. He touched his nose to her hand, bringing a broad smile to Ingvild's face. She lowered her hand and took another step forward, gently blowing into his nostrils. There was a pause, then he too blew out his nostrils and back into her face, just as gently. Ingvild gave a happy cry and threw her arms around the large horse; as far as she could reach, at least. He then responded by lowering his head, almost as if he were hugging her in return.
She pulled away from him and walked through the herd, towards the main gate. Normund and Vendela were standing there, waiting, smiling broadly. Normund opened the gate to let Ingvild and her horse out first, then swung it open so that the rest of the herd could run out and graze some more. Her horse didn't even bat an eye or glance at the herd when they left the round pen. Ingvild, likewise, didn't even glance at her parents as she stroked her hand from his star down his face. "I'll call you Klement."
This made Normund frown with confusion as he translated the meaning of the name. "Gentle? He reared at you. I thought you'd give him a fiercer name."
"It also means merciful," Ingvild pointed out. "He's nothing but a big sweetheart."
A/N: Hello, and welcome to my 2013 "winner" NaNoWriMo novel that I wrote and am still in the process of editing. I'm normally very hesitant about posting original works, but I feel like this one has some promise to it. So, please, give me feedback on what you think of the story as it goes along. I do appreciate constructive criticism, but we can be kind about it, right? Give me some nudges in the right direction, point out errors you find along the way, and anything else! I hope you enjoyed the prologue, though not a lot happened, but you met my three main characters! I hope you'll leave a review and see you next time!