The King's hunting party left at dawn with a lot of men from the court as well. Prince Endre, Julius Stackhouse, his brother Aulus had gone and even Rian went along. According to castle gossip the King wanted a snow bear for the feast that night. Princess Enya Dire had always wanted to see a snow bear up close and then eat it, so she wished it was true. She had her doubts about it though as the denizens of Castle Ceremire liked to talk.
Enya had remained with her sisters and was in for an eventless day while the preparations for the festival went on. House Dire was to receive an ambassador from the West and hold the End of Winter Festival. Enya considered herself well versed in the ponderous celebration as she'd been to it nine times, once for every year in her life.
Enya's main interest in what was happening was the unlimited food which would be there. In all honesty what she wanted was to read and she couldn't do that at a loud party. She loved to read; to her it was a fabulous way to spend the first half of her day. She had no plans beyond avoiding her tutor, Mistress Haddaway, who, for all Enya knew, was seeking her out at the present moment.
The white snows had fallen on the courtyard outside the Temple. The End of Winter Festival had special significance with the Craftsmen so it was to be held in the massive Temple of Four, to the left of Castle Ceremire. According to Enya's tutor, the Craftsmen's greatest celebration was at the end of winter. Apparently, they took joy in watching their followers celebrate much like them: with food, drink and fighting.
It was cold in the courtyard, but not so cold that one would freeze without the proper clothing. If the Dires knew anything it was that there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. As Enya wandered around she watched strong servants carry equipment for the Festival past the statue of Eynal I, into the Temple. For winter, the day was clear and the witches had predicted a clear night. It was almost the end of winter anyway so it was warmer than it had been for a while.
At a brazier she saw a boy she'd never seen before. He looked as if he was loitering and was dressed in what she considered to be bad clothes; rags which barely covered him. He seemed to be a few years older than her, twelve maybe? He had skin almost as white as snow and his hair was pale blonde, close to white. In spite of his bad clothes, he looked as if nothing was bothering him and the fire seemed to fascinate him.
Despite the voice in her head telling her not to do it, she approached him.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Mayre?" He spun around to her.
For a moment Enya couldn't find her voice and her mouth just hung open. His eyes are so blue. "My name's Enya, what's yours?" she asked, after that moment passed.
"Of course, I'm Eaon." He had a bit of an awkward look on his face.
Enya beamed and held out her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Eaon stared at her hand for a moment before he took it and shook it. He was burning hot.
"Oh I was going to ask if you're cold, but you're so warm," said Enya.
They stared at each other for a beat.
"Why are you hanging around here?" she wondered. She went to his side and warmed her hands with the fire. Eaon looked back at the flames once more.
"I like the fire," he said. "What are you doing around here?"
"I'm hiding from my tutor. She's nasty," said Enya, making a face. "Do you wander around the castle a lot?"
"You don't like your tutor?" he asked.
"Not a drop. I wish she'd just go away, honestly. I haven't seen you at Castle Ceremire before."
"I could help you with her," he said with a smile.
"Enya!" called a voice from behind them.
Enya pirouetted and was met with the sight of Septima Stackhouse trekking through the snow towards them. "Oh Septima!"
"Haddaway is looking for you. Talking my ear off about you; I need you to get to your lessons," she said.
"I don't think so, besides I don't have to listen to you Septima. I'm the princess."
Septima smirked. "You might not have to listen to me, but 'twas Queen Javyre who joined in the crone's ranting."
"Oh toss it," she groaned. She looked towards Eaon, "I'm sor-" she began, but the boy was nowhere to be seen. "Huh?"' her mouth hung open for a moment again.
"Something wrong Princess?" Septima asked, still carrying her smirk.
Enya looked over to her after a moment. "No, it was just, I don't know… let's go."
The two walked side by side to the castle along the Crafter's Path. Shivering and scowling, Septima had always been out of place in the icy winters of Red Raven. She was descended from the people of the West. Gold curls covered her crown and a gold shroud covered her body. In the white snow she seemed to glow. The gold was a stark contrast to the darkness of her skin.
Gold seemed like an apt description to Enya because it was not like blonde; blonde did not shine like her hair. Enya liked it though; she always thought it made Septima look stunningly beautiful.
The inhumanly coloured people like the Stackhouses of the West had been caused by the magic of the elves backfiring. What exactly had happened was a strange tale in which the elven god Syl had punished the elves for wanting to rid the world of humans forever. Enya loved to hear it but her tutor had hated the historical inaccuracy of stories and would go on about the facts. Why would anyone want to let the facts get in the way of a story anyway?
Regardless of the fate of the elves, the look of the Stackhouses was real enough. Septima had a twin brother who was extremely handsome, with gold hair like hers. She also had a younger brother called Aulus, who no-one really ever said anything about. Enya knew little about him, only that he hung around Rian all the time. To Enya, he seemed to be angry without Rian and silly with him.
Soon the two returned to Castle Ceremire without exchanging many more words. The castle was on a hill right next to the Thousand Tears, a recently defrosted river. Red Raven had been built around a confluence of three rivers intersecting. Two paths twisted around the hill to the castle at the top, they took the shorter one, which was the one everyone always took. The Thousand Tears were in full view, for such a dramatic name it wasn't an extraordinary river. Enya had read that the Thousand Tears travelled all the way from the north to the south of Sanction and that it split into hundreds of rivers, so perhaps the name wasn't completely unwarranted.
"How did you know where I was?" Enya asked.
"Where else would you be? You always like looking at things which aren't always there. Besides, Haddaway would have trouble getting down here," Septima explained as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Enya couldn't think of anything else to say and looked away from her.
The decent and ascent had been more perilous than normal recently due to the increase of ice, but with summer coming there was much less than there had been before. Enya knew that some of the older members of the court rarely came down in winter because they had to be transported in carriages. She imagined that there would be many carriages being prepared to take everyone to the Festival. It was something no-one in Red Raven would miss.
They entered the courtyard of the castle from the right and Septima left her wordlessly, heading to her own chambers. Enya headed to the keep where Mistress Haddaway would surely be. In the entrance hall the crone waited alongside her mother, Queen Javyre smiled at the sight of her daughter while Mistress Haddaway grimaced. Queen Javyre had several servants around her looking as if they had something important to ask her, such as the colour of a tablecloth.
"My daughter likes her adventures, as Lady Stackhouse suggested," Queen Javyre said to Mistress Haddaway.
"I suppose there's worth in that smirking Westerner," Mistress Haddaway admitted. "More use then your daughter, if Your Majesty will allow me to say."
Queen Javyre regarded her with disapproval. "Enya has many uses."
"I apologise, my Queen," said Mistress Haddaway.
"I'm sorry mother, but I wanted to explore. It's such a pretty day for winter and it'll be dark soon," said Enya. She didn't want her stupid tutor to get her down.
"It may be, but you have duties to attend, regardless of there being darkness or not. I will not keep you any longer. Remember that while I love you I'm not against reading your diary to your sisters in order to make sure this doesn't happen again." Without a word more the Queen left them there and the servants trailed behind her, beginning to ask their questions.
Enya wasn't sure if she should be worried or amused by her mother's threat. Judging by how serious she was: worried.
Mistress Haddaway did not look amused. "It may please you to learn that today is no normal lesson, you are to meet the lords and ladies of the East who have arrived at this great celebration. It is for you to practice your courtesy and your duties as a member of this great house." She began to lead Enya to the reception hall where many of the nobility had already begun to gather in the previous days.
Enya's mother had always told her that Castle Ceremire wasn't pretty, like where she grew up. She thought it was too grey and there wasn't enough art that she liked. Enya could see where she was coming from but there was such beauty in the castle. A multitude of carvings dotted the halls about the histories of the Sancted-Men and there was a hearth burning in every room in winter. Shields and weapons were hung from almost every wall and depictions of the Craftsmen drinking in heaven were rampant. As Enya and her tutor traversed the halls, she couldn't help but think it that it was pretty but in a different way.
"I'm the third-born daughter, what's the point of 'ladylike duties'?" Enya asked.
"You can never know when the world will call upon you to serve your people, Princess. I was tutored in my ways like you are. I had a lot of questions like you do. My own Mistress once told me, all things must change as all things must end." She smiled slightly and shook her head. "Or something of the like. I am too old to remember now. We can never predict what might happen, so we must remain vigilant. It is why many of these very lords and ladies attend. They are loyal to the king and would never betray him, so why would he call upon them?"
"Because they wish to be here for the celebrations?" Enya offered.
Mistress Haddaway shook her head again. They paused for a moment as the guardians in red and silver, the colours of the house, opened the colossal doors to the reception hall. The doors were made of a wood as white as milk with depictions of a kind of war carved into it. One image of a man impaled with a sword caught Enya's eye for a moment. "King Eamon needs to present himself as powerful so the West takes him seriously. If none of the people who are sworn to him attend, then Sanction and all its allies look divided. They are here if things change. Or end." The Princess and the Mistress continued their trek into the hall. Most of the nobility of Sanction kept a practical look, but there was much variation, for Sanction was a huge country.
"So I'm here if things change or end?" Enya asked.
"Let us pray to the Craftsmen they never change or end so much, the world can be a terrible place," said Mistress Haddaway.
"I like the think the world is a wonderful place," said Enya.
Mistress Haddaway smiled at her, but it wasn't happy.
The reception hall of the castle was filled with various lords and ladies from all around Sanction. There was much diversity amongst the nobility. Some retained the older styles of the original people of Sanction, but many foreigners had taken up residence in the last hundred years. They all looked so different to Enya, which meant she had nothing but the urge to learn about them.
Enya spotted a Duchess, Dyane lords, Yondeen lords and several priests all displaying their colours in an onslaught of silver, green, purple, red, black, blue and gold. Amongst the new, Enya recognised some familiar members of the court: Lady Dunes, Lady Sandstone, Lord Stormdaughter, Lady Brightwater and Lady Winterchild. They were a group of nobles who, for various reasons, always remained at Castle Ceremire. Enya's father had told her they mostly talked about things most of them didn't know anything about. Lady Arielle Sandstone waved at her though, so she smiled and waved back.
They approached their first lord, Lord Aaron Daunting of Lady's Mace. He was a gruff man with a long black beard and wearing full armour. Enya had met him once before and curtsied.
"Lord Daunting," she said in Eastern, which startled him slightly, but he bowed.
"Princess Enya," he said, speaking in somewhat awkward sounding Eastern. Sanction had two main languages which most knew: Sancted Tongue and Eastern. Enya had read that Eastern was their official language because of Heartstave's part in restoring the Dires to power. It was the official language, but many still held onto the old Sancted Tongue. Enya knew that her mother, being a foreigner to Sanction, knew only Eastern and occasionally had trouble when dealing with those who knew only Sancted Tongue. "You must forgive my Eastern; we don't talk it much back at home. You are very pretty. You look more like your mother than the last time I saw you." He took her hand and had to bend slightly to kiss it.
"Thank you my lord," said Enya, because she didn't know what else to say.
Lord Daunting released her hand and an awkward moment passed. Mistress Haddaway coughed loudly.
"How fairs your… daughter?" asked Enya.
"I have only sons, Princess."
"Oh, I-I'm sorry. How fair they?"
Lord Daunting had an amused look and while Enya couldn't see Mistress Haddaway's face, she could practically feel her eyes rolling.
"They've been doing well. Young Aaron is slightly younger than you and already thinks he's ready for war. Middle Aaron loves horse riding. Old Aaron is a bit of a fire starter. Can't stay still and do anything."
"Your sons are all named Aaron?" asked Enya.
"Of course, my brothers were all named Aaron as well."
"Is your wife named Aaron too?"
Mistress Haddaway groaned, but Lord Daunting laughed so loud it went over all the chatter in the hall.
"I like you. You're an honest girl," he said and Enya blushed deeply. "But no, she is named Beatrice. She gets to name any daughters we might have."
"A fair arrangement I guess. I suppose Lady Daunting is rather peed she hasn't had any daughters." I wonder if she'd name them all 'Beatrice'.
"Yes, she's determined not to have another son."
"I can see why. If you had another son what would you call him? Other Aaron? You've taken up their nicknames in relation to each other."
He laughed again. "I didn't remember you so witty last time I met you Princess."
"I think I was much younger. Only 5? I'm soon to be a woman now."
"I suppose you were. And you will be a woman soon." But he got that look adults had when they didn't take you seriously. "It was grand talking with you anyway Princess. I'm sure you have other lords and ladies to attend to." He took a bow.
"Yes, farewell Lord Daunting."
Enya waited until they were out of Lord Daunting's hearing before talking. "Did I do well?"
"Lord Daunting was certainly amused. You're not a conventional lady. At least you're happily less wild than Jaemine. You have a certain charm unlike either of your parents, perhaps the wit of your mother, but less professional?"
Enya wasn't sure if that was good, but she liked it. Maybe the court isn't always right about what's good.
She spotted Lady Grace performing one of her ballads with many admirers. She was a beautiful bard with slanted eyes and a delicate frame from Lonelady, a small island between the West and the East. She was singing at that moment in the Lonely Tongue, a language which sounded like Eastern. As one who spoke in Eastern, Enya knew they had very little similarity.
I would sing songs too, if I had the voice for it, she thought. She'd tried to get music lessons before, but it hadn't worked out very well. Jaine, one of her older sisters had been painfully honest about her abilities. Enya was a daughter of Vishtride, the Seal of the Bird, but amusingly had no skills in singing.
They reached Priest Carendil Cakeman, a servant of the Craftstry. He was dressed in his priestly garments; he was like the old Priest of the Craftsmen who had named her Seal when she was born. He was the new Priest for Red Raven. She curtsied at him.
"Priest Carendil," Enya said.
"Princess, I live to serve the crown and the Craftsmen," he said, bowing. "You are speaking with the guests?"
"Yes I'm here if things change or end."
Mistress Haddaway coughed loudly like she did before.
The Priest had an inquisitive look. "What things?"
"Oh, I don't really know. I'm sorry. I say silly things. I'm only 9."
Mistress Haddaway coughed. "You have quite an amusing mind Princess. Only moments ago you said that you're almost a woman."
Enya blushed and hadn't the ability to get any words out, a rare occurrence.
Mistress Haddaway coughed again.
Carendil gave her a concerned look now. "Mistress are you well? You seem to be coughing a lot."
"No. I'm done coughing now," she said innocently.
"Very well. I hope the day treats you both well."
But she coughed again, it seemed real now.
"I- cough –I think I- cough – could use some water." A nearby servant swiftly provided a goblet of water which Mistress Haddaway took a large swallow of.
"Mistress Haddaway, are you alright?" came Enya's squeaking voice.
"It's nothing, I'm just old- cough cough- and my useless- cough –body is wearing out," she said attempting to laugh at the end, but it only came out in more coughing. She took another drink of water but it all came out in a fit of coughing. In the spate of coughing she fell to her knees with the crack of old bones on stone, her thick matronly attire fanning out. The goblet slipped from her hand and rolled along the ground, covering the stone in water. The whole room shifted its attention to what was happening to the old woman. Lady Grace had stopped singing and was looking over in horror.
Priest Carendil kneeled beside her helplessly and Enya remained stuck to the same place she'd been standing, staring. Enya's insides felt like they were being grabbed by a gauntlet as her eyes met the horrified eyes of her tutor.
"Enya- cough –I need- cough cough- water!" she gasped out. Her face had turned red. Priest Carendil and the servants who'd rushed to her aid were trying to help her up, but the old woman only continued to cough more violently than before.
Mistress Haddaway's mouth hung open as if to say more but there was only more coughing. It lasted until that became a thin whistle of air barely escaping her throat. In the crowd of lords some called out advice, Lord Daunting cried, "Pick her up and give her a good shake!" Some other lord called, "Turn her over!" Red Dyes began praying to the Lady in Red. Carendil prayed to the Craftsmen. Mistress Haddaway had begun clawing at her neck, as if someone where strangling her. As she viciously attacked whatever she seemed to think was there, her hands gripped nothing but the flesh of her throat. Enya felt she'd never experienced terror like this moment in her life.
She saw blood but she couldn't stop looking. The entire room had gathered around to watch or attempt to help the old woman. Enya was numb for a moment, before she felt everything like the crash of waves on her skin. All things must change as all things must end, Enya remembered. Is this the change she warned me about?
In the end, despite the limited effort put up to prevent her death, Mistress Haddaway was gone. It was unsurprising for nobody cared much to save some old woman. No-one wept and Enya found herself still staring at the now completely blue face of her tutor. The crowd which had gathered around her began to dissipate and the servants immediately went about cleaning up the mess.
A cold breath tickled her ear as she heard whispers as quiet as falling leaves. "I told you I could help you with her," that boy, Eaon's voice told her, as if he was right beside her. But of course he'd left her long ago. "Mayre."