PART 1

Odd People and Places


Chapter 1


This might possibly be the worst day of my life.

Surrounded by strange people.

In a strange place.

May I go now?

"Oh, mighty wizard! You have saved us all!"

"I am no wizard. Please." Please leave me alone.

A child grabbed my hand, staring up at me with large almond eyes. "Thank you kindly for saving us."

"See here, I just did it because-"

"Father! She has red hair!"

"Indeed she does. Do you think…?"

"I do!"

"As do I!"

"She has magic too! She must be!"

"ALL HAIL THE DAUGHTER OF THE SUN!"

A woman knelt before me, clutching the end of my torn, disgusting dress. "Oh great wizard and daughter of the Sun, please let us take you to our king. Our kingdom needs your great wisdom and your protection."

Huh?

I blinked. What was happening here? "Look, I don't know who you think I am, but I'm just a carnival performer. It was but a trick."

"Come, get the daughter of the Sun a horse! We cannot allow her to walk on our dirty ground any longer!"

Did I speak? Or were these people just deaf?

"Find her some better clothes too! Those rags are not befitting of one of her magnificence."

Oh no this is much worse. I'm being ignored.

Great.

Maybe… I slowly took a few steps back. The tree line was less than fifty meters from me. If I could just- A strong hand clamped down on my shoulder, propelling me in the other direction. Ugh. Fine. Maybe I could use the horse to ride away-

"This way, your Grace. I apologize, but the only animal is an old mule." The man laughed, a very loud laugh that left my ears ringing. "That old beast probably couldn't run even if he wanted to."

Was the sky punishing me? Oh please, Lady Tielum, what did I do to deserve this!?

Strong hands picked me up and placed me on this ancient red mule. People surrounded the mule all smiling up at me.

Great, so many people. Jumping off and running would get me nowhere.

"See here, I told you. I am not what you believe I am! I am no wizard and I am not the daughter of the sun!"

"Hurry! We can reach the castle by sundown!"

And we were back to the ignoring again.

As the old animal began to plod along the ground, I sighed. Whatever. I could get away later.

My eyes roamed around, taking in the sights of this unfamiliar land. I had only seen it from the small windows of a wagon and the passing opening of a tent flap. Even when I left that place behind, I moved so quickly, I really saw nothing more than a blur.

Now I could see it all.

The trees, dripping with leaves of auburn, scarlet, and gold shuddered in the autumn breeze. The leaves, falling like warm handkerchiefs from a window, fluttered to the forest floor, covering up the black earth and sparse grass.

The sky, a soft blue, peaked through gray clouds.

Smelled like it would rain that night.

The trees went on for what seemed like forever. Thankfully the odd fox or stag made things at least slightly interesting. Until they passed out of the forest and into a small village.

And by small, I mean small.

There were only three houses. Big houses. But at least twenty people mingled about. Some went to and from the houses to the large gardens, others hovered over large cooking pots. Children beat out the laundry or played around the group of pallets and tents that dotted the space before a small stream. Across the stream spanned a bridge into a dark cave. People scurried in and out like ants, carrying rocks, shovels, pickaxes, and rations.

"Um, sir." I looked down at the burly man who held the reigns of the old mule. He turned, his black beard, swaying as he smiled. "What is this land?"

"The kingdom of Nauvuo." The man grinned, showing black-stained teeth. "This is our village, Forrshan. We are honored to have one such as you here in our humble land. I would have imagined that the daughter of Taoleil and the son of Yune to be found in one of the other kingdoms, but both of you are here, in our land! The sky must surely be smiling down on us."

Wait. That's what they meant! They thought I was…

They thought I was the daughter of the god of the sun, Taoleil.

I mean… I could take advantage of this. Life as a demigod could be quite comfortable and with my talents, I could… no. I have to get out of here! They are only a day away, and that is way too close.

I had to get out of here.

"Sir, while I am very flattered, you have the wrong person. I am no daughter of Taoleil, and I have no magic. I am a simple performer and what you saw was my craft."

"No need to be so modest."

"But sir!"

"The daughter of Taoleil has come to us!" A woman screeched, drawing the attention of the people of the village.

Great.

More people. They all crowded around me and the stupid mule, laughing and dancing. Children passed flowers over to me, giggling as I took them. Part of me wanted to throw the flowers away. Maybe that would teach them to listen to me. But… I didn't.

Those big eyes staring up at me. Curse the sweetness of children.

Well, now so many people surrounded me, I really couldn't leave. Slumped against the neck of the mule, I fiddled with a strand of my copper-colored hair, twisting it around my finger.

"Your Grace?"

Oh, the man with the black whiskers again. He'd passed the reigns off to some guard, but still walked beside me. "What's your name, sir?"

"Nuno, your Grace. Nuno Moreno. I run the forge in our little village."

"Nuno." Strange name. "Why did those bandits have you and these others captive?"

The blacksmith ran a hand through his greasy hair. "Well, they came into our village last night and carried off all the craftsman. Myself, the spinners and weavers, the cooks and farmers. Our kingdom is small, you see. We provide most of the supplies for the capital. Us and other small villages like us. I think they came from the kingdom across the river Ojige. The kingdom on the other side has been overlooking our land for generations."

"You mean Vasoleng?" I just came from there. It was a large kingdom, full of mountains and rocky crags. The people were very proud of their military, and were constantly at war, swallowing up smaller kingdoms in war before bringing them into their own.

Wait, didn't they have some young queen claiming to be the daughter of…

"Yes, Vasoleng. We're the small kingdom they want to gobble up next." Nuno grunted. "But the river acts as a wall for us, and we have never been anything except peaceful, so they have no cause to go to war over a small land like us. And we have our other neighboring kingdom watching."

People have gone to war over less.

The dancing and cheering around us became louder as we moved away from the village and closer to a walled city. I leaned against the mule again, trying to focus on the disgusting smell of dirt, mud, and sweat. Maybe it would be strong enough to make me pass out.

Then I could leave this nightmare.

But no.

The wall passed over us as we entered the city. People screaming 'The Daughter of the Sun' and 'The daughter of Taoleil has come', captured everyone's attention.

The small crowd soon became an entire city of people, cheering.

Honestly, any other time, I would have been so flattered and would have taken every opportunity to use this to every advantage I could.

I still might.

But right now, this was not the time. Maybe later though.

Nuno's arms grabbed me, pulling me off the mule. "Come your Grace! You must see the king!"

Curse my tiny, thin self! As hands pulled me up the stone steps of a castle, I lifted my eyes to the sky.

Tielum, Taoleil, Yune… please make it stop.

The sky vanished from sight as we entered the doorway.

I saw walls of cut stone, very poorly cut stone I might add, covered in tapestries, also poorly made. Just how poor was this kingdom? I glanced around at the people, really noticing for the first time how… dirty they all looked. I mean, I expected the miners, farmers, and workers to look like this, but…

The soldiers, the knights; their armor was tarnished and covered in mud. Not once reflecting the torchlight around them. The courtiers and nobility inside, they dressed just like the common folk, but with slightly brighter colors and more flamboyant hats.

At the end of the room, on a dais, sat two wooden thrones. The ornately carved wood looked so rough. Matching the faces of the older couple who sat on them. Rough and wrinkled.

But, beside them, dressed in clothes far cleaner and better than anyone else's, stood a boy.

He looked… like a white sheep in a herd of black sheep. Everyone around him had eyes of green or brown; his, red. Everyone around him had hair of brown, black, or gray; his, white. And his skin looked as white as chalk.

She'd seen this before…

The king stood up from his chair, studying the girl. "Do my eyes deceive me? Have you found her? The daughter of Taoleil?"

"Indeed we have, my lord!" Nuno called out. Would it kill him to talk softer though? "This girl used her magic to rescue us from the bandits who took us captive. She changed herself to be like their captain and fooled them into running away and leaving us behind. She even made an army with horses appear and frighten them!"

Seriously?

They thought I was some sort of changeling!?

"Astounding!" The king held out his hand, helping up his queen. "You must truly be Taoleil's daughter! I am Nichol Regulus and this is my queen, Rohesia. We are honored to have you here! Please, if you need something ask. No request is too great for someone like you!"

Hold on…

Maybe I could use this. Oh yeah, I could use this.

I straightened up slightly, despite my ragged appearance. "I guess my ruse is over. I could not hide it for long. My name is Eulalia, and I am the daughter of Taoleil. Thank you all so much for your kindness. I am sure that my father smiles down upon you."

Rohesia skittered over to the boy who stood by, silently, with a stupid-looking grin on his face. "Our pleasure, Eulalia your Grace. And may I introduce our son, Odovacar." She kissed the top of his head.

"We call him our son, but he is not really ours." Nichol smiled, chest puffing out with pride. "We found him as a child. And have the honor of calling him our own. But in fact, he is the son of Yune. The child of the moon goddess."

Uh no. He is an albino.

"A pleasure to meet you, Eulalia." He strode over, still wearing that stupid grin. "I guess this makes us divine cousins."

"I guess so."

Rohesia sighed, happily staring at the two. "Our kingdom. I cannot believe the sky decided to bless our tiny land with not one but both of her grandchildren! We must have her favor indeed!"

Or you're just confused.

I felt someone take my hand. I looked down and saw the prince holding it in his own.

No thanks!

I pulled away slowly. "Um, why did you do that?"

"Is this not what the sky brought us together for? For us to wed and together bring the light of the sky to the earth? For our children to be as stars among the darkness of the surface?"

Wed!?

Children!?

I would rather die.

"Well, I am not sure about that just yet. I just met you, and this is just moving so fast. And…" Oh how do I get out of this one? "well, I have been given a quest from my father. I am not allowed to tell you specifically what is happening, but it is of the utmost importance, and I must…"

"Oh, I understand."

Wow, this king is rude!

"Please stay with us for the night, Eulalia your grace, and we will help you with your quest."

The night? Well, it was better than sleeping on the ground. I looked around. These people looked kinda pathetic, honestly, and they obviously didn't have much, even for nobility.

Looking at the prince, his clothes probably were worth more than most of the castle but seeing as they think he's some sort of demigod, that isn't surprising.

Think they would give me some clothes that nice?

Speaking of the prince, Odovacar was still way too close. He stood with his shoulder nearly touching mine. Great…

"Um, cousin, please step back."

"Oh, my apologies, Eulalia." He took a single step away. "You do not mind me calling you by your name, do you? If you wish, you may call me Odovacar."

What a strange boy.

The prince turned to his mother and father. "May I take her to the tower room?"

"Of course!"

Tower room?

The prince grabbed my hand and dragged me out of the throne room. "This way! There is a room in the top of the castle. It will be perfect!"

"Perfect for what?"

"Well, you are a wizard, so of course. The tower is the best place for you to meditate."

Meditate. Oh, good. For a minute there…

I groaned. Honestly, if he'd said something romantic, I would probably be in prison by morning for the murder of the crown prince.

Odovacar dragged me up a winding flight of stairs, lit only by the occasional torch. If the stairs wen the other way, I'd be worried about going into some sort of dungeon.

But was a tower any better?

When the prince threw open the door to reveal a round room with a small table and chair. A bed just the right size for a single person. It was about as fancy as anything else in this kingdom.

"Thank you, Odovacar." Maybe I wouldn't have to wait. I could slip out after the castle fell asleep. Looking around the room as I stepped inside, there was a few things too that I might be able to filch too.

Running away isn't cheap you know.

"And don't worry…"

Oh, you're still here.

"I'll make certain you aren't disturbed. The door will be locked and guards will be posted at the bottom of the tower."

What!?

But…

I…

Oh! I wanted to throw the prince out that tiny window! He looked so stupidly proud of himself! If he'd been a dog, his tail would be wagging now.

"And since I imagine that you are tired, I'll have a servant send your meal up. And some ladies will be here to prepare you a bath and some new clothes as well!"

Fantastic.

Whatever, waiting till morning will have to do.

"Thank you, Odd."

"It's Odovacar."

Oh, I know. But my name is better.

"My apologies." The prince smiled, closing the door. But, as the door closed, I thought I saw his smile vanish. Maybe it was my imagination.

Throwing myself onto the bed, I stared out the thin window. The sun casting red light around the room as twilight fell over the kingdom. Locked up again.

This really was the worst day of my life.