Fear of Fire and Shadow – Samantha Young, S. Young

When I was a child, the world smelled of summer. The heady perfume of dancing wildflowers hugged my senses as the breeze took them on a journey to soothe my cheeks from the heat of the afternoon sun. The scent of damp soil when the sun had pushed the sky too far and it wept rain for days before wearily turning the world back over to its golden companion. The refreshing aroma of lemons in the thick air of the house mingled with my mother’s baking as she prepared our afternoon repast of bitter lemonade and thick warm bread, slathered with creamy butter made cold from the sheltering shade of the larder. And my father’s pipe. The sweet odor of tobacco tickling my nose as Father held me close and whispered the stories of our Salvation and the mighty kral who lived in the grandest palace in all the land with his beautiful daughter, the princezna, how kind and gentle they were—and the reason my private world was one of innocence and endless summer. My memories of that life never leave me. I can still hear my brother’s laughter carrying back to my young, happy ears as we chased through the fields of purple and gold, racing over the farm to the brook that ran behind our land. I remember the gentle trickle of that stream and how it drew us each day, my brother sprinting for the rope swing he had looped around the strongest tree, the one with the trunk that seemed to bend toward the water as if thirsty for a taste of its pure relief. I was drawn to its coolness on my skin, its moisture in my dry mouth, its familiar smell … like damp metal and wet grass. Sometimes I hear my mother calling our names in my dreams. There was no warning to summer’s end. It began like any other day. I stretched alongside my brother beneath the shadow of an oak by the brook’s edge, my young voice barely heard above the babbling water as I recounted the story my father had told me over and over. I could hear Father’s rich voice in my head, had memorized every word, and as I recited it, I remembered to speak in the hushed, awed tones he used to make a story sound as magical as this one really was.

“Eons and eons ago, our people were the most blessed of mankind. Powerful and beautiful, we could tap into Mother Nature and draw from her powers. Magical beings, spiritual and wondrous to behold. But mankind grew envious of us, and wise as we were, we knew mankind, with so many wars already brewing among its people, could not withstand a war with us. Our wisest leaders persuaded us it was time to fade from mankind’s Earth, to fade as one into a world of our own. “We withdrew and imagined a paradise. Mankind melted around us as we fell deep, deep into the fade. When our people awakened, we found ourselves here, in a newborn land—a sky, a moon, a sun, trees, plants, water, and familiar animals awaiting them, waiting to begin the new world in peace. “Fearful of our emotions betraying us as they had mankind, it was decided that the Dyzvati, a clan of magical evokers with the ability to lull the people and the land with peace, would reign as the royal family. The Dyzvati named our land Phaedra, splitting it into six provinces, giving a province to the clans with the most powerful magic.

Sabithia, in the south, was taken by the Dyzvati, and they built a beautiful palace in the capital city of Silvera where the shores of the Silver Sea edge its coast with its vibrant silver surf. “Clan Glava, the largest and most powerful of the mage with their many psychic abilities, whether it be reading the past, present, or future, or moving objects and summoning elements with their minds, was given Javinia to the east of Sabithia and also Daeronia in the northeast.” I turned my head to smile at my brother who stared at me, enraptured. “And our own slice of haven, Vasterya, was given to the Clan Azyl, mage with the ability to seek whatever their hearts desired. Eventually, the Azyl became servants of the Dyzvati, using their abilities to seek whatever the royal family wished, helping the upkeep of the peace in Phaedra. “Many centuries onward and the Azyl’s magic evolved with their position, no longer able to seek that which they wished for themselves, only what others wanted.” My brother frowned. “That’s a little unfair.” I nodded in agreement before continuing, “The province of Daeronia, beyond the northern borders of Sabithia, was given to Clan Dravilec, the healers, to keep them close to the Dyzvati.” I thought on how much of a fairy tale this sounded now, a millennium on from the beginning of Phaedra.

“Now there are so few mages left. Papa says there are none left in Vasterya at all. And now only the kral and Princezna Haydyn remain of the Dyzvati.” “What about Alvernia?” my brother asked in a hushed voice. I shuddered at the thought of Alvernia; the stories I’d heard of the rough, uncivilized northern mountain people, terrifying tales of their macabre misdeeds and ignoble existence, all because the power of the Dyzvati waned toward the middle of their province. “Alvernia was given to those of middling magical abilities. Several of the Glava went with them, as there were so many, and set themselves up in the southernmost point in the city of Arrana.” “Where the vojvoda lives?” “Yes, where the vojvoda lives.” “I wish I was a vojvoda. Or a markiza.

Or a vikomt!” he cried excitedly, pushing himself into a sitting position. “I’d have horses. Lots of horses. And gold! We could play treasure hunt!” I laughed and nudged him playfully. “All those titles and you didn’t choose the best.” “What?” He pouted. I stood, bracing my small hands against my youthful hips, legs astride, chin defiant. “Why … kral, of course!” “Yeah!” He jumped to his feet now, mimicking my stance. “I am Kral of Vasterya!” “And me?” “My servant.” I growled in outrage.

“Servant indeed.” I still remember the sounds of his beautiful laughter as I chased him for his teasing. At the grumbling of our bellies, my brother and I reluctantly ceased playing and walked home. I held his hand as we wove through the fields. I remember the gust of wind that shook the gold and purple and blew my hair back from my face, sending shivers of warning down my spine. My feet moved faster then, and I tugged on my brother’s hand each time my heart beat a little quicker. I can still see the expression on my father’s face when we appeared out of the fields, his countenance pale and slack, his eyes bleak. My mother clung to his arm, her eyes as glassy as my favorite doll’s. At the sound of a horse’s nicker, I turned to see strangers outside our home. Four men, all dressed in livery that matched those of their horses.

My eyes were drawn to the emerald-and-silver heraldic badges with the silver dove crest in the middle. Our symbol of peace. They were from the palace. Fear gripped me and I had no understanding of why. I trembled so hard, I thought I must be shaking the very ground beneath my feet. Instinctively, I pushed my brother behind me, out of the view of the men looming ominously over our parents. One of them descended from his beast. I realized he did not wear the livery. He alone came toward me like a serpent slithering on the ground, his purple cloak hissing in the breeze. His eyes were the deepest black and probing, so fixated on me I quivered in violation as if he had actually touched me.

“This is the one.” “You’re sure?” asked the soldier who towered over my parents. The serpent smiled, ready to strike his killing blow. “She is the one.” “No!” my father bellowed as my mother whimpered at his side. “Run, Rogan! Run!” But I was frozen in place by their panic, an ice sculpture who watched two soldiers hold my father as he struggled in their arms, and a third pull a dagger from his belt and plunge it into his heart. My father twitched and stiffened in their hold, a horrifying gurgling noise making its way up from his chest to spurt a thick, bloody fluid out of his mouth and down his chin. My mother’s screams played the soundtrack to this memory before the daggerwielding soldier strolled toward her crumpled figure, his black-gloved fingers stroking over her hair. They slid like leeches down to her throat and back up to her cheeks. And then he twisted her head between his hands with a jerk that sent an echoing crack around my world.

That’s when I felt the tug on my hand and remembered my brother. With a thousand screams stuck in my throat, I whirled with him and began to run, dragging him with me into the cover of the fields, my father’s last shouts reverberating in my ears. I drowned out the sounds of my shallow, panicked breaths, the hiccupping cries of my brother as I hauled him with me. The hollering and thundering behind us made me race faster. When the thundering eased, I knew I had lost them in the fields. We were small and knew the land as well as we knew each tiny scar and line upon our palms. I headed east, picking up my brother when he tripped, shushing him when I was no longer sure we were alone. At last we reached the cave my father had punished us for hiding in only a year before. Bears, he had warned. But now I feared the soldiers from the palace more than the bears, the soldiers who wanted me and why, I did not know.

They had slaughtered my parents to have me. Would they murder me too? My brother? At the thought, I burrowed him against me in the dank cave and his tears soaked my dress. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. I wanted to tell him he need not apologize for crying, for grieving, but I feared if I spoke, all my screams would burst forth with terrifying consequences. “I didn’t mean to.” At that, I pressed him back until a shaft of light filtered over his face. He looked so lost, my heart broke again. He clutched his trousers, turning from me, and it was then the smell hit my nostrils. I began to cry. I did not want him to be ashamed of his fear.

He was so little. “It’s okay,” I whispered and made to reach for him, but his shirt slipped through my hands as he was whipped out of sight. I must have yelled, I think, as I stumbled blindly after him into a day that had suddenly turned gray, a day that had once blazed in a beautiful fire of heat and life. Now it was gone. And as my eyes found my brother, I realized even the last sparks of the embers had been snuffed out, leaving only the fire’s funeral shroud of smoke. His small body laid at the mouth of the cave. The dagger edged in blood from his throat slipped back into its place on a soldier’s belt. The serpent stepped over my brother’s body and knelt before me. “Say goodbye to your family, Rogan. A new one awaits you.

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