Updated: Oct 28, 2019
“Thieves! Stop where you are!" Standing before them, with a great sword at the ready, was a woman in plate armor molded perfectly to her feminine form. She had flawless porcelain skin and blonde, braided hair that laid over her left shoulder with the most vibrant blue eyes Sandriel had ever seen. She took one step forward before saying, “What have you done with Nana Addison?”
Even though she was shaken with fear, Lauriel jumped from the bed standing protectively in front of her weakened sister. Behind her, Sandriel replied, “We…we’ve stolen nothing.”
“Lies. Do you take me for a fool?” she asked as she stepped further into the cottage. The woman took in the room with her intent gaze, scrutinizing the two girls and their surroundings.
Lauriel began frantically gesturing with her hands, trying to explain.
“What is this frivol? A bird? Fire? I haven’t the time for your childish game of charades,” said the woman.
As the frustration showed on Lauriel’s face, Sandriel took her sister’s hand. Instantly feeling stronger herself, Sandriel steeled her resolve releasing her sister’s hand.
“Please wait,” she said to the woman before looking her sister in the eye and saying, “Lauriel, its okay. Take your time.” Sandriel watched as her sister took a breath and returned to her hand gestures to continue her story. Feeling confident in her sister’s explanation, Sandriel turned to the woman and explained, “She is saying a bird led her here. She thought it safe and since the door was unlocked she brought me in and made a fire. No one else has been here except for a black cat with a white spot on his belly and three white paws. She thought it odd, but hasn’t seen the cat since. She’s cared for me for three days and used nothing from the cottage except kindling and a pot to cook some soup in.” Sandriel turned to her sister with concern on her face and said, “Three days? I have been asleep for three days? Are you okay Laurie? I’m so sorry. You must have been worried sick.”
“Enough. Even if that is all true you are still trespassers in this home,” said the woman.
Another woman that Sandriel had not noticed before stepped into the cottage with grace. This woman looked younger than the first one, but had the same vibrant blue eyes and blonde hair, except hers was curled and fell freely across her shoulders. She wore no armor, but walked confidently as if nothing could harm her. Instead of a weapon Sandriel could only see a small leather bound book that hung at her side. With her right hand, she made a fist in front of her face that became engulfed in a golden energy. Lowering the fist to her side, the girls watched as the sword in the other woman’s grasp was forced down to rest. In a blithe and condescending voice she said, “Really Helena, they are just children. Drop your weapon. If you must, take them, but threatening children really is beneath you.” Softening her features from the stern face she’d given the other woman she smiled and said, “Girls, it really isn’t proper to stay where one isn’t invited.” Stepping closer to the two young sisters she winked and in a calming voice asked, “Now you said there was a cat with three white paws and a white spot on his belly. Was the forth paw his front right and was it grey?”
Lauriel nodded her head.
Under her breath the woman said to herself, “What was Aeris doing here? I’ll have a chat with him later.” Gathering herself the woman said, “Obviously you can’t stay here alone. It wouldn’t be proper. This home does not belong to you.”
“But… Where will we go?” asked Sandriel.
“I think a better question is where have you been? Why are you here in the first place? What are your names and where are your parents?” asked Helena from behind the other woman.
Sandriel left the bed and took a step forward. She said, “My name is Sandriel and this is my sister Lauriel. We were being chased in the woods and a satyr helped us get away.”
The second woman turned sharply, “Cristianos? How do you know him?”
“He is our friend and he protected us from the bad men that were chasing us,” replied Sandriel.
“What bad men? Why are they chasing you? What have you done?” asked Helena in a harsh voice.
“Really Helena, who raised you, a rabid boar?” said the woman as she turned to the sisters. “Girls, my name is Jacynta. The ever so lovely one over there is Helena. You have to excuse the brash exchange, she is the Norris-Hill Captain of the guard. She is not accustomed to polite conversation, she only knows how to interrogate.”
Sandriel looked from woman to woman before a tear fell from her left eye. She stepped back to her sister before dropping her head and speaking barely above a whisper. “Lauriel is all that I have. I have to protect her. We’ve travelled so far and I don’t know where were are anymore. Cristianos said to come here. Where is he? We just have to find Nilrem. Papa said he would help us.”
Jacynta’s calm expression faltered and with a quick inhale exclaimed, “Nilrem! What do you know of the Wizard Commander?”
“Nothing. His name was the last thing papa said to us before he died. He said that Nilrem would help us. Do you know him?” Taking a tentative step forward, Sandriel’s eyes brightened slightly as she asked hopefully, “Can you take us to him?”
Helena looked to Jacynta before replying, “We can not do that because the Wizard Commander is dead.”
Sandriel was devastated at the information the women had just given her. The wizard was dead. He was the only person their papa told them to trust. She was afraid of what these women would do. She began to shake as her sister Lauriel grabbed her arm and pulled her into a hug. I don’t know what else to do, thought Sandriel. I’m so tired, where will we go from here? Will these women even let us leave? They think us thieves. I just want to go home, but with papa gone, where is home now? Cristianos would know better. Where is he? Sandriel felt like the weight of the world was on her tiny shoulders. She knew she should be strong for her sister but was too overwhelmed. In that moment she did the only thing she could.…cry.
“Helena, look what you did,” said Jacynta. “It will be okay. I was Nilrem’s apprentice. Maybe I can help you.” Walking slowly towards them she muttered an incantation under her breath and touched both girls on the shoulder. A gentle wave of warm energy washed over them and the girls relaxed. The girls released their hug, but remained holding hands and turned to face Jacynta.
“What did you do?” asked Sandriel.
“You seemed very overwhelmed so I did a simple enchantment to calm your emotions. I hope you don’t think it too forward of me. I believe that you are not thieves and there is more to this story. Now, why did your father tell you to search for Nilrem?”
Sandriel smiled at the display of magic wiping her eyes and she shrugged.
“Wait one moment. Their father is dead. They are being chased. The Satyr, Cristianos, protected them through the Devonshire Woods and they are searching for your dead mentor. These are not coincidences. What is the bigger picture here? What is the bigger picture here!” said Helena. “We need to take them to the Majestrix and see what her orders are.”
“Maybe you are right. Norris-Hill is usually quiet other than the occasional bar fight or civil dispute. What is really going on?” asked Jacynta.
Helena stepped forward to address Jacynta. Now that both women were closer Sandriel could see the resemblance. Are they sisters like me and Lauriel? she thought. Sandriel watched the women closely as they stared into each others eyes, as if having a conversation, but they never spoke a word. She watched the intensity of their facial expressions without uttering a sound and wondered what was happening, but she and Lauriel remained silent and waited to be addressed by either woman.
From outside the open door a voice came, “Who is there? Who is in my home? Come out now and I will not harm you.”
An elderly woman appeared in the doorway. She wore a simple brown dress and cloak. Her gray hair was pulled into a bun and adorned with little leaf shaped trinkets. She held a wooden walking stick that was longer than she was tall but walked confidently into the home. Even with the previous threat her eyes showed compassion.
“Helena? Jacynta? What is going on here girls?” she asked.
“Oh, Nana. You’ve returned. There were rumors of someone here while you were away and we found these two,” Helena said, pointing towards the twins.
The old woman looked into the home where the two little sisters were standing. “My word. Are you okay dears? What would make you break into my home?” she asked.
“We are sorry ma’am. We just needed a place to stay,” replied Sandriel as another tear trailed down her cheek.
“Oh, my. You poor thing,” said Nana Addison. “What are you going to do with them?”
“We need to take them to the Majestrix,” said Helena.
“Do we? Someone is obviously after them. We need to find out who and why. No one knows they are here. This may be the safest place for them,” replied Jacynta.
“We need to follow protocol,” said Helena.
Jacynta rolled her eyes and said, “Helena, think. Nana will feed them and they can rest peacefully for the night." Lowering her voice, she whispered, “We need to look into this story and all that is happening around us.”
“Jacynta you really have a way of getting on my nerves. There are rules. You may find ways to bend them, but they are still in place. We must still take this to the Majestrix. If they agree to release the girls into Nana’s custody, then I will concede to her will and escort the girls back myself,” said Helena. Turning to Sandriel, she said, “I know every inch of this city, I grew up in Norris-Hill, my family founded it. If there is something happening here I will find out. I may be harsh, but that is because I am doing my job to ensure the safety of the city. The last thing I want is harm to come your way. Do you understand?”
Nodding, both girls remained quiet.
Jacynta turned to the girls and said, “See, she really is a softy sometimes.” She placed her hands together and turned to older woman, “Nana, I know this is a lot to ask, but could you keep the girls safe for the night? We need to look into their story and search for who is after them.”
“Of course dear. No one will harm them under my watch,” replied Nana.
“Jacynta!” said Helena sternly. “We still have rules.”
“Helena, much to your chagrin, I do know the rules. We don’t know who is pursuing them or why, but we are duty bound to find out and protect the innocent.”
Conceding, Helena sheathed her sword and begrudgingly replied, “You are right Jacynta. There is much we do not know and this may be the best place for them now, however that does not change the fact that we should notify the Majestrix.”
“We will,” replied Jacynta to Helena before looking directly at the young girls and saying, “It is settled. For now, you will stay here with Nana, but I will need you to be on your best behavior. I will have more questions for you and I am sure Helena will want to bully you some more. Honey Badgers may snap, but only in defense of their nests.”
Seeing the exhausted children, Nana ushered Sandriel back to bed insisting her sister join her. She tucked them both in before walking over to Helena and Jacynta. Sandriel watched as the women discussed their return. She could not help but let a sigh of relief escape. Lying next to her sister, she felt safe for the first time in a while. Nana seemed nice and these two women were strong and powerful. She held Lauriel tighter before she became drowsy. Just before sleep took her again she thought, Can we finally relax? Maybe things will work out now.