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The Land of Caern - Mornin' Time (Chapter One)

Patrick Holyfield (Gurney9999
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A strong wind whipped up as Sarah stepped out onto the battlements. It almost pushed her back through the door, eliciting a giggle from the eleven year-old princess. The gust was a prelude to the storm that was surely to follow; Sarah hoped it marked the coming of winter to the province of Yew. It was much colder on the battlements than it had been inside the castle, but to the young princess it could not have been more comfortable. She really didn't understand it, but temperature fluctuations never had much effect on her. This ability continually amazed her father, Prince Ren Perti of Yew. Prince Ren would walk around the castle in multiple layers of wool and deerskin, still shivering from the cold, and in would walk Sarah with nothing more than a silk robe covering her lithe shoulders.

As she moved forward, Sarah attempted to locate her father through the shadows of predawn. When she spotted her father and one of her brothers silhouetted against the edge of a parapet, trivial facts such as the wind quickly left her thoughts. Sarah ran and jumped into her father's arms; thus began the daily ritual her mother had so often referred to as "mornin' time."

Sarah laughed as her father lifted her high in the air. She grabbed her father around the neck and kissed his right cheek, making as loud a noise as possible. Sarah heard her brother sigh heavily as her father lightly lowered her back to the ground.

She looked over to see her brother rolling his eyes. "Sarah, your father is the royal prince of Yew. Will you ever learn how to show more respect?"

She stuck her tongue out at her brother. "Oh, grow up, Allann!"

Adolescent anger twisted Allan's features into less than a perfect picture of royalty. "ME! Grow up!? I'm three and a half years older than you, and besides, you're the one who is acting like a child-"

"Enough." It was all Prince Ren had to say to silence the two children. The prince of Yew understood full well that the quibbling between his children was a necessary part of childhood, but his patience was less than monumental at this time of the morning. And over the last six years - without a wife to help rear the children - the prince had discovered the exact intonation of voice that brought an end to any argument among his offspring.

The silence did not dampen the elf-like smile on Sarah's face. After a moment she smirked up at her brother. "Very well, brother�" she turned to her father, feigned an air of pure dignity (diluted only by the smile she couldn't keep off her face). "Greetings, oh 'Second of the Imperial Majesty,' oh 'Viscount of the Solstice Valley,' 'Duke of the White Plains,' 'Speaker of the House of Lords' etcetera, etcetera, etcetera�" she bowed and waved her hands at every 'etcetera', intimating the many other titles her father had; "and how are we today?"

Ren could not help but laugh at his daughter's jesting. He grabbed her again in a bear hug and bowed deeply. "I am just fine, my darlin' child. And I do believe you have been listening to the court attendants way too closely. But I am glad to see that you're wide awake this mornin'."

Sarah looked past her father at the growing light that marked the sun's approach to the horizon. "But Daddy, it's not mornin' yet."

Prince Ren looked over the battlements with his daughter and the younger of his two sons. The castle of Prince Ren's family overlooked a wide chasm with Mount Solstice on the one side and a great many of the White Mountains on the other. Castle Pen was on the third plateau of Mount Solstice, some three thousand feet above the plains to the west. The sunrise as viewed from Mount Solstice was considered to be on of the wonders of the natural world; it was a tradition for Ren and his children to watch the sunrise and spend the early morning hours together. This practice provided them quality time that the prince's busy schedule would not have otherwise allowed.

This "mornin' time" was the perfect idea, but Ren could not take credit for it. The tradition had begun as a last wish of Ren's late wife, Sela. Ren had found scant use in watching the sunrise, but Sela had spent every morning of their twelve years of marriage on the very battlement where Ren and his children now stood. At her request, Ren began forcing his children to come with him to witness each morning's sunrise. Now, six years later, it was an event that was not missed without good reason.

The prince looked down at Allann. "Where is Arrinn?"

Allann shrugged. "I don't know, sir. I banged on his door as I came up, as I always do."

Sarah snorted in the direction of the castle interior. "He thinks he's too old for this."

Ren turned his head and stared into his daughter's blue eyes, rarities for any inhabitant of Yew - much more so for a member of Yew's royal family. "Well, I do believe that you have just enough time to teach him that no one in our family is too old to miss the family sunrise!" Prince Ren lowered his daughter to the ground and she began hopping up and down in excitement.

"Do you mean it?"

Allann chimed in. "Aw, come on Dad, let me wake him this time."

"No, my lad. It's Sarah's turn." He pointed in the direction of the door from which Sarah had exited the castle's interior. "Now hurry!" Sarah turned and ran towards the door. "And for Iberian's sake get somethin' warm on!"

Oblivious to her father's last command, Sarah ran back into Castle Pen. The path that led to her eldest brother's room was a relatively short one, much shorter than the one that wound its way to her own quarters. This was due to a shortcut through the throne hall, through a secret door at the back of the dais where his grandfather's throne sat. It was not the way she would normally go to his room, but time was of the essence.

Sarah slowed her pace when she approached the throne hall. Even at her age (and contrary to her brother's opinion), she fully comprehended the prestige and tradition that was ingrained in the grand room. Castle Pen was over two hundred and fifty years old and had been home to some of the greatest leaders in the history of Sarah's world.

Two guards scrambled to attention when she entered the hall. Sarah smiled at them both� Erron and Brey, I believe�Sarah enjoyed learning everyone's name that worked in the castle. By the smiles on their faces it was apparent that the guards enjoyed the "little princess" as well.

As she approached the dais of the Hall, Sarah found herself wanting to sit on her father's throne, which was directly to the left of the King's throne. Sarah restrained herself, knowing she had to hurry. She also had to restrain herself from sticking out her tongue at the throne that sat to the right of the king, the smaller yet more ornate chair that belonged to her uncle, Prince Erzon. Erzon may have been the next in line to be the next king of Yew, but Sarah didn't like her uncle in the least.

That was a popular sentiment of the inhabitants in the castle, and for much of Yew as well. And the opinion of Yew of their future king was hurt even more because of the love most in the land had for Prince Renoir Perti, Erzon's younger brother. Erzon showed no jealousy or spite towards his brother because of this. At an early age Erzon saw that his younger brother would always be more popular than himself. Ren had the ability to make friends in an instant; he was a skilled communicator and truly cared about everyone around him. Erzon on the other hand was a tactician, a warrior, and had a harsh nature that grated almost everyone the wrong way. But the two brothers accepted each other for what they were, and Erzon knew from the beginning that he would one day be king, and if Ren wanted to be the favorite of the people, so be it. It would be less for him to worry about.

At her age, all Sarah knew was that her uncle never smiled and that he never had a kind word to say to her; maybe because of this she also thought her father would make a much better king.

Sarah glided across the dais and found the crack in the curtains that hung at the back of the platform. Sarah knew the guards would wonder where she had gone when she didn't reappear in a few moments, but she also knew that the location of the secret door was not in jeopardy of being discovered by the guards, even if they had immediately followed her to the curtain. Nimble fingers located the hidden lintel of the door with ease, and soon Sarah stood in the hallway beyond the secret door.

Sarah tiptoed along the carpet, moving slowly until she had reached a guard who was fast asleep in his chair. The guard would have certainly been surprised to see the young princess emerge from the north end of the hallway; this had been his watch for over five years and in that time he had not learned of the secret door at that end of the hall. The guard used the butt-end of his pike under his chin as a prop, keeping his head from falling against his chest.

Sarah waved her hand in front of the guard's face, careful not to make any contact. She didn't want to disrupt his precarious balance, especially since it hadn't yet reached dawn. Yenti was a constant presence in this area of the castle, even though he didn't perform much of a service. Ah, Yenti, I'm so glad you're here to protect us. Sarah giggled at the thought of her obese "protector" doing anything more active than eating a large meal. The princess hopped over Yenti's pike and headed silently towards her brother's room.

The handle of the door to her brother's room moved but did not open. Sarah crinkled her nose and sighed out loud. That's strange�he doesn't lock his door at night. Sarah drew out a small pouch from underneath her robe and looked down at it. As the daughter of Prince Ren Sarah had been instructed in many areas that most young ladies would never have an opportunity to touch upon. Her small fingers lent themselves especially to the arts of thievery; having an Aarronic Advisor and a castellan that had been a high-ranking member of the Arien Thieves Guild didn't hurt either. Sarah didn't go anywhere without her tools; she reveled in the art of practical jokes, and a locked door posed little problem for the young princess of Yew.

Sarah pulled out two four-inch metallic rods from the pouch. She leaned down to the keyhole and began working on the lock. A moment later she froze, staring at her brother's door. Oh my� it seems my brother truly does not want to see the sunrise this morning. Hands trembling, Sarah pulled the rods from the lock. I can't believe he set the traps on the door!

The princess sat down on the floor, checking to make sure her actions had not wakened Yenti - fully realizing that she had almost set off a poison cloud that most likely would have made Yenti's nap an eternal one - and soon remembered that nothing short of a slamming door would have disturbed the snoring guard. I should go tell Papa.

Caution turned to anger the longer Sarah thought about it, however. Arrinn knows that those traps are only supposed to be used if the castle is under direct attack and an enemy has breached its walls - an unlikely occurrence at best. He is in so much trouble. Sarah knew that is was only because she had helped the castellan and Aarronic Advisor Drona Twoblade set up the trap systems that she and Yenti were still alive. Yenti snorted twice loudly; Sarah waited until he settled into a more normal breathing pattern before she moved again. I'm really going to have to teach Arrinn a lesson now.

Sarah Perti may have only been eleven years old, but there was little doubt that she exhibited wisdom "beyond her years." On the day of her birth several members of the Priests of Caern arrived at the castle demanding to see the daughter of Renoir and Sela Perti. The fact that a daughter had been born had not been announced, so King Desthra Perti was intrigued by their presence. It was only after the clerics were in the same room as the baby that High Priest Cyrus Pazar, the acknowledged leader of the religious sect, allowed it to be known he was present. Once he saw Sarah's blue eyes he declared that Sarah was the culmination of a prophecy that had been made by Iberian himself almost 500 years before. The fact that no one outside of the sect had ever heard of such a prophecy made no difference to Pazar.

The priests refused to answer any questions on the prophecy itself, leaving Castle Pen immediately after making the declaration. They would only state that Sarah possessed a "very old soul." A year later a member of the Priest of Caern, High Priest Astika Tailir, had become a permanent guest at King Desthra's court. Over the last ten years Tailir had become on of the king's closest companions, much to the dismay of Drona Twoblade, King Desthra's Aarronic Advisor. Many felt that the "prophecy" was just a means for the religious sect to gain more power in the region.

In the years that followed Sarah continued to make people question their views on what a child can accomplish. She began speaking in coherent sentences before her first birthday; she had memorized the holy works of Iberian by the age of four, much to the delight of the Priests of Caern. An attempt was made to kidnap Sarah when she was six; she thwarted the attempt herself by escaping through a secret passage through the back of her living quarters. She then doubled back and locked the passageway behind the kidnappers, thus capturing them. They took their own lives before they could be questioned. The attempt occurred during the festival of Wencis, which marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of Arrbane Yew, the founder of the province. Because of the number of people at the festival there was no way to tie the attempt to any particular faction; it could not even be discerned if the attack was political or religious in nature.

Sarah also showed maturity beyond her years after the death of her mother, Sela. She understood that her father was second in line to the King and that he was responsible for his father's castle and the surrounding lands of the Solstice Valley. At the tender age of nine she began performing some of her mother's duties including taking part in the management of the castle staff. At first the prince thought it was cute; it was only a short time before Prince Ren began to receive reports that his daughter was actually performing the duties of the castle matriarch, not just pretending to do so.

Sarah scoffed at the idea of being extraordinary, and especially at the idea that she was some sort of "holy child". To ensure that she would not receive any deferential treatment, she developed a precociousness that rivaled anyone in the Land. Her mind was always developing new tricks to play on her brothers or Gray, Prince Erzon's only son, but the brunt of her attacks always fell on the capable shoulders of Sir Arames Kragen, the Aarronic Advisor to Prince Ren.

The War of the Fields, also known as the Menokrat, took place some 250 years prior to the birth of Sarah Perti. The provinces of Yew, Grozh and Gwynnyd fought a costly border war for almost eight years over a trade route that crossed all three borders in central Caern. At the climax of the war a former paladin/war-general named Thorn Twoblade led an army of almost 2,000 followers into the fray. Thorn had retired from the Knights of Caern and had turned to a monastic life, living in the remains of the commune that the religious leader Iberian had founded 200 years before. His vision and leadership drew many warriors, philosophers, and religious pacifists to him, and they rode by his side in an attempt to stop the continuing war.

Through several diplomatic moves Thorn made it very clear that he supported the cause of none of the participants of the war, and that he would use his army to bolster whichever side was weakest; if that army became too strong than he would turn his support to whichever army appeared the weakest. While the leaders of the three provinces knew that Thorn's army was not strong enough to win the war outright, they realized his plan could prolong the war long enough that no one would profit from continuing the action. After three days of negotiations Thorn helped bring about the Treaty of Alendus.

One of the positive results of this war was the creation of the order known as the Aarronic Advisors. Thorn Twoblade himself trained the first Aarronic Advisors, named for King Aarron of Yew. At first only the rulers of the three provinces had Aarronic Advisors at their court; over time however many leaders made requests of Thorn's Way for Advisors. After 250 years almost every government leader in Caern had an Aarronic Advisor in his or her employ.

Arames Kragen was the 19th such Aarronic Advisor assigned to the royal family of Yew. His responsibilities included being the personal advisor of Prince Renoir Perti, Sarah's father, and being one of the primary instructors for Ren's three children. Arames was supposed to be the Advisor for Erzon Perti, the elder son of Desthra Perti. Erzon however had a problem with Arames's age: he did not feel that wisdom could be offered by someone younger than himself. Desthra asked Arames to become Ren's advisor, and asked his own Advisor Drona Twoblade to split his time between the king and Erzon.

Arames had been Ren's Advisor for three years before Sarah was born. One of his primary duties was to educate the children of both Ren and Erzon. This included Prince Arrinn, Prince

Allann, and Princess Sarah; this also included Prince Gray, the only son of Erzon. Arames relished the opportunity to be with the children and help raise them; as an Aarronic Advisor Arames understood he would never have the opportunity to have children of his own.

Arames grew to love all of the Perti children, but none more so than the princess. He was present at the time of her birth, and witnessed the various signs that Sarah was indeed a special soul. Arames was a devout follower of Iberian's teachings, even though he did not allow himself to be guided by the order known as the Priests of Caern. But the possible holy signs around Sarah's birth were not the reason for Arames's love for Sarah. Prince Ren named Arames as Sarah's godfather, and second only to his duties as Aarronic Advisor was the pleasure Arames took in this position.

As previously stated Sarah's precociousness found an almost willing prey in the person of Arames Kragen. Arames encouraged any attempt Sarah made to be like other children; there were too many constant reminders in and around the castle that there were many who believed otherwise. As a result Sarah took every opportunity to play jokes on Arames. Sarah became fast friends with the court's apothecary, and enlisted him to create all sorts of sneezing powders and potions, anything that would help embarrass Arames in front of others. Even so, Arames was never angered by Sarah's tricks, for he knew she only did them out of love.

Arames performed admirably during his tenure as Prince Ren's Aarronic Advisor. During his time the children of the royal family all developed their own unique personalities. Arrinn, Prince Ren's older son, hoped to one day become an Aarronic Advisor himself. He knew that the chances of becoming the king of Yew were not likely, and aspired to be able to help shape the future of the Land of Caern through becoming an Advisor. Allann was more of a free spirit, and seemed to take great pleasure in being with the people of Yew. Arames hoped Allann would be able to channel his energies to help the people of his province, even if he would never become its primary leader.

Prince Gray understood he would one day be king; but the presence of the Priests of Caern at Castle Pen seemed to affect Gray more than any other of the children in residence. If Gray had his druthers he would become a priest before he ever took on the crown of his family. And then there was Sarah. To Arames, Sarah represented all that was good. Arames knew that no matter where Sarah ended up she would be a great light for the world.

Considering this, it was quite a surprise that Arames Kragen announced that he would be leaving the service of Prince Renoir Perti of Yew.

Sarah was nine when Arames announced that he must depart. It was not uncommon for an Aarronic Advisor to "retire" to a more ascetic life. Aarronic Advisors were monks at their core, and the service they performed for the governing bodies of Caern was for the Land, not for the governments themselves. But Arames was only thirty-two years old when he left the royal family of Yew. His primary duties included the training and teaching of the royal children. It did not make sense to most that he would leave when only Prince Arrinn was even approaching adulthood.

It made the least sense to Sarah Perti. She refused to acknowledge that Arames was leaving until the day of his departure. On that morning Arames joined Prince Ren and his children during their "Mornin' Time". Arames had been with Ren's wife Sela when she died, and it had been he that had passed on her wish for the rest of the family to carry on the tradition that Sela and Ren had begun. Arames spoke to all of the children separately before he left, but he spent the most time with Sarah. He removed one of his two garment clasps that marked his position as an Aarronic Advisor and gave it to Sarah. She stared at it, knowing that it meant that Arames would never serve another as an Advisor. He spoke a few words that only Sarah could hear, and then turned and left Castle Pen.

It took awhile, but Sarah did find a new friend in Drona Twoblade. Drona was older, almost a grandfather figure to Sarah, and she certainly could not play as many pranks on the stoic Advisor to her grandfather. But there was something about Drona that she liked. It may have been his straightforwardness, or possibly the smile that always tried to peek out from behind his face of stone. Sarah followed Drona around constantly. At first he chased her away, but it didn't take long before Drona Twoblade recognized something in Sarah that was not as present in her brothers and cousin.

While her brothers and cousin studied the weapons of war, Sarah began to learn about the politics of war. Drona was King Desthra's Aarronic Advisor and the castellan of Castle Pen, which meant that he was directly responsible for the safety of the king and his castle. He began teaching her about the game of politics. She learned and quickly began to appreciate the importance of the intelligence network of Yew, and soon grasped how decisions of the crown were truly made. She began to understand the relationship between religion and government in her province, and how her government was different from those of Grozh and Gwynnyd. And as a retired master thief Drona took great pleasure teaching Sarah the art of lockpicking.

This training allowed Sarah to sidestep the trap on her brother's door. It didn't hurt that Sarah had assisted Drona when he installed it and several others on doors to the royal bedrooms some months before. In moments Sarah stood inside his brother's room, the door closed behind her, Yenti none the wiser.

Across the room she saw light around the edges of the curtains that mostly covered the two large windows of her brother's room. Sarah realized that she only had a few more minutes before she would miss the sunrise in its entirety. What was even more important to Sarah was that there was enough light to see Arrinn as he lay in his bed.

To Sarah, the term bed did not adequately describe the structure on which her brother slept each night. The family joke was that you could house a small Grozhian family on that bed. The frame was a raised stone platform that was originally used a small stage. The room had at one time been used for small ceremonies and theatrical productions. But King Desthra had built a large auditorium in another part of the castle, and had converted the room into a bedroom. Desthra had masons carve intricate patterns into the sides of the eight-foot by twelve-foot stone base; he then had a five-inch thick mattress stuffed with wool and other animal hair placed on top of the base of the stage. Following this the king had over one hundred animal pelts thrown over the mattress; on top of this lay a blanket made from the skin of ten different species of deer. The king's final addition to the structure was twelve pillows stuffed with the feathers of thirty different types of birds.

Arrinn's rooms had been King Desthra and his wife's apartment for twenty-six years until her death. After the queen's death Desthra no longer wished to use the bed or the rooms. King Desthra decided to give the rooms to his oldest grandson Arrinn. Arrinn had been using the rooms for almost three years.

Sarah knew exactly how she was going to teach her brother his latest lesson in punctuality. Only last week she had teased her brother awake by tickling his nose with a feather from one of the many pillows on his bed. On this day she walked over to the washbasin to the right of his bed and gathered up some water in a smaller bowl she could easily carry. Arrinn as always lay in the exact center of the bed; his head was the only part of his body not covered by the thin yet warm blanket on the bed. Sarah was very careful not to make any noise while she crawled to the center. She succeeded in not disturbing her brother, even with the water bowl in her hands. Sarah looked up at the window again and scrunched her nose in disgust, realizing that the both of them were now missing the sunrise. The sunrise wasn't important now - now only the joke mattered.

Slowly, expertly, Sarah let a drop of water fall from the bowl and watched it hit her brother squarely in the center of the forehead. The drop exploded in several directions; she could not keep a giggle from escaping her mouth. Arrinn did not stir. Arrinn was a heavy sleeper, and Sarah delighted that she would get to prolong the harassment. She dipped the bowl again, allowing another drop to fall onto Arrinn's forehead.

Again Arrinn did not stir. Allowing herself a small "Humph", Sarah let a drop fall from the bowl into her brother's half open mouth. It was only after the water disappeared into her brother's mouth that she realized that her brother was not breathing.

The bowl of water slipped from Sarah's hand. Seemingly in slow motion the wooden bowl fell through the air and landed with a thud on Arrinn's face. It bounced off his face and landed on the bed opposite from the side on which Sarah sat, water spilling in all directions. Slowly, with arms trembling, Sarah reached out and touched her brother's face. Discounting the water, Sarah knew her brother's face was unnaturally cold.

"Oh my�" Sarah began shaking her brother, which elicited no response. She froze for a moment, coming to the realization that her brother must be dead.

Sarah could not leave her brother's side. Her whole body was shaking, and she couldn't find the strength to move. The sun was now peeking around the window coverings, better illuminating her brother's face. She could now see how pale Arrinn was. For some reason she thought it was strange that his eyes were closed.

Oh kind Father� Tears rolled down her face; she had trouble keeping her eyes focused, although she somehow thought that it was important to do so. It's a joke� Arrinn has found a way to play the best joke of all on me. At any moment now he will jump up and laugh at my foolishness� As Arrinn's face was the only part of his body that was exposed from underneath his blanket, Sarah found that she could not focus on anything other than her brother's face.

In the end when Yenti ran into the room, mouth agape, Sarah had no idea that she was screaming.


The Land of Caern: Chapter One - Mornin' Time © Patrick Holyfield (Gurney9999)

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