Siv Vindoft sat at the long dining table, gazing out upon the world beyond her family manor atop the cliffside. The room was carefully crafted in a circular in shape, and across half were large windows, allowing for a view of every direction. The wind blew through the vibrant valleys of Fjell. Cattle roamed their way across fields of clover, sprouts of lavender dotting the landscape in small purple bunches. Waves lapped against rocky outcroppings, the calm port towns bustled with sea-faring traders.
She poured sugar into two cups of morning tea; her jittering hands caused some grains to fall upon the table. She sighed and blew steam from the top of her cup, enjoying the cool breeze wafting in from the open windows. The thick blooded northerners would break a sweat in the summer doing basic chores, while southern visitors would clamor for a coat.
She craned her head back, viewing the high-vaulted ceiling. The stained glass windows placed high above the table tossed rays of bright colors across the room; shades of scarlet and sky danced on the hardwood flooring, saffron and ember stars highlighting the oak and maple beams.
The glass pieces depicted scenes of centuries ago. Her ancestors developing the first trading boats, and maps of the continent detailing the lands dedicated to the four different types of Blessed people.
The third panel depicted their God, Icius, reaching his snow-white hand towards the fair- haired and blue-eyed northerners. In his massive palm he held an incandescent spiral of wind and air. While some figures below him remained unchanged, human, others grew pointed ears and long, lithe limbs. Slyphs they would be called, Blessed Fae of the air and wind.
Not many noticed, but within the corners of the panel, creatures the color of the sky crossed their arms, sticking up their noses at the Blessed people – for the High Fae we’re truly immortal descendants of the Gods, and would never see the Blessed Fae as equals.
A fragment of what occurred during The Blessing. For every corner of the globe was impacted by the Gods gift.
Taking a sip of her still-too-hot tea, she set the cup down, the bold taste of northern grown lilywort was a little more than she bargained for. She approached the wide windows, enchanted so none could see in, and tucked a stray strand of blonde hair behind her pointed ear. Opening her mouth, she scented the tension lingering in the atmosphere like rain clouds, tasting of burnt pastries and stale humidity.
Past the merchant ships and thriving valleys, she looked towards the sky, where the great mountains towered over all. Within its dark peaks resided the Castle of Wind and Swords, where the Titled Swords carried out their rule. Snow still capped its highest peaks even during Strawberry Moon. The oldest legends whispered that the mountains were higher than even the sun, and therefore no matter the season, warmth and light would never reach its peaks.
What’s going on up there to incite such atmospheric stress? Every Blessed Fae in Fjell would be able to feel this… Her hands continued to shake, feeling the wind pulse erratically within her veins.
Boots thudded down the stairs. Siv turned to see her disheveled father reaching for the cup of tea of the table.
“Careful, it’s hot,” She cautioned.
He downed it in one gulp, wiping the excess dribble from his beard on the back of his palm. His massive frame dominated the table, but his slate-gray eyes were wary with age – human age.
Her mother was a Slyph, with the nearly immortal lifespan granted by the power of Icius, while her father was purely mortal. The coupling was odd, most Blessed chose another Blessed to be partners with, for outliving their human companion was not ideal for most. Though this circumstance was different . . . instead her father had to watch the last thing he ever thought was possible, Enora Vindoft died in childbirth with Siv’s younger sister.
She surveyed his attire, already dressed in clean trousers and white tunic for a day at the docks. She went to pour him another cup. Her shaking hands failed her and spilled a steaming pool onto the table.
Her father eyed her carefully. “You feel something.”
Siv nodded. “I don’t know what it could be.”
“A storm?” He asked with an arched, bushy brow. He barely blew on the tea before downing it again.
She shook her head. “No, the sky is clear. It’s different . . . I’m sure the town will be talking about it today.” She strode away momentarily, returning with a towel from the kitchen to clean her mess.
Her father breathed deeply, scratching at his beard. He set the cup down, gesturing for her to fill it once more. “I’m not sure Slyphs would want to talk about a feeling they can’t describe. That could cause panic, or worse, they will be called omen-telling ******** liars like the High Fae.”
Siv shrugged, filling his cup once more – letting him take the liberty of dumping half the jar of sugar into it. She collapsed into the chair next to him. “I wonder if it has something to do with graduation tomorrow.”
Her father was quiet. “Whatever you do, bring with you Dolennir and Wyntyllu.”
The twin broadswords her mother gifted Siv upon her death bed, both priceless heirlooms. The hilt of Dolennir was crafted out of pearl found off the coast of the southern country, while Wyntyllu was made of the obsidian anchor of the ancient boat used to carry their people to this land after The Blessing.
“They haven’t left my side since I could lift them at fourteen,” Siv snorted.
“I’m going to the docks today.”
“I know, I can tell by your dress.” She drained the last of her tea, hoping the caffeine would wake her drowsy eyelids. She chewed on her lip. “Are you leaving?”
He shook his head, setting down his tea. He held up a hand when Siv went to refill it, finally done. “No, we have a shipment coming in and I want to make sure everything is accounted for. Those lazy ******** won’t do it.”
Edgar Vindoft was the head Captain and owner of the Vindoft Trading Company – the largest trading company in the country, if not the world. His shipments from the other three countries were pivotal for Fjell’s survival; their soil was not rich in nutrients enough to farm more than sweet potatoes and the occasional beets.
“I’m going to come with you.”
He narrowed his eyes, opening his mouth.
“No,” she shushed him. “Not because of my weird feeling. I want to see the decorations
being put up for graduation.”
A giggle came from the stairs. There was a blur of blonde hair. “I’m coming with you!”
Carina bounced on her toes, hands on her hips between the two. Her pointed ears poked out the sides of her hair. She had begun to transition from wearing skirts and childish dresses of youth to practical pants and tunics. At only eleven-years-old, she hadn’t yet felt an inkling of her magic growing in her veins, and waited somewhat impatiently for it to come.
“Were you spying on our conversation from the top of the stairs?” Siv asked sharply.
Carina rolled her eyes dramatically. “You always say that if you’re going to do something bad don’t let them notice you, and you didn’t!”
Their father chuckled deeply. “Calm, Siv, you’re not the parent here.”
Siv stood from the table, gathering the dishes and rag. “Well, okay, let me get dressed in something other than my night-clothes.”
The town square was somber, drunken laughter echoing from taverns muted, even the ducks and pelicans found other places to be. Shop keepers and those with small carts stationed beside the street were quiet, their usual sales pitches went unsaid. The smell of baked bread was stale, the smoke pouring from the tops of the forges was little more than a plume today.
Banners of navy blue were hung in the past week for the upcoming graduation ceremony, proudly displaying the silver crest of Fjell; the home of the Sword Suit people and Slyphs represented by two double crossed swords upon a spiral of white wind.
Beside them hung thin black veils.
Siv and her father shared a look. Carina, usually care-free in the streets, wandering paces ahead of her kin in order to check out carts of ribbon and corsets, stayed close to Siv’s arm.
As they walked towards the docks, more people hung black sheets from their doorways and windows. The doors of the forges were usually left open this time of year due to the immense heat the fires produced . . . but now they were shut tight, muffled shouts and arguments coming from within.
Siv stopped by a stand draped with colorful silks to keep the sun off of the owner. Apples of all colors sat displayed in woven reed baskets, freshly picked blueberries had their own space along side stacks of plump sweet-potatoes.
The elderly woman running the cart smiled up at her. “What would you like, Sweetie?”
“Siv, what are you doing?” Carina piped up from beside her hip, nearly making the older sister jump.
Siv smiled apologetically at the woman for Carina’s interruption. “Would you like an apple for breakfast? Pick whatever you want. We left in such a hurry none of us ate anything.”
The girl considered for a moment, as if it was a life or death question, before plucking a ripe green apple from its basket.
Siv selected two reds, digging around in the pocket of her trousers for a couple copper coins. “Here you go, ma’am.”
“Thank you, girls.” The woman bobbed her head in respect before depositing the coin safely away. Upon seeing them linger, she inquired: “Is there something else I could help you with?”
Siv chewed on her lip. Beside her, she felt the mass of her father approach. Despite being six-feet tall, the man still cast a shadow over her frame. She handed him one of the apples without looking up. “I . . . I see the mourning banners are being put out, do you possibly know why?”
Her eyes widened. “You haven’t heard?”
“No, ma’am, I have not.”
She looked around quickly before leaning in close. “The Page of Swords has passed.”
Siv dropped her apple.
“What?” Her father gasped.
The woman nodded. “They say from old age, but . . . ” Her withered gaze raked over Siv and Carina’s pointed ears, the small fangs the ladder revealed as she chomped away at her breakfast. Her gaze flicked to the black and white hilts displayed over Siv’s broad shoulders, choosing her words carefully. “I don’t believe it. Fae, even our Slyphs don’t die that early.”
Siv bent down to retrieve her apple, dusting off the road dirt from its shiny surface. A distraction so the woman could not see her bristling from the intense stare. She straightened, flashing a smile that did not reach her eyes. “Thank you for your information.”
They continued on their walk. Her father had not touched his apple, and Siv nearly tore hers apart, fangs and all. “This is bad,” she stated around her snack. “I’m supposed to graduate tomorrow, what if it gets cancelled?”
“You need to learn to think bigger than yourself,” Her father growled. His fist crushed the apple in one soft crunch, sending its juicy guts all over the cobblestone street. He wiped his palm off absentmindedly on his pants. “The Page of Swords is the Titled who got your great- grandfather his contracts with the other three countries, and the Island of the Major Arcana.” His voice was ice, matching the cold fire in his eyes. “With him dead, our agreements could be changed by the next to take his place. And you will have to kiss the lovely little mansion and your future career as my heir of the Vindoft Trading Company, goodbye.”
Siv quieted. She looked down at Carina; the eleven-year-olds face was heavy with concern, brow drawn down. She sucked in a breath. This is not the type of thing we need to concern her with. A matter for another day.
Their pace nearing a run, passerby’s glanced their way with confused expressions.
The Titled were a group of fourteen, nameless Slyphs responsible for the wellbeing of the country. The King and Queen of Swords were the most powerful, followed closely by their head of the royal guard, The Knight of Swords. The fourth was the Page of Swords; the royals personal advisor, and messenger to the other three countries, along with the Major Arcana.
The crescent-shaped Ijoh bay spread out before them. Salt hung in the air, Siv tasted it on her tongue. The calm water lapped softly at the shore. Seagulls swooped overhead, waiting for their next meal to come too close to the waters edge, or for an unlucky child to drop their snack. The docks reached far into the sea and along the edge of the dull sand, blocky wooden stairs protruded from their ends. Giant white and navy masts blocked out the horizon line. Opposite the docks, sat waiting carts pulled by oxen, waiting to go wherever the shipment was needed.
While the Vindoft Trading Co. was the largest of the trading companies, some smaller ones still proliferated along a smaller edge of the bay, their docks not as sturdy, boats not as beautiful. They served a niche market, like dragon eggs from the western country, whereas the Vindoft’s delivered necessities. Siv had always theorized that her great grandfather had built their manor home in the rocky outcropping above that side of the bay in order to keep an eye on their competition.
Sailors nodded out of respect towards their Captain, but bustled by Siv and Carina, their meaty arms carrying two or three boxes of goods at a time. Squinting, she saw the boxes were stamped with bright green stars within a circle – the eastern country. Vials of potions and healing salves and teas likely laid within.
Her father stalked up the stairs onto the main dock, where one boat sat untouched. The Nokk, their prized possession and family heirloom ship, the largest in their fleet of sixteen boats. A mermaid was intricately carved into its bow; her great-grandmother had fashioned the woodworking as an anniversary gift to her husband, and it became a staple across their entire fleet. Her father looked at the ship longingly, and put two fingers between his lips and letting out a sharp whistle.
Their Sailors surrounded him in a flock. One man in particular pushed past the rest. Siv, craned her neck, quickly grabbed Carina’s hand then decided to dash up the nearest dock. Carina didn’t have to ask as they ascended one of the boarding plants and rested on the ledge of a ship; the perfect viewing distance, as if they were on the balcony at a theater.
The man that had approached practically bowed to her father – their Captain. He was about thirty, well-built, with scars peaking out from the collar of his shirt. He had seen some **** over the years at sea.
“Njord. I’m assuming you’ve heard the news coming out of the castle?”
He nodded, voice deep: “Yes, Captain, I have.”
The Captain backhanded him in front of the crew.
No one gasped, or flinched.
Siv crept her gaze towards Carina. Her blue eyes were wide, but not as questioning as they should have been. Father didn’t get violent very often, but it was unsettling when he did. Carina was never the cause of any of it, most of the time it had to do with missing trading goods, or a boat that had gone off course. Siv, on the other hand, had caused several verbal and physical altercations with her father. She inherited his cocky, stubborn attitude, causing clashes between the two.
Njord reset his posture, stared at him, and cleared his throat. “I should have told you as soon as I found out, Captain.”
“Yes, you should have,” He growled out. His icy gaze swept over his entire crew, freezing their feet to the wooden planks. “Now, does anyone have any useful information?”
“Nothing? No one has heard a gods-damned thing about how this will affect our business? No candidates have been elected yet? No letters seen on our ships, quite possibly, addressed to me?” When met with more silence, he let out a huffed breath. “If anyone sees or hears anything about what’s unfolding you better report it to me first. Not your friends at the tavern down the way, not your wife. Me. Or else you’ll find yourself without a job. If not your head is on a stick. Understood?”
They echoed back their agreement.
“Good. Now get back to your usual business. And I still want to count every box that comes off of those **** boats. Njord, I hope your ******* was smart enough to keep our trading parchment on the main ship?”
Njord nodded and went off to fetch it, before he could be smacked again.
Siv watched them disperse. No matter how many times she saw him rail into his crew, they never faltered, never quit, never yelled back . . . it was astonishing.
Swiveling her gaze, she peered at Carina. She had dropped her apple core into the sea, and watched as several small pink fish swam around it, as if deciding if it was edible. Siv had to smile at the simple distraction away from the business at hand. She took her own apple core and tossed it into the sea, watching as a different herd of pink fish came to inspect it.
Staring into the blue depths, she felt the cold sea breeze on the back of her neck. Despite the sun heating up the land, the hair on the back of her neck still stood on end. She looked up quickly, only to find completely clear, azure skies. She chewed on her lip, tapped into her core and the cold wind blowing in her blood became more apparent.
This feeling . . . The sharp peaks of the mountains stared back at her dauntingly. It had to have been The Page of Swords death that has sent my powers reeling . . . Or, even worse, the chaos that has erupted within the Castle of Wind and Swords.
Carina’s bubbling voice interrupted her trail of thoughts: “Who do you think will be the next Page of Swords?”
Siv considered for a moment. “Well, it is a little hard to say this early on. For now, we should focus on paying our respects towards the recently deceased.”
She rolled her eyes dramatically. “Okay, you don’t have to act like your our mother around me all the time. Siv, you’re graduating tomorrow!”
Siv nodded. “Indeed, I am. As long as you wake up early enough so we all get to the town square in time.”
“That’s not what I’m getting at!” Carina was exasperated. “You could be the next Page! That way father won’t have to worry about our industry being ruined.”
Siv shook her head immediately, gut churning. “No, that wouldn’t be possible. I’m far too young and inexperienced.”
Carina raised a brow. “I’ve heard your conversations with father.” She held up a hand upon seeing Siv’s eyebrows down-turn in disapproval. “I’ve also heard talk from all of my friends in the town that have siblings in Training right now. You’re top of your graduating class. And you’re graduating a year earlier than anyone else. That hasn’t happened in what a gazillion years.”
“No, Carina. You don’t understand.” Siv held her younger sisters eager eyes. “I don’t want to work for them. I belong here,” she gestured towards the open sea and ships surrounding them, “As father’s heir to this company.”
“Sure, you say that now.” She hopped off the loading plank and waved. “I’m going to go find father, see if I can snag any prime snacks from other countries. My usual.”
Siv smiled softly, watching the short blonde girl weave her way between men three-times her size. Still . . . her sisters crazy ideas managed to stir a bad feeling in her gut, that matched the raging winds in her soul.
Am I even able to refuse the Title’s call if it comes? Siv’s thoughts were lost in the wind, soaring high into the vast expansion of sky within her own body.