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Crest of Thorns

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Chapter 1: Sara

Part 1: Journey’s Beginning

In times of peace, villains rise. In times of trouble, heroes awaken. Someday, the heroes inside both of you will awaken too.

           That’s what my best friend’s mother told her daughter and I before the Silver Knights kidnapped her.

           Thunder rumbles overhead as I stare up at the dark gray sky. My thoughts race through my mind, confusion and anger giving me a headache. Pain tightens in my chest when I turn away from the scenery. The vast expanse of muddy plains is endless and useless for farming now. Four years ago, when I was thirteen, the land had been lush and green. Now it is full of clay, muck, and rainwater.

           I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun.

           I start trudging back towards the Village of Kel. Even with my bad eyesight, I can make out the worn-down shacks and huts that are scattered across the village. The sun is obscured by the clouds, as always. I grimace, my leather boots sinking into the muddy ground with every step I take. Soon enough, the village houses surround me, and I notice the scorch marks from last moon’s raid on the buildings. I shudder, lowering my head and turning my walk into a run as I rush to my home.

           I pass the blacksmith’s shop. The man is hard at work, forging a bronze sword. Of course he doesn’t have silver, even though it’s the strongest material in Edinsmore. Besides that, the blacksmith is known as the finest young man in the Village of Kel, but I have never gotten to know him. And why should I? There are plenty more girls in our village, and they are probably much more pretty than I am. By Elio’s Ring, I can’t even see.

           I get to my house after passing the other ‘A’ shaped homes. My family’s hut is one of the smallest in the village, so when I enter, I duck down so I don’t bump my head in the doorway. Right away at my entrance, the scents of dead herbs and plants invades my nose.

           My hut is filthy, and I’ve lived in it all my life. A small, muddied carpet is spread at the doorway, and overhead, wooden beams hold up the roof. A small metal bin is in the corner, our bathing bin, and a table with three chairs is nearer to the door. Last but not least, a cupboard with organized stone bowls and pots presses up against the wall behind the table. The window shines through with faint light, and both my room and my parents are the only ones behind the bathing bin. In one room, I can see my father laying on his bed.

           “Oh, my sweet Saranida!” My gaze breaks away from my father when I’m immersed in a hug from my mother, Kiranida. Her graying brown hair curtains over me, and her hazel eyes are full of love.

           I pat her on the back, a smile twitching on my lips. “Thanks mother,” I murmur. She holds the hug a little longer than I’m comfortable for, but she releases me once she hears my father’s groans.

           “Oran, what’s wrong?” My mother asks, dashing over to my father, who lays on his bed in the corner of the room. His usually coloured face is pale and his lips purple. A wave of fear drenches me.

           “Is he alright Mother?” I pace over to my father’s side, my fists clenched. Father moans again.

           “Probably didn’t boil his water before drinking it,” Mother chides, hurrying to get her dead herbs ready. I shake my head. This is unbelievable.

           My mother’s round figure hustles through the room while I clasp my father’s calloused hand tightly, sitting down beside him. I place my other hand on his forehead and exhale in relief. He isn’t all that sick. His temperature could be worse.

           “So Sara,” my mother begins as she crushes cloves in a mixing bowl. “Has your friend Vicky showed up yet?”

           “Not yet,” I answer glumly, my shoulders sagging. “She left Pixie here though. She should be coming back to take care of her cat.”

           Mother purses her lips. “Hmm, Pixie…is that the name of the mangy fluff ball?”

           “Yes,” I almost laugh, knowing what’s coming. Pixie snuck into our home again.

           “Pixie got in again. She hears the mice in our walls.” Mother goes to open a closet door. Inside is the fluffy white cat, chewing the head off of a dead mouse. Pixie hisses at us, yellow eyes flashing, and Mother closes the door again, crossing her arms. “Nasty little beast. Even sprites are better than cats.”

           My inward laughter fades when my father hacks. The smallest bit of blood dribbles down his mouth. I gasp, getting up to help my mother.

           “Are you sure it isn’t disease from the mice?” I ask, hands shaking. I have never taken much interest in healing, although it’s both my parent’s jobs. Mother notices my hesitation and grimaces. 

           “You don’t need to help me. Why don’t you go read that book. What is it called again?”

           I frown at her. “It’s about Necroca spells, the Cardic Scriptures, and I don’t want to read it again. I have read it over and over. I can help you.”

           My mother sighs. “I can’t teach you right now, Sara. Go occupy yourself.”

           I wince, hurt. “With what? There’s nothing to do in this sorry little village. All we do is hide from the king’s knights and work until we die.” I splay my hands out in frustration, my voice rising into a snap. “I want to be a scholar, mother, not a healer!”           

           My mother ignores me, but I can see the hurt in her eyes. Sighing with annoyance, I whip around, marching to my room with a slight pout on my lips.

           I know I shouldn’t pout, but I’m tired. Tired of living in a kingdom where villagers are thrown aside, given nothing but sour looks and mocking words. I’ve wanted to be a scholar ever since I got my hands on the Cardic Scriptures. Ever since I became friends with the rebellious Necroca named Vicky.

            I pull a comb from my rickety wood desk and brush it through my hair, glancing in the mirror for the smallest of seconds, then jerking my gaze away. Sometimes I can’t bear to see my bony frame, the dark circles around my eyes. I never worry about looking pretty. I want to look healthy.

            When I finish brushing my hair, I glance around my room for my book. The Cardic Scriptures is nowhere to be found, and I stifle a moan. Not just over my book, but over everything.

           Life had been perfect, but ten years ago, the raids had started, and the war. Then four years ago, the rain never quit. I can only vaguely remember the times when life had been okay. When the king took our goods but gave us shelter and a life for us.

           But that had been during King Goridon’s rule ten years ago. Now, King Henryle rules over our kingdom called Edinsmore. Once, our world had been peaceful and prosperous. Now, it is filled with war and evil.

           I flop onto my bed, the comfy but ragged pillow and blanket cushioning me. I sigh, and very soon dreariness makes me yawn. My bed may not seem good to rich nobles, at least, if they saw it, but it’s the place where dreams take me away on adventures. Where I explore my world and meet warriors, scholars, real Necroca witches, and a rich prince, even if King Henryle has no heir yet. I close my eyes, the smallest droplets of water from a window sprinkling over my face.

           Maybe I’ll just sleep for a minute or so…

           A loud banging from the outside door jolts me from me drowsy slumber. I stagger up, my ragged peasant tunic twisted around me. I yelp as I fall but push myself back up as quickly as I can, scowling. I’d bet on my life that the person at the door is Vicky. She’s been gone for so long. Half a moon, maybe? More? I don’t have time to think as I swing the door open, almost pulling it off it’s hinges.

           Standing in the light drizzle of rain is a short, cloaked person. Two amber eyes peer out from underneath the gray hood, and in the person’s hand is a staff made of twisted elm wood. My lips turn up in a grin. I know exactly who this person is.

           “Vicky!” I tackle her in a hug. Vicky grunts in response and pushes past me, throwing off her cloak and handing it to me. She strides into my section of the cruck house, her short black hair bouncing with her walk. My head is dizzy with happiness and relief. I place the cloak on a rack and take Vicky’s staff from her, placing it in beside the cloak.

           “Vicky, where have you been? You have missed so much—”

           Vicky barks out a laugh, turning to me. “Sure, I’ve probably forgotten the midwife’s wedding. And I bet I’ve missed last raid from the Silver Knights. Am I right?”

           I shake my head, unable to hide the grin on my face. “Not really. The midwife is sick with smallpox, but she should get better. But where have you been, Vicky? I’ve…I’ve really missed you.”

           Vicky smirks her usual smirk, her eyes glowing bright and flashing her crescent shaped mark. The mark on her cheek is more inky black than before, but I try not to notice it.

           “Where did you go?” I ask again.

           “Oh, well, I just travelled with one of Valian’s leaders, the famous Zarridah.”

           My smile dissipates when I hear the name. “You were able to travel with a Valian warrior? You’re kidding me,” I wave her off.

           Vicky gives me a toothy grin. “Believe me, Sara. Have you never heard of Valian? The Lone City? The people who go to war against the king? The city of the famous ‘Rose Maiden?’”

           I roll my eyes. The Rose Maiden had been a big deal when the war started. Apparently, she led Valian to great victories ten years ago. But as soon as the war had started, she had disappeared. Now, Valian hides in the Dawnfall Woods, scared to come out and fight against the King and his Silver Knights.

           “Why did you leave Kel in the first place, Vicky?” I press again, mind whirling. I gesture for her to sit, but she refuses.

           “I went to the Outer City Griffel with Zari,” Vicky mutters, lowering her gaze to the dusty floor.

           I inhale sharply. “You went to an Outer City?” I try not to kill my cool.

           Vicky nods, pleased. “It was amazing. We were scouting out attack routes, and while I was there, I was able to buy a few things, if you know what I mean.” She gives me a toothy grin. “Some of the stuff I bought is for your parents.” Vicky winks at me. She stole whatever she ‘bought,’ alright.

           I wrinkle my brow. “Vicky, this isn’t a game. Those Outer Cities are swarming with Silver Knights and nobles loyal to King Henryle. If you had gotten caught…”

           “I would have used my magic to defend myself! C’mon Sara, stop being such a wuss,” Vicky smirks, pulling out a bag. I can’t help my curiosity, and I reach out to brush the bag. I recognize the material; wool, probably from the sheep raised in southern Edinsmore. It would cost a fortune to buy in the Outer City Griffel, with it’s dyed colours.

           “Vicky, you can’t keep doing magic and things like this,” I murmur. Vicky’s eyebrows shoot up in shock. I have a reason for my comment, and she needs to listen.

           “Vicky, people hate the Necroca as it already is. The Necroca are witches, and when a witch does magic, they lose the good in their soul.”

           “That’s a lie!” Vicky butts in.

           “No, it’s true. The scholar Jarinik—”

           “I don’t care about the scholar! Scholars are stupid,” Vicky growls, amber magic curling at her fingertips. I quit talking, my teeth grinding. I want to shoot an insult back, but, with Vicky, things like that don’t work.

           After a few seconds of silence, Vicky asks, “how’s your family doing? I saw your mother in her room. The door was half closed, so I wasn’t sure…”

           I exhale in relief that she let go of her anger. “They are fine. My father drank some bad water today, that’s all. He’ll be okay.” I pause. “What about your…father?”

           Vicky snorts. “You’ve been here far longer than I have, and you haven’t seen him? I’d assume he’s fine, with his favourite drinks and all of that sort. He’s a drunkard, Sara. As long as he has his drinks, he’s blinded into happiness.” Vicky’s eyes, ice cold, settle on me. “He would have never been this way if those knights hadn’t kidnapped my mother. We need to fight back against them, Sara! With my magic and your smartness—”

           “No, Vicky. We can’t.” I shake my head sadly, getting up.

           Vicky follows me out of the room. “Why not?” She demands.

           “Because we’re peasants, and there’s nothing else in the world we can be.”

           Vicky cackles, frustration vanished. “You are much more depressing than the last time I saw you.”

           I chuckle half-heartedly too as I open up the closet with Pixie in it.

           “Oh, my baby!” Vicky coos, running forward and wrapping her arms around the cat. Pixie yowls, writhing in Vicky’s arms. I smother a laugh.

           “Oh, Vicky’s back!” My mother booms from the kitchen. She is still working on the herb mixture, but her eyes give away her weariness. She plasters a fake smile on her face at the sight of Vicky. I know how much she hates the Necroca. I’m lucky she tolerates Vicky.

           “Mother, Vicky’s back,” I say. “Vicky, didn’t you have something to give to my parents?”

           “Oh, right,” Vicky fishes something out of her bag and drops it on the floor. A loud bang makes my ears ring, and I flinch.

           “Dang it,” Vicky mumbles, picking it up. From what I can barely see, it’s a cracked vase with two withered flowers. Dirt spots the floorboards as my mother takes it reluctantly.

           “Thank you Vickelda,” she sets it on the table while Vicky pulls another thing from the bag. Spectacles.

           “Vicky!” I gasp, rushing forward and grabbing her arm. “Are those for me?”

           “Yep. Thought you’d enjoy them.” Vicky gives a wry grin while I fit the glasses on. My eyesight improves at once.

           “Thank you so much.” I give another hug to Vicky, and she awkwardly hugs me in return.

           But the moments of happiness and unification don’t last long. Just when I think things are going to be better, the town bells start ringing.

           My eyes widen. Vicky and I meet each other’s gazes, while my mother gets ready to hide.


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