Until seven years ago, a single Kingdom ruled.
Until seven years ago, the people were united as one.
Until seven years ago, the Celestials still lived.
Mira had told Summer this story once some years ago, but Summer had committed it to memory. It was the only time Mira openly talked about the Kingdoms.
King Alastair had just inherited the royal crown. He was a rather plump man, with tiny eyes and a stubborn set of lips. He carried his magnificent four hundred
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pounds with great pride and of course, a bejeweled crown.
Alastair was also a jealous man. He wanted unlimited power and riches all to himself. Whatever he couldn’t have, he desired and went to great lengths to receive it.
The Thanatos Forest, thick and unforgiving, separated his land into two perfect halves. Communication was difficult. As a result, one of his advisors suggested another minor ruling system be established on the western land, as the Alastair Kingdom was on the eastern side. Alastair calculated the odds. Another ruling system meant another ruler to govern the land. “Absolutely not!” King Alastair said firmly, slapping down the proposal. Another Kingdom? The very idea was outrageous to the selfish King. The Kingdom was his, and only his to rule. The advisor was dismissed immediately.
This trait of King Alastair’s was trouble when it came to Celestials.
Celestials were descendants of ancient human beings blessed by the Creator before the beginning of time. Beautiful and pure at heart, they commanded any of the four natural Elements: Water, Earth, Air or Fire. They were not common, and could only reproduce within their race. Many had seen a Celestial; few had ever seen their Element in use. They preferred solitude, whether it was up in the highest peak or deep underground, no one knew.
Nonetheless, the people of Alastair worshipped them. Celestials were assets to villages. One blessed with Water let rain fall on the village, one with Earth let the soil remain rich, one with Air let no ravaging winds come to harm, one with Fire let the people remain warm even during the coldest winters.
It occurred to King Alastair one day that the Celestials could be plotting against him. With their immense power and his own peoples’ worship to them, the Celestials could easily seize his crown. It couldn’t happen. The frightened King was convinced that the Celestials were plotting against him.
Within a week, he paid a group of skilled assassins to kill the Celestials. King Alastair could go to sleep restfully that night.
Rumors of dead Celestials reached the Kingdom not long after that. The villagers were frantic, desperately searching for a reason why. Alastair simply sat back in his golden throne, reassured that his crown was secure. Celestials were gone from the world, either dead or in hiding. It didn’t matter to the King anyway.
The crops in the villages slowly began to die. The soil hardened into crusty dirt, Nature revealing her harsher, truer side. Winds whipped the farms and coldness settled into villages. The people were not accustomed to such conditions and blamed it all on the King. He was the only practical reason for the disappearance of the Celestials. Rebellions struck out. War arrived.
King Alastair was shocked. What had he done wrong? Quickly, he assembled his own army to fight the villagers. He needed to restore order and show them who held the power.
The following months were grueling.
Farmers marched out with their blunt swords, pitchforks – anything possibly harmful they could get their hands on to fight the King. Men of households desperately attempted to fend off bandits, the women trying to keep their children alive. Anyone lunged for a scrap of meat or a strip of cloth in sight. Prices in markets rocketed sky-high, taxes rose and families went broke. Children went three or four days without eating. Skeletal bodies lay motionless on the dirty, unkempt streets.
Meanwhile, Alastair was adamant on winning the war. The villagers outnumbered the troops, but with no military training and weapons whatsoever, they perished, many dying. Alastair sent out more and more troops to fight his own people, ignoring his advisors’ frantic words. When he realized what he had done, it was too late. He’d crushed his entire Kingdom by his own hand. No one had won.
An ambitious young lord took advantage of the empire’s broken condition. His name was Slade.
Gathering the remainder of strong men, Slade set out to finish King Alastair once and for all. Once the King was killed, Slade proceeded to restore peace in the Kingdom. He reorganized the government and ordered the Kingdom troops to renovate farms. Quick and clever, Slade had the Kingdom back on its feet very soon.
He knew communication played a major problem in the Kingdom. So, he made a decision. Slade would rule the eastern half of the land, and his brother Lance would be given the western half of the land to rule. And ever since then, they still rule together peacefully.
However, some villagers did not trust Slade. Something in his eyes seemed slightly unpleasant, they said. He wasn’t to be trusted. Those villagers gathered and decided they would save themselves before the Kingdom would begin hurtling downwards – again. Together, they journeyed across many leagues and into the Thanatos Forest in search for refuge. It was risky business; if any Kingdom men caught them, they would all hang from the highest tree.
They lost half their people during the first week. The journey was rough, the terrain unforgivable. Sudden ravines and mudslides killed many, others taken by the deathly creatures living there, and some even gone delirious from the mysterious fog shrouding the forest. The group began to lose their motivation as their numbers lowered into the double-digits. How could they survive? Where could they go? Doubt entered peoples’ minds.
Just when all hope seemed to be lost, the forest opened up into a large glade. There, the soil was moist and dark and the air was fresher and breathable. The Creator Himself had blessed them with this glade.
Work immediately began the following day. Despite the people’s haggardly conditions, they worked. They constructed crude housings, furnished bows and arrows to supply themselves with food. The first year was the most difficult. Numbers dwindled lower and lower, until less than twenty still breathed.
Mira was among the survivors. Summer knew this part of the story now.
During that coming winter, Mira was searching for extra firewood in the forest when she came upon a little girl huddled in a small bush. The girl’s eyes glowed the strangest amber and her hair was blacker than night. Mira still took her in. The villagers argued with Mira, saying this was a Kingdoms’ ploy, and the girl should be killed. But Mira had responded calmly, “No child of the Creator will ever be forcibly put to death.” Mira took the little girl as her daughter.
The little girl was Summer. She would not speak of her origins, no matter how many times Mira pressed. Mira finally left the girl to her silence.
Summer proved no hassle to the village. She sang sweet songs while helping the women cook and gather edible plants in the glade. The villagers had to grudgingly admit she was not the Kingdoms’ property.
On the village’s third year, they were discovered by a group of merchants, who were all well off enough to fend off the war’s disastrous effect.
The merchants saw this tiny village was a refuge for runaways. The villagers always had food in their stomachs, a roof over their heads. Any sane man still living in the Kingdoms would kill to live here. The merchants decided to strike a deal. They wouldn’t expose the location of the village to the Kingdoms unless the villagers would trade with them every year. It was a deal gladly accepted.
The merchants then unloaded their cargo, the grandeur was revealed.
Summer had never seen so many foreign items before. Gold sculptures, exotic food, and porcelain dishes were all laid in front of her. The villagers were equally astounded. Examining all the items, Summer took a liking to the bows. One of the merchants was kind enough to teach her how to notch the arrow and let it fly true to its target. Summer was a natural.
The bow she liked the most was elegant and yet simple. The wood was silky and polished, nothing like the twisted, gnarled branches in the Thanatos Woods. Strange black, swirling designs were carved artfully onto the bow, almost seeming to thrum under her touch.
When Summer inquired about the price, her excited demeanor evaporated. Thirty gold pieces was more Summer’s savings tripled. She returned home, hands empty.
The next day, Summer had rose early with high hopes, but the merchants were already gone. Mira was watching her the whole time.
“Looking for this?” Mira had said, a smile playing on her face, and held out that beautiful bow.
Ecstatic, Summer ran up to hug the old woman, who stumbled back in surprise.
“Don’t expect to get off so easily,” Mira had warned, still smiling. “That bow was cost more than I would have liked it to. You will return it to Rolfe when you aren’t out shooting.”
Summer was gone for the rest of the day, shooting arrows in the woods. Each arrow whistled through the wind sharply and was stunningly accurate. It was almost as if the bow was designed for her.
Then the villagers found out. A woman hunting? None of them had ever heard of such a thing. They all were shocked and disgusted.
But Summer brought back meat from then on. The villagers calmed down a bit and did not complain anymore, but the message in their eyes was clear enough to Summer.
She was different from them, like a bright wildflower sticking out from a sea of orderly tulips. She’d never be accepted by any of the villagers other than Mira. If Summer didn’t have Mira, one could only wonder where Summer would be right now.
Mira didn’t tell Summer that – she didn’t need to. It was painfully obvious; wherever Summer walked, whispers goaded her back to Mira’s hut. But Mira acted oblivious to the villager’s intolerance toward Summer.
But even seven years later, nothing had changed.