Aeron’s eyes snapped open, just as a dim light entered through here window; the crack of dawn, time to run to the river and then back with two full buckets of water over her shoulders. An exercise meant to build her strength and stamina. Aeron was still tired but she swung her legs from under her blankets, shivering as her feet touched the cold stone floor. She changed into her loose trousers and matching black tunic and then secured her long red hair in a braid, hair that glowed like embers as it caught the light and it contrasted well with her coal black eyes. Walking briskly from her room she made her way through her vast and silent home and she was vigilant, expecting her father to appear. He hadn’t joined her in weeks, it seemed he now trusted her to rouse herself and go on her own. She headed towards the back door of the busy kitchen, busy making the preparations for breakfast, one she wouldn’t have until she returned with the water and maybe not even then.
Aeron quickly found her boots and slipped them on, they were caked in mud from yesterdays run, there had been a storm the night before last, grabbing the yoke leant by the door she walked determinedly out into the cold, damp morning air. She took a deep breath, it was only a mile or so to the river on their land, but for her small seven year old legs it was a long distance. The journey back was even more difficult with the two full buckets, buckets that now held nearly a litre each. “You should be halfway there by now, you’re late” a deep voice said softly behind her, Aeron jumped and swiftly spun around, wielding her yoke as if it were a weapon. She hadn’t heard her father approach, she sighed, and this meant extra runs today, her punishment for not hearing his approach. “Sorry, Father” mumbled Aeron, she had disappointed him; again. Although to disappoint her father all she had to do was exist, because she wasn’t the son and heir he had wanted.
“Well then, get moving you worthless child or I might have to begin overlooking these runs again,” her father spoke sternly, “perhaps it was too soon for you to go on your own.”
“NO!” Aeron burst out, “You can trust me, Father. I can do it, I have been for months now and I am getting faster” the words fell out of her mouth.
“So why are you still here? GO!”
Aeron burst into a sprint, the buckets bouncing on her yoke, the run went by in a blur, the garden and the woods, finally the clearing where the river ran and she had reached it in her fasted time yet. Aeron hastily filled the two buckets, lifted them onto her small shoulders and began the not so easy journey back. As she struggled back, her thoughts wandered to her father.
Her father; he wasn’t that bad, he wasn’t maliciously cruel, most of the time anyway. He was training her, even if it was a bit unwillingly. It had taken him three years to begin training her, and she wasn’t going to ruin that anytime soon, even if it was all because her mother may not be able to bear him another child, what he wanted another son. She hardly remembered her twin, which was not surprise, they had been three when he had died from a fever, she remembered her father crying, she hadn’t seen him cry before that or since. Aeron thought about it more, she could hardly remember the last time her father’s black eyes and shone with happiness, now they were always hard, cold and stern, and when looking at her, they were teeming with disappointment and his mouth was always tight and angry, when was the last time her has smiled at her? She wondered how she could look so much like her father and be so different. As she emerged from the woods she could see her home in the distance, the rising sun coming up from behind it, making the dew in the grass glitter and sparkle like tiny diamonds. Aeron crested the slight slope and spotted her father’s tiny figure in front of the house, waiting for her to return and then probably scold her for taking too long and then lecture her on how an Itzal was better than this.
The Itzal, a name feared in the land of Halmere, there was always one; The Assassin, the greatest and the best, and Aeron would take the title, when her father deemed her ready. Her father; Hakon Talise, Lord of Almon and the current Itzal of Halmere. The title passed on from his father and his father before him. A title passed down the family line, and a well kept secret, not one person outside the Talise family knew what they were and Aeron Talise was to be the first female Itzal, at least she hoped.
She was almost back, and could see her father glaring at her, his dark eyes piercing into hers and filling her with dread and fear. She had to avert her gaze as she got nearer, his eyes were soulless they made her extremely uneasy. Aeron was panting heavily and strands of her wild curls that had escaped her braid were plastered to her face with sweat. She jogged past her father’s angry figure and entered the house, kicked of her boots and placed the buckets on the table that dominated the centre on the kitchen. Standing still she sniffed the air, just then her father grabbed the scruff of her tunic and began to mach her out of the room and towards the southern wing of their home where all the various training rooms were. Aeron’s stomach was still growling at the scent of the cooking breakfast, but it swiftly disappeared as the door to the workout room was slammed shut.
Hakon turned and glared down at her, “ Do some exercises for muscle building, you will come to the weapons room at seven am and will have breakfast only after you hit four perfect bulls eyes with the throwing knifes” he barked the orders at her, he then strode from the room to do his own exercises. At least she was left alone to do hers, instead of under the cold and critical glare of her father’s stare. Breathing a sigh of relief she began her exercises.
It was 7.15am, the earliest breakfast Aeron had had in months and this meant that it allowed her dine with both her mother and father. She was relieved by this, as her father was always much calmer, relaxed and kinder when her mother present. His mouth relaxed, the frown lines in his broad forehead softened and his eyes seemed to shine as he looked at her mother. It was understandable, Lady Calandra Talise was beautiful, her eyes a soft blue-green, framed with thick dark lashes; her lips full and inviting and always smiling, her delicate features were almost pixie like and surrounded by long, wild brown curls and the purple gown she wore clung to her slender figure. There was little Aeron had inherited from her mother, she had her wild curls and the shape of her eyes, her lips too but her colouring, her strong forehead and sharp, defined cheekbones were all her father, as well as her height. At 7 Aeron was very tall, she would outgrow her mother soon, as she was only a little over five feet.
“I haven’t had breakfast with you both in so long,” her mother smiled, “has Aeron been improving? I have been encouraging her to practice whenever she can.”
“Well that certainly explains how her knife throwing has improved” Hakon replied gruffly.
“Oh, so she has moved on from merely doing body training exercises?”
“Yes mother and I am enjoying it so much, and...” Aeron’s sentence faltered under her father’s withering glare.
“It is not for you to enjoy,” he hissed, “it is a necessity. Now go and practice before your Sir Colm arrives for your lessons.”
Aeron’s chair scraped against the stone floor as she pushed herself away from the table, “Yes, Father” she said, bowing her head respectfully before leaving the room.
“Must you be so tough on her?” Calandra asked, “She’s only seven after all –“
“I began training at four.” Hakon spoke firmly over her, “And my father was just as tough if not worse; he played me against Ruari as well. My older brother who had two more years training before me!”
“I know. I know,” she soothed, as she walked over to him and softly caressed his face, “but she’s child, and girl. You only began this a year ago.”
“Which means we have a lot of work to do; but at least she’s doing exceptionally in her studies? She isn’t she?”
“Outstanding, Sir Colm says she is quite the scholar” Calandra beamed with pride.
“Well at least she’s good at something” he seethed, and began to stride out of the room.
“Sweetheart, wait” his wife called after him, “I have something to tell you.”
“What is it,” he demanded, “Is it serious? Are you sick? Do we need a healer?”
“No, no, it’s nothing serious. Well, it is serious but not bad serious” Calandra smiled.
“Then what? I don’t understand....” Hakon trailed off.
“I am pregnant. Maybe nearly three months the healer thinks,” she beamed. Hakon was speechless, but then a smile began to spread over his face as he realised this meant he now had the chance of another son. “This is brilliant, another child! We must celebrate!”
“We should tell Aeron son, she will be so pleased to have a sibling again.”
“Not if it’s a boy,” Hakon mumbled.
“What was that?”
“Nothing my love, nothing. Just wondering about names for our new miracle. I need to go make preparations for our new son – “he went to leave once more.
“Yes?” he spun around and looked puzzled at his wife, she had used such a stern tone with him.
“What about Aeron and her training? She’s probably up there firing countless arrows as we speak, until her tutor arrives.”
“Why would I bother with her” he spat, “now that I will have a son again.”
“We do not know that yet Hakon,” she spoke firmly, “and until we do, you will continue Aeron’s training. She is a Talise after all.”
“Fine, fine, “Hakon waved her off, “but if I get my son she will no longer need it, the Itzal has always been a King of the Shadows. I only began training her as there would be no other choice, our niece is the only child Ruari has, and therefore Aeron was the only option. And so if you bear me a son, Aeron will no longer be trained for Itzal, you will teach her the ways of a lady of the court. Understood?” his dark eyes boring into Calandra’s, so she could only nod in response. And with that he left, no doubt to go and bark orders at Aeron until her tutor arrived for lessons. Calandra sighed and dropped into the nearest chair.
“Is breakfast finished with, my Lady” asked Kore, the young timid house girl.
“Oh, yes, yes. You may clear it all away. Thank you.” Calandra said absentmindedly, her thoughts were concerned only with Aeron, her strong willed and stubborn daughter, who since learning what the Talise name carried, had craved the title Itzal of Halmere, King of the Shadows
The steady rhythm of the arrows hitting the target was soothing and it was beginning to calm Aeron down. She knew she shouldn’t have eavesdropped on her parents, but she was proud because her father had never realised. She had become one with the shadows, like a true Itzal, present but unnoticed.
Her father didn’t want to train her, she knew that but now she wasn’t his only option. What if her mother had a son, Aeron would no longer be heir; the title of Itzal would be taken from her. “It. Was. Not. Fair” she thought, timing each word with a thud of an arrow, it was her title, she was good enough and she had just proved that by hearing the thing she never wanted to and it was going to- Suddenly there was a loud snap! The bowstring has snapped, “ARRRRRGH!” Aeron roared, throwing the bow to the floor, she then ripped the quiver from her back breaking the buckle on the strap as she did. Enraged she kicked both things across the room. “Well, “Hakon spoke from the doorway, “I guess there is no need to inform you of the news then.”
“You mean how you won’t train me anymore!”
“You are not happy that your mother is pregnant?”
“No! Not if it means I can’t be Itzal anymore!” Aeron cried.
“You were never meant to hold that title,” her father hissed, “I only began to train you because there was no other choice. It is a miracle that your mother is pregnant again, and now I have the chance to train a real Itzal.”
“I can be the Itzal! I can! I can! I can!” Aeron screamed, working herself into a very childish tantrum, with tears streaming down her face, “Why don’tyou think I can?!”
“Because of this,” he replied, gesturing towards her, “you are nothing but a weak, snivelling child. And worse a girl. How could you ever be Itzal, King of the Shadows!”
Aeron was trying to stop the flow of her tears; her only response was a loud sniff. “But,” Hakon continued, “We do not know if it is a son, if it is another girl, your training will continue, but you will have competition for the title.”
A servant appeared at the open door, “Sir Colm has arrived my Lord” he said bowing low. Hakon jerked his head towards the door, “Go; get out of my sight.”
Aeron wiped her face with her sleeves and strode proudly from the room. She vowed that no matter what happened she would prove her father wrong, she was a Talise and she would be Itzal.