That night, pelith stayed hidden behind the shielding rocks. Even after she had seen the dragon spread it’s magnificent wings and fly off, she stayed hidden, too terrified to leave. Her entire world had fallen apart. She was a princes. She was thought to be a criminal. Her horse had been murdered. And she felt so, so alone. Her pain numbed her, so that she couldn’t feel the rock beneath her, or the air around her, which was full of smoke from the burning forest around her. It wasn’t until a flaming tree fell to the ground, brushing against her arm as it went, that Pelith woke from her trance and became fully aware of her surroundings. She saw the forest burning around her, and realized the danger she was in. Pelith rose from the rock, and stumbled to the ground, falling into the soot. Before she could stand, she cried out in pain. Fire had again caught on her arm, burning through her sleeve and flicking across her skin. She yelped, and quickly beat it out.
She looked at the mangled carcase of her friend, and gagged. Fire consumed the scattered bones, turning them black. Pelith immediately turned away, disgusted. She whispered a goodbye, the last she would ever share with Culia, and dodged a falling branch before returning home.
By the time Pelith climbed the steps of her front door, it was dawn and the sun began to shine through the trees that she had just come from. Or maybe that was still fire. Pelith couldn’t tell. She reached for the handle and found it to be locked, so she rapped the door with her fist. Calioniel opened the door, and shrieked in surprise when she saw Pelith. Looking around, she quickly ushered Pelith inside, shutting the door behind her. Once they were safely inside, Calioniel embraced her daughter. “We thought you to be dead,” she sobbed. “The dragon-we saw it rise from the foreset. We thought-with you in the forest, and gone for so many hours-”
“Culia,” Pelith cut in. “She’s gone. Sacrificed herself. For me. Knocked me out of the way, died for me. I was there. When she died.” Pelith’s voice, having been filled with numb, emotionless words, went silent. And Calioniel went completely still.
After a few seconds she spoke again. “Did anyone see you as you returned?” She asked. Pelith shook her head, confused. “Good, then you may still have a chance.” One look at Pelith’s perplexed expression, and Calioniel knew she had not been clear enough. Rather than explaining herself, though, she quickly led Pelith to her room and sat her on the bed.
“Where’s Father?” Pelith asked, noting his absence.
“He got up early to work on more paperwork. But you are sure nobody saw you on your way back? This is critical information that will help us understand what position we are in,” Calioniel insisted.
“No, Mother, but why? What’s going on?” Pelith demanded tiredly.
Calioniel looked at Pelith very solemnly and said, “It has begun.” For whatever reason, the words sent a chill up Pelith’s spine, and she shivered, though she still had no idea what they meant.
“We should have been more careful,” Calioniel muttered to herself and began pacing. “I should have foreseen that this would happen, that it would be Culia.”
“What is going on?” Pelith pleaded, and a lone tear made it’s way down her cheek. Calioniel considered her helpless daughter, and then moved to the red cedar chest at the end of the bed. She opened it, brought out several wool blankets and a pure white wool shawl. She pick up a thin, long package wrapped in old, yellowed paper and handed it to Pelith.
“You will need this where you are going,” Calioniel spoke softly. Pelith carefully removed the paper, and held up the sword that had been concealed in it. It was maybe a foot and a half long, with a worn, grey leather haft. Still, it was a powerful weapon, and Pelith felt that it had been used in many fights. But she was confused. How could the woman who felt weary of butter knifes at the dinner table hand her daughter a sword? She picked up the strap that still lay in the white paper. Before she could question, Calioniel handed her a pack and a hood. “Put this on so that you are not recognized. Strap on that sword, as well. Come, we must hurry to the stables.” Pelith followed, to stunned and confused to object.
When they arrived at the stables, Calioniel went straight to Marawyn’s stall. Pelith watched as her mother entered the stall and began to nudge the unicorn, and he began to awaken from his sleep. He gave a yawn, and opened his eyes. When he saw Calioniel looking down at him, he immediately jumped up and lowered his horn. “Majesty,” he greeted her.
“Now, Marawyn, we have already discussed this. You will not call me that.” Pelith’s mind spun. When had they discussed this? Why would her mother discuss anything with this beast?
“Ah, the new princess,” Marawyn interrupted. Pelith cringed at the word. “ So nice to see her here in one piece. Oh, and breathing, too, it looks like. And how does she hold her newfound title, may I ask?”
“Not well, I’m afraid,” Calioniel replied, sparing Pelith an apologetic glance.
“Now, just a moment, is that a sword?” Marawyn asked curiously.
“Indeed, she now bears my own sword. Which reminds me.” Pelith noticed her mother’s eyes become dark and her voice became low and hushed. “It is time, Marawyn. It is time for you to spread you wings and fly again.”
“Are you sure? For what reason?” The unicorn sounded...concerned? Pelith almost choked. She hadn’t any idea what all that nonsense of wings and flying was about.
“I will...let you two swap stories I will go and get Horen.” Calioniel left the two alone without another word.
“So...tell me, Pelith. Tell me everything.” Marawyn sounded so concerned, so genuine and sincere, that she obliged. She told him about finding the boy with her knife in his chest. She told how the people had chased her and Culia into the forest and staying for the night. She told him about waking to smoke and fire and Culia knocking her away from the dragon and how she sacrificed herself for Pelith. Pelith was so lost in her story, she hadn’t even realized that Calioniel had returned with her father until Horen put his hand on her arm. She jumped, surprised, and then buried her face in her father’s shoulder and sobbed. She was so tired, and the stress that weighed upon her was unbearable. He wrapped his strong yet gentle arms around her, enfolding her in the protection she had known since she was a young child.
“Pelith, my dear, I am sorry.” Horen pulled back just enough to look into his daughter's eyes. “But you must be strong. Hold fast to your bravery; you will need it in the days to come. Understand this one thing: You are the tinder that will fuel the flame that is this kingdom. Without you, Moridian will be no more. You must now travel to Qigondra. Marawyn will explain your situation on the way there, and you must talk to Niolas when you arrive. I am sorry that your mother and I cannot be the ones to tell you everything-” He wiped a tear rolling down Pelith’s check. “But there is no time. You are in danger here. Now. Marawyn...well, he isn’t a normal unicorn. He is much more than that. We agreed to let him stay here to help him conceal this secret. Marawyn is a talking unicorn, and so he is already greatly desired. Still, there is more to him than the naked eye can see. His kind are so rare, there are only whispers of their existence, even in legends. There are several names for his kind, but they are most commonly referred to as cerapters. Marawyn,” Horen nodded at him. “My wife speaks the truth; it is time.”
Marawyn stepped forward and bowed his head slightly. He shook his body like a wet dog might, and the purple robe-like blanket slid off the tip of his thrashing tail. From his sides sprouted giant, dove like wings. Pelith shrieked and jumped back in surprise. “How-” Her voice failed her. Her thoughts evaded her mind. She stared like she would never see the light of day again.
She remembered what her father had said, about how rare it was to simply hear the name cerapter, and a memory tugged at the back of her mind. A childhood story of a unicorn and a pegasus, animals of two sides of great conflicts, somehow fell in love, and from them came the first cerapter, the first winged unicorn, whom they named Bralla. But the other pegasi and unicorns became outraged by their love, and slayed the young cerapter before he could even drink his mothers milk. Bralla’s father, the pegasus whose name was Haendalath, was heartbroken and vowed that as long as he lived, no child of any any animal of the equidae family would be so heartlessly murdered. Haendalath became a famous pegasus, and saved many lives, not just the younglings.
To the pegasi, he was a saint. To the unicorns, he was a disgraced animal which brought into the world a monster, but eventually proved himself worthy of his life and freedom. For talking horses, mules, donkeys and the rest of the equidae family, he was a hero. The story took place centuries ago, when men were few and talking beasts of all sort were abundant across the lands. Few believe that there ever was a cerapter, that instead the child took after either his mother, Freinna the unicorn, and was born without wings and simply a horn, or that he was like his father, he was born hornless, but with wings. Still others believe that it was just a myth, and there was never a pegasus named Haendalath, a unicorn named Freinna, and most certainly not a cerapter named Bralla. Pelith didn’t know what to think when it came to this not-so-child-friendly children’s tale. She accepted the story as it was-a story-for she loved the old fables of the ancient times, whether every word was truth, or if her father had just made it up in the spot when she was younger. She enjoyed reading of these legends, but she didn’t give much of an opinion on whether or not she believed them, unlike most people.
Until Marawyn stood before her, though, his secret exposed, horn raised high and wings spread out, she realized she had never believed that there had been a cerapter named Bralla. She understood this, finally, because suddenly she knew what it felt like to accept myth as truth. For the unattainable to become feasible. She believed in the impossible.
“He will take you to Qigondra,” her mother’s voice was gentle, but sorrow-filled.
“What?” Pelith exclaimed, dumbfounded. “Why would I leave? Are you saying that you are not coming with me?”
“Pelith, it is not safe for you here. There is no time to wait. Because of his wings, Marawyn can get you there within a week. Since on horseback it would take twice as long, Niolas will not be there when you get there, but you will present yourself to King Calulas as the princess of Moredian who left for Qigondra the day after her father’s crowning. You will say you wish to train so that you could return and help Moredian form a small military for security purposes. And you will train, my dear. You will learn to wield a sword and dagger for more than hunting deer and rabbits. When Niolas arrives, tell about the boy and Culia. Tell only him. Tell not even King Calulas. Niolas will then explain what Marawyn cannot. And you will use the skills which you will learn how he instructs you. You will understand. Take this,” Calioniel handed her daughter a brown sack to sling over her shoulder. “Food and supplies. There are clothes, a blanket, and a fancy dress in the bag I gave you earlier. You must wear the dress the day you enter Qigondra, and you should fly in riding side saddle. It will seem more regal.”
Pelith stared at her mother. She was being sent away. With Marawyn. Alone. But to train? Never in her life had she thought her mother would send her away, much less to Qigondra to train to fight. She didn’t understand why, or how a princess training to fight would make a reasonable explanation.
“Why must I go?” she asked quietly, though inside she was silently screaming. “Why can’t I stay?”
“If you leave tonight, you may have as much as two weeks before news spreads to our neighboring kingdoms. You’ll delay what would be an unjust punishment. Also-” Calioniel looked uneasily at her husband. “You must pursue the dragon.”
“This is some sort of joke, isn’t it? This can’t possibly be so readily send me off to face my closest friend’s murderer, and likely fail to escape with my life? And how could I possibly find this dragon?” Pelith protested, clearly distraught.
“We’re not simply sending you away, Pelith,” Horen replied. “I would give anything to take your place if I could, but it is impossible. I wish you did not have to go, but it is now inevitable. As for the dragon, he was seen fleeing west, and we have received word of fiery destruction in towns west of here. You will go west to Qigondra and, when ready, search for the dragon. There is not enough time now for us to explain everything. Marawyn will tell you the rest.”
“Why must it be me?”
“You will see. Just remember, we have always loved you, and we always will.” Such an unsatisfying, un informative answer. Pelith felt helpless and alone.
Just then, the stable doors creaked open, the rusty hinges groaning as the door spread open wide. Pelith, Calioniel, Horen and Marawyn were in direct sight. The light of the torches that burned on the wall spilt through the opening and fell on thee face of a man.
“Jeridus!” Pelith cried. She ran into his arms and, after a moment of shock, he wrapped her into a hug.
“I thought you were dead,” he told her.
“The boy at the market-I know you didn’t do it. I know you’re innocent.”
Pelith sniffed. “I didn’t. I never touched him. Nut my knife…”
“I know, Pelith. I know.” And it was in that moment that Pelith made a decision. She wouldn’t do this alone. “For better or worse, she wouldn’t go without him.
“He’s coming with me,” She said, turning to face her parents. “I won’t leave without him.”
“And you expect me to carry both of you on my old back?” Marawyn asked, clearly not excited about his cargo. Jeridus opened his mouth to speak, but when he saw Marawyn, his voice faltered him.
“Oh, ah, yes. Marawyn-he’s a cerapter; a winged unicorn, a horned pegasus. I discovered this just moments ago,” Pelith explained.
“Yes. Tell me, boy, what have you come here for?” Marawyn asked, using his usual cruelty.
“I-I saw lights. And I heard voices. I came to check.” Pelith understood this. Jeridus stayed with his father in a small cottage atop the hill outside the stables. He could look after the horses from his kitchen window.
“We don’t have enough food for two humans. And you will slow me down. We don’t have time to waist,” Marawyn pointed out.
“Where are you going that you would need much food? Why are you leaving?”
“Qigondra. I’ll explain on the way. As for the food, I’ll hunt when we run out,” Pelith went to grab her bow and arrow and dagger from the drawers in Culia’s stall. She nelt in the be of straw from which a faint scent of horse could be detected. “Goodbye,” she whispered. As she stood back up, a small tuft of black fur caught on a rigid piece of wood caught her eyes, and she lifted her hand up to it. It was a bit of Culia’s wild mane, all tangled into a small ball of fur. Pelith took it and slid it into the pocket of her pants to keep as a small memory, the only physical part of her friend she had left.
She went to rejoin the others in Marawyn’s stall. She looked out a window and saw, behind the new forest fire, the sun poking up from the horizon, turning the clouds pink and orange. People would be up soon. With the confusions of this new disaster, she, Jeridus and Marawyn may be able to escape in the opposite direction without being seen. They would all think of her a dead. As for Jeridus and Marawyn, she hadn’t the slightest clue. Perhaps they would think Jeridus went looking for her, but was consumed by the flames. And few would even notice Marawyn’s absence, but those who did would likely be grateful.
Looking a bit to the west, Pelith could see the moon and stars. She wondered if Culia was up there, watching over her. She waited for a shooting star to cross the sky, a star to shine brighter than usual, or even the moon to grow a face and smile down at her. It didn’t. All the stars looked the same as ever. And if the moon had grown a face, it definitely wasn’t smiling.
She returned to Marawyn’s stall to find that Jeridus had already gone and packed and was ready to depart. She gathered her items and patted her pocket which held the bit of her friends mane. Looking around, she knew she may never live to see this place again. But with the painful memories the held, she was anxious to leave. She hugged her mother, who wiped a tear from her eye. When she went to her father, a thought occurred to her. “Father, if I am the tinder, and Moredian is the flame, what are the ashes?” She knew it was only a representation to show Pelith her worth to Moredian, but such a metaphor had to work more than one way.
Her father looked down at her, a twinkle in his eye. “Soon, you will discover this for yourself. When you return, I will be waiting for the answer.” They hugged, and Pelith walked over to Marawyn and mounted, Jeridus following her lead.
She looked once more at her mother and father. “Goodbye,” she whispered, and they were out of the stables before she could change her mind.
They flew over houses with with smoke billowing from chimneys and a few young children out doing their chores, collecting eggs and milking cows. They didn't notice a cerapter carrying the princess and and a stable boy. Pelith, who hadn't slept all night, yawned.
“Sleep,” Jeridus spoke into her ear. “I’ll wake you when we land.” Pelith did not argue. She leaned back against Jeridus’s chest and closed her eyes, slipping out of consciousness just as Marawyn disappeared from the sight of the waking villagers into the clouds.