Sixth of Crown of Ice 2623

My dear Kisa,

It is a wonder I have any time to write, but tonight I write by the light of a hearth at an inn more than a week's journey from Cragside. I find writing helps settle my thoughts, and I feel almost as though I'm speaking to you. I'm afraid you might have quite a bundle of messages from me once the snow has melted from the Pass!

I mentioned in my previous letter some of the troubles we — my small band and I — encountered in Cragside. One of the tasks we accomplished was rescuing a young woman from the man who had kidnapped her. In this endeavor, not only did I kill a man who threatened my new friend Kadri, but another of our group killed the man who had kidnapped the girl. As it turns out, the kidnapper was a Velikii; what an Imperial of their highest family was doing kidnapping girls in Cragside I'm afraid we were not able to discover. It was necessary for us to leave the town quickly. We did, however, entrust the girl to the keeping of Samara Kelleni, as an apprentice. I believe Samara will be contacting the Khorall about the return of the last shipment of ore that went out before she began the embargo. I'm afraid that was my idea, though in my defense I will say that giving young Elise a fair price for the ore — one that will allow her to pay the taxes on her home and leave a bit to begin her own venture when she has learned all she can from Samara — is quite a small price to pay to quell some of the disasters you have foreseen. I quite like Samara; it is interesting that she neatly slipped into the conversation the fact that she is your mother's cousin. I doubt any but I noticed.

But my first duty was to tell you of the interesting people I have met; not to catalog the troubles we have faced! Oh, how I wish you could meet some of them, Kisa. I told you a bit about Kadri... I think you would enjoy her unpredictability. She has quite a sense of humor, as well.

And then there is Darian. She is a Hunter with a companion snarkhound by the name of Longtooth; they are followers of Khannish. (And if I were not writing in Ancient, I would be hesitant to say anything of this pair except their names.) They are the last of their Pack; the rest having been taken either first by sickness, or finally by the Montagues. I know anger at the Montagues serves no purpose but to cloud my mind, but to see the sorrow in their eyes stirs both anger at the Montagues and a fierce protectiveness for both Hunter and Hound. They need little protection from me; that does not stop me from wanting to see them safely to a new home, a new Pack.

While Darian and Longtooth are, indeed, fearsome Hunters, I find they are also good and decent people. Perhaps it seems odd to refer to a ruff as a person... I know some of my companions think me odd when I address my comments to him... but he has as much intelligence as many two-legged folk I know, and more intelligence than some. Though Darian must interpret his thoughts for me, I can see in his eyes that he understands every word I say. Darian's skill with the bow is a thing of beauty, such is her grace, speed and accuracy. Though she was on a pitched roof and taken by surprise, the villain who had thought to ambush her did not have a chance.

I believe I failed to mention we had been staying at the Inn that is the winter quarters for the Wild Horde mercenary troop. I'm sure you're aware that my Temple-sister, Verchovai Dandelion Koromov, leads them. If there is any regret I have about leaving Cragside behind, it would be the missed opportunities to converse with her about so many things. The one conversation we had left me wanting to know more about her, to know the full story of how Verchovai Poppy found her and trained her. Her life has been so very different than mine, and I have known her less than a handful of days, but I feel as comfortable with her as I feel with Gilly.

She did say one thing in our conversation that amused me at first. She named me Lady Daxia, Knight of Dawnview Castle. This led to a discussion of how titles can be tools, and meanings that are attached to words. I believe at the end I did accept that the granting of your Favor allowed for the title of Knight, though not in the Dayalan sense... not yet anyway. I will be Verchovai some day, but the more I consider it, the more it pleases me to be your Knight of Dawnview Castle until that time the title of Verchovai is rightfully mine.

But Lady Daxia? Oh, Kisa! How I wanted to laugh when she said that, but I feared to wake those sleeping in the common room. I, daughter of a swordsmith and a country woman, a Lady? Perhaps I was an uncommon child, for I never even daydreamed about such things... I was too busy daydreaming about unicorns! The Verchovai was quite serious, though, saying that as long as I thought of myself as a commoner, I would always be a commoner. But I am a Dayalan... this is what I replied to her... and Dayala does not care much for heritage, so I saw no necessity for such a title. I think of myself as Dayalan, not as a commoner. Still, I have been thinking on that as well... but have not yet found a reason for which calling myself "Lady" makes any sense.

What all this thinking has done, Kisa, is make me wonder more and more about my family. How strange is it that I have always been satisfied with the tiny bit of information I have about my mother and father? But reuniting with Bekkah, and learning that Dandy can trace her heritage back a handful of generations or more by simply knowing her own name really makes me long to know more about who Yuri Tashasdotter was; know more about who Eelia Darksmith was. What were their families like? How did they meet? How is it that I came to have the Allaine gift; where along the lines of family tracing did that occur? And I suppose, most importantly, who would even know that information?

I see that I have once again strayed from the main topic of this letter... to tell you of my companions and others I meet. I should also mention one other regret I have about leaving Cragside, and that is the lost opportunity to train with Dandy's Second, Barris Ironhand. I had one lesson with him before we left, and it left me more bruised than even Reena had been able to accomplish for many seasons... and despite the bruises, I found his instruction most useful, and his manner of teaching quite patient.

As Barris is Jvrillian, I will say more about Mikal, the Jvrillian with whom I Contracted. Kisa, had I not known from the beginning that that he followed Jvrill, with his manners and keen sense of honor, I might have thought him a Knight of Rames. Tales that he tells of his past adventures, and his behavior toward everyone he meets, shows there is much goodness in his heart. He tells a tale of rescuing a village from the constant attention of bandits, rescuing the maidens of the village from the hands of the bandits, and he did this all knowing the only payment he would receive was the horse of the last mercenary who tried — and failed — to rid the town of the bandits. As it turns out, he was paid handsomely, for Talia is a fine mare; she merely needs training. I have suggested that he, Kadri and I travel to Mikaelsson Farm to have Talia, Lisica and Fern further trained. Whether this will happen, I do not know. But I find I enjoy his company; after our conversation this evening following our sparring session, I believe I may even consider him a friend.

The subject of our conversation was another member of our party, a young girl from the backwoods of the High Tarn... though somehow he managed to elicit a tale from me about Kassia first. I had noticed that he seem worried about Celi since our departure from Cragside, and asked him about it. He seemed reluctant to speak of it, and though I thought I knew the reasons for his reluctance, I did need to know if there was anything beyond my suspicions... and see if there might be a way to set his mind as ease.

He told me of the night he and Celi led the Dark Mark away from Cragside; the night we rescued Elise and killed the Velikii. It was a tale that did not surprise me in its facts, though I was concerned that Celi was so openly displaying things that would get her burned should an Imperial hear of them... or even a less tolerant pagan, for that matter. She told him all manner of things she had learned from her grandmother, things that only confirmed my suspicions that she is a Covener. She has a bound-companion, a softpad, and Mikal has convinced himself that Celi is merely a member of a spirit cult. I could see in his eyes, Kisa, that he did not wish to know the truth, and so merely spoke to him of spirit cults... mentioning the good folks at Mikaelsson Farm, who speak to the spirit of the Horse; that those who are members of spirit cults are considered harmless and silly by the Imperials. He had told Celi to be sure to keep the softpad away from the group, and I affirmed that his advice was sound. It would be most awkward for the softpad to approach the group and be shot by Darian before Celi could say more than a word or two. And the one thing that he said to her — that it wasn't as if she was a Coven Witch — that I would not have been able to say, should have been fair warning to the girl that most people fear those of her kind. Still, she continues to brag of skills a girl from an isolated part of the Tarn probably would not possess... and I have seen others in the party eyeing her with more than curiosity; there has been some annoyance, though no overt hostility yet. I must take some time to speak with her, and remind her that most people know a different story of the Second Age, and that story is not a happy one. Perhaps the fact that I know more of the history of the Second Age — though no doubt our Dayalan stories differ from the Covener ones — will convince her to listen to the advice Mikal has been trying to give her... to remain unobtrusive, to refrain from bragging.

I have yet to tell you of Camelia — I may have mentioned that she is Dandy's sister — or Cesare, nor have I shared the story of my reunion with Bekkah. I will write of them at my next opportunity of solitude.

For now, I will close and say only that I miss you with all of my heart. Although I am learning many things out here beyond Snowgate Pass, the most important thing had been learned as we stood in the shadow of the Keep. I think of you often, my love, and wish I had the magic that would allow me to do so little as to hold your hand in mine.

I am, and always will be, yours...

© Kelly Naylor
The Heartwood and all characters not otherwise expressly stated are © Kh'Lyh'ra Press / Mike Naylor