One woman’s secret could see Britain fall forever...
Born in exile, Aelida will witnesses the rise and fall of kings and fight for her people’s very existence. For she holds a great secret... Only one man knows of it, and he will do anything to possess it--he who has brought about her family’s destruction, he who brought about the death of all Britain held dear...
My name is Aelida.
I have at last come to a time when I feel that my life is complete enough to set down in words what I have done, how I have lived.
This is not for myself, for I have never had much respect for those who dwell on the past and its memories to the detriment of the present, but for my sons. They are young men now, beginning their own journey and, as such, want to know their history and how they came to be.
They see me as I am now and scoff at the idea that their mother could have ever had anything but the peaceful existence they have always taken for granted.
I smile at their scepticism, for that is the prerogative of youth, to believe that only they understand life and how to live.
My daughter is more like me at that age. Quiet, thoughtful, but with a will of iron and fiery passion even her older brothers know not to cross, she sees the world through different eyes. I feel the world will test her much as it tested me. I fear that, but inside I know she will survive it all as I survived.
I was once told that we are never thrown more by the Gods than we can handle. They must have known my inner self as I did not then.
The drums of war beat again, and I sense changes on the horizon, changes that bode ill for our peaceful way of life. Perhaps the words I write will help to make my children understand that the way of our home is not the way of the world.
I am forty-five now, in a time when many fail to survive past thirty-five. This has been a blessing, for it has dulled the early years of my life, and yet with change on the way, I begin to wonder if I have lived too long.
Still, I am healthy and strong and that, for now, is enough.
I sit here, staring out at the sunrise, candle at my elbow, wondering how to start and how to identify with those long ago times and the girl that existed then.
My name is Aelida.
I was born in a village by the name of Lasim along the coast of the Inner Sea, a quiet town that existed in the rhythms of the sea, much as farmers exist in the turn of the seasons. The land itself was rich and verdant, but the folk there stuck stubbornly to the ways of their forefathers and their livelihood on the water, so farming was only on a very small scale. Still, in the places where the thick forest had been cleared and fields made for food and livestock such as sheep, cattle, and the occasional horse; these small plots produced rich yields of grain and hay. Certainly the wool of the sheep was known near and far as the finest in the land.
The people were hardy, self-sufficient, proud of their heritage, and close-minded to strange ways and strange people.
As a child, I sometimes heard stories about my mother and her arrival from gossiping women in the small village. Their voices held a certain amount of spite and they always stopped talking if they had any inkling I was listening. To my mother’s face they were polite, if distant, but I believe that my mother knew full well their view of her, though she never spoke ill of them or their ways.
My father and a group of his men had arrived there on a storm-tossed night with my mother and two older ladies, asking for shelter. Their ship had been fine, much larger than anything else in the harbour, and the village elder, Walice, had taken them into his own home.
People had come the next morning to gawk at the newcomers. My father and his men were like nothing these folk had ever seen. Warriors. Hard, fierce men who fascinated the children and scared the old ones.
The next day my father had left three men with his wife and two aunts, and sailed away, obviously with the intent of returning.
For weeks, my mother would stand down on the shore, her hands stroking the life inside her, her eyes fixed on the horizon, past the white foam of the waves that lashed the shoreline.
She waited, but he did not return.
Walice politely found the newcomers a vacant house, little more than a hut really, back toward the forest. That was where I was born. Into poverty such as my mother could never accept.
Months passed. Her money dwindled. In desperation, she bought an old, large boat and sent two of the men off in search of her husband.
They too never came back.
It seemed my father had had many enemies and they must have prevailed over him. My mother never truly let go of her hope. From the moment I can first remember, she talked of him, trying to make him live in my memory as he lived in hers. I do not know if she realized that it simply made him into a story for me; he was never quite real in my life.
As time went on, my father’s aunts, both old when they had arrived, died shortly after each other, broken hearted, and only three of us lived in the little hut. There were always ugly stories circulating about the relationship between my mother and the guardsman known as Hal but, if there was anything inappropriate happening, my childish mind never picked up on it.
Hal was my friend. I was a lonely child; the village children always viewed me as odd, a target of spite and laughter. Hal, when he wasn’t working down at the village to earn coin enough to keep us fed, spent lots of time with me. He was a woodsman more than he was a warrior, and, perhaps because of this, the people seemed to accept him better. He seemed able to gain their confidence as my mother and I never could.
He taught me many things about the forest and it became my escape. By the time I could properly talk, I knew the birds and creatures by name, and could sit quiet and still until they almost forgot my presence. This technique would serve me well in later years as I used it to avoid people’s attentions. It was almost as though by believing myself invisible, I became so in other’s eyes.
The war that took my father never touched this place; things changed slowly here and the only true markers in the passage of months were the children. I grew, as children will, and by that my mother gauged time. I was a wild little thing, perhaps more a creature of the forests than human. Certainly I was happier in animals’ company than with people.