PROLOGUE


Oaran Lere, the Water bearer, and Sicajes youngest daughter of Lord Elogan Alvirre leader of Ipils Caltren were married in the old warrior tradition. They had much to celebrate. Once more, the hordes had been defeated and a new life waited to be experienced without fear from war. The first war began before Sicajes was born. Oaran was just a child. Their fathers fought side by side. It claimed the lives of many of their family and friends.
Now with the second war over, Oaran and Sicajes made secret plans. They did not wish to raise a child in the shadow of mountains saturated with the blood of fallen comrades. Therefore, in the spring they joined a caravan bound for Venthele.










CHAPTER I


T'Liquii was leery of the two strangers. Some of the workers had seen them last night. Gossip of their identity flowed throughout Caravans Return. They had found their way to his camp before sunrise. The couple sought passage to Venthele, but reluctant to speak of anything outside of their destination found themselves walking amongst workers in the ready for the crossing. After learning of the caravan’s direction, they inquired of the leader if they might join his crossing. They were willing to pay any price.

T’T'Liquid’s apprehension did not stop him from accepting the couple’s payment. “Now that you have secured passage have you given any thought as to supplies for the crossing?”
Oaran hesitated to answer as T'Liquii moved in closer.
“Have you lost your tongue?” asked T'Liquii looking at the supplies gathered at their feet.
“Yes. I mean no. What I mean is that...we...” Oaran tried to find the words to respond.
T’Liquii put his hand up causing Oaran to stop speaking. Their eyes followed his movements as he lean to right. “Let’s see what you have here,” he interrupted as he half-heartedly went through their belongings.
“You have not given this much thought. The crossing is long and a dangerous journey. Those provisions will not last.” T’Liquii looked at Oaran. “You will help with the livestock and repairs.”
“That will be fine, Sir.”
T'Liquii then turned to Sicajes. She had begun to show signs of disapproval. Oaran squeezed her hand ever so tightly. Glancing back, she then gave his hand a responding squeeze. Oaran’s eyes remained on T'Liquii as he loosened the grip on her hand.
“And you will join the women's wagon.” Sicajes stared defiantly back at T'Liquii. “There you will help with cooking and washing clothes. This you will do as payment for the additional provisions needed by the both of you.”
She had been a warrior all her life and of the house Al Virre. Her lineage went back hundreds of years. Oaran was aware of her warrior’s pride and they had spoken about it.
Oaran nodded, “My wife and I are in your debt,” he promised looking at Sicajes.
“And you will work to pay that debt off,” answered T'Liquii as he left them standing alone.

They spent the morning preparing for the crossing. T'Liquii received the last of the cargo for transport from several merchants. Oaran left with some of the men to gather supplies. Sicajes went to the women's wagon. There she found women busy storing salted meats and flour. Some had traveled with the caravan for many years. A few were born to the caravan. The men had loaded barrels of wine and oils earlier that morning. The water wagon had its last layer of hide secured and readied by two men.
“I am to help with the women's work,” she directed at the women.
Waiting for their response she looked around spotting the barrels of wine, she recognized the stains on the exterior of the wooden barrels. Just then, a couple of the women looked up and briefly at Sicajes. As any warrior there, she stood proud and courageous. The life of an archer had made her lean and strong, and like most of her people, tall. She could not have been more out of place.
The women giggled attracting the attention of the two men securing the water wagon. Sicajes turned to see them looking as the women returned to their task.
Turning back Sicajes could repeated, “I said I have come...”
Just then, an older woman came around from the other side of the water wagon. Hearing her Sicajes turned and looked at her. She seems different from the rest, she thought, something about her eyes. Believing the old woman to be in charge Sicajes spoke distinctly yet with disdain.
“I have been sent by T'Liquii,” looking resentfully at the other women, “to help with the women's work.”
“The wine is to be delivered to Sescla Kur,” grumbled the old woman.
Confused she responds, “Wine?” Resenting the old woman’s insinuation, “I was waiting for someone,” Sicajes paused for moment as once again she looked over at the other women. Turning back the older women stood with her hands on her hips, “then I guess you know.”
Ignoring her words, the old woman looked Sicajes over from head to toe. “Let me see your hands. Good, now turn…around.”
The old woman turned Sicajes one way then other. She pulled on her hair and checked her ears. With every poke and with prodding, she could feel her impatience growing. As a child, she never liked being touched or fussed over. It was the same with Cyrtapia, her mother’s midwife.
Angrily she demanded, “What is this? Am I to be auctioned off to the highest bidder like some prized mare?” She protested as some of the others nearby began to take notice.
“Silence child!” The old woman sternly commanded walking away.
She steps towards the old woman. The old woman turns startling Sicajes. Drawing her dagger, Sicajes quickly notices the other women stand up in quiet terror as they watch, the old woman approaches.
“That will be enough my child. Place back your blade to its sheath,” the old woman calmly requested. “You need not fear me,” assured the old woman, “I needed to be sure.”
Not understanding Sicajes huffed at the old woman’s intentions. “Fear you!” Others began to gather. “Why did you startle me so? I could have injured you.” She paused for a moment looking at the others coming closer. “I am not afraid of anyone or anything,” she boasted loudly.
“Good,” half-heartedly answered the old woman.
Sicajes began to tremble from the anger building within her. She had not noticed Oaran and the other men approaching.
“So you have never done women's work,” the old woman responded walking over to check the work being done by the other women. “Of that I am sure,”
“I have never done women's work?” Repeated Sicajes back to the old woman whom now showed signs of being almost disinterested in anything she had to say. “Why would I do women's work?’ she asked following the old woman, “I am not a beast of burden!” Sicajes remarked feeling her face go flush, as she could not contain the rage any longer. “Do you have any idea who I am,” stepping in the old woman’s path blocking her move. “Let me tell you something, old woman! I am the daughter of...”
“Sicajes!” shouted Oaran as he came around the back of a wagon. “That is no way to speak to an old woman.”
“Oaran, I was about...”
Oaran pulled Sicajes over to the side. They spoke quietly of secrets and vows.
“I know my love. It will get much more difficult to keep our goal in mind. Remember we must not trust in anyone. We are not in the Eternal Forest. These are strange surroundings. We are at the mercy of these desert people and must accept their ways.”
“Oaran listen to me. The old woman knows. She told me that I have never done woman's work. She purposely startled me. I drew my dagger when she caught me off guard.”
“You did what?”
They both turned to see most of the caravan staring back. T'Liquii was off to the far right tending to business matters with a merchant representing a triad.
Not many Triads remained after the disbanding by the council. After the conflict, those that remained in business kept their operations small so as not to draw attention. Presently they carve out meager profits by conducting business outside the influence of the Elders. The Triads played a pivotal part in the history of the valley. They could have been an achievement worthy of legend. Instead, they have placed a people down a path of darkness and the very thing from which Oaran and Sicajes sought escape.
“There seems to be a problem with some of your caravan workers,” said the farmer.
“Not to worry. Just a couple of new recruits working their first crossing. It always happens.” T'Liquii quickly glanced back over his shoulder. I knew these two would bring me trouble, he thought.
“You have brought much attention our way,” said Oaran as panic began to grip him. “I will have to think of what to tell the caravan leader.”
“How about the truth? It always worked before.”
Replied Sicajes as she walked away then turning back. “If the old woman has figured something out it won't be long before the others do,” she stood waiting for his answer
“Long before the others what?” T’Liquii asked startling them both.
They had not heard him. Oaran felt an explanation would help with their dilemma. “We haven't been totally honest with you. You see we are not whom you think,” confessed Oaran.
T'Liquii stood grinning as Oaran tried to explain who they were. Oaran had always been patient. Sicajes on the other hand had not acquired as much of that virtue as Oaran would have liked.
“Oaran,” said Sicajes. “Oaran,” she repeated.
“My beloved can you see I am trying...”
“Just tell him!”
“You can not just come out with something like that.”
“Like what,” began T’Liquii, “The fact that your wife is Sicajes Al Virre daughter of Lord Elogan, High Kinsman of Ipils Caltren and head of the Pine Barons of the Eternal Forest or that you are Oaran Lere the Water bearer and the only human to have ever seen the Black Towers of Castle E’Drosh and lived.”
“How did you know?” said Oaran.
“My suspicions were confirmed by Equingeal, the midwife.”
“She startled me and you deceived us!” said Sicajes.
“Not anymore than you and your husband intended to do to me.”
They stood for a moment in silence. T'Liquii extended his hand giving Oaran a reassuring handshake. He looked at Sicajes and bowed his head slightly.
“Your secret is safe with me and my caravan.” Moving in closer, “I thought the women's wagon would be the best place to hide the daughter of Lord Elogan.” Something caught T’Liquii’s attention as he paused for a moment to investigate with his hearing. “You have much to learn my young friends.” T’Liquii turned to see of the disruption he heard nearby. “I have sent word to Lord Elogan of your passage with my caravan,” turning and walking towards the disruption he adds loudly, “and as your benefactor I expect you to respect my wishes.”
“I will do as you say only because my husband has given his word,” reluctantly Sicajes promised.
“Good,” shouted T'Liquii as he hurried to see about the other disturbance. “Now get busy we have much to do and I want to be on route before nightfall.”
Oaran and Sicajes worked along side the other men and women. There were wagons to finish loading with provisions. Shopkeepers and the traders carted in last minute wares that also needed loading. T'Liquii tended to some last minute details. The caravan broke camp just before nightfall and began its journey across the Great Expanse.
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