When an entire way of life is threatened by one man, two women devise a plan to finally defeat him, doing something so drastic, no one expected it. Can these two, plus two others, separated by tim...
The wind whistled through the trees and over the grass. The generated breeze partially counteracted the immense heat of the day caused by the sun and its sister star in the sky. Except for the rustling of leaves and blades of grass, not a sound was made across the entire field. Everything was still.
Two girls lay beneath a tall tree, yet, if you had not seen them side-by-side, you would have sworn they were, in reality, one person. They were two completely separate people, although they had not met anyone who could reliably tell them apart.
As they relaxed there, under the tree whose boughs were partially hiding them, they were quietly trying not to think of what was going to happen the next day. With luck, no one would think to look for them out in the field.
The twins did not notice that a rose-colored light gathered around their bodies and, little by little, was drawn inside of them.
They also did not know that, not only one, but three sets of eyes were watching the as they lay in the shade under that tree.
The woman silently crept through the grass, careful that the two girls did not hear her. She had been watching over them her entire life, waiting and searching, hoping they were the ones. As she watched from her vantage point on the hill beyond the girls, she smiled to herself when she saw the light aura. It was time.
She turned and left the two to make plans and last minute arrangements.
Beyond the woman's sight, there was another. More sinister than his female counterpart, he also watched the girls. He kept to the shadows of the trees where none could detect him but the most skilled. He had found them at last. It would begin soon.
Laughing quietly, he pulled his cloak around his shoulders as he drew farther back into the grove. "Soon," he whispered. "Soon we will meet again, Beloveds."
Unknown to them all, another was watching all four from afar. The onlooker first gazed at the woman, watching as she smiled and as she backed off to complete the task set to her. As soon as she left the field, he looked elsewhere; she would do her job without his observance. The bystander next turned his attention to the man in the shadows, sneering at his pitiful attempt to cloak himself in darkness. His barely contained anger dissipated as soon as he focused on the two blond heads resting against the ground.
He grinned wryly before murmuring, "We have all done our jobs. Now it is up to you." He backed away from the bowl filled with water and turned to his assistants. "Prepare everyone. We leave as soon as we can be assembled."
"Tori! Keri! I should have guessed I would find you here." The twins grimaced as the voice of their housekeeper intruded upon the silence of the day. They opened their eyes to stare into the face of the displeased matron. While barely five feet tall, the woman commanded a certain presence that intimidated all but the most foolhardy. "Get yourselves inside and get cleaned up," she continued before they could say anything to defend themselves. "Sulking about and avoiding everyone is not going to make the morrow come any slower. You might as well come to grips with the truth and let the manor give you a proper farewell."
"But-" Tori tried to begin.
"No 'buts' about it, Mistress Tori," the formidable woman interrupted smoothly. As the other twin opened her mouth, the housekeeper continued, "Don't even start, Mistress Keri. Up you both get. Inside!"
"I was only going to ask how you told us apart, Cybele" Keri protested.
Cybele herded the reluctant twins back into the manor. After they were effectively shooed up to their suite of rooms, they saw nothing for it except to go along with everything. After all, it would make everyone happy, and they would be gone in the morning.
For as long as they could trace the family line back, it was tradition for the women, especially the heir, to be sent to the university in the capital to train as Healers or Mages after their eighteenth birthday. After four years of studying and the completion of her internship, she would return home and begin to take over leadership. This was unusual amongst the nobility: not many possessed the talent to manipulate the Energy around them either as a Healer or a Mage. That every generation of women would have at least one woman with such a talent was practically unheard of. The only family with such a phenomenon documented was the Rosebush family, actually.
Tori and Keri had just turned eighteen. The next day, they would be leaving the manor, their home. They had been dreading this ever since they learned about it. The University meant no more running free through the fields; no more hiding from Cybele in the trees where she never thought to look. It meant being confined: conformed to what was "proper" behavior for future ladies of Rosebush Manor. But no amount of crying, pleading, begging, or anything of the sort would convince their mother to not send them away. She would just look at them and tell them to comport themselves of their proper age and station; they would love the university once they got their and made friends of the proper sort. She did not allow them to consort with girls who were not either nobility or gifted with the Talent, which resulted in them having no one but each other to play with as they were growing up.
Soon, the twins found themselves standing at the top of the grand staircase that led down to the Entrance Hall. The two were properly coiffed as heirs to a large holding should be. Both were dressed identically in burgundy and gold, except that the colors were reversed: what was gold in one twin was burgundy. Each was wearing their finest breeches that came to their mid-calves, where knee-high dress boots over-top the breeches. Long tunics with slits up the sides completed the ensemble. The maids had spent an hour on each twin, piling hair on top of their heads, secured by pearl-studded pins. Finally, they were declared presentable and sent to descend for their formal farewells.
Tori bit her lip as she and her sister waited for the footman to open the large, double doors and announce them to the guests. She couldn't believe that it was already time to leave. After spending her entire life at the manor, never straying far, she did not feel ready to go off by herself. Glancing at her twin, Tori could hardly believe that Keri felt the same way. Keri held herself composed no matter what; Tori was the one who was more likely to let her emotions take control, earning a reputation for being a hothead with a quick temper.
As the door was opened, Tori took a deep breath and tried to compose her features, following Keri's lead. Together, the two of them walked forward as the footman announced, "Lady Torissa L'Nithe and Lady Kerilla L'Nithe." The twins stepped in perfect synchronization through the opened doors and down the stairs. The guests had all turned to watch them, and as they reached the bottom landing, they began to clap and cheer. The twin heiresses were well-liked.
Keri looked at her sister, lips twitching upwards in a smile. Tori couldn't help but grin back. The turned to look at their friends, their family, their people. They each raised a hand in thanks and smiled all the broader. As if it were a signal, everyone returned to what they had been doing; the girls continued walking towards the center of the room where their mother was waiting, waving greetings to those they passed.
"You both look beautiful," their mother, the Great Lady Nithe told her daughters as they reached the raised dais where she was seated with a circle of elder guests. She rose to embrace her daughters, whispering in their ears, "I could not be prouder of you both."
When she released them, a swarm of guests their age converged on them, babbling overtop one-another. All the young men were vying for the chance to dance, all the young women joking and gossiping like the old friends they were. Both Tori and Keri would be sad to say goodbye. However, Tori was determined to enjoy her last night home.
Her eyes scanned the other youngsters surrounding herself and her sister. "Of course I will dance with you, Jacpur," she told one of her oldest friends. She held her hand out for him to grasp and the two of them moved out to the dance floor.
Keri watched her sister with a grin. She looked at all the slightly disappointed-looking young men. She sighed, and targeted the glummest looking. "Patyr, you may be my first dance partner." Laughing at his sudden turn of mood, she let him lead her to the floor next to her sister.
For hours, the two danced, passed from one young man to another. It was difficult to believe this was the last time they would be dancing like this for years. Tori and Keri had always enjoyed dancing and flirting with the well-off males their age. Until the clock struck the chime after midnight the twins whirled around the dance floor.
Before everyone retired to their rooms to rest, Great Lady Nithe rose from her seat and addressed the crowd, "I thank you all for coming this night. I know that both I and my daughters appreciate your presence. Think not though that this is a farewell for all time; think instead that this is farewell for now. Torissa and Kerilla will return to us soon, wiser and well able to follow after me. We can stand firm in the knowledge that they will not forget us and will do their best to make us proud. They will not let Rosebush down!" As she finished, the assembled guests cheered while Tori and Keri blushed.
The next morning, Tori and Keri were roused early by their maids. Still wiping sleep from their eyes, they made their way to the stables, where their horses were waiting for them. Silently, they mounted their horses, and waited for the rest of their guard to arrive. They would be accompanied by a small contingent of the Manor's ten best soldiers and Mitsi, the Manor's Guard Captain. Nithe took absolutely no chances when it came to the safety of her only daughters and heirs.
Silently, Mitsi handed each young woman a hot, wrapped pastry stuffed with cheese, then she gave the order to ride out. Immediately, three guards went ahead to scout the road in front; another three remained slightly behind to guard the rear. Mitsi rode directly ahead of the twins. Two guards rode to either side of the girls and the remaining two rode directly behind them. No one expected trouble, but it had a way of creeping up on the unsuspecting.
That evening, they made camp to the side of the road. Tori and Keri's bedrolls were in the center of the camp, with their guards surrounding them. When the twins were asleep, Mitsi assigned watches to the guards, taking the first one for her and one other. They would wake the next shift in two chimes. Never before had she had trouble staying awake for her watch. Neither had any of the guards accompanying her. At least, they never fell asleep twice. Never-the-less, when she glanced at her companion, she was dismayed to notice the other guard's eyes drooping. Before she could stand up and deliver a scathing lecture on the dangers of falling asleep while on watch, she felt her own eyes slipping shut. No matter how hard she tried, Mitsi could not keep her eyes open.
Upon awaking in the morning, the first thing Tori noticed was that there was a strange man sitting on a rock near-by. She discretely poked her twin in the ribs and both she and Keri sat up slowly.
Not only was there a strange man sitting there staring at them, but all of their guards were bound and gagged and left lying on the ground like logs. Circling their camp, there were over twenty men, all armed but doing mundane tasks like readying their horses and preparing the morning meal.
The man watched them with a slight smile on his face. "Good morn," he called across the camp to them in a deceptively pleasant voice. "I have been waiting for this day for years. It has been way too long, Beloveds."