Chapter 1

Holidays and Candles

“Concentrate, Pallu,” Nimshi admonished his daughter. 

 

For the hundredth time.

The flames of candles that ringed her flickered as if wind blew at them. There, however, was no wind in this dungeon of a room in the cellar of Nimshi’s home. “I’m trying, Father. I have only done it once.”

 

“And you must do it again and again ‘til you are proficient.”

 

“Why must you push me so?”

 

“Because you are so gifted, child, that you have begun the work of masters and you are not yet out of your teens. I have only…” He closed his mouth, not wanting to give fuel to the girl’s pride though she never mentioned or boasted her uncanny abilities. 

 

Her green eyes flashed over to him. “I am not worthy of such praise. I’m just a girl.”

 

The anger in her voice softened him as he recalled seeing her with the smithy’s apprentice. Just a girl. He sighed and waved his hand. Four candles blew out. The smoke tendrils from the wicks filled his nostrils as he stepped over them and stood before his daughter. With his hands placed gently on her shoulders he smirked. “Does this have anything to do with that boy?”

 

“No. I am just saying that I’m not all that great. I think you think too highly of me.”

 

He laughed from the bottom of his stomach. “I should like to meet a father who does not. And you are only what you think you are.

No wonder you can not think straight with these thoughts in your head.” He laughed a little and punched her playfully on the arm. Then seriousness came over his face like a dark cloud. “Do you not want to do this? If not, speak, Pallu. You should not do what you do not want to. Especially concerning something as serious as you are doing.”

 

“Holding the flames still is not so serious.”

 

“No but leading a life you don’t want to is.”

 

She sighed and looked up at him as if he were some hero of old. Pallu usually looked at him like that, especially during her training. “I love this, Papa. I just wish sometimes to be like everyone else. I have lived my life among the adults, and I do not know how to act around those my own age.”

 

“Why have you not spoken sooner?” His voice sounded truly stunned by her answer.

“Because I didn’t want you to think that I don’t enjoy what I do. I love it. This unhappiness of sorts is something newly discovered. I just recently am able to put words to my thoughts.”

 

Nimshi was silent as he pondered his daughter’s words. “What you need is a holiday.”

 

“A what?”

 

“A holiday. A break. Time off.”

 

She stood hesitantly. “I’m allowed that?”

 

“Of course you are. Even the king and queen take time out from their ruling.”

“Truly, Papa? I’ve never heard of that.”

“Why do you think they go to the hunting lodge or to other places? You have worked hard for so many years, Pallu. I think that a holiday is in store. Put the stuff away. I’ll wait for you by the stairs.”

Dumbstruck, Pallu watched her father move to the dark doorway and regard her. With a wave of her hand, half the flames died. The other half floated into the air and found their places on the chandler made of a wagon wheel. With the light filling the dark places of the room, Pallu turned to the unlit candles, and they flew into a nearby crate, and the cushion she sat upon floated to cover the boxed candles. Then the cushion-covered crate lifted into the air and found its home atop a cabinet. As she walked to the door, she winked at Nimshi, and the chandler went out.

“Well done, love.” He put his arm around her shoulders as they ascended the stairs. “Now, where would you like to go?”

“I don’t know.”

They were both silent until they reached the door that opened, seemingly, of its own volition. “Why not Selaras? It’s nearly time to celebrate Spring and the festivals are very nice. Not too big though.”

“I’ve never been there.” The door shut.

“It’s where I grew up and was born. You’ll like it. Rather relaxing.”

The pair sat before the hearth in two large armchairs. “When should we be going?”

He laughed. “Right now. But there is no ‘we’ here. I think you should go alone.”

“What?! Are you ill?”

His laughter peeled from his stomach as she placed a mocking hand to his forehead. “Probably. What? Are you afraid of traveling alone?”

“No,” she stated without a moment of hesitation. They both knew she was more than capable of handling herself. “I’m just surprised that you would say it. Not to mention allow it.”

“Well, you are past the time of my coddling you, and you have proven you’re trustworthy many times over. Besides. Selaras is just a day’s ride away. The king’s roads are safe and so is the town.”

“Do we have family there?”

“No.” Sadness crept into the word like a thief. “They are all gone now. Either moved or dead. I think a week or two excluding travel there and back would be fair. No?”

Her head moved back to consider him. “Are you sure this is alright? What will you do while I’m gone?”

“I don’t really know. Perhaps I’ll have a bit of a holiday myself.” He patted her knee. “Go upstairs and pack, love. Before I change my mind. I’ll get the horse ready.”

Pallu threw her arms around his neck before dashing upstairs. The door flew open the moment her eyes touched it. Through the portal she went, and as her eyes fell onto various items she would need, they flew to her bed where she was packing. Soon her bag was packed and she looked about her sparsely furnished room for anything missing. Directly before her bed stood her wardrobe with a square mirror on it. She gasped at all the dirt on her face and the disarray her lustrous reddish-brown hair was in. With uncertainty, she looked back to the bag. She had nothing to wear to any kind of festival. This was not for want of money as her father was much better off financially than minor merchants. Her training of sword and mind did not allow for pretty dresses or such. How could she go to Selaras’s festival in man’s clothing? 

Her hand waved, and a drab scarf came hurtling to it. She wrapped her hair as best she could before fastening sword belt and cape. Her hand tried to rub off the dirt but in vain. “Well, Pallu. You’ll just have to have a bath when you get there.” Without a glance or a hand wave, she summoned her bag to her and walked down to the stables.

“That was quick.”

“I travel light.”

Nimshi patted the dapple gray mare affectionately, whispering instructions to her. “You have plenty of money for whatever you need. Make sure you buy yourself a nice dress and whatever it is you girls wear for the festivals. I know you’ve nothing up there fit for those things. You’ve plenty of food and water to get you there and back.” He took her bag and latched it to the saddle. His hands rested on her shoulders. “Don’t go get swept away by some country boy.”

“Papa…”

 

“I mean it. That’s how I met your mother. Now, I know that I haven’t taught you all the things she could about being a lady, but boys are trouble, Pal…”

“Papa. I know. You forget that I fight against men everyday. I’ve been on countless trips with men. Not even boys. And see. I’m alright. Not a scratch. This is not the first time I’ve been on a trip without you.”

“Aye, but it’s the first time you go alone. You’ve been on many with other people. This is different. I had the whole caravan looking out for you.”

“Papa,” she exclaimed indignantly and hit him gently on the shoulder.

“I’m your father, Pallu. I’m responsible for your safety.”

She cups his face in her hands. “I’ll be fine, Papa. I promise. And if some boy comes after me...Well…I’ll just give him a new sheath for his sword.”

“You’re naught but seventeen, love. But you’re ever bit a woman. Too old for your age.” He hugged her tight and helped her into the saddle. “Have fun, love.”

She bent down and kissed his cheek. “Bye, Papa. Love you.”

“I love you too. Now off you go. Be safe.”

“I will.” She waved back after her horse moved into the street.

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

“I won’t,” she called back. “Unless they’re extremely handsome.” A wryly grin seeped across her face.

He laughed and waved until he could see her no more.

For the first time in years, her heart was light, and the warming air did not remind her of her mother. Her hood was pulled low on her head as she finally wove her way to the edge of the city. As her mare cantered at an easy pace, her hip exploded with pain. She felt like she had a dagger thrust into her hip. Her hand and eyes went to her hip, but there was no blood, no wound, no dagger. There was nothing but the blaring pain. As suddenly as it came it was gone.

“What was that about?” she asked aloud.

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