Authors: Linda Thackeray
|Avalyne Series 02: The Easterling|
|Number II of|
In her dreams, Melia hears her mother screaming.
When Watch Guard Melia sets out to find her mother, Ninuie, elf Prince Aeron of Eden Halas joins her as her guide across his homeland to find Tor Iolan, the abandoned fortress where Disciples of the Shadow Lord tortured and maimed innocents for the sake of their master. Within its cruel walls, Melia hopes to find truth about her past while pondering a future with a prince who has yet to learn that falling for a mortal may cost him more than a broken heart.
This is a tale of darkness, romance and loss where Melia and Aeron are faced with the reality that sometimes love may not be enough and sacrifice may be the only course left to them.
LEGENDS OF AVALYNE
, the Watch Guard Melia did not leave the East as much as she had fled from it.
For most of the ages, the
Eastern Sphere of Avalyn
was a mystery to the races of the West. They knew little of the kingdoms that rose in the lands across the Burning Plains, aware only that they were allied with Balfure and therefore were enemies.
The reality of it was far more complicated.
After the end of the Primordial Wars, the Creator was free at last to seed the world with his new race. This new race would not be immortal like the elves. Instead they were fragile and brief. Their lives were like candles but while they burned, they burned bright. They were curious and passionate, sometimes impulsive, terribly flawed but wonderfully varied and they treasured every moment of life given to them.
After their emergence from
the waters of Lake Tijon, the newborn race spread across the Western Sphere and some even scaled the Starfall Mountains. Others braved the Gahara Plateau to enter the wastelands of the Burning Plains. So vast was this desert that would someday be known to all as Abraxes, that many who made that trek did not survive. Their deaths became a lesson to those that came after that further incursions into the Burning Plains would only lead to disaster.
Far from death, some of
these daring explorers did indeed reach the lands beyond the desert. Once there, they would spread out and establish new settlements. The Burning Plains became the divide between the Eastern and Western Spheres of Avalyne. While the lands beyond the desert were not lush and green like the west, the terrain was habitable and here, the Rayan, Chadic and Faresian kingdoms came into being. Further to the north, bordering the Castellan Sea was Nadira, the land from which Melia came.
They flourished because of Balfure.
A seraf of Mael, Balfure lacked his master’s arrogance but possessed all of his ambition. Balfure knew it was only a matter of time before Mael’s creation of the Primordials would lead to the direct intervention of the Celestials. Before that doom came for his master, Balfure took those who would join him and fled. While they waited for him in the Syphii Chasm, Balfure embarked on a journey of his own. Entering the Shadow Realm where the souls of all creatures in service to Mael was imprisoned forever, Balfure harnessed the power of those ruined spirits to become a sorcerer of terrifying power.
Emerging from the Shadow Realm,
Balfure took charge of the Burning Plains and created within it the kingdom of Abraxes. At the heart of this harsh, terrible land, he established the city of Astaroth and built his Iron Citadel. With the Disciples becoming his most loyal servants, Astaroth was a city occupied by all the fell creatures that fled with him before the Celestials had passed judgement on Mael. Within the walls of the Iron Citadel, Balfure then created the monstrous hybrid of Berserkers from captured goblins and men.
Once his kingdom was created, Balfure embarked upon his most intricate undertaking; to gain the loyalty Eastern Sphere. Once again, he set himself apart from his former master
by reaching out to the races struggling to survive in their new environment as a friend, not an enemy. Balfure first gained their friendship by teaching them how to survive in it. Before his alliance with Mael, Balfure was the most industrious of the Celestial serafs. He retained much of that knowledge even after he became the Shadow Lord.
knowledge to dig their own wells, farm water from the air and grow crops that required little moisture for sustenance, Balfure was seen as saviour not a conqueror. In the beginning, he took on the guise the benevolent father, nurturing them like children to stand on their own feet. In gratitude, they gave him their unswerving devotion and swore fealty to him for centuries to come. By the time, the Shadow War was fought—their loyalty was such that Easterling armies stood side by side with Balfure’s Berserkers at Astaroth.
and the Chaldic were Balfure's most loyal allies and during the battle of Astaroth, rode chariots into battle and sat astride tusked animals and horses that rivalled even magnificence of the Angarad breed. Their weapons were scimitars, spears, pikes and crossbows. They were fierce warriors, brutal and efficient. The harsh climate of their native country had given them exceptional endurance and they considered the water fat people of the west, weak and indulged.
Balfure's defeat, King Dare, in an effort to avoid a new war with the Eastern Sphere, extended the hand of friendship to Shadow Lord’s former allies. Those that were not destroyed at the battle of Astaroth accepted the gesture with caution but would not relinquish their belief that Balfure was not evil. For many in east, he was their god and what King Dare had done was nothing less than heresy. However, like the west, they were exhausted and weary of war. They wanted to return home and so a tenuous treaty was signed.
all the nations of the Eastern Sphere were the enemies of the west under the spell of Balfure.
When Balfure offered his assistance, the distant Nadirans accepted it with caution.
hile they afforded the lord of Abraxes his due, they did not feel the need to worship him as other Easterling nations were doing. In later years, when Balfure 'invited' Nadira to join his war against the west, their refusal would come at a terrible price. In fury at their refusal, Balfure demanded that Nadira be brought to heel or be conquered entirely.
or the preservation of its independence, Nadira thus found itself in the unenviable position of defending its way of life against invasion. Just as it was for Angarad in the Western Sphere, the constant warfare created a warrior culture that was willing to die for its freedom. The Nadirans became great soldiers but unlike Angarad, they guarded their women instead of allowing them to fight.
When they still welcomed Balfure as a friend, his Berserkers would move through their street
s and the Nadirans fearing for their women, would hide them away in safety. At first this was done for the protection of wives and daughters. Then it became practice. Eventually it was codified as law. Before anyone had realised, the subjugation of women was in place and everyone was so conditioned to it, it was no longer questioned.
During the period of quiet following the fall of great western kingdom of Carleon, a Nadiran named Hezare left his tribe to explore the lands across the Burning Plains. Balfure had spent years poisoning the minds of the Easterlings against their western neighbours. Hezare wanted to see for himself if the tales of decadence and abomination were indeed true. Hezare, a warrior who had spent most of his life engaged in battle defending Nadira, wanted to see the lands where mankind first emerged.
west took the better part of a year and it was fraught with danger as he crossed Abraxes, avoiding Balfure’s forces to reach the Wilds. Once in the western lands, he wasted no opportunity exploring everything he could. He walked through the woods of Eden Halas where the elves were purported to live even though he saw none of them, he knew they were there, watching from him behind the Veil.
He sailed away from Halas down
the mighty Yantra River and found that despite their differences, the people of Carleon were no different than any found in the east. Balfure's stories of the Western Sphere filled with evil races, bloodthirsty and hungry for conquest was a lie. Carleon was beaten, its spirit in fragments after the fall of its kingdom. He arrived at Sandrine and found a people in mourning, shocked that the line of kings was broken. He never forgot the stomach turning sight of Berserkers walking the streets of the first city of human civilisation.
Leaving Sandrine, he encountered the
dwarves driven to their nomadic existence because Balfure conquered their homeland and flight was the only way to avoid enslavement. Despite the tragedy that had fallen over their people, he admired their courage and their refusal to surrender to Balfure. From their smiths, he learned new techniques to fashion better weapons that he could take home to his people. The dwarves shared their knowledge freely; happy to teach others what they knew and it angered Hezare that they were nothing like Balfure had described them.
was disappointed that he did not see the elves, he was unsurprised that they did not show themselves when he walked through the woods of Eden Taryn. To their eyes, he looked no different than the allies of Balfure who had brought down Carleon. Why should they reveal themselves when he could be one of the enemy? They had no reason to trust him since they knew nothing of him or his people. A lesser man might have been disheartened by their rejection but Hezare was not a man to dwell on things he could not change.
Finally after almost two years of travel, Hezare prepared to return to Nadira and would have done so if not for one singular event.
Her name was Ninuie and she was the loveliest creature he had ever seen.
Everything about her seemed unreal and he was lost the minute he laid eyes upon her.
Her folk supposedly dwelt along the river though he never saw them. When he encountered her, she was living alone in a cottage by the banks of the Yantra, not far from Eden Halas. She called herself a River Daughter, though he did not fully comprehend what that meant. In truth, he was never eager to meet her folk for fear they would reject him for being an Easterling and he could not bear to lose her.
He did not know why she loved him but he rejoiced that she did because they were married within the month of their first meeting. Although he knew she had her secrets, he dared not question them
. She was the single light of his existence and he feared that questioning the dream might cause him to wake up and make it disappear.
or the two years she was his wife, Hezare knew happiness unlike any he had ever experienced. She showed him things about the river, about the wood where she lived, she taught him to cherish life and find beauty in places where one would never think to look. When she told him that she was carrying his child, he was overjoyed. All his life, he had only ever known death and blood. To know that he had created something with her that was beautiful and precious was more than he ever hoped for.
She was born under the light of a full moon and
was named Melia after Hezare’s mother. They lived happily in their cottage, far away from the eyes of the world until Melia reached her second year. Hezare who had been away from his homeland for far too long now soon felt the stirrings within him that yearned for Nadira. He announced to Ninuie that it was time for him to return and he expected her to be at his side when they departed. Ninuie agreed.
On the eve of their journey, Ninuie disappeared.
He waited for days for her return, praying that her disappearance was not because she did not wish to return Nadira with him. She had never showed her unhappiness by his desire to go home, merely resignation at what must be. A month after her disappearance, Hezare realised she was not coming back and he could no longer wait for her. Hezare took with him the only thing that still mattered, his daughter, Melia and made the long journey home to Nadira.
there, he returned to combat, often going away for months to fight new battles and returning to Melia so that he could lavish upon her all the love he could not give her mother. He taught Melia skills that no woman of Nadira should ever have. Nadiran women lived in the homes of their fathers until it was time to marry and more often than not, the choice was not theirs to make. Until Hezare journeyed to the west, he never imagined there could be any other way.
Despite knowing better, he
raised his daughter in the ways of her mother's land.
By the time
Melia reached her sixteenth year, she was accustomed to being an outcast among her people. Her mixed heritage ensured she did not completely resemble most Easterlings and her skills with a crossbow were frowned upon by all who knew of it. Her father was a respected member of his tribe so little was said in his presence but Melia heard the whispers of reproach behind her back.
She bore them silently, telling him
none of it because his defence of her would only worsen the situation. She endured the loneliness of an outcast in silence and pretended that it did not matter when in truth, it mattered a great deal.
Inevitably, there came a day when
Hezare did not return home from battle.
was devastating but how her life would change with his passing was even worse.
At the age of eighteen, she was still unmarried, a thing unheard of by the standards of her tribe and well meaning relatives moved
quickly to rectify the situation. Within a month of his death, Melia learnt that she was to be married to a man twice her age, whose sole interest in her rested was how many children she could bear him. Her refusal was met with indifference if not outright disregard, for it was not her place to refuse what was a fine match. With a heavy heart, Melia came to the understanding that there was only one course left to her.
In the dead of the night she ran an escape that would have earned her death if she was caught. A woman breaking a marriage arranged by her family was considered no better than a criminal. However, she cared little for the stigma if it meant the freedom to choose her own destiny. She did not even know where she was going until she had found herself masquerading as boy while travelling as a servant in merchant’s caravan.