Legends of the Guardians
“I will not bow to you, or your false Church, Regent!” One hand held her dark wet hair tightly wrapped around his fist to the base of her skull. The other held to her pale white throat which struggled to voice her vow.
“Bow or do not bow, witch. This day you die for your heresy!” Jerking hard on her hair, he thrust her forward, forcing her into the animal’s water trough. She thrashed wildly, desperately clawing behind her for his hands.
After a few seconds he allowed her burning lungs blessed air, yanking her back up by the scalp for the fourth time. “Hold them tighter, bailiff! They must know the punishment they face if they’re ever to choose their mother’s path.”
The two children struggled against the giant of a man which held them fast. Wailing as tears fell down their filthy cheeks they reached for each other and their dying mother.
“Watch closely, Annalee. Look into your children’s eyes before you die! Show them your penance!”
As he held Annalee in his grasp she did look upon her two beautiful girls. The light of her life. Her very essence. His words fell on deaf ears, for as he cursed her to hell for the sin he found falsely, she spoke to her daughters silently. ‘Do not be afraid. I will always be with you for as long as you hold love in your hearts. When you shed tears, know they are my tears. When you smile, know it is my smile. When the wind kisses your cheeks, know it is my kiss. You are blessed, my children, by the Guardians themselves.’ She smiled upon them as they succumbed to silent sobs.
Annalee had been found guilty of witchcraft by the ruling Church’s Magistrate, made Regent. A dark man, possessed by greed, and hate.
The gift she bestowed upon her children with her last breath would follow them for always, and for always they would be their mother’s daughters both in life and death alike…
The Magistrate sneered as he looked from Annalee to her two girls, too young to understand. Too young to be held accountable by the chiefdom’s law. His hatred was all that he knew, and for this, he would walk a path of darkness for all of his days and into eternity. Bringing death and suffering to all of those who opposed him would become his one true purpose.
The girls clung tightly to one another as the bailiff held them in his firm grasp. They watched as their mother smiled upon them until her face sunk back into the water for the final time. She did not struggle this time as the Magistrate thrust her body down into the water. She let death come to her as she gave her life to the Guardians, not the Church who’d found her guilty.
Minutes went by as the Magistrate held Annalee’s lifeless body under the water’s depths. After all, he had to be sure. When he knew it not possible for even a witch to survive the waters for so long, he pushed her in completely, letting her corpse float and bob in the trough for all to see. Annalee’s body would remain displayed for the entire three days of the Blood moon, rope around her neck tied to a brick.
Her daughters would not be permitted to mourn her publicly before any member of the Church. Their lives had been spared only for the laws of the land. Surely no child so young as they could be corrupted by the sin of another.
They would live on as wards of the Church for many years.
Clinching her eyes shut for a brief moment, Aryaunna’s inhalation of breath was heavy from the cold, and apprehension of the words to come. Quickly moistening her chapped lips, her gaze darted to be sure once again they were alone. The words were a whisper that echoed around them off the stone walls of the frigid wood cellar, “I prayed last night.”
Elizabeth came to an absolute stand still, the broom in her hands nearly falling from the start. The pause was so long Aryaunna became certain she’d chosen to ignore her. After a time Aryaunna went back to stacking the wood in its orderly fashion by the iron furnace. “And?” Elizabeth’s voice was as faint as Aryaunna’s own, though brisk and eager for more.
A smile tugged at Aryaunna’s lips that she could not resist. “The Guardians came.” Cautious and quiet as the smoke, Elizabeth propped the broom on the wall and came to her young sister’s side. “I felt them, I swear to you I did!” Aryaunna’s hands floundered about a log to keep it from rolling off the great stack to the floor before helplessly tucking them around her chest.
Elizabeth’s gaze was judgmental and questioning as Aryaunna expected it to be; though a light hid in her eyes. It was a light that shone for hope. “Tell me what you prayed for.” She flinched at her own whisper which echoed off of the surrounding stone.
“I pleaded with the Guardians to take my scars, and my pain.”
Trembling fingers rose over Elizabeth’s mouth as her eyes widened with fear. “What did you offer them?” Her fright was justified. Prayer to the Guardians was forbidden. To speak of them was heresy, punishable by a great many unpleasant things. Aryaunna felt she shouldn’t have told her, but to keep it to herself was even more impossible.
“My loyalty, my trust… My servitude.” With unease, Aryaunna’s mouth grew painfully dry. A quick challenging glance to Elizabeth, she walked to the old scarred oak table, lifting a ladle of water to her lips from the urn.
Elizabeth was left standing speechless. So afraid of what may come from this she paled at the thought. To give her time to recover, Aryaunna returned to her chores.
“Oh, Ary…” As if the news was some terrible burden she slumped onto the wooden stool, leaning to the thick work table for support. “Do you not know what the Magistrate will do to you if they learn of this?” With fear comes doubt.
Aryaunna’s arms reached behind her, deftly releasing the hard buttons of her work dress from her neck to shoulder blades until the bodice beneath was bared. The skin revealed was impeccable, flawless, smooth ivory cream flesh. Just yesterday her back had been gnarled by burn scars, and slices from the whips, punishments for her so called unruly ways. The only acknowledgement she needed was Elizabeth’s quick intake of breath and quiet gasp. “There is no pain, Elizabeth… only the memory. And that memory now feeds my strength, no longer my fears.”
The soft steps of Elizabeth’s leather bound shoes covered the wake between them. Her fingers took place of Aryaunna’s as she re-buttoned the dress back to the nape. “Tell me everything,” with her voice light as a breath in Aryaunna’s ear they turned to each other.
Taking Elizabeth’s hands up in her own, she held them close to her chest, letting the hope in her eyes plead for her sister’s understanding and trust. “I’ve never told you this, but the stones from mother’s garden? I kept them. And last night I took them, and bathed them in the moon’s light as I prayed to the Guardians for their compassion, their love. I prayed for our salvation, and I vowed to them my soul in turn. I asked as a symbol of their good will to take my pain, and take my scars for my everlasting servitude.” Elizabeth’s crystalline blue eyes glistened with tears that threatened to spill over her ashen cheeks from her sister’s words.
“They truly came, sister! I felt them! I felt them walk across my flesh. I could feel them nestle against me. I could nearly see them as one laid across my belly, eating away my pain. There were three of them. The Dragons are here, Elizabeth… They’ve come to save us. And I intend to be their Emissary.”
Her cold worn hands pulled from Aryaunna’s and placed to her cheeks as they gazed upon one another. “You’re too much like our mother. It will get you killed, and perhaps I as well, just as it did her.” Elizabeth’s gaze narrowed as she looked deeper into her sister’s eyes, “You are stronger though. Perhaps you will survive this yet. But I will not… No, I can see it now.”
Their mother, Annalee, had been drowned as punishment for being tried, and found of Guardian craft. A witch. Elizabeth looked nearly identical to her. Though she held no gift for craft, Elizabeth was a Seer.
Their mother died when they were too young to be spoiled by her heinous ways they said, so they sent the sisters to be wards of the Magistrate’s Church. Elizabeth was only six and Aryaunna three. They would have killed Elizabeth with Annalee if not for Aryaunna. Aryaunna needed someone to see to her needs. The Church found it fit for that to be Elizabeth’s doing.
They were wrong though, time needn’t had passed for them to be blessed with their gifts. Their mother had taught them well of the Guardians in their innocent youth. Not that anyone knew that of course. Not that anyone could know. Elizabeth, now nineteen, could see the fates clearly in her dreams. With a single touch, she could tell a person’s past. By looking into their eyes she could see their soul, and what would be come of it.
Her young sister, however, she could not see. According to Elizabeth, Aryaunna was the only exception. It was her belief that this was due to Aryaunna’s gifts from the Guardians, and perhaps their mother’s doing as well.
Taught with worry of her sister’s predictions, Aryaunna pulled from her grasp though did not step away. Anger grew in her voice, fueled by fear, “Do not speak of such things. I will protect you! The Guardians will see to it. Tonight I pray for guidance. The Dragons will come again, and they will light the way. In trade of my tasks they will see to our safety, and take us away from this stone walled hell.”
In that moment, the years they’d seen at the Church aged Elizabeth beyond her time. So many things had come to pass that had hardened them both well beyond their youthful years. Elizabeth’s eyes, though weary, seemed relieved her long hardship would soon find its end. “Sometimes, Aryaunna, there must be sacrifice.”
“And there will be. But it will not be yours.” Aryaunna’s heart raced until her chest burned, her heart as heavy as stone. It had been her experience that Elizabeth was rarely wrong.
The cellar door creaked loudly as it was forcefully pushed open. “Aryaunna! Hurry to the southern chambers. The fires need to be tended before the dusk settles.” The sisters of the Church were as respected as the priests, because they were in many ways just as frightening.
“Yes, Mistress. I’m coming now.” Elizabeth flinched as her sister brushed a kiss to her cheek and hurriedly pulled away. Returning to the wood pile, Aryaunna laid the linen out over the table to load the bundle. The burden over her shoulder bid her to lean forward a good deal to compensate the load. With one hand on the cold stone wall, guiding her up the old wooden stepladder, she made way from the cellar.
The southern chambers were the dormitory of the Clergy. The Clergy of the Regent Magistrate.
It was the Magistrate himself that declared Guardian worship a crime of the land. The rule of the one true God would be the only religion in the lands hence. Many wondered if it wasn’t the Magistrate declaring himself a God, though dared not reveal it to the people. Others believed he had corrupt their God’s power, forsaking His name and spread lies and corruption for power. Their reach had surpassed the kingdom and spread over the country side, past the blue seas of the north. Through the name of the Church, creatures and humans alike had been turned into slaves, and criminals.
These thoughts coursed through Aryaunna as she made her way from room to room dutifully, tending to each fire, restocking the wood for the rest of the night. Maidens would come in every hour to check upon the flames, and see to it their Clergy remained warm in their winter beds. Warm and well fed while their townsmen lay hungry, and half frozen in the streets.
Lingering at a small window, she held the thick swath of fabric back just enough to see the stars. Her breath came out in quiet soft puffs of steam. Her words were not above a whisper as she clasped a hand to her bodice, which concealed a heavy amethyst carved into a heart. It had been their mother’s and a great source of strength for her, she’d said. It had been carved by their father, and given to Annalee on the day Elizabeth had been born. He died before Aryaunna had been born.
A creak of the heavy oak door startled Aryaunna from thoughts. Stepping away from the window she knelt to the floor by the fireplace to the open sheath used to bundle the wood.
“Child,” the Prior’s voice rasped. The winter had been a harsh one, in many aspects. The bitter, frozen air wreaked havoc on everyone, even the rich. This Prior had fared no better than the peasants who occupied his township.
“Sir,” Aryaunna’s voice was but a whisper. To have not responded would have been disrespectful, and therefor punishable.
With every step his robes scraped the floor. The swooshing was familiar and somehow daunting as he strode purposefully across the stones to stand before her. His skin was white, pale from being hidden through his years by robes of silk. The veins beneath fat, nearly swollen, as they bulged up through the thin flesh of his hand that reached out for her.
With his palm up, his other hand hovered above his waiting hand for Aryaunna’s. Hesitantly, she reached for him. Her fingers trembled faintly as they touched his clammy, moist skin. To her surprise, his grasp was far firmer than one would imagine. “Does thou seek to confess?” his tone was an accusation more than that of a question. He cannot know, it’s impossible, she thought silently.
“Sir?” His grip became harder. Foolishly, Aryaunna attempted to pull away. As his hands tightened around her own, her knuckles popped from the sudden strain. Looking up to the Prior, her eyes widened with fear. What would he do to her? If he knew of her prayer to the Guardians then her life was forfeit, but not before they would see her punished.
A slow smile spread his thin lips. “Once this desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when fully grown, gives birth to death,” he quoted his Holy Book. His words, his eyes, his very smile twisted in such a manner to give way to his meaning.
Hastily he jerked her against him. One hand on hers crushed too tightly for her to pull away. His other hand, spread wide, thrust hard against her abdomen. “The person who sows for the benefit of his own flesh shall reap corruption and death from the flesh,” his voice grew sinister as he forced her back into the wall.
Breath quickening, Aryaunna swallowed her fearful scream. She could almost hear her mother’s voice, ‘Do not show him your fear.’ Heat spread from her core throughout her body, centered just beneath the amethyst.
Groping what he could, he pulled at every piece of loose fabric he could grasp as if his hand itself had been possessed by the evil within him. “I will taste your sin and within that I will cleanse your soul. Now open for me, child.” His body pressed hard against her. The only space between them filled by his probing hands, now preoccupied in hastily lifting her skirts.
To keep silent, she bit down hard on her lips until she tasted blood. She knew she should be still, she should be silent, and to take herself away from the fear. She should close her eyes. If she fought him then the gallows would be the last of her worries.
A chain upon the floor, baring a single shackle, was a fate worse than death. Aryaunna and Elizabeth both had known its iron clasp before.
The Bishop stood against her, grumbling nonsense to justify his crimes. Aryaunna couldn’t hear him. She couldn’t look upon him. She looked down to the floor, upon the shackle, lying open on the floor. It was all she could see. All she could think about. The feel of its biting cold grasp as it closed around her ankle. The scratch of its metal as it dug into her flesh when she moved. Her naked body stripped of dignity and left exposed to the freezing cold. It consumed her!
The Bishop’s hand grasped her throat, his fingers digging up into her chin as he forced her to look into his bitter grey eyes. His mouth was open to chastise her for sins she’d never committed when she screamed. The sound was deafening, echoing off the walls and farther. Beyond conscious thought, she reacted.
Her callused hands lift to either side of his head and grabbed a hold with all of her strength. Not pushing, not jerking, just holding. The fear grabbed hold of her tighter than he had. Her scream rang louder still, burning her very throat for its pure hatred.
Heart pounding, heat built within her chest like fire, exploding out through every limb, bringing with it a surge of power.
The clergy was paralyzed as he looked upon her. Terror blazed in his depthless pools. Light radiated from her very fingertips, blinding white. So brilliant that everything else in the room was cast into darkness. Even the fire extinguished in the wake.
Bulging eyes stared at nothing, for they saw nothing. Blood seeped from his sockets, as they themselves dimmed slowly until not even a dull spark of life showed within them. All at once his weight collapsed in a clothed pile at her feet.
Stunned, her trembling hand covered her gaping mouth. “What have I done?” Aryaunna’s whispered words echoed off the walls around her.
The light from within her now gone, returned from whence it came, only one dull glow cast light upon the room. “Oh thank the stars!” Aryaunna’s heart all but stopped at the sound of a new voice. Looking up, a young woman stood within the open doorway. Gathering her wits as quickly as she’d lost them, the young woman started; fliting down the hall swiftly.
Unsure what to do next, Aryaunna stood frozen, alone with the corpse. She hadn’t intended to kill him. The first witness had fled. But how many would come now? In answer a swift set of footsteps returned to the room. The last of her color drained from Aryaunna’s cheeks as her eyes clinched shut. “What are you doing?” The maiden. Her voice was apprehensive but stern as if she were scolding her.
Aryaunna’s lids opened, so filled with fear tears streamed down her cheeks. Pleading would not matter. It never did. She was dead, there was no doubt about it now.
“Now is not the time for you to lose your senses. You have to hurry. No one else is coming yet, but they will. Someone will be here to tend the fire or warm the bed sheets soon. You have to get out!” With haste she strode across the room, taking Aryaunna’s hands in her own and pulling her around away from the body.
The girl’s eyes burned feverishly, pleading for Aryaunna to come to her senses. No one was coming to rescue him, for it was Aryaunna that had screamed, not the Bishop. No one dared to intervene with that.
Quickly the girl went about throwing the rest of logs on the fire. A large fire if noticed first would be left alone, and the room may go unchecked longer.
“Get his feet, and pull him to the bed. If they think he is sleeping they may not look closer until morning.” Once the fire blazed, engulfing the logs, she flittered quickly to the bed and threw back the heavy linens.
Using the robes as a barrier between Aryaunna’s skin and the priest’s she pulled on his ankles. It was to no avail. She could not lift his body despite her strength.
Coming to Aryaunna’s aid yet again, the girl quickly moved next to her and took up one leg as she took the other. “Must they be so fat!” The girl groaned, stopping as they could barely manage to get his rear end off the floor. “Okay, I’ll take the feet you take his arms, and on three we lift him to the bed.” Aryaunna was thoroughly bewildered. The girl acted as if dealing with a corpse were but any other chore! Then again, perhaps she had seen her share.
“You’re quite astounding,” Aryaunna grumbled while switching places. Cringing, she swallowed down the bile that rose in her throat as she grabbed a hold of his wrists.
“Yes. And you killed a Prior of the Church. Let’s finish this quickly now before we’re both found! One, two, three!”
In minutes they were down in the cellar. The maidens all shared rooms. There were few places to speak in complete privacy. “You must leave. You must leave tonight, Aryaunna.”
“You know me.” Aryaunna felt ashamed that she could not put a name to her face. Beneath a wrap, the girl’s white blonde hair was a mess of tendrils over pale fresh skin. Her eyes were cold and hard, blue as the frozen lakes in the valley. She was so striking. It seemed odd to Aryaunna that she could not recall meeting her before. It was a big Church, with many bodies to keep it in working order.
“We met over the summer, working the fields of Brimshire. My name is Lena.” With her every word, like magic, Aryaunna recalled the memories. So keenly in fact it’s a wonder she could have forgotten.
“I’m sorry. I should have known you.”
“Do not be. Now is not the time for manners, Aryaunna. You must gather your things, and find Elizabeth at once.” Again, she was so well prepared and together that it caught Aryaunna off guard and made her feel foolish. “If she does not go with you, what they will do to her will only make her wish for death.”
“You know Elizabeth?” Eyes narrowed, Aryaunna gazed upon her closer, trying to place a memory that whispered at the edge of her thoughts.
“Really, Aryaunna, who doesn’t know the daughters of the White Witch that have grown under the ever watchful Magistrate and his Church.” Lena looked upon her as if she were daft for questioning her. It was a true enough statement, though no one had ever been so blunt about it before. “Now go and get your sister. Bring with you nothing you cannot carry in a small satchel. Return here immediately, for I will not wait long.” Lena’s eyes shown bright with urgency. With little more than a glance back at her, Aryaunna was up the stairs and slinking through corridors to find her sister.
The sisters’ chamber was on the other end of the Church, in the northern corridor. Though they were young, and by law not old enough to be tainted, the Church did not wish to risk exposing the sisters to others of the Church, and thus were granted a small private chamber, intended for anything other than living.
Entering their room, the oaken door creaked louder than it may have ever before. As if by touching it, it cried out to the guards that Aryaunna was guilty of the worst of crimes. Her feet were light on the stone as she swiftly entered and strained to ease the door closed quietly.
“Ary?” Elizabeth was crouched by the window on her knees. By the light of the fire Aryaunna could see the wet trails on her sister’s cheeks. Had she heard her cry all the way from the northern corridor of the Church? Or had she seen something?
In a moment, Eizabeth crossed the room to meet her sister, taking Aryaunna into her arms as if she were the mother they never got to know. “I thought he was killing you when I heard… I thought they’d found out.”
Unable to speak to explain, Aryaunna shook her head, pulling from her reluctantly. Bracing her hands on Elizabeth’s shoulders, she looked into her eyes and saw the love and relief pouring from them. “We are leaving here, Elizabeth. We are leaving tonight. Now. Gather your things.”
“Ary! No, they’d hunt us! If we were ever to be found by the Church they would burn us!” Elizabeth pulled from her sister’s grasp as if Aryaunna were crazed, and it could be catching.
“Elizabeth,” she snapped as she stepped closer, cornering her sister against the wall. “They’ll do worse if we stay…” her voice quieted to barely a whisper. Elizabeth’s brow furrowed in concern, marred with her confusion. “I killed a Prior. Prior Hile. Please, there is no time to explain. Elizabeth, we must go!”
The blood drained from her face as she looked at Aryaunna closely. “Did he hurt you?”
Shaking her head no, Aryaunna forced a weak smile. “No. I did not let him. Not this time.” Relief flooded through Elizabeth’s stricken heart as tears brimmed over her lashes. “Please, Elizabeth!” Aryaunna begged.
A dozen times she asked what had happened, and a dozen times Aryaunna answered her with silence. Elizabeth looked aged beyond her years as they returned to the cellar.
Reaching the cellar they took heed of their every step, for the only light was the red coals of a cooling fire. The room pitched into darkness did nothing to ease their worry. “Ary, why are we at the wood cellar? Shouldn’t we go to the kitchen for food?” Elizabeth had always been the ever logical one.
“We’re meeting someone. If she hasn’t left…”
From the shadows Lena emerged as if she’d stepped from another place completely. “I am here. Hello, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth’s hand clasped a hold of her sister’s wrist defensively. “It’s all right. She helped me, Elizabeth. She’s here to help us get away.” Elizabeth stood stock skill, appraising the young woman with bald skepticism. It was a wonder at what she truly saw.
“She’s not like the others,” Elizabeth breathed out in surprise. “She’s not… human.” Her eyes widened, skin turning placid as she hastily stepped between them.
“You need not worry, while I am indeed Drow, I mean you no harm.” Lena’s eyes radiated a brilliant silver, casting a light almost hypnotizing. As soon as Aryaunna saw this beautiful gleam it vanished, as if she’d imagined it.
Drow were thought to be deceased, much like the Guardians themselves. The Magistrate had declared all Drow demons, and ordered their death on sight, even offering bags of silver as compensation. Very few bodies were ever turned in for the rewards though… Some say a true Drow could never be caught or killed. That the bodies turned in were humans whose teeth had all been filed to points to make them appear demonic, and it was the Drow themselves who claimed the bounty, for the Drow could appear human. Perhaps this legend wasn’t so far off.
Literature with Unhindered Arts by Jacquelynn Faye