I could feel the moment Thunder crossed onto holy ground. Safety, even in Sylva. There was no violence in the place a raven had blessed.
I dismounted, bloody mangled arm still held tight to my chest, and led Thunder to the pond. There was a low stone building a few steps further – probably the chapel itself, although why they had built it above ground was beyond me. Cinder bumped her nose up against my knee, whining and doing that slow tail wag she always did when she really wanted everything to be ok.
“Zartha nahoom,” I murmured. “All will be well.” Thunder dropped his head to drink, I slipped to my knees next to him and eased the rough bandage off my arm. Of course it had to be my right – my left wasn’t nearly steady enough for drawing decent runes.
Cinder barked once and retreated, whining, behind Thunder’s leg. I looked up to see a tall pale man in black robes approaching from the chapel building itself. I stood, keeping Thunder between myself and him. It may be hollowed ground, but… I was a Canyith in Sylva. And apparently the two countries were at war. It would have been nice to know that before I began this foolhardy quest.
“My horse just needs water,” I said. I wove my fingers through Thunder’s mane, ready to leap on. Thunder snorted, pawing the ground.
The raven-blest came to a halt a good few paces away and held his hands open. “You have no need to fear. This is holy ground.”
Cinder didn’t growl, so I lowered my guard slightly and let Thunder drink.
“The brothers are finishing evening prayers, you are welcome to eat with us,” the raven-blest said.
“I don’t want to bring trouble to you,” I said. The raven-blest smiled in that irritating Sylvan way – showing teeth, showing emotion.
“There will be no trouble. Come, at least let your beast graze.”
I glanced down at Thunder’s shoulder – his grey back was flecked with sweat and dirt. He could use a rest.
“Just let us be for a few hours,” I mumbled. The raven-blest smiled again, nodding.
“The dining hall is that building. Feel free to join us if you change your mind.” He pointed to another squat building behind the chapel. Apparently the grounds were bigger than I had expected. Or else he was trying to tempt me off the holy ground so that they could kill me without incurring the raven’s wrath. I nodded anyway. The raven-blest finally walked away, leaving me with my thoughts and my bleeding arm.
I somehow yanked Thunder’s saddle and bridle off and set him loose to graze. Cinder stayed close, whining at me until she caught the scent of some rabbit and ran off to chase it. She knew enough to stay close, but I couldn’t help worrying – that dog was my only friend in this whole stupid country. Not counting my horse.
This was such a stupid trip – I still don’t know why I went, except that it was the one thing my mother had asked of me – to see the place of her birth before I became a woman and joined with a man. Already I can see why she never did go back like some of the other Sylvan captives had.
Twilight fell, and I pulled jerky out of my saddle bags as I watched Thunder graze. Cinder lay against my side, ears perked as she watched the raven-blest – there were about five that I could count – wander the grounds.
Someone broke away from the group – a soldier, not a raven-blest. I scrambled to my feet and drew my knife, holding it in my left hand, my right clenched to my chest.
The soldier was carrying a bowl, he stopped a few feet away, within easy talking distance.
“This soup is going to go to waste if you don’t eat it. My name is Thomas by the way. Thomas Swiftglaive.” He reached forward, holding his right hand out to me. I took a step back.
“I don’t need Sylvan food,” I answered. It was stupid, but I had to say something.
The soldier shrugged and crouched, setting the bowl on the ground. He lifted a rune from around his neck and set it beside. “Healer – it should be fully charged. If anyone bothers you, tell them I said to knock it off.”
Cinder took a step towards the bowl, glancing back to ask permission. The soldier – Thomas, smiled and pulled a piece of meat from his pocket, tossing it to Cinder. Cinder caught it midair, tail wagging.
“I always wanted a dog growing up. Silverlake is a bad place for pets though,” Thomas said.
“Cinder isn’t a pet. She’s a partner,” I answered. Thomas nodded and crouched again, holding out his hand for Cinder to sniff. Great. My dog liked a Sylvan. Next thing I knew he’d be making friends with my horse.
“It’s true then? You use dogs to herd cattle?” Thomas asked.
“What does a Sylvan care?” I asked.
Thomas shrugged. “Is there a reason why I shouldn’t?”
Now I was stumbling for words as I saw everything I had ever believed about Sylvans condensed into this man who was making friends with my dog. Cinder was usually such a good judge of character.
“You eat babies!” I burst out. Not the greatest thing to say. or even one of the things I actually believed. Thomas fell over laughing, as I stood there awkwardly, burning under the moonlight.
“Do you have a name milady?” Thomas asked. He stared up at me from the ground, I tilted my head to try and make him level. I had never seen anyone so ridiculous. he might be stupid, but he didn’t seem like a threat.
“Bellera,” I answered. Thomas stood, bowing elaborately.
“Milady Bells, I will be returning this way around eventide tomorrow. I would be delighted if you would await my return, for you seem a most delightful lady.”
What on earth was the guy saying? I nodded stiffly in return. “I am duty-bound to ride within sight of castle Heartsgave. Then I intend to return to my own lands.”
“Wait for me Bells, that’s where I’m going tomorrow. I would appreciate the company.” Thomas smiled, his brown eyes shining in the moonlight. Cinder liked him, or else I never would have considered it.
“I leave when my horse is recovered. It may be another day.” That dog better still be a good judge of character. “And my name is Bellera.”
“Allow me to be selfish and say that I hope your horse waits to recover until tomorrow night. I look forward to seeing you again Bells.” Thomas bowed and walked away.
And that’s the story of how I met Thomas Swiftglaive – the man who I would fall in love with, stay in Sylva for, and who would become the father of my beautiful boys. Go figure.