“Sometimes things are hidden
in the most obvious of places,”
Arajuan to Anika
“Get up, get up,” a woman’s voice rang out, “Breakfast is ready.”
Anika dragged herself from the bed. On the foot of her bed was a new dress, a lovely medieval elven styled gown. It was black with red lace trim along the sleeves and hem. The skirt was black except the middle; it was red like the lace. Beside the dress was a small tiara with a bright red gem in the center. She was certain it was a ruby.
She washed again in the washbasin and slipped from her silk nightclothes into the beautiful garment. The sleeves flowed down her arms to the tip of her long middle finger. The skirt just touched the ground around her feet. She placed the tiara on her head. The black corset top squeezed her into an hourglass. She tied a red sash with a money pouch attached around her waist. For the first time in her life, she looked feminine and royal. She slipped on a pair of shoes she found at the foot of the bed. They were black strapped sandals that looked elegant with the dress.
Anika headed downstairs to the dining area. The men were already at the table and they too were dressed in handsome clothing. Jarrett looked elven in his new tailored suit much to Anika’s surprise. She slid in next to Tarnink and ate the breakfast set before her.
The man’s wife had placed before them, eggs, meats, breads and fruit of all kinds. They ate the feast in front of them with pleasure. The wife sat next to her husband once she served the food.
“I am sorry. I did not have time to introduce myself to you last night. I believe your names were, Tarnink and Lady Anika. My name is Markus, and this is my wife, Bella.” Markus smiled. “I hope your clothes suit you. It was difficult to find outfits at such short notice. I know you all would rather your armor but there have been many spies in the city as of late. May I ask why you all are here?”
Anika looked up, “We are searching for a man named Wong. They told me he kept a shop here in Vik i Myradal.”
“Yes, there is a shop kept in this town by a Mr. Wong. It is ‘Wong’s Goods and Supplies.’ He has been very helpful with supplying aid and information to those in the resistance. I am guessing this is the usual business then?”
“Yes, it’s the usual business except now she’s involved,” Tarnink titled his head toward Anika.
Jarrett spoke, “I wish you two had told me why you needed to come to Myradal. I often visited the shopkeeper in better times. Lady Anika, remember the coin I held up last night. Here take it. When we get to Wong’s approach him and ask him to appraise it. That is the only way to get a private audience with him.”
Jarrett handed Anika the green coin with the square hole. She noticed it had a strange word around it. The word was tasukete. “Help us” an apt phrase in their current predicament. She tucked it into the pouch attached to the red sash around her waist.
Bella cleaned up the breakfast foods and dishes. Anika and the others stood. Anika tried to help but Bella scolded her.
“I can handle taking care of guests.”
Anika slunk behind Jarrett. Even here she felt in the way. Unable to assist with simple house chores. She was supposed to lead an army? No way!
“Forgive us for eating and running Markus,” Jarrett said, “But we should head on out as soon as possible. If we wait, it may be impossible to see Wong. We should be back for dinner.”
“Not a problem,” Markus replied, “In fact, I think I will go with you I have to pick up something at the shop myself.”
Markus followed them out the door and the four of them walked toward a carriage with two horses tied to it. They stepped into it and rode toward town. Anika could see that Markus’ home was right along the city wall which was tall and made of white baked bricks. She also noticed that Myradal was a large place. The homes on Markus’ street were huge compared to elven homes.
The carriage did not jostle because they paved the streets with stone. From her window, Anika noted a small white palace in the distance. This must be one of Aldaria’s main towns, she concluded.
It took twenty minutes to reach the town’s center by cart. Anika looked outside the carriage and saw many street vendors and shops. They stopped with a jolt and its driver parked the carriage, the horses tied to a post. He then gave them water and feed. Anika and her fellow passengers stepped from the cart and walked down the street.
Anika spied various types of people as she walked. They ranged from mortal, to orcs, and elves. At least one man who made direct eye contact appeared to be dead. The man cackled as she shied away behind Tarnink. One woman walked up to them in rags with a can and begged for money. She watched as Markus and Jarrett ignored the beggar and moved on. She looked to Tarnink with hope for guidance. He ignored the beggar as well and Anika did the same.
Soon they stood in front of a small shop with a large sign above the door. It read:
Wong’s Goods and Supplies
“This must be it,” Anika muttered.
Anika opened the shop door. A bell chimed above it. The shop itself smelled musky, like old books and parchment. A young woman with long black hair and high cheeks dusted off the shelves. She snapped her head toward the visitor’s as they entered. Her almond-shaped silver eyes examined them.
“Sir,” She said in heavy accent, “We have customers.”
Anika looked around the cluttered shop. She noticed the silver hilt of a black-sheathed broad sword, in the middle of the hilt a was large sapphire. The sapphire was teardrop shaped just like the one on her necklace. She went to unsheathe the sword when a short, balding man came from the back room. He held a tall carved staff in his hand and wore loose bright colored robes. He placed a hand on hers to stop her and she glanced at him. She dropped her hand and went back to Tarnink.
“That is Master Wong?” Anika whispered to Tarnink. “But he looks like a human?”
“What that you say elf girl?” Wong pointed his staff at her, “I’m not deaf you know. Now are you customer or not?”
Anika stumbled back as she searched her pouch for the coin Jarrett had given her that morning. She handed it over to the shopkeeper.
“Would you mind, sir, appraising the value of this coin.” She whispered.
The shopkeeper gave a cunning grin. Wong glanced the shop to see if any other customers were there. The shop was empty, and he let out a chuckle.
“Ah yes, of course,” He replied.
Wong swished through the store blacking the windows. He then placed a closed sign on the shop door. With a wave he beckoned them to the back of the shop. At this point Anika had stopped being amazed how swift he moved for his age. He was next to her in a blink and tapped her sleeve.
“So, you have the coin, do you? Let us see why you come.”
Anika and the others followed Wong into the back room. Wong handed the coin to Jarrett then sat down at a table covered in scrolls. He directed them to take a seat by tapping a chair with his staff. Anika sat across from the shopkeeper and Tarnink to her right. Jarrett leaned against a wall while Markus sat at the left table end.
“I believe the coin was yours, Jarrett.” the shopkeeper spoke, “Now why did you come. Tell me?”
Anika spoke in a hushed tone, “Queen Esmir has sent me to seek out a master dragon. She said his name was Wong.”
Markus snickered, “The old shopkeeper a dragon, You’re not serious, right?”
The shopkeeper stood up and gave a spirited bop to Markus’ shoulder with his staff. He chuckled at them and sat back down a huge grin on his face.
“Don’t be silly, yet by now you know Anika things aren’t always as they seem,” He laughed.
Anika gushed, “So does that mean we found who I am supposed to be searching for?”
“I do not know. Are you named BlackHeart?” he quipped, “If so, then I am who you seek.”
Anika did not know what to say. Was this silver eyed and silver aged man, Master Wong, the dragon? Her eyes widened when he spoke her dragon name. She breathed in through her nose and exhaled. As she did, she caught the scent. Yes, she detected it now under the incense being burnt in the store. The scent of dragon blood, the incense masked, no, dulled her sense of smell. That’s why she had not caught it before.
“I am BlackHeart.” She revealed.
As these words escaped Anika’s lips, she heard Markus gasp. She turned to him, a smile crept across her face. His eyes locked on her and in a stern tone he retorted.
“Lenagard’s Princess Anika is BlackHeart. But BlackHeart is a dragon? Even now Gori’s army is searching for her.”
Anika leaned forward and placed her pointer finger on his lips. Her emerald eyes sparkled with charm. Markus quieted, his left eye twitched and his lip quivered but he did not protest her action. She did not break contact as she scolded and attempted to quell his fear at the same time.
“Markus hush. Do not worry Arajuan and his men will never know we stayed with you and neither will Raset and his men.”
“I am not worried about them I am worried about you. This is dangerous for you to become involved in. You have been their target for the past 100 years.”
It was Anika’s turn to go silent, her face paled to hear it. Gori had been hunting her all this time. Worse they had run into Arajuan, who said Gori could see everything. How did Gori know who she was? Why? She looked at Tarnink with silent pleading he would contradict this.
“It’s true; apparently Gori got Arajuan to confess that he may have failed at killing all of Mika Tsuki’s children. Gori then sent out for intelligence and learned that Mika Tsuki had given birth to a boy. He sent Arajuan to kill the child. During that he learned about you.” Tarnink confessed.
“Wait, I have a brother?” She twisted her head toward Wong, “Did my brother survive?”
“Hmm, yes, but where he is, even I do not know,” Wong mused, “Nor do we have time to focus on your brother.”
Wong leaned forward in his chair and straightened the papers in front of him. Anika watched with impatience as the silence filled the storeroom. They waited in that moment with solemn faces for him to speak. The seconds felt like hours as Wong gazed the group in contemplation. A wide smile cracked across his features.
“I am Wong, the one you seek. I must warn you all. It will not be easy to defeat a powerful warlock like Gori. That said, despite his apparent immortality we must remember he is only a mortal wizard. In the end we will win, and he will fall. If not, then Aldaria will be lost.”
Anika leaned toward Wong with a burning purpose on her face. Her eyes bore deep into his silver orbs. She tried to press herself into his mind. This was something she’d done accidentally as a youth but had not practiced in a long time. Her voice, a sorrowed velvet, poured her doubt over the aged dragon.
“What can I do? I am a child by both elven and dragon standards. Queen Esmir said I was the only hope for the dragons. There must be someone else? Someone that knows what is going on in this war. I do not possess Arajuan’s experience or Queen Esmir’s charisma. I cannot imagine men willing to follow and die for me as they do either of them.”
Wong pushed the scrolls and books in front of him aside with a concerned look. He gazed back into Anika’s eyes, her mind felt as if it was under scalpel. He had returned her gesture of mental prying.
“Do you doubt your ability? Already you have three men with you. How many more does it take to make an army?” Wong retorted, “You are our hope. In you there is fire and will. It was you chosen by the prophesy.”
“Prophesy?” Markus pipped up, “What prophesy may I ask?”
“Hold on,” Wong opened a scroll. “Ah here. The evil one will slay dragons and conquer all that is good. It takes a heart in a black era to destroy that which is evil. Your name is BlackHeart. I think you will destroy evil in men.”
Anika nodded, “What about Arajuan’s armies? How could we build a force like that?”
“Another prophecy to ponder. ‘Riders shall return. A man who appears dead brings life. The one who resides in evil brings good. A destroyer will send peace.’ You may decide later what that means. I, myself, am still unsure, but it is soon to come. I can feel it.”
“So, we use Arajuan? It makes little sense. This doesn’t answer my question well at all,” Anika replied.
“How would we use Arajuan!?” Markus demanded, “It’s not like we can just recruit him.”
“I can’t imagine who else the prophesy would mean. I met him! If there was a man who looks and smells dead, it’s him. Still, it’s incredulous to even suggest he would join our cause openly. I might be mistaken but I suspect people haven’t been honest with me.”
Tarnink swallowed as Anika’s eyes glared over at him. Jarrett laughed.
“She doesn’t miss a trick, does she? You should be proud of her Tarnink. Princess, what was lied to you about, what dishonesty was spoken here?”
“Well, Jarrett, none so far by you, but how did you survive Arajuan’s attack of your village? Tarnink why would Arajuan let me, a dragon, live after we crossed paths? Why would he tell me I would help him? It’s not about him finding Mika, I can’t explain it but I saw his eyes, felt his feelings as he did mine.”
Wong rose his hand to stop her rant.
“He is a dual sword, it is true Anika, but he is selfish.”
“No, Wong, forgive me. I mean no disrespect, but she’s right. I live because Arajuan
allowed me to. We were once great friends. He could have killed me. In the past 100 years or so his magic has grown exponentially. I am no longer a challenge for him. It could be selfishness but, I knew him when he was with Elewyn. When I called him a traitor to her memory, he replied that I should flee for her sake.”
Everyone looked to Jarrett. Tarnink nodded, Markus gasped. Anika studied their faces. Only Markus seemed surprised. Gori was the enemy, this was fact. Arajuan cannot be trusted, also fact, yet perhaps he could be exploited. Gori did not have his full loyalty. Still this did not solve her lack of an army.
“We cannot dwell on what ifs, I have to work with what I have. As for the men with me, I expect only Tarnink will continue.”
“Well, I can continue to travel with you, Princess Anika,” Jarrett announced, “I have no home to return to now. I place my hope for Stockholm in you.”
Anika looked shocked at Jarrett then smiled. She glanced around her gaze rested upon Markus. He could not travel with them. He had a family to care for.
“I stand corrected, sir; two shall travel with me. What must I do next?” Anika asked.
“You must head north to Eldurfell. Find the volcanos and there you find fire elemental Sverovarg. He will teach you fire magic and how to wield a sword. On the way there stop by the dragon WildWind. He will show you how to master air and transformation. He lives in the mountain caves near Eldurfell.” Wong said. “Here I give this map. Take.”
Anika glanced at the map with a furrowed brow. That was where Arajuan was. This also was where she assumed Gori would be. What would happen if she ran into Arajuan again? What if she ran into Gori? Arajuan did not frighten her so much but the prospect of meeting Gori terrified her.
“You’re worried about Arajuan and Gori. Don’t worry. Jarrett is a good fighter and an expert tracker he can avoid an army.” Wong comforted, “Now go, rest, I have a shop to run. I can’t make money if the shop is closed.”
They stood up and headed to the main shop area. Anika watched as Markus spoke to Wong.
“Did we get any news?”
“Ah this is for you,” Wong handed him a package, “It is time.”
At this, Wong hurried them out the door and placed back his open sign. They left the shop riding in silent thought back to Markus’ place. The carriage driver stopped, and they all exited the carriage. A young stable boy came over and grabbed the horses. As he tended to them, Anika, and the men entered the house. She hung her travel cloak on a hook in the entryway.
When they entered the dining room, they could smell lunch cooking. Markus placed the package aside and sat at the table. Anika and the others followed suit. She sat close to Markus as he had waved her over.
“As you know I cannot travel with you.” Markus said, “I can send news and supplies from Wong though when you need it.”
“I understand. That would be of great help,” Anika replied, “I must tell you, I think Prince Reu is headed to Vik i Myradal. He is still a child, please if he comes here take him to Master Wong. I cannot thank-you enough for this.”
“No need to thank me Anika and I will look out for him,” Markus replied.
Bella placed a roast on the table along with fruits, vegetables and breads. She brought out a fruity red wine for them to drink then sat on the other side of Markus. Anika felt ravished, she tore into her food emptying the plate. She noticed no one else spoke and so she ate in silence.
Once they finished Bella cleared the food. Markus left to get the package Wong gave him. He sat the box on the table and cut it open. Anika stood and leaned over the box.
“What is this?” She asked.
“I learned quite a bit today, but I knew the Dragon Council was involved in the war. I was aware orders came from them. Anika you already have a military.” Markus said.
Anika watched as Markus pulled a letter out from the box and read the envelope. He then handed it to Tarnink. Tarnink pulled out a small letter opener. He cut it open and pulled out an odd coded parchment. He scanned over it and sighed.
“I think this is the first correspondence I have seen that does not seem tampered with.” Tarnink said, “The letter says that the box has supplies for those in Stockholm. Unfortunately, they are a little late for that aren’t they?”
“You don’t say,” Jarrett remarked, “There is no one left. What supplies are they?”
Markus reached into the box and pulled out a few knives and packages of dried food wrapped up in plain clothes. Anika frowned as she reached for one of the knives. The knife had an ornate gold handle inlaid with a turquoise. She examined the weapon, but it did not seem remarkable.
“How would these knives help them?” She asked.
“Well for one,” Jarrett said taking the knife, “if you twist the end like this, dump it and look what we have here.”
Jarrett dumped a potion into Anika’s hand. The vial had a dark murky liquid. She opened it and sniffed. It smelled of foul decay. She shut the vile liquid tight and shoved it away.
“What was that? It smells horrid.”
“That is a death potion; each knife has a different potion marked by the handles. Some knives may even be magical blades.” Jarrett replied
Tarnink and Markus opened each of the knives to check them. Anika played with the inside of the knife she had grabbed and found a slip of paper with writing. She glanced over the slip; someone wrote it in Aldarian. The translation simply said “Death is life. My potion for your use.”
“Tarnink? I don’t think the package is ‘untampered’ exactly.”
Anika handed Tarnink the slip, he placed down the knife he had been examining. He glanced over the handwriting and groaned. She waited for him, her hand out and foot tapping.
“I think it’s fine, the others have similar notes, just a code to state which potion is which.”
Anika sighed in relief then sifted through the clothes. They were lightweight and made of a cotton substance. She tugged at the tunic. Durable enough she thought to herself, they would make for good travel clothes.
“Why were the supplies being sent? Does it say?” she asked.
“We had intercepted orders for Raset to attack the village. If Raset was supposed to attack, then Arajuan acted against orders. Sounds like him to me.” Tarnink laughed.
“This is not funny,” Anika sulked.
“There is the chance they allowed you to intercept the order with a later attack date to prevent aid reaching them on time,” commented Jarrett.
“It is highly likely,” agreed Markus, “It doesn’t help to sit here talking about it does it. Gori sits in Asunatuuli on his throne getting more powerful, we have to act.”
“Then we should take these supplies with us,” Anika suggested, “We could use the extra clothes and food.”
The three men looked at her amused. Tarnink nodded then left the room and when he returned, he had his travel bag. Anika took the tunic and placed it in. They packed all the supplies. When finished she spoke up.
“I feel a bit tired,” She yawned, “I think I will retire for the night.”
Anika left the dining room and clambered up the stairs. Her mind circled with the day’s events and it made her weary. When she entered her room, she dropped the potion and knife on her dresser. She hadn’t even realized until that moment she took them. She glanced again at the neat script on the note. It did not set right with her for some reason but she placed it down on her nightstand. It relieved her to put on her silk nightclothes and take off the tiara.
Anika took a deep breath, searched her pack for her journal, and wrote. She wrote what she saw in her journey. The destruction of Stockholm was the worst thing she had ever seen. It helped her to write these thoughts down. She penned:
It was a vast burning field where no flowers grew. Blood covered the embers
where no bodies were strewn. Who could do this to a land that committed no crime, a place that had peace in a time before time? But there hasn’t been peace…
She put down her pen and closed the journal. She fiddled with the necklace Queen Esmir had given her when she was young. All Lenagard royalty wore the necklace. It was a gold chain with a dragon eating its own tail. In the center was a teardrop-shaped gem, a sapphire. Even Prince Reu had one. Her thoughts turned to the sword in the shop. It too had a dragon eating its tail and the teardrop gem. She wondered if it once belonged to the royalty of her elven home.
A pecking at her window interrupted her thoughts of home. Anika opened the curtains to find Socrates sitting on the window ledge. She hesitated a moment and wondered if she should let him in. If he were Arajuan’s raven, then that would make him a spy A sigh escaped her lips as she remembered Jarrett and Master Wong’s words. She had to give him a chance after all she could take advantage of Arajuan if she grew close to the bird.
Anika opened the window and Socrates flew in. The bird-child settled himself on her dresser right next to the dagger she had lain earlier. He pruned his feathers before he spoke; she grew impatient.
“Why are you here? I was headed to sleep.”
“I am sorry to have disturbed you, but I am troubled with what I have heard. You are going to Eldurfell to meet the sword smith Sverovarg,” the bird croaked “I have not seen my master since he had left Stockholm. I know he was to be sent to Eldurfell. Gori will meet him there in three days. I warn you now; if you go you may be in grave danger.”
Anika laughed, “Are you trying to trick me bird or help me. If I go, Arajuan knows I will learn magic and therefore be a formidable foe. If I stay, then he keeps me weak. I am not naïve.”
“Arajuan commanded I follow you. It is his will that I protect you from harm, Lady of Shadows.” Socrates sighed, “He said only to warn you of the dangers ahead, not to stop you from proceeding with your journey. I, Socrates, am merely a messenger.”
With that, Socrates flew back to the window and pecked at it. Anika walked over to where he was. With a hand on the window, she paused, she wasn’t about to let him leave. Her curiosity got the better of her.
“Wait, ‘Lady of Shadows,’ what in the world does that mean,” Anika questioned, “Secondly, why would Arajuan wish my safety if he was ordered to kill me?”
“Sorry, I don’t know. These are things you can ask him when you see him,” Socrates replied, “As I have said before I just follow my orders.”
Anika sighed with a downcast look on her face. She opened the window; her gaze followed the bird as he left her alone once more. Socrates flew to a nearby tree and landed on the branch nearest her. In contemplation of her predicament she watched as he pruned his feathers once more. She snapped the window shut again, closed the curtains and walked over to her bed. With small movements as if worried she’d wake a sleeping child she pulled the covers back and got into bed. Her exhaustion set in as she lay down. Tempted by her thoughts she fought her sleep but lost the battle.
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