The sun charged against the western hills like a battle raged warrior, smothering the land in fiery hues of orange and gold. Everywhere its light reached, shadows expanded, mocking the sun’s vain attempt to bring color and life to a broken kingdom.
The outer walls of Nevaharday brought no measure of hope with their towering presence. Across their solid walkways a new set of guards paced back and forth: twisted creatures of a dark nature with emaciated bodies and sunken red eyes. They watched the perimeter with unblinking stares, eager for an excuse to prove their dominance all over again.
No more than a mile from the walls’ northern gate, shadows obscured the remnants of a village now burned and ravaged by war. Deep cracks marred the walls of the few stone buildings still standing, their surfaces blackened from the flames that helped tear the once lively town to ruin.
But a spark of life still lingered in one remaining house. Behind broken windows cautiously covered with thick blankets, a tiny flame swayed and danced at the tip of a nearly spent candle. Two unlikely companions hovered close to its meager light, their heads bowed over a scarred table in deep debate. Between them yellowed parchment scavenged from the ruins sat like a blank canvas.
“Write it down!” urged the flaxen haired gypsy. He slid a quill before a disgruntled prince, but the royal companion ignored him, his pale blue gaze steeled against the empty page. The destruction that mocked all he had hoped to prevent played over and over inside his mind. His grim expression reflected it all: The devastation of a kingdom, the ruination of his cherished lands; the enslavement of his people. His horse-like ears, pressed flat against his skull, suggested a fury burning inside of him. One he barely held in check.
“Connor Prince,” the gypsy nudged him, his gaze searching the prince’s troubled expression for some response.
“Why should I bother?” His Majesty demanded. “What purpose will this serve?”
Patiently, the gypsy picked up the quill and placed it in the royal’s palm, his large brown eyes reflecting the prince’s sorrow. “Nevaharday fell because it forgot the fate of its ancestors in Bresan T’ahnya too quickly. We cannot let future generations make the same mistake.”
The prince slumped into a defeated slouch. “I have given up everything I was; everything that mattered. Was that not enough?”
“Shadow’s hand will extend. As his power grows, others will need answers,” the gypsy pressed. He leaned over the table to loom nose-to-nose with the guilt ridden prince, trying to instill within his heart some promise of redemption amongst the burning ashes of defeat. “They will not understand if you do not write it down.” When the prince still failed to move, the gypsy put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “Do it for your people.”
His people. Loyalty tugged at the mournful royal. He tucked his chair under the table, hovering over the ominous parchment in search of the right words. At first, it seemed impossible. Memories, both precious and painful, were still too fresh and too vivid inside his mind and heart.
“Try starting at the beginning,” the gypsy coaxed. “Start with you… who you are, what you are, where you come from. Trust in what I tell you. T’will get easier as you go along.”
Lifting the quill, the prince began to write. A task he struggled through. Page after crumbled page were swatted to the floor as he wrestled with his weary mind for the right words, only to realize there were no ‘right words’ for the war that had gone so terribly wrong. Instead, he settled for the first thoughts that came to mind. The gypsy perched himself on a wooden stool and watched as the prince’s quill started to scratch against the fibers of the pages with newfound fervor. Finally, thoughts began to flow…
As I sit here writing memories into history, I wonder what eyes will fall upon these words. Will they know the name of the prince who wrote them? Will my city, Nevaharday, be that of legend, or will it too be forgotten like the ones that came before it?
My name is Prince Jaycent Connor of the city Nevaharday, and within these pages my story will reside. This soil once belonged to my people, the horse folk, but I fear we shall be but folklore by the time these scrolls are unearthed, so let me explain. The rahee (or ‘horse-hearted’, as it translates in the common tongue) are a unique race, different from men and elves and dwarves. Youngest of the four civilized races, we share a kinship with equines that has caught the attention of allies… and enemies.
The impact of that statement caused the prince to pull away and take a steadying breath. He paused, uncertain whether he could do this, but the gypsy wouldn’t let him stop.
“Keep going,” he pushed. Jaycent shot him an annoyed glance. A reprimand teetered on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it back. The prince could not hold the gypsy at fault for anything. They were barely friends, different from each other as summer was to winter, but the gypsy meant well by encouraging him to do what needed to be done. Jaycent buried his temper beneath another stubborn layer of determination and returned to the parchment in front of him.
At first glance, one might think this relation is physical because of our horse-like ears. But the true connection between horse and rahee lies within. For within every horse folk is the ability to connect with a hoofed companion. There is no breaking of the animal’s spirit, no attempts to achieve domination over the equine races. Instead, two spirits—rahee and equine— innately join to form a bond that is both intelligent and instinctive.
This is the gift that made us famous. Through it other races came to know us, admire us and some, well, some even feared us. But to speak of that would be to jump ahead of ourselves. For now, let us start with simpler times.
Before the shadows.
Before the mistakes.
And before the sacrifice that led me here, hunching over a wavering candlelight as I write down memories of things that came to pass, but can never be allowed again.
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