(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Taerwyn was written by Jenna Bowman.)
The sun hung low in the sky over the mountains as Taerwyn leaned on the stone railing of the terrace, staring out over the valley of endless spring at Sanctuary. Things were quiet this summer evening, although the breeze picked up in a way that suggested storms outside the valley and the timeless castle housed within the mountainous walls. At the bottom of the valley, the ancient lake glowed with the familiar, faint violet light Taerwyn had become accustomed to in her time training here. She could feel the power that infused the water even from here, the cradle of magic in a post-Catastrophe world.
She glanced over her shoulder, waiting for the sound of footsteps on the flagstone tiles of the veranda, or any other sign that her unusual guest had arrived. She’d been pleasantly surprised to learn she had been chosen for the encounter, but now she felt nervous. She fiddled with the sash that held her violet robes shut, letting a finger trace over each ray of the silver sun on her belt buckle. She wondered what her Goddess would think of all of this, and a half-smile rose to her lips.
No doubt she would have a chance to find out soon.
Kelly approached with quiet footsteps and took the opportunity to observe Taerwyn as she drew near. She recognized the signs of nervousness—something she often saw when meeting people for these interviews, but she was determined to put her at ease as soon as she could. “Taerwyn?” She spoke once she came into hearing range. Once the woman looked at her, Kelly smiled warmly. “Hi, I’m Kelly. I believe you’re expecting me.” She stretched a hand out to shake hers. “How are you doing today?”
Taerwyn turned at the sound of footsteps approaching, and as she heard her name. A warm smile spread across her face, green eyes lighting up a little. Uneasy or not, she was endlessly curious and determined not to let her nerves get the best of her.
She took Kelly’s offered hand in a firm grasp, calluses suggesting that she had been training with some sort of weapon. “I am expecting you, yes. It’s good to meet you.” She released Kelly’s hand, and gestured toward a simple wooden table a little further down the veranda, where a bowl of fruit and two cups of water waited. “I’m quite well tonight, thank you. How about yourself? Would you like to have a seat?”
“Sure. Thank you.” Kelly smiled as they walked over and took a seat.She took the offered cup of water and drank a sip—finding it refreshing, and then she set the cup down and smiled at Taerwyn. “So, tell me about yourself. What is it that you do exactly?”
Taerwyn took the seat across the table, and laughed, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “Well, what I do is train here endlessly, day after day. This place, Sanctuary, is where my order keeps its headquarters. The Virtuous Sisters of the Unfailing Light.” She picked up a round green fruit that smelled sweet and spicy, but more to fidget with it and keep her hands busy than to take a bite. “We are the daughters of Mother Sun, the guardians of this place and the artifacts it hides beneath the lake. Not that I’ve ever seen them in person, but that is what we are.” She gestured down at her violet robes. “I’m near the end of my training. I don’t know if you saw any of the others on your way in, but those in lavender are the initiates, and the women wearing indigo are full Sisters. I hope to be getting my indigo robes soon.” She laughed quietly. “But who knows what will happen between now and then.”
Kelly furrowed her brows as she listened to all this. It was quite intriguing. “So you’re guardians of this place and the artifacts. What so special about it all?” She looked around.
Taerwyn continued to roll the fruit in her palms idly, and thought for a moment. There were many special things about Sanctuary, and distilling the whole of what it was into only a few words might be difficult.
“Well, I think what is most special about this place is that all the women here share a common ancestor. The first Matriarch, Siburna. It’s her blood that was blessed by Mother Sun, our dear goddess, with the power to protect the weapon of the gods buried beneath the lake.” She frowned slightly. Usually she wouldn’t be so forthcoming about the lake’s secrets, but she had been informed that the circumstances of Kelly’s visit were unique. “Because it is in the blood, we occasionally get men here as well, although they are rare.”
She couldn’t help the tiny little smile that rose on her lips at the thought of one such man she knew, but she quickly moved on. “We stand in reserve to prevent another cataclysm like the one that nearly destroyed our world hundreds and hundreds of years ago. His highness thinks that it could threaten again in our lifetimes, but I sort of hope that isn’t the case.” Okay, so maybe moving on had been an overstatement.
Kelly caught the small smile that Taerwyn had when she mentioned men, and Kelly suspected something was there, but first she wanted to address something else. “Why does this…king—prince?—think it’ll happen in your lifetime? Are there signs that something bad is going to happen?” She furrowed her brows as she sat back in her chair watching Taerwyn.
“Prince Thorven. He’s descended from the blood of the Matriarch, too. Well, technically, from Siburna’s brother.” She frowned slightly, glancing out over the lake, and took in the sunset with a long breath in and out. “He serves both Sun and Moon, as both Sister, well, Brother in this case, and paladin. As I aspire to be someday myself. But he is…different. The gods have seen fight to grant him with the rare gifts of a Seer. He keeps telling those of us who have been close to him, such as my father, that the storm is coming. And war seems inevitable in the north, and soon. And I have been having dreams that leave me troubled.”
She smiled softly, although the twist of her mouth suggested an old, tired level of bitterness. “My mother was a Sister before me, and also a Seer. She trained Thorven. I’m not sure what I wouldn’t give to have her with me now to offer some insights there, but she was taken in a raid when I was eight, and I’m sure she is long dead.”
“I’m sorry.” Kelly lowered her gaze but then selected her next question. “And if there is a war, if there is trouble, what happens then?”
Taerwyn shook her head with a smile. “It was a long time ago.” And her father had done a fine job of raising her and her brother at the fortress of Gray Mountain Hold. The question, of course, made her think of her home. “If there is outright war rather than the usual tension along the border, then my home in the north will suffer. But I think, if the things Thorven is saying are to be believed, that war is just a symptom of the deeper problem. The cataclysm of before happened because an arrogant soul not only sought to usurp the power of a dark god, but figured out a way to do it. Thorven believes that another may make a similar attempt soon, although whatever signs he is seeing are not visible to me.” She let the fruit roll off her fingers and back into the bowl as she leaned forward, elbows on the table. “But even though I do not see the signs, I feel the way that the world holds its breath. I feel it in the way that the light seems a little thinner sometimes, a little weaker. The way that my nightmares leave me anxious, even when I cannot remember them.” She chuckled again quietly, although this time the sound held little warmth. “It is for these reasons that I am determined to follow a path different than the one my father might have imagined for me. Even if I am quite fond of my betrothed.”
This thoroughly confused Kelly. “Okay wait—what path does your father have planned for you? And who is this betrothed? And what are you planning exactly?” She shifted to the edge of her seat, setting her elbows on the table and her chin in her palm as she listened closely.
Taerwyn laughed and leaned back in her chair a little. “Well, it’s the stuff that they write stories about. A lord has it in his head that he must marry his daughter off to strengthen political alliances, and she’s not allowed to become a warrior because of that.” The grin remained on her lips as she continued. “I was able to convince him that I had a duty to become a Sister, because those with the blood are rare enough as it is, and fewer still have what it takes to become a conduit for the Goddess. My mother was a Sister before me, and would have wanted it for me. But for myself, I have always wished to become a paladin like my father and so many others in my life, to serve Father Moon in the protection of my people.” A smirk replaced the grin. “My betrothed, Mikael, is a friend from my childhood, and my brother’s best friend. He is a paladin himself. I do not think my father knows that Mikael fully supports my ambitions.” She laughed again, clearly amused by this idea. “I am in no hurry to get married, but if it is going to be forced on me, there are far worse partners who could be arranged.”
Kelly nodded, understanding a bit more. “So, do you love this Mikael fellow? Or is there another who’s caught your eye?”
The blush that crept across Taerwyn’s cheeks no doubt told the entire story there. “I do love him. I have known him since we were young, and even if we were not betrothed, I would still love him as a brother. He is a good and honorable man. I believe that Thorven would like to recruit him as well, one of these days.” She shook her head as she spoke of the prince. She had thought, when she was younger and didn’t know better, that she would like to be a princess, but he was so devoted to his work, and to his cause. There was no room for romance in his life.
Kelly caught something. “Ah.” She nodded as she sat back. “You’d love him like a brother. That is not the kind of love you bring into a marriage, so you don’t truly love him as you would a husband. There’s someone else. Thorven perhaps?” She raised her brows but saw the way Taerwyn averted her gaze, and Kelly smiled. “Ah, so it is, but you don’t think it’s possible, do you?”
Taerwyn shook her head again, although her smile returned, albeit a bit softened. “Please don’t misunderstand. I feel I am quite capable of loving Mikael as a husband as well. We are good partners, and chosen family already, and waiting for romance alone is not a luxury that is granted to the daughters of noblemen.” She shrugged, a nostalgic, distant look in her eyes for a moment before they focused again on Kelly with another smile. “No, any desire I had for Thorven was the ambition of youth and infatuation with a man whose strength and skill and dedication I have always admired. It was never a mature love.”
“I can understand and respect that, but…” Kelly gave her a sidelong glance as she pulled back with a nod. “I know how these things go.” She smiled, but then she had to ask, “And did he love you? Did he notice you?”
Taerwyn let the subject drop, preferring to focus on the questions more than the implications. “He noticed me, yes. My father was one of his instructors at the academy where the paladins train, and they have been good friends ever since. So I have known Thorven for a good part of my life, as I have Mikael. But the notice he took of me always felt more like that of an older brother or a mentor.” She frowned slightly. “He is always careful to keep his heart to himself. I think he believes that if he allowed anyone in, with the storm he keeps saying is coming, that they would get hurt, or the enemy might attempt to use those loved ones against him.”
“Sounds like I need to talk with this Thorven individual.” Kelly thought Taerwyn and he needed couples counseling, but that wasn’t her place. It seemed that Taerwyn was very set in her ways, and Kelly wasn’t sure where to pry, so she went back to her father. “So tell me about your father, about growing up. What’s your favorite memory?”
“He would certainly be able to explain more about the threats he sees than I can.” Taerwyn grinned, a slightly rebellious and amused look in green eyes as she knew that wasn’t quite what Kelly meant. And given her next words, she no doubt came by the traits honestly. “My father is a good man, if a little stubborn and set in his ways. He is one of the king’s generals, commanding the northern fortress of Gray Mountain Hold, where I grew up. He’s well respected in the whole kingdom.”
But a favorite memory? That was a lot harder to choose. Taerwyn frowned slightly as she thought, before settling on something from happier times. “I think one of my favorite memories is the midwinter before my mother was taken, all four of us sitting in the sunlight coming in through one of the windows and laughing as a family. I don’t even remember anymore what we were laughing about, only that we were. He changed after she was gone. Devoted himself to his work.”
Kelly nodded. “I would ask where you see yourself in five years from now, but since there’s a possible war, I think I know the answer to that. However, answer me this: if a war comes, what will be your role in it?”
Taerwyn pondered the question a moment, brow furrowing thoughtfully. “I think when that war arrives, the role I would choose for myself is to support those I love and lend my strength to theirs. No matter what it is that they might be doing. I refuse to stand by and let others fight when I know I can help.”
Kelly nodded. It was good to see this in her, but then she pressed. “And what is your greatest fear?”
Taerwyn smirked, folding her arms as she leaned back in her chair. “Surprisingly enough, that’s easier to answer. Failure. My greatest fear is failing to live up to everything I can be, and failing to reach my goals. Failing to rise above the pre-determined roles that everyone keeps trying to force me into.” It was a very personal question, but she’d been forced to confront her fears quite intimately in the course of training to be a Sister. She knew her fears, and always fought to overcome them.
Kelly noted that she mentioned how others forced her into roles, so she tilted her head to a side. “And if you could be anyone, do anything without others forcing you into roles, what would you do? Who would you be?”
“I would do what I’ve always tried to do, and be what I’ve always tried to be. The strongest force for good that my heart tells me I can be, in the way that I know I could be best at it.” She smiled, and a peaceful expression came to her features. “I don’t want much more than that, really.”
Kelly had to smile. “That’s a good answer.” But then she sighed. “Unfortunately, my time here has come to an end.” She rose to her feet. “Thank you for this conversation. It was wonderful to meet you and get to know you. I hope you the very best with all your endeavors.” She smiled at her.
Taerwyn rose to her feet as well, and stretched out her hand to Kelly to offer a farewell handshake. “It was good to meet you as well. I hope I was able to answer your questions satisfactorily.” She smiled warmly again. “Thank you. I hope the same for you.”
“It was a lovely visit! Perhaps I’ll be permitted to return for a visit, but for now, I really must go. Thanks again!” Kelly waved at her then stepped away, and as she walked away, a portal opened in front of Kelly, which she stepped into, and then it closed behind.
“I would like that. We’ll see what time brings, eh?” Taerwyn watched Kelly go before she picked up that piece of fruit again, and faded into the night nibbling on it.
Jenna Bowman’s story ‘Soldaris Saga’ has no release date set for it yet, but you can follow her on social media for more updates: