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Chapter 1- A Child’s Nightmare
The candle flame swayed back and forth like a lithe dancer as the wind gusted through the window of the drafty monastery guest house. Laboriously, Tyranna continued copying the thick manuscript in front of her, giving careful effort to form each and every letter as clearly as her small, delicate hands would allow. Though the hard wooden chair she sat in made her back ache she forced herself to ignore the pain and concentrate only on the task in front of her. Despite the fact that she had been working for hours the young girl staunchly refused to take a break, willing herself to continue. As she carefully dipped the quill back into the inkwell, she could hear a sound from the main courtyard, not more than a few yards below her window. A loud knock rang out three times in quick succession…bang, bang, bang! The noise startled her enough to ruin the curve on her letter “C”. Her annoyance briefly came out in the form of a low growl through her cold, chapped lips. Had she known any expletives she might have even considered using one. Instead, she just took a deep breath to maintain her composure, crumbled the paper sheet she had been working on, and tossed it without a glance towards the fire. As she began again, she realized that the momentary distraction had already taken her thoughts away.
Travelers must be at the gates, seeking refuge for the night, the young girl pondered curiously as she battled against the breeze to push her long, towheaded hair out of her eyes. Though it was late, and the gusty bursts signaled the impending arrival of another cold autumn storm, she forced herself to continue her tedious assignment. Tyranna hoped to complete it before exhaustion forced her to bed, so that she would have the opportunity to present the completed task to Brother William, the monk in charge of schooling at Lipkos Monastery, first thing in the morning. He was always very critical of her work, demanding perfection in everything she did. Despite the pressure, she was always happy to oblige him, and strove to learn to read and write better than any of the other orphans that lived at Lipkos.
The wind howled again, as drops of rain began to splatter on the stone walls of the monastery. Each drop landed with a small plop, like a tiny frog leaping into his pond. Tyranna shivered and wrapped her wolf-skin cloak tightly around her body, desperately trying to keep the cold air off her skin. Glancing at the gray stone hearth, she noticed that in her haste to finish her work, she had let the fire die down until it was little more than a pile of glowing embers. She stood up from her rigid wooden chair, and realized from the weakness of her leg muscles that she had been sitting for hours without a break. A few minutes away shouldn’t hurt too much, the young girl thought hopefully as she added two thick logs to the fire. The new wood caught flame almost immediately, sending a wave of warmth throughout Tyranna’s slender body. Good, she thought with a small smile, now the Brothers cannot spend their day informing me that the cold will be my death. The monks, Brother William especially, were always asking her if she was warm enough, even in the heat of mid-summer. Tyranna liked to believe it was her choice to always wear her heavy, white fur cloak that prompted their concern, but she knew that was just a small part of it. Having spent most of her eleven years as the only female child in Lipkos she was used to being treated different than the other orphans. The Brothers were always pushing her to spend her time mending clothes or working in the kitchen, while the boys learned to hunt deer in the surrounding forests or fix broken stonework on the walls. She never quite understood why things were this way; she was able to run faster and longer than any of them, and she was the only one strong enough to carry two full water buckets from the well all the way to the stables. The brothers might not have appreciated that feat but Tyranna was sure that the horses certainly did.
Standing up from the fire, Tyranna glared out through the small, curved opening in the wall that acted as a window. It had no glass- far too expensive of a material for the simple people that lived at the monastery. As a result it allowed a constant stream of cold air to flow into the room. She didn’t mind it at all though, as she rubbed her hands together to keep them warm enough to return to work, because it gave her a great view of the beauty that lay beyond the drab stone walls of the monastery. Some nights she would spend hours after everyone had gone to bed just watching the night sky twinkle and the trees sway slightly in the breeze, defiantly refusing to budge from their place in the world.
Tyranna crossed her arms and placed them on the window opening. Resting her head upon the warm woolen sleeves of her night clothes she took a long, deep breath of fresh air, enjoying the smell and flavor wafting in from the nearby sea. She remembered how it wasn’t long ago that she had to stand on her chair in order to enjoy the sights outside the window, but a recent growth spurt had quickly solved that problem. Now, she was quite tall for her age, and thin enough that several of the brothers asked her if she ate enough after each and every meal. While she would always answer with a polite “yes, sir”, as she was a taught and well-mannered young lady, the repeated questions often got under her skin. She had proven many times that she was as strong and fast as any of the boys at the monastery, and not once had she heard their eating habits being questioned. Sometimes no matter how much she grew as a person, or what she was able to accomplish, she would always be the Lipkos’ little girl. She hated that feeling more and more each day.
As much as she loved the people at Lipkos, Tyranna had always felt that there was so much more outside her window for her to learn and experience. Having been left in a small woven basket at the gates as little more than an infant, Lipkos was the only home she had ever known, its residents her only family. She had been discovered one morning by Brother Thomas, an elderly monk who had been serving as Abbot at the time. She had been swaddled in a huge thick white cloak of wolfs fur, the same cloak she still wore every day now, though only recently did it look like it actually fit her. Attached to the cloak was a small piece of parchment, with nothing more than her name scribbled on it- Tyranna.
Strangely enough, an orphan showing up at the gates was a fairly common occurrence. Lipkos was located only a few miles from the city of Gluesk, a small, but busy port that saw traders from throughout the Baltic Sea. It was the type of place where people would flock in order to search for suitable work. Sometimes that work happened to take them to places or situations that would not be appropriate to bring children along. When faced with the choice of giving up their young or watching them starve to death, many parents chose to leave their offspring in the hands of the Church, so that they may at least have a chance at having a decent life. Tyranna accepted this explanation, and rarely wondered much about her parents.
Besides, the brothers of the monastery had raised her and been her family every day since, making sure she never wanted for food, shelter or education. She had the stable and comfortable life she was sure her parents had hoped for when they decided to abandon her. For her part each day, she tried her hardest to pay back the brother’s love and benevolence by completing all of her daily chores and expectations to the best of her ability, a habit that often irritated the other orphans who resided at Lipkos. Despite how much she tried making friends with the other children, she found herself spending most of her time alone.
Most days in the monastery were very difficult, and required an immense amount of work to maintain the self-sufficient lifestyle they had grown to love, but it was all the young girl knew, and she always tried to appreciate it. However, despite her best efforts to be happy, Tyranna always felt like there was something more outside the stone walls for her. She knew, deep down, that she was more than just an orphan girl from Lipkos monastery, she just hadn’t figured out what yet. She hoped above all else that one day she would be able to venture out beyond the monastery walls and find out. What she did not know, however, was that the day she longed for so many years had already begun.
As Tyranna turned from the window to head back to work, the sounds of a conversation between Brother John, who was on gate duty, and the travelers began to seep into her ears. Their words whisked into the small stone room in short intervals before being silenced by the howl of the wind. Though the complex itself was immense, the guest houses were located in a building only a few yards west of the main gate, and Tyranna would often entertain herself by eavesdropping on the comings and goings of the travelers, merchants, and other visitors to Lipkos. Being so close to the Sea in the North, as everyone around called it, the monastery made an excellent stopping point for peddlers heading to the docks with their wares. It was especially popular due to the fact that the brothers never asked for compensation for their hospitality. Generosity and service to their fellow man were simply part of their everyday code of conduct.
This particular conversation, however, seemed different than most others. Instead of the cordial greeting most would present to the gate watcher, this traveler spoke in a gruff and irritated voice. Though Tyranna could not hear every word he said, she was able to infer that he was demanding the gates be open, and something else about “official business” and “Bishop Iwo”.
Though no expert on political or religious leaders, Tyranna had heard the Brothers speak often enough about Bishop Iwo to know that he was an important leader in this region, and his men were often using Lipkos as a resting point on their journeys. She also possessed enough savvy to know that despite their kind words about him in public the brothers did not have any great love for him in their hearts. Brother William, in fact, had once told her that men who dedicated their lives to the Church did so for one of two reasons. Either they loved “God and man” or they loved “power and money.” Tyranna could guess from his tone which category he believed that the good Bishop fell into.
For a few minutes all went quiet again, and Tyranna closed her eyes tight, hoping that the lack of vision would increase the acuity of her hearing. As she leaned toward the open window, Tyranna heard a loud squeak coming from the large wooden gates as they swung open on hinges in desperate need of repair. The creak broke through the night silence like a sword through soft butter. At least, Tyranna assumed that’s how it compared. She had never actually seen a sword used to cut butter. Knives and daggers on numerous occasions, and a woodsman’s ax once, but never a sword. She made a mental note that if she ever had a sword that she would certainly have to butter something, perhaps a nice loaf of pumpernickel bread.
It was very rare that the gates were opened after dark, as they were the monasteries’ only protection from the wolves that made their home in the surrounding forest. Not that wild animals were the biggest problem, no, not by a long shot. The wild savagery of nature was tame compared to the calculated cruelty of Humans. No, the malign title of biggest problems in Lipkos easily belonged to the men and women that lived around there. Not all people, of course, just the large percentage that happened to fall into the category of desperate, greedy bandits.
The monastery was always a huge target for those types of miscreants. The brothers might not have had any gold or gems, but they did have something even more valuable to the starving masses down at the docks: food.
It was a simple task for a seasoned crook: break into the poorly guarded monastery, steal the grain, and sell it straight to the vendors. They would than do what merchants always did to desperate buyers- charge them as much as they could afford to pay, and then add a service charge on top of it. By the end of the day, the poor people of the city were paying astronomical prices for the same food the brothers would have given them for free.
It was almost too easy for these criminals and the sleazy miscreants that made their homes at the docks. More than once in her lifetime had she awoke to the sounds of annoyed brothers as they found their storehouses emptied by outlaws trying to make a quick profit off the suffering of others. Yet, despite being such easy targets, the Brothers never once took up arms to defend themselves. They simply explained that it wasn’t their way. Tyranna never understood that about them. She certainly didn’t think it was right to hurt another person, but wasn’t defending your belongings another situation entirely?
A few minutes passed, but no more voices floated up to the girl’s ears. I guess they had business with the Abbot, she thought with a slight bit of disappointment. She had really been hoping for something a little bit more interesting to occur, something to break up the monotony of the work, but it simply never came. Accepting that her evening’s tiny bit of entertainment was over as quickly as it began, Tyranna sat back down at her desk and began to figure out where she had left off.
Before the quill could hit the paper to begin forming another letter, Tyranna could hear a new set of sounds, this time from the hallway outside her door. Though not common at Lipkos, the sound of metal boots clopping as they hit the stone floor of the monastery was unmistakable. It was not uncommon for soldiers to spend the night at the monastery, as it meant a free meal and good night’s sleep in a feather bed, something that would weigh far less heavily on a soldier’s meager wages than if he decided to stay in the city. The brothers loved it to, as a few men at arms in your home was a great deterrent to theft. Unless, of course, it was the soldiers participating in the theft, but that was much rarer. Soldiers were usually far too dumb to think of it.
Tyranna finally settled back to work, finely forming the letter “C” as she began a new word, when a loud scream shattered the cold night air. The jarring sound sent Tyranna’s quill dashing across the parchment, destroying two hours of work in a fraction of a second. Without hesitation, the young girl jumped up from her chair and reached for the handle of her door intending to see what the commotion was all about. Just before her slender fingers could find their way to grasp the splintery, wooden hand bar the doors flew open towards her. She lurched backwards as quickly as she could, reflexes taking over for thought as she avoided the swinging form of the dark wood door. Tyranna stumbled, unable to catch her balance, and landed rump first on the cold stone floor, her thick cloak only slightly cushioning the fall. Behind her the open window created a tunnel of frozen night air that seemed to lead only to the back of her neck. She shivered, partially from the breeze, but more so from being startled.
Looking up she saw three strange men standing over her in the doorway. She knew that the intruders were definitely not from the monastery, no one there would ever enter a ladies room without knocking. While she might not have qualified as a “lady” in most places, here she was as close as they had.
Looking them over, Tyranna was positive that she had never seen any of them at the monastery before. She had a wonderful memory for just about anything she came across- names, faces, dates. But with the three men towering over her she didn’t have the slightest inkling of recognition.
Two of the men were dressed simply in plain mail hauberk and coif. The shiny metal, wet from the drizzle outside, glistened in the moonlight of the small room. Each man wore a white linen tabard over their armor, sleeveless and plain except for the front, which housed the image of a of a blood red heart engulfed in flame and pierced through the top with crossing sword blades. It was a beautiful symbol, and one that Tyranna would have loved to study and learn more about, had her attention not been stolen by the objects the two men carried with them.
In one hand each brandished a large steel sword; one which dripped a deep crimson liquid that Tyranna could only assume was blood. Each soldier also carried a large round metal shield, each painted with the same blazing heart that adorned their tabards.
Despite the intimidating armament of the two soldiers, Tyranna’s gaze fixated upon the third man, standing directly behind the soldiers. His skin was much darker than his two guards, tanned to an almond color.
The man wore no mail, instead opting for a bright white leather jerkin, over a deep, blood red doublet. Golden studs covered the ridges of the garment, as if the man wished to scream to the world that he was rich and powerful, but instead choose his dress to accomplish that task for him. On his head he wore a silver helm, with inlays and a plume of gold. At his side was the most lavish of the man’s accessories, an ornate gold handled rapier, with a blade so sharp that just looking at it made Tyranna feel like she was being sliced open from head to toe. He too wore the flame-heart, though far less ostensibly than his counterparts. It sat exactly where his own heart did, a small patch sewn into the left chest of the doublet.
“Get up, girl! Now.” demanded the well-dressed man, as the two soldiers parted to let him in the room. “You are coming with us.” He spoke the common tongue, but with a strange, deep accent that she had never heard before. Tyranna had listened to thousands of travelers speak over the years; it was one of her passions to learn about what the world had to offer outside the monastery walls. She had met people from all over the continent- some from the Holy Roman Empire in the West, others from Norway and Sweden in the North, even a few Teutonic knights came through from the Eastern lands once, but she had still never heard an accent like this. She assumed he was from much further away. For some reason, that fact made her even more scared.
As the man with the accent took a few steps closer to Tyranna, the light from the fire illuminated his features allowing her to get a clearer view of his face. It was thin and gaunt with a long pointed nose poking out of the center like an arrow that had just hit its target perfectly. Even though most of his head was covered with his helm, she could see that deep black hair peered out under the silver brim. Above his thin lips curled a long oily mustache, which matched the ebony color of his hair. Tyranna looked up into his dark brown eyes as he stared down at her tiny body, frozen on the ground in fear. He motioned to his men without saying another word, and walked out of the room.
“Who are you?” Tyranna finally managed to murmur in terrified confusion, completely unaware as to why three strangers would come into her room in the middle of the night. “Brother William isn’t going to like you coming in here while I’m trying to work.” The soldier carrying the bloody sword, much taller than his counterpart, let out a muffled laugh at her comment. Tyranna couldn’t understand what he possibly found funny.
After returning his sword to its scabbard, the shorter of the mail clad soldiers bent down and placed his gauntleted hand upon Tyranna’s arm and yanked the small girl back to her feet. She winced as the feel of the cold, heavy metal seeped right though her cloak and woolen night clothes to strike directly upon her goose-bumped skin, sending a vicious shiver up and down her body.
With a firm grip the soldier yanked her up off the ground like she was little more than a sack of grain. It made her feel powerless, which she quickly decided was even worse than feeling terrified. At least with terrified you can close your eyes and will yourself to fight back, but with powerless you’re pretty much out of luck. As he ushered her out of the room, knocking over her wooden desk chair as they left, she tried to figure out if yelling would be a good idea. Taking another glance at the last drawn sword she decided against the idea. She was beginning to really despise the feeling of powerless.
“Where are you taking me?” Tyranna asked nervously as they followed the lead of the other two men back towards the guest house stairs. None of the three answered her question, or even acknowledged that she had made one. She tried to squirm and struggle, but she was no match for the soldier’s powerful grip.
She took a deep breath, trying desperately to calm herself down. Maybe this is all a mistake, she thought hopefully.
Only a few wall sconces were left lit, the rest blown out by the storm’s winds. Though it was difficult to see more than a few feet in front of her, Tyranna had walked the path enough times to know that they were heading back to the front gate. Surely whatever misunderstanding had occurred could be cleared up at that point.
As they turned the first corner, leading to the circular stairs that would take them to ground level, Tyranna gasped in horror.
“Brother William!” she screamed, ignoring her decision to stay quiet. She peered down at the limp pile of flesh draped across the stairs. The plump, bald man had been stabbed through the center of his chest, and his black robes were now stained a deep red from the blood spurting profusely from his body. A few feet to his side lay one of his arms, cut straight though, as if he had tried to use the appendage to deflect a sword stroke. The stump that dangled from his body squirted blood across the floor, steam rising where the hot liquid met the cold stone. Tyranna cringed as she was forced to walk barefoot through the warm, sticky puddle of liquid that used to belong to her teacher; his open eyes staring up at her as she passed through. He died with the same questioning look he had given her every day during lessons, as if he had been asking the soldiers about their intentions at the very moment they had murdered him.
Tears began to run down Tyranna’s face as she reached the main courtyard of the monastery. Every direction she looked she was greeted with another body. Finally, with nowhere else to place her eyes, she looked up at the bright, full moon hovering in the skies above. Cold rain splashed down into her face washing the salty tears onto her lips. She could taste her own fear as the soldier dragged her out through the monastery gates, scraping her bare feet against the rocky ground.
Through a jumble of questions, her mind only managed to allow her to repeat one thought over and over again…Why Me?