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Chapter One

Her hound pup stirs at the foot of the bed, waking her up. Reluctantly she removes her body from under her warm, pelt blanket. She swings her legs over the side of the bed and searches the floor with her toes for her shoes; it is still early in the spring and the floor is cold. Gods forbid her she fall sick on this day. She slips on her long stockings, then her shoes and goes to her wardrobe. She dresses in the darkness, for it is before sunrise, putting on a very simple dress made with cotton and a green velvet coat lined with fox fur. The green complimented her own green eyes and the red of the fox’s fur made her eyes stand out, like a single green plant in a red desert. She brushes her dark auburn hair and puts it in a single braid, which then brings the length of her hair to just below shoulder length.

Once she is finished getting ready, she and her pup quietly pad their way down the stairs to the main floor of her home. Their house only consists of three floors. The top floor holds the sleeping chambers. The main floor consists of the dining hall, kitchen, bathing room, sitting room and her father’s study. And the basement is where their wine, mead and food are stored, as well as father’s personal armory. They cross the foyer and go into the dining hall. Her second eldest brother and his hunting party had returned last night and celebrated their victorious hunt, leaving the dining hall in disarray. Soon the two servants would be awake and they would clear this mess before her father and mother would see it.

They left the dining hall and went into the kitchen. Walking past the cooking hearth and the pantry full of foods, herbs and spices, they exited their home through the servant’s door. Once outside, her pup takes off running, stretching his legs. She walks around the court yard, calling back the pup whenever she lost sight of him. Once the sky began to light up and the roosters had crowed, her and her pup returned home through the servant’s door. One of their servants was in the kitchen when they entered. The servant nodded her head and said, “G’mornin’, Shay.”

Shay replied, “Good morning, Hadeel.” Hadeel is an older woman who once had blonde hair that has turned gray in her later years. Her small frame was bent over in the cooking hearth, building a small tinder fire. Shay looked in the wood pale next to the hearth, it was empty. She took the pale and took it outside to the wood pile to fill it. Once she returned to the kitchen she, placed the pale next to the hearth and placed a few logs in the hearth to catch fire. Hadeel silently thanks Shay with a look as Shay exits the kitchen into the dining hall.

In the dining hall Shay sees Rina, Hadeel’s daughter and only child. Rina, only eleven years old herself, was trying to turning over a bench that her brother and his party had left turned over because of last night’s festivities. Rina stops what she is doing and greets Shay, “Good mornin’, Miss Shaylynn.”

“Good morning, Rina.” Shay grabs the opposite end of the bench and helps Rina turn it up right. “Please, I have told you before; there is no need to address me by my full name. You know I cannot stand it; especially when my mother calls me by it.”

“Sorry, Miss Shay,” Rina apologizes while giggling.

Shay looks around the dining hall, at the far wall, above the head of the table the Keeton house banner hangs proudly. It has a blue base color, as blue as the Eastern River. And expertly sewn on it is their family’s sigil, a copper hawk with its wings spread and its talons clenched. The colors are not as brilliant as normal, Shay notices. She looks at the candelabras around the room. Only the bottom row of candles on each is lit. Rina is not tall enough to reach the top row of candles, so Shay takes an already lit candle and goes around the room lighting the unlit ones.

After lighting candles, she began to help clear the table, while Rina picked up the dishes off the floor. The pup was taking care of cleaning the floor of any food scraps that had fallen during the feast, leaving little for Rina to sweep up with the broom after. Carrying what dishes she could, she followed Rina into the kitchen. Hadeel was cooking up a rather large breakfast for the family that morning. Shay’s nostrils were filled with smells of cooking meats and fresh bread being baked.

“Mmm, Hadeel! Are you making sweet bread?” Shay asks.

Hadeel turns her head, not taking her eyes from cutting up fruits for the breakfast spread, “Yes, dear. I made your favorite for your big day and I even have an extra loaf baking for your trip.”

Shay smiles and goes over to Hadeel and taps her on the shoulder. Hadeel puts her knife down and hugs Shay. Her little arms reaching around her torso and squeezing her lightly. Hadeel has been with their family since her father became Lord of Reden, as well as her husband Brundyn, the stable master. Brundyn taught Shay how to ride a horse, even when her mother said she was too young to do so, she is not as good of a rider as her eldest brother, but her and her second brother are very well matched.

Shay kisses Hadeel’s temple and let’s go of her. She smiles and says her silent goodbye. Today Shay would be leaving her home, the only place she has ever known in her short 19 years of life. She was leaving to go to Hulen Hold, where she is promised to Lord Randolph Ullmarr’s only son, Faelan. Their engagement has been pending for over five years now, he was a late bloomer of 14 and she was an early bloomer of only 12. Their engagement was arranged when her father was to become second in command to the king’s army, Lord Ullmarr being the first in command.

Since then a terrible plague spread like wildfire throughout the kingdom. It killed thousands of children, newborns to teenagers. With great fear each city and hold shut their gates to keep the illness from spreading further. Those families who had the coin would get their children cured by the healers at the worship temples and those who did not could only watch their precious children die. The illness plagued the kingdom for over 5 years and with the spring of the sixth year, after a very harsh winter, all cases of the illness ceased to exist. By this point, father’s position had been filled by a different man and he probably does his job well. For the past year her father has been writing Lord Ullmarr practically begging him to consider their engagement. After all, it is the least he can do for giving the honor of being second in command to the king’s army to someone less deserving than himself.

Shay had never been fond of the idea of marrying someone that she barely knew, especially in the more recent years of her life being able to pick up on her mother’s attitude towards her husband. Shay holds the same fate that her mother did and she sees how bitter her mother acts towards her father sometimes. She did not want this for herself or anyone else for that matter. She thinks that arranged marriages are unsavory and entirely political. Shay does not particularly want to get married at all, but if she did, she wants to because she is in love with the man that she chooses.

With a sigh she exits the kitchen into the dining hall; in the meantime Rina had set the table with in an array of foods. Bacon, sausage, ham and eggs are piled onto plates of the men. Fresh pears, figs, eggs and bread modestly decorate the plates of the ladies. Tea is served, as well as light mead and morning wine to quench the thirsts of the adults and fresh fruit juice and milk for the small children.

Not before long the rest of her family and the boys of the hunting party entered the dining hall. Her father, Lord Gavin Keeton the III, sat at the head of the table. To the Lord’s right sits his eldest son, Gavin the IV. To Gavin’s right sits the second eldest son, Falk. And to his right are the boys of the hunting party: Geoff, Samuel and Jonathan; the only other boys in the hold their age that survived the plague. To the Lord’s left sat Lady Lorna, the Lord’s wife and mother to his children. To the Lady’s left sits their identical twins Kele and Astor. And finally at the end of the table sits, the Lord’s eldest daughter, Shaylynn.

Lord Gavin sits quietly and listens intently to his sons and their friends talk about the victory of a hunt they went on last night. Lady Lorna urges Kele to eat more than sweet bread as she fills his plate with ham and fruit. Astor is sitting quietly and eating properly, just like her mother told her to; only to chime to her mother when she finished eating something, as if to mock her twin brother. Shay is half paying attention to her brothers and half lost in her own thoughts, while picking at her breakfast. Like her little brother Kele, she had only eaten the sweet bread from her plate and this made her mother take notice. Lady Lorna pats her husband’s arm and gestures to her eldest daughter with a tilt of her head. The Lord turns his attention from his sons and watches Shay before speaking.

“Shay,” hearing her father’s voice makes her sit up straight and divert her eyes to him. Her hands fall into her lap and she is pulled from her own thoughts.

“Yes, father?” Her voice is practiced and has a rhythm to it. The other children around the table fell silent, only the clanking of goblets on the table and metallic scraping of utensils on plates served as ambiance.

“You have barely touched your food, my daughter. You are already thin as it is and today is an important day. You need your strength, please eat something substantial.”

Her face flushes pink, not out of embarrassment for being lectured like a child in front of their guests, but out of anger. She had not forgotten about how important this day was to her father. She is to be bound in marriage Faelan; like Gavin is promised to a young lady whom is to come live here soon and how arrangements are being made for Falk to go off and become a squire to a knight in the kingdom’s capitol at any moment’s notice.

“I remember, father,” she accidentally let resentment slip into the tone of her voice.

Her father picked up on it, which made him rise from his seat. Throwing a fist down on the table he exclaims, “You should feel honored that Lord Randolph Ullmarr chose our house to wed his only son! Today will go without a hitch and I mean it. Not one. If I even catch a whiff of something off, I swear I will take that dammed dog of yours from you and send you off to live in the Abbey!”

She stares at him with piercing eyes, her jaw clenched and hands balled into fists in her lap. Then her eyes begin to well with tears, she has heard the same lecture before. But this time, it was a lot harsher and her mother just sat there, not looking at her. Not trying to save one of her babies from getting taken away and carted off to a faraway place.

“Do you understand, girl?” He shouts.

His voice is so loud it echoes in the hall and makes her jump. She stands, pushing her seat back hard, almost knocking it over. Her face softens, her hands unclench and fold in front of her and as she controls her voice she responds, “I understand. May I be excused, please?”

Her father shakes his head in frustration, falling back into his chair. Not even looking at her, he dismisses Shay with a wave of his hand. Swatting her away like an annoying fly. She turns and walks away hurriedly, but gracefully.

Shay and her pup cross the foyer and head up the stairs to her room. She silently closes the door and places her forehead against the cold wood. Behind the closed door she lets the tears flow freely, but she does not make a sound. Not one sob or sniffle. Ever since she was a little girl she learned that crying never did any good for her. It especially made her father more angry with her and made her mother ignore her and not sooth her.

Her parents had not always been this harsh towards her, it mostly began after father lost his position and mother lost her newborn daughter to the plague. During the plague the Lord’s children were not allowed to play with the other children in the hold. It was just Shay, Gavin and Falk. The boys never wanted to do what Shay wanted, so Shay to feel included, tagged along with everything they did. Horseback riding, archery and sword play were her favorite activities that she shared with her brothers. Her mother hated the idea and tried to steal her away and make her read history books and write poetry.

After taking a few deep breaths, Shay produces her handkerchief from her coat pocket to dry the tears from her cheeks and eyes. She crosses her room, pats her pup on the head, which is lying on the foot of the bed, and goes to the window to open the shutters. Light streams into the room and floods onto dusty, empty shelves and packed trunks full of her personal items.

“Hadeel must have had Rina pack up my things for me while we were down at breakfast,” Shay thought to herself. All there was left to do was pack her wardrobe, which was left open with an open, empty trunk next to it. “That is odd; Rina would not just leave her job unfinished…” She goes over to the wardrobe and starts to put clothes away. She does not have any silk dresses, so she did not have to worry them getting ruined in the trunk. She set aside her travel outfit: a fitted white, cotton shirt, a green, wool sweater, and soft, leather pants. She wants to be comfortable and warm during her trip.

In her wardrobe are drawers that hold her undergarments and stockings, when she went to open her stocking drawer, she noticed it was a little harder to open than normal. With a firm tug the drawer opened and at the top of her stockings was a sheathed dagger, with a bit of parchment wrapped around it and tied shut with a piece of red string. She picked up the dagger delicately, as if it was made of glass. The sheath was tanned leather, with beautiful etchings in it of a hawk’s head. The hilt was silver, with green stones embedded in it. And the blade was straight, about three and a half inches long, an inch in width and tapered at the end into a sharp point. She could only smile as she sheathed the dagger and took the note off to read it.

Put it to good use, but do not hurt yourself, sister. Much love, G & F

It was Gavin’s hand writing, but she knew it was Falk’s idea to get it for her. Falk and Shay were born less than a year apart and Gavin was almost two years older than them, so they got a long more than Gavin and Shay ever did. Shay was always borrowing Falk’s dagger when she watched Gavin and Falk spar, she would carve small designs into the bark that had fallen off of the wood from the wood pile near the servant’s door to the kitchen. One time she had accidentally cut herself pretty badly on the hand. While her father was furious that she was playing with the dagger without being watched, her mother was more upset with the fact that she got blood all over her dress that she was wearing.

Shay smiled at the memory and then got very seldom after the thought of her leaving these memories behind entered her mind. She let out a sigh and put the dagger and the note in between her laid out travel clothes. After she finished packing the rest of her wardrobe, she changed into her travel clothes and folded up her white, cotton dress and green, velvet coat and packed them away. She looped the sheath of her dagger onto her belt before putting her sweater on; it was the perfect size and hid nicely under her clothing.

There was only one article left in her wardrobe and that was her thick, fur-pelt overcoat; she grabbed it and draped it over her shoulders. She closed the drawers and doors to her wardrobe and then the lid of the trunk. She scanned the room one last time to make sure that nothing was a miss. She went over to her window for the last time and looked up at the sun. The morning was almost over and she was to leave by midday. With a pat on her leg, she calls to her pup, “Come, Tripp!” Tripp bounds off of the bed, but does not land very gracefully. When he recovers, he prances to her side and follows her out of the room and down the stairs.