The Falcon's Trail

Chapter 2

Gwene Durst: I

by: Sycamore
Gwene Durst was short for a nearly fifteen year old girl. Shorter even than her sister Stasa, and Stasa was not yet thirteen. Her mother would reassure her, promising that fifteen would bring the growth spurt that would place her at her correct height, but still, her diminished stature, along with her square jaw, were the prime, if the only, causes of her insecurities about her features.

Gwene had silver streaks in her light brown hair, as did her siblings Carmichael and Stasa. While she and Carmichael shared most of their mother's features with their light brown hair and square faces, Stasa was evidence of their father's lineage with fiery red hair, eyes that would have been green if they weren't clouded by blindness, and a slender heart shaped face.

Gwene was not prone to vanity, what with doing a large share of the managing at the inn, she had better things to occupy her attention. However, Gwene couldn't help noticing on some occasions while assisting Stasa with dressing herself, or braiding her hair for the day's work, that she compared her features with her sister's and thinking Stasa the lovelier of the two. More evident by the admiring looks Stasa generated when accompanying her or her mother to the market square to buy supplies.

Gwene herself was not hard to look at. She noticed admiring glances her way too, but Stasa, with her softer features, long wavy red hair, and the permanent little smile on her face clearly gleaned the lion's share of the attention.

One day Gwene decided to study her features carefully. She noted that her hair was straight, and always worn back from her face, which made her forehead look wide and square. She had no complaints about the rest of her face. Her eyes were big and blue like her mother's, with long dark brown eyelashes to frame their agreeable shape. She had her father's slender nose, which while a trifle long did not call unwanted attention to itself, and a small mouth, but evenly pouty lips, which looked as pleasant when she smiled as when she was serious, but that jaw! It was almost on a level with her chin and was as wide as her cheekbones. She covered it with her hands, thinking that a slender jawline like Stasa's would make her features look much better.

She patted her cheeks, exhaled, and decided that it didn't matter. She wasn't looking for attention, and was content enough with the rest of her face. She shrugged at her reflection, smiled, and walked out of the room to dig potatoes from their vegetable patch.

She, as formerly stated, assisted her mother with the inn-keeping. She, in fact, did most of the assisting at her mother's inn, because whatever help could be provided by Stasa and Carmichael, the latter being short a left hand and wrist, (which as misfortune would have it had been his dominant hand), were somewhat limited based on their handicaps.

Stasa, who had learned to see with her hands, soon became as familiar with the inn as with the darkness she lived in. She fetched and washed the few vegetables for Gwene or her mother to prepare the inn's supper, collected the old sheets and blankets from the inn's few rooms for Gwene or her mother to wash, starch and mend, filled the clay bowls in the rooms with tallow and placed a suitable amount of string for Gwene or her mother to light, and when her chores were done, she sat in a small wicker chair in a far corner of the kitchen where she appeared to do nothing at all, except, as of late, behave very strangely.

She appeared to be listening to something, her left ear cocked to the air, and her lips moving slightly, as if catching words. On one occasion, Gwene was stuffing a pair of scrawny chickens with as much bread stuffing, onion, celery and garlic as the inn could spare in preparation of a small birthday feast for a rare well-paying customer. As she grabbed another bowl of bread pudding from an overhanging cabinet for the second chicken, Stasa squealed as though she had been pricked and shouted, "Not that one!" Gwene jumped, upsetting the loosely-held bowl in her fingers, causing it to flip over and crash mouth first onto the floor.

Angry at being scared half to death and at the waste of precious resources, Gwene was ready to round on Stasa with a heated tongue-lashing in her mouth, before looking down and seeing the small body of a drowned mouse smothered in the lumpy pudding.

Another time, as Carmichael shuffled through the kitchen out the back door with an ax limply held in his right hand to chop some firewood for the stove for the day's cooking, Stasa shouted, "No, don't!" Eliciting a sudden jump and a halt, only seconds before an overhanging branch crashed to the ground two paces from him.

Both events convinced the family that Stasa was developing a sixth sense, not uncommon in disabled children of royal blood, according to her mother.

Carmichael snorted upon hearing it "Maybe I'll grow a new hand," said bitterly, before turning to leave the inn.

The War of Hunger, or The Sixth War had been over three years. The Durst family still ached from the suffering their losses produced and yearned for their life of luxury from days past. Regardless three years time proved to be a relieving balm, and having something to run occupied their attention so that they found themselves slowly but steadily becoming accustomed to their new futures and placing the memory of the catastrophe farther behind them.

Carmichael however, had taken the brunt of the blow. Serving in the army and seeing the battle up close had taken its toll, and changed his personality entirely. Where he had once been lively and outspoken, he was now brooding and silent, moving only to do his chores, and then disappearing from the inn for hours, sometimes for a day or two at a time. He was a ghost in the house, only speaking to issue some sardonic comment or wisecrack, and avoiding conversation when at all possible. His jaw became squarer, as he become prone to keep it so tightly clenched, and his brows were furrowed into a permanent scowl, placing early creases in his forehead. He was twenty, but he looked seven years older partially due to his huge height and size, and partially to his expression, which made him look as though he were bearing the weight of the world.

As such, Gwene could never talk to her brother anymore. Her interactions with her sister were limited based on what they could do together, so Gwene would spend whatever spare time she had going to the city square, which though had many destroyed buildings, or buildings under repairs, was decently reestablished within three years to provide necessary accommodations for livelihood, like the market square, one of the first to be rebuilt, and the Cataloger's Order, the city's pride, which had been repaired immediately.

Gwene went there more often, and spent her time reading. Some said the Cataloger's Order housed ten thousand manuscripts, scrolls and books, and judging by its sheer size, Gwene did not doubt it. Every time she ascended the moonwashed steps through the great bronze doors, the inside took her breath away. The gigantic room was surrounded by bookshelves, from the floor to perhaps fifty meters up. The very top of the room was ringed by a wooden balcony, on which the scribes or scribes in training were occasionally seen. Each corner had a ladder which was attached top and bottom to a narrow rail, allowing the ladder to slide from one end of the bookshelf to the other. These massive libraries were perhaps a couple steps width from a ring of dark green plush velvet couches surrounding rows of bookshelves in the center of the room not half so high as those lining the room's perimeter, but all certainly three shelves above a man's head. Gwene often measured her memory of her brother's height to these shelves, and thought that though he was a big man, he was certainly two shelves short of their height.

Scribes themselves rarely milled about the place. Servants dressed in flowing white and green robes with a single ebony stone hanging about their waists or necks attended the guests and provided information.

On one occasion, as Gwene thumbed through an index book, looking under "P" for "Princesses" and hoping to discover more about her royal lineage, her eye passed over "Prophecies" and its sub-units. "Prophecies-ancient. Prophecies-fulfilled. Prophecies-incomplete. Prophecies-unfulfilled. Prophets-ancient. Prophets-false. Prophets-modern. Prophetesses-ancient..."

Gwene stopped and went back to Prophecies. Her mind instantly flashed the memory of Stasa, jumping up, squealing out of nowhere, "Not that one!"
She had not known about prophets that existed in this age, having only studied about a couple that had had a major impact on Chesque back in its ruling day. Histories never specified too much about prophecies, or about anything supernatural in nature.
Stasa came back to her mind. She had known, somehow, that something was going to happen.

How? She couldn't have seen the mouse. She couldn't have seen Gwene reaching for the stuffing. In fact, how had she known what Gwene was about to do? Gwene had never told her.
Had she gained her sight back temporarily?
No, not likely. Even after the event as Stasa approached her, she had almost slipped on the stuffing she had not been able to see in front of her.
A sixth sense, her mother had said. What kind of a sixth sense? What exactly was a sixth sense? Was Stasa a sort of prophet?
How did one become a prophet? Was there such a thing as being born a prophet? She had also not known that there were false prophets, or unfulfilled prophecies. How did you know if you weren't a false prophet?

She had stood there frowning at the book with new questions in her head for so long, that an awkward throat-clearing behind her nearly made her jump.

One of the servants, a black haired girl almost a head taller than her asked, "Can I help you?"

Gwene shook her head and closed the index. "I was just thinking."

"Oh," the girl began to turn away.

"Wait!" Gwene decided to look into the matter. "Where is there a book about prophecies? I mean, prophets? I mean sixth sen... I mean, where does it all begin?" With the idea being a fresh one, she had not thought of where to start looking first, and knew that she had sounded like a blundering idiot.

To her chagrin, the girl confirmed her feeling by raising a thin black eyebrow and giving her a puzzled glance before chewing her lip in thought. "Hmm... well there is that old book about the first circle of prophets during the First Age, but it's so old you couldn't hold it without it turning to dust in your hands. It's being transcribed."

Gwene had lit up at the prospect, but finished with a disappointed, "Oh, I see."

"But they've been working on it a lot, shouldn't take much longer. I can tell you when it's finished if you come back."

"Would it answer all my questions?"

The girl wrinkled her freckled nose and shrugged. "Do I look like the Lake of Divination? I don't know."

Gwene felt slightly rebuffed, but couldn't blame the girl. It was a stupid question to ask. She gave a small embarrassed laugh and explained hastily, "It's simply that my sister could tell something bad was going to happen before it did, and she's blind mind you, she couldn't have known."

"What was going to happen?"

Gwene paused, wondering how much she should share with a stranger, but before she could open her mouth, the girl said,

"Okay, don't tell me, I'm just the library servant," before turning away with a huff and a shrug.

"No wait! I was going to tell you, surely! I just wanted to think about it." This girl was strange. She made Gwene feel slightly awkward and graceless.

When that didn't deter the girl, Gwene said, "I had been making stuffed chicken for a birthday feast - my family keeps an inn - and I had to prepare the chicken. I wanted to grab a bowl of stuffing when Stasa - my sister I mean - suddenly shouted "Not that one!" and scared me half to death so I dropped the bowl on the floor."

The girl had turned halfway around to hear, and by the end gave a laugh. "Sounds to me like she put the mouse there on purpose to scare you."

"No, she couldn't have seen a mouse if she'd wanted to. She's blind," said Gwene, positive that she had shared this information already.

"Oh. Well that's just strange then."

"Exactly, but my mother said it's not uncommon for disabled children of royal blood to develop a sixth sense of a sort."

"You have royal...? Oh, your hair, of course! This light doesn't flatter it very well, it's hard to see it if you don't look," the girl said offhandedly.

Gwene wasn't sure how to respond. She fingered a strand, wondering if that comment was meant for offense, or if she was just naturally forward.

The girl clapped her hands together, "So you want to read about prophecies, because you think your sister might be a prophet!" said loud enough for several people to hear.

"Shh! I don't know," Gwene was sure that she had explained as much. She felt awkward now, which made her angry. She was never awkward, but this girl caught her off guard.

The girl continued, "I think saying she's a prophet is a bit much. Maybe it's just a sixth sense, is all."

"I never said she was! I said I don't know what it is, which is precisely why I want that book!"

"Sure, but I don't think it'll do you much good." And she started off towards a bookshelf as if to fetch it.

Gwene followed. "Um... wasn't it still being transcribed?"

The girl stopped suddenly, "Oh right, right! You'll have to come back."

"Okay," Gwene wasn't sure what else to say or think.

"What's your name?" the girl asked.

"Gwene," she supplied.

"I'm Atalide. I'll be here most of the time. Nothing else you want from here?"

"Umm..." Gwene was sure she had come to library for another reason, but she couldn't think of what it might be. Her encounter with Atalide had knocked anything else out of her mind. She remembered enough to ask, "Might I have that book with the list of prophets? I don't recall the name."

"You might if you recall. I'm joking. You talk like a book." Atalide said with an unnecessary accent on 'might' and 'recall'. She gave Gwene a rogue grin, and went to get the book.

Gwene wasn't sure if she was angry or happy about her encounter. Atalide made her feel awkward and witless, while information slipped out her own mind so easily, she seemed witless enough to be a cloud.

"Strange person," Gwene thought, as Atalide returned with the book and gave her a date to return it.

"I noticed by the way, that you would look better with your hair loose, and some bangs. Your face looks like a box with all that hair tucked back."

That loose comment took Gwene aback. She stared, whatever interest in meeting Atalide boiling away in embarrassed indignation. She barely knows me! The nerve!

She snatched the book from a confused Atalide, bid her good day a little more than coldly, and stomped out the doors to the Cataloger's Order.

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