This is the first of a series of short stories based on the background story of my novel in progress.
Many years after they had fled the slave city, fleeing the Tatarans’ annual “slave cull”, it was time for the settlers to move further south, to avoid detection and keep themselves safe. Danic Hraefen was only a boy when they fled the slave city, which was annexed to the Tataran city of Vassafor. He remembered it quite well. He remembered when it all started. He watched his father and mother train in combat, in secret, ready to take the Tatarans by surprise at the annual “slave cull”. The Tataran slave cull was an annual event in which the Tatarans sent their young initiates to run riot through the slave city, killing anyone who dared put up a fight. Danic was six summers when he saw his parents begin their training, learning the art of war for the first time in his peoples’ history. It was all done in secret, usually at night. He did not recognise their trainers, but he knew they could not possibly be a fellow slave – slaves did not know how to fight. Danic never questioned who it was that was training the slaves.
After Danic celebrated his fifteenth birthday, he witnessed the slave revolt. At the annual “slave cull”, the trained slaves brandished their weapons and began to fight the young Tatarans, completely taking them by surprise, as the conventional wisdom among the Tatarans was that the slaves had absolutely no training in combat, and therefore easy to defeat. The slaves used the element of surprise to their utmost advantage, and fled with their families after the city of Vassafor and the slave village both descended into chaos. When they had found a site, the newly emancipated slaves began to build a new community, and Danic was among the hands that helped build their new settlement. The settlement which Danic and his fellow settlers had called home for nearly eleven years. The settlement which they must now abandon.
They had been travelling south of the old settlement for many long weeks, and lo and behold, they found the ideal site for a new settlement. They began to cut down trees to build their new homes, and Danic’s beloved wife, Irina, had begun to make new clothes from the red fabric which they stole from the Tatarans. One afternoon, while Irina was suckling her infant son, Ehrion, she stitched the last few stitches to complete the new gown she had made for herself. Cut from the same cloth, she began to stitch a cloak for her husband. It was simple to make, as there was only two seams to stitch. Danic returned much later in the day, having spent the whole day helping to build shelter for everyone. He wanted to spend some quality time with his beloved. Irina’s mother had been in the woods gathering food, and she returned with a basket full of sumptuous fruit and berries. Danic and Irina’s older child, a little girl named Vanora, eagerly scurried to her grandmother’s side, craving some berries.
“Mother, could you keep an eye on Ehrion? I’d like to go for a walk,” Irina said.
“Of course,” her mother replied. She set down the basket in front of Vanora, who then reached into the basket and began shovelling berries into her mouth, the dark crimson juice trickling down the corners of her mouth. Irina handed the infant boy to her mother, and held the cloak in front of Danic.
“I made this for you,” Irina said. Danic smiled at her, and gently grasped the smooth, heavy fabric.
“It is beautiful,” he said.
Irina flashed him a smile, and turned to snatch up the dress that she had made for herself, and disappeared into the marquee to change into it.
“She has been working on that gown for some time,” Irina’s mother said to Danic. “I think you should go and follow her. You haven’t had much time to yourselves since Ehrion was born.”
Irina ran out from the marquee, running past the half-finished cottages, flippantly looking over her shoulder to see her husband standing, staring at her as though he didn’t know what to do. She stopped, tilted her head, gesturing for Danic to follow her. She winked and flashed a smile, and continued on her way.
“Go on, you silly fool!” Irina’s mother said to Danic. “Ehrion and Vanora will be fine. You two go and have some time to yourselves. You’ve earned it, both of you!”
Danic swung the cloak around his shoulders, fastening it at the front with a plain brooch, one that was in the Hraefen family for generations, passed from father to son. The head of the pin was fashioned in the shape of a raven’s head, the raven being the family totem, while he ran towards Irina, following her to wherever it was she was going. The other settlers briefly stopped to watch, admiring the camaraderie between the two. They saw it as a good omen, that they will be safe in their new settlement.
Irina hitched her gown so that she wouldn’t step on it, as she ran up the hill which overlooked the nearby mountain ranges. Up she ran, up, up, up, to a plateau in the hill, where she could see the mountains in the distance. Flying overhead were a murder of ravens, and she smiled as they circled around the clearing. She could hear Danic’s footsteps in the distance, breathing in the gentle mist that was setting in through the valley. Irina took in the sights, breathing deeply. She felt two hands gently rest on her shoulders. She turned around, and stepped into Danic’s embrace.
“Irina, my beloved,” Danic whispered in her ear, as gentle as the breeze, “I promise you, we will be safe here. And if the Tatarans find us, we will fight them off.”
“They don’t know we’re here,” Irina said.
“No, and I want it to stay that way,” Danic said. “I want to be able to raise our children without them ever knowing war.”
“Don’t make promises you cannot keep,” Irina said. “We will have to fight them one day. We will have to go to the city of Bandia Tir if they find us.”
“I know,” Danic said, tousling Irina’s hair, and planting a kiss on her brow.
The sound of the raven’s cry echoing through the valley, disturbing the peace and quiet of the clearing.
“The ravens are here,” Danic said. “And while they are here, we will be safe.”
The breeze whistled through the valley. Danic’s hair, as black as the plumage of the ravens flying overhead, fluttered with the breeze. Irina gently ran her fingers through Danic’s hair, and said, “I don’t ever want to leave this place. It is too serene. I hope that the Tatarans never find this place.”