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Saddest Letter Ever Written

A Talk with a god
Friends, Enemies, and Other People
Lady Leniesa
Lady Adeline
Lady Devin
The Birth of the Compass
The story of our Meeting
Lady Elesi

Saturday, November 26

Dear Diary,

It is early in the morning... well, not that early; it's about ten o’clock already. I am writing this on the side of the road on my way home to Ra’mont. Lady Affie is tethered nearby, beside a small brook.

I am resting on my journey home. This is the first time Father has ever allowed me to travel home from school alone. I must say, I am enjoying myself immensely, taking my own sweet time.

The trip home usually takes about two hours in a carriage or with men-at-arms, but at my slow pace I may not get there for yet another hour and a half or two (I've already been on the road for an hour). Affie needed yet another break and I was happy to oblige.

Almost everyone from Mithros is going home this weekend. We have school off for a few days. Elesi and Adeline went to Trelath. Elesi invited all three of us to come visit before her birthday for a while. I declined, as I was too excited to get home and see everyone. Devin is in Sarain for a family member's birthday.

That's strange. I can see a group riding hard up the road ... coming from the direction of Ra'mont. I needn't be worried - they're wearing the uniform of the King's Own. I wonder what the big rush is. There are about eight or ten of them and it looks like they are slowing down.

I wonder what the want.


Later (I don't know exactly when)

Tears are pouring down my face. I cannot write. But I must write, she tells me; I must write it all if I ever wish to accept it. I don't wish to accept it, I tell her. But it is the only way, no matter how much it hurts. Let me start from the beginning.

It was the King's Own riding towards me. A tall, burly man was in the lead - Lord Raoul himself.

"Leniesa of Ra'mont?" he asked.

"Yes, milord," I said, scrambling to my feet so I might curtsy (well, I bowed, but that's not important). "What is it?"

"None of those formalities," he said, waving his hand. "Come now, child, get your horse. Me and my boys are here to bring you home." He spoke as though he had a secret he was unwilling to share, but must.

We galloped off as soon as I was ready. Affie kept up well. We reached Ra'mont in about twenty minutes, give or take a few, at this fast pace. Lord Raoul stopped us on the top of a hill to look down into the valley of Ra'mont. We were a quarter of a mile from the castle.

The sight that met my eyes was not what I had expected.

On the west side of the castle, smoke spiraled towards the sky. It looked as though the stables were on fire. I sent a quick prayer to the Mother Goddess to protect the horses.

Cries echoed around the valley. I could hear women wailing for their children, the dying screaming in pain with their last breaths, and distant war cries. I looked up at Lord Raoul.

"What has happened here?" I asked in disbelief. So far I had said nothing, but now I needed the truth.

"Scanrans," he said.

I stared at him.

"Ra'mont has been under siege since about six in the morning. The Scanrans killed the guard and let about fifty more of their men inside completely unnoticed. There were only twenty men-at-arms to protect the castle. About half of them had their throats slit while they were asleep in bed, before the alarm even sounded.

Although the scene that lay before me clearly supported what Lord Raoul was telling me, I couldn't belief it.

"You didn't have many servants, did you? And were any trained at arms?"

"About thirty servants," I said. "And their families. None trained with weapons."

"Wonderful," Raoul said with a trace of sarcasm, closing his eyes for a moment.

I swallowed a sob and managed to force out, "And my family?"

Raoul looked at me. "I will be blunt, child, for time is precious. Almost none were spared."

A tear leaked out and then another and another. I tried to wipe them away, but they kept coming. Raoul looked at me with a mix of pity and understanding, but I saw a slight flicker of impatience in his eyes. How was I supposed to react to this news? I wondered. Never in all my dreams could such a thing have happened.

I swallowed and tried to digest all of the news. My family, I realized, which consisted of only three trained fighters and ten soldiers (those left alive) had taken on about fifty Scanrans. It must have been a hopeless fight. I tried to blink away the tears as I thought of what awaited me.

Raoul interrupted my thoughts. "We are laying out the dead - commoners and your family alike. We will prepare a funeral ceremony, though the Scanrans have not entirely all retreated. We are setting up a camp for the wounded. You will stay there until-"

"No," I said without thinking. "No, I must see my family."

Raoul did not think this was a good idea, apparently. "There is still great danger," he finally said. "And I don't know if you could take the-"

"I must see my family," I said again. "I must ... say goodbye."

He looked at me for a full minute, sizing me up. I had defeated the rest of the tears and my eyes were dry. My stubbornness had taken over my grief. "If you must..."

"I must."

So many were dead; no, rather, almost all were dead. I saw only a few alive, save members of the Own. The air was already beginning to bear the stench of death and rotting. Everywhere, in the piles of dead, I saw familiar faces.
Cook - who had always given me extra treats for Affie - was dead. His rotund belly had been slashed open, blood and innards staining his otherwise spotless shirt.

The main hostler, collapsed near the stables, bore burns all over his body. His eyes flickered slightly and he whispered in pain. I called him a hero in my thoughts and wished him a quick death.

My mother's maid was crumpled in a heap, her pretty face slashes grotesquely.

I found my dear Kenda, lying in her own pool of blood. Her smoky blue eyes were open in shock. Her white dress was soaked with blood. Her dark hair lay matted in it. An arrow pierced her heart. She had been a sister to me, and here she was, dead, while I still walked in the world. I think the sight of her - lying there, in a puddle of her own blood, affected me the most.

Most of my family had been lain together. Some lay dead where they had fallen.

My dearest, sweet Grandmum had been run through with a sword. She appeared to have taken two Scanrans with her. I smiled despite my pain at the idea of my gentle grandmother killing not just one, but two men.

My mother was dead, an arrow buried in her chest. Her slender fingers grasped the hilt, as though to pull it out.

My father had been cut down from behind with a double-headed ax.

Lainee and Marie were trampled, likely under the hooves of stampeding horses. Their bodies lay at odd angles. I cried to see them so.

Jethro was hit between the eyes with an arrow.

Julianna had been stabbed, or so indicated her numerous wounds. Nearby lay Ellia with a dagger clutched to her heart.

I did not see a few members of my family - Dyard and Dayayne, and the youngest of the children. "Have you found any others?" I asked a man of the Own. "Any of my family?"

The soldier put down the dead servant he was carrying into one of the piles. "Yes, one young man," he said tiredly, wiping his brow with a filthy handkerchief. "Sir Dyard."

Dyard! He was alive.

Lord Raoul was at my side suddenly. "No one else has been found, my child, save your brother. He is helping to set up a camp for the wounded, about a mile from here. He left a message for you. He said to go to the Nursery. We checked there, but only found those two poor sisters of yours." He nodded towards the bodies of Ellia and Julianna.

His words echoed emptily in my head at the mention of my oldest sisters. I heard him, but didn't. I saw him, but didn't. I couldn't get the screams of the dying, the images of the mangled bodies, the blood, out of my head. How could this be happening? My family was dead and what could I do about it? All of a sudden, the impact of his words hit me.

"Wait? The Nursery? That's what he said?"

"Yes. Why?"

"I must go there," I said hurriedly. "Some of my family may still be alive."

Five minutes later, I was running up the stairs and down a hallway to the nursery. An arrow suddenly whizzed by me. Raoul had warned me of Scanran stragglers. Oh no you didn't, I thought. I ducked into a doorway and slid an arrow into place on my bow - which Raoul had insisted I bring along. I stepped out again, sighted the straggler, aimed, pulled back, and released. I heard his cry of pain and surprise. Then I turned and kept going. I avoided the straggler's body. My first kill.

At last, I turned into the Nursery. The sight of blood (probably from Julianna and Mariellia, I realized, sickened) met my eyes. I felt queasy at the next sight of blood - there were tiny, red handprints scattered over a tapestry of children in a meadow.

I pulled the tapestry aside and fell to my hands and knees. I searched the wall until I found what I was looking for: an off-colored stone. I pushed on it and a section of the wall disappeared.

The passage was dark, but I heard noises - voices and cries, like those of babies.

I scurried down the tunnel, having the forethought to grab and light a candle (with my Gift, of course, in case you thought I carried matches all over the place). I saw, huddled in the end of the passageway, a very welcome sight.

There was Dayayne, children clustered around her. "Leniesa!" she cried. "You came!" She scrambled to her feet with some difficulty. The children hanging on to her followed along. "Thank the goddess!"

I reached out my hands to a little girl with red hair who had been busily sucking her thumb. I pulled her out of the doorway and sat her down on the floor. She winced at the sight of all the blood and began to shake, but she made not a single sound.

"Dayayne," I said, turning my attention back to the young woman who was already busily tending to the children. "The King's Own is here, helping lay out the dead and care for the survivors. We must get back down to them, so they know we're all right."

She nodded and began arranging the babies so they could be carried. "Julianna and Ellia helped before," she said. "Are they ... all right?"

I gestured toward the pool of blood and shook my head slightly. She nodded and swallowed before briskly rolling up her sleeves. "Well then," she said, "you can help." She began piling babies into my arms with an aura of control.

When my arms were full, dear little Geni offered to help. I was amazed at her courage as the tiny children were placed in her arms. Though she was clearly upset, she put aside that grief to act like an adult would.

Dayayne explained what had happened to her as we began our way downstairs.

Dyard, Julianna, and Mariellia told Dayayne to go in the tunnel with the little ones. Dyard went out to fight. My sisters stood guard over the secret hideaway. They made Dayayne swear that if they died, she was to care for their children and treat them as their own. "Of course I agreed. How could I not? Now, it seems, I'm a mother to many more than I ever dreamed of having." She gave a thin laugh.

We finally made our way back outside, thankfully meeting no more Scanrans and unfortunately just after one of the little ones spit up all over me. (Yuck!) I carried Robin and little Gaegan. Dayayne was holding Lenny and her own Calantha. Geni carefully made her way beside us, holding Lilly. Gwydion walked beside Dayayne, his face white and drawn. He looked away every time we passed a dead body.

Lord Raoul rushed to meet us as soon as we stepped out into the bright sunlight. "Leniesa! You found them!"

I smiled and nodded.

Lord Raoul acknowledged me and turned to Dayayne. "We have set up a base camp for the wounded Own and you all. We have finished our search of the castle. No more Scanrans remain and ... there are no survivors beside yourselves."

"No others?!" I was stunned that no one else was spared.

"A few people were alive, but they all had received mortal wounds and have now been laid to rest." I thought of the chief hostler. "Two women managed to survive by hiding in a broom cupboard. They came outside and saw their children and husbands dead and committed suicide. My men are digging the graves now. In the mean time, I suggest that we go to the camp."

Dayayne nodded. "Lady?" Lord Raoul asked, offering her his arm. She took it with a slight smile. I followed on behind with Geni and Gwydion.

The camp was located to the east of the castle, so the castle itself protected the western side of the camp. Mountains framed the northern side and the river that goes from Trelath to Ra'mont and further protected the eastern front. South of the camp was the Great Road North. It was relatively safe, but to me it felt like a haven.

The camp had only two tents. One big one - filled with the sounds of dying - was located in the center of the camp. It was for the wounded. There was a smaller next to it. That was where we found Dyard.

Dyard was pacing around the tent when we entered.

"Dyard!" we all exclaimed at once.

He spun around. "Leniesa! Dayayne! Gwydion! Geni! You're all alive!"

He picked up Geni and Gwydion and hugged them close. He then pulled me in to the three of them. Dayayne waited patiently. When he finally set us all down, she embraced him warmly.

"Oh, Dyard," she said. "They told me you were alive, but I couldn't believe - Oh Dyard!"

She kissed him.

I saw Geni screw her face up in disgust and smiled to myself.

Most of the Own were going out to see if they could find a trail. We had six mean to guard the two entrances and the wounded to care for. We sure weren't expecting any surprises. But of course, they came.

We were in the smaller tent, talking, when we heard the cries of the Scanrans. Dyard jumped up at once.

"Niesa, listen to me," he said, after sending Dayayne and the children to the tent of the wounded, which he declared safest. He was bustling around the tent, grabbing his dagger and strapping on his sword.

"Armor?" I asked.

"No time. So, as I was saying, stay in the tent. Go join Dayayne and the others."

I froze where I was standing (looking for my own dagger). Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined Dyard restraining me from helping him avenger my family's murders.

"What?" The words came out in a strangled voice.

Now came the sounds of at least 30 men running around in the camp - enemy footsteps. "You heard me," my brother said. "Now move aside so I can go."

I realized that I was in his way. "Let me come with you," I begged, finding my voice. "You can't take on more than five men single-handedly. And there must be at least thirty men out there."

"I must protect Dayayne and the children - and you, Leniesa."

"They have the Gift. They'll be fine. Stop acting all noble and use some common sense. They must've had to kill the guard to get past the gate. Let me go with you. We can at least take a few with us when we go."

"No. Stay here, Leniesa." He spoke so sternly and so coldly, that I allowed myself to be pushed away. I had never heard him talk like that to me.

"Dyard!" I screamed, pulling the tent flap aside.

He turned.

I screamed again.

I saw light flash off the blade of a sword.

Everything was red.

Dyard swung around.

The slash of a sword.

A death cry in a foreign tongue.

Scanrans, dead.

More blood.

Dyard crumpled in a heap, blood pooling around him.

I run out of the tent.

Scanrans stare in surprise and confusion.

I fall to my knees.

My screams echo throughout the camp.

I cover my head with my hands.

Grief for the fallen and hatred for their murderers overcomes me.

I don't remember much more after this. It's when I began acutely aware of the blackness that surrounded me, though I was not unconscious. After about five minutes, the darkness cleared. I didn't notice in my sobs until I finally realized that no Scanrans had killed me yet.

I looked up. Dead Scanrans lay dead all around the camp, though I saw no signs of a fight. I looked quickly to the large tent. A greenish bubble surrounded it, crackling. What had happened? I wondered.

Pondering this last thought, I fainted.

When I awoke, I found myself in a warm bed, with many people bustling around. My head hurt, but I recognized at least three faces.

"Devin! Elesi! Adeline!" I found my voice to be weak as I raised my head to get a better look at my best friends. They all came closer to me and formed a protective circle around me.

"She's awake!" exclaimed Devin.

"No, really?" asked Elesi, rolling her eyes. "We hadn't noticed. I mean, we've only been sitting for hours waiting."

Adeline patted my hand. "We're so glad you're back, Leniesa," she said with a warm smile.

"Hush, now. The Healer says that you need to rest." I looked up. The speaker was a tall man with brown hair and a beard. Lord Raoul. His arm was bandaged and his clothes bloodstained. In a rush, the morning's activities came back to me. I laid my head back on my pillow and closed my eyes, shutting out the world. As though shutting it out would make anything any different. My family was dead. Dyard had survived, but now he was dead, too. And it had been my fault. What more mattered?

I didn't really care, but I finally forced the words out. "What happened? What happened to the Scanrans?"

The girls exchanged looks. "They died," Elesi said at last. Devin and Adeline glared at her. "She has to know," Elesi hissed.

"How ... how did all of them die?" I asked.

Everyone looked uncomfortably around at one another. Devin finally spoke. "Well, Leniesa, you killed them."

"What?" I said aloud. To myself I added, Are you raving mad?

Raoul spoke. "She's telling the truth. You killed them."

"With your Killing Gift," Adeline added.

I gasped.

Lord Raoul continued on. "Leniesa, thirty Scanrans invaded the camp in total. One was killed by the guard - before they killed him. Your brother killed another three. You killed the rest."

"How can this be? I never knew about a Killing Gift. Well, I mean, me having one."

"I don't know." Raoul hung his head. "I am no mage." My three friends gave a short laugh. "I'm sure you can enquire about it with Numair Salmalín when we see him in Corus."

"What?" I asked.

Devin nodded. "Yeah. We're going to Corus."

Adeline shrugged. "It was sort of out of our hands."

Elesi rolled her eyes. "This conversation is so pointless."

Raoul nodded. "We'll collect your things from Mithros on Monday, or once we feel you have been well rested. Then we can journey on to Corus to visit the king and queen. Your three friends," he nodded towards Addie, Elesi and Devin, "have offered to accompany you, though I believe they have already informed you."

So many thoughts were whirling around in my head. There was so much to take in.

"This child needs rest," said a Healer fussily, coming over and shooing everyone away.

Lord Raoul said one last thing. "You need to rest, yes, but I must tell you this. Earlier this morning, I referred to you as 'child.' Now I see that you are no more a child than I am Queen Thayet. You are truly a very brave young woman, Leniesa."