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Pride of Lyons - first edit

by sabriel 

Posted: 24 January 2005
Word Count: 2424
Summary: I've cut some of the poncey language and deadwood of description, hopefully it's pacier now.

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Chapter 1
The Forest for the Trees

The forest crouched low over the path, blocking Orane’s way like some huge, malevolent animal on its haunches. The road was a thin ribbon of safety unfurling through the dark. With a sigh, Orane started forwards. Her feet were nightmarishly heavy. A rich, humus scent breathed out of the woods around her, redolent of wild and unknown things. She wasn’t normally so jumpy, she thought, angry with herself for this weakness. She knew the forest well, but lately, with the darkness that had started to arise in the village, it seemed much less friendly. A sudden noise made her jump and glance nervously to her left and for a horrible moment the filtered light illuminated the long, elegant bones of some ruined monster. Orane drew a ragged breath for courage and looked again, her hand falling automatically on the hilt of her short sword. It was just a fallen silver birch, after all.
“Not far now, the worst is behind you,” she muttered to herself. The words of her mother echoed in her mind, “Face the unknown with courage, and you shall be courageous, even if you don’t feel strong…”
She had arrived at a clearing in the middle of the forest where the shafts of light which pierced the gloom illuminated millions of dust motes, which rose and dipped like tiny golden fairies. So beautiful they looked that for one unguarded moment Orane whirled round to dance with them, the steps of her impromptu dance muffled by the thick carpet of fragrant pine needles.As she whipped round, stirring the motes into a cyclone, something on the edge of her vision stopped her. There was a mound of leaves which was moving. Orane crept suspiciously towards the pile and drew her sword, not the best of weapons to be sure, but serviceable and with the benefit of not being important enough to her father's arsenal to be missed. She poked the pile of leaves cautiously, poised to leap back if necessary. Suddenly they exploded in a golden flurry and a huge, hairy body hurtled at her. Instantly she was pinned to the ground, the beast’s breath hot on her face.
"TY! Call off your mangy mutt this instant!" she yelled around the ministrations of the enthusiastic, if slimy, tongue of a huge black dog.
"Heel, Malab!" Tybalt shouted at the dog, who showed no signs of stopping his single minded ablution of Orane's face.
"Use his Sunday name, please!" Orane begged.
"Mal Absolu! Down!" Ty ordered, and the dog’s rear half hit the ground in an instant. Orane collapsed into a heap next to her friend, unable to suppress her nervous giggle. Tybalt glanced uneasily down at her right hand, which was gripping the hilt of her sword.
“You, uhhh, can relax now, Orane.” he grinned, “I’m pledged to protect you on your perilous journey through the dark forest.”
Orane slapped at him, only half playfully. “I don’t need protection, you idiot,” she said, omitting to tell him her earlier fear.
“Yes, I know, you come from a long line of warriors, blah blah blah…” Tybalt rolled his eyes.
“You laugh now. Someday, when I’m saving your hide from one of your amusing pranks you might just thank me.”
“But right now, I laugh!” Tybalt grabbed Malab’s front paws and danced manically with the grinning dog, both of them looking completely deranged. Orane dusted her tattered tunic off with as much dignity as she could muster, and stood, hands on hips, waiting for her best friend and his dog to finish their frenzied display. After a few moments, Tybalt joined her on the path, picking leaves from his curly hair. Malab cast Orane a sheepish glance before picking up his pace at their heels.
“What do you want with the witch, anyway?” Tybalt asked.
“What a way to talk about your mother, Ty, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Well, to be precise, she is a witch, but for your delicate sensibilities, I’ll rephrase the question…what business have you with the Mage Fantine?”
“I need her to tell me something.” Orane said evasively.
“I could tell you something, let’s see…the sea is approximately 68 leagues from Normont, the bark of the willow tree may be used to alleviate fever, Malab has the worst breath I’ve ever…”
“Very funny, Ty. I already know that. I want to find out something specific, something very important.”
“Like when you’re finally going to become a woman?” Tybalt teased. Orane’s face flamed red and she reached over and slapped Ty across the back of his head.
“Shut up, you moron. You make a joke of everything!”
They marched on in silence for some time, Malab occasionally slowing their progress by detouring to sniff an irresistibly stinky tree stump. Ty busily plucked samples of the flora that grew beside the road then scribbled in a small leather-bound book. After a long stretch of companionable quiet, Orane spoke.
“Have you gotten any further with your botanical studies, then?”
“Yes, and no. Just as I think I’ve come to a good stopping point, I find something new and interesting to experiment with and record. There are just too many plants to put into one book, I suspect. It will have to be a multi-volume tome, my life’s work,” he broke off and pounced on an extremely poisonous looking toadstool with a cry of delight.
“Maybe you’ll discover something to help heal my family one day,” Orane said, too softly to hear. “But by then, it will be too late.”
Orane sat down on the fur and velvet heaped chair that sat squarely in front of the Mage Fantine. The witch’s hut was a conundrum, for although little more than a hovel from the outside, it was luxurious inside, The small rooms richly scented with the bubbling concoctions Tybalt was always crafting, the spices that he bartered for with travelling merchants mixing exotically with his homelier findings from the hedgerows. The villagers often joked that if he did indeed fail as a mage, as was predicted, he could earn an excellent living selling jam and chutney.
The walls of the hut were hung with tattered tapestries woven with illusions, so that each time Orane visited there seemed to be a new collection of scenes depicted, sometimes a village fete, sometimes crusaders marching off to battle, and still other times there would be darker, blood tinged images, things that Orane didn’t wish to scrutinize. Things that resembled the history of the Lyons family, Orane’s family, too closely.
Fantine reached up to light one of the coloured glass lanterns that hung at irregular intervals from the beams in the ceiling, and sat with a grunt. In the dim light Orane could see the parchment fine lines in the mage’s face, although she wasn’t yet two score in age. Fantine’s normally tidy hair hung in clumps, and her velvet dress, a cast-off from one of the grand ladies who relied on the mage for her potions, was streaked with fingers of ash and dirt. Orane considered how to voice her concern.
"Mage Fantine, I see that something troubles you.” Fantine pretended to be absorbed in shuffling the stack of well-worn tarot cards on the table in front of her as she measured her answer. As she spoke, she began to lay out the cards almost absently, choosing the Wyvern bind spread. Orane watched the cards, which, in Fantine’s practiced hands, seemed to drift simply down like autumn leaves onto the table. Orane knew that it was much more complex than this, and held the silence. The sight of the first card filled her with dread. The Hermit, reversed. Isolation from others and foolish obstinacy, among other ill omens. Fantine glanced up at her through a furze of hair, and seeing that Orane understood the significance of the card, continued. The second card was the five of Swords. For the first time, Fantine spoke, a note of surprise in her voice. “The Lord of Defeat…that is not like you, Orane. You are not usually a negative soul…” her face was puckered with concentration over the cards now, all her former casualness vanished. Her hand was steady as she laid the third card down, muttering to herself, “the third card…why things are as they are…always a mystery to those closest to the source…” Orane craned forward to see the card in the dim light. The eight of Cups. The Lord of Abandoned Success. That would be Bastien, then. Her brother, the heir to the title of Warrior of Lyons. The one without whom the entire village, and indeed the entire country, would be doomed. Her brother, Bastien, who had disappeared three years ago, never to return. Suddenly Orane didn’t want to know the rest of her reading, and she dashed the cards impetuously from Fantine’s hand. The mage gasped slightly, watching the untold fortune unfurling as it scattered over the hard packed dirt floor. She bent her head slightly, acknowledging Orane’s right to close her eyes to her destiny, but with the gesture came a small sigh.
“You must not throw the prophecy of the cards away lightly.”
“I…I couldn’t bear it, Fantine. I know what it means, the Hermit reversed is my father, and the second card is…” her voice broke.
“The card is not you, Orane.” Fantine said quietly.
“The Lord of Defeat…it means having a negative attitude, doesn’t it?”
“It can also mean that you need to accept the inevitable and swallow your pride, Orane, both you and your father. Bastien is gone, I’m afraid. Most probably he is dead.”
Orane jumped up, stung by the mage’s harsh words.
“Bastien might not be here, but that doesn’t mean he’s dead!” she shouted. “He could be lost or injured, and need some help, did you ever think of that?”
“I did, for a long time, Orane. But I’ve given up that hope.” “Well, I haven’t.”
“What do you intend to do, then?”
“I’m going to find my brother and restore the heir of the Lyons to his rightful place in the Kingdom.” Orane’s chin lifted proudly.
“You know the danger, then? If the Lyons are not restored?”
“Yes, of course I do. Bastien isn’t the only one who was tutored in our house, I was also allowed to have lessons.”
“Tagging along with Bastien’s, I’ll wager, and then only because your father was too mean to allow you to have your own tutor, to treat you as his daughter instead of some sort of second class son substitute!” Fantine‘s normally quiet voice was raised, and Orane realised how incensed she actually was.
“I didn’t know you felt this way, Fantine,” she said wonderingly.
“Orane, I have always believed very strongly that you should have been better treated by your father. It was hardly your fault that you were born a girl…”
“The first girl in four centuries.” Orane‘s voice was flat.
“Yes, a miracle, Orane, a blessing, not a curse as your father would have you believe.”
“How can you say that it’s a miracle, Fantine, when just by my being born a girl it means that if Bastien is dead, there is no heir to the Lyons!”
“I would not have you be anything but what you are, Orane.” Fantine held her arms out to Orane, who hesitated only a moment before kneeling before the mage and laying her head in her lap. The only sound was the bubbling of a cauldron on the hearth as Fantine stroked Orane’s short, coppery hair.
“You would have been a wonderful mage, I think.”
Orane looked up, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. “Tybalt will be good,” she murmured.
“Not his first choice, I think.” They both gazed through the thick, distorted window pane at Ty busily gathering toadstools in the garden, while Malab tormented a scolding squirrel trapped up a crabbed apple tree. Fantine sighed. “As long as he is happy in his chosen occupation, I can always train another mage to be my successor.”
“But the Warrior must be of the Lyons blood or all is lost…” Orane whispered, a cold fist clenching her heart as she remembered the eight of cups, the Lord of Abandoned Success.
“The reading was unfinished. There could be other influences that we have not seen. We are none of us allowed to know our future in full.”
Orane stood abruptly, her decision made already.
“I’m going to find Bastien.”
“Orane, think sensibly about this, you have no idea where he’s gone to, if he’s still alive, and there are many dangers, things that would challenge even a seasoned warrior, let alone…”
“A girl.” Orane finished the Mage’s sentence bitterly. Fantine gazed for a moment on Orane’s bent head, then seemed to make a decision.
“If you must go, you must be prepared.” Fantine busied herself about the cottage, gathering up mysterious ingredients and muttering to herself. “You must have an experienced tracker, as well…” at this, her glance flickered to Ty and Malab clowning outside the window.
“He might be fairly useless at many things, but he is knowledgeable about Normont, and the geography of the entire country as well.”
“But…could you spare him?”
“I must.”
At that moment the door burst open and a soaking Malab bounded in, followed closely by Ty. Both stopped short when they saw the expressions on the two women‘s faces.
“Sorry, have we interrupted?”
“No, Tybalt. You are just the person we wanted to see. Where have you been with that creature?” Fantine added with a look of distaste at a mud-covered Malab, who had subsided with a groan onto a fur covered couch.
“Malab fell in the stream just as I saw the most beautiful

specimen of Sanguinaria Canadensis on the far bank…” Ty’s expression grew

dreamy, and Fantine clucked in annoyance.

“Always the botanical study, Tybalt. I approve that you are so interested in herbalism, but there are other things in life, you know. Much that you must learn, both of you.”
“Perhaps Orane could apprentice with you,” Ty began eagerly.
“Someday, Tybalt. But for the moment, you both need to prepare yourselves.”
“Prepare? For what?”
“For your journey. You are accompanying Orane on a task.” the matter-of-factness in Fantine’s voice silenced Ty‘s chatter. Expressions washed over his mobile face like water flowing down a sunlit wall. Confusion was swiftly replaced by regret, fear and then, finally, understanding. He looked at Orane, his eyes shining.
“Let‘s get started, then!”

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