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“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to get sharper.” –W.B. Yeats
A long time ago, the lands were new and green, surrounded by the bluest water imaginable. All sorts of plant and animal life flourished on the lands and in the waters. To the First Ones, who came to this land, it was a paradise.
For many generations, the people enjoyed long life and prosperity. Artisans and craftspeople developed unique and beautiful methods for their work and eventually, the lovely lands were known for the wonderful items its people produced.
As the First Ones continued to live in freedom and harmony, they explored the more spiritual side of their beliefs. They discovered that it was possible to reach a state of sublime oneness with all the plants and creatures in their lands and waters. They slowly specialized in these various abilities as they had their arts and crafts. For some, this ability led them to ascend to a higher plane of existence, while others chose to remain in the beautiful lands they loved.
After many, many generations, those who remained found they lived longer than their predecessors. They were able to do more creative tasks with their new abilities, which some considered magic. The people’s appearance changed slightly as they began reflecting these new abilities.
Far beyond their lands, there was rumor of a great lord, who envied the First Ones and their magic. It was said that he was raising an army to take the land and the people who dwelled there. He also planned to learn the secrets of the plants and animals, believing they somehow held the key to the magical abilities of the inhabitants. He would come and strip the land of everything that made it special, then bring it all back to his own kingdom.
The First Ones could have left and traveled to other places. Some even thought about following the few, who had ascended to the higher plane of existence, but that would do nothing to protect their lands and all that they loved. So, they decided to stay and fight the lord. They had no weapons, no defenses…only their magic.
As the lord arrived, they used their tricks and conjuring to confuse the soldiers and keep them contained to the beaches. After many weeks, the soldiers grew tired of fighting and started to appreciate the beauty of the lands they saw. Many left the lord as he slept, escaping to the lands beyond…and he was forced to start guarding his own men. Those loyal to him encouraged the lord to fight one final battle and defeat the magical beings, while they still had enough troops to be victorious.
The lord had brought a lady with him, who was both beautiful and mysterious. She was rumored to be a powerful sorceress and it was said she possessed a magic much darker than any found in this land. The lord asked his lady for a way to defeat the First Ones and let him possess all that they had.
She told him it would cost him everything he desired, but she would do as he asked. They would rule together and he would do as she commanded. The lord agreed, for he desired the secrets of the lands so much he had to have them. Even if it meant sharing his power with another. The lady disappeared for three days and when she returned, she brought a crown for the lord, who would soon be king of all these lands. The crown, made of gold and covered with jewels, would be the symbol of all his power.
There was one final battle, which apparently destroyed them all. Many of the details were lost to history and lore, but the resulting fallout saw the end of the lord, the lady, the First Ones and the soldiers. All that remained were the men, who had escaped into the beautiful lands. They sent for their loved ones and were soon joined by others looking for a fresh start.
From time to time, there was talk of a magical folk who lived in the forests or by the seas, but it was just talk. If someone occasionally swore they’d seen “the fairies” about, it was usually one too many pints at the pub. Different kingdoms arose, but there was plenty for everyone since the fields, the forests and the waters provided all that the people needed.
And for eight hundred years, there was peace in all the lands.
Once Upon a Time…
there was a forest filled with trees reaching up to the sky and narrow paths that led from one village to another. A figure in a black cloak travelled through the forest, walking along one of these paths.
As the figure approached a curve in the path, three men jumped out from behind the trees, attacking the person in the black cloak and shoving him or her to the ground.
As one of the men pulled a sword, a figure in green dropped out of a tree and shot an arrow from a crossbow, hitting the man in the arm…then quickly swung the crossbow at another man. When the third man turned towards the commotion, the figure in black raised an arm and knocked the sword out of his hand. The other men turned and ran back into the woods.
“Thank you, but I could have taken care of that myself.” Putting the sword back in the scabbard, the figure in black took off the hood, revealing dark hair tied back in the traditional style. “I supposed I should introduce myself. My name is Robin.”
The stranger just laughed. “Had it under control, did you?” Tossing the green cape over one shoulder, the stranger walked up to Robin. “My name is Jamie and I’d say you were a bit optimistic about your chances.” Jamie’s auburn hair was not tied back, but hung in waves to the shoulder. “You’re not from these parts, are you?”
“If you knew I was a stranger, why did you help me?” asked Robin.
“In these woods, three against one is never a fair fight. I think any fight should be a fair one, don’t you?” asked Jamie.
Robin smiled. “I do. Especially if I am the person outnumbered.”
Jamie laughed. “What brings you to this part of the forest?”
Robin looked at Jamie for a moment, debating if this was someone to trust. “I do not know that I should say.”
“Everyone is entitled to their privacy,” replied Jamie. “And I don’t think those three will be back.”
As Jamie turned to leave, Robin said, “Wait. I could use some help.”
Jamie stopped and walked back over. “So, why are you out here all alone?”
“I am traveling through your forest on the last leg of a long journey.” Robin started walking and Jamie followed. “My home lies beyond the White Mountains and I have come here to see that my family’s interests are upheld. My mother owns a vineyard in this land and we received word that it was being confiscated by your king.”
Jamie stopped walking, when Robin said the word vineyard. “Vineyard?” Jamie repeated. “Your mother owns a vineyard?” Jamie took a step back, adding, “What are you, some noble?”
Robin looked confused. “Yes, I am…but what difference does that make?”
Jamie scowled. “Are you daft? You, a noble, traveling alone at this time of troubles and in this part of the forest? What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that I am duty bound to protect my mother’s interests. I am here because my father is ill and my older brother is fighting the Lord of the North.” Robin stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. “We have had no word of my brother for several weeks.”
Jamie saw the concern on Robin’s face and said more softly, “Aye, the Lord of the North. We’ve heard about him. Although, he hasn’t bothered our land yet, many believe it’s just a matter of time.”
“As far as I know, we did nothing to provoke him. He sent a declaration to our king, saying that we would bow to him from now on or die fighting. My brother joined many others in the fight, nobles and commoners.”
“Is he your only brother?” asked Jamie.
“I have a younger brother, but he is too inexperienced to bring on this journey.” Robin looked at Jamie and asked, “Should I have waited a few years until I had more help? Would your king wait to confiscate our family’s land?”
“These last months, our king answers to no one but himself. Not even his counselors.” Jamie sensed something behind the trees on the left. Still looking at Robin, Jamie took a step forward, “And our nobles refuse to get involved.” As Jamie slowly raised the crossbow, Robin took a step back.
“All nobles are not the same…” Robin began, then realized Jamie was looking at the tree.
“Oh, I see.” More loudly, Robin added, “Not all nobles honor their obligations and some think only of themselves.” Robin moved slowly towards the tree and began to pull the sword from its scabbard.
“That’s true,” agreed Jamie. “But then, what can one expect with all those cousins marrying cousins.” Jamie launched around the side of the tree and knocked down a figure, crouching behind it.
Looking down, Jamie let out a breath. “Colleen! How many times have I told you to stay home and leave the fighting to those of us, who know how?”
“Hello,” said Robin as Jamie helped the girl back up. “Why are you out here by yourself?”
“I’m not.” Colleen pointed behind Robin. Turning, Robin saw another girl, who looked like a smaller version of Colleen. Both had red curls hanging down past their shoulders.
“Oh, this is too much!” Jamie stomped over towards the little one. “Bridget, what do you think you are doing?”
As Bridget started to cry, Colleen walked over and shoved Jamie. “We were just trying to help,” she stated. “Why do you think you’re the only one, who can protect Da from the king’s men?”
Robin looked at Jamie and asked, “I take it that these are your sisters?”
Jamie looked angry, then suddenly broke into a big smile. “Aye, and they have the sense of two stubborn goats!” But this time Colleen smiled and Bridget ran up and gave Jamie a quick hug.
Robin took a step back, not wanting to intrude. “Where are you going?” asked Jamie. “I thought we’d decided you could use some help.” Then, realizing this could lead to more trouble, looked closely at Colleen and Bridget. “Help from me, not two little sisters.”
“Da is looking for you,” said Colleen. “He sent us to find you. He says the village elders think the king’s men plan to cause more trouble tonight and he wants you home. He says we’ll need your crossbow.”
“Can you use an extra sword?” asked Robin. “I need a place to stay this evening if it is not too much trouble. And I would be more than happy to pay for a bed and a meal.”
Colleen took a closer look at Robin. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Jamie rolled eyes towards the heavens and exclaimed, “You might as well have NOBLE embroidered on the front of your shirt.”
This made Colleen smile as Bridget ran over and took Robin’s hand. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go see Da!”
Colleen chimed in, “Yes, let’s go see Da,” and looked pointedly at Jamie.
“Wait!” Jamie grabbed Robin’s arm. “Do you look like a blasted noble under that cloak as well? And while we’re at it, we might as well talk about your hair, too.”
“My hair?” repeated Robin.
“Aye, you can’t keep it tied back like that.” Jamie replied. “You look too highborn, which is not going to get you invited into my Da’s home. Or anyone else’s home for that matter.”
“What do you suggest?” asked Robin. “Shall I cut my hair and run around in my underclothes?”
“Of course not,” replied Jamie, smiling. “I’m just saying you need to fit in, that’s all.”
Jamie turned back to Colleen. “Go get some of my old clothes and see if anything will fit this new peasant friend of ours.” Looking at Robin, Jamie continued, “We’ll keep the fighter look, but make you a more common one.”
“This should be interesting,” Robin shook off the cloak and started on the hair tie. The black hair finally came loose and fell just below Robin’s shoulders. For the first time, Jamie noticed how Robin’s hair set off those high cheekbones.
Jamie looked down at the ground for a moment, smiling slightly. “And those boots,” Jamie continued, “they say noble all over. What do you think Bridget?”
Bridget laughed and looked shyly at Robin. “They do look a bit fancy, but very pretty.”
“Boots should never be pretty,” stated Jamie, then smiled at Bridget. “Let’s get them dirty, shall we?”
Bridget giggled and Robin said, “She can step on them and get them dirty, but not you. I want to be able to walk, once I pass this inspection of yours.”
Jamie laughed. “There’s no need to be stepping on your feet. Take off your boots and Bridget will have a good time dragging them through the dirt.”
Robin tossed the boots over, while Jamie looked around. “I wonder what’s taking Colleen so long. We’re not that far from our Da’s house.”
Wearing a big smile, Bridget brought the boots back and Robin pulled them on.
“Should we go look for her?” asked Robin.
As they turned back toward the path, Colleen came through the trees carrying a bundle under one arm. She dropped them down in front of Robin and said, “These were the best I could find. I hope they will do.”
Jamie scoffed, “Yes, only the best for our noble friend.”
Colleen glared back and clarified, “The best fit that I could find.” Taking a closer look at Robin, she added, “I like your hair like that. Not that anyone asked, but it brings out your cheekbones.”
Robin smiled, then stepped behind some trees and quickly changed. “What shall I do with my clothes?”
“Leave them,” replied Jamie. “They’ll be no use to you, where we’re going.”
Robin emerged from the trees. “What do you think?” Smiling at Colleen, Robin added, “Thank you for bringing them.”
Colleen smiled back, then walked over and grabbed Bridget’s hand. The two started down the path and Colleen said over her shoulder, “Give us a ten minute head start. We’ll tell Da that we have a guest coming for dinner. And for goodness sake,” she said looking at Robin, “slouch a bit, will you?”
As the girls left, Robin turned to Jamie and commented, “Sisters seem much more entertaining than brothers. I find it refreshing.”
“Aye, that’s because you don’t have any,” replied Jamie. “Now, we just need one more thing.” Walking up to Robin, Jamie smeared a bit of mud on one cheek. “There now, you’re perfect.”
Robin looked at Jamie and said very seriously, “Thank you. I am sure this will make all the difference.”
Robin turned and started down the path and Jamie followed. Jamie smiled, then began whistling a tune about nobles and land barons stealing from the poor.
“Do you have to whistle?” asked Robin. “Really?”
“Hold on, you don’t know the way,” Jamie said taking the lead, but still whistling.
As they walked down the path, two figures emerged from the brush. They were half hidden by the overhanging branches.
“Do you think they are the ones?” asked the first figure.
“If the prophecy is correct,” replied the second, “they may be our only hope to defeat them.”
Eight hundred years is a long time to wait,” stated the first one. “I am not sure anything or anyone will be able to defeat them this time.”
“We have to try,” said the second. “This is our last chance to break the curse.”
Jamie’s father welcomed Robin into their home with Colleen and Bridget following closely behind. The sisters were careful not to let on that Robin was a noble, but they seemed fascinated with everything about their new friend.
Not long after their arrival, Jamie took their father, Malcolm, aside and told him what had happened in the forest. Although there was no proof the men had been lying in wait for Robin, there was concern that this might be more than a random attempt at theft.
“Why would the king’s men be interested in a commoner like your friend?” Malcolm asked.
“I have no idea,” replied Jamie, mentally crossing two fingers, “but being a stranger in this area, maybe they thought Robin was someone more important.”
“That could be,” agreed Malcolm. “The king’s men aren’t known for their intelligence if you ask me.”
“Aye, Da, truer words were never spoken.” Jamie laughed with him. Then, they went on to discuss their own plans on how to deal with the troubles in their area.
“We’ve got enough people to start something if we need to…but I’d rather settle this peacefully if we can,” said Malcolm.
“I would agree with that,” replied Jamie, “but I think we both know they don’t want a peaceful solution. They want us to fight back. That gives them cause to take our land.”
“Or die, trying,” added Malcolm. But he knew fighting would mean injuries for some of their own people as well…maybe even death.
“Let me see if I can find out what they’re planning,” said Jamie. “I haven’t talked to Pat in some time and that bartender hears everything.”
“This isn’t just an excuse to go down to the pub, sing a few songs and maybe have someone buy you a pint?” asked Malcolm.
“Me?” replied Jamie, “I’m shocked at the thought.”
“Aye, I can see that.” Malcolm shook his head. “Well, take your new friend with you. Might as well introduce a stranger around town, so others don’t make the same mistake as those men. No reason for them to fear or rob another commoner.”
Jamie didn’t like lying to Malcolm, but nodded in agreement. “Too true, Da. We’ll both go down after supper.”
Jamie and Robin headed down to the pub that evening as Jamie filled Robin in on all that had been discussed.
“I do not know if we should be lying to your father,” said Robin. “It is not honorable to keep things from our parents.”
“Aye, there you go talking about honor, just when I have you passing for a real person.” Jamie looked to the heavens. “We all want to be truthful when we can, but not at the expense of our family’s safety. And trust me, Da and my sisters would not be safe if anyone knew a noble was staying in our home.”
“Why is everyone against the nobility?” asked Robin.
“They’re not,” replied Jamie. “At least, not really. But they don’t trust nobles right now. The king’s men would want to talk to you or kill you…or maybe both and I won’t have my family caught in the middle.”
“Agreed,” said Robin. “We will find this friend of yours and hopefully, get some answers.”
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