I still wonder how it came to this. How I got to the point of wandering through this gods-forsaken land. I have no idea where I’m going, no idea where I should be going. After what I’ve been through, I’m lucky I even remember who I am. But no, even now I can feel the weight of my family’s signet ring, hanging from the chain around my neck. Who am I? I am Sarai Barden, daughter of Daran and Adeline, youngest member of the most noble house of Barden. And this is my story.
It was the before-eve of my 17th birthday when my story began. Up until that point I had been just another spoiled member of the aristocracy. Close enough in age to my cousin Makram (the son of my Uncle, also Makram and the head of House Barden) for us to be playmates as children. Apart enough for him to feel only protective of me as we grew older. As was common for children of House Barden, our birthdays were the same day. This was the day before the beginning of Makram’s Initiation into Adulthood. This was a most secret and sacred rite – all children of the aristocracy went through this rite. It lasted a year, beginning on the eve of one’s 19th birthday and ending a year later, on the eve of their 20th year – the year one became an adult in the Kingdom of the Sword. The rite is secret because we are only instructed in what we must do as the rite begins. It is death to speak of it to one who has not yet gone through it.
I – well, I admit, I was being mildly disobedient when my father, uncle and cousin came to my chambers in our manor house at Gerhardhold. It was a well-kept secret among my family that I possess the long-lost secrets of magic. I am not very good and for the safety of the entire family I am not supposed to practice within the confines of the manor house. Still, I cannot control when the magics come to me and I wanted – no needed – to get this magic out of me while I had it in mind and heart. They came to me and shared with both Makram, my cousin and I the words that have changed my life and turned it upside down.
Rumours had been brought to the attention of our fathers – rumours of wars, of murders, of plots and intrigues – of those things that the noble houses most fear – of kidnappings and of revolution. My family is only distantly related to that of King Auld, but it is related. Were enough to die, I could conceivably be called upon to be queen. It was clear that my Uncle Makram and my father Daran took these warnings seriously, for their conversation was focused on how to get myself and my cousin out of Gerhardhold and where we could be sent, for our own safety. My cousin was most displeased, being about to embark upon his Initiation into Adulthood. I believe it was this that gave our fathers the idea that they eventually settled upon. While the rite is meant to take a child into adulthood and so encompasses the 19th year of life, it has been performed earlier in the case of rare children who have either matured early or have been required for some position that needed them to be counted an adult. It was Daran, my father, who first suggested that perhaps I should be considered for the rite early. I am mature for my age, I have often been told this. And, as my father pointed out, I have magic, which could be used as a reason for my early initiation. Uncle Makram was reluctant to admit the family secret before it could be of use to House Barden, but my father pointed out that if I was left behind and perished in whatever storm was coming, my gift would never be of use to House Barden. That convinced him. Preparations were made for my Initiation into Adulthood. Preparations made in haste and in secret. Or so we thought.
When my cousin and I stood upon the great dias the next day, on the eve of our 19th and 17th birthdays the uprising began. It started as a quiet rumble that hastened into a storm before anyone knew what was happening. All I remember from that mad time is the horrible sound of stones being rent asunder, my mother’s voice screaming and my cousin’s tight grip on my arm, dragging me behind him. We fled Gerhardhold to search for safety in the countryside. Makram cared for me, protecting me as best he could and in return I did my best to cook and clean for him and to use my magic for the benefit of us both. Alas that in the end, it was not enough.
My memory of that fateful night is still dim and hazy, though months have since passed. I suspect the safety we found was merely an illusion and that those who sought us had never in truth lost us. At night they came upon us, when we both slept. Makram awoke and sprang to his feet, his sword flying into his hand and he wielded it in a manner I had never seen from him before, who had always been an indifferent swordsman at best. He screamed at me to run, though fear had frozen me in place and I could not. I shall always regret that it was his hurt that spurred me to action. Had I but moved when he bade me, it is possible that Makram and I should still be together. One attacker broached his guard and smote him in the side. He staggered and fell to one knee and I screamed to see it. Great anger burned within me and I cast one of my precious spells at his attacker. The man’s attention then turned to me and in sheer haste I flung another spell. It flew over his head and landed among the others who sought to imprison us. Makram flung himself again at this foe, once more imploring me to save myself. He bade me on his authority as the heir to House Barden to flee and preserve my own life. I could not disobey. I fled.
I could hear the sounds of another behind me as I ran and I turned my head to see. I believe this is what saved me. Had I been watching my course I would have seen and avoided the hole into which I fell. I must have simply disappeared from view and my scream may have indeed sounded like the words of a spell. Instead, I struck my head upon the ground and was lost for a time to darkness and oblivion. When I finally returned to my senses, I was rescued from my prison by a kindly man who bore a hawk as friend and companion upon his shoulder. He said he could not assist me in my search for my cousin, but gave me such resources as he could spare and wished me good fortune upon my road. I think of him often and will much goodwill in my heart, for without him, his sharp-eyed hawk and his stout rope, I surely would have perished deep within the bowls of the earth.
I have wandered far and wide across the Kingdom of the Sword since that time. At times I search for Makram my cousin. At times I consider continuing on with the Initiation into Adulthood, though we were interrupted before our instruction could be completed and I know not what I am to do. At times I think of simply returning home to Gerhardhold, but I suspect that is an option that is no longer open to me. At times I am so seized by indecision that I am unable to take one step in any direction and I fear for myself. I am unused to such hardship. It was during one of those times that I came upon the group I now travel with. Caught in indecision and fear I was merely walking. Trudging along a dusty road with no purpose other than to continue placing one foot in front of the other. Sunk into the misery of my own thoughts I was not aware I had been travelling thus the entire day through. In exhaustion I slipped and fell and there was found and kind-hearted soul brought me back to myself and to health. In gratitude, and because I still have not faced and fought this dreadful apathy I travel with him, intending to aid him and his companions in whatever way I can.
Perhaps once their purpose has been accomplished I shall beg them to assist me in my search for Makram that we may once more be reunited. Beyond this I have no other purpose, only the knowledge that no matter what secrets are held within the Initiation to Adulthood, I shall have to come through it truly and faithfully if I am to survive in this world I find myself in.