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Brynn Dharielle looked back over her shoulder repeatedly as she slowly paced her pinto mount, Diredusk, along the descending mountain trail. Though she had only been on the road for a half hour be-yond the edge of Andur'Blough Inninness, the enchanted elven valley, the ridges that marked the place were already lost from sight. The mountainous landscape, was a natural maze that had been enhanced by the magic of
Lady Dasslerond of the Touel'alfar to be unsolvable. Brynn had marked the trail well along her route, but she understood that she would have a hard time finding her way back--even if she were to turn about right then.
This was the first time Brynn had been out of that misty valley in a decade, and she truly felt as if she was leaving her home. The Touel'alfar,
the diminutive, translucent-winged elves of Corona, had come to her when she was a child of ten, orphaned and alone on the rugged and unforgiving steppes of To-gai, far to the south. They had taken her in and given her food and shelter. And even more importantly to Brynn, they had given her life purpose. They had trained her and made her a ranger.
And now they were sending her home to find her destiny.
The young brown-skinned woman crinkled her face at that thought, as she continued to stare back along the trail behind her, to the place that she knew to be her real home, the place she would likely never see again. Tears misted in her almond-shaped brown eyes, the sparkling eyes of a child, still,
though so much had they seen. Already she missed Aydrian, the fourteen-year-
old who had shared some of her training. Many times, Brynn had found the boy to be exasperating, often infuriating. But the truth was, he was the only other human she had seen in these last ten years, and she loved him like a brother.
A brother she would likely never see again.
Brynn shook her head forcefully, her raven hair flying wildly, and point-edly turned back to the trail heading south. Certainly leaving the valley was a sacrifice for Brynn, a dismissal of the trappings and the companionship that had made the place her home. But there was a reason for her departure,
she reminded herself, and if the pain of this loss was the greatest sacrifice she would be expected to make, then her road would be easier by far than anyone, herself included, had ever imagined possible.
Her future was not her own to decide. No, that road had been laid out before her a decade before, when the Behrenese Yatol priests and their armies had tightened their grip on To-gai, had abolished almost completely the last remnants of a culture that had existed for thousands of years. Brynn's road had been set from the moment Tohen Bardoh, an orange-robed Yatol priest,
had lifted his heavy falchion and lopped off her father's head; from the moment
Tohen and his lackeys had dragged off her mother, eventually killing her, as well.
Brynn's jaw tightened. She hoped that Tohen Bardoh was still alive. That confrontation alone would be worth any sacrifice.
Of course, Brynn understood keenly that this journey, this duty, was about much more than personal gain. She had been trained for a specific reason, a destiny that was bigger than herself. She was to return to the cold and windy steppes of harsh To-gai, the land she loved so much, and find those flickers of what had once been. She, little Brynn Dharielle, just over five feet tall and barely weighing a hundred pounds, was to fan that flicker into a flame, then feed the flame with the passion that had burned within her since that fateful day a decade ago. She was to find the To-gai spirit, to remind her fierce and proud people of who they truly were, to unite the many divided tribes in the cause against a deserving enemy: the Yatolled
Behrenese, the Chezru.
If the plan went as Brynn and the elves hoped, then Brynn would be the harbinger of war and all the land south of the great Belt-and-Buckle Mountains would be profoundly changed.
That was the hope of Lady Dasslerond, who rarely involved herself in the affairs of humans, and that was the burning hope of Brynn Dharielle. Liberation,
freedom, for the To-gai-ru would avenge her parents, would allow them to sleep more comfortably in their graves.
"We will move down to the east, along that open stone to the tree line,"
came a melodic voice from the side and above. Brynn looked up to the top of a boulder lining the rocky trail to see a figure far more diminutive than she. Belli'mar Juraviel of the Touel'alfar, her mentor and companion,
looked back at her with his golden eyes. His hair, too, was the color of sunlight,
and his features, though angular, with the high cheekbones and pointy ears characteristic of all of the Touel'alfar, somehow exuded gentleness.
Brynn glanced back once again toward the land that had been her home.
"Keep your eyes ahead," Juraviel remarked. "Andur'Blough Inninness is no more to you than a dream now."
"A pleasant dream," Brynn replied, and Juraviel grinned.
"They say that memories often leave out the more terrible scenes."
Brynn looked at him hard for a moment, but when he started laughing,
she understood his meaning well. Indeed, there had been many hard times for Brynn in Andur'Blough Inninness, under the tutelage of the often-stern elves, including Belli'mar Juraviel--though he was considered by his kin to be among the most kindhearted of the people. Particularly Brynn's early years in the valley had been filled with seemingly impossible trials. The elves had pushed her to the very limits of her physical and emotional being,
and often beyond those limits--not to break her, but to make her stronger.
And they had succeeded. Indeed they had! Brynn could fight with sword and bow, could ride as well as any of the people of To-gai, who were put on the back of the sturdy ponies before they could even walk. And more importantly,
the Touel'alfar had given her the mental toughness she would need to hold true to her course and see it through. Yes, she wanted revenge on Tohen Bardoh--indeed she did!--but she understood that such personal desires could not supersede the greater reason for this journey. She would hold fast to the course and the cause.
Juraviel left that part of the discussion right there, and so did Brynn, following the elf's gaze to the sloping stone facing he had indicated. Brynn frowned, not thrilled with the angle.
"Diredusk will have trouble navigating that," she stated. She looked back to her pinto pony, who stood calmly munching grass and seemed not to mind the saddlebags he carried, full of food stuffs and bedrolls for the pair.
Juraviel nodded. "We will get him through. And once we cross under the canopy of the trees, the ground will be softer under his hooves and the trail will slope more gently."
Brynn looked down to those trees, rows of evergreens neatly defined by elevation, and frowned again. The ground down there didn't look very level to her.
"We will be out of the mountains soon enough," Juraviel said, seeing her thoughts clearly reflected on her pretty face.
"Sooner if we had gone straight to the east, then turned south," the irascible
Brynn had to say, for she and Juraviel had spent the better part of the previous week arguing about this very topic. Considering what Brynn had been told about this mountain range, which ran more north-south than east-west, they certainly could have gotten to flatter ground more quickly by heading to the east.
"Yes, and then poor Diredusk would be running swiftly until he dropped from exhaustion, or until the goblin hordes caught up to us. Or until he mired down in the mud," Juraviel said, again with a chuckle. That had been his argument from the beginning, for the lands immediately east of the mountains were far from hospitable, with goblins and swamps and great areas of muddy clay.
"A Touel'alfar and a ranger, afraid of goblins," came Brynn's huffing reply.
"A Touel'alfar wise enough to know that danger is best defeated by avoid-ing it altogether," Juraviel corrected. "And a ranger too proud and too stub-born to recognize that her body, though hardened by our training, is not impervious to a goblin spear! You have heard of Mather, uncle of Elbryan,
great-uncle of Aydrian. " 'Twere goblins that struck him down."
Juraviel started to turn away, and so Brynn took the opportunity to stick her tongue out at him. He looked back immediately, catching her in the act,
and just sighed and shook his head, hardly surprised. For surely Belli'mar
Juraviel was used to such playful behavior from this one, named by many of the Touel'alfar as the most irreverent--and irresistible--of any of the hu-mans they had ever taken in for training. Brynn saw the world differently from most humans, and had done so even before falling under the demand-ing influences of the Touel'alfar. Despite the darkness that had found her at a young age, she remained the one with the brightest and most sincere smile, the one willing to solve any problem thrown her way through cunning and wit as much as through disciplined training.
That was the charm of Brynn Dharielle, and also, to Juraviel's thinking, it was the strength that would carry her through this, her ultimate trial, where sadness and guilt loomed large in places unexpected.
If anything could.
From the Hardcover edition.